I popped into Atticus Books and Coffeeshop on Main St. in Park City yesterday, mostly because Atticus was the name of the bookstore at my university. I exited with a superfood smoothie and a book called Hidden History of Utah. What a happy discovery—it’s a collection of essays the author has written over the years in the Salt Lake Tribune about historical nuggets in the state’s history. The challenge extended with the offer of her weekly column was that she was to dig up diverse, rarely-heard stories from all over both in time and place and each story could only be 600 words. 

A great read.

If you know me you know I love a good structural challenge. I tend to preach about how boundaries give us creative freedom to really let ‘er rip. So I’ve decided to extend a similar offer to myself this summer while parking it in Park City: a weekly letter home from camp, no more than 600 words. 

But now I’m already at 185 words. So let me back up.

Sometime in April, when I was wiped out from promoting my new album online (yuck. I’m hopelessly Gen X), and Denise was wiped out from work (if you don’t know, Denise is my wife and she’s an interior designer and she’s so talented; check her out at DeniseLaVey.com), and it was already getting suspiciously warm in Phoenix, we decided to look into renting a spot in Park City, Utah for two months this summer to escape. Found a little place walking distance from Main Street and booked it. Mind you, we had only spent 48 hours in Park City ever and liked it. So there it was. We tend to make decisions like this and it tends to work well.

End of June and it was really cooking in Phoenix. We were packing up, and Denise came up with the brilliant idea of trying out Under Canvas near Zion National Park on the drive up. Now you must know that Denise is NOT a camper. She is street savvy, but really appreciates a gorgeous 5 star hotel. The Under Canvas company advertises itself as glamping: king-sized beds in hardwood-floored tents with showers, flushing toilets, restaurant on-site, all nestled far out into real true nature. As opposed to fake nature.

Under Canvas is also expensive, think 4 star hotel, and non-refundable. Period. Denise was truly enthusiastic. I said, “Are you sure?”, she said “Yes,” I put in the credit card, done.

Then I read the FAQs. No AC. Fans in each tent. Wood-burning stoves. But no AC. Zion is just over the border from Arizona. In the desert. Our reservation was for July 7.

Utah bound!

And off we went, we in our two cars packed with our supplies and our two perfectly neurotic dogs, drove away into the mountains, meandered in and out of Navajo Nation, crossed the Colorado River, drove around the Vermillion Cliffs, and finally wound up at Under Canvas after about 7 hours. Temperature was 100. Sun was high. Sunset was scheduled for 9:15 pm. Checked in. The tent was lovely. Very Instagrammable. And it was an oven.

I had spent a week teasing Denise, expecting her to lose it with all the dust and lack of wifi and electricity and roughing-it-ness. Dearest ones, do you know what happened? I had an absolute meltdown. In all the ways. I invoked the dreaded “t” word. I vented about my early childhood on a boat near the equator with no ac and no fans and no way to escape and how this was really bringing it up. I shook the tiny handheld battery-powered fan incredulously exclaiming how could this possibly ventilate the heat-loaded canvas, then really got into gear when I realized the battery was dead. 

Admittedly, it looks bucolic. But is that terror in Teddy’s eyes?

Wine and a good burger at the dining tent helped a little. Denise tried not to roll her eyes. Night fell. It stayed hot. The dogs were miserable. Our dogs are spoiled. Teddy, the wheaten terrier, barks at any and all flashing lights and noises as if a serial killer is about to eviscerate us all. The tent did not protect us from headlights coming up the hill or human noises. I mentioned maybe 3 or 50 times that there was a Best Western 20 minutes away that had ac and accepted dogs. Denise was very calm. “Why don’t you take them and go?” she said. “I’ll meet you there in the morning.” NO WAY was I going to leave if she wasn’t. I realized she was actually…enjoying this. We had a cooler with ice and I got a ziplock bag full and laid it on my chest. Wet a washcloth in the ice melt in the cooler and put that on my feet. Grunted and struggled and at some point fell asleep. Teddy gave up on the serial killer and fell asleep too. JoJo the poodle was out. 

Sometime after 2 am I awoke and saw, above my head through a plexiglass window, the most stars I’ve seen since I was 2,000 miles away from shore on a passage. Incredible. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Soul-affirming.

Interesting, isn’t it? How when we go to excavate history, we tend to dig out as much negative and punitive offerings as we can discover? But then again, sometimes there are a million stars over your head at 2 am and all you can do is smile.

