I am pleased to have this Web Page completed before the opening of the Terraces on Mt. Carmel. This experience of pioneering, conveyed in part on this website, has taken place mostly in epochs three and four of the Formative Age. Epoch five has just opened four months ago and epoch two was in its last eight months when this pioneering venture began.
Many will find this material too wordy, too divergent, not focused enough on the subject of pioneering, not sequential enough to convey the narrative of my experience in a sensible fashion. I can understand this criticism. But this was not my intent when I set out to construct this Web Page. I have already written an autobiographical account in excess of 60,000 words. That account is sequential, ordered, begins in the 1950s and goes through to this year, 2001. That autobiographical statement is not on this Web Page. Perhaps at some future time that autobiography may be published or put on this site. But that time is not yet.
Neither it, nor this Web Page, is intended as a manual for pioneers; nor is it an intensive analysis of the pioneering experience. Rather, it is a pot-pourri of my own writing, my own thoughts, my own experiences, some reflections on the nearly half a century that has been my involvement with a religion which I feel has the future in its bones.
For now this pot-pourri of essays, interviews, poetry, prose and various odds-and-ends will tell something of my experience of nearly forty years on the homefront and in the international field of pioneering. It will tell of some of my thoughts about a wide range of subjects, will provide a taste of about 250,000 words from the two to four million words available in the several genres of writing going back more than thirty years. It gets rather cumbersome and complicated to count words when you write so many, in so many categories, kept in so many places, so this guesstimation will have to do for now. These words come from a Baha'i who pioneered in a critical stage of his Faith's growth and development eight months before the outset of the tenth and final stage of history.
This Cause grew nearly forty times from when I was born in 1944 and thirty times from the 200,000 believers that there were when my family first contacted the Cause in 1953 to the present six million adherents(approx), nearly half a century later.
I see this Web Page as a personal and a historic document that may be of use to future generations as this emerging world religion comes to occupy a significant place in the journey of humanity toward peace, unity and justice. Since it was impossible to publish the kind of material I have here; since Baha'i publishers had too many other publishing projects on their agendas, the Internet has come along at the right time. Relatively few people had Web Pages when my son, Daniel, helped me to construct my first Page back in 1997. Thousands, if not millions, of people and organizations can now be found with their own Web Pages.
I shall come back to this second draft, this second edition, of my Web Page and revise it from time to time in the years ahead. When the revisions are extensive enough a third edition will come into play. But for now I wish all my readers pleasure in travelling through the 42 sections of this document. It is my hope that some of those who come to this Web Page will find some useful perspectives and insights in relation to the Baha'i experience and my own in the half century 1953-2003 when the spiritual and administrative centre in Haifa saw the extensive developments that have only recently been completed. Beyond these fifty years I deal with some of the expanses and the horizons of the distant past and the distant future.
19 December 2002
PS For those who would like to CONTACT me by post my address is:
6 Reece Street
a final note on autobiography:
In September 2002, after finishing my book on Roger White's poetry, my history of the Baha'i Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997, several batches of poetry, a number of articles relating to the Cause and arranging my website locations, all writing projects which had occupied the first three years here in George Town Tasmania: 1999 to 2002, I began to take an anti-depressant drug. One of the effects of lithium which I began taking in 1980 for my bi-polar disorder or, perhaps, one of the effects of this bi-polar disorder which I began to experience in the earliest years of my pioneering, the early 1960s, has been to give me on a nightly basis what I can only describe as a 'death-wish.' It has not occurred every night for forty years, but it has certainly been a theme of my life, especially since about 1980. I have been on this anti-depressant drug for two weeks now and I realized while walking in the bush this morning that: this death-wish business has entirely disappeared. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 October 2002.
Such a weight it's been
these long and forty years.
It's as if I've come at last
to the Promised Land,
my Canaan where I can
lay my body down in peace,
into the soil of this fair land
of the Antipodes
where this divine melody,
this spirit of eternal life
will continue to harmonize
and shine like the morning star
as it has in these my days
with their joy and darkness.
With this darkness has come
some artistic faculty,
a richly inhabited and fertile country,
a perennial spring with running water,
a majestic river, magic,
evocation of the unseen,
snatching in disguise of words,
taken out of a native obscurity
vanishing phases of turbulence
into light where struggle can be seen
in permanence of memory.
For it seems I create
because I must interpret
through my temperament
which will not leave me alone,
my precarious dominion,
my fleeting significance,
my circumstance and character
which finds its inspiration
from this multitude of forms.
4 October 2002
A PIECE OF SOLID GROUND
The person who lived in those first few houses, indeed any of the houses I have lived in, with the possible exception of the residence I have lived in since 1999, is not the person who has written this story, this autobiography. To look back on all that has been my life, the long and medium distances, is to know too much and too little: too much trivia and detail, too little of what is important. To look back is to reinterpret, to tell the story differently every time. Will a third edition of this account add anything useful? Would six editions, like Edward Gibbon's efforts in the late eighteenth century with his own autobiography, be a source of further enlightenment? My optimistic muse would like to think so, but I can't be sure. Even if, as Socrates once emphasized, 'the unexamined life is not worth living' or, as someone else I once read said: the unexamined life is meaningless, the process of analysis is endless.
