Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Nature vs nurture

I have a friend who grew up in a house without books. I find it hard to imagine – there were lots of books in my childhood home. There was a lot of art too; pottery, sculptures and paintings, and we watched BBC2 and were taken to exhibitions and music events, and my mum used to love holding her cheese-and-wine do's. All very middle class; although my mum's roots weren't, but she had aspirations and she also married someone who was. So really it's no wonder that I like books, art, music, culture. And cheese and wine. I grew up with the stuff.

Back to my friend with no books in the house. His father was an agricultural worker, his mother a housewife, they didn't have much money and, from what I can gather, their lives were pretty much mapped out by the tradition of their gender, class and era. He, however, in spite of struggling academically at school, displayed great interest in art, literature and history. He was never encouraged by his parents, but his creativity and ambitions were deep-founded and weren't going to be suppressed. He even taught himself how to "speak posh".

We've often talked about it... nature versus nurture. Nurture doesn't appear to have existed in his case, so it would seem that nature gave him those gifts, although not directly via his parents. Mr SDS has a similar story; whilst his mum and dad were laughing at On The Buses before going down the pub, he preferred to watch Monty Python whilst smoking a Sobranie Black Russian. His favourite subjects at school were English and Art but nobody else in his family had ever knowingly shown any interest in either and he disappointed his dad by hating football. He was telling me the other day how he'd never had yoghurt as a kid because it was considered too exotic. (I, on the other hand, regularly indulged in a strawberry flavoured Ski but had never sampled the delightful combination of baked beans with chips until I met it works both ways.)

I'm curious to know where it all comes from. Maybe an artistic/literary/academic or whatever gene can skip a generation or two, or three? Maybe ancestors displayed the same tendencies or interests but were never able to indulge them? Only the wealthiest and most privileged could attend cultural events, eat unusual food, get a good education, dabble in the arts.  Maybe some of the farm labourers and serving girls from whom I was descended on my mum's side might have had similar tastes to me, but were never given the opportunity to explore such subjects?  It would have been so hard for them to realise - and probably even harder to admit to against a background of austerity and necessity.

Oh well, I don't know. And as there are no future generations to come from me and Mr SDS, I may as well stop worrying about it; this line of music-loving, book-reading, yoghurt-eating, classless wine-guzzlers ends here.

(With thanks to el hombre invisible whose blog Include Me Out unwittingly inspired!)


  1. My house was a mixed bag.

    It's impossible to grow up around here without being inundated with music..but it was my Daddy's soul and blues tapes, Randy's Record Shop, Candlelight Records stuff...blues and rocknroll. My moma sang Hank Williams songs to me when I was a youngin and the best rant my Granma ever went on was about what a sell out Patsy Cline was. In other words our own music. My moma was younger and there were her British invasion and surf records. I credit a fondness for Jan and Dean and the real drums of Daddy's soul music for causing me to fall so hard for Pavement when they showed up.*

    Still nobody in my family could have picked out Bach from Stravinsky...would never have heard a difference and would have been baffled by the idea that there was one.

    To the theme...

    "Really? I could do that Erik." Said my mother as dismissively flicked back the big Rothko on foam board to focus on the Lautrec..."Beautiful."

    Lodges right up my nose and under my left eye to this day. She's the only person I know who's opinions infuriate me...because they aren't opinions they're judgements...and her judgement SUCKS!

    She's always love to draw that always a ready activity.

    Though we had no art in the house until Daddy started making a little money. Then it was religious or sentimental prints...not good religious stuff old couple praying for rain in a field. That kinda dour low church stuff.

    We had this print of an old man picking a splinter out of a little girl's finger. It's in a flowery garden...she's standing on a wrought-iron bench. I remember one night standing in the foyer where where it hung...seein' some company out the door with my Moma. I was staring at it as they left and as soon as the door shut..."Mama. That's really a dirty picture."

