Sunday, 10 December 2017

The grant and the strawberry: a bundle of joy and strain (and so much joy!)


Hello reader,

It was week zero when news of the grant came. I was sitting at my desk in the office, alone, writing emails and shifting rapidly inside my head between the term’s teaching, research and admin. When the email dropped I literally started shaking. Once I opened it and read the news I was ecstatic. I had just landed a 2 year AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellows grant for research on memory and mobility in the Brown Atlantic. The title: “Women of the Brown Atlantic: Real and Imaginary Passages in Portuguese 1711-2011.” Three years of work and preparation had finally paid off.

But as I descended from the clouds of jubilation, I couldn’t even share the news on social media. I felt excited but also humbled, and mostly fearful of the task ahead of me. Going through the application documents I marvelled at the meaning(lessness) of what I had achieved. As I read the title of my grant, I did not particularly believe that I was a leader in the making. I felt leader-ish at best. How on earth was I going to deliver all this in two years? When were my partners and mentors going to find out that this is, indeed, an insane project and I’m not fit for the job? Yes, for the next two years, I didn’t have to worry about getting any funding for my research, and maybe this would even translate into more good news about a possible early promotion, which was very cool. For the next two years, I could take a deep breadth: everything would be alright. For two years. And then the chase would be on again, and the pressure to apply for new grants would come back with a vengeance.

I felt nauseous.

In fact, something was happening to me. To my body, that is. I can only describe it as a sort of mutation glimpsed daily through the corner of my eye. I was experiencing a lot of tiredness, like I had been hit by a horse tranquilizer. Term hadn’t even started and my body was already feeling like it was week 10. I initially attributed it to my mind’s inability to rise up to the Leadership Fellows challenge. But no, reader. This was something else entirely. Things were about to get even more, uh, interesting. Turns out I was not only a grant holder, I was a pregnant grant holder! Now I had to be both a productive and reproductive leader, all at the same time.

No pressure.





It was an interesting discovery, learning that, whilst my mind was totally focused on the perils of getting what you want from the AHRC, my body indifferently hosted a little strawberry (every week they call it a different fruit or veg) with limbs.

The strawberry, soon to become a prune and then a lime in my belly, according to the wisdom of the latest apps, is the most accomplished example of the force that I believe drives us: what my mother would call miracles, what I prefer to call luck. A single sperm, out of three hundred million, somehow found a passage through me and survived, while MILLIONS died trying to cross over, and, choosing the right corridor containing the fertilized prize, surged against motions without getting trapped, attaching itself to the prize, and somehow – SOMEHOW! – my body didn’t reject the resulting bean. What are the odds of that happening? To a 38 year old? So, you see, the strawberry is already teaching me important life lessons. 

Take your prize, recognise how lucky you got, and get on with it.

How can I put it into words? The whole situation suddenly felt, let me tell you, liberating. More exactly, the passages between the grant and the strawberry were liberating. Through them, a passage to Portugal was crystallising. Short term, I know. But long term has its perils. It’s the bridge I was looking for. Non-permanent, but real. A route transporting me elsewhere, inside my body and in my imagination, and outside it, through the ocean, through the skin, away from Brexit for a white. Expanding, like the universe.

But what if?

What if I end up only half-doing everything, once the little strawberry arrives? Until now, I thought my dedication to what I do was undying. Now the little one inside me, comfortably tucked away in the darkest regions of my belly, will soon be a totally helpless human being, demanding constant attention, and a lot more. I hold a permanent lectureship, so I am entitled to paid maternal leave, and most importantly, I don’t (think I) have to worry about losing my job. I have all the support in the world from my family and colleagues. But what about the rest? How will I be able to travel to conferences and archives with a little one? Have I got what it takes to be both a forward-moving Leadership Fellow and an academic and a mother? Will I have the energy? I could carry the child with me everywhere in the beginning. But how will my colleagues, project partners and students react to that? Will I be taken less seriously? The feminist inside cannot but conjure the image of an inevitably stalled career ahead.

These and other questions come to me usually just before I fall asleep, which totally defeats the purpose of enjoying every hour of my current childless life. I can still spend more than three hours writing a lecture on Virgem Margarida, read more than a few pages of fiction before going to sleep for 8 hours (though now with lots of trips to the loo), and attend conferences in London without having to worry about child-care. Once the little one arrives, all of this will be gone.




