When I was 11 years old, I met my first Internet Friend. Her name is Katelyn. We met on Neopets. I was hestitant at first because I didn’t know if I would be allowed to have an Internet Friend if I could not prove that she was real.
The thing is… I didn’t have any real friends. I was part of a group of people who didn’t exactly fit into any obvious social setting or clique. We would sit together sometimes, go to each other’s birthday parties, but I did not feel known. I liked them, they cared about me, but I knew at a very young age that my world was just a door further down than anyone was really capable of walking. I thought, someday someone will knock and I will have a friend that wants to know what it looks like inside, someone who wants to see what I’ve collected.
All of my friendships were unconventional— Fictional characters, neighbor’s pets, stuffed animals, little old ladies, the bad kid in class that chose me as the one person he would be nice to, friends who would eventually move away, the now obviously also queer kids, my crooked-beaked bird and hairless dogs. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t have friends because I was Fat, because I was Weird, because I couldn’t Ride a Bike. I didn’t know if there was a reason, I just knew I was alone.
Every time I met a new person, I immediately wanted to know if we could be friends. I thought that to have a friend was to be known, to be known was to have a friend, and that was the feeling I searched for from the time I was able to communicate (god, I love communicating).
I met Katelyn on Neopets through her sister. Her sister’s profile said “My sister makes CUSTOM BACKGROUNDS for LAYOUTS!!!” I wanted a custom background (and a friend, but a background could do). I messaged her “Can you make me a Freddy vs. Jason background?” I thought she would say no, because, well… It’s a weird ask, 11 year old to 11 year old, and all.
She responded, she made the background, I made it my wallpaper, and she added me on AOL Instant Messenger. My first AIM friend that I did not know “in real life”. What would my parents think? I made up a fake name and age to make it feel like I was being “safer” online. Katelyn and I talked on AOL everyday for at least a year, maybe two. One year, we spent New Years Eve “together”, excited to say “Happy New Year” in each other’s time zones. It felt so nice to have something certain to come home to, I could tell her my school lunch menu or my feelings about Spongebob, send her my angsty middle school poetry, be enthusiastic about anything at all and she would write back. The AOL Messenger “ding” and “sign in” noises meant, to me, I could take a break from feeling alone for an hour or two. A lot of my thoughts, feelings and experiences as a kid were unseen, intangible and enormous, and I finally had the freedom to articulate it to another kid online in a way that no adults or school friends seemed to want to understand. She didn’t always know what to say, but she was there.
It wasn’t long until I had more than one Internet Friend. I had about two dozen. We met on Neopets and my Warrior cat roleplay forum, Forgotten Pawsteps. We were friends on AIM, MSN Messenger, and eventually MySpace. Although having Internet Friends didn’t always take away my loneliness entirely, I could at least login to a little world where I felt a little more known and say hello to people who looked forward to me signing in (Cameo, Macalaugh, Shania, Sara, Liza, Kelby to name a few).
When I was 13, I met a boy. He wore makeup, Hot Topic shirts and he had a piercing. I thought he was so cool and I wanted to get to know him. I wanted him to be my Internet Friend in Real Life. It took time for him to warm up to me, but in the summer before ninth grade, we became friends. I felt like Dyllon was the first person I did not have to exhaust myself giving translations to. I could be authentically strange, and have that strangeness reciprocated. We were beautiful together. He wanted to spend time with me. We shared our authentic selves with each other, not excluding any art or trauma, no matter how difficult it was to talk about. He didn’t make me feel like a burden. He became a constant, my companion, my best friend, someone who accepted the Internet Me (which is the real me). We spent all of the time together that two people could at that age for nearly two years, and he influenced me so much that I finally was able to come into myself, and find a way to sometimes (bravely) be the person I am on the Internet in front of other people.
I didn’t listen to a lot of music before high school. I basically rejected anything “mainstream”. I didn’t even know there was music for someone like me out there. I had dial-up Internet that was too slow for me to even search. However, Dyllon found new music all of the time, and was eager to share it with me.
In the fall of 2008, Dyllon said to me, “You HAVE to listen to this band!!” I immediately assumed I wouldn’t like it, but he put his iPod earbud in my ear and played Girl Anachronism. I didn’t want to like it. I told him I didn’t like it. But really? I think I was afraid that this meant that I was known. Not just by Dyllon, but by someone who exists somewhere else and has never met me. That someone was Amanda Palmer.
