Rock Star Lessons in the Forgotten Arts: Amanda Palmer tackles Vulnerability, Connection, & Asking For Help

Amanda-Palmer-Asking(Book review #1 – original post @ Cannonball Read 8)

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.

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Fuck the non believers!

A friend recently said this to me:

We’re part of the same tribe. You’re beautiful and strong. Warrior moon goddess siren mermaid. Fuck the non believers!

-Diana

That’s probably one of the best confidence boosters I’ve ever had. 🙂

Then there was horoscope from Rob Brezny:

On a clear day, if you stand at the summit of Costa Rica’s Mount Irazú, you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s not hard to get there. You can hop a tourist bus in the nearby city of San José, and be 11,200 feet high two hours later. This is a good model for your next assignment: Head off on a stress-free jaunt to a place that affords you a vast vista. If you can’t literally do that, at least slip away to a fun sanctuary where you’ll be inspired to think big thoughts about your long-range prospects. You need a break from everything that shrinks or numbs you.

The emphasis is mine, because I need to remember and reinforce that. Taking a break. Waking my soul and passions back up. I already feel the life coming back into the dusty parts of my soul. The parts that craved creativity. The nooks and crannies of my bones that need dance and music and confidence to move correctly. To breathe.

I had forgotten. How had I forgotten? Being overwhelmed by life didn’t help. Massive relationship changes and heartbreak. Someone disregarding my ability to be sexy and me listening for a little while. Feeling intimidated. Sitting too much. Taking on too much stress and not relaxing.

Working for goals in the new year are underway:

I’ve been playing my uke. Not everyday, but 4 times more than last year. Dancing, moving, and/or stretching every day. Pushing my students and myself more in class. Slowly starting to eat better. Getting back on stage in February! Read my first book of the year and this is my third post of the month and I’m almost back on that once-a-week schedule of blogging I’m aiming for. I also made strides in asking for what I want from my husband in bed, so that’s good. But clearly, that last section from this post needs way more love.

These are good things. I am grateful for them. My plan is to keep making more of them happen.

“The race card.” Or, do you really think this is a game?!

Nineteen days into the new year and I’m already behind with my resolutions. In my previous post, I had said I wanted to blog once a week. Aside from that post and this one, I have not. But instead of beating myself up, I’mma gonna get writing.

And I’m gonna start with the controversy I was greeted with on my FB feed this morning when I woke up. Apparently, self-proclaimed “blacktress” Janet Hubert is calling out Jada Pinkett-Smith for publicly pondering a boycott of the Oscars because, let’s face it, it’s got it’s own hashtag now and everything: #OscarsSoWhite.

Janet seems to think that Jada is doing this solely because her husband didn’t get nominated because her first critical piece of commentary was

First of all, Miss Thing does your man not have a mouth of his own with which to speak?

What the hell does that have to do with anything? What, Jada can’t take to her own twitter and express her own thoughts and disappointment that there were NO actors or actresses of color nominated? She didn’t talk about how upset she was that Will didn’t get nominated. In a series of three joined tweets, she noted that:

At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain, But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment.

How is that solely her being bitter about her husband not getting nominated? It’s no “my husband was robbed!” It’s speaking as a person of color about other people of color. I’m sure I wouldn’t have to dig too deeply to find that she also thinks Idris Elba should’ve been nominated, like the rest of the world that isn’t the Oscar nomination committee. She makes a damn good point. For decades, all awards shows have been whitewashed. It’s not that her husband didn’t get nominated. It’s that this year, when her husband and other actors of color were creating Oscar buzz by receiving nods from other awards ceremonies, there were no Oscar nominations. For any people of color. Again, there’s a reason why #OscarsSoWhite is a hashtag.

So here’s Janet Hubert criticizing Jada Pinkett-Smith, trying to make this like Jada’s butthurt about Will not being nominated and is speaking for him. Well, she kind of is. But she’s speaking for him and every other person of color who wasn’t nominated. Idris Elba. Michael B. Jordan. Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and Jason Mitchell.

Jada is addressing a clear inequality in representation. And, fine. Perhaps, as Hubert says, a perpetual imbalance in awards ceremony accolades isn’t as imminent a threat to safety and life as poverty and police brutality. But to denigrate the arts and their importance in helping people express themselves, learn about themselves, and change the world around them seems short-sighted and mean-spirited at best.

Because there’s more to this.

My husband tells me to never read the comments, but one of them caught my eye on my FB feed under the article:

This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard. This is something she is trying to use to become relevant other than being wills wife. She’s using the race card and it sickens me

“The race card.” So Jada calling attention to the fact that #OscarsSoWhite is just pulling “the race card” and “trying to…become relevant other than being wills wife.” Do these people not know that she’s an actress in her own right? That she’s a mother raising two children who’s in the entertainment industry? That she’s more than Will Smith’s wife and doesn’t need to hide behind real issues just to gain “relevance”?

