Dance addiction.

“Tutor: What does it feel like when you’re dancing?

Billy: Don’t know. Sorta feels good. Sorta stiff and that, but once I got going…then I like, forget everything. And…sorta disappear. Sorta disappear. Like I feel like a change in my whole body. And I’ve got this fire in my body. I’m just there. Flyin’ like a bird. Like electricity. Yeah, like electricity.”

From the movie Billy Elliot, 2000

 

I am having dreams where I am constantly running against the clock to get to the dance class on time or I am desperately trying to find the studio room without success.

I am having dreams where my former dance teachers are quitting their teaching jobs to become full-time professional dancers and I am begging for them to keep teaching. To not give up on me. I would fly ever week from London to Lisbon to attend their classes.

Then I suddenly wake up and my heart is racing and aching.

I miss dancing so much. A good old school hip hop routine choreographed by the extremely talented  Vasco Alves. A complex and joyful house piece with the amazing Leo. A goofy and “true-to-the-beat” top-rock routine with the resilient Speedy. An organic and full of warmth performance by the quite and “out-of-the-box” Filipe Baracho.

I don’t mind the bruises and the challenging routines. Once I get going, I feel a burst of happiness and accomplishment. Every cell of my body reacts to the beat. And I fly like a bird.

I guess I am having the first symptoms of dance withdrawal.

I need my regular dose soon. Very soon.

Odeceixe June.2015 (43)

Photo taken by Ricardo Ferreira in Odeceixe, Portugal, June 2015.
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Acknowledgments.

Often is the case where the people who should read the acknowledgment section in your thesis don’t actually have the chance to do it.

Well, here it is.

The acknowledgments of my PhD thesis.

“At the end of this journey, I look back at the last four and half years and I am thankful for many people that crossed my path and shaped the way I do science, and most importantly, how they empower the discovery of my inner self.

First of all, to my mom and dad for their unconditional support and love. This would not have been possible without you. You always encouraged my pursuit of knowledge and creativity. You gave me freedom and strength to choose my own path and allowed me to learn from my own mistakes. Words are not enough to express my deepest gratitude to you. To my brother for all the games we played together, the movies and TV shows we watched together, the laughs and adventures we shared and the discussions about physics, maths, airplanes, biology and astronomy we had throughout the years. Thank you for caring and defending your little sis. To my beloved Ricardo, for always standing by me in the hardest moments of this thesis. Thank you for you love and for the peace you bring to my heart.

To my supervisor, Christen Mirth, thank you for taking me into your group and allowing me to grow as a young scientist. I admire your enthusiasm towards science and life in general. One of the best advices I ever received came from you – respect should be earned. It helped me go through some tough obstacles during my PhD and I am very grateful for your advice. To my co-supervisor, Élio Sucena, thank you for introducing me the, not so new anymore, ‘evo-devo’ field and encouraging me to be critical to every research, especially to my own work. I truly respect your critical and hypothesis-driven mind and your constant ´fight´ for a better ‘PhD life’ at IGC. Everything I know about fly pushing I learned with Beatriz Garcia-Fernández when I was a master student in Florence Janody’s Lab at IGC. I embraced her scientific rigor throughout my PhD thesis and it definitely paid off.

To present and past members of the Mirth Lab: Sara Lennox for her kind friendship. I truly miss our cultural trips in Lisbon and our ‘movie dates’. Marisa Oliveira and Takashi Koyama for scientific discussions. Maria João Carvalho for all the laughs and discussions about almost everything: science, movies, dance, love, future. The ‘four little ones’, Nuno Soares, Marisa Rodrigues, Andreia Oliveira and André Alves, thank you for the endless discussions in the fly room.

Thanks to all fellow PhD students, postdocs and lab technicians from Patrícia Beldade, Élio Sucena, Rui Martinho and Vítor Barbosa Labs for scientific feedback whenever it was needed and other more general matter: Maria Adelina Jerónimo, Marta Marialva, Elvira LaFuente, Leila Shirai, Roberto Keller, Inês Conceição, Filipa Marta, Barbara Vreede, Vítor Faria, Alexandre Leitão, Diogo Manoel, Kohtaro Tanaka, Rui Castanhinha, Nelson Martins, Luiz Gonzalez, Gastón Guilgur, Pedro Prudêncio, Paulo Navarro Costa, Triin Laos, Patrícia Silva and Raquel Santos. To the amazing class 2010 PIBS for their friendship and for starting this journey with me: Özlem Aybüke Işık, Leonor Duarte Margalha, Madalena Carneiro, Jorge Sousa, Marc Gouw, Jordi Salmona, Ewa Chrostek and Kryzstof Kus. To the fly community at IGC for making the fly room a fun place to work on: Ana Rita Marques, Sascha Werner, Swadhin Jana and Catarina Brás-Pereira.

