The Shapes We Mae


The Feminist's BookshelfLily MyersComment

I just finished musician Amanda Palmer's recent memoir, The Art of Asking, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I'd never listened to Palmer's music, but I still found this book intensely relatable. Palmer describes her process of graduating and deciding to become an artist, committing to music and to living a nonconformist lifestyle. As a recent college graduate myself, I found this highly inspiring and invigorating--HALLELUJAH, someone else who doesn't want a 9-to-5 job!!!

The more universal message of Palmer's book is an essential one. It's the idea that we must ask for what we need. We live enmeshed in a web of reciprocal relationships-- and this is a good thing, Palmer asserts. It's a beautiful thing. When we learn to celebrate this reciprocity rather than trying to do everything by ourselves, we can rely on each other in ways that are mutually supportive and beneficial. It's a celebration of trust, of dependence not as a negative quality but rather as evidence of love.

Palmer herself illustrated this idea when she broke from her major label and decided to fund her next album completely through crowdsourcing. This led to her launching the most successful music Kickstarter in history. She ascribes this success to the trusting, reciprocal relationship she has with her fans. Years before she was famous, years before the Kickstarter, she was already developing trust-based relationships with her fans. They would ask her for what they wanted, and she would ask them for support, and they would benefit each other in whatever way they could.

I had no idea, until I read this book, how necessary this lesson is for me. One trap I fall into easily is the illusion that I can--and should--do everything myself. I often reject offers of help, in the irrational fear that it will somehow make me weak. This particular passage hit me hard: 

"Everybody has access to different tools, people, resources, situations, opportunities. If you're privileged enough to have family well-off enough to loan you money for your first recording? TAKE IT. If you have a friend with a shack on the beach who's offering you a quiet place to write? TAKE IT. There's really no honor in proving that you can carry the entire load on your own shoulders. And it's lonely."

I couldn't agree more. Often, we want to appear so strong that we can take care of everything ourselves. Especially as women and girls, and especially as feminists, we often want to show the world that we have it all under control. This is, of course, a trap-- nobody is perfect. We are strong, but we don't need to do everything ourselves in order to prove that strength.

Palmer's book is a fun, joyful celebration of this lesson. I'd recommend it to everyone, especially artists and young people attempting to live artistic lives. But truly, the message that we can rely on trust and reciprocity? That's something that everyone can learn.