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Desert Diaries

Apr 5, 2016 at 4:13pm

This Friday, I head to the desert in California for the rest of this month, for the seventh April in a row (nine Aprils total since 2005), where I will live and work and be a teeny tiny part of the great big machine that puts on one of the world's most-loved music festivals. I would like to invite you to join me on my journey this year. It may be the last time I experience this job opportunity, which has, in the past, meant the difference between starvation and survival for me. Every day or two, I'll give you an inside look at my desert life, which very few have seen or heard about over the years! 

Apr 9, 2016 at 11:28am

Another year, another stroll through the weird little Palm Springs Airport. Actually, this is only the second year I've flown in. In years past, I either drove or flew out to Los Angeles at least a month in advance of the festivals to start helping out with pre-production, and then we'd drive out to the desert from there. "The desert" in this case is actually Indio / La Quinta, CA, if you want to see it on a map.

Side note: My job out here for seven of the nine years I've worked out here is that of "sponsorship activation representative" or "sponsorship assistant" or basically helping the festival sponsorship department organize, plan for, and produce the sponsorship activations on-site at the festival. This is the same kind of work I did for the Vans Warped Tour over a decade ago. My first job at the desert festivals was working in the campgrounds, which I'll talk about in one of my posts this week.

So I arrived in Palm Springs last night at about 8:30pm local time. Caught an Uber to the rental house, where the team was already moved-in. They fed me leftovers and we all hung out in the kitchen and chatted. I've only worked with two of the people on the team this year; otherwise it's all new faces for me. Almost all of them are at least five years younger than me, which brings a whole new perspective on this experience. No longer am I the eager, excited young sprout trying to learn and grow and establish myself in the industry among the older festival-world elites. This is all very much on auto-pilot for me, now. I know this job. I feel confident in my ability to do this job. I'm not scared of making mistakes. I see myself as a peer to those once intimidating "adults" who were my higher-ups. 

It will be an entirely new experience this year. I've set my intentions to let it be whatever it is, and not try to control how it goes or force it to be the way it used to be -- you know, back in my day. I'm more of an outsider now. I'm outgrowing my role here, and the new generation is moving in -- as they should be! I am loosening my grip on a job (an identity, really) that I once held so tightly to my chest. All that stuff about rites of passage, and the handing-off of the baton, is a real thing. So this is what it feels like to become an elder!

Welcome to Palm Springs.

Apr 10, 2016 at 12:31am

Day two was very mellow. It was a nice day for transitioning from Central Standard Time to Pacific Time, from the humid air in Nashville to the dry air in Indio, and from going about my regular daily life to suddenly being surrounded by all new people, places, things, weather, food, smells, sounds, ways of doing things, dependence on people for rides, meal times, bedding, water pressure... I mean, the list goes on. All new things.

I like to take the time right away to set up any new space to feel as comfortable as possible. This is something I started doing on tour long ago. I think it was like a self-soothing mechanism that became habit. I unpack everything and put it all away, rearranging the space to fit my things and doing my best to make the space feel lived-in. We've been staying in the same rental house for three years, now, so that helps everything feel a bit more familiar.

I spent the day mostly lounging. I got in the hot tub for a while (it's pretty cool out here right now), practically got a sunburn from being out in the sun for, like, 20 minutes, then made my annual inaugural trip to In-N-Out for a "grilled cheese, no onions, and fries." 

We did our big Sprouts/Target run in the afternoon to stock the house and our office on-site, then put in an order for take-out and headed over to our department head's rental across the street, which is where I took this photo. The houses out here are all ridiculously beautiful, and the owners only use them as vacation homes, so they rent them out the rest of the year. 

I'm grateful I had a day to settle in between traveling and gearing up for our first day on-site. This week will mostly be loading in people, trucks, shipments, equipment, supplies, etc. It's a lot of heat and dust and sunscreen. Thank goodness for a vacation day today!

Apr 11, 2016 at 6:08pm

The Year Was 2010. It was my first year working in the Sponsorship department for the festivals. I had just finished a Canadian tour for G,NA, and later that summer I would get to play every date of the Warped Tour as G,NA (solo).

