Isabel and I had an occasion to mark the other day and went to Copenhagen for the evening. Among other places, we ended up back in the National Museum. I say ‘back’, because I was last there one December afternoon in 2015 when my parents were visiting and we had some time to kill before they set off for the airport. I remember very well saying to myself then that I would have to return – and at last, I did.
I revisited some old favourites – the rune stones and the sun chariot – and made some new discoveries, such as this beautiful Christ figure from Åby. We found him in the medieval and renaissance section, an endearing and chaotic step back in time compared to the slick exhibition spaces on the ground floor.
Being there again made me so very sad. It was impossible not to feel again the excitement I’d had the first time – it wasn’t just about learning about a new country but the feeling of something opening up in a wider sense. A sense of hope, perhaps; or if not that, at least of the potential that was becoming apparent in the Marie Curie project as I settled in.
In reliving such emotions, one knows also all that has changed. Almost two years have gone by. To a system motivated by grant income, that time is simply a number in a box in the paperwork.
For me, it is part of my life. It is a small fortune spent relocating and commuting. It is boxes packed and unpacked, possessions consigned to containers in a warehouse. It is the mental energy spent trying to make a home somewhere that is not going to be a home. It is memories. It was trying to be part of something. It is the effort put into a project and career that I am currently in the process of mothballing.
It is very hard not to ask myself whether it was worth it — and I do not mean that in the abstract sense that this was always, to some extent, going to be a way of literally buying more time on the academic job market. I knew that might not work out.
So, was it?
When I think of the good things, I think of the friends I have made and, as this is about memories, the joyful ones — the Estonian holiday, the seas around Funen, self-harm by chocolate cake as the rain poured down in Aarhus in the dark (obviously), Proto-Indo-European on an (obviously, again) overheated nighttime express, Jelling in the spring when the wind was still cold, the happy places in Copenhagen … it is all there, a part of me and I could go on and on — but none of it has much to do with the grant agreement or my job. Perhaps that is as close as I will get to an answer.
Stay tuned for part B, a post in which I hope to write up the kind of advice that, looking back, I would give to anybody thinking of trying for a Marie Curie Fellowship.