Thoughts on being The Only Pirate at the Party (or the only sci-fi/fantasy writer in history class)

So, this post has been a long time in coming, but it was one that I wanted to be sure I finished (for point of reference, I first started writing this over a year ago). Back then my hair was short, my thesis was months from completion, and I was still querying agents. My, how things have progressed. However, I’ve been a bit better with posting on here lately, though it’s taken a dip again as I don’t have reliable internet access.

That said, time for something completely different from anything I’ve posted here before, a sort of hybrid book review and personal stuff. It’d actually be a stretch to truly call this a review at all, as I’m not going to be analyzing anything, but discussing some topics the book brings up, as they relate to myself. That book, if the title of this post didn’t give it away already, is The Only Pirate at the Party, a memoir by Lindsey Stirling and her sister, Brooke S. Passey, in which Lindsey talks about her life and career experiences. Before I get into talking about, well, things, a quick word on who Lindsey Stirling is, just in case you aren’t aware. To put it simply, she’s a classically trained violinist who created a unique style all her own, and is often termed a “hip-hop violinist”. She’s also known for dancing while playing the violin, and for having made a name for herself via YouTube, and is among the most successful YouTubers to date. To learn more, check out her website and her YouTube channel, where she posts her fully choreographed music videos of original songs as well as covers.

The idea for this post stems from the title of the book, which very much encapsulates the book’s contents as well as Lindsey’s story, so we’ll focus on that. The title itself actually comes directly from a story she relates in the book. Long story short, Lindsey was invited to a Peter Pan themed party (and was told that she could dress up if she wanted) and, having a pirate costume on hand, made a logical conclusion and decided to go dressed as Captain Hook. Upon arriving, however, she quickly noticed that she was the only person dressed up—and was introduced to people by an acquaintance as “famous.” Following that anecdote, she talks a bit about what it’s like for her going to (music) industry parties and events, as someone who holds very different values (such as how she dresses and that she does not drink). She sums it up very nicely, in a way that both explains the meaning the title and I will use to explain why I felt the need to write this post.

“Standing out on purpose is one thing, but doing so by default takes a lot of energy and confidence. I’m proud of the things that set me apart, and I know why they are good; but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult…Not because I don’t see the value in these things, but because sometimes being different feels a lot like being alone, and being alone is exhausting.”

While I, personally, have never felt alone in a truly isolating sense, I am very familiar with the feeling of standing out, whether openly or not, from various groups I have spent much time around. The one that came to mind first (hence its inclusion in my title) was my experience as a history major in college, and even more so in my history Master’s program. I remember in one of my first classes in the graduate program doing the whole “go around the room and introduce yourself” thing. And one thing we were asked to share was what we planned to do after the program/as a career. As one might expect, it went something like “teacher, teacher, PhD, teacher, historian, teacher,” (and there was an older gentleman there just going for the degree for the sake of it.) And me? “I write science fiction and fantasy novels, and I hope to eventually write historical fantasy as well.” This didn’t cause me any issues in my coursework, but I always knew that because of my very different career path I approached the program in a unique manner, and it did set me apart, in a way, as all those planning to teach could talk about that, or about their teaching experiences, etc. There was never another writer to talk to. Similarly, being a religious Jew attending writing conventions very much set me apart as well, and not only because of all the things I can’t do on Saturdays, and the daily things I have to do. Being a religious person in a largely secular (if not at least casually anti-religion) environment feels very weird, and I think it was largely in that vein that I connected with what Lindsey wrote about her experience as a religious person in the music industry. (And, also, at a convention last year I met a Mormon fellow who said he admired my managing to adhere to the Sabbath requirements while at the convention. I conversely admired his not drinking alcoholic beverages, especially when there was free beer to be had.) Let me tell you, it’s not easy, not for me to properly keep Shabbat at conventions (when I cannot do things like press elevator buttons, use an electric room key, or a cell phone), nor for people like Lindsey or the writer I met to completely abstain from alcohol. But that’s just part of life for those of us who commit to a religious path.

And this is all without even touching on the political near-isolation I find myself in most of the time, at one level or another.

But what the larger message really is here is that many (or maybe even most) of us very often feel like an outsider, even among groups we identify as a part of. I know it’s true for me, whether I’m among fellow Jews, among my academic peers, or among people who are a part of the industry in which I intend to make my livelihood. And while many people, myself included, do not enjoy conflict and thus refrain from being overly political, there are times to speak up, even when you know there will be a backlash and further make you stand out in industries that lean heavily in one political direction. It takes a certain kind of bravery to do that, along with the confidence that your audience is adult enough to recognize that while you may hold very different opinions from them, you are still you, and your opinions deserve respect.

Another aspect of the book, and Lindsey’s story, is her entrepreneurial approach to launching her music career. This is actually something that makes me glad I didn’t get around to writing this until now, as when I first read this book I was still looking to go about publishing via the “traditional” method of querying agents, editors, etc, and getting lots of rejections. Now that I have made the choice to take more control of my career and go my own way, I have a better appreciation for her own career journey, with her not taking the “traditional” route of signing with a record label and utilizing YouTube to build an audience. And, of course, going our own ways instead of taking the “traditional” path only more makes the book’s title more impactful. At any larger industry event, such a person would feel the odd one out, and I imagine it will feel uncomfortable talking to an editor or agent and telling them that I’ve essentially chosen to bypass them. These “gatekeepers,” whether they be talent scouts, agents, editors, or America’s Got Talent, cannot be expected to like this changing reality, and they will not like losing their ability to determine who is in or out. And many people who made their career through the “traditional” method similarly look down on those who don’t follow that path, even if great time and effort is put in to making a quality product.

As I count down the weeks to the release of my first book (no exact date yet), The Only Pirate at the Party takes on new relevance to me, which again makes me glad I ended up writing this post now.

In closing, I highly recommend this book, which contains far more than I discussed here (such as stories from her younger years, experiences and struggles, as well, as space dedicated to her life since becoming the sensation she is) to not just fans of Lindsey, but any creator who doesn’t quite fit in with the mainstream around them. Sometimes all we need to find the strength to push on is to see that someone else made it. Lindsey made it, I believe I will make it, and if you put in the work and persevere even when things get tough, so will you. And as more of us individuals make it, our own communities will form, and while each member will still have their differences, we will heave enough commonalities so that we do not all have to feel like the only pirate at the party, the only religious person at the convention, or the only sf/f writer in history class. Now, more than ever before, is our time to make our own paths. Until next time, keep pressing forward; there is an end to the tunnel, though there may be debris blocking that light at the moment.

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