I Would Not Have Taken The Flower: An Introvert’s Take on AFP’s “The Art of Asking.”


First Amanda Palmer raises over a million bucks with her Kickstarter. Now she’s collected over a million views for the TEDtalk linked below. Apparently she likes to do things by the millions. (NB: I would be quite happy with a half as many book sales. Just saying.)

The reason it’s been so popular is that it’s pretty damn good and very interesting. Give it a watch, if you haven’t already.

In case that embed doesn’t work, here’s a direct link.

So many responses all over the intertubes! Tobias Buckell embeds the talk in a post about monetizing his blog; Buckell is a smart dude, but I’m going to call that missing the point.

Kat Howard sees the talk in terms of daring to see what she does as valuable and coming to terms with the idea that people would want to talk to her. While Palmer is talking about connecting with people, which includes struggling with the questions of both trusting them to say yes (without some sort of awful betrayal) and not asking for too much, but Howard is becoming accustomed to the idea that anyone would want to connect with her.

There’s also Chuck Wendig’s post about trusting his readers to pay if he gives away his work, about the internet age breaking the barriers between artist and audience, and about how happy that makes him.

But when he talks about making a connection to his readership, he says:

“If you’re going to be exposed, expose yourself.”

You know what I notice there? The audience is not even mentioned. He’s talking about baring himself through his work, but I don’t think that’s the same sort of thing Palmer is talking about at all.

You’ve watched the TEDtalk above already, right? Once again, it’s good and interesting and it takes the changes our culture is going through very seriously and half of what I’m about to say won’t make any damn sense if you haven’t.

I don’t want the flower. Palmer would have had to make the sad face as I walked away because I don’t want to lock eyes with a performer. I don’t want to share a moment. Palmer may be a performer and (almost certainly) an extrovert but I’m neither of those things.

So, yes. Me = introvert. But that doesn’t mean I’m shy. I’m not, particularly, although the odds are that, if we happen to sit at adjoining tables at a cafe or a party, I won’t talk to you. An introvert is someone who feels drained by human interaction. Taking the flower and meeting a stranger’s gaze for a minute? That shit is tiring. Thanks, it seems very interesting, but no thanks. I have too many demands on my time and energy as it is.

I assume things are different for Palmer. I would be willing to bet a whole nickel (maybe two!) that she’s an extrovert. When I recharge, I seek privacy. When an extrovert recharges, they seek face-to-face human connection. God forbid I should be in a band or do street theater; I can’t imagine anything more draining. I save my socializing-spoons for my wife and son, and sometimes for close friends. Making a connection with strangers? That’s fine in small doses, if I can prepare for it and have a way out when it gets to be too much.

That’s why I think Buckell, Howard, and Wendig are missing the point, even though Palmer herself tweeted a link to Chuck’s post with a big thumbs up. They’re talking mostly (not exclusively, but mostly) about online interaction. About mixing it up with people digitally, maybe through Twitter. Maybe through a PayPal Donate button. Maybe through a well-moderated comment section.

Palmer is talking about sleeping in the homes of strangers. She eats toast at their breakfast table and craps in their toilet. She is right there in their lives for a few hours, because if you’re a fan of hers you can offer crash space to her band. (Be sure to have lots of clean towels because drummers.) That is a very different thing than tweeting funny lolcats to each other, or even mingling in a store after a reading with your Game Face on. What Palmer does is riskier, less-controlled, and more visceral.

Also… Look, I don’t want to seem like I’m slamming any of these writers. I’m not. I’m just saying that there’s a huge difference between connecting with your audience through your art and connecting with them as a human being. She’s doing the latter.

I think that’s great. For her.

I don’t want to do that. This may sound silly, but my supernatural thrillers? The ones with “monsters and face-punching” as I used to describe them? Those were very personal. They are full of my obsessions, and I feel very much “exposed” when I see them in a bookstore or get a note from someone who liked them.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s how I’ve always done it. If there’s nothing personal or painful in a story, whether it’s my issues around food or shame or self-loathing or the way we all tell stories to ourselves to rationalize our choices, that’s me in those books. That’s all my private bullshit. And I put it there for anyone to see, no matter what they might think, because that’s what writing is for. As Nick Mamatas said (rather dramatically) in his writing book Starve Better: “You have to stop caring whether you live or die.

As Chuck said, I’m willing to be exposed (in a mental/emotional sense not physical, because ugh).

Like Howard, like Wendig, I want to connect with people through my work. Unlike them, maybe, that’s enough for me. Yeah, I’m among the audience because I’m a reader and a moviegoer and whatever else. I’ve always been in the audience.

But I’m not out there as an artist because I’m not looking for that personal connection. Palmer wants to be the artist who looks you in the eye. I want to be a twice-removed voice that whispers directly into your brain. Yes, I know that sounds creepy; guess what sort of stories I write. Don’t look at me. Here’s a book. That’s why I wrote it. Don’t open it up until I’ve gotten out of the room. That’s good enough for me.