Did you ever go to sleep away summer camp as a kid? I did, and it was the best. I made friends overnight, ate sloppy joes, slop, sloppy joes, learned what a crush was, and stayed up all night with my bunkmates, laughing so hard we never slept.
On Monday, I returned from being a camp counselor at Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults in the beautiful redwoods of Anderson Valley, California. Camp Grounded was organized by Digital Detox, which plans technology-free retreats so people can “disconnect to reconnect,” so none of the 18-67 year-old campers were allowed to have cell phones, computers, or digital cameras.
The other rules at Camp Grounded included no talking about work, as well as no real names—only nicknames. Which means that for 4 days, instead of checking my email 345 times and looking at my phone 76 times to find no new text messages, I developed new crushes, typed on a typewriter, saw every star in the sky, freed the jail during capture the flag, made a truffle with my hands using almond butter, coconut flour, cocoa, cinnamon, hibiscus, and Himalayan sea salt, danced on the table after dinner to Twist-and-Shout, and made new friends named Honey Bear, Ducky, Spunky Brewster, Rikki St. James, and Lux Warrior.
Since leaving camp is the worst part about camp, and since next summer seems so far away, I wrote myself a letter to remember everything I learned.
A Letter From Camp Grounded
If you can hear me, clap once. If you can hear me, clap twice.
You are turning 30 in two weeks, but clearly, you are still a child. This is a good thing. Be ridiculous, be spontaneous, play every day. Play is what makes you happy.
When you get distracted by all the millions of things you need to do or could be doing, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and open them. You are exactly where you need to be.
The most important times are timeless, they don’t happen from 4:00-4:30pm, you can’t schedule or reschedule them, they just are. Walk outside. Look up at the trees. Listen to the wind. Listen to your breath. Listen as Barnaby plays the guitar.
The spaces in between, the moments when nothing is happening—when you are waiting in line—are for reflection, or smiling at the person next to you, not for checking Instagram.
Don’t reach for your pocket every other minute. Look up. There is so much to see right in front of you. The orange and green duck hat with horns, the knee-high socks with two blue stripes, the guy behind the talent show stage dressed like a chicken.
If you can’t for the life of you remember the name of a movie, instead of asking Google, ask the people around you. If they don’t know either, move on. There is beauty in not knowing the answer.
If you want to get to know someone, don’t ask them what they do. You just met 200 awesome campers and counselors—you have no idea what one of them actually does for a living—but you know how good they look in a onesie, and how fun they are to dance with at the 80s prom, and that’s more important.
Your crush has not texted you, she has not liked your status—she is waiting for you, right now—to walk with her under the redwoods, and stare up at the sky.