In my teen years, life felt much more dramatic than it actually was. Nothing was fair and everything was the end of the world. For about an hour at a time. And then I'd go write a song and regain my clarity.
Being teenage girl, things that were usually to blame for "the worst day ever" were catty girlfriends, fights with my parents about how "no one understands what I'm going through" and boys. Yes, these were all very serious matters and while some were more important than others, none of those "worst days ever" matter to me now. Sure, I have amazing memories and learned great lessons of growth, but in the moment, my social life was not anything I learned from right away. I did, however, find my coping mechanism. I wrote songs. I wrote poems and added melodies. Singing about what I was feeling felt a little silly but it helped.
Six years of piano lessons and many more years of choir never gave me the same therapy I felt from making my own music. I sang my own songs to myself. I was making something I was really proud of and didn't even realize how much it was helping me emotionally.
I kept my song journal in my backpack everyday, just in case I felt the need to write something down. My shoes were a constant rhythm and it amazed me how quickly I felt better after turning any situation into a song.
The only downside of my songwriting was that I didn't want to share it with anyone else. My song book was like my diary and part of why I carried it with me everywhere was because I was afraid of anyone else finding it. There was nothing terrible in there, but there were some of my most intimate, personal secrets. I was writing songs that made perfect sense to me, but those songs had very adult themes, another reason why I felt silly writing them. When you're sixteen, everyone else assumes you don't know anything about life and love. Of course, someone as young as sixteen has plenty to learn about life and love, but as a teenager, you are still entitled to have real feelings. We grow through our emotional experiences and that was exactly how song writing helped me. It allowed me to grow and the more I dug into what I meant in each verse, the more honest I could be with myself.
Singing my own songs became habit. In the cafe where I worked as a barista, I would sing my songs to myself quietly while doing dishes in the back of the store. One of my co-workers heard me one day. He pushed me to perform in the cafe for weeks until I finally agreed that I would let the public see and hear a part of me that was so very special and personal.
I told my parents about my cafe performance debut. My mom said, "Show? What kind of show?"
"I'm gonna sing my songs. I write songs, sometimes."
"Well, can we come hear you sing?"
"No, you don't have to. It won't be very entertaining anyway. But it's at 8 on thursday, if you want to come."
I didn't want my parents to hear me sing. I thought the lyrics to my songs would either make them uncomfortable or bring up all sorts of other questions. It didn't occur to me that my social problems and feelings were perfectly normal. The show wasn't at 8. It was at 7. Even if my parents showed up, the show would be over by then. Odd as it is, it's sometimes easier to share your feelings with strangers than the people closest to you.
I put on a nice dress and took the bus to the cafe. My dad wished me luck on my way out. Suddenly he didn't care anymore. I didn't care, but I did. I wanted my parents to want to hear me play my music. I wanted them to want in to my private life and be interested in my hobbies-- Another one of the many internal struggles of a teenager: wanting your parents to want to be involved in the part of your life that you keep hidden. I didn't advertise my song writing in any way. It was my fault that my parents weren't more excited for me. My nonchalantness made it seem like it didn't matter to me at all. My mom knew it mattered to me.
I sang eight songs. My voice shook through the first two. It felt like trying to do pull-ups in gym class with everyone watching. I forgot a verse of the second song and made it up on the spot. By the middle of my set, I was getting the hang of it. People were clapping like they appreciated and respected what I did. I finished the show with a Smokey Robinson cover. By the end of my rock-star debut, the cafe was full and I was spoiled with applause. I took the bus home feeling a little more sure of myself. Sharing my songs gave me the confidence boost to continue performing and to continue writing.
I came home to a single rose and a gift on my bed. The gift was a beautiful new journal and the card read, "You were amazing tonight, baby. I hope you write more songs into this journal- Love, Mom". Like a good mother, mine snuck in to my show and hid behind the crowd so I wouldn't feel embarrassed. Having my mom's support meant the world to me and made me want to write songs even more.
I haven't written songs in a while, but it will always be a fail-proof way for me to cope with however crummy or happy I'm feeling. Making music truly made me feel like a rock star. I could stand in a spot-light and be applauded for something I made. Sure, the cafe was no stadium, but singing in one of my favorite places for such a welcoming crowd taught me poise, taught me to believe in my talents and taught me to be less afraid of all the personal struggles of being a teenage girl.
(Marina Orievsky studied Communication at the University of Washington where she put her focus on journalism and social media. She has worked with Revolution Inc. and Papersalt since January 2012, contributing blog material about life lessons and about her personal experiences with transitioning from teenage years to adulthood.)