There are times – a lot of them – when I just don’t know how I’m going to go on. Things feel daunting. What I need to do to try to survive in New Denver and my new reality – adjuncting, juggling multiple jobs, scrambling with the ordinary day-to-day – leaves little time to work on the tiny house and this massive project I’ve undertaken. Much of the time I feel I am failing – to earn enough, to move forward on building, and to simply survive — though I know that feelings are not necessarily reality and places like Rome (or even a tiny house) aren’t built in a day. And somewhere in there I still crave time in the studio, need time to be an artist, if not purely for mental health then at the very least to not let my career fall by the wayside. And constantly in the background, there are the nagging pressures of the coming crush of gentrification, like a ticking time bomb pushing me forward – I have to get the tiny house done before the inevitable future comes. I feel pulled in a million directions.
Despite blogging weekly about this project, I find myself constantly asked, “How is the tiny house? Is it done?” And though the questions are earnest and sincere, and always excitedly asked, they often leave me feeling guilty, as though I am disappointing each person with my “No, it’s not done, just crawling forward one foot in front of the other.” But the forward crawl still happens – even when it slows to inches, even when it isn’t visible from the street, where people constantly walk by and ask when I will finish. I have accepted that the answer is “When I can,” and that I can only do my best. I gotta sleep at some point.
And isn’t this the case with all our efforts? Despite witnessing the conversation about climate change throughout my entire life (I even entered a costume contest as a “litterbug” at the age of ten, and won), progress has been slow, and halting. We are mostly all still dependent on the grid. Hell, we are still quibbling about the existence of climate change at all. So should I be surprised that my own efforts at getting off-grid are halting and difficult as well? My struggle is universal in that sense. If getting off-grid and living more sustainably were easy, everyone would do it. Ironically, if everyone did, it would become much less hard, and much less expensive. But at the heart of this project, that is the goal: to encourage people to do it, even if it’s hard. And though it is, it will be easier if we are all working together.
It is challenging to be this exposed, this vulnerable, in front of total strangers. Asking for help and fundraising is an arduous and foreign task, and yet, without help, this will not get done – that has been a reality from the beginning. And though I know in some way I am doing this for us all – I am also doing this because I cannot morally or ethically stand to move forward with my life without acknowledging that the world is on the brink of certain disaster, is changing before our eyes. I can’t move on with business as usual, yet the crushing forces of capitalism force me to, like everyone else. I know I am not alone in this. All of us who want change still have to keep a roof over our heads, still have to eat, still have to exist within the contexts of our lives. In bad times it feels like a cognitive dissonance that threatens to plunge me into depression. And yet, I have set myself this challenge, and approached it in such a way that any failure would be very public, would be read about here, where I hope my absence would be felt...though I’m never totally sure. I am comforted by Amanda Palmer’s Words in The Art of Asking; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help: “From what I've seen, it isn't so much the act of asking that paralyzes us—it's what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one. It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.”
We are raised to not talk about money; it’s considered rude. But not talking about it means we aren’t aware of the realities of others, that we can take their lives for granted. The disparity between rich and poor is deeply felt in our society these days and growing ever wider. And though so many of us pretend every day to be okay, to be making it, I hear daily of friends’ struggles to survive in New Denver and feel I am constantly struggling myself, hanging by my fingernails over a precipice that threatens to swallow my dreams whole and spit me out as a shell of my former self.
I know I have not chosen an easy path. Both getting off the grid and being an artist are expensive (and some might say fanciful) propositions. Much of the criticism of environmentalism is that it is not accessible to all – we can’t all buy a Prius or afford sustainably sourced artisanal cotton sewn by fair-wage labor into locally designed products, as much as we try, as much as we might want to, even as we mock the pretenses. I think most of us are searching for a different path; our dissatisfaction lies so close to the surface, but solutions are overwhelming.
Art has always been a game for the privileged, though a calling for many of us who aren’t afforded the financial wherewithal to pursue it full time, though we try. The thing an artist most needs – time – is an expensive commodity. And yet, the myth of the starving artist persists, and the bias against artists who must work for a living in the class-conscious art world does as well, with gallerists like Jeffrey Deitch famously expressing a truism that was rarely spoken out loud – that he wouldn’t work with an artist who had a day job.
But the reality is: the world needs both artists and people who are willing to take the plunge to create change, and sometimes those come in the same package. Around the world, thousands of people are attempting to make the change their governments and corporations refuse to – opting for renewable sunlight, growing their own food, moving into smaller dwellings, leaving a tinier footprint, educating others, making art and music to inspire change — everyone doing what they can. All of this takes struggle, every day. The status quo is the easiest, least resistant path. Artists and activists are the change-makers, the conversation starters, the proverbial canaries chirping alarm with our last breaths.
Feeling like giving up and giving up are two different things. It’s important to acknowledge the pain of the struggle, just as it is to acknowledge the help, support and love that has poured out to me from my community and friends. Because just as I feel that guilt of disappointing someone, of not making enough progress fast enough, I also feel the encouragement from every person I talk to. I also hear their urgency over not knowing what to do, the helplessness of wanting change and struggling to know how to accomplish it. I hear their desire to want my efforts and all the others’ efforts to work. All we have is trying.
This weekend at my bestie’s housewarming party I met, for the first time face to face, another person building a tiny house. Despite having gone to tiny house meetups and the tiny house jamboree, I had yet to meet a single soul actually building one, and for the next two hours we excitedly sketched out our designs on a yellow legal pad and showed photos from our phones. She was further along with a smaller budget at the same size, but I had the advantage of a vehicle to move it and more of my plumbing figured out, thanks to Victoria Salvador. She had opted to have her roof installed, but it was gorgeous. She marveled at the design of my cathedral-style ceiling, and I oohed and ahhed over her dormers. But we both agreed: this was harder than either of us had expected, and both a year in, neitherof us could easily predict when we would be done. That communion alone felt like a gift, an acknowledgement that maybe it would all be okay and that just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I’ll just keep plugging away, one step at a time.
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If you believe in this project, if you believe that the conversation is worth changing, if you believe in me as an artist or even just enjoy reading this blog, please help support it so it can continue! You can donate to the GoFundMe page here, which will help me replace the broken windows and put up the siding – both crucial tasks before winter comes. Every little bit helps – we are getting there one dollar at a time!
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on westword.com. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.