The Art of Asking
There are two books to which I credit a majority of my growth as an artist. One is a book called The Artists way by Julia Cameron, which if you've spoken to me for longer than 10 minutes any time in the last two years I've probably insisted you buy. The second is a TED talk which eventually grew into a full book called The Art of Asking by a woman named Amanda Palmer. I will delve into my rabid enthusiasm for The Artists Way in another blog, but I wanted to take a moment to share this TED talk today because I really needed to listen to it today, and I wanted to bring it to the attention of anyone else that might need to hear it too.
When I first saw this talk, well before it was a book, I was used to shaking like a leaf on stage at open mic night, living my life for those three songs a week and convinced that I was never going to grow beyond that as a performer. I wasn't good enough, I didn't deserve to make money doing this, there were way too many people that were way better than me so why on earth would I even bother to try. I watched this video, and it triggered something in me. My perspective on my performance shifted from beating myself up about being a bad guitarist to trying to connect with as many people as possible. I started making eye contact while on stage, I tried to not let my social anxiety stop me from talking to other performers and audience members both on stage and off, I started singing more original material even though I was terrified about being that vulnerable in front of a large group of people.
Now, a few years later, I'm on my own independent tour in the middle of the country, making money and living comfortably thanks to the beautiful people that come to my shows and generously give when I ask them to please donate what they will in exchange for a copy of my CD. I'm couch surfing and being welcomed into the homes of people who are simply interested in doing something kind and connecting with a new human. I'm meeting incredible people and trusting that as long as I continue to do the work and connect that I will have what I need to get to the next place. And I have not been disappointed.
But sometimes I slip back into those negative thought patterns from yesteryear. Its been a gloriously gloomy day in Fredericksburg, TX. I woke up for the first time since I left home for tour and did not want to leave my bed. My melancholy was quite persuasive. Eyes fixed on the grey skies outside of the window I started to think about how insanely wonderful the tour has been so far. I've found a greater degree of success than I really thought was possible for an artist like me. Then I started to wonder if all of this is fair, if I deserve it, if there aren't more skilled musicians and entertainers than myself who have practiced longer and harder than I have who really truly deserve to be in my shoes. Why do I get to follow my dreams? Why do I deserve all of this support? Why me? Why not someone else?
I let that thought process play for a little longer than was probably necessary, but then again this was a different kind of spiral than I was used to. The pattern I used to be stuck in was that I wasn't worthy of even trying, it was filled with the belief that even if I did try I would be nothing but a failure. Now I am trying and not only surviving but actually finding success. And oddly enough that is almost scarier than deciding to not try at all, because if I can be successful at this level, whats the next step? I anticipated working a lot harder for a lot longer to get to where I'm at right now, I haven't even thought about what the next step really looks like, I barely feel like I deserve to be where I'm at.
After I forced myself out of bed in search of some breakfast. I walked a bit. I journaled a bit. I breathed a bit. When I came back to my room I didn't feel quite so downward-spiral-y but I didn't feel up to do much before my show, I wanted to disengage but I didn't want to completely check out, so I compromised with myself and decided to watch some TED talks, they are inspiring and educational and can be watched while swaddled in blankets and pillows.
Which of course brought me back to this brilliant piece by Amanda Palmer that always reminds me just how important the act of connecting is. I am traveling around the country cultivating the art of connection and vulnerability through music and that is important and of value. It isn't about how well I play guitar, it isn't about what my range is, it isn't about whether or not I can stick to a regular posting schedule on my blog or whether or not people recognize the songs I play or what my hair is looking like or any other insecurity that I use to tear myself down. What matters is that I come from a genuine, authentic place every time I get on stage, that I make eye contact and really see the people there and let them see me and if they want to talk to me that make sure they feel heard. If I can do that and people feel that connection and feel inclined to help financially support me so that I can continue to make that connection for others, that is fair. That is important and of value and worthy of compensation. Can you tell I'm working on some new affirmations?
When I think of it that way I'm reminded of anecdotes of snowflakes I've heard since I was small. No two snowflakes are exactly alike, no two people are exactly alike, no two pieces of art are exactly alike. I realize that no one can connect exactly the way that I can. My art is going to resonate with different people in different ways than any other artists. Yes, there are many musicians with a greater degree of skill, but that doesn't mean that their degree of connection is going to be greater than mine because connection can't be quantified that way. I may not be the greatest guitarist who ever lived, but if I can sing one song that moves one person to feel something then what I'm doing is important.
I sometimes need to be reminded of these things, and I wanted to share this video in hopes that it might resonate. I think it will. And if it does I highly recommend you get the book (I have two copies, one of which is signed) or the audiobook which Miss Palmer reads herself (I've listened to it 4 times since it came out). Its a beautiful and inspiring story.