As a fan of The Dresden Dolls for over ten years and an avid reader, I was over the moon when I heard that Amanda Palmer was going to write a book. Even moreso when I heard that it was going to be along the same lines of work that the amazing Brené Brown (who actually wound up writing the Foreword to this book). It’s no secret that Amanda is super in touch with fans, known to put out calls via twitter for everything from advice to crashspace to announcing surprise ninja gigs and more. When The Dresden Dolls were still together, she and Brian Viglione would stay after shows, signing autographs, talking with fans, giving hugs, accepting gifts. I have a few select things signed by them, as I don’t usually go in for generic “sign your name on my book” type autographs. No, I want it to be special. So I have a stuffed panda that Amanda drew her signature eyebrow on over one and that Brian signed as the other eyebrow. Things like that. But I digress. I used to do street teaming for the Dolls, have performed with Brian Viglione, and just…adore them both. Amanda’s lyrics and music reached me in a way that most other music couldn’t at the time when I first heard “Half Jack”, a song off their eponymous first studio album. Her blogs about life, art, conflict, love, learning, connection, being human have helped me in ways too numerous for a book review. So, as I said, I was incredibly glad to hear she was writing a book. However, I wondered how much more she could put out there since, as I said above, she is known for being very accessible and present on the internet and in person.
Turns out, she had a lot more to put out there. The Art of Asking strikes me as one part history of the artist and one part love story for three different “people”: her husband, Neil Gaiman, her mentor, Anthony, and humanity in general. She talks about how she got into performing, starting with being a living statue in Boston and then moving on to forming The Dresden Dolls with Brian and the process of how that and she grew. Interspersed with the history are snippets of her courtship and life with Neil and am evolving explanation of Anthony and the myriad ways he was her rock, her mirror, her best friend, her mentor to life. I loved learning new things about her, recognizing certain periods and places she spoke of, and seeing all the ways she continues to foster connection, encourage trust in humanity, and completely admits to being shitty at certain parts of it all.
One of her biggest stumbling blocks is feeling unable to accept certain types of help. She, herself, boggles at this, especially since she opens the book with a story about asking loudly for a tampon in a restroom and reflects how she’s shameless and not afraid to ask for anything. However, this anecdote and assessment quickly turns to doubt in one sentence: “I think.”
Because she remembers there are things she’s ashamed or or embarassed or unable to ask or accept help with. Money from her well off, well known husband, for one. She actually admits in the beginning of the book that it used to be her deepest fear to be indebted to him. She offers her thoughts on why it’s hard to ask:
From what I’ve seen, it isn’t so much the asking that paralyzes us – it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one.
It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.
American culture in particular has instilled in us a bizarre notion that to ask for help amounts to admission of failure. But some of the most powerful, successful, admired people in the world seem, to me, to have something in common: they ask constantly, creatively, compassionately, and gracefully.
The book bouncing around a lot, but the connections are all there if you look for them. The ties she makes, the fans she creates, the trust she has in all of them. She speaks of a fairly universal feeling of the worrying about not being legit in what she was doing and coining the term The Fraud Police before she even knew what Imposter Syndrome was and that it was a Thing. Her descriptions of feeling like she and her art aren’t real, or valid, or “good enough” were immensely relieving, as I’ve been there, too, and know so many other people who have. And then to have Amanda F. Palmer get to the place where she can share what I’ve come to also believe is an hidden truth that’s hard to acknowledge:
There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to art school, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.
In this book, Amanda continues to be what I consider a good artist and author, exploring the connection between vulnerability and asking for help and ultimately did get over her deep fear of being indebted to her husband…when it came to a life and death situation with her best friend, Anthony. I won’t go into it here, though, because I highly recommend reading this book yourself.