2010 was the year that I put everything into storage and became technically homeless -- or at least home-address-less. I was floating between my parents' house in North Carolina, friends' houses in Los Angeles, and all the couches in between on tour. I was living off of savings and feeling sort of lost, but pushing through it by over-working myself and being obsessed with staying on the road and trying to stay afloat through shows, fundraisers, merch sales, and more. So getting this festival gig in the middle of all of that was an absolute godsend. It helped me get back on my feet financially, gave me a break from the constant movement of tour, fed me for a few weeks, and added to the savings account that I would continue to live off until December that year, when I would move to Seattle, get a few part-time jobs, and start preparing to record my second album, "Saboteur."

This is the first photo I took of the Coachella Valley desert. (I had been out to work the festival in the campgrounds a couple years before, but I never took any photos, and I was living on tour bus in the middle of a field.) 2010 was the year I fell in love with the desert.

Back to present day, 2016: Today was our first load-in day. This meant a 5:30am alarm, 7am start time, bandana over my face to avoid breathing in dust, and lots of driving around on a golf cart. We're about halfway through the day, and will finish up after dinner to head home, shower, pass out, and do it all over again tomorrow. It all feels so familiar and automatic that it almost feels like deja-vu. The mountains are still beautiful, the job is still exhausting, the desert is still hot and dusty, and the feeling of being far away from reality remains the same. The thing that has changed the most is me. 

Apr 12, 2016 at 11:36pm

I was looking through the 2011 photos I took in the desert, and discovered that there are nearly none. I did not have a smartphone at that time, and my life was in transition so I wasn't documenting very much.

When I say transition, I actually mean shambles. You would never know it, but this photo was taken the day after I ended a short-lived but painful relationship in 2011. It was one of the hottest days in the desert that year, and I took this photo on my laptop because the swirl of emotions and pain and heat and confusion were so intense, yet none of it showed on my face. Not entirely, anyway. I think you can certainly see the heaviness in my eyes. 

There were other things happening in my life at that time that were immensely stressful as well. My step-father had been diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2010, and my family was bending and breaking under the pressure. Some of my family-of-origin relationships remain broken beyond repair, to this day. So to say that 2011 was a tough year is maybe the biggest understatement ever.

If I had not had that festival job to escape to during that time, I don't know what I would have done. Again, the desert became a refuge from the storm for me. I was with friends, I was being housed and fed and financially supported, and I had plenty to distract me from the painful reality that was my life.

It's amazing to me how much has changed since then. Today, my life is balanced and calm. My finances are secure. My relationships are all nurturing and healthy, especially my family-of-choice relationships. I have cleared a lot of old mental rubble and made a lot of necessary amends, to myself and others. I feel connected to the universe and to my own path. I know myself, I know who I am, what I like and what I need. I no longer need to escape reality. Reality is my refuge, now. 

Apr 13, 2016 at 7:41pm

One year later. This is the photo I posted on Facebook on April 13th, 2012 -- right as doors were opening for the first festival weekend that year.

Between 2011 and 2012, so much happened. I went back to Seattle after the festivals in 2011, where I worked two part-time jobs all summer to pay my bills, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that made it possible for me to record my second album, "Saboteur," and continued trying to pick up the pieces of my life. My second album was a dark, intense album for me that summed up so many of my personal experiences during the previous year. It was a relief to be able to write about those thoughts and feelings and express them through music, but it didn't release me from my demons. "Saboteur" came out on November 22, 2011. Four days later, I was in a van with all my belongings and my dog, moving from Seattle to northwest Florida. My songwriter boyfriend and I had plans to spend the winter in an empty rental house that his family owned, as a sort of "creative hibernation" for the winter. It was during this time that I recorded "The Florida Sessions" -- a 14-day recording project in February 2012 for which I wrote, recorded, and released one song each day from scratch. 

