Report from the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference, Part One

Last weekend, my husband and I attended the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference in West Palm Beach. I think the experience is best summed up by the words of the old hymn: “There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, And I know that it’s the spirit of the Lord.” Many of the participants had survived terrible abuse at the hands of straight Christian leaders and family members, yet the mood they created was one of kindness and openness to the perspectives of everyone in the group, gay or straight, religious or secular. I was even more inspired by the fact that many of them had not given up on their faith. Despite the efforts of those who would split their bodies from their souls, they were determined to claim their place as God’s children, through nonviolent resistance, truth-telling and love.

So what is heterosexism? In brief, it’s the presumption that straight is better than gay. It manifests itself not only in our personal feelings about gay people, but in structural inequalities in our society that disadvantage gay relationships or make them culturally invisible.

Just as white privilege is different from racism, heterosexism is different from homophobia. You need not have personal animus against a group to participate in its oppression, simply by assuming that your flavor is the only one in the shop. For instance, the butt-plug and rape-anxiety jokes employed to code male bonding as “not gay” in the new film “Planet 51” are an example of homophobia; the complete absence of same-sex couples in this and all other mainstream children’s cartoons is heterosexism.

To use a more serious example, homophobia is Fred Phelps; heterosexism is the presumption that straights are naturally the correct interpreters of the Bible, and gays have to “justify” their inclusion according to the standards of the straight majority. Open and affirming–that’s nice, but why do you own the church doors?

We were one of two straight couples among the 50+ attendees, the other being a twentysomething woman and her partner who were doing research for an academic project. I was excited to meet some of my favorite bloggers:

Candace Chellew-Hodge, founder of Whosoever, the first online magazine for GLBT Christians, and frequent contributor to Religion Dispatches.

Carol Boltz, who stood by her husband, contemporary Christian music star Ray Boltz, when he came out of the closet and instantly became persona non grata among his former fans. Instead of joining the chorus of blame, she decided to speak out against the real culprits, the homophobic religious leaders who had forced their family into living a lie. Carol blogs at My Heart Goes Out.

Anthony Venn-Brown, who came to us all the way from Australia. This Pentecostal mega-church preacher struggled against his sexual orientation for 22 years before risking it all to be true to himself. His book and blog are titled A Life of Unlearning. Anthony’s upbeat, extroverted personality added a good feeling to our discussions. He was hopeful about the progress of gay rights in Australia.

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin, one of the leading websites that monitors the “ex-gay movement” and other organized forms of homophobia. Jim was always ready to ask the tough questions that moved our discussions forward.

Darlene Bogle, a former director of an ex-gay ministry affiliated with Exodus International, who issued a groundbreaking apology at the 2007 Beyond Ex-Gay conference. Darlene’s book A Christian Lesbian Journey talks about how she began her current work of promoting reconciliation between faith and sexual orientation.

You can read a summary of the weekend’s events on the Soulforce website. In the next installments, I’ll share my notes on the presentations that particularly made an impression on me.

Thursday Non-Random Song: Mary Mary, “Thankful”

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Lord i’m thankful for my blessings
everything that you gave
Times when danger was around me
My life lord you saved
Where would I be without your love
Where would I be without your grace
You didn’t have to do it but I’m glad you did

Can’t pretend that what I got
I got it on my own
Every move that i made
Can’t say I never been wrong
When I fell you picked me up again
Thought I brought it on myself
I can always depend on you
Whenever I need help

Lord i’m thankful for my blessings
everything that you gave
Times when danger was around me
My life lord you saved
Where would I be without your love
Where would I be without your grace
You didn’t have to do it but I’m glad you did

The next time you go to sleep
And you wake up alright
Remember that he kept you safe
And warm all through the night
Lift your hands and lift them high
And this is what you say
Lord you didn’t have to give me
One more day

Lord i’m thankful for my blessings
everything that you gave
Times when danger was around me
My life lord you saved
Where would I be without your love
Where would I be without your grace
You didn’t have to do it but I’m glad you did

