Wednesday, March 28, 2012

June Maffin Interview re Soulistry


 Dear Readers and Writers:
June Maffin, author of Soulistry, has given me an interview.  I think you'll find her ideas stimulating!  cheers, Laura Hoopes
LH. You’ve written Soulistry - Artistry of the Soul: Creative Ways to Nurture Your Spirituality recently.  Can you tell us what Soulistry means and something about the book?

JM: *Soulistry* is a neologism and shorthand for artistry-of-the-soul (SOUL and artISTRY).  The Soulistry book contains over eighty inspiring quotations from ordinary and extraordinary human beings of all ages around the world , living in different cultures, along with accompanying Soul-Questions.  Its intent is to encourage readers to recognize and celebrate their inner wisdom, embrace life in new ways, connect/re-connect with the intangible soul-essence of life and deepen their awareness of the presence of the holy around them, regardless of any connection they may/may not have with any form of religion. 

LH: What features of your life led you to write this book?

JM: Words have always fascinated me.  As a young child who stuttered, verbal expression was uncomfortable and difficult, so writing became my way of expression.  I had two books published before Soulistry and was working on two more (a children’s book; a book about euthanasia) when a life-changing diagnosis of mercury poisoning was determined.  Within 48 hours of that diagnosis, my muscles (legs, arms, voice) began to atrophy, leaving me unable to walk more than a few steps or speak above a whisper.  The reading function of my brain ground to a halt and while I could recognize letters of the alphabet, I couldn’t put the letters together to read words for almost a year.

A lifelong love of quotations helped focus my attention on putting sounds with letters.  With a lot of work, I taught myself to read once again using quotations from a variety of sources.  As I read the quotations, questions (Soul-Questions) emerged. I spent time reflecting on my responses and found myself experiencing a gentle spiritual growth.  In a “be still” moment of quiet reflection one morning, the idea for a book began.  Slowly, quotations were selected, Soul-Questions were written and the process of seeking copyright permission for the quotations began. With each step, I experienced my brain regenerating its cells.  Nothing scientific … just an abiding awareness that it was happening. 

It seemed that the more Soul-Questions I wrote for the quotations, the more frequently I incorporated ‘play’ in my life (embellishing wooden framed mirrors, creating marbled art cards, etc.), the more my left-brain activity was increasing.  My soul was being nourished in new ways as the connection between creativity and spirituality was nurtured.


LH  You live in such a beautiful place, Vancouver Island. Have you always lived there?  Has it influenced your spiritual development?  

JM: I’ve lived on the west coast for over forty years and on Vancouver Island for the last twelve years.  Here, I experience an abiding sense of peace that deepens as I pass farmlands, look towards the snow-covered mountains, gently walk along wooded paths surrounded by trees that reach to the sky, and feel the pebbles under my bare feet at the water’s edge. Here, I connect with nature in its simplicity, beauty and grace.  Here, I am aware of myself as human ‘being’ rather than human ‘doing.‘   Here, a life of simplicity, (focusing on ‘kairos’ rather than ‘chronos’) emerges.  And here, a growing holy connectedness to the world, Holy Other, others, myself, is nourished. 


LH:  What or who influenced you to develop your ideas of how spirituality can grow from dealing with our wounds, both physical and emotional?

JM:  Life’s experiences and a deep belief that each day presents choices (as to how I respond or react to those choices) continue to be my teachers.  Life’s wounds have been deep, but over time, spiritual growth has come as I learn and re-learn what it is to be human, to make mistakes, to forgive, to heal.


LH:  When one nurtures spirituality, what changes should be expected in one’s life?

JM:  When my spirituality is nurtured and nourished, the more I am in tune with others, myself, and the world and the more I become aware of beauty, gratitude and joy within myself. 

The more I focus on my breathing (inhaling peace, wholeness, healing; exhaling tension, anger, hurt, negative feelings), the more I become peace-filled and forgiving.  The more I experience time as ‘kairos’ rather than ‘chronos,’ the less “time-pressure” I feel.  The more I play, the more playful I become.  The more I look for beauty, the more beauty I see around and within me.  The more joy I express, the more joy I experience.  The more ways I seek to be creative, the more creative I become.  The more I anticipate a day to be filled with blessing, the more blessings unfold for me. The more I give, the more I receive.