The "I" is a shimmering multitude, a multiple, a memory-filled entity that expands in many directions. The facts, the events, of my life become more difficult to define, to describe, to play with like the coloured billiard balls they once seemed to be. They don't bounce around the sides of my life and into their pockets with quite the precision that they once seemed to do. If 'reality' is those events and those facts, those discrete billiard balls, they seem to have become something to hide behind, something to call my life, some historical facticity that superficially tidies up what ultimately I can not tidy. My private life leaves, as Australian writer Judith Wright put it, "less trace than the silver trail of a slug which dries and blows away."1
In the world of the spirit, though, as Baha'u'llah once wrote, "the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered" by my mouth and "shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb." There seems to be much more going on in that private world than the conscious mind is aware of. "Life is but a show, vain and empty," Baha'u'llah also states, "bearing the mere semblance of reality." It is not surprising, therefore, if my backward gaze through my days leaves me with the feeling, somewhat, that my life is like "a vapour in the desert," something I hope to be water but, on facing it squarely, it is but "mere illusion."
With a succession of personas that I have had, with a string of achievements and failures, obsessions and relationships, preoccupations and rejections, choices and changes, I can and have described my life. I have looked back through the tunnel of identity at my childhood and, indeed, at all the other stages of my life and my experience in the Baha'i community and what I look back at has vanished. What I have recorded is a succession of changes. What I was has changed as I have become something else. As Wright puts it in the last lines of the closing poem in her autobiography:
A ripple goes across the glass.
The faces break and blur and pass
as love and time are blurred together.2
But then, I pause and think, this life, my life, inaugurates the history of a divine-human relationship that has only just begun to unfold. I have little comprehension of the nature of this relationship or of my destiny here at the beginning of a long road. I have responded to a call to pioneer and journied to many places over forty years. The story, the narrative, has taken many unexpected turns. It is in this narrative, and in the greater epic narrative that is the history of this new Cause, that I have come to find the meaning and purpose of my life. I have tried, in these early years, the first half century, of the Kingdom of God on earth,3 to play a small part in bringing heaven down to this earth, to transfigure the world. My story is not over yet. The task is immense and there is work enough for everyone in this new century, this new millennium.
I am conscious, as Mark Twain noted, that the autobiographer "has the most earnest desire to make himself out to be a better man in every little business than has been to his discredit."4 We are not obliged, even in autobiography, to acknowledge our wrongs, our faults, our sins, to the nth degree. Much of my dirty laundry I have simply left out, not so much to manage the impressions but for the same reason or reasons I would leave it out in a personal relationship. It is an issue of taste and preference, of appropriateness. Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed. I think it was the Imam Ali that first noted this truth and expressed it this way.
More importantly, what my autobiographical work does reveal and describe, often obliquely and unintentionally, often not so, are the social and symbolic structures underlying my life. These are, quintessentially, those of the Baha'i Faith in the ninth and early decades of the tenth stage of Baha'i history: 1953-1963 and 1963-2001. If there are omissions, distortions, discrepancies or disturbances in my account, the remembered past which I have put on paper, they, too, are revealing and symptomatic. But I leave it to future historians and students of the social sciences to deal with their significances, to analyse their implications. For now, in these essays, interviews and poems, I provide an autobiographical hermeneutic, a self-reflective history. I am a historical being who has made history, studied history and here, in these reflections, provided a body of reference for the future.5
Enquiring into life histories has been part of the standard research methods of the social sciences since the 1920s, since the time the Guardian began to design, to construct, the Baha'i Administrative system. A life history, my life history, is neither a unique document nor a representative of a group, in this case the Baha'i community. I like to see this entire oeuvre as "the product of a social individual," "the manifestation of an ensemble of social relations," as part of "the prism of history which encompasses the universal in the particular."6
"The key to selfhood," wrote Philip Weinstein in his analysis of American writer William Faulkner, "is the selective language we use to articulate our inner selves." And this, he goes on, is determined by our voluntary and involuntary affiliations with larger groups. Our very sense of self emerges from this charged field of utterance and service. There is a clear cultural encapsulation of personality and, for me, a significant part of this cultural guise, cultural determinant, is the religion I first came to associate myself with, partly voluntarily, partly involuntarily, partly the product of socialization influences and socio-historical circumstances as that association was, back in 1953.
What I am trying to do in this essay and in most of my writing is to give coherence and intelligibility to the great mass of experience and thought that is my life. I draw extensively on a concept of history at the centre of my Faith. This writing may provide, for some, one of a host of possible entry points for a study of several epochs of Baha'i history, one of many ways of weaving the collective and the individual into one mobile and effusive process. It is often said that a biographer's chief task is to prevent the historian from commiting the error of oversimplification and omission. I think one way of defining the autobiographer's task is to say that it gives both the historian and the biographer a piece of solid ground to start from. Perhaps this website is just that: a piece of solid ground.
One thing that does emerge in all this writing, one piece of solid ground from which to fly into the sky to put it metaphorically, is a person fascinated with his cultural identity rooted in his religion. It is a fascination to the point of obsession. It is a powerful preoccupation from which everything is born, which gives the bird flight. Although I like to think I am at home anywhere, perhaps my real home is those moments in time when I am writing for it helps make me more aware of myself and the world. This, wrote W.H. Auden, is the function of poetry. Writing poetry also provides a sense of real home because it also provides a sense of consolation.
Certainly the kind of biography and autobiography that Virginia Woolf wrote about in 1937 in her essay 'Reflections at Sheffield Place,' is what can be found here. Freed from the tedious parade through dates and battles, tests and difficulties, a story with a beginning, middle and end, a life-sequence packed with detail from birth to death and a forest of family trees, this multi-genred literary product has some of that riot and confusion which Woolf advocated, some of the passion and humour. My aim is to create the groundswell for a closeness between the writer writing, the reader reading and the subject. This is no information-retrieval exercise. This is something that has taken root in my emotions and my imagination and has grown into knowledge. This is, as Michael Holroyd put it so accurately, the evidence of a type of rebirth.7 I try to bring together my many selves, a complex and fascinating society and a religion which has obsessed me for over four decades.
1Judith Wright, Half a Lifetime, editor, Patricia Clarke, Text Pub., Melbourne, 1999, p.290.
