How Do You Prepare For Change That Hasn’t Happened Yet (But Might)?
On questions and preparations.
A few years ago, someone found a baby that died in 1925 in the house where I now reside. It’s an old house in the east end of Toronto. I’ve lived there for three years in a basement apartment with an awkward layout, a bit damp, lots of spiders. After three years, it’s become my awkward-damp-spidered basement apartment. Not to mention the rent is reasonable — an increasingly rare thing in Toronto.
At the end of August, my landlords decided to sell the house. It sold quickly. The closing date is in November. And we still don’t know what the new owners plan to do with the place. Will they decide to move in themselves, meaning we’ll have to go? Will they decide to gut the place and renovate it, meaning we’ll still have to go? Or will they uphold the status quo — for now — and keep renting to all of us, reliable, long-term tenants?
My upstairs neighbors say they spend every evening speculating about what’s going to happen, running every scenario, saying, “Well, if this… then that.” I do, too. Maybe the buyer wants to move into one of the upstairs units but keep renting out the other two. Then I’d get to stay. But what if this… and then that? Or what if that… and then this? And the question that’s always at the back of my mind: how am I ever going to find another apartment with reasonable rent?
It’s been weeks now, and I don’t know where I’ll be living in a few months or how much it will cost me to live there. Just add that to the heap of change I’ve accumulated this year.
I began 2016 facing the unpleasant prospect of restructuring at work. After months of rumors, interviews, assessments, more interviews, and personality tests, I’m doing the same job I did before. So far, my work isn’t that different. But I am: having undergone months of uncertainty, I’m frankly terrified about what the future holds and anxious about every paycheck, thinking I have to squirrel it all away. Now we have a new CEO, and everything could change again.
Just after the restructuring ended, my cat developed some weird health problems. The vet told me it could be a tumor, and I waited weeks — and paid a lot of money — to find out. It’s not a tumor. It’s an eosinophilic granuloma, a fancy way of saying an unidentified lump, probably some kind of immune reaction, that could disappear after steroids or come back at any time, requiring more expensive steroids.
The news of the house going up for sale came next. Then, I got in a minor car accident. There was nothing uncertain about that — the crunching sound of metal against metal was a pretty immediate signal that something had gone wrong. Thankfully, insurance paid for the damage to the car. While my cat and I were staying with my parents, recovering from a biopsy (her) and trying to be out of the way of prospective buyers (both of us), who seemed to wander through my apartment endlessly, my granddad died.
As the changes kept happening, I just took each one as it came, adding them to the list of things in my life that were imploding. It was like trying to swim in water that kept getting thicker and thicker. Well, I could go into a little bit of credit card debt if I have to, I thought. I could borrow this money or sell this piece of furniture. I could figure it out.
Even now, I sit in my apartment and look online for other apartments that are smaller or more expensive or in far-away neighborhoods, and I wonder what, exactly, all of these changes are going to cost me.
How do you plan for changes like these — relentless, cascading, and one after the other? I know that I was lucky. I had a small safety net: insurance, a credit card, and family members who would have been happy to help me. I have a small emergency fund, and part of that covered my vet bills. Now I need to build it up again so that I can afford first and last month’s rent somewhere and the cost of moving and, just to be safe, the cost of being unemployed for a while, too. I should maybe save for some other totally unforeseen event like a fire or another car accident. Who knows what else could happen this year? As the work restructuring proved to me earlier this year, not even a job I love can be counted on.
There’s a section of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet that I love. He writes:
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
I keep imagining my heart as a series of locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language, like Hungarian, which I’d really like to learn, but I don’t want to spend any money on frivolous language classes right now.
There are still a lot of unresolved things in my heart — questions about what’s going to happen next and where I’ll be living and how much longer my three remaining grandparents will be here. I can’t answer these questions because I don’t have the keys just yet. I haven’t learned the language. Maybe that language will be something good — or it will be another minor crisis I have to solve.
And in one of those locked rooms, I think I’d better build up a real emergency fund. The key that unlocks that room will be whatever change life throws at me next.
If Rilke is right, all I can do for now is live the questions. Where will I live? What will I do? Who will I be? And not to be too impatient, but when will I live my way into the answers?
Kathleen Keenan is an editor and writer in Toronto. She writes a monthly newsletter for a local bookstore and very occasionally blogs about what she’s reading. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenMKeenan if you’re interested in tweets about books, cheese, and Nancy Drew.