Apparently not. So then I went even further into the comments and just…was appalled. After growing up in a very racist neighborhood with very racist family members, I’ve culled my life and my FB friend’s list to the point where I don’t see this racist bullshit vitriol on a regular basis. Maybe that’s not good, as when I do see it, I’m shocked. The one that got me the most, though, was this:

RaceCard-2016

In this day and age…seriously?! Let’s start with

the constant crying from, mainly libral black people, “we didn’t get enough people with Oscar’s, oh we didn’t have enough diversity in this or that” guess what maybe there just wasn’t any Oscar caliber roles played by a black person this year. THAT is the race card we are sick of.

First of all, dude. Learn how to spell and learn some basic sentence structure before you go calling other out other people. I’d love it if The Grammar Card could be a thing. Like, here’s a Grammar Card. Go get yourself some. But the argument he’s making, that “maybe there just wasn’t any Oscar caliber roles played by a black person this year” is infuriating. Really? There were none? And yet other awards ceremonies thought there were at least a couple. And in the 88 years the Academy of Arts and Sciences have been giving out awards, I’m sure there have never been deserving people of color who got snubbed. You can’t be that naive, dude.

Apparently, he is. Cause after that, shit gets really bad.

He goes on to say:

As a white male who never once owned a black person nor had a relative who did I find it offencive that people of color can scream and cry and have their own TV station BET, but if a white person wanted WET, they’d be racist, or lets see black history month, if I wanted white history month I’d be a racist, so in closing, I’d like to say get over yourself, racism works both ways 99% of whites are not, or at least were not racist until the last 8 years of Obama and his race baiting horde.

Dude. Duuuuuuuude. No. First of all, black people aren’t screaming and crying solely because they want a TV station. They want representation, equality, to not be shot just because of the way they look. And you’re upset that they have ONE TV station dedicated to black entertainment? The reason why it would be racist for a white person to want WET is because white people already have WET a bunch of times over. They’re just dba as NBC, ABC, CBS, HBO, etc.

And you’re taking umbrage with Black History Month? Really, dude? You wanna know why “screaming and crying” for white history month would be racist? Because white people get ALL THE OTHER MONTHS! School curriculum is written largely by and for white people, from the history that’s taught to the novels that are read. As author and teacher Nicholas Ferroni said in this article, We Teach Racism, Sexism, and Discrimination in Schools:

Our text books do not blatantly encourage students to be racist, sexist or discriminatory, but it’s the lack of figures and truths which give students the impression that certain groups didn’t nearly have as large of role as others and, in some cases, groups are completely nonexistent. When broken down statistically, our textbook mentions eight white males for every one African American, women, Jew, and one figure from other various minority groups. The term “gay” is only mentioned twice, and there is only a single paragraph with any description of the “gay rights movement.”

I read an article talking about the SCOTUS decision on legalizing marriage for gay people and there was a quote there that’s stuck with me:

The problem with being privileged your whole life is that [after] you have had that privilege for so long, equality starts to look like oppression.

This is the thing. When you’re used to something, like turning on the TV and seeing 99% of the shows geared towards people who look like you, and seeing people who look like you in places of power, and seeing books written by people who look like you featuring people who look like you, and people like you getting out of tickets from police, you begin to become blind to it and just think of it as the way life should be.

When the images you see of people of color are in roles that paint them as servants, criminals, drug addicts or dealers, cheaters, abusers, struggling single mothers, welfare recipients, or overly drawn caricatures, you begin to think that’s how “those people” are. And anything or anyone challenging that, trying to say there is more to people of color, that there should be more opportunity, that the playing field is skewed and shouldn’t be, that people of color and women can excel in the arts, in STEM subjects (like this amazing young man, Dr. Jalaal Hayes) is “playing a race card” or oppressing you if you try to counter what the “other” people want.

You don’t realize how imbalanced it is to counter “let’s create a TV station for people of color because there’s hardly any other representation anywhere else” with, “well, if you get a black TV network, I want a white TV network and if you say no, you’re racist.”

You begin to say that the people getting shot are “thugs” who “deserved it” because they “must’ve done something.” You don’t see the subtle ways headlines differ to call one mass shooter “mentally ill” and one shooter is called a “terrorist” or, again, a “thug”. Why one mass murderer is given a hail of gunfire and another (who confessed to shooting several black people in church) is given Burger King.

And that only begins to touch on how the Media Treats White Suspects and Killers Better Than Black Victims. 

Janet Hubert misses the point when she shames Jada Pinkett-Smith for speaking out about inequality in the Academy Awards, saying “it’s just not that deep.” Oh but it really is. It’s all connected. Because when you don’t nominate people for things, assholes like the guy above truly think that it’s because there weren’t any worthy performances, not that the Academy isn’t fond of diversity or uncomfortable racial subjects like police brutality or leading a children’s army.