2ibid.,p.288; 3 1953-2003.
4Mark Twain, 'Interview in 1889."
5John Murphy, The Voice of Meaning: History, Autobiography and Oral History," Historical Studies, Vol.22, 1986, pp.157-175.
7Michael Holroyd, Michael Holroyd: Basil Street Blues: A Family Story, Little Brown and Co., London, 1999, p.14.
25 August 2001
SILENT STANDING ON MY FEET ALONE
In the years between my becoming as Baha'i and pioneering, 1959 to 1962, Dame Mary Gilmore lived the last three years of her life. She lived to be 97. She was an Australian poet, patriot, radical pioneer and social reformer who had been awarded the D.B.E., Dame Commander of the British Empire, for achievements in literature and social reform. That year was 1937; the year of the inception of the 'Abdu'l-Baha's teaching Plan. For those three years, 1959-1962, she was virtually confined to her flat. When it was her time to go, she said she wanted to be "fresh and quick; still like a cup held out/To catch some word, some thought might find/This ever hungry, ever wakeful mind. Bill Wilde's description of her final years led to the following poem. -Ron Price with thanks to W.H. Wilde, Courage a Grace: A Biography of Dame Mary Gilmore, Melbourne UP, 1988, p.461.
When your last sands were running out
you wanted to be able to take one last,
long, remembering, backward look,
of love for all you knew.
And then, like some leaves, fall.
To be silent and stand on your feet,
alone, as you had been all your days,1
was the template you wanted
for your future beyond the grave
where you wanted to go on
without any ties, everyone free,
no hampering, whatever and wherever
you were, nothing possessive, no ownership.
And you fought on right to the end,
trying to extract one more thought,
one more comment
you might give to the world,
proof of your usefulness in life.
It 'twas as if you could not stop
for death and so he stopped for you:2
gentle-wise, a dropping of weary hands,
a closing of tired eyes,
a slipping away in peace,
a simply letting go,
a falling asleep, asleep,
1 This was how she saw herself and this image seems like one that is useful to me at this stage of my life, if not for the first forty years of my pioneering.
11 October 2001
A SHARPER EDGE
creation is rendered possible again and again by the reduction of a mass of prose, of ideas, of experience, to a succinct core. This poetic mosaic is a representative whole, the whole of life, of a time, of a person. Sometimes it appears like a multitude of seemingly non-representative fragments. The pieces of this vast mosaic describe the times and manners, social and spiritual activities, as Price saw and understood them, over four epochs. The meaning of each individual poem is transcended again and again by the entire composition, the whole oeuvre. The unity, the mosaic, the determined achievement, of the whole opus and its thousands of poems, is often revealingly jeopardized by some curious, complex, stubbornly awkward, puzzling, poem that just won't fit or at least does not seem to be part of the mosaic. There is a complex diversity of poetic statement that, for some readers, is just too wide, too heterogeneous, to connect with and they get lost along the way.-Ron Price with thanks to W.J. McCormack in The Eustace Diamonds, Anthony Trollope, Oxford UP, NY, The unity achieved within the context of the fragmentation in my poetry could be expressed as a mosaic. This poetic 1986(1983), p.xi.
A huge, living, daily
and increasing grievance--
that does one no palpable harm--
is the happiest possession
that a man can have.1
Well, I suppose 'teaching'
could be put into this category.
I can not think of any other
grievance over the last forty years
except, perhaps, sexual frustrations.
They have given life a sharper edge
and down in the marrow,
where integrity begins,
they seem to demand more
than I knew I had
as they nudge me toward
a better version of myself.2
1 English Tory psychology in the 19th century, ibid., p.xxvi.
2Roger White, Mean ol' Lady, Occasions of Grace, 1992, p. 132.
17 July 2001
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME THREE: MEMOIRS
Anyone who has actually read the first two volumes(1800 pages) deserves a prize for having come this far. If it is any comfort, you persistent few have got through more than half of the conceptual space where identity and meaning meet around the three themes of my life, my society and my religion. If you have read this far, I’m confident that you have gained some pleasure in the read and I am happy for you. Indeed, my very raison d’etre for this autobiography can be found in the pleasure and the understandings you have found thusfar.
For many years when I was a teacher I compiled reading material for my students around an eclectic mix of book chapters, journal articles, historical documents, extracts from literary texts, journalism, inter alia. Now, in this autobiographical work, I have followed a similar pattern but put a pot pourri of material into one work. I give to readers a single-authored, multidisciplinary sourcebook in the field of autobiography.
You will find here in the following part of this work an epilogue and some thoughts on letter writing, on history, poetry and essays--some of the genres I have used in this work. I will say no more in this introduction to the epilogue other than to leave you with a prose-poem I wrote at the age of 56, a year after I arrived in Tasmania to begin my retirement and a daily-life devoted to writing.
A MIND LIVELY AND AT EASE
It is said that an artist’s work is the sum total of his experience. The artist does not create from a tabula rasa, but from a rich menu of specific and unspecific experience, grey and vague and highly and variously coloured. The artist drafts his own destiny as he drafts his music, his art, his sculpture or his poetry, at least in part. And he is never sure, as Stephen Spender puts it, however confident he may be, whether he has misdirected his energy, or whether his poetry is insignificant and irrelevant or great and important. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 8 August 2000.
A mind lively and at ease
is a gift of fortune
and gives meaning and value
to perceived experience,1
to the deep and rich
satisfaction of my own writing
and to the slow charting of the
progress toward our destiny.
The unperturbed mind
is quickest and can deal
with the vanity of vanities, life,
which we must both accept and
reject, which pierces us with its
nonsense and its strange relations.
1Jane Austen, Emma.
