Tuesday, August 15, 2017

On 23andMe the Strangeness of Genes

As I mentioned in a previous post, I did finally get around to doing that whole 23andMe DNA test thingamajig this summer after probably a good year of hemming and hawing about it. It's been a few weeks since I first got my results, but I've been truly fascinated by some of the things I found out, especially in regards to the ancestry side of things. 

Suffice it to say that my mixed race heritage has always defined quite a bit about my physical and biological identity whether I wanted it to or not. When I was a kid, I was a shy wallflower type that just wanted to fit in, so I used to hate being mixed because of the constant questions I always got about my ethnicity and heritage. As an adult though, I've come to realize that being different or unique isn't so bad, so I've learned to embrace it for what it is. I've even become quite curious about the bare-bones, honest details of who and what I am from a cultural heritage standpoint.

Lots of people grew up in households where cultural identity and heritage were really, seriously important things. That wasn't the case with my immediate family when I was growing up at all. I knew my dad was black and that my mom was probably mostly of Irish heritage, but that's about it. Neither of my parents seemed to consider those aspects of who they were to be terribly important. My brother and I were certainly never encouraged to really identify with anything about where we came from ethnically speaking, especially in regards to our black side. 

Neither of my parents ever dared say so in so many words, but I sometime got the impression my blackness was considered a negative to overcome in life, even by my father who is honestly as black as it gets by society's standards. It was certainly nothing to express any sort of pride in the way I saw being done in other families that included black people. Interest in anything related to black culture was pretty strongly discouraged (and in some cases even "corrected"). However, I was actively encouraged to be "grateful" I had light skin, hair that flowed and grew long, or features that were relatively Caucasian-seeming in comparison to other people with similar backgrounds -- like I lucked out in dodging bullets I could have been hit with because of where I came from.

Looking back, all of that was really pretty fucked up and I have to wonder what my parents were even thinking in getting together and producing mixed children if they didn't actually want to raise children with that background. Granted the atmosphere at home was only part of the reason, but I truly felt like there was something wrong with me -- like I was disappointing, unattractive, and just plain "weird" in a way other kids just weren't. As I've gotten older though, I've come to realize none of this had anything to do with me. It was about personal hang-ups my parents apparently both had in regards to what it means to be black or what it says about you if you choose to embrace your blackness. 

Case in point, once I reached young adulthood, I started hearing all the time from my dad about the Native American heritage I'd supposedly inherited from his side of the family and was encouraged to embrace that for reasons I still don't totally understand. (I guess anything's better than being just plain old black.) My father's never necessarily been someone I associate with honesty or transparency though, so I never knew how seriously to take that -- one of the many reasons why I wanted to have a 23andMe done in the first place. I wanted to know how much of what I've been led to believe about my heritage was real and how much was bullshit I could just go ahead and let go of.

As you can see from my ancestry report, there isn't any Native American in my heritage, which there obviously would be if it were any major part of my father's heritage. What I do have back there somewhere is some apparent Asian heritage, which really intrigues me. I also have a good deal of Scandinavian and Iberian heritage, which is also complete news to me. I was pretty surprised to find out that I have as much European ancestry overall as I apparently do as well. I always just assumed I was mostly black genetically speaking, but I guess that's not necessarily how genetics works (with one type of DNA being "stronger" somehow than another). I certainly didn't figure my predominant heritage would come up as Irish/British, but there it is just the same. 

I kind of hate that if I'd never had this test done, I wouldn't have known about some of this stuff in any way whatsoever. However, I love that I now have this information from an accurate source I feel like I can trust. I feel this immense interest in my heritage beginning to emerge as a result and I'm excited to see how that develops for me in the years to come. I've never really identified that closely with any one part of my heritage, partly because of my upbringing and partly because I really do scan so thoroughly as "mixed" to other people, but I like this new feeling. I feel like I'm somebody -- somebody with an identity that's attached to a real history, and a heritage, and a background. The fact that my parents never thought it was important that I appreciate it is now irrelevant.

In other news, I also opted in to 23andMe's relative matching network, because I figured "why the hell not". There are apparently over 2,000 people in their databases that are genetically related to me to one extent or another, which just blows my mind. Many are distantly related cousins or something and they live all over the United States. I think a few may even live elsewhere, but I can't quite remember right now. 

I'm a pretty passive person, so I haven't actually reached out to any of these people on my own, but I have had three people contact me through the site wanting to compare DNA results and whatnot -- two guys and a girl, all distant cousins. The girl in particular expressed a lot of interest in maybe getting to know me better. We added each other on Facebook and actually spent a little time yesterday afternoon talking about heritage and whatnot. It was actually a pretty cool experience. I'm really not used to having most of my blood relatives take much of an interest in me as a person, so that was a nice change of pace for sure. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Moving on to Other Things

Tippi Hedren - Publicity Still for The Birds
It's strange. Whenever I do a thing, I always try to make it as easy as possible for people to find out more about me or get to know me better if they're so inclined. However, it never fails to surprise me if people actually decide they want to do that. I was just as surprised (but pleased) to learn this blog has been seeing a modest amount of traffic from the TCM forums and occasionally from Twitter over the past few weeks, especially lately. (I don't actually market my personal writings here or anything, so I don't see many passers-through as a rule.)