Throughout my PhD I have attended several conferences and courses and I have met many wonderful people that enhanced my enthusiasm towards science. Thanks to Alistair McGregor and Casper Breuker for organizing the Eco-Evo-Devo Postgraduate Summer School at Oxford Brookes University. I attended the first edition when I was completely frustrated with my PhD project. After attending this course, I gained more confidence to overcome the obstacles in front of me. I must mention Karin Olsson and Onuralp Soylemez for keeping in touch. I would also like to thank Madan Babu, Aapo Kahilainen and Ossi Nokelainen, who I met during the European Meeting of PhD Students in Evolutionary Biology in Portugal, for their kind friendship and thoughtful advices about life, love, science and dance. To João Alpedrinha for giving me the opportunity to attend my very first conference dinner at the 2013 meeting of the European Society of Evolutionary Biology.

To my friends from college, who I kept in touch since, for continuously showing me ‘the bright side of life’: Sara Falcão, Diana Antunes, Andreia Penado, Ana Sofia Carvalho, Diana Rodrigues, Ana Marcelino and Pedro Almada. To my ‘dance crew’, the Crocodile Crew, for all our crazy and genuine moments in the dance classes, competitions and shows: Alexandra Guerreiro, Ana Almeida, Cátia Sá, Moniki and Rita Torrão. Thank you for keeping alive my love for dance.

Thank you all so much.”

PhD Defence 29.May.2015 (1)

Photo taken by Ricardo Ferreiro at Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Oeiras, Portugal, May 2015.

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Creativity: where it comes from?

Why are some people more creative than others?

A question that has been puzzling me for quite some time. Two possible explanations intimately connected can be drawn. Solely based on my own life experience.

H1: “Everyone is creative at an early age. Such creativity evolves to a mature state with the gain of proper skills or it is gradually lost.”

Some days I would create complex stories with my dolls and Lego toys as a kid. Other days I would imagine I was a famous chef with a busy restaurant, an executive working for a big corporation or even a TV presenter discussing the latest fashion trends.

As I got older, I become more realistic and less imaginative. A feeling of frustration for not being able to express perfectly to the outside world what was inside in my head contributed to the decline of my creativity. I lacked the proper skills and the right motivation. I gradually lost it.

H2: “A genetic basis for creativity exists. However, creativity is not a binary outcome – to be or not be creative -, but a continuous one.”

Me and my brother have distinct creativity levels. We used to play with Lego together as kids. I would build a house with a restaurant in the first floor and create an intricate storytelling with romance, business plans, villains and revenge. Mostly likely influenced by the Brazilian soup operas… On the other hand, my brother would build very realistic aircrafts and make several attempts to destroy my house.

My brother would also join me when I was playing as a chef in a fancy restaurant. However, I was the one imagining the entire scenario. “The restaurant is full! We need two burgers and three vegetable soups!” “Oh no…I burned the burgers. We should do them again!!” “Hurry, hurry! The clients are waiting…”  I was definitely more imaginative than him.

Anyway. Regardless of where creativity comes from, I do miss expressing myself in a creative way. To allow my mind to travel freely. To create new worlds and perspectives. To fulfilled my crazy and random ideas.

I just need to overcome the frustration and improve the right skills.

Shall we try to be creative again? A definitive yes.

Creativity: where it comes from?

Photo taken by Cláudia Mendes at Florence, Italy, July 2014.
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Staying young.

In the last couple of years I have had a strong desire to return to one of my old hobbies: roller skating. Maybe because I feel nostalgic when I see someone roller skating. Or maybe I miss doing something so simple that makes me truly happy.

When I was a kid, my father would take me to a different garden in the city centre almost every weekend. I would roller skate for hours with an old pair of quad skates. They were made with four wheels set in two side-by-side pairs, a piece of metal and several strings to fit over my ordinary shoes.  I remember they would come off very easily from my feet.

My parents then gave me a brand new pair of inline skates. I was so happy! I could finally learn some advanced moves and perform crazy jumps. But one day, during summer holidays, I fell badly on the floor after trying a new jump. I broke my wrist and I had to use a plaster cast for the rest of the summer. It was the last time I roller skate.

