cislyn: The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. (Enemy)
I recently (as in, a couple of days ago, in a quick rush of a few hours) read The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer. It's a good, solid read. It's kind of hard to classify this book (which is part of why I like it) but it is, in large part, a memoir. And Amanda Palmer is pretty good at pouring herself out onto the page, one way and another. It's also sort-of kind-of a book about fundraising, about the arts, about figuring out how to make art your 'job' in a capitalist society, and so on and so forth.

I have some complicated feelings about it.

It's no secret that I suck at asking for help, while simultaneously really enjoying and sincerely hoping to be able to help others. I was kind of hoping this book would help me figure out how to make those two feelings line up a little better, would help me untangle some of my contradictory feelings about 'help' in general. It, uh, didn't really do that. Though it did get me thinking.

It was an interesting read, and I could definitely tell by the end of the book that the author had come a long way down that road herself - but she started out in a position of generally being more than able and willing to ask for help, and it was only with some of the really big stuff that she struggled. The day-to-day? She had that down, and expressed a bit of confusion and befuddlement that anyone could feel ashamed or conflicted or weird about asking for, say, a tampon when surprised by their period. Yeah. Honey. That's a lot of people right there. For stuff that I feel I should have handled on my own? I generally don't ask for help if I can get away with it. I don't want to put anyone out.

And I feel like there are these... I don't know, kind of like lines in my head? They delineate Asking Too Much and Asking Not Enough and Asking Just The Right Amount. Part of that is just plain being judgey, I'm sure. But you have to make judgement calls, you have to decide when and how much and how often to give, or you'll give too much away.

Confession: I... had a problem with charities in college. And also not charities, but just people who asked for help in any kind of way, but particularly financial. It's not like I had money to spare, but, hey, I reasoned with myself, I probably had more to spare than they did. I had more than many people. And so I repeatedly put myself into tight spots and got stressed because I wasn't able to say "I'm sorry - I can't right now, and probably shouldn't later". To this day, walking past folks on the street asking for money - especially if they're persistent or follow me - is incredibly hard. I want to just empty my damn wallet. Another good reason not to carry cash. I just want to help. I always want to help. Even when I know I can't.

And I feel like in a lot of ways we're living in the age of the ask. Patreon and Kickstarter and Gofundme and YouCaring and IndieGoGo and and and... and sorting through those is hard. It's really hard. All of it is hard.

And what that really comes down to is this: our relationship to money is difficult. And that's not going to go away anytime soon.

There's shame tied up in there, and guilt, and obligation, and all kinds of other heavy emotions. We all have different notions about what's Appropriate and Right when it comes to money - it's Appropriate and Right to make money, of course. And it's Appropriate and Right to share some of that - but only some, and our ideas about when and how and under what circumstances are all a little different.

Some small group of people might come to consensus that "no, that's tacky" or "that wasn't right" or "that's begging" or "that's fine so long as..." (fill in the blank with any number of different pre and post conditionals - as long as the money is all spent on these specific things, as long as there was literally NO other way to get by, as long as the person asking feels appropriately lousy about having to ask, on and on). But even with those things, you'd be hard pressed to get consensus on Right and Appropriate among a wide audience.

And I'm sure what most folks do is just muddle through, you know? This is an intuitive things for many people - you know what sets off your "nuh-uh" radar, what activates your "oh damn, I should put something into that hat" spidey sense. And we all know - and perhaps fear? maybe the right word there is 'anticipate' - at some level, being in a position to ask ourselves. "That could be me." Oh hell yes it could. That could be me. For some people that sense ends up translated into "I Would Never". For others it comes down to "I am my brother's keeper, in all things". It goes different ways, humans being different and all.

I think that's one of the biggest motivators for many who do give. They see themselves in the asker, or some facet of their situation. And that applies not just to asking out of desperation, or deep-down need, but asking out of want. Creators on patreon are trying to recreate the artist-patron relationship, trying to decouple funding from a specific product and delivery timeline (though there is still some of that). Wouldn't it be great to be that artist? To be that writer? To be that creator? And hey, what they make is cool. That could be me.

But only if we ask.

So, circling back to the book, one of the things touched in there over and over again is this - if you're going to ask, you have to believe. You have to believe you deserve to get whatever it is you're asking for. Whether that's help moving a couch or $5 / month to keep doing some thing you do, or $500k to build some specific large thing. You have to believe you deserve that help. It's not about the culture, about society, about the stuff you're asking for even - it's internal.

And I see her point, I do. Fundraisers presented with shuffling apologies and downcast eyes and long lead-ins about how it really sucks that this is necessary but, well, you see... those are everywhere. And it ties back to that shame. If only to stand out from the crowd, it's a good idea to leave that behind, to try to present not with pride but with at least a lack of shame. (Ah, but how hard is it to be truly 'shameless'!)

But when you're asking for help with things other people will claim you 'should' be able to handle on your own? How do you get over that? Is it really a matter of deserve at that point, a matter of stance and attitude? Does it help when you're fundraising for personal life stuff to present it as "I am completely awesome and I'd like to keep being completely awesome, so please help me keep on keeping on and paying my bills"? I dunno. I suspect that kind of position could (maybe even inevitably would) backfire.

Certainly, a deep down belief in the awesomeness of your offerings is necessary if you're asking for help with them - if you're promising to deliver a thing, or continue making stuff, or whatever. Help with a project? Sure. But when the project is surviving the daily grind of capitalism that pushes us all down (though certainly some of us more than others), it gets a lot trickier, and that's a lot of what's out there these days. And asking for help with those things? It's still fucking hard. And often, for so many, so fucking necessary.

So, you know, no big surprise - Amanda Palmer's book is written from a particular perspective and from a particular kind of privilege. Which is fine. Like I said, it's mostly memoir, and pretty well written memoir at that. But the premise that if you just ask people will give you the world, well... not quite. Not quite.

I'm going to keep poking at my tangled feelings regarding money, regarding asking, regarding help. I will say this - sometimes, the ask is not the hardest part. Receiving the help itself is. Asking for help is a huge hurdle, but part of why is that feeling of shame, that sense of obligation and debt, the resultant feelings of inadequacy and failure. Having to ask means you failed to do it all yourself, after all (which hey, we none of us really do it alone, but I know how powerful the urge is to try) and accepting the help after there's been an ask (maybe not even by you! Maybe by a friend, or just a stranger who noticed the need somehow) is having to face the reality of that failure.

There are some self-descriptor words which we value pretty highly and view positively - "independent" is one of them. And finding it hard to ask for and harder to accept help is a huge amount of the cultural baggage tied to that word. I don't really feel it for myself - but I have aspired to it, in many ways.

The autumnal equinox is coming up - I like looking at the shifting of the seasons as a good time to try to shift things inside myself. The world is moving, and change is a constant. It might be a good time to try to figure out if some of these self-descriptors are really worth keeping around. I've already gotten rid of "selfless" (without self? Really? Yeah, no thanks. "Selfish" I'm still not embracing, but I'd be happier to be called that than selfless). Perhaps it's time to shed my nascent aspirations toward "independent" too.

I'm not. None of us are. I love my people, scattered and distant and close and silly and serious and the whole lot of them. I love helping them, when and how I can. And maybe it's time to deep-down acknowledge that the ties I've been building for years with people go both ways. Independent? Not so much. The opposite of that isn't dependent. It's loved

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Cislyn

December 2016

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