I suppose that can only mean people appreciate my thoughts and insights on some of the films I've been studying with my fellow Hitchcock students enough to come see what else I'm about. A couple of folks have even gone out of their way to chat with me or at least say hello. I'm used to being seen as smart, but I don't know that I'm always seen as interesting, so that's been nice. It's also been really refreshing for me to interact with new people that actually think for a change. I've probably shared more original thoughts and insights with others over the past month than I have in the past... I don't know... five years? I hope I'm able to keep some of that optimism and good energy going, because that's something I need to be doing if I'm as serious about my writing as I always tell people I am.

Tonight is going to be the last Hitchcock viewing party and the course on the whole only lasts through next week. I will truly miss the lessons, the instructor, my classmates, and all the daily discussions. This has given me so much to think about, and do, and discuss as far as my free time goes. My mind is happiest when it's busy like that, so I'll have to think about how best I can fill that void and keep going with some of these positive thought patterns. I suppose there are always more classes to look into, not to mention aaaaaaall those personal creative projects I never quite seem to get around to working on, let alone sharing. I thought maybe age and a growing sense of disenchantment with the world and with the rest of humanity had destroyed my passion for thinking and sharing my thoughts, so mostly I'm just really relieved to know that part of me is alive and well.

In other news, Seth and I decided to have our DNA tested through 23andMe last month. I got my results back last weekend and Seth got his back today. Ethnic heritage has never been something that was talked a lot about or considered important in my family. However, I've always been very interested in world culture and world history, so I've always been similarly interested in knowing where and how I fit into the grand scheme of things, especially considering how racially mixed I've always known myself to be. I really feel my thoughts about the whole 23andMe experience deserve their own detailed post though, so I'll simply stick a pin in that topic for now and revisit it over the weekend. Marnie is about to start and I love me some Tippi Hedren.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Stopping at Manderley

Rebecca (1940)
It's always a good thing to realize you're growing as a person, but it's very strange indeed to realize almost no one you're close to has been growing in the same areas you have. Seth and I both have a lot of moments lately where we're going through our social media feeds reading posts from people we once considered ourselves close to and shaking our heads. "Was so-and-so always such a self-pitying crybaby?" "Have Person X and Person Y always been this mind-numbingly boring?"

Normally I simply assume that if I've fallen out of love with a particular friendship, it's because the person changed and isn't as cool as they used to be, but lately I've been realizing that's not the case at all. I am changing and world views that once made a lot of sense to me now seem very silly and unrealistic. I'm also realizing that I know so many people that suffer from victim mentality because I used to be the same way and like attracts like. I guess I need some new friends. People that also like to learn and grow. People that are determined to see themselves as winners, not losers.


I'm really very proud of myself for keeping up with my Hitchcock 50 class despite having as much to do for work as ever. At this point, we've successfully completed two weeks of lessons -- one on Hitchcock's early work in silent film and another on the British spy films he made in the 1930's. Seth and I have both taken and passed two tests. We've also made it a point to watch as many of the films as we can on Wednesdays and Friday when TCM shows them, as well as participate in class discussions. A lot of the other students have already fallen behind at this point in the course, so I'm really proud of both of us for sticking with things and making the most of the experience.

This week, we're moving on to the Selznick years, as well as some of the films that made me fall in love with Hitchcock as as young person. I'm saving the bulk of the lesson for after I get some of my Monday obligations out of the way, but I took a quick peek at today's module just to see what was on the agenda and saw it focuses on Rebecca, easily one of my favorite films of his. I can't believe how eager I am to dive in today for that reason. 

I'm also realizing how sad I'm going to be when the course is over. These lessons and all the fun live tweeting with classmates while watching movies a couple of evenings a week have easily been the high point of my summer so far. Makes me realize how starved I am for experiences that are productive, enriching, and semi-social while also being completely voluntary. No one is taking this course because they have to. They don't need it for college credit or anything. Everyone is doing this for the exact same reason I am -- they appreciate film and want a chance to learn more about it with other people that appreciate film. Period. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Summer of Hitch

The Lodger (1927)
So I'm actually doing a thing this summer. I'd been seeing ads on Facebook and elsewhere about a free film study course TCM was giving on the work of Alfred Hitchcock, my absolute favorite director of all time. At first, I didn't know if it was a good idea, especially since I've been more stressed out than usual lately. Then I decided there was no harm in signing up and giving it a try, as I could always drop it if it turned out to be too much to handle on top of everything else I have going on right now.

