Sunday, 19 October 2008

From the New Scientist

Here's an interesting study announced in the New Scientist.
Does knowing about our genes help us change our behaviour?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Poem, first draft

Passing Down

We come from Africa, from Asia, from Spain,
Ireland, France. We are descended (so we are told)
from Florence Nightingale, from Basque pirates,
from the Armada, from Slaves.

Our great grandfathers were sacked
for knocking foremen’s hats off with cheese butties.
On the night of the census in 1901
they were in Walton Gaol. They had letters sent
to let their wives know they were not dead.
They died in workhouses. They drowned in the Irish Sea.
They wore someone else’s medals in the photograph.

Our great grandmothers were duchesses
who ran away with gardeners. They climbed up lampposts
and caught their knickers on the spikes
and hid rolled up twenties in Smartie packets

Our grandfathers were overlookers. They flew planes in the war
and brought back birds on their wings. Our grandmothers
were flappers. They put Dolly Blue in the font and watched
the congregation cross themselves; they won geese in raffles
and had to drag them home on strings.

We had aunts, who lost their false teeth
and made their own from chewing gum,
or who went round the world and had children
out of wedlock. We have black sheep - one with two families
whose body found on the council tip. We have uncles
up in court for poaching (out of season).
Someone in our family’s past survived the holocaust.

Our mothers were pessimists who survived Stalin’s famine.
They were nurses and pharmacists. They were in panto
with Flannagan and Allen. They were outgoing
and free-spirited, would have been more adventurous
given a chance. They just wouldn’t button it
when they knew they should.

Our fathers could always laugh in a crisis.
They were the quiet ones, the observers.
In bad times we think about what they
might have done. They blacked up like a minstrels
and knew all the monologues, were Rhodes scholars
from Zambia. We grew up with perfect fathers
we never knew.

We are quiet like our grandmas
and our dads. We got our dads temper
with the ‘red hair gene’. We make safe choices
like our dads. They shaped our politics,
teaching us materialism was vulgar. We can sing
like our great great grandfathers. We got our mum’s
dodgy knees. We are short sighted like our dads.
We are clever like our them and good at history.
We get our logical reasoning side
from our mums. We have learned to be better
at expressing affection like our mums.

We had to learn to stand up for ourselves.
Sometimes bullying made us stronger, enabled
us to put up with more. But it damaged us too.
We don’t let our children waste their food.
We are fussy eaters because of what we were forced
to eat at school. We never learned to be happy
with what we had.

We take after women who fight for justice.
Our friends. We even start using the same words.
We have role models who we think up to. The people
we work and live with make us act the way we do. There are wider
cultural influences. Our choices are economically defined.

We take after people in our dad’s family
we never even knew of. There are people
we wouldn’t want to be related to. Our grandfathers
work in us through our mums, who never
wanted us to have the childhood they had.

We have no family other
than our immediate family. Our world
can collapse around us. We have dreamt
of the grandparents and great grandparents
that we have never met. We only ever hear
stories that are never about us.

We are ourselves. We make choices.
We have invented our own histories. Our sense
of who we are changes with where we are. Other people
see what they see. We’ve never believed
we are born to be this, or born to be that. The whole
of our lives shape us. We can’t think of a single one
of our families that we are like. We believe we are unique.

We try to make choices, but it’s difficult
to have that level of understanding. As we get older
we can consciously make a decision –
but what it is depends on our temperament.
Some of us rebel, some of us acquiesce.
We are different people once we are able to chose.

We try not to end up like our parents – but we do.
We adopt their characteristics
as our perspective on life changes.
When we find ourselves with children it’s our mother’s voice
that comes out of our mouth. Even away from them
we run on along the same lines. Phrases
are embedded in our subconscious.
We gain our values from our forebears.
If our parents let us discover ourselves, we can be someone
totally different, but more like them than we realise.

Our sons are practical like their fathers,
they look just like pictures of us
when we were young. Our daughters
have their dads ‘laid back genes’. Their mannerisms
are just like ours – mischievous monkeys.
They hold their heads like our fathers
and are volatile. They just get on with it, much like us.

We have asked questions – how can a man with blue eyes
be my father? How can green eyes
pop up after generations? We wonder
if our short legs are genetic or the result of rationing.
We worry that we will be attracted to men
like our fathers. We think that maybe the first born
always take after their dads. Could our memories
come through DNA?

Are our children tall
because of what we fed them on? How can you undo
what happens early? How much depends
on our environment? How much is something
inside of us? Where did that come from?
How much is wishful thinking?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Progress Report

All the workshops are done now, and my book is full of post-its, postcards and transcriptions. I've picked out my favourite snippets and written them onto circles and strips for Lynn, who is busy considering ways to arrange them visually. In the meantime I'm planning on writing a long ballad which brings together as many of the different testimonies as possible. Should have something to post here in a week or so!