There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “Ask For Help”.
Way, way back in the day, just before the mid eighties when I began hanging around with people who had given up alcohol and drugs, someone offered me this suggestion: ask for help. I could have been moaning about one of 70 things then, but whatever the subject, the response was, “ask for help”.
You might be thinking, how is this idea of asking for help going to take up more than 25 words, nevermind an entire blog. You need help, you ask for help. Duh. What’s the problem? May we please move on to something more worthy of a lengthy discussion than this? Say, picking the names for hurricanes? Well, choosing “Iris” and Klaus” and “Lenny” would in fact be an interesting topic. But for now, this story is about the process of asking for help. Beyond the opening of one’s mouth and saying “May I please have some help here?”
Back in the mid eighties we used to joke that the telephone weighed 10,000 pounds. It was that hard to pick up. Especially when it was going to be used for – yes, that’s right – asking for help. Think of the last time you were struggling with something, anything, and the thought flashed through your mind to call someone for advice, for suggestions, for help – even just to hear you out. Did you do it? Do you do it every time? Some of the time? Every once in a while? Now try to imagine that you are a self-centered, got it all figured out, don’t need anyone’s advice thank you very much, dramatically inferiority-complexed alcoholic loner. You are struggling, you are angry, you are isolated, you are frustrated and maybe frightened, and you are tilting toward a drink, and someone says to you – for the 25th time this month – “ask for help. Call someone up. A problem shared is a problem halved. Just do it.”
Of course if you never were that frustrated, self-centered, feeling lower than whale crap alcoholic it is not likely you can imagine yourself as one. In fact, you can’t. That’s one reason alcoholics hang around with other alcoholics. There is a frame of reference there. (Though, in fact, alcoholics tend to suffer from a sense of terminal uniqueness, and so the feeling that you get where I am coming from happens only after a while.) The point being that if you come to the party with baggage, and that baggage includes a feeling of less than (at best) or self-loathing, it is not easy to ask for help. It just isn’t.
Obviously alcoholics and drug addicts are not the only people in the world who feel “less than” at times, not as good as at times, wish I was braver, stronger, smarter, kinder, cheerier or a host of other good qualities at times. Alcoholics do major in those feelings. Earn advanced degrees. But lots of people feel these feelings. We learn them. Take a group of five years olds, or seven year olds – boys, girls, black, white, brown, rich, poor – and tags like self-centered, self loathing, unhappy, afraid to try something, afraid of what people will think, anxiety-filled – these are not kid descriptions. We learn that stuff. And some people learn it better than others. I can write this, not as an expert, not as a PhD in Psychology, but because I know how it feels. I have been there. I have done that. And sometimes I still do.
In a recent blog – “My Time” – I talked about ancient stories. Feeling that my art is not as good as others’ art, that deep inside I don’t feel like I belong in this club. That is the less than thinking I learned somewhere along the way, then honed with alcoholic 3 a.m. ruminations. And it just ain’t so. Is my art as “good as” Renoir’s, Picasso’s, Robert Henri’s? No. I know that. Is my art good enough to put out there in the world, to add to the the ongoing creations of The Universe. Heck yes.
This brings me back to the idea of asking for help. It is still difficult for me to ask for help. Nowhere near as much as before because I have been lucky enough to shine a spotlight on “my stuff”, the bad stuff, and by doing so diminish dramatically it’s influence, it’s power over me. But the old stories linger here and there, and I feel it when I hesitate to push the “Enter” key on the keyboard with a post asking people to buy my art – even my $4 cards – or press the “Send” key on the phone to ask someone for support of one kind of another. Do I really have a right to do this? Is this an unwelcome imposition? Am I bothering someone?
Again, I quote my favorite expression to myself: “Duh!” Life is too short to cheat myself out of possible experience, possible adventure, possible wonder. I want to be sensitive for sure, and I always want to live with kindness as my guide. And none of that is incompatible with living my life fully, with gushing enthusiasm, as much as I can bring to the moments of the day.
Back in 1985 a guy I had asked to help me – actually, I asked a woman friend of his to ask him if he would help me, kind of like a seventh grade dance – anyway, this guy walked up to me in a group of people and said. “Do you need a dime?” The price of a phone call back then. The phone calls I was not making to him. To ask for help. On the 10,000 pound phone. It was just so much easier to not even ask. So if your phone rings tomorrow, or you open your email, or scroll down your Facebook home page, and you find me there asking for your help, I hope you will celebrate in the accomplishment. It’s the new me. Almost whole. Getting there.
Asking for help.
By the way, do you know that names already selected for this upcoming 2014 hurricane season include Fay, Gonzalo, and Nana?