The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

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“Amanda Palmer…the one from TED Talks?”

I really didn’t know what to make of Amanda Palmer other than being this eccentric creature submersed in her artwork. Neither had I listened to any of her music prior to reading her memoir nor did I stay religiously up to date on her revolutionary upheaval of the music industry. Amanda Palmer’s memoir The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help replaces the unknown I previously had about her, capturing Amanda Palmer both as an artist and a person. Famous for successfully using Kickstarter as a means of crowdsourcing to release an album and continuing this way of practice in promoting and selling her later work, she confesses her insecurities in this memoir: from asking her fans for donations to her fear of being seen as a narcissist, self-serving poser.

To encapsulate, Amanda Palmer is a musician whose art is best described as eclectic; she uses different instruments and incorporates unique, experimental styles to form these raw and tonal sounds. Plus, she plays the ukulele. The Art of Asking is the unabridged version of her 2012 Ted Talk as well as her band’s war against her record label. The memoir delves into her relationship with famous author Neal Gaiman and her lifelong mentor and friend Anthony, who was living with cancer during the book’s conception. Most of the book, however, is a descriptive catalog of astonishing—but not always—instances where Palmer asks her fans for help and not just in the form of currency (housing, food, venues, etc.) Palmer leaves herself incredibly susceptible to the generosity of others. Although Palmer has witnessed the capacity of human kindness through her art and openness in accepting whatever the fans are willing to offer, she has to contend with being heavily criticized and occasionally painted as a shameful beggar in mainstream media. After reading her memoir though, she’s anything but a beggar and more of an entrepreneur.

Palmer explains that much of what she learned came from her years as a performance artist, her days as a living statue. While she originally did it to be her own boss and still be able to do art, remarking on the conundrum of having a liberal arts degree but not having an itinerary in pursuing a career in the arts, she engaged with her audience on an personal level through mostly an unspoken language and penetrating eye contact, conveying that she had truly seen them versus only looking at them. Palmer realized that finding that connection, even a tiny exposure of intimacy, is what most anyone needs, and she is ready to give it.

Is the Art of Asking a smooth and tired joyride of one person getting exactly what she wants?

No.

Make that a hard no.

Palmer struggled with finances along with her own pride; her memoir illustrates this in the case of her husband. After Palmer assembled a new band and wanted to go on tour, she tried to figure out how she would come up with the money to pay everyone. Her husband offered to loan her the money (though he didn’t expect her to pay him back) but this made her extremely uncomfortable. She had already accepted money from complete strangers, however, accepting money from her husband felt like it would be violating her feminist principles. Only when she sets her pride aside does she recognize the hypocrisy. Then there are times when Palmer doesn’t receive any help even after asking. After Palmer hurt her ankle while running, the three people she asked for help didn’t offer any assistance other than to call an ambulance, ergo, treating her like someone else’s problem. Living a life where you put your faith in others has also landed her in unfavorable sometimes disconcerting situations. One of her fans stole her favorite ukulele at one of her shows. It’s eventually returned but not after Palmer mourned over its loss for two weeks. At another show, a fan shoved a hand between Palmer’s legs while she’s crowd surfacing–and in a not so accidental way. Despite this, Palmer treats each mishap and break in trust as an isolated incident instead of empirically; she doesn’t apply one instance as a universal reason to mistrust everyone nor does she ever seem to hold a grudge.

Palmer’s lifestyle, willing to ask people for help for anything, is an extreme case, but it reveals what most of us are reluctant to do, even when we find ourselves in trouble, even when it’s irrational not to. Most of us are resistant to the idea of putting ourselves in someone else’s care because of its implications. That they are weak, incompetent. A failure. Or when we want something, such as asking for a raise or help changing a flat tire, we synonymously treat ‘asking’ like ‘begging,’ which Palmer is quick to clarify the difference: begging happens out of fear and desperation whereas asking occurs out of need and compassion. Palmer’s memoir captures the general goodness of people if you open yourself to them—but she’s not insisting everyone do this. She’s been lucky, and she knows it.

What we find is something remarkably rare and beautiful in this memoir, leading us to believe that maybe opening ourselves to others isn’t as scary or deadly as we feel it is. Then again, as Palmer puts it, if it were so easy, then everyone would be doing it.

 

Persepolis

41j0HePe1BL._SL500_AA300_I’m not ashamed to admit this but a bulk of what I read when I was a kid was Manga. Some of my favorite stories are from such works as Pandora Hearts, Fruits Basket, and xxxHolic. At the time, I was mortified because that’s just not what people read. They were reading Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter. Nothing is wrong with these books or what I had/have read. But for a long time, I thought there was something wrong with because I loved books with pictures. Several times I was even accused of reading only “low-brow” work, which is just silly.

Persepolis chronicles Marjane Satrapi’s life during the war between Iran and Iraq, her time abroad in Austria, her return to Iran, and eventual departure. A coming-of-age story, Persepolis originally was two separate graphic novels in a series. I was fortunate enough to read the complete work.

With novels like Persepolis, the movement of the plot is conventional and reads like a memoir should. From the perspective of Marjane Satrapi, the story heavily relies on the keen observations and self-interjections of Satrapi for narration. What makes the story interesting is, of course, Satrapi’s perspective. It’s the way she internalizes and externalizes her experiences that elevate the story.

imagesThe novel’s emphasis on femininity and national identity remain faithful throughout the story with independent, intelligent characters. Satrapi’s parents and grandmother influence Satrapi’s beliefs and development, and they engrain in her the significance of a formal and informal education, something I’m thankful my dad did for me. Education often is a means to self-liberation, not exclusively to employment opportunities, but in learning who we are and how we fit into a world where domestic violence exist, women are attacked sexually for campaigning for equal rights, or there’s disparity in wages between men and women. These are relevant to anyone. I loved that the people in the book generate these discussions and provide sophisticated, critical points discerning women’s roles during wartime and in an oppressed culture. Because the novel follows Satrapi’s life from start to finish (sort of), we are able to see Satrapi’s ideas evolve into something more complicated but in terms she can identify with.

Loaded with content, the writing and dialogue laser in on issues with beautiful and disturbing candor. There’s a myriad of issues such as war, loss, freedom, drugs, and separation that I thought the cartoonish illustrations would desensitize. The illustrations don’t take away from the darker parts of the novel but instead lends us a pair of eyes that help us better understand the conflicts and how Satrapi conceptualized these events when she was a child.

The ending is more like a beginning. Satrapi undergoes a transformation and is ready for the next phase of her life. So often novels conclude as if this one single event defines life, but as Persepolis suggests, several instances and experiences are what lead us to become the people we are today.

Rating: 4.6 out of 5