Blog Fodder: Happiness and Henrietta Lacks edition.



So, I won’t be writing so much, not that I write too frequently anyway, but I’m back at uni and will be swamped by  uni work. I’m trying to do 2 units this semester (as well as working full-time) so…I think I’ll be eating, sleeping, working and studying – for the next  17 weeks…sigh…


I’ll probably just be dumping loads of links to other places and to writings that I find inspiring, so here we go!


From over yonder at Pandagon we have Women’s happiness isn’t so mysterious after all.


Gore keeps coming back to the ideas of “flow” and “loafing” as two experiences one must regularly engage in order to be happy.  Flow is the ability to get absorbed in a task that challenges but that you are the master of, and to lose track of time in it.  Loafing is relaxing in an engaged way—not smoking a joint and zoning out in front of the TV, but taking a walk or even folding laundry in a way that you’re relaxed and really giving your mind some time to process stuff and go to creative places.


I like the idea that ‘loafing’ and ‘flowing’ are required for happiness. I do tend to wallow around not doing much during the uni breaks between semesters, but I tend to wallow in the internet. I’ve found that sometimes I roam from blog to blog, consuming posts without really digesting them and I know that’s not such a great process. I really need a new hobby, or at least limit my consumption to things that I can dwell on; I mean, at least focus on one particular theme at a time, rather than lurching around randomly consuming all that I can. I think it’s a cultural thing that I have internalised that zooming from one thing to another without really taking things in, soaking them up, digesting them and allowing them to inform my thinking, opening up a plethora of tabs, flicking back and forth and superficially ‘knowing’ lots of things that are going on but not with any real depth or with any real meaning or effect on my life.



Something else I read that I loved was a post that Chally over at Zero at the Bone wrote on Identifying Identities and there are two meaty paragraphs which I’m leaving here because I love the post so much that I can’t choose. I urge you to get on over there and read the whole thing.


It takes some kind of extraordinary arrogance to declare an identity for someone else. This is an attitude that says, ‘My perceptions are more important than your lived experience.’ ‘My comfort in my ability to correctly assess people overrides the truth.’ It is extraordinary what lengths humans will go to in order to make the world in line with their screwy ideas about the people in it. As for ‘the truth,’ that’s the thing. The truth is that someone’s identity is whatever they hold it to be. Asserting your idea of what a person is over theirs says that it’s okay for everyone to weigh in on and locate and decide it as an objective truth. And almost inevitably it’s an “impartial” outside observer who has the right idea, and they locate the truth of someone’s identity quite outside the grasp of the individual concerned. There is no good reason why your ideas about what a person is like, or what people with an identity are like, should trump the experience and history and, you know, understanding of their own being, of the person with said identity, no reason at all. Forcing your ideas about what a person is onto them is presumptuous and bizarre; how on earth do you think you know better about a person and their life than they do?


People are that which they understand themselves to be; one ought to respect that a person is what they say they are, accept that and move on from the urge to police. There is not some other real identity buried back there that you can grasp hold of irrespective of what the person concerned says. You cannot fix an identity or change it or correct it, it just is – and trying to do so is particularly problematic in terms of marginalised identities, because that’s a continuation of what the whole world is making a good go of. Trying is undermining not just someone’s experience within the world, but something of their being. It takes some kind of bizarre embarrassment or self-assurance – or higher social placement – to continue to insist on referring and relating to a person incorrectly once they’ve told you otherwise.


I LOVE this piece. I spent a few years doing therapy and this is just what I did. Learn your identity and that no-one else has the right to police it. Chally’s post reminds me what a continual process it is, being who you are and re-membering that constantly, in a world that tries to continually impose either it’s version of the norm on your self, or to tell you why your non-conforming aspects are wrong. Also though, because I have grown up in this culture and internalised a lot of our norms, I have to try to learn to filter those aspects of myself which tend to police people. That part of myself which scans and stereotypes and jumps to conclusions and thinks ‘ahhh…so that’s why…’ or ‘they should just…’ and other types of thinking that don’t allow people to be who they are, or tries to find a ‘reason’ that makes things make sense to me. It’s a beautiful post anyway and once again, as I said before – go on over there and read it.



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 250px


And, one more thing. I just got this incredible book called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Well, I’ve only read a few pages but I think it’s going to be great. It’s the story of a poor, black woman called Henrietta Lacks who had  cervical cancer in the 1950’s. Scientists took cells from her cervix (without her knowledge or consent – surprise, surprise) before she died, and have been using them ever since (they’re called HeLa). 


“scientists had been trying to keep human cells alive for decades, but they all eventually died. Henrietta’s were different, they reproduced an entire generation every 24 hours, and they never stopped. They became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory.” 


Her cells have helped develop drugs to treat all kinds of diseases like herpes, leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, they’ve been used to research genes that cause or suppress cancer, they’ve been to the moon, they helped develop the polio vaccine, they’ve been used to study STDs, appendicitis, flu, IVF, cloning and gene mapping. There are so many of them they would wrap around the earth 3 times, they’re used in every cell culture lab in the world.


Henrietta is buried somewhere in an unmarked grave. Scientists have used her  husband and kids for research without their consent; her daughter Deborah says


“but I always have thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see no doctors? Don’t make no sense. People got rich off my mother without us even knowing about them taking her cells, now we don’t get a dime.”


Yeah, well. I think it’s going to be incredible. The woman who wrote the book Rebeca Skloot  first heard about HeLa and Henrietta in a science class when she was 16 and became obsessed. I think she did a science degree and a writing degree and spent 10 years researching and writing the book. It’s a fascinating mix of, well, the sciencey aspect and Henrietta and her descendants personal stories, but also a comment on the classism, racism, arrogance and sexism of a culture; its scientists and doctors, that allowed them to blithely take parts of someone’s body and then study her children without their knowledge or consent, and reaping benefits from doing so.


So far it’s amazing and I know that I’m going to love it. It’s my train reading though and I’m going to take it slowly and thoroughly enjoy it.






What say you?

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s