Calimero, America and Identity — Kick the Dutch out (into the world) part 3

Calimero

Calimero

This is Calimero as I remember him. A whiny little bird complaining in each episode about his lack of power. His friends were annoying. I especially hated the duck called “Peter” in the Dutch version.

Kick the Dutch out (into the world)

  1. Open letterTo the Dutch SF/Fantasy world. It all started here
  2. Part 1The basis: Get them out into the world
  3. Part 2A response to “Being a writer” and business models
  4. Part 3Calimero, Imitation and Identity
  5. Dead horses — If you think all has been tried before and things are useless
  6. Stepping stones — A post about what is missing.

Calimero attitude

As I see it, Calimero is a victim. And one problem about the attitude associated with victimhood (pronouncing oneself a victim) is that it assumes others will solve your problems.

“I am sad. I am small. I am nothing. I am powerless.” and “Why are people always against me? Why do I never get a chance? Why are people so mean?” And on the other side: vile aggression. Either passively — by complaining and negativity — or actively — by attacks and arguments for the sake of arguments and fights.

I see this attitude in a lot of places. It is not unique to the Dutch writer-scene, nor is it unique to writers.

The “why” question does not seek for answers. This “why” expresses: “I feel frustrated and/or mistreated”. The “why” is intended to be a bottomless pit. Regardless of what you throw in there, the “why” remains, because the person asking this question is not interested in any solution or any answer you can provide.

The vileness is in many cases the feeling of helplessness, of being a victim turned aggressive and sour. “It is your fault. It is not your fault, but you represent people and/or opinions of people who are to blame. Your solution is shit. Your solution is not my solution. Your solution will never work because I did not invent it. I will attack your solution because I do not like what you represent. I will attack you because you are not like me.”

Let me be clear: I think the mentality of victimhood is in many cases a cultivated part of a system of oppression. It is easier to to control and manipulate a person who feels powerless. There is nothing nice about it in any way.

Imitation and the American dominance

American produce is dominantly present everywhere. From music to TV shows to movies to snacks to games.

When you grow up on a diet of just American produce that already went through several cycles of cultivation and growth, it is easy to assume that “American whatever is the standard” or “American whatever is the best”.

If you think contemporary American culture is a good example for fiction or anything, consider that your diet is very one-sided and very poor on nutrients. Also consider that a lot of ideas like: “you can do anything if you set your mind to it” are complete bullshit.

What you see in “American” culture is predominantly white and predominantly male-centered. America is the center of the world and everything is America or about America or against America or America America America. It is predominantly conservative and circling about “traditional” values with messages which are very toxic and damaging for people who function differently.

While around 50% of our human population has the female gender, 90% of all blockbuster movies revolve around male characters. While many other relationships are possible next to a monogamous heterosexual one, 99% of all literature assumes “monogamous heterosexual” to be the default. “She finds him and falls in love” “He finds her and falls in love” and even more bullshit when: “it was destined to be” or “he/she is/was the only one“.

The “great ones” of SF, including Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and Gibson are no longer relevant. The “great ones” of Fantasy, starting with J.R.R Tolkien, are no longer relevant. The worlds they wrote are outdated. The ideas they had are outdated. Their world-view not representative of reality, which is not heterosexual, European/American white, male-dominated.

American business-models as we think we know them are suspect to say the least. Your local market is different. your local market functions different. Your starting points are different.

Identity: being a writer in the Netherlands (and Belgium and Europe)

Know your roots

First of all: know your roots.

First of all: these roots are not American or British unless you were born there. They are probably Dutch, Belgian, French, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, Moroccan, Surinam, Antillian, Chines, Thai, Korean, Brazilian, Chilean, Fillipino, Indonesian or something else.

If and when native Dutch, your family is either from a small city, a small village or a big city. This place was with great probability white, Dutch and religiously and financially segregated: looking with mistrust to anyone from “outside”, including the neighboring places. Your language is probably “Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands” but very likely the region of your place of birth has or had at least three different local dialects that nobody outside that region can either speak or understand. Dialects that are probably slowly dying as nobody from younger generations uses them anymore to communicate.

Wherever you come from: your country history is rich. Painters, musicians, writers, thinkers, travelers, tradespeople, nobles, working people, economy, oppression, fights for liberty, workings of politics and power.

Your history has a lot of hidden dirt that is probably whitewashed by people so they look less like the criminals and sociopaths they probably were.

The voices you can use are more than the gossiping neighbor, the people on television, the priest in the Church and the salary-man that goes to work each day.

To think that your culture is boring or “threatened” or “unworthy” is not looking close enough at what is happening behind the scenes. It is not taking your history into account. It is not doing enough research. It is a (partial) denial of your roots.

It is also a glorification of “the other”. That magically perfect culture that is not yours. That super-special culture and super-special country where nobody gets dirty and everyone and everything is awesome. That magical place DOES NOT EXIST. Those glorious people DO NOT EXIST.

