You Don’t Get Joy Without Risk
A Conversation with Amanda Palmer on “The Art of Asking.”
Amanda Palmer is busy, she’s juggling a book release, a new musical, the last days of her epic Kickstarter fulfillment, a best friend battling cancer, an upcoming tour, and never quite catching up to herself.
She’s a celebrated rockstar, a much maligned internet celebrity, a party thrower, a conversation starter, and a controversy magnet.
When I ask how she’s doing she says she’s stretched pretty thin, running on fumes.
KB: How long have you felt that way?
AFP: In a certain respect I’ve been running on fumes since 2001. Though, I feel generally calmer than I did 7 years ago because I’m not as stressed about becoming famous. I’ve landed on a small island where I like it and I’m gradually reorganizing my life, brain, and time to spend more moments enjoying myself and the people I love instead of wasting time on stupid shit.
KB: What do you do to refuel yourself?
AFP: If there was a single answer to that I would be so happy. But there is no single answer to that because refueling myself on certain days means getting away from everybody and catching up on work and on certain other days it means getting away from work and doing something artistic and on certain days it means making sure I pay attention to my husband, and my friend with cancer. And I have to refuel myself in all of these ways to be able to do any of them.
If there’s one consistent thread underlying all of it, it’s keeping up my mindfulness practice because when I let that go, everything suffers.
KB: Let’s talk about your book, The Art of Asking, which is based on your TED talk. How did the book grow from your talk?
AFP: When I was writing the talk there were a lot of subjects — branches of the tree — that I had to lop off in order to make it the pruned, twelve-minute product that I had to deliver, so my brain had already done the work of making those connections. While I was writing the talk I saw a parallel with every department of my life, whether that was my marriage, or my best friend battling cancer.
Those things didn’t all have a place in the talk, it would have taken away from the power of the talk if I’d tried to cram it all in: stripping, and husband, and cancer… And every single thing that is connected to the philosophy of existence.
So I kept the talk structured around music and street performance and human beings seeing each other.
When I started writing the book I gave myself carte blanche, I let myself write about everything. EVERYTHING. I let the garden grow completely wild with weeds and flowers and whatever seeds I wanted to scatter to see what would grow. I figured I would come back in the editing process and manicure it all down to something attractive.
I also give the reader the benefit of the doubt. I assume the reader can make these connections and that I don’t have to draw a patronizing line between all the topics.
Crowdfunding is like friendship is like marriage is like the meaning of life.
KB: So this is a book for everybody, not just people who want to crowdfund?
AFP: Absolutely. In fact I wrote about 150,000 words in the original draft and then cut a good 60,000 words. The majority of the cut material was about crowdfunding and internet and how to use Twitter. I figure that’s all interesting material but it wasn’t for this book. I can always go back and print that as a second book, or put it on the internet. I kept the stuff that I felt was more enduring, that will still be true for everybody in 15 years.
That’s the path I gave myself when I was cutting it down, which was really hard because I wrote some really funny, really good stuff about the internet, but I had to let it die to let the book come down to a reasonable length and a more universal point of view.
I openly name and discuss Kickstarter, and Twitter, and Facebook, and all the tools that I use, but it’s not a book about using the internet, it’s a book about people. The platforms are incredible, but also ephemeral. It’s the connection underneath that makes the internet so amazing
KB: The internet is a tool for communicating, we’re going to keep communicating with or without it.
AFP: It would be really funny if the internet went away and people just decided not to talk to each other.
KB: We could all become hermits.
AFP: Actually we’d probably talk to each other more. But that’s a different book.
KB: Was the book hard for you to write?
AFP: Not because it was hard to write, but because it was hard work, if that makes sense? I never had writer’s block, there were never any days spent staring at a blank screen. But I like people and randomness and connections, and I really don’t like sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day doing that same thing over and over, and the book necessitated sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day doing the same thing over and over.
KB: You really thrive on the internet — at being part of a conversation, do you think it was hard to write the book because it wasn’t the same kind of conversation?
AFP: Well I hope the book starts a greater conversation. But also, having been a blogger for so long it’s actually really satisfying to get the chance to really say my piece in the book.