I went home, waited for my AOL to sign on, YouTube searched for “The Dresden Dolls”. I waited thirty-something minutes for The Kill video to load, and I watched it. I listened to it. I waited another 30-something minutes to listen to Coin-Operated Boy, and so on. Dyllon gave me a flash drive with the rest of the songs, I put them on my metallic orange iPod, and they became a permanent part of my life. I don’t think it’s something you can ever expect. For four minutes, one song, one person eagerly asking you to listen to it, one iPod earbud, to change everything, but it really, really did.
I became more open to letting music be shared with me, so Dyllon also gave me Regina Spektor, Placebo, Marilyn Manson, Otep, Jack Off Jill… all of the artists that sound like what being 15-16 for me felt like. I loved them all in different amounts, at different times, but one thing remained true: I loved Amanda the most.
At Dyllon’s mother’s house one day, he couldn’t wait to tell me that “Amanda has new music.” I didn’t know because, well, you know, dial-up. This New Music was Who Killed Amanda Palmer. He told me it’s her first solo album, and that it was so beautiful. He pulled up the videos on a laptop. He was enamored by “Strength Through Music” but for me, I think something in me changed the first time I heard “Blake Says”.
As MySpace began to end, I was so reluctant to conform, I joined Twitter before Facebook. I joined Twitter in April 2009 (age 15) for Amanda and two Internet Friends (that I met on MySpace). I stay on Twitter now in 2022 (age 28) for Amanda and five-hundred-or-so Internet Friends.
Although Amanda’s music and art always showed that she knows, understands, and gets it, I felt even closer and more known following her on Twitter for years because it made her human and it’s an amazing feeling to not only love someone’s art, but also their humanity. When I would feel as though there was no relief for my loneliness, I could just get on Twitter and see What in the World is Amanda Palmer Doing? and felt a little more like a part of something, even if she didn’t always know I was there.
The first time Amanda tweeted me back was on her birthday in 2012.
My relationship with friendship and being known stayed complicated. Dyllon remained a very important part of me even if we spent more time apart than together. I had other friends to spend time with even if I had to sacrifice being known, I masked my true self a lot when I had to. No matter how many people I surrounded myself with in person, I always knew my Real Life was who I could be online, and that life had Amanda Palmer in it. I told my in-person friends about her, but never too much. I felt like I could tell right away if someone was going to have the capacity to know, understand, and get it, so I usually would only share enough about Amanda to make sure she was a known facet of me. Some of my more unconventional friends usually liked Coin-Operated Boy. One of my friends let me write lyrics from Backstabber on her math folder all four years of high school as a tradition. I put a lot of Amanda Palmer references into my twelfth grade Art Journal, just because I wanted to be asked about it when it was time to present it. I even titled the journal “A is for Accident”. My math teacher, who played music on his iPod while we were given homework time during class, added one Dolls song for me, and when it played, everyone looked at me. That was the closest thing I got to integrating my Real Life (Online) with the life I performed for the sake of others.
Despite “growing up”, I still couldn’t learn how to drive, I still didn’t belong to a community, and I still lived in a place where I felt unlovable all of the time. I thought maybe no one would ever love me for any number of reasons, the same reasons I had considered as a child… Was it because I’m fat, because I can’t drive, because I am depressed, because I’m still weird? I even sometimes worried that I was boring. I spent all of those years searching for an answer as to why I felt like nobody liked me, loved me, or wanted to know me, only to discover that there wasn’t really one answer.
In August 2012, I went to a community college. I figured I would at least have a greater chance at finding friends who wanted to know me at a college since I would meet other queer people, other (current and former) cutters, other writers. I still had a good set of Internet Friends (the original Neopets ones and ones I picked up on Twitter, Instagram and tumblr through mutual interests). During the first week, I joined The Writer’s Club. As an introduction, we all had to write our favorite author on the white board. The first person to go up wrote “Neil Gaiman”. I was so excited to be able to bring Amanda up that I could barely contain myself. I said “DO YOU KNOW ABOUT AMANDA PALMER?!” They all nodded, and said “yeah, I’ve heard of her.”
