An Interview with Heather Menicucci, Author of Let’s Get Primitive

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.

Visit the Let’s Get Primitive website for more information. Buy the book here.

How-To Write Your Novel While You’re On the Clock

This is an age-old, time-honored tradition: Writing a novel on the man’s dollar. Yes, you can burn the midnight oil, or work on weekends, or take a few months off to pound out your tome, but there is nothing better than writing the words to that novel that may or may not become a bestseller and make you rich and famous while you’re supposed to be on the job. The lower level the job, the worse your boss is, the more deprave the conditions, the better your words, or at least the story of how your words came to the page, will be.

Plus, it should be noted that if you’re writing while on the job, you are technically being paid, albeit in a round-about, subversive way, for writing! That is no small feat. You are probably making more money off of your writing than most published authors.

Still, it’s not so easy to get writing done while you’re on the clock: there are all those urgent emails that pour into your inbox, urgent calls that light up your phone, and urgent requests from your boss to handle the various urgent issues that pop up throughout the day.

Why is it that in life, "urgent" means someone is in the hospital, but in the workplace, "urgent" ranges from "Meeting time changed" to "Need that report by EOD."?

Whatever… As long as YOU get what’s urgent in the workplace: getting work done on things that are near and dear to your heart: for you writers out there (and aren’t we all working on a novel these days, at least as far as the idea phase?), that would be your novel!

Here then, are some ways to write your novel while you’re on the clock:

1. Show up early and pound out some writing before the start of your day. Technically you’re not on the clock, but it’s a great habit to get into, especially if you have a truly demanding job where it’s hard to sneak in personal creative endeavors. Wait! Keep reading! Sacrilege, I know, to suggest that you show up early to work. But this really is an excellent way to get some writing done without interruption.

2. Or, when you do show up for work, right on time (or the usual few minutes after the official start of your working day), instead of checking your voice mail and email, and then surfing the news and gossip sites, commit to focusing completely on your writing for a solid half-hour. You’re fresh, and have yet to get sucked into or distracted by all the work-related crapola — red-flagged "urgent" emails, obnoxious voice mail messages from co-workers asking stupid questions (for like the third time), and just the usual tidal wave of stress that washes over you at the start of each working day.

Note: There is no better way to start the day than with a personal creative effort — it will juice you up, get your mind rolling, and instill energy that will help carry you through the day. If something crappy does happen during the work day, (and doesn’t something crappy always happen?), the stage you set in the morning will help you work through the negativity.

3. Just like you block off time for meetings and various work-related projects, like the overwhelming monthly report, for example, set aside specific times in your calendar to work on your novel. A half-hour every day, or an hour every other day. List it as "Top Priority Project: NVL" in your calendar. And just like you have to show up at that meeting or work on that report so as to finish it by the deadline, make sure you adhere to your schedule and work on your true "Top Priority Project" at the designated times.

4. Commit to writing a certain amount of words each day while at the office, be it 500 or 1,000 or more. Hold firm that you cannot leave the office until you have fulfilled your commitment. You’ll find a way to make the time — especially if you’re like most worker-bots and like to get the hell out of the office right at quitting time.

5. Just like smokers trying to quit throw a piece of gum in their mouth every time they feel the impulse to light up, every time you open up your browser to check out a gossip site or the blog you are currently addicted to, fire up your word processing program and pound out a paragraph or two of writing.

6. Dread meetings at work? Of course you do. Instead of re-running the Star Wars trilogy in your mind just to stay awake, jot down notes or bits of dialogue for your novel. If you can pull-off writing actual paragraphs in that kind of environment, with someone blathering on and on and on, the most annoying people in the room naturally doing most of the talking, the more power to you. Tip: Look up every once in a while and make eye contact with whoever it is that is talking. All your writing will look like you are simply taking copious meeting notes.

7. If you really, really hate your job, and you find yourself complaining to anyone who will listen, as well as making several calls a day to your significant other bitching and moaning about your sorry lot in life (not attractive!), you need to make a conscious decision to focus not on broadcasting your complaints but to writing your novel. Every time you feel the impulse to complain about most likely the same old shit, that should be the tripwire that sends you back to your desk to write. If you can pull this off, you will feel much better about yourself and your job (and people in the office, as well as your significant other, might actually want to talk to you again.)

8. If you are really focused on doing well at your job, and do indeed do a bang-up, kick-ass job, simply take that same standard for excellence and efficiency and find a way (while you are on the clock) to make it happen for your personal project as well: prioritize time to work on your novel, and when you are working on it, give the words you write the high-level attention to detail, originality and top-notch quality you would an important work-related project.

9. Take advantage of the lunch hour. Either find a quiet cafe and write in your journal, or write while you eat at your desk. Finding a cafe is preferable — gets you away from your ringing phone, incoming emails, people popping by to talk with you, not to mention that big old stack of papers that needs to be dealt with.

10. Incorporate events and characters from the workplace into your story. Annoying co-workers and your boss will certainly provide loads of ideas. Writing them into your story has the added benefit of helping you mentally deal with their shit in the real working world: you’ll find that taking the time to reveal the absurdities of your workplace in the form of the written word has a soothing effect — it provides a way to take a step back and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Plus, there’s that whole revenge thing: in the pages of your novel you can expose — in a no-holds-bar fashion — the idiotic and petty behavior of your terrible boss and lame co-workers to the reading public-at-large (or at least to the people in your office that you like).

11. When working on your novel, spread out paperwork all over your desk. It will look like you are really busy, and if people stop by to talk with you about something, you can just point to all the papers and say, "I can’t talk right now — I’m in deep." They’ll totally get it, and leave you alone to write.

