Last Week #13 | Roots & Branches

This weekend, I spent three days in the Adirondacks at the Great Camp Sagamore Roots & Branches Music Workshop. (You can learn more about it here.) I’ve never been more nervous than I was the night before and day of our departure. My boyfriend Eli was to spend the weekend at the camp, learning and doing music things, while I was tasked with documenting the weekend and making a video at the end of it. I think it’s safe to say we were both a little terrified. Him, because he wasn’t (and hasn’t been) sure of how he feels about music lately. I in turn felt bad for forcing him into it, and I felt nervous because of the endless marquee of what ifs scrolling through my mind. What if people think I’m weird for lurking around with a camera? What if people think we’re that weird couple that are too attached and can't ever spend a moment apart?  What if I have a panic attack? What if I don’t make them a great, or even good, video? What if I feel uncomfortable? 

 I’ve been on three very different types of trips over the past month. The first was Philadelphia, where four of us were constantly together, doing activities that we chose, facing the days full of bright sunlight and the city and loud, boisterous, college-like activity. The second was the lake with my sister. This is practically the same thing as being at home, except the two of us had to learn how to live in harmony without our electronic devices (and significant other) as a buffer. The challenges were small, and the trip was serene. The last was this trip to the Adirondacks. I think it falls somewhere between Philadelphia and the lake on my scale of anxiety. It wasn’t as action packed as Philly, or as serene as the lake (as no place but home ever can be). There was a serenity to it, sure, and a peace that came with being with Eli, but we also had our fair share of challenges. 


The lack of wifi, as well as the complete lack of cell reception posed a threat to my peace of mind. I can’t communicate with the outside world. I posted a blog post on Friday and I can’t check up on it until Sunday. I can’t soothe myself by looking at Instagram when I feel bored or awkward in a social situation. I had to just stick it out. Eli didn’t like the lack of Wi-Fi, but I’m not going to lie, after a while I kind of came to enjoy it. There was something about it that was a challenge to me. It was about the two of us learning to communicate effectively without texting. Learning to communicate our thoughts, feelings and ideas in the moments we had together, and feeling safe in the moments we spent apart. This is something we struggle with at home, as his house has limited Wi-Fi and no cell reception, and I often find myself anxious when I’m apart from him for this very reason. But the challenges of this weekend made me (and I hope us) more secure in that lack of contact, and more secure in being apart. 

 When I first drafted this post, I wrote, "The biggest wow factor for me on this trip was not being anxious WOW." That was true at first, but by the second night it was not. Anxiety had mounted to something of a peak, and Eli went to bed early, in my mind abandoning me with a world of my own. I felt almost unsafe without him awake, alert, and by my side. This is the part where I would usually insert the lesson-- about how I ventured out on my own at 11:30 at night with just my camera and a vague idea of where the stars were. How I hastily and uncertainly walked to the upper camp, where I had been told you could see the constellations more brightly and clearly than anywhere else in the country. How I looked up, and was amazed, and took a photo, and felt at ease. All that was true, for a moment. And then I went back to the lodge and the anxiety crept back up again, the worries biting me again and again much like the black flies that plagued us outside. 


 I'm the kind of person who really likes...no, needs a home base. In every new place I visit I construct one out of the available materials, like a bird building a nest. I usually build them for myself, and it's a one person nest. In moments of anxiety it includes ginger ale, crackers, and something to do- whether that's working on editing a video or watching some silly YouTube videos. But out there, in the wilderness, in the vulnerability of being in the wild and knowing that you are really minuscule and the world is really big and the sky is even bigger, I learned that my definition of a home base has changed. 

 My home base is now a person, not a place or a construct or a collection of things. And that idea scares me, because what if he goes away? What if he leaves permanently? Will my heart race forever, without this sort of human drug that slows it, calms it down? Have I lost the ability to self regulate? Or have I gained the ability to ask for help? 


 The last time I was in the Adirondack mountains, I was spending the night at my best friend's camp. We watched The Lord of the Rings and kayaked out to a little island and talked about our dreams. But at 1 am, my heart wouldn't slow and my hands wouldn't stop shaking and I worked myself into a frenzy that only calling my mom put at ease. I didn't wake Kelsey up, and didn't even tell her about it until the next morning. But this time, I asked for help. I woke Eli up and he immediately shook off his frustration and put me at ease just by being. Vulnerability is absolutely terrifying. It is what made me shake with nervous excitement all the time when Eli and I first started dating. But it is also what permitted me to fall asleep that second night, and I am beginning to realize that it is what enables us to grow as well. 

 In the hours and hours of musical performances that I watched this weekend, I noticed something. The musicians didn't rush to speak after the music ended. They reveled in the natural silences, those charged, vulnerable, emotional silences, and didn't hasten to fill them. This made the silences that much more comfortable. They were electric, but somehow peaceful, and never awkward. I'm trying to learn how to revel in what some would call "awkward" silences. Because while they feel like an eternity, they're really only a few beats of your heart, and the music is moments away from picking up again. 

 -Fran


P.S.- If you're interested in seeing my video for the Roots & Branches Music Workshop, stay tuned to my YouTube channel. It should be up by the end of this week. In the meantime, check out this short teaser clip I posted on the Great Camp Sagamore Facebook page.