That was something, right? It was enough. The one guy eventually told me he had a friend who LOVED Amanda and that we would be such great friends, and that he wanted to introduce me to her. Later on, a new person joined the club and I walked her to her car, enjoying the conversation. She had a ukulele in her back seat. I said “Oh, have you heard of Amanda Palmer?”
She said: “OF COURSE, I LOVE AMANDA PALMER.”
So, we met by accident, although her friend had intended for us to meet intentionally, and she told me that her favorite musicians were Amanda Palmer and Marcy’s Playground, and I said mine were Amanda Palmer and Lana Del Rey, sometimes (the year was 2013). That week, I skipped a class and we drove around the campus parking lot and listened to Mandy Goes to Med School, Good Day, and Half Jack. I felt amazed that, even if it was just in this moment, the entirety of my life had the possibility of being known by another person just because we, at one time or another, both had something missing that brought us to the same band. I liked having this connection, another Amanda-knowing-friend who could understand my references and have context for my experiences. It was a relief for me to have this and I put a lot of love into that friendship. (Also, B is a really good musician. Like, I wish she had an EP. I would buy it twice.)
At the beginning of 2014, I felt lonelier than normal. The first year and a half I spent at my community college was really beautiful and healing but once it ended, I didn’t have any replacement to fulfill my sense of belonging. My depression was coming back worse, with a vengeance. I tried to find anything to alleviate it. The normal things weren’t working. Trying to be known was only giving me more wounds than bandages. Spending my usual amount of time on the Amanda Side of the Internet, I found the video for Bigger on the Inside, performed live. It was originally posted in 2013, but I discovered it in January 2014.
In this moment, I felt everything. I had spent a little over five years pouring so much love into Amanda, I thought I loved her as much as I could love anything, and then I watched this and it was in that moment that I knew, now, for certain, I could not love her more. I loved her so much and I really felt loved back. “Somewhere, some dumb rockstar truly loves you,” became my saving grace time and time again. I knew she meant it. I knew it was for me, and the hundred, thousand, million, other people whose wounds may be shaped like mine. I made this pixel art, which she posted on her tumblr.
Shortly after this, I was suddenly in a relationship with someone I met in high school. We had a history that I supposed we just resumed. I felt like I should keep Amanda separate from anything romantic in my life, because I never wanted to lose what she stood for or have it be tainted by an inevitable broken heart. However, the Ukulele Anthem video came up and we watched it a few times together. I thought there was a safe amount to share. I felt amazed that she liked the song to begin with.
And then, I had my heart broken. Really, really bad. As a gay person, the first time you love someone like that, your first gay relationship, it’s the most intense and fascinating thing, and the end of it is devastating. World-shattering. I went back to watching and listening to Bigger on the Inside a lot. I remember writing lyrics over my cuts. I remember wanting to die and (sort of) trying to (but not really, because I was more scared than I wasn’t). I remember looking for a sign every time I opened my eyes that this pain was temporary.
So, I did what I usually did. I followed Amanda, and I hoped that someone would know me, and that being known helped. I tried to let people know me, made more Internet Friends, became obsessed with another band (Otep), befriended other fans, quit cutting, started again, got Straight A’s, fed my dogs, tweeted at the void. Survived it.
I made it to my next birthday (a miracle! as Sylvia would say). I turned 21 and graduated from my community college on the same day. December 10, 2014. Big day. I also had period cramps. As a tradition, my birthday cake was themed after whatever thing I was most invested in that year. This one seemed like a no-brainer. Amanda replied “why isn’t your name on it?” Probably because nobody knew me, kid. My birthday was always a very sad, hard day and having cramps and leaving college was sad…and hard. The only test I had that day was a poetry final. The metaphor isn’t lost. I didn’t really see myself in the future anymore.
I remember walking around outside listening to the audiobook of The Art of Asking. It was cold. I remember feeling so deeply seen by it. I bought and gifted half a dozen copies to people and to our libraries, because I felt (and still do feel) that everyone should read it, even if they don’t know Amanda. Actually, almost especially if they don’t. At the beginning of 2015, I got back together with my ex-girlfriend. (Not really a plot twist, if you know any lesbians. The fourth date is also our second break-up). This was a bit of a turn of events for me, because I had been planning to kill myself. However, the distraction presented itself. This time, I didn’t share any of Amanda’s music with her, although I would tell her when Amanda tweeted me back and she would be supportive.
