Science is proving … highlighted text

(A Vocabulary Extension Session from The Safe House)
Use the highlighted words to build your own vocabulary extension map (VEP?)

Do you have a fear of spiders? Maybe snakes? It could be your ancestors trying to tell you something. Recent studies have provided evidence that memories of fear are one of many things our forebearers pass down to us through our DNA.

A 2013 study from Emory University found that  mice trained to fear a specific odor would pass their emotions on to their offspring and future generations. Scientists applied electric shocks to mice as they exposed them to the smell of cherry blossoms. The mice then bred, and both the children and grandchildren of the affected rodents demonstrated a fear of cherry blossoms the first time they smelled them.

“Our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations,” Dr. Brian Dias of the Emory University department of psychiatry said to the Daily Telegraph. “Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The study went beyond just observing a fear reaction. Scientists actually looked at the brains of the animals and found physical changes in the areas that process odors, and also found a marker on the odor gene of the mouse DNA.

The experiment worked even when the researchers used artificial insemination in place of allowing the mice to breed naturally. The scientists still aren’t sure how the fear imprint makes it into the sperm — whether the smell itself passes through the blood, or the brain processes the odor and sends its own signal.

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously,” Prof Marcus Pembrey, from University College London said to the BBC. “I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

Humans have long sought to understand memory and heredity, nature vs. nurture and how much information parents actually transmit to their children. The nature study is another step toward answering our questions about exactly what, and how much of our forebearers’ experiences get passed down through DNA.

Primordial Fears

There is already a growing body of research about how humans and other animals inherit fear from their ancestors. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 found that primates’ brains are uniquely tuned to recognize snakes, suggesting that we gained an innate fear of the reptiles over the course of our evolutionary development. A 2011 study in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that human infants aren’t necessarily afraid of snakes from birth, but they learn to fear them more quickly than they learn to fear other more innocuous stimuli like flowers and rabbits.

“What we’re suggesting is that we have these biases to detect things like snakes and spiders really quickly, and to associate them with things that are yucky or bad, like a fearful voice,” study co-author Vanessa LoBue of Rutgers University said in a press release. The research built on previous work by LoBue and her team that showed that people were able to identify snakes and spiders more quickly than other animals and objects. There’s even evidence that primates actually developed large brains and keen eyesight as a defense measure to avoid falling prey to snakes.

Another study found that unborn crickets whose mothers were stalked by wolf spiders showed more fear of spiders after they were born than control crickets — not to mention a higher survival rate. At this point there’s little doubt that fear gets passed down through the generations — now we’re learning about how.

Rewriting The DNA

Fear isn’t the only thing that gets imprinted in our genes. Recent breakthroughs have made big strides in understanding epigenetics — how our DNA gets changed by environmental factors. A study published in 2013 revealed details about how certain aspects of DNA can be turned on or turned off, and therefore passed on to offspring or not. A report last year found that Crohn’s disease can cause epigenetic changes in people who suffer from it. And scientists were able to edit the DNA of mice to cure them of an inheritable liver disease — with hope that the same process would work in humans.

Other researchers are working on how to encode DNA with specific information. A study led by synthetic biologist Timothy Lu of MIT and published in Science in 2014 found a way to rewrite living DNA in a cell and watch as the altered information was transferred to new cells. The researchers changed cells to make them sense light and react to other stimuli. Next, they hope to use the technology to make a recording of the cell’s environment for study, such as placing the cells in water for a week and then testing them for toxins.

Other scientists have managed to etch the equivalent of a megabyte worth of data onto DNA, and then read it back. Both studies are more geared toward gathering and storing information, but the more we learn about how to change DNA, the possibility looms that we could learn how memories are implanted — and someday even artificially create hereditary memories, if scientific interest and ethics allowed such an outcome.

Beyond The Physical Realm

The idea of memories being written into DNA could provoke speculation about phenomenon like visions of past lives, although it might be a leap to go from a reaction to odor to the recall of specific and discrete memories.

