Changing Arts, Changing Hearts

Some of you know it already. I am going to write a book about my journey. Last year, in September 2012, I knew that the one book worthwhile writing (assume you can write only one in your lifetime) would be about my experiences of that summer. The work craze, physical breakdown, fear of death, recuperation, realizations, life-changing experiences.

On my journey through California, three weeks in October 2012 which will become a major part of the book, I made up my mind to include those without whom I wouldn’t be there – I’d start every chapter with a phrase like:

“I wouldn’t be on this journey if it weren’t for [your name].”

Leaving the book-to-come for a while, and turning to the present: I wouldn’t be writing this blog entry if it weren’t for Ling and Amanda Palmer.

Ling is a former colleague, a soulmate and an inspiration to me. She used to work at CERN for over three years before taking her writing passion to become an editor at Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Doing so she admirably followed her bliss, and this is one way in which she inspires me. But she is also someone who makes me write. No, not with the whip and chain. ;-) Simply by the very occasional contact that we have, she is bringing the muses within me to life. I don’t know what is more surprising: the little that we see each other, or the fact that despite this scarcity I unhesitatingly call her my soulmate, without even worrying for a second whether she feels likewise. Sometimes you just know that you know someone, and I don’t mean detailed facts about one’s life.

Amanda Palmer is an artist, a game changer and also an inspiration to me. Kudos to my brother for bringing her to my attention some years ago by showing me some clips from her “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” video series. Her punk-cabaret / alt-rock style wasn’t getting me nearly as much as the fact that she had started to give away her music on a “pay what you want” basis. I loved the concept, often told others about it and occasionally checked her website.

Fast forward to July 2012, still amidst my work craze phase, a few days before my health came crashing down faster than I could possibly have spelled the word “testament” on a Thursday night. I learned about The Humble Bundle, an initiative that lets you choose how much to pay for a bundle of games (with a clever “beat the current average and unlock these bonus games” twist and sometimes later gratis additions to what you have already bought) or e-books, and also lets you decide who should get the money (arbitrarily split between charity, developers and initiators).

Ever since that time I occasionally buy a Humble Bundle even if I never play the games, simply because I find the idea so awesome. I see it as a donation, and I am surely not alone in this. Even better, I just realized that my Humble eBook Bundle, with its contents still untouched by my gaze, actually contains the graphic novel “Signal To Noise” written by Neil Gaiman – Amanda Palmer’s husband! Now that’s one for my reading list, and the keyword to return to the main storyline.

So let’s fast forward again to January 2013. By coincidence I check back on Amanda Palmer’s website, read her blog articles about bullying, admire the heartfelt comments exchanged amidst her community, and leave the tab open. (I have type IV tabberitis: I cannot close tabs of pages that I want to revisit at some time in the future, so their number grows as 2*pi*sqrt(days) until I lose them all in a browser crash or make a backup.)

A few days later Amanda writes this blog article about her invitation to TED. And she touches and inspires me, because – s/herinvitationtoTED/talksIdreamtogive/g – I know the feelings she describes, so I take action and send her an e-mail of epic proportions (unwise because she’s mostly twittering and tumbling and blogging, where she receives lots of fan love to read and respond to) and submit an abstract for a talk that is going to change the course of my life. Then I share my inspiration and Amanda’s blog entry with my family and tell them she is going to be a game changer of arts – not sure whether anyone save my brother actually understands my enthusiasm, but what the hey. And from that day onwards I keep my gaze on Amanda’s tweets and blogs and silently participate in her excitement about her upcoming talk. (Plus, her community unknowingly prevents me from becoming an alcoholic. But more on that later.)

Fast forward again to 27th February 2013. The TEDxCERN organizers have arranged a TED Live stream in the Main Auditorium at CERN. We see exactly the session with Amanda Palmer’s talk in it. I’m sitting through all other talks in nervous anticipation, then start floating in my seat as soon as it’s her turn to take the stage. As for how she performs, I let my raving review in her web forum speak – and I point to the simple fact that her talk now has officially the fastest-growing viewing numbers of any TED talk in history. In other words: the world starts talking about this. And it is due time.

But this is not just about the numbers, and here’s one reason why. By now, Ling and I have found out that we are both fans of AFP (short for “Amanda Fucking Palmer”, if you don’t know her already). So last Saturday I ask her whether she has seen the video of AFP’s talk, and I send her the link to my review. One day later Ling responds:

“YES OF COURSE i watched Amanda’s TED talk. :D I am so glad you brought that up because for days I have been dying to find someone to talk to about how wonderfully awesome it turned out to be. You know how she has been going on and on on twitter about her talk and me being me, just couldnt help to worry for her that the talk might fall short. But damn she NAILED it. Your review is SPOT ON (as you can see, i have caught on AFP’s affinity for ALL CAPS)! :D I loved how real she was, and how she kept her promise of involving the community that she has so painstakingly built in her talk. And yeah, the moment she uttered ‘Thank you’, i almost cried too.”

With that she makes my day, and my heart grows to world-emcompassing proportions, and I know I must write this blog article (done – WIN!), and just stop being shy, and write more, and share more, and dare more, to become fully alive.

So now you are witnessing me crawling out of my safety shell, but I’ll do it even if you’re not looking, because I simply must.

At last, once more back to Amanda Palmer’s TED talk (by the way did I mention that she recently gave a TED talk?). Fortunately she has created a lot of debate. Tons of people are profoundly inspired, and some are profoundly offended. The latter group insists, for instance, that less known artists can’t survive just by crowdfunding, or that she has made an ethical mistake in asking people to play with her on stage for free, even after her huge kickstarter success (she collected 12 times the money she had asked for). Ling put it well by saying that there is no “must” here (as in “thou shalt use kickstarter! thou shalt live only from donations! thou shalt have no other business models beside me! thou shalt starve while playing with AFP for free!”) – it’s just another option. This is diversity. All that Amanda is trying to tell us is that it is okay to ask without shame.

No, actually that is not all. I think beyond the layer of music industry / arts / kickstarter dwells another, much more powerful message. You probably feel it while watching her talk. You may also read it in the hundreds of comments. This is about connections, intimacy, trust, sharing, authenticity, vulnerability, daring greatly to ask and to receive and to give something in exchange. This is not just about changing arts – it is also about changing hearts.

I for one am happy and grateful for the change that is taking place within me and others. And as for that book I’m going to write – you can already tell what is coming now, right? – damn right, I’ll give it away for free as a free hug. (Donations will be gratefully accepted for sure.) Because you know, there is such a thing as a free hug. Contrary to popular belief, there is even free lunch. It’s just not common knowledge yet, but the time will come for sure.

Thank you Ling, Amanda, my family, friends, YOU (do we know each other yet?), and everyone else out there. :-)

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