At the same time this relationship was happening in my “Real Life”, something else was happening in my Online Real Life. Amanda was starting her Patreon. What did this mean? I didn’t know… yet.
There was a major Webcast / Patreon launch event, which I happily attended from my bedroom with 3 dogs. Shortly after that, a couple other Webcast attendees made a “AFP Patron Facebook group”. I joined. I could simply say “I clicked ‘Join Group’ and then the rest of my life happened as a result” and end this here.
So, I’m out of school for the first time ever. No school meant having nowhere certain to socialize. I had a girlfriend (although things were always hard) who moved in with me, I’m 21 and I can’t drive (which made me always excluded) and I still constantly wonder if I have any friends who love me like my Internet Friends do, still constantly wonder if I’m known, if anyone gets it, and really, if anyone would want to get it, if they could. My life was just as much online as it was ten years before, when I met my first Internet Friend on Neopets.
The Unofficial AFP Patreon Patrons! group was created March 11, 2015. This is what became known as the “Sloth group”. This group started out with people sharing how they found Amanda’s music, sharing their own art, and then it turned into something bigger. A small corner of the Internet that allowed people to be themselves. People sent each other “I see you” cards in the mail, gifts, money, supplies, and endless love. I used to post in that group all the time when I needed advice on absolutely anything. I was out of school for the first time, utterly unsure of what to do and navigating my first serious relationship badly. I felt I needed constant reassurance that I deserved to exist and this group gave that space to me. Eventually, there were Art Exchanges, Gift Exchanges, SO MUCH MAIL, crowdfunding, life saving, collaborating, knowing, seeing, experiencing, LOVING, all within a 3,500 member Facebook group. I received hundreds of pieces of mail from people all over the world, thoughtful cards, gifts, art made for me specifically, sloth-themed things, and I sent hundreds of pieces of mail and art all over the world just the same.
My “Real Life” started to look a lot more like my Online Life and I suddenly had FRIENDS who wanted to read my poetry, see my bad art, I wanted to read their poetry, hear their music, see their good art, and buy it. It was reciprocal. We made art for each other, with each other and we enthusiastically made space for each other. There were collaborative projects. I was given an audience for my poetry, relationship advice, video games, birthday presents, a dress for a Halloween costume that turned into a very important friendship, so many stickers, so much art, and all of it was out of love. I finally had a Place to exist where the Amanda-ness of my life accumulated into something solid and I wasn’t just carrying around a beautiful thing that I could only hope people believed if I told them about it. It felt Real in a way that I could prove to others, Real in Real Life and Real Online. We were the living Art of Asking.
Being a patron meant getting more “insider” Amanda stuff. It was a live action Fan Club, like the Lisa Frank Fan Club I was a part of that used to send me rainbow stationary six times a year, except cooler. I loved feeling like I had a real part in this thing I had always been a part of (at least for the last seven years, at this point). I already knew I loved her the most, now I loved her community the most and the love was real. It means a lot to me to have been able to be a part of her community during some of the most significant times in her life, the death of Anthony, the birth of Ash, All the Haters Refusing to Get It, Dolls Reunions, a miscarriage, There Will Be No Intermission, podcasts, art projects, hundreds of conversations, an inconceivable amount of love, and everything in between and then… New Zealand. I’ve always been there (here).
From my lonely childhood to miserable adulthood, I never felt like my Real Life was a good place to be, but now my Online Life could be. Even as the art exchanges, $10 donations, and collaborative projects slowed down, I still had very good, nurturing friendships to lean into that I didn’t have before.
One of my best friends from the group, Alexandra Jones, passed away in December of 2019. I miss her a lot. We used to talk all night. She would ask about my dogs, write songs about them and then sing to them. She even crocheted one of them a blanket. She was silly. I loved her so much. There have been a handful of group members who passed away over the years, and each time, everyone comes together for them and the grief is real. It made me realize that I’m also a Real Person to my Internet Friends and that my life matters to them. When someone dies in real life, they also die online.
From March 2015 on, the AFP Community became a constant in my life, it got me through the death of two dogs, my relationship ending again, gaining weight after having an eating disorder, all of my mental illnesses and trying to figure out how to be a good human. I had always wanted Friends. Some people have a group of ten girl friends that they drink wine with, I have a couple hundred people who like my favorite band and know my greatest fears and how many cavities I have. It was something, it was ours.
