Stripping Bare in Public

Earlier this week I learned that my insurance covered psychological counseling. I had discovered the value of counseling at the beginning of my divorce, when I sought out a counselor through church who offered her services for free. She was extremely helpful to me, but I felt guilty continuing to claim her time and attention when I had nothing with which to pay, so I ceased my visits and worked on my own to followed the excellent advice she had given me.

Now I am seriously worried about my children, several of whom are displaying various “cries for help” while, simultaneously, rejecting my attempts to help them and treating me with varying degrees of contempt to overt hostility. Now that I see how my abusive upbringing led me, unconsciously, to choose and stay trapped in an abusive marriage, I can see how my children are set up to follow the same, unhappy path. I want to save them from that. I want them in individual counseling and us all in family counseling together. Both counseling types my children unanimously refuse to do. I thought if I led the way, by seeking personal counseling, which I believe would benefit me, assuming I can find a good counselor, my children might grow more receptive to the idea.

My initial contact with the counseling offered through my insurance was discouraging. I had a zoom conference with a supposedly trained counselor so she could evaluate my needs and assign my case to another counselor. This conference only lasted an hour, much of which was taken up with reviewing my forms and her asking me open-ended questions which I, apparently, failed to answer in the way she expected, causing me frustration. Knowing time was short, I spoke quickly, struggling to condense my complex concerns, and the extensive reasoning behind them, into the short answers she was seeking. I am a very open and emotionally expressive person, by conscious choice. When I talked about my fears, I let my anxiety show. When I talked about my guilt about having failed and continuing to fail my kids, my sincere tears fell. When she chided me for not answering her poorly phrased questions the way she wanted, I forced a self-deprecating smile and apologized.

Toward the end of this hour, she told me that she had diagnosed me as a manic-depressive with PTSD. This swift and incorrect diagnosis, based on what my study of psychology informed me to be insufficient data, shocked me. I did not finish my degree in psychology, switching to something far less practical, unfortunately, but I don’t believe it is possible to diagnose manic depression in less than an hour of constantly interrupted conversation. Manic depression is a pattern established over time characterized by massive mood-swings, typically independent of external stimuli. I have periods of depression, always for excellent reasons. I do not have the typical manic periods and, generally, my moods are constant and within normal bounds. I am stressed, again for excellent reasons, which is NOT the same as manic. She would not explain why she had reached her diagnosis, but she seemed sure of it. This severely shook my confidence in her.

She gave me breathing and grounding exercises to try when feeling stressed, and suggested I keep a journal. I thanked her for the exercises and directed her to this blog, which functions as my journal. She dismissed it with a wave of her hand, insisting that my journal needs to be private. I assured her that, with as few visitors as I get to my blog, it essentially was private. I would have liked to explain why private journals fail to work for me, but she had lost patience with me and, anyway, the interview was over. She promised to try to find a suitable counselor for me though, if she is focusing on one specializing in manic depression, the counselor may not meet my needs. I can only hope the counselor this woman chooses will be far better trained than she was.

I have tried to keep private journals in the past, and always lost interest in them quickly. I am a trained writer. I view writing as a form of communication, which means that I am always writing TO someone, forming my writing to, hopefully, keep my imagined audience interested, entertained, and, somehow, benefited. Much of my writing ends up being for myself, in the sense that I don’t think it worth keeping and throw it away. All writing to myself falls in this category, since I know, without doubt, I won’t ever bother to read it again. It therefore not only fails to serve anyone else, but also fails to serve me and becomes a pointless waste of my time. Only when writing to one or more others does my writing take on any meaning for me. It is the only condition under which I will persevere in writing at all.

I understand the concern that, when writing to others, I will fail to be fully honest. Most people, of course, wish to project the best version of themselves to others – some even to the point of misrepresenting who they really are. The assumption is that this will be my tendency as well. I reject that as a valid concern in my case.

