thetillyvanilly

Awkward things.

Asking is an Art

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This post originally appeared on http://www.theindiechicks.com

No matter how much of a badass you are, at some point in your life you are going to have to ask for something. It might be something small and stupid, like a piece of gum, or it might be something big, something life-shatteringly, heart-flutteringly, floor-crawlingly important, like a phone number. Either way, it can be a pain in the ass to put yourself in that position. But it doesn’t have to be.

Amanda Palmer, the queen of badassery herself, has just published her self-helpography ‘The Art of Asking’, and it reads like a how-to of getting exactly what you want. I definitely suggest you check it out yourself, but here are a few things it taught me:

  1. It’s OK to ask.

Yep, you’re allowed, and the best thing is, unless you’re asking someone dangerous for something inadvisable, it probably won’t kill you. You can’t keep building it up into this massive event, when really all you need is one quick question and, BOOM, you’re done. Finito. Voilà. And other foreign words. Chances are that the person you’re asking will say yes. Maybe they’ll say no. Either way, the world keeps turning, you keep breathing and life keeps moving. You’ll never know if you don’t take a deep breath and spit it out.

  1. Sometimes you don’t NEED to ask.

A lot of the time, I find myself nervously asking people permission to just, I don’t know, be myself. But I’ve had that permission my whole life and I usually don’t wonder where my certificate is. Like, am I allowed to be this me? Is it OK? The answer is yes, all of the yes. You are allowed to be who you are, but you don’t need my permission. You are a grown-ass woman (or man. Hey guys!) and you can do whatever the hell you want, whenever the hell you want, unless it constitutes a crime, and even then, you can just close your curtains and lie low, no apology needed. You do you and I’ll do me and that’s all fine and dandy.

  1. Sometimes you’re standing in your own way.

You know the voice in your head that knows all the words that sting, all the memories that make you want to jump off something high, and all the right spots to prick you just to watch you bleed? Yeah. That voice is a dick. Most of the time it isn’t your sane, reasonable, epic, brainy brain that’s telling you that you’re not worth it, it’s The Voice. And clearly The Voice knows screw all, or it wouldn’t be telling you how much you suck. The Voice wasn’t watching when you graduated, or when you got promoted, or when that dude checked you out. The Voice didn’t read that letter from Mensa, or your recently published article or that letter from the people who love you. So obviously The Voice needs to skip out of your life and along to the opticians, because you’ve got shit to do.

  1. You shouldn’t feel guilty for what people are willing to give you.

You are not a fraud because you grabbed someone’s hand on the way up. It may sound crazy, but people do actually WANT to help you. Think about it. How great does it feel when you do someone a favour? When someone gets somewhere with your help, it’s like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. No-one is an island because being an island would suck. It’s lonely and not to mention impossible to do everything in a vacuum. It’s ok to ask and it’s ok to take, but it’s not ok to beat yourself up about it.

  1. Most people are only after one thing.

No, get your mind out of the gutter, at least for a moment, and then you can stick it back in again. A lot of the time when we’re asking for something, what we’re actually asking for is love. There’s not enough of it hanging around and waiting to be grabbed, so sometimes asking is the only way to get it. We all want to be accepted and we all want to be liked, but sometimes, for whatever reason, we can’t see the evidence. So we ask for a hug, for a ride, for them to stay the night. Do you like me? Do you want me? Do you love me? We ask the question in such simply worded, convoluted ways and hope to God that the answer is yes.

  1. Sometimes the answer is no…

…And that’s OK. Life is like a box of chocolates, after all, and sometimes you’ll get caramel and sometimes you’ll get rhubarb, and sometimes you’ll get praline and die because you’re allergic to nuts. It sucks, but it’s a ride, right? It’s an unconditional relationship and if there wasn’t even the slightest chance of being shot out of the sky, it wouldn’t mean as much. Let’s look at it this way: If there was no chance of a no, the yes would mean nothing. It’s only a risk because the answer’s not certain, and the risk makes it worth the question, otherwise you might as well be asking a tree for a hug. Don’t ask, just hug. The tree’s cool whatever.

  1. There is a massive difference between asking and begging.

When Amanda asked her fans for help, the best comment on the difference between asking and begging was this: “Asking is like courtship; begging, you are already naked and panting.” And that image, gross as it may be to those of us with overactive imaginations, totally works. There’s nothing icky about asking. They could say no, they could say yes. Hakuna matata. Begging implies arms wrapped around legs whilst Adele plays in the background and everyone is crying. Not good. When you ask for something, it needs to be able to go either way, or you’re verging cliff-close to begging, and the no will make you both feel bad.