It’s an incredibly wonderful thing, being lucky. But I confess I feel a bit lost, despite all the wonder and excitement. Having strong academic role models who are also mothers is a great source of inspiration, but somehow it is not enough. Where are the babies and the children in academia? I see them only when I go to my colleagues’ family-friendly parties. At 9pm they vanish into thin air and become invisible to me, only to return surreptitiously in reading week, now much bigger, holding their parents’ hands, in student-less corridors. Where do they go, and why do they go, academic parents of the world? Where are the spaces for mothering and fathering in academia? Where are the crossings, the passageways?





Everything will change, they say. As I dive into the Brown Atlantic in search of the real and imaginary passages of women, my child will inevitably dive in with me, as we look for answers – and passages – together.



This is probably my first letter to you.

Monday, 13 November 2017

O cão que passou sem ladrar. #eutambém #metoo



Não vou falar aqui de todos os cães que ladraram ao passarem por mim: os piropos de todos os tipos, as perguntas retóricas porcas, os apalpões na discoteca e fora dela, as assobiadelas na rua e dentro dos portões da escola, as mãos desenvoltas a tocarem mais do que devem, os comportamentos e tiradas absurdas justificados pelo vinho em jantares de colégio britânico crème de la crème. Vou, pelo contrário, dedicar-me a contar o episódio de um cão que passou por mim sem ladrar, e desde já peço perdão aos animais a quem chamamos cães, cuja decência não está em causa.

Acho que era uma noite de primavera. Os dias cresciam e a calmia do lusco-fusco acontecia entre as 7h30 e as 8 da noite. Devia ter um doze ou treze anos. Saía das aulas de inglês, no cimo da vila, com um grupo de amigas. Sentíamo-nos grandes. Gostávamos de ir a pé para casa todas juntas, sem pais à espera em carros. Nessa noite, uma das amigas sugeriu que passássemos por uma rua diferente, para tentarmos criar um encontro “casual” com o rapaz mais velho por quem se apaixonara na escola. Talvez ele estivesse à janela, talvez estivesse a entrar em casa, venham lá, não demora nada, pá, vai ser divertido. Essa rua não tinha grande iluminação, ficava fora do caminho. Não gostei da ideia. Olha agora, ir atrás do rapaz, nem sequer sabes se ele está em casa, ou se gosta de ti, deixa-te de coisas, ainda o espantas. E decidi esperar por elas ali mesmo, no cruzamento da estrada que dá para a Câmara Municipal. Elas foram, entre risadas, e eu esperei, debaixo do poste da luz.

Passados uns minutos, aproxima-se um carro e pára a uns metros de mim. O condutor olha-me e sorri. Abre a porta do passageiro e chama-me. A minha primeira reação foi pensar que se tratava de alguém conhecido, esta vila é tão pequena, quem me diz a mim que não é um tio ou amigo dos meus pais a oferecer-me boleia. Aproximo-me com meio sorriso. Lembro-me do cabelo loiro penteado para trás e da pele baça. Lembro-me do sorriso nojento e das palavras, Entra, senta-te. Uma mão no volante, outra no assento do passageiro, a convidar-me. De repente, algo dentro de mim me diz: foge. E fechando a porta do carro, desatei a correr. Rua do Vale abaixo, passando pela ponte, até alcançar a Rua 25 de Abril. Parei apenas dentro do prédio, fechando a porta atrás de mim, sem fôlego. 

É aí, no vão da escada, que procuro restabelecer-me, controlar a respiração antes de entrar em casa. Ao abrirem a porta, os meus pais perguntam-me, Chegaste cedo, está tudo bem?, e eu, Sim, tudo bem. E as tuas amigas? Já foram para casa, mandam beijinhos. Vou para o meu quarto, e encerro dentro de mim um encontro que poderia ter mudado o rumo da minha vida e do meu corpo. Se o carro me tivesse perseguido, se o homem tivesse saído do carro, se....

