When someone sees dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling’s book cover for the first time, one of his or her first questions is likely, “Why is that the title?”
Stirling’s book, “The Only Pirate at the Party” (Gallery Books, $24), hit shelves and websites Jan. 12. She clears up any confusion about the book’s title in the first three pages.
As Stirling finished second grade, her struggle with reading led to her being diagnosed with cross dominance, a condition that causes “mental health, language and scholastic problems.” The recommended treatment included wearing an eye patch. The eye patch bothered Stirling until one day when she began to embrace it by imagining she was a pirate. She writes that she developed a fascination with pirates, particularly their attitudes toward life.
“Pirates don’t take orders or ask permission,” Stirling writes. “They do what they want. Allow me to clarify. If your mom asks you to do the dishes, do not pull out your pirate attitude. But if someone tells you you’re not good enough, says your dreams are too lofty, or claims there is no room in showbiz for a dancing violinist — well then, by all means, pull out your eye patch, my friend, and take to the high seas.”
Stirling has made a career, becoming the highest-paid female YouTube star, by doing something completely untraditional: she dances while playing the violin.
“I was told at first that being different was a bad thing,” Stirling told the Deseret News. “Everywhere I went, it was just, ‘You’re too different.’ … And it turned out that being different was the best thing that ever happened to my career. It is why people travel to my shows. It’s why people want to hear my story and buy my book. … The recipe for my success is that I stayed true to that.”
In her book, which she wrote with her sister Brooke S. Passey, Stirling remains true to herself as she tells her story. She speaks candidly about life experiences that have shaped her. She pays tribute to each member of her family as well as to many of her friends.
“God has put so many amazing people in my life,” Stirling said.
Throughout her book, Stirling, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, doesn’t shy away from talking about the religion that has played such a pivotal part in her life.
“I don’t want people to feel like I’m preaching at them or tricking them into learning about religion while they’re reading a memoir,” Stirling said. “It’s nothing like that. But my beliefs have been a huge part of my life, and the same way I don’t hide the fact that I like cereal and I don’t hide the fact that I have a dog now, why would I hide the fact that my religious beliefs are a staple in my life and have been a huge foundation?”
She devotes a chapter of her book, titled “Sister Stirling,” to the time she spent as a missionary in New York. It was during this time, as she continued to work despite no signs of success, that Stirling says she developed the thick skin and work ethic necessary to succeed in the entertainment industry.
“I felt like the biggest failure of a missionary,” Stirling said. “I didn’t teach anybody for a solid six months in the beginning of my mission, so to work that hard and that tirelessly and to be sacrificing a lot in your mind and then to not see any results was really hard. But that was the beginning of my career … so they were one and the same, and I think the mission really prepped me with the ability to persevere.”
The first test of Stirling’s persistence came when she appeared on “America’s Got Talent” in 2010 and was harshly criticized on national television by the show’s judges.
“There were times in there where it was OK, and there were times where it sounded to me like a bunch of rats being strangled, seriously that bad,” judge Piers Morgan told Stirling after a performance on the show.
Still, looking back, Stirling says even being humiliated on national television was part of God’s plan.
“I knew what I wanted; I was working so hard for it,” Stirling said. “I felt like I deserved it, but then I fell on my face. And that was God directing my path to a career, to a path that was so much better for me. I can look back on my own life and see how he has directed me, and it gives me hope and clarity for my future.”
That’s not to say Stirling’s life is now perfect and without difficulties. When Stirling wrote her book, she devoted a chapter to describing two band members who were with her since her first tour, Jason “Gavi” Gaviati and Drew Steen.
“I can only hope I never have to find another keyboard-playing best friend,” Stirling wrote of Gaviati.
On Nov. 21, 2015, Gaviati died of lymphoma. Stirling called it “the darkest period” of her life. She includes multiple quotes by LDS leaders in her book, and she says it was scripture passages and doctrines of the gospel that helped her escape that darkness.
“I did rely on that, reading scripture passages about the afterlife and that the gospel will be taught to those who pass on and we will see them again and there is a wonderful place for them,” Stirling said. “But also to be able to know that there is modern-day revelation about that today and in more detail — it’s been everything to me in those moments, to realize that I would see Gavi again and that he is happy.”
Just after Gavi’s passing, Stirling’s father, Stephen, announced in December that he had also been diagnosed with cancer. All of this has given Stirling perspective.
“Sometimes when you least expect it, life changes and life hits you,” Stirling said. “This fall, I just had some things that I went through that really reminded me that none of this matters — no money, no amount of fame. What’s important is the people around me.”
That’s why this past Christmas, for the first time since she began her career, Stirling went home for two weeks and left her computer in Los Angeles. It may not seem like normal celebrity behavior, but Stirling has never been one to follow the crowd.
“Sometimes, being different feels a lot like being alone,” Stirling said. “But with that being said, being true to that and being true to my standards and my way of doing things in my art and my music, everything that has made me feel very different … in the end, it has made me the happiest.
“It is what has made me who I am. It is what has made me the woman I’m proud to be. And so I hope that people realize that even though sometimes it’s hard, it’s OK and it can be wonderful to be ‘the only pirate at the party.’”
If you go …
What: Lindsey Stirling book signing
When: Tuesday, Jan. 19, 6 p.m.
Where: Deseret Book, Fort Union, 1110 Fort Union Blvd., Midvale