Monday, March 9, 2015

The Art of Asking

On the recommendation of my friends Kim and Marci, I have been reading The Art of Asking: or how I learned to stop wording and let people help by Amanda Palmer who up until this point I have willfully believed did not exist because I should have married Neil Gaiman.

The book is obviously, how to ask.  It begins by examining how artists don't know how to ask for help with their projects.  She raised millions of dollars for her album after leaving her major label by using Kickstarter.  Kickstarter, and programs like it, are for people to raise money on creative endeavors from music to films to inventions.  She was wildly successful in her attempt, but she already had a following and had just publicly broken away from her major producer.  She also knew how to ask for help.

She watched too many artists on programs like Kickstarter in their fifteen minute pitches apologizing for wanting help as if they didn't deserve it.  It made her cringe.  A career everything, from living statue to stripper to rock star, Palmer always knew how to ask.  She asked not apologizing for herself, which engenders shame on both ends.  She didn't ask with arrogance.  She asked with gratitude.  Asking requires being able to be vulnerable.  It creates a moment of connection between the asker and the askee in a moment of humanity that does them both good.

Her later chapters cover other asking situations such as how to ask for emotional help.

By the time I got into the first chapter, I began to ask myself, how do I ask?  The answer is, until recently, I didn't.

I have received the patronage of my parents my entire life, and I have always been grateful for it.  They have always been proud to give so that I can work on my creative projects.  They consider themselves to be something that Palmer talks about--patrons.  Until fairly recently, artists had patrons in order to be able to focus on their art.  Patrons were people with money to support these artists and pride in being able to further an artist's career.

Part of the reason my parents have always supported me has nothing to do with art.  To put it bluntly, until recently I have not been functional enough to support myself reliably.  At first I was unstably bipolar--manic depressive.  I stabilized long enough to decide to get my Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, which doesn't sound like the most practical thing for someone with the ambition to become self sufficient.  But of course, I was sure I would publish a book and then be hired by a university as a creative writing instructor.

As it turned out, I fell apart at Mills College.  I still consider it to be one of the most amazing and challenging experiences of my life.  I only wish I had been in a better position to take advantage of it.  After stubbornly staying through trauma, a bad theraputical team, and a serious down spiral after I graduated, I finally returned home to my parents until I was well enough to get a Masters for my next career.

There I stayed stable and excelled, but rolled my car in the final days of the program and had to once again rely on my parents' generosity to stay off assistance.

By that time I had learned to do some asking.  I asked to be put on disability at school to take my two weeks extra to finish my work at Mills College if necessary, but I despised using it.

But I grew up not asking.  Palmer begins the book by using the example that she will loudly ask for a tampon if she needs it in any situation in any company.  She always has had the experience of having women shuffle in their purses until someone comes up triumphant and gives it to her in a moment of connection with the women in the room.  She cannot imagine there are actually women who make do with wadded up toilet paper because they are afraid of asking.

I didn't grow up being too ashamed to ask.  I grew up being the girl who always had tampons in her purse so that if this situation came up, I would have that tampon to lend.  I carried pain killers, safety pins--anything someone might suddenly need.  In my relationships I was always the one there to lend emotional support, but didn't ask for it.

I haven't had great luck asking for help.  Too much of my help has involved asking if someone will help me emotionally when I am depressed or manic.  The situation is overwhelming, and the majority of people I have asked back away from the situation.  Of course, I have also asked while apologizing for asking, which for Palmer brings about shame.

Since I have learned to ask I have had some amazing friends help me along the way from everything from learning to be a girl in high school to my manic depression to a trauma I experienced as well.  And I love and respect them for it.  I am grateful.  I succeeded there because I often didn't ask for help.  I asked for connection, and help came along the way.

But to get around to talking about being an artist asking for help, I have certainly done my share of asking in clever and respectful queries and book proposals.  I have had more trouble asking for help in my indie career.

According to Palmer, there are three parts of the creative process, collection information and impressions from the world, then making these connect into a work, and then sharing the work.  I get stuck on sharing with my writing.  I have had no trouble asking people to come to shows I am in, but it gets a little more complicated when you are asking someone to read a book.  It is a time consuming process.  Most of the time I get brushed off.  The longer I ask for help in my indie career, the more apologetic I get.

I get shame faced about asking someone to join my blog, much less read it or comment on it on a regular basis.  I do recommend my own books to people I think would like them, and do so with every understanding the answer may be no.  But I have had little luck in getting people interested in helping me publicize.

I don't see me using a program like Kickstarter to finance a book.  Certainly not mid series.  Though I am considering taking a break after this, and I could see myself asking for money to put out and publicize, even more, the memoir I would like to return to.  The thing is, I want to work.  I like the extra collection.  I don't want to not be able to collect enough information.

Plus, being bipolar sort of ended my dreams of being a starving artist or joint the Peace Corps.  I need insurance.  I need therapy.  These things cost money.  I am stuck finding something that is reliable and has insurance.

I started writing because I love collecting and connecting images and emotions into metaphors and stories.  But now that I have been doing it for a long time, I find myself wanting to share.  I want people to experience my writing.  I ask with gratitude.  I am a good writer.  I think many people will find it a different and fun activity, but I accept no.

I ask people to join and comment on this blog with gratitude.  I love getting comments.  I am grateful for each one.  It means you have found a moment of connection in my writing, and that means I have found a moment of connection with you.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I have never had a problem asking when I had confidence in the product. As a sales person, I have spent years asking people to buy my product (or more often service). Whether selling or "begging" money for some non profit arts project, I rarely had the best deal/product/ around. As much as I love the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, it is one of literally dozens in north America. The MSF is great, better than most at most things, but is it the best? Probably not. But I never stopped asking. It had and has tremendous artistic merit and entertainment value. I have read all your books and can confidently say that they have tremendous artistic merit and even greater entertainment value. They likely are not the best things ever written in the several thousand years since writing was invented, but they surely are much more entertaining than the bulk, the vast bulk of fiction out there. you should keep asking to assure more people get an opportunity to agree with me.