Voltei a encontrar ocasionalmente esse homem pelas ruas da Sertã, e sempre que o via enchia-me de vergonha. Nunca percebi por que razão morria de vergonha sempre que ele passava. Uma vez, no carro com a minha mãe, ao saírmos da garagem, tivemos de dar passagem ao carro dele. Passou-nos pela frente como uma cena de filme em câmara lenta. Ele a olhar-nos com aquele sorriso nojento, o assento ao lado vago, para sempre a convidar, Entra, senta-te. E lembro-me de a minha mãe ter comentado o quanto aquele homem a incomodava. Fiz de conta que não ouvi, e tentei esconder a vermelhidão do rosto. Tenho a sensação de que a minha mãe também o odiava e temia, mas nunca falámos sobre isso. Havia a vergonha a preencher o espaço entre mim e a minha mãe. Aliás, nunca contei esta história a ninguém.


Pergunto-me quais terão sido as consequências deste meu silêncio, motivado pela vergonha. Sem ter cometido nada de errado, este episódio de tentativa de sedução de um homem mais velho contribuiu para incentivar em mim uma submissão silenciosa e cheia de vergonha no que diz respeito aos avanços agressivos dos cães que ladram, mas principalmente aos avanços dos que não ladram. Como se de certa forma eu, o meu corpo, fossemos culpados do que tantas vezes acontece quase sem acontecer. 

Eu escapei. Mas quantas crianças terão passado por aquele assento?


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A feminist gets married



(Sertã, 5th August 2017)

The day came when he proposed and I accepted, which led to a feminist getting married.

I was busy proposing something myself, that is, writing a grant proposal. We had come back from a bike ride, and I had gone back to the office to carry on with my study leave duties. Sitting down at my desk, which faces a window that opens to the knowledge of trees and green bushes, I didn’t understand, at first, why he’d put a ring on top of the book that was open to my left.  I almost asked him not to disturb me because I was having an idea and trying to put it into words. Then the penny dropped. I looked at him, then at the ring, then at him again. I smiled, and said “what?” a few times, and finally exclaimed “Yes, let’s get married!”

I confess there was some hesitation in my answer, as much as there was in his. But I saw this ring as the starting point of a journey into life as a team, and although I was and still am very much afraid of this journey, of what it may bring to someone who calls herself a feminist, I took it wholeheartedly, in my own utopian way.

In the six months that took us to organize the wedding, family interests and social expectations calibrated much of what we wanted to do. I had never thought much about weddings, but I knew well enough what I didn’t want to happen. I persisted as a feminist killjoy for as long as I possibly could, and I had my victories, some of which were big, many small. Can you name a feminist who doesn’t believe in the power of small victories? The person who married us was a cheerful woman who mentioned equality several times throughout the ceremony. The person who translated the ceremony into English was a renowned feminist male colleague and dear friend. After months of endless fighting, I ended up taking my husband's last name, but without renouncing any of my last names. I named our table after my favourite women writers. I bought a second-hand, inexpensive dress. I gave a speech alongside my husband. I prepared a video documentary that honoured my grandmothers and their bolos de boda tradition.


It was an effort from all sides, to fight for our joy and ideals on our day. But to pick our fights: that is, I think, the greatest lesson. To understand what tools we have to struggle, becoming aware of what we can do, how far we can go. How much we can let go. In the run-up to my wedding, everything I believe in became hyper-real, alive and urgent, and more personal than ever. I was happy, sad, shimmering, frustrated, loved, in love, touched, enraged, vulnerable and strong. Feminist identity was a site of struggle and negotiation like never before. Placing feminism on the grounds of my wedding venue, which was also my parent’s garden, felt like opening my body to the world for the first time. In an episode that my seven girlfriends from Sertã will love to find out, I inexplicably lost my bra as I was getting ready to jump into the wedding dress, which led to the ceremony being delayed by half an hour. But I did not forget to leave a book by a favourite woman writer under the tree where we got married. I married by silently disturbing the grounds that I had accepted, and by trying to forget about other people’s judgements of what the good daughter, the good bride and the good feminist look like. 

It was beautiful because it was tough and earned, and because our own mix and match of traditions and innovation was thought-through to the last detail and fully experienced. The greatest victory will be to be able to say in a few years’ time that my wedding year shines through my relation with my husband as much as through my writing on feminism and women. 

