Imagine standing on a box in the middle of a busy city, dressed as a white-faced bride, and silently using your eyes to ask people for money. Or touring Europe in a punk cabaret band, and finding a place to sleep each night by reaching out to strangers on Twitter. For Amanda Palmer, actions like these have gone beyond satisfying her basic needs for food and shelter – they’ve taught her how to turn strangers into friends, build communities, and discover her own giving impulses. And because she had learned how to ask, she was able to go to the world to ask for the money to make a new album and tour with it, and to raise over a million dollars in a month.
In the New York TImes bestseller The Art of Asking, Palmer expands upon her popular TED talk to reveal how ordinary people, those of us without thousands of Twitter followers and adoring fans, can use these same principles in our own lives.
Don’t you just love a book that makes you whip out the ol’ sticky notes? I sure as hell do and The Art of Asking is one of those books.
The Art of Asking was prescribed to me (is that the right word? I kinda feel it is in this case) by my boyfriend and I’m going to be honest, prior to reading it, I literally had no idea who Amanda Palmer was. He simply gave it to me and said it was an important read…so I delved into it with literally no idea of what to expect. I don’t generally read non-fiction so I wasn’t entirely convinced it’d be my ‘thing’, but, well, I have to confess…
Oh. My. God. I’m actually feeling slightly intimidated at the prospect of writing this review because I don’t know if I can do this incredible book justice with mere words. If there was a way to inject the sheer weight of emotion that this book hit me with into your veins, believe me, I would. It’s such an incredibly raw and poignant piece of literature. Amanda’s insights into the human race and how we function at our most basic, fundamental level is breathtaking.
We all want to be seen for who we really are and loved for it regardless. We all fall victim to the fraud police. We all fear being seen as weak and needy and, as a result, refrain from asking for the most basic of things – love, understanding, time and support – when we need it most.
Amanda addresses our shared insecurities in The Art of Asking and shares her experiences in dealing with these feelings in a book that is a multitude of things; heartwarming, heartbreaking, funny, inspiring, honest…these are to name but a few.
The tone of this book is what initially captured my attention and pulled me out of my three week reading slump. Amanda is a well-known singer-songwriter, but she’s just as down-to-earth as anyone else. We tend to put our idols – our favourite writers, singers, actors etc – on a pedestal. We see them as these god-like figures who have no interest in us mere mortals and, a lot of the time, they don’t. Amanda is different, though. She actively engages with her fans and treats them as her closest friends, reaching out to them, both through social media and in person, when they’re in need. The warm, loving tone with which this book has been carefully written made me feel like I was cocooned in the safest of embraces with my closest friend. Amanda sees me. Amanda sees you…she sees all of us. The Art of Asking was a surreal reading experience for me. It felt as though Amanda was speaking to me on a soul deep level.
I’m sure a lot of people who’ve read this book say this, but Amanda reminds me of, well, me. On page 42 (and I’m this specific with page numbers because like I said, I’ve sticky noted the fuck out of this book), she talks about the Fraud Police, an idea I’ve always referred to as ‘impostor syndrome’. It’s this crazy notion a lot of people have that others will discover that they actually have no idea what they’re doing. I feel like this a lot, both in terms of my personal life and my life as a writer. Even now, writing this review, I can feel the Fraud Police knocking on the door of my mind, whispering through the letter box “Hah! You don’t what you’re talking about, lady! We know you’re stupid and just mask that stupidity with long words and even longer sentences! Just wait ’til everyone finds out!”. I’ve been running this blog for over a year now and I still feel like that. It’s the same whenever I write a poem or a story. I feel good about it…and then I read a piece by someone else and the self doubt begins creeping in. I feel like a fraud when I see the beautiful, funny pieces that other people write, like I have no right to call myself a ‘writer’ and don’t even get me started on my personal life! If someone compliments me, it make me insanely uncomfortable because I can’t associate myself with words like “beautiful”. I struggle to believe that it’s me that’s being referred to and nothing scares me more than the thought of people realising that I’m not as cool as they thought I was and realising I’m not worth their time…but knowing that someone as well-known as Amanda Palmer suffers with these very same feelings brings me more comfort than she might have ever realised it could. Furthermore, she goes on to explain why people might have these feelings and that understanding helps people to take that first crucial step towards fighting back against the Fraud Police.
Now, let’s move onto the topic that this book revolves around; the art of asking. Amanda talks about how difficult she found it to borrow money from her husband, the famous author, Neil Gaiman, which was something of an irony for someone who could take to Twitter and ask complete strangers for a couch to sleep on. The inability to ask those closest to us for something is a universal theme.
Why do we have such difficulty in asking? Do we fear being looked down upon? Do we fear being seen as weak and vulnerable? In Amanda’s case, yes. She feared people would think she was sponging off her rich husband and would see her as a user or a golddigger. She feared judgment and judgement is something I think we all fear. When I was in my second year at university, I went through a particularly bad spell with my depression and ended up in hospital one night. The friend who came to my aid called my other friends, one of whom is one of my best friends, and, initially, I refused them entry into my cubicle. I was so scared of being judged and being seen as stupid and weak. When I eventually relented, they came bursting in in floods of tears. They weren’t angry with me. They weren’t ashamed of me. They were just sad that I hadn’t felt able to ask them for help. Reading The Art of Asking has brought that memory to the forefront of my mind and even though I only finished reading it yesterday, I think my reading of it has been a pivotal moment of my life. This book has taught me a lot of things but one of the key lessons at its core is this; asking isn’t easy but we all deserve the right to ask. The art of asking is a gift in a way. Your gifting the recipient of your question with your trust. You’re gifting them with your soul laid bare, vulnerabilities and all. Sure, they’re entitled to say no, asking isn’t about making demands after all…but the crucial point is this, how will you know unless you ask? Ask and humanity might just surprise you with its response.
Did I do this book justice? I hope I did! The Art of Asking is a must read for everyone.
Rating: 10 out of 5…wait, I can’t do numbers. I mean, 5 out of 5!
Song: Not so much a song (although definitely check out Amanda’s music!) but here’s a link to her TED talk.
This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.