8 August 2000 ADDENDUM OR EPILOGUE
Having completed my autobiography or, at least, completed a fifth edition in a form that is satisfactory to me in the first two volumes and keeping in mind that I will in all likelihood make additions to it in the years ahead, I want to write a sort of addendum or epilogue in the pages which follow. I write in part because I want to contribute this memoir to the world and I want audiences to read my work hoping, among other reasons, to find a new or at least an altered perspective on their lives. This is probably a somewhat pretentious aim, trying to stake out a fresh territory for readers, a territory that requires my voice, a voice that has similarities to others but is, in the end, uniquely mine. I feel I have done this to some extent in the first two volumes and I hope some readers find some of this uniqueness and enjoy it.
The spiritual ideal underpinning my experience as conveyed in this memoir has captivated, converted and inspired my soul. It is one which I believe will capture many millions and billions in the decades and centuries ahead, irrespective of background and temperament. It was the experience of many, indeed most if not nearly all, of those I came in contact during these epochs to find themsleves doubting whether this enterprize of the Baha’is could ever be brought to a successful issue. If they did not doubt, they took little interest. The seductiveness of other systems of ideas and fallacious philosophies which explained the whole machina mundi captivated the intellect and the emotions of the generations I had contact with from the 1950s to the first years of the new millennium.
My approach to this work has many similarities to that taken by the historian and early biographer, Plutarch, who saw the events of his age in personal terms and the individual life in moral terms of progress or regress. Plutarch’s boundless interest in the individual, his sense of the drama of men in great situations is mine. I hope I also possess Plutarch’s wide tolerance, ripe experience and his ability for making greatness stand out in small actions. Alas it is difficult to assess oneself in terms of these qualities.
Autobiographical writing has been redefining the meaning of narrative in recent decades, as the explosion of memoirs by writers such as Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, Dave Eggers and Kathryn Harrison, among others, suggests. Until the last 20 years, coincidentally since the time I begn this narrative, few people without some degree of fame tried to write and publish a memoir. But with the critical and commercial success in the United States of the memoirs of the above authors more and more people have been encouraged to try their hand at this genre. This is but one.
It may be that, inspite of the best intentions, inspite of my own perception of the quality of this work and the pleasure I take in reading it, my work may not engage the readers in the Baha’i community as much as I’d like to see happen. I think engagement entails defining a common enterprise that newcomers and community veterans can pursue as they try to develop their interpersonal relationships, their teaching opportunities and their own lives. I think I do this quite well, at least I have tried; such is my personal perception of how successful I have been. But as readers continue in their interacting trajectories in their communities and as they continue to shape their identities in relation to one another, they may not find this book that useful. The roads in our life, paved as they are with good intentions, often do not lead anywhere at all.
While engagement with this book may be positive in some ways, a lack of a certain literary and psychological mutuality in the course of the engagement of readers with these pages and these ideas may create relations of marginality, mine and others, that can reach deeply into people’s identities. In the end and at this early stage in the publishing trajectory that this work takes, I’m really not sure how successful I have been. The enterprise of truly engaging my readers will have to wait for the judgement of time and circumstance. I must admit to my suspicions which may be mainly a function of age and the assumptions that time’s occasionally cynical presence laces with skepticism.
Autobiography, unlike novels, does not keep its readers at a distance. The sufferings and tribulations, the successes and wins of the autobiographer’s life are much more immediately part of the reader’s awareness than they are from a novel by the same person. The relationship between a memoir/autobiography and the reader is less mediated and more like a patient/doctor relationship. The writer is on the couch talking: the reader becomes the doctor, reading hopefully with passion and interest, listening as good doctors must, and at the same time putting the story through the mill, as any good doctor would, of his own consciousness, memory and experience. I have often wondered while I have been writing this book whether it will get any readers/doctors at all. The worst that can happen to a narrative, it is often said, is that it remains ‘responseless’.
I have taken a course that another skeptic, David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, took at a much younger age than I. Hume writes in his autobiography that at the age of 23 he "laid that plan of life" which he "steadily and successfully pursued." He goes on to say that he aimed "to maintain unimpaired" his independency and "to regard every object as contemptible," except the improvements of his talents in literature." His first literary efforts, he informs us, fell dead from the press. But, as he says, due to his naturally cheerful and sanguine temper, he very soon recovered from the blows of intellectual and social indifference. In spite of receiving no recognition he continued to prosecute "with great ardor" his studies.
I, too, would have liked at the age of 23 to pursue a literary life but, as I pointed out in earlier volumes, this did not eventuate for many reasons and I had to wait for more than three decades before I could find that fertility and give that concentration which Hume gave to intellectual and literary activity in the early years of his maturity. I, too, like Hume enjoyed a cheerful and sanguine temperament, at least after the problems of a bi-polar disorder were eliminated from my life. By the age of 60 they had been largely sorted out and I was ready to launch that literary career that Hume did in the flower of his early life. Whether I would have the success that Hume enjoyed only time would tell. My continued skepticism was not encouraging, but as the early years of late adulthood insensibly progressed from year to year the energy I expended toward this goal did not desert me linked as it was to the advancement of that Cause I had been associated with now for well over half a century.
Hume took the view that there is no permanent "self" that continues over time. He dismissed standard accounts of causality and argued that our conceptions of cause/effect and argued that relationships are grounded in habits of thinking, rather than in the perception of causal forces in the external world itself. I find this issue of such complexity that to dwell on it further here would lead to prolixity, but Hume's notion of self is one that writing this memoir has confirmed.
