Saturday, January 24, 2015

I see you, Amanda Palmer

I first started listening to Amanda Palmer in 2005 or so when my friend Dave put "Coin Operated Boy" on a mix CD. Thanks, Dave! I hated the song at first in favor of other tracks like "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys and Prince's "Raspberry Beret." But the more I listened, "Coin Operated Boy" made its way from worst to first in my mind. I bought The Dresden Dolls self-titled debut, saw Amanda Palmer at the Middle East with a dear friend, and have been hooked ever since.

I recently read Amanda's The Art of Asking and have been processing and internalizing its message.

Amanda Palmer is a polarizing figure. Exhibit A is her crowd funding adventures, which attracted both supporters and haters. She is brutally honest about inventing her business model as she goes and has truly pioneered the music crowd funding model. Exhibit B is her poem about accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In her first novel, Amanda shares her struggles with asking. She seems to resist most when asking people she loves, like her husband, acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman. To ask is to expose yourself to getting burned, to place yourself in a vulnerable position. She struggles with her self esteem and feels like she can't ask her husband for money, demonstrating the struggle that all of us face with our inner demon telling us that we are not good enough.

Amanda has been called shameless as a result of her actions, but in actuality I believe she is unashamed. She's true to herself and who she is, and lets the rest go. I admire how comfortable she is in her skin, and how much confidence and respect she exudes.

My portrait of Amanda at her 11/11/14 reading at Royale

One part of her book that surprised me was her treatment of her drummer Brian Viglione. Their band the Dresden Dolls took a very public hiatus when Brian commented on a video clip stating that the band was over. Yet Amanda skimmed over the drama and hurt feelings and had nothing but love for Brian. That kind of forgiveness shows her integrity and comfort with herself; she won't let something that someone did to her shake her core.

Amanda uses her fans as a springboard to help further to find her experience and journey in this life. She shares proudly the parts of the book that her fans contributed to. As a fan who has interacted with Amanda on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog, it makes me feel so connected to her and this book. I enjoyed reading how Amanda allows her fans to experience her actions and emotions through in her songs on blender level one. 

This amazing artist somehow manages to combat the overwhelm of social media to connect at an individual level with her fans. As someone who now has social media marketing as part of her job description thanks to a recent reorg, I can attest how difficult an achievement that is. I am completely and wholly in awe of her ability to connect with dozens of friends and strangers daily without allowing the social frenzy to take over.

Amanda discloses her vulnerability by sharing the momentous events in her life such as a recent abortion. Her ability to share the great, the tragic, and the mundane equally just floors me. I only share shards of my complex self on this blog and I strive someday to have the confidence to disclose even a tenth of what Amanda shares about herself daily.

Amanda doesn't apologize because she is secure in herself, her body, her music. She asks for help as she creates and shapes her journey through life, one fan at a time. Palmer's fans see her, and she sees us. Thank you for seeing and teaching me, Amanda, through your songs, your writing, and your heart. We should all be so lucky to have found such a role model.

If you're new to Amanda Palmer, my current favorite song is Straight. My all-time favorite is Mandy Goes to Med School. My favorite songs fluctuate based on what's going on in my life. But Amanda's heartfelt, honest music routinely makes it to my shortlist of favorite artists ever (also included are They Might Be Giants, Ben Folds, Guster, Tori Amos, and Regina Spektor). To me, the theme that connects these seemingly disparate artists is their heartfelt, inspiring lyrics.

Thank you again, Amanda, for seeing me!

Edited to add: A condensed version of this blog appeared on Fresh Baked Cookies, the Papercuts JP blog (an independent local bookstore).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What are you sorry for?

I've recently become more conscious of my previously unnoticed apologizing. A senior female colleague at work pointed it out to me, and I was able to minimize my use of the words "I'm sorry" and "I apologize." But I found myself continuing to use an apologetic tone at times, especially at work.

Take this week. I have been battling the usual wintertime illnesses, and hit a breaking point on Tuesday. I took a sick day. When I returned to the office, I began an overdue email to several colleagues waiting on me.

I began my draft, "I'm sorry." Then I paused. Was I really sorry? I was sorry to have been sick, and apologetic if my illness had interrupted their schedules. But did I really need to be sorry in this case?

I thought. I regrouped. I typed:

And you know what? Everyone was happy to have me back, and no one called me out for not directly apologizing.

