Sunday, April 22, 2007

What was Odyssey?

Recently I've been thinking a lot about my Camp Odyssey experience, which was transformative at the same time that it was difficult. Without comparing Odyssey to Peoples Temple, seeing that movie about Jonestown and reading Raven (which I got from the library) has me thinking about my own experience with "trying to change the world."

Camp Odyssey was an immersion diversity training for youth and adults. When I was on staff, I (and others, obviously) worked with youth entering 10th through 12th grades and examined all the "isms" - racism, sexism, heterosexism, prejudice against immigrants, ageism, and even touched on classism (when I moved back to California we were thinking about working more class issues into the curriculum). Everyone who attended was split into ethnic groups according to their identification, into gender groups, and into sharing circles which were carefully balanced for ethnic identity and gender. Each group would meet with each other group to talk about stereotypes and then the sharing circles would meet to process the experiences of the day. It is very difficult to explain, and it was really really intense.

One of the things I believed was that Odyssey was led by some amazing, fabulous, dedicated people who saw things clearly. I also felt like a lot of the "regular" staff people were pretty amazing as well - Odyssey consisted of two demanding weekends and one really demanding week each year and we all worked very hard during those times. Ironically, the person who was the Camp Director was not someone I believed was any of those things. He and I didn't like each other, and I thought it was because I was in the not-straight group and the only strongly-identified bi person in Camp for the time I was involved, which was about two years, I knew it, and he knew that I knew it. Also, I have a memory of heated disagreements between us, including at Advisory Council meetings when I was in the leadership circle.

I don't know where the curriculum came from, though some of it came from other diversity programs and some of it grew out of the work that had been going on. When I got involved in 1996 Odyssey had been around for about three years (it only lasted maybe two years after I left). There were several two or three day adult trainings a year, but Odyssey was really focused on the Camp for youth which lasted for one week in late June. After Camp in 1997 I "forgot" to turn in my script/agenda/curriculum and while I haven't looked at it in years I haven't been ready to shred it.

Hard as it was, I loved Odyssey. I thought the things we did were important and there are lessons I carry to this day. I wonder what the people who were 14 to 18 years old at the time think now of that experience (some of them are as old now as I was then). We had some guidelines that were posted on a banner in the main hall, and I have found them pretty good guidelines to live by, some of which I see now are woven together for me:

Be honest

Take risks - a hard one for me, being naturally risk-averse.

Respect others

Close the loop - it's not always easy to follow up when I think I've offended someone or when someone has offended me, but working it out means I don't have to fret about it anymore.

Take responsibility for Self - this ranges from going when I need to go to the bathroom to being responsible for doing something stupid or hurtful.

Use "I" statements - I joke that my favorite "I" statement is "I feel you are a jerk" but I've noticed I get heard more easily if I really do say "I feel X when Y" and "It's been my experience that..."

There's more to write about Odyssey but not today. Odyssey was hugely important part of my growing up, even though I was 27 when I got involved. I don't think I would be the person I am today if I hadn't had that experience.

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