I was, among other things, an actress before I was married. One of the things I learned from acting is that one does not succeed by going on stage and playing a false character. Acting only works when it is a real expression of a true, human soul. Actors may hide behind the illusion that the parts they play are not really them, but if their characters connect with an audience enough to move them, then the fact is it is their true soul connecting. Actor’s strip their souls naked, becoming intensely vulnerable, imagining themselves (and whatever backstory is necessary) in the parts they play, revealing their joys, sorrows, fears, dreams… Anyone who cannot do that, cannot truly act. They may play a caricature of a person – which may entertain to some degree – but which will never be great acting.

Writing fiction is, for me, more distancing, as I intentionally create characters as different as possible from myself. However, in the end, many of my characters are still expressions of facets of myself and/or whom I might have been under different circumstances. The Bible tells us that we are all made in the image of God. I am not God, of course, but I am a creator, in my fiction writing, creating characters who, in one way or another, end up being in my image, however varied they are. Only my nonfiction writing, relaying information in as objective a way as possible, is impersonal. However, a blog like this is me, stripped bare, holding myself up for the world to see as clearly as I can render myself. I do this knowing that, for too many, this makes me a target.

I have always been attacked simply for being me, from as early as I can remember. Everything I did was deemed a failure and used as proof that I was, essentially, unlovable. All honors and accolades I ever earned were dismissed as worthless. I had a choice in how to respond to this. I could give up or keep striving for approval. I chose the latter since I saw no point to the former. Giving up only sealed my failure. Continuing to strive allowed me to continue to hope for improvement. Note, this was not a single choice, but one made over and over as my failures kept mounting and my hope of success, acceptance, love, etc., grew dimmer or, at moments, seemed to perish. All I knew was that when/if I gave up, all hope was gone indeed. I knew I could not live with that.

Another choice I had to make was whether I should hide myself, to protect myself, or reveal myself fully. This was a more difficult choice. When people hate you, they either avoid you or hurt you. Family, who cannot avoid you, hurt you worst of all. I do not like being hurt. Hiding myself would seem the more rational choice, therefore, but I looked down that path and realized it led to hopelessness. What I wanted, more than anything, was to be loved. I could pretend to be whatever the people around me deemed lovable (although my brief attempt to do so failed miserably) but I quickly realized that, even if I could succeed in this, it would not be me being loved, but only the false image I was projecting. What was the point in that? I wanted to be loved. I was willing to improve what I could about myself to become worthy of love, but not to pretend I was someone else. If the true me was unlovable, as my family insisted, then so be it. Through showing myself honestly, I could, at least, still, hope to find someone in the world who would appreciate me, eventually. If I hid myself and played a part – one that would be unsustainable for long – that hope was lost and my life would be come a pointless lie leading to desperation. So, yes, showing myself, warts and all, is a terrifying risk – leading to and, hopefully, through pain. Hiding myself, however, is a worse risk that traps me forever. It may prevent present pain, but it leads only to true, deep isolation, loneliness, and it sacrifices all hope of ever being truly loved.

My entire life has been one of living in hopes of a brighter future. Without that hope, there is nothing left. Pursuing that hope requires me braving the slings and arrows of a cruel world, filled with hateful, destructive people. I walk through the shower of missiles pelting me and painful blows from every side, looking for the people who are NOT trying to hurt me and hoping to find people who may even be kind enough to help me or who may be worthy of my help. This manner of living takes tremendous courage and strength. Yes, I do falter sometimes. I face the despair, cry it out, then pick myself up and carry on, because this is my only chance to achieve what I need. It is my only hope, and I refuse to give it up.

So I write this blog, as honestly as I can, to readers who can respect the courage and strength my life requires. I write to other optimists who are not sunny because life is good, but stay positive and hopeful, even through the worst of it, knowing that this is the only way to persevere. I write with as absolute honesty as I can, so that others who may be in similar circumstances will understand you are not alone. I write to encourage you, as well as myself. We can do this. We MUST do this – not only for ourselves, not only for each other, but for the world, because I believe the world truly needs the strength and courage this kind of honesty requires. My exposed heart has been battered, bruised, torn, shattered over and over into a million pieces which I have reassembled, every time, with enduring hope. It overflows with limitless love – enough to fill the entire world. Maybe I will only ever give love and never receive it, except from God, but I live in the hope that there are others who will appreciate and reciprocate all that I offer. I may never know who you are, but if I can help you, even in passing, even unknown to me, my life has value and purpose. I write to you, for you, and my hope of your existence sustains me.

