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the things I know about begging

7 Jan

When Erica and I were raising funds for Dogboy & Justine (meeting Monday! updates soon!) on Kickstarter we relied on a number of resources, including our professional and academic contacts, personal off-line resources, and our not insignificant LiveJournal (LJ) readerships. Without LJ, our fund raising efforts would have been a lot more challenging and probably not possible during the time frame in question as my face-to-face contact with potential donors was sharply limited by my being out of the country for a month of the funding period.

In the course of fund raising we received a lot of feedback both about the project and the process. We were warned about the infamous Kickstarter U (wherein you get the most donations at the very beginning and very end of a fund raising period); asked questions about our creative concepts; and challenged as to our thematic interests.

We also received, mostly indirectly, comments about the fact that we were asking people for money. Specifically we encountered people who were angry and derisive about us “begging” on LJ. While I had known from the beginning that, that type of reaction was going to be inevitable from some people for a range of reasons, when it came, it didn’t sit well with me, and until today, I couldn’t figure out why.

But in talking with Christian about his own crowd-funded project (Hold Something), I suddenly figured it out. It wasn’t that some people were angry with us for “begging.” Rather, they were angry with us because we weren’t begging.

Begging, by implication, involves not just a request, but a personal abasement in exchange not just for the request being granted, not just for the request being heard, but for the mere act of making the request. Begging, in fact, arguably begins with an explanation of why the person asking for something is not worthy of your generosity.

Trust me on this; I’m not developing a musical about dominatrices for nothing. And I know a great deal about begging; I used to do a lot of it. But it’s been more than a decade since I’ve fallen to my knees and begged a lover to stay even though I was so filthy, ugly and unworthy, and years since I’ve told a stranger, “I know I’m a terrible person” before asking them for help when lost and confused far from home.

Yeah, I have some self-esteem issues. But seriously? I used to do that crap all the time. And you want to know why? I did it because I thought it would keep me safe. I thought if I told others how terrible I was, no one would ever tell me I was terrible. It was a way to control pain and shield myself from a world I had learned was dangerous, bullying and abusive.

Did it work? Well enough, in that I sure kept finding use in doing it for a long time; it must have fulfilled some psychological need for self-punishment. And not at all, in that I, thankfully, know not to do it anymore, even if some days it is a battle, especially when I feel I’ve made a mistake, misstep, or miscalculation.

When we asked for money for Dogboy & Justine, we never told people why we weren’t good enough. That’s not, after all, how you do marketing. Rather, we told people about the idea, and why we’re qualified to execute on that idea. We talked ourselves up, without untruths, and hoped people would come along with us. Thankfully, over 125 of them — friends, family, strangers, and an ex or two — did. And now we get to put on a show.

Crowd funding isn’t about begging on the Internet. Not when I do it. Not when Christian does it. Not when someone puts up a tip jar on their blog, a donation link on their webpage, or uses a service like Kickstarter to make something happen.

Artists, like anyone else performing work, deserve to get paid. And art, like any other product or service, takes money to produce. After all, that’s why those of us who attend arts events get solicitations in the mail to buy tickets, to give money, to make the magic happen.

More importantly, art and crowd funding aside, people deserve to be able to ask for help without having to abase themselves. When people post in their blog that their car broke down, that they’ve got $2 in the bank, and they need to get the vehicle fixed to keep their job and their house and they need some damn help — that should be okay. Of course it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for more details about the situation if you’re interested in helping and need to have more details to feel comfortable doing so. But what’s not okay is to ask for shame and verbal self-injury before providing that help.

Crowd funding is great. I’d do it again; if Dogboy & Justine has the trajectory we hope it will, Treble Entendre will probably do some more of it in conjunction with a cabaret fund-raising night we’re planning. And I recommend crowd funding to my friends all the time.

If it’s not for you — as a creator or as an audience member — that’s fine. There are a lot of causes out there and none of us can help all of them; some art sure isn’t going to float your boat, or even seem like it could be any good! And certainly, with all the suffering in the world, it can, quite reasonably, be challenging to allocate dollars for art. But don’t slam creators who use crowd funding strategies for being beggars.

Because it’s not shameful to be a beggar.

But I absolutely do believe it is shameful to resent someone’s request for help because they aren’t abasing themselves enough for your ego or entertainment.

