Have you ever dreamed of hopping in your car, driving out to the desert, and starting a new life in the Wild West? Paige Geffen did just that. The multi-talented creative director, photographer, and stylist, left Los Angeles to start anew in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She had never been there before. She knew no one. She packed nothing but a small suitcase. The only certainty she had was that the desert was calling, and city life had left her health —both emotional and physical — in a state of emergency.
Her life in the desert isn’t without its challenges — instead of dodging rush hour traffic, she now dodges monsoons and lightning storms. But in the quiet stillness of Santa Fe, she has found a burgeoning creative community and forged deeper bonds with both her peers and herself.
She shares with us the tumult the led her here, the magic of bravery, and what post-city life can look like for a creative…
What spurred your bold move to Santa Fe?
I was living in Los Angeles and became sick from mold exposure. There were periods where I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings without help. My face was hollow and I was coughing up blood every day. My life was in complete disarray. I was living in fight-or-flight mode for two years. I believe this happened for a reason — to wake me up out of complacency. I was forced to look at myself and my deepest needs and desires. The desert called, and I answered.
Tell us about the day you got in your car and left Los Angeles?
I left in a state of tremendous turmoil and chaos. I knew I was coming to Santa Fe, but I had never been before and didn’t know one person. I was incredibly sad to leave LA, but this little voice in me knew that I was embarking on an epic adventure — one of meeting myself into more wholeness.
I arrived at my then-home, 30 minutes outside of Santa Fe in Chupadero, at night. My housemate, who I had never met, was asleep. It was pitch black and I walked into this house in a foreign place with just a suitcase. I didn’t sleep one bit that night. In the morning, I hopped out of bed as the sun was coming up and listened to a rooster crow. It felt like I exhaled three years of insanity in one huge breath that morning.
Was this utterly terrifying?
Despite all of the fear I was walking (or driving) through, I wasn’t scared in that moment. I have never felt so alive and free. I’ll never forget the sunset as I drove from Palm Springs into unknown parts of California, and then crossing the Arizona border. I think that view will stay with me forever.
Where are you right now? What are you drinking, hearing, smelling, seeing, feeling?
I’m sitting at my desk at home. I’m drinking an herbal infusion (nettle, oatstraw, and lemon balm) and listening to Philip Glass, because I feel a bit crazed and need to calm myself. I’m both smelling and seeing juniper. My house is surrounded by juniper trees, and I picked some on my way home. I’m seeing the rolling hills of desert land with the mountains behind them. I’m feeling overwhelmed. This summer has been a time of shifting — a lot of internal change, a bit of chaos, and leaving old ways of being behind. I’m trying to learn to sit with all of that.
What is your multi-hyphenate?
I take on styling, photography, and creative direction work. I did bits of all of this in LA, but I was primarily running my own interior design business. I really needed to break free from being a “designer,” and I’m just beginning to be able to call myself an artist with some confidence. I was an art major in college, and my thesis was in photography, but I felt like I had to abandon that dream in order to make a living for myself once I got to LA. I’ve come to find that it was actually a diversion tactic to avoid fully expressing myself.
What is Object & Us and how did you come to create it?
Object & Us teaches us how to get in touch with our senses and to slow down in the physical world as a bridge to the metaphysical. We use our external surroundings as the medium to access our internal landscapes. I guide people through this process in one-on-one sessions, which is the deepest way to do the work. However, it’s very important to me to be accessible to everyone. I write on the journal about how to practice the work and host workshops as well.
It was born from a place of rawness. I was in between homes in LA and dealing with my illness from mold exposure. I had to learn to ground myself in the midst of groundlessness — to find my center when everything around me was chaotic. I was questioning my career path; I felt conflicted about all of the consumption involved in the interior design world, yet loved the aesthetics and the environment. I became obsessed with creating meaning out of this contradiction. I took my love of objects and space, and married it with my quest for self-exploration and living with mindfulness.
How has being in the desert (and out of the city) impacted your work?
I’m influenced now mostly by nature and time with myself. The work sort of “comes” to me. The name Object & Us, for instance, came to me in a dream-like state as I was falling asleep while in Joshua Tree. I was staying there to escape the mold, and spending two hours everyday walking in the desert with my dog, Joni. I’m able to access that kind of inspiration through space and nature more readily in Santa Fe. I also don’t care what other people are doing now. Of course, I’m interested in the work of others, but I feel free to do my own thing.
Are there more moments of loneliness?
Living in the desert comes with solitude, and in solitude, you have to face yourself. I love being alone and cherish time with myself, but of course, sometimes I feel lonely. I cry, I hold myself, I take baths, I journal, and then I cry some more. I have cried more in the last ten months of being here than in my previous 28 years combined. I feel like I’ve cried enough to hydrate the entire desert.
I’ve been embracing messiness — the messiness of being human, not knowing all of the answers, and doing it all imperfectly. The key is to know that part of existence is to feel lonely. Loneliness is really a longing to meet oneself, and longing can take you to the most transformative places if you listen to it rather than fight it.
How do you stay present?
It’s not easy for me, which is why I think my work is devoted to it. Staying present isn’t about feeling amazing. It forces us to meet ourselves, and to show up for it all — the beauty, the pain, the sadness, the joy. We are taught to skip over all of that in order to just be “good” and “fine.” Our culture has become so robotic and manufactured. I don’t want that. I want the whole experience of being human. I want the madness and the magnificence.
How does your social media use factor into your practice of presence?
Ahh, this is something I am always navigating. I get work through Instagram, so I feel like I’m active way too much. Sometimes I want to throw my phone against the wall and never look at it again, but I also have made incredibly meaningful connections through the wormhole that is Instagram. I try not to consume as much as I connect. That means less aimless scrolling and Story watching, and more true conversing with people, and hopefully contributing some meaning through what I post rather than just adding to the noise.
What advice would you have for city dwellers itching for a change?
Get out when you feel the itch. Slow down with your objects in order to connect to yourself. Follow your quiet. As far as people interested in a huge change like the one I made, I would say this: the city will always be there, and you can always come back to it.
How did you get so damn brave?
Honestly, on some level, I felt that I didn’t have a choice. My choices were to either stay stuck or take a huge leap into the unknown. I’ve always been adventurous, and while this is by far the greatest adventure I’ve ever been on, the act of doing it felt like I was getting myself back. Before coming here, I felt like I had left myself behind.
Where do you consider home?
Within. I am home.