LH: Do you lead workshops or give talks about the subject of your book?

JM: SOULISTRY has been a blessing in so many ways in my life.  It’s become an umbrella for a variety of workshops, retreats, and conference speeches on a variety of topics (e.g. Creative Spirituality Writing; Spirituality of Play; Awakening the Creative Spirit; The Soulistry Story). I am humbled by the invitations to lead retreats, facilitate workshops and speak at conferences on a variety of subjects.  So, in response to this question, yes, I do.  And I love doing them.  :-)


LH: Can you share something about what you mean by “spirituality of play”?

JM: When I play … when I enjoy the fullness of life with its curiosities, frivolities and insensibilities … when I don’t take myself too seriously … when I laugh and delight in life, I allow my spirit to breathe and re-create - spiritual growth results. 

Believing that laughter and play are holy and healing has been a blessing in many difficult times in my life and a spirituality of play has helped me live with absurdity, pain, paradox, sleepless nights, mystery, frustration.  And because a spirituality of play has opened doors (of intuition, vulnerability, child-like joy, healing, spontaneity, flexibility and hope) in my life, it’s not surprising that a spirituality of play finds a home in SOULISTRY - and a home in me.   :-)


LH: Is it particularly hard or easy to write about spirituality? 

JM: Pierre Teillard de Chardin helped me understand that I am not a physical person having a spiritual experience, but rather I am a spiritual person having a physical experience.  To that end, I believe that every thought I think, every thing I experience, every person I meet, and every act I do is a connection with my spirituality.  Writing about spirituality seems to be an extension of who I am and while it can take a lot of time (chronos), it has always been experienced as a time of blessing (kairos) for me.  So ... all things considered, setting aside the time factor, the writing part has been easy.


LH:  What writing habits or helps have you found in your writing practice?

JM: If I’m writing for publication, I tend to get an idea about where I want to go and then let the thoughts/words/sentences flow freely without editing. I leave the writing for a few days and then return to hone it.  I’m not a disciplined writer (e.g. I don’t have specific times or location) when I write.  Rather, I’m a writer who writes responsively and spontaneously to a situation, conversation, thought, image.  I don’t find writing to be ‘work.’  Writing for me is gift, oftentimes healing and always a humbling privilege - not only to write, but to have people who appreciate the words that come forth let me know that the writing "speaks" to them.  Joy comes to me as words become transformed into sentences and paragraphs and in discovering that those words/sentences/paragraphs have made a difference in the lives of *Soulistry* readers, retreatants and workshop participants.


LH: Can you refer us to your blogs or websites for more information?

JM: The primary resource about SOULISTRY would be its website (www.soulistry.com) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/soulistry).  My personal FB page is www.facebook.com/junemaffin  I’m a book reviewer (www.bookpleasures.com/websitepublisher/authors/394/June-Maffin)  and while I’m on LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter, I haven’t become familiar enough with them to use them very much - yet - but I’m working on it. :-)   And of course, there’s always a Google search.  :-)


LH:  Any other thoughts you’d like to share with the readers of West Coast Writers?

JM: Thank you for this invitation to share with your readers, Laura.  I’ve appreciated the opportunity to share something of my love of the written word, my passion for SOULISTRY and the delight I experience in the privilege of encouraging people who are intrigued by the connection between creativity and spirituality.  

Life is full, and I feel blessed in many ways, and connecting with you and other West Coast Writers has been yet one more blessing in my life.  So, thank you for this opportunity.

I wish you much continued success with this wonderful blog, and I look forward to reading about other West Coast writers here and someday, meeting you in person. 

SOULISTRY ... the book, retreats & workshops
... connecting spirituality and creativity in new ways

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Interview with Jean Baker re Margaret Sanger: Life of Passion


Hi Readers and Writers,

Jean Baker, author of Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion answered some questions for us on her new book.  Professor at Goucher College and author of many books, expecially explorations of women of power and might, Baker brings her sense of history to bear on Sanger, a woman who fought for some of the same rights that have recently come under fire in the political machinations of state legislatures and also presidential candidates' rhetoric.  Was she perfect?  No, and Baker makes that clear, while showing us that some of her supposed faults, particularly her ideas of eugenics, were shared with many in her time, including famous scientists and even presidents, many of whom are highly regarded today and not devalued because they believed in this doctrine back in their own time, as Sanger has been often.  Enjoy the interview!   Laura


