May 1, 2015 | by Maryam Hassan

In 2013 I got back from my yearly pilgrimage from Fest and Chicago and knew I had to move.

I’d been saying for about eight years that I want to relocate to Chicago but there never felt like a right moment. But that November all the pieces were in place, and I knew I only had one option left to me and that was to pack up my shit and move across the Atlantic. There are many logistics to this—one does not simply walk to America (or swim I guess would be more appropriate)—I had to jump through a few hoops first. But I am about to start my 30s and a new career in a new city as far away from London as I could get. This is both brilliant and terrifying. As someone with some big anxiety issues, having the punk scene to fall back on is both a good and bad thing.

London has an amazing punk scene—if I’m honest, the whole of the UK is like a big, dumb, punk family. I know people from all over that country who do amazing things, play in brilliant bands and make our scene something special. If I was moving to somewhere new then the place I moved to would have to live up to that. I needed a music scene that blew me away in a place that I felt comfortable where I could start tackling new challenges and grow. I have some anxiety issues as I have written about before on The Runout, and this is another way of pushing myself to do more and stretch myself. Moving is a daunting thing but sometimes it’s worth the leap.

The wonderful thing about being in any punk scene is that you can pick yourself up and go to another city, and in theory, if you go to a show you will be able to meet people who like similar things to you and who you can at least start a conversation with based on punk bands. When I first moved back to Chicago for a few months in 2011 this was sort of the case. I made friends by talking to people, interviewing people for Punktastic and then going to parties and shows when I was invited. My social circle got bigger over the years and I started to put on shows and things there, whilst still living in London. It was a little weird and my brain never got used to having to function in two time zones at once. I wanted to spend more of my time with these people though, because when I was at my worst my friends in the Chicago punk scene made me feel like I could make it anywhere if I just set my mind to it. Having a solid base of people makes moving a lot less anxiety-ridden, but moving and not having the same people I started with has thrown me a lot.

When I decided I was going to put on a show in Chicago a year ago I was told it couldn’t be done, people would be angry, I’d be stepping on toes and that I just didn’t understand what I was getting myself into. There is always this uncertainty when you plant yourself somewhere new and are used to being active in the punk scene where you come from that you are going to be an imposition and that people are going to dislike you for butting in. I work with bands, put on shows and take photos in London all the time, so to want to do those things when I moved was natural to me. I didn’t take into account how people would take someone new showing up and doing things. When I’m told I shouldn’t do something I usually go ahead and do it anyway. Putting on that one show led to me now working for the production company who helped me do the initial one. If I’m a positive, contributing, helpful part of the punk scene here, and I’m genuinely passionate about what I’m doing and doing it well then I’m not going to upset anyone else right? That’s my theory, let’s see if I get proved wrong.

Punk is my safety net. When everything else around me is going wrong, when things are weird, I know I can fall back and go to a show and feel like I’m home again. When I started to go to shows in London I would have massive anxiety about being that awkward person on my own. It took a lot to get over it and be at a point where I would go to things without a second thought. Being thrown back into that is hard. When bands are playing I am at my most enthusiastic, and everything I see in Chicago gets me excited about music again in a way I’ve not been in a long time. I cannot get enough of what’s going on in this city. Between sets is where the awkwardness arises and what makes me sometimes not want to be at shows. When you move somewhere new you are always going to feel like an imposition and this leads to you being awkward and not your best self. I know what my best self is like and I’m currently nowhere near that. I can’t solve that problem right now, but what helps is that people here are nice and I’m trying to be as vocal about how awkward I feel as I can. Surprisingly that breaks the ice with a lot of people which leads to me calming down and not feeling like I’m being invited to hang out because I’m a pity case. You have to put your time in and make your own way. It’s scary and at first can be so very lonely but in the end you do start to feel like you’re home.

Ramsey Beyer does this amazing comic where she talks about going to something that makes her feel at home and feeling more alone than ever. There’s a strip with her going to a house show but not knowing what door to go in. It’s small things like that which make moving seem so daunting. You know that you’ll love the house show, you want to go and see bands but you get there and the nerves behind doing something wrong, or going in the wrong door, or everyone staring at you for being new which are usually all in your head and not actually real can be so strong. This stage is hard to get past, I’m having trouble with it but once you do stuff starts to get easier. Situations like this challenge anxiety and help because you start learn to be okay with being on your own. You do go to the show and no one does anything you feared they would, then at the next one you talk a little more and then it all gets easier. I was at a show last Monday watching a band that I absolutely adore for the first time and as the band was playing I had to say over in my head “You are not as awkward as you think you are, you need to calm down” because part of me felt like such an imposter.

I think it takes a lot to uproot your life and shift it all somewhere new, especially when you’re not doing it for school or work, you’re just doing it because you want to have new challenges and in some ways start over after many years of being in one place. I’ve been in London for 30 years and I’m leaving behind friends and family who I love more than anything, a punk scene that made me more confident and has given me so many amazing life experiences and a wonderful city that never sleeps. But Chicago is going to help me do so many more things. There are countless opportunities here and as much as it’s testing my anxiety to the maximum I’m glad I found a city with a music scene that makes me want to talk in caps all of the time. At the end of the day moving is scary but punk rock makes it all a little easier.

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