Connecting The Dots
Amanda Palmer from her talk and blog found here
If your an artist I urge you to spend 30 minutes watching Amanda Palmer’s Publish It Forward talk “Connecting The Dots” right now. It’s an inspiring talk on what it means to be a writer in the digital age but it applies to more than just writing. All creative people I urge you to watch or read it below.
Last May I was deeply impacted by the speech, so much so, that I set out to transcribe the speech in it’s entirety. Stopping to go to bed I never returned till now to my work. What I found with a quick search is the speech was posted days after me stopping my transcription by AFP. It’s worth watching but here is the transcription below.
To me this talk has two distinct parts, the first part about doing what you are suppose to do, getting permission and recognition to be legit as an artist in your field. Its about recognizing that art is the work of connecting dots and the artist among us are the dot connectors. This dot connecting is our calling.
The second part of the speech could be titled “The Garret” that is the attic on top if the building where artist for years have done their work in solitude. Away from the marketplace below. Todays internet and social media has given the artist tools to remove permissions and the middle men that traditionally connected the artist with the marketplace. Now artist can call to to market place from their perch in the garrett, showing videos of their progress on YouTube, writing and publishing on their blogs, and posting pictures so the marketplace is invited into the garret. This part is more personalized as Amanda’s dot connecting and blog posting found her in the middle of controversy as she made sense of the Boston Marathon bombers thinking.
Now the transcript. (You can tell where my efforts stop and AFP begins, enjoy.)
Connecting The Dots
If you are a writer or any kind of artist this may be a familiar story.
When you were a kid you made discoveries and connections, wondering off in your own imagination. Showing off your discoveries to others holding them up proudly, “Hey do you notice that this looks like this? That the veins in a leaf are like the veins in my hand?” or the less poetic “Hey this rock looks like a dog poop!” Connecting the dots between things and maybe you thought it and maybe you had the impulse to say it out load. If you said it, you may have been encouraged. You may have delighted and amused those around you or you may have been discouraged.
You may have been told calmly this is no the time for that. Today is not looking for patterns day, today is science day. This is the time for collecting data and filling in your worksheet. This is the time to get back in line and answer the correct questions.
But your urge was to connect the dots because that is what interested you. Maybe you saw the lights go on in eyes of the friend in front of you as you shared your discovery. You took a kind of pride in this or maybe you made a new friend. Somebody grabbed your arm and squeezed it and gave you the nod.
Maybe you were sent to the back of the line and told to shape up, this may have been the moment that you decided that being an artist was an embarrassing pain in the ass and not worth the trouble. This may have been the point that you decided that you would be an astronaut up there eating powered ice cream and being alone.
The impulse to connect the dots and to share what you’ve connected. This urge is what makes you an artist, or a writer, and the formats are infinite, fiction, fantasy, poetry, blogging, tweeting, it doesn’t matter. If you are using words to connect the dots your a writer.
Picasso said, “Every child is and artist and the trick is to remain and artist once you grow up.”
We are mostly probably grown up, well kind of. Now the question is who decides? I think when we were young when we envisioned ourselves as future artist. Hauling ourselves over the mythical fence where we would leave the ranks of amateur, hacks and other wannabes and bask in the glow of our arrival on the other side. Where those waiting titles almost started sounding almost erotic;
- Published for the writer
- Signed for the musician
- Discovered for the actress
- Shown for the painter and fine art photographer
It met being legitimate, recognized as authentic. To be introduced at the grown up cocktail party by a famous artist twice your age as the real deal. (With a hood wink and a hand gesture, that is important)
So now who does that? Does it have to come from above? Or can it come from each other? Because in the wise words of Bob Dylan, more or less, “Shit is changing!”, and it’s changing fast! It’s changing at the speed of the internet.
I remember the first time I realized that my blog was a place for, “real writing”. Not just some semi artistic smart rendering of what was happening with my band, and my touring life. It was November two thousand five. The Dresden Dolls were off tour recording some music somewhere at home in Boston. I went for a walk in the public garden two blocks from here reflecting on everything that was going on around me. With a song by Casey Daniel in my head phones. I saw something unusual bobbing there in the murky waters of the swan boat pond, surrounding by dying fall vegetation. There was an empty green bottle of Miracle Grow. I thought it was the saddest and most hilarious and poetic thing I’d had ever seen. So the dots started to connect and if I hadn’t had a blog it may have been a song. If I hadn’t learned piano it may have been a poem that I wrote in my journal. The format doesn’t matter.