My apology should not be given lightly. The only time I should apologize is if I have truly hurt someone. So I am banning mundane apologies starting now. I'm waiting to hear that something that I did hurt someone before I apologize. In the past I've said to a friend, "sorry I didn't get back to your email for two days." But maybe they weren't waiting on me. I will first ask them if my delay caused any inconvenience. If I suspect that it's a timely question, I will check in with a status, such as "I don't think I can get to this until Friday. Please let me know if that's a problem."

Can you replace I'm sorry with an explanation? I find that most times, I can.

Because I am just not sorry anymore.

Friday, January 9, 2015


My word of 2015 is surrender. I didn't choose this one word lightly. I used and the internet in general to attempt to classify my feelings stemming from the emotions, themes, and insights from my 2014 retrospective/2015 plan

So many words came to mind. My 2012 word was mindful. I considered calm, peace, reflect, and a lot of antonyms to chaos. None of them felt like the mot juste. So I kept searching. What do I need to learn in 2015? 2014 was a year of transition: a new school for my daughter, a new house for my family, and at work, 4 different managers and a job change. I seek some stability and comfort in my routine. 

How did I face this last transition year? Not always with grace, I'm afraid. Particularly in often-shifting situations, I was too bossy and controlling as a way to exert the power I craved. I kept myself busy with projects, sometimes to the point of overwhelm. It's important to give back to your work, family, community, etc. But like the old oxygen mask adage, you need to care for yourself first to have enough to contribute. More does not equal better. It can lead to clutter in your belongings, too many insecure thoughts, not enough time for introspection.

So, I reflected on what control means to me. A lot of control is feeling competent and in power, so it makes sense that it's what I sought in a year of change. A fantastic manager from 2014 helped me to understand my sphere of influence when it comes to items I cannot control. So rather than focus on global issues or problems, my limited time is best spent exerting control and influence in the areas where I can make a difference.

Now that the dust has settled in 2015, I seek to cede control wherever possible. I am realizing that I lack experience in this area. I don't know how to not fill my life; I've never tried it. It's a huge leap of faith to imagine that I can just turn off, or turn down, what has made me successful for the last 34 years. Part of me wonders why I would want to. But the larger part realizes the fallacy of control and is willing to experience this transformation. To focus more on my reasons for needing this power, and backing off.

I am a huge believer in messages coming your way over and over, in different ways, until you can internalize them and integrate them into your life. Several dear friends have attempted to show me that I am too overwhelmed in the past. I have adopted these well-intentioned teachings only to the extent I knew how at the time. I struggled with the impulse to Let It Go last Halloween, and I've become better at letting the small things go. But what about the larger ones? And how can I internalize this lesson, besides using a mantra bracelet? Here's a NSFW (profanity) article about the subtle art of letting go, and choosing what to focus on.

I'm evolving, one small step at a time. This year I'm learning to sit with the discomfort and overwhelm, and resist every impulse to distract myself or tune out from the uncomfortable feelings. I don't really need to check my mobile phone every 5 minutes. My friends and family will always be on the other end. While I am looking for a breakthrough, I realize that they don't happen overnight.

It was snowing when I dropped Lu off at school today. I took it slow, since my car is suboptimal in the snow. I left my daughter at the front door with a kiss. Seeing no reason to rush home, I took a different route home using right turns rather than face a dangerous left turn across 3 lanes on a busy, snowy morning. On the way, I made a right turn that brought me right to a dead end, so I needed to turn around. I took a deep breath and registered my initial frustration on my new route taking even longer. I realized that this was a remnant of my cluttered thinking that I always need to rush to the next thing. So I breathed again and returned on my way.

It's a small step. But it feels right to eliminate some left turns in my life at this moment, and seek an alternate route. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happy new year

2015. It sounds quite futuristic.

I just did a couple of looking forward and back exercises from Rosie Molinary's blog that I found very inspiring. First she has a retrospective of 2014. It's not too late; I did mine today! All you need is half an hour, some paper, and maybe a mug of tea.

I followed up my retrospective with a plan for 2015 and a word for the year. Her idea to flip the usual line of thinking from DO->HAVE->BE to BE->HAVE->DO really resonated with me.

These exercises are so insightful, so please check them out. The combined 3 exercises outlined above have been the best 45 minutes I spent all year. I think that they have set me up for an amazing 2015. Here's to new experiences!