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16 Responses to “the things I know about begging”

  1. heron61 January 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    “Crowd funding isn’t about begging on the Internet. Not when I do it. Not when Christian does it. Not when someone puts up a tip jar on their blog, a donation link on their webpage, or uses a service like Kickstart to make something happen.

    Artists, like anyone else performing work, deserve to get paid. And art, like any other product or service, takes money to produce. After all, that’s why those of us who attend arts events get solicitations in the mail to buy tickets, to give money, to make the magic happen.”

    Well said indeed. Especially in the US, there’s way too much of an idea that making art is a hobby that should be done for a pittance.

  2. eternalstranger January 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    Yeah, I have some self-esteem issues. But seriously? I used to do that crap all the time. And you want to know why? I did it because I thought it would keep me safe. I thought if I told others how terrible I was, no one would ever tell me I was terrible. It was a way to control pain and shield myself from a world I had learned was dangerous, bullying and abusive.

    Oh man, this just hits way too close to home for me.

    Is life really that much better when you don’t do it anymore? Does the safety you give up get replaced by something else?

    • RM January 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      The thing is, I eventually realized, I didn’t give up any safety. I am or more brutal to myself than anyone can be to me. At least with words. After all, I’ve learned from so many people.

      For me, the hardest thing in the world is breaking the habit of it, especially when there’s a storm in my head that has had decades of a very particular type of relief. All I can do is do it less and less until one day I don’t do it at all.

      It was a choice to stop doing it. And also a promise to people who wanted that for me when I wasn’t yet able to want it for myself. But it’s still a task, and sometimes a hard one.

      • eternalstranger January 7, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

        The thing is, I eventually realized, I didn’t give up any safety. I am or more brutal to myself than anyone can be to me. At least with words. After all, I’ve learned from so many people.

        Oh yes, I can see that. On the other hand, for me unkindness from myself is in fact easier to take than unkindness from other people, because I know what I’m going to say whereas other people are always at least somewhat unpredictable. A lot of it at its core is the fear of what people *might* say more than what they actually do. So it feels safer to face my own cruelty than someone else’s potential cruelty.

        Which is kinda screwed up, granted.

    • Tiferet January 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

      Bullies and abusers are attracted to people who are submissive, fearful and overly humble–people they think won’t fight back. They also train their victims to be that way insofar as they can, because they’re predators and predators like to conserve their energy, since they have to steal it from others.

      So yeah, I think it probably is safer to be out and about in the world if you’re not self-abasing whenever you ask for things, because a kind person will help you anyway and an abusive person will mock or ignore you rather than offering just enough help to get you to put on the show or let them into your life or whatever.

      Predators pick on the weak, particularly opportunistic ones who might not go out of their way to hurt someone but won’t resist the chance when it’s available. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to do hurt people or that it’s wrong to be weak or vulnerable. We are all weak, vulnerable and relatively powerless in situations that crop up throughout our lives, and people who aren’t sociopathic will be compassionate even if they can’t help you.

      But by and large, if you can go through life believing that you have a right to exist–or acting as though you believe it, until it sticks–you can avoid some of the sociopaths, some of the time. Because bullies believe in the power of fear, and are ruled by it themselves.

  3. Canaan Alexander January 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Begging, by implication involves not just a request, but a personal abasement in exchange not just for the request being granted, not just for the request being heard, but for the mere act of making the request.

    Thank you for this. For me, this really crystallizes a number of things I had already known into a cogent, useful framework.

  4. Gement January 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    I needed to hear this. Not today in particular, but it’s getting filed away next to “Stop asking for permission.” We do not need permission to be grand. Thanks for reiterating that in another way that I could hear.

  5. alumiere January 7, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    Interesting thoughts, especially as I suspect I’ll be trying kickstarter soonish to help with some expenses of my small business.

    Also, a question – is it my browser or is this page supposed to be grey on grey with bright blue links? It’s almost unreadable, and I cannot figure out how to fix it other than to reset my browser to no style so that it comes up in my standard purples…

    • alumiere January 7, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

      and weirdly enough, the comments and comment windows are off-white and dark grey, perfectly readable

    • RM January 7, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

      Colors are black (I can’t actually tell) on white, with blue links. At least here.

      Kickstarter is not for business funding, but for arts projects, so depending on what you’re doing it may or may not fit, but I’m pretty sure there are similar tools for business funding purposes.

