I am here. Because. I have to keep myself reminded.
Brussels, Thursday, March 20, 2014, 9.30 am.
“You are a journalist. Tell me, do you think the newspaper will ever disappear?” The man with the moustache at the other end of the table is playing bad cop. Part of the fifteen-headed commission deciding on giving or denying me this grant, he is asking the hard questions. I notice he and his odd questions are a bit of a nuisance for the rest of his team.
“Uhm..”, my hoarse voice echoes in the royal hall. Miss Lex, the young golden-curled American goddess heading this commission right in front of me, smiles and nods.
“No. I don’t think they will ever disappear.”
I mumble something disjointed and incoherent about the feel of paper on the hand. The man is not convinced. Of course not. I talk about statistics of newspaper sales descending but stalling at a certain treshold. I deserve an award for creative bullshitting. “So in the end”, I state, this is getting desperate, “there will always be a certain amount of nostalgia and romanticism that will drive people to buying newspapers.” Brilliant argumentation.
Miss Lex takes over with a shine. “So Daan”, she smiles, “tell us why you think you deserve this grant. It is quite a sum of money. Why should we give it to you? What are you exactly planning on doing in New York City?”
“I assume you have read my research proposal. It’s themed around the minority-majority inversion: how does a white and ruling majority react when it suddenly finds itself being one of the many minorities? And how do other groups of people react to each other when ethnic groups keep on growing, shrinking and moving at an enormous pace? New York City has been dealing with these issues since its inception, so it is my belief it offers interesting models on how we can deal with it in Belgium.”
“That’s interesting. But vague as well”, a man with a French accent at the far side of the table interrupts.
I need to get as honest as possible. “You can call it vague…but what I’m proposing is something you might never have heard of. I write small stories, around the theme, seen from a very personal perspective, aiming for maximum emotional impact in the way a novel would have. It is exactly because of this that I am here right. This grant will give me the time and the space to go further.” This catches the attention of the whole jury. Golden-curled Miss Lex nods and pens something down.
“That sums it up quite well”, she says, “does the jury have any more questions?”
“Yes I do.” It is the man with the moustache. Of course. “Who is your role model?”
“My role model?”
“Yes. Who is it?”
I have never thought of this before. It might be strange to admit that. “Uhm…I have to think about that.”
One minute passes.
Two minutes pass.
Five minutes pass. This is getting embarrassing. There’s two people in my head: James Bond and myself. Neither of whom qualifies for an answer. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t get them out of my head.
“Bill Clinton”, I say with an air of pride.
“Why?”, the man with the moustache riposts with a grin.
“Well…the way he speeches is amazing, his opinions on the current state of world affairs…” I am referring to a speech I had seen on BBC in 2002. “And I admire the things the man is doing right now. I mean: he was in Malawi when I was in Malawi. That was quite amazing.”
The man shrugs. Miss Lex nods enthusiastically.
“Well, I think we’ve heard enough”, she says, “thank you so much for your time and we will be in touch shortly.”
Fifteen pairs of eyes on me and in absolute silence, I grab my stuff and get the hell out.