I Lived In The Canadian Wilderness For 6 Months. Well, on a Kids’ Camp With Some Heated Cabins, a Semi-Functional Wifi Connection and a Dining Hall That Provided Hot Meals at Regular Intervals But Other Than That It Was Basically Primitive…

I graduated from university in July 2015.

The whole experience was quite disorientating.

For the first time since the age of four, I found myself outside of the academic system that had always provided me with a steady stream of goals and a consistent sense of purpose.

I felt quite lost like Nemo in Finding Nemo or the people in that TV show where the plane crashes and the passengers become stranded on an island.

I often experienced difficulty answering certain questions in job interviews.

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I do not remember having identity issues as a child.

Back then, I spent a lot of time in the great outdoors and when I say the ‘great outdoors’, I am referring mainly to my parents’ back garden.

My parents’ back garden featured breath-taking geographical features such as a 2×3 metre pond, a multitude of impressive wildlife specimens in the form of worms and the occasional pigeon and some flowers.

Once I was in the wilderness, it was hard to get me out.

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Eight months after graduating, I decided to go and work on an outdoor education camp on the west coast of Canada, in what I guess was an attempt to reconnect with a simpler time when I worried less about establishing myself in the ‘real world’ and more about the important things in life, such as whether my mum would get mad if I used her electric whisk to blend together the ingredients of my mud pie.

Western Canada is a land of great natural beauty.

It looks a lot like that place that they used to film Lord of the Rings, except not exactly like that place because that place isn’t Canada; it’s New Zealand.

However, soon after arriving at camp, I discovered that finding a peaceful moment to contemplate nature is kind of difficult when you spend the majority of your time surrounded by kids.

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When you are out on a boat with a group of children it is important to concentrate, not on the complexity of human cognition, but on providing some form entertainment for the kids.

Neglecting to do this will encourage them to find ways of entertaining themselves.

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At first, I did genuinely believe that it was going to be okay.

The logical part of my brain was aware of the fact that a group of 11 year old girls didn’t possess the vocal capacity to continue singing until the end of time.

However, as the minutes passed and the singing continued, I started to lose my grip on my sanity and with it my ability to think in a rational manner.

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As a camp counsellor, you are required to provide 24 hour supervision for the kids in your care.

This means that you have to sleep in the same building as them which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of children don’t understand how to sleep properly.

Some kids, for example, operate under the terrible misconception that the crack of dawn is an acceptable time to be awake.

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Children learn at an accelerated rate and as a result have highly imaginative minds.

This heightened curiosity that children possess is an amazing thing.

However, it is significantly less amazing when it manifests itself in a seemingly unstoppable torrent of questions at 4:35am in the morning.

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Despite its frustrations, working with children is ultimately a pretty rewarding experience, even if it does entail spending the early hours of the morning explaining how sunscreen works to a 9 year old.

However, during my time at camp, I was not working with kids 100% of the time.

In the spring season, the site was frequently rented out to adult groups for various events, weddings and retreats.

Whilst working with one of these groups, I got talking to a man who told me that stargazing on a regular basis helped him to maintain clarity of thought.

The man in question had dreadlocks and was wearing a ‘Live, Breath, Yoga’ singlet so I decided that he was probably a reliable source of wisdom.

I figured that what he was saying made sense – if you’re searching for a personal lightbulb moment, why not look to nature’s very own lightbulbs to locate it?

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I’m beginning to doubt if staring intensely at a mountain range or the night sky is an effective way to induce a moment of epic self-realisation.

Maybe a solid identity is not something that can be found in a fixed moment because we ourselves are not permanent fixtures.

Our minds are always evolving and the way in which we perceive ourselves and our surroundings is constantly changing.

Maybe the process of reaching self-enlightenment is a bit more like driving down a heavily congested road…

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3 Books That I Loved As A Child But Now Find Logically Problematic As An Adult.

One of the great appeals of reading fiction is the idea of escapism.

Books provide us with the opportunity to transcend our everyday lives.

As a child, I had a very intense and vivid imagination.

When reading a book, I would often become so immersed in the story that I would begin to confuse the fictional world with reality.

reading, books, joanne sarginson

When reading, I would enter into a self-enclosed sphere of imagination in which my immediate surroundings momentarily ceased to exist.

