Seeing Past Failure

kid on pottery wheel

It is OK to fail.

I repeat: it is OK to fail.

This is not something we hear everyday, or something we ordinarily tell children. For most, we’re not looking for failure; we want success! But if thought about differently, this is advice we don’t hear enough. Getting that C on your math test or missing the bullseye in Archery may seem like the end of the world, but they don’t have to be.

I majored in Comedy Writing and Performing in college. Junior year, as part of my studies, I spent a semester at the Second City, a well known institute for comedy in Chicago famous for turning out comedic stars like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. An important lesson we were repeatedly taught during my time there was that not only is it OK to fail, but you have to fail. You have to go in front of an audience and try your stand-up or sketch act and it has to at least fail a few times so you can figure out what is funny and what is not. Failing, in comedy, is how you find your voice. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, it was the most freeing thing for me to hear that failing now and then was a good thing.

The American composer and music theorist John Cage had this to say: “Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.” For him, especially in creative endeavors, what seems like a failure in truth contains the seeds of learning as long as one is determined enough to “do the work.”

weaving on lap loom

That same lesson can be applied to camp. Accepting failure is especially important when, as a camper, you are learning new things all the time, whether it be in an activity or in learning to live within a community for the first time (communication! compromise!). Learning something new means expecting and accepting mistakes. It means you are going to fail once or twice or a few times before successful habits and skills come to be.

I teach Curosty, Rockbrook’s weaving activity, where girls are learning something new just about every time they enter the cabin door. For lots of campers, it’s their first time ever seeing a loom, let alone using one. For some, the act of weaving by hand is a new feeling completely. For them to expect to be perfect at it, not make a single mistake, from the get-go is a ridiculous expectation because they usually never are. They’ll have to tie and re-tie knots on their bookmarks a few times. All the potholder loops will pop out when they’re casting off their work. And there will usually be gaps in their first reed basket. But that’s the best way to learn: by failing. Correcting failure, seeing past it, always leads to growth. With the right attitude, moments of failure can blossom into real learning.

Camp is a safe place for this kind of learning too, because, no matter what, you know you are supported and encouraged by your friends and the entire Rockbrook community. Here at camp, we’re all experimenting, all discovering, and all failing now and then along the way. We’re all in it together. If there’s any place to fail and fail safely, it’s here.

girls summer camp campers

The Occasional Sashay

camp lake time for girls

Nothing beats hanging out at the lake. When the weather is warm and sunny, like it was today, the lake has a magnetic effect around camp, congregating campers, especially during the free swim period right before lunch. With girls swimming mermaid laps, doing tricks off the diving board, zipping down the water slide, paddling a corcl boat, floating in a tube, or just hanging out on the dock or sunbathing on one of huge rocks nearby, there’s a lot going on. The whole waterfront might have 60 or so people all enjoying the festive atmosphere during free swim. It’s a classic summer camp scene that the girls can count on being part of their day.

rockbrook camp curosty cabin
r b c letters knitted

Curosty, the historic log cabin that’s home to the fiber arts activities at Rockbrook, is responsible for a great deal of the decoration we find around camp. Campers of course love all the weaving going on— basketry, floor looms, lap looms and hoops —the knitting projects, the crochet hooking, and the cross stitching. Beautiful hats, belts, baskets, pot holders, book marks, and place mats are happily produced everyday in Curosty, as the girls develop their needlecraft and weaving skills. In addition, there are community projects to admire. Right on the door of Curosty is an example of a large woven tapestry that dozens of girls have worked on. Row-by-row, campers of all ages took turns adding different colorful strips of cloth, adding weft to a large warp on a frame. You can see another of these tapestries in the works to the right in the photo.  One of these weaving projects ended up being about 15 feet long, and now serves as a colorful cushion for the dining hall porch bench.  Many of the red rocking chairs around camp likewise have similar handmade seat cushions. Rockbrook is more comfortable and colorful thanks to Curosty.

Even though most of the older campers had guessed it, the announcement that we would be having a dance with Camp Carolina tonight raised the roof with screams of excitement. Clearly, everyone was looking forward to this traditional all-camp event. Specially chosen outfits and costumes were ready to pulled out, hair washed, braided and brushed out. Again, we organized two dances, keeping the youngest girls here at Rockbrook to welcome the smallest boys from Camp Carolina, and transporting our Seniors and Hi-Ups over there to dance with the older boys. You can see from the photos below that the mood at both dances was exuberant, effervescent with high spirits.  For the entire hour and half, there was more singing and screams of excitement than not, as conga lines and group dances formed, and favorite pop songs followed one after the other.  A short break for a homemade Rockbrook cookie didn’t slow things down one bit, either.