In the meantime, I'm still waiting to hear on that grant proposal. Fingers crossed! :) 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

How to become a study leave super hero (of sorts)



If you send me an email now you’ll find out that I’ve been officially on study leave since the 9th of January. Apart from formally applying for this a year ago by promising to accomplish this world and the next, writing a permanent out of the office response on my email was my main preparation for the six months ahead. Well, five now. Oh dear. When your business is a small language, there’s no way around it. You end up having to deal with post-term bits and bobs. December was dedicated to wrapping up a crazy teaching load, attending a conference and then going home for Christmas. January was swallowed up by family, a trip to South Africa, a research meeting in Portugal, and, well, marking. No wonder it went so fast.

Also, I never thought I would be writing this, but it hasn’t been easy to accept the idea that I’m not teaching. It sounds ridiculous, I know. But it has actually been quite hard to just let go. I have been spotted smiling sheepishly at my colleagues in the copy machine area. Several times. Please learn from me, future study leavers. Don't look back!

So, I’ve decided, for the sake of sanity, that the REAL start is going to be February 9th. January will be known from now on as my rather unproductive transition month. It’s allowed.

February is perfect, you see. I’m travelling to Birmingham on the 9th to take part in a conference, so I’ll be away from both my home office and my university office. I’ll be on my favourite public transport. I’ve written my best paragraphs on trains, cosily nestled near a power socket by the window, in the quiet coach. And before jumping on the train I’m going to buy a new notebook. Yes!



Speaking of traveling, many people relocate to another environment during their study leaves. Having closely considered this possibility, I have decided I’m not going to do it. You see, my writing likes routine and familiarity, so I’m mainly going to stay in my natural habitat, where I will set out not to do what I don’t like about my normal day.

The first thing I’m not going to do in the morning is to check my email. In fact, I’m going to add a note on my permanent out-of-office message to inform the world that from now on I’m checking it only on Fridays. There. Pow! I expect many good things to come out of this very simple resolution, such as doing only what I want to do, which boils down to writing as many hours as I can in the morning.

The second thing I’m not going to do is to postpone interesting readings. Say I come across a really interesting article whilst browsing about something completely different? Well, hello article! I vow to read a good academic article every other day. This serendipitous reading will happen in the afternoons, after I’ve been for a run and had a shower. Pow wow!

Third,  I refuse to work after hours. Absolutely no work allowed after 17h00 and during weekends. So, hello brand new stand mixer, hello scrapbooking, hello leisure reading, hello TV and silly season four of whatever, hello bike, hello fun!

Now, where did I put my cape?


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Call me a "young old" scholar: notes on the AHRC ECR conference "Past Matters, Research Futures" (12-13 December 2016, Royal Society, London)


(conference booklet)

I’m an early career researcher who is about to become a “normal” researcher (whatever that means) in exactly 10 months’ time. This makes me a “young old” scholar of sorts (sigh). Over the past four months I started to feel uneasy about being a young old scholar. It didn’t bother me much during the summer, when I still thought of myself as kind of young young. But, after spending Term 1 trying to juggle a heavy teaching load with the urgent, but ultimately impossible, task of finishing my pending AHRC ECR grant application, it suddenly hit me that – shock horror – I was getting young old, and that this was my last chance to take advantage of the ring fenced money kept aside for UK-based ECRs’ researchers, young and old alike.

Tick. Tick. Tick. I hear it distinctly when I’m in bed at night.

So I was very glad to find out that the organisers of the conference “Past Matters, Research Futures” not only accepted the panel proposal on “Consuming Authenticities: Time, Place and the Past in ‘Authentic’ foods and drinks” that my lovely group of colleagues Deborah, Emma-Jayne, Anna and I put together, but also made a point of dedicating a significant amount of conference time to this and other matters that are so much in the minds and hearts of young young, young old, and old young (explanation below) researchers.

(panel discussion on "Consuming Authenticities")

The event was a joint endeavour between the AHRC and the Cluster of Excellence LABEX, and it brought together UK and French scholars as well as non-academic partners to address issues that are of common interest to both the Care for the Future theme and the LABEX Pasts in Present: History, Heritage, Memory. The conference, organised mainly by ECRs, focused not only on research issues but also on two aspects that are often neglected in conference discussions: the particular challenges of both early career research and partnership working.

