Technically, my day starts in the morning when I’m getting ready for work. But it really starts at night.
I get home around 6.30pm and already the clock is ticking. I have to be out for around 9 or sometimes earlier so I eat whatever is easiest. On a good day, leftovers; on a not so good day, ready noodles or beans on toast. When I first starting playing open mics again a few weeks ago, I was too nervous to eat at all. I’ve managed to push past that wall of nerves now and force the food down, knowing that it will give me the energy I need.
Now we’re at around 7 or 7.15. I get my tracks ready. This means opening Logic X (my Digital Audio Workstation of choice) on my Macbook and finding songs I’ve recorded that I want to sing and editing out the main vocal line, leaving only the harmonies so it sounds seamless (hopefully) live. Some of my songs I produced a while ago on Garageband so sometimes I need to do this process on Garageband first, export it, then open it into Logic X and export it again to achieve a higher sound quality at a louder level. Then I need to get these tracks onto my phone, which means uploading them to Dropbox. Once I’ve done that, I open the Dropbox app on my phone and export the songs so I can open them later.
Now it’s 7.30 or 8pm. I get my bedroom all cozy, put on the fairy lights and climb into bed. I won’t be getting to bed until about 2am and I work at 9 so I need to sleep. I set my timer on my phone for an hour or less, depending on the night, making sure the number is a multiple of 20 minutes (apparently a sleep cycle lasts 20 minutes and waking up at the end of a cycle makes you less groggy).
8.45pm (roughly) and my timer goes off. I’m tired. I don’t want to get up, I want to keep sleeping. But I get up because I’m excited and I’ve been looking forward to this all day. I decide what to wear (I’ve been in a blue pharmacy tunic all day and I’m excited to wear my own clothes). I consider what will make me feel confident on stage. A chain. Some hoops. A pair of chunky trainers. My bus is in 10 minutes, I need to leave.
I do my makeup on the bus. I know, what the hell. It’s approaching 9.30pm on a weekday and I’m only now doing my makeup? But I don’t wear makeup to work and I need all the time at home I can get to sleep so this is what I do. I’m nearly at the bar so I listen to my tracks through my headphones and organise them into a playlist on my phone, deciding what will flow the best. My heart is racing at the thought of performing them – I ignore it.
I get there and it’s approaching 10pm. I greet all the lovely welcoming people there, decide when I want to go on stage and enjoy the camaraderie of being around people that love creative expression as much as I do. They’re all drinking but I never drink before a performance. They don’t care. As the night goes on and I watch the performers – different every week – I am aware of how content and alive I feel, how much I feel at home. Any stresses of the day dissipate – what is happening right now is far more important. Some of the conversations I’ve had here are brilliant. People remember me now, they ask about my set, about my dreams of moving to London, about my day and how I am. I ask about their art and care about the answer.
10.30 or 11pm and it’s time for me to go on. I am never not nervous. Every time I feel on some level that I cannot do it – my heart is hammering out of my chest. I ignore it. I perform my set, slightly different every week, to a different audience every week. I am almost always the only r’n’b/hip hop artist there and I can feel the atmosphere descend on the room as my instrumentals start to play. Sometimes my voice shakes a little, especially at the beginning. Being under so much scrutiny is challenging, but it’s also the most liberating thing in the world. For 15 minutes, I get to live in this in-between state that so closely resembles my dreams, to share my talent with the world, to share my opinions, my fears, my fantasies through my lyrics. I am scared I won’t hit the high notes. I always do. The applause I get is genuine.
I have been dancing and singing around the house all week and under my breath at work – the feeling that comes from finally bringing this passion to life during a 15 minute set is pure exhilaration. When my set ends I am smiling like an idiot. People compliment my set, talk to me about it. Getting the chance to talk about my art with people who are genuinely interested is a cathartic release.
I enjoy the rest of the night, finally anxiety-free. I have a drink or two if I feel like it. I get to be held witness to the beautiful intimacy of the sets of fellow creative people who have also practiced in their bedrooms, scribbled lyrics down on bits of paper, taught themselves songs on guitar or tried jokes on their family and friends in preparation. Sometimes it’s thought-provoking, sometimes it’s emotive. Sometimes I don’t particularly like a set – but very often there is at least one performer that leaves me humbled and in awe.
It’s half-past midnight and I need to think about going home. If there’s more acts that I’m really interested in seeing, I’ll get a later bus but I usually get the bus at ten to one. The host thanks me for coming and I go off into the night again. On the way home I am pure elation. As I told my counsellor, it’s a “reliable source of happiness”. Over the past year, I have struggled with self harm, suicidal thoughts and lethargy – to experience this sort of happiness now feels almost religious. I have shown up for myself and others, I have nurtured my soul.
I listen to music on the bus, not wanting to decompress yet, still buzzing from the night. I want to eat, sleep and breathe music. Usually when I get home, I listen to my tracks again and envision performing them. I am insatiable.
It’s 2am and I finally force myself to sleep.
My alarm goes off at 7.30am. I’m…a bit wrecked. The hardest part is getting up – my soul has been fed and the energy and purpose from that sees me through the day. Things happen at work that are annoying. People get hung up on minor things. People project. I don’t care. Every thought about the night before lights me up and reminds me of how beautiful life can be. It reminds me of how small a sliver of my life this 40-hour work week actually is. Time is relative. And in the middle of last night felt like eternity. The whole day it’s like I’m keeping this secret, like I’ve won the lottery and I’m keeping it to myself. The memories of the night I hold close to my heart like a prize I don’t want to share.
The day is finished and I’m looking forward to a proper sleep. Soon I’ll be planning my next set to give my soul sustenance for another few days. This is what I call a successful day.
Thanks so much for reading.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx