I don’t know whether its Nashville or Belmont, but the people here are weird. And it didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t fit in with them. But still I never stopped trying. And now I’m exhausted. This town is exhausting. These people are exhausting. Trying to feel good enough for them is exhausting.
I’ve lived in Nashville 3 years now and I haven’t really made any friends here. And maybe that’s just because I’m weird or boring or introverted or lazy or stand-offish or something, and it has nothing to do with the people around me. That could all be valid, and then I should probably stop writing this blog. And like also go jump off a cliff or something. But, thankfully (for myself), I have a different theory: Everybody here is trying to “network”. Yes, the word you cannot get away from as a Belmont student or a Nashvillian. The word that makes me throw up a little in my mouth. And I’ve never wanted any part of that. I have big dreams like everyone else here does, but I won’t sell my soul to reach them. Which is what networking feels like to me. But everyone I come across here seems to be looking for people who can offer them something, and apparently I’ve never made the cut.
I remember orientation week at Belmont, or TT (Towering Traditions) week, when I was a new freshman at Belmont. Our little TT groups were only about 15 people and we mostly did awkward icebreaker activities. There was one other girl in my group who was a songwriting major, and automatically I thought we could be friends. I started a conversation with her, asking what kind of music she wrote, and all the things. I thought we were on the same playing field, both new to the town and the school, both looking for someone to hang out with. But in the next couple days, when I would try to talk to her at TT activities, she would all but ignore me, and seemed to already have a friend group in place, one that I wasn’t invited to. I kind of remember that as the beginning of whatever-the-fuck social brain damage was done to me at Belmont.
But I didn’t give up yet. I didn’t realize that that scenario would be my entire Belmont experience. I was still pretty starry-eyed about Nashville and Belmont throughout my freshman year. It’s funny, all the Belmont freshmen are that way. I tried to sign up for all the clubs and do all the open mic nights and put myself out there. I interviewed for a Belmont club that let you volunteer to help big record labels and at red carpet events, but I didn’t get accepted. I went to a BUSA (Belmont University Songwriters Association) meeting and found that it was being led by a girl my age who didn’t really seem to have any kind of plan for the club or the meeting. I went to a University Democrats meeting and the president of the club was the only other person there. We had a nice chat, but I never went back. And that’s on me, that I never picked myself back up and tried again. Maybe everyone was just having a bad day. But I thought I had time, and something better would come along. The only time I found success was when I made it into the ASCAP writer’s night my first semester. But, of course, the people from ASCAP thought I had a lot of work to do.
I also attended all of the Curb College seminars, where they would speak to songwriters, or artists, or A&R people, or anyone. But I never stayed after to introduce myself like they suggested we do. I couldn’t see the point. Why would someone important remember me, a starry-eyed Belmont kid, simply because I went up and shook their hand and babbled some nonsense about liking their work or being a songwriter, like literally everyone else in town. There was one seminar that had to be signed up for in advance, and only the first 5 or 10 people (my memory is foggy) to sign up got to go. I got in and I was really excited. It was a meeting at BMI, I believe, in a boardroom with a successful group of song-pluggers. I remember the seminar being pretty depressing, like they just told us about how hard it is to make it, and how nobody cares about some kid with a demo. Like, okay, probably true, but not really helpful in any way. Anyway, afterwards we Belmont students all kind of mingled with the song-plugger people and a few of us were gathered around one guy, who told us that he had a show or some kind of event coming up that week, and that we should come. One of my fellow Belmont students (who was also a fellow freshman songwriting major) was really into the conversation, doing the whole networking thing, saying she’d be there. I wanted to go too, but I didn’t have a car for my first semester at Belmont. So I messaged her on facebook and asked, if she was still going to the event, could I catch a ride with her. She read it. No reply. Cool.
They tell you that trying to make it in Nashville is all about dealing with rejection. But I always expected that rejection to be about my music. Instead it was mostly constant rejection of me, as a person, just wanting a friend, not asking for anything. And I didn’t know how to deal with that. I still don’t really.
