Amanda Palmer on the Art of Giving Giraffe Drawings

Amanda Palmer Drawing An Awful Giraffe

Amanda Palmer Demonstrating the Art of Giving, September 2012.

Amanda Palmer (Web|Twitter) is a musician and writer. She is one-half of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” group The Dresden Dolls and the frontwoman of Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra. Recently she published a book titled The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help (2014) based on her popular TED Talk on the same subject. Even if some of her ideas are tone deaf there’s no denying she’s an immensely talented artist (her album Theater is Evil is brilliant and rarely leaves my CD player).

Palmer passed through Houston the other night (two years ago), which was my first introduction to both her and her work. Drunk and amazed, the only trouble I had was trying to make small-talk with the fans who only wanted to talk about Neil Gaiman. Still, everyone was a friendly bunch — and when I asked Palmer to draw a giraffe she did so with only modest hesitation (the guitarist — whose name I’m excluding here on principle — thought I was a joke).

Please note that I take this project very seriously. And how could I not? Look at this:

Amanda Palmer Giraffe DrawingThis is the gold-standard of Brechtian Punk Cabaret giraffes (?).

Drawing a giraffe is the least bizarre thing David Sedaris’ done

David Sedaris

Writer David Sedaris

David Sedaris (web | wiki) is a comedian and essayist known for his numerous memoirs including Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008). His latest book is Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013). Even if you don’t know him by name, I can guarantee you’ve heard him on National Public Radio and This American Life.

I first read Sedaris’ work years ago when, traveling through Denver, I bought When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Passing through for a wedding and not feeling particularly social, I’d escape to my hotel room or an abandoned broom closet to read. Family hunted me down, telling me to put it away, but this only led me to smuggle the book around as illegal contraband. I’d hold it beneath tables and spend more time in the bathroom than was necessary.

Like everyone’s first time, though: The experience was shorter than I’d wished (and laughter was involved). C’est la vie.

Since then, I’ve read most of his books and to this day regard him as the master of the personal essay. In fact, when feeling literary, I’ve written my most memorable GDBPWSNBDG articles with him in mind. I hope it shows.

On November 8, 2014, Sedaris was in Houston as part of a 39-city tour. As his visit coincided with my twenty-fourth birthday, I thought it’d be a nice treat. So my partner K. and I bought a pair of cheap tickets that placed us a few feet from the back wall, three stories up, in a theater that could seat nearly 3,000 people. When he came out to speak, he was merely a white beam of light in the distance — a little, soft-spoken angel telling us vagina jokes:

A woman goes to her gynecologist, and after getting in the chair, the doctor takes a look. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen,” he says. “You have the largest vagina I’ve ever seen!”

“You don’t need to say it twice,” the woman answers.

“I didn’t.”

When not telling jokes, Sedaris read a few unpublished essays and told off-the-cuff stories about his experience on tour. What I’m relaying can only be described as “Herculean” (and a little gross). So bear with me.

“At one of the early signings, a man approached me,” Sedaris began, “and he had holes in his head. Seeing some spots on the side of my face, he told me, ‘I know what that is — it looks like melanoma. You should really go to a doctor.’” This Sedaris did, being told they were just liver spots and nothing to worry about. Still, the doctor burned them off, leaving two blisters that –- the next day –- popped on the airplane.”

That’s medical injury number one.

For a while now, Sedaris has had a benign tumor near his ribs (“The size of an egg”) and chose not to get it removed because no doctor would let him keep it (“I mean, it’s mine. I made it.”). The reason for this, dear reader, is because he wanted to feed it to snapping turtles (that’s another story). When he mentioned this fact at a reading, a Mexican woman approached him saying she worked at a clinic for low-income families and could have it cut out in forty minutes. When the book signing ended around 1:00 a.m., the pair crossed the border (“The border to New Mexico, I mean”), did the deed, and then went to find the woman’s partner to “borrow” painkillers. Eight stitches.

