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Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer

In the interests of full disclosure, I tweeted and emailed Amanda Palmer a couple of weeks ago, playing on my fabled past as the viral internet home birth girl to try and elicit some kind of support (actually, a retweet to her millions of devoted fans) for my own crowdfunding campaign ‘IRMO’. I’m trying to dig myself out of child custody / divorce induced post-baby legal hell and back into writing and filmmaking at the moment. Emerging, shell shocked, from the tail end of a legal battle which started when I was barely recovered from childbirth and has affected my relationship with my son, my ability to work and travel, and my social life, has been devastatingly brutal. I have debt – tons of credit card debt that’s ruining my once perfect credit, and even more bills arriving on a weekly basis – and I consequently have a lot of (prescribed) pharmaceuticals in my system helping me deal with this. I did what a lot of people do – and what Amanda Palmer encourages us all to do. I asked “my crowd” for help in the form of hard cash through an indiegogo campaign which is still ongoing.

Crowdfunding is purgatory. It’s anathema to my soul. It’s a popularity contest, and everyone fucking hates me as I have a mouth like a sailor and the social skills of someone with Asperger’s. I watched my twin sister grapple with the intimacies of trying to raise funds for a short film through the AFI’s prestigious program ‘Directing Workshop for Women’, and learned from her that basically you need a bunch of rich family members to plonk several thousand on your campaign at the last minute to cover the shortfall of the fifty other broke fuckers who only gave you five bucks. You then skip out on your single mother twin sister without paying her the rent you owe her, but let’s not go into that. Writing about one’s personal issues is lowbrow, unless someone’s paying you for it, and my relationship with my twin sister is not that dollarworthy.

I loathe having to reveal exactly how shitty my life has become, how dire my financial circumstances are. Having been convinced for years that no one would marry me because I’m a colossal cunt, I can’t help thinking about all the people sniggering at the inevitable failure of my marriage (“she’s such a nightmare I’m not surprised he smoked meth. I’d need it if I lived with her”) I’m not really sure why such vulnerability and intimacy disturbs me so much, seeing as I had no problem writing a very frank and very successful blog for several years about being a stripper in New York. It got me a book deal and a shit ton of money and a hide like elephant skin and an ability to tell anyone and everyone to fuck off and mean it, and a newfound empathy for those in pain and those who don’t have the salvation of rage that I had. And then when I started writing screenplays and stopped writing about myself, I discovered I hated being intimate with strangers on the internet. I loathed telling people my personal shit for money. I’d only ever started a blog because an agent had read a novel I’d sent him, and told me to “start a blog, like belle de jour. It’s how to get a book deal these days”. Sure, I got hooked on the hits and the comments and the fan mail and the weird gifts, but if I could have chosen a different route, I would have gone the far more elegant Zadie Smith route: get picked up by an agent who “believes” in you until you write a fucking novel which has been hyped up so much it’s inevitably not going to fucking fail – even if it’s shit.

At the time this agent told me to start a blog because it was the only way to get a book deal, I had just moved to New York with no visa and no money and a huge propensity for drama and trouble. Within weeks I’d been featured on the front (online) page of The Village Voice, been invited onto the O’Reilly Factor, and had wangled my 25 year-old unmanicured, unwaxed amandapalmerseventies bush into a club called Flash Dancers. I was writing about this shit every single day, visiting other people’s blogs, getting linked and mentioned by major trafficked sites, and before long my work, ‘Mimi in New York’, was featured in The New York Times, and agents started sniffing around me.

