Public Access

So, I've been watching Amanda Fucking Palmer's glorious TED talk "The Art of Asking" over and over. It's profound and speaks to my hippy dippy crowd-love soul. It's 15 minutes well spent and should be required viewing for all artists,performers, musicians and storytellers across the world. Not because it's The Way or anything, but because there is wisdom there and it raises some fantastic questions that we need to ask ourselves about what we do. Check out the video (linked above) and meet me after the jump for my thoughts.

In her TED talk, Amanda shares stories about her time as a street performer and the human experiences she had with other people. She discusses crowd-sourcing a couch to sleep on while on tour, and her propensity of finding artists and performers to share at her shows. (Fun fact: my last professional poi gig was spinning glow/sock poi for 3 consecutive hours at a Dresden Dolls show in Tempe '08 as part of the call for artists. Hella fun.) In all the stories of personal connection there are lessons about what we as artists/creators do on the person-to-person interaction as well as profound questions about how we move forward in the digital age.

"I maintain that crowd surfing and couch surfing are basically the same thing. You're falling into the audience and trusting each other." - AFP

I've said before that writers need to write from a place of truth if they want a good story. We need to be able to be vulnerable and be unabashedly human and real within our stories to lend them a visceral truth that is recognizable by the reader. We have to fall into our audience and trust that they will accept our gift to them in the spirit in which it was given. And you need to similarly build trust with your reader. They need to trust that you will lead them through the story. That you will answer the questions you ask in the story and make good on your end of the connection. Putting a book out there isn't just a monetary exchange. You are connecting with someone, inviting them into your story to introduce them to a world of your creation. You're opening yourself up to be ripped apart on the Internet for writing drivel. You're allowing yourself to be seen in a very special way when you put it out there. Even if it's just a short story on a blog, you're taking what some see as  a risk. You open yourself up to criticism as well as compliments. (Compliments are just as hard to take sometimes as flame comments. I'll get to that in another post.) At the end of the day, making your writing public is crowdsurfing. You're falling into an audience and trusting each other.

"Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance...but {being an artist} is about a few people loving you up close and those people being enough." - AFP

There's something else going on here, though. There's an openness that isn't just the vulnerability of telling a story, but also of being accessible to your audience. The past decade has seen a major change in the way artists can react with their fans. I can have a late night Twitter conversation with Steven Brust or get into a giggle fit with Christopher Moore. Thanks to the internet and email I have damn near instant access to not just other fans but a direct connection to the artists, actors, musicians and authors that I admire. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, blogs... all of them help us connect with each other, our audiences and our heroes.

Right now newb authors are being coaxed into diving into the social network pool head first. It's part of building your platform, right? Well, I know it's not for everyone. I was talking with a friend once who is a damn fine storyteller. He said, though, that if he ever wrote those stories down and tried to sell them he would be a recluse. He wouldn't be a social media maven with live Tweet chats or blog tours or any of that. He's too private a person and shuns that kind of exposure. Right now, that approach is a difficult one to make because we as an audience want that kind of access. That connection is a sacred one and I think it's something we've lost, but are finally getting back.

It's a question you need to ask yourself as an artist: how accessible do I want to be to my audience? This will determine the content of your online presence and your interaction with your crowd. The question is largely about trust and the answer has everything to do with your comfort level and your life.

Personally, while I do keep certain parts of my life veiled, I've been an open book here. I prefer it that way. By showing you my stories, you've already seen me naked and bare. I've left myself open to whatever you can throw at me. The more public you go, the wider that scope is and the more risk there seems to be. There's more of an opportunity for rejection and vitriol, more of a chance that someone will shout words that trigger your softest spots. We want people to like us and our words, we don't want to hear our own insecurities made real. It's bad enough that we have those voices blaring in our heads, but to hear those words come from someone else's mouth? There is a risk. But there are rewards. Great ones that hinge on the connection made between author and reader. To be open to those experiences is to be vulnerable and accessible to strangers. It takes trust.

This is why when I see an author/musician/performer behaving badly that I get up in arms. It's a breach of the unspoken contract we build, an abuse of trust.

Anyway, I really don't have a good way to wrap this up today. So, I'll say thank you. Thank you for coming here, sitting by my fire and talking story with me. Thank you for letting me share pieces of me and my writing with you. Thank you for seeing me.