Polish Professor of Pedogogy Andrzej Szyszko-Bohusz has worked since the 1960s to promote a theory of genetic immortality in which parental consciousness is transmitted to children along with DNA and other hereditary information. More recently, University of Virginia (UVA) professor Jim Tucker hypothesizes that consciousness needs no physical binding at all to pass on. Tucker, who studies children who have memories of past lives, claims that quantum physics suggests that our physical world is created by our consciousness. Therefore,

“consciousness doesn’t need the world, let alone a brain, to exist,”

and could simply affix itself to a new brain once it passes out of a dying one.

“I understand the leap it takes to conclude there is something beyond what we can see and touch,” Tucker said to UVA Magazine. “But there is this evidence here that needs to be accounted for, and when we look at these cases carefully, some sort of carry-over of memories often makes the most sense.”

He calls it the science of reincarnation. Whether he is on the right track, or we discover that memories are passed down by DNA all along, or there is some other mechanism we don’t know about yet, is still to be determined.

Text at:


Time is a Trick of the Mind

imageJack Kerouac’s list of stuff to do .. jUst cLicK tHe iMage.

kerouac list


Choose five of Jack Kerouac’s ‘new years Resolutions’ and use sequencers to create a narrative paragraph.

Creativity with regard to time frame and order of events is the way to engage your reader, for sure!

clock green

jUst cLicK tHe ClocK

3. Irreclaimable Vagabonds

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

Roger_Fry_-_Virginia_WoolfIt is words that are to blame.
They are the wildest, freest,
most irresponsible, most unteachable
of all things. They live in the mind,
variously and strangely.
They hate being useful;
They hate making money.
They hang together,
in sentences, in paragraphs,
sometimes for whole pages at a time.
When they are pinned down
they fold their wings and die.
Our unconsciousness is their privacy;
Our darkness is their light. (from – Virginia Woolf’s ‘On Craftsmanship)


Take a set of words and ‘hang’ them together in sentences, a paragraph or even a page.


dump        heart          kids              happiest      Chicago      bone       defence     sombrero    cloud    dead       taught      rebel      pleasuresbooks for words


If you look at the extract above, taken from Virginia Woolf’s 1937 lecture on the craft of writing, you will see that she has some interesting things to say about words.

In her lecture, Woolf uses a number of human qualities to point out the difficulties that arise when we try to make words do what we want.

In this session, you are invited to take words that have not been pinned down into sentences and bring them alive using your creativity and imagination. The session is about creating a piece of writing that has meaning for you, the writer, and which could have meaning for a reader too.

Word count and process

wordThere are thirteen words to begin with. You could use less or more, of course.

The words we have used come from the titles of thirteen books we have been reading or dipping into at The Safe House recently.

You could use these words, or you could look at your bookshelves and find your own.

Take the words in the order you find them, or jumble them about. When you have a set sequence, put them into sentences in the order you have chosen.

lowYour sentences do not necessarily have to have logical meaning, of course, but it would be good if you could use the words as accurately as possible with regard to grammar and sentence structure. That way the reader will probably be able to get to grips with your sentences and your paragraphs more easily.

Take a moment. Read what you have written. Have another go.

Try it a few times with a different idea or theme in your head. Maybe take a title of one of the books and use that as a theme to create your piece around.

Later, spend some time re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising, re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising again and again for as long as you can. That way you can be as sure as possible that you have produced a piece you are happy with.

Concentrate on grammatical accuracy, but don’t worry too much about the actual meaning of the piece you are writing.

Let the reader worry about that!

italian-dog-logo2.jpegWhat next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:


Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!




‘Smash yr face into my textbook’

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)


Many of us are constantly embroiled in creating stuff for other people to judge us by. This is part of our contract with the world of measuring, judging and accrediting worthiness. We engage in it, even though it messes with our mind and eats at our soul. Is there another way?


Take a break from your studies.

Read Dominic Nolan’s poem (below) and create your own piece of writing to describe and define your own take on the pressures of the ‘hand-in’ deadline.


