Last month I went to a feminist summer camp, The Compact Camp, in a Redwood forest south of San Francisco. My friend Meg of A Practical Wedding and her team piloted the event and invited me to come. I had no idea to expect, but it felt like a giant hug I’m still grinning from…
All I knew was this:
1. Three and a half days in the Redwoods south of San Francisco.
2. Cabins with bunks full of woman I didn’t know (bunk beds-for real).
3. Yoga, dance, and meditation. Hikes, crafts, swimming, and singing around the campfire.
4. The only other person I knew going was my friend the organizer, Meg. Who clearly was going to have zero time to hang out with me. Turns out this was exactly true.
5. No cell phone or internet service (yup!)
When I told one of my friends, whose an introvert, about this whole plan she looked at me in complete disbelief and then laughed, “Oooh I always forget what an extrovert you are! Honestly, that sounds like the scariest thing in the world”. I did feel a little panicky driving down on the first day of camp. Was this the worst idea? Possibly, yes. But it could be one of those important step out of your comfort zone things your parents always told you about. Bingo.
I’ve been to a lot of events and retreats in this industry, a whoooole lot. In fact, I’m totally sick of (most) of them, and all the expectations. The same expectations of perfectionism and performance that are magnified in this work of content creation + influencer marketing. They’re usually manageable on a daily basis (from the comfort of a screen between myself and the real world) but can be toxic in real life, in concentrated dosages.
The Compact Camp was completely different. I’ve never felt as whole heartedly accepted for myself, just as I am, as I did at Compact Camp. Not the photoshoot me with 1/50 photos deemed acceptable to my perfectionist eye. The real, raw me.
The tone set from opening ceremony was more than inclusive. I can best describe is as a giant hug that lasted from Thursday afternoon when I first checked in to a bunk full of (turns out, wonderful and not psychopath) strangers, to Sunday morning when all 100 of these strangers transformed into friends, whose well being I generally cared about. We were all in it together. I guess that’s what 3 1/2 days of hugging does to a group of strangers. I felt committed and connected and supported by other woman in a way I didn’t know was possible.
I realize this all sounds sooo hippy dippy and ridiculous, so I’m going to tell you a few ways this played out:
Meg and her team had this incredible gift of building community. I mean, it’s not super surprising. A Practical Wedding is a huge, top ranking wedding site with one of the most engaged, diverse, and inclusive communities on the web. So Meg knows a bit about building community, and she knocked it (once again) out of the park with The Compact Camp. There was a level of respect, intelligence, down to earth, humor, love, and attention to detail that blew my mind.
When I first checked in I was given a bag of goodies, and a beautifully designed printed newspaper with the daily itinerary. Each day there were a list of workshops ranging from self help and movement to crafts and entertainment (see the list here). It was hard to decide which ones to go to, honestly.
Amazing workshops you wouldn’t want to miss with an empowering, feminist-slant (but not like bra-burning level although we did howl at the moon one night, it’s true). Thing like like How to Ask What You Want by one of my faavorite badass women and TedX speaker Cyndie Spiegel, Redwood hikes, zip lining, the best dance classes, morning meditation, archery, friendship bracelets (my workshop!), life coaching with the super brilliant and inspiring Jay Pryor, booty shaking yoga (my new favorite form of exercise), pool parties, bingo, etc.
Not to mention the camp-style night life like movie night (Now and Then), a dance party with your most EXTRA outfit (mine had all the sequins), and campfire singalongs compete with a song book + fancy s’mores.
But, the best thing about it was, you didn’t have to do any of those awesome things. There was a completely decked out quiet tent by Camp’d Out for journal writing and naps, and we were constantly reminded that our time at camp was for us. If we wanted to read a book in the Redwoods or zone out to Sufjan on our headphones all day (legit decent option), no judgement was passed. It felt like a tremendous weight off my shoulders to not have any real responsibilities or expectations for a bit. Because, ya know, real life is sooo the complete opposite.
When I first got over being anxious about not knowing anyone, it felt kind liberating. No one to answer to (!!). I could wander away in the woods without anyone trying to find me or wondering where I was (at least for a while). In fact two mornings I slept through breakfast and didn’t have to give anyone an explanation or excuse. The truth is I just really love sleeping and don’t care much for breakfast. If I didn’t feel like dancing in sequins, I could just leave without making arrangements for when/how I would see others again or possibility be talked into staying even if I didn’t really want to be there. It was liberating and empowering.
It all felt nice for a bit, having no one to answer to and no expectations to manage. Then of course that strong extrovert side of me made friends. Like, really beautiful, amazing friends who I ended up wanting to find me in the woods and drag me to sequin dance parties. Friends that stayed up late with me (after hours, don’t tell) making seed bead necklaces until we moved the craft party to a field to marvel at the stars and laugh our asses off. Friends that felt like we’d gone through 4 years of friendship in 4 nights and were able to cut through the facade to find the real, vulnerable, pieces of each other we all want to connect with.
So, many of you have asked about this feminist camp, and many more of you have already committed to going next year. If you can, come. You’ll come away a different person. More whole, grounded, connected person. I certainly did. Thank you, Meg and team for creating such a special space for babes in the woods. Planning on making The Compact Camp a yearly pilgrimage, will you join me next year?
Photography of event by Annapolis-based photography Madison Short (with photos 9, 13, 17, 18 by myself)