Yes, partnership working. Tick. Tick. Tick.

I confess I do not (yet) master the art of fruitful, joyful, happily-ever-after partnerships with non-academic people. I have been rejected a few times. I mean, my proposals have been rejected a few times. The first time it happened I wanted to close down my inbox and run away to Dartmoor. The second time it happened, I decided to say thank you and move on to the next institution on my list. The third time it happened I took a step back and thought of proposing a counter offer. I am still thinking, and, hey, who knows, maybe it will bear fruits, or not.

(Keep reading my blog to find out.)

Anyway, one thing I wanted to write here is that attending this conference has given me the courage and inspiration to really think harder about creative ways of nurturing the contacts that I have been lucky enough to gather as a young young researcher, as they may assist me in my young old short life. I listened in complete awe to the presentation of Katharina Zinn, an Egyptologist from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Lampeter, who told us – with a smile –about the advantages of not having funding in the initial stages of your project. She started a cooperative project with a local Museum, after discovering a number of Egyptian artefacts hidden away in the basement of the Museum (one was a headless statue, one was a wooden beard, another was the tiniest plate). Her small huge discoveries led her to bring these objects back to life via exhibitions, story-telling and even a “Museum of Lies”! Who wouldn’t be inspired by this stuff?

(coffee break)

I was also intrigued by the presentation of a film artwork, The Ten Commandments, which was commissioned by the AHRC-funded project “Re-configuring Ruins: Materialities, Processes and Mediations,” in conjunction with the Museum of London Archaeology and NewBridge Project Newcastle. My notes of this panel read:

“What turns a ruin into a ruin? Guadalupe and the American flag. (Look, the Portuguese flag too! Religious processions with the Portuguese flag in the streets of Guadalupe, cool!) The Ten Commandments, ruins of a movie, montage of images and sound. There are echoes and double images. Splitting the screen into three breaks down the linearity of the story into three viewpoints that sometimes overlap and unite. Generative remembrance: during the process of recollection, remembering not what happened but something else. (Not sure what this means.) Ruina: social downfall and ruination. Duality of the ruin. Social relationships in the real world. Embodied action. Structured narrative, gaps and silences and black screens in the movie. Absences. Creative destruction of capitalism. Curated heritage ruins. Surface and depth. Surface: small town America, the sand dunes, four-by-four sand driving, driving the sand like surfers; Depth: religion, the immigrants. Memories, legacies meshed together in the everyday. Co-creation. There was an open call for artists (commission process): the artist had to create a piece on a given topic and would have freedom. There were no questionnaires as they wanted to avoid using art: they wanted art to speak for itself and give full freedom to the artists. (not convinced by the group’s premise that not wanting to “use” art was something inherently positive.)”

The conference booklet detailed an ambitious and innovative list of potential outputs and resources. The venue included a nice BREAK/OUT room, which provided delegates with a quiet space for calling home, unwinding, or writing and filming responses, ideas and resources for future gatherings. I also enjoyed the way in which day one ended: with a “Question Time” – style panel discussion on current priorities in research and the world of heritage. Some of the questions that were thrown at the panellists were:
1.    How can the study of heritage relate to or inform global challenges and sustainable development goals?
2.    What advice would you give to ECRs working within the heritage sector wanting to maintain a research profile?
3.    What do you suggest is done with heritage assets that we must let go of?

The conference ended with many what nexts. I agree with Prof Andrew Thompson, who stressed that the role of early-career researchers is changing, that it is an ambiguous place to inhabit, not only if you are young old like me, but also if you are old young (if you had a previous life outside academia and are trying to balance the two worlds in your life). And yes, the ivory tower image does not seem to apply any longer, at least not to most people participating in this conference, and certainly not to most ECRs out there.

Except…

Except, there’s something about the ivory tower metaphor that I want to preserve as a small personal intangible heritage for the future of my own. Something about blue skies and utopian meanderings that come with and around the word “tower,” which are far from impacts and statistics and goal-oriented thinking, and far too from simple writing and clear sentences. Closer, much closer to ascending stairs and the lightest, deepest free fall. I don’t want to let go of that just yet. Call me young old.

"The complexity of things - the things within things - just seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple" (Alice Munro)

Ana