  6. glinda January 7, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    But I absolutely do believe it is shameful to resent someone’s request for help because they aren’t abasing themselves enough for your ego or entertainment.

    Oh, hell, yes. That ties in to the whole “deserving poor” thing. It’s so… toxic. I could write pages about how I was fortunate, when I became homeless at 52, that it was for an acceptable reason (medical things, disability, etc.), and that I started out middle class; that my mental issues (severe derpression, anxiety, PTSD) were… again, the only word I have is “acceptable” – that nothing caused me to acft out in ways that would be condemned, held against me, that I could, with minimal help, navigate the whole welfare/disability/housing/Social Security morass. That I had friends who were also middle class, to use as references that social services people could contact. That I had a solid work history, in a technical field.

    And that so very many other people, also in the shelters, didn’t have those advantages, weren’t considered deserving enough, never made it out of homelessness and off welfare into more stable Social Security disability.

  7. Gwydion January 8, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    It wasn’t that some people were angry with us for “begging.” Rather, they were angry with us because we weren’t begging.

    More proof that some people have a really fucked up way about thinking of things.

    To my way of thinking, you were inviting people to be a part of something really cool you are doing. hence me tagging the signal boosts “help make some cool art happen.” That’s what it was about for me, the chance for people to help put something cool out into the world. No one was forcing folks to pitch in. I’m still sorry I was too short of funds to pitch in myself beyond signal boosts.

    I think that wanting people to abase themselves and that whole crab thing of not wanting anyone to rise above the herd is related and a really messed up way to treat other people. I think it’s so much more healthy and product to root for others to succeed. I’d rather my friends and acquaintances have good things happen in their lives. I’d rather my friends made art that got seen and enjoyed by the world. Art here means any creative endeavor. That whole wanting to drag people one supposedly likes and cares about down thing just creeps me the fuck out.

    • RM January 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

      Thanks for your support, both on the show and on this fundraising.

      Part of my “stop tearing other people down” thing, which seems to keep coming up on this new blog far more than I had intended isn’t just that I’m sick of being the target of it (although you know, I certainly am enough), but because I’m sick of doing it to other people as if someone else’s book contract takes away an opportunity for my own work or whatever. This is stuff I’m not great at, even if I know it’s wrong and tend to keep quiet about it. I still feel it in my heart, and I’d sure as hell rather be a cheering section than someone under the delusion that other people’s accomplishments somehow steel form me.

      • Gwydion January 9, 2011 at 1:22 am #

        Just keep reminding yourself life is not a zero sum game. 😉

  8. Michelle January 8, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Did you get the idea that any of the criticism was based on gender? Guys seem to get to ask for money for projects all the time, meetings for funding for movies, start-ups, whatever, and it isn’t seen as “begging” whereas women (and those who present as not traditionally straight male) are seen as having to “beg”.

    I saw it as an opportunity to support the arts and a very specific set of artists, make controversial art that wouldn’t be funded through mainstream arts funding due to the very nature of it. I’m all about freedom of speech, supporting artists who aren’t white straight men, confronting stereotypes, and generally being a bit in your face when it comes to art and this project did all of the above in all caps. I’m so excited to be a part of it and can’t wait to come and see the show!

    • RM January 8, 2011 at 11:25 am #

      You know, I didn’t consciously think of it at the time, or when I was writing this, which was somewhat surprising, but I think you are right from a number of standpoints. For one, much of the LJ-related guff involves mostly female communities where in there seems to be a lot of the unfortunate results of being socialized to compete for supposedly scarce resources. I hate to say that, and I hate my own internalized misogyny, but the propensity many women have for tearing down other women because of the world we’ve been socialized into can be high.

      And, certainly, I was very conscious of gender presentation in that video. Despite the fact that I (and again, this is emblematic not just of my gender identity stuff, but of my own biases) was very “say it with tits” in that video, the whole “hey kids, let’s put on a show” thing felt like it came from a profoundly masculine sense of self. I was so busy thinking of myself as a boy that, despite also thinking strangers on the Internet might be more amenable to giving me cash if I performed female more overtly than I normally do, it didn’t actually occur to me that gender would be part of the inherent problem for some people that I was even engaging in an ask.

      But yeah. You’re comment is right on, and I’d be shocked if the things you mention weren’t elements in the experience we had with Kickstarter.

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