Posted by: bipolarmystic | March 10, 2015

Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking”

“Take the fucking flower”

This is Amanda Palmer’s plea, one she perfected while working as a street performer.  Palmer enacted a bride statue and theatrically handed out flowers to passerby who put money in her hat.  According to Palmer, the transaction was not one way.  Intensely gazing into the eyes of her patrons, Palmer silently communicated intimacy in the form of “I love you.”  Palmer describes these encounters as briefly falling in love.  Sad people, lonely people, homeless people, curious people, all kinds of flowerpeople paid Palmer for her performances.  In return, Palmer truly acknowledged and communicated value to those who perhaps felt most value-less.  And she gave them a flower.  But some people didn’t want the flower.  Those who rejected the flower refused to participate in the intimacy Palmer offered.

In The Art of Asking, Palmer, who is a member of the Dresden Dolls and Grand Theft Orchestra recounts the gifts she receives and obvious happiness she experiences because she asked.  The reader doesn’t need to be an artist to resonate deeply with Palmer’s message, which is ultimately about the opportunities that arise when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  The deep marrow of the book is contrasted with joyful recollections of serendipity and generosity, mixed with a healthy dose of profanity.  I suspect Palmer’s “brand” of wisdom will particularly appeal to my age group (30’s) and younger generations.

Palmer’s message is particularly appealing to me as I develop absolute clarity about what I need and want, following the arrival of my baby.  I find myself ruthlessly prioritizing what’s important and what’s not.  Reading and writing while holding baby in one arm has proved cathartic and essential to keeping my brain in some kind of working order.  And lately I have been *forced* to ask for help.  As in: I can’t take it anymore I completely overwhelmed and I must ask for help before I LOSE IT!  Why do we allow ourselves to get to this point?  I know I’m not alone in this.  Our culture demands that we operate as individuals, that we handle shit ourselves.  To handle our shit alone is deeply alienating.  Is it any wonder that relationships fracture, buried under the weight of unspoken needs and expectations…things we are afraid to ask for?

Even Palmer struggles to ask for what she needs from her husband (who happens to be Neil Gaiman).  Following an abortion recommended by her doctor because of the certainty of “really, really bad” birth defects, Gaiman leaves Amanda to stew in her own shit.  Palmer expects Gaiman to understand what she needs: cuddles, loving words, connection.  After finally asking Gaiman what his problem is, he reveals a childhood bereft of comfort.  He was taught that people should be left alone to work through things on their own.  So why did Palmer, queen of asking, wait until she was nearly bursting with resentment to ask for what she needed?

Sometimes it’s hardest to be vulnerable with those we care about most.  And I find it’s really, really hard to ask for help when you’ve been labeled “mentally ill.”  At a particularly low point (I later realized I had PMS preceding my first period) my husband urged me to call my folks in Florida and ask them to return home to Michigan and help with baby.  My reponse?  “I cannot express how much I really, really don’t want to do that.”  (Yes I really do talk like that sometimes)  My parents have praised me many times for dealing with my shit.  My mom says she never expected me to be able to achieve so much, to do so well in life.  How should I take that?  I take it like this: get it together yourself, don’t let them see exactly who I am because who I am will be a disappointment.  So when my mom called soon after, I said “I’m feeling a little blue” NOT “oh fuck I can’t do thisssss” *punctuated by tears and breathing into a panic bag.*  Also – I would NEVER actually say “fuck” in front of my mom.

Of course, part of it is not wanting my parents to have to return from sunny, wonderful Florida.  And as luck would have it, my adult niece was delighted to help once I asked her.  It ends up being a wonderful exchange: she delights in caring for sweet-tempered baby and I get to take a bath.  Or clean bottles.  Usually it’s cleaning bottles.  It really is like the biblical quote: ask and ye shall receive (most of the time).  Certainly asking does create the possibility of receiving “no” in return.  However, as Palmer notes, most people want to help.  Sometimes people offer to help before we even ask.

Asking is so difficult for some of us, particularly those who feel like they have something to prove, those marginalized by society.  As Palmer notes, artists are in some sense marginalized.  They constantly have to battle internal and external messages that taunt “get a job.”  I think it’s fair to say that many American folks reject art as a legitimate career path.  They reject artists as legitimate people, just as they reject the homeless, the “mentally ill,” and many other “types” of people.

We all need to strongly reject the cultural message that some people are not worth a damn.  We should find our follow freaks, rejects, hipsters, mystics, hippies or whatever the fuck kind of community we can belong in.  Find those folks who we can feel safe asking, who we can feel safe being ourselves, which is ultimately asking: “Am I worth loving.”  In those few instances when we ecounter a “no” it’s all the more important to lean on a supportive community, those who will constantly say: “Yes, yes, yes!!”  For those labeled “mentally ill” it can be hard to find a legitimizing community.  My advice: avoid those who make you feel less able.  Instead, find the people who will support you, cheerleaders that will call you on your bullshit just like they would anyone else.  Make the first overture, be vulnerable with those worth your time.  Build yourself a community.  And when legitimate, no strings attached, ableist help arises TAKE THE FUCKING FLOWER.

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