LH:     Your most recent book is Margaret Sanger: Life of Passion.  How did you choose Margaret Sanger as a subject to study?
JB: After publishing a book on the suffragists, I wanted to see what happened to the woman’s movement during the 1920s when it stalled. Alice Paul could not get her Equal Rights Amendment (still not federal law) through the judiciary committee. But there was one reform that flourished during the 1920s and that was birth control. I came to see that much of the reason, besides changing attitudes about sex, was the savvy leadership of Margaret Sanger. And as I began my research I saw that Sanger was being unfairly vilified by opponents of abortion rights who used Sanger to threaten her institutional legacy—Planned Parenthood of America.


LH:     What kinds of archival material did you use for the biography? Any sources that recently became available? 
JB: The Sanger archive is formidable  and consists of over 200 reels of microfilm. There is new Sanger material, especially on her personal life, in the Sophia Smith collection at Smith College. I also did some interviews with Sanger’s grandchildren. Of course there are also ancillary areas that demand attention, such as eugenicism and birth control technology, particularly relating to endocrinology. All subjects live in a certain period and it is essential to find the context for their lives.  

LH: Do you have any recommendations for biographers in terms of finding sources? 
JB:  Read the footnotes of previous biographers and check world Cat and the Library of Congress catalogues and think imaginatively.

LH: Could you have written your book if Sanger were still alive?  How did she feel about biographers?
JB:  Sanger detested efforts by biographers to write her life, once saying that she did not want to delve into the past. She always looked to the future.

LH: Did you interview people about their interactions with Sanger?   How did you prepare for interviews if you did?

      JB:  My rule for oral interviews is to wait until I am well into the research before setting up any interviews and to try to not let the subject control the interview—sort of the opposite of what Howell Raines did in My Soul is Rested.

LH: What strategies do you use to recreate the feeling of a life lived while staying true to sources?  What about dialog, setting, costume?
JB:  I  try to read as much as possible about the time period and especially the places. In Sanger’s case her birth place Corning New York became almost a character in the book as did Tucson Arizona where Sanger lived during the late 1930s until her death in 1966. Quotes from the original material are also important to set the scene . As an historian I do not make up dialogue although some historians like Simon Schama do.

LH: I was researching a woman geneticist who was befriended by Charles Davenport when he ran the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, and I’ve read about his very active support of eugenics, so I know eugenics was a well-accepted scientific theory in the US.  Evidently, several presidents also espoused it too. But now, people tend to equate it with Nazism.  How hard was it for you to deal with Sanger’s ideas about eugenics?
JB:  Yes, this remains the great elephant in the room for any biographer of Sanger. I tried to place her in the context of a progressive movement that most Americans accepted during the period . I tried to make the point that she used eugenecists who were the leading scientists of her day to give credibility to her movement and that she offered a feminist form of eugenicism and that was birth control!
          LH:      It seems to me that her emphasis on birth control for the poor has made a lot of people in the       blogosphere think she was racist.  Is there evidence of specific anti-African American attitudes?  How did you deal with that issue?

JB: Margaret Sanger was ahead of her time in so far as contemporary racial attitudes were concerned. She set up a birth control clinic in Harlem in 1931 because Black leaders like W.E.B. Dubois asked her to do so. She opposed racial segregation well before most American did and she never singled blacks out as a group
LH:     Did you go into your study of Sanger as a partisan, hoping to rehabilitate her reputation, or did you ask the material to “show me”?
JB:  The latter but of course all biography and history are the enactments of the past in the mind of the historian and I support women’s right to abortion and of course birth control.

LH:. The nature of truth in biography can be singularly slippery.  Did you have any experiences in researching this book that underlined that problem?
       JB:  I do not believe that there is any single truth about biographical subjects. Rather I think that there are different interpretations—see my interpretation of Mary Todd Lincoln.

LH:  Recently, your books have focused on prominent women.  Do you feel a special bond with women who fought for the rights of other women? 
    JB:  Of course—and perhaps that reeling is enhanced by our contemporary politics. 

You can buy Jean Baker's biography of Margaret Sanger on Amazon.com  (click here to order the book on Amazon).