The central question at the root of everything I’m doing now: What is a home? This question raises others: What does it mean to have a home? To build a home? What does one need to live?
When I first conceived of building this tiny house and taking off on a crazy journey, the idea was born of desperation and fear. I was selling my home of fifteen years in North City Park thanks to divorce, and I knew, with the skyrocketing rents in Denver and the impossible housing market coupled with my spotty freelancer’s and adjunct income, that a mortgage would be nearly an impossibility.
When I returned from grad school in Ohio, where I had lived alone for most of two years in a big three-bedroom house, it was because Denver was home, the only one I had ever known. I came back hoping to repair my marriage, but also because my mother, who like all parents is aging, wants me near. I think everyone, including me, assumed that I would go to New York, and I was in Denver for a full year before I realized I would be staying for a while, even as I bounced from Denver to New York to Ohio and back again every few months.
My relationship with Denver is complicated. On the one hand, I love it and it’s my home, on the other, I’ve long had itchy feet and felt the pull to other places. But it feels ironic to me that just as I decided to re-commit to this place, to choose Denver over Brooklyn, Denver exploded and boomed bigger than ever before, forcing me to make hard choices. (Hard choices that I am still making, I realize, as I pass up a share in a friend’s Brooklyn brownstone even as I type that is cheaper than my rent in Denver. The irony is rich.)
Upon deciding to sell our house, my initial idea was to move to the Hudson Valley, near my family’s roots, New York City and several good friends. I even made a scouting trip, renting a car and staying at the Rhinebeck home of a friend, artist Undine Brod. My mom and I discussed properties and I e-mailed her listings from the road, met with real estate agents and calculated costs.
I continued watching those listings as we fixed up our house to sell and list, and waited through the cold winter months when we shouldn’t have even had it on the market. Of course, as predicted, housing sales boomed again in the spring, after our closing. I watched the prices rise on those Hudson Valley homes, as New York Times articles proclaimed each little town I'd considered for my future home “the New Brooklyn.”
But once the house sold,(at the wrong time, as the recent market has shown), there was less money than expected, and after paying off the back rent for a studio-mate who left me holding the bag, it was clear that the Hudson Valley wasn’t going to be a possibility, especially with no job there and my mother to move as well.
So then I looked to Detroit, like so many creatives are doing now, desperate for cheap and plentiful space. But despite the charm of Amy Haimerl’s blog and seeing the exciting artistic movement happening there, I couldn’t get my mother on board with the brutal Midwestern cold.
And the fact was: The longer I stayed in Denver, the harder it was to want to leave. The art scene had exploded in my absence, with new spaces, a fantastic crop of new artists, and bigger and better openings. My family and friends were here. I could go anywhere and run into people I knew. This was home…wasn’t it?
Residents of Denver are living through growing pains that see many people losing their homes. To some degree, building this tiny house seems like a race, a race for choices, for options, for a place to be. Because with the gentrification in my neighborhood, my eventual relocation seems an inevitability, just as I’ve been pushed out of previous neighborhoods.
The notion of home and what I wanted, while making this decision, was difficult to grasp. I missed the little cottage I had just sold and was living in a 112 square-foot closet with no shower or kitchen, cooking elaborate meals on a hot plate and going to the gym to clean up — when this idea came to me and I committed to it. Not the best head-space in which to make life-changing decisions. No wonder my focus was so clearly on doomsday scenarios.
So, what is a home? Is it a structure, a community, a place? Is it a piece of land, a look in someone’s eye, an embrace? Is it in ourselves or outside? Is our home truly our own skin, no matter where we plant it? Our family? Our history?
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Or do we look to the macro – is our only home really the earth? Despite fantasies of cloud seeding or populating Mars, this is really it. This is our home. This is the place we know will support our life, at least for the time being.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.