Book Review – The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

When I was in high school, Coin Operated Boy was one of my favorite songs. I don’t know how it happened, but I somehow only listened to the Dresden Dolls for a short time before they disappeared into the ether of music I’d forgotten I loved.

Years later, I see a bunch of mess on the internet about how everyone hates that Amanda Palmer has married Neil Gaiman. I had no idea why they would hate that, since two awesome artists getting married is a pretty awesome thing in general. I think some of the haters were jealous and wanted to marry Neil Gaiman.

But it reminded me that the Dresden Dolls were awesome and a few of their songs went right back onto my playlists. I didn’t really dig into the newer stuff, just what I’d already loved from high school. I feel like my early twenties missed out on something special because of that.

Fast forward to years later and this new book is coming out. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I saw the announcement that it was finally out on the day it released. I downloaded it to my iPod and started reading that day.

I also loaded a spotify playlist of her music and started pruning to my absolute favorites. It turns out, I love all her music but I ESPECIALLY love her Ukulele music. I even bought a Ukulele that I cannot play.

One major problem with iPods is that books without chapters make it feel like you can’t find a stopping point at bedtime. So I went and got a hard copy after about a month of haphazard reading.

The hardback changed everything. I dove into this book like a puppy dives into leftovers: I DEVOURED this book.

So many aspects spoke to me, especially with things I’ve been dealing with lately: creativity and building an audience, the anxiety of needing help, the Fraud Police, and facing Internet Hate.

The Anxiety of Needing Help

When she realized that her Kickstarter would be delayed, Amanda had to come to terms with asking her husband for help. For women nowadays, that’s a hard thing to do. We’re all asking for equality but when we need help, when we aren’t completely independent, we feel like we don’t deserve the help or the equality. We feel like we’ve set women back decades by asking our husband or our boyfriend or our father to cover our ass.

We often feel like we’ve failed at our independence.

If the man we’re asking for help is our boyfriend or husband, there’s also the fear that he’ll use this against us down the road. If we break up or have a fight, he’ll bring it up. I even have a hard time accepting gifts during GIFT-GIVING HOLIDAYS for this reason. It feels like if I ever break up with him, he’s gonna turn around and say “You were only in this for [insert whatever gifts]! You used me!”

I’m much more likely to stay longer because I don’t want to hurt you (or that I’m afraid you’ll hurt me) than to stay longer because I want gifts.

I kept wanting to hug her and cry “You get it!”

Another thing she gets, that I think everyone gets, is the Fraud Police.

Impostor Syndrome

I don’t think anyone feels like they’re as good at their job, their art, or their anything as their peers. Everyone looks at other people’s outside face and sees them getting things done and pretending to be confident. No one sees the person panicking because they don’t know what they’re doing or because they’re lost or because they think they’ll never be as good as the people beside them.

But her phrasing of the Fraud Police is so apt. It feels like someone could out you at any moment and you’ll face dire consequences for lying to everyone. I saw an article posted about “Professional Fraud” and how it could happen to any business. I started having an anxiety attack and looked up what constituted professional fraud. Was I doing something that could get me sued or arrested? Apparently professional fraud is more along the lines of lying on your resume or time sheets, so I’m good. I’ll live to panic another day.

She faces the Fraud police at so many junctions in her life and they get worse as she gets more successful. I know I’ll eventually face that as well, so it’s good to see her being so honest about faking it and feeling this way, because I think most of us do feel this way but so few will talk about it.

Internet Hate

I’ve been watching the internet lash out at women in gaming for a while, and I’ve been afraid every time I mention it. The internet is a writhing mass of anger without any consequences to keep it in check. People could send death and rape threats to people every single day and film themselves with a knife on the way to the person’s house, and the police will do nothing.

And Amanda Palmer has been at the receiving end of that hate as well. I wasn’t aware of the hate she’d received, but she detailed it and I could feel the anxiety for her every bit as much as I’ve felt it for the women I see facing it every day on twitter.

The hate is something I’m terrified of finding when I get myself out there and reach some level of success. But I also realize that the hate you’re exposed to is a sign that you’ve made it enough to be seen by so many people.

Her detailing the ups and downs of the creative life, dealing with the trust and fear of being in the public eye, has helped me so much. Her anecdotes and advice doesn’t just apply to people who’ve done music things or public speaking things or living statue things. They also apply to people who do writing things and painting things and programming things.

5/5 Stars. I feel like I’m more prepared now for what I’m getting into and I’ll be better as an author for having read this book.

But this is also from the woman who wrote the song “Judy Blume”, so I’m not at all surprised that her book has improved me. If you write books and that song doesn’t inspire you, then you aren’t hearing what I’m hearing.

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