A Desert Aesthetic
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.