Two of the closest, most significant Sloth Group Friends I made are Steph & their child, Mia. They both put so much care into loving me, knowing me, and taught me (whether they know it or not) how to give it back better. How to love better and be a better friend. In May 2016, they were traveling through PA and went out of their way to stop by and see me. This meant, for the first time ever, I met my Internet Friends in Real Life. I had Internet Friends for eleven years, and I knew they were all Real, but now I could say, look mom, they’re really, really, real. Over a decade of Neopets, forums, AIM, MSN, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram, tumblr and Facebook became real in one single instance. I connected with Steph online because I had asked if anyone in the group had an old prom dress I could use for a Carrie costume. They sent me one and then we just ended up talking everyday for a couple of years. Most of my Sloth friendships started that way… Hey, how are you, what do you need? I love you.
So, what now? What have I learned? That Internet Friends are Real? That I may be worthy of love? That somewhere, someone wants to read that poem, buy that art, listen to that song? That no one is alone? That someone will actually want to talk to me almost everyday? That knowing someone who loves your favorite musician means you can tell someone how you feel without explaining why, because they already know? That you can ask for a dress, a card, a candy bar, a dollar, and if someone has it to spare, they will? That people would care if I died, even people living on another continent? I did learn all of that and it didn’t end there.
In all this time, I liked a lot of things a lot. Movies, shows, actors, singers, things— but I always felt Amanda was different. When I would tell people about her, about the community, I think they automatically thought of other “fandoms” like Gaga’s Monsters. That I was just a fan who really liked a band and this singer was some Product that made cool things that I could consume and I stood in a crowd like Yes, girl, I love your music! This song saved my life! but that has never been the case. It’s okay that they misunderstand because you have to be invited to the party to see what we’re serving, anyway. The door here is always unlocked. You just have to knock.
In 2017, two years after the Patreon and group started, my relationship was over, I had a full time adult job, I had another dog, I had depression (still), I had a hell of a lot of poems, and the world’s best Internet Friends that a $10 subscription of Amanda Palmer’s Patreon could buy (really, I love you all so, so, so much). I wasn’t doing well but I would’ve been much worse without a support network of a few thousand people who also like my favorite band.
Amanda announced that she was going on tour with Edward Ka-Spel. There would be two shows in a row in NYC. A bunch of my friends were going and I was so sad that I couldn’t go. Mia told me I should go but I said I couldn’t because I was too afraid to travel alone. Then I asked Britney. She wanted to go. Not only could we go, we could go to both shows. Not only would I be seeing Amanda Palmer for the first time, I would be seeing her twice.
May 20, 2017. Bowery Ballroom. I’m in New York (a place I love) with B (a person I love), to see Amanda (the person I love the most), and all of this is possible because I asked for something and I had a community to support me through my indecision and feeling like I didn’t deserve it. Despite my anxiety, we made it on time, we were really, actually there. I remember seeing the piano on the stage, I started to cry and I said “Amanda is really going to be here.” Not long after that, someone came up to me and said “You’re Angel, right? You’re the first sloth I recognized!”
That night, I met over fifty of my Internet Friends in Real Life. Yes, mom, they’re real. I actually think Strangers on the Internet are probably one of the least dangerous things now, despite what we were told about MySpace in the 2000s. Strangers on the Internet actually love you. They give you hope. Well, maybe that is dangerous.
I knew Amanda was mostly playing songs from I Can Spin a Rainbow, but that she would play at least a couple of her own songs. I am not sure I can even articulate what it feels like to hear Half Jack and Mrs. O for the first time in person after nine years of listening to them on an iPod, on a school bus, in a hallway, laying in bed with a broken heart. When Amanda played Machete, I cried so hard that someone had to fetch a bottle of water for me, I was inconsolable. It was a decade’s worth of love coming to the surface of my heart. It was love becoming Real, saying, “please believe me, I’ve been here the whole time” all in the matter of one song.
I got to the meet and greet line pretty early. I think I was in shock, but in a good way, because I met so many beloved Internet Friends, I saw Amanda IN REAL LIFE, and now, I was going to finally be able to say I’m real, please see me and it had to mean something. After all this time, it had to matter. I walked up to Amanda and said how much I love her, we took a picture, and I gave her a little wooden circle that I burned letters into that said “You Are Real”. I told her that I feel she spends so much time telling us that we’re real, that she forgets to remind herself, and I wanted to reminder that she is Real, too.
