Friday, November 8, 2019

How a Day Camp Changed my Life

Yup. dis me. In Mime makeup. in 2011.
When I was eleven, and hyper focused on the dream of becoming an actress, which later evolved into a theater teacher, which fizzled out after not winning a scholarship to become a theater teacher... my mom sent my brother and I to Magic Camp. I had been to Dinosaur Camp, and writing camp, and acting camp, in which I played Lenny from Crimes of the Heart-- the peak of my child acting career, but Magic Camp was different. My first summer there, in just a two-week session, I learned how to polish a magic trick, was filmed doing magic for a news segment, learned how to project using my diaphragm, and learned the magic of perception. But even more important than that, I met some of the most amazing, inspiring characters that are still deeply influential in my life, and I knew I had to come back the next summer.
When I was twelve, I returned to the Performers Academy. I made more friends. I practiced performing, built an illusion, and learned pro-tips from magicians that were locally famous who talked to me at the age of twelve as if I were a peer.
At thirteen I became a CIT for magic camp, and learned that aside from performance-focused camps, they teach the magic of self confidence through a magic, juggling and puppetry curriculum. But the REAL magic, again, was the people. The real magic was the spine-tingling joy that I STILL feel when I hear Sousa's Washington Post march, which signified carnival day-- a day in which campers dressed however they wanted and spent the afternoon winning tickets and trying their skills at a variety of quality hand-crafted games. The REAL magic of magic camp was finding a place where I whole-heartedly BELONGED in a world where I felt like an outsider.

It has been twenty years since my first day at magic camp. In twenty years I have referenced the skills I've learned, both internal and external, from that experience almost every day. I have attended weddings of friends that I met at this little day camp when I was barely a teenager. From this one life experience I have an adopted-uncle, a second father, and a whole family of life-long friends. Because of this simple-seeming day camp, and all the passion and intention that went into it's development, I have earned several jobs, had a few magical relationships, and supported many camp friends through pursuit of atypical jobs.

At Magic Camp, I learned the beauty of empathy.
We practiced an all-inclusive model, never turning down a child who was interested in coming to camp, despite any diagnosis or ability they may have had. We had a "Director of Empathy" who spent at least half a day with a different kid building relationships and getting to know why they didn't want to do juggling that day.
We had campers with ADD, ADHD, bi-polar disorder and Downs Syndrome. We had counselors with those qualities as well. Gay, straight, bi, tall, black, Asian, overweight, speech-impediment, autistic... all together, old and young with one common goal- to learn magic. But the magic wasn't the slight of hand we were taught in magic class. The magic was the non-verbal nine-year-old teaching the autistic seven-year-old boy the magic trick she just learned. The magic was having a trick to show and an audience to listen.
What I really learned from ten years of working at camp, as a CIT, counselor, front desk manager, and camp director, was that we ALL have special needs. Some of us need to be left alone. Some need hugs. One needed to draw with his poop on the bathroom walls, but we worked on that. I needed all the papers on the front desk to be perfectly straight despite the fact that Joe would purposely run down the hallway to make them blow everywhere.
I have applied this knowledge to all my interactions since then. When I see someone angry, or hungry, or drunk or manic, I can empathize. I wonder what needs of theirs aren't getting met and how I can help them. This is especially true with the children I teach.

I learned external skills at magic camp, too. Just last week I had a class full of fifteen elementary students from kinder to fifth grade with almost unmanageable energy. Everyone was asking me different questions. "Can we go outside?" "Can I color?" "I need to call my dad". The day was only 10 minutes from ending. I opened my drawer to a bag of rubber-bands-- a simple tool that i bring Everywhere, and spun around with, "Who wants to see a Magic Trick?!". Instant silence. The group sat down. I showed my default, the "Aggie-Handcuffs." After all the kids but one fifth-grader got picked up, I swore him to secrecy, and taught him the trick.

