Not of the closet. Been there, done that. But there is something else I have been all but hiding for years.
(Hint: If you follow me on Instagram, you may have an inkling)
I determined that before Quarantine was over, I would “go public” with this side of myself, the ONLY “Must Do” on my long list of quarantine goals. I would come out to my family, friends, and acquaintances, old and new. I’d let you all in on my little secret. And since this Sunday will be my first day back to work full-time, it looks like time’s up. So here goes…
I’ve got music in me.
No, not a catchy song, not a feeling. A swirling sea of words and melodies, a light from a candle flame that’s been burning for almost three decades.
Shortly after I learned to read and write I became a songwriter. I remember the first song I wrote, lyrics and melody, when I was seven years old. I remember my babysitter looking surprised, impressed, when I sang it for her. I remember all the words, as is true for most of the hundreds of songs I’ve started and the dozens I’ve finished over the years.
In middle school and high school, I sang in chorus groups. I was invited to join a more elite, competitive group, and singing, and music, were a huge part of my adolescence.
At the same time, I was filling diaries and journals with difficult emotions, deep, dark secrets, hopes, fears, and all the mundane a teenage girl could be expected (often mistakenly) to write about.
Sometimes these came out in diary entries, the kind you see in teen movies, complete with salutations to begin and end. But often they were in the form of poems, metaphors, and, true to my musical self, song. I found that unlike report, essay, or story-writing, songwriting wasn’t hard.
I did not have to scratch my head, stare at the screen, decide what to say and then figure out how to say it. Instead of painstakingly crafting one single sentence and then another, the words of a yet-unknown song simply happened. They flowed out of me, nearly fully-formed thoughts. I knew that it was a natural talent, as writing in general was for me. I hardly had to try.
And so I didn’t.
This is me coming clean.
I’m not exactly sure what shaped my warped ideas of success and failure, talent and hard work, as a child. Perhaps being praised for things like my academic abilities, singing voice, and writing—things I didn’t create, but instead for which I held natural inclination—lead me to believe that if you were good at something it would come easily to you. Perhaps I was so accustomed, from such a young age, to praise, that I did not understand how criticism could be anything but rejection. Or that rejection could be a step on the staircase, and not a locked door.
It’s embarrassing to say that I’ve been learning these lessons in my late twenties and thirties. But since it’s true, I’ll say it.
With that being said, I was woefully uneducated in the matter as a young person. When I encountered my first musical rejections—failing to secure a part in the school musical—I understood that I must not be all that good. Good enough for chorus and chorale, sure, but not good enough for the spotlight. For the big leagues. I developed pretty severe stage fright, and realized—or, more accurately, decided—that I was on the ‘intramural’ team.
In college I focused equally on my coursework and getting drunk with my friends. Extracurriculars included keg stands and Saturday afternoon hangovers, long stretches of overnights in the library fueled by coffee and poison energy drinks. Music was gone from my life when I graduated high school.
And still there were times I’d find myself heartbroken and writing about it. Singing melodies of my own making—quietly in case my roommate should walk in. Just a tiny candle that I held close enough that no one else could see its spark. And I kept it lit for years.
Fast-forward to 2012.
I’m falling in love. I’m writing. We’re hitting milestones, I’m writing.
I’m going through a pivotal moment in a relationship and utterly unable to decide what to do. I’m writing.
Fast-forward to two years ago.
I’m getting my heart poked and pierced and tossed around by someone who didn’t deserve it in the first place. I’m writing. I’m in a toxic, circular experiment and though I can’t think or communicate clearly, I’m writing beautiful songs about trying to.
And again, 2018.
I’m pouring over songs I’ve written, scrolling, listening, and naming the hundreds of untitled entries in the audio recorder app on my phone. And I’m catching myself by surprise. They’re good. To be fair, some are most definitely intramural, but many are sparkling nuggets. The perfect rhyme, a clever metaphor, some quick irony and defiant intonation. Of course, they are not that good.
I begin listening closely to the radio. Tuning in to the lyrics of popular songs. I discover that half of it is intramural. At least.
I begin watching closely at live music performances in bars and local venues. The singers can’t hit every note. And yet, they sing.
This radical idea begins to form inside of me that You don’t have to be the best artist to be an artist.
There’s only one Adele. There’s only one Whitney. There’s only one Christina. But that didn’t stop the millions of other female singers before and after who sang their hearts out. It didn’t make them less.