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you
It’s plain to see
all that he’s done for me
I thank you for everything
I live my life
So I can let the world
know that I am

Lord i’m thankful for my blessings
everything that you gave
Times when danger was around me
My life lord you saved
Where would I be without your love
Where would I be without your grace
You didn’t have to do it but I’m glad you did

Lyrics courtesy of

The Poet Spiel: “Odds”

My husband and I have just returned from the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference in West Palm Beach, where we met some of our favorite bloggers, heard a fantastic sermon by Rev. Deborah Johnson of Inner Light Ministries, and felt completely welcome as the token straight couple. I’ll be posting a complete report here after the holidays. Meanwhile, enjoy this poem from The Poet Spiel, whose new book is forthcoming from March Street Press in 2010.


Flesh-hued cotton panties over their heads,
    covering their ears
and topped off by orange and green party hats
    from that carousing
in 1944 on army leave in Paris where they were
thrilled at the revelation of one another in
    dark shadows.

Now these two old men are fixtures faded as
unable to recall why panties and hats had been
    so hilarious
in their steamy bathroom mirror one
    way-back-when drunken night;
only that the panties keep their ears warm,
    reason enough.

They piddle their aches from threadbare
    tapestried chairs,
facing so their feet meet to keep track of
    each other;
each half-deaf, fearing he cannot hear the
    other breathe.
Yet they also fear dead silence, so they kill it
    with classic vinyl,

spinning I get no kick from cocaine. But it’s
    not the lyric
that lulls their hearts, it’s the familiarity of
    old tunes;
how they used to hug-dance in their
    lard-laden kitchen,
brittle Woolworth’s shades drawn down
    against a world

that might not tolerate two such battle-weary
peacefully withdrawn. Alone, together: Edward
dainty doilies to keep his knotted knuckles nimble,
    Rodney knitting
acres of the cutest afghans for those virile young
    boys in Iraq.

Long ago, they had to abandon thoughts of ever
    going back home,
just tucked them away in their root cellar to gather
    fungus and mouse turds,
but they agree noises rise from there, like sharp
of their battalion on the front lines of The Big War.

Being a Local Missionary

Episcopal missionary Jesse Zink, formerly of Mthatha Mission in South Africa, is now a student at Yale Divinity School and blogging at Mission Minded.
I’m beginning to think that someday my home parish of St. John’s in Northampton will be famous as “the place where Jesse Zink grew up”. Warm, personable, and humble, he’s an engaging preacher who combines orthodox belief with a commitment to social justice.

Last weekend he visited us and preached an inspiring sermon on Mark 13:1-8. He has a way of issuing a challenge without shaming his listeners. Here’s an excerpt from the sermon, which appears in full on his blog:

…So when we return to the question of why Jesus would predict the destruction of the Temple I think it has to do with the idea of vulnerability. This is an idea we in this western society don’t like to hear. In this culture, we seek control over everything – no vulnerability! I wanted people to come to me in the community area in Itipini so I could control the interaction on my terms. The temple in ancient Israel was the dwelling place of God. It was the way the priests centralized worship so they could control God.

Standing opposite this is Jesus. This is the Jesus who makes himself vulnerable in his life and ministry. “Let the little children come to me,” he says, when the disciples shoo them away. You can just imagine what those disciples would say today. “The children, Jesus? They probably have swine flu!” Jesus hears his name called out by the beggars when he walks through town. Everyone traveling with him wants to control Jesus and his schedule. “C’mon, Jesus we have to get to Jericho on time,” you can hear them saying. But Jesus is the one who stops, lets go of control, and finds out what the beggars want. And of course there’s the greatest act of vulnerability ever, willingly taking up a cross and dying, voluntarily subjecting himself to a painful and dehumanizing death.

For Jesus this vulnerability is a choice. It is a choice he can make only because he comes from a position of great power. He is, of course, God Incarnate. God had this great power and could have stayed in heaven. But God didn’t. God choose to “empty himself” as Paul later writes and take the form of a human. God sacrifices God’s immense power to become human, that is to say, powerless.

