A Desert Aesthetic

5-01

Other, Etc. A Catalog Of Anything But Architecture

August 29, 2019

Sometime in the spring of my freshman year at Arizona State University, likely when the palo verde trees were in their dreamy, yellow bloom, I caught a feverish bug for what I called the “desert aesthetic.” Though I’d lived in Phoenix my entire life, it never before occurred to me that the Southwest is different from other places. It’s a weird and mystical land full of Dr. Seuss-looking plants, bolo ties, sculptural rock formations, and people who actively believe in “vortex energy,” a term you’ll have to google because there’s a lot there. From then on, I only wanted to wear “desert clothes,”—thrifted, kitschy, flowing, sometimes bejeweled—and fantasize about a utopian and dust-flavored version of aesthetic regionalism. It was 2012. I was eighteen. I made a tumblr account (d-desert.tumblr.com), should you need the proof.

Though the clothing outlasted the tumblr, which I lost enthusiasm for after a month, I didn’t actually end up sequestering myself in a sunbaked wasteland to start an Arcosanti of my own (or at least, I haven’t yet). But I also haven’t been able to shake this quiet, sometimes loud, desert obsession which evidently has a power of its own.

Earlier this year, I was back home playing bingo with my siblings at my grandmother’s senior center. My older sister, who has a watercolor saguaro tattooed next to a succulent-crowned cow skull on her forearm and an “I <3 State 48” bum-per sticker on her Honda, was losing like the rest of us. As we switched sheets, she pulled a glimmering array of crystals from her purse, rubbed them between her hands and, one by one, placed them around her game board. A few minutes later, she won the round.