Rarely do I claim that books actually change my life.
Books frequently entertain me and make me think things; make me feel things. But when you read as much as I do, it takes a lot for a book to have a marked and lasting effect on me. Rarely do I say that a book fundamentally changed something about how I interact with the world.
However, “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer, did just that.
In her book, Amanda Palmer talks about being a street performer, standing as a statue and silently asking people to participate in her craft. When they responded, she gave them a flower and a moment of connection in return.
She talks about being a musician and crowdfunding an album, about showing up in a city for a show and simply asking Twitter for a place for her band to crash. And how people responded, opening their home, sharing their food, providing a bathroom and a bed.
Since I read this book several months ago, I’ve started reading her blog and following her on twitter and I’ve seen this exchange happen over and over again. She asks and people respond. She asks whoever took her ukelele to give it back, and they do. She asks someone to provide a venue for an impromptu concert, and they do.
She asks for support while her best friend lies dying, and the internet responds with words of love.
When we ask for things, she repeatedly says, we usually get what we need.
Now, I come from Scandinavian stock, a people who keep all our thoughts, good and bad, to ourselves, who don’t share any of our emotions or admit weakness.
Add to this mix my perfectionist and overachiever nature.
It’s probably not a shock that I’ve never been good at asking for help.
A thing happened.
Last Thursday I had a Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day
I had a series of bad meetings in the morning, followed by a confrontation with a coworker that ended in me being super upset in my boss’s office (and by that I mean I was hyperventilating I was crying so hard– it was super professional. *facepalm*), and THEN I got all kinds of insulted by an adult patron and all I could do was sit there and take it, shocked that he managed to put down every separate aspect of who I am in a single breath.
And while I realize that in the grand scheme of things there are way worse things that could happen, do happen, have happened and sometimes happened to me, it doesn’t change the fact that I had a ruhl shitty day.
And while normally, my response to this would be to wallow in my own misery and sit at home emotionally eating and thinking thoughts like “everyone hates me,” and “I’m terrible at my job,” I decided to do something else. Something radical – at least for me.
I decided to ask for help.
And the people in my life responded.
I posted on my facebook “Y’all would not believe the day I’m having. Please send cat gifs and/or funny videos.”
Within moments, a series of pictures, gifs, and videos appeared in the comments that genuinely made me laugh, along with multiple messages full of affirming and supportive words and offers to lend a shoulder.
I asked a friend if I could come by his house after work and not only did he say “of course,” but also when I showed up he had pizza, chips and ranch, my favorite beer and cookie dough. We sat and ate all my favorite comfort foods while I ranted and yelled and cried and got all my frustrations out.
And then the next day I evaluated my work plans and concluded there was very little that absolutely had to be done before Monday, all of which I could do from home in my pajamas while watching Buffy. So I took a sick day (which I have the great fortune of being able to do) and texted a friend/fellow YA librarian “Playing hookey, wanna day drink?” The response. “Of course!”
So we went to brunch and had too many mimosas to count while we talked about our jobs, both the good and the bad. She helped me remember all the things I do genuinely love about my job, and we talked about the future which isn’t as scary as it was a few years ago. And then we went to Lush where they pampered us and made me feel pretty and happy and also where I bought this soap that is rad as shit.
I asked for help, and people gave it. And afterwards I felt not only better, but rejuvenated, refueled and ready to get back on the horse of the profession I love.
It was astounding in its simplicity.
And then on Sunday, I got a text from a friend – a friend from back home in Iowa where, as Dar Williams sings,
“we never mean to bother, we don’t like to make our passions other people’s concerns”
-saying that there was something wrong with her eye and she needed to go to the ER, but was scared of riding alone in a cab when she could barely see anything (totes legit). Could I help her out?
We live in a world where it is so easy to ignore a text, or decline a call, neither of which is necessarily or always a bad thing. But this weekend I found myself believing just a little bit in karma, because within a few days I had the good fortune to receive, and also the privilege to give.
My introverted nature combined with all the other things make me particularly reticent to ask when I need help, but I think also in general we live in a culture that discourages us from doing it. We are constantly talking to people on social media, yet when we really need support we often find ourselves feeling isolated. The very act of asking is sometimes too much. I have been there too.
And maybe this is what I love most about libraries — we are a place where people come and ask. They ask where to find things, how to do things, and we show them. They ask for stories, or instructions or access to technology and we give it to them. We never judge, you can ask us anything. You come to a library to ask. I work at a library to give.
If we could all just ask without fear, and give without hesitation, what an amazing world that could be.