Now I'm really glad I enrolled, because it turned out to be just what my summer needed. In fact, Seth and I are both taking it and the lessons have since become one of the highlights of our days. It's fun to have something to focus on that feels productive, but that isn't somehow about work or taking care of other responsibilities. I especially like that it's led to some really fun discussions, both with other people that are taking the class and with Seth. I've always thought we might enjoy the experience of taking a class of some sort together. We have fun together anyway and talk about all sorts of things, but it's been fun to have an actual activity to focus on.

I'm also realizing I need to go easier on myself sometimes and do more things just because they sound like a good time. Period. Generally speaking, I'm the sort of person that truly hates not being able to finish something I start, even if I have a really good reason for bailing on whatever it is. I also don't really like signing up for things and then half-assing them, so I find I often won't give anything new a try if there's the slightest chance I'll have to give it any less than 100% at any point. I don't even want to think about how many fun experiences I've probably missed out on over the years because that was always my thinking.

I probably need to find more things to do with some of my time that actually get me socializing with other people I have something in common with as well. Since I have Seth to talk to about whatever, I don't feel a lot of need to seek out interaction with others. When I do, it's always on general social media, which isn't without its share of annoyances. Even when they're actually older than I am, people seem to assign me this weird mentor/advice giver role that I really dislike instead of seeing me as a friend and equal. I like just shooting the breeze with other folks that are just into learning new things and sharing ideas. Makes me think other online courses might be just as good a fit for me. I guess we'll see.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Blood Carrots

Last night, I dreamed I was a carrot. I was planted in a field with a lot of other carrots and tended by farmers that apparently took farming super seriously. To make sure all the carrots grew nice and big, they kept taking animals and even people out to the fields and slaughtering them on the spot so they could fertilize the fields with all the blood. It also rained almost constantly wherever this was.

In the dream, I kept soaking up all the blood and all the rain through the outside of my carrot body and it was weirdly satisfying. Like eating a huge plate of exactly what you've been craving when you're so hungry you think you're going to faint. Also, I never got too warm because my whole body was made of vegetable, safe underneath the surface of the earth. And my carrot top really liked blowing in the breeze. I knew I'd get harvested and eaten one day, but for some reason I was really excited about it.

Very strange, very dark dream, but the feelings that came with it were incredibly joyful. My brain even wrote a little poem about being a carrot when I first woke up, but unfortunately I didn't immediately write it down the way I should have. Will I never learn?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

On Aging, Choices, and Other Monsters

When I hear people talk about whatever they think is wrong with their lives, it always seems to be about boredom to one degree or another. They want something to happen. They want to feel like their lives are exciting and full of action. They want to feel like they matter to other people -- that they're important.

I'm the opposite. I usually feel like too much is going on even though my "too much" often looks a whole lot like other people's "not much". I feel like I have too much to worry about and too many responsibilities. I also often feel like I matter too much to others and in all the wrong ways -- that too many people count on me for too many things I'm not really equipped to provide. Only those that know me well enough to know how resentful I become when I don't feel like the things I do are noticed or appreciated remember to thank me often enough. Most don't thank me at all, let alone return the favor ever. In other words, I get very little back out of life considering what I put into it at times and that feels almost unbearably unfair.

I'm also noticing that the older I get without any of that changing, the more important money seems to become to me. Not just any money either -- my money. Money I earn under my own power doing things I'm good at. As much as I don't like not having a choice about whether or not I work, I very much enjoy making money. I especially like that I'm in business for myself. I don't have a boss. I get to call all the shots 100% of the time. I don't have employees or business partners either, so I get to take 100% of the credit for everything I've accomplished from a business standpoint. It's a neat feeling -- indulgently selfish in a way I don't get to be when it comes to any other area of my life.

That said, I'm beginning to understand why so many people do throw themselves into work or money-making when life gets really shitty or feels super thankless. It feels like something you can control. It feels like you're doing something that will actually prove helpful if your life decides to shit the bed even worse than it already has. People may or may not let you down when you need them. Money never does. You can turn to it whenever you need food, or clothes, or a place to live. The more of it you have, the more choices you also have. Choices are important to me -- possibly more important than anything else.

Life is stressful for me right now and some of those ways are new. Suffice it to say that I'm definitely middle-aged and life is throwing things at me right now that it throws at everyone when they reach this period in their life. Some days I'm dealing with that fine. Others days, not so much. But knowing that I'm also actively building some kind of financial security for myself right now is helping a lot. I definitely feel like I'm being as productive as possible as far as where I'm putting my energy professionally. It's not enough to dissolve the resentment and disappointment I always feel on some level as to how my life turned out, but it's definitely something.