It’s midnight. My children will wake up in six hours and I can’t sleep. I tried everything, but now I’ve given up. I open my computer and find a message on Facebook from a friend. I had been telling her about crowd funding to get myself to a conference in Portugal and how it felt like begging and she said you must watch Amanda Palmer talking about asking for help.
When I told her that asking for help to get to Portugal felt like begging I was not speaking in metaphors. I have been clean and sober for sixteen years. I am writing this the day after Phillip Seymour Hoffman died with a syringe in his arm, after having been clean and sober for twenty three years. I am writing this with a keen memory of standing on King Street in Newtown, begging. Sometimes it was for drugs. Sometimes it was for food. Sometimes it was for a coffee so I could sit in out of the cold and feel like I belonged to the rest of the world.
Once, it was for a light. I held an unlit cigarette in my hand and asked, and asked, and asked. People said no before any words passed my lips. They assumed it was money I wanted (and usually it was, but that night it wasn’t). I got angrier and angrier. Finally somebody stopped, and lit my cigarette without meeting my eyes, and moved on.
People rarely looked me in the eye. I know what begging feels like.
So when I won a $2,000 travel scholarship from my university, and worked out that I would need another $2,250 to actually go, I was reluctant to ask for help. I searched out other sources of funding, but there was nothing available. Eventually, I decided to set up a pozible project. Was I begging? Was it ok to ask other people to help me? Was it fair?
In the first two days there were pledges made to the value of $1,565; I have just over $600 until I reach my target. I was overwhelmed, and thrilled, but also ashamed. I had asked for help, and asking had made me vulnerable. I had offered poems and post-it notes covered in kisses from my children as rewards. Was it enough? Was this fair?
So tonight I watched. I watched and listened as Amanda Palmer in her tight black jeans and beautiful boots and painted on eyebrows held a white flower and stood on a box and talked about asking for help. And I heard her speak about crowd funding, and then she said this:
“The perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other, and give and receive fearlessly. But more important: to ask, without shame.”
So now, I am asking without shame. If sixty people read this, and pledge $10 each, I will be able to go to Portugal this May. And when I get there, I will read my hybrid poetry/theory/memoir, and absorb Lisbon through my skin, and write more poetry, and know that I am not on King Street anymore.
I am asking for help to do something real: to move my body through space, to find poetry wherever I land, to send hope spiraling back to the woman I was. To speak. To write. To travel. To create.