In the morning I pulled my underwear out of the freezer. They were covered in toothpaste and water and they were frozen solid. I had been warned about this the night before at my first slumber party.
“First one to fall asleep will either get their panties frozen or hand put in bowl of warm water,” my 10-year-old hostess in Strawberry Shortcake pajamas explained.
“What’s the warm water for?” I asked.
“Duh!!! It makes you pee the bed… baaaaby!”
“Oh yeah. Of course,” I said, trying to make it seem like I already knew but had forgotten. This maliciousness confused me. We’d eaten lunch together. We’d spent our recesses making daisy chain jewelry from the white headed flowers sprouting from the schoolyard. We were friends… Weren’t we?
Thawing my underwear in bathroom sink I began to questions this. Would I place a friends’ underwear in a freezer after I’d doused them with toothpaste and water? No. even if she was the first girl to fall asleep.
That was the one and only time my underwear were ever stuck in a freezer. I didn’t always know every girl at future slumber parties. There seemed to always be a wild card or two thrown in the mix… A cousin visiting from Ohio or A friend from down the street. Yet, even these strangers didn’t prank me when I consistently fell asleep first, the chorus of laughter and gossip swirling above us in the den where we’d laid down couch cushions to create one huge bed.
Everyone seemed to have loftier things on their minds by junior high. The slumber party activities evolved from panty freezing and attempted forced bed wetting to prank calling boys, chanting bloody mary in a dark bathroom for what seemed like an hour until a face appeared in mirror, creating carefully concocted mix tapes for boys we never had the courage to gift them to and teasing our bangs in the kitchen ‘beauty salon’ we’d set up.
30 years later, I’m nearly 40 years old and nights like that when you have nothing planned but end up laughing until your belly aches and forging bonds with people who just a few hours earlier were strangers are rare.
A few weeks ago I experienced a version of that slumber party feeling of connection and pure joy of deep eye-watering laughter at The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs at Camp Mighty. Camp Mighty is the physical embodiment of Go Mighty: a website where people not only post their goals and dreams (life lists) but also have the opportunity to track progress, get encouragement and even funding and sponsorship to complete them. Recapturing that junior high sleepover feeling is only part of the reason that I left Camp Mighty on Sunday morning happier and more inspired than I was when I arrived four days before.
Delilah and I were not on the same team, which immediately gave me agita. In a room full of friends, you can’t shut me up but in a room full of strangers my anxious nature kicks in. That first night at dinner, before I could even have my first “am I cool enough to be here?” thought, someone started to talking to me. The next thing I knew I was recounting the story of the disappointing outcome of my first tattoo and how I ended up with a collage of Felix the Cat, a flaming pair of pink dice and a space ship permanently inked on my stomach. Everyone was not only listening but they were laughing.
Dinner conversation turned from my unlucky tattoo debauchery to our creative careers, competition in business and social good. Someone asked, “what are you doing for yourself? What are you doing for the world?” then Delilah did something she had never done before. She jumped into that lovely pool fully clothed. Washing away so many long workdays and all the second guessing that crept in when the thought of jumping in first crossed her mind. Delilah showed up to camp mighty without a life list but the second we arrived at dinner she proclaimed that not only would she add her first goal (jump into the Ace Hotel pool fully clothed) but also complete it before going to bed.
In the morning, I sat in a room surrounded by over 100 women and a handful of men while Camp Mighty co-founder Maggie Mason gave her opening keynote. After her spontaneous swim, Delilah and I had stayed up late the night before plotting our goals for Patchwork and Craftcation and talking about our lives. Delilah and I live on opposite ends of California so despite the fact that we are business partners, friends and aunt and niece, we rarely get to hang out. Yes, there were margaritas involved. Suffice to say I wasn’t feeling my mightiest when I walked into Maggie’s keynote address. I immediately thought about sneaking out the back door and jumping in the pool just a few steps away. There are few things that submerging myself in a body of water can’t cure and a hangover isn’t one of them. But as Maggie began to speak I was drawn in by her compelling genuine manner and the powerful ideas she talked about. I lost sight of my dull headache and began to voraciously take notes:
Becoming yourself is your life’s work.
