the things I know about begging

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.