It’s not an essay deadline until somebody’s in tears

Smash yr face into my textbook – 4th edition.
a lot of extra material added.
i am hitting the bong and it is my homemade bong and i am 22,
now i am 23
let’s take these bread-knives and cut each other up.
you hold my legs down first and saw them both off
then i’ll take ur feet too, take my left arm and chop
and I’ll do you the same until we both all right
lock eyes and saw slowly off our dominant hands until
plop — plop —
we just stumps with a head, smash them up and scoop out
20 grand, put it thru your processor
double-spaced, font size 12, stapled,
on my desk by Monday​

(Dominic Nolan)


its not an essay deadlineDominic Nolan’s piece depicts a violence which might seem to the outsider to be the dead opposite of academic life.

However, the result of the research, the planning, the drafting and the writing of an academic piece that is to be assessed and then given a grade will affect the rest of your life.

It is tough, and the potential for violence in this context is evident in the distressing and insanely destructive exchange between student and tutor, assessed and assessor, described in the poem. With its text-speak spelling and belligerent refusal to entertain capital letters, the poem describes a possible result of the interaction and the mayhem and madness that the pressure to ‘achieve’ can cause.

Word count and process

Dominic Nolan’s poem is 121 words long. You could aim for something similar in length.

Think about your own deadlines. Are they achievable? How do they make you feel? How are you doing right now with regard to achieving them? How are you handling the pressure? Are you in contact with others who are under similar stress? Are they dealing with it as well as you are? What else could you be doing with your time? How will it feel when it’s all over?

Write notes on your feelings in response to these questions.

windowsMaybe just note single words, or brief notes on a scene that is part of how you feel. Describe the room you are in with a single word. Describe the objects in front of you in single words. Describe your emotions in the same way.

Take a moment. Read your notes. Think of the words you have used. Are there other words you could use to say what you want? Change words, add words. Jumble the words up into different orders. Experiment with the language you are using and the context you are describing.

Move away from the spelling, punctuation and grammar requirements of your academic studies and think about creating a piece using the type of language and spelling you would use with more spontaneous forms of communication. Be imaginative with your situation.

The length of the thinking and note-taking process will vary, of course, depending on how easily ideas come into your head. Aim to do this quickly, though.

Remember, you have more important stuff to do and a deadline to meet!

You should try and produce a first draft finished piece of around 120 words in about 15 minutes.

Later, spend some time re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising, re-reading, re-writing, deleting, revising again and again for as long as you can. That way you can be as sure as possible that you have produced a piece you are happy with

italian-dog-logo4.jpegWhat next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:


This IS The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!

Thanks to Dominic Nolan for allowing us to use his writing in this post … ; )


Soup Like Windows

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

nb There are no images for this session. You need to create your own with words …

This session is about describing a scene. The stimulus is a descriptive passage from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Marquez describes the room where the dead body of Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, has been discovered.


Look at or imagine a scene and describe it in detail.


The stimulus is this paragraph from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

“He found the corpse covered with a blanket on the campaign cot where he had always slept, and beside it was a stool with the developing tray he had used to vaporize the poison. On the floor, tied to a leg of the cot, lay the body of a black Great Dane with a snow-white chest, and next to him were the crutches. At one window the splendour of dawn was just beginning to illuminate the stifling, crowded room that served as both bedroom and laboratory, but there was enough light for him to recognize at once the authority of death. The other windows, as well as every other chink of the room, were muffled with rags or sealed with black cardboard, which increased the oppressive heaviness. A counter was crammed with jars and bottles without labels and two crumbling pewter trays under an ordinary light bulb covered with red paper. The third tray, the one for the fixative solution, was next to the body. There were old magazines and newspapers everywhere, piles of negatives on glass plates, broken furniture, but everything was kept free of dust by a diligent hand.”


This is about using words to describe objects and their locations to create an image in the mind of the reader. Garcia Marquez describes the objects in the room where the body was found and is able to bring to our minds a strange, somehow exotic but gloomy room, disorganised and containing a mixture of very ordinary objects and unusual, specialist equipment that belonged to the person who used it. His language evokes an image in the reader and leaves an impression on us of who the dead man was.

Either choose a scene from memory, look at a photograph or describe what’s in front of you.

Write down the objects you can see, their shape, size, location. Choose adjectives to describe the objects and to convey the mood of the scene. Write these down too. You could build up a page of notes, listing objects, describing their locations and selecting adjectives to describe them.

Did you notice how Garcia Marquez tells us what time of day it is in the scene he creates for us? Decide what time of day it is in your scene and work out a way to use the objects to help you convey this to your readers.

