The Art of Asking: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
Amanda Palmer (Twitter) (Facebook)
Grand Central Publishing (November 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 1455581089 / 9781455581085)
Nonfiction: Memoir/autobiography, 352 pages
A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (December 9, 2014). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.
“It is a fear of the no that keeps so many of our mouths sewn tightly shut” says musician/performance artist Amanda Palmer. Palmer’s first book, The Art of Asking, explores her relationship with that fear through her experiences as a creator, a businesswoman, a friend, and a wife.
The story of Palmer’s journey from Boston street busker to Kickstarter success story and linchpin of a devoted online community offers many examples of what can be accomplished when someone is willing to tear out those stitches and risk the “no,” but it’s also brutally honest about just how difficult it can be to do that. Palmer’s account of her conflict over accepting financial help from her own husband, writer Neil Gaiman, until the money from the million-dollar Kickstarter campaign comes in is a particularly vivid illustration of that difficulty, and exploring it through this and other experiences yields reflections on relationship dynamics, trust, and vulnerability. Vulnerability as strength is a theme Palmer shares with fellow TED-talk veteran Brene Brown, who contributes the Foreword to The Art of Asking.
Palmer frames many of her “lessons learned” in terms of their practical meaning for fellow artists, and her experiences with nurturing connection with supporters—a significant factor in her crowdfunding success—are valuable enough as that. However, The Art of Asking also works as personal memoir, building on the directness and honesty with which Palmer has honed those connections through her years as a songwriter, poet, and blogger. Much as Anne Lamott offered “instructions on writing and life” in Bird by Bird, Amanda Palmer’s openness to “letting people help” may be instructive to anyone who struggles with that fear of the “no.”
Rock star, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker Amanda Palmer knows all about asking. Performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, she wordlessly asked thousands of passersby for their dollars. When she became a singer, songwriter, and musician, she was not afraid to ask her audience to support her as she surfed the crowd (and slept on their couches while touring). And when she left her record label to strike out on her own, she asked her fans to support her in making an album, leading to the world’s most successful music Kickstarter.
Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn’t alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING.
Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.
From The Art of Asking:
“You may have a memory of when you first, as a child, started connecting the dots of the world. Perhaps outside on a cold-spring-day school field trip, mud on your shoes, mentally straying from the given tasks at hand, as you began to find patterns and connections where you didn’t notice them before. You may remember being excited by your discoveries, and maybe you held them up proudly to the other kids, saying:
did you ever notice that this looks like this?
the shapes on this leaf look like the cracks in this puddle of ice
which look like the veins on the back of my hand
which look like the hairs stuck to the back of her sweater…
“Collecting the dots. Then connecting them. And then sharing the connections with those around you. This is how a creative human works. Collecting, connecting, sharing.”