As I walked away, someone I didn’t know (yet), told me she took a picture of me with Amanda & wanted to know if I’d like to have it.
The next day, Britney & I met up with some Sloths at a vegan brunch place. The group separated, and my half explored NYC a little bit. We went to a bookstore. I bought “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. I finally read it in 2021.
When it was time to leave to go to the venue, we left over an hour early to make sure there was enough time to schedule in the possibility of being bad at navigating the subway. We ended up getting off at the wrong stop just like I had anticipated. As we were walking in the subway station to find the next correct train, I heard a familiar laugh. I spun around. I froze for a moment and then said “Look, there’s Amanda!”
I was wearing a playing card & a vest with cards (per a tweet, Amanda requested Patrons wear cards or card-themed things). Amanda asked if we were going to the show tonight. I said that we were already on our way and I asked if we could walk with her. I also met Michael that day, and he is very lovely and I felt calmer because of how welcoming he was of my enthusiasm. There is something you could say about years of Twitter-following and Facebook-grouping leading up to Spending an Hour on a Subway in NYC with your Favorite Singer All Because You Got Off at the Wrong Stop. I was really living in the moment. They always say don’t meet your heroes, but like I had always expected, Amanda was different, because her humanity was never a secret. It was never an alter-ego. The Artist Amanda Palmer and The Human Amanda Palmer are the same person. She asked us about our jobs and lives, listened, I felt like I wanted to shove ten years of my life story into thirty minutes, but I was really just happy to be there.
I think one of the most magical things about this weekend and the experience of Finally Seeing Amanda, and then getting to Accidentally Spend an Hour Together was that an entire group of people from all over the world wanted nothing less for me. I had a group of people in my corner who understood how meaningful this was to me, and one of them experienced it with me. Maybe no one back home would understand, but the Sloths did, Michael did, Britney does, Dyllon does, and Amanda does, too. I spent nine years paying love into something, unsure of what would happen with all the love I spent, but the act of paying it was a gift itself. Then one day, I see, I do get it back, it’s all around me. When I paid love into this space, it didn’t go away, it became universal.
October 31, 2017. 9:30 Club. THE DRESDEN DOLLS ANNIVERSARY SHOW. I was so lucky that B was able to travel again to see Amanda, and not only was it Amanda, it was THE DRESDEN DOLLS on HALLOWEEN. Could anything be more perfect? I got to see my Internet Friends in Real Life (yes, they’re real) again, dress up in a costume, see The Dresden Dolls for real and they would play Bank of Boston Beauty Queen for me specifically (or so it felt). If I could write a perfect day… This would be the opening paragraph. Amanda had asked people attending the Halloween show to dress up as Zombie Madonnas, so I did. She did not, however, tell us why.
She called me, Leandra and Laura up on stage and then asked for “all other passing Zombie Madonnas” to also join. I was so awkward up there, but it’s still one of my favorite memories. She played Material Girl (video here).
The day after The Dresden Dolls show, I got to see the Sylvia Plath Exhibit at the Smithsonian in DC. Talk about all of my lives coming together. Four days later, Amanda did a Webcast and she read Fever 103° because I asked for a Sylvia poem.
That same year, someone in the group suggested that I might be autistic. I thought… Well, that isn’t possible? After a few quick Internet searches, I realized that explained everything… The lack of friends, my intensity, my obsessions and collections, my Otherness and why it had always been so hard. It’s funny how you can be something your entire life but nobody loves you enough to want you to know, nobody cares enough to observe it, then someone on the Internet tells you the truth about yourself in a loving way. I was diagnosed with Autism when I was 24 as a result.
In 2020, alongside the beginning of the pandemic, I released my first poetry book. It’s called Aurelia. I don’t think this would’ve been possible if I hadn’t had this community love me, make space for me and show interest in my art. So, I did it. I said Fuck the Fraud Police. I make good art, I’m a real poet.
I attended a Webcast on May 28, 2020. Amanda often brings friends and/or patrons on screen, too, to talk or share, and she welcomed me onto the Webcast. I was pretty nervous but I asked her if I could read a poem.
