Just in time for late spring and summer is Heather Menicucci’s new book, Let’s Get Primitive — a guide to getting out and enjoying the great outdoors, not just in the local park, but all the way out in the woods. That’s right — camping. The book will fill you in on all the details with regard to planning and having a great trip, but most importantly, it’s going to inspire you to want to pack up and hit the road, so that you get beyond the crowded city streets and into the wide open spaces of backcountry.
I got the honor of reading an advance copy of the book, and of providing a “blurb” — a short quote of praise. This is what I wrote: “Working in a cubicle is as open-air as most of us city folk get, and that’s no way to live. Thankfully Heather Menicucci has offered an open-ended ticket to sunrises, sunsets, and warm, whiskey-doused sing-alongs in the great outdoors. Let’s Get Primitive is an enlightening guide that will inspire you to tear down the (half) walls, delve back into nature, and dream under stars that you can actually see.”
Following is an interview with Heather about how she got into camping, what camping does for her, and reasons why everyone should make a point of pitching a tent and spending some quality time in the sunshine and moonlight that is unique to places where the day ends around a campfire.
How did you get into camping?
Heather Menicucci: I met a former Boy Scout, a sturdy guy who convinced me I wouldn’t be abducted by aliens my first trip out. After hearing his exciting stories of campfires and canoe trips, I thought camping was something I should finally try. I didn’t think I was going to fall in love, I just thought camping was something everyone should do at least once in their life. That first trip was actually my birthday celebration and the car got stuck down a ravine, the lake we were supposed to camp near turned out to be a manmade mucky pond, and it rained all day on my birthday. And yet, I still loved it! I guess that’s a testament to the power of camping.
What led you to write Let’s Get Primitive?
HM: Let’s Get Primitive started as a how-to guide for Bust magazine. I pitched the initial article because I thought there had to be other unlikely nature girls like me out there. I wanted to show them how I became a camper and prove they could too. Most people envision a certain kind of person as a camper and I wanted to show that the unlikeliest of campers can make this their own. I was really excited to share my love with anyone I thought would be too scared or skeptical to go for it.
What does camping do for you on an inspirational level — how does it impact, say, your work?
HM: To use a silly cliche, it clears out the cobwebs. I’m a ruminator. I get myself into mental traps where I overanalyze my work, my relationships, whether or not my cat is too mean, but I don’t really ever think about that stuff (as much, or as intensely) when I’m camping. It frees me from a lot of the things that weigh me down in the real world, which does wonders for my inspiration. There are plenty of surprises to be discovered in nature, but what’s even better is when you surprise yourself. Maybe you’ll break out in song around the campfire, or you’ll be able to climb a big rock when you can barely make the stairs in your building. When all that wholesome stuff happens, it’s inspiring. It just feels good. And simple. And clear. It’s not unusual for me to come home with tons of pictures and pages of notes in my journal.
You also are a filmmaker — any plans to shoot something that involves camping? I could envision a whole host of short viral, comedic videos of urban gals out in the great outdoors for the very first time…
HM: Yes! You had actually inspired me to think along these lines. I’d like to do a Double Dare/Iron Chef takeoff where city girls compete to prove their primitive prowess. They’ll pitch a tent in less than five minutes, find their way back to camp after being led blindfolded away, and cook up a campfire meal with limited ingredients. There would be prizes and camp-inspired banjo music. It would be very silly and fun, and the girls would earn their backcountry badges. It’s kind of in the works.
Bugs, sunburns, the lack of a toilet, sleeping on the hard-earth floor — lots of reasons why people opt for the nice hotel room on the beach or at the lodge… and yet, one sunrise out in the forest, and you can be sold for life, right? What else draws you to camping?
HM: To be honest, it’s partly all the hardships you mentioned at first. I think it’s good to be deprived occasionally of the things I take for granted. And solving the logistical problems, like a hard floor or rain on the fire, is fun in a crafty, MacGyvery way. Not to mention, once you conquer the cat hole, you feel pretty damn proud of yourself. But it’s not all about overcoming difficulties. There’s fresh, sweet air; tons of green; interesting critters; still quiet; endless stars. Food tastes better. I also love how I feel tuckered out and fulfilled at the end of the day. And, it’s a unique bonding experience. I think camping encourages openness. It brings people together in a unique way. I could go on and on and on. Camping is not just a vacation. It can’t really be compared with a nice hotel room on the beach. They’re each valuable for very different reasons.
Are you known amongst your friends and family as the person who introduces people to the great outdoors?
HM: Well, a lot of my friends and particularly my family are still resisting being converted. But I think now that Let’s Get Primitive is out, they’ll have a harder time saying no. I should be able to exert a little more influence now that I’m official.
Describe how it feels when you arrive back home from a camping trip?
