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'I need others to flourish.' Six life insights from TV presenter Joris Linssen

In his life and work, the well-known presenter Joris Linssen (1966) experiences a lot and meets a lot of special people. He has compiled the life insights he gained in his recently published book If you go with the flow, you do stand still. 'If you dare to choose adventure, you will be rewarded for it.'

Taking risks makes you wiser

'One night, I was about 8 years old, I heard an animalistic sound in the garage. Even though I thought it was scary, I went to investigate and saw a man with a huge beard lying asleep behind a pile of boxes. He turned out to be a friend of my parents who had been travelling in a covered wagon for two years. My parents found me deep in conversation with him the next morning, as I wanted to know all about what he had experienced.

©Stijn Ghijsen

I enjoyed the unusual types my parents surrounded themselves with. Artists, Dolle Mina's, hippies, environmentalists, people in housing groups. In the 1970s, children were left very free. I was outside playing football all day with friends and on weekends we would go to the pub with our parents. It was the time of free love, and my parents too got other partners. At 14, they parted ways organically and kindly. Compound families emerged and sometimes we all went on holidays together.

I have always had a fondness for people who are a bit outside society. In Joris' ShowroomI portrayed such types. In 2011, for instance, I met Henk Verkaart, who became a friend for life. He was 70 and lived with his pack of dogs in the floodplains of the river Waal. Although the current was very strong due to cargo ships, he just went swimming in the river. Life-threatening, I told him, but he explained to me how to do it. "If you go with the current, you stand still yourself," he said.

That intrigued me. But how could I find out if it was true? Only by doing it myself. Okay, so I decided to take the risk and went into the river. I was pulled along by the current, floated on my back - it was going bloody hard - and felt a heavenly peace. Until he whistled on his fingers and I had to swim rock hard against the current to a certain pier, where I was pulled out of the water as if by an invisible hand.

We fell into each other's arms in ecstasy: he was thrilled that I had dared to put my life in his hands and I was thrilled that he had given me such an amazing experience. If you go with the flow, you stand still yourself - that has actually been my life motto ever since. Don't rely too much on what is expected of you, but take risks and dare to make your own choices, because only by doing so will you become wiser.'

You can release grief from your body

'For my television programme Buddha in the polder I participated in a so-called men's circle. Beforehand, I said to myself: there is no way I am going to stand in a circle crying, hugging and making primal cries with ten men I don't know in my pants. Many people participate in such sessions who have a trauma or problem, but I didn't have one. I thought.

Joris Linssen at beerschoten

During that period, I wrote to The book Louis, the life story of my extraordinary stepfather, whom I loved dearly. Throughout his life, Louis was afraid of death. At one point - he was already in his eighties - his body was completely spent, but he could not let go of life. On the advice of the nursing doctor, my mother and Louis's daughter agreed to stop treatment. Louis would never have come out of this well and we all wanted to spare him agony. He was given a sedative and morphine and would not wake up again, according to the doctors. All devices were disconnected.

When he still woke up a little later and asked startled what was going on, I couldn't do it to him that he would be the only one not to know that the hour U had arrived. So I told him he was going to die. After the initial shock, something extraordinary happened. The old man's face changed into that of a baby and a primal cry escaped from his insides. Then his gaze softened and I saw that he realised: so this is it, my life is over. It was intimate and beautiful. Louis kissed my mother very intimately and said goodbye to his daughter. Just when I thought it was my turn, he fell away again. As a result, I didn't really get to say goodbye to him.

In that men's circle, we did a 20-minute breathing exercise. Apparently, it was a technique to bring out stored grief in your body. Because my body started tingling, and suddenly I was overcome with grief and had a huge crying fit. The director of the programme said afterwards: you looked just like a baby. That crazy twisted face of Louis briefly becoming a newborn, I had myself at that moment.

So at the end of that day, I was still standing in a circle with those men crying and hugging. Afterwards, I felt wonderful and liberated.'

Listening gives connection

'In Taxi and Hello Goodbye people told me all kinds of intense, personal stories. Even on the street, people share intense things with me. I like that: I like to be touched and also enjoy touching others. In the beginning of my career, some reviewers and colleagues thought my questions went too far. For example, when I spoke at Schiphol Airport to a man who was about to emigrate to Brazil with his 1-year-old child. I asked what had happened and where the mother was. What turned out: his wife had jumped from the balcony of the flat in front of his eyes. Initially, the police even thought he might have pushed her.

Photo: Darren Smith

That man was very disappointed in his friends, who found it too intense to talk about. He appreciated the fact that I did ask him what had happened and how he felt. Afterwards, a DJ asked me about it during a radio interview, who thought it was unacceptable. I myself would have thought it unseemly if I had said, after such an intense confession: "Yes, dear, well, have a good trip. It is disrespectful to quickly change the subject or start talking about yourself on sensitive topics.

Real listening, without judgement, gives a sense of connection. But that is becoming increasingly rare. Despite all the hubbub of apps and chat, there is a lot of loneliness. When I am in Taxi elderly people to the doctor, I was sometimes the first person they spoke to that day. My genuine interest made them feel seen.'

