Why are we as human beings so afraid to ask? Probably one of two reasons. Either we think we know the answer and it’s not the answer we want, or we think the simple asking is saying something negative about ourselves. Actually, and more likely, a little combination of both.
But here is what I know. I know I can be terrified of asking a favor from my parents. Sometimes it’s a request for money, sometimes a request for time, sometimes something else altogether.
I know when I was trying to get some press for my Beowulf book for young readers, I was nervous about asking people to comment on it for the back pages . But I also knew that if I didn’t ask, I would get no press. So I asked. I asked Benjamin Bagby (a well-known Beowulf scholar), and he responded with a very nice quote that now sits in my book. I asked Rita Dove (a well-known poet) ‘s publicist, and she apologetically and politely declined. I searched for and found no way of contacting Maurice Sendak (a well-known children’s author). One out of three. Pretty good, if you ask me. But I didn’t stop there. I asked an editor who knew my work and I asked a professor at Georgetown University who taught classes on Beowulf. Both of them agreed. I know I could have easily not asked. It would have been the easy way out, and honestly, the preferred way out.
I know that when I e-mailed Bhanu Kapil last year and asked her if she would sit on a Board of Directors for Gaiapoetopia, a new organization for poetry advocacy I was forming, I was sure she would say ‘no.’ She did. But only because she didn’t have time. She did say ‘yes’ to my other question. I asked her if we could be pen pals. (Strangely, I haven’t taken her up on that yet. How does one BEGIN a pen pal relationship?)
I know that I’m not alone. So many people feel this way about asking for favors, time, etc. I’ve seen others choke at the challenge. I’ve seen myself choke as well.
Oftentimes it comes down to building a relationship first. Not over time, just in that moment. Within the context of the present conversation, before the actual asking. I know this. I also know, however, that sometimes, all you have to do is ask.