Phenotypic Plasticity – Big Words for BeckyLand

I was reading about phenotypic plasticity which is, according to Smithsonian Magazine, “the flexibility an organism shows in translating it’s genes into physical features and actions.”

Tree frog

Turns out, this adorable little guy can hatch early if he thinks a snake is sneaking up on him. Mommy red-eyed tree frogs lay eggs on leaves arching over bodies of water, giving her babies extra chances at life.

It made me think two things.

First, that I’m very smart if I’m reading about phenotypic plasticity.

Second, that I’m much like a red-eyed tree frog.

I, too, am responsive to my environment and show flexibility in my actions. While I don’t hatch early from my egg and drop into a pond if I feel vibrations from an approaching snake, I can suddenly pivot toward a different metaphorical path. (Know that I would in fact take a different literal path if I thought a snake was approaching, but I’m a full-grown human-type person and not developing in an egg sac. Just to clarify both my state of mind and the awesome biology of the red-eyed tree frog.)

Phenotypic plasticity ponders the age-old question: nature or nurture?

Turns out, it’s both, which anyone who has a kid or has ever been a kid always suspected.

For instance, my nature has always been one of organization and compartmentalizing. If I can label a box and throw stuff in it, all is right with the world.

But sometimes I can’t.

When I write fiction, my nature and my nurture — everything I’ve been taught over the years — tells me to take a linear path. This happened, which led to this, which led to that, and finally to the ending.

The more I do it, the more I realize I like to take detours. Like that almost-tadpole, I’m startled by approaching dangers. For me, though, it’s not a snake. It’s most often a new idea, or character, or unforeseen perfect plot point.

Just like the red-eyed tree frog hatchling that drops into the pond to take its chances there, I take my chances with the vibrations from a demanding character who grabs me by the collar and shakes me until I listen to her story.

Like froggy, I might be swimming into dangerous water with repercussions I can’t yet know. But the water’s not that cold, I didn’t get eaten by a snake, and the thrill of adventure is liberating.

I’ll swim as fast as I can with my new character into a new scene or a new story line, trying to keep my head above metaphorical water.

I wonder if there’s room in my next book for a red-eyed tree frog?

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