    "Erik. Please!" Hahahahahahaha

    There really weren't any books in our house. Again, where we are it's hard to avoid books all together...and everybody is a first class story teller. but books?* Truman Capote had a presence in our house and I was forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird...."White Liberal Savior fantasy.... Nonsense"

    "Eirk. Please!" HAHAHA

    I grew up in a heavily cultured household...that culture was Cracker culture. Part of that was a kind of directionless but sweet encouragement. I'll never forget my Daddy's nonchalant patience as he asked one his secretaries if she would please type up a paper I'd written on Oscar bits and all.** Ha

    "Do what you want when you're grown,.be happy as you can manage... but, stay right with the can't avoid that reckoning." That seemed to be thrust of it.

    Shit...sorry to run on like that. I'm not sure you can separate nature and nurture very neatly...the people that nurture you have natures that have been influenced by the nurturing they got ...and whether or not you believe God holds the jokers...I think there's an element of singular chance in it.

    *My Daddy has made cryptic remarks about my Moma teaching him to read. They didn't marry until 1972 and for ten years prior he had a job that required filling out forms...he's a clever one.

    **I didn't write the paper to shock anybody. I was running with this girl who really liked the Smiths and had this book on Wilde was I used it. Ooops. Ha.

  2. Thanks Erik... so fascinating... I love the way you write, this is a post in its own right!
    I think this was really interesting "the people that nurture you have natures that have been influenced by the nurturing they got" and I guess sometimes it's just so subtle we can't even spot it. I still don't know where Mr SDS got his particular tastes and genes from, though. He's not like his sister, who had the same nurturing from the same parents, or his cousins, or anyone else in his family, so I like to think that somewhere back in the Dark Ages there was an ancestor just like him (a lute-playing Court Jester who had to food-test the weird dishes for the King, I imagine).

  3. Nice post, C. For most, it's nurture, I think. Or some distant gene genie sprung from 'the bottle' at birth. But as you say, where did the original gene come from?

    1. Thanks - and of course for the inspiration some things you'd said on IMO provided! (Ooh, just realised: "IMO", ha!)
      I agree, for most I'm sure it's nurture, or at least the combination of nature and nurture (def. both in my case) - but it's the ones to whom nature alone seems to offer those unexpected traits and talents that I find the most interesting!

    2. Nothing nurtured in my house, that's for sure. I was writing short stories whilst Crossroads was on in the same room. I don't recall anyone asking me much about them. Why? God knows. I've been trying to prove myself (to myself) ever since!

    3. This is exactly what I mean... where did that part of you come from? (I must stop asking myself questions to which I'll never know the answer, but it's this curious mind - which I inherited of course!)
      Anyway I'm sure you don't need to prove anything! But I can't help finding it all - and thus a lot of what you say too - very interesting . (Btw I didn't see Crossroads until I was in my teens as ITV was rarely on in my house - says it all, doesn't it?!)

    4. The BBC2 button didn't work on our my parents told me...

    5. They must have sold a lot of faulty tellies in those days, no BBC2 on yours and no ITV on mine...
      (But at least we had a shutter we could pull across the screen after switching it off - once it had cooled down. Oh god, I sound a hundred years old)

  4. You realise of course that thinking about all this will keep me awake tonight...! That and the image of Mr SDS as a lute playing court jester.

    1. Sorry.... this is the kind of thing that sets my mind off, though, that and questions like "when rivers meet the sea, at what point does the water start becoming salty?" and "do worms need sleep?" I hope those thoughts won't add to your insomnia!

      (It's not that hard to imagine the court jester really!)

  5. Thats an interesting one C. Both my parents were very old school there was no art, music at all in our house. I have 2 sisters and a brother and only 1 of my sisters and I were interested in art and music. We were not encouraged in any way for anything and really left to our own devises. A different world today. But I do not blame them, it was just the way it was.

    1. Thanks - I do find it interesting - you're another example of someone whose parents didn't foster enthusiasm in the things that interest you so much, it just came from within!


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