Some of you may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately, and that some of my older posts are no longer with us. Sadly, for the 3rd time in nearly 16 years of blogging, I lost my blog and all of my entries. The Guy I Am Currently Dating was determined to save my posts for immortality, and hunted down many of them. However, a big chunk of 2014 is gone, and I am hoping to find it again bit by bit.
When you create, and you lose something you’ve created, it is a genuine loss. It can make you not wish to create new things, or re-create the old. I recently learned I am not alone in feeling this way; a friend of mine is a designer and programmer, and he recently lost a great deal of work. Fortunately, he had backups, but the process of re-creating something he was excited about the first time didn’t appeal to him. He is still in the “reluctant to create” space. Sadly, that’s the way I have felt about this blog.
So, I’ve decided to rekindle my interest in sharing thoughts with the Universe by participating in the A-Z Challenge! The rules are very simple; in the month of April, every day except Sunday is a different letter. By the end of the month, you should have 26 stellar, publication-worthy essays on the great issues! Right? 😛
I’m kicking off the blog challenge by writing about a book I enjoyed reading, “The Art Of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. For those who don’t know, Amanda Palmer is a talented, unconventional, and bizarre musician who was lead singer for the Dresden Dolls. She then later became an indie artist and helped revolutionise the idea of people using Kickstarter and other forms of crowdsourcing to create art, becoming the first artist to raise over a million dollars for a project. She is also married to the equally talented, unconventional, and bizarre writer Neil Gaiman, who clearly has a thing for unconventional redheads (see: Tori Amos). Amanda Palmer has been on my radar and in my links list for a long time, so it always surprises me when people ask me “Who’s that?”. Fittingly, the book was a birthday present I asked for, and one a lot of people might benefit from reading.
By most accounts, I have lived a fairly unconventional life, having traveled extensively and having jobs/interests ranging from business professional to “it may or may not be legal to discuss that”. I have slept on the couches of strangers and met people from other countries in pubs and clubs, and ended up having adventures. I have gotten into a little trouble. I have gotten into A LOT of trouble. I have had to start over again so many times, I should be eligible for some resilience award. I have been stuck in a city where I did not live and had no place to stay and a budget that allowed for a soft pretzel and Coke for dinner, and spent the night in Port Authority and been just fine…but had my stuff stolen from my own apartment by a roommate when I was out of town. Life has been an adventure for me, and most people don’t even know half of it. So, when I find the memoir of someone who has lived an even more adventurous, unconventional, risk-taking, trusting in strangers kind of life, it absolutely fascinates me.
Amanda Palmer is that person. She discusses having a variety of jobs, from waiting tables to working as a dominatrix, but focuses a great deal on a job that lasted for many years: working as a living statue. Oddly enough, her years as a street performer not only launched her career and introduced her to her husband, they formed her beliefs in a way most people find challenging: seeing asking for help as not just getting something you need, but allowing someone else to do a favour for you helps another person feel useful and access their generosity.
In her book, Amanda Palmer discusses the generosity of people around her, and how the world happens to be a loving, giving place. I have seen that. I have seen people want to take care of me because I had nowhere else to turn and was scared and alone. I have had people want to buy me a drink or coffee or dinner because they liked the way I looked, and bartenders often give me free drinks because I’m good company. I have had people I don’t know ask to draw me. I have been an active Couchsurfer for a long time, and never once had a horror story. I largely met people who were nicer and more giving people than people in my life back home. I have had strangers come up to a friend and I and want to buy our meal, or ask to take my picture wearing my bizarre headpieces and then send over a bottle of vodka. A lot of the strangers I encountered along the journey, I still am friends with on Facebook or send Christmas cards to every year.
On the other hand, I’ve also had people tell me, on hearing I was publishing a book, “I wouldn’t BUY it or anything. I don’t buy books.” Running a Meetup for over 8 years, I’ve had people tell me my time and effort wasn’t appreciated, wasn’t good enough, or even had them run out on the check. I’ve had guys in my life tell me I wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t witty enough, wasn’t interesting enough to keep their attention. I’ve seen the opposite of generosity and lifting people up in every way. It makes it hard to believe that Amanda’s observations are true; that the world is a nice place if you open yourself up to it.
Like many people, I live in a very corporate city. Prior to that, I’ve lived in other large corporate cities. The mentality in these places is one of self-sufficiency. I have had good friends suggest I take 2.5 hours on public transport to get to them, because I’m 10 minutes out of the way for them to drive to me. I have had some of my best friends in the world not offer me crash space because their apartment was small (if you have the choice between sleeping on the floor and in the bus station, the first is preferable) and it was inconvenient. I have had roommates who charged $5 for a ride to the store a half-mile away. And on some level, these things always outraged me, and I never knew quite why. It isn’t that I expect the world to revolve around me or that I am an exception to the self-sufficiency rule. It is a deep seated idea that “People are meant to be generous and giving when it comes to their friends and family.”