Tonight proved once again that these dances don’t have much to do with the boys. There’s perhaps the occasional sashay, especially, as you might expect, from the older girls, but mostly the fun comes from being silly with your friends, dressing up, and jumping around (“dancing”) to familiar songs. It seems to me, it’s the girls, not the boys, that make these dances fun.  That’s not too surprising when you consider the impressive power (energy for fun) this group of girls can generate. Very impressive, indeed!

kids at summer camp dance
teen camp dance girls

Creative Mistakes

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” — Scott Adams

creative weaving kids

We are so fortunate here at camp to have the extra time to slow down and be creative. As head of Curosty, the weaving activity here at Rockbrook, I see firsthand everyday the results of this extra time. From circle weavings to baskets to woven headbands, the girls have made many a woven ware that they may not have had the chance to at home. Along with this opportunity to nourish their creative selves, the girls are also afforded the freedom to make what I like to call “creative mistakes.”

A creative mistake isn’t your conventional mistake. It isn’t a roadblock. It’s not a signal to rip up your project, throw it in the trash, and start all over again. It is a mistake that can lead to a new way of doing something and, as a result, lead to a more interesting finished project. It may feel disruptive in the moment, but when embraced, it is a thing of creative beauty.

Weaving Child

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear campers nervously proclaiming, “I made a mistake!” as they drop their project onto the table in defeat. I very quickly tell them there is no such thing as a mistake in Curosty, and encourage them to keep going with their project. Bumps of yarn sticking up from a woven bookmark makes for a cool texture. Running out of time to weave a rug turns into a little mat for your cat. Just recently, I had a camper who was working on a circle weaving make the decision to veer from weaving in the circle shape because she wanted to cover up the blue yarn she no longer liked. Her finished weaving had dashes of yarn across the center making for a really neat design with unexpected pops of color.

At school or at work we are not always given the space to make mistakes, but here at camp it is welcomed as a tool for learning and discovery. There is value in making mistakes in a creative endeavor because it can turn into something uniquely you.

As a camper once told her Curosty classmates: “The quirks are how you know it’s not from a store.”

fiber arts children

Buzzing with Activity

girl weaving on loom

Stopping into the Curosty cabin, the home of the many fiber arts activities at Rockbrook, is always fascinating. First, it feels like you are stepping back in time because the cabin itself is from the late 19th century with it’s stone fireplace, thick hewn logs, pine floor, simple pane windows, and covered back porch. It’s also buzzing with activity, as girls sit at the center table weaving with strips of cloth, all kinds of threads, colorful yarns, flexible cane and other grassy fibers. Under the direction of master weaver Nancy MacDonald, the girls have been spending loads of time working the tabletop and floor looms, just as young weavers have done in the Curosty cabin throughout Rockbrook’s history. Lately, I’ve seen the girls finish some amazing belts, placemats, potholders, and purses. One particularly cool project has been the many rocking chair seat pads the girls have been weaving from old t-shirt materials. Now all the red rocking chairs on the lodge porches (probably 15 chairs in all) have colorful padded seats. They make a great addition, especially since they were woven by the campers.

Girl Rifle shooter

Down at the rifle range the campers are burning through the ammunition and pounding through their targets. At camp we shoot short .22 caliber rimfire bullets in bolt-action, single-shot rifles. We have many different sized guns, each with a unique name. Just for fun, there’s Guidenstern, Annie Oakley, Draco Malfoy, Big Daddy, Bad Momma, and Spell. With their paper targets hung 25 meters (about 27 yards) away, the girls shoot in a prone position trying to be both accurate and precise with all 5 of their bullets. Ear and eye protection is a must as they shoot. A bullseye is worth 10 points, and I’ve been told that we are consistently seeing girls with scores near and above 30. That’s really good! It may be especially hard to beat the Rockbrook Riflery team this session.

