Is asking a problem of your everyday life? Christy Ku shares what she has learnt from Amanda Palmer’s bestseller The Art of Asking.
You’re in a crowded public bathroom, when a complete stranger calls out that she needs a sanitary towel. You can probably guess what happens next – everyone in the room will be rustling through their bags to help. Now, you’re the one caught short. Would you ask? Or would you rather silently buy some or make a wad of toilet paper for now? When you think about it, it’s strange that we’re so unwilling and afraid to ask for help.
Amanda Palmer uses this example in The Art of Asking and this fear of asking is the core of her part-memoir, part-self-help debut book. Palmer is a rock star, activist, blogger, a former living statue and now a writer. After leaving her label, she launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, asking for $100,000 to fund an album. Palmer soon set a record for the biggest crowd-funded music project at $1.2 million. This led on to her 2013 TED talk (also titled ‘The Art of Asking’) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMj_P_6H69g which currently has almost 3 and a half million views. Her book expands on the topics from her talk, illustrated with stories from her past and song lyrics. Despite the Amazon vs Hachette battle (Palmer was with Hatchette), The Art of Asking reached the New York Times bestseller’s list.
It’s a truly incredible book – one of the most important and influential things I have ever read. Her writing is raw, honest and beautiful. I’d been following her twitter (https://twitter.com/amandapalmer ) as she began writing her book, sharing the experience and process. She tweeted the good days, the tough days, asked for cafes to work in, shared the moment when her writing program crashed, and when the book was finally complete. So when the book arrived, it was like a piece of herself came in an envelope to me. As I read, I wanted to take in every bit of ink on those pages.
There are no lectures, no self-gratuitous life lessons patronisingly passed down to the reader. She shares her stories openly; talking about her past, her marriage, her abortion, her friendships. Her writing has made me laugh and at times has physically jolted me. The trust and love she has for her audience is clear in every word. This book has taught me so much.
At university, we’re in a new place with so many strangers surrounding us. It’s a terrifying time, as everyone shouts about making lots of life-long friends RIGHT NOW, advancing careers NOW, doing better than everyone else NOW. You and your voice can get lost. Palmer writes that for “every single artist (…) maybe, it all boiled down to one thing: BELIEVE ME. Believe me. I’m real”. Every artist, and every human being, wants to be believed, and seen. Not looked at – seen. Under the small talk and social scripts of conversations, we’re so scared to ask and to interact with each other.
When we ask for help, we admit we need it. We’re not completely self-reliant and strong, and in that moment of asking, we’re vulnerable. People can hurt us by refusing, judge us by asking or hold that power over us. At times we feel we can’t ask because it feels like begging. Palmer shares an example defining the difference between the begging and asking with a friend’s story about homeless children. They asked for money by holding up their hands. One child remained behind to open her arms, asking for a hug.
Begging is not giving the other a choice to refuse you. When you ask, there’s an exchange and a connection.
Several reviews insist Palmer has it wrong – some people are not allowed to ask. However, that simply strengthens Palmer’s argument that asking is hard – those who are against asking have trouble asking for help. As Palmer’s Kickstarter grew successful, critics accused her of exploiting fans.
Palmer has now created a Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/amandapalmer ) which allows backers to choose to regularly pay a range of amounts for a piece of work. Her range is $1 to $1,000. It can seem odd, and arrogant, asking people to pay $1,000 – or any amount of money – for one of Palmer’s creations, but that tier is currently sold out. All she did was ask. There was no con, no trick. Her fans could say no. But they wanted to give.
There’s little wonder that hundreds are buying The Art of Asking for each other. People who can’t afford the book, or just want something free ask on the internet. Complete strangers respond with “how do you want to do this? Where do I send it to? Paperback or audiobook?” Palmer set up a Mass Mosaic page (https://massmosaic.com/groups/162/view/the-art-of-asking-amanda-palmer-book-gifting ) after being bombarded as a middleman on twitter – it became so successful Amazon sold out of copies of her book.
Amanda Palmer shares her strength and vulnerability in equal measure in The Art of Asking. The book is a comfort and inspiration for me, teaching me more than I can say in this review.
So go out there. Help. Create. Connect. Ask.
Christy Kubookmark me