On paper, all of this might sound exciting, adventurous, or romantic -- but in truth, I was more lost and isolated than ever. I was in financial ruins, living off the kindness of strangers on the road, online merchandise sales and donations, or whatever I could sell on Etsy or eBay. While I was in Florida, I signed up for food stamps, which is the only way I was able to feed myself while I was living there. I was striving for this idyllic "starving artist" lifestyle that I thought would make me happy. I believed that I was only going to be successful as a musician if I stayed poor and miserable until I "made it" -- whatever that means

So it's no wonder that during this time in Florida, right before I left for the desert in 2012, I started having panic attacks, and sunk into a pretty serious depression on top of my already-existing chronic anxiety. My relationship fell apart right before I took off for California -- two broken hearts in under a year, and I was beginning to see a pattern emerge. I was at the lowest point of my life so far, with no close friends, no anchors, no income, nowhere to go. I had to leave Florida but I had no resources. I was in full isolation mode, refusing to ask for help from anyone close to me. Thank God my brother lived in Nashville, which was just seven hours from where I was staying in Florida. I knew I'd have some money after I got back from California, so I decided to find a place for rent in Nashville and use my festival money to make the move. This would be my third move in just over a year, and I hoped it would my last. 

I left for the desert that year with a deep sense that everything in my life needed to change, or I might actually die. I was so depleted and depressed while I was working the festivals that year that I barely had the energy to do my job, but being with my good friend Brianne -- who, by the way, is the person responsible for hiring me to work these festivals each year -- brought me so much comfort. At that point in my life, she was the closest thing I had to family. And once I started eating three meals a day and cashing paychecks each week, relief came. I started to regain hope. Yet again, the desert was a safe haven; this job kept me from drowning. It wasn't about working in the music industry or getting to be part of putting on a cool festival -- it was about survival.

I flew back to Florida after the festivals that year, packed my things, and four days later I was in a van with all my belongings and my dog, this time moving to Nashville. As with any "geographical cure," there was an initial high of excitement about being in a new place with new possibilities. But soon enough, the deeper feelings of low self-worth, low self-esteem, and grief set in again. I started repeating the old patterns, and by October 2012, I finally hit rock bottom. Emotionally and spiritually, I had nothing left. It was only in this moment of extreme pain and powerlessness did I finally realize I needed help. Outside help. Professional help. So I picked up the phone and started calling local therapists, and that's how I found Tina. 

Tina saved my life. 

To be continued...

Apr 14, 2016 at 11:06pm

(cont'd)

So, Tina saved my life. At the end of 2012, at the lowest point in my life, I started calling around to every Cognitive Behavioral Therapist I could find in Nashville. Tina was specifically a "Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapist," meaning that she used meditation and mindfulness in her approach. Because of the state of brokenness I was in when I went to see her, I was willing to do whatever she told me. For many years before that, I had seen different therapists off and on, but I always thought I knew better, or I didn't heed their advice completely, and usually stopped going to see them after six months or a year. This time, I knew there was no quick fix.

From October until I left for the desert in February 2013, I dove head-first into my therapy work. I also got myself a temp job at a really great company that paid me really well -- and had absolutely nothing to do with music or the entertainment industry. I started saving money. I started exercising and learning to cook. I attended support groups for my personal and family issues. I slowly started practicing meditation, which meant sitting still and stopping my mind from racing. This was nearly impossible for me to do at first. But in just four months, I was already starting to see changes in my mind and behaviors. By the time I was getting ready to head back to the desert, my life had completely changed from the year before. 

In 2013, I spent three full months in California. It was my longest bout working this job. I started out in the offices in LA for two months, then moved to the desert for a month in April. I continued my therapy sessions by phone, and relied heavily on the books, resources, and healthy new relationships I had started investing in before I left Nashville. I had so much awareness, but the changes hadn't set in yet. I was seeing things in a whole new light -- my own behaviors, my interactions with others, and other people in general. I felt much more grounded this time around, with the foundation of a home base and people who cared about me back in Nashville. I had begun the long but determined climb out of financial debt, with my therapist's help and encouragement, and self-care became my number one goal each day. 

Needless to say, my 2013 desert experience was entirely different from all the years before. I was able to enjoy myself and be present for maybe the first time out here. Financially, it was once again a lifesaver, helping me pay down huge amounts of debt (most of which was in collections at that point). My inner world was changing. Something new was emerging: a feeling of safety, trust, and peace. 

Maybe that's why I ended up taking so many sky photos that year. Well, the sky and the ferris wheel. 

2013 was a year of awareness -- the beginning of a whole new journey.