I used to love my songwriting classes at Belmont. I always left feeling inspired and excited. But over time, they became the only classes where I really felt I didn’t belong. In my german classes, or my history classes, or my music history classes, I would speak up, ask questions, make comments. But with songwriting, I wouldn’t even go to class sometimes. Or I would come late, leave as quickly as possible, and sometimes break down on the way home. And it was never about my music. I usually felt like my songs were appreciated and my songwriting was improving. I usually felt pretty validated in that area. But I just never felt like the other songwriting majors liked me. I never felt like I fit in with them. I always felt judged by them, in a weird way, on a personal level. In other classes, I would make jokes or funny comments, and people would laugh, or say something back. In songwriting classes, they seemed to just stare at me. So I started keeping quiet. But over time all the songwriting majors seemed to know eachother, be friends, be collaborating. And I’m not sure where I missed out on that. I don’t know when they all got close without me. I don’t know why it’s only me. I thought that maybe they were all competitive, and saw me as an opponent somehow. But yet they were buddies with all the other songwriters. I couldn’t understand. Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough. It’s true, I didn’t really try after freshman year. I kind of shut down. But I didn’t see how it seemed so easy for them.
My sophomore year I added German as a second major, and I spent my entire junior year studying in Germany. That didn’t really help the whole making friends in Nashville situation, as you might guess. And Germany was a pretty hard year in itself. A lot of loneliness, but also a lot of self-discovery, if only because most of the time I was the only person I had to talk to. And I had to get through some very difficult things by myself. But somehow I came back to America, and to Nashville, with a new level of social anxiety. I still can’t put my finger on why. I went through much more socially terrifying situations in Germany, and often faced them alone. So why would I come back to the U.S., my home, with more anxiety than before. I don’t know. But I remember being in my usual grocery store in Nashville and just feeling extremely anxious and nervous and watched and like I had to get out of there. Maybe it was some kind of reverse culture shock. Maybe it was because, in Germany, I had an excuse for being lost and lonely and confused. In Nashville, I was supposed to be comfortable. I was supposed to have friends and accomplishments. I was supposed to know these people at the grocery store, but I didn’t.
The absolute worst moment was at a songwriting seminar pretty soon after I’d gotten back to Belmont after Germany. It was kind of a mingling thing for songwriting majors that they always have at the beginning of the school year. I’d been to them before, and I decided to go. It was a nightmare. It was a room full of people mingling, and no familiar faces to gravitate towards. There were a few seniors and professors I’d had classes with, but I wasn’t sure if they’d remember me. I’d been gone a year and we never talked that much in the first place. I took a seat in the midst of a group of people who all seemed to be freshmen. We introduced ourselves, did all that small talk stuff, and inevitably, it would always come up that I was in my senior year of the songwriting program. And the new students suddenly all wanted to know, what was the program like, did I like it, what am I doing now, am I playing shows, do I have a publishing deal, what are my plans. And I just wanted to disappear. I didn’t have any answers for them. And then the absolute worst thing happened. I walked across the room to get a water bottle, and passed by one of my new songwriting professors (who also happens to be a very accomplished songwriter, whom I deeply admire). I was avoiding eye contact like a good introverted, socially-anxious person does, but he said “Hi Cailey” and I’m not sure what I said back, but pretty soon I was stuck in an awkward conversation with him, and neither of us had anything to say. Both of us probably wished he’d never said anything. I think he asked me how I was liking class, and my mouth totally betrayed me and said exactly what I would never want to say. In class that week, we had each played a song of ours to introduce ourselves and our writing. After everyone’s songs, the class would stop and comment, say a few things. But as soon as my song ended, another professor in the class decided to use that time to let everyone know that we were running low on time and needed to get to the next song. I was pretty disappointed about that. I had put all this effort into picking a song to play, to represent myself, and then my only feedback was “Okay, we need to hurry up.” And so my mouth decided that was something I needed to let my professor know. So I said something totally horrible like “I was really disappointed we didn’t get to talk about my song,” and then realizing what I’d done, and seeing the blank expression on my professor’s face, I added something like “But I’m really excited for the rest of the semester” or something like that. And awkwardly, my professor replied, “Well that’s what we like to hear.” And then I quickly retreated to my seat and prayed for sudden death for the rest of the seminar. It was everything I could do to sit through it. I was sick with anxiety and holding back tears. To add to my nightmare, they started the seminar off with some performances by some senior songwriting majors. The accomplished ones, the ones the professors were proud of, the ones they wanted the freshmen to see, the ones I started off in classes with, but now wasn’t sure if I’d get a wave back in the hallways from. The seminar dragged on forever and then they encouraged us to stick around and network and meet people afterwards. And so people formed their little circles, chatting and introducing themselves, and I found the nearest exit and got the fuck out of there. I cried until I couldn’t breathe that night, telling my roommate about it. And I’ve avoided most social situations ever since. And here I am still thinking I’m gonna be a songwriter. Like I’m gonna keep hiding in my room writing songs, and someday someone important will magically notice and care.
