I had the pleasure of attending Amanda Palmer’s event for her new book, The Art of Asking, at the First Unitarian Church in Los Angeles this weekend. I’ve been looking forward to the book, which is based on her awesome TED talk, for a long time, because she espouses a view that I firmly believe in – that asking (for help, for support, for guidance, for what we want and need) isn’t audacious because it’s shameful or selfish, nor is it a sign that you are incompetent, because you can’t do things on your own; and that giving to one who asks doesn’t mean you’re being taken advantage of simply because you had the audacity to give. I was looking forward to reading this book about how Palmer’s history of asking has propelled her forward – mostly because asking has propelled me forward.
I’ve asked for job opportunities, for financial assistance, for guidance, for connections. And I believe I’ve evened out the scales by providing help in return, by paying it forward, by offering writing that people seem to find valuable for whatever reason. People seem to marvel at how easily I ask, and receive. I think it’s because 1) I never expect a “yes.” “No” is always an acceptable answer; and 2) I give freely when I’m asked for things, be they time, money, expertise, or anything else. If I have it, and can give it, it’s yours. Trades are even so long as both sides are getting something they value. The arrangement doesn’t have to make sense to any outside party.
But the event itself was about more than just the topic of asking. It was a mixture of Palmer reading excerpts from the book, playing some songs, and having an on-stage conversation with legendary music writer, Bob Lefsetz, and her “book doula,” Jamy Ian Swiss. Some highlights:
1) Palmer sang “The Bed Song” in complete darkness: I sat snuggled next to The Boy as we Had a Moment, and I realized that this song is the complete opposite of our relationship. And I’m so grateful for that. 🙂 (Fun fact: Amanda Palmer’s music is one of the first things we bonded over when we got together, and this was the first Palmer event we’ve attended together.)
2) Massage therapist Courtney, from Seattle: in The Art of Asking, Palmer tells a story about dealing with internet hate, and how she was feeling particularly shitty about it on her birthday as she was being pilloried over the “She’s Not Paying Musicians” kerfuffle. She and her husband were in Seattle, and he booked her a massage to make her feel better. As it turns out, the massage therapist, Courtney, had written some scathing, deeply angry things about Palmer on the internet, and wasn’t going to take the appointment with Palmer at first. But she did, and she told Palmer before the massage that she wanted to be completely honest about having written things about her, and not being her biggest fan, etc, etc, giving her an out if she wanted one. But Palmer stayed, Courtney gave her a full-body massage in silence, and it was apparently a hugely healing experience for both of them. Well, Courtney was in attendance at the L.A. event, and it was cool to hear her and Palmer talk about what fuels internet anger and what can lessen it. Courtney, a singer-songwriter herself, sang a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You,” which both sounded amazing and was hugely appropriate. It was a really heartwarming and inspiring moment. People can change. Wounds can heal. Relationships can be formed despite a tumultuous beginning.
3) The part about Henry David Thoreau: my favorite excerpt – the one that made me really glad I bought The Art of Asking – was the part where she humorously talks about Thoreau and the experiences that lead to his famous work, Walden, which is entirely about living living simply and independently apart from society to gain perspective on it. People hold it up as an ode to self-sufficiency while ignoring the fact that the cabin he was staying in was on a friend’s land, and that his mother and sister brought him food (including doughnuts!) every day. We wouldn’t have a book like Walden if an artist didn’t get support from a tight-knit community of people believing in him and helping him live day-to-day so that he could produce his great work.
So, what does all this have to do with me?
The entire evening of conversation about art, asking, pursuing passions, the business of entertainment, and the place where hard work and creativity meet got all the wheels turning in my head about what I want to focus on and what I want my career/writing/life to look like in the coming year. You may have noticed that my output has been low lately. I haven’t posted much this month here at the blog, or over at Beacon. Writing-wise, I’ve been in a cocoon trying to nurture the stories I’m creating and laying low on the internet. I’ve been working on the production side on Incredible Girl. I’ve been meeting weekly w/my writing partner, Adam, to work on our hour-long pilots. I’ve met w/my writing mentor and am working on developing a project with her, and I’ve met yet another, kind writer who’s agreed to show Adam and me the ropes to the best of his ability.
What I want and need most is the freedom to pursue the projects that are most meaningful to me. I’ve been a pop culture critic for a long time, writing about all things geeky, interviewing geeky creators and actors, analyzing television and film from a feminist perspective or through the prism of race. It’s work that’s important, and that I enjoy doing. But my ultimate goal is to create stories. To write things that will eventually be criticized by other pop culture critics. To make things up for a living. 🙂 I’ve built a name and a career on my non-fiction, and since that’s where a bulk of my money has come from, it’s what I’ve focused on. Because hey, writers gotta eat.
What I’ve been wrestling with as we approach the end of the year is starting to make decisions based on the path I want to be on, rather than the path I have to be on. I’ve built a wonderful resume writing for some amazing outlets, but I want to start being paid for the stories I create, and there’s no way for me to do that if my writing time continues to be taken up with hustling for non-fiction gigs. I want to expend my hustle energy wisely! Of course, I’ll always want to talk about representation in media, or gender equality, or activism, and it’s likely that I always will somehow, but I don’t want, nor did I ever intend for that, to be my job.
Also, there’s the matter of needing to make more money, period, than freelance writing is paying me at the moment. However, I don’t want to take a full-time job unless it’s on the path I want to be on. I’ve spent too many years working jobs that go nowhere I want to go, running in a hamster wheel in the name of practicality.
What’s funny is that, even having flown across the country to Follow My Dreams, my decisions have been based more in fear and practicality than they have been in moving forward in the career I want. And yes, I’ve built up a quality resume as a writer. Now, I want that resume to reflect more of the writing I love.
Basically, if I’m gonna have a 9-5, it’s gonna be in the industry I want. And if I’m gonna be making freelancer money, it’s damn well going to be writing stuff I love, because the stress of this kind of life is just not worth it any other way.
I have three major goals for next year:
- A full-time job anywhere in the television industry (office work in any department, PA, assistant, agency – doesn’t matter. As long as it’s in the television neck of the woods).
- A Patreon page, so that I can earn financial support for the projects and stories I want to be creating, rather than churning out writing that has outlived its usefulness to me.
- Adam and me getting to know L.A. (and the television industry specifically) as a Writing Team.
All of the decisions I make from now on to be in the service of these goals. 🙂
Lastly, since Thanksgiving is coming up, I want to say how grateful I am to all of you reading this. To those of you who’ve already supported my writing up until this point. To those of you who’ve reached out to me at various times to tell me that, for some reason or other, something I’ve written has struck a chord with you. To those of you who’ve subscribed to me at Beacon, purchased my chapbook, bought an anthology because I was in it, written a kind blog comment, or shown your support in any way over the past few years.
I write, because I hope that, by revealing the ideas and feelings rattling around inside me, you will recognize yourself and feel less alone. I hope that my work allows communities that don’t know each other well to get to know each other and communicate better. Your support makes me feel like my work is doing what it’s supposed to do, makes me feel like my work has value – and that is amazing. Thank you so much, and I hope that I can continue to contribute to your lives in a valuable way.
More to come… 🙂