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Amanda Palmer is one of those people who’s so unreservedly cool she inspires immediate awkwardness in people like me. I deliberate, she decides. She finds jobs that will allow her to pursue her art until she reaches the point where she can support herself on her art, while people like me just sort of marvel at her ability to do so.
This, of course, is the kind of binary thinking her book The Art of Asking seeks to dismantle. Palmer may be unabashedly cool–and in fact, reading her book makes her seem even more so, but she’s also unflinchingly honest about her struggles as an artist and just as a person. She examines everything from the new sharing economy brought about by sites like Kickstarter to the inherent offer of dignity in accepting a gift to how questions shape a marriage to feeling like an imposter the whole time.
“Imposter Syndrome” is a real thing, the voice in our heads telling us we’re faking it even when everything outside our minds is telling us we’re good: at our jobs, at our relationships, at life. And it’s incredibly reassuring to know that someone like Palmer lives with it, despite all she’s done (short list: performance art, collaborative and solo musical acts, modeling, writing) because if the voice in her head is still shouting her down, it’s a good indicator that it’s more aligned with our insecurities than any actual reality.
Palmer’s life has taken so many twists and turns off the beaten path it’s amazing how relatable she remains. Her work as an artist means she is inherently asking of her fans: their time, their money, their attention. And coming from a privileged position, she struggles with the responsibility that comes from that request. She’s slept in the homes of people who had to double up on beds to accommodate her and her tour, she’s taken gifts from people who have little to give but freely offered anyway.
Refusing an offer sincerely given often comes from a place of love. We don’t want to take from those who have little to give, but there’s a beauty and dignity in taking that which we are offered, especially when the person offering has limited opportunity to be generous with what they have. When we deny a gift given in kindness, we do more harm than good.
Palmer’s struggle with acceptance makes up only one half of the overarching theme of The Art of Asking. She also struggles to articulate her needs, and imparts an important lesson: if you don’t tell people what you want, they can’t give it to you. One incident she relays after she and her husband Neil Gaiman (yes, that Neil Gaiman) suffer a personal tragedy strikes particularly hard. Gaiman is withdrawn and silent, Palmer is aching for some affection and reassurance. She summons up her courage and tells him she needs a cuddle and discovers that Gaiman grew up in an environment where he was taught that when people are sad they need space and quiet–in short, he took from her what she needed precisely because he didn’t know she needed it.
Palmer’s narrative is as warm and fuzzy as her stage presence is raw and aggressive. Reading her book feels like having a deep conversation with a wise best friend. She touches on human realities as well as artistic ones: she laments that her mother, a former computer programmer, never got the recognition she deserved for the creativity of her work, even from her professionally creative daughter. She deals with the reality of having a May December friendship and the implications of losing one of the foremost relationships/guideposts of her life, and has to deal with the ugly reality of rape culture when two concert attendants use her open trust and fondness for nudity as an opportunity to violate her. Even outside the creative fields, her writing has a very human reality.