Our riverfront property on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River has been my favorite place to write for four years. Last night, my co-owner and I signed on the dotted line to sell this idyllic property. I hoped this day would never come, but it did. I had a hard time putting pen to paper. I’ve accepted that this place might not be available to me to write, relax and enjoy nature from, and I’m sad, but I’m moving on. I’m a firm believer that when we close a door, a better one opens for us.
In my previous life, I worked for a Northern Virginia non-profit as one of five Spanish language Family Support Workers (FSW). I worked there for a couple of years and although I dearly loved the important work we did for our wonderful illegal clients, I was unhappy. Our caseloads were unmanageable (25-27 families per FSW), the workload was brutal, and the burn out rate among FSW was very high. We were required to make home visits every week, sometimes five a day. Our job was to educate young parents and single mothers from pregnancy to their child’s fifth birthday as their first born in this country entered kindergarten. I found it extremely frustrating because most families were hurting. Their most basic needs were not always met-shelter, food, diapers, medical care and I found it difficult to teach and educate when they were hungry or had just been kicked out of their cockroach-infested apartment. And if you’re familiar with the DC area traffic, you will understand that we were all behind in our documentation, visits quota, weekly and monthly reports and mandatory classes. And, of course, we were paid peanuts. Before I arrived, five FSWs quit in one week and our complaints and team suggestions fell on deaf ears.
Frustrated, stressed to the max with no time to write or paint to relax and be happy made Ellie one very unhappy woman! During this time, someone gave me a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? I devoured that little book and gave copies to my children, family and friends.
I realized that I had to change my life. I’d been a working and exhibiting artist for over 27 years and I wanted to finish the historical novel I began writing in 2005. What was I was doing working at a job that was not fulfilling and wreaking havoc on my nervous system! The work was important work to be sure and I knew that. But living in the DC area making peanuts was nuts. I had to live where I could afford to live AND paint and write again, but I didn’t want to leave my adult children who were just out of college and now living and working in Northern Virginia.
So, the next best thing happened. After a year of searching for river properties in Virginia and West Virginia (I’d only visited once) that I could afford, I came across an online ad for the property we now own. I showed it to my friend and she was interesting in going on this crazy adventure with me. We drove out, took one look and made an offer. We got the property for a great price. She and I inherited a large camper on a large, level lot, a pontoon boat with no motor and a riverfront patio. We loved it. We drove out on the weekends with family and friends and I kept my FSW job thinking that I would now be happy. I could relax at the river, return energized and I was still living ten minutes from my kids who were soon out of my nest. Perfect!
No. Not perfect. The fresh air, river, the birds, and thoughts of our fun, relaxing weekends called to me every day as I sat in horrific traffic knowing that I would be late for yet another home visit that I barely had time for. My hands were tied and I knew it. Nothing we said to the powers that be were listened to. Two months later, I called our realtor and asked her to find me a house in West Virginia, close to river. A month later, I gave my two week notice. Three other FSW left after I did. I signed the documents with jittery hands and inherited a quirky, drafty 109-year old red brick house with a great garden and good bones. I’d never bought a house alone. I felt like I’d fallen off a damn cliff, but knew that I had to push forward. The momentum had started. There was no going back, but my kids thought I’d lost my marbles.
I live 30 minutes away from our river property, so I have been fortunate to spend large portions of time there, gardening and writing. The photo is the exact spot where I finished my debut historical novel, A Decent Woman. It is a very special place to me.
So, life goes on. My co-owner is retiring and returning to her hometown in Massachusetts. My son is moving to Europe next week and my daughter is getting married next Fall with plans to move to North Carolina in the future. For me to visit friends, my children and family who live in many different states and in Europe, I decided not to pursue another co-owner to keep the river property. It didn’t feel right. The money from the sale will allow me to travel, pay off my student loan (hallelujah!) and maybe buy the 17 sets of wood shutters for my original sash windows. Or maybe I’ll just travel 🙂
The awesome little book, Who Moved My Cheese? helped me to learn how to recognize opportunities, continue to believe and trust in my gut instincts about people, places and things, and mostly importantly, I’ve learned to make moves toward a better life and future by making fierce and fearless moves.
I reread the book when Booktrope accepted my manuscript, A Decent Woman. I had queried literary agents and small publishing companies for two years and I am grateful that this Indie publishing company took a chance on me.
I just had a light bulb moment…maybe one of the conditions for the sale of the river property could be that I am allowed to write at the river during the week when everyone goes home. It’s strictly a weekend place and most owners live in Maryland Pennsylvania. I could keep their garden weeded and mow the grass (there is no lawn) during my breaks from writing…
sometimes I surprise myself 🙂