Beginnings and Endings and How They Matter

“Count no many happy until the end is known.”

The sage and Athenian lawgiver, Solon, according to Herodotus. Also sometimes ascribed to Socrates, the philosopher, or Sophocles from his play “Oedipus Rex.”

All interesting stories thrive on conflict. If there is no conflict, there is no story worth telling.

I have noticed that all lives are full of conflict. Even when talking with people who, from the outside, seem to enjoy ideal existences, they describe real struggles, heartbreaking losses, crises of faith or doubt in themselves, betrayals, failures, or the pain of having to give up or compromise on their hopes and dreams. I have yet to meet any adult who hasn’t endured a lot of personal suffering, even amid all the beauty and joy in this world.

Life, for all of us, seems to be a series of ups and downs, with our overall happiness depending mostly on where we focus our minds and the attitude with which we handle our personal challenges, rather than on what happens to us. We’re all riding the waves of fate, enjoying highs followed, I think inevitably, by lows, which will soon pass again into new highs. For all of us, during our lives, I believe periods of hardship and suffering are unavoidable, but it is also during these periods where we learn the most and build our greatest strengths. It makes me imagine God as an author, writing stories with each of us taking a turn as the main character, growing through conflicts.

I have come to believe the difference between what people identify as a happy life and a tragic life is similar to the difference between a story with a happy-ending (aka a “comedy”) and a tragedy. The difference isn’t the story itself, but only when you choose to end it.

For instance, if Cinderella’s story had ended when her father died and her step-mother enslaved her, it would have been a tragedy. If it had ended years after she married the prince with, perhaps, the loss of a child that stressed her marriage, or the loss of her husband, or a revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy with all the nobles having to flee for their lives or else get slaughtered, or any of the other multi-billions of challenges that can occur in life, it would probably have been a tragedy (although, if you go a few years further, with her creating a new and possibly better life, maybe not). Instead, the story ends at what may have been the happiest point in Cinderella’s life, even though she, presumably, has many decades yet to live. Only because the story ended at that high point, her story counts as a comedy.

I’m reminding myself of this now because, at this point in my life, my story seems like an unmitigated tragedy. I had a miserable childhood in an abusive family, where both parents – very honest people – told me directly that they didn’t love or like me and considered me worthless and doomed to lifelong failure. I went from that into a deeply abusive marriage where my husband was far worse and far more cruel and destructive than any in my family of origin. His abuse was not only toward me, but also toward our children. I blame myself now for not realizing how much intentional harm my husband was inflicting on all of us throughout our marriage. My trust in him, failing to see his constant lies, and my love for the man he was pretending to be, failing to note the contradictions between what he said and how he acted, caused me to blind myself to all the evidence that he was truly, intentionally, destructive of those whom he should have loved. He succeeded in leaving us, particularly me, destitute and broken, physically and emotionally. He succeeded in turning our children against each other and against me. He also undermined every value I tried to teach and model for my children. He and his parents taught the children to have nothing but contempt for their very involved, devoted, and loving mother, to act with cruelty, in general, to accept as truth things they should have known with certainty, from their own experiences, were lies, and to scoff at the thought that true kindness and real love do, or even SHOULD, exist. I hold kindness as the highest virtue. Only my younger daughters, however, seem to regularly act with kindness toward anyone, and even they will not identify kindness as a virtue, when asked. In fact, my middle daughter is quick to call it stupid.

I was struggling, and failing, to manage the divorce while on prescribed medications to treat life-threatening, long-neglected health issues. These drugs were causing thick mental and physical incapacity, deep depression and a variety of other horrific side-effects. Then my only brother surprised me by offering to help me.