Apr 16, 2016 at 6:20pm

Back to present-day (for now). The festival opened yesterday for weekend one, and it was a very long day. 7am to midnight, to be exact. Almost all of the sponsors we work with have only Monday - Friday morning to build out insanely complicated interiors to their 40x40 (or bigger) tent spaces, and Friday morning before the doors open is always a scramble to put on the finishing touches and clean off the field. This might be my favorite time to walk the field: the first day, before anyone outside of the production crew has seen this year's art installations, stage designs, merchandise, food vendors, and more. I especially like getting to watch the artists put the final touches on their gigantic art pieces. The calm before the storm.

Finding that calm before the storm of busy-ness each day is something I only started doing out here a couple years ago. I understand so much more about myself these days, and have embraced my introverted need to recharge after being around people for extended periods of time. Living in a house with five energetic people, most of them younger than me, for three weeks -- on top of being around thousands of people all day long, definitely wipes me out. So for the past few Aprils I have made sure to carve out precious quiet and alone time each day. 

Every morning, I get up at 5:30am, knowing that no one in the house will be up until at least 6am for our 7am start time on-site. I make my coffee and breakfast and then carry it to my room, where I light a candle and open my blinds for my morning meditation. On this trip, I've been using guided loving-kindness meditations, in which I send love and well-wishes to myself and others. That has helped me stay in a very loving, forgiving mindset toward others. It has also helped me remember to take care of myself throughout the day, no matter what is going on around me.

My morning walk through the empty field is another way I can escape for some quiet alone time, though it can be hard to do when my two-way radio is blasting every few minutes, or when I have something that needs to get done before the doors open.

The only other time I usually have to myself is after we all get home. After years of forcing myself to stay up with everyone, talking and hanging out (maybe with the fear of "missing out" if I didn't), I finally realized that it was okay for me to go to bed. So now, I make my way straight for the nearest hot shower, and then I go to my room and close the door. I then have about 20-30 minutes to decompress, and I either read a book or watch a funny show before turning out the lights.

Even our days off, when the festival grounds are closed between festival weekends, are still action-packed. Everyone is in the house, making food in the kitchen, watching TV in the living room, swimming in the pool, or working on their laptops at the dining room table. People's significant others will come to stay the night, and it generally feels like a non-stop party. So, I try to spend as much time in my room as I can, without being non-social. 

This year, however, thanks to California labor laws, it is mandatory that no hourly workers work more than seven consecutive days without a day off. And so, for the first time in the history of my working at festivals... I have a show day off. Yes, right now I am typing this on my laptop in my bedroom, in a house that is completely silent, with absolutely nothing to do but relax. I legally am not allowed to work, and my introverted inner child is beside herself that all I have to do today is... nothing.

Now, the workaholic in me was very annoyed when I found out I couldn't just work all the way through from last Sunday to this-coming Monday, before our "dark days" between festivals next week. My financially-fearful self also got angry about losing an entire day's worth of income. But my newer, healthier self was able to quickly step in and point out that a day off right now is good for me, in every single way! I can sleep, rest, eat healthy food, watch silly TV, go for a swim, and best of all: not talk to anyone for almost an entire day. And when I go back to work tomorrow, it will feel like day one.

So today I'm grateful for this unexpected but much-needed day of calm in the middle of the storm. Now back to doing nothing!

Apr 18, 2016 at 6:36pm

The "firsts" continue for me out here. Last night was the end of the first weekend of the festival, and Sia was the headlining (non-DJ) artist. 

Boy, do I mean artist. In 9 years working this festival, I have never seen a performance of that artistic caliber on the main stage. I was not interested in Sia before last night, and though I have vague recollections of people telling me about the artistic elements of her music and persona, I somehow accidentally lumped her in with a bunch of pop singers in my mind. 

So, last night, when I was walking through the field back to the production office, and I looked up and saw what was happening on the giant main stage video screens during her set, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stood there, mesmerized, for nearly the entire set -- until I got a call from my coworkers wondering where I was. I'll let you read this article (which includes a video of her full set) about Sia's performance, rather than describe it. 

Not only was it my first time seeing real performance art on the main stage at this festival, but it was the first time I've seen a female performer whose aesthetic and persona spoke so directly to me. So much of it reminded me of the ideas and images and desires I've had in my mind for how to present my music and myself to the world, but instead of feeling jealous or bummed that someone famous had beat me to it, I felt inspired. Another first.

