We sifted through some old favorites on Amazon music last night. Or, I should say, some old favorites popped up while we were sifting through tags. One leads to another — you know how it works. But as Lindsey Stirling’s visage passed by (my husband had the controller; I could do nothing about it), I got to wondering what she was up to lately. When our two adult children were young teenagers, we had discovered Lindsey Stirling and were, like a lot of people, taken with her performance. She was creative, unusual, and possessing of so much energy. At the time, we were an Irish dance family, very invested in the dance world. Also, our two eldest children had been taking fiddle lessons for free from a local fiddle master. Lindsey Stirling intrigued all of us.
Her path to success was anything but simple, though. In her childhood, her parents were too poor to pay for full violin lessons, which meant a fifteen-minute lesson once a week. She begged her parents for dance lessons, but was told she would have to choose because they couldn’t afford both dance and violin; she chose violin. On her Twitter account, she has said she didn’t start dance until she was twenty-three years old. In the dance world, that’s insanity. Nobody makes it when they start that late. However, that didn’t prevent her from going on America’s Got Talent and getting past the first round with her unusual “hip-hop violin”, in which she danced to her own music blend of hip-hop and classical. Those America’s Got Talent videos are now famous, of course, as they eventually cut her from the show, leaving her with scathing critiques.
Pier Morgans told her, “You’re not untalented, but you’re not good enough, I don’t think, to get away with flying through the air and trying to play the violin at the same time.”
Sharon Osbourne was no less scathing. And it wouldn’t be the last time critics would tell her what she did was unmarketable. Yet, she didn’t give up and built her audience on YouTube. She’s now, of course, a millionaire with fans all over the world, but as she says herself, she wouldn’t have been successful if she’d listened to her critics, if she’d capitulated her dance/violin dream to being in an orchestra or similar endeavor, if she’d decided to be a little more ordinary.
What astonishes me is we live in a world where going around gatekeepers is a possibility. It wasn’t a possibility when I was younger. There was no YouTube where musicians could find audience approval, rather than being accepted and worked-over by the music industry, whose sole purpose is to create a product that doesn’t stand out — where everything is dulled down to the ordinary that they know will sell. The ordinary is tried and true. Humans have to be forced outside it because anything outside the ordinary is difficult to comprehend, and when it comes down to it, the vast majority of humans are mediocre and appreciate mediocrity in art because it doesn’t highlight their own averageness. They can easily relate to it.
And yet, and yet…in the midst of that ordinariness, humans have higher functioning minds and creative spirits inhabiting their bodies. That’s why a truly creative person who markets herself on YouTube will also appeal to millions of people. Creative energy is contagious, and we all want to be part of it. It’s inspirational. It doesn’t really highlight our ordinariness so much as it drives us to want to create.
Of course, this same concept is true for writers. The big publishing companies are all about selling mediocrity; e-publishing has given us a way around it. There’s no better time to be distinct from other people. There’s no better time to ignore critics who have no ability to envision something beyond what they’ve already seen. Critics are very dull people, indeed. They are like cynics who, as Oscar Wilde duly noted, “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
And the great thing about writing is that it doesn’t require youth, like Lindsey’s dancing. At some point, she’ll have to mellow out because she can no longer fly and do deep backbends while playing her music. I say that because it seems obvious, but she could make it work like Fred Astaire until she’s in her 70s. The backbends just may not be as deep. My only point is…she started dancing at twenty-three, very late for a physically demanding art. A writer can start writing at age fifty or seventy. It doesn’t matter. As long as the brain is till ticking with creative juices, a writer can produce work. So learn to ignore the naysayers and get your vision out there.
Here is one of the first videos I ever saw of Lindsey Stirling: