Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tiny house: The process

When I am not watching TV with the kids, buying bags of shredded cheese "for cooking," or eating handfuls of shredded cheese, I am often thinking about how to write something The New Yorker might publish -- specifically, a humor piece about the tiny house movement.

It is a vexing technical problem: How to get published in The New Yorker by mocking small houses?  (I realize this is a quixotic dream: If 80 percent of life is showing up, getting published in The New Yorker is the sought-after 0.01 percent.  Because you can't frame "showing up" and hang it on your wall.)

First, it requires some research.  Except for an article here and there, I know very little about "small footprint" living.  I think the idea is that you build a cabin from recycled trash and transport it to a forest or the spacious backyard of a rich friend.  Then you hire a photographer and pitch your story to the lifestyle section of a newspaper.  And then you are a hero!

But let The New Yorker explain:

[O]ne of the more enigmatic modern micro-trends is the decision to live in the smallest space possible, in a structure known as a “tiny house.” The occupants of tiny houses tend to be committed, and slightly self-regarding, citizens, who cook on little stoves and have refrigerators like wall safes. They shed years of possessions and keepsakes to get by with two shirts and two pairs of pants and two mugs and two forks, in order to occupy what amounts to a monk’s cell, for the sake of simplicity, frugality, or upright environmental living. They often embody the zeal of religious converts.
Tiny houses are built on trailer platforms. Typically, they are between a hundred and a hundred and thirty square feet, roughly the size of a covered wagon.

("Let's Get Small," by Alec Wilkinson, July 25, 2011.) 

Second, it requires a clever "take."  You cannot just be like: "Ha ha!  Who are these people, living in tiny houses?"  While that might work in some Midwestern bar, or the bowling alley of a state university, or your own mind as you suppress a chuckle while standing in line at the DMV, it is not going to fly at The New Yorker.  (I know, because I've triedRejection rate for submissions beginning "Ha ha!": 100%.)

My current idea is: "What to Expect When You're Expecting in a Tiny House."  This marries two richly comic phenomena: off-the-grid living and potty training. 

Also, I happen to have personal experience to draw on.  When my kids were babies, my then-husband and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area.  Though we probably would have divorced anyway, it was hastened by the fact that neither of us got any sleep for three years straight.  Every time I had to find six quarters to do a load of laundry, two floors down, I was stupefied by my predicament.  Hadn't I grown up in a normal house?  What happened?

By the time my daughter was born, it was so crowded I had to push furniture out of the way to cross a room.  (Luckily, some of it was on wheels.)  We gave the cat away because the only place to put the litterbox was a window ledge four stories up, encased by a Victorian cage-like structure.  This not only put it at eye level with the nearby couch, but posed the risk that the cat would be blown to her death by a strong gust of wind. 

The whole set-up was simply crazy.  At one point, there was a hole in the bathroom floor that our son -- then just learning to walk -- nearly fell through.  Until then, we'd both considered it a minor inconvenience, but when I saw my child's bootie-clad foot hovering above the neighbor's rug ten feet below, some primal instinct kicked in and I was like: "We have to get this fixed right now." 

Now the kids and I live in a not-tiny house, though still quite small.  I think of it as a cottage or vacation home, and us on permanent vacation from the past.  In the evenings, I sit out back and it is quiet, peaceful, and green.  I put my feet up and soak in the absence of conflict.  Nothing beats it. 

One day, we'll upgrade to a bigger house.  That will be an exciting thing to do.  And if The New Yorker buys my "tiny house" piece, the espresso maker's on them. 

(Image: "Tiny House, Portland" by Tammy (Weekend with Dee) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

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