I read the poem “Massachusetts”, which was inspired by her. I felt so seen, so real and so loved (video here). For twelve years I’d witnessed her art, experienced it, loved it, and then I got to be on the other side of that exchange. I will never forget it. As Len said, “the Massachusetts of your poem is also the combined AFP/Dresden Dolls family.”
Through the pandemic and other strangeness (New Zealand included), I have felt, as a whole, the community is closer than ever even if we are actually *literally* all further apart and unable to see each other. The exact community that Amanda Palmer has created and fostered is one that can survive loneliness and grief and the unknown and turn that into art or something. We have each other and that is enough. Amanda needs us and we need her, we need each other. Each person throws in what they have to offer and it’s always enough. That’s the best part about this place. You don’t have to bring anything more than what you’ve already got and you end up leaving with more than you had.
There is a thread between us all, everything is connected. On hard days (which sometimes is all of them), I have this thread. It has a lot of uses. Sometimes, I tie it around my finger to remember something (love, I suppose), sometimes I can tug on it and see it’s holding a kite and I look up at the sky for the first time in days. Sometimes, I pull the thread between us and see that it’s holding my favorite sweater together that keeps me warm. Sometimes, it flosses my teeth, it’s a party streamer,or it is the ribbon on a present I am very excited to give.
It replaces a broken ukulele string. It hangs a picture.
The thread that holds together this community can be used for a million things, you just have to show up.
Amanda has welcomed me to read poems a few other times on Webcasts since that first time two years ago. One time, she even let me tell my heartbreak story. There’s something uniquely validating about saying “Dear Amanda, someone I met on tumblr broke up with me at an airport, what do I do now?”
Despite a lifetime of chronic suicidality, I stick around because I have these real connections, real friends – Online – and because of that I can write a poem, share it, read your poem, retweet someone’s art, buy it, send someone $20 so they can buy dinner, post that I’m sad and have it all matter. It can mean something. After all this time, I still haven’t found a way to maintain this sense of community and purpose offline.
Most of the “I’m grateful to be here” moments of my life have had something to do with This Place. I put together a Poetry Anthology of poems written by patrons. There’s suicide poems, love poems, poems about death, grief, miscarriage, abortion and even poems about joy. I think we should do a second one. All the more reason for me to stick around, right?
Back to the beginning… Blake Says was one of the first pieces of art that I experienced that ate my loneliness. I am Blake. Dyllon is also Blake, we were Blake to each other, sitting together listening to that song for the first time as teenagers. If you’re reading this, YOU are Blake. It made me realize our art matters, that our strangeness can be loved by someone, that we can be known by something bigger than us and we don’t have to change to be loved and cherished. That has stayed true.
I have a friend now named Victor. He has been the greatest Real Life supporter of my art. I had been showing him a little more of my Amanda Side of The Internet, and I realized more and more how much people would love me, could love me, if they could just want to understand. He understands, and even when he doesn’t, he still knocks and comes inside to see what I’ve collected. It’s a real love. A love I wouldn’t know how to accept if I hadn’t had a support system of a thousand-something people cheering me on for over half a decade now. You taught me how to be a friend. You taught me how to accept that people want to know me and love me (even though I still sometimes doubt it). I am grateful. Victor moved away over the summer and now we are Internet Friends, too. I mention all this because Victor’s friendship and compassion for me showed me the love I have online in action, in real time, and solified what I already knew: I deserve this. Life really hurts less when you have support.
I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if I hadn’t heard of The Dresden Dolls. There are so many people I wouldn’t know, so many lessons I wouldn’t have had, so many poems I wouldn’t have written and even more that would’ve never been read, feelings I wouldn’t know how to articulate. I’m not certain I would have ever found my voice and if I had, maybe I wouldn’t have ever thought it mattered. My life would be completely different and would have so much less love, art, beauty and friendship in it. I would think it would be empty. I may have never learned how to survive or navigate my enormity. I may already have killed myself.
The Dresden Dolls were the first and most consistent “Yes” I’ve ever heard. Where life told me I couldn’t go, Amanda and Brian told me to try anyway. I followed them down a dark path that eventually unearthed hope and possibility.
In the beginning of the year, I had told someone about how I hope to go to New York to see Amanda again someday if I don’t kill myself and I talked about all of these big feelings that I have. They told me that I shouldn’t plan my life around Amanda Palmer because… “That isn’t real life.”
