The Mayday Experiment: Reality Check

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As an artist, when you go into the studio and begin something, you always know there is the possibility of change. You respond to the materials, the light, the whims and discords, and eventually something emerges. You may enter with a “plan,” but intuition and the muse will have their way with that plan — and if you’re smart, you will allow that to happen. Fighting it gets you nowhere.

This giant project is no different, yet for whatever reason, I have been resistant to this truth, something that in any other “medium” I would already have realized. I have wanted to keep to a timeline, I have pushed, I have struggled…and I am worn out. And in that worn-out state, it hit me: Why did I ever think I was in charge?

In grad school, I kept thinking that I would somehow magically decide I would just become a whole different artist than I had been. I fought with myself and struggled to somehow transform, to push my way out of the cocoon while still a chrysalis, before my wings naturally formed, as it were. But in the end, I realized that for all of us artists, we make the work we make. And each project, each painting or sculpture or even each tiny house, has a life of its own.

If art is anything, it is impractical, too, and for this project, though couched within a practical reality (providing myself a home, addressing urgent concerns about climate change, doing the good I want to do in the world), my approach has been thoroughly impractical from the start. I approached this project like it was a show or a large installation, but it is neither: it is a house, and the biggest thing I have ever invested my energy in. And like every project, it has its wants and needs, and it has been making them known.

It has now been a year since I began building the tiny house — longer if you count the time in planning and preparation beforehand. Originally, I imagined that with Philip Spangler’s help, we would be done in three or four months, and I would take off and travel for a year, moving on to a new project after that year. It was absurdly unrealistic, of course. And as I now know, so was my initial budget.

When I first worked through names for the Mayday Experiment in the midst of that year with my friend Kimberly MacArthur Graham from Layer Cake Creative, she warned me that choosing this title meant, from a marketing perspective, that I needed to take off on Mayday – May 1 — for this year-long journey, and I agreed that it was important, and not only that, but a perfect day to depart. In that I was unrealistic as well.

During this year, life has continued while I build, squeezing it in between teaching gigs and projects. But a part of me has been holding back on building my new life, post grad-school and post-divorce, until I begin the journey, not scheduling shows or applying for opportunities, wondering how far out I can commit to potential jobs, and walking the line between living here and living everywhere, on the road. Living in my dreams rather than in my reality.

But in that year, I’ve also begun to come to grips with other realities: the need for stability and jobs as Denver’s cost of living skyrockets around me and I grow ever more nervous about holding on to my space. The reality of time, and how I couldn’t really just give up on the other parts of my studio practice in order to pursue the Mayday Experiment and still remain fulfilled, making “work/life balance” an absurd juggling act between competing interests and too many commitments.

There’s also the family reality: leaving my elderly mother for a full year with only my brother’s help and company began more and more to seem like a frightening risk, and a lost opportunity to spend time with my loved ones, including new relationships and longtime friendships. The fact is, I have a lot of reasons to be in Denver, and though a year on the road sounds great in theory, it would also mean many painful sacrifices, and not only for me. And I don’t wish to sacrifice my responsibility to my family.

And finally, there’s the administrative reality: Lining up a tour with concurrent visiting-artist gigs and appearances is incredibly difficult to figure out, especially when I don’t have a hard and fast departure date due to setbacks and dead trucks, and my top traveling speed is expected to be maybe fifty miles per hour. (Not to mention my complete lack of experience in booking tours, something that needs enough expertise that the practice commands its own job title.) In all of the looking at the math, it means moving around quickly in order to keep a schedule and hit all the spots I want to, without the slow introspection that good art actually needs, without the space to really make connections in a community once there and have the rich conversations I hope to. My initial plan of moving every two weeks was looking more and more stressful, and planning it is a tangle of nightmares that could domino themselves directly into disasters. So time was equally unrealistic, not to mention expensive, when transportation costs are figured into those rapid-fire moves.

More and more, as my life has evolved, this project has evolved. I’m used to doing things that have a beginning and an end, that are scheduled in for a period of time during which I’m usually planning my next move. But then it hit me: This was never a year-long project. This was always a long-term commitment. This is my life now, not in the future, waiting for it to happen or be planned. The struggle is the project every bit as much as the journey.

All of these things have fed my thinking in a new way. As opposed to a year-long journey, I am realizing that this project will be a yearly journey, or a series of them: one to three months, a different location every year. And while in Denver, I'll continue making appearances at schools, festivals and institutions, taking the tiny house on the road as I can and parking it wherever I need to. This is not a project with an end.

It’s funny that it took a year to understand the true scope and shape of the Mayday Experiment and how it would transform my life. Even when taking on a project that's meant to transformour lives, we humans can be stubborn and willful, thinking we are in the driver’s seat. But in the end, our collective muses are driving, whether it’s off a cliff or into a glorious sunset. Instead of fighting those muses for the wheel, I now realize that, with the wind at my back, I can let the project go where it needs to go. This is my life now, and it will take the time it takes.  

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 or here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.

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