Gaga Ball playing kid

Playing gaga ball takes a different form of concentration than what weaving or shooting a gun requires. Gaga ball is a type of dodgeball where the goal is to leap out of the way (dodge!) as a soft ball is being hit about inside an octagonal-shaped court. Any number of kids can play —we’ve started games with easily 20 girls in the court—, but if the ball hits your foot or leg then you are out, and play continues until only one person is left. The best players concentrate on hitting the ball fast and low toward the walls of the court while at the same time being quick enough to jump out of the way if the ball bounces wildly toward them. The girls play gaga ball as part of the sports and games activity, but there’s usually a pickup game happening during the free swim or twilight periods as well. Gaga is fast-paced and exciting to both watch and play. It’s no wonder there are girls this session that are obsessed with playing it!

This last photo is of a special activity we offered this afternoon as part of our “Winter Wonderland” theme of the day. We decorated the dining hall with ice and snow props, sang winter songs during the meals, and saw lots of winter costumes like several counselors dressed as “ice princesses,” an Olaf snowman, and even a polar bear. This project was to make artificial snow using corn starch, shaving cream, and glitter. Blending all three of these ingredients by hand in a bowl makes a thick, white material that the girls could then roll into balls, and make a snowman. It was a fun, messy project.  Can you tell?!

messy hands snaow making

Living It Up!

From the very moment we woke up this morning, girls have been savoring what they have been calling “the last normal day of camp.” With banquet tomorrow, and Spirit Fire on Wednesday, the end of first session seems to be rapidly approaching. Today feels normal, yet there is a certain urgency in the air to soak up the beauty and fun of camp before it comes to a close. The campers are reenergized after a restful Sunday and intent on living it up throughout the day.

You could see this attitude everywhere today. Many girls chose to go off camp on one of the many trips offered. Some girls went whitewater kayaking on the Upper Green River today, while others spent the day climbing at Cedar Rock. Brought back by high popularity, some middlers and seniors went on a “Wet and Wild” hike to Moore’s Cove, while other campers went to Dupont Forest to explore some of the best waterfalls in the area. Going to camp in Western North Carolina offers so many avenues for adventures, and it is wonderful that there are so many options to engage with the outdoors every day—and so many girls who are excited to go on the trips!

IMG_0362-1

Many other girls stayed in camp and spent the day happily busy in their activities. In drama, the girls helped to paint the set for the upcoming play, The Lion King, and then spent time acting like some of the animals from the show. Girls love drama because they learn both hard skills such as set painting, auditioning techniques, and stage directions, but also soft skills like confidence, and feeling comfortable while acting silly in front of others. As I walked by the lake, I also came across the girls of curosty. In curosty, girls learn how to weave on looms and, on days like today, weave baskets. They sit with their toes in the creek on this beautiful day, chatting to each other while learning how to weave reeds and ultimately create a basket. This is a time-honored Rockbrook activity. In fact, our camp mom, Laura, mentioned to me how much she loved that her kids spend time in the very same creek weaving baskets like the ones she used to make and like the ones her grandmother used to make.

 In addition to the activities, Rockbrook girls stayed busy during their free swims today! The counselor-camper tennis tournament was in full force first free swim. I had the opportunity to play with a camper, and we had so much fun. Through good communication, a few days of practice, and a lot of laughter, we advanced to the final round. Though we did not win the final match, we were proud of our friends who did! As the matches went on, I was struck by the genuine sportswomanship and large amounts of fun that were had on the court. We took it seriously– everyone wanted to do well–but the atmosphere was light and unwaveringly supportive.

Many of those who were not playing tennis were seen swimming or running, both groups trying to complete their last requirements to go to Dolly’s. Rockbrook girls who complete a certain number of laps in the Rockbrook Lake become a part of the esteemed Mermaid Club. The whole camp sings a song in their honor! In the same vein, girls who participate in Rockbrook Runners and complete a certain number of miles (by walking or running), become a part of the Marathon Club. Both clubs are rewarded for their hard work and their many hours of free swims by going to Dolly’s ice cream. As we are approaching the end of camp, girls are buckling down and working hard toward achieving their goals. Girls ran and walked with Rockbrook Runners three different times today—first free swim, second free swim, and twilight! This means that girls who were especially motivated were able to run or walk six miles today!

IMG_0817

In the same way that we are savoring the activities we have to do, I have also seen girls savoring the friendships that they have made. All day, I have seen girls busily finishing their friendship bracelets to give away to their friends, a piece of camp that travels with girls throughout the year. There has been much more intentionality to their togetherness: I have come across many clumps of girls just talking during free swims whereas they usually would write letters or read. As camp is ending, the girls’ focus has been on what has been the most important throughout their experience: the relationships they have formed with each other.

