Welcome to Cafe and Bookstore spotlight. I invited writers to share what they consider to be a defining moment in their lives that resulted in a major positive change. The current series ends on October 11th and is booked out with some wonderfully inspiring stories.
Today my guest is Sherri Matthews who shares the moment she made the decision to give up full time work and start her life as a writer after uprooting from her life in California to Dorset with her family.
About Sherri Matthews
Sherri is a writer and photographer who blogs at A View From My Summerhouse. She contributes an Unsung Heroes column at online literary community Carrot Ranch, and is published in a diverse collection of print magazines and anthologies. In another life, Sherri lived in California for twenty years, but today she lives in England’s West Country with her family, two black kitties and a grumpy bunny. She hopes soon to publish her debut memoir, Stranger in a White Dress: A True Story of Broken Dreams, Being Brave and Beginning Again.
Shake The Dust Off Your Feet
Montana de Ora central coast California
My marriage to the American father of my three children ended after twenty-two years. I had lived in California for most of them. He worked long and unsociable shifts for the Department of Corrections. With my family all in the UK, my in-laws four hours away in Los Angeles and at one point, the children at three different schools – first grade, middle and high school – I held down the family fort.
I invested in my career as a full-time ‘Mom’ and I loved it.
When it fell apart, I said goodbye to my life in California for a new life in England with my children.
Divorced, early forties, single mum.
It wouldn’t be the first time I had started over, but at that stage of life I found it harder. There were no school mums to make friends with at the ‘gate’ and my children had entered a high school system that was foreign to them and me.
Forget “O” Levels. Now the teachers talked of GCSE’s, modules and resits.
I found a nice house to rent near my mother, and re-entered the work force as a legal secretary for a small firm of solicitors.
I remarried and my lovely husband and I bought our first home together and I changed jobs.
But my youngest was diagnosed first with Graves Disease (overactive thyroid disease). And after seeking help for too long and getting nowhere, was tested for and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at eighteen.
The strain of working full-time got too much for me at that time, but I was saved the trouble of worrying what to do about it – six months after they hired me, the firm closed the office. For the first time in my life, I was made redundant.
It was difficult not to take it personally, a blow to my confidence.
I found work as a medical secretary, but by then, my youngest’s challenges and resulting appointments increased and my stress levels trying to balance home and work life shot through the roof. There was no balance and I handed in my notice.
As a family, we now faced a crossroads. What to do?
My husband was/is the main breadwinner, but with my middle boy still at university and youngest unable to work and living with us, we needed my additional income, whatever size.
The answer came when I got a job at a local solicitors. The money wasn’t great, it meant working on reception and typing up letters rather than the secretarial role I preferred, but for just two days a week, it would suit me well.
And yet, every doctor’s appointment that came up fell without fail on one of my two working days. I juggled and rescheduled and generally managed, always glad for those three days ‘off’ when I could catch up with all the rest.
It wasn’t ideal, but my family had found a somewhat workable solution.
Until a year in, when my boss came in to work one morning and announced he was retiring and selling the business. He promptly made all the staff redundant.
But this time, something was different. This time, I didn’t take it personally.
Something far stronger than any desire to further a legal career had pulled at me for as long as I could remember.
That desire was writing.
A writer at heart I had always been, yet I hadn’t dared call myself one.
I had signed up for a creative writing course from home, but I dabbled and it simmered on the back burner. For later. Always later.
This time, I saw my opportunity: losing my job would be my way out.
With my husband’s full support, I negotiated with my boss to work my three months’ notice as his secretary (she had left, upon hearing the news, for another firm) for a significant, albeit it temporary, pay hike. This would give us a small cushion for bills after I left.
Though I would no longer be bringing in an income, I had discovered that I would be eligible for a small Carer’s Allowance from the government by staying home and looking after my youngest, which by then was needed and necessary.
We will manage, my husband said. You need to write and the time is now.
The new, take-over firm, offered me a full time position, but I politely declined.
Those days are over, I said to myself. Never again. Decision made.
On my last day at the office, I finished my work and handed the folder of letters for signature to my boss. We hugged goodbye and wished each other well. I gathered my jacket, slung my bag over my shoulder and walked down the dingy stairwell to the door at the bottom.
It swished shut behind me, and I stopped to greet the sun on my face. Then I turned and walked away and didn’t look back.
Shake the dust off your feet, I told myself that day.
Now you can write, and in time, you will call yourself a writer.
And here I am nine years later, thanks to Sally and her wonderful blog, telling you all about it.
Stourhead Dorset England
Sherri has contributed to a number of anthologies including This is Lockdown which features many authors in the Cafe and Bookstore.
My thanks to Sherri for sharing the moment she took the momentous decision to make writing her full time career. I know she would love your feedback.. thanks Sally