I like to see imagination as a process of expanding the self by transcending time and space and creating new images of the world and the self. Imagination is something which involves locating one’s sense of engagement in a broad, a universal, system and defining one’s personal trajectory of meaning in terms of something that connects what one is doing far beyond oneself. I’d like to think this autobiography extends the meaning of artifacts, people and actions within the personal spheres of people’s lives, at least the people who read this book. That is what I’d like to achieve but, as I pointed out above, I’m not so sure that I have succeeded in this respect. The sheer proliferation of the objects, diversions, and possibilities for life in modern society has made modern society, as Walter Lippmann pointed out after WW1 in his book The Phantom Public, "not visible to anybody, nor intelligible continuously and as a whole." Abundance has in some ways both blunted and accentuated the meaning of experience and the pleasure to be found in abundance itself. Society, the world, has become one great brontosaurissmus, some voracious shark, that people who are not used to the sea are trying to dissect and understand. There are elements within this whole that are unprecedented and therefore profoundly shocking and the effects, like those of the shark, are often paralysing and prostrating.
Still, in spite of the abundance, the burgeoning multiplicities and singularities, of life and its fragmenting, confusing and blunting affects, there have been clear turning points in my life and they represent ways in which I have freed myself in my self-consciousness from my history, its banal qualities and its conventionality. These turning points have been steps toward what Jerome Bruner, one of the great students of autobiography in the late 20th century, calls "narratorial consciousness." My autobiography involves a description of these turning points not only in my construction of self but also my interpretation of the nature of my society and its culture.
In spite of these complexities and enigmas, the past, my past, has occurred. It has gone and can only be brought back again in thought by this autobiographer or by historians and social scientists working in very different media: in books, articles, documentaries, inter alia. The actual events, of course, can not be brought back. The past has gone, history is what historians make of it and autobiographers, too, when they go about their work. In Re-thinking History, Keith Jenkins describes history as "a discourse that is about, but categorically different from, the past." And so it is that my autobiography is categorically different from my past. And so it is that my autobiography is not simply a telling of a series of critical incidents.
I interpret my past experiences by means of a composition process involving my life in the present. It is a life that has adapted to, resisted and sometimes reached beyond the master narratives of the many dominant cultural and social institutions that have affected my life. And these institutions possess many master narratives which are inevitably woven into my personal story and my lived experience with and within these institutions. Motherhood, social class, industrialism, capitalism, socialism, democracy, religion, socialization, social control and authority are but a few of these institutions. Each of these institutions and many others have their own story and to write that story in a comprehensive and systematic way would lead to prolixity and such stories are beyond the compass of this narrative. This concept of "institution" associated with the above terms is part of the language of the field of sociology, a language, a discipline, I first came in contact with in 1963 and which has been part of my study and teaching program for over 40 years.
I could take each of these master narratives and focus or skew my autobiography as Jean Piaget did his series of autobiographies. In his study of Jean Piaget's life, Vonïche deals with the particularly interesting case of Piaget’s multiple autobiographical identities. Jean Piaget, the famous Swiss psychologist, wrote several autobiographies aimed at different audiences, thus presenting himself in different ways and on different scenes. In all of his autobiographies, Piaget is both the same and different. The facts are the same. The anecdotes are similar. But the outcome is entirely different. People use their autobiographies as a form of self-presentation that varies according to the target audience. They organize and re-organize the plots of their lives. According to the target audience, Piaget can be a post-Bergsonian metaphysician, a scientific psychologist, or a disillusioned philosopher turned scientist. And so is this target-oriented approach to autobiography an approach I use as well and perhaps at a future time I may develop it more fully. For now these 2500 pages in four volumes will have to suffice.
I have tried to avoid the telling of such a series of incidents, like vignettes, that concentrate upon episodes and especially those which identify specific life activities and practices. A real danger in this critical incident approach is that, if uncritically used, critical incidents and their respective literary accounts come to have a great and compelling explanatory power. This explanatory power exerts a conservative force on the overall narrative which cannot be underestimated. I like to think I have used critical incidents critically, conscious of their explanatory power, their affect on the overall narrative and, thus, placed them in this narrative in a balanced and judicious way.
I like to think I have done what Goodson advises autobiographers to do; namely,"to move from life stories to life histories, from narratives to genealogies of context, towards a modality that embraces stories of action within theories of context." "In so doing," Goodson suggests, "stories can be ‘located’, seen as the social constructions they are, fully impregnated by their location within power structures and social milieux."
As the distinguished historian E.H. Carr put it: "facts of the past exist independently of the mind of the historian, but historical facts are only those data selected from the past that a historian finds relevant to his or her argument. The historian can never know the past "as it really was," but only how it might have been, since our information about the past is partial and inevitably mediated." It seems to me this is true, a fortiori, of the autobiographer and the memoirist. Neither I nor the historian enjoys the scientist’s luxury of being able to conduct and replicate experiments about the past, my past, under controlled conditions. I can test one theory about my life against another theory, as can the historian about some aspect of history. This allows me, as autobiographer, and historians, to develop theories that are more viable. But we can never establish the truthfulness, the validity, of that theory. History and autobiography are both attempts to explain our experience of the present by constructing a viable account of the past such that if it had taken place then the present we live in would be the case. History is not only an attempt to account for the way things were, but also to account for the way things are. George Landow writes: "at that point in human history when choices become so abundant, autobiography, the justification of one's choices, becomes increasingly important as a literary mode." There is certainly much of this justification of my choices here.
Artists and writers, critics and thinkers, indeed, the entire intellectual apparatus of society of which this work is but an infinitessimal part is based on, finds its raison d’etre in, a vision of social agency and of creative process. If the term intellectual is a little too pretentious I am happy to use the term thinker. After living in Australia for 35 years I am not happy with the term 'intellectual'. As broadcaster Robert Dessaix discovered when he conducted interviews for a book and radio program on the topic, Australian intellectuals are wary of being called intellectuals. Unlike their French counterparts, "Any Australian whose name was included in a Dictionary of Australian Intellectuals would very likely sue for libel." For me, too, a more modest term is preferred if, indeed, a term is required for the process of what I am trying to do.
