Calum McSwiggan

Finding My Voice

In Eat, Gay on September 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm


‘You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve, and I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.’

– Bastille

When I was a teenager I had a crippling hatred for my own voice, living in a world where I saw people beaten up on the daily for being gay, I was terrified that my camp rasp would give away my biggest secret. A lot of people hate hearing a recording of themselves back on tape, but I despised it so much that it made me want to cry.

It wasn’t until after I found a more accepting world and came out as gay that I began to be able to accept my voice for the high pitched monstrosity it was. With the support of a close group of friends, I built up the courage to join a gospel choir and, hidden beneath a dozen powerful vocalists where nobody could hear me, I quietly began to embrace my inner voice.

There would still come the time where somebody would make a joke about the way I spoke and I would recoil with disgust and embarrassment, but for the most part my voice and I began to get along just fine. That was until I overheard two of my friends mocking me after hearing me practising singing at the piano. Hearing their hurtful words stung so badly that I never sang in front of anyone again, and just the thought of holding a karaoke microphone was enough to make me succumb to an overwhelming panic.

It was something that never really went away, and when I moved  to University it made me want to shy away from all of the arising opportunities to perform and speak publicly. I had this social butterfly inside of me bursting to get out but this on-going inner conflict seemed to keep bringing me to a standstill.

I continued to push down these inhibitions, successfully sweeping the problem well under the rug, until my best friend one day extended the opportunity to join her in starting our own radio show. Not wanting either of us to miss out on the chance, she relentlessly poked me in the ribs until I hit breaking point. Releasing all of my pent up fear and anger in one sharp burst, I snapped at her and we both fell uncomfortably silent.

It was the only time we ever had anything even close to an argument, and it was in that split second that I knew that I had a problem that I had to overcome. With ample encouragement and support, she convinced me to take up her offer and join her in that radio booth where we worked together in creating our own show. It was the confidence this gave me that lead me on to performing regularly and taking up a job in teaching English that saw me commanding the attention of dozens and singing in front of hundreds.

I noticed a performer inside myself that I had never before met, I now had the emotional stability to speak out but as soon as I finished teaching I had no outlet to share it in. I carried on staying quiet, reserving my stories to be written on my blog or to be shared with friends and strangers around the camp fire, until I became intrigued by a friend from the radio station who had started his own vlog.

His first video had gone viral and reached over 100,000 hits in a matter of days, and not only was I impressed by him personally, I was amazed by the untapped power of YouTube. It was this that inspired me to create my own videos, and working underneath the It Gets Better project and Out4Marriage campaign I published my own videos. For the first time I had exposed myself and my voice to the malicious world of the internet where insults and hurtful words are no holds barred, but I was fully prepared to brush off any unwanted and pesky comments about my womanly voice.

Making videos wasn’t something I could do very well, but it was something that I adored, so after moving to London and being again inspired by the YouTube community, I knew that the next step to take would be to learn how to create my own video blogs, fully embrace social media, and pursue creativity in every way possible.

I cleaved my savings in half by buying myself a new computer and a camera, promised myself that I would stay in one place for at least a little while, and began working on my first video. It’s a nerve racking experience to put the entirety of yourself into something and then push it out to be judged by the masses, but it’s also thrilling and rewarding, and after only a few days I’m already beginning to see the results.

The response I got was relatively small, but for an individual with such a tiny following I was amazed at how much a short video can bring to the table. I only received around 700 views, but scores of strangers were not only hitting my subscribe button but also coming through to my blog, reading my stories, and emailing and tweeting me at a rate I couldn’t keep up with. It’s like vlogging has been the missing link and now everything is beginning to come together.

I’ve only created a single video introducing myself, and even though I still haven’t figured out how to use a camera or a piece of editing software, exciting things are starting to happen. Already I’m collaborating with designers and illustrators and so many talented people who have come forward to offer up their talents, and it’s all stemmed from me putting faith in my own voice.

My only regret is that I let my inhibitions control me for so long and didn’t start a hell of a lot sooner. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to film a vlog from the inside of a tiger cage or from the back of an elephant, but although it’s only a side project, I’m already excited about things I can potentially shoot in the future.

I’ve finally overcome that fear of my own voice, and although I still won’t take up a microphone and join you in singing a karaoke rendition of Beyoncé’s greatest hits, if you’d be so kind to indulge me, I’d happily share with you a bit of nonsense in my first ever video blog.

Summer In The City

In Eat, Gay, Love on August 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

Alexandra Palace

‘So I put my faith in something unknown, I’m living on such sweet nothing.’

