Sleeping on my comfortable mattress was boring, but sleeping on the lumpy ground was a special occasion. When my father set up the red and navy tent in the back yard for us—when he unzipped the little window from within—we saw flying insects that flashed a secret code. It didn’t matter that my brother and I had seen the bugs many nights before or that if we stepped outside the tent we could probably watch them more clearly. These were camp fireflies. You could see them only from inside the cheap, synthetic cloth that our father would fold up in the morning.
Camp may not always mean camping, but it always means tents—literal or figurative. It means movement and temporary shelters. Food in tins. Sleeping in bags. Unusual solitude. Songs and nicknames and guises that belong in only certain places and times. Miniature societies with new rules. Playacting and languages you barely know yet.
Camp remembers that wherever we are, we are on the verge of being somewhere else. Before we yank the tent stakes out of the ground, what must we notice through the little window?
The nine contributors to Proximity’s fifteenth issue look at many types of camp—literal, figurative, or both.
In “Only the Names: Camp Long Point,” Victorya Chase shows that summer camp can be a harsh place where adolescents fight to be seen. In Jennifer Hudak’s “Things You Bring to All-Girl’s Jewish Overnight Camp in 1982,” we see that growing up may mean repeating childhood. Temporary spaces can reverse the direction of time. Similarly, in “Beautiful Sun, In a Minor Key,” Karen Babine’s camper takes her to a landscape where past generations bump into each other—her ancestral home.
For Brandon Davis Jennings, camp is about leaving home, the continent he knows. But, to the narrator’s dismay, the homeland’s frame of reference tags along. With both honesty and self-criticism, “‘Mwabona’ or ‘Novelin’ in Macha, Zambia’” pushes back against narratives about perfectly enlightened travelers or magical changes, and it complicates notions about visiting a country as a saintly “helper.” From Nomi Stone’s forthcoming book Kill Class (Tupelo, 2018) comes “War Game: Which is Which,” a piece that draws on her two years of ethnographic research at U.S. military war training camps designed as mock Middle Eastern villages.
Using other mock models in her art, Janice Wright Cheney addresses what happens when rats “camp” in human buildings. Both she and poet D. Gilson (“When I Became Thomas” and “Growing Pains”) call to mind Christopher Isherwoods’ description of performing camp: “expressing what’s basically serious to you in terms of fun and artifice and elegance.”
Pádraig Ó Tuama considers artifice, honesty, and the stories not told around campfires in “The Word Was Made Flesh & Camped Among Us.” And in a traditional style, Ojibway Storyteller Aaron Bell tells an original narrative about humanity and nature affecting each other in “How Butterflies Got Their Colors.” Both of these pieces feature audio from the authors.
Indeed it wouldn’t be a camp experience if it lacked the sound of storytelling voices. Or if it lacked music for that matter. Within some of our pieces, you will find songs. Feel free to join in, even if you normally wouldn’t. In camp, the rules are different, after all. And we won’t be here very long.
Along with Managing Editor Maggie Messitt, TRUE editor Dina Relles, and Assistant Editor Santi Holley, I invite you to explore Proximity’s CAMP issue.
Brad Aaron Modlin, guest editor