Everyone has a story an that’s one of the reasons I love reading memoirs: to get to know the events that lead to creating a life. Especially when recovering from difficult life experiences: coming out as gay, the death of a first love, the loss of a beloved family member. After reading her memoir First Signs of April, I couldn’t wait to know more about the author who shared such challenging experiences with a sense of love, grace, and hope.
Here’s a “sit down” with Editor in Chief Debra Smouse and author Mary-Elilzabeth Briscoe
We call this series Conversations Over Coffee because it’s the things I’d ask you if we were sitting across the table from each other over a casual cup of coffee….. so, let’s set the stage: where would you suggest we meet near your current home….and what is your go-to beverage and/or snack were we to meet?
At the moment I am in Vermont, so we would meet at Café Gatto Nero and I would enjoy a Mocha, perhaps iced.
When did you first know you were a writer?
I first realized I loved writing stories when I was around twelve years old. I also began journaling at that time and have never stopped.
For those not familiar with your work, tell us about your memoir First Signs of April.
The First Signs of April is my story of healing. The narrative weaves back and forth in time telling the story of my own coming out, losing my girlfriend to suicide at eighteen and then caring for a dying aunt as an adult while preparing for my career as a psychotherapist.
Its about healing, and finding your voice and living an authentic life without shame.
When you wrote First Signs of April, you “ran away from home” and spent a year in Ireland. What led to that decision?
I wouldn’t say I “ran away from” home, rather I ran toward home. I have visited the Dingle peninsula for twenty years and have always felt like I was home while there. My spirit aches for the place and its people when I am gone for long and on a recent holiday with my sister we decided that we’d like to try and live there for a year, and then see what happens. So, we did. Why wait and think about doing it in retirement or some other time? It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
The First Signs of April was nearing completion when I left and I spent my first few months finishing, editing, and querying.
What did you learn about yourself during your time in Ireland? As a human and as a writer.
I rediscovered my authentic self. I learned that being an empathic, sensitive, medium was a gift not a curse nor something to be ashamed of. I learned that I am a writer and am willing to honor that by actually writing. I learned that I am blessed with an amazing sister and friend.
The rest of what I learned and how is actually my next book so I’ll let you wait for that one for more.
How do you manage the balance of real life and creative work?
That’s something I’m working on. One way is that I try to honor my writing as sacred time. I am no longer working as a psychotherapist, rather I offer intuitive healing to include Reiki, guidance or medium readings, which allows for writing to be my primary focus.
I am not willing to do anything that doesn’t feed my soul and I think when you make decisions like this the universe opens doors that allow you to continue on your path.
First Signs of April dealt with some heavy topics: coming out, death, grief…how do you keep yourself centered when diving into darker days of your life?
Good question. You do relive all the moments you are writing about and it can be very painful-and its cathartic, healing in itself. Writing is very therapeutic after all. It also helped to have good self -care treats if you will following a day of writing for example. Anything from dinner out-or more likely take out, a silly movie perhaps a long walk with the dog or a motorcycle ride to clear all the days work from my thoughts and feelings.
This is our Light & Shadow issue of Modern Creative Life. How do you find ways to seek to and look to the light and joy?
First I have to always find the light in myself, which I do through meditation, Reiki, writing. I’m not always the best at that and at fall into the darkness a bit. I seek time in nature to remind me of the joy and light in the world and I spend time with people who feed me rather than starve me. I look for their light and joy.
What’s typical day like in your household?
The typical day in my house changes daily-depending on whether I’m at home in Vermont, Cape Cod or Dingle. One consistent is coffee-that’s first no matter where I am.
Then it’s a walk with my dog, feeding him, and then it could be any number of things that follow. I might write for a few hours, meet with the post graduate students that I provide clinical supervision to, have an intuitive healing session, go grocery shopping for my elderly parents, walk on the beach or sit at the lighthouse. It really does depend on where I am.
I am not someone who can tolerate traditional brick and mortar types of jobs, or anything so structured. I have to have space and time and freedom to breathe and create and be my best self so my days aren’t all that structured.
What do you wish you knew at 25 that you know now?
I wish I knew that I didn’t have to feel shame around being my authentic self.
What’s your advice to other writers and creative souls?
This is the then you are waiting for. Don’t wait for someday when everything lines up perfectly to follow your path. Make the path and everything will unfold as it should. Have faith and take the leap and never lose sight of your own light and all that you have to offer the world.
About the Author: Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe
Mary–Elizabeth Briscoe is a licensed mental health counselor currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice in northeastern Vermont. She currently spends her time between Cape Cod, Vermont, and Ireland. She has a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and a Certified Trauma Professional. She has been a lecturer for Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies St. Johnsbury, Vermont campus. She has contributed to Cape Woman Online and Sweatpants and Coffee magazine. This is her first book. Visit her website, her Facebook, and on Twitter.
Her memoir – First Signs of April – is now available.