12. Form a writing group with like-minded co-workers. Reserve a conference room each week and hold your workshop sessions right there during the middle of the work-day.

13. End your day with an allotted amount of time to write — say the last 15 minutes or so before quitting time. It will clear your headspace of the day-job baggage and put you in a writing frame-of-mind as you head out the door. It’s also a great way to reignite your energy level and find your second wind after a long day at work. You can then use that second wind to carry you home and continue with your writing efforts until it’s time to hit the sack and begin the work day, I mean novel-writing, anew.

Be sure to check out the Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Jumpstart Your Writing Efforts, as well as the Not-To-Do List.

And be sure to also check out the Working For the Man Book:

Order now: Amazon

More details at workingfortheman.com.

Speaking of Writing

I posted the other day about Charles Bukowski over at SMITH (continuing with the theme of the stories we do not tell), about how Bukowski didn’t hold back in his writing, that he put it all out there with his words.

And I mentioned it here at 52projects.com a couple weeks back, and in the post over at SMITH as well, the poem "So You Want To Be A Writer?" by Bukowski. I really recommend that you track down a copy of that poem.

This line in particular offers up some excellent insight on the subject of holding back, of perhaps being afraid to tell a story, or the whole story:

“if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.”

I do that all the time. I’m always asking other people to read my stories (especially my wife) — not necessarily for critique, but to see if I should put the story out there…

Anyway, you’ll notice at the SMITH post that I offered up a free copy of Bukowski’s Factotum to the first ten people who posted a relevant comment (at SMITH). Five comments have been posted so far, so five free copies are still available.

9/11

Have you written down the story of your 9/11 experience, your memory of that day, your thoughts and feelings?

I was in New York that day (though not near the World Trade Center), and I’ve read so much about it, seen so many images, watched so many news reports and documentaries and movies, and talked about it a great deal, with friends, co-workers, family — and yet, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything down on paper about that day. I need to do that.

It’s the events and experiences that are sad or frightening or horrific that are usually the hardest to process with the written word, mostly because you just don’t get started — you avoid it. But once you do get going, the words just flow, and they are often the most revealing and profound words that you write, they dig to the core and lead to a deeper understanding.

Put the date at the top of the page, and start writing…

Charles Bukowski: Born Into This

Saw the documentary on Charles Bukowski the other day — Born Into This. Can’t recommend it enough, especially for those writers out there. Here’s a guy who lived a pretty fucked up life, and drank way too much much too often, and boom, from all that, and most incredibly, in the midst of all of it, he wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I was fascinated by the way his writing career began — publishing in tiny journals and weekly rags, the rejection notes piling up all around. And yet, slowly, slowly, his words start having an impact on a person here and a person there, and one person in particular, John Martin, a printer — not a publisher, makes a deal with Bukowski to pay him $100 a month for life if he quits his day job and devotes himself to writing full-time. Martin then creates a publishing house — now famously known as Black Sparrow Press, just to publish Bukowski. And the rest is history, and more importantly, an incredible body of work, both in its depth and its size.

Bukowski is the kind of writer that makes you feel sort of guilty and slightly uncomfortable for laughing, but there you are, busting a gut on the subway, having to put the book down and try to stifle your laughter on a crowded train, people wondering what the hell is wrong with you and cursing themselves for sitting next to a crazy person.

One amazing little tidbit from the documentary is the how Martin, after striking this $100 a month deal with Bukowski, asks him if maybe he might try writing a novel, because it would be easier to sell than a collection of poetry. Martin says it was just a suggestion, but less than a month later Bukowski calls him and tells him to come by to pick something up. What is it? asks Martin, and Bukowski tells him it’s the novel he requested. That novel is Post Office. It’s my favorite Bukowski book. I have a bias towards work stories, but if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. It is raw, cuts to the core of a dead end job and a terrible boss, and it is freaking hilarious.

This documentary was a nice little kick in the pants for me. I watched it, then flipped open the laptop and finished a story I’ve been mostly avoiding for about a month. (I’ll be posting on Wednesday here at 52projects.com — very different from what I normally post. I hope you’ll come back and give it a read.)

There’s also a new movie out right now starring Matt Dillon — Factotum — based on a Bukowski novel of the same name. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to, and I’d also like to see the movie. I already recommended reading Post Office, as well as seeing the Bukowski documentary. And for you writers out there, track down a copy of the Bukowski poem "So You Want to Be A Writer?" in the book Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. Worth a read not just once, but whenever you need it, like all the great poems.

Old Letters

Kelly L. Watson has posted some hilarious letters from her elementary school days. A total trip to see this grade-school humor — so clever, so much teasing, so many misspellings! These letters should bring some memories back, of passing notes and grade school crushes, and maybe even send you digging through the storage boxes to find some old letters of your own.

What’s Your Drink?

Before work: small coffee with two sugars and milk; After work: Budweiser; After a long day at work: whiskey on ice; On special occasions that include my brother, father and grandfather: Johnny Walker Blue Label; At weddings: Gin and Tonic; After a long run: Gatorade (either the blue or orange), then water, then ice water, then Budweiser; On Sunday mornings: coffee, with milk; At a BBQ: beer from the cooler; At the bar: draft beer, trying something new, vodka, sometimes called, sometimes not, and whiskey, pretty much always called. Dinner with friends: red wine, then beer; In Marche: Peroni; In St. Maarten: Carib: Paris: wine; Costa Rica: Imperial; South Africa: Castle Lager and Amarula; LA: Bud Light; Houston: Shiner Boch; San Francisco: Bass; Miami: Corona; London: beer; Occasional, and should have it more often: sake; After midnight: whiskey. When I’m alone: whiskey or Budweiser. Celebratory moments with my wife: Prosecco.