The shameful realization creeps in. I never tried.
I’m sharing this with you because I owe it to myself
I was seven when I wrote my first song.
I was eight and accepted into a gifted writer’s program.
I was 15 and invited to an elite chorus group.
I was 33 and still holding my candle.
I’ve done this thing, humming melodies, spitting up song starts, and later adding and changing and finishing, for almost three decades. It has been the most constant thing in my life. Some years I didn’t give my talents and passions the respect they deserved because I was busy and distracted. Others I was simply too scared.
I decided over a year ago that if I died having never even tried at the one thing I love best, the thing in which I feel most at home, it would be a true disgrace.
Far more disgraceful than if I share my songs and other people don’t like them.
Ignoring your heart out of fear is disgraceful. It is disrespect to oneself. It is cowardly. And the only regrets I plan to die with are those formed in college after the keg stands.
So, this is me coming clean.
I am an amateur singer-songwriter, with emphasis on “writer”.
I created a YouTube channel to debut my music and an Instagram account to match. Less scary than open mics, but still pretty darn scary. You could criticize my voice, my singing face, my words. It would sting because behind each and every one is a feeling, hard-earned by experience. The vulnerability required to let people see your flickering inside-light is intense. It makes me sweat just thinking about it.
I’m sharing this with you because I owe it to myself to try. To show up in the world in my truest form. (Yes, I did just read “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle, but this is totally unrelated.)
Here’s my musical debut.
One of my favorites, even though I ALMOST forget the words in the beginning.
An oldie but goodie. And bonus is I get to see the progression of learning how to do eyebrows throughout these videos :/
About the name:
As a flight attendant, I spend half my time living in hotels. I thought this name would be a cute, if not kitschy play-on-profession. And putting toilet paper in the logo allowed me to appear far less serious than “FirstNameLastName Music”.
How could anyone hate on ‘the bathroom singer’?
Obviously I had to make some adjustments in the times of Corona; I haven’t been to a hotel in four months. But the hotel living is starting up again soon, and in the meantime I’ve been singin’ my heart out at home.
Maybe someday I won’t feel the need to use anonymity to protect my delicate ego. Or worry I’m “taking myself too seriously.” Maybe then I’ll do a rebrand.
For years, the reason for not performing was that I did not yet play an instrument. I had to learn, be able to play along with myself, before I could “do” music publicly. I bought a guitar off craigslist and picked it up a few times. I tinkered with an old keyboard, but truthfully, I never committed to either. After years of this one thing being my “reason”, it began to look more like a forever excuse.
I would love to learn to play an instrument someday. But for now, the one I have is in my throat and in my mind. And I’m going with that.
So, spoiler alert, everything on the YouTube page is a capella (save for a mean body drum.)
I’m working with what I’ve got, but I’m hopeful that in the future I won’t have to only do acapella. David, my friend and the man formerly known as New Guy, is a fantastic guitar player and we had some really good songwriting and jam sessions. I have plans to get together for a musical weekend with my cousin John, another talented musician, to see what happens. I have friends that sing, that play, that produce electronic music. There are a million little webs and connections that I’ve simply never tried to explore.
Until now, it would seem.
Follow David_Betesh1 on instagram to see more strumming
So, What do I want?
(Oh, you weren’t asking? Well, here goes anyway.)
1. To be brave, true to myself, to be seen on the outside as I am on the inside.
2. Constructive feedback. And since I’m not 15 anymore, critical feedback is okay too. This creates the chance to grow, improve, progress.
3. To open doors for collaboration. Let’s make music together. This post is a way to get the scary part out of the way so that I can get to the fun of learning, creating, experimenting, and hopefully, finding community.
4. To inspire YOU to stop being scared and do that thing you’ve been hiding from. The one you find yourself gravitating toward over and over, despite all the excuses you’re making to yourself. If you can’t stop being scared, do it anyway. Respect your candle, keep it lit. Show the world your light.
Whew, that was a tough one.
Thanks for reading and (maybe) listening. You can follow my Instagram account for more frequent musical posts and feel free to subscribe to Hotel Bathroom Singalongs on YouTube if you feel so inclined.
What candle are YOU holding? Tell me about the thing you were scared to do but did anyway. Or the one you’re working up your nerve to finally try. For musical friends—tips, feedback, collaboration opportunities—any and all are appreciated.
Until next time!