Raise your hand if you believe, deep down in the secret of your soul, that asking anyone for anything makes you look weak, or needy, or lazy, or unproductive. Even downright unAmerican.
I can’t see you, but that’s okay. I don’t need to. I know almost everybody has an invisible hand in the air. My hand is right up there too.
We hate asking for a raise, an invitation, a favor. We cringe in the street while our children knock on doors asking neighbors to support their school by purchasing wrapping paper. We haven’t taught them to be afraid to ask yet, but we will. We’re working on it.
Asking makes us vulnerable. And being vulnerable is probably the biggest taboo in Western culture. I think it even trumps showing up drunk to a parent-teacher conference. Most of us would happily trade a finger or toe in return for never having to feel vulnerable again. Many of us have already traded more.
But the truth is, if we give up vulnerability, we give up any chance for authentic connection. Being vulnerable is the price of admission. It’s like that stupid team building exercise where you close your eyes and fall backwards into space, hoping against hope that someone will catch you before you end up sprawled on the floor with a concussion and your underwear showing. If you refuse to fall, you refuse to be caught.
I’d like to say that I’m over this. I’d like to say that I’ve reached a point of enlightenment after years and years, decades really, of asking for gigs, asking for blurbs, asking for recommendations. But the reality is, I’m still terrified to pick up the phone and ask for a doctor’s appointment. I’ve been trying to walk this very fine line between appearing vulnerable and actually, gasp, being vulnerable. I think it’s a pretty familiar (if hazardous) boundary for people involved in the arts. Trying constantly to find the line between sharing enough, exposing enough, to create intimacy, and (horror of horrors) oversharing. After all, none of us want to be that high school version of ourselves, that literary magazine, itchy tell-all, desperate, ask-me-to-the-prom-pretty-please, over-sized kid.
But WE.ARE. Deep inside, under our MBAs and our MDs and even our MFAs, we all just want an invitation to the party. We all want to be asked.
So, I’ve decided the most radical, counter-cultural, self-actualized thing I can do is to learn to ask.
I’m absolutely terrified.
We live in a market-driven, capitalist society. We come up with the newest and the best. We put our noses to the grindstone and get it done. Not only do we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we chase down the calf, tan it’s hide, and stitch those bootstraps with our own hair. And we do it all ALL.ON.OUR.OWN. That’s what being successful is all about, right? Proving that you don’t need anybody.
That’s not what I see here. What I see here, on this little ol’ blog, week after week, are people waving their hands in the air, shouting, “Me too! Me too!” People whispering, “I thought I was the only one who didn’t have it all together; the only one who couldn’t even figure out what all of ‘it’ was.”
That’s why I love writing Life in the Circus. It makes me feel less alone. It doesn’t matter whether I’m snitching on my subpar parenting, bemoaning a shoe-string budget, or reveling in the fact that we’re still standing despite it all – there are always folks appearing like magic in this little life raft of mine. It turns out we’re in the same boat, and we’re laughing like crazy while paddling like hell. Starting this blog is, hands down, the best decision I’ve made in years.
But it takes a lot of time. On average, I spend about three to five hours writing each post. And then there’s the email and comments (which I love) and the graphic design (which I tolerate) and the technical codey bits (which I suck at). All in all, it’s a solid 25 hour a week job. Except I don’t get paid. Which is fine. I’d do it even if I had to pay for the privilege (come to think of it, I do; web-hosting is not free) because I need this community, I need all you fellow paddlers to keep me laughing. But sometimes, it does occur to me that my family might be better served if I spent those hours engaged in some kind of gainful employment. Of course, here’s the rub: besides teaching piano (wonderful, if chaotic) I’m kinda lacking in marketable skills. In fact, I have a real gift for acquiring non-marketable skills. It’s sorta my superpower.
Cause I just discovered (read: discovered months ago and have been working up my courage ever since) this amazing crowd-funding platform called Patreon. Patreon provides a way for regular people (ie: not gazillionaires) to become “bonafide, real-life patrons of the arts. That’s right. Imagine you, in a long frilly white wig, painted on a 10-foot canvas on the wall of a Victorian mansion. And imagine your favorite creators making a living doing what they do best… because of you.” There are all kinds of creators on Patreon: musicians, painters, YouTubers, and well, ME. And you can support as many of them as you like, on an ongoing basis, for just a couple bucks. This is democratization of the arts and the Internet at it’s finest.
You can find out more about Patreon, and my own campaign, by clicking on this image:
I hope you’ll check it out. Of course I do. But it’s totally ok if you don’t. Life in the Circus will always be free. Nothing is changing. Except me. I’m closing my eyes, crossing my arms and falling backwards. I’m learning to ask.