School of the Ages


indie writer interview -- Katherine Mayfield and courageous memoir

Posted by Matt Posner on November 3, 2011 at 5:45 PM

What's your name, where are you from, where do you live?

I’m Katherine Mayfield. I grew up in Missouri, and ended up in Maine by way of Denver, New York City, and Western Massachusetts.

What do you like about writing?

I enjoy being able to share my insights about life with others in the hope that I can help them heal their pain, and I enjoy crafting stories with words to create exactly the picture and meaning I want to express.

Recommend to readers a book you have written.

My most recent book is a memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist family in Missouri, called The Box of Daughter.

That's a great title! What gave you the idea?

I wrote the book because I felt that the story of bullying and abuse that goes on behind closed doors in many religious families needed to be told. So often there is a façade of “we are the perfect family” covering up a very dysfunctional private family life. I also wanted to inspire others who have suffered emotional abuse by showing them that it’s possible to work through the pain, put the past behind us, and learn to love ourselves so that we live much more authentically in adulthood. We can survive the trauma of abuse – we can even thrive and live happy lives in spite of having a history of abuse.

I have a sense of what "fundamentalist" means, but would you give your own definition?

Wikipedia defines fundamentalism as "strict adherence to specific theological doctrines." My own definition includes the idea that the dogma (rules) of a religion are more important than any part of human experience, including love, emotion, exploration, creation, and self-expression. In my view, fundamentalism often creates a rigid structure for life in which it's nearly impossible to grow into one's potential. For me, it created a "Box of Daughter" that trapped me for nearly 50 years.

What advice would you give to a young person who is suffering from an upbringing similar to the one described in the book? Or to a person who, like you, has "escaped" and needs to come to terms with the past?

Number one is, find someone to talk to -- whether it's a friend who can listen, a school counselor, a therapist, or a minister. Keep trying until you get someone to listen. It can feel like you're crazy when you're in an abusive situation, and having someone tell you, "That's not right" or "I understand what you're going through" makes a huge difference. In abusive situations, the abuser usually treats the person very badly, then the person thinks they're unworthy and incompetent. But the truth is, the abuser is playing a game, and the person who is being abused or bullied is just as worthwhile as anyone else. It's also essential to acknowledge the feelings, not keep pushing them aside, because they are indicators of the truth of the situation -- pain and anger tell us that someone is not treating us right. If we push the feelings aside, they just turn into a psychological "shadow" which keeps getting bigger and bigger and makes life worse and worse until we go ahead and feel the feelings. Miriam Greenspan's book Healing the Dark Emotions is extremely helpful, as well as Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child, which I think every human being should read, because we are all gifted in one way or another.

You have written two books about acting. How did you come to write about that topic? What is the role of drama in your life?

As a child growing up in a very strict family, the only way I found to express myself was through acting. It helped me learn to express emotion, which wasn't allowed in my family. I pursued a professional acting career for about 15 years, and in the process, I discovered who I was and learned that it's okay to express emotion in real life. My first book, Smart Actors, Foolish Choices, explored the similarities between growing up in a dysfunctional family and pursuing an acting career: the rejection, the competition, the anxiety, etc., and suggested that actors consider the idea that their acting might be a safe venue for the expression of self that is a natural human instinct, but not encouraged in our society, or in many families. Our society looks down on feelings, and discourages the expression of them, but everyone has them. And it's been proven now that if emotions are not expressed, they can lead to disease.

Tell an interesting story about being an actor or a director?

In the early 1980s, I played The Dwarf in a play called Caverns. I was dressed in a gnarly black wig and a painted burlap costume, and before the audience came into the theater, I curled up in a ball among the cave-like scenery and became a rock. In the dim light, the audience thought I was part of the set. When the play began, I jumped up and careened around the set, and there were always loud gasps of surprise as the "rock" came to life. I loved that role -- The Dwarf doesn't speak until the last line of the play but is onstage through most of the show, expressing the emotions of the other characters and trying to create order out of the emotional chaos of the play. It was an incredible experience for me.

Are there any well-known performers with whom you have worked? Anything interesting to say on that subject?

I worked with Edie Falco (Carmela in The Sopranos) in the 1980s on a small indie film, and even then, she was great. She had talent and drive, but she was a very nice person, too -- and I think that's what it takes to become a well-known actor.

Recommend to readers a book by someone else.

I love Steering by Starlight by Martha Beck because it absolutely supports the reader in following his or her intuition to the best possible path for the individual, regardless of what’s expected, or culturally “correct.” It totally expands the reader’s vision into the infinite possibilities that are available to everyone in life.

If you had a brush with death, describe it.

When I was 22, I came down with pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart. There’s no cure; all you can do is take codeine for the pain and rest until it goes away. I thought I was having a heart attack, thought I was going to die, and as I went over my 22 years in my head, I became grateful for the wonderful experiences I did have. And it made me much more willing to take risks to stand up for what I truly believe in, because you never know how long you have here on earth to fulfill your life’s purpose. I’m happy to still be alive and giving whatever energy I can to help the world.

What are your views about work?

My parents grew up during the Depression, so they were all about work. Everything is work, life is work, if you’re not sleeping, you should be working. Over the years I’ve been able to untangle myself from that belief, have a little fun, and develop my own view of work as the thing we do that offers whatever is best in ourselves to the world – whether it’s writing or accounting or cooking or whatever. I believe that whatever you’re deeply inspired to do is your real work, because that inspiration comes from the creative force and wants to be expressed through your own unique perspective.

Write about your favorite teacher.

Great question! When I was a child, my parents bullied and belittled me, and I felt like I was worse than nothing. That’s how they were brought up, so that’s how they brought me up. My fourth grade music teacher, whom I write about in The Box of Daughter, was the first person in my life to stand up for me and show me that I had some worth, that I wasn’t just totally insignificant. That one experience was instrumental in allowing me to begin the emotional work I needed to do as an adult in order to heal my trauma. It made such a difference to know that someone thought I was worthy of their respect and protection.

Give me a link to a funny youtube video.

This video has humorous moments, but it’s more for people who love flowers: it’s a time-lapse video of incredible flowers flinging themselves from bud into bloom:

Where can we buy your book and learn more about you?

The Box of Daughter is available as a Kindle book here:

It will be published in print in January 2012. There are excerpts from the book posted on my website, , where I blog about dysfunctional families, life after caregiving, and spirituality.

I’m also on Facebook, and on Twitter at

I found some more interviews with Katherine:

Her goodreads blog: 


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Reply Revital
7:16 AM on November 5, 2011 
what an inspiring, interesting interview. Good for you Matt, and i would have loved to read this book.

Reply Pam Howes
7:36 AM on November 5, 2011 
Lovely interview. Nice one, Matt.