There were so many of us ‘professional bloggers’ back then: we all knew each other and became virtual friends. Waiter Rant. Petite Anglaise. Dooce. Clublife. Opinionistas. Jolie NYC. We were featured on Jezebel and Gawker and invited to photo shoots and asked to do sleazy things like lie about dating guys for restaurant dinners because it would make a good article in the New York Post. I did it – I think we all did – because we wanted to write so fucking bad, and here was a quick, easy way we could do it. We could prove to the world that thousands and thousands of people wanted to read our words, and the industry would sit up, take notice, and publish us, we unknowns who did not have friends working at The New Yorker and had not attended St Anne’s in Brooklyn and did not grow up in the West Village or Beverly Hills and had not accrued 100k of debt for an MFA at Iowa or Columbia. Well, maybe some of them had, but not me.

We all of us with the ‘big’ blogs, getting tens of thousands of hits a day, managed to get book deals and movie deals and TV deals and improve our lives pretty dramatically. And most of us stopped sharing the intimate details of our everyday existence, opting instead for a more carefully crafted, instagrammed, filtered image we controlled with more acuity, perhaps because in some ways we were happier. We didn’t need validation – we had it. Now we could live our lives. Perhaps because in other ways we were afraid that we hadn’t quite made it, and our sacrifice may have been for nothing after all.

In many ways, I got a book deal with Penguin and HarperCollins in the same way that Amanda Palmer got 1.2 million dollars to make an album: by using the internet to prove that people liked my shit and thought it worthwhile. In many ways, my career echoed Amanda Palmer’s: HarperCollins paid me nearly 300k USD to write a book. Then they asked me to change the ending and make my name “sexier”, and I told them to fuck off, and walked away from a lot of money and a career that might have changed my life.

I literally feel like an old fart writing this, harping back to the days of blogs. But blogs were where this phenomena started: connecting with strangers, giving them a piece of your soul, asking them for money when you needed it. I didn’t ask often, but I always had a paypal button on my site, and once a guy called Mitchell sent me a grand to go and campaign for Obama in Colorado when I was broke after contracting MRSA from a sleazy pool party at one of Scorsese’s producer’s houses and spending my last 2k having boils on my ass lanced in Cedars’ ER.

My book came out in 2008 with Penguin US (no one in Europe would touch me after I told HarperCollins to fuck off), and it tanked. I didn’t have a publicist, twitter didn’t exist, I’d stopped writing the blog because now I had to write a book, and I had no idea how to maintain contact with the people who checked in every day to read a new post. The blog community had dispersed (I’d probably pissed most of them off). No one reviewed it. At the time I didn’t have friends who were writers and editors in every major publication. I was also shredded and intimacy intolerant: both from stripping and the men who pushed and poked and pried into my soul and my body, and from sharing the weight of that experience with complete strangers through my words. I wanted to kill Mimi off forever, and screenwriting and writing political Op-Eds, the – very occasional, very crafted creative non-fiction literary essay – satiated me instead. My life was quieter. No one knew who “Ruth” was, but I didn’t miss Mimi, and I didn’t miss the internet. I just didn’t pay it too much attention, used it for face booking pictures of my chihuahua and staying in touch with people I knew in real life. Started making friends who I could touch. Fell in love. Had a baby. Got a career making up stories for screen.

Coming back to the internet in order to share my pain with a hat out for begging nine years later has been chastening. I hate asking for money. I like earning money. My crowd has been wonderful: the yoga crew, my friends from Cambridge, the writers I know. But I tweet rarely and I don’t have famous friends, and I have a talent for pissing off anyone that crosses my path and might actually prove useful (like Lena Dunham, for example. Talentless cunt. Emma Forrest: Talented Starfucker). On the advice of a few people, I reached out to celebrities who might find my story interesting: Amanda was one.

It didn’t work: Palmer didn’t respond. Now a normal person might try harder. But me – well, I figured she’s probably busy being pregnant or busy not being pregnant. Both involve a great deal of work sustaining a small, hungry beast either in or out of one’s body, so I can’t really blame her for not noticing my tweet or shedding some of her asking magic onto my own personal tragedy.

