I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
August 17, 2023
For two decades of my life, I was horribly lonely.
Obviously, being lonely had never been part of the plan — After all, I’d spent a lot of time and energy trying to make friends when I moved to the suburbs twenty-odd years ago. I joined moms’ clubs and book clubs and Bible studies, volunteered for Field Days and the PTA, invited neighbors over, and made so many plans with so many women for coffee and dinners and drinks.
But while I didn’t have any trouble making acquaintances, true friendship eluded me. I yearned to find women I could pour out my heart to, laugh and cry with, and build the kinds of relationships that last decades. Instead, I found women who were perfectly nice, but didn’t seem to want the conversation to extend beyond their kids, neighborhood gossip, and the latest binge-worthy series on Netflix.
Of course, I wondered if I was the problem. I tried hard to be a better listener, to check in often on my potential friends and show them I cared with cards and little gifts. Nothing worked. Eventually, it occurred to me that I’d never had trouble making friends in college or at work before I married — It was only in the suburbs that I struggled. I decided that I had simply been looking for friends in the wrong places. After all, I’d never really felt like I really fit into the suburban environment — Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect to fit in with the women who thrived in it. I thought about the true friends of my early years and realized most of them were a little quirkier and more artistic and open minded, and as my kids got older and started needing me less and less, I began actively looking for ways to meet those kinds of people.
That’s what led me to Kara Kemp’s Adult Summer Camp last year. Held in Rugby, Tennessee for three days each summer, it’s a place for people to gather together and eat, drink, and be merry while doing camp activities like yoga, creative dance, hiking, swimming in the village’s swimming hole, origami, theater games, karaoke, and more. After seeing pictures of campers having what looked like the time of their lives on Instagram, I knew I needed to give this camp a try. I went and discovered, pretty much immediately, that I’d found my people. (I wrote all about the experience here .) And today, one year later, the men and women I met at summer camp — and the people I’ve met through them since then — have truly become the friends I’d always longed for. They’re the ones I laugh and cry with and share my deepest secrets with, the ones who fill my text feed every day with gifs and hilarity and support and encouragement. I’m no longer lonely, y’all! And for me, it has made all the difference.
But now, I can’t stop noticing just how many people out there feel exactly like I once did. Online and in person, I continually run across men and women who share what a difficult time they’ve had finding friends, no matter how hard they’ve looked for them. Loneliness has become epidemic in our culture and while it’s fairly easy to find activities that bring us in contact with other people, it’s still really tough to get past the facade of politeness and small talk most of us seem to hide behind when we’re together.
Kara Kemp has done a brilliant job of structuring her summer camp in a way that encourages campers to get beyond that facade quickly — but if the thought of interacting with 80 or so people on a more personal level feels intimidating, I’ve got great news. Kara also holds Wellness Weekends in Rugby, which are a lot like Summer Camp but limited to a maximum of ten people. Each session is customized to the attendees and the season, so they’re all a little different. I attended her summer Wellness Weekend, centered around writing, and it was life changing. Truly. If you’ve been yearning to connect with others in a more authentic way and make meaningful friendships that last — or, if you just want to spend a relaxing weekend taking care of your mental and emotional health in a beautiful historic village surrounded by a small group of caring and supportive people — Wellness Weekends are for you.
On a Thursday night in June, six women and I all checked in at the Newbury House, an 1880s boarding house in the heart of Historic Rugby, where we spent the evening relaxing, hanging out, and getting to know each other. The Newbury House has a big communal kitchen and we’d all brought snacks to share — Eating and drinking together was an excellent way to break the ice. The next day, we walked across the lawn to Adena Cottage, where most of the events of the weekend took place. There, Kara had prepared us an elaborate gourmet lunch, the first of many incredible meals to come.
Kara was joined on this weekend by her friend, Mark Lamb. Mark is a choreographer and MOTH Grand Slam champion storyteller who’d led the creative movement sessions at summer camp the year before, and he was a big part of why I came to this particular Wellness Weekend. Mark has a way of turning dance and movement sessions into deeply personal, emotional, cathartic experiences that are hard to explain or quantify. If you’ve never experienced what I’m talking about, you’re probably very confused right now; if you have, I’m betting you’re nodding your head in agreement. He’s just amazing. Plain and simple.
