The Art of Asking and Other Inspiring Recent Reads

art of asking

I read a lot. And I like most of the books that I read. But rarely am I so moved and touched by a book that I have to tell everyone about it over and over. I recently read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer and I find that I keep mentioning it to people.

Dresden Dolls

I didn’t realize when I picked up the book that the author was one half of The Dresden Dolls, a cult band I loved fifteenish years ago although I was never the devoted fan that Palmer describes in her book. I discovered their music through file-sharing back in the early days of high speed Internet, before I fully understood the legal dos and donts of music downloads. I wanted to see them perform live once, at Bimbo’s when I first moved to San Francisco, but it didn’t happen. Then they split up and I started listening more to folk and pop ballads and things shifted. But it’s interesting to read Palmer’s descriptions of her devoted fans, to realize that I was one step away from a life that included participation in that world, that a breath taken differently here or there could have meant I was being described in her writing.

Crowdsourced Funding

Palmer’s book is about the mutual relationship between an artist and her fans, whether she’s an established musician and best-selling author or just a statue performing on the street (which Palmer did in New York for five years and describes in such loving detail that I am forever changed in the way I watch our San Francisco statues now). Her book is the outgrowth of a TED talk of the same name and it drew attention in large part because it illuminates crowdsourced funding, such a hot topic today.

It captured my interest because of my own recent ups and downs with the choice to fund a project that wasn’t yet finished. I discovered that the pressure of having people already backing the project immobilized me, making it difficult to keep on working through the writing, creating a writer’s block that feels permanent although I know it’s not. I finally chose to offer refunds to my backers to relieve some of the self-imposed pressure of the project. Palmer’s success with crowd funding is lovely to read about, in part because as a reader I get to witness her own ongoing insecurities with the constantly-evolving relationship she has with her fans. She also shares several stories of projects that did and didn’t get funded and did and didn’t get completed and I resonated a lot with the truth in all of these stories.

Help in Abundance

Palmer talks really about how we can identify what we need, ask for help from the “crowd” and get those needs met but only if we are participating in a sort of community where we also give back when others need it as well. She talks about how, working as a statue, she would exchange a flower for a donation and how the donations came from people rich and poor, other street performers and homeless people, children and the elderly and whoever and how the exchange is equally valuable regardless of the monetary value or the participants. And how this is all relevant to other exchanges … how sharing and hearing stories, for example, is part of the community need.

I have noticed since reading the book how often people do actually ask for and receive help within the community around me. Someone gets on the bus and doesn’t have change and people everywhere look up from the immersion in their phones and offer their coins. Friends express that they are going through a tough time and the community comes together to create a safety net to buoy that person up until they can stand on their own again. We spend a lot of time in this life expressing our lack (lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of whatever) but in opening my eyes to what’s around me I’ve noticed there’s really abundance all around me.

Social Media

I’m an active user of social media but I’m not sure I ever fully understood the human connection value of it until I read Palmer’s book. She writes about “the fundamental things that create emotional connections: the making of art, the feeling-with-other-people at a human level”:

“That’s what I do all day on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and my blog. The platform is irrelevant. I’ll go wherever the people are. What’s important is that I absorb, listen, talk, connect, help, and share. Constantly.”

“The net tightens every time I pick up my phone and check in on Twitter, every tie I share my own story, every time I ask a fan how their project is coming or promote somebody’s book or tour.”

I’ve always had an appreciation for the way that people reach out to me via social media and email but reading Palmer’s book made me really stop and want to acknowledge each of those interactions. It made me want to share more, more genuinely, more authentically, in a new way, in a richer way. I thank her for that.

Partnerships and Love

Throughout this book, Palmer shares her struggles with learning to let her husband (author Neil Gaiman) support her financially in her work. She finds that she can easily let strangers help her but it feels different taking money from her love partner. It’s a struggle I think many female artists (and those who don’t call themselves artists, I suppose, and maybe not just females for that matter) deal with in their relationships. Money and love and art … this is life and yet we try to hard to keep them un-entangled to keep them clearer in our heads, which is all just an illusion but one that makes us feel more in control.

