Natalie Sellers ’14 shares a personal essay about her first experience busking and the fear of feeling invisible, written for her Unheard Voices/Unseen Lives English elective. By reading literature of the dispossessed and marginalized, the class explores what it means to be silenced and invisible.
“Why am I doing this?” I thought, placing my guitar case on the street corner. I told myself that I could still walk away if I wanted to. Suddenly, I had hundreds of chores that needed to be done, even though five minutes ago those chores did not exist. I stared at my guitar, lying there peacefully, wondering if I should pick it up to play or flee while I had the chance.
For an entire summer, I had been telling myself that I would street perform, also known as busking. I have always admired street performers, envied them even. The idea of turning a sidewalk into a stage thrilled me. Unfortunately, this thrill was also paralleled by fear. What if people didn’t stop to listen? What if no one paid attention? These questions raced through my mind every time I thought of busking.
Upon sharing this fear with my parents, they were shocked. They couldn’t understand how their daughter who once ate chicken feet and cow stomach out of pure curiosity, could be afraid to play a couple songs for passersby. Furthermore, they’d seen me perform many times, so to them busking was just another performance. To me, busking was completely different. There was no guaranteed audience, no friends or family in the crowd to support you. In fact, there was no crowd at all, unless I created one. I feared that no one would hear me and that no one would see me—no matter how loud I played—which is why it took me until the final week of summer to busk.
I had been standing on the street corner just staring at my guitar for about 10 minutes. I thought that maybe if I glared at it long enough, the guitar would play itself and I would be free. Unfortunately, my guitar remained motionless and my telepathic skills nonexistent. Strangers with their Starbucks and shopping bags in hand stared at me quizzically, as they passed by. I soon realized that the reactions I received could not be worse than singing a few songs, so I picked up my guitar and began to play.
I had never felt so nervous and alone than in those first few strums. I imagined that this must be what the infamous New York City Naked Cowboy must feel like because while I certainly wasn’t naked, I felt just as exposed. However, as I continued to play, my discomfort diminished. It would be a lie to say that the stores became vacant as shoppers flooded the streets to hear me play, but people began to listen and soon enough, those few people turned into a small crowd.
While that day began with great discomfort, it ended with gratification. Better than the dollars and coins that lined my case were the moments I shared with so many strangers throughout the day. People sang “Rock me Momma Like a Wagon Wheel” right along with me, one girl singing the words back at me as she crossed the street. A little boy danced around me, dropping a small pink flower in my case before he left. A cluster of little girls approached me, advising me to keep singing and to audition for their favorite talent shows. A duck tour full of tourists paused their tour to hear me, then applauded as they continued on.
That first day, I played and sang up and down the street until it became too dark to see the neck of my guitar. What I thought would be a 10-minute endeavor, turned into an all-day affair. Since that day, I have continued to busk, now addicted to the unpredictability and insecurity that once deterred me. Who would have thought that all it would take was some spare change and a flower?