As the day wound down, we all gathered in our lodges for the final night of evening program: counselor impersonations! The girls look forward to this throughout the session, a chance to poke good-natured fun at the counselors. We all laughed until our stomachs hurt and exchanged many hugs and sweet words before having our final goodnight circle as a line. We sang taps, passed the friendship squeeze, and said the Rockbrook Prayer before it was time for milk and cookies. During goodnight circle, we expect a certain amount of peace and comfort, but with it was extra special tonight, as we were not taking any part of the day for granted. As some girls got in to bed, the gentle rattle of the wagon could be heard going down the Senior Line as the CA girls started to set up for banquet and some girls headed to the hill to do a bit of stargazing before bed.

So tomorrow, we will begin packing and for the next two days, we will celebrate our summers and say goodbye. But at Rockbrook, we have learned to live for today. And today was just a normal day at camp: a day well-lived.

IMG_5798-1

Lifelong Inspiration

Camp Weaving Kid

The many looms of the Curosty cabin are starting to really warm up as the girls spend more time weaving. Both the table-top and large floor looms all have completed work on them now. Our master weaver Melanie, who serves as the Fiber Arts Program supervisor at Warren Wilson College during the school year, has been teaching the girls several different geometric patterns that are created by lifting groups of warp fibers as the weft is passed between them. This geometry, added to carefully selected colors for the yarns and thread used, magically creates beautiful cloth. Of course, part of the fun is watching the pattern emerge with each added row. Weaving is an example of a specialty activity that’s not ordinarily taught to kids nowadays, but despite being “traditional,” is still very cool because it’s truly creative, deeply satisfying, and for some, a craft that can become a lifelong hobby. In our 19th-century log cabin in the woods, your Rockbrook girls are experiencing firsthand something that may inspire them for years to come.

Kayaker Kid Camp

Whitewater kayaking is really catching on around here as well, with more and more girls choosing to paddle during one of their activity periods. Jamie, Leland and Andria are happily teaching more and more girls about how fun it can be. After an orientation to the equipment and how to use it (properly fitting a PFD, paddle, and spray skirt, for example), the girls first learn how to slip out of their kayaks if they flip over upside-down. It’s a simple technique called a “wet exit” that involves tucking forward, pulling a loop on the spray skirt, and pushing out of the boat. Most girls pick it up right away, and move on to learning how to maneuver the boat in the water. This morning Leland and Jamie taught girls the next, and more advanced skill in kayaking, the “eskimo roll,” which is a technique that uses the kayaking paddle to roll up-right when a kayaker tips over. This takes practice to learn, but with this kind of enthusiasm from the girls, we’ll soon have some popping right up. Like weaving, kayaking can be a source of lifelong inspiration for these girls.

Color Tag Game Girls

This afternoon was “Cabin Day,” a time when we pause our regular activities to give the campers a chance to do something with their cabin as a group. This could mean making a special treat in the dining hall like homemade ice cream, going for a hike to one of the waterfalls on the camp property, having flip flop races in the creek by Curosty, having a squirt gun battle, or playing another group game of some sort. Today, for example, one of the Middler cabins played a wild game of “Color Tag.” This game is messy. It’s a complicated contest involving colorful (and washable!) paint, little sacks of flour, and enough open grassy space to charge around trying to splash paint on the other players. As you can see, the flour is also thrown, eventually, proudly marking everyone.  While not necessarily something we’d recommend trying at home, this is good camp fun.

Meanwhile, all of the seniors in camp, plus their counselors, took a trip into the Pisgah National Forest for a supper picnic and visit to the famous Sliding Rock. Grilled hotdogs and all the trimmings… plus Watermelon! …made an excellent meal high up at one of our favorite grassy spots in the forest. We played a group game of “I’m a Rockbrook Girl” —which is a bit like musical chairs, only played with shoes— before loading up the six buses and making it to the rock.

Sliding Rock Camp Kids
Dolly's Camp Kids

Sliding Rock is a natural water slide formed by Looking Glass creek as it rolls about 60 feet over a smooth rock and then plunges into a deep pool at the bottom. It’s been an attraction for years, and a perpetual favorite of Rockbrook girls. There’s really nothing quite like it. The crashing roar of the cold water, combined with the piercing screams of the girls sliding down, makes it intensely fun. The girls plunge into the water at the bottom, and pop up wide-eyed and intent on swimming as fast as possible toward the waiting lifeguards. The thrill for some campers becomes addictive, and soon we had a few girls heading back up to slide again and again.

