Welp, 23andMe has spoken: My in-demand, keep-you-on-your-toes relational volatility and high-test professional masochism come from an honest place. Here’s the lab report!
All those nights I spent sobbing and listing to and fro while singing inaccurate lyrics to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”* because a lady (or gentleman, if we’re talking pre-2002, which we’re not) had broken my heart a third or fourth time? The jobs I stayed in far too long as my dreams curled up like be-salted slugs, all snotty and petulant? My willingness to visit Reddit every once in a while, just to see what’s up? There’s a gene for that! Science, y’all!
For those who don’t know: 23andMe uses saliva samples to take a peek at your DNA. Six weeks after you send in your sample, you get an-email with information about your ethnic ancestry; inherited conditions (like if you’re a carrier for cystic fibrosis) vulnerability to diseases such as Parkinson’s or heart disease; whether or not asparagus makes your pee smell funny; and lots more.
My report accurately described my eye color, hair texture, height, body-mass index, later-than-average menarche, and reaction to certain medications. In the 18th century, this would SO be witchcraft.
Some of it is opaque, like I’m an “AG genotype” (which I have decided stands for “Akimbo Gangsta.”) The above study (in case of tl;dr) found that:
“People with the GG genotype learned to avoid choices with negative feedback relatively easily, while people with AG or AA genotypes did not learn to avoid these choices; in other words, they did not learn from their mistakes.”
I guess AG’s are like rats who persist in taking the wrong turn through the maze no matter how many times they get shocked. Their rat friends are over in the safe corner, eating Froot Loops and having their velvety ears stroked by good-natured graduate research assistants, but AG rats just keep getting zap zap zapped.
This particular genetic finding is more interesting to me than the rest (even more than learning I have a big chunk of German DNA, or that my mother is just a teensy bit Asian). It’s true that my history includes many...definitively themed mistakes that made me suffer — but it’s also not true. Because while some of my choices were “inefficient” in terms of avoiding pain, some were an honest attempt to find things out for myself (“What would my life be like if I changed careers again?”) Others were culturally supported (“This raging case of bulimia sure is painful, but I do get lots of compliments on my body.”) Still more were an assertion of faith in people in whom I saw potential rather than limitations or hazards (“Imma move to Canada to marry a pre-operative transsexual I’ve never seen in direct sunlight!”)
I’ve not succeeded in avoiding pain, but neither have I failed at finding joy — sometimes in the midst of pain or even or because of it. For example: I wandered around Toronto brokenhearted and lost because I’d trusted someone in a way that caused pain — a way I had trusted before and would again — but as I wound in and out of the frozen streets I found color and music; art and drama; weird ways of making money; an array of inimitable people. I wandered into new places and emerged with treasures tangible and non. One night I was bonedeep cold and couldn’t go home because she was crazy so I walked into a bookstore, shook the snow out of my hair, bought a rare copy of “Jane Eyre”and let the story devour me in a new and stunning way.
I didn’t crawl back inside myself. I stayed for the party, even if I was the only one who showed up.
I always stay for the parties. I stay for the funerals too, and the weddings and births and screaming night terrors. And ultimately, I prefer the person I became over who I would have been if “negative feedback” was enough to make me miss any of these things.
I’m awake. I’m alive.
And I’m making fewer truly shitty choices as I hit late youth — and that’s what I am, since my DNA says I’m likely to live to 100 and I probably won’t get Alzheimer’s. (If I’d gotten bad news from that quarter, my plan was to put a big bottle of Xanax on the mantel with a Post-it reading, “If you can’t remember what these pills are for, take them all.”)
So I think that my She’ll never learn genetic legacy; my Lady, are you nuts? zapped-rat fate is ameliorated by experience and a conscious choice to learn from it and bend it to my will. I believe that the ability to use one’s mistakes is the most crucial ingredient to a successful life (followed closely by adaptability to change and an appreciation of the absurd).
That, and staying off the smack, I guess.
*”Well I had a feeling that I’m a log/Well I had a feeling that I’m a piece of one/Piece of one/Piece of one.”