Despite having almost two decades between when I first learned some of these techniques and activities, I still teach them with great success. I had a student who is always "bored" and asking "Do we HAVE to" when I introduce a new game or activity. But when I did some clowning activities today he was totally engaged in a way I hadn't seen him before.

I use other skills, too. At a check-out line, I drew a happy face on my finger and entertained a crying infant with my novice ventriloquism. I have built puppets of all shapes and sizes with many different groups of people after learning the power of a glue gun, at Magic Camp. Yesterday I pacified my group of wild elementary students with a lesson on balance, inspired by Peter's ladder-on-the-chin lesson. When I went to my aerial class after work, I decided to bring my jar of peacock feathers inside, rather than leaving them in the car. I subtly taught feather balancing to a child sitting bored on the couch while here mother took a silks class. At the end of the class, the child was running around the room chasing a peacock feather on her hand while I offered tips from my upside-down-on-a-rope position. This encouraged a conversation with the owner about kids camps and now I'm developing my own kids juggling class in Taos.
Oh, also-- knowing how to tie a balloon dog, bear, or sword has come in handy at the strangest times.

Hands down, the most important thing I learned from Magic Camp was improv. Life is improv. So many people are afraid to stand up and say something off the top of their head in front of other people, but that is literally what life is. Making swift decisions that hopefully have some comic relief but ultimately help you survive the moment and relieve your stress by putting it on someone else. Especially in working with children, and working in the outdoors, I have to improvise every day. I have taught several basic Improv classes to different groups of co-workers, students, and at conferences. We taught improv classes, but it was also just the mentality around camp. A mentality that I still carry. How can we rig the lights to turn on and off with a magic wand? Improv it.
The school for the blind is coming today and the show for the day is a wordless vaudeville act?! Time for some quick-thinking skills.
Magic Camp didn't take place in Hogwarts. You didn't have to jump through a wall to get there. It was usually in an old school or church or mall. Yet, we improvised a magical world within that space. Without it ever being spoken, you could feel that as soon as you entered, you could try anything, fail with friends, practice something all day if you wanted, and just be yourself.
I suppose the secret to our successful improvisation, was that we were challenged to do it in the first place. The Magic Camp empowered young adults to empathize, improvize, and take care of a cadre of campers who didn't otherwise belong. At age 14, I was responsible for taking care of a whole group of campers. At age 17, I was responsible for knowing the names of 100 campers and their parents, and sometimes their dog. At age 21, I was responsible for running a whole camp! I felt empowered, and supported. And that has translated to my whole life, through my own careers, and empowering other young people.

It's been twenty years since I first attended Magic Camp. Peter the Adequate is the uncle I never had, who has shown up for me in my most trying times without hesitation. Founder Kent's advice and role modeling has stuck with me as much as my own father's. And, although this is intended for parents of future campers, I can't neglect to mention that I met the love of my life there... when we were staff... and I chased him across the country for 14 years before we got engaged-- my own Forest Gump story.

I shudder to think of who I would be if we hadn't found the Magic Camp ad in the newspaper twenty years ago. Would I wake up and listen to Stars and Strips Forever with the delight of a kid on Christmas day, wearing a red ribboned choker with a top hat on it, on my way to teach juggling at the aerial gym? Would I live my life diving into my passions, however unpopular, knowing that whatever happens to me I have a core of framily who TRULY understand me, in a way that no one else ever did?

Since moving away from Magic Camp, I no longer enter a room full of people and have them cheer at my arrival. I haven't been a magician's assistant in at least a decade. I definitely don't have my magic briefcase anymore. I recently donated some of my more enduring magic tricks to a beginner magician friend. My kids Magic Camp shirt doesn't fit anymore. But I have a bag of juggling supplies that I carry with me to new places-- a great way to break the ice. On my floor lies a bag from the Society of Young Magicians, and my laundry bag has the Magic Camp stamp. On my shelf sits a half dozen magic-themed books. But beyond these material things polka-dotted through my room, Magic Camp has woven dozens of amazing people, experiences and skills through my life. Now I believe in Magic.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Back on the Wagon

