Blog / 2023 / Mistake #10: Not Asking for Help Enough
September 28, 2023
This past May, my art career officially turned twenty. To celebrate this milestone artiversary, I’ve been talking about some of my most mundane mistakes, things like not realizing that people want me to succeed. Because if I had to point to one main reason why I’m still creating after all this time, it’s that I refused to let these slip-ups defeat me.
Today’s installment of the Carnival of Errors is all about failing to ask for help.
Everybody I’ve ever known and just about every character I’ve ever read about or seen in movies or shows makes this mistake. It’s a comically common problem as well as a tragically stupid one when you consider how much pleasure most of us take in lending a hand to others.
The first time I consciously chose to not ask for help, I was twelve and being harassed on a daily basis by another kid in school. Instead of telling an adult what was happening, I faked being sick so I could stay home. Fortunately, my mom recognized that her little school-loving nerd must be lying. And when the administration refused to do anything about the bully, my luck held and my parents chose to homeschool me through the last of the middle grades.
Later, in high school and then college, I learned nothing of asking for help, and, by the time I was starting my art career, I was in deep denial about how much I depended on others. I mean, I recognized that family and friends alike were having me over for dinner an awful lot and always sending me home with leftovers. Plus, there was the sudden need to for me to cut my parents’ lawn and accept payment for doing so. But, still, I clung to the idea that I was making both my life and my living as an artist by my determination alone. Meanwhile, in a cordoned-off part of my brain, I remember feeling profound gratitude to loved ones who noticed I was struggling, particularly because that meant I didn’t have to put it into words—or even really admit it to myself.
It wasn’t until I ended up on the operating table at 28 with a gut full of wrong and a brand new diagnosis of endometriosis that my behavior finally shifted. Freshly sewn back together and full of meds that were weren’t doing what they were meant to, my difficulties piled on, smushing me repeatedly like cartoon anvils. Between the ginormous hospital bills and the physical problems that crippled me for years, I couldn’t pretend my way out of this situation with my self-sufficiency narrative intact.
It’s strange to say, but that’s when I became myself, because that’s when I became the “me” who can ask for help.
In short order, I applied for a number of emergency relief grants for artists and was lucky enough to receive a few. And, after an initial period during which I was strictly private about my illness, I ditched my shame in favor of knowing all the things about endo. I could not have asked the universe more loudly for help unless I’d bought billboards to broadcast all my questions. The myriad treatments I tried came from the stories and wisdom that other endo patients graciously shared.
In some ways, I think it’s easier for artists to admit that they need assistance—easier, that is, than for people in other kinds of jobs. After all, artists can’t go full-time unless they recognize that they only get to make art if others want to pay them for their labor. And there are only two ways that happens:
- Individuals giving money in exchange for an artwork, a print, or some other art product.
- A community of people coming together to give money to an artist, through grants, public art commissions, or even microdonations that happen on sites like Kickstarter.
In other words, unlike with other jobs where impressing a supervisor or two can make all the difference, the only way that a full-time artist gets to keep making art is if they find ways to bond with all the people who pay for their art. And while in other industries you can potentially find another job if you fail to fit with a particular work culture, artists can’t just go live in a different world.
If we want to make art both our life and our living, we must be grateful every day for the people who notice that we need an invitation to dinner, and sometimes we have to ask to be invited over.
Which is what I’m doing now, with my Kickstarter for turning my painting series, Everything’s Fine, into a coloring book and a curriculum for high school art teachers. I’m asking for help.
At this point, fourteen years since my first session on the operating table and twenty years into being a full-time artist, I’m under no illusions about whether or not I can make art without the help of others, but asking for money is still hard. I feel a little like the chickadee in this painting, singing a strange version of myself and never fully communicating all I mean to say.
I hate the idea that, over the course of the Kickstarter campaign, my repeated requests for help might make some people uncomfortable, but I try to remember that it’s impossible for me to manage other people’s feelings. I can’t force anyone to contribute—and I wouldn’t want to—but it’s okay for me to make sure that everyone who might want to participate gets a chance to. And that means asking for help. And then asking again. And again.
This chickadee along with the rest of the paintings from Everything’s Fine are on display at the Princeton Public Library through mid-October.
Princeton Public Library
Princeton, NJ 08542
Open: now through October 15th
Hours: every day, visit PPL site for times
Hands-on art workshop for teens
Saturday September 30th from 3p to 4:30p
The original piece is for sale for $800 plus shipping (and tax if you live in New Jersey)—please contact me if you’d like to buy the painting. For prints and pretty things with this image, go here in my print shop.
There will eventually be twenty mistakes published to celebrate my twenty years, but, for now, you can read about these:
- Putting off making changes.
- Publishing art that’s not my best.
- Trying to be like everyone else.
- Worrying about being too sensitive.
- Blaming myself for being too nice.
- Confusing bravery with confidence.
- Not realizing that people want me to succeed.
- Hiding my queer identity for years.
- Feeling guilty about wanting to earn money with my art.
- People pleasing.
- Being afraid of feedback.
Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!
To receive an email every time I publish a new article or video, sign up for my special mailing list.
If you enjoyed this post, Ko-fi allows you to donate. Every dollar you give is worth a bajillion to me!