The Art of Asking


"You can fix almost anything by authentically communicating."
--Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

I'm going to Chicago tomorrow--no, not to stalk the cast of Chicago Fire and make them play the drinking game with me, though I am quite proud of it, but rather to visit a friend and go see Amanda Palmer's book tour appearance at Thalia Hall. The Art of Asking came out on Tuesday, was in my hot little hands on Wednesday, and I finished it just now, afterward, note from the author, acknowledgments and all. I loved this book, as I knew I would. It's not a self-help book in the sense of teaching a person how to practice the art of asking, but rather a deeply personal account of how Amanda learned to do it. Which is so much better than a how-to book, since we all know you can't really learn how-to from something easy like reading instructions anyway. I'm not going to write a proper review, because I only know how to review fiction. But it's a wonderfully frank account of her start in the music industry, getting signed to a label, escaping from said label, her now-famous Kickstarter, writing the book itself, and all the people who touched her life along the way. If you're familiar with her work, you'll love the book automatically. If you're not, you should be, so reading it wlll be an Education.

What I really want to write about is how much Amanda Palmer means to me, but I'm not really sure how to do that, either. I should really just stick to writing drinking games. Okay, how about a story. The summer of last year, my friend and I went to see Amanda perform at the Milwaukee pride festival. We got there wildly early and spent a while drifting around and eating the only vegan food in the entire place (corn on the cob) and being generally impatient and not in the moment. At one point my friend left our front row seats for some reason (to get more corn? Make a phone call? I don't remember) and was gone for kind of a really long time, and I was just sitting there, watching God Des & She perform and feeling like a weird, awkward loner, by myself in a strange city, hungry and tired of corn, and generally being a pathetic sulk-monster and not even enjoying the performance in front of me, even though it was energetic and fun and everyone else seemed to be having a good time. I was feeling all kinds of conflicted--about being at a pride festival with my straight friend while my GF was two states away, about being introverted, about having resting bitch face, about hating my outfit. Insufferable. It was not my finest moment.

Flash forward a few hours, and the crowd had filled in, my friend had returned, and we were packed against the stage. When Amanda came out, one of the first things she did was tell a story about how she'd been dancing in the front row during God Des & She and she dropped her wallet. But I had been in the front row, too. Not dancing, though, rather, sitting and scowling and writing an email on my phone. I could have been dancing joyfully with Amanda Palmer to "Lick it"!! I could have rescued her wallet! But instead, I was being the insufferable sulk monster. Amanda's music often makes me feel emotional, and this night was no exception, especially since I was in A Mood. But then she played a new song, "Bigger on the Inside," and it was like a bomb going off in my head. I cried so hard during this song that I was actually afraid I might not ever be able to stop and it would turn into A Thing and I would just be the sobbing, snotting sulk monster of Milwaukee for all time. Fortunately, that didn't happen--I rallied, we were able to join Amanda and the crush of fans outside the Milwaukee Fairgrounds for a brief ninja gig before security ran us all off, and I didn't have anything for her to sign but we waited in the signing line and I asked for a hug and got one.

The next day, emotionally hung over at the airport, this happened on the Twitter:


(I apparently need to charge my phone.)

But I think my point is this: honesty is hard for me. Not honesty as in being truthful, but being open. Midwestern stoicism, residual guilt from Catholic school, call it what you will, but being free and open is my biggest challenge. I couldn't even admit to myself at that show that I was sad and lonely--maybe I had been for days at that point, who knows. I also couldn't let it all go, let loose, and just be in the moment. But Amanda Palmer's gorgeous, haunting, honest song unlocked something in my bitter, sulking heart and even now, I still can't quite explain it. But no other music has ever made me feel quite like that before. And I try to remember the experience sometimes when I feel the sulk monster coming on--Kristen. Look up from your damn phone. Your musical/spiritual hero might be dancing right in front of you.

It doesn't always work, obviously. But I think it helps, especially knowing that my musical/spiritual hero is a real person who responds to tweets and gets lonely in airports and who snots when she cries too.

In conclusion, The Art of Asking is available wherever books are sold, but here's a link to it on Amanda's site. Also, good news, now that the Amazon/Hachette staring contest is over, you can get it there too. Also also, in conclusion, an appropriate soundtrack for a blog post about feeling trapped in your head. 

"You cannot hold your own heart hostage. You do not have the strength to gag yourself in every closet."
--Amanda Palmer, "Olly Olly Oxen Free"