Amanda Palmer is one of those rare bright spirits that humanity is blessed to have existing amongst us—there are many artists who are of that unique cut—but there’s only one Amanda Palmer. This Christmas, I treated myself to the audio release of her book The Art of Asking only because I wanted to hear it—to listen to it like I do her recorded music—to hear her telling it is part of the experience. It was like a conversation, really—I listened, I nodded, and replied—pondered, relishing in the idea that someone else understands what I see. I laughed big belly laughs and I flat out cried my eyes out more than once. I also reminisced my “when” I noticed things differently, connected the dots, and “when” I wanted to be an artist and that I wanted to write books—I always wanted more out of life than being stuck on survive. Sometimes that gets me into trouble because what I want rubs against other people’s expectations—love her or hate her, Amanda Palmer does this too. I love her—and I don’t have to agree with everything she does or says.
I’m late coming to the Amanda Palmer/Dresden Dolls party, but better late than never. I’m always in search of new music, preferably the stuff with an edge to it—and I don’t care if it is played on the radio or not. I found her on Tumblr of all places—someone posted a Youtube video of her cover of Lua by Bright Eyes and then I found the Ukulele Anthem, one video after another, I was hooked. But before that, I tripped across her name on Neil Gaiman’s blog when I was looking for new books to read. It was shortly after they were married, and he talked about how proud he was of her, which I thought was so wicked sweet, and its sweet how smitten he is with her. And of course, I heard some grumbling about the song “Oasis” and some other shit, probably the Kickstarter thing, by then, I bought Theatre is Evil, and was playing the shit out of it, and totally thought it was cool that she did it independent of a record company—as a fan of the little folk singer Ani DiFranco, I’m a fan of anyone who will thumb their nose at “the establishment” and do it themselves.
The major thing I dig about Amanda—she’s the lady who sings songs about the truth—you know, like Phoebe in Friends, little kids loved her because her songs didn’t gloss over stuff like death and life—or smelly cat. Amanda’s fans love her because she sings about the real stuff that connects with them, the things that hurt and the things that are awesome—life is messy and thankfully, she ain’t afraid to tell it like it is. Some people can’t handle the truth, whether it’s a poem about empathy toward an alleged terrorist, or a song about an abortion, or a blog about having her period, or of all things, armpit hair, to shave or not to shave. There’s always the contingent out there that cringes—my own mother, god bless her, was always on me about—“Why can’t you paint (or write) something nice?” Honestly, I can’t, because that wouldn’t be true. Sorry, Mom, my vision is different from yours. I’ve always had my own vision—my own way of doing things. Everyone does, but of course, not everyone’s vision fits everyone else’s so these differences of visions is divisive and if I find myself in a room or a town full of people who do not see things my way I’m set back to the usual “Okay, who brought the weird girl?” dynamic that is the fucking story of my life.
Amanda has this amazing, genuine vision that is as old as time, yet as innocent as a babe—she’s following her bliss. I want to hug her. It makes me happy to know there’s another inspiring young woman out there sticking her neck out and following her bliss. Lots of her fans tell her they think she’s brave to do what she does—she says no, not at all. Well, sure, she’s got her own dose of uncertainty going on just like the rest of us, and some of the noise she makes has as much to do with being afraid than being brave—this is why her fans love her so intensely—she’s one of us, she dives into the crowd naked and trusts us to take care of her. The Fraud Police and all the assholes who spend their breath or time ticking away on keyboards to tear her down with words—they’re just hypercritical bullies with nothing better to do.
The Art of Asking has to be one of the most honest assessments of human nature—why is it so hard for us to ASK for help—in any form. In this book, she’s shared insight in her inner life—what makes her tick—and her “how come?” Unfortunately, when any public figure (or anyone for that matter) especially artists, open up to allow people in, they open themselves up to some of the most unpleasantness humanity has to offer. At the same time that Amanda is genuine and willing to help—she is loaded with self-doubt and vulnerable. I was new to following her while she was writing the book and when I happen to see that she posted questions on Facebook, I pondered my own answers.
"WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU'D ASKED FOR?"
There are times, looking back, I wish I had asked for help more often than I did—life might’ve been easier, but less interesting, I suppose. I just never asked for enough of anything—I rarely asked questions—unless I was really confused because I mentally stepped out the window during the critical moment when I needed to listen. As soon as “Any questions?” was spoken aloud, if I had any at all, they ran away. (Fuckers.) It’s just weird how things work out—if I opened my mouth and asked for help, I might’ve had a much different life—but because I kept my mouth shut, spent time absorbing or being absorbed, head down doing my own thing, I probably wouldn’t have the creativity that I possess to write books and make art. Go figure.
I was always drawing and making stuff, writing stuff, and took pride in what I did, and I loved showing the things that I made to people. I was showing around a drawing of a horse I made and one kid yelled at me “You’re such a show off—you just think you’re hot shit because you can draw!” Why on earth does that still sting after all these years? It just does. It wasn’t a death threat, but for a little kid—it might as well have been. So I was pegged early as a narcissistic asshole by a mouthy little jerk—whatever. Fucking que sera sera.
The Art of Asking is Amanda’s experience with Asking—it’s not an academic treatise—it’s personal and a personality, like a diary—it is multi-layered and structured in fragments of time, events, stages, junctures, and phases (the audio is awesome because it has related music in it that makes it even more special, especially “Bigger on the Inside” which is so emotionally crushing, I cried my eyes out.) Inspired by her TED talk, she’s offered her story to give basic tools for contemporary artist survival, but it’s not a how to manual—it’s inspiration, it’s encouragement, it’s insight. The lone artist in the garret doesn’t have to wait for the big break anymore—unless they chose to remain the lone artist in the garret, that’s their choice. It’s true that not everyone is going to have outstanding success going it alone—and a great deal of it does have to do with networking with people, generating interest in what you do, which means sticking your neck out there and presenting what you have to offer to whoever wants to check it out—or not. (This is where shameless self-promotion comes in, but be careful how you do it, cuz people will jump on your sorry ass for filling their email, twitter, dashboards, forums or whatever social media network with your obnoxious advertising.) There’s a dance to learn, a delicate balance to attain before you can even begin to collect a core group of invested followers. It’s not easy. I know that as a self-published-indie author, I am thankful for the deposits that are made to my account from time to time—it’s pocket change—but it’s better than sitting on my manuscripts and receiving rejection letters. Not everyone is going to like what you do, and some are damn mean about it. Sometimes I’m just about crazed with worry about what others think as I put my offerings out there—sometimes I just say “fuck it.” I have to, otherwise, I’d be paralyzed and I’ll never accomplish a single damn thing.
Amanda worries too much about what others think too. Fuck it, Amanda. Do what you gotta do.