Blending Lessons

I can’t seem to put together cohesive thoughts about how much this book impacted me as I read it and as it keeps rippling through my mind. It’s all still forming I think. Palmer writes about how we all take things in, sift through them, put them out in a different way and this is our art. I want to quote her on this but can’t find the part in the book where she wrote it and maybe that’s okay. The idea is that we accumulate all kinds of different material and then we shuffle it and re-form it and give it back to the world in a new way. With some art, the inspirations are clear. I tend to write like this – to draw a lot of clear connections and then share my own insights from them. For others, its changed and distorted a lot from the original input. I remember now that Palmer writes about blender settings. Some people really turn the blender up to level 10 and mash their inspirations into something so new that you could never tell that the smoothie they offer you was once a strawberry and a banana and some ice and some milk. I remember my parents’ old blender and how my favorite button was always “pulse”, hitting it again and again to slowly stir up a little bit of something different while watching the outcome as it shifted.

And Other Recent Reads

I’m returning The Art of Asking to the library today. It’s still settling into my head although the poignancy of it will probably get buried beneath the stacks of other writings I consume so regularly. Already there are other inspiring reads that are recent but fading. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness had me momentarily terrified of epilepsy and intrigued by all we do and don’t know about the workings of our neurons. Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty fascinated me as it taught me to understand the language and history of computer programming and how it relates to Indian fiction writing. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way has me thinking about my own elite high school education and what we do right and wrong here in American learning. And I wonder how these things will and won’t stick with me, work their way into my own philosophy of the world, emerge in my own writing.


5 Inspiring, Wonderful Resources on the Simple Joy of Walking


I recently wrote an article for about the similar health benefits of crochet and walking. In that post, I shared some of my favorite resources about inspired walking. I thought I’d share those here as well, along with a couple of other related resources that I hadn’t mentioned yet.

  • Walk It Off: A Walker’s Rambles. This terrific blog has a lot of information and inspiration for all walkers including people who have never walked regularly before and want to try it out.
  • Walking in this World by Julia Cameron. This book, part of The Artist’s Way series, is a creativity exercise book that also encourages daily walking as part of a creativity plan. It has great tips and information for using movement-based creativity to improve your quality of life. I love the whole series and I was excited when Cameron added the element of walking to the other daily rituals she was already recommending (journaling, etc.)
  • On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by Andrea Horowitz. In this book the author takes a simple short walk with experts in different fields and discovers that each person sees different things in the world. It’s an inspiring guide for walking and I found that it also gave me a new perspective that infused creativity into my craft work and writing.
  • The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White. This is one of the first books I ever read about walking and it revitalized my own interest in this simple exercise. It’s a book about Paris, a book about the history of wandering, a book about the magic of walking through the world.
  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. I’ve fallen in love with author Solnit in recent years. The first book of hers that I read was the one about San Francisco, which someone had given to my beaux as a gift and he had lent to me. I also read Paradise in Hell, her book about how we thrive in big disasters. And I’m currently reading The Faraway Nearby, a memoir about memory and stories. Wanderlust is her book about walking, about all of the different ways we walk and the stories of walking that are intertwined through time and her own experience of walking in my own San Francisco Bay Area.

Where was the last place that you walked? What did you discover?


Valentine’s Cards, Images, Inspirations

Happy Valentine’s Day. I just thought I’d share some inspiration related to this day, which I rounded up from posts that I did in various categories on Sussle in the last month.

canvas valentines

Canvas and button art, tutorial from Southern Lovelyecovalentine

Eco-Friendly Valentine’s Gift Idea (cut flower replacement). Via Weburbanist.

love script

Metallic gold love script print via Made By Girl

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Happy New Year and My Hopes for 2014

Happy New Year!


2013 turned out magical in ways I couldn’t have anticipated although they make sense looking backwards. I started the year by diving fearlessly into the ocean with my sister, setting the tone for a year of taking chances on doing things that scared me by seemed good for me. I found a new relationship. I started grad school. I set to work on my next book. I started plans for the book after that. I flailed and I stumbled and I soared and I skipped. It was a big year and yet a lot of it seemed to be spent resting between burst of activity, re-centering, re-finding myself. And that makes me wonder curiously what 2014 holds for me.

Here are some of my hopes for 2014:

  • I hope to re-focus on my own creativity. It’s not so much that I want to create specific things but that I want to re-establish a solid daily ritual of honoring and practicing my creativity. Creative practice can be a form of spirituality and I want to treat it as such in this new year.
  •  I hope to re-connect with my closest loved ones. I did experience some terrific bonding in 2014. I had some great conversations with a close friend. I developed a new romantic relationship. I created unique connections with my new classmates on both the individual and group level. But now I’m kind of missing some of my other relationships that fell to the wayside a bit. I hope to talk more regularly with my immediate family members. I hope to resume the monthly dinners with friends that I’ve always done but let slide in 2013. I hope to have some good friend time with my few close friends here in the city, more than just text messages!
  • I hope to read lots. I recently re-discovered my love of reading. Not that I’d forgotten it exactly but I was doing so much reading for work and for school that I had stopped considering reading to be a good relaxation activity. I want to take hours each week to just read for pleasure.
  • I hope to celebrate life. It’s easy to get lost in the difficulties and the details but I hope to keep remembering to celebrate what is right here in front of me each moment.

