ENTER THE DISCOMFORT-ZONE
Thursday 29th September 2016, 3:45 pm…the path from Bishop Street . Fear, only fear now, and pain and morbid loathing of self and the world that I inhabited. Down I walked, towards my destiny, towards my own private electric chair. The great leveller, an exercise in extreme humility and ego-crushing. Closer still, my walk became a march, through a blur of faces I prayed I’d remain anonymous. My head hung low, my heart thundering high. Today was the day, no more running, no more hiding. Today was the day I’d pick up my guitar and dive deep into the world of busking. Yes, busking, playing your guitar for cash, in public, in front of folk.
A friend of mine had a bit of advice, if you could call it advice – said he ‘aye, you think you’re Jimi Hendrix sitting in the bedroom, just wait til you’re out there in front of folk’ ! It made sense, for I was indeed the king of the axe in my own parlour, why those 4 songs I knew without chord sheets only sounded sweeter each time I played. My 2 year old son no longer ran from sight each time I’d begin my strum; he’d hang around, dance a merry jig, offer cheers of delight. But that seemed like a distant life now, far away in the mists of time and memory. In the safe bosom of my own private Wembley Arena, aka my sitting room.
The Peace Bridge in Derry was to be my stage, although I’d much rather have been on the Foyle Bridge doing it, where my only audience would be speeding cars and the odd Scania 142. On the way there I’d drift into waking nightmares about what would ensue.
Reasons for this exercise are many. I’d always wanted to busk, always wanted to batter out a few tunes on stage and be met with flowers, cash and fanfare, but my reason today was another.
I teach a few classes each year, a bit of photography, a bit of motivation. I love it, I love when I connect with a student, the moment my words and work connect deep with someone and you know it will create some positive change in their future. There’s nothing more satisfying. One major lesson when I teach is stepping beyond your comfort zone, facing your fears head on and charging like a raging bull towards them. I guess photography assignments don’t tend to phase me like they once did. Like when I began shooting for the Derry News many moons ago, like when I realised I’d volunteered to shoot a stranger’s wedding back in a different decade. I’ve had my camera in my hands for enough hours that I know fairly well that it’s going to do its bid when the time comes; I know my people, my surroundings too. So a wedding, as much as it does keep me on my toes, and as much as I do put in the hours study before each big day; it longer keep me awake for nights on end in the days leading up. I guess what I’m trying to say is I wanted to feel that fear again, I wanted to feel what a wedding photography virgin feels the day they are walking towards a church for the very first time as the primary shooter. I’ve talked of busking for years, my wife reckoned, why not go up and give it a lash, to which I’d reply in the negative everytime, I’d break out in a sweat, fight back nausea and tears.
I’d arrived at the Derry Peace Bridge now but I felt little of the peace it promised. My stage awaited. I felt naked. Standing naked on Derry’s Peace Bridge, swinging in the wind. I prayed no one would know me. Fleeting thoughts crashed though my head. I'd meet every being I’d ever met today, they would have decided to take a windy day dander across the bridge, senseless thoughts that every girlfriend I’d ever known would have assembled there too, at some kind of weird 'exs of Jay Doherty' reunion. Together they stand in the pit, to point and jeer, my old teachers would be there too, tutting and agreeing. Alone, vulnerable, inside crying for my ma. I looked up to the sky as a man often does when he seeks hope - perhaps that big dirty cloud would unleash some rain and I’d only be playing for the ducks. I strummed a few, I strummed a few more, I gave it a lash, without lyrics – I played my whole playlist of 4 tunes without a single word, a warm up set perhaps, instrumentals all the way. Then went back for round 2 with a whimpering few lines of verse. Folk walked passed, some looked up, some lost in their wee lonely worlds, some tourists hoped I’d play Irish reels for cash. No one laughed, not that I took up eye contact with them. My gaze fixed on the horizon, seeking refuge in the far hills beyond.
I stayed on the bridge of dreams for 20 minutes or so, decided that the public were entertained well enough then packed up and dandered back to the van. Neither fulfilment nor enlightenment were felt, still the same dread and unease. Perhaps with time I’d feel some sense of achievement but now I’d hurried home, back to my womb of safety and familiarity.
I retrospect I’m glad I gave it a lash. I’m glad I faced it like a raging, or perhaps a quivering, bull and charged in head first. It was as much surreal as anything, a drug-like removal from reality….like a bad trip perhaps. I’d guess the next time wouldn’t be as bad, like what I teach – it always gets easier – confidence grows, real-life skills and survival techniques are acquired out there in the battlefield. You learn your craft and you acquire self-awareness all at the same time, out there, beyond the comfort zone…