Home > advice -- not that you asked, giving thanks where it's due > After The Art of Asking and The Bed Song: Beauty in Vulnerability

After The Art of Asking and The Bed Song: Beauty in Vulnerability

Asking is an art form. It is a vulnerable thing. It is putting yourself out there and trusting. Emotional crowd surfacing. Emotional skydiving. You’re taking a risk – a big one – and assuming that someone or something will save you from the fall. And it’s beautiful in its potential. It’s faith in the purest form. It’s allowing yourself to open up, without net or expectation.

In Amanda Palmer’s TEDtalk, she brings up the relationship between artist and fan. It is really very thought-provoking, and it made reconsider a lot of things about the making, and distributing, of art. It isn’t about asking people to pay for something. It’s about letting them. Watch it. I’ll wait.

She had a stellar success with her amazing kickstarter album Theatre is Evil. As a backer, I’m a little biased, because the whole process was amazing to watch. The music is wonderful. But here is what happened: she asked her fans to kick in what they could, offered tiered rewards in exchange, and then pretty much shattered expectations and kicked total ass. The CD, and everything else related to it, would not have been what it is – if it had been traditionally funded. If it had a genesis other than what it was. Just as people are, in part, the sum of our past and experiences, art is as well. From the kickstarter – and her tremendously intimate fan connections, she made good art. (Shout-out to Mr. Amanda Palmer and his make good art speech.). If you haven’t listened to the music, with the stellar new recording of The Bed Song, go. Go right now. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. LISTEN. And if you only listen to one song, let it be the aforementioned one. Get tissues first. Trust me. The video is stunning, and it’s right below this paragraph.

I want to connect the idea of asking, as the Divine Ms. Palmer posited, to the Bed Song. Both things shed tremendous light on the importance of communication, of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, of connecting with each other. When we stop being vulnerable, when we stop taking emotional risks, when we stop trying – everything stagnates. We, as people, get stuck. We get stuck in a situation. We start drinking resentment in our morning coffee. We stop all possibilities, all potential. We stop living and start existing.

To me, there’s nothing sadder than a lack of emotional intimacy. Yes, being vulnerable in any capacity is a risk. A big one. But it is a risk worth taking, because it is through vulnerability that we grow and gain. A simple question, like asking how are you? and really listening to the answer – it can change everything. Relationships, all relationships, are work. Some days are harder than others. But the quickest way to kill any relationship isn’t a lack of sex: it’s lack of talking. It’s a dearth of dialogue. Even in small ways, like asking how your day was – or if anything interesting happened. Tell a story. Talk about a book or a song. Just…talk.

And yet, so often, we don’t. We get stuck. We get scared. We clam up. We disappear. And then, after a time, we’re so lost that we can’t even find ourselves. And we give into the routine. We act the part. We pretend it’s all okay, when it isn’t, simply because we’ve convinced ourselves that we have to. This is how things are. This is how they will be. There’s no changing it.

But that’s a lie we tell our reflections when we’re terrified. The truth is that there are a million ways to change everything. Change almost always starts with a single question. Things like, what do you want? Are you okay? How can I help? What’s going on?

There are always reasons why we build up walls, slather on armor, and stay silent. But there are also so many reasons not to. Because when you stop talking, things start dying. Little by little. Perhaps in such small ways that you hardly even notice. Trust me, though: the damage always spreads. Silence (if prolonged and habitual) is a cancer. It ravages trust and intimacy, making it harder to try. It is a closeness, full-stop. A period, instead of an ellipsis. It cuts off potential.

You have nothing, and yet have everything. The connection between two people cannot be measured in possessions, or time spent together, or in any kind of quantity-based idea. Instead, I think it’s measured in honest words, mistakes and bad days, vulnerability in its rawest form, laughter and tears, and love. The kind of love that comes without strings or agenda. The kind that allows for asking the difficult questions, even if you choke on your words a little. The kind that allows us to be ugly when we feel ugly, instead of idea of perfection or beauty.

“I would’ve held you, if only you let me.” That lyric in Amanda’s song gets me every time. You never really know, unless you ask. You cannot know, if you don’t ask. If you don’t strip off everything and run into the middle of traffic, offering yourself. You do not know if someone wants to be a part of your life, unless you take that risk and talk about it. You can’t know anything, unless you are vulnerable. And yes, it takes courage. It takes a measure of insanity, sometimes. But exposing yourself and being honest? It’s the only way to be true to [whatever – your art, your heart, your life].

When I ask the difficult questions, it is never pretty. I’m not comfortable with it. My hands shake. My voice shakes. My heart tries to gnaw its way through my ribs like a rabid dog. It is horrifying. And yet, it is also satisfying. Because it’s the only way to learn, to know, to grow, and to be. It’s the only way to keep yourself from getting stuck in the same spot, for years. Because before you know it, all the blooms have fallen off the trees; seasons have come and gone. Moments have flown past. And the only thing that is horribly the same is you.

After watching The Art of Asking, I was floored by one simple, yet superb, concept: that people often want to give us what we need – if we only ask. If we are brave enough to form the words, there is potential. If we don’t ask, there is nothing. And yes, in asking, we are placing ourselves in a vulnerable position – but that is a small price to pay for possibility.

We need to talk to each other more. We need to stop walling ourselves up and sticking to thing that we know do not work, that we know benefit no one and nothing. Don’t be afraid of losing everything, because you said the wrong thing. Be afraid of losing everything, because you said nothing.

There is true beauty in vulnerability. It is how we discover who we are. It is the only way to love each other. It is the only way to create something, even if that something is difficult or not easily obtained. Life, when you boil it down, is emotional busking. Someone sees you. You see them. They give you something. You offer them something. Eye contact. Intimacy. Human-shaped art.

It changes everything.

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