Be grateful and share your gratefulness. (Totally reminded me of my dad [barber/philosopher or as my cousin calls him “the American James Bond”…yes, my dad is that cool] and he writes a grateful list every morning)
Go somewhere unfamiliar. (Remember my post on taking risks)
Don’t procrastinate what you can abandon. (ie: Hire out what you’re not good at or don’t like doing)
Take a moment to stop and look around when you’re on top of the mountain.
Seek meaning before happiness.
Your narrative can create a shift.
It’s hard to contemplate when stress is your driver. (I’m still working on making space for creative thought as I discussed in the benefits of downtime).
Run toward what you’re good at.
Maggie also talked about the movement to stop the glorification of busy. (Remember “the busy trap” article from the NY Times I quoted in my post on letting go of busyness)
You may be thinking that you already know all of this stuff but, maybe, like me, you need to be reminded. Just because we know something doesn’t mean we’re practicing it. You also may be thinking that all of this sounds kind of touchy feely. That was what I thought when I walked into a Camp Mighty led life list workshop at Alt Summit last January. I tend to shy away from anything that can be even the slightest bit associated with dream catchers, burning sage or self-actualization. Luckily, Camp Mighty was none of that. It was about looking at your life and being grateful for the good stuff while moving towards changing things that need improvement. Who wouldn’t benefit from that?
That kind of analyzing of myself and my place in the world is something that I need. I truly believe all humans need it too.
And Let’s be honest. Life is pretty touchy feely. It’s hard to remember that fact when we’re speeding through building our businesses, errand running and the mundane daily tasks of adulthood like paying bills and buying kitchen towels. It’s hard to remember what it feels like to walk barefoot on grass or sand or how we answered the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” When we were in elementary school or the sound of crunching autumn leaves under your sneakers on your morning walk or the smell of the sea when you’re driving along the coast or the taste of your grandmother’s meatballs swimming in marinara sauce on thanksgiving. The truth is we can’t and shouldn’t be feeling the full breadth of our lives at every moment. If we did, we wouldn’t be able to do the things we have to do. And we really do have to fill our cars with gas, do laundry and sit in traffic sometimes. Even still, we must make time to feel the utter radness of our lives and ourselves.
Yet, we can’t spend all of our time thinking about ourselves or fully experiencing life. “If I’m truly present at every moment, I’ll have a physical reaction to life all the time,” Anna Dorfman commented during her talk on why making life lists doesn’t work for her. We have to do. we have to move forward. Or as Chuck Close said, “inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Self-awareness is what makes us better humans, partners and entrepreneurs and that is the essence of Camp Mighty, along with connecting with like-minded individuals.
I spent my time at Camp Mighty surrounded by people who get to work. Like, Larry Smith (Six-Word Memoir and Smith magazine) and Piper Kerman (Orange is the New Black). Smith echoed chuck close’s sentiment when he said, “sit down in a quiet place, put your butt down and write the damn book.” Piper talked about the simple beauty of finding work and connection while confined when she explained that her fellow inmates started ‘beauty shops’ in prison to give each other pedicures. I remembered my slumber party ‘beauty shops’ and how being touched in that situation made us open up to each other about our secret crushes and troubles at home. Then I thought about my favorite moth podcast. Andrew Solomon detailed his visit to Cambodia interviewing refugees who’d endured unimaginable atrocities and how it helped relieve his deep depression. Solomon interviewed one woman who taught her fellow refugees to give each other manicures and pedicures so they could gain a sense of purpose, feel human again and eventually “begin to laugh together [and] tell each other little bits of stories and things and that was the way that [she] taught them to trust again.”
