ASK AMANDA is born.
I’ve been threatening to do this for 10 years. Ask away. Then we’ll talk.
Hello, dear ones.
Greetings from Aotearoa New Zealand. I’m Amanda.
And . . . I’m deeply honored to have been invited by Substack as their Writer in Residence for the month of February! I’m gonna take a stab at doing an advice column, and because 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.
Photo: Ruby Crossan
I’m taking the job hot on the heels of Jeanette Winterson, one of my literary heroes since teenhood, and she’s such a legit writer compared with my messy, scribbling self that I wanna just stab myself in the head with a goddamn pen, but hey.
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.
I thought long and hard about how to experiment in this new publishing playground, and I’ve chosen to do an “advice column.”
But this ain’t gonna be “Dear Abby.”
I want you all to WRITE WITH ME. The comments section is gonna be the Endgame, not an extra. I want to make a little flash community here. I want to be the spark of a larger conversation.
Everybody I know is real lonely right now. Disconnected. Exhausted. So it’s gonna be less traditional advice column and more cozy, noisy, dimly lit pub.
Think of it this way: Substack is giving us the pop-up storefront and the groovy new internet tools. I’m decorating and bartending. And you, my friends, you’re bringing the fire—the conversation, the confessions, the truth, the tears, and the joie de vivre. The big questions.
And the wine. Don’t forget wine. We need wine.
Let’s do this.
The letter is FREE and will come out about once a week throughout the month of February. If it works, we’ll keep going.
A little about me . . . if you don’t know me already.
Hi there. I’m Amanda.
Photo: Fiona Tomlinson
I’m a professional musician, a writer, internetter, and conversationalist, and I’m a big fan of empathy and compassion. I’m a meditator and a yogi. I like feelings. I toured nonstop in a band called The Dresden Dolls for many years, and we plan to tour again soon.
The pandemic crushed our plans. I’m from New York and still have a house there, but I’ve been waylaid in New Zealand with my little boy, Ash (he’s 6), for almost two years because of Covid. I’ve had to ask for a lot of things. It’s been difficult.
But I know how to ask. I wrote a best-selling book almost 10 years ago called The Art of Asking. It was all about how hard it is—for ALL of us—to ask for things. We’re all really . . . afraid. I had no idea the book would strike such a raw universal nerve. But it did.
I hate to say it, y’all, but it feels like things have gotten even harder since then. The pandemic has drained the nice and the patience out of so many of us. The moment is raw.
I’ve been threatening my community to do an “Ask Amanda” column for a long time. There’s always been a reason to put it off, some important project. So when Substack knocked on my door and asked if I would be their Writer in Residence, it all fit together.
Being in my band, 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. Then came MySpace, LiveJournal, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Patreon. I’ve never stopped reading the comments and responding.
In a sense, I’ve been a professional musician for 20 years, with people listening to my songs, my lyrics, and my records. But I’ve also become a professional listener. I’ve probably clocked my 10,000 hours on stage, but I’ve likely clocked 20,000 hours on the internet, reading and responding to people’s questions and feelings about life, work, love, grief, and other matters of the heart.
And I think I wasn’t ready to have the audacity to officially “offer advice” until now. Ten years ago, I was a goddamn mess, frankly. Who the fuck wants advice from a 35-year-old? NOW I AM 45 and I am obviously a sage CRONE.
Why? I dunno. I’ve walked through quite a few fires in my life, especially recently, and I’m still here to tell the tale. I’ve been called “The Most Hated Woman on the Internet,” I’ve received death threats, I’ve been canceled and uncanceled so many times I can’t keep track; and it doesn’t really matter anymore, because I’m still here, writing and working.
I’ve been admired, hated, judged, ripped to shreds in the press, and also hugged by thousands of strangers. I’ve been put on public pedestals and publicly crucified. I’ve navigated countless love affairs, a marriage, been through three abortions, a miscarriage, a 24-hour natural childbirth, the death of many family members, the death of my best friend, and . . . I still manage to be ecstatically happy most of the time.
Is there a secret to that? To the being happy most of the time? I dunno. I’d like to think so. Maybe we’ll find out.
It’s 2022, people, and nobody knows WTF is going on. Most people I’ve been chatting to—in America, in Europe, here in New Zealand—most people are, well, flailing.
Everybody is trying to digest the trauma of yesterday while being force-fed a new pile of tomorrow-shit to deal with. Pretty much everybody I know feels disoriented and exhausted by just Doing Life.
And lately, every time I ask my community on the internet how they’re feeling (and I do that a lot), things are edging toward the darkest darkness of the dark. The pandemic has knocked the wind out of everybody’s lungs and people keep saying they cannot breathe deeply. And yet: mundane problems still face us every day. Shit still happens. Death and birth and cancer and stubbed toes continue. Jobs get lost, kids get sick, food spoils, families and friends put each other in cancel jail, romantic relationships begin and end; it waits for no pandemic. We have to deal in real time.
Kindness is in short supply. Patience is scarce.
We are all very, very tired.
