On Saturday afternoon I came home from eight days in the redwoods. No wifi. No cell service.
I’ve been to JCW ten out of the last eleven years (and the one year I missed was a huge mistake).
The last week of June is sacred time. Nothing gets between me and Jazz Camp West.
Last year I remember spending a couple of days in digital withdrawal. Not this year — I savored filling my visual field with trees and dirt and people and instruments, instead of glass screens. Before I came home from camp on Saturday, I was already counting the days til next year. (359 as I type this.)
All of this makes it sound like the unpluggedness was what defined camp and made it so wonderful, but that’s just one teeny-tiny glint of a sparkling, multi-faceted gem.
How to even describe the magic that is Jazz Camp West?
To say it is a week of making music in the woods would be true… but not a complete picture.
To say it is a week of loving community would also be true… but not a complete picture.
To say it is a week of transformation would also be true… but not a complete picture.
So What IS the Complete Picture?
Jazz Camp West is the fueling station, the inspiration injection, that propels me onward when I’m already musically jazzed, and brings me back to my musical center when I’m not so jazzed. Jazz Camp reminds me of where I shine, when I’ve forgotten. It weaves me back into the web of community and music that I often feel so disconnected from during the rest of the year.
This is why I block the last week of June off in my calendar every year, and nothing — nothing – touches it!
Yes, it means that much to me.
Even though music has been on a back burner of my stovetop for quite some time. Or perhaps because of it…
Even though setting up my life and business so I can disappear entirely for eight days, and packing up the car with my tent and bedding and everything else I’ll need for the week is a helluva lot of work.
It is more than worth it.
After ten summers at Jazz Camp West over the past eleven years, plus two summers at Puget Sound Guitar Workshop and another five (or six? or seven?) at California Coast Music Camp, I have gotten very clear about the fact that I need the immersive experience of music camp.
I’m an evangelist for “tiny and daily” (Creative Sandbox Manifesto rule #4) on a regular basis, AND I’m also an evangelist for full immersion whenever possible.
And that means prioritizing it. Blocking the time off on my calendar. Setting aside money over the course of the year, in order to pay for it.
I do this for three main immersive experiences each year:
1. The Spring Retreat with the Friends of Calligraphy, every March.
2. Jazz Camp West every June.
Why are immersive experiences so important?
Because they’re profound and powerful. Because they create transformation over the span of days, rather than months or years.
Every eight days at Jazz Camp West is its own journey, and every year I come to the end of that journey changed. A different person.
My 2016 Jazz Camp Journey
This year that transformation was made especially vivid because a friend of mine, Huy (a killer bass player) shared with me and several others a graphic on the first day.
It was a cartoon-like tree, with cartoon-like, blob-like, humanoid characters engaged with the tree in some way: climbing the trunk, dangling or falling from branches, or lounging in the grass below. Some blobs were alone, some in pairs or groups. Some had smiles on their faces, others frowned or grimaced.
I won’t post it here, because the Blob Tree graphic is copyrighted, but you can click here and a similar image will open up in a new window.
Huy showed each of us the graphic on his phone, then asked us to decide which one of the blobs we identified with. Which one was me, in the context of Jazz Camp, or music in general?
Tough question! Honestly, I could have said a few of them, but Huy insisted it had to be one.
My Blob: #13
So I chose the blob that appeared to be lounging on its belly in the grass, gazing at the greenery. In the image I linked to above, this blob looks pretty unhappy, but in the one Huy showed me, it appeared to be smiling.
This is important, because if it looked unhappy, I wouldn’t have chosen it.
The reason I chose this particular blob (labled #13 on Huy’s graphic) was because I’ve arrived at a very interesting place in the past few years.
I spent a lifetime grasping for perfection, desperately wanting to be The Best, or at least Outstandingly Excellent. I never felt good enough, and spent so much energy wishing I were more and better than I was, which left me feeling pretty miserable about myself basically all of the time!
In the past handful of years, though, I’ve worked a lot on forgiving myself for being human. Accepting, and even embracing my imperfections.
And though I still aim for improvement and yes, excellence, I am actually able to love and appreciate myself NOW, and to enjoy where I am in the journey. Even when I’m mediocre or crappy at what I (still) long to be really good at.
That blob, lounging in the grass, resonated with me because I’m not at, or anywhere near, the top of the tree of music — or any of my creative passions — but I’m actually okay with that now.
Yes, some of my drivenness has melted away, which means I’m probably even less likely to achieve the kind of excellence I desire, but life feels so much more kind and enjoyable now. So although my past self would be disgusted with me for “letting myself go,” it’s a trade I’m now willing to accept.
I’m able to be happy lying in the grass, instead of despising myself for not being one of The Greats in the upper branches.
So although my blob was not up in, or even touching, the tree, it felt like a triumph — and a relief — to be okay about that.
Transformation in 8 Days
What was really interesting, though, was what happened at the end of camp.
At the barbecue lunch on the last day, Huy once again pulled out his phone and pulled up the tree graphic. “Which one are you now?” he asked.
Ah, so very interesting to see how much had changed! Now the blob lounging in the grass did not feel like me at all.
Eight days of immersion in music, and in community had me feeling way more connected than that.
And eight days of being seen had validated and mirrored back for me strengths and gifts that I tend to dismiss or forget about.
I didn’t feel like the blob standing at the very top, victorious and proud. But neither did I feel separate from the tree.
Now I felt wrapped in the hug of community, part of the musical world. I felt like I belonged on the tree, like the little cluster of three blobs, sharing a branch with smiles on their faces. Taking risks, supporting each other, right smack-dab in the middle of the community.
“Which one of the three is you?” asked Huy. “Or are you all three of them?”
“I think I’m all three of them,” I replied. Part of the whole. Distinctive, but without the need to shout, “Look at ME!!!”
That’s what eight days of Jazz Camp West did for me.
It may seem small, but to me it felt huge. And although if you were to go to Jazz Camp, or come to my Create & Incubate Retreat, your journey would be completely unique, and completely different from mine, the one thing I can say with confidence is that there will be a journey. There will be transformation.
That’s really all I have to share today. That, and this video of me performing at Monday’s Open Mic last week at Jazz Camp West (which, honestly, I was hesitant to share, because OMG, the pitch problems and vocal cracks! Ack! But hey, I’m embracing imperfectionism, so here I am in my imperfect glory):
I wish you openness to the journey, wherever you are on your path.
Go get creating!
Resources In this Episode
The Blob Tree, by Pip Wilson and Ian Long
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