My Yestermorrow aka "Tool Camp" Experience…

I’ve rewritten this post several times. It gets softer each time. I can’t begin to tell you the fury and anger that my first draft (written on Saturday night) had.

It’s now Sunday evening. It’s MUCH better. I have been up here since late Friday night. I’m at the point now where I have a mostly warm-fuzzy feeling about this place — but I had to fight to find things out. Information wasn’t exactly doled out, which is ironic given the sheer number of signs posted everywhere.

The orientation was handled by someone who started out by saying “I don’t work here”. Excuse me? She thought the place was “neat and cool”. Well, when I was 19 or 20 or 21 (she was young) I thought anything that was away from my parents was “neat and cool” too but I’m 37 now. The biggest piece of information handed out at the orientation was that some bathrooms are coed. I don’t know/understand the culture so the ‘unwritten rules’ are puzzling. If I’m hungry, can I get something from the cabinets? If I don’t like the food they serve, what do I do? I’m not comfortable saying “a baked wheat tortilla with corn, rice and tomato sounds gross”. I was really uncomfortable outside of the classroom.

Will I come here again? Yes.

What’s my issue? Like I said, information wasn’t exactly provided on a lot of things. Presumably they are trying to foster a creative environment, but I’d like to KNOW where the light switches are before I have to walk down a PITCH BLACK hallway or stairwell. What’s the lighting rule? Everyone kept turning the lights off and plunging us into darkness. Had to walk down stairs in the dark – a lot. Constant fumbling wears you down. I have a considerable amount of hearing loss, I’m supposed to wear a hearing aide. I don’t. I’m vain. I was left in the dark for more than hour. When you have a hearing impairment and you’re in pitch black darkness – you become Helen Keller and it’s TERRIFYING.

I’d like to have known that towels and sheets would be provided (I called twice) the person I spoke to wasn’t sure so I lugged them up with me from New York. I’d like to have known a bit more about the food they serve. The breakfast/lunches were very good but the dinners made me want to run screaming. Saturday night was a wheat tortilla with rice, corn and chunks of tomato – baked. For dessert it was a maple muffin/brownie thing with chunks of corn in it. Sorry, that’s not dinner to me – that’s a stomach explosion in the making. My roommate said that the dinners are usually very good, she thought the regular kitchen person must have been on vacation or something. I blew $20 on a cab ride to a grocery store so that I could buy bread, cheese, yogurt, soup and a frozen pizza (and I’m not a big fan of frozen pizza). I wish someone had told me to bring a flashlight. That my cellphone/blackberry wouldn’t work up here and at night…I’d be (truly) isolated. Isolation isn’t something I’m used to. When you don’t know the lay of land and all your communication tools are in the crapper and you don’t know anyone, you’re isolated. Turn off the lights and add a hearing impairment and it’s your worst nightmare.

Let me tell you the good stuff. The class was awesome. At the end of the day that’s the single most important aspect – it’s just that with a bit more information/nightlights this place would be over-the-top incredible. With more information upfront I could have planned better and felt more at ease. If this place had made me feel more at ease, you wouldn’t be able to get me to leave. Back to the classes, the instructors; Patti & Jan were so welcoming. Their warmth and excitement kept the class motivated even when we were intimidated by the machinery. They fostered an incredible environment – in THAT shop with them. Today I feel comfortable enough to use many of the saws. I used a chop saw, band saw, drill press, table saw, jigsaw, japanese saw and a bunch of other tools. The table saw is still a bit scary – but I’m sure in time it’ll be fine. I know I can now tackle some projects that I’ve desperately wanted to do – confidently. I now know that I’m an orbital sander kind of girl, the square sander is off to the charity place asap. Frankly, if it weren’t for Patti & Jan, I would have been in a cab on the way to a car rental place and on the road home Saturday evening. As some of you who got SOS messages from me can attest, this place gave me a meltdown on Saturday. How many places can you go where you learn a skill and at the end of the weekend you get a hug? Not many I assume. I can’t thank Patti & Jan enough.

