Myelin, diapers, campers, brain dysfunction

Time off. It's always bittersweet. Camp is never far from my mind. The days at camp go by pretty quickly, but that doesn't mean we counselors are spared any of the hard parts of the job.

Here's one of several things I find challenging about my job:

My kids are at camp 'cause they've broken the law in some way, shape or form. But they act incredibly entitled, demanding the utmost in accommodation, food and freedom. They do not realize yet that their actions have consequences. Nor do they realize how little they deserve luxurious accommodations after some of the things they've done to people, property or themselves.

This problem rears its head in countless situations. The campers want more, they want better, they want it now. More food, better boots, fewer chores, more games, fewer classes, fewer rules, and whatever they ask for exactly when they ask for it.

I try not to tell them no all the time. In fact, here's what I'm gonna do. I'll start saying yes to many of their requests, following up immediately with the steps to getting what they want.

For example:

Chief John, call in and get me some new boots.

("call in" means they want me to use my walkie talkie and submit their demand to the warehouse staff)

Chief John:
Sure. As soon as we fill out a PPI (personal property inventory), you can write a business letter to your family worker expressing your need. Once that's done, we'll submit both those documents. After they've been received and processed, I'll be more than glad to call the warehouse for you.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, call the fxck in! You holding' me from my NEEDS! My boots is messed up!

(usually this means they're showing wear and don't really need to be replaced yet)

Another situation:

Chief John! Call in and get us a lifeguard.

Chief John:
Sure. I'll check with the MC and see when Chiefs X or Y can step away from their groups and come life guard for us. I'll also check and see when the pond might be available for us to use. When were you thinking of going to the pond?

Today. Now.

Chief John:
But it's class time. You've got a Shakespeare paper due.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, you won't let us do shxt at this fxckin' camp!

Another situation:
Chief John! Call in and get me some fishing hooks.

Chief John:
I'd be glad to do that once you determine how much buyer's day money you have in your account, and whether you can afford fishing hooks. Once you've done that, you can submit a buyer's day form to request fishing hooks, and when buyer's day comes around, they'll be here for you. At that time, I will be more than glad to call the warehouse and ask if your hooks are in.

Expected camper response:
(lip smack/tooth suck) Damn, Chief John, I need 'em today!

Standard chief response:
In the future, you'll anticipate your needs and make the necessary plans.

Here's me as a brain doctor with my assistant Ian
Anyway. During training, I read a load of information on the developmental psychology of teenagers. I realize that these kids are reasonably incapable of seeing or perceiving or understanding anything besides their immediate desires. Something to do with "myelin," a substance in our brains that sheaths nerve fibers, causing quicker conduction of impulses. A recent NPR article explains it better, as does this article from Essentially, teenagers don't have enough myelin yet, so their brains process things more slowly, especially the logic of cause and effect / action and consequence. I also understand that several of my kids have IQ scores that are close to special needs levels.

So basically, much of what I deal with is kids who don't follow directions, break things, hurt people, and demand carefree situations of constant pleasure and ease (and to be spoken to in a respectful tone). Without knowing too much about Alzheimer's Disease, I often tease my campers and compare them to Alzheimer's patients, ambling around, bumping into trees, failing to respond to the sound of their own names or prompts delivered in their primary spoken language. Sometimes I wish I could just diaper the lot of them. But then I'd have to be elbow deep in camp shxt nine hundred times a day (my kids have very frequent needs for the toilet).

Many campers want to just do their time, "chill," (which means to do as little as possible, cause no trouble, and do nothing to stop any trouble that might be occurring around them) and get out so they can resume their lives of petty gang banging or whatever else they were doing, before getting caught again and sent away to institutions less kind than camp.

I'll keep trying. I'm really grateful to have met most of my kids. They've all got a lot of potential, even though they don't realize it. They've got promising futures even if all they care about is "now." Maybe there are myelin pills or injections the campers can take. It might just be easier to slip estrogen into their food. Hmm. I'll fill out a buyer's day form and call the warehouse!

Until that day, I've got an appointment with my sister Julie to visit the newly renovated North Carolina Museum of Art. I'm very excited to spend some time with family, and one in particular who loves art and design. More news soon. Thanks for reading!

Time off from camp

Rural North Carolina can be nice if you want it to be. My camp keeps a time off apartment about 40 minutes away from camp. It gets us far enough away to feel like we’re truly detached without taking burdensome travel time from our actual hours off. Normally I visit my dad who lives just under 2 hours away when I’m off from camp, but this week I came to the “T.O. House” to spend some time with coworkers.

