It was a nondescript storefront in an industrial part of southeast Portland, home to the Independent Publishing Resource Center, or IPRC. A few cars lined the street, but I was able to easily find a parking spot right in front. It was a quiet Thursday night in December, dark and rainy and cold, much better suited for staying in cuddled up with a hot beverage and a warm blanket than being here.
Unless here was where your hero was showing up. Tonight.
Trust me, when you get the chance to thank your hero, you should take it.
Amanda Palmer is a rockstar-activist-blogger-ukulele-slayer-musical-raconteur-extraordinaire. Go ahead and google her and you’ll have material for days. She is not everyone’s cup of tea. But she is most definitely mine.
It is Amanda Palmer who inspired me the most this year.
You see, I was a writer who had stopped writing.
I’ve heard it said that when you are fulfilling that part of you that you were put here on earth to do–your destiny, be it art or teaching or cooking or inventing or driving a bus, life is good. Sure, the bumps in the road are still there, but somehow smoother. The path ahead a bit clearer and things just feel, well…right. Or at least more right than wrong. But when you’re not–when you’re running away from that voice inside you that says “Here! This is who you are!”–no amount of success or money or love will make it right.
I was a writer who had stopped writing but had managed to run away and fill my life with good, successful things. A career in television, a marriage and a couple of kids and most recently, teaching yoga. All wonderful accomplishments in their own right, but distractions all the same. I am a writer in my bones, this I know for sure. But somewhere along the way, I had lost my voice. I had turned away from my stories, convinced that they weren’t true or interesting or nice or relevant. I told myself there were other writers so much better than me, so why bother?
Amanda Palmer shows me what an authentic, courageous artist looks like. Raw, tear-stained and defiantly truthful. Witty and ironic and powerfully connected to her audience. Unapologetic and brazen and nowhere near perfect. And when she sucks in her breath through her teeth only to explode out unadulterated emotion in her exhale, it is powerful. She is not the best singer or piano player in the world but she is the best artist to tell her stories and so she must.
I grew up in a household where we were taught to be pleasant and to not make a fuss. Things that were hard and painful and ugly weren’t talked about but instead swept under a rug in hopes that they might disappear, or at least be forgotten. I was a nice girl and ashamed of my not-so-nice stories that I grew up with. Stories about a brother who’s uncontrolled rage lashed out at me in threats and attacks. About wishing he would die and then, when he did a few years ago, feeling a deep sense of guilty relief that my twelve-year-old self had so desperately prayed for. About parents, who, for as wonderful as they were, were unable to keep me safe. Stories about being fourteen and feeling so horribly alone and lost that I locked myself in the bathroom of my house to unsuccessfully slit my wrists and then wondered why no one bothered to ask about the bandages later. About feeling invisible. Stories about starving myself into anorexia in an effort to gain control–any control–over a life that had spun so wildly out of control. And about how lines and lines of cocaine in nightclub bathrooms quickly became my best friend and secret diet helper.
These are not nice stories. But they are mine.
In the months after discovering Amanda Palmer, I began to write more. It wasn’t always nice, but it was always my truth, my stories, my experiences. I became braver. Essays of mine got published. People shared their stories with me and told me how my stories impacted them.
And when I needed a dose of bravery, a nudge towards nakedness, a little more truth, all I had to do was read Amanda’s blog. Her detractors are as vocal and cruel as her fans are loyal. Amanda would respond to her haters, vulnerably admitting how much their harsh words cut her to her core and yet she didn’t back down. She didn’t make herself smaller or her voice softer or her stories nicer. She didn’t stop writing.
I know I am not the best writer in the world, but I am the best writer of my stories. No one else can tell my stories the way I can and therefore, I must.
Finally, I was a writer who was writing again. And the road got smoother, the bumps less bumpier and nothing felt better, more right, than emerging from an afternoon of bleeding out words and sentences and truth and pain and love on to my keyboard and into my blog. I don’t know where my writing will take me, but I know I will always write. I am a writer in my bones. My voice–my writer’s voice–an immeasurable gift given back to me through the gutsy example of Amanda Palmer.
Back in Portland at the IPRC, my music-guru-bestie, Ray and I walked into the unassuming print shop where Amanda would be stopping by soon. More like strolling into an intimate cocktail party than arriving at a concert venue, Ray and I nonchalantly hung out among the printing presses with our glasses of Shiraz and waited.
And then there she was.
My eyes widened in excitement as I mouthed “she’s here” to Ray, his glance back at me silently imploring me to stay cool. Amanda cruised through the several dozen party patrons like it was no big deal and really, it wasn’t. She was smaller than I had imagined. After all, Amanda Palmer, The Artist, has always seemed larger than life. She struck up conversations with people here and there and circulated about, relaxed and chatty. I stood back and watched for a bit, not wanting to seem like too much of a fan girl, knowing full well that every person in the room was exactly that. I leaned over to Ray and whispered in his ear “God, I am so in love!” And I was, complete with fluttery butterflies in my lower belly, absolutely besotted by this casual, red-headed, wonderful hero of mine.
Finally, Ray and I moved closer to where Amanda was hanging out. She turned to us and I introduced myself and asked if I could give her hug. I told her “thank you” but didn’t elaborate. You see, I had written my thanks in a note that I handed to her, worried that I wouldn’t be able to clearly express myself in the heat of the moment. We talked for a bit more and I asked for a photo. Amanda draped her arms around my neck and there she and I stood, cheek-to-cheek, for what seemed like an eternity. A wonderful eternity. Me and my hero. Ordinary. Like it was no big deal.
The rest of the night was magical. Amanda, standing two feet in front of me, watching the opening band. The stage, no more than a simple riser, mere feet from me. Once onstage, Amanda switched from keyboard to ukulele, taking requests, as loose and casual as if she had been sitting in my living room. That’s exactly how it felt. Intimate and personal and remarkable in every imaginable way.
Close to midnight on that cold and rainy Thursday night in Portland, Amanda sang her last song. I could have stayed there all night, swept up in the brilliant dream of it all. Ray and I lingered for a bit longer as Amanda hung out and signed and took photos with everyone. It was hard to leave.
Imagine that sweet luxuriousness of waking up from the most delicious of dreams. Only this time, it really happened.
Over breakfast the next morning, I admitted to Ray that a teensy, tiny part of me had felt disappointed that Amanda and I hadn’t walked out of that print shop as best friends. After all, I do tend to have a fairly active imagination. Thankfully, he didn’t laugh, but simply looked at me and said, “Yeah, you know, that might have been just a little unrealistic.”
I know. But still.
Amanda Palmer is who inspired me the most this year. I call her my hero and she is, for she gave me back my writer’s voice. A gift beyond measure.
A hero in the most extraordinarily ordinary way.