News - July 7, 2011

A failed human being

A column doesn't take up a lot of your time. No, it takes over your life. You are always casting around for a subject, and just as you are finally relaxing for a moment, someone calls out, 'Hey, isn't there a subject in this?' I like to grumble about this, but actually I lap up all the attention. Secretly I was hoping for a long farewell interview. Nothing in my inbox, however. Oh well, I thought, I still have one column left...

What made the biggest impression on you?
'The column in which I admitted that I liked someone. During a party her boyfriend came to express his displeasure. 'If you really liked her you wouldn't have published something like that. As a columnist you might find it funny, but as a fellow human being it's not on.' From sheer despair I went off to talk to someone who was drunk. "... Ah, you are Stijn, the one who wrote that shitty column..." And the worst of it was: I was staying with one of the organizers and so I had to stay till the bitter end. Just keep smiling and dancing... The next day I was finished. Looking for consolation, I read an online reaction to my column: "Another 70 euros in his pocket", it said. "Child's play." I would have liked to throw the whole pile of Resources out of the window and tell my editor I never wanted to see him again.'
Why did this affect you so much?
The comment was about my behaviour as a human being. He was right. I have never forgotten an important deadline, but I forget birthdays constantly. I may have struck a chord with my articles, but nobody needs me to have a good cry. As a human being I am just a failure.'
Well, that's just the sacrifice you make to be a famous Wageningen columnist.
'Oh, stop it, I'll have been forgotten by the end of the summer holidays. If I had really had any talent the Volkskrant would have called long ago.'
Not just a little bit proud of yourself?
'Yes, of course. In group 8 I just scraped into the VMBO. "Little chance of him ever completing secondary school." And now I am doing an MSc and my columns are read by professors. Last week I got talking to someone I thought was very nice indeed. And it turned out she knew practically all my columns. That is fantastic! Just look at that monumental Forum or at an impressive Wageningen article in Science. And at that institute I was, if you like, the house columnist.
And so you thought, let me have a good go at Wageningen UR?
'Yes, I saw that as my duty. Wageningen UR is not a company, but public property. As a columnist you should look at an institution of that sort quite critically, going to the limits and sometimes beyond them - accidentally of course. I don't believe the executive board saw it that way. In almost four years of writing columns I have had exactly one response from Aalt Dijkhuizen. On Christmas Eve. He thought I used 'easy generalizations' and that Resource was 'sour'. Well, sorry but air fresheners (Communication departments) are nice, but if I want to clean up properly I use a good strong vinegar.'
Now you think, let me have one last go.
'That wasn't my intention, but I am seriously worried about this issue. Wageningen isn't even the worst. In Utrecht, the paper university magazine has been scrapped, in Nijmegen the news is no longer accessible to the public, and the cabinet thinks that fundamental research should be market-oriented and that nature should take care of itself. No, in that sense as a forest and nature manager, there will be work enough for me after Resource. Becoming a nice person is something I'll leave for a future life.

This was Stijn's last column. Do you want to succeed him? Let us know by writing two columns and sending them to nicolette.meerstadt[at]