This church gives us a lot of power. Just the fact that this building is standing here means someone at some point had the economic power to build it. The fact that people have been worshipping in this place in this community for so long is a source of power. The education and wealth of the members of this congregation is a source of tremendous power. And that leaves us with a choice. Do we lock all that power up behind these beautiful walls and make people come to us on our terms or do we choose vulnerability and venture forth?

And if we do venture forth, how do we do it? Which direction do we go? I think there’s a clear direction we head and it was embodied in a word I used earlier to describe myself when I said I was a missionary of the Episcopal church. That word “missionary” can be so difficult to hear in our day and age. It has – to say the least – a mixed history. Missionaries have too often in history been associated with events that tear down the kingdom of God rather than build it up. But I want to hang onto it.

A missionary, to state the obvious, has a mission. And to whom does that mission belong? Does it belong to the missionary? The missionary’s congregation? The missionary’s diocese? The national church? The “church” as an abstract entity? It is none of these. Mission belongs to God. And God’s mission has been the same throughout the history of the Bible. God yearns for people to exist in right relationship with each other and with God. To put God’s mission into one word, God yearns for reconciliation.

If we think of mission this way then mission is not about sending people across the world to baptize the masses and found churches. It’s not even just about sending people across the world. The need for reconciliation is as strong in Northampton and Western Massachusetts as it is in a place like Itipini. The need takes a different shape and our responses will be different but there is a yearning for reconciliation here nonetheless.

We must respond to the mission of God by asking this question: where is God’s mission around us and what role are we privileged to play in that mission? To ask it another way, where is reconciliation needed and how can we help bring it about? The variety of answers to this question will be as varied as the people in this congregation. Some people are called to make music because music is a way that people connect to God and to one another. Some people are called to make this a welcoming place so that when people enter they know that God is here with them. For some people, these callings may be a new challenge, a stepping beyond what we are used to, a call to go from a position of power to vulnerability.

Now let me say there is a lot of vulnerability in this world and not all of it is holy. The wife in an abusive relationship is vulnerable to the violence of her husband and there is nothing holy about that. The workers being exploited by their boss are vulnerable in that situation and that is also not holy. The wife and workers are not operating from positions of power and not choosing vulnerability. That is not the kind of vulnerability I’m encouraging us to embrace here.

This Gospel passage is calling us to deliberately embrace a sense of vulnerability in this way: look around you, think about yourself – how are you powerful right now? What skills and talents and resources do you have that give you power and the ability to control a situation? Now, ask yourself how can I sacrifice this control? How can I venture beyond these great big walls that are around me? How can I journey in a new way, a way that is guided by God’s mission of reconciliation?

The truth of mainline Protestant churches in these early years of this new century is that the church is falling down around us, stone upon stone, literally and metaphorically. It does us no good to deny this reality. But what if we were to embrace this new reality and the vulnerability it creates and take it as an opportunity to venture beyond what we have so long known, beyond what have been our traditional sources of power and control? What if we gave up trying to control every last thing? What if we moved forward in the spirit of the mission of God?

Other notable posts at Jesse’s blog include a sermon on incarnation and healing, and a consideration of the best terminology to describe all the different groups within the LGBTQA acronym. As he says, “You think about different things in New England than you do in South Africa.”

To support Jesse’s upcoming mission trip to Ecuador, send donations to 63 Nash St., Floor 3, New Haven, CT 06511.

Karen Winterburn: “Aporia of the Gift”

Karen Winterburn is an emerging poet who’s won several awards from the Utmost Christian Writers site. In addition to the first prize in this year’s Novice Christian Poetry Contest, she took home the award for best rhyming poem for “Aporia of the Gift“, a polished yet natural-sounding piece of formal writing that blends Derrida’s philosophy with echoes of George Herbert’s “Love Bade Me Welcome“. She’s kindly permitted me to reprint it below. You can also read my critique of her poem “Call Out of Exile” at Winning Writers.