Last year, my mother had to be put in a nursing home, and my aunt, who once had quite a bit of money, went shopping to buy my mother everything she needed. She then sent my brother a bill, knowing my brother lives on disability and is caring for my terminally ill father almost alone, saying she couldn’t afford not to be reimbursed for these things. The bill was $150. My brother paid her back, although it meant going into debt that month. He asked when she’d be by to visit my mother. My aunt and her family couldn’t, because they were going on a ski trip. She hasn’t been to visit my mother since, despite living 40 minutes away.
The sense of injustice at this, at this Ayn Rand-esque “I earned my money and do everything by the book, go take care of yourself and don’t ask for favours” idea makes my blood boil. How can you have that attitude towards society and still like people? How can you cut people out of your life when they are struggling or not successful, and really like anyone but yourself?
It seems to make Amanda Palmer angry, too, the idea that “asking for a favour” is shameless. There are people who won’t ask a stranger for a tampon or to borrow a dollar in a crisis. There are people who will come to your parties empty-handed when the invite says “Everyone please contribute”. There are people who think they are somehow “better than”, and buying someone a drink or a coffee over conversation is looking for a better return on an investment.
In her book, she tells so many positive and uplifting stories of how cool the world can be when you are open to experiences and people. But she tells one that she describes as a soul-crushing experience, having overturned her ankle and being unable to walk on a busy city street in the Northeast U.S., and in need of help. She went by three older women who assisted her, and offered to call an ambulance. She said she was fine, but she needed help from the cab to her apartment to retrieve cab fare and asked the ladies to go with her, offering to pay their fare back. They wouldn’t help. She asked for a variety of other small ways they could be of assistance, and they wouldn’t do anything except say, “We’ll call you an ambulance”. She was in tears hobbling to her cab alone, because she felt the cruelty of what they world is like when you can’t trust or help anyone, not even people in distress.
Throughout my life, I have had people not wish to be a part of my life because my level of openness exceeds their comfort zone. I have had people not want to be talked about on this blog, written about in stories, or have picture on FB and Instagram. I have had people not want to be with someone who likes living in such a big and public way (and they should know me now, as I am quite the opposite.) I have had people tell me I’m crazy, the chances I’ve taken in life. But, for the most part, they haven’t been reckless. They have been based on reading people and knowing not everyone shares this “Money, Success, And Self-Sufficiency Defines You” dogma. Many people have a “Generosity Of Spirit Defines You” attitude, and believe, like I do, that when you put things out there in the world, you get them back.
When I first became ill, back in 2012, I was convinced I was going to die. And I became interested, because I couldn’t go out much, in sharing myself with strangers beyond this blog and FB and e-mail. I started becoming involved in a mail-swap community, and it filled the need to share pieces of myself with the world. Some of the things I got back, I really value, including one girl who wrote a letter about needing to come out to her family, but being afraid that whether she did or didn’t, she would never get the love she felt she deserved. I often wonder what happened to her.
Over the years, I have had to learn that many people are not like me. They don’t send 4-page handwritten notes just because they care. Sadly, I have started to become more like most people on many occasions, not returning e-mails and phone calls because I could do it later, and not making people smile quite as much. Being an open-hearted, open-minded person has gotten me a lot of things, but it’s also left me disappointed when my boyfriends or best friends didn’t show me the same loyalty I showed them, or people stopped reaching out when times were tough because nobody wants to be around someone depressing with all of their crappy life struggles. I think it’s a reminder that “Life can be crappy and unfair to you, too”, and that really kills the buzz. I have found myself de-friended in life and attacked online for expressing my opinions and my world views…and wishing people would be open and kind and giving in just listening and getting to know other people.
Amanda Palmer talks about this, too. She writes: “With every new connection you make online, there’s more potential for criticism. For every new bridge you build with your community, there’s a new set of trolls who squat underneath it.”
It reminded me that when I was in Washington D.C., I had an issue with my bank and it was a weekend, and I had no money, and a friend drove across town during his lunch hour with $750. I’d like to think that people can be really awesome if you can get over fear and doubt just enough to let them be. Amanda Palmer thinks so, too, which is why this book is worth reading. (and the preface is written by a conservative Biblical scholar.)
Friend in D.C. from many years ago, thank you for saving me and not letting me get murdered. <3