I got home from A-Z West last night at around midnight. A-Z West is a magical wagon station encampment located in Joshua Tree created by artist Andrea Zittel. Guests are invited to stay in the wagons, contribute as community members, and reflect. It can essentially be whatever you want it to be; for me, it was a respite, a self-created residency, and an opportunity to live with nature. After I had read about Andrea and A-Z West in The Gentlewoman this past May, I immediately put in a letter of intent. I just HAD to go, come hell or high water! Long story short, I even re-learned how to drive after ten years and expedited my driver’s license test so I could take my butt from the airport to the desert. Luckily, I passed on the first try, which was just three weeks ago!
I had applied to come in late October, after the NCP Gala craziness. I knew I would want to get out right after this huge, annual undertaking. I have also had a persistent feeling for the last year: that I need to get out of the city more and that maintaining my sanity needs to be a top priority. It may sound as if I am stating the obvious, but at the top of my list for the past ten years or so has been to build my career. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since there is a time and place for everything, and I think one’s 20s is good a time to go full force career-wise while one has the energy and is willing to put up with a little more bullshit (which I believe is a part of growing; it eliminates a sense of entitlement and we all have to pay our dues). I’m not winding down in any way, and I have found that taking a break does not mean stopping, not in the least. I have been at a point for a little while now where I have control over my own schedule and now I have realized that taking time off from normal life isn’t just a vacation; it’s an essential part of my artistic practice and living life.
Here is as much as I can remember in a (photo-filled!) nutshell about this transformative, restorative trip. I didn’t want to blog every day or post on social media because I wanted to be fully present in the experience (although I did sneak in a few ‘grams).
Because I not only creative direct but also produce NCP’s projects, I am a serious planner. I’d even go as far to say over-planner, to the point where I don’t have the time and space to be as creative and imaginative and I think I am capable of being. There is always a deadline or premiere date I have to meet. For A-Z West, I decided to make a short film since it isn’t my usual medium, thus eliminating my inhibitions, and I have an iPhone 6 Plus. For the score, I’m working with my trusty and talented collaborator, composer Trevor Gureckis. More details on the project at a later time! In the meantime, here are my tools of the trade in addition to my iPhone:
1. Tripod and Selfie Stick: I had purchased a dual selfie stick/tripod at the Apple store at the recommendation of one of the employees. It was $60 and I thought I could do something more cost efficient, so the next day I went to Best Buy and bought a $30 tripod and used the removable adaptor from a selfie stick I already had. Plus this tripod expanded to a way taller height than the one from Apple, so I returned the $60 tripod.
2. Mbira: Loaned to me by my friend, percussionist Joe Tucker of The Curiosity Cabinet!
3. olloclip 4-in-1 Photo Lens: includes fisheye, wide-angle, macro 10x and macro 15x lenses and clips on to the iPhone.
4. Filmic Pro App: Got it because I heard that Sundance Movie Tangerine was filmed with it and an iPhone 5.
I flew in to Palm Springs airport because I did not fly all this way just to sit in traffic. Flying to LAX would have been $100 cheaper but would also take over two hours longer to get to Yucca Valley. Plus I wanted to make things as simple as possible since I hadn't driven in over ten years. My two moments of panic: 1) Google Maps GPS took a hot minute to start talking and I phoned a friend, then hung up when it started talking (“K it’s talking gotta go bye!”), and 2) trying to find my car after stepping foot into a Walmart for the first time. (Walmart in and of itself is a culture shock.) Phoned same friend while pushing the cart in one hand, voice cracking: “Did my car get towed? I’m pressing unlock and it’s not beeping! Why did I do this? I feel so stupid, I’m so dumb!”
Found the car and headed to A-Z West. Then I got to the dirt road after nearly missing it! I was so excited:
Also I have to say: I’m a pretty damn good driver!
What can I say, the pictures say it all. I loved my wagon. The shelf held my clothes, toiletries, notebooks, and there was room at the foot of the mattress for my laptop bag and more. There was a hat, a cleaning brush, and canvas shades to hang on the pod, and hooks to hang anything else. In addition to the hatch, one could also enter and exit through the back door.