The people who don’t like me, don’t want to like me, don’t want to talk to me, they probably won’t read the book, and that sort of makes me happy. It’s really easy for an “Amanda Palmer Hater” to respond to a tweet or a short blog post, but the book is so substantial that I think they probably won’t read it. But if they do, if someone is a real dedicated hater and they read my book, that in itself is a great feat.
There will undoubtedly be at least one “Hate Ambassador” who tediously combs through the book for things to misquote in their Gawker post about me, but that’s a meta part of the book process because it’s also a book about criticism and how to take it. It’s a book about hate and how to take it.
If the book has one underlying thesis it’s that “You don’t get joy without risk.” It just doesn’t work that way, things aren’t built that way. So the book, and the reaction to the book, is one more layer in the giant karmic shitcake.
“You don’t get joy without risk.”
Bring it on.
Though, I’ve made a vow to not read any reviews. Which will be hard for me, not because I’m a masochist, but because I want to see how the book is hitting people, what resonates, what they discuss.
KB: You do have the benefit of a very vocal audience, so you won’t have to read reviews to be part of the conversation about the book.
AFP: Yeah, if I want to avoid criticism altogether the only true route to that is to not get on the internet for a few months and I desperately want to be on the internet when the book comes out so I can promote, and answer questions from real people who want to talk about it.
I’ve been talking to a lot of musicians friends about reviews lately. The people who don’t understand you weigh so much more, psychically, than the people who do understand you. The good doesn’t outweigh the bad when it comes to taking on love and hate. Ever.
I also think having an organic, ever-flowing relationship with your critics and your lovers is an important part of the process, it is an important part of being an artist. I learn things from my critics, especially from my fans who criticize me, because they actually know me and I respect them so much more than the troll-y, random haters.
I think closing yourself off to negativity can be just as dangerous. You just start living in a bubble and that’s not good.
KB: You’d probably have to stay off the internet for… oh, the rest of your life.
AFP: You could also just dig a hole for yourself and shovel some dirt on top to be protected from all things in the world as well, but that’s not necessarily the best option.
KB: So they say.
People tend to see celebrities as perfect, strong, invincible.
AFP: The idea that there is an ideal person standing above you is so tempting. And it’s just not true. I’ve yet to meet a person who’s not in pain at some level, who’s not vain, and who’s not scared and vulnerable at any level. People who act as if they are become less and less believable to me over time.
The strongest people I see are the ones who are willing to be honest about their own vulnerability. It’s a different kind of strength. If you’re able to embrace your own fear you get a different kind of resilience. You can bounce back much more quickly from the blows of life.
If I seem invincible to people I hope it’s because they see that side of me. Not some bullshit side where I am a person who is absolutely not afraid of rejection and not afraid of pain, and not afraid of anyone or anything. Because that’s just not true. I am afraid of all these things. But I also believe that we’re all afraid, so my main focus is to remember that I’m not alone and to remind other people that they’re not alone either.
KB: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from asking?
AFP: You can’t ask authentically and gracefully without truly being able to accept “No” for an answer. Because if you’re not truly willing to accept “No” for an answer, you’re not really asking, you’re demanding — you’re begging. At least, that’s how I’ve come to understand asking.
KB: Final question - What do you want to ask for now?
AFP: I want to ask everybody on the internet to be kind to each other.
I think we as a society, in using the internet to communicate to one another, are really responsible for shaping the etiquette that exists there. And I think we’re forgetting how to treat each other in general.
I see a lot of people answering anger with anger, and hitting back at shitty comments with more shitty comments. And I’m banging my head against a wall thinking, “How are we going to get ourselves out of this shitpile?”
Slowly, but surely, I see more people coming up with creative antidotes to the darkness that seems endemic to the internet.
So I’d like to ask the entire world on the internet to take a look at their own etiquette and how they are, or are not, talking to other people because it doesn’t take much to create a shift.
I can already see it happening in some places and it’s kind of wonderful.
Pre-order “The Art of Asking”, US release date is 11/11 — Amanda Palmer is a Hachette author, and since Amazon.com isn’t playing nice she needs all the pre-orders she can get through the stores linked to on her website: amandapalmer.net
Amanda is currently excited about the new musical theatre piece she’s developing with the talented theatre students at Bard College. Read about it here.
More Amanda Palmer on the web:
This interview was conducted by @kimboekbinder — musician, writer, fox