Remember in August when we threw our first ever feminist summer camp for a hundred women in the redwoods? Well, we didn’t want that magic to stay in the mountains, so we are thrilled to be partnering with Squarespace on the first of our Compact Summer Camp recap posts. This month and next month we’ll be highlighting some of the people who contributed to making The Compact happen, and bringing some of the summer camp goodness to your computer. If you’re looking to start your next project, Squarespace is our favorite platform to build with, thanks to their fully customizable designer templates, their super simple domain finder, and intuitive software that lets you customize your website with the click of a button (take it from a bunch of non web designers who built The Compact’s website in exactly one week while watching TV on the couch). Thank you Squarespace for allowing us to share The Compact with APW (and for allowing us to build The Compact’s excellent website with ease).
What happens when one hundred feminist women take over a summer camp for a weekend? What happens when you take one hundred amazing women, strip them of their cell service, their responsibilities, and their defensiveness? What happens when you give one hundred feminists space to open their hearts, but no goals to achieve? What happens when you take the idea of an all-women’s conference, but take away the conference part… so it’s just three days for women to do whatever the hell they want?
What happens is The Compact Camp.
Making Space for Women
When I founded APW in 2008, building all-women spaces online was still a new phenomenon. It felt exciting and new to be carving out a space just for us that was virtual—that we could visit anytime we wanted. (See, me: stuck at a terrible office job, in desperate need of virtual community to help get me through a huge life transition.) But 2018 is very different. Between Facebook, Instagram, blogs, our phones, and on and on and on, we spend so much time in virtual community that we’ve almost forgotten what real life community feels like. You know, the kind where you can have a long conversation with lots of nuance (without getting in a huge fight over that one word someone used, because you don’t have the context of why and how they used it). Where you can reach over and give someone a hug. Where you can make a friend like you used to when you had fewer responsibilities. Where you can put down your phone and just talk to people. So after a decade of running APW—aka, an all-female online space where people come for the weddings and stay for the community—I was ready to do something a little different.
And thus The Compact Summer Camp was born.
Getting the right women and non-binary folks was, for us, the easy part. Y’all hang out with us every day on APW, and we’re surrounded by amazing women in our professional lives as well. So our original plan was let’s-start-this-small-and-just-have-fifty-people, but that quickly morphed to one hundred women (weirdly, exactly one hundred), trusting us pretty blindly with three days of our lives. We didn’t have pictures of past camps, or a list of activities or anything—just a wild idea and a whole lot of energy.
Meet Our Camp Designer Jess
But after years of swimming in glitter for APW, we still wanted it to look super pretty. (Femmes are Femmes, no matter where you put us.) So we tasked our friend Jess at Sentimental Fools with making the woods look… you know… glittery. Without glitter. Or hurting nature, or anything like that.
We met Jess at Alt Summit earlier this year, when she blew up my Instagram DMs about the Cardi B. quote I had put in my keynote deck. I literally had no idea who she was till we ran into her at Alt Summit earlier this year while standing in line at the buffet for an ’80s dance party. Besides Maddie, she was the only person at the party who had taken the ’80s theme to a Dynasty place, so we figured she was our people. But when she not only broke it down to Cardi B. on the dance floor (as predicted by those DMs), but also knew the full choreography to TLC’s “Waterfalls,” we were like, “Oh she’s our girl.”
But barring her moves on the dance floor, we really had no clear idea of what Jess did, other than she mentioned in passing how she had volunteered to blow up balloons for the massive installation at the party we were all attending. So we went home and pulled up her Squarespace business site and lo and behold, it turns out she is a wedding designer. The universe provides, y’all. Not just any wedding designer, but from the sheer quantity of balloons in her about page, the kind who understands our design motto: go big or go really big. We immediately resolved to find a way to work with Jess, so if that is not a lesson in creating your online space so that you have it at the ready when the right people meet you, I don’t know what is (and maybe just a small bit of validation for that random choreography you learned in your teens).