Aporia of the Gift

An “aporia” is a paradoxical impasse. The philosopher Jacques Derrida claims that true gift-giving is an aporia, an impossible contradiction in terms because it always implies self-interest and expects a return. A mere exchange of equally valued items is not true gift-giving. But God shows us what true gift-giving is. He is both the Giver and the Gift. It is impossible for us to reciprocate with a gift of equal value. But he doesn’t lavish us with gifts to shame our poverty. As long as we are trying to pay him back and settle the account, we cannot freely receive what he offers us. If we accept our poverty before him, we will see that his Gift to us is union with him: union of Giver and receiver and Gift. This union is the only solution to the aporia of the gift. And only by virtue of our union with God can we freely give to and receive from each other.

What I have owed in love I’ve always paid,
measured out in small change—nickel and dime.
I’m nothing if not just and fair in trade.
I am that woman holding up the line:
I calculate the cost of Bread and Wine,
exhaust my coin while still the Loaf expands;
Wine inundates and shifts the paradigm:
overflows it; elevates, countermands
and understates the debt it takes out of my hands.

I want to pay my bill! I estimate
it’s astronomical; it multiplies
as Love devises to inebriate
and fill me past my means to amortize
my liability. I agonize,
liquidate my estate, consign the lot
to such a Love: who does not itemize
or keep accounts or hold the Gift he’s got
on lay-away till I can pay sans caveate—

—to such a Love as this. No recompense
for such unheard-of Love is on report,
nor have I anything of consequence
to make return. My whole life comes up short:
my yearning is a poverty that thwarts
my moves, my airs, and leaves me impotent,
with bare and baffled heart. No speechless sort,
I stammer at the stop I’ve reached, consent
to yeild, receive the Feast—to eat and be outspent.

Love quiets me. Love sits me on his knee.
“You are yourself,” says he, “all I desire.”
Might Love be satisfied in colloquy?
We wink and whisper till my eyes acquire
his own spark. My darkened heart now afire
with borrowed Light bestows itself and—swift
to cede—receives itself! Might Love conspire
to grant affinity to me, uplift
this heart to make it one with Giver and the Gift?

The Incarnation: Love, Not Punishment

Earlier this fall, I blogged about alternatives to the penal substitution theory of atonement. This article from the December 2001 issue of American Catholic continues the theme of foregrounding God’s gift of love in the Incarnation. Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J., writes that Christ did not come primarily to die but to fulfill God’s desire for union with His creation.

…Because the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus make up the foundation of Christianity, the Christian community has long reflected on their significance for our lives. What was the purpose of Jesus’ life? Or simply, why Jesus?

The answer most frequently handed on in everyday religion emphasizes redemption. This view returns to the creation story and sees in Adam and Eve’s sin a fundamental alienation from God, a separation so profound that God must intervene to overcome it. The Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, is considered God’s action to right this original wrong.

How did this view develop? Just as we do when we face tragedy, especially innocent suffering, so the early followers of Jesus tried to make sense of his horrible death. They asked: Why? They sought insight from their Jewish practices like Temple sacrifices and from their Scriptures. Certain rites and passages (the suffering servant in Isaiah, psalms of lament, wisdom literature on the suffering righteous person) seemed to fit the terrible end of Jesus’ life and so offered an answer to the why question. Understandably, these powerful images colored the entire story, including the meaning of Jesus’ birth and life.

Throughout the centuries, Christian theology and piety have developed these interpretations of Jesus’ execution. At times God has even been described as demanding Jesus’ suffering and death as a means of atonement—to satisfy and appease an angry God.

An interpretation that highlights the Incarnation stands beside this dominant view with its emphasis on sin. The alternate view is also expressed in Scripture and tradition. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the Word made flesh has remained something of a “minority report,” rarely gaining the same recognition and influence as the atonement view.

