Wednesday, March 04, 2015

I Have Trouble Asking for Help

I was going to rant and rave today about how badly The Newsroom crashed and burned in its last season, but honestly, that ship has sailed. Do go read Abigail Nussbaum's breakdown, though; she's much more articulate about the situation than I would ever be. (I also started this Facebook thread, which has some good insights by other folks.)

Instead, I'm going to fill this week's column-inches (OH GOD I'M OLD) by juxtaposing two TED talks by amazing women:

Amanda Palmer: The art of asking

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability

I'm a writer, and many of my friends are writers or creative artists of some kind. (Yes, that includes puzzles.) And we all struggle to figure out how to make money doing what we love.

There is, I think, an essential tension between confidence and vulnerability here: an artist needs to have the confidence to believe that people will find value in her art, and to put herself out there to connect with people (some of whom may be jerks--you never know); but an artist must also retain a sincere vulnerability (especially online, but also in person) to make her supporters feel good about supporting her work and helping her out, either financially or by donating their time (assisting with promotion, sharing food, providing couch-surfing space, etc.).

I've seen this dynamic played out in many a failed project on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and any number of other crowdfunding sites. Because those are the places where the intersection of an artist/maker's confidence and vulnerability are laid bare. You have to self-promote your project, but you can't seem like a jerk when you do it. And that can be a very fine line to walk. (#PROTIP: when in doubt, be humble, be grateful, and be nice. In all things, really.)

It's ridiculously easy for things to go wrong online, especially when you're compressing your deep thoughts into 140 characters or fewer. Even if you think you're saying the right thing, other people might interpret it differently. I'm fairly paranoid about this, so I always re-read my tweets and e-mails (and blog posts!) before sending them into the ether. I'm painfully aware that I will be judged harshly for any perceived breach of etiquette because reasons.

There's another reason I've always had trouble asking for help. Whether it was computer programming or fiction writing or even just cooking dinner, I always felt that I was "stupid" if I didn't know something and couldn't figure it out on my own; and if I had to go to someone else for help, that made me a failure, and that was shameful. Maybe that's a common neurosis, but in my case, I always suspected it was a conceptual hybrid of Chinese academic pressure and American cowboy independence. I'm finally getting over that now, in my forties, but it's worth saying out loud. Everyone needs help sometimes. Learning to recognize that, and knowing how to ask for help, is a big part of being a grown-up. (Writing: cheaper than therapy, folks.)

Back to the main point. I don't know if (or when) I'll get into a situation which many other artists have encountered, where they're facing financial ruin due to some health or other personal issue and decide to turn to their friends and fans for help. I don't know how I would handle that, because--other than asking for a raise at my first job--I've never been in a situation where I had to ask someone for money. Again, cultural taboos, blah blah blah. But I hope I'll have figured it out by the time that becomes an issue.


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