– Calvin Harris 

The screams deafened me as I peered through the heaving crowd and up at some of my biggest inspirations, I couldn’t believe that these people who I had watched and read in solitude were now here in front of me being idolised by thousands. I had the same feeling of excitement that other people must feel when they see their favourite musicians perform, watch their favourite actress, or cheer on their favourite sports team.

I listened to their words intently, taking mental notes to drive my own inspirations, hanging on their every word, and then catching the eye of one of them and smiling. Lost in a crowd of hardcore fans you never expect them to acknowledge you, and so when you see them smiling back, you look around frantically, convinced that they’re looking at someone else.

I’d come here to be inspired, I’d only just moved to London when I heard that this global YouTube event was taking place right on my doorstep, and I just had to be a part of it. International writers, film makers, and vloggers were flying in from all over the world to give talks, run seminars, and to meet with their fans. There was absolutely nowhere in the world I would have rather been.

I had been getting despondent with my creativity, with boxing myself into a career path that wasn’t giving me the same enjoyment it once did, battling self enforced deadlines, and ending up necking a bottle of wine instead of getting anything done. This event was the push I needed to branch out and try something new, inject the life back into my work, and finally bring that big project into fruition.

It was incredible to be able to briefly shake the hands of the people that inspire me, to thank them for their work, and get them to sign a good luck card for a like-minded friend about to take on the biggest change in his life. It was thrilling to tick meet one of my idols off my bucket list for 2013, but what was really unbelievable was what was about to happen next.

After meeting so many of my aspirations, there was just one more person I wanted to meet, the person I’d stared up at from the crowd, the person I’d followed religiously for as long as I could remember. I rushed across the room just in time for his meet and greet to find a two-thousand strong queue already snaking across the hall and outside. I very nearly walked away and went to sit another seminar, but just as I caught his eye again for a split moment, I decided to hop on the end of the line and join the monstrous queue.

I waited for so long that when I was finally rushed forward and instructed to snap a photo and move along, I was flustered and couldn’t get my words out. I wanted to talk to him, pick his brain, and ask him a thousand questions, but instead I whispered a quiet compliment, asked him to sign my friend’s card, and was swiftly hurried along. How can I find you? he called after me as the security guard took my arm and hurried through the next person. Tweet me, I said, @CalumMcSwiggan.

I can’t think of a name more difficult to spell or remember, and that was just one of the reasons that I never expected to hear from him again. He took to the stage again later that day and when I heard the screams of thousands echoing his name, I knew that of course he wasn’t going to contact me. I tried to catch his eye again but I was lost in a sea of people, I’d been fortunate enough to meet a handful of my idols, and to expect anything more was delusional.

Just meeting these amazing people and taking part in their workshops filled me with such creative energy and passion that it began to revitalise my dwindling creative spirit. I’ve not been taking my work seriously, and this was exactly the boost I needed to really start working towards everything I want to achieve.

I wanted to try something new, and meeting these people gave me that push. Not only did I want to start vlogging myself, I wanted to try my hand at photography, take up a dance class, complete a marathon, pose for that life drawing class, and track down my saxophone and piano and relearn my love for music. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to do all of these things just as long as I took the leap and got started.

It’s been no secret that I’ve been finding it difficult settling into life in a big city, but all of a sudden I felt like I suddenly fit in, like I was part of something. I understand the importance of building a strong network of friends in the real world, and that’s why I’ve finally settled down and chosen a home, but there’s also a real thriving online community that I’ve been teetering on the outskirts of, and now I really want to throw myself into the centre of it.

I let the last few inspirational words wash over me as the last of my idols waved goodbye and disappeared backstage. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and got ready to leave when my phone buzzed in my pocket and there was a message from him. He wanted to see me again, and even though I only got to see him for the briefest of moments, my heart somersaulted in knowing that he’d chosen to contact me out of the thousands of people who’d queued to meet him.

I never expected to hear from him again as I hugged him goodbye and tumbled down the hillside with a handful of new friends. It was a pleasure to have met him, he was no longer a person inside my computer screen, but he was now a real person and that was enough. I never would have thought I’d have been so lucky to stay in touch with him, that he’d go on to read my work, and become somebody that I could call a friend.

I had wondered if I had made the right decision in moving here into the big city, knowing that I could instead be off island hopping and setting off on my next voyage, but meeting so many of my inspirations changed this. This time last year I was alone in Ibiza in the middle of a whirlwind adventure, but I wouldn’t swap any amount of Mediterranean sunsets for what I have now. I’m just beginning to start this new life, and I couldn’t be happier to spend the last of the summer in the city.

