Although he is very tall, he never looks down on people. He’s a historian with foresight. He has a contagious smile. If something like the ideal woman exists, he probably is married to her. And he is the living reminder of that famous Bukowski quote: ‘‘The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.’ We loved his answers!
What is the one thing you could do today that would make everything else easier?
This question reminds me of a strategy game called Age of Empires II. In a medieval world, the player builds an economy and an army, then proceeds to indulge in warfare against other players. Anyone who plays it for the first time will make fairly random decisions. He will build a farm, he will make some soldiers. Then he will gather some wood, and make another farm. Only after a while he will discover that success in the game depends largely on investments in particular resources in the first five minutes of the game. Is there a similar grand strategy of life, a recommended range of habits or skills that anyone should pursue? I made some mistakes earlier in the game, and the result is a drifting ship, steered by uncertainty regarding my professional options, ambitions and desires. So the best thing I could do is to make conclusions and bring that ship to port.
How are you going to create more value for yourself and others than you did yesterday?
When I was 18, I went to university. I had a strong interest in classical languages, history and geography. I picked history, because of job security reasons. For the student programme advisor said that you find historians in every economic sector. Now I know what that really means. But my sister and I were the first of my family to go to university. We were both told that our future would be bright, and we ‘d be better off with university degrees.
There was no economic strategy behind it, just do what you want to do, and do it well (work hard!). Only in recent years I became aware that my professional ambitions were strongly instilled by personal values. 99,9% of the world population does not give a shit about what I do, but hey, I am interested in Roman history, so what? There is no doubt that I will create more value for others when I have a new job. And creating more value for me too, by doing so. Nevertheless, I feel very lucky to have been able to work as an academic.
What’s the most important project you’re working on right now?
I intend to become a writer… Just joking! I have been writing in the past. But it made me enter that dark pool of despondency rather than escape from it. I have that dual relationship with politics too. And with politicians. And philosophy. You seek for consolation, and all you get is a viscous maggot feeding from your soul. That’s why I decided to stay away from it. That’s Epicure. You should read about it. And yet I understand that it is completely selfish and immoral to be adrift between escapism and activism as Trump (style) politics invades Europe. Check it out, it is true.
Apart from looking for a job, I am currently looking to create a platform for cycling abroad. The aim is to bring cyclists and providers of cycle tourism friendly accommodation together, and to develop cycle tourism in undiscovered regions in Eastern and Southern Europe.
What are you grateful for?
I am grateful for being together with my wife. It is a matter of luck to find the best, near-to-ideal person to spend your life with. As a matter of fact, I never thought our relationship through. Why should I? People get only concerned with breathing when their nose is sticky. I have had very few girlfriends. Once I had a gay person ripping my shirt to pieces at a party. Are both phenomena interconnected? I don’t believe so. I still have very few female friends.
Those men I know personally who have had an almost terrifying number of female friends (and ex-girlfriends), are extremely grandiloquent, cocksure and self-confident. It seems that nature makes jerks procreate faster. It probably originated somewhere in good old and cold Neanderthal, when gentle John went hunting for beavers while jerky John, who rode a bigger mammoth from Germany, peacocked in and lured gentle John’s wife into devious adultery.
Of course, this is mere speculation. For nobody knows the names of the homines neanderthalenses, and it is perfectly plausible that what happened in gentle John’s cave and absence was nothing less than the dawn of threesomes, involving jerky John’s wife (or brother, we are talking about primitive mankind here). But there must have been sticky noses.
What are the positive habits you are building right now?
I am currently working on time management. And I am learning to set achievable goals. For I always tend to go to extremes. I wanted to be good in cycling, and then I had a knee injury. I wanted a vegetable garden, and then I had a back problem, and I had to give away nearly half of the produce. This sounds dumb and stupid, and it really is.
What is a decision you are absolutely committed to?
The decision to stay here in Belgium and thus to leave academia, and to find a job that I really like. And to answer this seemingly endless list of questions.
What is something you absolutely want to accomplish? What have you learned recently?
I want to improve my social skills. Opening up to people is a dangerous thing. I do not tend to conceal my weaknesses, and as I am not very assertive, people often take advantage of it. As a matter of fact, bullied to the point of committing anything, I lost confidence in others and myself in my early youth. It affected my communication skills too, they said. However, I prefer having fun together, working with others, etc., above being on my own.
How do you want to feel today?
Energized, so I can have many things done.
How are you going to reward yourself today?
I don’t tend to reward myself (consciously). I am a much better self-punisher, however.
What sort of people are you inviting into your life today?
Today, I’ll meet up with people to do sports. Even though we are not close friends, I feel very good with them. That’s also something I had to learn: there are degrees of friendship. Consider their limits. Don’t get overexcited with the wrong people.
Name a question you’d really like to see answered.
Who of my friends can I help out with something?
What does your ideal day look like?
In the morning I get a dream job. In the afternoon I have a pleasant bike ride, reflecting about how to succeed in the new job. In the evening I celebrate it with friends.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
I would become a modern Robin Hood hacker, stealing Facebook Likes from the dumb and the stupid and giving it to the wise and the intelligent.
What’s your one word and why?
“Smurfendans!”, or “the smurfs are dancing again!”. It is my very hyperpersonal jolly jester word for anything that goes wrong or right. At the same time the stupidity of the word itself is a reminder of the relativity of the problem or the joy we are confronted with. Tomorrow you have a sore throat. The day after you are in a coma, your hand is amputated, and a horrible bacteria, streptococcus pyogenes, is now eating your thigh away too. I know I might be exaggerating here, but too many people are making a fuss about things that are unbelievably unimportant. And so many people are trying to show off with fairly worthless things. Who cares about you riding a Mercedes? About your CEO-position? Who cares about you cycling a ridiculously steep mountain in a record time? Does the world’s misery end because you are an expert dog or lawn trimmer? Although someone once argued that “trifles make the sum of life”, it is important to bring in some perspective every now and then, through the image of a bunch of smurfs dancing around a neon yellow fungus. That said, I am happy for Mercedes owners, excellent cyclists, and creative dog ànd lawn trimmers to reside in their pleasant situation.
If your life was a movie, what would be the title?
‘Honestly, I don’t know.’
What’s the best kind of business to get into right now?
IT, and anything that keeps the +50 busy.
Polgyamy or monogamy? And why?
Personally, I don’t believe in polyamory. It is so hard to find one nearly perfect significant other. And ideally then both your significant others should happen to be(come) each other’s significant other too. Another pitfall: most beds are not suitable for permanent three-person occupation. The question, whether sexual pleasure should be bounded by love, is wholly different. I know a fairly young couple who have been very liberal in these matters for years. If it works for them, who am I to judge?
What’s the shittiest thing you’ve ever done to someone?
Breaking up in a bad way, as I did not have the guts, or knew the ways, to say which manners of her I found extremely annoying. She did want to know so she could work on it, but I knew she just couldn’t. So I did not communicate enough and I appeared to be a jerk.
What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for someone?
Helping my sister through her divorce. Supporting a friend through a break-up.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
Some people said that they liked my cheerfulness. I like to share fun and happy feelings, especially with enjoyable persons.
What advice would you give to your 20 year old self?
Think ahead, stop looking back. Develop your network. Be more self-confident.
And celebrate, for in 10 years your new girlfriend is going to become even more beautiful than she is now.