The start of a new year is always a time of reassessment, looking back at the past year while also looking forward to the next. For many of us, these are somber assessments: In 2016 we lost heroes and fought over politics constantly. Much of the time, art was replaced by activism — and more points were hammered in arguments than nails were hammered in the tiny house. The stairs, built and rebuilt and built again, took way too long, but remain the only “complete” accomplishment I can point to; everything else has felt like picking away at boring little tasks that would be even more boring to write or read about. Caulking wheel wells, grinding down extra bits and framing sheds is hard to make exciting for even the most fervent carpentry fan.
In the two years since I began the Mayday Experiment, I have changed a lot — but maybe the country has changed even more. I used to feel alone in looking toward the future and always seeing catastrophe, as I watch species disappear and lip service paid to change. Today it’s no comfort to feel less alone, now that everyone seems to see catastrophe. And though my mission feels more urgent than ever, I also fight with myself constantly, trying not to surrender.
There’s always a part of me that wants to give up. Experience tells me to accept that this is the natural course of long-term projects: I get distracted, do other things, but again and again come back to the urgency of both where I will live in the future and what kind of planet it will be on. And the conclusion is the same for both problems: I can’t do NOTHING. Even on the days that I feel like it, “nothing” is not an option.
The struggle for balance between multiple projects, multiple jobs and my own short attention span and bouts of depression, combined with the need to balance earning money for survival and money for the next phase of building, are in constant competition. Being realistic about my capacity has never been a strong suit; my whole life I have been overcommitted, but joyously so: running from project to project and idea to idea with the excitement and wonder of a kid on Christmas morning. But in New Denver, the cheap rent that afforded constant volunteerism and free labor is forever gone; like every other artist I know, I spend much more of my time on things I would rather not do than having the beautiful luxury of long days lost in thought and work in the studio. New demands compete for attention as well: the need for more political involvement, the activism work within my community no longer feel optional, but necessary — for us all.
As this project drags on, I watch a zeitgeist swell around me, of tiny houses everywhere and adorable millennial couples hashtagging #vanlife on their perfectly Instagrammed pictures. A million tiny house shows clog the airwaves, each one more preposterous than the last, and each one frustrating me with how easy they make it look, when I even dare to glimpse them. Of course it's easy with a crew and a budget; with either, I would have been done ages ago.
And yet, this project was never about the tiny house itself, but about the conversations that would occur around and in it. Looking back at the past year, I realize those conversations happened a lot, still. Whether I was talking to DPS high-school students on career day or rocking out at Titwrench or writing about the many issues that this project touches, such as homelessness and DIY spaces, the conversation has continued in a variety of ways. To me, that's every bit as much the art as the tiny house itself, if not more so. But of course: I want to be on the road now, with the urgency of the moment as the wind in my sails, even though it feels more frightening, more fraught, more risky than ever before.
However, I enter the new year with the confirmation that this need exists and that my thesis was correct: We need to change the conversation we’re having across the aisle. It’s been interesting, in the weeks since the election, to see pundits from Samantha Bee to Glenn Beck promoting the ideas I have written about in my column, but that zeitgeist, while far less aesthetically appealing than the plethora of adorable tiny houses, illuminates the heart of what this project has always been for me. Not simply a hipster trend, but a path toward creating the real change we need, and the reason I had this crazy idea in the first place.
Over the holidays, I wound up at a party talking to a visiting friend who had built his tiny house in seven months on the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain. I marveled over panoramic pictures of his expansive windows framing an incredible view, and the open floor plan — and at the same time, lamented my own slow progress and expressed my shame at not being done yet. If only I had known about the Structural Insulated Panels he used when I had started: an ingenious development that combines the insulation, framing and siding all in one and cuts out many, many steps. As I openly fretted that he was already living in his tiny house while I still plugged away at mine, he made me feel instantly better, pointing out that he had worked on it every day for seven months, with a roof over his head and food in his belly, on land that his family owned and with enough money to build straight through nonstop. And STILL there were things to do, even after he and his wife moved in.
So all of this is why, in the new year, I intend to do more building than writing. I’m going to reduce this column to a monthly commitment and focus on getting finished, as well as the myriad of other projects I am involved with this year, including making a 24-foot-long snail drawing for the Arvada Center and curating a big show that opens in September. Life goes on, the tiny house goes on, and while I am absolutely not giving up (as my friends point out, I am in too deep to do that), I’m hoping to make wiser use of what little time I have so I can get this baby on the road to do the urgent work ahead.
In an interview last week, Michelle Obama asked, “What else do you have, if you don’t have hope?” The Mayday Experiment was always born of hope, and that’s never changed, despite how much it feels like the world has.
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