I didn’t know I was going to Bible Camp. My parents, who literally chose and signed me up for said camp, didn’t know either.
To be fair, the brochure was pretty vague, but…the signs were there. My mom and dad just didn’t bother to read the whole thing. The attitude was more: “It has great safety ratings, and the bayside setting looks gorgeous. Let’s sign you up, kid!”
Thus began a very unwanted 2–week-long spiritual journey that not only caused me to renounce Christianity forever, but also made me gain at least 4 pounds in pure, Christian-Hippie-Counselor-fueled stress.
Oh, and there were jellyfish. A lot of them. I f***ing hate jellyfish.
It Began With Good Intentions — As Most Mistakes Do
Sometimes you have a wonderful, bestseller idea that ends up being…well, something else. Like so many fine writers, my parents and I had grand aspirations for my first summer camp experience.
Ah, summer camp — is there anything else so quintessentially American? The sun, the watersports, the little-girl politics that teach you your place in the world… In our humble minds, we envisioned campfires and stories about bears (or some other stereotypical bullsh**).
Instead, I got lectured about the sins of Eve and was told that Revelation would fall upon us at any moment and I had to be prepared. All I wanted was s’mores and gossip, but all I got were disarmingly nice-looking counselors telling me that the fires of Hell were nigh.
And that’s okay! As is the case with writers’ many, many story ideas, not all of our experiences can live up to the expectations we set for them. There will be times in every writer’s life where they have to accept that moment when hopes and reality diverge, and they’ll need to make a choice: either you stick with the project and make the most of it, or you move on.
Although in the case of Bible Camp, I didn’t actually have a choice about staying or leaving. I was stuck. Trapped. Bamboozled. HOODWINKED. And once I was there, the only way out…was through.
Like they say: when in Rome…wait, actually, maybe Rome isn’t the best example in this context. You know, all things considered.
When Life Gives You Jellyfish, Become So Stubborn You Defy The Laws Of Physics
Now, to be clear, I do believe in God. I’m actually quite devoted to my faith. It’s not Christianity — especially not the rather sketchy version displayed at this particular establishment — but it’s resilient.
Which, incidentally, is one of my chief personality traits. It’s also why Bible Camp quite unintentionally made me believe in miracles for the first time. How, you ask? (Pretend to nod. Thank you.) Well, because of the Banana Boats, of course.
For the uneducated, Banana Boats are these godforsaken commercially-sold rafts that are — surprise, surprise — crafted to look like two connected bananas. You really can’t make this sh** up, can you?
B.B.s, as I’ll call them from now on, are made to be pulled behind a high-speed powerboat while your hapless victims cling helplessly to the plastic salvation beneath their trembling bodies.
This is widely considered to be a Fun And Normal Thing where I live. So, Bible Camp had a set of B.B.s. They were quite proud of them, actually. They were in the brochure. I distinctly recall saying “oh, I hate those things. I’m not going to go on it.”
Here’s the thing about Hippie Christian Camp Counselors (HCCCs), though. They are tryants. Dictators. Those fun, team-building activities they hold so dear? They’re mandatory. Even when THE ENTIRE F***ING BAY IS EXPERIENCING A SEMIANNUAL JELLYFISH BLOOM.
As it was that particular Summer. Y’all, when the Bay has a bloom, I’m talking full-on opaque clouds of sting-laden white jellyfish everywhere. They’re in the current, they’re in the tide, and they’re coating the shore like some kind of divine, squishy-yet-firm omen of the end-times.
The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Chrysaora Itself
I have a legitimate jellyfish phobia. I still, at age 24, start tearing up and panicking when I see pictures of them. These people — these…these HCCCs — told me that I just had “to trust in the Lord and enjoy the ride.” Oh my God. I wanted to tear out their culturally-appropriated dreadlocks with my tiny, (approximately) 10-year-old bare hands.
Instead, I somehow found myself on the B.B. with a slew of eager youths who were apparently immune to both fear and reason. And the genus known as Chrysaora, a.k.a. jellyfish.
A Banana Boat is literally designed to do flips and spins in the water. How is that even remotely up to regulatory safety standards? Did Satan himself invent these stupid rafts? I don’t know. But I do know that no one — and I mean no one — stays on the damn things while they’re being pulled.
No one except me. The Chosen One.
To make a long, horrifying story short, that effing fruit-shaped torture device did not one, but two 360 degree spins while we were all on it. I can still hear the screams of my Wal-Mart-bathing-suit-clad compatriots as they were launched into the cloudy ether of those dark waters, never to be seen again.
Just kidding. They were seen approximately fifteen minutes later, on the dock. Crying and screaming as the HCCCs tried to handle about 200 separate jellyfish stings. Every single one of those kids fell off the B.B. and landed directly in the greedy stingers of The Enemy.
All of them…save one. Me. My abject terror had imbued me with the strength of Samson himself, and I had defied both gravity and man by clinging to the Banana Boat so tightly I was able to remain seated. Did I literally have burns on my hands from grabbing the plastic? Yes. But such is the cost of War.
I also happened to be the only one paranoid enough to pack aloe into my day bag when we departed from Bible Study that morning, so I became a hero to all when I offered it freely to heal my fellow soldiers’ battle-wounds. R.I.P. girls, you did your best.
Okay, Emily, But What The F*** Does This Have To Do With Writing?
Look, sometimes the writing industry is like a nebulous cloud of Sea Nettles (that’s legitimately the name of the jellyfish species that blooms in the Bay). It’s scary, it’s harsh, and you’re afraid to even dip your toes in for fear of getting stung.