  1. Asking is an art.

Anything that’s worth something is hard. It’s the fight that adds value to the prize. But while it might be difficult, it’s light years from impossible, and, like all the things, the more you do it, the easier it gets. So what’s the solution? Practice. Ask. A tampon, a ride, a hundred dollars, their hand in marriage. Make it a daily task to ask for something. It doesn’t have to be big, especially not to start with. How hard is it to ask to borrow a pen? Exactly. Sometimes you will hit a wall and it will take a while to clamber over it, but you will, I promise. And pretty soon you’ll be in the International Space Station or the White House and you’ll wonder why you never asked before.

So what’s your hardest ask, and was it worth it?

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The Little Big Things

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Lately I’ve been feeling a whole bunch of adjectives – exhausted, hopeless, resigned, gloomy, despondent… And I haven’t wanted to do anything at all, least of all create. My main daydream at the moment is to get a week of sleep and to wake up as a modern day Pollyanna version of Shakespeare. I know, I’ve been told my expectations are a teensy bit up there. But I’m so tired and I want so much out of this life.

Life is about living, after all, right?

We’ve all had it drummed into us – how we only get one and we need to make the most of it. We get fed all of these inspirational messages that feel more like guns to the head. Live as if you’ll die tomorrow. Have no regrets. And it’s so much external pressure building up internal pressure, and you have no idea whether you’re going to implode or explode before you’ve made your myriad goals. Our western world has given us so many gifts that if you aspire to be anything less than a world famous, cancer-curing, bestselling, doesn’t-look-a-day-over-eighteen astronaut, who runs a multimillion dollar Ayurvedic juice company raising money for starving African children, then it seems like you’ve given the whole western hemisphere the middle finger.

I’m sick of physically wanting more all the time. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling. I mean, reaching for the stars inside is admirable, but when you’re making yourself miserable and panicky, when your heart seems to be wrenching itself out of your chest, when you can’t sleep and you feel sick and the world is shrinking around you like some crappy Indiana Jones spoof, well, that’s just not healthy.

You can work so hard and tick all of the boxes and network all you want, but sometimes your ducks don’t want to sit in the damn row. So what then? Does trying and failing make you a pointless person? Um, no. But if I know that, why do I find it so hard to apply the lesson to myself? I mean, I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life an embarrassing amount of times, and I know that we do so many great things that we don’t even think about, but still I feel like if I’m not at the top of my chosen ladder, I’m at the bottom.

But you know what? You don’t have to have it all and do it all and be it all. You don’t. I don’t. I’m done with thinking that my life is pointless if I don’t get to the arbitrary destination I’ve stabbed on a metaphorical map. It’s just not true. I am a living being and I make my worth felt every single day. We are all constantly making ripples in the water and waiting for a splash. But something is happening under the surface, something is moving. There is life. You matter.

You are the creator of your own world. It is yours to do with what you want with. Only yours. You might not be Shakespeare or Einstein or Mother Teresa, but you are you and that is good enough.

I think it’s time to pay attention to the little things. We are so focused on climbing all the mountains that we don’t stop to make daisy chains. When I was a kid, I was so happy to colour and roll down grassy banks and make puppy palaces out of cardboard boxes, but now the idea of getting something so big out of something so small seems ludicrous. That’s the problem though.

When North Korean defector, Joseph Kim, was asked what surprised him most about life outside the dictatorship, he spoke about barbeques and lying on the ground. The thing is, we don’t notice the little things right now, because we’re too wrapped up in the big things, but if everything was taken away from us, the little things are the things we would miss. Can you imagine a life without hugs and high fives and photographs of friends and sitting in the park on a sunny day? Can you imagine a life without the people you love? Can you imagine them thinking that they’re not important because they’re only halfway up the ladder? It might be nice to see your novel in the window of Waterstones, but it’s also nice to hold hands and share coffee and in-jokes.

Sometimes I make my goals into rods to beat myself with. Sometimes I need to stop and figure out how to break down the brick wall, but instead I just butt my head against it. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I’m not going to get anywhere, and it’s during those times that I need to remember to bake cakes and doodle, because those are the stupid and important things, ropes waiting to tug me right out of bleak moments, to remind me that having it all isn’t really having it all without a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Yes, I have goals, but I also want a life which is enough on its own without the ladders. I need to stop beating myself with my own ambition, and I need to stop making monsters out of my hobbies. In the words of Katie Green, “How do I explore and honour creativity as a gift, not an obligation?” I think the answer is with love, for myself and for the world. This life is a gift, and yes, we might only get one, which is all the more reason to drink it slowly and savour the flavours. There are bigger things than bestseller lists, and those things are so small that I forget them.

This misery is my wake up call. Happiness is a way of life, not a destination, and I’ll never get there if I’m following the wrong signposts. So I’m going to keep my eyes open and follow the road of little things, and it won’t be so bad if I never get anywhere, because this road is a good enough place to be.