And oh, the stuff Jess built us. It included (but was not limited to) balloons, Chasing Paper wallpaper sunbursts, fringe, MinniDip pool floatie installations, and of course, amethyst sculptures made of pool noodles:
Summer Camp Magic
But we knew that glitter (metaphorical or otherwise) was not enough to make camp special. Making a great camp with great people really came down to a great itinerary. That meant that I spent months emailing all of the people I most admired, asking them if they’d like to come teach in the redwoods. But I didn’t want to teach about careers, or social media, or personal branding, or networking, or any of the things that usually fall under the umbrella of personal development. I wanted them to teach the thing that really lit them up inside. Like amazing dance choreography, or how to make friendship bracelets, or how to create a journal all about yourself.
And as it turns out, when you get amazing women in one place for a long weekend, magic happens. This is what The Compact looked like.
You know that feeling right before you go into an interview? When you panic ever so slightly that maybe you don’t know anything at all? Well, after twenty-four straight hours of nonstop setup, your APW/Compact team was ready to meet the one hundred badass women who’d trusted us to take care of them for a whole weekend. Translation: we were a little bit terrified.
Then our campers started arriving, straight from an excursion where the school bus they were supposed to be on, had been… stolen. By the driver. That experience created an instantaneous bonding, and they were here and ready to go. (And obviously, more than a little terrified in their own right.)
We settled in with dinner and orientation (aka the rules) before campers headed off to…
The beloved twilight zip line. While most of us probably don’t look as serene while zip lining as Nicole does above, I hear that zip line does kind of feel that magical… if you’re not a person that hates roller coasters. (Translation: Everyone loved it; I hated it.)
For folks that didn’t want to fly through the air on a rope (me), we had a sing-a-long workshop led by longtime APW reader and commenter Christina (who you may know as Christina McPants). We sang old school Girl Scout standards, Fugees, and a tiny bit of Indigo Girls thrown in for good measure.
We wanted camp to start on a really powerful note. So we kicked things off with a ritual we’ve practiced in the office when we need a motivational kick in the ass. First, we invited our Camp Witch Leah to lead us in a centering meditation. Then we identified some of the areas in our lives where we haven’t been particularly kind to ourselves. We took that, and figured out what we wanted or needed more of, used that to figure out and write down our wildest dreams and…
… set them aflame. Writing down your intentions and burning them is powerful. Doing it with a group of one hundred women is wild and amazing.
We made s’mores over the flames of our wishes (because is it even camp without them?). And then it was lights out.
Then dawn broke, and we were ready to surprise campers with a force of nature: Cyndie Spiegel. Back in February, Maddie and I were at Alt Summit, and we popped into a talk that Cyndie was giving on the subject of asking for what you want. It ended up being one of the most powerful keynote speeches we’ve seen in… a lot of keynote speeches, and we asked if she’d be willing to give a version of it at camp. Because women aren’t exactly encouraged to advocate for themselves in the real world, we wanted to start camp by undoing some of that training.
With so much of the current DIY movement being about how much you can outdo the thing you saw on Pinterest, we wanted the crafting component of camp to be about enjoying yourself, learning something new, and not worrying too much about the finished product. And no surprise, our craft cabin was hopping all weekend.
And bedazzled, per request of Maddie (it’s surprisingly therapeutic).
We had a whole other lodge that was devoted to vision boarding, dot journaling, and a special workshop called The Three Queens (with crowns). AKA a lot of self-actualization, mixed with collage.
And we weren’t going to do camp without archery, which is only the single best way to let out your aggression at the patriarchy.
On the first day we were lucky enough to have an amazing barbecue lunch, right before…
Our pool party (which we got to have both days. I have no regrets). At one point during our pool party, someone turned to me and said that it was like being in a commercial for women, which was a hundred percent accurate. Women when left alone! We’re like this:
Once we got out of the pool, Monique taught a workshop on moving past fear…
Where people laughed, cried, and committed to doing huge things (like writing books).
I knew that if I was going to throw a summer camp, there was going to be dancing, because dancing is the place where my purest soul resides.