The material world no longer featured as part of my own personal reality and, as a result, the things that my body required in order to function properly became completely irrelevant.

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reading, books, joanne sarginson

reading, books, joanne sarginson

However, as I have grown older, my ability to become completely absorbed in a fictional novel has been somewhat compromised.

I come from a scientific family – my granddad was an engineer, my parents are doctors, one of my brothers is studying marine biology at university and the other one received a prize in Year 2 for ‘The Best Model of a Volcano’.

Therefore, although I like to consider myself a creative and imaginative person, there is a part of my brain that is inclined towards thinking in an analytical and logical manner.

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As I have progressed out of childhood and through the teenage phase, I have noticed the logical side of my brain begin to exert increasing levels of dominance over the imaginative side.

I have seen this transition manifest itself most noticeably in the way that I now perceive the books that I used to find so captivating as a child.

reading, books, joanne sarginson

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar tells the story of (SPOILER ALERT) a caterpillar that is very hungry.

At the end of the book, the caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly.

Before completing this transition, he eats his way through increasing quantities of brightly coloured food items.

By the story’s climax, the caterpillar has consumed over 20 items of food, including an ice cream cone, a cupcake and a slice of Swiss cheese.

This was fascinating to me as a child.

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However, as I have grown older and my knowledge of the anatomy of insects has developed, it has become harder for me to get invested in narratives such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

reading, books, joanne sarginson

2. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt details the story of a family who spontaneously decide to go out into the wilderness and search for a bear.

The structure of the book is similar to that of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Before locating a bear, the family is forced to traverse various obstacles in the landscape.

As child, I found the wide range of obstacles that the family encountered so completely captivating that I failed to think about the fact that they were actively looking for a bear.

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As I have grown up, I have spent some time watching David Attenborough documentaries and other educational films such as The Revenant.

I have therefore acquired a greater awareness of the physical threat that bears can present to humans.

As a result, I have developed a few issues with the basic principle of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

reading, books, joanne sarginson

reading, books, joanne sarginson

3. Harry Potter

Quidditch was always my favourite part of Harry Potter.

Whilst I found all of Harry’s magical adventures fascinating, I was particularly enthralled by the concept of Quidditch.

reading, books, joanne sarginson

However, I recently dipped my head back into The Philosopher’s Stone and, whilst reading, I became slightly alarmed at the rate at which Harry Potter learns to fly a broomstick.

Within the space of a one hour Broom Skills lesson, he progresses from barely knowing how to hold the broomstick to driving it at high velocity.

I am aware that Harry is special and Hogwarts is magical but this accelerated rate of learning still seems quite dangerous to me.

I also found myself slightly concerned with Madame Hooch’s conduct within Harry’s first flying lesson, particularly the point at which she leaves a group of 11-year-old children unsupervised with a load of flying equipment that is capable of reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph in order to take Neville Longbottom to the hospital wing.

It occurred to me that Hogwarts should probably run an INSET day before the start of term in order to properly educate its staff in Health and Safety procedures.

Then again, the fact that there was a massive three-headed dog, a massive poisonous snake and a massive ‘whomping’ tree on the premises at various points during Harry’s time at the Hogwarts suggests that Health and Safety potentially wasn’t a prioritised matter on the agenda at any of the school’s board of governors meetings.

If I were a teacher at Hogwarts, I imagine that my flying lessons would be a little less exhilarating than Madame Hooch’s.

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In fact, I’m pretty sure that I would be Hogwarts’ most hated teacher.

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Although I am no longer able to use fictional books as a form of complete and utter escapism, I often use them to inform my real life.

It is comforting to know that, no matter how crazy or fantastical a book is, the struggles of its characters are always partially drawn from the author’s real life experiences.

If I am going through something difficult, sympathising with a character can make me feel less alone.

Or alternatively, if I am facing a difficult decision, observing how characters deal with their issues can sometimes give me an idea of how to move forward.

Books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and Harry Potter, for example, have provided me with some valuable advice on how to deal with my current quarter life identity crisis.

reading, books, joanne sarginson