I don't regret my decision not to return this summer. But as I was thinking about it today, a friend and fellow Controlled Burn attendee posted some photos to her Facebook page. They were from 2005--my first year with the seminar. So I started digging through my own collection of photos and well, here I am.
Controlled Burn changed my life. That's a pretty big statement, but a true one. I cannot imagine where I'd be right now--as a writer, as a person--had my dad not come across an article about the seminar in a northern Michigan newspaper and shown it to me.
I was sixteen when I first came to Controlled Burn. Like every other first timer, I figured I'd spend the week hiding in my room, writing.
And like every other first timer, I was wrong.
I met my first boyfriend at Controlled Burn. As my friend Sarah (a fellow CB student) pointed out to me after my relationship with him ended, there is a beautiful intensity about Controlled Burn. There's a bit of euphoria that goes along with being there. And because of that, any relationship forged there is going to hold higher esteem in one's mind, because it's romanticized with that unique environment.
I had not expected anything like that to happen. For that matter, at sixteen, I did not expect much of myself. Controlled Burn changed that.
Because none of my family members are educated, I did not expect that I would be able to go very far with my own education, even though school is what I've always been good at (I mean come on, I was spending my summer vacation at a writing seminar of all things).
There were less than twenty students enrolled in Controlled Burn that summer, and about four faculty members running workshops. Class sizes were very small (and remained small as the years passed). Because I was able to work so closely with everyone, I found that I was no longer intimidated by the degrees held by the people I was working with. I finally figured out that we're all just people, and the social divisions we create in our minds do not (or at the very least, should not) have any tangible counterparts in the real world.
I'm now about to start my third year of college. I'm still writing, and my work has been published in several reputable literary venues (both in print and online). I'm currently the editor-in-chief of Cardinal Sins, and I'm interning with a local small press.
I like to believe Controlled Burn gave me the confidence to claim this territory as my own.
At the risk of sounding dangerously cheesy, Controlled Burn affected me in a way that nothing else ever has. Yes, I've moved on. But that doesn't mean I've left anything behind.
I don't think I should have to wear atheism like a scarlet letter. Until recently (a year or so ago, perhaps), I told everyone I didn't know what I believed in, when the truth is that I don't believe in anything at all.
My dad was raised Catholic. My maternal grandmother is a born-again Christian. Neither of my parents connected with their parents' respective religious views, and because it was such a touchy topic for everyone, they decided to raise their kids (Paige, me) without a religion.
I'm an atheist. But the first time I said that out loud, my mother freaked out, even though in raising my sister and me without a religion, her goal was to give us a chance to make up our own minds. And I've made up my mind. I want no part of it.
When I was sixteen or so, I spent several months attending all sorts of church services, just to satiate my own curiosity about all the ideologies out there. My mother did not approve, and warned me not to let myself be brainwashed the way her mother had been.
So it's weird. Organized religion scares my mother just as much as it scares me. But she's ashamed of what she doesn't believe in, perhaps because it isn't "socially acceptable."
I refuse to be ashamed of it.
I respect your belief in something greater than this. In return, I expect you to respect my lack of it.