Lastly, mere hours before his Houston reading, he had a root canal. Houston was his fifth stop.

“And I’m still going,” he concluded, “Can you say ‘Entertainment Industry champ’?”

What I’m trying to convey with this story is that Sedaris is an insane son-of-a-bitch and asking him to draw a silly picture is pretty low on his absurdity scale.

Unlike other signings I’ve attended, Sedaris is a conversationalist, often asking questions, bantering. Other writers I’ve met merely scribble their name, say “thanks” and push you along. This is why his events carry into the early-a.m. as he refuses to leave until everyone’s had their book signed.

When it was our turn, K. and I saw he was trying to eat his dinner set in front of him. “How are you feeling right now?” K. asked, handing over her copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (2010). Before the night was over, he was probably asked that question no less than two thousand times.

David Sedaris Knife Art Drawing

The first in my spin-off website: Knives Drawn By People Who Draw Knives Unprovoked.

“Let’s see,” Sedaris mused, taking a bite of chicken. As he chews he lists everything he’s been through: “I have a hole in my face, eight stitches, and had a root canal today. I’m pretty fucked up.” While speaking, he draws in the book an outline of a knife, which he proceeds to color with the markers he keeps in a flannel pencil bag. Though doped up, he moves in spurts — tucking his arms into his body and poking around the bag. He reminds me of a hen pecking for seed.

“Did you really run off with a stranger to have them cut a tumor out of you?” I asked, incredulous that such a thing even happens.

He looked up from his drawing, nodded, and returned to his art, adding a drop of blood to the silver blade. As he does so, I’m awed by his presence. Of every professional writer I’ve met, Sedaris is no doubt the most entertaining. Though my instinct is to dismiss his demeanor as an act, as if he was playing the part of the character he writes about — nope: He really is the character. When he tells stories of odd exchanges he’s had at book signings, polls he’s conducted, and so on, he’s serious.

Finally, I asked him to draw a giraffe, making the standard pitch, while he patiently looked up with another piece of chicken in his mouth. Before I finished he reached out to grab my notebook (my diary) from my hand and flatten it in front of him. Holding his sharpie like a knife, he stabbed the page and drew lines so thick they bled through. Handing it back, he shoved another piece of chicken in his mouth as we moved along.

Before leaving, I turned to look back at the hundreds of people snaking up several flights stairs. They were just as excited as we were. No doubt they’d ask for wilder things than a giraffe drawing.

In that moment, I wondered which story he’ll tell next that begins here.

David Sedaris Giraffe DrawingHe was clearly on drugs.

Singer and Spoken Word Artist Dessa

Dessa (Courtesy of Zoe Prinds-Flash Photography)

Dessa (Courtesy of Zoe Prinds-Flash Photography)

Dessa (Web | Twitter) is a singer and spoken word artist from Minneapolis, MN, and also a member of the hip hop collective Doomtree. She is the author of four books of poetry including Spiral Bound (Doomtree Press: 2009) and A Pound of Steam (Rain Taxi Press, 2013). Dessa is an immensely talented artist, and if you’re interested in seeing her perform, check out her recent reading at the Walker Art Center.

The following comes from Mr. Will Moore who met Dessa when, in spring 2013, she visited St. John’s College. When asked how the famed singer responded to his request, Moore said, “She was very pleased to draw a giraffe for us.”

Dessa GiraffeWhat an eloquent story for such an elegant giraffe.

Author David Mitchell

David Mitchell Drawing a Giraffe

Author David Mitchell illustrating his cosmology.

David Mitchell (Web | Twitter) is an English author of six books of fiction including the international bestseller Cloud Atlas (2004), which you may recall was made into a film starring Tom Hanks. Recently, our paths crossed when Mitchell was in Houston reading from his latest work, The Bone Clocks (2014). If you aren’t familiar with his work, both I and the literati highly recommend it.