So what caused the meltdown – lots of little things and then one big thing…

Unbeknownst to me, there was an “Earth Hour” event on Saturday. I honestly missed this in the news and had no idea. I was sitting in the kitchenette when someone ran by and bellowed “Earth Hour!!!” Huh? What? I had just returned from my cab-dash to the grocery store. I was sitting down to eat, I was starving. It was a few minutes later while sitting in a chair in the lobby that the place went PITCH BLACK. A man working in the office turned the last lights off and walked out the front door (another student turned the lights off in the rest of the facility prior to him). I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. I was so shocked that I didn’t even call out. I sat there for at least 2 minutes thinking “Did he just leave me in the dark!?!” over and over. I was in complete darkness with strangers – who were presumably somewhere in the facility. But where? I couldn’t hear them – I couldn’t see them. There were stairs and sharp machines and other obstacles. I was NOT a happy girl. I sat there for more than an hour STRANDED in the darkness wondering if there was some den of sin thing happening and trying to remember everything I had learned in self-defense classes. Scared. I went from Crying to Anger pretty fast. The urge to run through the place turning on EVERY light and cursing like a sailor and up-ending every compost bin became a fixation to amuse myself. If you’re going to take Control away and play off of all my Fears and Vulnerabilities all you’ll get is Madness. I finally found my way to another chair near where I knew there were computers. I turned on the monitor and used that as my “light” for a half hour or so. I couldn’t find any light switches on the walls and I had already tripped over an office chair and the island/brochure shelf that’s in the middle of the lobby. I landed on the same knee that I had spent 6 months going through physical therapy for (car accident). Joy. It was then that I pretty much knew an axe murderer was on his way. How could he not be? Cripes. It was THE perfect situation. Later, the lights were turned on again and my axe murderer delusion moved on to some other town. At this point, I was LIVID. Their idealistic assumption that everyone is sweet & innocent isn’t necessarily mine – and I felt as though it were being forced on me. I didn’t feel safe. Control was taken away from me. I had put myself in this situation willingly. I felt like a fool.

In talking with my roommate who has been taking classes here on and off for a year, she let me know that she freaked out her first time too and had lots of questions with no real answers. With no understanding of where things are and so little information, it breaks YOU down. At one point I thought for sure it was a cult or a commune. I know it’s NOT, but still, so many elements were disconcerting for someone who was ALONE here. The hallways are dark – pitch dark. Finding YOUR door and then finding the slot for your key requires skill. Your imagination runs wild – and not in a fun way…more in a Stephen King way. He lives in Maine, this is Vermont. Close enough for me.

So the folks who run Yestermorrow know about my blog. I hope this post doesn’t offend them. This was my experience. I’m sure they DO NOT intend to make anyone feel vulnerable, alone and lost. They teach – and they do it well, it’s just that when the classroom door closes, they’re gone. Bob commented on the blog a few days ago and introduced himself at lunch on Sunday. He asked how I was enjoying it. I let him know that the class was great. It is. The class was awesome. I didn’t feel comfortable telling him “but the rest of the environment makes me feel WAY out of my comfort zone”. It wasn’t a conversation I was comfortable having at that time. I was still jarred. I was still rattling around inside. Later when I was in the machine shop and covered in saw dust with about a pound of wood stuffed up my nose some cute guy (I’m engaged but I can still look!!) leaned over the barricade/loft wall and yelled “hey, where’s the Upstate blog person!?!?” I pretended to not hear. He said it again – louder. Carp. I raised my hand. “Yeah, that’s me” in a half whisper. I’m shy-ish and after the previous night my walls were completely UP! UP! UP! I mentally said to myself, “I don’t usually look like this”. I was AFRAID to shower this morning. After a night of feeling completely vulnerable, getting naked and showering wasn’t high on my list of priorities. I went to class all skanky and tossed a hat on my greasy hair. We had a 2.5 second conversation at which point I fled as soon as I could. I was past the point of friendly introductions and chit chat. I needed friendly introductory chit chat when I arrived…before I carried luggage through a snow bank and down the stairs in the dark to the basement/first floor dorm rooms. Which reminds me, we called a few times to confirm that someone would be there to meet me when I arrived – no one was there – just an envelope with a key and a map taped to a door.

I know the descriptions/events in this post are weighted on the negative side. I had a lot of negative experiences here. But, I’m hopeful these are all just growing pains. This place has so much possibility. It could be AMAZING. It just needs nightlights (with the exception of Sunday night, the hallways were always dark and I had to fumble to find my room or when leaving my room) and A LOT more orientation/information for new students with some group/ice-breaker activities outside of the classroom.

Will I be back? Yes – but I’ll be better armed because I have SOME information NOW that I needed before the great Earth Hour blackout/freakout of 2008.

If you’re planning to go to Yestermorrow, here’s my list of items I would have packed…had I known…and some things I wish I had known…

1. bring a flashlight, keep it with you at ALL times. The lights are often off and it’s hard to find the light switches.
2. bring a car or a bike, wheels of some sort. Don’t be stranded.
3. bring a calling card – cellphones/blackberries do NOT work.
4. the wifi connection is sporadic, don’t plan on getting online. There are computers upstairs in a conference room – you can go in there.
5. bring a can of soup (in case you don’t like the dish that’s prepared for dinner).
6. bring a can of tuna fish (again, see number 4) or some other shelf-stable item.
7. definitely bring a laptop and a LOT of dvd’s. There’s a lot of downtime. (I did bring my laptop). Other than the library (which is super, by the way) there’s a ping pong table and a community tv. That table/tv gets old fast. If you want to study in the library – know that the ping pong table is 5 feet away and will break your concentration.
8. hba items – bring anything you think you might possibly need. EVERYTHING.
9. Towels, sheets, a pillow and a wool blanket are provided. It get’s very cold at night so if you can, bring a sleeping bag or an extra sweatshirt to sleep in. If you’re allergic to wool (many people are) then definitely bring a sleeping bag.