What, briefly, is the heart of this alternate interpretation? It holds that the whole purpose of creation is for the Incarnation, God’s sharing of life and love in an unique and definitive way. God becoming human is not an afterthought, an event to make up for original sin and human sinfulness. Incarnation is God’s first thought, the original design for all creation. The purpose of Jesus’ life is the fulfillment of God’s eternal longing to become human.

For many of us who have lived a lifetime with the atonement view, it may be hard at first to hear the minority report. Yet it may offer some wonderful surprises for our relationship with God. From this perspective, God is appreciated with a different emphasis. God is not an angry or vindictive God, demanding the suffering and death of Jesus as a payment for past sin. God is, instead, a gracious God, sharing divine life and love in creation and in the Incarnation (like parents sharing their love in the life of a new child). Evidently, such a view can dramatically change our image of God, our celebration of Christmas, our day-by-day prayer….

Read the whole article here. Hat tip to the commenters at MadPriest for the link. Don’t forget to read MP’s sermon, too. He always gets to the heart of the gospel.

Transgender Awareness Week: Events and Resources

November 15-20 has been designated by the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition as Transgender Awareness Week. Visit their website to find lectures, film screenings, and religious services in your area.

November 20 is the international Transgender Day of Remembrance, commemorating people who have been killed in hate crimes directed at their gender identity or expression. An interfaith service will be held at 7 PM on November 19 at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst meetinghouse, 121 North Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA. Visit this site to find other events around the world.

This year, transpeople and allies also have something to celebrate: the passage of the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Act, the first federal civil rights law protecting the GLBT community. The law gives the Justice Department the authority to investigate and prosecute crimes motivated by prejudice against a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Find more transgender resources on the Human Rights Campaign website. Good blogs by transpersons include Callan and TransEpiscopal.

Usury Update: Relief from the Fed?

Earlier this summer I wrote about my friend whose bank had charged him $500 in penalties for a $15 overdraft on his debit card. This scam is unfortunately widespread among major US banks. Consumers aren’t notified that their debit card is overdrawn, so that the bank can “lend” them money, without their knowledge or consent, at an effective rate of 3,000+ percent. The policy authorizing the bank to do this is hidden in confusing boilerplate in the debit card application.

Now reports that help may be on the way from the Federal Reserve. There’s also legislation pending in the House. Contact your representatives and ask them to support it:

The Federal Reserve will prohibit banks from charging overdraft fees on automated teller machines or debit cards, unless a customer has agreed to pay extra charges for exceeding account balances.

Financial companies will have to explain overdraft programs and fees, as well as choices available to consumers, the Fed said today in a statement announcing a rule that takes effect next year. Lenders collected almost $37 billion in overdraft fees last year, according to research firm Moebs Services Inc.

“The final overdraft rules represent an important step forward in consumer protection,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in the statement. “Both new and existing account holders will be able to make informed decisions about whether to sign up for an overdraft service.”

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd have separately introduced legislation that would restrict banks’ ability to charge overdraft fees. Both bills would permit one overdraft fee a month or six in a year.

Giving consumers a choice is important, “but we need to do far more to protect customers from abusive bank products,” Dodd said today in a statement. “We still need to stop the excessive fees, repeated charges, lax notifications and processing manipulation” in overdraft-protection programs.

Read the whole story here.

An Orchid Among the Dandelions

(photo credit: PacHD)

I’m a feminist but (or because?) I often don’t like being a woman. What don’t I like? The drama. All those damn feelings. I could get on with my life so much better if I didn’t need people, get attached to them, and feel hurt by their betrayals; if I plowed ahead with undented optimism and imperviousness to others’ hostile opinions, instead of questioning myself and damping down my intensity for fear of bruising someone else’s ego. Or could I?

Internalized sexism plays a role in this debate I have with myself. Both men and women absorb cultural messages that emotions lead to vulnerability, and vulnerability is the same as weakness, and weakness is “feminine”, childlike, incompatible with receiving respect from peers. Given that my emotional sensitivity is also what makes me a creative writer, perhaps there’s some connection between society’s devaluation of intuitive qualities and the low status and material support that we afford to our artists.

