Singer? Composer? Writer?
Christian or Shaman?
An Intelligent Woman!
Nazis, Mutti, Nightmares and Neverland
On both sides of my family we come from a long line of artists, mystics, and storytellers. My father played the accordion and could sing the birds right out of the trees. His Spaniard father’s family history has deep roots in the lore of both the new and old worlds, while his Mexican Indian mother either sang while endlessly picking cotton, or passing along old folk tales and family history. This is why many called her Mama Martina. As a child, her Native name was taken from her by the church, but she fiercely held on to her stories just as my German grandmother did.
My mother was nine when WWII started to rear its ugly head, and 16 when it ended. Then came the Great Starvation, this, a time of mass suffering, that was both physical and emotional. In various ways, the German people found out not only all the unseen horrors of the War, but also how they had been lied to and manipulated to be either partners or innocents in the nightmare. Yet despite all that my mother witnessed, she and her mother were determined to find and hold on to fleeting moments of joy or beauty, be it in making a beautiful dress out of the taffeta lining of some curtains, playing boogie-woogie on the piano as an act of rebellion, or by dancing ballet in a circus because all the theaters had been bombed.
My mother’s root’s spread deep all over eastern Germany, from Sweden to Austria and Lithuania. My mother and father met after Germany had somewhat recovered and returned as a couple to the United States where I was born. Between the ages of four and five, I spent about a year in Germany so I could meet my grandparents and learn the culture. I was out in the garden with my grandfather, whom I called Opa. “Let me show you something,” he said before taking me to a flowering bush of pink bleeding hearts. Carefully pinching off a delicate blossom, he showed the heart-shaped little thing barely the size of a nickel in his palm. “Here is the flower as the hand of God and Nature made it.”
“I thought God makes everything, Opa?” I questioned. He smiled, winked, and with a chuckle said, “They are an old married couple, I think” He turned his back to me for about 30-seconds, and when he turned his palm was open. There in his hand was a perfect tiny Flamingo bird with one leg up and a curved graceful neck and head.
“Opa!” I cried. “It’s like magic.”
“Yes, it is like magic,” he explained. “But it is more like art.”
I looked closely at how fragile and perfect the little flower bird was in his palm. “Opa, I do not think I can do this art,” came a sad response.
Again he smiled and said ever so gently, “You are human, so you’re meant to be an artist. Some people have a kind of blindness, so they do not understand this. You, my child, may never make flamingos out of blossoms, but you will find the art in you just like your mother did.”
I beamed and asked, “So I will play the piano or dance like Mutti or sing like Papa?”
Opa nested the little flower bird in a rose. “Perhaps, or maybe you’ll draw or paint or write or build things. That is what life should be about, finding the best artist inside yourself.”
Later, with a child’s enthusiasm, I dragged my mother to see the flamingo in his rose nest.
My mother smiled and said, “Like Opa told you, listening to nature and art brings one closer to God.”
“Closer than praying?”
She laughed. “Music and Art is how God talks to our hearts, and we, by our art, answer back.”
I never forgot that flamingo, and whenever I see a bleeding heart bush, the memory comes rushing back. From that moment on, I wondered what kind of art was in me. It has taken a lifetime to explore, and like my roots, it has many branches.
Speed Bumps, Music, and This Is Tap Spinal
On one hand, singing and theater came naturally, but on the other, I carried a fearful secret. Something not discovered and identified until my last semester in college. That is, it took everything I had not to turn numbers around or have them be out of sequence. Neither was there any reprieve with music. With scores, I needed to have sheets identical to those of the original releases. Then, yes, I could perform perfectly—but that left a lot of room for error. Singing also was plagued. When singing with a group, I had to mimic the others because I did not understand pockets or pauses or the downbeats.
When I played my lute or guitar, I’d be off in my own world. Often, music came to me whole, just like a finished painting, often with words and melody together. I did not know I was rhythmically dyslexic, and also somewhat dyslexic with numbers, so dancing was also hard, math was hard, and singing with a band that liked to jam was terrifying. I would feel so lost and stupid. So I did everything I could to hide and distract from what I regarded as a broken part of me. Yet, oddly enough, the music I loved to write and sing was a jazzy kind of blues, and to get it fully-written, I needed the help of “real” musicians. I was so lucky to have found David Kaffinetti, who played Viv Savage in the movie This is Spinal Tap, and his songwriting partner, Michael Ingram. They wanted to put my songs in an easier time signature for a band to play. I was like a deer caught in the headlights, and had to confess I was lost in my own song in a simple four/four time. Michael took my hands and said we would swing to the music while David played.
“It will not work,” I cried, tears in my eyes.
Michael said to forget trying to feel the music. “Feel me, instead. Feel like you’re about to give me a Tarot reading … or feel like you’re in love, feel how your music makes me feel. Relax and just feel me.”
We swung back and forth in time with the music and I gazed into his deep brown eyes. Suddenly, there it was! A musical pocket as big as a barn door! I was like Helen Keller at the well. There was the downbeat and there is where the drum and bass play. The music was no longer rooted, like in a pot or a flat painting. Instead, I was now able to see how to play with the melody. I melted and cried and will be forever grateful to them. Of course, it can still be a little hard sometimes, but now I know where to feel to be able to see musical timing.
This changed everything for me; even writing became easier.
Burning Bushes and Crossroads
There’ve been many, but the most defining was in my last year of college. I was so overwhelmed and frustrated with the many people around me. At one point, I came within a hair’s breadth of running away with a carnival as a card reader!