Paint Your Life

In Eat, Gay, Love on August 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Hyde Park

 ‘I like it in the city where the air is so thick and opaque, I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts, and shades.’

– Adele

It only took two days to find a place, to move off my best friend’s sofa, and cart my suitcase through the streets of London and into my new home. The wheels buckled as I dragged the weight of my entire life behind me, and as block by block I approached my new front door, my wheels fell off and the seams of my suitcase began to tear as my belongings toppled and fell out into the street.

This suitcase and I had travelled together for a year and a half, we’d visited countless countries and had countless adventures together, and yet somehow, on the day that I’d finally decided to come back to my own country, it’d given up and was falling apart. It was as if it was telling me that it’d had enough and wanted to stay in one place.

Clutching the keys to my new place in hand, I pushed open the front door and pulled the suitcase up each flight of stairs, breathing in the fragrant flowers nestled in the window boxes, and stepping over the threshold of my new room. I dropped my case to the floor and let all of my worldly possessions spill out, opened the window to the fire escape, and let in the song of a pair of singers duetting in the dusk.

I had more space than I could fill with my few dwindling possessions, and even after mounting my Buddhist tapestry, plastering the walls with several dozen photos, and hanging my gay pride flag, it still seemed terribly empty. I was still missing friends.

I’m so fortunate to now have my best friend living around the corner, but we’ve always operated independently. Like a functioning married couple, we live our own lives so we always have something to talk about when we sit down to dinner. I didn’t want to piggy-back upon her friendships, I wanted to build my own, and that’s why I was so overjoyed when the doorbell finally rang.

Leaping down the stairs three at a time, I pulled open the door and dived into the arms of the American standing there. She was from Ohio, we’d worked together in Italy, and now she was here standing outside my London apartment. It was hard to believe it was really her, and with our combined knowledge of the city totalling nothing, we ventured out together to explore.

This was the life I had wanted when I chose to move here, and in those few days that she was with me, I experienced it all in a snapshot. Just as quickly and as rapidly as she’d come, though, it was soon time for her to disappear on a train and leave me wanting more. It was a scene so familiar to me, except this time it wasn’t me going somewhere new and exciting, it was somebody else, and I was the one being left behind. I might have been living in one of the world’s hubs with people endlessly coming and going, but I still felt very much alone.

 It was a letter from a friend that really made me feel solitary. He said that I was an inspiration for uprooting my life and coming here, and he brazenly played with words like brave and courageous. It was the most flattering letter I’d ever received in my life, but every word stung because I felt like my friendless self was a complete and utter fraud.

I knew then that it was time to stop pretending and to actually start building this life for real. It was time to paint a life that suited me, and so I began trying to make friends in whatever way I could. Scrolling through endless Grindr profiles by day, and bar hopping by night, I talked to anyone and everyone in search of someone I might call a friend, but it seemed everyone just wanted benefits. A topless man would ask me for a fuck, my inbox would flood with pictures of penises, and somebody would take me aside and request to pay me generously for my services.

Making friends as an adult is hard, I never seem to have trouble when on the road, but when I finally come back to my home country it seems impossible. Perhaps being the mysterious guy who arrives on a train and then leaves on a plane is easy, but being a new permanent addition to somebody else’s city is hard. I’d make fleeting friendships by chatting to the girls in the ice-cream shop, getting drunk in somebody’s kitchen, falling asleep in a stranger’s bed, but by the time I’d get home, these people couldn’t even remember my name and I’d probably never see them again.

The people I’d pass as I wandered through my local plot of green frustrated me, I was so jealous of them as they laughed with their friends and lapped up the last bit of the summer sunshine. Laid out on their picnic blankets, wrapped up in their happiness, they had everything I craved but were oblivious to me and the rest of the world around them. They’d found their lives, and it was time for me to find mine.

Everything I wanted was here, I just had to be patient enough to let it happen. Trawling bars and casual sex apps was not going to find me the friends that I wanted, and as soon as I started looking, I began to notice the people I’d shut my eyes to before. A girl sat reading a book alone beneath the boughs of a shady tree, a boy sat on the curb with headphones pushed into his ears, and somebody who smiles with such genuine intentions that you know that they’re just as lonely as you.

Like my visiting friend from Ohio, people come and go from this city every single day, but just as people leave, new people arrive, and those people are all looking for the very same thing. They’re looking for a life that isn’t handed to them on a plate, a life they have to work for, a life they can design from scratch. I may not be able to snap my fingers and have everything I want come shooting out from them, but in time it will all come. Yes it’s lonely, yes it’s scary, but more than anything I’m just grateful that I’m able to sit here and paint my life with whichever colours I so choose.