Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alternative Lifestyle

Here’s the thing: Renovating a house that’s 130 years old is folly, pure and simple. The fact that we’re experiencing the wettest spring on record, like ever, since records began, is just an plot point. And, in ironic hindsight, last summer was the driest on record. You may recall we were meant to begin the reno then, but the City fucked it up for us… To address the elephant in the room, no, the builders are not currently on schedule, and the reasons are completely force majeure. We cannot blame them for the outputs of global warming.

Brief depressing sidebar: Global warming is terrible in all the ways – macrocosmic and minute. Small silver lining? TO may eventually be one of the most livable places, once the West coast has been crippled by that impending earthquake (sorry West Coast), and the South is uninhabitable from drought and heat. We’re far enough north and not predisposed to the blights that will be the end of many other places. We are land-locked but we have a Great Lake and adequate water supply. Our economy is sound and we are a seriously, one might say absurdly, commerce-based culture. You don’t live here so much as you work here. I know, sounds fun. But till things get worse, the impact of global warming on this microclimate may continue to be rain, damp and cold. Toronto was a fine place to live, weather-wise, until about 15 years ago. Now the formerly-short springs are non-existent and the winters vacillate wildly. The rain and grey (really it’s more taupe than grey) are omnipresent for, literally, months at a time. It’s like merging all the crappy elements of English weather with BC weather with a bit of Norway thrown in. And, I regret to inform you, unlike London, Victoria and Tromso, this city is full-on ugly without a blue sky and the sun.

But back to my house and its renovation schedule. In addition to the time-sucking weather, we’ve identified a substantive issue in the foundation-digging phase. I’m not going to get into it for many reasons, not least of which is that my freaking out over the internet isn’t going to solve the problem. That's why we have a team of competent builders, architects and structural engineers. Furthermore, these stories are best told at the end of the trial, over a massive martini, in one’s newly landscaped – and envy-making - back garden. Let me just reiterate that renovating a house that’s 130 years old is fucking folly. And really, having undertaken this, even given that I could have bought 2 houses in Baie St. Paul for the quoted cost of this renovation, I’d have been naïve to think it wasn’t going to get more complicated and more expensive still. My refrain for 2017: It’s just money.

To address the other elephant in the room: Since I have gone through all of the misery of moving house once, and I appear to be happily living elsewhere (though it’s more accurate to suggest I’m residing), do I wish I’d just sold the Victorian row house and gone somewhere else? Well, if ever one were going to answer that with a hell, yes, it would be now, but given that the housing market in Toronto has gone super nova this year (even more so than the super nova insanity of other years), I need to temper my answer somewhat. In short, what’s happening in this housing market is quite different than what’s happening in Vancouver, for example. Our issue isn’t so much foreign investment driving up prices but actual lack of supply. You simply can’t find a house to buy. And if you can, the price has shot up by 30 per cent in this year alone and probably 200 per cent in the last 15 years. So, while I could sell my house for a small fortune right now, really, I’d have to spend a larger fortune to find another. Not to mention that my small fortune would be smaller, in the absence of this home improvement, for having known about (some of) the structural issues because I’m a discloser.  More to the point, any new downtown house would likely be in way worse shape than the one I currently own. Because, no question, I’ve done right by my home. I have fixed it, nay – lovingly restored it, multiple times over. But no scenario is near-perfect without effort of some sort. And the trajectory I’m on is not for the risk-averse. Did I mention I’m kind of risk-averse? Oh well...

Times are very strange right now, that’s for sure. Liminal doesn’t quite describe it. I live in a place that seems less home-like than many an AirBNB I’ve rented (not that I can fault the place, it meets every need). My kid is only nominally a kid and soon she will leave to begin a life of her own. My old job is my new job and I’m trying to figure out how to express my new self within the usual dynamic. (Note: My old/new job continues to be kind to me in every way and for this I am very grateful.) So much money is going in so many different directions. And it’s not like spending it is fun. I’m not relaxing in Europe. In fact, I’m so far from the finish line that it seems even more impossible to imagine it now than it was before this whole thing got started.

And yet, I can’t say things are bad. The money is quantifiable. On some level, it lives in a spreadsheet. I still go out for fine dinners – to new, fun places now in a new 'hood. I have a quiet, clean place to live. I don’t have to parent in that perennial, exhausting fashion of my friends with young children. My time is mine, more that it has been in years. Scott and I are getting on like 2 lovers on vacation, which is bizarre given that we are generally bickerers when the stress is up. While this city is not at its best, weather-wise - and I’m not at my best once I’ve lived through 9 months of terrible weather - the likelihood is that it’s going to improve. (Note: I’m not stupid. I’m resigned to a wan summer and it does make me angry.) Despite the damp and cold, systemic pain is being kept at bay by a years-long overhaul of my lifestyle – on just about every front. Sure, it hovers, but I’m managing. Despite constant stressors, I’m looking rather good these days.

Some people wander from place to place and they find the constant in themselves. I find the constant in a new inch of height in the cedar in my front yard, in the modulated curve of molding against a century old plaster wall. I find the constant in the room where I’ve practiced yoga thousands of times, staring out the window at the flowers, flowers that now line a bin out back. (My dwarf lilac didn’t make it, btw. It was unceremoniously executed last week and I use that term specifically.) To suggest that I can be where I am is as true as it is impossible because I’m tied to the ties and they’re like vines that grow slowly. But what I've learned recently - and it's very cool shit - is that there’s no reason I can’t be a traveller, unencumbered. After all, this may be as close as I come to living in a new city for a long, long time.

6 comments:

  1. "there’s no reason I can’t be a traveller, unencumbered." Ah. Thank you.

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    1. Some days it's easier than others! :-)

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  2. What a journey you're on!

    I think this is wise - to renovate your place and do everything you're doing to improve your house given the current state of things in your area.

    I'm doing slow renovation and can you believe it's been 3 years?! There are days when its frustrating, but I haven't regretted making the decision either. I dream of white walls, new floors, and safe electricity to keep me motivated and happy for what the future looks like in my updated home. :D As I'm sure you do too.

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    1. Thank you for the vote of confidence - I know you're in my camp all the way! I can't believe you've been doing it for 3 years. Honestly, it seems like 6 months ago you moved in. I remember your old place!

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  3. I think moving house was rated as stressful on par with divorce or being fired. I've moved many times, and as I get older I find it less adventure & more stress. But I remember when I was living in the UK for 3 years in my 20s, near Norwich in Norfolk, we took a long weekend to visit the Yorkshire Dales. We stayed in an 18th c. farmhouse, complete with a warm, no-nonsense landlady and resident yellow Lab. While serving breakfast one morning, she looked at me and said, "Aye, I can see you're one of those as bloom where you're planted." I was stymied, having never seen myself that way at all.

    Fast forward almost 30 years & I've moved from the high desert country where I grew up, to England, the Midwest, the Northwest US, and finally Alaska, and I realize that perhaps it's more true than I realized. I am more self-contained than I ever realized & can adapt to extreme environments. However, I bloom best here in the cool rainforest.

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    1. Well, I'd def rather move than the options :-) And how amazing to see yourself in light of your self-containment. You are yourself everywhere!

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