Pride kept me in check. I’d worked so hard in college, I could not run away. Yet as life would have it, months later I had to make another big decision. Would I go back east with a boyfriend I deeply loved and go to grad school and sing in cafés, or would I go west without my boyfriend and leave behind everything I loved and knew. A hard decision for many reasons. When I said goodbye to my boyfriend, he played Cat Steven’s song Wild World.
So very true.
Leaving Michigan on a one-way ticket, I arrived in San Francisco with my guitar, a suitcase, a backpack, and a sleeping bag. I knew one person there, had $20 cash, a $90 dollar check, and only two weeks to figure it out as a guest where my friend lived. I ended up in a sort of downtown, south-of-market part of San Francisco, in an Artist warehouse called Project One.
I found myself in a big, empty, cinder block and cement room with an old box spring lying in the middle of the floor.
From there it all started.
Throughout my life, it’s been faith that has brought home that art, in all its forms, is sacred. So, even though I was raised Lutheran, the rich stories and lore from my family, combined with our love and talent for understanding the needs and ways of animals, that has laid the groundwork for a natural acceptance, and a broader philosophical scope of the world and all spiritual matters.
I was only in first grade the first time I was called a Nazi witch because of my accent and my way with animals. Of course, I thought these children were just lacking in experience … fearful of the little girl with the pale skin, the big long name, and the funny accent. I took it upon myself to educate them by bringing my pet mole and bat to school. This did not have the desired effect hoped for. Yet, it was a part of what set my path, a quest of questions and a thirst for answers, from the scientific to the esoteric.
Throughout my life, I’ve been asked “What, exactly, are you?” Sometimes the question is racial. Other occasions, it’s about religion or culture. It doesn’t matter. Now I say I am American with roots in many lands. I was raised basically Lutheran, but learned to embrace and learn many wisdoms. I have been initiated into many traditions and spiritual points of view, from Pagan to Tibetan Buddhism. I reject none of them, and I am at peace. I feel no conflicts with my childhood Christian baptism or with the emersion had later in so many other varied ways.
They all are blessings and doorways that led me to where I am now.
The Artist’s Role
Since a child, I was taught the role of the artist covers everything from the utilitarian, to entertainment, to the inspirational, as well as providing a catalog of human events or personal history. That artists bring beauty and grandeur to their work, along with their reflection on emotional states and human choices. Art prods the human heart and mind into both challenging and embracing the sacred. Because of this, the artist can be both lauded and persecuted. This is most true for the writer.
The writer paints with words, and words can be put to memory and passed on, even written in stone. While a painting is seen, it can only be described to a limited extent. I’m sure there may be some exceptions, but I am also sure you understand my meaning. Words paint the mind in a profound and provocative way. The only other medium that might better and more quickly lift the human soul to embracing ideas and ideals is music.
Then again, that, too, is a kind of writing.
The Use of Evil
There is evil in this world, negativity so dark and horrifying in its soulless depravity that some cultures have no name for it, and any writer who tackles this subject does so with great caution. It’s easier to write of positive evil, because this at least has some use to humankind. Of course, on the surface, that which is fearful and evil helps make for exciting stories.
Evil becomes part of the great adventure, and its vanquishment both comforts and inspires. Mainly by showing that if the good characters in a story find a way to survive the nightmare of evil that we shall, too.
On a more profound level, confronting evil also reaffirms a primary instinct and desire. That is, we want so much to trust that we do know wrong from right, that we can overcome temptation, and that we are brave enough to roar into the mouth of evil’s beast.
In fact, I think at times we seek out such stories where we are terrified to test our emotional, mental, and spiritual mettle. And when evil is fooled and conquered, we celebrate not just in relief from whatever kind of danger or moral peril is presented, but we also realize that this is most likely only a temporary reprieve.
The show must go on.
The adventure must continue on other levels. Evil’s demise helps us see what we really
don’t want to see in ourselves. We see what we find distasteful enough to be intolerable in our lives. This kind of realization, when widespread, changes hearts and minds, countries, and, ultimately, the world in which we live.
Finally, there is the hope that evil can transform itself and be redeemed. We’ve come to understand that sometimes evil grows out of a wound or illness and has twisted a character or person, warping his or her nature, such as with Golem in The Hobbit and Darth Vader in Star Wars.
At times, we are very hard on ourselves, desperately trying to avoid such pitfalls. We wish to conquer the fears which illuminate the less attractive parts of our nature and shame us in the face of Good; we require this transformative hope as a fundamental element of motivation. Our human faith in a greater power is our ally in exposing evil. As we learn to overcome it, the greatest super power we have of all manifests. This is when evil can be changed into something that can understand and accept love, and, in turn, also now give it.
The conflict between Good and Evil is the raw battleground of transformational magic, the wellspring of all the great stories, poetry, and songs which have taught us our deepest truths.
It’s the beneficial flipside of Pandora’s folly.
Fifty-Plus … Well, Your Time Has Passed
One of my heroes is Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a profound medieval visionary who was a writer, musician, philosopher, singer, advisor, healer, administrator—and Saint. She lived to be 81-years-old, and made the most of every sunrise. And, of course, there’s been many other historical figures, women, who have rocked the world, and who’ve done so well-past 50.
Today, though, more than ever, there are artists, and women, in particular, 50s and beyond, who dominate in their respective fields, and certainly those travelling indigenous tribal grandmothers—from all over the world—who tell stories, give lectures, and do rites from their varied cultures. They do this to awaken hearts, to help us see that so much of our destructiveness comes from the fear that we humans are doomed to start with.
Fifty-plus … time has passed?
I’ve a different view.
I’m very thankful to be in this time, this place, with my fellow artists and friends.
Over 50 isn’t bad at all.
Wink-wink. I’m just getting started!
Learn more about C.B. Doyle by visiting her website here.