My brother had been physically and emotionally abusive to me throughout our childhood, fully supported and even encouraged in this by our mother, who is now deceased. With no one else in the world to whom I could turn, I foolishly convinced myself that my brother’s offer to help with my divorce meant that he wanted to make amends and build a healthy relationship with me now that we are both adults and I am in need. Instead, he used the trust I gave him to craft a settlement disastrous for me and my children, forcing us to be entirely financially dependent on him, in exchange for him being able to buy my house at the price he wanted. Then, using the lie that my children and I were “too disgusting for anyone to ever want to help” which he yelled at us, over and over, for over an hour, allowing no response, my brother reneged on his promises and left us destitute, in complete ruin, with no where else to go and no one else who could help us. I realized he had never intended to help us at all – he had just been buying a whole family of punching bags because, as he explained to me in an email, later, he enjoyed abusing us – so much so, in fact, that he thought there must be something wrong with us for failing to enjoy being abused.

Now I’m facing the new year without the means to survive or provide for my children, without the means to get training or hire mentors to help me figure out how to market my skills, without the means to afford to pay my bills or to buy toilet paper, gas for the car, and other basic necessities not covered by food stamps/SNAP. We’re insecure in our home, my brother’s house now, from which we may be evicted at any time, with no where else in this world we can go. There is no subsidized housing available here and nightly shelters are usually overflowing. I have been desperate enough for income to fall for scam “help wanted” ads, since, with my damaged self-esteem, continuing health challenges, and huge work gap from when I was a stay-at-home and homeschooling mother, I have found no one willing to hire me for anything I can physically do. I have yet to find any way to make enough money to survive, much less to restart my publishing business, which had been very promising and winning awards before my husband crushed it in the divorce. My nearest friend is many states away and dealing with a series of personal tragedies which I have no way to ease. My next nearest friend is on the other side of the country and also dealing with severe difficulties on all levels and almost as financially destitute as we are. With the need for car repairs and difficulty affording gas, I am, effectively, imprisoned in my brother’s house. I am isolated, without access to anyone in the world who loves me or cares whether I live or die, much less anyone who will advise or help me in any meaningful way.

On top of all this, on my own, I went off the drugs the doctors were insisting were necessary to save my life, because the drugs were incapacitating me and doing far more harm than good. Without them, apparently, I can drop dead at any moment or, worse, suffer a stroke. It is a terrifying thought, but I cannot live on the drugs they were prescribing that, anyway, weren’t helping the condition for which they were prescribed. So I’m facing my imminent death with the knowledge that, should it come soon, I will die without ever having been loved by anyone, except a few, dear friends whom I now too rarely see and who have needs I cannot meet. I will die without having accomplished anything I had hoped and striven so hard to do all my life, including being a good enough parent to keep my children healthy, safe, kind and loving, and to help them become productive, prosperous adults who feel truly and deeply loved and valued. I am too destitute to afford the burial I would like, or even any burial at all, so I have no idea what will happen to my corpse whenever it might be discovered. I will probably be lucky if my corpse ends up stripped of ID and dumped in some trash bin somewhere in the middle of the night. Judging from the way my kids act toward me – especially my oldest daughter who has now completely shunned me for no comprehensible reason, and who has moved without telling us where she went, why, or with whom, I won’t be at all missed. From what my loved ones indicate, many of them may actually feel happy that I’m gone.

If my story ends here, it is a tragedy.

If I can survive and push through this period, however, then I have the comfort of knowing that there is now nowhere to go but up. I will either die soon, as the doctors insist, or I will heal and get better. I cannot be less loved, less encouraged, or less cared about than I am now. I cannot be poorer than I am now, having nothing but debts and facing homelessness. If I keep striving, and only if I keep striving, I may find my way to climb out of this pit and create a happier life in the future than anything I have ever yet experienced throughout the entirety of my existence so far. (It is a low bar, so should be eminently doable.) With constant effort I may even end up surrounded by good friends who can be a better “family” to me than the toxic people with whom I have been and am now currently isolated.

