I did something scary today.
I put myself out of my comfort zone, and it surprised me how very far out of it I felt.
There is safety in numbers, and I have experienced this first hand in musical performance. When I went out busking last week, I went with a friend. We kept each other company. We laughed. We had fun.
There was little risk and less vulnerability involved than had we gone out there alone.
After work this evening, I decided that I should put myself out there and busk alone.
I put some music and a camping stool into a canvas bag, picked up my ukulele, and headed out to Market Street.
Standing alone with uke in hand was an entirely different experience on this night.
I was surprised by how uneasy I felt.
I was playing at a busk stop near a local coffee shop, and there were people sitting outside. They paid little, if any, attention to me as I went about “setting up shop.”
I felt less afraid than I felt silly and even kind of stupid. I was totally exposed.
What was I doing out there? No one wanted to listen to me. I should just give up and go home, I thought to myself. At home, I could relax with a glass of wine and veg out watching Netflix instant stream.
But I knew that I would feel far worse if I went home than if I played and was completely ignored.
So I stayed.
I tuned my ukulele, and I played a few songs. I sang on the quieter side. I thought about my research partner telling me that I should study how other artists move.
I felt rigid and goofy.
“You must not be a sexy artist,” my inner critic hissed from within.
The critic might have won had a familiar face not passed by. A car drove slowly past and parallel parked a few feet away. I recognized the driver as a visitor who had been on my boat tour earlier that day. Synchronicity at its best.
My spirits lifted. Maybe, he would recognize me and come by for a visit.
Recognize me he did, and we chatted about Lowell, history, Kerouac, and music. He gave me $2 and requested a couple of songs.
With just this one interchange, my entire outlook shifted. I went from being a failed artist to a musician with purpose and a fan!
I also realized something. In my line of work as a park ranger, I have been very spoiled. For each tour that I lead, I have a captive audience, people who traveled to a special place to learn from me, their trusted park ranger.
Out there on the street alone, I had no audience. I had no uniform. I felt like a nobody, a stranger even to myself. Once I had an audience, even an audience of one, I felt more myself.
I eventually moved to a spot on the corner of Palmer and Middle Street. This was a wonderful corner in the heart of downtown. On this corner, I felt less exposed. There were fewer cars speeding by, and there was shade. People on their way out to dinner walked by slowly and smiled. Some stopped to listen to a song. A couple about to cross the street with a cherubic baby in a stroller turned and came over to listen. The boy looked up toward me and me down to him. We exchanged a smile. He was a small child with ginger-blonde hair and healthy cheeks. It was love at first sight.
I played my favorite Pete Seeger tune for him, and his father handed him a quarter to give to me. My heart filled to bursting.
“I will remember this quarter always,” I said.
I stooped down and held out my hand. He hesitated, reached his hand out toward mine, and then drew it back, clutching the quarter close to his chest.
“Looks like he might be attached to it,” his father laughed. His mom placed a dollar in my case.
“What is his name?” I asked.
“Connor,” I repeated. “Connor who kept the quarter. I will remember him.”
“Do you know the one about the green frog,” his dad asked?
“It is a baby whisperer song,” his mom told me.
“Oh yes,” said dad. “He can be throwing a fit and you have but to sing this song and he starts laughing.
And they sang the song for me with little Connor laughing and clapping along. Certainly, a moment that will live on for me for a long time to come.
A couple more songs, and I looked at my phone. I had played for an entire hour. I had earned $4. Not quite enough to pay for a meal, but I certainly felt that I had earned my dinner.