Discover more from Betsy Dornbusch
Living here and not there
on fascination with a different culture
I have an unapologetic fascination with Ye Olde England (and Scotland) partly because my mom raised me as an Anglophile. That said, my family on both sides have been here since 1700, one from Germany and one from Scotland. Our DNA confirms our research, we are most recently from the British Isles, even Irish, and Germany. My brother likes to say we get to celebrate all the drinking holidays honestly.
I’ve been to England several times and did a research trip to Inverness for a novel, too. I’ve been to Culloden and seen the mound where some of my Fraser much-removed ancestors lie, felt detached grief for their senseless deaths in war. My dishes are English, and my language, my collections, my antiques, my religion. Hell, even a lot of my TV and books are British; those folks really like to murder each other.
Then I happened to marry a man with a fine German name, which probably helped sales with my book in that translation. I love German food and drinking songs, I love the Bavarian woods (I’ve only seen pictures) and the pretty towns and the castles omg the castles. Someday I will visit.
Those cultures call to me in a way that feels natural, literally in my blood (particularly the religion showed me this, which I converted to later in life after finally feeling like I’d come home). I won’t and can’t turn away from my interest in England.
But I’m not English or Scottish, nor remotely German, culturally. I’ve long thought it was a particular problem have: folks with a few drops of blood or just a reverence (re: romanticized) a certain culture and thereby claiming it as their own. This interview gives a good purview of that. For me it means continual exploration of my ancestors’ cultures as a stranger in a mostly strange land.
I know lots of white folks who explore, say, Japanese Samurai culture, in their work and hobbies and travel. It’s perhaps easy for them to think of it as foreign even if they feel “at home” in the culture. But it’s important to remember it even if you have a familial history with a particular culture. I’m an American. I don’t know what it’s like to live under feudalism. I can study and make my best judgments, but I go in with the expectation that I’ll only ever be partially right and the biases of my freedoms and privileges.
Still, not getting it totally right or that it’s something a lot of people like is no reason to ignore the importance of focusing on your passion. Originality of passion doesn’t always equate to originality of creative work. I’d argue some writers rely on it overmuch.
Indulging your own fascination and curiosity is as much a part of writing as salt is the ocean. Trying to stretch too far afield from your passions, at least in my case, means I’m writing something I don’t want to go back to, a place I don’t want to revisit over and over, people I can’t identify with on the kind of level it takes to write them. I’m no scholar of medieval England but I do know what sets my heart pitty-pat. Sometimes it’s even tropes rather than truth, but tropes their place too.
Certainly my interests have been done before, maybe done to death. We are in a bit of a renaissance of cultures and people and ways of life. I do hear some writers complain they feel there is no place for their work anymore because of it. But if I can write a new switchback on a very old mountain, so can anyone. That’s also part of the job. Stretch your interest and your knowledge of your own passions. It makes for better stories.
Hell, sometimes it makes for stories in the first place.
Join me here! I don’t write often enough to call it spam but maybe often enough to make it interesting!