I believe I have perfected the art of NOT asking. Reading The Art of Asking (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help) by my new heroine, Amanda Palmer, is really showing me how flawed my art of not asking really is. This book and her insight is really helping me notice how I am harming myself by not asking. It’s such a cliche to say that this book is opening my eyes to the missed opportunities and connections that I would never have ever dreamed of taking and making on my own. But now, I may actually take these opportunities and make these connections.
Yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning, I went to the dealership to get routine maintenance performed on my Mazda6. I arrived ten minutes before they opened and waited the few moments in my warm running car until I could drive into the garage, reading from the book. Once I’d handed over my car and settled down in the waiting area I pulled out my copy of The Art of Asking and continued to read.
I’ve picked up the habit of writing all over the books I read- of interacting and connecting with the words on the page. The irony of this isn’t lost on me since I’d refused to write in books when I was in high school and college. Books were sacred to me and I felt that writing in them would deface them and was extremely disrespectful to the author and the work. But at that time I was in awe and enamored by those that were able to to write and publish and have their work read by the faceless masses. I still hold books in high esteem, but I no longer deem myself unworthy to write within the pages. I find that I connect better when I respond; when I’m able to write down what comes to mind as I read and pen the stories from my life that connect with the words on the page.
So after a few pages, I rummage through my purse and I can’t find a pen. I could hear the service tech guy, Stephan, helping another customer. It’s almost 7:30 on a Saturday morning and business is just picking up. I close the book with my index finger saving my spot. What to do? Do I get up and ask for a pen or do I continue to read and lose the wonderful idea I wanted to write down?
I sat there for a moment. Normally, I would stay seated and continue to read. Not only do I not want to bother the employees with a petty request, but I also just don’t like the process of asking. It’s uncomfortable to me and makes me uneasy. I’d rather not be a bother and I would rather not be seen. If I got up and talked to Stephan and asked for a pen, I’d have to interact with him beyond the standard employee/customer relationship. And as much as I would tell my students to step outside the box and think outside the box, I, the hypocrite, like my boxes and don’t like disrupting them.
I look down at the book. What would Amanda do? I wonder. The answer comes to me just as quickly as the question: She’d fucking get up and ask for a pen. It dawned on me, as I stood up, that I was making a huge change in this small act.
The waiting room is empty and so I just leave my things where they are. Stephan is talking to another customer, so I stand behind the customer and wait. I notice another man standing to the side and I can’t tell if he is another customer or an employee. Then a third man walks in and sits behind a side desk and the unknown man went to talk to him. Confident that they are both employees, I walk up to them and simply say, “Excuse me, do you have a pen?” Both men jump up and looked around the desk until they find a pen for me. I thank them and go back to my things in the waiting lounge: returning to my book and now able to jot down all the notes as I read.
I felt as fierce as a lion for asking. It may have been a simple request, but I don’t ask for things that I can do myself- and that’s what I’m trying to change now. I felt empowered by this little act. And I knew that I didn’t put out the employees- they were eager to assist me.
And I made sure to return the pen before I left.