My own life hit a dramatic rock bottom right at the start of the pandemic, in April 2020. I was supposed to be in New Zealand for four shows, over eight nights in total, at the tail end of an exhausting 80-date solo piano world tour. The very last shows were canceled, I locked down here, and then it all went dark for reasons out of my control. It’s a long and painful story, but trust me: it all fell apart spectacularly.
I found myself alone in an Airbnb with a frightened child, in a foreign country where I knew practically nobody. I started having panic attacks for the first time since I was a teenager. I started waking up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, my mind racing, unable to breathe.
And like many people, I had no idea what was happening and even less clue about what was about to happen . . . and how the true darkness was yet to come.
I had to deal. There was no other choice.
Since then, I’ve profoundly changed. I’ve been slowly but surely transformed by the pandemic, and also by being abroad; my soul has been pounded and burned and re-worked by the act of rummaging through the wreckage and putting myself back together from scratch, all while solo parenting most of the time. I’ve uncovered a new, achingly raw clarity about what it means to be human, to trust, to love, and to let go of the past.
As a mother, and as a norm-core person going to the supermarket in lockdown, this has been great. Nourishing. Galvanizing. Game-changing. Life-affirming.
As an artist, it has totally sucked balls.
I’ve barely written a song, I have played few shows, and I’ve relied on the kindness and support of about 10,000 patrons to keep my rent and staff in New York covered while I try to build a new artistic lifeboat out of the scattered pieces of this ongoing shipwreck, all while treading water with a kid in my arms.
So it has been a fertile personal season, but not a creative one. Some things just had to get de-prioritized, and art went out the window.
I’ve created so little in the past two years, compared to my usual endless project-stream, that I can barely identify myself. It’s been hard to make time to write. I always need a deadline, and because I’m fully crowdfunded and don’t write for a magazine or a newspaper (thank fuck for that nowadays), deadlines come from within me, and within me gets real tired and wants to go back to bed and have a cookie and a glass of wine and pull the covers over my head.
I’ve done a lot of Lego. I’ve planted a garden. I’ve done a lot of dishes. I’ve made a lot of peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches. I felt a level of loneliness I never imagined I could ever feel, for many reasons. I’ve finally accepted that I have to take care of my body (and mean it) if I want to take care of anything else. I’ve learned how to live in a new country: Aotearoa New Zealand. But I haven’t written much, or made much art.
It has all been very humbling.
After 20 years of blind ambition and hungry jet-setting and (very cathartic, I’ll tell ya) stage-screaming, I’ve felt what it’s like to be . . . quieter. The quieter I become, the more I’m able to hear.
And the more I’m able to hear, the more I wonder about everybody else. You. And what you might be struggling with, and how I might be able to help.
This is how I want to spend my time right now. Making this. With you.
So here we are.
Photo: Ruby Crossan
I will write more about the process in the run-up to the first letter I send you all, but here’s the basics: write to me, and ask me a question.
Ask anything. But use your common sense (y’know . . . don’t ask me when The Dresden Dolls are finally going to tour Brazil). You can ask about work, health, music, abortion, love, crowdfunding, death, relationships, problems, rape, suicide. NOTHING IS OFF THE TABLE.
Keep it under 200 words. Give me the backstory, but don’t send me a novel. If you need a word counter, here you go: https://wordcounter.net
You can post your question here in the comments, or if you’d prefer to remain anonymous, you can use this email (and please let me know if you’d like your name to be withheld; we will protect you):
I’ll read through the questions and find the themes. Then I’ll compose letters back to you all, which will be published once a week through the month of February.
I plan to be very active in the comments, and I want you all to be too. I want these letters to start conversations between us, not be some verdict from above. Again, think more loud bar than sermon pulpit. Yes, you can bring wine. I will also bring wine.
There’s going to be beautiful weekly original artwork—created in real time while I write my responses—by my incredible artist friend Sarah Beetson (who created the Ask Amanda typewriter logo). I’ll tell you more about her and her process as we mosey along through the month.
For those who’d like an audio recording of me reading the post (and probably crying, as I tend to do when I’m reading emotional stuff), I’m offering that as a paid tier, at $5 a month. $5 to hear me cry every week. C’mon. I’ll send the first audio recording (of this post) up tomorrow for free to everyone so you can get a taster.
There are no other bells and whistles: this letter will be free to the public.
For those who may be confused about the difference between this newsletter and my main Patreon page, it’s simple. This is simply an advice column. My Patreon is for everything: my song releases, podcasts, videos, my daily blog, the kitchen sink. If you want the kitchen sink, head on over there. Otherwise, ask me a question, and get ready to go on an emotional ride with me and the rest of the folks here.
It’s gonna be good.
Let’s ask. Each other, together.
Let’s get less lonely.
I can’t wait to do this.
This is it. Subscribe, people. It’s free.
The above photos by Ruby Crossan were taken in Glenorchy, Aotearoa New Zealand, December 2021, behind her house in the hills. This photo, below, was taken by Ruby’s mom and my good friend, Simone Flight. I spent the holidays there with the whole family, it was wonderful. If you ever get to New Zealand, visit Glenorchy. It’s near Queenstown.