Reality: it is completely random. The distribution of awesome special people and complete assholes and everything in between is completely random. You will find special people everywhere. Including your own surroundings.

Stop feeling less than others

Dutch culture, but not Dutch culture alone, has this tendency to talk down on people. “Act like the others do” is one part. “Don’t think you are special. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t think you are better than us.” Some people in Dutch culture have the tendency to feel threatened easily by people who stick out and are quick to put you into place.

To make you feel less than others do. To make you feel bad for being different.

Whoever you are and whatever your roots, your story becomes more powerful when it is close to yourself. To your feelings. To your own experience.

If people around you tell you that you should shut up, tone down, not disturb the peace (too much) then don’t stop. Move away from them. People like that are toxic to themselves, to you and to many other people. Exclude them from your life. Whatever you do will be criticized directly or behind your back to make you feel bad about yourself and make you shut up. You will NEVER be able to please them.

Go on instead. Go out. Find people you can trust. People similar to you. People who also write. People who are safe to be with. People who stimulate you to come out and show yourself. Find your own voice. Make it stronger.

If you mirror yourself and others to American works

An average cut of American literature and specifically genre-literature like SF and Fantasy is just as crap as what you will find locally. Crappy stories. Crappy characterization. Crappy imitations. Crappy writers. Crappy ideas. Good ideas, crappy execution. Go to American Bookstore in Amsterdam. Pick 10 random books from the wall. 9 books will be completely bland and poorly written (but readable) shit.

The fact that there are more American writers published is simply because there are 300 million American people speaking English. A market-area big enough to publish a lot of native writers. The fact that it is readable is due to relentless editing on readability: style, word choice, cutting out unreadable and boring stuf.

Read more European writers. Change your diet. Find the ones that are awesome.

Why you, the Dutch writer, “have it more difficult”

To keep it short and simple: you do not.

Start reading into fora of American writers who do and did NOT make it. Read their whining about Agents and Publishers and eBook piracy. Read their responses and attacks on other writers and people: full of self-pity, aggressiveness and passive-aggressiveness.

Stop complaining.

It is true that there are big gaps as described in my earlier post about: “Stepping stones” for the writer.

It is true that publishers are not really jumping up in joy when they think “Dutch writers!” from a business point of view. (Instead of other people doing the dirty job, publishers will have to do it all themselves.)

It is probably harder to find good writing-workshops that go beyond simple practices as “triggering your creative impulse” and that look at writing from all aspects including editing and a professional stance in both your work and your attitude.

Drop the idea that you can earn your money, your living, with writing fiction. MAYBE you can. Most writers do not. Or hardly. Even in a big language area like English or Spanish. Even if they are “succesful”. Even if they are damned good. J.K. Rowling was just damned lucky to hit something that resonated with millions of people. Harry Potter — in my personal opinion — is just poorly written shit.

Bottom line is: you have to work to get things done. Your situation is not much worse than that of others. Start working. Stop complaining.

Stop copying but don’t be afraid to be inspired

When you copy your favorite writer(s) or book(s), you are writing fan-fiction. Fan-fiction is a copy of existing works in existing universes with slight changes.

By renaming a character, doing things slightly different and mixing other elements with it, you are not creating something new.

You are also not touching what really matters to yourself. “I write in the style of William Gibson/Paolo Bacigalupi/whatever” is not you. It is you doing what thousands of other aspiring writers do: you copy, you imitate. To stick out of the pile, you need to find what triggers you specifically. What scares you. What makes you angry. What makes you stay awake all night tossing and turning. What you are hiding form the world around you. What you want to speak about but feel you are not allowed to. What you are waiting for but is not happening yet.

Style, setting, story line and other elements are just tools. Start diving deeper into yourself. Instead of re-writing an existing story, you can take certain elements you like and make your own.

There is nothing wrong with taking “Star Trek” and remix elements. But research your topics and re-shape them. Find out what is missing or wrong and take that as a starting point. Don’t just write another episode. Or another variation.

Focus on Europe, take a look at North Africa, go beyond

Your roots are where you were born, where your family comes from. Your peers are easiest to reach close to where you live. Anything that can lead to anything exiting is here: in the Netherlands, in France, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Portugal, Germany and so on. And North Africa is just around the corner. Morocco a short plane flight away.

When your story plays in America, you probably just repeat the works and the settings of American writers. Why would you? Have you ever lived there? Does it really make your story more exiting when “John wakes up in his apartment in New York”? Or are you just being lazy?

Europe is incredibly rich in history (as said before). It is rich in landscapes. Peoples, cultures. Mindsets. Crime. Politics. Everything. Use it.

America is just another country

What you see of “America” is mostly New York and Los Angeles.

When you go into the mainlands, America becomes more and more like a rural Germany town on a weekday, around 14:00. Empty. Desolate. Ugly. Boring. Even big parts of New York: City of Cities look very much like more boring versions of the outskirts of Haarlem. Places without real character or beauty.