But that’s actually where I am right now. I refuse to network. I refuse to build fake relationships in the hopes that someday, I’ll get some fame or money out of it. I refuse to be fake, or to put myself in situations where I feel the need to be fake. And if that means I never get a song cut, then I think I’ve begun to accept that reality. Not having friends is another thing though. I kind of need people. I need real friends. But the people here give me anxiety. I feel like I have to convince them that I’m worth their time, and I don’t have the energy or the self-confidence for that. And I don’t really want friends that I have to convince. I’m so used to friendships occurring naturally, but it just hasn’t happened here.
Which brings me to Belmont boys. Belmont has an entire different species of male humans. They’re all the same person, and it’s a very hipster, musical, effeminate, and aloof person, that I can’t begin to relate to. And none of them seemed to find me worth their time anyway. Some of them I’ve thought were interested, but they would never make a move even if they were, because they’re weird introverted Belmont boys (to clarify, I love weird introverts, I am a weird introvert, those are my people. But we are tragically not good at making moves.) There’s been a couple guys who got to know me and really showed interest, but there’s always still a strange disconnect between their weird hipster world, and my real one. When we’re alone we have good conversations and connect on a lot of levels, but it’s like we don’t belong together. Like we had to bend time and space just to be in the same room together. I hear it when they start talking about their band, and their gigs, and their friends. And then actually being around them and their friends is hilarious. It’s like I’m not there. Not one introduction, very rarely do their friends even make eye contact with me. Once I was at a show with unnamed Belmont boy, and he and a friend of his were deep in conversation. I was trying to be included, nodding along, laughing at the funny things. At one point I had a thought and chimed in a couples words, and it was like a movie. Like they both jumped a little and looked at me, startled, like they didn’t realize there was another human standing there the whole time. Good times. Great people. And these Belmont boys that take interest in me, they say nice things like that I’m “real” and “a breath of fresh air”. They like that I’m not one of their weird fake hipster networking friends. But really, they belong with the fake hipster networking people. That’s kind of who they are. And I belong somewhere really far away from Belmont. And I’ve always gotten the vibe from them that they enjoy spending time with me, but they’re embarrassed to be seen with me. They’re into me when we’re alone, but they don’t bring me around their friends. They’re embarrassed that I don’t know any of the people, and that I don’t have any cool things going for me. I’m just a regular person, ew.
But I can’t stop wanting all these people to like me. I can’t stop wanting to be accepted by them. But yet I’ve shut down in so many ways, to keep from getting rejected. I hardly call myself a songwriter anymore. I hardly introduce myself at all. And I wonder, even if I got magically discovered someday from a sloppy self-made video on youtube, and got accepted into the successful musician world, I wonder if I’d even want to be there. Sometimes I feel like all I need to do is get out of here, start over in a new city, and find out if my theory is true and the people here are just fucking weird, or if something’s actually wrong with me.