October 1st
 The short excuse is that I lost focus, shifted priorities, and got "too busy" to adhere to my workout regimine.
The longer story is that I fell in love, I started a new, emotionally demanding but physically rewarding position at my non-profit, my fiance passed away before the wedding, in grief I hungered for nothing but lucky charms, and even though I cried through a few workouts in the following months, I couldn't maintain a routine. I started a new relationship that required some navigating of personal space and two years later still find myself moving, searching for and creating my own space, and chasing routine (a subject I have ironically neglected to succeed in blogging about). I am thankful that I made toning, training, and exercising such a regular part of my life when I had routine, because when things got crazy I had the knowledge (and desire) to drop in workouts when I could.

Ocotber 5th

Side Note: At my peak stress, I lost about 25 lbs in a year. This would be awesome if it were intentional, but I'm sure it was mostly muscle weight loss that came from appetite loss. During this time I received some comments about how great I looked. I did feel good in some ways to be 25 lbs lighter. Pull-ups were easier even with my missing muscle. But I wasn't as healthy as I had been. Just remember that skinny isn't healthy. Everyone has something going on, and if you see someone that looks like "Damn!" try something like, "you're glowing", "you look really happy", "you seem to be engaging in healthy routines" or just ask them how they feel.
*steps off soap box*
This year, despite earning my Personal Training Certification which gives me the authority to tell other people how to live healthily, I have still found it difficult to get back into a regular workout routine. Granted, though my journey in the last few years I have reconsidered what a healthy workout regimen is. Every month this year, I swore "this will be the month I get back into it" but traveling, moving, new jobs, etc. kept that pushing to the next month until finally, this October I had nothing else to do but focus!

October 14th
Here's what I did:

1) Plan
Arguably, this is the most fun part. You have nothing to lose in your planning phase, just ambitions. Obviously planning is like goal-setting: you want to make your plan achievable. Since I had been plotting my big return-to-workouts for months, as well as studying some beefy training-focused manuals, I didn't have to put too much work into my plan this time.
Here's what my plan looked like:

Every week of the month, follow this format.
Monday- Hill Runs
Tuesday- 12 minute athlete + thenics workouts
Wednesday- Sprints and/or aerials class
Thursday- Full body weights and/or fitness class at The Body Shop
Friday- Rest day
Saturday- "distance" run
Sunday- Active rest, stretch session(s)

2) Commit
October 31st
I have read a lot about training principles in the last few months. I've watched a few movies about crossfit and body building. I've started attending an Aerials class and a couple fitness classes per month. I believe that all of these forms of fitness have their place. My goal this month was SUPER simple, because I knew that's what would make me successful. My goal was just to stick to my plan. As you can see, I didn't set out any strong goals in my plan. Since I've been off the wagon for so long, my goal was just to DO something. Even if my hill run was just one or two of the driveways across the road, or my distance run was just to the mailbox and back (2.5 miles). At least I did something, every day, and followed my plan.

This month I didn't worry about nutrition, though that's something I really need to refocus on again.

The results?
I feel awesome. Granted, I am very blessed to have a body that (at least for now) is very responsive. I bought my first pair of jeggings a few days ago and it's all I want to wear. There were days that things came up and I had to shift my schedule around, but I at least tried to do some sort of 'work out' those days or doubled up the next day if I had to.
These weren't hard work outs. Some days I didn't even put on work out clothes. I just moved. That's what I want to encourage future clients to do-- just move. Be in your body, make it do stuff. Challenge yourself little bits at a time. And hopefully now that I'm getting back into my body, I can inspire future clients.

What's next?
My aerials class has been very humbling. I hadn't been on the rope since college (almost a decade ago), so remembering the grip strength, foot locks and core strength has been challenging. For November, I plan to stay committed to my schedule, work on eating enough (some...any?!) protein each day, and focus on an aerials-based workout plan that I wrote while waiting for my oil change this morning. woo!