Zadie Smith, one of my idols, was at Amsterdam’s Rode Hoed last Friday for a meetup with journalist Joost de Vries, hosted by the John Adams Institute.
Half a week has passed between being present and writing this. There are two things I want to share, since they seem relevant to the movements we as a society seem to be going through.
The new niche
A pretty well known phenomenon at conferences is that men tend to ask more questions then women, even when the evening’s topics are connected to feminism, equality or gender.
So I was disinclined to reach that mic when Joost invited us all to speak. I’m glad for it, since I learned a lot from the asked questions.
I’m not glad for it, since I refrained from asking a question that has troubled me since.
So here’s the question. Feel free to answer in due time, Mrs. Smith. But readers of this post are welcome to share their thoughts, too!
“Hi Zadie, Sidney here. Thanks so much for your writing, it has been very important to me for a wide variety of reasons.
You’ve been talking tonight about race and gender, and about how your current position in society would have been impossible in earlier times.
I look around me in this auditorium and I see men and women of different ages, persuasions and color. It seems we all form one niche, at least for tonight.
It seems that this present niche, call it the progressives, the curious, the enlightened, the elite, the coalition, is losing.
We’re losing to polarization, to Trumps all over the world, demagogues, to post-truth media and politics, resulting in the hollowing out of many things that took centuries to grow. Would you agree to that and if so, what do you see as a remedy?
2. The new/old social
It happens occasionally. I look around and feel grateful for being in the presence of other people as we’re performing our communal roles in the public space.
Especially when the crowd is as diverse as John Adams Institute managed to bring together, last Friday.
For me personally, it’s becoming increasingly easy to just Netflix and chill. I did that some of the other nights, the past week. I wouldn’t be able to recall what I saw, or how I felt.
But that gratitude at De Rode Hoed, last Friday, I distinctly remember.
The more time I spend between screens, staring, sharing, typing, drawn into my black mirrors, the more I enjoy nights like this, amongst people I do not know, as we’re collectively participating in something nurturing the mind.
The analogue, the actual human, the offline get-togethers like that one last Friday in De Rode Hoed, seem to be becoming more powerful. But this could be a wholly particular persuasion of yours truly.
(Having said that: I’ll gladly predict offline events, so long as they can weather the ongoing storm of digital semi-equivalents to actual human interactions, will become more and more relevant in the mid- to long term.)
The old social will once again become the new social. (Rushkoff’s bazaar model comes to mind. Read “Throwing rocks at the Google bus” if you want to know more about that.)
The old will become the new. It might not even have a Facebook event page. Fancy that.
I didn’t get in line to get an autograph from Zadie. In neither of the two lines, actually:
I went home.
I recalled the evening’s opening about Trump’s election and what that was like for her, as a woman of colour, originating from Britain, working at NYU. The not-so-surprising lack of humor in her answers. Her acuteness. Her insights on writing in particular and composition in general.
And I recalled the female French poet I met afterwards, telling me she would rather have the opening of the event we just participated in not be about Trump.
I understand that desire.
It would have been nicer if our “niche of the coalition” could have spend a night away from post-truth ‘Murican mayhem.
Nicer, if we could spend a little time together to nurture, feed, improve our minds and our lives without that.
But there’s work ahead for our little niche. To not discuss that work or the dynamics underneath it in the presence of Zadie Smith would have been a missed opportunity.
Here’s to hoping John Adams Institute will keep hosting nights that help us make some sense of what’s happening in the US. Its clearly visible from Dutch shores its flame is wavering.
Ready to go read some Zadie Smith or attend a John Institute event? Great!
You can buy Zadie Smith’s books anywhere. Her latest is called Swing Time. Go to your local bookstore. They love to see you come.
Secondly, check out the John Adams Institute calendar here. I can’t divulge more presently, but it’s a good idea to sign up for their newsletter. There’s a couple of inspiring people coming over, early next year.
Ps. Bonus plug: This thursday night, I’ll be talking about a secret place to write, with three fantastic rules to inspire those attending at Volkshotel’s Doka.
I’m a freelance strategist/copywriter, writing my third book “On/Off” to be published by Nijgh & Van Ditmar spring 2017. Subscribe to my Dutch podcast Digitalisme on ethics and the digital on Soundcloud, iTunes or Stitcher, read more on it here.