You’ll probably see a flurry of articles about Yestermorrow soon, there were 3 writers that I knew of there this weekend.

If you’re a woman and you want to learn how to use powertools I can’t suggest Patti & Jan’s class at Yestermorrow enough. They completely rock. I don’t fear big saws anymore. I respect them, but I don’t fear them. I’d bring a friend if you’re staying on campus. Don’t do it alone – or you’ll go batschidt too. Speak up (if you can) and demand information. My shyness was paralyzing in this environment and that’s my fault.

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16 Comments For This Post

  1. Marilyn Says:

    Well kudos to you, my friend!

    It’s hard enough to take on new skills, even harder alone in a funky environment. Be proud of yourself for fumbling through with honors – your bench looks awesome!

  2. Megan Says:

    Yipes. You just brought up memories of getting lost back-stage during the intermission (we had to go on a tour) and cowering in a dark room for the rest of the event. I’m impressed you not only stuck with it but you mastered the Very Impressive Tools.

  3. Jennifer Says:

    Your bench looks great…

    I’m sorry the living was so funky. I’m so impressed you stayed… I guess that says a lot about the instructors.

  4. EGE Says:

    Oh… So what you’re saying is… You’re a CITY mouse. Because, as every country mouse knows, it is never dark outside as long as there’s snow on the ground!

    I tease because I love. Those folks could use a dash of Auntie Mame. The bench looks great!

  5. Says:

    LOL In talking to one person there about my concerns they brushed it off since “you’re a New York City person”. Ummm…I was raised in the Berkshires and (way) upstate New York. The town my house is in has roughly the same population as that town. Heck, look at the aerial picture of my house, there’s over 100 acres behind me with nothing more than hawks…

  6. goddessof4 Says:

    Your story reminds me of our first trip to a yoga retreat in Michigan.At night it was so dark we couldn’t see in front of us (to get to the car)They provided food but we had to find a grocery store in the next town (we were usually starving!!!)We stayed in a rented trailer and One night I woke up and heard a noise,it was a mouse!!!!! I was so freaked out I couldn’t sleep(the next day I found the mouse hole and pushed a piece of furniture to block it!!!!! Besides all that I did like going (to Michigan)after that but I knew we were “roughing it” LOL!!!!!

  7. EGE Says:

    “there’s over 100 acres behind me with nothing more than hawks…”

    So THAT’S where Dick Cheney’s been hiding all this time!

  8. Says:

    With any luck he’ll find one of the traps that the local hunters put back there…

  9. modernemama Says:

    That’s an impressive bench. How did you manage to lug it home?

  10. Says:

    a little cardboard, a little rope…a wink at the conductor…

  11. Rechelle Says:

    Wow that was quite a crazy ass experience. Sounds like they need to hire some people who know something about the hospitality industry. Good Grief! I really can’t believe how poorly they prepared you for that trip. I know cheap summer camps in dry hot flat scrubby pastures in Western Kansas that better prepare people for their stays than that! The bench looks great. At least it sounds like they have good instructors.
    I think the picture in the middle row on the left looks cute, a tad hostile, but cute.

  12. becoming-home Says:

    Oh, wow.. Jean, I wish I had gone with you!! Though big pregnant lady tripping in the dark brings up a whole other set of problems. I think you gave a very honest account of your experiences and future visitors will benefit from your tips.

    Your bench looks amazing though and I’m totally jealous of your new skillz with the power tools!

  13. Jenni Says:

    The Bench looks great.

    So it sounds like Yestermorrow is a Granola Summer camp for adults, that has sessions in winter.

    You know, you can curse me now, but I thought about a flash light when I saw the pics of the place, and thought they would mention that to you and
    I didn’t need to.
    You know since I am a thousand miles away and all.

    I went to summer camp every year from 3-12th grade. A flash light, sleeping bag, and good snacks were a must.

    Maybe they will read your post and improve on communication and stuff.

  14. Kathy Says:

    I had thought of attending that camp and received the literature on it. I had always wanted to take introductory carpentry and the course being taught by two women seemed like a no-brainer. I previously attended an arts and crafts camp in Vermont and was so glad that I chose to stay in an air-conditioned hotel at night. My classmates stayed in the dorms where it was 90 degrees and humid. After that experience I have become more cautious about looking at the things unsaid in camp descriptions. I probably would have brought a flashlight because I trip over everything in the day light but as to the other events that you described such as lack of choices in the food served, lack of orientation, and surprise events when the lights go out I would have freaked out too. You wrote about your experiences which will help us and perhaps the owners of this camp.

  15. Peggy Says:

    Do you think a 60-year-old with bad knees could handle it?

  16. jeanmartha Says:

    Peggy — Absolutely. The instructors were wonderful and every student went at their own pace. Bring a flashlight if you are sleeping overnight there.

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