Touring America, Open Mic Nights & the Mortifying Ordeal of Being Seen
“The world is full of people just as nervous as each other…just as longing to feel expressed, to be received, to connect over a common feeling. This is why being in community matters. It reminds us that the seemingly broken parts of ourselves are not so broken. Sometimes, even beautiful.”
Open mic nights are my new favourite thing in the world.
I love everything about them.
I love when a poor soul’s name is called to take the stage and you can feel their butterflies in your own body.
I love watching people get louder as they get braver.
How their bodies, hunched at first with apologetic limbs and eyes barely daring to make contact, morph into sassy alter-egos as they settle into their craft.
Their shaking hands get stiller as they grip the mic more like they mean it.
Like they deserve to take up the space.
I love how they become taller as they feel safer.
How doing this thing they love props their body up with confidence; changes their very stature.
When they look into the crowd, see smiles widened just for them and believe that maybe, they’ve got something about them worth seeing.
How quiet notes of hesitation alchemise into songs of self-expression. This sweet anxious human has now melted into the love that they have for this thing and, by extension, for themselves.
I love catching them after they’ve performed, as they’re coming out of that outer-body-stage-fright daze with no idea how epic they were, and telling them how epic they were.
The barrage of compliments that swarm them as they make their way sheepishly back through the crowd feeling like a small-town celebrity to sit back down amongst us-become one of us mortals again.
Then, the next brave soul’s turn.
I love watching people make the petrifying decision to be seen under a spotlight when it’s so much easier to disappear ourselves, keep our heads down, stay unknown.
A guaranteed safety.
But a lonely way of living.
A kind of living that doesn’t make you feel nearly as alive.
I’m now travelling America alone and for the first time, I feel homesick.
Almost hungover from my retreat last week, where I spent four unforgettable days in the Appalachian mountains with my favourite author and one hundred strangers-turned-family.
The comedown after an epic experience that can never be replicated. Like the feeling after your first music festival. You know when the only way to ease it is to spend a day in the duvet watching films with a friend?
So I asked my retreat friends in Charlotte to come to this open mic with me.
It had the same energy-of strangers coming together, doing something brave and being adored for it.
It was everything I needed-to feel connection and community again. For something to breathe life once more into these commoditised words that have somewhat lost their meaning.
So here are six of my favourite performances for anyone else having a duvet day in need of virtual community wholesomeness:
This is Julie Haverstick reading us pages from her new book. She hit a wall in her life, career and relationship at thirty, quit her job, journeyed across America for a year and wrote a collection of essays, poems and photography about truth, uncertainty and everything she learned.
This man lost his father at seventeen and wrote this song for that young boy inside him. From losing my own father at the age of twenty-one, his words felt heavy in my chest. But like always, the tears felt sacred. Good and needed.
This man stepped on stage and said “sorry, I usually have someone that helps me with this. My wife died last night”. Then whipped out this puppet to perform ventriloquism through poetry. The energy was impeccable. He taught me a thing about turning grief, when you’re ready, into joyful expression.
This man wrote this instrumental a few years ago when he hit rock bottom. His music told the story of his life and he asked if we could tell which part of the song represents his rock bottom, and which his resurrection from the ashes.
This man. His voice. The depth. He basically made every couple in the crowd forget their other half for ten minutes straight. But still, his hands shook.
This girl told us she likes girls, then read this poem from her notes app. It described her first night with her girlfriend. She was petrified. And it reminded me of something Jedidiah Jenkins told us at our retreat about the universality and evolutionary nature of our fear of rejection. How for years, the ultimate human fear was to be ousted from the tribe. Rejection meant the death of us. How fear of public speaking is just our sweet heart scared of being ousted, wondering if it will survive if rejection is waiting on the other side. Jed said it way better. In the magical way he says things. But you get the gist.
This night, I saw that the world is full of people just as nervous as each other.
Just as concerned about making a good impression.
Just as longing to feel expressed, to be received, to connect over a common feeling.
This is why being in community matters.
It reminds us that the seemingly broken parts of ourselves are not so broken.
Sometimes, even beautiful.