Editor’s note: This story appeared in the Senior Living section of 11. May issue of LNP.
Suzette Mullen describes her everyday life as a little triangle that takes her from the Lancaster Press Building apartment she shares with her wife, Wendy, to her co-op at Candy Factory across the street, to Evolution Power Yoga. Harrisburg Pike, and home again.
“I’m happy as a clam with it,” she says. “It’s a very nice life.”
But this is certainly not the life Mullen, a book coach, would have imagined writing for herself more than 30 years ago when she married and moved with her husband to Houston, Texas, to start a career in company law.
Mullen likes to tell his writing clients that a good memoir finds meaning in some life experiences in a way that connects with the readers.
The realization of her true sexual identity was the inspiration for Mullen’s own recently completed memoir, “Graveyard of Safe Choices,” but at its core, she says, it’s about getting into one’s true self, whatever it may be. Her message to readers is simple: It’s never too late to say yes to your life.
For Mullen, 61, it came “yes” in the mid-50s, but the story begins much earlier.
Daughter of elementary school teachers, Mullen grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. After moving to Houston, she worked for a general practice law firm that handled mergers, acquisitions and stock trading. Later, she would enjoy another legal career and represent low-income families in the special education process. In between, she devoted her time to volunteering and raising the couple’s two sons.
After 25 years in Texas, Mullen and her husband returned to New York 10 years ago as empty shipowners, ready to begin writing their next chapter.
“It’s definitely a time when people take stock of what’s next,” she says. “That was definitely the case for me. I thought it would just be professional, but it also turned out to be personal.”
And she would quickly discover that the two were inextricably linked.
Mullen considered returning to her legal career, but after a period of judgment, she realized it was no longer her calling.
“When I was really sitting and listening to myself and all the things I loved to do, everything was related to writing and editing,” she says, “then I was like that, duh. I had done all this in many different capacities. for years and was very good at it. When something comes to you fairly easily and you are good at it, you do not think too much about it. “
It was pretty easy to take the leap into a new career. She started doing freelance editing and helped students make their essays for their college and graduate school applications. She also began writing a memoir – not the one she just finished, but another exploring her professional journey.
As part of that process, Mullen wrote about what she describes as an intense female friendship. After reading these pages, Mullen’s book coach commented that a scene sounded exactly like one that is about to fall in love.
And then it suddenly became clear what was there all along.
“It’s possible to have many, many, many layers of denial,” Mullen says. “We have all lived in a world where heterosexuality is the norm. This was a friendship that was very important to me, but I had been struggling with it for 15, 17 years. I did not have the language to articulate who this person was to me. I really feel like I wrote myself out. “
However, the personal revelation was much harder to handle than the professional one.
“I had a very solid marriage. I had a very nice life,” she says. “I was married to a nice man. I loved him. He loved me. From the outside, it all looked really perfect. ”
Mullen spent 18 months struggling with how to deal with this life-changing revelation. She had never been a risk taker, she says. Should she continue to play it safe, or should she free herself from a cage she has made herself? Did she have the right to pursue her own happiness at the expense of everyone else? Her husband reminded her that there was no way forward that did not involve pain.
“In the end, I came to the conclusion that I was not willing to go to my grave without knowing who I really was,” she says. “It was the scariest moment of my life. … Leaving a marriage, leaving a life, even when it’s right, is still a great loss.”
While going through her divorce in 2017, she visited the one person she knew in Lancaster. Five weeks later, she decided to move here.
“I had never been here, never thought about getting here, and when I came here, it was like things were starting to line up,” Mullen says. “Sometimes I think we do not know what we need or what is home to us until we actually see it and we are actually there.”
Being true to herself personally helped Mullen discover the professional life she had also longed for. In 2019, she obtained her certification as a writer-accelerator book coach and now works with LGBTQ writers and allies to start and end their memoirs and non-fiction books. She is a founding board member of the Lancaster LGBTQ + Coalition.
She also found time to complete her own memoir. Her main audience is primarily mid-life readers, she says, but not necessarily people who question their sexuality or consider the radical changes she has made in her own life. It could simply be someone who has postponed their own dreams, or who fears leaving the safety of the unknown, she says.
“It’s not too late to say yes to whatever it is you feel authentically called to,” Mullen says. “Now that I’m on this side of it, even though it was very difficult, there are no regrets. And there are no regrets of the past life either. I have been very fortunate to have had a number of very meaningful and wonderful chapters in my life, and this is a new chapter, and it’s exciting. ”