One of things I hoped to accomplish, or at least ameliorate, is my fear of the dark. I had no problem sleeping the first night. I found the compact size of the pod comforting because I could see all of my surroundings. I think I was also just so excited to be there.
It got dark early, especially after Daylight Savings Time, so I would often be in bed by around 20:00 and get up a little before 6:00.
ALONE BUT NOT LONELY
I met some really wonderful people at A-Z West. We all had different disciplines: photography, sculpture, music, painting, dance, and even shamanism. The morning of my second day I met Rachel Bujalski, who is doing a compelling multimedia photo project “Connected off the Grid”, which is about people who live off the grid but still remain connected through technology. Rachel is super cool, resourceful, and inspiring. I got to sit in her makeshift car bed en route to the farmer’s market.
Our whole group often engaged in conversation, especially when we would spontaneously gather in the communal kitchen during mealtimes. It was great to be disconnected from our phones and chat. Granted, we weren’t so remote that we didn’t have 3G or cell service, but we weren’t staring at our phones the whole time (I put mine on airplane mode). There was also a lot of space to be alone and it wasn’t rude or awkward to leave the group to do your own thing. We also seemed to all be naturally in sync with our group vs. alone time. (Kind of like when a group of friends have synchronized period cycles.)
I really adore the people I ended up with at the camp. I don’t know whether is was because Zittel and her staff did an amazing job of selecting participants or if I just got lucky, but on some level I felt like I could relate with my fellow encampment members, even though we were quite different from one another: for example, Anders “roughs it” on the regular and his cat is outdoor while mine is indoor (although I LOVE ALL CATS), Raven reads people’s energies (so cool), and Ester is three years old (I wanted to pack her in my
suitcase). Perhaps just having the opportunity to keep talking to each other a regularly allowed us to find common ground as well as take genuine interest in one another’s lives.
HOUR OF POWER
This is one of the things I am taking home with me. The Hour of Power is the communal work hour when we clean or do any work required to maintain the encampment. It’s fun because it’s a scheduled social activity, and having a clean space rocks! While I may not be able to do a daily hour of power, I plan to do it either three times a week or do a half hour every other day. In fact, I just thoroughly cleaned my bathroom before sitting down to write this post.
No Hour of Power on the weekends, just like A-Z West!
HALLOWEEN IN PIONEER TOWN
I haven’t dressed up for Halloween since about 8 years ago. I tagged along with Rachel to a Burning Man-esque party in Pioneer Town, hosted by a delightfully rugged, connected-off-the-grid artist named Cain Motter. There were amazing visuals projected onto Cain’s dome-shaped building, various walls, and even on a Joshua Tree, a tour bus whose roof we could dance on, a trailer with sleeping accommodations, and an outdoor “hall” of previously burned Joshua Trees-turned-sculpture by artist Steve “Shig” Shigley. People were dressed in amazing costumes and I noticed that people didn’t have their phones out. I found a cool mask at Walmart labeled “Enchanted Forest Creature” and wore it with a dress I had purchased from my friend, sustainable fashion designer Titania Inglis, for my short film. We danced our faces off and met so many friendly people. I was impressed by the lack of pretension and how Cain and his friends organized this simply to create a fun and worthwhile experience for their community.
This post could easily get really long, since A-Z West is all I can think of or talk about right now, so rather than read more ramblings, here are pictures.
I may not live in the desert, but I hope to incorporate a calmer and more thoughtful sense of living into both my personal life and artistic practice. For me, one truly affects the other and are one and the same, for better or for worse. Chaos and stress are all too easy to create so I don’t think I need to conjure up those things in order for me to be creative or productive. I am naturally driven and I am in a competitive field that forces me to meet deadlines, chase money, produce. My self-motivated, work-consumed self will always exist and I need to find the spaces, the cracks, where some light, air, and creative ideas can seep through.
I am so grateful to Andrea Zittel for putting this together. A-Z West is such an inspirational act of giving that I hope I can pay forward someday. And thanks to Woobie, our wonderful guide and encampment manager for her hard work and not telling me I’m an idiot when I couldn’t find my way back in the dark!