Looking up Sia on Wikipedia, I found out that she is nearly 20 years into her career as a musician, and has only taken this artistic turn or found major success after releasing fouralbums, on top of the albums she released as the singer of Zero 7, and other projects prior to that. Even more exciting for me as an artist in my 30s is that she is 40 years old: proof that you can still make art that is well-received and breaks new ground, no matter what your age. It was also an inspiring reminder to keep honing my skills and doing things that bring me joy, from the inside -- instead of doing things for external validation or to follow the latest trends.

Needless to say, it was a great way to end the first weekend. Now we have a couple days of rest and recuperation before it all starts up again on Thursday!

Apr 21, 2016 at 5:26pm

The past two days were festival "dark days," which is when the festival grounds completely shut down to the outside world, and not even staff is allowed on-site. They use this time to water the grass and clean the fields before opening up again on Thursday to the incoming campers. We are back today loading in sponsors to get everything ready inside their tents for tomorrow, which is day one of weekend two of the festival.

I can't say the past two days were peaceful. Everyone was back at the house together, partying by the pool, having friends over with music and booze and food. I'm definitely the odd man out when it comes to partying. I'm an introvert, in the sense that being around a lot of people for extended periods of time doesn't energize me, it drains me. And when I don't know the people well, I feel especially uncomfortable and can get aggravated and controlling (a character flaw I'm working on). I enjoy being with people and connecting, but at a certain point, I need to go recharge by myself. Add to that the fact that I don't drink alcohol other than the occasional glass of wine with a meal, and I can be a real buzzkill at parties. 

Thankfully, I had the foresight to book a yoga class for Tuesday, so after spending most of the day in my room watching TV and resting, I took off for yoga. The house was quiet when I got back, and a couple of us made a grocery store run before calling it a night. Wednesday was a little more tame. Most of us were working on our laptops all day. The only alone time I found was a trip to Target, and then the whole group went out for dinner before an early bedtime for our 7am load-in today.

Thursday, week two: It's the halfway point for my time out here, and this is when I usually start to get "desert brain," as I call it -- which might just be Vitamin D overload. Or maybe dehydration. Or, in the past, it might have just been extreme exhaustion at every level. When desert brain kicks in, I tend to forget what day it is, and I start to get a little wild-eyed. There's a pretty funny parody video that illustrated the effect of the desert heat, called Coachella Bootcamp - after the part about the drugs, haha.

This year, however, desert brain doesn't seem to be setting in. I can tell how tired and overstimulated I am, but I feel very much like myself, still. I feel grounded in reality, and I'm aware of what day it is an how much time has passed. My morning meditation time is so important in keeping me grounded, but I'm realizing that I also need to take time throughout the day to stop, sit still, breathe, close my eyes, and drown out the outside distractions.

Today kicks off the longest stretch: I only have one day off between now and Saturday, April 30th, when I fly back to Nashville. I'm interested in seeing if desert brain finally creeps in or not! You'll be among the first to know if it does. :)

Apr 23, 2016 at 11:48pm

I couldn't let this entire experience go by without posting something health-related, right? I'll at least include a pretty cool photo I took of the sunset on Friday night (no filter, if you can believe it). 

Every year, part of my escape from reality to the desert has involved a total loss of self-control when it comes to food. Especially dessert. Until I started learning to cook and eat well a few years ago, my diet was already unhealthy enough as it was -- but when I got out here, with the free catering at work and a stocked fridge in the rental house, I always went off the deep end. I'd indulge in sweets throughout the day, taking double helpings of dessert, getting a late-night ice cream treat from a food truck during the headliner, and even having a bowl of ice cream when we got back to the house. (Hmmmm... Do you think I was trying to escape my feelings with sugar?)

As part of my continuing effort to gain awareness around food and nutrition as a holistic approach to mental health and serenity, I set an intention for 2016 to ween myself off of the sugary extras that I don't need in my diet. When I got here the first night and was immediately offered some kind of ice cream dessert after dinner, I made a commitment on-the-spot to not eat dessert the entire time I was here.