I went home and I wrote a sort of poem that was a posted on my blog. I remember reading what I wrote and thinking, “This is kind of writing, this is kind of art”.
With the dots connected I shared what I had written with my small blog readership. Heads nodded in the distance of what I wrote and that’s all I needed. It never occurred to me to publish it because as far as I was concerned it was just published. The chances that anyone would read my little dot connecting blog, poem or whatever you want to call it, other than my small fan base were slim to none.
I was just reaching out to a distant place, to my friends, saying “look! Did you ever notice that this looks like this.” My friends on the Internet nodded and they smiled.
So the title of this conference is news in the marketplace. Thinking about that I’d like to talk about The Garrett. The one in the attic.
The garret belongs to the set of romantic notions that we have about painters, writers and musicians and how they work up in the loft, the garret, alone, chain- smoking, agonizing creating. Down on the ground floor out the front door is the marketplace. With the sounds of bargaining and bartering, ringing cash registers, it’s crast and it’s loud.
It’s literally mundane compared to the garrett. it’s on and of the earth.
i give you goats, you give me bread.
i give you a handful of coins, you give me a paperback.
i give you an amex, you give me a best buy giftcard.
the marketplace is NOT “artistic”. it’s “commerce”.
but the building that supports the garret – let’s call it “the machine between”, “the middlemen”, “the translator between the art-maker and the audience” – is collapsing, changing, into a level digital playing field where anyone can connect with anyone.
artists are now empowered to distribute their work THEMSELVES. THEIR writing, THEIR music, infinitely and at their own will – without printing presses, without record manufacturing.
from your lips and pen to the readers ears and eyes…via their internet connection.
but in order to do that, to share directly, you have to leave the garret and go down to the bustling marketplace, where you have to deal with PEOPLE. dealing with PEOPLE sucks.
in the age of the independent “social artist” (as i believe this age is becoming), the question echoes again and again everywhere i go: what about PJ Harvey, what about elliott smith, what about the introverted or anti-social artists who have no desire to leave the garrett and enter the marketplace?
it is the WILD WEST down there in the marketplace of the internet.
carrying your fragile newborn work wrapped in a blanket through the stalls can be agonizing. the marketplace is dangerous. it’s dirty, it’s loud and filled with disease and pickpockets and naysayers and critics. it’s easier NOT to do it.
but there is another option, which is:
to YELL from your window.
to call to your friends below, your comrades in art and metaphor, and invite them up to a private party in your garrett.
this is the essence of crowdfunding.
finding your people, your listeners, your readers, and making art for and with them. not for the masses, not for the marketplace or the critics, but for your hopefully ever-widening circle of friends. and you aren’t totally protected from criticism. the minute you lean out that window and try to find your friends, you might get hit with a rock, and if you look down, you’ll see a lot of this from down there (*raises middle finger up to the sky*). you’ve got to learn to ignore that.
but you’ll also see people quietly heading to your door and knocking.
let them in. and tell them to bring their friends up.
and if possible: provide wine.
if you’re not social (and a lot of writers are NOT) you’ll have a harder time doing this.
connection always comes with risk.
art and commerce have never, ever been easy bedfellows, and the problems inherent in mashing together artistic expression and money don’t go away, they just…change form.
nowadays the harshest middle fingers are the ones that scream to artists who try to get help and funding:
“stop self-promoting. it’s shameless!!”
no writer wants to hear this.
these are the words we fear when we think twice about giving our work to ANYBODY, and asking them to read it, or help us.
but the problems of our age are just these.
the doors and windows are wide open due to the internet having come along as a tool, and you can choose how to use it. you will find an audience if your work is good and you put it out there, but with every wonderful connection you make online, there’s more potential for criticism.
and the criticism on the internet can be NASTY.
for every bridge you build with your community, there’s a new set of trolls who squat underneath it.
i asked my twitter feed last night if there were any writers out there, and, it being a friday night, there were thousands ready and waiting.
and i asked: WHAT makes you feel like an actual writer? was there a moment. answer however you want. and hundreds of responses flooded in, and i looked for themes. some people said”
“when i first got paid”
“when i first got published”
“when i got my first real review”
…but a LOT of people said:
“when somebody told me that my writing moved them. that was the moment.”
