Well, here’s a picture I should be too embarrassed to post:

This is me having a big old time at patrol camp. This is back in the days my dad still cut my hair on the kitchen stool, and obviously I didn’t bother to dry my hair for the photo. Maybe you can tell by the Billy Idol sneer how I take to dressing up in paper headbands and feathers.

I went to patrol camp the summer before sixth grade to become “an officer.” This selection means I was misunderstood to be a child who would not light her patrol post on fire or try to send kids across the street when they were most likely to get run over.

In the mornings, the girls stood near the flag pole outside of our cabins to do exercises. All the excercises had accompanying chants, and the one I did with great seriousness was the “we must increase our bust” exercise, when we all stood with our arms like chicken wings and tried to touch our elbows behind our backs. “The bigger, the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys depend on us.”

When you look at least four years younger than your classmates and people regularly mistake you for being a boy, camp is just one more place to feel different and alone.

By the end of my week there, it seemed camp had improved some. I’d kissed and slow-danced with one of the camp counselors and was glad to finally be noticed and included. Okay, sure, this sounds like pedophilia now, but I didn’t know better at the time and spent the rest of the summer searching for his phone number so I could hear his voice and then hang up.


All these years later, as I do readings and meet with agents and editors and marketing teams, I still feel like I’m the kid with the feather on her head, just wearing a nicer t-shirt. Maybe that’s why I like hanging out with other writers so much. I prefer to spend my time with fellow misfits.

Here’s what I like best about our community: You can take off your mask and let down your guard. And when you discover you’re still accepted, and that some of your peers dare to think more of you than you think of yourself, you start to dream bigger dreams, take risks, create bolder art, and care about others’ work and success as much as your own. I can’t help but imagine what a better summer I would have had if we’d all been at camp together, but at least we’ve made our own camp right here in the present.

Author’s Note: The American Camp Association created a video in which actors and musicians share how their lives were changed for the better “because of camp.” After watching their video, I realized that I’d had a very different summer camp experience…

Because of camp I developed my first severe case of poison oak.

Because of camp I discovered that rock climbing didn’t build confidence, just bruises.

Because of camp my very first French kiss was with a circus arts girl whose tongue moved around in my mouth like a rabid skunk on roller skates.

Because of camp I thought that all girls French kissed that way, so I began kissing the same way too.

Because of camp hardly any girl ever wanted to kiss me. Only the crazy circus arts girl.

Because of camp I developed my first severe case of pink eye.

Because of camp I learned that I could lip-synch the hell outta “Stairway to Heaven.”

Because of camp I discovered that I enjoyed lanyard making far more than instructional swimming and horseback riding combined.

Because of camp I learned that the foxy girls rarely went for the lanyard-making guys—especially the ones with pink eye, poison oak, and couldn’t kiss for shit—no matter how good they were at lip-synching “Stairway to Heaven.”

Because of camp I discovered the true beauty of bouncing breasts during a volleyball game.

Because of camp I realized that I totally hated at volleyball, but kept playing because of the breasts.

Because of camp I discovered that the girls in the dance program were far hotter, and far better kissers than the girls in the circus arts program, but that on first hook-up the circus arts girls would easily go to third base, while the dance girls would only go to first.

Because of camp I discovered that most kids, without any hesitation or sense of remorse, would gladly torture and kill any insect or woodland creature they could get their hands on.

Because of camp I learned that I sucked ass in both carpentry and martial arts.

Because of camp I never got a chance to score with any girls I found remotely interesting because they were either getting scammed on by the male counselors or the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.

Because of camp I learned to see backwards and forwards at once because no one could be trusted; especially the animal killers, the male counselors, and the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.

Because of camp I took numerous enrichment classes—drama, SAT prep, photography—and realized that I only excelled in one: crime science forensics.

Because of camp I learned that, yes, I could still be severely depressed, even in the great outdoors.

Because of camp I discovered that there was actually a class for learning how to make your bed, and I sucked at it.

Because of camp I discovered that when you flip over in a canoe, once you hit that cold, dick-shrinking water and your balls go up into your throat, even your closest of friends suddenly adopt the mentality: Every man for himself.

Because of camp I learned to truly despise tie-dyeing. And balloon animals. And yo-yo tricks.

Because of camp I learned that I was prone to sleepwalking and snoring, but could make one hell of a Smores.

Because of camp I discovered that both golf and ceramics were a hell of a lot more tolerable after smoking a joint.

Because of camp I learned that the whole camp experience had very little to do with my parents wanting me to have an enjoyable summer, and more to do with them just wanting to get me the hell out of their lives for a month.

Because of camp I learned in religious studies class that if my parents didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior they’d go to hell, but that I wouldn’t.

Because of camp I learned that that maybe wasn’t such a bad idea: having my parents in hell while I kicked back in heaven.

Because of camp I discovered that the apocalypse didn’t necessarily have to be all war, famine, and death. It could simply be having to attend golf or ceramics class without a sufficient buzz.