Whatever the terminology, my focus is a mixture of author-as-creative-individual, writer-as-literary-intellectual and historian-as-autobiographer. For an artist-writer to be an intellectual it is less important to have a theory of writing than to possess a vision of how their literary work might operate in society and to assume responsibility for it. For me this vision is expressed in a number of ways one of which is what might be called a new "sociological poetics" that "connects literary work to the outside world." This vision is also expressed as an individual, personal, rendition of a Baha’i
interpretation of history and society.
In general terms what I do in this memoir is described succinctly by Jerome Bruner, who has written extensively on life-writing. "We constantly construct and reconstruct a self," writes Bruner, "to meet the needs of the situations we encounter, and we do so with the guidance of our memories of the past and our hopes and fears of the future."
There are some occasions in autobiography when writers abandon any claim or pretense to literal truth and an accurate account of their experience. They strip off the content of their consciousness’s excessive valorization and the specificity of their life and--perhaps again excessively--dismiss their life’s "very littleness." Whatever facts occupy their conscious awareness they deem but accidental happenings. They discard their autobiographical self as an ultimately trivial and illusory phenomenon and create a novel self. This novel self is constructed out of memory and desire. This attempt, this somewhat novelistic approach to autobiography, continues to punctuate the narrative and becomes a new actuality to the autobiography. This is far from my aim and is not a part of my philosophical approach in any way, but I think it is difficult for autobiographers generally and me in particular to entirely dismiss this autobiographical orientation. Memory is cultural and personal, muscular and cerebral--simultaneously--and its products, contents, can be dealt with in so many ways.
Through a close reading of Wordsworth’s first autobiographical sketches made in his late twenties and dating from October 1798 through April 1799, one can demonstrate how Wordsworth creatively remembered his childhood. The context of this memory was in terms of the development of the powers of his imagination. In this six month period we find Wordsworth's earliest autobiographical attempt to trace the ontogeny of his imagination back to the dream state, to play, and to perceptual and conceptual blending. I did not engage in such a serious tracing of my childhood until my early sixties. But I profited from one of the first attempts at poetic autobiography in Wordsworth’s The Prelude. It is interesting that Wordsworth's poetic and autobiographical efforts coincided with the earliest years of Shaykh Ahmad's sense of his "unerring vision", his "fixed purpose" and his "crushing responsibilities" associated as they were with a new Revelation.
I could add the results of cognitive neuroscience, drawing on memory research, sleep research, cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, to add an evolutionary history of fictional cognition to my own autobiography as Wordsworth did to the origin and development of his work. An accurate, honest and successful unfolding of the imagination, one could argue, is only possible when accompanied by adequate monitoring systems. An author must possess the capacity to distinguish between what originates in his perception and what is the response of his memory. The resulting tapestry must be sufficiently complex to permit the formulation of a hypothesis about the self which may not be scientifically tested but at least possess some sweet reasonableness.
In a commentary on this first period of composition Wordsworth wrote that his autobiographical self-as-being arose as a virus within his source monitoring system. This investigation by Wordsworth of his early years is a complex one and I don’t want to go into any more detail here. I find the same is true of the origins of my own imaginative function: its unfolding is complex. And the monitoring systems that existed at the time of its earliest unfolding are difficult to trace. I hope that readers find here at least some of that sweet reasonableness even if I do not elaborate on the theme I have introduced here dealing with imagination and memory.
When I say that my life has been full of joy and sorrow I do not see this as an apparent contradiction but simply as a reality of all our lives. If I analyse my life I can divide it into joyous parts and sorrowful parts. This I have done by discussing these aspects, but I have not precisely quantified these two emotions. My life has been joyous in some respects and sorrowful in others. The whole of life, when analysed in respect to these emotions, could be seen as contradictory and paradoxical. The nature of the reality of our lives is to deal with these endless polarities. Like an oyster we must do what we can to heal the ugly wounds of life by turning life's grains of sand into beautiful pearls. Much has been written about these polarities of life and I do not want to add to the philosophical library here.
Biologists estimate that there are about 5 to 100 million species of organisms living on Earth today. Evidence from morphological, biochemical, and gene sequence data suggests that all organisms on Earth are genetically related, and the genealogical relationships of living things can be represented by a vast evolutionary tree, the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life then represents the phylogeny of organisms, that is, the history of organismal lineages as they change through time. It implies that different species arise from previous forms via descent, and that all organisms, from the smallest microbe to the largest plants and vertebrates, are connected by the passage of genes along the branches of the phylogenic tree that links all of Life. In the broadest of senses, then, my autobiography would be one encompassing all of life. I must, of necessity here, limit my analysis and discussion.
While imagination can lead to a positive mode of belonging, it can also result in disconnectedness and greater ineffectiveness; it can be so removed from any lived form of life and activity, membership and meaning, that it detaches the identities of readers and leaves them in a state of uprootedness. Readers can lose touch with their sense of social efficacy; their view of reality can be distorted. Imagination is a great power and a difficult one to rule. While that is not my desire, my autobiography may in the end be just a slippery slope in the direction of idel fancies, vain imagination, discontent and disorientation. Good intentions, as they say and as I have said before, are often the road to greater problems. As a teacher of literature, of English and the social sciences, I know only too well that many students turn some of the best writers and the greatest wisdoms right off their radar. I, too, am not immune from this experience. In the end, of course, one writes and sends one’s efforts out into the universe and takes what comes.
