The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer

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So begins Amanda Palmer’s autobiographical self help book, but lets think about that statement. Is it an autobiography? Well sort of, it certainly tells you a lot about her life so far from childhood, to performance art (a lot of time as a living statue and what happened next) to having her own band(s) and marriage to the best selling author Neil Gaiman. So is it a self help book? It starts out like that certainly, but drifts somewhat from the premise of the title as the book progresses, so what is it? A cracking good read that is what it is… You will laugh, you will cry; boy will you cry; there are heart wrenching passages that make you wonder where the tissues are and then sections that make you laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation she finds herself in. Please also be aware there is strong language in the extracts selected from this book. Well actually there is strong language throughout the book which is why I couldn’t avoid it.

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The single flower she is holding in the cover photo harks back to her time as the ‘eight foot bride’ actually she only stood 7½ feet on top of the milk crates but why ruin a good title. This was her first venture into public performance art and as a living statue she earned more than the job in the ice-cream parlour could ever pay, simply for standing still and when somebody gave her money she would give them a flower. The gift of the flower was vital, this she saw as a transaction, yes she was asking (albeit silently) for people to give her money but they did get a physical product in return, it was not a simple one way process.

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Through the book Amanda explores not just the idea of ‘asking’ but also the basis of relationships both personal and public. The relationship that she has with the fans of her band is clearly key to her existence and it is also obviously two way. There is a definite element of family, especially amongst the long standing fans, they know one another and look after one another and this is incredibly important and not only do the fans support one another but they support her and she supports them. It was one of the things that her one time label really didn’t understand. Outreach was for promotion of specific marketable products not for touchy feely bonding, but it was just this sort of direct contact that had built the band up n the first place. The email lists that she had built up over years became a not just a contact point but a meeting place for like minded souls.

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One thing explored at length in the book is how they came to be the first band to raise $1 million through crowd-sourcing to fund an album after they split with their existing label. The story of how they managed to get out of a notoriously complex and exploitative contact is also a tale of joy. She asked for money to record the album and the fans responded and then she hit a major personal problem which impacted her ability to fulfil the obligations of the money raised. A lifelong friend and confidant was unexpectedly very ill and she felt she couldn’t do what she needed to do for kickstarter and still be around for Anthony. This is where the book really gets hold of you and won’t let go, you become so involved in the drama of Anthony’s story which is just so unexpected from the book up to that point. But mixed up in this was her relationship with her husband Neil Gaiman and her inability to ask HIM for help.

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The amount of money involved whilst significant was not a major issue for a writer with the earning capacity of Neil Gaiman, but that was not the point for Amanda. As somebody who had valued her independence since a child this was just one step too far, or so it seemed at the time. There is then a long section where she comes to terms with the issue and whilst not resolving it comes to realise that there is only one logical way to progress, to get commitments not just to the crowd funded record but to the fans and to Anthony and to Neil sorted out. She has to ask, even though it is the most difficult (yet paradoxically the easiest because she knows the answer will be yes) for the money to cover her gap in finances. It should be explained here that that Neil and Amanda run completely separate financial positions, although married they have separate accounts, their own homes (in the case of Neil Gaiman several) and this independence is essential at least for Amanda, we cannot tell Neil’s position from the book.

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That last line in the image above reflects back to a passage early on in the book from a conversation between Anthony and Amanda. In an allegorical statement there is a dog howling outside and Amanda asks what the problem is. Anthony explains that the dog is sitting on a nail and whilst uncomfortable is still not driven to over-ride a natural laziness to move because it doesn’t hurt enough yet.

There is one section of the book that felt personally relevant to me and that was a short part dealing with an aspect of Amanda’s relationship with her mother. She was a top computer programmer, technical and systems analyst and that was also my background. Nobody outside my circle understood that this is an art and what’s more in can be a beautiful art, you can approach it as a technical problem and come up with a working methodology but treating it as an art you will produce a beautiful and probably more resilient and better result. You are composing a solution but nobody can see it or even if they could most would not appreciate the beauty of the resolution that you craft. This was something that Amanda had also not appreciated as teenager

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But to return to Anthony as the book repeatedly does, she needed money so that she could stay with Anthony as he continued his ever more debilitating medical treatments and this time she went straight to Neil

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The book ends with Anthony sort of recovering and sort of not, the book was published in 2014, I wanted to know more and found the following, don’t read it until you have read the book.