Book Review: The Art of Asking

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I just finished The Art of Asking.  I don’t even know what to say about it, because it filled me up full of feelings both good and sad.  It felt like a story I was intimately familiar with, and yet something wholly new.  It left me with so many images from my own marriage, my own struggle toward legitimacy as a writer, and my own hang-ups about asking.   It has left me feeling confessional.

I joined the AFP fandom right about when she found out that Anthony had cancer and cancelled her tour.  I remember being worried for them.  I was jealous of all the house parties.  I’m a lurker, though.  I have never tweeted her, never tried to attend a show, never attempted to find Neil at a signing.  I made a highly-inappropriate-for-work playlist of her songs and played them in my lonely office in the basement of Chapman University.  I thought about buying tickets to the book tour in Los Angeles, but I didn’t.  I am an introverted, fuddy-duddy house maker. I will go one of these days, though.  I will.

Amanda and I are fundamentally different people, but so many of those life changing moments she writes about are moments I have had myself.  Like the tear-jerking relief of being told to keep going.

Oddly, it is Neil who gave me the first words of encouragement that weren’t from people who love me (and have to be complimentary).  I spent a year and a half researching a 45 page thesis on Deaf identity and film.  My advisor loved it and suggested we try and joint publish it.  He staked his PhD on me.  And then it was rejected in a mean, mean way.  I was told it was unscholarly and offensive.  I spent the night sobbing and reading Neil’s “Make Good Art” on the couch while Brian slept in the next room.  In a fit of despair, I decided that I would write Neil and thank him for Make Good Art, because at least I had a place to proceed from.  He wrote me back.  “Good luck! And keep going…” he said.  I would have kept going anyway.  But to be told I was legitimately allowed to? By a professional? A cool wave of gratitude washed over me and something in my heart released.  I wanted to cry again, this time from relief. It was a flood.

Perhaps this is why the book feels so familiar.  I have never been a statue on the streets of Boston.  I could never live at a place like the Cloud Club.  I would never shave my eyebrows and draw them artfully back on again.  Nor would I be comfortable on a stage even partially naked.  But there is so much love in this story, and the experience of needing, wanting, and being afraid of what people will say if you ask (or take) is universal.

My father was a great help to me in relationships.  Among many other things, he taught me that I could never be angry with someone for not providing me with something I haven’t asked for.  That is how I’ve lived my life.  It’s okay not to ask, but I have to assume that if I don’t ask I’m not getting it.  This is why it took me five years to see Garrison Keillor at the Hollywood Bowl (I told you I’m a fuddy-duddy).  It’s why I sometimes don’t feel like I’m getting enough attention from Brian (ask him to get off Facebook, or decline a night of Netflix? No).  It’s also why I had an amazing and awesome graduation party.  That one was important enough.  That one I told him I wanted.

I am slowly learning to ask; to hit myself over the head with my own “legit” wand as a writer.  The Art of Asking is a chronicle of Amanda’s journey toward the same and it is extraordinary.  It has exposed me to the wonderfulness of  a life I never would have led.  Although places, dates, and names are unique the inside struggle is something we all share.

I heartily, 100% recommend the book with all my heart.  I simultaneously want to loan it to everyone I’ve ever met (especially my artist friends) and can’t bear to part with my copy.

You should definitely go read it now.  I promise, you will walk away with something new and invaluable to think about.

Amazon Affiliate link here: The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

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