Working on Asking

Amanda Palmer: The art of asking” went live on TED not long ago, but I finally got a chance to watch it today.

In September, 2011, I finally broke down and asked for help. I had been sick for months, and had canceled gigs left and right. With my partner not starting their job until October, we were out of money. We needed $3000 to stay afloat until the first paycheck came in. Those funds came in from our community in 24 hours.

I broke down crying.

Broke down, notice the language. Broken, collapsed, damaged, defective. Fractured, injured, mutilated, shattered.

The inference within my own heart, the one I am still facing today, is that asking infers all of the above. That to be in need is a bad thing. But we all have needs. And needs are not bad. I tell students, friends, allies, random humans on the internet whose face I will likely never see… I tell them that all of the time. Needs are not bad. And yet, to be needful… I too carry this story.

“Asking makes you vulnerable.” – Amanda Palmer

Among other words like “weak,” vulnerable has other synonyms. Accessible. Naked. Ready. And when it comes to “defenseless,” perhaps I should pray to live in a world where defenses are not needed… not in the way so many of us walk through the world.

Amanda Palmer speaks of her journey through the world. Asking. Couch surfing, having home-cooked meals from fans. Asking for a neti-pot in Melbourne and having a nurse show up with one, leading to conversations about health and death over smoothies. This used to be a huge chunk of my journey. I lived an unrooted life, traveling from place to place, my worldly possessions in a storage unit outside of Seattle, except for a roller bag and a carry-on laptop backpack. I toured the world as an adult film performer, speaker, adventurer, connector of lives and stories.

When my chest surgery/aftercare went wrong, I stopped so much of it. My brain and body became unable to keep up with it… but more than that, I stopped trusting.

I stopped trusting medical professionals that they had my best intentions at heart. I stopped trusting that partners would not leave me in the middle of all of it. I stopped trusting that my brain would not fall apart in truly dramatic ways (I have danced through mental health adventures most of my life, a beautiful truth that is mirrored in my creative capacity and my ability to love… so many gifts mirrored amongst the shadows).

I stopped trusting in general. And this of course is *hilarious* given that friends swooped in to pick me up and give me a home. They brought me food and hope and beauty.  But there was a part of me that did not trust in the same way any more. I became a hermit in many ways that I was not before. I used to travel from place to place with people around me almost all the time, whether living with them or couch surfing with them. I moved into a world of holing up at least half the time in my room (in the DC area) or my own solo apartment (in Phoenix).

And the asking moved away from what it was. I pulled back. I chose to live somewhere cheap so that I could have my royalties and teaching make up enough funds for me to live.

I moved to New York, and the story that Amanda speaks of, of “get a job,” amplified. When your rent triples, expenses triple, your partner is in graduate school… my model of “need” has shifted. I have chosen to put down roots, and with roots, how do I blow in the breeze?

“When you connect with them, people want to help you.” – Amanda Palmer

How do you dance out in the wind? How do you move between? How do I connect with people?

The flip side theory from a variety of folks, and at times me, is that I have blown in the wind and connected with thousands of people (literally, the facebook/fetlife numbers are not just numbers, I can place the connection for many, and my rolodex for helping folks meet folks is a pretty amazing network) is that I have a fear of “real connection.” “Real love.” Putting down those roots and going deep.

But what is deep? Is falling deeply in love for five hours with a client not real? Is a weekend of connection not real? Is a conversation over muffins about life, the universe and everything not real? Does time dictate realness? Continued evolution with one partner? What is real?

I warn people – I fall passionately in love. That does not mean that I am open and/or accessible for a long-term (or sometimes even a continuing) relationship. That does not, in my experience, make the love not “real.”

The world is four dimensional. Length, depth, height, and time.

Beauty, or mental illness? The world is full of perspectives on the debate.

But when we come back to connection, I wonder how I do it from my castle in Crown Heights. From what at times still feels like my cave. Do I connect via blogs and podcasts? Via books? Do I travel out into the world at large and connect there, in that moment, and then release it back into the wild until the next time our paths cross?  Do I tweet, respond to tweets, feel that momentary passing live from my allies, friends, cohorts and loved ones around the globe?

I listed recently a massive pile of humans on the page. Folks I truly cared about. It had 150+ people on it. I then tried to whittle down to folks I wanted to connect with weekly, ideally. It was around 25 or so. Connecting with my closest, alone, on the level that would be ideal, would be a full-time career.

And yet, as the amazing Zahava recently said to me, curled up on her massive beanbag chair… we are living in a world of scarcity. Especially in New York. Not enough time, not enough money, not enough resources. We live in scarcity.

Where is the balance. Believing that the world will give, if I leap, if I trust. Needing my family to be fed, housed, cared for.

I want to go back to school to learn. But a large chunk of it is also based out of a belief that as I age, and as I start a family that will have more of us in it, that I must “get a job.” Have the work I do be “billable hours.” There are capacity issues around how much I can travel health-wise, but how much of it is based in fear that I will not have enough, and that I need to “get a job” to be “successful.”

“The question should not be ‘how do we make people pay for music,’ but ‘how do we let people pay for music.'” – Amanda Palmer

Connecting. Leaping.

I still am unsure as to what the balance will be… and today I am not ready to leap. But I do feel like I continue to connect, and for that I am grateful.


Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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