There’s been a running theme in my world lately (well, there have been two, but I can’t really say why Liberace keeps showing up in my life, though I have a few theories), and that is the subject of asking.
I don’t know any people with money. I really don’t. Everyone I know has either a pretty standard blue collar job, which doesn’t go as far as it used to, or is an artist. Artists especially are broke ass bastids, the vast majority of them. Which blows, but that’s another noodle for another time.
Everyone I know has to ask for help. You could say everyone has to ask for help sometimes, and that would be true, but people with money don’t have to ask for as much for the everyday stuff because they can hire people, afford to own cars, and pay for hotels when they travel.
Sometimes it’s just friends and family. That’s an easy ask (hopefully, if you don’t come from a family of douche nozzles). Because there’s an ongoing exchange between friends and family, a lunch here, a borrowed car there, it’s not hard to do or “pay” for if the ask isn’t huge like a loan for college or whatever.
But sometimes it’s huge. Artists, especially with crowdfunding being all in existence now, are more and more asking strangers to help fund their projects, albums, tours, books, et cetera without a concrete return. Because lets face it, the industry that funds creativity is narrow minded and utterly profit driven, and lots of awesome stuff doesn’t get done because the money men don’t see it as having a big enough potential return.
So yay crowdfunding, big time. And many of the artists using it are succeeding. Fans, regular folks with regular jobs that don’t feel like there’s any creativity in their lives, strangers who believe in art getting made for its own sake, friends, family of friends, friends of friends and their family (I could go on), throw a buck or five in the pot and if there are enough, the thing, album, sculpture, performance, whatever, gets made and everyone had a little non-consumer part in making it happen. As opposed to a consumer part, where you can buy a finished book or album, if you get what I’m sayin’. And that kicks ASS.
But there are more difficult asks that broke artists have to make too, which don’t have a concrete thing like a performance or book that you could maybe see or buy. Even without a book or album, people love being even a tiny part of a creative endeavor. I know, I’ve contributed to a passel of crowdfunded projects and I’ve felt extremely satisfied to be a part of it every time. For no reason at all other than, hey this thing got made and my five bucks helped make it go me. So I wanna say it’s easier to make that ask, because there’s a satisfaction in being a part of the whole.
However, stupid life shit like help moving or a couch to stay on in a strange city. Things that count on social capital. Broke people in general have to do these things too, but artists have an especially wide group of people that tend to pay attention to them, from which they can potentially draw, and, this sounds odd but, a personality that is a commodity people want a piece of. As opposed to say, a plumber, who is probably not a Facebook superstar that hundreds of people are paying attention to.
Artists in particular tend to have dynamic personalities that people want to be around. So the ask can produce great results, even if it’s for help moving a piano or paying for major dental work, because a lot of them tend to be shiny people.
What do people get out of responding to that ask? Is it time, attention, gratitude? Do they get the right to something in return? Do they get a piece of that shiny personality for their very own? Scoff if you want, but most people want a piece of that, or there wouldn’t be such a thing as a following.
I totally do feel that pull. I curb it, because those shiny people are people who deserve privacy and respect for their needs just like I do, and their being way cooler than me doesn’t mean I get to impose upon them. But if you wonder do I want to knock on Amanda Palmer’s door now that I threw five bucks at her last album and make her talk to me for ten minutes about ANY DAMN THING? You bet I do. Because Amanda Palmer is one of my she-ros and I think she’s made of unicorns and fine single malt and I wish she’d pay attention to me for like, a half second. Why? Cuz I’m a giant dork at heart and she is very, very shiny. We’re all dorks, I think.
Oh, you are too. Admit it. What makes me a dork and not an annoying fan girl is that I’d never actually do that. I acknowledge the desire and then I let it go, and if I met her in real life I’d say hi and maybe ask if she’d like a hot beverage. Because it’s polite to offer people a beverage.
The point being (I have one, don’t let my rambling style fool you) is that there really is no free lunch, but how much that lunch costs can vary hugely.
If you’re a plumber from Baltimore asking another plumber for crash space in Dallas, you can get away with buying them dinner or a nice bottle of hooch. If you don’t, they’ll probably think you’re kind of rude, but won’t suffer any for it. If you’re an artist who needs to move a pile of furniture or is going on a tour promoting your album but can’t afford hotels and it’s the dead of winter so sleeping in the van isn’t an option, you’re asking a lot of practically strangers to do you a solid, and it’s very likely that they’re going to want some undivided attention at the very least. In a single serve packet, undivided attention is not a big deal, but multiple servings can get emotionally exhausting.
When does the asker get to say, “Hey, y’all, enough already. Thank you, but I’m all out of juice”. Is every ask-e entitled to their ten minutes?
I’m not actually making a judgement call here. I’m just thinking aloud. I’ve watched people who have asked get completely drained by all the well intentioned who just wouldn’t GO HOME, because they felt they couldn’t stand up for their emotional needs or risk coming off as ungrateful. I’ve also given my time or resources and felt kind of let down when there didn’t seem to be a parade just for me because of it. We’re all mercenary to some extent and I wanted my piece or whatever.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask. I’m also not saying you shouldn’t do. Or feel like you want something for doing. It’s pretty normal to want something for something. It’s kind of what our entire society (yes, it has it’s problems, but take a look around and you get that it could be a whole lot worse) is based on. Cooperation is how humans evolved, even, and that involves an exchange.
So where’s the balance? What does the asker owe, if anything? Can you ask without expectations? Should you give without expectations, and do people really do that, or do they expect some emotional payment at least? Should we just do stuff because it’s awesome to get stuff done and let that be our parade?
I feel like, while it’s normal to want something for doing, it’s important to deal with that want on a case by case basis. Amanda Palmer does not have time to satisfy my emotional needs, so I gotta let that one go and just be happy to help something get done.
There are situations where it might be a major imposition to try to get your ten minutes. Situational sensitivity is a really good thing to practice regardless of the circumstances.
It’s what I’ve been trying to do, anyway. That’s my solution. If I ever meet Amanda Palmer she’s going to get a beverage (if she wants one) from me and that’s it, whether I’m just a fan of her work or I produced the entire album.
Well, ok, if I produce an album I at least want a copy.