some of these people wrote blogs, some wrote books, all different styles…the format didn’t matter.
what mattered is that they’d moved another human being. nobody said they felt authenticated when they got their first negative blog comment, or bad review. (well there was one girl who said that her boyfriend insulted her for calling herself a writer because she never spent any time writing. so she quit her job and started writing. that was a happy ending, more or less….)
but mostly: we’re strengthened by those who nod at the dots that we connect.
a few weeks ago, we experienced a tragedy here.
the marathon bombing.
it was terrifying for everybody.
i spent the day on twitter, talking with people near and far about what was happening, what to do, how we were feeling, we coped, as a group.
and three mornings later, i woke up in cambridge to catch a train to new york, i turned on the radio and was told to stay in my house.
i left anyway, on the drive to new york i listened to the news with neil, my husband, for four hours, i cried a lot, i spent a strange and surreal weekend in new york.
i came home to boston on monday with a head full of tragic news reports, mashed up with a hard set of personal decisions i had to make with neil, and a haunting idea floating in my brain of a 19-year old boy, who, having inflicted terrible pain and death on a lot of people, having watched his brother die, and holding the enormity of his actions of the last few days in his own head, was hiding in the bottom of a boat.
i cannot deny i didn’t wonder how that felt.
that’s what i do. i wonder. i try to connect the dots. and i can only connect the dots that i see.
so back in boston, right before leaving for a lunch with some friends in a cafe bookstore in cambridge, i wrote a 10-minute stream of consciousness poem/blog about those connections, about that wondering, over a cup of coffee, posted it, and went to lunch with neil.
i checked in, and my readers read it and it got some nice comments.
heads nodded in the garrett.
but by the end of the day, i’d been called a terrorist-lover.
and soon, i was getting death threats.
for posting a blog, in which i dared to wonder how another human being felt?
and this WAS the general theme of the criticism: how dare you? how dare you empathize?
and worse: how dare you shamelessly self-promote and write a poem about this?
a slew of press has come out in the last week or so, not about me, but about everybody wondering if this “trend of empathy has gone too far”.
i think that’s fucked up.
to erase the possibility of empathy is to erase the act of art. to imagine how another human being feels, to connect the dots?
shakespeare. fiction. horror. sci-fi. poetry: this is what you’re doing.
imagining yourself into an unimaginable place.
the format is irrelevant.
you’re connecting the dots.
something really weird happened in those next few days….political extremists who hated my blog post started writing haikus and limericks in response.
some were really well-thought out, parodies of my own poem, and some were more along the lines of:
roses are red
violets are blue
fuck you fuck you
fuck you fuck you
and my own readers started to write their own poems. everybody was posting poetry in my blog comments.
then i found out that it national poetry month.
my first-thought-best-thought-whatever 10 minute poem had 250,000 views. it was so weird, and…embarrassing.
man, if i’d known that 250,000 people were going to read what i’d written i’d have written something SO. MUCH. BETTER.
but if i’d written something so much better, i wouldn’t have written it, if you get what i mean.
first thought, best thought, out. it belonged to its moment.
with the internet – you don’t get to choose.
when you open the door to your garret, or you walk around down in the market, all bets are off.
how do you put your work out on the net and find an audience, knowing how messy it can get, how open to criticism it can leave you?
a few days after this blew up, i posted a blog deconstructing my own poem and talking about the ingredients that went into it. in other words, explaining the dots i’d been connecting. a lot of people weighed in to the conversation and talked about their own take on the poem, on art, on writing, on the internet.
a boston globe writer wrote an article titled: “the problem with amanda palmer’s poem was that….it was about amanda palmer”.
well, it’s true. of course.
we can only write about what we can see.
we can only connect the dots we collect.
which makes everything you write about you.
what you write is you. what i write is me.
my neighbors, my thoughts, my paranoia, the frightened conversations i overhear, what i read in the news, my childhood drama, my understanding of shakespeare, and odysseus and the wine dark sea, and of the brady bunch, and bukowski. MY connections all go into the stew. that’s all you ever have. you can disguise it in any style, but it’s still you.
kerouac said: “the only thing i had to offer was my own confusion”.
your connections are the threads you weave into the cloth that is the story only you can share.
so back to the marketplace and the garrett.
the door is unlocked.
people may enter without knocking.
they may crash your party and drink your wine.
let them in.
let them drink.
you may meet somebody interesting.