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Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

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So it’s Father’s Day and I’ve been thinking of all the things I gained from knowing my dad. First off, background check. My dad died five years ago. We didn’t really get on that well, but he was still an important part of my life, and even though I didn’t tell him until he was too drunk on drugs and cancer to even hear it, I did love him. It was a funny kind of love, the sort that veers into hate with the wrong look or a sharp word, but it was definitely there under my prolonged teen angst and constant confusion between what I had and what I wanted.

For a little while my dad’s death made me mad. I didn’t get what other people get. I felt like I’d been shortchanged. I’d already been stuck with a bunch of dead grandparents, and now I had no dad. I wanted someone to walk me down the hypothetical aisle, someone to put my hypothetical child on his shoulders and feed them sweets before dinner. But some people don’t even get what I had. At least I knew my father. At least he had a slim grasp of what the word ‘dad’ meant, even if to him it went along with the word ‘no’ and a stinging slap that burned red for hours after. At least he was there. At least he tried.

The older I get, the more I marvel at how hard my parents worked to keep me on their version of the right track. They wanted all the good stuff for me, and even though I didn’t want those things, I’m glad that they thought that they had raised a daughter who deserved it. My dad and I were so different though, so different that my whole life I’ve questioned whether I’m actually related to him at all. He was an omnivorous smoker with an army background. I was a pristine pacifist vegan. But the older I get, the more I think about the ways that we were the same.

We were both stubborn, both grumpy, both given to thinking that we were right and everyone else was an idiot, both vain, both smart in the pretentious sense, both bespectacled. And it makes me guilty that everything that I dislike about myself, I shared with him. My good bits aren’t my dad’s, and that makes me sad.

I only have a few memories that stand out, and they’re for the wrong reasons, like the time I brought home a dog that was running into the road. It was early morning, school rush. I’d been walking to work and I’d yanked him out of the path of a van. The dog warden was on the other side of the county all day and nobody I phoned could help me, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was to take the dog home, where at least I had a lead that I could put on him while I tried to figure out what to do. As soon as I walked through the garden gate, my dad exploded in anger.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I rescued him. I need to find out where he lives. Maybe his owners-“

“You’re not having another bloody dog.”

“I know. You’re not listening to me, I said-“

“We’ve got enough bloody dogs as it is.”

“Would you stop being such a bad person for once?!” I screamed the words, screamed them. There were tears building up in my eyes. I was just trying to help, but he always thought that I had bad intentions, always thought that any good I did was a sneaky way of winning. Those words came right back when I was sitting beside his hospital bed, studying the fat veins bulging through his tissue paper skin. He was completely out of it, breathing softly into a tube, and I wondered if the same words were whirling through his brain too.

I remember him getting angry when I used the front door instead of the back, despite the fact that a Dalmatian had ripped off a chunk of my hand, getting angry because a friend of mine lied and said that I demanded a drink, when I’d told her to ask politely, getting angry when I accidentally smashed a vase hoovering, when I broke my ankle, when I stupidly stuck a knife in the toaster, when I threw up because he bought me non-vegetarian sushi.

He always had so much anger, especially for me, and I wonder how much he kept with him up until his final moments. When they said that he couldn’t come home, that he had to stay in the hospital, his mind was already gone. He would stare blankly at the television set, mouth open, not listening to the words my mum was saying to him. I made him chocolate cake and he’d forgotten it by the next day. I’d spoken to him about getting better and going to Blackpool, but when I mentioned it again he didn’t know what I was talking about. He couldn’t focus his eyes, but drifted away somewhere else, somewhere far away, somewhere that hurt.

His last words were “Help me.” And I couldn’t. It was like watching someone being burned from the inside, but without any flames to kill I was useless. All I could do was wait and watch him die. I said my last words as he was writhing against his sheets, tangling them around his legs, exposing his sucked ribs and his grey hairs and all the signs of age and weariness. I cried because he was dying, because it was slow, because he knew where the pain was taking him to, and, most of all, because he was my dad and I loved him and he never got to know.

So whoever you are, however you feel, please say it out loud, to your dad or your mum or your best friend, to your children or your pets or your crush. Time is like a road stretching out in front of us. It might look like it goes on forever, but everything is finite and you might get to the end of it quicker than you think. You need to tell the truth because you won’t get a chance after a point. Don’t wait until the people you love are bones and blurry eyes. Don’t wait until they can’t untangle the words to figure out their meaning. Let them know now, while you can. Love is only powerful if you let it out. I always wonder how much hate I could have stemmed with a little bit of honesty, by just saying the words that he never knew.

I guess it’s irrelevant now, but I hope it’s not. I hope there’s a part of him that understands, that hears the words and knows how I meant them the whole time, despite it all and because.

Wherever you are, Dad, I love you.

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