Mostly I hope to be open to all of the surprises and possibilities that the new year may bring to me that I can’t even imagine right now on the first day of the year.


What Would You Make With These Craft Supplies?

Last month I shared the stenciled message board I made using some of the materials that you’ll see in the photos below. Today I want to know what you would make with these same supplies. Get creative and share your answers in the comments below!

handmade charlotte stencils

craft supplies

to do stencil

acrylic paint


What’s here: 87 stencils that are themed “family message center”, three sponge paintbrushes, 6 colors of acrylic paint, chalkboard paint


In Love with Inspiration (or how “days off” are sometimes the most productive)

Today I’m sharing a post that I wrote several years ago. It was originally posted on my Real Words blog, which has since been taken down. Although the post is old, I feel like it sounds a lot like something I’d write or think today, and it remains one of my favorite posts …

My favorite feeling in the entire world is inspiration. I love to be in love, I’m thrilled during days when I feel excitement, I’ve even been known to thoroughly indulge in immersing myself in red-hot moments of anger … but if I could only feel one feeling for the rest of my life, I would choose inspiration every single time. Inspiration is that hard-to-capture feeling of being simultaneously aware of your complete interconnectedness with the world around you and yet sure that your voice matters in the big scheme of things. It’s that feeling that you have been so touched by something in life that you are compelled to find a way to channel it through yourself and back out to others, to act as the prism for the light of creativity that surrounds you. Inspiration is why I get up in the morning and work.

And some days, I don’t “work” much at all. But for writers, days off aren’t really days off. Sure, you may take a break from writing (you may even take an unfortunately extended break from writing) but if you’re living life, you are collecting material. Most writers’ books or art guides that you’ll read (and I can say “most” because I have a penchant for such books and have read many of them) will tell you that you need to consistently replenish your creative well. I’ve heard it described in dozens of ways, but what it boils down to is that it’s perfectly okay to give yourself permission to not work and to just be … because for someone whose life work is creativity, just being is the same as working. Because when you are out observing and absorbing the world around you, you are placing yourself in a position that allows for inspiration.

I wrote poetry on the insides of my eyelids the other day as I wandered around SFMoMA. There was art of all kinds on the walls around me … urban drywall installations covering entire rooms, photographs of dancers captured in the height of their movements, scupltures by painters and paintings by sculptors … but I didn’t look too closely at any of it. Instead, I just wandered, meandering through the crowd that fills the museum on free admission day. People-watching. My eye was caught by an older woman dressed in bright blue, with a scarf to match tied around her hat. The hat was yellow straw but she could’ve been a member of the red hat society if her vibrancy was any clue. I eyed her for only a moment, lost her in the crowd and moved on.

The flecks of paint swirled around me on canvases encased carefully on the walls of the museum and crusted onto the jeans of the art students who critiquely walked the rooms. Momentarily, I met eyes with the strikingly bold irises of a student writer who was gathering material for the character for his next book. Or so I think he told me in the brief glance that connected our gazes before one of us turned away. I don’t remember anything about him other than the brightness of his eyes, made brighter by what seemed to be natural eyeliner rimming the bottoms of his lids. The funniest things will make impressions on you if you’ll let them. So I sat and I walked and I stood and I watched, soaking up what was around me without planning to turn it into any kind of writing. I was simply allowing myself to be filled up with impressions. I was refilling the artistic waters of my creative well. I was opening the door of my writer’s mind to the inspiration that I am always hoping will walk through it.

Not all days are good days, creatively speaking. But all of them have the potential to be.


12 Years of Daily Self Portraits Create an Inspiring Story

I’m just starting to wake up. For me that means, in part, going through my Twitter feed as I enjoy my first cup of coffee. I followed a link from one of my Tweeps to a video by a man who has done a self-portrait every day for twelve years. That’s a long time to keep committed to a daily project, which is inspiring in and of itself. More that that, though, the well-edited video shows how our daily activities make up our lives and how art can be used to transform our own lives. I wanted to share:

Jeff Harris: 4,748 Self-Portraits and Counting from We Know Music on Vimeo.

Via BoooooooM