But if you have the absolute audacity to defy the odds, guess what? Those stinging bastards don’t stand a chance. Miracles are real, and so is unholy determination. You need a little bit of both to succeed as a writer…but mostly it’s the latter factor that makes or breaks your career.
Sometimes I have to deal with impossible clients, impossible plot holes, or just plain impossible mental hangups when I’m writing. I would love to just tuck myself into bed and sleep instead of dealing with any of it because I’m a big weenie. Instead, I straighten my back, crack my warrior's knuckles, and remind myself of one thing.
I stayed on the Banana Boat. I didn’t get stung. I survived surprise Bible Camp. I can do anything, damn it, and I refuse to be stopped by a bloom of bullsh** and their creepy, trailing tendrils of doom. I’m a writer.
And so are you. You, too, can defy the natural order, because that’s what creators do. Trust me, folks — if you can weave worlds out of thin air or turn corporate jargon into readable content, you can do whatever the hell you set your minds to.
Oh, and jellyfish can go f*** themselves. In case I wasn’t clear.
Getting In Trouble Is The Writer’s Way — And The Lord Jesus Himself Did It, So Why Was Everyone Up MY A**?
One thing I’ve never quite understood is the Christian Summer Camp Industry’s attachment to rules. I mean, it’s kind of ironic, when you think about it. Jesus literally broke so many rules they…well, you know how that turned out.
He was a rebel. A boundary-buster. A rabble-rouser! And yet when I start a miniature rebellion in which all the other kids start calling Christ and the Apostles “J.C. and the A-Team,” I get lectured for it. Smells like hypocrisy to me, HCCCs. Check yourself.
Anyway, I got lectured a lot at Bible Camp. I had always been what kind adults call “precocious” and child psychologists call “in need of regular assessments.” I simply learned early on that most authority figures have no clue why their own rules exist — all you have to do is start asking questions, and the whole cheerful, guitar-strumming facade falls apart.
Basically, I asked too many questions. And that was Against The Rules at good ol’ Bible Camp. A few examples of Things I Got Lectured About At Bible Camp are:
- Asking why Eve gets blamed for Adam being “kind of a loser.”
- Telling everyone that I think “it’s pretty weird that God would ONLY like the Israel-type people when there were so many other nice people around.”
- Ditching the lunchtime gospel-song singing session to go hang out with a turtle I found wandering around outside.
- Changing the words to said gospel-songs and making them more…amusing.
- Trying to “store” about 15 Choco-Tacos from the snack bar (which we had to pay for, by the way) in my bag and then handing the melted messes out like contraband under the craft tables.
I regretted nothing. My lectures went on for so long that the other kids were amazed — they would listen in, (probably) wondering “why doesn’t that stupid girl just stop asking questions so she can go back to [insert boring activity here]?”
Because it’s a matter of principles, Katie. Mind your business.
Writers Were Made To Ask The Annoying Questions And Damn It, We Aren’t Going To Stop Now
The point of this aside is to solidify my conviction that writers are, to some extent, born — not made. Sort of. I think there are ingredients that go into us, such as verbal intelligence, curiosity, creative tendencies, and “precociousness” (whatever that means), but there are also things we build out of those ingredients.
Intelligence becomes expression when we mix it with a bit of courage. Curiosity becomes exploration if we allow it to lead us. Creativity becomes art if we are given the tools to make it so, and precociousness (fun fact, I looked it up, and it means mature…but in a somewhat creepy way) becomes experience when we are supported and made to feel confident.
When someone becomes A Writer, they undergo a process that brings their natural qualities into bloom — and that can happen through experiences both enjoyable and….questionable.
This is, perhaps, why writers are so prone to questioning things in general. A story begins with the question: “What happens, and why?” Storytelling is a journey made of questions and the answers we make for them, and it’s often fallen to writers to ask the “big questions” that challenge society, humanity, and themselves to change.
Sometimes we get crucified for it, other times we get celebrated. Usually, it’s a bit of both. Either way, Accidental Bible Camp only made me more aware of the power contained in one’s ability — and determination — to ask questions and demand that they be answered.
Thanks, weirdly enthusiastic HCCCs! Now I can overthrow the establishment just like J.C. and the A-Team intended!
To Conclude — Always Read The Brochure…Or Don’t, If You Want An Adventure
A lot of emphasis is put on the concept of “adventure” or “going into the unknown” when it comes to writing. Personally, I think it’s fine if you don’t want to take a big leap of faith sometimes.
It’s okay to want times of safety, routine, and familiarity as a writer. Do you really think I’m leaping into the vast abyss when I write genre Romance? Nope, I’m just taking common tropes and making them my own. Many of our most beloved books are made this way.
It’s okay to read the brochure from start to finish. It’s okay to want to know the kind of camp you’re going to. It’s also okay to jump in without all the details and see where things take you.
You can be a plotter, a pantser, or a Christian Hippie, and it doesn’t make you any less — or any more — of a writer. You can punch a jellyfish in the nuts or you can avoid it completely, and either way, you’re worthy of being on that boat.
Some kids love Bible Camp, and they gained very different insights from the experience than I did. Most of them probably gained no insight at all, and just had a great time. I think that’s awesome! It’s also awesome that I caused chaos, mayhem, and existential crises.
Different strokes for different folks, right?
Whether you take the mapped-out road (or, you know, choose to simply read the map at all) or go in without a clue, your writing journey will end up precisely where it needs to go.
You’ll look back one day and see all kinds of incredible lessons waiting for you in the memories you made, and that’ll fill you up with the kind of creative joy you can only imagine when you’re on the road.
On the other hand, I do advise against letting your children go on Banana Boats. That’s not a journey — that’s an OSHA violation. But you get the idea.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an anti-jellyfish crusade to go work on. See you later!