Even though I’m not a musician, or even a complete music literate (whatever that ultimately means), I had been looking forward to Amanda Palmer’s first book for quite some time. And now that I finally finished reading it a few days ago, I’m now in a place where I can actually say something about it.
It wasn’t easy and, to some extent, it’s still very challenging. The Art of Asking is something like what might happen if you take a blender, to borrow one of Amanda’s creative sayings, put it on a low setting, and introduce autobiographical anecdotes, self-help philosophy, social media excerpts, a few literary quotes, and of course musical lyrics, to the blade and mix. Chronological events are sometimes parallel with each other in the narrative, but these instances are often separated by philosophical musings and personal moments.
Whatever else, The Art of Asking is, it’s definitely not an ordinary book: as if something that’s a fusion of the creative and the personal can ever be ordinary.
I’ll also admit that it took me a while to get into the book, and sometimes I had trouble actually staying inside it. I mean, I knew that — even based on the title — that Amanda’s book would have some significant roots in her TED Talk of the same name, but it is both fascinating and sometimes off-putting to consider that there is a fair amount of her book that you can already find to some extent in her Blog and even in her introduction to Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes.
The intertextuality, the way her book relates to the narratives and circumstances behind Anthony’s Lunatic Heroes and Beloved Demons, as well as to Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane really does intrigue me and it puts some elements into perspective. I’d argue that The Art of Asking has details that can give you something of a holistic approach to looking at all four narratives upon risk of falling into the authorial fallacy: of looking at the people behind the works instead of the works themselves on their own merits.
I mean, it’s no secret that Amanda encouraged Anthony to hone and publish his personal stories — many of which he’d already told her before during their time together — and that Neil’s Ocean was the result of a story that he actually wanted to tell her while she was in the middle of her own solitary creative struggles. When you look at how those narratives talk to each other, like the people that made them and talked to each other in turn, The Art of Asking is almost something of a bridge between three different and creative spaces. It is my opinion that they all belong together.
The downside was that sometimes these references felt like filler. I think what really confused me was something that Amanda said which, ironically, I truly appreciated. It was a reference to another part of her creative process. After a fascinating look at different types of creative processes from her perspective, Amanda mentions that to create something is to “connect the dots” between things that you gather or experience. This, for me, pretty much sums up how creativity happens. As a creator, you take things that don’t seem to relate to each on the surface and you find or make connections between these elements. This thought particularly jived with me.
Unfortunately, at least from my perspective as a reader, I couldn’t always see how Amanda connected the dots of her ideas and anecdotes or even her musical lyric interludes within the structure of The Art of Asking itself. Perhaps I just don’t have a good eye for it, or for that matter even a good ear. Maybe, as Amanda herself isn’t generally a book writer — this being her first one — she writes prose much in the way her mind generates rhythm and lyric: through music. This is just a thought that I’m throwing out there myself. However, maybe the narrative is a lot like Amanda herself in that her art and her performance seems to be a 24/7 deal where you cannot particularly separate them: even in another medium.
The Art of Asking, to me, felt like a balancing act: much like the way I reacted to it. The tone of it got to me sometimes. On one hand it sometimes felt like it was rather self-involved, but on the other hand it is to some extent a memoir and of course Amanda would be talking about her experiences and her feelings. At times I felt a self-help vibe from the book and I had a personal reaction to whenever Amanda would talk about giving herself to trust and love as, in my own experience, most people who expose surrendering themselves to absolute abstracts of benevolence, revolution, peace, and love often want something from you and are anything but the ideals that they claim to represent. Something about Koolaid comes to mind.
Then again, these very sentiments on Amanda’s part are tied into some considerably shrewd business and people sense. The Art of Asking specifically outlines how love and trust are relational. What I mean is that by opening yourself up to other people, by interacting with them, by actually relating to them as fellow human beings you create a bond — at least on some level — and they will become more willing to actually help you. Amanda very correctly identifies this precept in why some crowdfunding campaigns excel and why others fail completely.
In asking for help without shame and taking what is offered you without forced expectations or, again, humiliation, you are attempting to embrace a different mindset. I can personally respect and even understand this idea. Amanda even applies it well to just why her former label and the music industry are simply failing to understand their customers: as they only relate to people as customers, artists as commodities, and not as people.
Really, what I learned from this as potential crowdfunder artist myself, is that I have a long way to go — in building relationships of some kind with my readers, in networking, and in relating to others — before I can even begin to approach the place where others can support me: and where I can provide consistent content for their support. It’s actually very humbling, and sometimes discouraging as I am not a natural extrovert and I don’t have access to the support that I need to get there, or a coherent and stable vision to attract others. Yet.
In this sense, it’s not about connecting the dots per see. It isn’t even about giving out “the flower,” a metaphor and literal fact from Amanda’s time as a living bride statue in her early busking years that can be accepted or rejected in an attempt at staring someone in the eye and relating to them.
To me, it’s about doughnuts.
In late November 2014, I actually attended the last part of Amanda’s Book Circus Tour in Toronto. As we waited in line outside of Lee’s Palace, a volunteer kept handing out Timbits: small, round, balls of assorted doughnuts. During the event itself Amanda actually read us a part of her book in which apparently David Thoreau, during the time he wrote Walden, accepted free food from his family as help in completing his work. And Eric Alper, Amanda’s guest and interviewer bought us all tons of Timbits to hit home the point that it is okay to “Take the doughnuts.”
The way I ultimately see it, The Art of Asking is a collection of Timbits: a collection of little doughnuts of many kinds. Some might prefer specific flavours of Timbit, or all of them, or none at all. Yet all of them are doughnuts and all of them are offered to the reader.
As for me, I took my favourite doughnuts from Amanda. Some of them were crisp and instrumental. Some were multiple flavours that branched into different places, that reminded me of other things, and gave me insight about my favourite people behind the scenes. I know I ate one or two confections that Amanda had never offered before outside of her book: and the flavours hit me hard and without mercy: that were real. At least one was a moment that touched me to the core.
But all of them, even the ones I don’t always like or require an acquired taste, are in the same box of words: a bread and circuses on paper thanking everyone that it asks.