Not only do I tend to draw inspiration from romantic comedies when I’m writing, I have been known to dramatically turn my life upside down after watching particular ones.
I moved to Charleston, South Carolina years ago solely because of The Notebook. While backpacking through Europe I did a house-sit near the Cotswolds like Cameron Diaz does in The Holiday. And this time last year, I spontaneously rented a three-bedroom house for a life I “didn’t have” (nor was I sure I could afford) just like Frances Mayes does in the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun.
If you aren’t familiar with the film, it’s the story of a divorced writer, who keeps getting signs as she’s traveling through Tuscany that she should buy a particular villa, even though she knows no one in Tuscany and has no idea what she will do there. “It’s a terrible idea,” she tells a stranger.
“Terrible ideas,” the stranger replies. “Don’t you just love those.”
I’d been living in Portland, Oregon before I rented the house I now live in on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, California. It was December. I’d spent all of fall and the first part of winter like every Oregonian—fantasizing about moving someplace warmer. An island would be nice, I kept thinking. What if I could run off to an island? Someplace close enough to shore or big enough that I could find work. And preferably filled with really nice people my age, so I could be friends with my neighbors. I didn’t actually think such a place existed, OK, I just liked to think about it, for fun.
After a particularly cold and wet day, I bought a ticket to Newport Beach to visit my cousins. My aunt was also visiting at the time. She is very much like the woman who promotes terrible ideas in Under the Tuscan Sun. She was behind my move to Charleston and encouraged me to buy a one-way ticket to Europe two years ago to do the house-sit and travel with a guy from my hometown. When I told her about this random fantasy I’d been having about living on an island, she said, “What about Balboa Island?”
Now I’d lived in Newport Beach before and Balboa Island never crossed my mind the entire time I was daydreaming about an island escape. Probably because I knew I could never afford to live on Balboa Island. It’s known for having some of the most expensive real estate in the country and I was a struggling writer at the time. When I told her this, she suggested we call a Realtor anyway. “Just for fun!”
“There is one house for rent on the island,” the realtor said when I got ahold of her. “But it’s a three bedroom.” This is where most people in my situation would have hung up the phone. Renting a one-bedroom house on Balboa Island would be a stretch, they’d logically conclude. There’s no point in looking at a three-bedroom.
But because I’ve seen way too many romantic comedies and had watched Under the Tuscan Sun one too many times, my first thought was: It’s a sign!
“A three bedroom is available, just like the villa Frances moves into in Under the Tuscan Sun,” I told my aunt, excitedly.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “It’s meant for you!” (She’s probably seen one too many romantic comedies too.)
“We’ll take a look!” I told the realtor.
When my aunt and I pulled up to the house I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just any three bedroom house. It was the three bedroom house I had fallen in love with a long time ago when I’d thought I might move to Balboa with my sister and a friend. “You’re the writer, right?” My realtor even remembered me! Another sign!
Favorite cottage finds
She told me that the house had been rented for the winter (many houses on the island rent seasonally) and the tenants randomly moved out two days before I called. (So, OK, even she was thinking it was a sign at that point).
Everything was lining up. Except, of course, I couldn’t afford it. Also, as my aunt pointed out, there was a construction project across the street. “You don’t want to live next to that, do you?” she said.
No, I thought. But…I bet neither would anyone else. Perhaps I could negotiate the rent!
I told the realtor I could pay half. It was still a lot of money for me. I didn’t have a job lined up there yet. But if I got the house, I trusted that I would also find work. She laughed and said if the landlords accepted my offer that would be the best deal anyone had ever gotten on Balboa Island.
It was five o’clock at that point. So, after we parted ways, I had a drink as I do every night at happy hour. If you’ve read my previous blog posts you know this. If not, check it out. Then I got a call. The landlords were willing to meet me halfway and lower the rent a fourth of the price.
I couldn’t comfortably sign a lease at that rate. If all else failed at the rate I initially offered, I could cover the rent with my savings even if I never found a job. I knew this wouldn’t happen, but just in case. Though impulsive, I am responsible.
I stayed firm. Told her I could only pay half.
She called me back another time with a different negotiation.
I still stayed firm. If it was meant to be, it would work out. If not, I’d let it go.
Twenty minutes later I got a text: The house was mine!
It’s been a year. My landlords loved how well I took care of the cottage, so they let me renew my lease. I did get a job, several in fact. I am best friends with my neighbors. And I went from a struggling author to an author with a very exciting future.
My favorite part in Under the Tuscan Sun is when Frances finds herself questioning her decision to buy her big, impractical villa. “Why did you do it then?” her real estate agent asks.
“Because I’m sick of being afraid all the time,” she tells him. “I still want things. I want a wedding in this house. I want a family in this house.”
Her agent reassures her that her decision was the right one by telling her this: “They say they built the train tracks over the Alps, between Vienna and Venice, before there was a train that could make the trip. They built it anyway. They knew one day the train would come.”
Be impulsive, but responsible in 2018. Follow the signs. And build a track—to wherever you want to go in life—trusting that one day, your train will come.
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