Amanda Palmer has shown a passion for conversation and community since early on in her career. From her early internet presence on MySpace, to her present day activity on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Palmer has always sought new spaces to share with her fans, and anyone else who will listen. So it’s no surprise that now she brings us her new “Ask Amanda” advice column on Substack. Except instead of simply giving advice, she wants her column to act as more of a “community campfire,” where she can have real conversations with her readers. She states in her introductory letter on Substack, “I’m me, it’s gonna be different and weird, and hopefully really fun. And mostly: interactive. I want to talk to you, and I want you to talk to me, and to one another.”
In December, Palmer live streamed what she called an “Emergency Soothing Piano Music Session,” on Instagram. You can read about that here. Back in October, Palmer released a mashup she did with Reb Fountain of the songs Blurred Lines and Rape Me, as apart of The Abortion Access Front’s #DoReMeToo.You can learn more about that here.
Palmer revealed more about the project and her love for her community in an exclusive Q&A with mxdwn that you can read below.
mxdwn: Where does all of your love and compassion for community come from?
Amanda Palmer: Oh, lord. I think it comes from twenty years of dealing with the dark storms of life myself, and achieving a deeper and deeper understanding every day, every year, of how human and afraid everybody is. Once you really start seeing that under the surface, it’s hard not to love absolutely everybody, even the trolls and the haters.
mxdwn: Over your different forms of social media you read over 2000 comments of people telling you how they are. Why? Does the reason go hand in hand with why you want your Substack to have a community campfire vibe?
AP: Yes. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I became a performing musician because I wanted to be with people. Making music was a means to an end, and the end was connection and conversation. I think it’s why I was a perfect Internet-era artist. The tools came along right when I came of age, and I was so excited to find any avenue possible to connect with people in a really truthful way. Being in The Dresden Dolls and pouring my heart out in my lyrics, and then setting up an email address on the band’s early website back in 2000 – saying “Talk to me, I’ll write you back” – was the first step in an endless conversation with my music listeners. In a sense, I’ve been a musician for twenty years, with people listening to my songs, my lyrics and my records, but I’ve also become a professional listener. I’ve probably clocked 10,000 hours on stage, but I’ve likely clocked 20,000 hours on the internet, reading and responding to people’s feelings about life, love, death and matters of the heart.
mxdwn: Why did you choose Substack?
AP: Well….I love Substack. I’ve gradually subscribed to over a dozen writers here over the course of the pandemic, notably Patti Smith (ahhh), Laurie Penny, Roxane Gay, and Heather Cox Richardson, whose daily “Letters from an American” posts explaining the day’s political news in the context of American history have supplemented and sometimes even replaced my nightly newspaper-app doomscrolling.
So, yeah. Substack feels like an electric, thriving, and supportive place to bring my community’s eyeballs. And ears, because there will be a $5/month option to get the column sent to you as a weekly voice recording.
mxdwn: You’ve said yourself how the simple question “How are you?” Is a more loaded question than its ever been. That being said, how are you?
AP: I love you for asking that. I’m really happy today. I’m on day three of a three-day fast. The sun is out, I just went for an early barefoot walk on the beach as the sun came up and talked to an old friend, and I’m sitting here with a fresh cup of coffee about to publish my new advice column, answering some really delicious questions from a smart journalist. That all makes me feel warm. I feel surrounded by love.
mxdwn: Do you feel like you receive as much love as you give out?
AP: I don’t think it works that way. Love isn’t a game you can keep track of; it comes in waves. There have been times, especially since getting waylaid here in New Zealand, where I’ve felt lonelier than I ever could have imagined possible. I’ve had a lot of difficult people in my life who don’t express love easily, and I find it easier and easier to not only forgive them, but to love them for it. The longer I stick around on this planet, the easier I find it to love everybody unconditionally. The harder part is about how to do that with discernment and boundaries in place, so you aren’t walking around with a broken heart because your expectations are delusional. But it’s been nice to realize that you can love anybody without permission. It doesn’t mean they have to love you back. But love is not an exchange at the cash register where you give me $3 and I give you a bunch of bananas. It doesn’t work like that. You’re allowed to just stand in the store and admire the bananas. Or something like that. Sorry, I’m on my first coffee and it’s early.
mxdwn: What kinds of conversations do you want to have with people? Is anything off limits?
AP: Nothing is off limits. I will talk about sex, suicide, love, death, vaginas, penises, illness, clothes, abortion, hair, business, crwodfunding, grief, stillborn babies, body hair. You name it. I’m here for it.
mxdwn: On your Substack profile you say let’s not be lonely. Are you still feeling lonely in all of this? Is this for you just as much as it is for your fans and community?
AP: Oh, this is for me. I often say to people: “If I’m saying it on the Internet, it’s because I need to hear it myself”. I’ve had a difficult season over here in New Zealand, and it’s been hard to connect. Much of my community back home in the states can barely wrap their heads around what my life is like here, and some of them have even stopped asking how I am – partly out of their own paralytic exhaustion and partly because they don’t know what to ask. I always do it because I need it myself. I think most writers and artists understand this.
mxdwn: You’ve shown a passion for mental health awareness, how has the pandemic affected that?
AP: It’s upped the ante. I barely know a single person who isn’t struggling with their mental health right now.
mxdwn: It seems like you have so much going on constantly. From your podcast, to writing music, you’re working on coming out of hiatus with the Dresden Dolls, the Substack, not to mention being a parent. Where do you find the time to breath? What do you do to breath?
AP: I walk on the beach before I start my workday. I make a lot of phone calls to close friends. That’s my happy place. I was talking to someone on the phone last night and did the math, and I think I’ve probably spent over 1,000 hours on the phone to friends in America, Europe and Australia since the pandemic started. Thank god for cheap long distance. I’ve often wondered how I could have survived this without the telephone.
mxdwn: You always take the time to let your community know how much you love and care about them. What does that mean to you?
AP: I think that’s the way real love works. You cannot take for granted that somebody knows that you love them, and that you appreciate them, and that you’re thinking about them. You have to say it. Constantly. I’ve been seeing a lot of chat about the five love languages lately, so I took the online test and my a long mile, my preferred love language is “words of affirmation”, followed by physical touch. That makes a lot of sense. I express my love through words.
So let me remind you right now, even though I’ve never met you… I’m proud of you for doing such a good goddamn job on this interview. And I wish you were here so I could give you a hug in person. And I love you. I really do.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat