“Some days it’s your turn to ask. Some days it’s your turn to be asked.” ~Amanda Palmer
I spotted musician singer-songwriter Amanda Conner on the cover of her new book last week. She was nude with the title painted on her upper chest. I was intrigued but I couldn’t justify spending $27.00 on someone I wasn’t sure I liked. I didn’t get the book.
When I got home, I was haunted by Amanda Palmer’s wide-eyed face. I weighed my nostalgia for her old band The Dresden Dolls versus articles I’d read about her online. I knew Neil Gaiman thought the world of her and I thought the world of him. Shouldn’t I at least investigate her side of things? I capitulated and ordered the book from the library.
In The Art of Asking: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, Amanda Palmer’s voice is raw, direct, and unabashed. She alternates between stubborn and fragile, fearless and vulnerable, yet finds the spaces between. My judgments slid away with each confessional chapter. I read the book in one sitting.
Amanda Palmer believes it is okay to ask for what you want. She started this practice dressed as a living statue–an eight foot tall bride–who gave out flowers to strangers when they gave her money. As a touring musician, she asked her fans to feed and house her. When she needed to leave her unsupportive record label, she asked her fans to pay for her album, leading to one of the most successful, and controversial, crowdfunding campaigns in Kickstarter history. The foundation to Palmer’s success is in her relationship with her fans. She writes:
It’s about finding your people, your listeners, your readers, and making art for and with them. Not for the masses, not for the critics, but for your ever-widening circle of friends (222).
Palmer bypassed the old music industry gatekeepers and built a community on personal transparency. Through avid use of Twitter and her blog, she connects with her fan base as extended family. “Risk is the core cost of human connection,” says Palmer, and it’s an “act of trust” to ask for help (222).
We make countless choices every day whether to ask or to turn away from one another. Wondering whether it’s too much to ask the neighbor to feed the cat. The decision to turn away from a partner, to turn off the light instead of asking what’s wrong.
Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability.
Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing:
I deserve to ask
You are welcome to say no.
Because the ask that is conditional cannot be a gift (303).
Trusting the public may have come easily to Palmer, but it was in her relationship with Gaiman that her asking philosophy was greatly tested. In between stories about her rise to fame and notoriety, Palmer shares the fears and doubts she had to overcome to eventually accept the assistance of her husband. It is this story of unconditional love that humanizes Palmer the most, and it moved me to tears several times.
Amanda Palmer continues to question and test the boundaries of what we label shameless and worthy. And she does all of this while creating her art. That makes her a trailblazer in my eyes and I am grateful for her gift of The Art of Asking.