Eileen Cook Author, Writing Consultant, Editor

Things I learned at camp- then and now

photo When I was around twelve I pleaded with my parents to send me to camp. Begged. Cajoled. Led them to believe my very future happiness was at stake. I’d never been to camp before, but I’d seen pictures, read books, and had a clear mental image of the concept. Tanned confident kids leaping from rope swings into lakes, hair blowing back in the wind as they rode horses, laughing around campfires with friends they would have for a lifetime while singing goofy camp songs.

What I failed to understand was that going to camp was not going to turn me into one of those kids. I would still be the socially awkward, pale skinned, least coordinated human on the planet, only now I would be at a camp away from everything I actually loved.

I knew when I arrived it wasn’t going to work. I dragged my mom’s white hard shelled Samsonite suitcase into our cabin. The other girls looked up at me and declared: “Who brings a suitcase to camp?! Everyone knows you have a trunk.” It was implied that only a loser would be so lame as to bring a suitcase. I’d barely crossed the threshold and I’d already screwed it up. While I am sure reality was different, the way I remember it, everyone in my bunk had been going to camp for years. They all had nicknames, already knew how to canoe and could whip together a popsicle stick yarn coated dream catcher in less than a minute.

When I called our counsellor Sara I was roundly mocked. All the counsellors had nicknames, Bear, Radar, Mushy. No one called them by their real names. No one. Except dorky kids like me who didn’t get it. I also didn’t understand why we called the Kool-aide “bug juice,” but everyone did so I did too.

They may have been lying, but they told me the lake had leaches. I never saw a bloodsucker on me, but I lived in a near constant state of terror. The water was also apparently directly piped in from the arctic circle. I would stand on the dock shaking while everyone else splashed around having fun.

I’d dreamed of horseback riding, but the horses could apparently smell fear coming off me in waves. I was on the horse for less than a second when it threw me. I lay in the dirt, the wind knocked out of me certain I was going to die. I remember the counsellor telling me I had to get back on right away so that I wouldn’t be scared. Too fucking late, I thought, I’m already terrified. That horse hated me. It threw me over and over. Several times into fresh steaming piles of horse shit. This did little to improve my status with my bunkmates. I refused to get back on after it finally threw me onto the water tub and I was almost 100% certain I’d broken my spine. I’d already shed my dignity, it didn’t seem fair to also expect me to be paralyzed from the ordeal.

The camp had rules that stated you weren’t allowed to call home. They finally let me. I’m guessing they didn’t want me to hurl myself into the leach filled lake. Suicide reflects badly on a camp. I begged my parents to come and get me. People in third world prisons haven’t begged as hard as I did for release. My parents came. I’m pretty sure they were disappointed. Not just because they had thrown away the cash to send me, but also because who wants to be the parents of the misfit kid who can’t hack it at camp? Oh the shame.

Camp made me realize at a young age that you can’t just reinvent yourself by pretending to be something you’re not. Going to camp didn’t suddenly make me out-going, or coordinated, or someone who actually liked the great outdoors. The truth is that I’m an introvert who likes books and has no affection for creepy crawly things that live outside.

This week I went back to camp. I’d been asked to speak at Camp Goodtimes, a camp for kids with cancer and their families. When kids with cancer want to hear you talk about writing you risk a little camp PTSD, pull up your big girl panties and go. The whole bumpy trip down the endless logging road I kept second guessing the plan. I should have just sent bookmarks.

When I got there the co-ordinator warned me it had been quite buggy this year. There was a can of Off outside where I was going to speak. I went to spray myself down and one of the kids said: “You better be careful, that stuff can cause cancer.” Then they all laughed. Dark humour? Sarcasm? These were my people!

After my talk one of the campers made me a friendship bracelet because I was an inspiration to her. To her. Talk about humbling. They invited me to stay for lunch. There was an elaborate game that resulted in some people having to eat with their hands or while blind folded. I didn’t get all the rules, but they were having an awesome time. Some were in wheelchairs (cancer or horseback riding accidents- I never asked.) A couple had hearing issues, there was a girl who was now blind due to her cancer. (“You guys didn’t put hot sauce on my lunch again, did you?”) They were all there having a great time, telling cancer to screw off for awhile.

It made me realize maybe camp had a good side. Maybe you can’t reinvent yourself by going somewhere else and pretending, but you can choose to embrace the experience. Plus, you can learn to make a kick ass friendship bracelet.

Home Repairs. Sigh

It all started very simply. We wanted to paint the trim on our house. Spruce the place up a bit. When they power washed the house to prep for painting we discovered the trim around the front window was a bit soft. No problem. We’d just replace the trim.

Then the trim guy pointed out it would be easier to replace the front window. It was one of the original windows to our 1948 house. Fine. A new window it is.

Last Wednesday they came to replace the window. You know it isn’t going to be good when you hear the repair guy say: Sweet Jesus- look at that!

Termites! The biggest nest he’s ever seen (leave it to us to do it big). Turns out the little buggers have pretty much munched and dined their way through the entire front wall of my house. Next thing I know we’re having the front of our house ripped off, both windows now need to be replaced. We need new beams, new insulation, new siding. Oh, and did I mention they’re tearing down the drywall in my dining room? The one I just redecorated this year?

