Earlier this month there was a New York Times story (and a New Yorker story, and an NPR story) about the proliferation of summer camps for adults. Each camp is different, of course, but here’s the basic premise: Tech addicts pay money to “unplug” in a wilderness setting while indulging in regressive activities like lanyard-making and star-gazing, and, in some cases, eschewing alcohol, meat and gluten to further complete the detox process. At the end was a list of camp-like conferences all over the country, including CAMP, the one I attended in early June.
I was brought to CAMP as a speaker, by my good friend Sonja Rasula, who organized the event—on the first night I gave a campfire talk about my creative path (yep, we roasted marshmallows, too). But it wasn’t a tough sell for me to be there. I proudly attended Camp Miniwanca nearly every year of my life from age 10 to 22 (a few of those were as a counselor) and I was excited to dive back into my summertime rituals—yes, including a polar bear swim every morning at 7:00 a.m. (Sonja and I even discovered we learned crazily similar polar bear cheers at our camps: Polar bear, polar bear…)
The entire experience was so beautifully branded, from our CAMP-branded wool blankets and Everlane backpacks (that we got to take home) to a pop-up coffee bar from Handsome Coffee Roasters to a Wes Anderson-themed dance. This was no detox camp, mind you—we ate extremely well and had craft cocktail happy hours every night. And that’s part of what made it so great. Yes, we were there to learn tips and tricks from experts in our midst to run our creative businesses, but I learned just as much socializing at night and during meals with the delightfully diverse group of attendees. I strengthened my bonds with longtime LA friends and forged new friendships with creatives I’d admired from afar for years.
But friends aren’t the only things I made…
Jennifer Dodge Parry taught me how to indigo dye, and I made four tea towels accented with neon pink and green. Photographer and Instagram goddess Bonnie Tsang opened my eyes to the true possibilities of social media. Ed Roth gave us a stencil tutorial and I carefully dabbed a rainbow-ombré leopard print the straps of my backpack. The amazing men behind Proprietors LLC conducted a mind-expanding mixology class that is almost certain to change the course of my social life. With the amazing Emily Ho, we foraged for edibles, making our own syrups from White Fir and Jeffrey Pine trees and baking pine-infused cookies. (Check out her recipes for conifer syrup and evergreen shortbread cookies.) Photographers Laure Joliet and Kate Miss taught me how to take a professional-looking photo (including the one you see right up there).
And yes, I even made a lanyard.
The camp stories I linked to at the beginning of this piece garnered plenty of commentary online, including a smart retort by my friend Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic. But they all left something out. Yes, we were asked to step away from the computer for a few days, and voluntarily relinquish our devices (I opted to keep mine, but mostly just used it as a camera). But, honestly? You could do that anytime. What many of these stories miss is the importance of what we were replacing that tech-time with—in my case, learning how to do a whole range of NEW things with my hands and my eyes and my brain. It’s not that we were purposely trying to escape technology at CAMP or that we even needed help doing so. It’s that at this age you so rarely get to experience the thrill of learning a new skill. We were riveted by the act of making, together.
That brings me to my other point. Just in the short month since I’ve returned home, I’ve launched a half-dozen collaborations with my fellow CAMPers. I suddenly feel this sense of momentum, that I’m a part of something bigger than myself. We’re a community now, and we’ve started something new together, and the date of next summer’s CAMP looms in the distance as a new annual benchmark for creative self-evaluation. It keeps going through my head: What are my creative goals? Who of my new friends can I tap for advice? Where do I want to be next summer? It has absolutely nothing to do with pocketing my iPhone for a few days. But it’s a feeling that I’ve honestly not felt since I sat on the sand dunes overlooking Lake Michigan at Camp Miniwanca over 10 years ago.
I can’t wait to go back and do it again.
If you’re sad you missed all this, there’s still a chance to go to CAMP… and you don’t have to wait until next summer! Sonja is currently mounting a massive Kickstarter campaign for The Unique Space, a co-working and creativity center in the Arts District, which sounds like it will be CAMP every single day. In fact, one of the rewards is a ticket to CAMP in the City, a one-day, in-town experience on October 26. No, you probably won’t be able to polar bear in the LA River (maybe???) but it promises to be an inspiring event.
OR, if you’d like the bite-sized CAMP experience, I’ll be leading a stairwalk in Silver Lake as part of another of Sonja’s Kickstarter rewards. The walk will be October 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and we’ll be joined by a few surprise guests from CAMP. That’s $55, and there’s also an option to buy all three “field trips” for $150. Pledge here, and see you then!
Blanket, tie-dye, polar bear, Wes Anderson dance, forest and night hike photos by the awesome folks at Smilebooth.