Sexism, heterosexism, and religious fundamentalism try to tell us that there’s only one acceptable way of being in the world. Yet science shows that physical biodiversity helps species and ecosystems thrive. Why not psychological biodiversity as well?

A recent article from The Atlantic validates this theory. Science journalist David Dobbs discusses new research suggesting that the same genes that predispose certain sensitive people to stress-related dysfunction also help them thrive better in positive environments than their more easy-going peers:

…Of special interest to the team was a new interpretation of one of the most important and influential ideas in recent psychiatric and personality research: that certain variants of key behavioral genes (most of which affect either brain development or the processing of the brain’s chemical messengers) make people more vulnerable to certain mood, psychiatric, or personality disorders. Bolstered over the past 15 years by numerous studies, this hypothesis, often called the “stress diathesis” or “genetic vulnerability” model, has come to saturate psychiatry and behavioral science. During that time, researchers have identified a dozen-odd gene variants that can increase a person’s susceptibility to depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, heightened risk-taking, and antisocial, sociopathic, or violent behaviors, and other problems—if, and only if, the person carrying the variant suffers a traumatic or stressful childhood or faces particularly trying experiences later in life.

This vulnerability hypothesis, as we can call it, has already changed our conception of many psychic and behavioral problems. It casts them as products not of nature or nurture but of complex “gene-environment interactions.” Your genes don’t doom you to these disorders. But if you have “bad” versions of certain genes and life treats you ill, you’re more prone to them.

Recently, however, an alternate hypothesis has emerged from this one and is turning it inside out. This new model suggests that it’s a mistake to understand these “risk” genes only as liabilities. Yes, this new thinking goes, these bad genes can create dysfunction in unfavorable contexts—but they can also enhance function in favorable contexts. The genetic sensitivities to negative experience that the vulnerability hypothesis has identified, it follows, are just the downside of a bigger phenomenon: a heightened genetic sensitivity to all experience.

The evidence for this view is mounting. Much of it has existed for years, in fact, but the focus on dysfunction in behavioral genetics has led most researchers to overlook it. This tunnel vision is easy to explain, according to Jay Belsky, a child-development psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London. “Most work in behavioral genetics has been done by mental-illness researchers who focus on vulnerability,” he told me recently. “They don’t see the upside, because they don’t look for it. It’s like dropping a dollar bill beneath a table. You look under the table, you see the dollar bill, and you grab it. But you completely miss the five that’s just beyond your feet.”

Though this hypothesis is new to modern biological psychiatry, it can be found in folk wisdom, as the University of Arizona developmental psychologist Bruce Ellis and the University of British Columbia developmental pediatrician W. Thomas Boyce pointed out last year in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. The Swedes, Ellis and Boyce noted in an essay titled “Biological Sensitivity to Context,” have long spoken of “dandelion” children. These dandelion children—equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes—do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.

At first glance, this idea, which I’ll call the orchid hypothesis, may seem a simple amendment to the vulnerability hypothesis. It merely adds that environment and experience can steer a person up instead of down. Yet it’s actually a completely new way to think about genetics and human behavior. Risk becomes possibility; vulnerability becomes plasticity and responsiveness. It’s one of those simple ideas with big, spreading implications. Gene variants generally considered misfortunes (poor Jim, he got the “bad” gene) can instead now be understood as highly leveraged evolutionary bets, with both high risks and high potential rewards: gambles that help create a diversified-portfolio approach to survival, with selection favoring parents who happen to invest in both dandelions and orchids.

In this view, having both dandelion and orchid kids greatly raises a family’s (and a species’) chance of succeeding, over time and in any given environment. The behavioral diversity provided by these two different types of temperament also supplies precisely what a smart, strong species needs if it is to spread across and dominate a changing world. The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them. And even when they lead troubled early lives, some of the resulting heightened responses to adversity that can be problematic in everyday life—increased novelty-seeking, restlessness of attention, elevated risk-taking, or aggression—can prove advantageous in certain challenging situations: wars, tribal or modern; social strife of many kinds; and migrations to new environments. Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone. Together, they open a path to otherwise unreachable individual and collective achievements.