Opt for adventure and you will be rewarded

'Although most people know me mainly from television, I consider performing with my band my main profession. For what I want - to touch and be touched - music is a powerful tool. As early as my 8ste I was playing pathetic tunes on the piano until I cried myself. Nice and sentimental. Since I was 16the I perform. That is a huge outlet; on stage I sing everything off myself. I can live without television, but not without performing.

When I was studying history, I did my graduate research in Mexico. I fell in love with the music there. Those lyrics are so beautiful, the melodies so rich. Later, I translated songs into Dutch for my band Caramba. It was always my dream to perform those songs translated into Dutch in the country of origin, because I was curious what Mexicans thought of them.

When the end of the Mayan calendar came into view, in 2012, I thought that was a nice, sacred deadline to finally implement my plan to tour Mexico. It became a magical journey, like an exciting boy's book. We played at festivals and the cultural attaché in the Netherlands arranged for us to be the support act for a Mexican artist, in a stadium with twenty thousand people.

Through-via I had made contact with my great idol, Armando Manzanero, and we were also allowed to play for him. You could see from his face that the little man in tropical suit liked our arrangements: he listened attentively and sang along to the end in Spanish. The Mexicans loved the news that a Dutch band had come to pay tribute to their great artist; we made it into the newspaper and on TV. What else are you going to do? the journalists asked. I told them we were going to play on the Day of the Dead on the grave of my other great hero, José Alfredo Jiménez. The camera crew decided to follow us.

Two years earlier, our bassist Jeroen had died. In the photo book we made for him when he fell ill, I had put a translation of José Alfredo's song 'La vida no vale nada': 'Life is handsomely worthless'. And guess what? On José Alfredo's grave was written very large: La vida no vale nada. So we played that song on his grave, thinking of Jeroen, of course. Afterwards we burst into sobs. Those Mexicans were deeply impressed, because they thought: those people from the Netherlands are still so sad about our national hero forty years after José's death.

Everything we did became a success. It felt like we had the approval of the Mayans. Since then, I have believed that if you dare to choose adventure fully, you will be rewarded for it.'

I need a pack

'As a child I loved Thea Beckman's adventure books and the series Eagle Eye. The main characters were heroes having adventures, but with a group of friends around them. I wanted that too, and I found it. Both in television and with my band, I like working with the same people, who are loyal and talented. Everyone has their own role, and we are all equally worthy.

I need that security. Going on adventures all by myself is not for me. I noticed this when, as a 17-year-old anarchist, I decided to drop out of school. In my eyes, school was a fascist system whose aim was to break your will and kill your creativity. So I had to do an act, I thought. I threw a smoke bomb through the building and announced my departure.

My parents had so much faith in me that they gave me six months of space to figure out what I wanted. I soon discovered the consequences of my decision. Because my friends did go to school, I ended up in the punk and squatter scene. Going to bed late, staying up late, making music and going out. Fun, but also lame and after a while rather boring. Moreover, the people in that circle turned out not to be at all as committed as I expected. I felt alone. After six months, I knew I didn't want to be outside society at all; I wanted to get back in. And still got my vwo diploma.

It's quite nice to do something alone sometimes. When we are at Terschelling with the band for Oerol, I enjoy going swimming by myself at sunset. Because I know that when we return, the whole group will be sitting by the campfire and I can warm myself to their company. I am a team player, not a lone Don Quixote. To flourish, I need others. When I work with people I know well and trust, with whom I feel safe, I achieve better performance.'

The biggest thing you can do is small

'My wife Rebecca and I met when I was 23 and she 20. We both came from a left-progressive and creative VPRO family, with a keen interest in art and literature. That created a bond. Rebecca grew up in a foster home. We ourselves decided to become foster parents at some point. We wanted to share the security of our family with someone else. Our daughters were 8 and 10 when our first foster son came into our home. When he was an adult and living on his own, we had a foster daughter. My mother-in-law also lived with us for a while when she was very ill.

With all the boyfriends and girlfriends running in and out, our home was an energising and sociable mess. For me, as a child from blended families, that felt very natural. And it was a good perspective against the world of Hilversum. If I came home full of stories after the filming of Hello Goodbye, a huge success at the time, it really wasn't like: our star is at home, no, not at all. Where did you put that bag of potatoes? And you were supposed to be cooking today, right?

Raising your own children together is already a big responsibility, of course, but this was extra complicated and challenging. This strengthened the relationship between Rebecca and me. We talked a lot together, including about parenting issues. Surely that is more essential than talking about the colour of the new sofa. Therefore, once our daughters and two foster children were out of the house, we took in another child.

As a 17-year-old punk, I thought it would take revolution to change the world. But now I believe more in the small changes. I like the saying, "He who saves one child saves the whole world." Try being kind to those around you first before saving the rest of the world. That seems like nothing, but that's exactly what makes the difference.'

About Joris Linssen

Joris Linssen (28 January 1966) is a singer, writer and television presenter. He started his TV career at Stadsomroep Utrecht and the Amsterdam channel AT5, then worked as a reporter for, among others Man Bites Dog. To the general public, he became known for the programmes Taxi (2001-2006), Joris' Showroom(2008-2011) and Hello Goodbye(2005-present). In 2022, he published The book Louis, about his foster father. Earlier this year, Luitingh-Sijthoff published his new book, If you go with the flow, you stand still yourself (€ 21,99).

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Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

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