Not knowing much about Amanda apart from the weird eyebrows, the cringeworthy TEDx talk, the cool rich writer husband and the hilariously crap poem about Dzhokar Tsarnaev (it was a joke, right? right? right?), I got hold of a review copy of her book. ‘The Art of Asking’ details how Amanda successfully crowdfunded her career through hugs, crowdsurfing, “being shameless” and ultimately running the most successful kickstarter campaign in musical history, garnering donations from fans of up to 1.2 million dollars to make an album and generating intense controversy when she decided to just suck up the extra 1.1million dollars she hadn’t asked for and screw transparency (Hey, she may have played at Occupy, but she didn’t agree to the principles). I live tweeted my reading of the entire thing with the hashtag #readingamandapalmer @fowlerruth. I’m a child of the blogging generation, and I hate twitter, but it seemed an appropriate place to share my thoughts on this devilish creation which frankly should have been aborted.

Firstly – I’m not really into linear narrative and rules and all that shit, but man this book needed some kind of A-Z, because frankly I had no fucking idea where the hell we were in Palmer’s career or personal life. One minute she’s married to Neil Gaiman, the next minute she’s telling us she just met him, and the next we’re being told the biggest obstacle to your dreams is your own personal hang ups – not race, economic, gender and class structures and oppressions. Whoopee! Black people, all you gotta do is BELIEVE and slavery never existed!!

The running theme with any mention of Neil is money, stupid accents (please fuck off with the ‘tomAHto’ being cute) and Amanda struggling to ask him for money because he has a lot. Yeah, money is a big deal for us all. It’s what’s driving me to do shit I can’t stand- like email people like Amanda Palmer, who I’m sure I would LOVE to get absolutely shitfaced with in a bar, but her online self: infallible self belief, complete oblivion to the problems facing most of the world’s non-white, non-Boston, non-middle class, non-Amanda Palmer population, and bouncy, inane, puppy dog trust (not to mention the use of irritating affirmations I BELIEVE!!) – is annoying as fuck. There is nothing that this book says which is remotely interesting or new. Amanda is poor, but only in that self induced middle class white way which drives someone like me, ex white Cambridge grad with a distaste for 9-5 jobs and no family money, to the pole. Amanda is a living statue. Amanda gives out hugs. Amanda discovers twitter. Amanda uses email. Amanda has a blog. Amanda has celebrity friends. Amanda has a gift for self promotion. Amanda gets naked. Amanda has weird eyebrows. Amanda meets really rich old writer at pivotal moment of career but insists repeatedly he has nothing to do with her success (though a quick flick through the ole google suggests she doesn’t hold back from mentioning him and throwing their pics around everywhere). Amanda is nice to fans. Fans are nice to her. Then one fingers her after she gets naked. What a shocker. What a meanie.

Palmer talks a lot about herself, and has a talent for recreating exactly what other people say to her, about her. She doesn’t really talk a lot about other people, unless they serve as a learning moment to illustrate her philosophy, which is essentially, ask, take, trust, don’t feel ashamed, but then get really upset when someone is a cunt. “Take the donuts” we are told, given the cautionary tale of a disabled fan who refuses government benefits out of pride, until she learns from Amanda to suck it up and fill in that form until she gets a job.

I don’t think most people in America have an issue in taking the donuts. The issue is that the donuts aren’t there, and if they are, there’s someone at the other end of the line who won’t pick up the phone to explain how to fill out the 23 page online form which requires 75 different kinds of ID and might give you EBT for a year, if you could only figure out how to fucking do it.

Anthony, Neil, her Mom, her fans, the guy at the weird co-op apartment house place – none of these people come across as people in their own right, perhaps because Amanda is not really a prose writer, perhaps because, well, she’s got her head so far up her own vagina she can’t really see other people as anything but vehicles of affirmation for herself, dead stars circling around her own orb.

