As a half-Polish teenager in 90s’ Sweden, I was a classic outsider. In fact, I was so much of a freak that I couldn’t even find a misfit subculture who would accept me. In retrospective I understand why – instead of Dr. Martens, I wore a brown pair of fake suede boots from a local chain store, for a while I tried to be a skater but lacked the physical prowess to actually do anything but roll on the board, and when I told the rocker dudes I like Alanis Morisette they just laughed at me. It certainly didn’t help that I was smart enough to get good grades without really trying, so like many other teenage outsiders I coped by writing god-awful poetry.
Luckily, I grew up to become a fairly confident individual and I quickly realised that my identity is not defined by the shoes I wear or the music I listen to. The people I want to hang with are the ones with bright minds and warm hearts, regardless of the label that society puts on them. But as a writer, “finding my tribe” remains a sort of holy grail to me. Like it or not, humans seem to enjoy dividing themselves into gangs and if the gang you belong to wants to see their stories on screen and you are able to tap into that, cash will soon flow in your direction. So the question is – how to choose which bandwagon to jump on? And, as my teenage self would certainly inquire, what if you can’t just choose where you want to belong?
Most people identify first of all with the nation they come from. Our origins often influence our taste and demeanor, and most certainly our language. As writers, few things are more important to us than language. In my house we speak English, Polish, Farsi and Swedish, which may seem quite the toolbox. But I certainly don’t have a clear-cut national tribe to feel at home with.
International individuals make better writers.
I console myself with the fact that one of the international writer’s greatest strengths, is that we can look at the country we live in with both the eyes of an outsider as well as a resident’s. We can provide our audience with insight into places and characters which the average native writers would need extensive research to go.
In screenwriting, linguistic virtuosity is slightly less important than in literature. If an international writer doesn’t trust herself to be a perfect speller or have flawless grammar, she will learn to get very friendly with those who do. Proofreading is actually a necessity for any writer, native speaker or not. Ultimately, the primary language of film is written in moving images not in words, and that is what you should be a native speaker of, if you want to write that kick-ass script.
Artists, and storytellers in particular, also create the narratives that rule what it means to belong to certain nationalities, cultures or clans – are we Swedes boring because of Ingmar Bergman or was Ingmar Bergman boring because he was a Swede?
I might have been born in Sweden, but my tribe is international.
Many of my closest friends are in similar, international, situations. We are not alone – humans are emigrating like never before.
So, to all you people stuck between cultures – those who don’t know the answer to “What language do you dream in?” or “Which country do you support during the Olympics/Eurovision?” – YOU are my people! Refugees, immigrants, expats, nomads, whatever the reason that pushed you across borders, know this – we are the evolution of humankind. Our journeys have made us wiser and our language skills have allowed us to understand more of the world we live in.
As I embrace this thought, hug my diversity tight and learn to love my mixed blood and culture rather than try to conceal it to blend in, I realize what a terrific step I took – I found my tribe, I belong to those who don’t belong.
What about you?