by Len Lear
Almost every writer on earth is an expert on rejection, which comes with the territory, but Elise Seyfried, whose slice-of-life essays run periodically in the Local, practically regards a rejection as a badge of honor. “My ambition is to get 100 rejections this year because this means that I have sent things out regularly,” she told us last week.
Not that Seyfried is lounging by a swimming pool munching on chocolate bon-bons. Seyfried, 62, a resident of Oreland for the past 35 years, has a full-time job as well as five children and has just published her fourth book of essays, “In Discovery: Thoughts on an Unfolding Life.”
“Seyfried has an inexorable skillfulness for seeing the miracle within the mundane,” according to Daniel Maurer, award-winning author and former pastor in Saint Paul, Minnesota. “Parents and grandparents will especially treasure her playful, humorous and always heartfelt style. Her latest submission is simply a joy to read.”
Seyfried, who grew up in Manhattan, married her co-playwright and actor, Steve, in Atlanta in 1977. “We were touring the south and doing dinner-theaters,” said Elise. “Then we did children’s theaters. For one-and-a-half years we were on the road in our Chevette staying in motels all over Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York state. We just loved doing shows for kids, mostly in schools.”
Steve is a native of Indianapolis. Each of his parents was one of 10 children. The last stop at the end of their road tour in the late ’70s was Philadelphia. “We drove down East River Drive, and we were so impressed by the beauty that we decided to settle in Philly,” Seyfried said. “Plus, it is cheaper than New York, and we thought we’d be close enough to New York for auditions. Forty years later, we are still here.”
The couple moved to Cliveden Hall in Mt. Airy, where they lived from 1980 to ’84. Then they moved to Oreland because their first child, Sheridan, was born, and Seyfried was pregnant with their second, Evan. The family moved to a bigger house in Oreland in 1989. Because of their growing family, the couple stopped touring, and Seyfried stopped acting. They had already written 15 plays, and in the years since then, Steve has written another 11.
In May of 2002, Seyfried took a full-time job (which she still has) as Director of Spiritual Formation, overseeing all educational programs at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland, just four blocks from her house.
“I’m up at 5:30 a.m.,” Seyfried said. “I do some writing, then go to church at 7 a.m. No lunch break. By 1:30 p.m., I’m finished. Then I go home and write. I’m in bed by 9 p.m. If we are going to a concert or play, I have to take a nap, or I’ll fall asleep.”
In 2002, Seyfried began writing essays for the church newsletter, which had previously been just for announcements. In 2006 she started sending the essays “out into the world” with much encouragement from church members.
They were so well-received that in 2010, Seyfried published her first book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life,” whose essays all had a specifically Christian component. “I never pursued the traditional publishing route. Unless you’re a best-seller, you do all the promotional work yourself and get paid very little. I’ve found I make out much better with self-publishing, which is not to say I’d say no to Random House if they came calling.”
Seyfried’s subsequent books have been a mix of church and secular essays. She does a lot of speaking to area church groups, Rotary Clubs, retirement communities, etc., and she leads memoir workshops. She sells her books at each engagement, as many as 35 in one case.
But at the retirement communities, “They don’t buy books. After lunch is nap time, so they may not be paying attention.” Seyfried was the keynote speaker in Washington last year at a meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with 300 people in attendance.
“My audience is largely middle-aged women. My inspirations are Erma Bombeck and Jean Kerr … I lost a sister, Maureen, at 23, and if that doesn’t make you appreciate life, nothing will. I want to live life to the fullest to honor her.”
Seyfried candidly writes and speaks about being bipolar her entire life. She is on medication and in therapy, and she leads a support group at the church on mental illness. “My mom suffered from depression. When she was 38, she stayed in bed for almost an entire year. I was 8 at the time. It does run in families … There is a stigma (to mental illness). You don’t want the world to know how you really feel. You may lose your job. You may appear happy on the outside (Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, etc.), so the world may not see what’s going on internally.”
Steve, 70, still does theater full-time at the Ambler movie theater every month, at some schools and libraries and at Rehoboth Beach Theater (in Delaware) in the summer for the last 38 years.
Seyfried has also taken high school students on an annual church mission for the past 17 years. From June 29 to July 5 this year, she will take 19 teens to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to do home repairs for hurricane victims.
For more details about Seyfried’s books, visit eliseseyfried.com