By Joe Doyle
I visited my mother’s grave on my 22nd birthday. As I stood there praying and talking quietly to her, every hair on my body rose. I believe that my mother spoke to me: she was there for a brief time.
Inspiration for my songs
I finished my degree part-time. The mostly manic events of January to June became the inspiration not just for my poetry but for my first song in December 1999, ‘Riding on the crest of a wave’. I played songwriter nights weekly between January 2000 and May 2001.
I travelled to America alone in June 2001. It was my first time on a plane. I brought a blue notebook, a camera and my acoustic guitar. The notebook would be my journal, a record of my thoughts, poems, songs and the people who I met.
I felt something watch over me
After a brilliant time in Ocean City, I went to Baltimore to visit Ashley, who I’d met on the boardwalk when I was busking in OC. After a long evening together, her mother drove me to the Biltmore Suites, which was in darkness (a power cut). As I sat on the bed, with regrets about leaving friends behind, I felt alone. I felt something watch over me though, as I wrote a song:
“Come morning at the harbour lights, angels rest on my bones.
It’s crazy in Baltimore. Their prayers guide me through the door.”
For someone who looked at blank paper and struggled to write something of my own in his teens, 1999 to 2005 was a very productive time.
Though I was brought up to go to Mass in the local chapel every week, it did not dominate our home lives. I would often see them saying a few prayers before bedtime though. In my early 20s I broke away from going weekly. After that I went as often or as little as I wanted. Prayer remained important to me sometimes, e.g. Teresa’s death in 2007. My relationship with my father grew stronger over the years. My mother Kathleen’s words changed that forever.
My aunt’s memories of my mother spoke to me
Encouraged by Josephine, a single mother from Dublin I dated for about 6 months in 2004-5, I asked my aunt Teresa about Kathleen. She looked and sounded younger than I ever saw her before, as she was overjoyed that she could share her memories of Kathleen with me – she worked in hotels, she loved to sing, she wanted a baby boy and much more. A few weeks later I wrote ‘Mother Dear’. I remember playing it in Pretoria Street. The hairs at the back of my neck rose. I felt connected with my mother again. I felt connected to myself.
Inspired by a re-reading of ‘The Great Gatsby’ for the first time since A-Levels in 1996, read for the love of it rather than because I had to, as well as a trip to a Irish traditional session, ‘Burn Slowly’ inspired me from September 2014 onwards. Michael and I practised again the next summer. Since February 2016, when I declared that I was Bipolar 1 to my employer, a lot has changed in my life. Including the first song written since September 2014 ‘Aeonian’ (January 2016), I’ve written 13 new songs and rewritten 4 of the older songs.
Time off work
A tough time at work led to a long time off work, which led to CBT via my employer and mindfulness through the health service. CBT was too analytical for my analytical mind. Mindfulness changed how I looked at things, though going back to a difficult sales job pulled me away from it. After years of keeping my story and feelings to myself, I talked to more people and felt better.
By March I decided to try counselling through BT. When the phone consultant called, we had the most open conversation I’d had with anyone. I could hear a shocked intake of breath as I told her about my mother passing when I was 13 days old. She began to explain why I felt the way I felt: disconnected, rejected, etc. My mother died before I could establish that bond with her and the world. People sensed my vulnerability and picked up on that. Also, I found it hard to concentrate because the support and security a mother brings to a child was missing in my earliest years.
I received my mother’s death certificate
I requested my mother’s death certificate to learn more. On the evening of the day I received it, I closed my eyes and imagined Mary Catherine O’Meara / Doyle, as I tried to mentally reach out to those connections I felt in the past, for some guidance through this tough time at work.
Learn to love yourself”
“Mother, is that you?”
“Your father is a great man”
(Abrazo, 6th May 2017)
I requested her medical records from RVH Jubilee, but it was outside of their record keeping. At some point in the future, I will hunt for stories of the O’Meara family in local newspapers.
I will never know you, but I will try
Despite my heightened state of mind in February 1999, I will always believe that you were there with me that night. Your words changed my mind and my life. I want to know a little more about what happened to you when I was born. I will never know you, but I will try. I will draw the line where I need to though.
Now is the most difficult time of my life, as well as being the best time. I’ve been given a 6 month trial in an offline complaints role. Social life is the way I want it, some time spent with friends and family, but also enough time on my own. An introvert needs to recharge his batteries.
Going where my muse takes me
I’m still writing and playing my music. Sometimes I still stare at the blank page. Now I leave it for a while. I come back to the notepad when the ideas appear in my head and the urge compels me to create. Sometimes I pick up my guitar and intuitively know which key to play in and which chords to play. Rules are there to guide me, but I create the best things when I allow my thoughts and feelings to combine and to go where my muse takes me.
Better heart first
I was meant to experience everything I have –the ups and downs of work, friendships and relationships, isolation, the black dog on my shoulders and in my head, tears and much more. It has made me everything I am, that I love about myself and that others love about me. The first verse of a song I wrote on my 39th birthday in March crystallizes that vision:
“Better heart first in the here & now
Never expect too much
Celebrate the lives of others
Live your life truthfully”
(Dive Head First)