By KATIE EUBANKS
Author and Jackson native Susan Cushman will release her eighth book, “Pilgrim Interrupted” — a memoir in the form of an essay collection encompassing faith, mental health and more — on June 7. She will be at Lemuria Books in Jackson for a signing on June 11. Susan recently spoke with MCL Editor Katie Eubanks about how the book came about and what she hopes readers will gain from it.
Katie Eubanks: Could you give me an overview of what the book is and what it includes?
Susan Cushman: “Pilgrim Interrupted” came about (when) I started looking at a lot of my previously published essays, and poetry and fiction, and I started seeing a thread of a spiritual and personal memoir.
I use the word “pilgrim” because of my pilgrimage, virtually and literally. I’ve visited Greece and other Orthodox-based countries and monasteries. On some of those trips, I was just seeking a closer relationship with God. And on some I was studying the art of iconography, learning to paint (Orthodox Christian) icons.
But (I also) wanted to include other aspects of my life … my family, my adopted kids, some of the things I’ve struggled with, including childhood sexual abuse and struggles with addiction and eating disorders.
There are six sections of the book: “Icons, Orthodoxy, and Spirituality”; “Writing, Editing, and Publishing”; “Alzheimer’s, Caregiving, Death, and Dying”; “Family and Adoption”; “Place”; and “Mental Health, Addiction, and Sexual Abuse.”
KE: This will be your eighth book release in six years!
SC: I’ve been busy! I’m 71 years old, and I got a late start. I was 65 or 66 when my first book was published. I was a stay-home mom … and I waited until my last child left for college to start writing. So I had to catch up.
Then as soon as I started writing, I got cancer, and I’m OK but that slowed me down for a little while. Then our son went off to Iraq and Afghanistan. … So the time from when I started writing to when my first book came out was several years.
KE: Do you have a favorite section of the book?
SC: The first section, “Icons, Orthodoxy, and Spirituality.” … that section really is kind of my spiritual memoir.
(The title) “Pilgrim Interrupted” comes from a visit my husband and I made to Patmos, Greece, on an actual pilgrimage. One of the stories happened in the cave at Patmos where St. John received the apocalyptic vision.
We were in this holy place, praying and worshipping, then suddenly a cruise ship unloaded all of their guests with their fanny packs, and that went on for 30 minutes or more. (Later) I noticed that the (clergy) weren’t bothered by it at all. What a beautiful opportunity for people to be exposed to something holy and sacred.
KE: How do you hope your book helps readers?
SC: I think there are a lot of elements of healing in the book. I’m still healing from the sexual abuse. I still struggle with eating disorders and addiction issues. But I think there’s a lot of positive writing about those issues in the book.
I hope people will be encouraged to be open to different spiritual journeys. It was a huge shift from the Presbyterian faith of my childhood to my Orthodox faith. Both of which I loved. I didn’t reject my Presbyterian faith.
I (also want people to) consider their creative journey, and that it’s not too late in your 60s and 70s to follow your dreams. And to be thankful for whatever God gives you in the way of family. We have adoptive kids, and they’re wonderful.
KE: Do you ever struggle with what to publish about your life, and whether others who were involved will be upset?
SC: The first memoir I ever wrote, years ago, will never see the light of day, because I didn’t want to go public with a lot of the people that were involved in it. But it was so worthwhile to have written it. It was therapeutic.
But I didn’t want to hurt anyone, especially people that are still living.
And I have forgiven. I write about the forgiveness of my grandfather, of forgiving my mother, who was verbally and emotionally abusive to me for most of my life.
I’m very thankful for people who’ve forgiven me in my life, and for God’s grace allowing me to forgive. That’s why I want healing to be a strong element in anything I write.