Here's me time-offing!
It’s been really nice spending time with other chiefs away from the campers, venting, chatting, comparing stories and advising one another. I have some of the best coworkers in the world. I’m liking my job more and more, even though it’s difficult. I still sometimes have a pang of wanting to be back in the studio making monsters and art, but I’ll be doing that soon enough. Gotta save some money and fix a few kids. This week, as soon as I was back from my previous time off, I spent most of Saturday chasing runaways around property. Then sunday there was an all camp riot that happened over something stupid and unrelated. Then two of my campers were exited to stronger programs for property damage, assaulting staff and generally being toxic influences on the other campers who were starting to make some progress. It was a hard week, but my co-chiefs and I plowed through, did the best we could, got our kids fed and showered and to bed every day (which is sometimes all you can hope for on a tough week).

So, as for my time off, I’m in a little shopping villagey place near the T.O. house, with expensive smoothies and wireless internet and shops that sell nothing but olive oil (sheesh, in this economy.. ). I’ve just had a smoothie and I might mosey around and look for lunch. I’m uploading youtube videos, playing around with my spreadshirt account (trying to upload more designs for t-shirts), working on doodles and drawings, trying to do paperwork, and waiting around for the next matinee of Kickass, which I’ve been wanting to see ever since getting a few of the comic books it’s based on.

Here's my bald head in front of the mac.
After all that I’ll probably go back to the T.O. house and continue paperwork and fall asleep watching whatever I haven’t caught yet on my Hulu queue. I’ve got to get up beastly early tomorrow morning to head back to camp. We’ve got another dreaded “homesday” coming up, in which those campers who’ve behaved themselves are allowed to visit their families for 4 days. A bunch of paperwork was due today because of that, and I’m sort of glad I missed it (I should feel guilty but I kind of refuse to). Homesday usually involves the kids acting crazy the week prior ‘cause they’re excited, then acting crazy again the week after they return ‘cause they’re unhappy to be back at camp. And, of course, during homesday, camp is free from all the functional kids who do well at camp, and us chiefs must spend four days dealing with nothing but our hard cases. This will be my first homesday weekend, so we’ll see how it goes. They typically happen every 5 weeks.

More soon as it develops!! Remember to write!!

The Fourth, albeit a tad late

Hi, Everybody.

It’s rare I take time away from the studio. Right now I’ve got tons going on, and I’m only just staying on top of it. Still, this year’s 4th of July weekend was an exception I made to the grindstone at my nose.

The 4th of July is my stepmother Janine’s birthday. It’s also the wedding anniversary of my mom and step dad. As it isn’t all that customary to be a third wheel during someone’s anniversary, and as it’s been a very hectic year for Janine, I opted to go visit her. My dad was there, of course, so were my two younger siblings Joseph and Julie. We had a good time.

My stepmom’s brother David, his wife Jane and their daughter Ann were in town from Parker, Colorado, as well. I hadn’t seen Ann since she was probably 13. I’m not sure what the occasion was. But she’s completely grown now, albeit still a highschooler. All of us gathered at Janine and David’s parents’ house in Raleigh for Janine’s birthday party. We had barbecue, a cake, plenty of seasonal fruits and a really top notch watermelon.

I went with Joey, Julie and Ann to the Raleigh fairgrounds to watch fireworks. Parking was easy, leaving was a chore. But it was good to be there with my amazing family and people watch.

Now, I’m one of those typical postmodern cynics who has never worn an American flag pin. I have no patriotic bumper stickers and certainly no paraphernalia that equates being an American with being a Christian. I do not think I’m any better or any worse than anyone else for being an American, and I don’t hold the smug opinion that America is the greatest nation in the world.

At the fairgrounds, I looked around and saw lots of bulging, misshapen, fashionless people who might raise the eyebrows of Europeans and make them curl a lip and sniff. I saw (metric) tons of people who reminded me of the curse of Wal Mart, the plague of gluttony and the unappreciated illusion of comfort. I saw one group of sackish roundies lumped in lawn chairs around a grill, faces forward, close to their paper plates. A song could be heard from the stereo of their SUV; something about putting a boot in your ass if you mess with America. And part chewing, part singing, many of them fell in step with the song. I tell you. In a time of crisis, could these Jabbas be counted on to defend our nation? Could any one of them be depended upon to contribute a thought towards reworking health care, improving public education or fixing the economic crisis? Would they just sit back in their groaning folding chairs, filling their face with the remains of charred, greasy animal, shout pro-American (whatever that means these days) diatribes and just allow the world to occur around them? I could feel the judgment welling up within me against all these obese people who Wont. Stop. Eating. Junk. Food. And their spherical children, squawking in inarticulate drawling honks and squeaks.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made plenty of wrong, hurtful, unjustified sneers at large people, and I’m working on becoming more sensitive. You can tell the difference between someone who is gluttonous, lazy and self destructive and one who simply has a big body shape. I’m not coming down on being fat. There were plenty of thin people as well crouched around their own grills, while their own children seemed to supply the What Not To Do footage for self help videos for baboons.

