I first really took notice of Amanda Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra) when I found an old blog post of hers about her wedding. I vaguely knew she was a musician, but I was immediately intrigued that she was married to Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite authors) and that Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket!) played accordion at their nuptials. Whoever this woman is, I thought, she obviously has excellent taste.
At the time, I had no idea what an endless vortex of music, magic, and madness she truly is. The Art of Asking is her first book, a memoir and manifesto. Curiously, a book is, in many ways, a strange way of intersecting with Amanda. (Yes, I like to think we’d be on a first name basis.) Because books are static, and everything about Amanda flows and moves and shouts back. On the other hand, isn’t a book a brilliant way to paint a picture of where an author finds herself at one specific moment in time?
That’s what The Art of Asking is. It’s Amanda opening her arms and saying, This is how I learned to stop being so afraid, start trusting humanity, and ask for what I need. It seems so simple. But if you’re human, each of those things is pretty much a never-ending journey that many of us never even start.
It’s all about The Bride, really.
To earn money in college and as a young musician, Amanda dressed up as a living statue, The Eight Foot Bride, and stood in Harvard Square to busk. As she describes in her phenomenal Ted Talk, she would remain perfectly still, holding her bridal bouquet, until a passerby stopped to put money in her hat. Then she would unfreeze, hand them a single flower, and share a brief, lovely moment of eye contact with her patron. Some would become incredibly emotional at this transaction; others would become flustered and refuse to take her proffered flower. Cue unexpected life lessons about how humans deal with asking and giving.
The book was born out of the aforementioned Ted Talk. In it, we get not only Amanda’s reflections on how she learned to ask and receive, but many other sagas. She tells us of her life as an angsty teen, secretly writing songs and hopping from boyfriend to boyfriend. She tells us the story of how she came to be a part of punk-cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, and how that began her journey as a professional musician and performer. We are privy to the fears and insecurities which spring from that lifestyle, but also to the joys and surprises.
Human connection, the art of give-and-take, is the thread connecting every story. What must an artist invest in her community, in order to elicit enough support to survive? Can a marriage survive if you’re afraid to ask your partner for help? Is humanity essentially bad, or are we more willing to open our homes, hearts, and pockets to each other than we realize?
Honestly, The Art of Asking is just a drop of Amanda Palmer’s many waters. I started with the Dresden Dolls, and then adventured my way through her solo albums and her fascinating music videos. I sat on a folding chair in a concert hall for “An Evening with Amanda Palmer” as she (bathrobed and pregnant) talked and laughed with us, and played her piano keys so hard we thought the keyboard might tip over. I get her hyper email blasts in my inbox and scroll through her Instagram for snapshots of baby Ash.
Someday soon I plan to become one of her Patreon patrons so that I can keep being a tiny part of the great and mysterious machine of Art that makes the world so much better. And if all this talk of art and humanness and mutual giving and learning to receive makes you curious too, perhaps it’s time you learned The Art of Asking.