None of the women I met at Camp Mighty had experienced horrors like those Cambodian women but we came with our own first world baggage and walls that needed to be shattered in order to connect. Most of the women I met at Camp Mighty were self-employed over-worked entrepreneurs like me… yet, with vastly different jobs… blogger, real estate agent, event producer, balloon artist, corporate marketing manager, opera singer, designer and sales rep. We came from all different parts of the country, different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and had very different things on our life lists (although there were some common themes). But, we all shared that common goal of gratefulness and improvement. We all wanted to do more of what makes us happy.
And then…there was…the space party. A vision of color and light. Glow in the dark necklaces. Hand-crafted saran wrap dresses. Fascinators sprouting with stars and celestial orbs. Lots of glitter, silver and gold. The shyness I normally feel in crowds waned during that day’s lunch conversation when due to lack of shade I had to sit at a table of strangers and ended up in heated political debate that commenced with us letting opposing opinions open our minds instead of close them. By the time I got to the space party I had no problem sauntering up to the dance floor and starting a very junior high style dance circle during which I drew people into the middle by waving my strobing ray gun in their direction.
In the morning I attended a panel with Rena Tom (former owner of one of the first shops to carry my Random Nicole t-shirts as well as Craftcation 2012 speaker), Helena Price (photographer) and Jihan Zencirli (balloon artist). Jihan told us to, “be delightful” as she detailed the sweetest tale about how her grandmother’s kindness delivering care packages to neighbors inspired her to start her business. Helena proclaimed, “no one ever really figures it out. we just become more fluent in our field,” as she explained her detour from the corporate world into photography. Rena urged us to, “get out of our comfort zones” as explored the risks she had to take to open a second location of Makeshift Society.
After that Lane Wood (Charity Water and Warby Parker) talked about social good and how important it is to “give your customers a narrative to belong to.” I’d met him at the first dinner and was immediately drawn to his authentic passion for the brands he championed. “make something your world needs. make it beautiful. Tell stories. Enjoy life,” he told us.
Later that afternoon I packed my tote with my book, sketchbook, watercolors, colored pencils and ipod for an afternoon alone (just in case). I didn’t get the chance to open my bag. Within minutes I was part of a group of women wading in the pool, in front of a backdrop of barren desert mountains, blue sky and jutting palm trees. Some of them I’d met before and some I hadn’t, but all of us effortlessly slipped into intimate conversation. The topic turned from our life lists to hot movie stars and we went around the circle shouting out our personal hotlists in between sips of Pimm’s cups. I flashbacked to those slumber party slam books where we’d written down our make out wish lists. It had been a long time since I’d thought about stuff like this let alone said it out loud and without fear of judgment.
We didn’t just discuss Peter Dinklage’s sexiness. We also talked about personal finance, saving for retirement, balancing work and personal and work life and the varied paths that led us to our mates and careers. We swapped stories about our fear of flying and what we do to make it through long flights… ignore the man clipping his toenails in the seat next to you, keep Xanax on hand and whenever possible…upgrade. Before I knew it, I had goose bumps from both the desert chill of evening and the authentic moments of honesty. The sky had turned from blue to black. Hours had passed in an instant and my fingers and toes were completely pruned.
I can’t describe the feeling of making friends as a middle-aged human. Perhaps the fact that I am now, despite my deathly fear of flying (remember my honeymoon to Montreal) ready to book a ticket to Portland or New York just to spend time with the women I was half-submerged in the pool with is a testament. A testament to the amazing feeling of finding sweet notes of encouragement next to my list of my top life list goals on the big wall we’d pinned our goals and dreams to. A testament to the fact that I can’t wait to sign up for the next Camp Mighty and have a list of people I’m hoping to bring along, including my dad. A testament to the feeling of walking into our last dinner and having someone who just a few days before was practically a stranger call out, “Nicole, I saved you a seat.” A testament to the fact that even when you’re an adult and your underwear are safe and dry in your hotel room and your life is complicated and full of tasks like grocery shopping and dish washing there is a reason you need to make time for weekends like this. A testament to truly being present in the moment or as Raymond Carver said, “And did you get what you wanted from this life…?” a testament to a weekend spent getting to know one of your best friends again as well as recalling the beauty of walking into a room full of strangers and walking out with genuine friends.