I've performed as the lead role in a Broadway tour, been in over 100 musicals, and my YouTube channel has over half a million subscribers.
But I'd never sung an original song at an open mic.
Until this past Tuesday night.
Sound the frickin' trumpets, right?
For many folks reading this, an open mic might not seem like a big deal.
But to me, it was.
Playing a role in a musical is one thing. Playing your true self is a whole other challenge -- one I wasn't prepared to deal with until this year.
The intimidating part about this particular open mic (at a bar called TIME, appropriately enough) was that you play with the house band (drums, bass, keys) and they take your song and improvise and riff with you.
Most folks do cover songs, but if you want to perform an original you email them your chord chart ahead of time, attach an .mp3 demo, then sign up and go.
Your song undergoes a magical conversion of sorts, from your brain to a near instant materialization -- played by seasoned jazz musicians in a room full of people at 11pm on a Tuesday night.
As the singer fronting the band, you don't know exactly what's going to happen. There's no rehearsing this, there's no planning. This isn't a musical theater scene with a script and blocking.
You have to start before you're ready.
Making things more hectic for me, I'd written the song two nights before the open mic. But something felt right about it. It flowed, it felt like a clear expression of some emotions that had bubbled up in the recent past. It sounded, well, cool.
It was aligned in its truth. It felt like me.
If not now, when would I truly be ready?
The most maddening part of any advice is that its opposite will always be true.
I have often touted the phrase: "Start before you're ready."
But its contrast -- the complete opposite -- is also true:
"Get fully aligned....then act."
I used to be a start-before-you're-ready chick, 100%.
Just GO, FEL, and you'll figure out the details later.
But using this approach over time has detrimental side effects. You start to feel like all loose ends, unthreaded without a center. A collection of achievements with a dubious identity.
If I do, do, do, without thinking, I disown and fracture those parts of myself that need more clarity, more attention, more healing -- that are committed to my unique purpose.
In the recent past I've had to reckon with these fraying parts. This means asking really mucky, annoying questions.
What is my intention when I put myself out there? Am I operating out of fear, out of a deep desire for validation, out of a creative impulse -- or all three?
And listen, I get it! I'm such a downer! Nobody likes a stick in the mud! Just shuddup already!
This more introspective Fel has been rather not-fun to the outside world. Don't even get me started about my "online presence" or whatever. And, I'm not gonna lie, it hasn't been the most fun to *be* me either over the past year (lol).
2018 was a struggle and a half. I got divorced. I moved apartments. I began to pivot from teaching back to performance. I started evaluating my inner world and motivations in a deep and honest way. We're talking the DREGS of my psyche.
I write to you all on this email list not out of routine, but only if I feel moved. I strive for quality over quantity in a truly militant way.
The pendulum, in short, swung from one side, fully to the other.
Start before you're ready ------> get fully aligned, then act.
....almost to the point where I felt a kind of paralysis.
But what if the two could meet in the middle?
What if I could honor what I've been through, and still move forward?
The drummer, bassist, and keyboard player at TIME are pros. As I stood at the mic, and they played the first few notes, I felt relief and nerves at once.
They backed me steadily, surely, beautifully, and as the song progressed, we could feel the energy mounting.
Then the bridge came, then the final chorus. I felt them, I heard it, and we all went for it.
It kind of....exploded.
What was written as a simple song built and grew and overflowed, and I could hear myself belting out Cs, Ds, Es, higher and higher.
Part of my was like WTF IS HAPPENING. I kind of blacked out, to be honest.
The song took us somewhere we didn't know we'd go. But it was aligned. It was what needed to happen.
And it didn't matter how much experience I had. Nothing could have prepared me for that.
But after all that 2018 brought me, what's a few high Es?
Tuesday's open mic merged together my two sides -- my two approaches -- the slow, measured Dr. Jekyll and the ready-fire-aim Mr. Hyde.
Start before you're ready / get aligned before you act.
Making music requires these two approaches, simultaneously. So even though advice is always contradictory, I want to say:
1. TAKE YOUR TIME.
Do your best to be aligned, to be true, to feel that all of your internal parts are moving in the same, right, true direction.
Your music, your voice, your flow is you. If you're true to yourself, you can't help but align and do everything from that sacred place.
Through my music I am healing my own shame and self-judgment, which for decades has stifled the truest most precious creative sides of myself.
I've had to look at myself in the mirror and come to terms with the fact that, for as long as I can remember, I haven't been accepting of what I see.
I write music to rebuild myself. I share it to connect, and maybe you'll feel that it's possible to be yourself, too.
2. DO IT ALREADY.
As I felt myself sing, belting crazily on the mic, I realized --
The miracle of performance is in the not-knowing, and in the trusting that you'll be okay.