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'We are going to talk about literature and poetry. Finally a sector that, it seems, has not been hit hard by the pandemic. Because writing, you could just do that. And reading, you could just do that too.'

I had to swallow when I heard Pieter van der Wielen say these sentences, somewhere around the shortest day, in the unsurpassed radio programme Kunststof. I did not expect that, after this unimaginably shitty year, I would receive such a slap in the face in an art programme of all places.

Then I thought: it will be a tantalising proposition, ready to be nuanced by guests. But that hardly happened. Novelist Oek de Jong seemed relieved that he didn't have to have so much contact with his fellow man. Poet Tsead Bruinja thought it was a pity, those missed performances, but actually also nice and quiet. Young spoken-word artist Rachel Rumai Diaz reflected in a side note that it was not an easy year but that was about it. In fact, the thesis still stood tall: 'Writing, you could just do that.'

If you put it that way, there was nothing going on in the arts this year. Because making music, sculpting and painting, you could also 'just do that' at home. You could record a whole album, if you had the gear at home. You could sing opera in your own backyard, or act that you cooked a Christmas meal at home from the last cans in the cellar. You could even find that the arts should return to more or less the place they were in the old days, when novels were written mainly by financially independent squires, and the God-fearing Dad Ingalls worked the land first, then shot and salted the bear for the winter, presided over his family in prayer in the little house on the prairie, and after dinner first cleaned his rifle and only then picked up his fiddle to play a piece and make a few calf-flickers to thank The Lord for another hard day's work.

It is stupid and pointless to start comparing suffering. There is always someone who had it shittier than you, usually even closer than you thought. But reinforcing the delusion that writers and poets can live off their royalties, when that is literally true for less than one per cent of professional literary authors, shows little empathy.

You know what else you could just do this year? Talking out of your neck on the radio.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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