I say all this as a white woman who is only recently beginning to understand and check her own privilege. I say this as a woman who has had previously not wanted to identify as a feminist because I wanted to be a “humanist” and elevate everyone. I tried to erase race when dealing with people, only to recently discover that that doesn’t really help either because celebrating diversity is better than pretending race doesn’t exist (I mean, technically, it’s a man-made concept, but that doesn’t help address the majority of the world that sees color and draws some fucked up conclusions based on it) nor does it confront head-on the uncomfortable conversations we’re going to have to constantly have for a really long time to get anywhere with equality.

This isn’t a game of cards. People are standing up and saying “no more” and white people, white men especially, are getting scared. Women are saying “no more” and men are getting scared. White men especially are being confronted by their privilege and it’s terrifying to them. Because if we start evening out the playing field, that means there’s less there that they automatically get. And you know what? Too damn bad.

I’m gonna make a change…or twenty-something

Welcome to a New Year, where millions of people claim to become a new person, complete with new workout gear, new organizational stuff, new eating habits, and a brand new outlook on life.

Until somewhere around February or March.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic because further down, I’m gonna roll out some of my own resolutions for this year. But I’ve been through many years and many people I care about and many I don’t even know talking about how on January 1st, “everything’s gonna change.” And if that works out for you, mazel tov. More power to you. No, really. I want those people to have even more power so they can continue to do awesome things.

For me, I’m finding that January 1st is a fairly arbitrary day that only gains power to inspire change because we all buy into it. There’s nothing magical about the day. It’s a man-made construct of a new year. Others have different constructs. There’s a Chinese New Year, a Jewish New Year, and I’m sure there are more for different cultures and religions and groups of people. And while the specific date isn’t important to me, the New Year has led to some fairly in depth reflection.

My body tends to follow a calendar of Paganism, even though I’m not practicing currently. Winter tends to be the time of introspection. A time to take stock and plan for the coming year. What worked last year? What didn’t? What has been eating at me to change, what progress was made? It’s a time when cold, barren land protects the seeds within it that will, in a few months, spring forth with the season.

It’s happening at work with budgetary discussions and the dying of one event to make room for the life of another. It’s happening in my house, with taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the decorations and presents and being thankful for the previous year and going on a slow cleaning binge. We’ve got a new vacuum and everything!

And it’s happening deep inside of me.

There are things I know I need to do. Hell, my last post was a damn long rant about one of them: getting back into burlesque.

But there are others.

I’ve kept them close to my chest for a while, but I’m ready to let them out into the world. Potentially to create some sort of accountability, encouragement, and just…to make it real. Of course things can be real living inside my head. But change is motion, movement. If a thought is just in my head it doesn’t mean much until I put it out there – as a conversation, part of my writing, in song, working out, hugging, yelling, etc.

So here is my attempt to actualize.

It’s time to get my health under control. My blood pressure has soared with the stress of this past year and my doctor is concerned. I’m concerned. I’m working on it, but I need to do more than take my medicine as directed. Things like:

  • meditation
  • push myself and my students more in classes
  • eating better – which will likely be it’s own post
  • dancing, moving more, and stretching every damn day
  • Finding healthier ways to deal with my anxiety and depression, even if it means meds again
  • reach out to friends and loved ones for emotional support instead of bottling

I want to be more creative this year. As such, I’m going to:

  • Play my ukulele more – I’ve already begun to learn a new song!
  • Sing more
  • Write more fiction
  • Finish at least the first draft edit of my book
  • burlesque and dancing
  • force myself to learn to use the awesome gift my husband gave me last year, with the awesome gift he gave me this year.
  • Read 27 books in a year and write at least a small review about each. I did Cannonball Read in 2013 and actually made it to 52 books and reviews in a year (!) That was incredibly stressful (but still awesome) so I’m going for a half Cannonball which is technically 26 but I’m going +1 because I don’t like even numbers.
  • Post a blog once a week. Which, technically,the Cannonball Read takes care of half of that, if I want it to.

My body craves D/s and sex and attention and receiving ASMR. Therefore, I plan to:

  • Reach out to more people locally and regionally
  • Ask for what I’m interested in
  • Rejoin the local kink scene
  • Be clearer about what I want out of date nights
  • Seek out casual play at events
  • Try to afford regular massages. “Regular” might mean every few months, but still
  • If not always massages, pedicures. Never knew how much I loved pedicures until my sister introduced me to the wonders. So good. And toes so pretty!
  • Find friends who want to read to me for ASMRing. One dear friend did this at GKE last year while another gave me a massage. That was close to bliss, aside from the pain that was being worked out of my lower back.