Sugar does a lot of terrible things to the human body, and while it's important to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, especially in the heat or during exercise, consuming too much sugar causes dehydration, which is the thing I am constantly battling in the desert. In my non-scientific experience, I was always struggling to stay hydrated each year,  and experiencing headaches and highs and lows in my blood sugar levels that caused me to have little "crashes" throughout the day. I also had chronic anxiety before I hit bottom and started to turn things around, and I'm sure the sugar didn't help. On top of what I was putting my body through physically and mentally in the desert all those years, I was also force-feeding myself a stimulant that dehydrated me. What an awful parent I was to myself!

So tonight I'm proud to say that it's been two full weeks without dessert. Instead of ice cream or cookies, I drink real fruit juice or eat an apple. To maintain my blood sugar levels, I have fruit throughout the day (blueberries, a banana, cold-pressed fruit juice, or an apple). I put raw honey in my oatmeal and coffee in the morning. I also have Lara Bars on-hand at all times in case I start to feel a little light-headed. That's another thing I've learned about heat being out here year after year: overheating can feel like low blood sugar! It's best to rule out blood sugar by making sure I'm getting enough food throughout the day. 

The results so far? I haven't had any blood sugar highs or lows. I've felt steadily energetic throughout the day each day. No headaches. No afternoon slump. I've stayed hydrated. I've slept well. I haven't been as puffy or groggy in the morning as in years past. And the best part is, it's easy to pass on the desserts at this point, even after just a couple weeks of feeling the difference. I see those cookies, cakes, ice cream bars, or dessert food trucks, and I do feel a small blip of a temptation. But then it passes, and I feel totally satisfied with my juice or piece of fruit. I think I might try to keep the experiment going after I get back to Nashville!

Apr 24, 2016 at 9:56pm

Today is the last day of the second weekend of the first festival we are doing out here. Next week, we'll turn this entire place into a country festival. 

This morning, as they do every year, the organizers of the festival got everyone out on the field in front of one of the big pieces of art for a staff photo. Afterwards, we got a photo of just our small team -- most of whom I'm living in a house with this month, Real-World-style. I have seven photos like this one, all with a different cast of characters aside from myself and my good friend Brianne, who runs this department. She is on maternity leave this year, and it's the first year I've worked the festival without her. I think that's made it easier to accept that this is my last year working this job.

It's always been hard for me to let go of my different "survival rafts" throughout my life -- everything from jobs to romantic relationships to friendships. So often I felt like I was clinging to a job or a person or a situation for dear life, just trying to stay afloat. Usually I had to let these things go against my will, and almost always after sabotaging the situation in some way.

This time, however, it's a choice. I set the intention before I even got on the plane, and I've stayed in touch with the reality that this is my last year doing this. It's time for the new guard to take over -- to bring a fresh perspective and new energy. It's time for me to make space in my life for other things -- music, education, travel, art projects, and whatever else is possible. 

I'm sad to say goodbye, of course, but I'm also excited. What will I do with this extra time each year? For so long, I've had to put things on hold until after April, because I knew I'd be gone. Now, I have four more months to start, build, and even finish projects. And all the vacation time I use from my day job back in Nashville that gets eaten up coming out here, I can now put towards touring, traveling, or escaping to a cabin somewhere to write songs. 

It feels good to make the choice to let it go. I didn't sabotage it. I didn't take it for granted. I waited until the time was right, and I resisted the temptation to cling to it. 

I will take a walk tonight to soak in the sights and sounds one last time, before it all starts coming down tomorrow in preparation for next weekend's country festival. I've decided to let Sia's set be the last one I watch as an employee of this festival. 

Apr 27, 2016 at 12:08am (Here's a photo I took tonight from one of our balconies!)

The day before I left Nashville, we had a bad storm with high winds, and a tree in my back yard fell over. Last night, we had a pretty nasty wind storm out here, and today we discovered that it knocked down a small tree in the back yard. I couldn't help but wonder about the symbolism of fallen trees. I looked it up and found this: "Trees are deep rooted and can represent things deeply rooted in our lives. So uprooted trees can represent relationships that have ended or places that no longer feature in our lives. In short, they represent major change."

Now, there's nothing strange about trees falling in wind and storms. The part of me that is pure science doesn't think that the trees were pushed over to send me a specific message. They just naturally fell, as trees do. But the part of me that looks for poetry in all things sees the coincidental and perfect timing of two poetic and striking events: a tree falling at home before I leave for my last journey to the desert, and another tree falling in the desert before I leave for home: bookends to an important turning point in my life.