Denise is definitely NEVER going to let me live this down.

p.s. Yes this is over 900 words. Boundaries have their place. But sometimes it’s nice to push ‘em. We’ll play it by ear. 

The aftermath. Evidently I slept.

Yes, I’m making this live today. Yes, I know it’s January 6th. But honestly, for me anyway, this song is about the constant struggle between living for yourself and living for someone else, between honesty and compromise, diplomacy and raw emotion, personal and political and all the other divides and chasms we try to work through in the course of a lifetime. Over and over again.

When I wrote it my heart was pounding, my palms were sweaty and I was grieving. When we recorded it, it felt like a jubilee. And therein lies the answer. Somewhere between grieving and jubilee we figure out our way forward. May we walk well.
xox s

  1. 1 Country at War Sarah Dashew 3:58


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P.S. This is the first track on the new album The Snowmass Sessions, which will be live everywhere January 18th.

Music, lyrics, vocals, acoustic guitar: Sarah Dashew
Electric guitar, keys: Danny T. Levin
Bass: JP Maramba
Drums, percussion: Michael Villiers
Tambourine: Denise LaVey
Recorded at MadDog Ranch & Studios in Snowmass, CO
Engineered and mixed by Marc Meeker
Mastered by Kim Rosen Knack Mastering


Well I woke up this morning with a feeling of dread
And the words lead with love running through my head
But that line don’t work if the line’s gone dead
There are some things that I think need to be said
So I’m gonna say ’em

You used to ask me around when it was good for you
And then punch out the lights leave me black and blue
Took the last of the cash like it was your due
There are some bills you could pay if you wanted to
But you’ll never pay ’em

This was a family
This is a family no more
This was a nation
This is a country at war
You called me godless and you called me a whore
Do you remember

Well the battle lines were drawn around blood and pain
In a boxing ring covered with spit and stains
Determined to fight until the last one was slain
And when I wanted out and said never again
Instead I got christened
And you stole my car and drove it till it ran out of gas
Panhandled for more so the good times could last
Smashed it and crashed it and called it a blast
And I listened

This was a family
This is a family no more
This was a nation
This is a country at war
You asked me to stand up so you could knock me to the floor
Do you remember

The truth is I wish I didn’t have to leave
I wish it weren’t easier to be blind than to see
But if I’m gonna be self-righteous I guess that’s what I’ll be
It’s a long-standing root holding up a dead tree
That’s just rotten
And I thought about trying to write you a letter
But I did this instead and it made me feel better
‘Cause maybe some things that stay unsaid stay unfettered
And now you won’t have to crawl through the gutter to get her
Maybe this way it just gets forgotten

This was a family
This is a family no more
This was a nation
This is a country at war
I said all I had to say
I ain’t gonna say anymore

Last night I stayed up till 2 am reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. This is a surefire sign that I am feeling panicky. Inherently I’m fine. Inherently I feel safe, secure, healthy, faithful in the ability of the world and those close to me to take care of themselves and each other, figure things out and grow.

Body and monkey mind beg to differ.

Body: Heart pound! Sweat! Don’t catch your breath! Back pain! Doom!

Mind: Yeah, doom! Totally! Doom and dismay! Panic! Totally!

Body: Yeah, panic! Awesome!

It can be a challenge to focus on the good stuff when we revel so much in bad. Man do we dig drama. (And toilet paper.)

The truth is that there is a lot of unknown. Unknown is scary. Unknown means we don’t know what’s next. When we don’t know what’s next the stock market tanks, we run out of vitamin c (and toilet paper), money streams slow to a trickle, bla bla bla.

Look, on the one hand I can look at this as a beautiful opportunity to reset, re-balance, create, spend time with my honey. I’m fortunate to be able to do this.

On the other hand, a lot of people I love depend on work that demands social closeness and that ain’t happening right now.

In the face of the unknown, here is what I do know:

I know humans are incredibly resilient. I know it feels good to think about the good of others and act accordingly. I know I love my dogs and my family. I know I’m having a good time thinking up new favorite songs to sing while washing my hands (update: “Sweet Caroline” is really fun, takes a while, and as a bonus it’s kind of ironic because it’s all about touching people).

I know it’s a good time to be kind, to remember that life is short no matter what, and we’re all in it together always.

Feel your feet in the grass. Doodle some hearts. Call somebody and tell them that you love them. Watch “I Love You Man”. Or the Food Network. Or whatever. Bake some cookies and listen to YoYo Ma play Bach on cello and weep. Whatever you need.

I’m here too. And I’ve got toilet paper if you need it.

xox s