Our house now has a hole to the outside (let’s hear it for it being warm and sunny versus middle of winter!) a fine layer of dust on everything, and I keep swatting my arms and legs certain I felt something crawling on me.

DH had the best attitude. He pointed out it’s just stuff. Stuff that can be fixed. We’re both fine. The dog is fine. No, it isn’t how we’d like to spend that money, but that is what emergency funds are for- emergencies.

I am learning to write with power saws going and reminding myself that all of this may end up in a book someday. I wonder if that makes the repairs tax deductible?

Random Monday- Plotting

I am attempting to plot out my next book. This involves a lot of cursing, followed by moments of euphoria and then despair when I realize what I thought would work, doesn’t.

This is a time to throw chocolate and bottles of wine in my general direction and otherwise leave yourself a wide safety barrier. 10353275_10152186637344007_4759591901126294155_o

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Not that I advocate giving up, but if you do- might as well spend the day having a good time.

Random Monday – The Canada Edition

It’s Canada Day tomorrow. As a shiny new Canadian I feel honour bound to say this is pretty awesome country. I feel lucky they’re letting me stay.

We’ll be mixing the traditional (BBQ) with the non-traditional (working on edits.) There will be good friends and good times. To get you in the mood here are some fun facts about Canada you might not have known:

Canada is the second largest country in the world.

Canadians can deduct a number of things from their tax software, but I bet you didn’t know that dog food is tax-deductible in Canada.

The average life expectancy at birth is 81.16 years – the sixth highest in the world.

Canada’s literacy rate is over 99%.

Canadian inventions include the game Trivial Pursuit (Scott Abbot and Chris Haney), the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell), basketball (James Naismeth) and the snowmobile (Joseph-Armand Bombardier).

The CN Tower in Toronto was the world’s tallest free standing structure until 2007.

The US buys more oil from Canada than any other country.

Thirty two percent of Canadians are very happy, 55% are quite happy

Count me in the very happy category.

Random Monday

DH and I ran away last week to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I think we’re both pretty impressed that the other person has put up with us for this long. We went off to the wine country where we tried lots of wine, sat in the sun, napped and ate entirely too much good food. It was a fabulous time all around.

Now this week it is back to work. Edits are calling my name….

Woo-hoo! The Almost Truth is Kindle’s Book of the Day

Need some summer reading? Fire up your e-reader. Amazon has chosen THE ALMOST TRUTH as the Kindle Book of the Day. This means it is a mere $1.99.

Less than a cup of coffee. Less than parking (depending where you live.) Less than a fast food meal AND more satisfying.

Happy Reading.

Hump day wisdom

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Things to be ashamed about other than reading YA books

A recent article in Slate, argued that adults have no business reading YA books. In fact, the author argues that adult readers should be embarrassed or ashamed of reading books designed for children. The article doesn’t say, but I think it is safe to say that the author would hold a dim view of other non-literary reading choices.
- Science Fiction/Fantasy (designed for science obsessed, dragon loving nerds)
- Mystery/Thrillers (designed for closeted psycho kitten peelers)
- Romance/Chick Lit (designed for sex obsessed women with a Prince Charming delusion)

I can think of a lot things that should fill you with more shame and embarressment then your choice of reading material.

- Wearing Crocs with socks and shorts

- Pushing down old ladies just to watch them fall

- Embezzling from disabled war veterans

- Bringing a loaded semi-automatic into your local Chipolte because FREEDOM and you hope it will make people think you have a larger than average sized penis

- Waking up hungover next to a stranger wearing only a dried crusty layer of spray cheese over your naked body and the sour slick taste of regret in your mouth.

That’s just off the top of my head. Give me some time and I could think of worse. I don’t think there is anything wrong with literary books or challenging yourself with a genre that you typically don’t read. Bring on the good books. Books that challenge your thought process or that illuminate the human condition. However, not every book needs to do that or does it in the same way. Here’s a wild idea-

- Maybe reading could be done just for fun.

I was recently discussing books with a friend. She tracks what she reads and had the realization that on average she reads one book every two weeks, roughly 26 books a year. She then extrapolated that number. If she lives to the average of 85,she has only 1,040 books left in her lifetime.

My first thought was: thank God I read faster than her. Then after calculating my own book doomsday number I realized DEAR GOD THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME TO READ ALL THE THINGS! Now if a book is not tickling my fancy I put it down and pick up another. It’s about enjoying the time and books I have left. The clock is ticking.

I don’t care what you read. If you want some ideas of books I loved I’m happy to share. I’m just glad you’re reading. If you want to be embarrassed, maybe be embarrassed that you feel mocking what gives other people some joy in this life in an effort to feel superior is how you spend your time.

Things that only seem to happen to me

Earlier this week I had the bright idea to make popcorn to munch on while we watched hockey. Popcorn is not a complicated food product.

For other people, that is.

I took it off the stove and poured the popcorn into the bowl. Then a stray kernel flew out of the pan and hot oil and somehow (time travel? Portal? Sheer stupid bad luck?) flew out of the pan and down my shirt front.

What is worse than blazing hot oiled kernel falling into your shirt? One that manages to lodge itself in your bra. It is hard to fully describe how painful this was. I danced around the kitchen pulling at my shirt trying to get the kernel out, but only moving it about so it could burn a new piece of skin.

I now have a giant blister on my boob and a new appreciation for microwave popcorn versus the stove top variety.

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