Isn’t that so funny? That is what this has ALL been about. All of these things that have happened have been because Amanda Palmer is REAL LIFE. From the first time I signed into the Internet, I was given the right to decide my own reality. No matter what any person has ever tried to tell me, I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN LIVING MY REAL LIFE. My Neopets were real, my fictional characters were real, my beanie babies and Barbie horses were real, my Internet Friends were definitely real, my big feelings at a small age were real, my grief was real, my love was real, my poetry is real, all of it. Anything I have ever felt, seen, known, heard, experienced…it’s all real. I’m the only person who has to believe it, but it’s changed my life, really, made my life possible, to be believed the way I am by the AFP Community. My childhood feelings were not imaginary and neither are my adult experiences, even if I am living in spaces and conditions where people can’t acknowledge my reality or know it in a meaningful way, it is mine and it is very real. Every adult that doubted me in my childhood was wrong, every stranger who doubts me now is wrong, and it’s their loss to not get to know me. It is no longer my loss to not be known.
Amanda said on a webcast that when she was a teenager, playing piano at her parents house, she was imagining us. This community, this love, the give and take of us, the art-inspiring-art-experiencing-art-getting us. Amanda was 17 when I was born, so whatever she was putting into the universe, I probably caught in my infancy and fought to articulate it. Them’s the poems, friends.
The truth is, some days, I still don’t feel like I am going to make it. My depression feels unbearable. I come up for air, wave hello. Tweet. Comment on a Patreon post. Amanda waves back, says “I love you” and means it. I’m here, and I’m real. I’ve got that. I’ve been exhausted by nearly three decades of proving my reality to other people, so now, I refuse, and I only let people who already get it into my space. I have a lot of things that are real and absolutely no time to tell you about it if you don’t already know. I’ve put in a lot of work, and with the support of something much bigger than me, sometimes it actually sticks.
I’ve never once thought, Amanda, are you real enough? One day, she was just there in my life all of a sudden. Handing out flowers on top of a milk crate. Waiting for me to take one.
I think people should question their own doubts more than other people’s realities. If all I do for the rest of my life is believe other people and let them believe me, that’s enough. I can do that from my bed with an app on my phone and that will be enough for me. In the meantime, though, there is poetry. Read any poem, write one yourself, read a tweet, tweet your poem. Tweet your poem to me specifically and I’ll love it and you forever. Come into the world to be believed and accept nothing less. I could’ve made this story even longer if I talked about how each individual song, art project, post and friend I have made influenced my life, but I think you understand that it all mattered and continues to matter now, and for each of the stories and feelings I talk about, there are many more. All of the music and art, their references, their unique overlap with my little experience on this planet, the intimacy of being known by hundreds or thousands of people, none of this was accidental unless it all was. Right? I am an accident waiting to happen, I said at 15, and I wake up now at 28 seeing how several actual accidents and believing I’m real have resulted in me finally having Real Friends. That was the best case scenario.
Maybe I was born real, maybe I became real the first time I posted on Twitter.
The next time someone tells me Amanda Palmer isn’t my real life, maybe I will just hang up the phone. Or send them this story (which they will never read). My life has a lot more meaning because of some “dumb rockstar” and her fucking unbelievable capacity for love, one I wouldn’t trade for the world. If she’s imaginary, so am I.
Because of Amanda Palmer, I’ve learned: My Internet Friends are Real People (even the ones from Neopets) (no really, like actually real, I hugged them); When They Die in Real Life, They Die Online; Someone Does Love Me; My Art Matters; Your Art Matters; Trying is the Point of Life; People Want to Know Me and Include Me; No One is Really Alone, but Our Loneliness is Real; I Have Friends; Twitter is Real Life; I Can Ask for Anything I Need; What I have to Offer is of Value; I’m Bigger on the Inside; Amanda Palmer is Real Life and Also My Friend on Facebook; My Autism is Obvious to Strangers on the Internet; Someone Will Pay for my Poetry and Love it; Sometimes Love and Understanding are on the Other Side of an Ask; Someone (including a rockstar) Would Really Be Sad if I Kill Myself; and most of all…
I’m Really, Really Fucking Real.
This story doesn’t end. It eventually travels to Woodstock.