The Art of Asking

Subtitled How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, I have so much to say about The Art of Asking, and I don’t know where to start.  Amanda Fucking Palmer, rockstar, artist, writer, ukulele player, lover of Neil Gaiman.  I listen to her music, I love her ideas, I follow her updates on Facebook.  Just for this book, I watched her post the writing process, the editing process, the cover art design, the launch and reviews.  But I resisted reading it: a lot of my own career has developed on not revealing vulnerability, on developing and, importantly, showing strength.  I didn’t think I wanted to develop the Art of Asking.  Maybe it would even harm me if I did.

But I saw it one evening on a friend’s dining table, borrowed it, read it, LOVED IT.  Amanda is funny and smart and raw and flawed and really onto something.  Her community, her fans, her friends – all one and the same.  She has created her art and career through asking but still had trouble asking her own husband for help when she needed it.  She is almost as famous for her internet-era patronage techniques as she is for her music, but even she had trouble asking?  But why is asking even so important?

As I moved through my life as a statue and later as a musician, I started to understand.

There is a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen.

When you are looked at, your eyes can stay blissfully closed.  You suck energy, you steal the spotlight.  When you are seen, your eyes must be open, as you are seeing and recognising your witness.  You accept energy and you generate energy.  You create light.

We skip between memoir and anecdote and reflection back and forth through time, and before I’d even realised it, Amanda had imparted her theory of the three stages of creativity (collecting the dots, connecting the dots, sharing), and for her naturally everything was so open for help, assistance, collaboration, sharing.  She was confronted by the Art of Asking before she even realised she was doing it.  I was hit with the very real realisation that I am not that extroverted, exuberant, trusting, open but she is just so open herself it doesn’t matter, she brings you along, she loves you all.

And she is damn funny:

(The principal delivered a lecture that I would absolutely kill to have a recording of, just to be able to use the line ‘you think you’re so special, Amanda, but you are not special’ in my techno-remix of “Creep” by Radiohead.)

Creating.  Trust, asking, giving, gifting, receiving, the gift keeps passing on.  When Anthony, her best friend, life mentor, is struggling and ill, “Some days it felt like asking for his help was the best gift I could give him”.  The art of asking is a basic human connection, as basic as collecting and connecting the dots, then telling people about it.

There was that feeling again…an electrifying combination of fear and a tenacious, underlying trust that refused to take no for an answer.

It reminded me of the shiver you get in the split second after leaving the edge of a diving board, knowing that your every pore is about to experience a shocking, full-body sensual assault: you brace…with joy.

I cried reading this book and writhed with giggles too.  Amanda is so open, so trusting, it’s arresting and scary and wonderful.  But the tragedy, my god, is maybe made even worse reading today and knowing the postscript: Amanda is pregnant; her best friend, her mentor, Anthony, dies; Amanda gives birth, a boy, Anthony.  Of course it doesn’t happen in a neat little order like that, and there is grief and loss and art and creation and consolation in all that, but after showing so much of herself to us in this book, the bits I see on Facebook mean so much more.  Not being one who reads her blog – just watches the updates and buys her art – I feel like this book gave the reflection on what she shares and gives each day.  We know where Amanda is at because she tells us all the time, what it means is what she talks about in The Art of Asking.

There is a magical idea in the book How Yoga Works by Michael Roach: that you plant a small seed, in yourself, in someone else, with every act of kindness.  Every thought, every gesture, every single moment of kindness a small seed is planted.  You tend to those seeds, and maybe, sometimes some of them grow.  And others may tend the seeds you have given then. It’s simple: you share a nice thought with a friend in a tough moment, the friend remembers it, maybe comes back later to it in another hard times, and perhaps pass those words on themselves.  That’s the seed, being planted, cultivated, growing, passing on.  You are in each and every seed.  A soul can live forever; at any given moment your small seeds of kindness can be living in thousands of other people, who are maybe tending, growing, and planting small seeds themselves.

Amanda’s idea of asking, trusting, giving, reminded me of the seeds being planted.  The gift always keeps moving.  Today she asks, and receives; tomorrow someone else asks, and she gives.  This is karma.  You deserve to ask, and to receive; trust that.  There is politics and power in giving and asking, and my cynical cynical mind can’t help but feel the world is not as good knowing when not to ask, when the giver can’t help but give but, damn: her openness, her trust.  It’s liberating and scary.  It’s wonderful.  I started this book on a Saturday evening and finished on Sunday afternoon.  I want to read it again.  It scares me and makes me laugh and there is so much to it.  I love it.

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