Moniek Buijzen, 47, first read Tonke Dragt’s Torenhoog en mijlen breed about 35 years ago. She borrowed the book from a student who rented a room in her parents’ home, and whose room was next to hers. The student, whom Buijzen considered ‘a very old man’ at the time, had shared other books with her before. She rather likes the idea of that in hindsight. As a 12-year-old girl, she was relieved to have something to read. The story told in Torenhoog en mijlen breed always stayed with her.
The book’s protagonist, Edu, goes on a voyage of discovery in the extremely dangerous forests on the planet Venus, despite having been warned by many people not to do so. He discovers that the forest is entirely different than he expected. “Whenever I feel anxious about what may come, I’ll remind myself of the message of the book: ‘Conquer your fear of the unknown and embark on an adventure!’ When people see my CV or website, they tend to think I’m a brave person. Even my own coach called me ‘tough’. But I’m not. In actual fact, I’m the anxious type, and I’m trying to fight my anxiety.”
For instance, at the start of 2020, Buijzen considered making the switch from Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen to Erasmus University Rotterdam. “My impression of Rotterdam and EUR was of a cool, new and edgy place where people rolled up their shirtsleeves and got things done. But when the time came to make a decision on whether or not to make the switch, I was afraid I might have overromanticised the place. I was afraid it was full of corporate people. I don’t like those.” She conquered those fears and decided to embark on the adventure. She ‘absolutely loves’ working at EUR now.
As a child, Buijzen’s ideals were shaped by various TV shows. A show about the veterinary surgeon James Herriot caused her to want to become a vet. Then she watched the American legal drama Matlock and dreamed of becoming an attorney. In the end, she chose to get a degree in communication science, so as to be able to take an in-depth look at the very media that inspired her.
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As an undergraduate, Buijzen grew interested in analysing how adults create children’s entertainment. She worked at a production company that produced many films, TV shows and theatre shows for children. “Commercial broadcasters were beginning to emerge. This was a long, long time ago. Children found Telekids, a show broadcast by a commercial broadcasting company, much more fun than the ever-so-responsible shows VPRO was producing. VPRO didn’t seem to care all that much what children liked.”
By now she has conducted many years’ research on children’s preferences, and what she has learned is that ‘it is very hard for adults to understand what children find entertaining’.
Number of books read annually: fewer than 5 – “Terrible, isn’t it! As a child, I absolutely devoured books.”
Most recent read: Gouden Bergen by Doortje Smithuijsen – “Highly recommended!”
Favourite genre: fiction, with a preference for fantasy
Main reason to read: rest, relaxation and rapture
Buijzen feels that many children’s books are about the threat of growing up. One of her favourite books is Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, whose protagonist, an anxious and lonely boy called Bastian, enters a beautiful and strange country called Fantastica through an old book. This fantasy world is threatened by ‘the Nothing’. “Now, so many years later, I feel that the Nothing represents the unimaginative world of adulthood. A world in which you have to take responsibility, make concessions and act by the rules. You’ll find the same struggle with growing up in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But let’s not get into serious literature here. I’m afraid I’m one of those adults whose imagination is still completely intact.”
Buijzen creates stories behind the things she sees at first glance – ‘basically, it’s my own personal augmented reality’. “I own a fishing boat that is more than a hundred years old. I use it to go sailing, go on holiday and do a lot of refurbishment. It takes me into nature, and it also helps me meet people from outside my own leftist intellectual bubble. The boat is a door into another world.” Her ability to create augmented realities also helps her in an academic setting. “It’s important for academics to think outside the worldly boxes, to give their ideas and dreams free rein, before coming up with any ifs and buts.”
Moniek Buijzen is a Full Professor of Communication and Behavioural Change at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. Her research projects combine social sciences, health sciences, computer science and the law. Buijzen is also a consultant advising RIVM’s Behaviour Unit on how to communicate the government’s coronavirus policy to young people. In 2020, her MyMovez project was nominated for the Huibregtsen Award. MyMovez conducts research on and develops health awareness campaigns. The project is being continued at Erasmus University’s Movez lab.