The Mayday Experiment: Small Is Beautiful

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Like many artists, I’m a bit of a loner. I like being alone in my studio, working — and with the time challenges of this project, I’ve turned into a near-hermit. This condition, of course, will be directly challenged by the Mayday Experiment, since touring with the tiny house will surly encourage me to get out more.  But the other factor encouraging me to get out more is Victoria Salvador.

Victoria has been attending the Denver Tiny House Enthusiasts Meet-Up Group meetings and had encouraged me to go, but I hadn’t made the time. The perfect opportunity came when the group screened Small Is Beautiful at the Sie FilmCenter last week.

I’m generally shy in a meet-and-greet situation where I don’t know anyone, so I hung back and gnawed on the worst pretzel on earth while Victoria worked the room. I left a stack of postcards on a table, signed up for a few mailing lists, and talked to a lovely woman who had moved from Santa Fe and was living in her car with her dog. There were about fifty people there, and I found myself wondering how many were in the process of building a tiny house. I know there are a lot of us out there, I hear things through the grapevine, but who? Locally, I’m aware of the Denver Homeless Out Loud folks and a couple of others, but information hasn’t been easy to find so. The only other build I regularly follow is my Facebook friend Harmony Parent’s build in Winnipeg, Manitoba – watching her travails on Facebook, as she builds out a 30-foot trailer while living on it in tents with her daughter and husband, has been harrowing, as they’ve been rained out, threatened with having to move, and lived amongst their construction rubble. But her tenacity and family’s love is inspiring.

I was excited to see the film, too. Whenever I tell a new person I am building a tiny house, the first question is always, “Have you seen the movie Tiny”?  And though I have, I always find myself wondering why they are asking – is it because they wonder if I have faced the same travails, of running out of money, of everything taking longer than I thought? Is that why they ask?

But I always answer with a sigh…yes…I have, thinking of how I found it frightening and depressing at times, since I began watching it long after I began my build. And then I find out with surprise that it isn’t what they’re thinking at all – they find the movie exciting and, especially, inspiring. It’s a word I hear again and again.

And it’s a word I heard uttered at the end of Small Is Beautiful as well, as the woman next to me in the theater cooed to her friend after the applause at the end, “So inspiring”! Victoria and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes a little. Did she see the same film?

In the discussion afterwards, hosted by Barbara Mariner of Denver Tiny House Enthusiasts, the word “inspiring” emerged again, as well as demands for space to park and questions about legal issues. But then came the big question: “How many of you own or are building a tiny house”?

My hand shot up eagerly – here was the moment, here’s where I could find my compatriots and hunt them down after we all left the theater and milled about the lobby. And I turned and looked for the other raised hands, with a chilling realization: Mine was the only one. The only hand. Just me.

I was shocked. Am I the only one crazy enough to do this? Were all these people going to build, or just enthusiasts? I looked at Victoria, with my mouth hanging open, and she knew what I was thinking instantly: “Yup. You’re it. People who are building are busy building – they don’t have time for this.”

Which is true — I certainly didn’t — but…no one?

Then again, why am I surprised? Weekly, someone rings my doorbell to ask questions because they want to build a tiny house. People leave notes. People see hope in this movement, and freedom, just as I do. But like anything worth having, freedom isn’t easy to gain. And hope is always just a setback away from despair.  I know how excited people are to build, and yet.... Sometimes I ask myself: if I knew then what I know now, would I be doing this?  Some days, it's hard to answer yes.  But then, when I review my options, I become convinced that this was still the best route I could have taken.  

The second shock was that Ms. Mariner knew who I was, knew about the Mayday Experiment, announced the blog…a brief but unexpected moment of celebrity. Still, I was disappointed not to find any of my peeps in the room, though I know many people hope to be building soon.

Afterwards, Victoria and I chatted by the parking garage in the warm night air. Her feelings about the film were similar to mine – watching people struggle, have problems in their relationships and work hard wasn’t inspiring, it was just reality, a reality we were used to facing by now. It lacked the romanticism for us that it seemed to hold for the other people in the theater; both of us found it vaguely depressing. Out of the four people profiled in Small Is Beautiful, only one was living in her tiny home at the end of the film – and she had started the film living in it, too. None of them had finished yet, and in most cases, they were a year in. A year in. Just like me, in a couple of weeks. 

I’ll get another chance to find my people at the upcoming Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs on August 7 through August 9. Featuring one of the founders of the tiny house movement, Derek Diedricksen, the event includes a number of interesting panels and opportunities to meet up. With it so close, how could I not go? Stay tuned.

PS: I am so thankful for the generosity of so many!  There is still a little ways to go before we can replace the windows, put on security film, and build our exciting new shutter design — if you can help, please do!  

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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