This orchid hypothesis also answers a fundamental evolutionary question that the vulnerability hypothesis cannot. If variants of certain genes create mainly dysfunction and trouble, how have they survived natural selection? Genes so maladaptive should have been selected out. Yet about a quarter of all human beings carry the best-documented gene variant for depression, while more than a fifth carry the variant that Bakermans-Kranenburg studied, which is associated with externalizing, antisocial, and violent behaviors, as well as ADHD, anxiety, and depression. The vulnerability hypothesis can’t account for this. The orchid hypothesis can.

This is a transformative, even startling view of human frailty and strength. For more than a decade, proponents of the vulnerability hypothesis have argued that certain gene variants u
nderlie some of humankind’s most grievous problems: despair, alienation, cruelties both petty and epic. The orchid hypothesis accepts that proposition. But it adds, tantalizingly, that these same troublesome genes play a critical role in our species’ astounding success.

Read the whole article here.

Susan Tepper on Fictionalizing Real Life

Susan Tepper is a co-editor of Istanbul Literary Review and the author of DEER and Other Stories, published this year by Wilderness House Press. I enjoyed this interview with her at Brizmus Blogs Books, excerpted below. Like Susan, I find that the real lessons and emotions from my experience become clearer when I change the facts.

BBB: It seems to me you had quite a few jobs before turning to writing, and some of them sound pretty amazing – actor, singer, marketing manager, flight attendant, tour guide, interior decorater, rescue worker, television producer. Which one of your many jobs was your favorite?

ST: The funny thing is, I liked just about every job I was doing, so at that time that particular job seemed perfect and my favorite. But then wanderlust would kick in, or some life situation that required a change or a move, and I’d find myself in another career. Some things I sought out while others seemed to fall in my lap. While I was working as an interior decorator for a national furniture chain, a woman came into the store seeking decorating advice. It turned out she a principle in a cable tv station, and after working with me, she asked would I be interested in doing a daytime slot about interior design. So I produced that series of shows, about 20 of them. Acting was always my first love, but I kept drifting in and out of that because I needed an income. I worked as a flight attendant for TWA as a chance to escape a bad love affair and to see the world for free, and it was worth every second! Rescue worker was not my choice. While I worked for Northwest Airlines, there was a terrible crash in Detroit. Since I was part of airline management, they “recruited” me along with other managers to work at the crash site. At the time it was devastating, but in retrospect it was a blessing. Everyone who worked that crash seemed like an angel to me. It was a very holy place, and I’m still close with some of the others who worked the crash.

BBB: Wow! Sounds like you’ve had a lot of life experience! I guess this must be what makes your writing so amazing.Did any of these jobs in particular inspire you to become a writer? Why did you finally turn towards writing in the end?

ST: I believe that all of life is a conspiracy to move us in a particular direction. The mystics think of it as “soul work.” My curiousity led me to seek out many job experiences, all of which provide me with material for writing. Of course I didn’t see that until I’d been writing for a while. At least a decade before I began, a psychic predicted I would become a prolific writer. At the time I was an actor and her prediction struck me as absurd. I had no interest at all. Except for one poem that had popped out of me rather spontaneously, I had no other real writing.

BBB: Soul work, huh? I like it!

The imageries in Deer are so vivid; it almost seems as if you lived through all of your stories personally. Which of the stories, if any, were based on personal experiences, and how so?

ST: Everything we write comes from what we have witnessed, dreamt, longed for, overheard, and even despised. We often write what is missing in our lives. There are snipets of my real life in every story, but usually not as the story is written. I tend to disguise my fiction in metaphor. This is not done intentionally. I find my own life kind of boring to write about. It doesn’t interest me on the page. And because I write spontaneously, and never plot or outline, it just spills onto the page. I’ve been called an emotional writer, and I won’t deny that. I can see how certain stories evolved based on what was going on with me at the time. But other than that, each story holds claim to its own life.