After lunch, we started with some simple creative writing exercises to help us get in the right headspace for what was to come. Kara led this session and she promptly did her Kara thing, which was to somehow lead us straight into opening up and getting very honest and comfortable with each other without us even realizing what was happening. Kara has a true gift for this and it’s wonderful to experience it. Whether I’ve been in a group of 30 people led by Kara or in a one-on-one long conversation with Kara alone, I don’t think I’ve ever ended it without spilling my guts and crying a little — in a good way! Kara effortlessly brings out the truest, most authentic parts of people, and she does it in a very casual and comfortable way.
The writing session was followed by forest bathing, something I had heard about, but never experienced for myself. It was led by Melissa Jean, a certified Forest Therapy Guide, who’d come from Nashville to lead us on what was described as ‘connecting with nature using all five senses,’ and turned out to be a sort of walking meditation session in the woods — No bathing suits required, fortunately! The session was followed up with a tea ceremony.
The forest bathing session made me realize that I’ve been ‘forest bathing’ for a few years now without even realizing it. I began hiking alone about five years ago because I was going through some difficult events in my life and walking in the woods by myself was literally the only thing that made me feel better. I hiked almost every day and let my feelings guide me through the process. Sometimes I hiked a three or four-mile trail as quickly as I could, other times I would stop often along the way and listen to the sounds around me, or sit for half an hour, just trying to be present. Occasionally, I journaled. Often, I cried — bawled, even. All this is to say that this meditative form of hiking has ended up being one of the most healing and cathartic experiences I’ve ever discovered, and if forest bathing is teaching more people the practice, then I’m all for it.
That night, we had a delicious dinner at Adena Cottage followed by creative sharing, and then we were off to bed.
Saturday began with brunch and was followed by a mindful meditation with Kara, then a creative movement session with Mark Lamb. After following some creative writing prompts, we were encouraged to share our work with each other and looking back, I realized that this made us open up to each other in some deep and really meaningful ways. After all, if you think about it, there’s little that’s more personal and vulnerable than creative writing.
The real surprise, though, was the emotion that came out of Mark Lamb’s movement sessions. Mark has come up with an innovative way to unleash creativity through movement, and the way he makes it work is by getting completely vulnerable himself before gently encouraging the rest of the group to do the same. Consequently, his creative movement sessions quickly became these incredibly raw and yet healing group moments that made us all feel closer and allowed us to support each other, wherever we were in our lives.
If all this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. The beauty of these sessions is that no one was ever put on the spot. Some chose to share their writing, some simply listened and offered encouragement and feedback. Participation was always optional and I never felt pressured to do or say anything. Like summer camp, Wellness Weekends are very much about making the experience what you want it to be, so nothing is mandatory. But I had wanted to make meaningful connections with others — and that’s exactly what happened.
During afternoon free time, optional sessions with an acupuncturist or massage therapist were offered and I’m pretty sure we all took advantage of one or the other. That night, we had a fabulous dinner of wood-fired pizzas from the outdoor oven and s’mores afterward. It was, quite simply, a perfect day.
On Sunday, we had one last brunch and one last creative writing session. Checkout wasn’t until four, so we had plenty of time to write on our own if we chose before leaving. I said goodbye to my new friends and we all promised to meet up soon and often. I couldn’t believe how close I felt to them in such a short amount of time.
What surprised me most about the weekend was how emotional I felt for several days after it ended. It really opened something in me that I normally keep closed tight, and it took me a few days of introspection to recover. Kara holds three Wellness Weekends a year, and I remember thinking that if I could do this three times a year, my life would be immeasurably better for it. Her next Wellness Weekend is September 22-24, and even thought it’s a crazy month for me, let’s just say I haven’t completely ruled it out!
Nor should you. The September Wellness Weekend is appropriately harvest-themed. Mark Lamb will be back and according to Kara, “the focus will be on creativity & movement, reflecting and celebrating your year and clearing the space for the one ahead. The weekend will be a customized retreat to explore your story, journaling prompts, movement for maintaining balance and life mapping will play an integral part of this workshop along with energy body work.” Plus? Sherri Marshall from The Movement Center in Murfreesboro will be leading a yoga session! Sherri does yoga at summer camp each year and she’s the absolute best.
Expect more fabulous gourmet meals, time to focus on yourself (for a change!), and a chance to make real, true friends — in a beautiful historic village hidden away on the Cumberland Plateau. What more could you ask for? If you’re interested in signing up for the weekend or you just want to know more, check out Kara’s website.
It just might lead you to the friendships you’ve always longed for.