HM: It feels as refreshing as it does when I get to my campsite that first day. I’m not crazy. I love camping, but after a few days out there, getting home is dreamy. I check my email, order pizza, and indulge in a thirty-minute post-camping shower. I often hear that Soul II Soul song playing in my head, "Back to Life."
What’s the best way for someone, no matter where they live, to find out about good camping options in their area?
HM: Part of the fun of camping is nerding out until you hone in on your ideal spot. The internet is the best place to research a trip, especially if you don’t have a group of camper friends to ask. My trips usually involve a bit of research on the the National Forest Service website (www.fs.fed.us), the National Park Service website (www.nps.gov), and then in a camping forum (my favorite: www.backpacker.com), where campers often review where they’ve been. letsgetprimitive.com also has a list of about thirty cities and towns with nearby backcountry camping opportunities and gorp.com has handy articles and reviews. Remember to follow up your online research with calls to the ranger station for special regulations, conditions, and permit information.
What’s a place in this world that you haven’t yet camped at, but dream of going to?
HM: The list is so long because I don’t camp or travel nearly as much as I’d like to. I’d like to do a cross country camping trip and pitch my tent in as many states as I can. I’m really curious about camping on the Keys in Florida, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, Channel Island National Park in California, and anywhere in Hawaii. There’s also a waterfall in Maine’s Baxter State Park that I’ve been promising myself I’d hike to. Outside the U.S., I know I’d like to camp Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica and along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in New Zealand. I’m really drawn to water, especially the ocean. All my seaside campouts have been magical.
This was one of my first sites — workingfortheman.com. Lots of humorous stories about the workplace posted there… Be sure to read them while you’re on the clock! Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that site a lot lately. Stay tuned for changes, to go live later this year.
Each Friday, I post a different photobooth frame or strip from my personal collection and write about it on my blog. In my 36 years of living, I’ve built up quite a collection — personal strips taken at drugstores, amusement parks, restaurants, nightclubs (at so many different stages of my life), as well as beautiful old strips I thankfully inherited from parents and grandparents and other relatives. And my collection is not limited to personal strips — there are also vintage ones that I’ve found in the bottom of boxes at fleamarkets or junk stores or that others have thoughtfully passed on to me.
The idea behind this weekly creative exercise is as simple as this: share the image and tell the story, be it fictional or non-fictional. Also: it’s a place to share a collection that means the world to me. It’s motivation to write every Friday. It’s reason to drop everything and go out and find the nearest photobooth.
I invite all to participate once a week, once a month, once a year, whenever and however. The only thing better than sharing my own photobooth strips and stories are the ones posted by others that I get to check out each and every weekend.
To get there:
First, a very typical, stressful "last day before vacation" 8 hours at work.
30 minutes of high stress trying to flag down a cab in midtown (right at 5 pm, of course).
1 hour cab ride to JFK.
3 hour wait at the airport.
6.5 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany.
1.5 hour layover in Frankfurt (where I paid $6 for a bottle of water!).
11.5 hour flight from Frankfurt to Singapore (had a row of three seats all to myself on this flight, so I cannot complain at all about this long stretch of the journey. Slept like a baby).
2 hour layover in Singapore.
1.5 hour flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
15 minutes to get through immigration (very fast!)
30 minute taxi ride from airport to the hotel where my wife was staying at in Phnom Penh.
10 minute tuk-tuk ride from hotel to bus station.
6 hour bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
15 minute taxi ride from bus station to our hotel in Siem Reap.
And after a night of rest in which my body tried to reconcile its many hours of travel with the whole time change thing (Read: bad sleep), we got up early and took in the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the first of many temples we were able to visit.
Much more on the Cambodia trip to come. It was amazing.
See also pictures at Flickr. We took almost 1,000 pictures… many more to post.
My project is designed to encourage people to cultivate the fine art of wishing. On Valentine’s Day 2007, I launched Wishcasting, a blog designed to be a safe haven for wishes, a fertile field in which to plant wish seeds and have them witnessed and tended lovingly. This project was built on the belief that it’s powerful to share your wishes with the world and exponentially so when those wishes are witnessed and encouraged.
There are 2 parts to Wishcasting: sharing and supporting.
Participants email their wishes in for posting.
The wish can be a sentence, a picture, a poem, a piece of artwork, a list, a collage, whatever form you like.
A wish can be posted anonymously.
The details of a wish don’t have to be revealed.
You can support a wish in the comment section by saying "As (insert name ) wishes for her/himself, so I wish for her/him also."
You can add to your commentary, but supporters are encouraged to begin with the above phrase. There is something very special in this simple statement. It carries the weight of trusting and believing in the wisher as well as the wish.
I wish for a virtual explosion of wishes and an ever-growing community of wishers. What do you wish for?
My project is a knuckle tattoo website. Knuckle tattoos are typically two four letter words or an eight letter word tattooed across the tops of people’s hands so you can see them when you make a fist.