This week I finally bought a new pair of inline skates. And also a good pair of wrist protections…

After a long day at work, me and a good friend of mine went roller skating in an old parking lot near the river. I felt like a little kid again. To feel the wind on my face. To feel the speed. To feel in the zone.

As we get older, we stop doing the simple things that made us happy. We are absorbed by our tasks, responsibilities and problems, and most of the time, we even consider happiness as an intangible feeling. Maybe, just maybe, we should look back and try to return to our old hobbies: roller skating, swimming, dancing, painting, writing.

We should try, at least for a brief period in our busy schedule, to be a kid again. To keep our spirit young. To be truly happy again.

Roller skating

Photo taken by Cláudia Mendes at Lisbon, Portugal, August 2015.

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Back. At least try. Once more.

I used to enjoy so much writing in this blog. I could touch people with my simple words about life, family, relationships, movies, dance, science.

More than one year has passed. I tried many times to come back. But I guess when we are in the end of a PhD in Biology we have only one goal in mind: to write and defend a “nice” thesis.

Now it is finally done. Now I can do my little pleasures again. And this is one of them.

Hello again. I am back.

Happy in Germany!

Photo taken by Ricardo Ferreira at Stockach, Germany, July 2015.
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Pitchuri.

I was living in Torrozelo when I saw her for the first time.

Torrozelo is a small  village in Serra da Estrela, which is the highest mountain in continental Portugal. My bedroom had a big balcony where I could see the mountain and its valleys. Our backyard had several trees and one of the apple trees was so big that the branches reached the balcony.

One summer night I woke up with the loud sound of a cat fight. I went to the balcony and I saw two to three cats on the grass near the apple tree and they were looking at the top of the tree. I also look up and I saw a small kitten with orange, black and grey patches. I made some noise to scare the big cats and they ran off. The small kitten just looked at me with frighten eyes. I thought to myself that she would eventually find her way back home.

The next morning I went to the balcony and she was still in the same place. Maybe she was too scared to go down and find the big cats again. But she was too far from the balcony for me to grab her and bring her to safe ground. So I decided to call her and hopefully she would come in my direction. I called. She looked at me and meowed. She started to walk slowly towards my voice. When she was close enough, I grabbed her against my chest and I let her down in the balcony floor. She rubbed herself against my legs with the tail up. I pet her and she started to purr. From that moment on, a strong bond was made between both of us.

After my trip to Scotland last September, she wasn’t eating anything and she was sleeping above my bed all day long. I took her to the vet and they told me that she might have been depressed and anxious during my absence. When cats are stressed, they stop eating and their liver starts to accumulate all the fat which leads to liver malfunctioning and consequently to pancreas and stomach problems. A feeding tube had to be inserted through her nose in order to feed her with liquefied food directly to her stomach.

She spent one week in the vet and one more week at home with the feeding tube. I thought I was going to loose her and I wasn’t ready for that. I wanted to grab her against my chest and save her again like I did twelve years ago. I wanted to speak the same language as her, so I could explain her why after leaving her alone I was putting herself through all those medical treatments. I wanted to say that everything was going to be fine. She just needed to eat again on her own. Luckily, after several attempts with salmon, shrimp and even chourizo, she started to eat on her own.

Now she is a fat and happy cat again!

It is hard to explain how special and fulfilling the relationship between pets and people can be. Maybe because it is a very honest and straightforward relationship. I like you. You like me. Let’s be friends forever.

In the back of my mind I know she will be gone in a few years and I try to cherish the time I still have with her. When the day comes, it will be a very sad day, but I’ll be grateful that one day she decided to climb my apple tree.

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Back.

I’m back.

In the past months I have been working hard in the lab with little time to do anything else. The pressure to finish my PhD. To have at least one complete story. A pressure which mainly comes from myself. The toughest pressure to beat. There is always one more experiment I could do.

But the time has finally arrived. It is time to stop the bench work and start writing my first manuscript.

The good thing about computer work is that I can pause and restart it at any time. My work schedule will not depend on fly development for a while, so I can get out of the lab at decent times. I can go to my dance classes every single day and I can start writing on my blog again.

Happy times are coming!

Dance

Photo taken by Ana Almeida at 2ªEMA Party in Art, Lisbon, Portugal, December 2013.
Posted in Crocodile Crew, Dance, PhD, Plans | Leave a comment