Despite the fact Amanda is a complete arsehole and her music is shit, I get why she’s charming. She’s in cloud cuckoo-land. She says shit like “connecting with people in an authentic, non-promotional, non-monetary way” is the key to her success, but doesn’t seem to understand that this is called FRIENDSHIP, and she’s writing a book about how to get lots of money out of strangers by crowdfunding and being nice to them, which is precisely connecting with people in an inauthentic, promotional, monetary way, because if you didn’t need their money and their fandom, you would never bother to fucking tell them the time of day. Sure, canceling a tour for Anthony, her friend with cancer, makes sense. That is friendship. Sending a fan with cancer a nice email or popping in to the cancer ward (obligatory hospital visit to hairless child enduring chemo: check!) isn’t friendship. It’s what people do to make other people like them – particularly famous people with an agenda.

She says fuck a lot, she has a ton of energy, she has weird eyebrows, she spurns botox and doesn’t seem to care about that massive crease in between her pencilled-in brows, which to my mind is a positive miracle in today’s society (I made my crack-addict-ex pay for juvederm in case you’re wondering. A good move. An asset which can’t be divided in divorce court). Amanda has a lot of people clapping their hands and saying “I believe”, probably because she doesn’t, really, which is why she needs a blog, twitter, Patreon, Kickstarter, an ‘ask amanda’ email function on her blog and daily interactions with people who tell her she’s amazing to really feel like she exists. If we don’t clap our hands and say we believe, Amanda Palmer will, like Tinkerbell, curl up like a dead spider and disappear up her own arse, and the world would be a sadder place without shit poems, bad music and mediocre books written by people far richer than any of us sad fucks.

The thing about asking for help is that it’s humiliating. It’s shit. It sucks. It indicates to the world that you’re suffering, you’re vulnerable, your life isn’t working out, you’re not instagram happy and your facebook ain’t cutting it. If you can turn that upside down and emerge with 1.2 million after asking for 100k, accept the offer of doing a TedX talk for a bunch of asshole tech millionaires paying 6k for a ticket, of course you’re going to act like a triumphant, arrogant fuck and tell everyone else how to do it. It’s such a – a white thing to do. Here: let me tell you how to be a starving artists in a graceful, acceptable, middle class way. But the reality is that crowdfunding is a popularity contest, a pity party, or a personality wily enough to take the piss, and for anyone who isn’t a white middle class girl from Boston with famous friends, it’s probably not going to change your life in any significant way. Amanda won the popularity contest. She worked her ass off and she sold every aspect of her personality and she edited her life to make it – and her – look great. In reality, she lived in Boston, stood still in white paint for money, wrote some awful songs, dated a super rich famous writer, married him, started a blog, mastered twitter and then got famous by asking for money and getting it. I could deal with that life. It doesn’t sound too shitty. Or interesting.

I went to Palmer’s twitter feed before finishing this piece. I scrolled through the tweets: endless retweets about how being a mother doesn’t interfere with your creative process and makes you way more efficient at working. She’s scared that this small human she’s about to birth will change her life, eat her internet time, and make it hard to work. People are eager to tell her otherwise. Bullshit. The first year of being a mother is hell. It’s wearing your heart in a tiny, helpless human suckling off your tits and you barely have time to take a shit or a shower for the first six months. I couldn’t help thinking: Amanda. When this child comes, turn off the fucking twitter. Abandon the goddamn blog. Ignore the career. Have this baby. Love this baby. Spend time with this baby. Nurture this fucking baby. Then when it’s about two, cast it out to the environs of nannies and Waldorf schools and rejoin us again. We’re not going anywhere. You raised 1.2 million by being mediocre. You married a rich old dude when you had no money and shit eyebrows. Now you’re having a baby. Enjoy it. Stop selling your soul. You don’t owe anyone shit. Take some time out, be a mom, fuck the fans, enjoy your life.

Stop writing books.

Ruth Fowler was born in Wales and lives between Los Angeles and London. You can find out more about her at ruthfowler.net or Venmo her at @ruth-iorio

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