Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 30 March 2016



It is true that every
seven years we change.

Turning fourteen I started
thinking poetry.

I am now twenty-nine and
safe for six more years.

15 December 1988

My dad told me that every seven years all the cells in our bodies change. We become different people. I found this fascinating and still do. Of course there was no Internet back then to check the science but Dad said it was true and so it was true. It’s not. Well, it is, sort of. Fat cells are replaced at the rate of about 10% per year in adults. Cardiomyocyte heart cells are replaced at a reducing rate as we age. Neurons in the cerebral cortex are never replaced. There are no neurons added to your cerebral cortex after birth. Any cerebral cortex neurons that die are not replaced. Scientists are now studying other tissues to determine the turnover rate.

It was my brain I was worried about. Who cared if I got a new leg or spleen every now and then? And how come when my broken finger replaces itself it replaces itself with another broken finger? My brain, that was something precious. I still think so. The idea of losing the ability to write terrifies me and yet a couple of years after I wrote ‘Changeling’ that is exactly what happened. Between August 1991 and June 1994 I didn’t write a single poem. I thought I was done and it was a truly horrible feeling. I was no longer me.

I am fifty-six and I haven’t written a poem for over a year. Who knows what the future will bring?


Kass said...

So much of what you currently write is poetry. You just need to put in line breaks.

Gwil W said...

There's mot a single molecule in your body over 7 years old is what your dad meant. But you can always create new synapses in your brain by learning a new skill: playing an instrument, learning a new language, taking up painting or a new hobby or sport.

Jim Murdoch said...

I see where you’re coming from, Kass, and I would agree that the distinction between poetry, prose and poetic prose is a hard one to pin down. I think it’s important to consider the words we use. I don’t always. I can be a slovenly in my speech as the next guy but I prefer not to be. I’m better on paper. Aloud I tend to lump for the easy option often because I lack confidence. I understand a great many words but so often I’ll fall back on the old favourites like “nice” and “interesting”. On paper I can give a considered response and even with a short comment like this I’ll read it over and over again. It’s like a present. I’ve always been good at buying presents and that’s because I never left things to the last minute; I’ve bought Christmas presents in March before. I’m jealous of naturally gifted speakers, people like Anita Brookner. Before Mick Brown went to conduct what turned out to be the last interview she gave her friend Julian Barnes gave him some advice: “One of the most remarkable things about her is that her conversation has perfect punctuation, so that you hear every colon and semi-colon; and this makes you aware that your own grammar in spoken English is very sloppy. It's not a deliberate trick to make you feel uneasy; it's simply how she is.” I would love to be like that.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not a scientist, Gwilym. I never took any science at school other than General Science the first two years at secondary school when it was compulsory. I don’t really care about why the sky’s blue. I’ve heard the reason and forgotten it and if you told me I’d find it interesting—it’s not that science can’t hold my interest—but I would retain it. I like the poetry of science. To be flippant: why is the sky blue? because it’s sad. I don’t care whether Schrödinger's cat is dead and/or alive but as an image to play with it’s just wonderful. Until I posted this poem I’d never checked to see I what my dad said was true. It didn’t matter to me but the idea that it might be true has always fascinated me. I’m not the man who wrote that poem. That is a fact. I’m sure there’s some of him left within me, a trace of him, but he’s gone and good riddance if I’m being honest; he wrote a handful of half-decent poems and made some very poor life decisions. The poems weren’t worth it.

Kass said...

Jim, going straight away to look up Anita Brookner. This quote about her conversational punctuation is so compelling.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve read several books by Brookner, Kass, and fully expect to read more. My first was Friends and Family and you can read my review on my blog here. There are also three on Goodreads: Latecomers, Look at Me and Strangers. I’ve also reviewed The Next Big Thing but it’ll be a while before it gets posted.

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