Many inventions that took place in the US are driven by a very competitive economy, by people coming from Europe and other places, by a mentality that is both stimulating and damaging and that is killing that country right now.

Many new things taking place are currently happening elsewhere. Africa. Asia. Russia. South America.

Think International. Consider writing in English

Your market, your audience is wider than just Dutch-speaking people.

Your writing peers do not only live in the Netherlands.

Consider building up connections with writers from Europe. Consider travelling to other countries and meet for a weekend or a week of intensive writing and exchange of experience and ideas. Move out to cities. Meet other writers in your local neighborhood: the Netherlands. In Belgium.

Make friends online. Consider writing in English.

Why English is not that hard and “Yes, but, Language” is not writing

There is some confusion about “writing in English”. One is “But I will never be as good as a native English speaker”. Another: “but native English publications will hardly accept non-native stories”.

Here is reality: a good story is a good story. A poor story is a poor story. A crappy story is a crappy story. Written in perfect and beautiful English, written in perfect and beautiful Dutch, written in whatever language.

Your IDEAS are more important than language. Your EXECUTION of ideas is more important than language. The idea that “story is all about language” is the same as claiming “programming is about mathematics”. Language is your LEAST and LAST concern. Structure, characterization, rhythm, flow, research, accuracy, voice, timing, building towards cliffhangers and climaxes, nailing it — are all much more relevant.

The bullshit idea that “story is all about language” is ignoring the importance of content.

Sure language is relevant. A poor story that is well written will pass. You need to be mindblowing and sharp and masterful in your storytelling to keep a writer stumbling over your poor or weird use of language. Try “Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess in English or Dutch to get the idea.

This bullshit of “yes, but, English” is there for a long time. And it is just that: bullshit.

Poor English can be edited by others. The occasional wrong word can be edited by others. A crappy story can not. A poorly written story can not. Both need to be rewritten by the writer. Both need impeccable language as the poorness of the storytelling itself will show itself ruthlessly by lack of the niceness and cover-up of glorious language.

When English can be hard / practice

English is hard when it is not your first language. English is hard when you hardly speak or write in it. When you start using English, each word comes slowly. You will be translating from your native tongue into English. It is hard. It takes a lot of work.

Practice in other forms first. Start dialogs with English people online. Read English-language books. Start simple.

Yes but- – – My precious culture!

Writing in a different language is sometimes considered to a sort of betrayal to your own culture. “If you are Dutch, you write in Dutch”.

Times have changed. Your Language is not your Culture.

The main reason this idea came to life is probably that HARDLY ANYBODY SPOKE ENGLISH 100 years ago. When you wrote in a foreign language you automatically excluded your own people.

When you write in English, you are not betraying your precious culture. You ARE when you deliberately ignore your own culture. “John woke up in his apartment in New York and was an all American guy” is betraying your culture. “John deVries, a third generation Dutch immigrant, woke up in his apartment in New York” for instance, is not when part of the narrative covers “being partly Dutch in America”.

Dutch Culture

In general the Dutch lost their culture by unawareness of WHAT their culture is about. “Doe maar normaal” (“Just act like anyone else”) is not culture. Language is not culture. Grand-parents of “Dutch Native descent” is not culture.

Awareness of your roots is culture. Awareness of your history is culture. Awareness of what happened when and why and how that reflects on current times is culture. Awareness of HOW things were done is culture.

Local art is culture. Appreciation of local art is culture. Stimulation of local art is culture. Whatever you do that reflects CURRENT TIMES is culture. Whatever you do to mock or criticize or glorify (aspects of) current times in your country: in relationship to the past, other places and yourself is culture.

Contemporary Dutch culture is not “us” and “them”. Contemporary Dutch culture is everything and everyone. Immigrants, tourists, effects of industry, transportation, communication and labor is Dutch culture. People from 20 different countries, speaking 50 different languages living in one single place somewhere in Holland is Dutch culture. Racism and ignorance is part of (contemporary) Dutch culture.

Assholes in politics are part of Dutch culture. Protests and passiveness are part of Dutch culture. Pretending things do not exist AND taking action to solve problems are part of Dutch culture. Change, adaptation to change and then riding that change like it is a pony are part of Dutch culture.

“Speaking Dutch” is not Dutch culture. Not even “Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands” is Dutch culture, unless you take its destructive effect on local dialects as a starting point. They are PART of Dutch culture,  but not defining it.

Concluding

You, the native Dutch (SF/Fantasy) writer, live in a world that is global. International. Your country is part of Europe. Your history is rich and interesting.

America is not your example. Europe is.

You, who’s parents or grand-grand parents were not born in the Netherlands, have at least TWO places that are yours: the Netherlands (and Europe) and the place of your deeper roots.

Your culture(s) define your heritage and part of what made you as you are now. Show that in your stories. And if you already do: show it more.

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