Alignment is a term applied to writing and to autobiography. It entails negotiating perspectives, finding common ground, defining broad visions and aspirations, walking boundaries and reconciling diverging fields of interest. Alignment requires shareable frameworks and paradigms, boundary items and concepts that help to create fixed points around which to coordinate activities, an oeuvre, a life. It can also require the creation and adoption of broader discourses that help give a literary enterprise some life, some vitality and meaning and by which the microcosm of local actions can be interpreted as fitting within a broader framework. However, alignment can be a violation of a people’s sense of self, something that crushes their identity. In some ways, at least for me, alignment is "the pen's obedience to a line already traced in the mind, if not on the page."
It seems to me that, in some respects, I am completely unable to write anything about much that is quintessential in life, nor will I ever be able. For, as Baha’u’llah writes, "myriads of mystic tongues find utterances in one speech and how many are the mysteries concealed in a single melody but, alas, there is no ear to hear nor heart to understand." The garment of words can only contain so much. There is much knowledge that can not be put into words like the content of many of the arts and sciences. Mysticism itself finds its origins in this notion. No sensible man will venture to express some of his deepest thoughts in words, especially in a form which is unchangeable. So much that is said and thought here is as potentially changeable as the wind which blows and the clouds which change their patterns in the sky from minute to minute and hour to hour. A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living, as Virginia Woolf once said.
However changeable, new and wonderful configurations, an ever-varying splendour intimately connected with the power of thought and associated with a mysterious core of self or personality, has come into my life over the decades and it’s story is here, however obscurely narrated and however set in a context of change and mystery. The circumstances of life are always changing and truths seem to constantly need restating to maintain their grip, their purchase of truth. Perhaps that is why re-reading is as important as reading. Perhaps that is why, too, that, as Nietzsche said: "every great philosophy so far has been . . . the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir." What Nietzsche says here is but part of the recognition that anything a person says or writes tells us something essential about the speaker or writer. This is a commonplace notion which extends to all areas of discourse. Not only literature but philosophy and science can also be seen as forms of self-expression, types of autobiography. Self-portraiture is very difficult to avoid when you write, indeed when you live and breath and have your being. As soon as readers accept that a literary text expresses, or makes exterior, something within its author, then it becomes inevitable that they will use that text as a key to that interior, that biography, that autobiography. As a man is, so he sees and so he writes.
The famous film actor, Sean Connery, once said about writing his memoirs that the process was "time-absorbing and very wearing. It's the sort of thing that wakes you up in the middle of the night." I found the exercise wearing for many years especially after the first edition was completed in 1993. For nearly a decade I could not get a sense of meaning, of perspective, of vitality with respect for my work; it felt like dry dust, but when I finally did find a fresh approach in the years 2003 to 2006 the exercise became time-absorbing, time-consuming, indeed, an obsession—but an enriching one personally.
Connery admitted that his autobiography proved to be "much, much more difficult" than he anticipated. When I started writing my narrative in 1984/5 I had no idea what the process would be like. I could not and did not anticipate that I’d still be writing it more than twenty years later. Connery doesn't have any glib explanations about the way his career of fame and wealth developed. My explanations about how my life developed are also far from glib, although after nearly 2500 pages, some of my readers may wish they were glib.
After long continued intercourse between my many teachers, as we have been in joint pursuit of our several, our many, subjects—over these decades--suddenly, insensibly, like the light flashing forth when a fire is kindled, there has been born, created, it seems in my soul, some dazzling rays of a strange, heavenly power, which nourishes and is nourished. It seems just about impossible to convey in writing and a fortiori in dialogue with others. This flashing forth, this kindling and dazzling is and has been a process not an event. The process has been so incremental, often so insensible and certainly so mysterious that to discuss it here would require a separate book.
To fully participate in community life in the sense that is at the heart of this autobiography each Baha’i must find ways to engage in the work, the enterprize in their own individual way. They will do some things that others do, that other community members do, but they must be able to imagine their own work as being an important part of a larger enterprise. And they must be comfortable that the larger enterprise and its smaller components, the many conventions of that community, are compatible with the identities they envision for themselves. Being a part of the community, then, is not simply a matter of learning new skills, new attitudes and new values, but also of fielding new calls for identity construction. This understanding of identity suggests that people enact and negotiate identities in the world over time. For identity is dynamic and it is something that is presented and re-presented, constructed and reconstructed in interaction. And like the tension in violin strings which are the basis of musical harmony, life in community also possess a tension with which we must play in harmony. Of course, this is not always so. Often only noise is produced.
The individual experience of power derives from belonging, but it also derives from exercising control over what we belong to, what we participate in, what we read, indeed, an entire panoply and pageantry of activity. Each individual is heterogeneously made up of various competing discourses, often conflicted and virtually always possessed of contradictory scripts. Our consciousness is anything but unified. In many ways wholeness or integration is not so much a goal as a battle, at least some kind of perpetual balancing act of dealing with unstable forces, forces which we must reconcile or they will tear us apart. These unstable forces may also cause us to withdraw and, like a planet slipping from orbit and following the dictates of its own centrifugal momentum, become ultimately so remote from the magnetic attraction of the sun that it flies irretrievably into remoteness. This can happen to both individuals and societies. Inner conflict is not so much a disorder as it is the first law of human psychic life.
The Australian critic and raconteur Clive James made a pertinent point in this connection when he compered an ABC FM Radio program about Australian orchestras in concert. He said that large countries like Australia and the USA don't have identities. They are too diverse. I think the same is true about individuals. They are also diverse over a lifetime to have a single identity.
There is now a great wealth of literature available to the Baha’i community both in-house literature and the burgeoning material now available in the marketplace. My book occupies a small place, possesses no particular authority and competes with a print and electronic media industry of massive proportions. In order to survive and do well in most of the print and electronic media a writer must develop the ability to put things simply and effectively, in a manner that everyone can understand. Such a writer has maybe a minute and a half to two minutes if he is talking on the TV to explain a complex subject or a series of short verbal expositions if he is involved in an interview; even a book, if it is to find a large readership in the mass circulation market, must be as simple as possible.