Like the interpretation suggests, this place will no longer feature in my life. And letting go of this part of my identity feels like a major change. It feels like there is a force of nature at work in my life.

Back to work tomorrow. Just a few days left!

Apr 28, 2016 at 8:36pm

I looked it up, and I have celebrated 8 different birthdays in this same giant field in the desert of California. What a weird, accidental tradition -- although there is something kind of cool about being in the same place (physically) each year, so that I can clearly see how much has changed in my life from the year before.

I do always feel loved on-site each year: my team always surprises me with something like a cake, or In-N-Out, or balloons. Word always spreads to other departments, and by the end of the day I have people calling me on the radio and coming up to me in catering to wish me a happy birthday. This year, I was surprised with balloons and a gift bag when I came into my office trailer (see photo). It was really sweet.

I keep thinking about how different my life is going to be when I remove this big piece of my annual timeline. Especially my birthday! I don't even know how to celebrate my birthday as an adult; the last time I had birthday parties outside of the desert, I was living in Los Angeles, and a totally different person. I was young, driven, hypervigilant, and trying desperately to figure out who I was. My birthday celebrations were usually big groups of friends at a sushi restaurant trying to act like grown-ups. In reality, we were probably those loud, annoying 20-somethings ruining everyone's dinner around us. 

I'm excited for my birthday next year. I can't even imagine what will be happening then, or where I'll be, or what will have changed by then. What a gift this life is, the strange little paths and detours we end up on, the things that happen every single day that we could never have dreamed up. I'm feeling so much gratitude today!

Apr 30, 2016 at 11:50am

Today, when I get on that plane leaving Palm Springs, I will be heading to a new chapter of my life. "The Desert" as I know it -- the place and the job I've been escaping to each year for the past seven Aprils in the midst of the most tumultuous storms of my life -- will become a thing of the past.

Letting go is always hard, but when the things you have to learn to let go of were once the things that kept you alive, it's much harder. This isn't just about a cool job in the music industry. It was never really about that for me. It was about staying connected to one familiar, consistent thing each year while the rest of my life was spiraling out of control. It was about survival. It was a paid vacation from my stressful life. And it was a life-supporting source of income each year. It paid my bills for months, it fed me, it helped me move across the country three different times, it helped me afford to make albums, go on tour, and keep creating my art each year -- all during a time when I had no idea how to take care of myself, or how to build the life I wanted.

And then, my life away from the desert got better. I hit bottom and began climbing out of denial toward awareness and healing. The desert, then, became a place of reflection. It was a chance to be with my friend Brianne, who became a sister to me after so many years working side-by-side. It was a chance to see other musicians and find inspiration for my own music and art.  It was a chance to see how much I had changed from the year before, as well as how many character defects still needed work. It was a job I got really good at, which built my self-esteem. It was a lot of familiar, sweet faces who were happy to see me each year. It was new friendships and the chance to meet people from all over the world. It was a family reunion.

My journey to the desert each year has been a bookend, and in many ways the start of my own new year, beginning with April (which, coincidentally enough, is also the month I was born). I knew what to expect each year out here, and it never really changed. This made it easy to look back and see how much change had occurred in my actual life. From my first April out here to today, I have moved from survival to serenity in my life. I'm finally in a place where I feel safe enough to let go of the crutches and life rafts I've been holding onto. I am ready to see what else is out there, to leave space in my life for something new -- and to open up space out in the desert for some other lost soul to find her true self. 

The other morning for my meditation practice, I chose a guided meditation at random. The teacher quoted a Rumi poem that brought me to tears, because it could so easily be a letter from the person I was when I first started coming to the desert to the person I am, today. Not to mention the incredible timing of the imagery in the final stanza! I figured that excerpt from Rumi's poem would be a good way to end this "Desert Diaries" series. Thank you all for following along! xo Sarah

You were inside my hand.

I kept reaching around for something.
I was inside your hand, but I kept asking questions
of those who know very little.

I must have been incredibly simple or drunk or insane
to sneak into my own house and steal money,
to climb over the fence and take my own vegetables.
But no more. I've gotten free of that ignorant fist
that was pinching and twisting my secret self.

The universe and the light of the stars come through me.
I am the crescent moon put up
over the gate to the festival.

Sarah Saturday