When I first revealed my plan to build a tiny house and take off across the country, at an artist's talk at Mai Wyn Fine Art for my show Nest/Shedin March, I was terrified. I hadn't planned to talk about the project in public, but it was a spontaneous response to Mai Wyn's question, "What's next?" I hadn't told anyone beyond a few close friends what I was thinking, and hadn't planned to reveal what I was pondering. But I lack an internal filter; I'm an open book. It's a blessing and a curse. See also: The Mayday Experiment -- A Tiny House and a Not-So-Tiny Christmas Wish List Afterwards, I said to my friend Eric Nord, "Oh, my god, now I have to do this, don't I?"
His response: "Only if you want to. You don't have to do anything that you don't want to."
At that moment. I realized that while I didn't want to, I had to. If I were doing what I wanted to do, I would be buying a warehouse someplace cheap, keeping my head down and just making my work. That's what I want to do; that's all I've ever wanted to do. But this feels like a calling, one similar to becoming an artist -- this has chosen me as part of my work, as opposed to me choosing it. And now that the idea has been born, to not do it means it is still a part of my life, and the not doing will occupy a place always, and have a presence. Whether that presence will be regret is unknown, because it is just as possible that I will regret sinking my life savings into this plan. But what good are life savings in a collapsing civilization on a planet that can no longer support human life? In the future, will survival be about a 401K? I've read too much to think it will. And so this has become my work, a combination of sculpture, social practice and performance...I will be living my art.
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My entire life has been leading to this moment -- though I didn't realize it. The idea is pure silver lining from a horrible situation. After a studio-mate left me deeply in debt to my landlord, I made the choice to move into a closet in the studio to save money. Into 112 square feet. And I found that it wasn't so bad. In fact, it forced different habits upon me...when I got a new pair of shoes, suddenly I found myself considering which pair would need to go, something I had never done before in my life, despite the advice of clutter-clearing gurus and self-help books. I became tidier, more inventive with space, caring more about the details. And I realized...I could live like this, despite my borderline hoarder ways. In the past, I had dreamed of huge spaces with big grounds...but all of that is a lot of work, and I want my attention focused on the studio. But could I work this way? My 112 square feet were only for living, while the remainder of my portion of the studio was 500 square feet. Working space has always been more important than living space to me.
Then there was the question of whether this was a smart investment of my proceeds from the sale of our house. And this is where I still have deep doubts. My ex (who is also still my friend) urged me to purchase land, think of equity, be fiscally smart. My mother told me, "Put some money away, think of retirement" -- which I know is also prudent. But...
Fifteen years is the estimate that was recently put forward by NASA -- not a tinfoil-hat conspiracy group, but NASA - as the timeframe until our civilization collapses. (NASA also distanced itself from this prediction shortly after.)
Professor of Ecology Guy McPherson puts human extinction at seventeen years.
Now, McPherson is often debunked by other noted climate scientists, and his predictions have the aura of crystal ball about them, so I'm not saying I agree with him, but just to ponder it...
Think of every single person you know, gone in seventeen years. And all the work we do now not for future generations, but maybe the discovery by future civilizations. Even if McPherson is wrong (and I strongly, strongly suspect he is) about the number - whether it's seventeen years or 200, don't we all love humanity too much, even the misanthropes amongst us, to not care about our future legacy?
Maybe it's alarmist. Maybe we're doomed. Maybe there's still hope, and human ingenuity and adaption will save a few of us.
But whether or not McPherson is right, his assertion made me realize: We are having the wrong conversation. Because if he's wrong, it mostly a matter of timing. Eventually, the planet will warm to a point that it cannot support our life, and it remains to be seen if evolution will outpace the warming. And he IS wrong, I believe, about his assertion that there's "Nothing we can do." There's a LOT we can do, but we actually need to do it!
Humans are teenagers. We think we're indestructible. We mock the notion of extinction -- those silly environmentalists worrying about the Vancouver Island marmot or the stupid black rhino. We see ourselves as disconnected from the notion of the concept of extinction. Humans? We're too smart, we're too ingenious, science will save us, money will save us, technology will save us, we'll colonize another planet...but this is fantasy. Because like it or not, the earth has faced five great extinctions, and there is a pretty good consensus that we're hurtling towards (or in the midst of) a sixth.
When I talk to people about this, when I tell them my grave concerns, the response I most often hear is, "Well, I guess it's time to party!" Which offended me no end, at first, but then I realized...we can't even face this. The idea of it is too huge.
And let's face it - our dialogue is broken. We spend our days in passionate Internet arguments posting links we've barely skimmed for content to prove our point while consuming, consuming, consuming.... What the hell are we doing? We need to slow down and listen. We need to have one-on-one conversations, and help each other grasp what we're facing. Our governments are failing us. The corporations are already working on figuring out how to profit from the coming catastrophes that they are partially responsible for. What are the priorities?
Wouldn't survival be a priority?
Wouldn't the future of our species be a priority?
Climate change is already happening. The time for hand-wringing is over, and waiting for our knights in shining business suits to swoop in and save us with technology or policy is clearly folly.
We are the only ones who can save us.
If there's to be a future, it starts with us.
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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.