Perhaps the highlight of the night for everyone, though, was our last stop: Dolly’s Dairy Bar. With dozens of (54 to be exact!) unique flavors to choose from, including “Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion,” it didn’t take long for everyone to be holding sweet cups and cones of what some campers call “the best ice cream in the world.” Ice cream after the chill of Sliding Rock? Sure! It’s just that good. And that fun— to be out at night, happily away from the ordinary, and surrounded by your friends. It’s easy to see why it’s great.

Early Weavings at Rockbrook

Continuing our series of photos pulled from our camp history and archives, here is another from the 1930s showing the inside of the Curosty activity cabin. This cabin briefly served as Rockbrook’s office, but soon became, as you can see, where the girls at camp learned to weave. Working with wide floor looms and smaller tabletop looms, campers made —as they continue to make today— wonderful, colorful fabrics. The photo shows many great examples of these early weavings. Take a look at this post to see a few modern photos as well.

1930s image inside of crafts camp log cabin

A Very Cool Setting

Camp Yoga Class
Girls Nifty Knitter

The Hillside Lodge, one of the original three stone lodges built in the 1920s from rock quarried here on the property, is the setting for our Yoga activity. It’s a wonderful space— a smooth, hardwood floor, rough-cut stone walls, a 4ft fireplace with stone mantel, paned windows and thick oak doors. It has very simple log furniture, a few low benches, but is otherwise a nice open space for Line meetings, morning assemblies, and evening programs. During the daily yoga classes, the girls spread out their colorful foam mats on the floor, and Mary Alice, the head instructor, plays calm relaxing music while introducing basic yoga poses and positions. The building is itself beautiful and calm, so it’s the perfect place for doing yoga.

Another very cool setting for one of our camp activities is the shady back porch of the “Curosty” cabin. There you’ll find girls doing needle crafts like knitting, embroidery and cross stitching. This log cabin is one of two (the other being the “Goodwill” cabin) that Mrs. Carrier moved here from her family’s plantation in South Carolina when she founded the camp in 1921. We think both cabins date from before 1888, when her father and mother purchased the plantation.  Cool and breezy, and with the creek quietly gurgling nearby, the Curosty cabin porch is a great place to hang out and knit, and of course chat. Some of the girls are using traditional knitting needles, but these hoop-shaped “Nifty Knitters” have been very popular lately. Working with colorful yarns, these hoops make it easy to weave tubes that become woolen hats. You may have seen photos of a few being worn around camp, in fact.

Camp Lake Rock
Beans and Plantains for Lunch

The lake also comes to mind as a unique part of the environment at Rockbrook. In particular, it’s neat how gigantic rocks frame it, with the biggest being about 25 feet tall next to the water slide. A waterfall constantly tumbles down on one end, and on the other there are two huge flat boulders where the girls can spread their towels and lounge in the sun after swimming. Hidden in the woods among huge trees, and filled by the cold mountain water of Dunn’s Creek, the lake attracts girls all day long. It might be to catch tadpoles, or to cool off in the water, or just to sit nearby, but the lake is a big part of our day at camp. And we love it!

I can’t not mention today’s lunch because it was amazing. Rick made us black beans and posole, and served it with roasted plantains, queso fresco, salsa, sour cream and tortilla chips. The beans had a wonderful smokey, but not spicy, taste that balanced the mild posole (hominy) nicely. Combined with the sweet plantains, it was delicious. Of course the salad bars (which included pasta, chicken, tuna and rice salads, as well as fresh veggies) and peanut butter and jelly station were also seeing plenty of action, but overall I’d say most of the girls tried this traditional Latin American meal. And by many accounts, really enjoyed it.

Camp Drumming Circle

Our after dinner, optional “Twilight” activity was a festival of rhythm and dancing tonight as we welcomed back Billy Zanski for another of his west African drumming workshops. Billy has been playing Djembe for years, has studied under master drummer Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and now teaches private lessons from his drum shop in Asheville. He’s great with the girls and is an enthusiastic instructor. Arriving loaded down with different Djembe and Dundun drums, Billy led us through several rhythms up in the Hillside Lodge with campers and counselors taking turns on all the drums. The dundun bass drums kept everyone together with a core beat while some girls slapped their djembes, and others danced with colorful scarves or responded to Billy’s rhythmic chants. This many drums being played together is loud and infectious, somehow obviously social, and uplifting. In the context of camp, already a place of happy enthusiasm, it’s guaranteed to to be really fun as well.