Pearl HIStory and HERstory

As far as I know, pearls are gender-free. But their adoptive-parent mollusks have sex-changing possibilities. For example, pearl oysters change from male to female as they age. Two mollusk species have this ability — Gastropoda (snails and slugs) and Bivalvia (clams and mussels) — although most mollusks are of separate sexes.

Many mollusk species have two breeding periods in a year. An octopus is in the mollusk family but these highly intelligent mothers reproduce only once before dying. The female octopus dies after releasing and protecting a clutch of up to 50,000 eggs unless she has her optic gland (similar to our pituitary gland) surgically removed. She eats little as she meticulously parents for months (or as long as a year) to keep her babes aerated and free of algae. Unbelievably, there are stark odds for her efforts. Only a few from each clutch will survive and reproduce. However, long life is granted to the oldest known animal — the ocean quahog, a bivalve mollusk that can live at least 500 years. Who knew these mollusk stories?

More mollusk minutiae: the sex of a pearl oyster appears to influence a pearl’s upbringing. Pearl oysters have a male phase for the first 2-3 years of life before changing to a female phase in later years. Male oysters are thought to produce higher-valued pearls compared to female oysters in terms of luster, smoothness and evenness. Pearls produced by the female oyster may have “scratches” or be “uneven.” Who knew that female oysters were paid less for their work?

What is an “uneven” pearl to one person may be considered a thing of beauty to another. I have both circular pearls and “uneven” ones. Actually, the “uneven” ones are captivating and cause me to look at them more closely. I never considered a pearl’s HIStory/HERstory until recently. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that history is in the eye of the beholder: “There is properly no history; only biography.”

What does this bit of biology have to do with people? Draw your own conclusions (as I know you will), but the informed and misinformed stories you tell about ANY subject have meaning.

Whenever we link snippets of information, or otherwise piece together vague images and sensations from our memories, we tell narratives—even in dream stories. Psychiatrist and trauma specialist Bessel Van der Kolk emphasizes story changes: “…as soon as a story starts being told, particularly if it is told repeatedly, it changes—the act of telling itself changes the tale…the meaning we make of our lives changes how and what we remember.”     

I am curious about how people change (or never seem to change). Nature has many fascinating change-stories, including those about humans.

            Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

48. When have you told a story about some event in your life and later re-considered the meaning of your first story?

49. What biography do you want to leave for future generations?   

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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