Working Together

"We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again..."

Excerpt from "Working Together" © David Whyte
in The House of Belonging

Many Rivers Press

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nailed It - Amanda Palmer Asks a F**king Question

I was thinking this morning what a miserable lapse it was that I hadn't penned a review on Amanda Palmer's book, "The Art of Asking" at Amazon.  I added it to my list of things to do ASAP.  Later today I got to that item on my list and I pulled up my Amazon account only to realize that I had already written a review. It was like a series of bullet points. I frowned. That somehow doesn't quite cover how I feel about The Art of Asking. I used the word fabulous three times.  I meant each one but it is still not enough to say about this work and the author.

I first came upon Amanda Palmer in the fall of 2013 when, while music surfing the internet, I was looking for a video that fit my blog post that autumn. I found the perfect video for my post in the song "In My Mind" and found her as an artist, afterward. That's how it is surfing the internet and what I love about it; the abundance...the cyber mind-meld. I became genuinely curious about Amanda when I found her TED talk from March 2013. There was something about this talk that blew me away. At the time I was thinking that it was her concept of giving and sharing but over the years, it has become much more than that for me. After the TED talk, I then went and listened to more of her music. I listened to it a lot and, frankly, wasn't keen on it (though it can speak to me at times). Much of what she is singing about is lost on me I think because of my age. It simply is not my shit. I had my own shit back in the days of shit storms. (See Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith). What intrigued me about Amanda Palmer was her presence and her ease of being in her own skin and in the world. A world that has been anything but kind to her in terms of her internet exposure. She has transcended something through her interaction on the internet that has puzzled me for the entirety of my cyber life. She knows how to get beyond being looked at; Amanda Palmer knows how to  be seen and connect.

By the time I read "The Art of Asking" my life had already been taking form around the questions I needed to be asking. Through Amanda's story of working in the street as an artist completely dependent upon the whims of the public, I came to understand something that had worked me over for years; the feeling I get when I drive up to the traffic light and I see the all-too-familiar person begging from the corner. The conflict I feel is real to me and not fleeting. It has been going on in me for decades and I've tried a holy host of different approaches in dealing with giving or not giving as it unfolded each particular day. It wasn't until I read Amanda's book did I understand that what I was being asked to do was not throw money at the poor but to connect. Most people are not going to look into someone's eyes and take advantage of a connection to be made on a street corner. Most people are not going to understand that it is an opportunity to make someone's day better with a smile or some encouragement, even if you don't have money to give or even want to give money. So WHAT? Does it have to be a political statement or involve a moral judgement? The book explained to me how the point is to be vitally present; to be vulnerable and violently sincere. I had missed the strength aspect of allowing time and space to align and be present in any given encounter. While it is still uncomfortable for me, all of this is so much easier now both to understand about myself and about the world I live in. This is in part because I'm older and there is more access to my compassion as I near the end of my life but there is a vital message for young people in The Art of Asking. She is speaking in a language and at a velocity that her fans can hear and not only relate to but employ in their lives to bring quality to it. She's a cultural treasure in this regard.

There is much more in the book that shines beyond the fast pitch narrative of her artistic life. There is a trove of prospect that Amanda Palmer invites us to examine in turning the record industry model-upside-down and tickling it's underbelly.  Like: What would happen if you gave your music away for free and just had your fans give what they could to support you? Who ASKS that question?  Amanda Palmer does. She not only asks the question to herself but picks up the megaphone and asks her fan base of twenty plus years what they think. Well, [spoiler] she has currently over 4,000 individual fans giving anything from $1 to 1,000 a month/thing for her to keep doing what she does at Patreon. She's THAT good at doing!  And the fans rally, "NO! Don't stop! Don't EVER stop! Take my money!" Such is a great idea having its day.

I approach popular culture like a moth to a a sad display of fateful, clumsy flight. I don't want to die; I want the shiny thing that blinds me and burns me new. In the case of Amanda Palmer, the blinding shiny thing also dances and moves lightening quick! I fear if she ever stops in her tracks, three days later, I shall bump into her and burn up in a radiant fizzle! It would take three days for me to catch up to her stopping. I can't keep up with her or her writer husband, Neil Gaiman, who lights giant (yet more conservative) bonfires of his own creatively. I keep a rheumy eye on them both tenderly nurturing my Twitter feed with its 68 Tweets because there may come I day I have an opportunity to ask a question of my own and I don't want to miss that opportunity.

I highly recommend that you download or purchase outright The Art of Asking; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help and treat yourself to a little aggravating inspiration. This is not your Momma's self-help but wildly interesting reading if you care at all about how this internet thing is constructed and how it applies to the evolution of the human heart thing. Bonus: there is swearing and there are nails.

For the uninitiated: enjoy a walk through Amandalanda

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