But there were other people at the fairgrounds. I saw parents playing with kids. I saw groups of kids gather for an impromptu game of swatting a tennis ball to each other handball style. That, I thought, was pretty creative. I liked the way those kids adapted to their circumstance of an empty, dirt field, and no other equipment than a tennis ball. They all got on really well and seemed to have a great time.

I saw a toddler waddle up to another family and sit down with their toddler as if the two were a married couple. His mom wasn’t even fazed that her kid had wandered off. In fact, she herself walked up and introduced herself while their kids played. I was pleased to see that so many people had turned out for a pro-American event. I took note that there was a tremendous ethnic mix. Nobody quibbled, and it appeared that, other than groups of family members, nobody really carved out enclaves. My family and I were flanked by Koreans behind us, a black woman and her son next to us, Latinos in front of us, and two rows down, Bengalis. With ease and familiarity, the woman and her son next to us asked a white man in the next row if he could spare some napkins since the boy’s funnel cake was getting the better of him. There was no awkwardness, no over-niceness, no forced smiles or great exaggerated shows of accommodation. It was just a thing. Somebody needed a napkin. All at once, it was profound and mundane. It’s no big deal to need or to give a napkin. Half a century ago, however, that simply wouldn’t have happened. But it happened here, now, in America. We’ve at least proven that human beings can be kind and comfortable around each other.

While the fireworks went on, many pro-America, pro-being American songs played loudly and tinny over the booming speakers. The songs were almost all country western. Hmm. I look forward to a day when other kinds of white people and people of other cultures and colors feel good enough about living here to make pro-American songs of their own. I heard the twangy “Proud to Be an American” song that came on the radio a bunch during high school when Bush Jr.’s gulf war was in full swing. I hate that song. Particularly because it was written during/because of a Bush war. I don’t like Bush wars. I think the Bushes are scoundrels and I don’t trust them. I don’t care for patriotic diatribes that make us look like such strugglers, victims and overcomers during times of incredible ease in which only the families of the soldiers who fight are affected by a war. I’m not necessarily proud to be an American. My Christian faith discourages being proud, since all that we have to be proud of comes from the grace of God. I’m not ashamed of being an American either. I just don’t think I’m any more blessed by God than anyone else just because I was born white in America.

The National Anthem was sung that night by a very talented black woman. She was extremely practiced and skilled. She hit every note and then some. As some singers do, this one fluttered around the melody in acrobatic arcs and dips, but not as if to show off. Some people do that ‘cause they can’t find the melody. This lady was simply darned good at what she did. The event’s choice of her as a singer offset, at least in my mind, the predominantly country white aesthetic of the event. If there are non-whites who are particularly happy to be Americans, we don’t hear about them much. I’d be curious to hear their stories.

So, anyway, there I was with some of my family and tons of strangers. I’ve got a stepparent’s birthday to celebrate and another stepparent’s anniversary to honor, so the 4th of July makes me stop and consider not just my place within America, but my place within my family. Depending on the angle an observer took, America or my family could be seen as wretched. My family is rife with bad habits, divorces, anger, resentment, awkwardness, you name it. America is full of gluttonous, greedy, loud, smelly, selfish, crass, dull, ugly, obese, hoarding, conquering and smug people. On the other hand, my family has overcome a lot. We’ve dusted off, forgiven, forgotten, learned our lessons, patched up and moved on. America is full of responsible people aware of our many problems, and who wish not to jump ship and expatriate, but stick around and make the ship float better. I think I’ll stick around too.

So, in sticking around, I’m off to the studio to continue preparations for a TV series I wish to pitch, based on my creatures. How great is it that I want to give Americans one more reason to loaf on the couch in front of the TV, and buy plastic things off of toy store shelves? I think I’m doing it because it’s a high stakes, high odds challenge, and I want it. Could that be an American trait? Perhaps. Anyway. I’ve left you with a few teaser sketches around this entry to let you see what I’m working on. You’re welcome to speculate and leave comments.

Take care!