Susanne Severeid’s “musings” may be hatched at her ease in Ashland coffee shops “like a dollop of cream on a pie,” but they get at gritty life questions, celebrate friendships and, with 41 columns appearing in the Tidings over the years, have prompted many readers to “get off their butt and do something different, rather than slipping into a rut of monotony.”
Her just-out book, “Mocha Musings: Reflections on Life, Love and Chance Encounters” is a charming, accessible collection of essays, starting appropriately, with her arrival in town, sitting alone in a cafe, watching a gaggle of women warmly chatting it up and realizing how she longed for that closeness, trust and friendship.
It’s touching. It’s real. Like many of her portraits of life, it’s poignantly painful, yet embraces a simple situation with honesty until the beautiful bones of it show.
She had just been through some of life’s traumas and was rebuilding a new life. She writes how the women talk about trials and joys, teasing each other, laughing, then confesses, “I watched this little group across the room for some time as I stirred my mocha, all of them so different and yet so connected and supportive of one another and I thought: I’m going to have that one day.”
And she did.
Asked her favorite stories, she says “Synching With a Slower Clock,” about visiting her 93-year old father and watching him move the lawn sprinkler and recalling camping trips with him in the High Sierra.
Another favorite is her “For the Love of Books,” and how she needs the tactile and olfactory meshing with them while in coffee shops or airports, even needs and loves the bookmarks, one of which quotes Whitman: “Now I know the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”
Severeid got her start with a trio of guest editorials — on grief after the death of her husband, on seeing the Dalai Lama’s compassion in person — and one on our mundane and often maddening relationship with (ready?) cell phone service.
“I wanted the essays to stick around longer and have a good shelf life and be savored a bit longer,” she notes. “I write about slices of life, splinters of truth, insights into the human condition that I find illuminating and sometimes humorous, poignant and (since the 2016 election) political.”
She observes that she seems the sole female socio-political columnist in the Tidings and that matters because “You see a lot of men writing, but not a lot of women It’s important to have women’s voices because they bring something different to the table. You see all these action films with fistfights in bars, but we don’t do that. We offer a heightened sense of compassion and a different skill set for solving problems.”
Severeid has been a model, TV-radio personality, university teacher, playwright and mother of a Guatemalan boy she raised. Her play, “Late to Love” was recently produced here.
Severeid, the author of some mystery novels, self-published this one locally under her Windswept Books imprint. Others have asked her how to make a book, so she has since become a “book creation coach.”
The book’s kickoff is at noon, Sunday, Dec. 9, as part of the “Read Local, Buy Local Author Fair” at the Ashland Public Library, followed by events at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, in the Washington Federal Community Room on Lithia Way, and then at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, at Bloomsbury Books.
More than two dozen local authors are expected to participate in the author fair that the library, including Tidings freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella, columnist Ellen Waldman (“Aging Happens”) and Haiku Corner editor Steve Dieffenbacher. Severeid is due to give a brief talk at 2 p.m. The event wraps up at 3 p.m. Dec. 9.
Severeid will be interviewed on Jefferson Public Radio’s Jefferson Exchange program at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 7, about her new book and the upcoming author fair. The program is streamed online at jeffexchange.org and broadcast at 1230 AM.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Updated Dec. 6 to fix typo and clarify a quote.)