Because of camp I learned that the girl with Bells Palsy—which made half of her face go numb and uncontrollable—would actually turn out to be the prettiest girl there after a week’s worth of antibiotics.

Because of camp I discovered beer pong. And consequently learned that what I lacked in ping-pong skills, I sufficiently made up for in drinking and barfing abilities.

Because of camp I learned that the kids on crutches always got the most attention. So during the night, when no one was around, I’d jump off the Smokey the Bear statue, trying to break my legs by landing on my knees. But it never worked.

I always landed on my feet.



Final Note: A special thanks to the following people for sharing with me their inspirational (and traumatic) camp experiences: Jessica, Marlene, Desiree, Tony, Tammy, Meghan, Khadija, Jean, Tracy, and MJ.

And now, dear readers, if you’d like to share your own comments and/or summer camp stories, I’d love to hear them…

Nerd Camp

By Irene Zion


As a kid, Victor had glorious times at summer camp. He claims his best childhood memories to this very day are from summer camp. He still talks about it. Marilyn Monroe came up to his camp with her husband Arthur Miller to visit his kids one year on parents’ weekend.  Since Victor and his friends were just dense little kids, they treated her just like any old mother.

He claims his very best year was the year that polio was rampant in the United States and there wasn’t a parents’ weekend for fear of spreading the poliovirus. This was before the Salk vaccine. All you could do was try to avoid getting infected. It was really serious; kids were getting really sick and ending up in iron lung machines. Kids were being crippled and dying. Even today, I don’t think anyone knows why it hit kids so much harder than it did adults. The campers were mercifully oblivious and loved being free of their parents for the whole summer long.

Victor began going to camp when he was five years old and continued for nine years. He keeps in touch with campmates he met when he was five years old. That’s sixty years! He wanted our kids to have the same wonderful experience that he had.

Benjamin at first went to a regular sports-type camp. He went for three summers until he, himself, researched other alternatives. He hated sports camp. He said it was dirty there. Of course, camp was outside in the woods and there is undoubtedly dirt there. He was in a bunk, not a tent, but he found that to be too dirty also. He told us he would rather be doing math and science. So, the next year he went to science camp.

He preferred science camp, but it turned out that science camp was also outdoors in the woods. He wasn’t happy there, either. “It isn’t rigorous enough for me. It’s too easy and it’s too dirty,” he said. So he only went to science camp for one summer.

Then I did some research. He needed a camp sort of environment that was indoors, clean and let him do science or math all day. I found out that Northwestern University had a summer program for kids who could pass the required tests. Benjamin always passed any tests he ever took. So the summer of his 8th grade year he started taking college-level math at Northwestern every summer. He was besotted. He proudly called it “Nerd Camp.” He was in his element. He went to “Nerd Camp” again after his 9th grade year. Loved every minute. Made life-long friends there. Ben wanted to go again after his 10th grade year also. We gave him the application to fill out.

Understand, the only reason that I read through the application was to fix spelling errors. Ben can’t spell. Seriously, he can’t spell at all. He’s entirely missing the spelling section of his brain. Mind you, he always aced his spelling tests in elementary school, but the moment the test was over, the correct spelling was lost in the ether. He could only learn short-term spelling.

So. (Pay attention, here.) I’m proofreading his application. I get to the part where he had to fill in whom to call in an emergency. Ben wrote in his roommate, “Will.” I read on. Then the application asked the relation of the emergency contact to the applicant. Ben wrote: “Lover.”


I explained to Ben that the emergency contact had to be the people who were responsible for his medical care, which would be his parents. He acquiesced without a word and erased “Will” and “Lover” and replaced it with Victor and me and “Parents.”

But then we were in a pickle. We agonized over how to best explain to him that his gayness did not matter to us. We loved him just exactly as he was. We told him as much. But we hadn’t encountered anything like this before, so I read up on being a good parent to a gay son. I read everything available at the time.

We questioned all his siblings. They all knew that Ben was unusual, but they were all surprised to hear that Ben was Gay. We instructed them on the importance of validating him, reassuring him and encouraging him. We spoke about how best to comfort him when he came across teasing or worse. We spent weeks preparing the family to make Ben feel good about himself, no matter what might come his way.

Each of his siblings came to us at different times and expressed doubt. No one was sure, but they just didn’t see Ben as being Gay. Finally, after tiptoeing around Ben for all this time, the kids just asked him outright if he were Gay. He laughed. He said he only wrote that as an experiment. He wanted to see how we would react and was very pleased with how effective his ploy was. He was delighted with the outcome.

So. If anyone needs to know what to do when they first discover that their son is Gay, ask us. We already did all the research. It turns out that we just don’t personally need it after all.

trout stream

When I was ten, my parents sent me to summer camp for two weeks. They made the arrangements secretly, knowing a fit was inevitable the minute they broke the news. I was an explosive kid, coming as I did from a histrionic family, and my parents wanted me gone for a while so they could rage at each other without me around to upstage them.