If only I can save myself now, then maybe I can find a way to save others too – especially my children who, at this point, cannot even recognize how badly in need of saving they are. The people filling my life up til now have always insisted that I was worthless, but with all I am learning during this period of awakening and growth, I may become of real value to others, especially those trapped in or escaping similarly abusive situations. My story, which at this moment seems like a tragedy, can turn into a comedy. In fact, if I were to write a feel-good fiction with a happy ending, this is the kind of dark place where I would likely start that story, to give the ultimate, impossible-seeming triumph at the end, that much more impact.

In fiction, if happy endings come from happy beginnings, it is best to start the story at the point where that original happiness is lost, if not already a distant memory. Only with tragedies do you start with the main character happy and celebrating his good fortune, so he has something to lose, some high place from which to fall. Since I have never had that good fortune and high position, but only darkness, by the rules of literature, my story must be destined to be a comedy.

So here I am, on New Year’s Eve, on the brink of 2022, starting my story in the perfect way for a happy ending.

Halloween 2021

Happy Halloween!

To help you celebrate this American cultural event, which makes a party out of facing our deepest fears, I’m sharing some of the spooky short stories I’ve written over the years. The links are below. If you want to see a note about each story, you can access them through the “Spooky Stories” page. Enjoy!

Dark Friend

Spirit Nonsense


Jimmy Roe’s Big, Black Dog


Forgotten Dead

This blog is my fresh start. It seems fitting, however, to begin my new life with a goodbye to my old life. I have legally changed my name and consider myself, in a fundamental way, a new person. I have therefore written an obituary for my old self, whom I will call “J.”

Rest in Peace J

Obituary for J

J, beloved by no one, passed away last July, without those she loved noticing. She leaves behind five children but no mourners. There will be no funeral nor memorial for this woman who is already forgotten and will not be missed by anyone within her family.

J was born and raised in a middle class family in Southern California. She was an honors/AP student throughout school, earning top grades and awards. Her passion was singing, dancing and acting. She was constantly active in community and college theater. Her most notable roles were as Lady MacBeth in Shakespeare’s famous play, including in a production at Stirling University in Scotland. She lived in many states within the United States of America, and in Scotland, UK. She also traveled in many other countries. She was the author of several short stories and the award-winning “The Shaman’s Apprentice” series, under the pen name B. Muze. Having given life to five children, she served them not only as a loving, involved, devoted mother but also as their homeschool teacher and Girl Scout leader.

Though preceded in death by her parents, J is remembered by friends for her positivity, her optimism, her honesty, her kindness, her instinctive compassion, and her empathy. She drove herself toward excellence, with fierce determination and discipline, earning two Bachelor degrees, Comparative Literature and Drama, and an unofficial minor in writing from a prestigious university, while working her way through college. She went on to support her mother through a period of financial difficulty, then, later, she supported her husband in law school and afterward, until her husband demanded she become a stay-at-home mother.

Though some claim her abilities to laugh at herself, easily acknowledge her mistakes, and strive to correct them, were her greatest virtues, her oldest friend identified J’s most outstanding quality as her insistence on always seeing the best in others. This proved also to be her greatest fault, trapping her in an abusive marriage and losing her the love and respect of her children, whom she failed to protect from their father and his parents. Her commitment to honesty blinded her to the lies of others. Her unfailing loyalty and trustworthiness rendered her incapable of anticipating any betrayal. Her innate kindness made every evil unimaginable to her, leaving her unprepared for her marriage. In the end, she proved too naïve to survive.

She was, from birth, a deeply spiritual lover of God. We therefore entrust her to God, in the hope that the potential she failed to realize in this life may not be lost to our world forever.


In comparison, the following is the obituary I hope to earn. It sets a few, modest goals for myself. Since it hasn’t yet happened, all quotes are, of course, fictional, but I hope when I am finally done, there will be masses of people eager to testify to similar things about me.