Following his reading, Mitchell spoke with author Mat Johnson, observing that at age 45 he’s had an epiphany: He’s not a novelist but rather a novella-ist. As with Cloud AtlasThe Bones Clock is a series of novellas that reference and situate one another to tell a larger narrative – in this case, a woman’s life from birth to death. Even though “people don’t buy novellas,” he prefers the format as it allows him the privileges of the short story without carrying on past its “natural” conclusion. (I think we can all name a few works that, like some dying animal, resists the end).

When Johnson asked if he noticed certain themes or tropes appearing throughout his work, Mitchell answered that there were two: The first was predatory and the other miscommunication. As he identified instances of these in his work, he added that every author is merely a handful of archetypes. As these stem from the author’s experiences, this limitation is not a bad thing. All it means is that one has to keep finding novel ways to orient them – through new environments, characters, and so on.

After his reading I waited around to get him to sign my copy of Cloud Atlas — and that was when I made the ask. Even though the woman behind me (rudely) groaned and, under her breath, kept telling me to “hurry up,” Mitchell drew what I regard as The Little Prince fan-fiction. I present to you: The Planet of The Giraffe.

David Mitchell Awful GiraffeAs I said to him afterward, “If your writing career ever sours, I don’t think illustrating is an option.”

Author and Essayist Sarah Vowell

Author Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell (Wiki| Web) is an American essayist. She is the author of six books whose covers you definitely recognize, including The Partly Clouded Patriot (2003) and The Wordy Shipmates (2009). She’s a brilliantly talented writer and for many years was an editor for This American Life. Check out her TAL stories here.

This giraffe comes from Mr. Will Moore who met Vowell when, in spring 2013, she spoke at St. John’s College in St. Peter, MN. As he put it:

Sarah was hesitant, looking nervous and unsure the whole time, self-depricating in her normal fashion — but she went with it.

Sarah Vowell Giraffe

Science-Fiction Writer Kevin J. Anderson

Strange Man with author Kevin J. Anderson

Strange Man with author Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson (Web|Twitter) is the author of the only set of books I read in middle school: The Young Jedi Knights series. He’s also the co-author of, like, a thousand Dune books, and among his 40+ bestsellers he has over 23 million books in print. If you’re interested in science-fiction, you’ve probably read his work.

From my diary (May 28, 2014):

Over the course of the weekend [at Houston’s ComicPalooza] we saw a lot of the writer Kevin J. Anderson whose Young Jedi Knight series I gobbled up in Middle School. In our few exchanges I asked how he managed to be so prolific and he answered simply, “I’m always writing.” He then proceeded to tell me about how he dictated a chapter on his drive to the Denver airport, which he immediately sent out to be transcribed, and then spent the flight editing two other chapters. He says he averages 2-3 chapters a day. …

My biggest takeaway from my time with him came hen I inquired about his method. Before doing any writing he carefully outlines and summarizes each chapter. He compared his craft to architecture stating, “It’s like a blueprint. I’m not going to start putting up walls and a ceiling saying, ‘Oh, let’s see what happens.”

I suppose this is why I spend so much time digging parts of me out of the rubble.

Kevin J. Anderson's Awful Giraffe

This was actually dictated. And then edited on the spot. He averages 2-3 giraffes a day.

 

Political Strategist David Plouffe

David Plouffe

David Plouffe (wiki|twitter) is the reason why Barack Obama is President of the United States. He’s also the top political strategist of our time having steered Obama’s underdog campaign from Iowa to Election Day. All of this he details in his best-selling book, The Audacity to Win.

In addition to building, according to Barack Obama, “the best political campaign … in the history of the United States of America,” Plouffe has also served as the Senior Advisor to the President (2011-13). He is now a contributor to ABC News. He has better things to do than draw giraffes.

David Plouffe's Pretty Awful Giraffe

[Special Thanks to Andrew Showalter who ran into Plouffe in Cannon Falls, MN, August 2011].