Did you notice the first word of the passage by Garcia Marquez? It was the word ‘he’. So, the writer describes the scene from the point of view of a particular person. You could do the same. Think of a person or create a character and describe the scene from this person’s point of view.

Word count and process

The passage above is just under two hundred words long. You could aim for about the same with your own descriptive piece.

When you have created notes, and when you have decided on a character from whose perspective you are going to describe the scene, find a comfortable writing place and start fitting your notes into complete sentences.

Imagine your character looking at the scene and write about the sights as if his or her eyes are moving around, taking in everything that can be seen.

Take a moment. Read what you have written. Think of the words you have used. Are there other words you could use to say what you want? Change words, add words.

Take another moment. Do the same again. Then check your piece for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Does your description make sense?

Make sure you are happy for people to read your writing!

The length of the thinking and note-taking process depends on the complexity of the scene you are describing, of course. The writing of the piece should maybe take not more than around 15 minutes. You might do it more quickly.

The more you write, the longer you should probably take with proofreading and editing. At The Safe House, we often think that the proofreading and editing stage of the writing process can take longer than the initial writing. However long it takes, it is a vital part of the writing process if you are going to let other people read what you have written!

What next?

If you feel like it, or if you want some ideas about how you can develop what you have written, you could share it by sending it to The Safe House at:


Here at The Safe House we will give you feedback to support you in what you are creating!


Voices of the Heart

(A Flash Fiction Writing Session from The Safe House)

23-05-2010 405This session is about reading.

At The Safe House, we have been experimenting a bit with the spoken voice. We think that there is potential for some interesting creative collaboration in this and we would really like to know what you think.


Choose a piece of text, practise reading it aloud, record it, save it and send it to The Safe House.


The stimulus for this session is Derek Mahon’s poem, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’

We posted it recently in Words We Like.

Here it is again:

everything is going to be all right

We have recorded a spoken voice recording of this poem.

Here it is: ‘Everything is going to be alright’ read by Liam Winters.


Liam’s audio recording is just under thirty seconds long. You could choose a longer text, or a shorter one. The text could be of any genre. This is a poem, but you could choose a quotation, even a story if you are up for it. It could be a song. It could be a recipe, a list, a paragraph or a sentence from a book – fiction or non-fiction.
Liam’s recording is soft and gentle. You will decide on the tone you use, the intonation, the emphases, etc. Take a look at the process described below to see what we mean.


factory windowsThink of the things you have read. Is there anything that you carry with you in your head or your heart or which has a special meaning to you? Have you read something recently that made you stop and think?

That is the sort of text we are thinking of for this session.

  • If possible, have a copy of the text on a piece of paper.
  • Read it over several times in your head and out loud. You could ask other people to listen. They might make suggestions as to where you might make changes to your reading. You may want to emphasise certain words for meaning and effect.
  • Note these on your printed copy. This will become your ‘script’.
  • Your reading of the text will call for you to create a mood or changing moods with your voice. What are the moods and emotions that need to be communicated in your text? Consider the ways to create these moods and emotions through your voice.
  • When you have experimented a bit and made your notes to help you with your reading, record a version. At The Safe House, we used a small voice recorder. You could probably use your phone, a computer or any other audio recording device that can create, save and send an MP3 file.
  • Listen to your recording. It could be that when you listen to your recording, it doesn’t sound right. It could be that you get background noise that interferes with the spoken voice. Some background noise could be fine. Other things might not. You will decide.
  • If you need to, record your piece again until you are happy with it. Take your time.
  • Take a break.
  • Come back and listen to it again later.
  • Record again, if you want to.
  • When you are happy with your recording, save it and send it to us at The Safe House.
  • Send your final audio recording as an MP3 file e-mail attachment to: thesafehouse138@yahoo.co.uk

What next?

italian-dog-logo2.jpegHere at The Safe House, we will listen to your recording and give you feedback on it.

We will also discuss with you how we could develop your recording in order to preserve it and share it at:


Big thanks to Liam Winters and Emma Gibson for being at The Safe House for reading, recording and editing!


Picture 050
everything is going to be all right