I asked Nicole, one of my very favorite Bay Area dance teachers, if she’d be willing to come to the redwoods and teach a few workshops. She was game (and she brought her sister).
On the first day she taught a flowing open dance class, and told people to move their bodies the way they wanted, even if it made no sense.
We ended the night strong with movie night, and the kind of laid-back slumber party vibe that most of us haven’t experienced in years.
We watched the so underrated it’s basically forgotten movie Now And Then, which has never been released digitally, meaning that it’s functionally disappeared. We ordered it on Amazon, brought a DVD player, and cried watching a pack of girls explore how their girlhood gave way to their adulthood and the ways they needed to find themselves again. (The next week R29 featured it as a movie that the critics got wrong, making us eerily on the zeitgeist.)
Day two dawned with my amazing gender nonconforming coach Jay Pryor (aka, no, we did not have a cis-man teaching at camp). Jay dove into their life story of trauma, queerness, life as a woman, transgender man, and most recently a nonbinary human, and translated that into their own powerful brand of treating yourself kindly and harnessing your power.
No surprise, Jay’s talk ended with a standing ovation, and some lives changed. (No exaggeration.)
Of course, after some life changing, you need to get into your body, so our friend Chloe lead a rousing class of Buti Yoga, which is about what it sounds like.
We let our booties do that yoga (and boy were we sore).
After lunch we took a break. Some folks went and aligned their chakras with Camp Witch Leah Tioxon.
Other women retreated to our quiet tent, which was provided by the amazing Camp’d Out Tents. It was lux and amazing and quiet (and now we all want to sleep in one).
And it even gave our staff a chance to sneak away and make lanyards.
Meanwhile Nicole lead an amazing choreography workshop to Seinabo Sey’s “I Owe You Nothing.” (Do yourself a favor and go listen to that.)
We spent two hours diving into the choreography (and decided that next year we needed two days of dance class to master moves). Dancers at all levels, from I’ve danced my whole life (me) to never danced before, all joined together for a mirrorless dance class. And literally nothing is better than dancing in the redwoods. Nothing.
We know we wanted to end camp with bingo, aka Maddie’s passion in life. What we didn’t know is that her co-host Najva had never played bingo. (She always points out that being an immigrant shows up in surprising ways, and watching her discover bingo was the world’s most delightful surprise.)
And if you were wondering if it’s possible to get impossibly competitive about something that’s pure luck, the answer is yes. Also, get one hundred feminists in a room and they will break from their hyper competitiveness to cheer for anyone who wins.
The last night of camp was a dance party, with the theme of “go big before you go home.” We told everyone to wear something they never had an excuse to wear, and outfits ranged from the world’s cutest sisters in wigs and pleather (above), to wedding dresses.
DJ Lady Q brought some serious magic, and Jess and I cemented a friendship that started on a dance floor, continued through the magic of a Squarespace website… back on the dance floor.
At the end of the night, those of us who took the choreography workshop gave a performance to the world’s most supportive crowd.
We ended our last night at camp all feeling profoundly changed. We were different from the way we’d shown up, and we concluded with a group moon howl, which is as amazing as it sounds.
The next morning, we had one last surprise for campers. After a hike through the giant redwoods, we gathered in an amphitheater, to mirror the way we started camp. We all had a centering mediation…
And then chose what we were not taking home with us. That included our brokenness, our suffering, the idea that we don’t fit in anywhere.
And then we burned everything we didn’t need anymore.
And said goodbye, till next year. (We can’t wait till next year.)
This is the tired and amazing staff that pulled it all together. Thanks to Squarespace, we were able to pull together a website for The Compact in a few days, and we launched and produced camp in just a few months. It was grueling, exhausting, and so profoundly rewarding.
And we have to give a final thank you to our girl Jess, and the Squarespace site that lead us to her, for making the woods look like pure colorful, glittery magic (and not harming a single piece of nature in the process).
APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW18 at checkout. And stay tuned next month for more Compact Summer Camp recaps, brought to you by Squarespace.