I believe in magic. I believe that the power to transform values, skills, and knowledge through the right combination of people and conditions is magic. Make.Do.Camp created magic this past Labor Day weekend by allowing for the collection of people, places, and things to bring it out in us and each other.
Make.Do.Camp is the product of hard work, passion, and the belief in the capacity for innovation in the people and places of Nova Scotia. This was the first ever Make.Do.Camp put on by Laura Simpson and The Syrup Factory and it was built on potential and courage. Inspired by a camp in California and by the hope for things and people in this province to be better than they are, Make.Do.Camp and Laura Simpson offered escape through recreation and learning and delivered a beautiful, sober, and digitally free experience.
My journey to Make.Do.Camp is a long one. I first experienced the transformative powers of camp when I signed up for an NSSSA (Nova Scotia Student Spirit Association) camp at St. Francis Xavier University in 2000. I was a 15 year old overweight and shy student with a bleached-out bowl cut and a collection of insecurities and traumas that kept me from believing in myself or others. By the recommendation of an eccentric arts and French language teacher at my high school who must have saw something in me or who needed to fill the quota, I signed up and got approval from my parents to attend the 3 day camp in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Going to that first camp with a handful of other students was the start of something a little bit bigger than anything else I had ever known. I didn’t leave much behind in going to camp. Video games & science fantasy novels, a dog I barely took care of, and a family in the thick of divorce were easy to escape. I entered the camp of 300+ students from across Nova Scotia only knowing that this experience was new and that I was uncomfortable but at least I wasn’t at home. The camp led to a great many firsts and I believe that it put me on the path I am on today.
That camp was when I first danced without worry of judgement from others (and before I needed substances to break down my own inhibitions). It was the first time I experienced spirit and felt like I had power. It was the first time that I ever considered that I was more than just the negative parts of myself and maybe there were larger more positive parts of myself. It was 3 days of magic and collaboration that gave me a sense of place and purpose. Following the camp I was still shy and carried more baggage that I needed to hold, but somehow I felt a little bit lighter and a just a bit more powerful.
Since that camp I have experienced the transformative power of camp as a participant but mostly as a facilitator. It led me to the choices I made in school and to finding employment that focused on and facilitated experiential learning. I have done camps all over the world and through them I have met many of my close friends and have had many transformative experiences.
16 years later, Make.Do.Camp comes at a time when my collection of old and new insecurities and traumas were changing how I viewed the world and acted within it. In my own personal journey as an adult, I have been chasing the magic. I chased the magic in career choices — from working as a pirate on a tall ship to traveling the world with youth programs, I wanted magical experiences and to work with people and organizations that could bring it. I chased the magic in how I spent time with friends — from music festivals to small and large adventures with the people closest to me, I was concerned with magic.
However, something in the last 5 years has changed. As funding for the kind of work and experiences that provided me those camp experiences dried up and disappeared, I have been looking for magic elsewhere. Some of this searching has allowed me to try new careers — flight attendant, digital marketing, sales. But more often than not, it meant that I looked for magic in substances.
Through focusing on new behaviours and forgiving old ones I had already begun to chase magic in new ways before camp. When Make.Do.Camp was recommended by a friend I was curious but hesitant. Something about Make.Do.Camp seemed right, but the set of circumstances around it were not. I was in a job that I didn’t love, I was making less money than I had in years, and I was on the beginning of a difficult personal journey to health, happiness, and self-love.
I don’t want this to be a story about sobriety, that is probably going to come at another time. But one of the main reasons I finally said yes to doing Make.Do.Camp was the fact that it was a sober event. The fact that it was held at a YMCA facility where alcohol was not permitted meant I wasn’t going to have to work as hard to stay sober. It also meant that if I was going to talk about my sobriety it was going to be my choice and not triggered by an absence of a beer or wine in my hand at a social event. So, through a few magical experiences and a dose synchronicity, I had the resources and the willingness to say yes to camp.
Make.Do.Camp offered me the chance to be a participant again. It allowed me to be vulnerable, honest, and to connect by disconnecting. I got to glimpse the potential and promise I have in myself. A part of being away from life without a cellphone, internet, or many of the main influences in my life was that I got see what a dreamier future Tyler might look, feel, and act like.
Unburdened by substances and responsibilities at home, I took another me for a test-drive. In acting like the future me I want to be, I was more honest and vulnerable with strangers than I have ever been. In opening my heart and mind, I found vulnerability being reflected back by the many other faces at camp. In the first full day of camp I shared some of my personal struggles only to have people join me in a close circle, signifying that they too have been there. When I talked about substances and self-harm as how I dealt with anger, I was surrounded again by people who were willing to express the same honesty and then I cried.
Make.Do.Camp facilitated many connections and discussions that I wouldn’t have had the chance to have had I not jumped into the experience. Before Make.Do.Camp I felt like I wanted to swim in the sea of community activators and game-changers of Halifax and Nova Scotia but I didn’t know how to get there. At camp I met people who were following their dreams, expressing their creativity, and changing the world with their love and their honesty. I feel like I am a part of that sea of community activators and that I will make a difference with them.
I leave Make.Do.Camp with a renewed sense of purpose in this beautiful but often messy world. I know more so than before that there is room for the new Tyler that I am cultivating and that by sharing my unique view of the world I will find more support than judgement. The many words of encouragement and support offered by other campers has helped me to put myself out there by writing this story. I said I wanted to be a writer at camp, so now I write. I am getting closer to being the dream version of me that I test-drove at Make.Do.Camp.
There were parts of the camp that were uncomfortable in the ways that allow you to find new comfort. There were parts of camp that were just comfortable enough. Laura Simpson and The Syrup Factory are dipping into the well of magic and sharing the cup with anyone who is interested in taking a drink. Big Cove YMCA, Brave Space, and the many contributors of Make.Do.Camp have curated the exceptional from what could have just been another long weekend. I will be forever grateful for the connections and insight that I have gained and I intend to use the momentum from camp to propel myself further into the heart of the game changing moments for my community and myself. Before camp I was at a crossroads and now I feel like I write from the other side.
So take this as a review, maybe take it as a promise that I will be back, or you can take it as encouragement to go and try and find your own magic wherever you are. When Make.Do.Camp is offered again I hope that you will take the opportunity to go find the magic that exists there.