I’m collecting pictures of people’s knuckle tattoos and the stories behind them. Knuckle tattoos fascinate me on a lot of levels. On one hand they totally appeal to the word geek in me, all the combinations of words and ideas. On the other hand, in a world where being tattooed has become socially acceptable, knuckle tattoos still carry the tattooed-scary-person stigma. Many of the people who have knuckle tattoos do live outside normal society, but they all have a story and/or a reason for getting them.
My project is to collect their stories and spread the word. So far it has been really great. Everyone I’ve talked to has been really incredible and the stories are always great.
What I need are more pictures and stories. I can understand that approaching someone with a lot of tattoos (especially knuckle tattoos) and asking to take their picture and asking them fairly personal questions can be kind of intimidating, so if you want, just point them to the site and suggest they send in their info.
The site can be reached at guess where: knuckletattoos.com.
P.S. — Puns intended.
With projects that range from yarn to wood, from found objects to fabric, with contributors from all over the craft spectrum, Tsia Carson has put together a creative lightening bolt — a force of craft. I’m not at all surprised, really. I’ve been a fan of her dynamically charged SuperNaturale.com site for quite some time (and have been fortunate enough to contribute to its Glimmer blog, along with many others, for the last year or so). But the book, Craftivity, takes the whole crafty mission up a notch — it’s inventive, wondrously colorful and full of creative surprises, and I am not alone in singing its praises. I’m really happy and honored to present an interview with Tsia about her new book here at 52projects.com.
Craftivity — what a wonderful name for the book. What does that word mean to you?
I wanted to get across the idea that crafting is active, that it is an activity and that the practitioners are activist. They take agency over their lives by making beautiful stuff. Most of the happiest crafters I know craft in groups or have a community of people they engage with about their work. I think that this is at the heart of what makes it relevant interesting culture and not just more stuff to consume and own. But I have to give props to Holly Gressley and Aviva Michaelov for introducing me to this term.
How have you met all these crafters? How much did your website have to do with pulling together all the artists for your book?
Most of the makers I have met but not all of them. There are a few I can’t wait to meet! The website was instrumental in meeting and discovering contributors. It’s the best calling card in the world.
Tell the truth — what was the hardest project in the book to make happen?
Twist my arm! I think that knit hammock, while not the hardest project to do in terms of skill level, was the hardest to make happen. It took a really long time and knitting with the hemp twine was really hard because it has a mind of its own. Poor Annika (Annika Ginsberg made it)! She is a master knitter and it was driving her nuts. Every step of the way something went awry with that project. Even building the harness at the end was nuts. But I think I would know how to do that much better now.
If you had to pick a theme song for your book what would it be?
"One Nation Under a Groove" Funkadelic?
"Who’s Got the Crack?" the Moldy Peaches?
"One Divine Hammer" the Breeders?
Gosh, I don’t know.
How does your background in design flow into your personal crafting?
I don’t really separate these creative activities up. I am heavy on the concept, I think through things and have to be excited by the idea before I make anything. If anything, becoming a designer has made me more sensitive to detail and more particular.
How do you think the web has impacted the world of crafting?
The way it has opened up communities to like-minded individuals rather than geographic location has been phenomenal. It has really facilitated discourse and making in a way that would have been impossible. I think that it has fueled the scene so that people are not working in isolation.
Do you recall your very first craft project? What was it? Why did you make it?
I was such a craftive kid. My parents totally encouraged it. I think what comes to mind is that I made a whole zoo of cut-out paper animals and then photographed them against a dark window so you could see the backs as well in the photograph. I wanted you to be able to see the back and front at the same time. It was all about the image. I was a total OCD kid. My father is an artist and when I just learned how to write I signed my name on all his work. That was a good idea too. Also there was my "multimedia" JFK presentation in 2nd grade…
In terms of crafting, knowing you’re a partner in a design firm and have a baby — when do you get it done? How do you find the time?
I still haven’t put together almost any of my personal projects.
There’s a baby quilt, a lampshade and house painting. Honestly, I have started to outsource and have people help me. It’s funny — I do find time to do those activities I enjoy. For instance I hate to sew, so that is going to be outsourced to a friend. But I like to knit, so I made my daughter a red scarf just like her favorite book character — Jenny Linksy the cat.
How is your crafting different as a mother from how it was when you did not have a child?
What project will take an evening max is the major deciding factor.
What’s the one craft project you’ve always thought about creating but have yet to get started on?
I thought I would be really DIY’d out after this book but it has actually fueled my desire to make stuff. I am going to study permaculture over the winter and my husband and I are going to make our property into an edible forest garden. I would also like to implement a grey water system for the house to feed the water from the washing machine through a drip irrigation system for the garden. Even saying this stuff makes it clear why I haven’t had the time to do it yet.
Read an interview with Tsia at Craftzine.com.