Obituary for Aoife Aylya Mayze

Aoife Aylya Mayze passed in peace this morning at her home in *******, surrounded by dear friends and family. She was 125 years old and in excellent health until the end. She is survived by her loving husband, her 3 daughters and 2 sons, her 7 step-children, 16 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.

Best known to the public by her pen and stage names, Aylya Mayze and 2AMayze, she has been an Emmy and Academy award winning actress and writer, and bestselling, award-winning author. In 2017 she founded Wittily Writ Publishing, which had a profound impact on world-wide culture by bringing to us extraordinary, difficult to classify works, that had been commonly rejected by mainstream publishers in the past. These boundary-stretching works, primarily literary at first, expanded over time to include multi-sensory and interactive experiences, stretching the limits of our imaginations. Among the authors Wittily Writ promoted to prominence were B. Muze, whose best-selling series, “Jovai” and “Firebird,” Aoife edited, herself, then helped bring to screen in the Academy Award Winning and blockbuster series of films, and Anderson Kenyak, the somewhat controversial but always wacky and hilarious novelist and performance artist.  Aoife also published over 30 novels of her own, including “Mistress of Calistar” and “Majtega Maiden,” which both became Emmy award winning mini-series, and “The Escape of Motley’s Rose,” which was made into a hit musical on both stage and in film. Her novel, “Constantly Catherine,” loosely based on her first marriage, not only delighted readers with its wit and humor, but also expanded our understanding of such serious issues as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, spousal abuse, and child abuse. It is credited with inspiring needed reforms in divorce and custody laws and generally improving public understanding and compassion for those trapped in abusive relationships.

Above all else, her favorite accomplishment was the Step-Up Communities she founded world-wide. These not only sheltered the homeless, destitute, abused and lost, but also, through education and opportunities in a safe, secure environment, helped them raise themselves out of poverty and, in many cases, into tremendous success.

“Aylya encouraged and uplifted everyone around her,” said Marcus Niege, Founder and CEO of OS and a graduate of her Step Up program.  “She made it easy to believe in, then to do, what seemed impossible at first.”

“She never lost faith in me,” Bonny Tuffet proclaimed in her acceptance speech for her Nobel Prize, “even when I couldn’t find any reason to keep living. During the darkest period of my life, she was my light, my connection to God, until I could find it again inside myself. But it wasn’t just me, it was all of us. She loved and inspired everyone.”

Kanya Frank, former director of Doctors Without Borders, founder of MAMD, and former graduate of the Step-Up Community, wrote in her biography, “Aoife had survived things as bad as what we were facing, and she blessed God constantly for those experiences, partly because it helped her better know what she could do to help us. She recognized no reason for shame in failing or suffering because, to her, a full life always included both ups and downs. It was only normal. It meant the bad times would never last. Success was always just ahead while failure was nothing but a valuable learning experience. She would say that she loved praise, but she needed criticism – praise made her feel better, but constructive criticism helped her actually become better. It was the same with good times and hard times. Good times were wonderful, but it was challenges that stretched her, strengthened her, and forced her to grow. She believed one could always turn the bad to good, and she always had faith that we would. She inspired me to reach farther, work harder, and accomplish far more than I ever thought possible. That’s what her Step-Up Communities were about. She wasn’t doing for us, but encouraging us to do for ourselves, because we could. We were all worthy and wonderful in her eyes, even before we had realized our potential. Actually, I can imagine her chiding me for saying that as if our potential were a finite thing. She made us believe the truth that we all had infinite potential, if we only dared pursue it.”

“Mom was a deeply loving person. She loved people, children, animals, music, laughter, art, nature…the list of who and what she loved is endless, but the list of all she hated was short: injustice and cruelty. Well, she wasn’t a big fan of sardines on pizza either.” – ********, daughter.

With unfailing kindness and a sense of humor that delighted even in her own folly, Aoife Aylya Mayze once described her lifestyle as “a celebration of both God and humanity, and I’m the one dancing with a lampshade on my head.” We are grateful to have known her and look forward to meeting her again, as God wills.