i wrote an email to the boston globe journalist after that article was published, since i knew him from around town and had his address, and we talked. and i found out that he was shaken, as i was, by the events of the last few weeks. he’d had friends at the bomb site. we connected. it was okay.
these are scary times.
and when the world around you is in a moment of panic and chaos
and parents are hanging onto their kids
and people are falling to their knees and praying
and people are gathered around screens in bars and saying OH MY GOD
and the noises overhead are either threateningly loud or deafeningly silent
and the fingers start pointing in every direction
and some are shaking in fear
and some are stabbing in anger
may find yourself ….
doing what you did as a child
have you ever noticed
and you may tie those two ideas together with a metaphor
of gauze, a bandage,
and people might shout:
THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR ART
THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR METAPHOR
THIS IS CERTAINLY NOT THE TIME FOR ART ABOUT YOU
once you’ve shared your art and it’s resonated with a single person, it’s no longer about you.
once you share it, it is about US.
and if your art is found by a single soul, and shared with a friend, who links it to a friend….
in the response, you start to see how art becomes about everybody, just through the act of being shared.
(this is the way the internet is beautiful.)
but you, as the writer, have to weather the critics.
you have stay in the field.
to still wake up
and take up your pen
and connect the dots
because they need connecting
we need people willing to wonder and risk the embarrassment of asking, in the newspaper, in a book published by penguin, or on tumblr, or in a tweet…
“have you ever noticed….
this is your job.
why would you want to do this?
why would you want to risk the pain?
the evil of blog comments,
and if you’re lucky:
a bad review in the new york times?
self-publishing, without “authentication”, without the wand of legitimacy brushing your shoulder, it’s scary.
and there’s self-publishing a BOOK (which at least RESEMBLES something REAL)….and then there’s “posting your shit to the internet”.
but i’ve found:
what resonates, resonates.
so are you willing – in this new era, where you might never get authentication from a publisher, or a newspaper, or something big and legit – are you willing to accept that a party in a garrett with a bunch of groovy people helping you pay your rent (and buy your ink, and keep your fridge stocked) is ENOUGH? because this is what it’s coming to.
when you go directly to the internet, and publish something: it is your words, unfiltered, no fancy artwork and title, no marketing campaign, no autotune, no praise.
your voice, to the world. nothing to hide behind.
had i jotted down my poem in my journal and typed it up a few weeks later and then decided, a few years later, to maybe include it in an anthology of random amanda-palmer writings, would it have gotten read?
probably. by some benevolent friends in my garret.
now i’m not suggesting in the slightest, that you forsake your painstakingly edited work, your protected, hidden, well-groomed and agonized-over treasures, and post them to the fucking internet tomorrow.
but you can, if you want, find a crowd. an audience that will resonate with you….without the permission from “on high”.
because anything you write can change somebody.
can change an opinion, open an eye, scratch an opening in a scarred-up heart of a human being.
and it doesn’t matter how you do it.
if your writing is good, if it resonates.
if it connects the dots for ANYBODY out there…the lovers will come. the haters will come.
support will come, sometimes in the form of money, sometimes in the form of something less expected.
it balances out.
no amount of criticism that i’ve gotten in the past few weeks, could defeat the experience i had on thursday night in san francisco:
i was at the fillmore, playing at a tribute concert of a great songwriter robyn hitchcock, and while colin meloy was on stage singing one of robyn’s songs i weaved my way onto the floor among the hundreds of people gathered there, and was watching, with total joy, a musician i respected playing songs i loved.
and a woman with long grey hair turned around between two songs, and she grabbed my arm and she said to me:
“thank you for writing a poem”.
and i thought “oh, the fucking drama, it wasn’t even a great poem”.
but the squeeze of her hand on my arm and the way she looked at me said:
“doesn’t matter. doesn’t matter.
thank you for connecting the dots, for trying.”
these are crazy times
whether they aren’t ever aren’t crazy times, i don’t know, i doubt it.
but i do know
this IS the time for metaphor.
this IS the time for art.
this IS the time for art about you.
because you, and them, and me….we’re all the same.
we all feel pain, we all bleed red.
and if nobody else will say it to you….
thank you for writing.
thank you for connecting the dots, for trying.
pick a format, any format….and i hope to see you out there, in the field.
thank you. ~AFP
From Amanda F. Palmer’s talk and blog found here
Thanks for reading! did this impact you as it did me?