Amanda Palmer and the Art of Asking.

Musician Amanda Palmer did a TED talk a couple of weeks ago about asking her fans for help when touring:

I’ve been thinking about it ever since. She basically says that there is a power in connecting with her fans and asking them for help over the years. It’s allowed her to drop the label she and her band had signed on with and give their music away for free. Ultimately it led to the most successful Kickstarter project for music ever. They asked for $100,000 for a new album and they got $1.2 million from their fans. All because they took a chance and asked.

I’m terrible with asking for help when it comes to matters of money, but I’ve had some first-hand experience with this in my own past. Back when my contract with Ford Motor Company was suddenly terminated in 2005 quite a few SEB regulars encouraged me to put up a donation link in the sidebar so they could help out. I was resistant to the idea at first because it felt like begging — which is what it was — but I put one up with the idea that I’d use it to pay for maintaining the website hosting. I figured I’d be back to work in short order as I always had been when previous contracts ended and I delayed signing up for unemployment which, of course, ended up getting me into trouble. By the time April rolled around I was in a crunch and I finally broke down and asked my readers for help.

Boy, did you guys ever come through. There was enough donations to keep me and my family afloat until the unemployment checks started coming in. I had never been so grateful of the generosity of strangers than I was then. I was sure that a job was just around the corner and we had made it through the worst of it. In the coming months Anne would land a job (she had been a stay-at-home mom during my time with Ford) and combined with my unemployment it was enough for us to get by. Ultimately it would be 10 months before I found work again and the unemployment benefits ended well ahead of that happening by a couple of months. So in October I again put my hat out and asked for some help and again my readers kept us afloat long enough for that long sought after job to finally arrive. The next few years were a bit of a roller coaster job-wise, but I managed to not ask for help again until may of 2010 when I was once again unemployed after my contract at a BigDot.Com Company — that I’m still technically not allowed to name due to a 5 year NDA — came to an end.

So, yeah, I’ve got some first-hand experience with what Amanda Palmer is talking about. Needless to say, my hangup about asking for help when I’m in trouble has diminished somewhat, but my hangup about asking for help when things are going OK remains.

I struggled with school growing up because it was apparent I was very smart, but I couldn’t seem to apply myself. (Thanks undiagnosed ADD.) I had any number of authority figures tell me on more than one occasion that I was a failure in the making and that I’d probably spend the rest of my life on welfare being a leach on society. It left quite an impression on me and I ended up — outside of a small period in my early 20’s — living with my parents until I was 31 because, well, I was afraid of trying to live on my own. So when I did get out on my own I resolved to try to be as self-supporting as possible. I made it 7 years in Canton and that included having my daughter come to live with me and getting married. That’s why when we ended up having to move in with my in-laws in the fall of 2005 due to my ongoing unemployment it felt like all those predictions had come to pass.

I mention all of this because back when I first moved into that apartment in Canton I believed I’d be in it for six months to a year while I paid off debts and saved up for the down payment on a house. Then life happened and that year turned into 7 and then the eventual move in with my in-laws. That was also only supposed to be 6 months to a year and it turned into two and a half years. The job with BigDot.Com Company is what got us back out on our own. Next thing I know I’m 45 years old and no closer to being a home owner than I’ve ever been and it’s not looking likely anytime soon. The housing market is starting to recover which means I’m be missing out on the best possible time to buy a house which is the only real plus to the fact that I played by the rules and didn’t become one of those subprime borrowers that were part of the housing bubble.

I want my own home badly. The itch gets particularly bad around holidays when I could be putting up decorations. It’d be nice to have the room to be able to entertain more than a couple of guests at a time. I want a nice sized basement to host my own LAN parties in. Our rent is right around what a decent mortgage payment would be anyway. Anne and I tried looking at some homes last fall and were even pre-approved by a mortgage company so long as we could come up with the 3% down payment for whatever we were looking at. Yeah, that’s not going to happen any time soon. We’re doing OK, but it seems like whenever we manage to save some money life happens and we end up having to spend it.

No, I’m not about to ask you folks to help me with a down payment. Like Palmer says, it doesn’t feel like I have the right. It would be especially hypocritical considering what I wrote about Save Karyn back in 2002. She’s the young woman who had racked up $20,000 in credit card dept on shit she didn’t need and then begged on the Internet for help in paying it off. It worked. In just 4 months using a combination of selling some of her stuff on eBay and accepting donations she had it completely paid off. Then she wrote a book about it.

The reason I don’t have a problem with Amanda Palmer’s crowd sourcing is because she’s giving something back to her fans. They’re getting something for their money in supporting her. Alas, I don’t have any particular talents that I could use for a Kickstarter campaign. I can’t sing, dance, or play an instrument. No skill at drawing or painting. Writing is about the only creative thing I do regularly, but every attempt I’ve made at a book (fiction or not) has never gotten far before it collapsed under its own mediocrity.  Even if I were to consider my blogging to be enough (I don’t) I’m not active enough anymore to justify the request. I see interesting and unique ideas from other folks out there all the time that I could have done had I thought of it, but I don’t want to just be a pale imitation of someone else. For supposedly being a creative person I don’t appear to be all that imaginative or good at anything in particular. Which just kills me because I’m just extroverted enough that I’d enjoy the hell out of entertaining folks for some of their spare change.

I’ve experienced the power of asking first hand and it’s as amazing as Amanda Palmer says it is. Hopefully I’ll come up with something I can do to make it possible to experience it again. I’ll keep scratching my head and trying to think of something. There’s gotta be something I’m good at.

4 thoughts on “Amanda Palmer and the Art of Asking.

  1. Please contact me by e-mail. I was your age and in the same position (except I didn’t have a job) In one year I had a house. In 3 years I had two. In 9 years I had 11. In may of 2005 I retired at age 64, sold my properties, and retired with a half million in the bank.

    I can show you how I did it. No charge. No bullshit. Just the right kind of hard work and the willingness to live small until you reach your goal.

    Not MLM or any ‘program’. Just my own method of making money given to you free. It might work for you – it might not. You decide whether you want to try it or not. No follow up. No nuthin’! and No con job.

  2. I did indeed, Michael. Scribblerlarry’s idea was both quite legal and feasible if I were more of a handyman than I am (it involves rental properties). I don’t think it would work for me as it doesn’t fit what few talents I have, but I appreciate him sharing it with me. (Meant to send him and email saying as much, but got distracted by shiny things.)

    The USDA 0% down loan program might be a possibility, but it’s aimed at rural communities. There are strict limits on where you can buy and how much you can earn and still qualify. I’m still looking into it, but my initial impression is that I may not qualify for it. I don’t know that for absolute certain yet, though.

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