This post is less of a review, more a personal reaction to this book, a journal entry on how it has affected me and made me look at my life. The Art of Asking had been sitting on my to-read list for a while, and I only wished I had read it sooner. But in some ways, reading it when I did felt like one of those moments when you read the right book at completely the right time.
Musician Amanda Palmer made a living as an eight-foot tall living statue on Boston streets, wordlessly asking people for their dollars. But it became more than that: it was a moment of human connection with a stranger. This experience helped Amanda when she became a musician and cultivated a relationship with her fans – one which saw her asking for sofas to sleep on while she was on tour, instruments for spontaneous gigs, money for musicians who volunteered to play before her band came on stage. When she left her record label, fans supported her in making an album, leading to the most successful music Kickstarter campaign ever. Not only does this book chart her experiences and discuss crowd-funding and how we pay for music, but it’s an exploration of why we sometimes find it so difficult to ask for help.
The Art of Asking is an important book, and one that has made me look at my own life through the lens of Amanda’s words and question how and why I do things.
Amanda talks about why we don’t ask for help; she writes about how:
‘we just can’t see what we do as important enough to merit the help, the love’ (p 179).
This struck a chord with me; it’s as if she articulated what I didn’t even realise I felt. I had this idea that to do things alone made you a strong person. I value independence and being able to face problems and get through things on my own.
‘Brené Brown has found through her research that women tend to feel shame around the idea of being “never enough”: at home, at work, in bed. Never pretty enough, never smart enough, never thin enough, never good enough. Men tend to feel shame around the fear of being “perceived as weak”, or more academically: fear of being called a pussy.
Both sexes get trapped in the same box, for different reasons.
If I ask for help, I am not enough.
If I ask for help, I am weak.’ (p175)
But, over the last year or so, I’ve realised that reaching out to people – telling them how you’re feeling and what you might need – is so valuable. After reading Amanda’s book, I’ve learnt that it doesn’t make you weak to ask someone for help; it actually makes you a stronger person. It sounds so simple – but it took reading the book to make me realise it. And it made me recognise that perhaps my difficulty in asking for help sometimes harks back to what Amanda is saying about us not feeling important enough: somehow I feel I don’t deserve someone to make an effort for me, to help me.
Of course I deserve it. But I feel that articulating a request to someone is almost expectant, it’s saying out loud: I deserve this. And perhaps I don’t feel comfortable with that. Since finishing The Art of Asking I’ve watched Amanda’s and Brené Brown’s (who wrote the excellent foreword) TED talks and the combination of these has given me a new kind of confidence: one where I feel I can ask for help, and I’m deserving of that help.
I love the subtitle of this book – ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help’. It covers a lot of things: the anxiety we feel about asking someone for something, and also the basic fact that most people want to help if they can. When I was travelling around New Zealand and staying in hostels and with my friend’s family, I remember thinking and appreciating how kind everyone is. Strangers would help us: give us directions, recommendations of where to eat, share knowledge. I came back from my trip with this new appreciation for people and the sense that everyone is going through their own battles and challenges but are kind and willing to help. In turn, this realisation has, hopefully, made me kinder and more willing to help others, too. The book cemented this for me.
I love the sections about art, particularly what Amanda says about how part of being an artist is sharing your art. It’s having a connection with another person (p15-16). Since coming out of uni, I’ve kind of isolated myself from the creative world. (I’ve entered it in some ways with this blog, but it’s a different kind of creativity than my fiction). And no one apart from those close to me are reading my work anymore, and even then it’s not that often*. And part of that means I’m writing for myself because there’s no intended audience. And that’s an important step, I think, in cultivating my writing. But, it also means that the creative process is almost stunted and cut short. My work is going through the process of being created, edited, refined, and then it’s missing that final step—sharing. The Art of Asking has pushed and inspired me; it’s made me realise I need to be brave, and actually get out there and share my work.
The book is written in almost a snapshot-style. We get little anecdotes, pieces of advice, a scene to imagine. And I like this style – Amanda doesn’t hand all of the lessons in this book to us on a plate. Instead, we’re sometimes left to join the dots ourselves. And I like how this has made me actively think about what she says and apply it to my own life.
As a woman, I think I connected with this book on another level, but it’s a book for everyone. It’s a book for people, people that want to become more human. The Art of Asking is an appreciation of people and human connection. It’s part-memoir, part-manifesto, where Amanda uses her own experiences and challenges to help us. This book has given me much more than I expected.
*I wrote this post a little while ago (in September or early October in fact) and I’ve been a bit hesitant about posting it, I suppose. But since reading the book, I’ve shared more of my writing with those close to me, I’m submitting a story to an anthology, and I feel much more comfortable asking friends and those close to me for help.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has helped me as much as this one has.
Have you read The Art of Asking? What did you think? How do you feel about asking people for help?