Many academics and intellectuals are so steeped in academic jargon that they are unable to simplify their material. I hope this book is not an example of this academic problem, the problem of someone who could not pull off the simplification process. I’m afraid simplicity and brevity are not marks of my literary style. So, perhaps, I will fail here. Time will tell.
I knew of a senior academic who was asked to appear on a local TV station. She showed up with six or seven books and they had little pieces of paper stuck in the books for purposes of quotation. The whole interview was over in less than two minutes; she never read any of her quotations and she was frustrated that she just couldn’t make her points. She didn’t understand that if you’re going to play in the media ballpark, you have to play by their rules, not your own. I like to think that this book, this autobiography, has allowed me to have my six books and their quotations and that the role of this book does not include a two minute TV summary or an interview of ten minutes on an arts program. On the other hand, I could probably write a ten second autobiographical-ad grab, summarize what I’m all about in one or two minutes and be interviewed for any appropriate length of time. Maybe it will never happen before I die.
There are many different kinds of self-referential writing. I have incorporated some of them in what is for me a surprisingly large work invoking Whitman's "I am large, I contain multitudes," as an appropriate presiding spirit for the genre. Whatever largeness I claim to possess, it is the same largeness we all possess in relation to ourselves. We all must live in our own skins for all our days and the sense of our largeness--or our smallness for that matter--is a result of our bodily manifestation, our physical proximity to self. In the multitude of methods and genres of studies of Baha’i history and experience, teachings and organization, autobiography is either tentatively acknowledged, invoked by negation or simply passed over in silence. It is one genre that is, for the most part, conspicuous by its absence from any bibliography. This has begun to change in the last decade or two. This piece of writing is part of that change.
So often we commiserate over the lack of history writing or, as Momen puts it, how "lamentably neglectful in gathering materials" for the history of the Baha’i Faith we have been. History writing and the transmission of the narrative of a group has often been a problem. "It wasn't until the 1850's," writes Russell Shorto in his review of Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower that "William Bradford's narrative of the founding of Plymouth in 1620 was finally published." Only then, after 230 years, did the story of the first years of the history of the USA enter the historical record. While Momen may be right, there are many ways to look at the gathering of historical documents. Just how this autobiography will appear in the grand scheme of things only time, only history, will tell. This autobiography comes from the historical experience within four epochs in the first century of the Formative Age.
While my work makes no attempt, no pretense, to being a history of the period, it does attempt to express the experience of one man. How relevant this will be for future generations I leave to those mysterious dispensations of Providence which I often refer to in this now lengthy book. The details of my experience in this new Faith and the details associated with its origins and development in the various Baha’i communities I lived in or was associated with in a broad sense could be said, if one wanted to be critical, to represent 'intentional history.' This type of history is a form of social memory which establishes the image of the past that the community wishes to transmit and a resulting type of corporate identity. I suppose it is difficult to avoid this problem, this tendency, entirely. No matter how frustrating my experience has been—and there is no question that I have suffered as so many have done because of the Baha’i community---I love this community and my positive bias toward it is unavoidable. I have gone a long way toward my goal of presenting this community as honestly and accurately as I can, or so it seems to me. However much I have shaped my life and times into a discernible and personal storyline, it is with an eye to the future and the uncertainties of the present that preoccupies me and shapes much that is written here.
The mechanics of constructing the past, my past, my real historical memories and contemporary, homoeostatic dynamics of the Baha’i community are closely intertwined in the formation and ongoing formation of the metanarrative that is Baha’i history. This is inevitable. For history’s first historian, Herodotus, there were no official versions. What mattered to this Greek historian was the local nature of his information, in all its complexity. Some local, some idea of the past of a polis was a shared possession, rooted in cult and a complex ongoing tradition. For me, on the other hand, there is an official, a written history and it is this history which matters. What also matters, although in quite a different sense, is the local, complex, ongoing, nature of my information, the personal, the complex, the individual, the local, story. Much of my poetry in this autobiography has a similar emphasis to Homer's and the poetry of many another poet in the sense that it is about: "the poetry of the past." I use poetry to help me navigate the labyrinth of personal connections, -isms, and the historical nexuses which often seem too complicated for me to find my way through. I hope readers find here a lucidity that helps them cope with the complexity they find in both their community and their personal life.
To make one more comparison between the experience of the Baha’is and the founding fathers of America in 1620, I’d like to quote what Philbrick says about these founders, namely, that they "began to see that they were traversing a mythic land, where a sense of community extended far into the distant past." It took time for them to appreciate the significance of the Indian religious tradition. Relations with the Indians were the axis, says Philbrick, for a history of the Pilgrims. In time the Pilgrim colony became caught up in massacre and sadness; one could reasonably conclude that this underscores the danger of believing that God guides one's hand.
I used to think the relationship with indigenous peoples was the critical axis of the Baha’i community in our time. That was one of the main ideological reasons for my going to live, first among the Inuit and then among the Aboriginals. But as time, as my life, has moved on, I am more of the view that a more critical axis is the power of understanding. There are other axes, too, but this subject is too long for an exposition of all the relevant axes and themes here. For the Baha’is, during the four epochs that was the temporal framework for my experience and that of my community, they too faced crises, as great or greater than those faced by the American Pilgrims. They were crises that threatened to arrest the community’s unfoldment from time to time and, as Shoghi Effendi once said threatened to "blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered."
"There's something terribly feminine about novel writing," John Fowles once wrote. "When you create characters," he went on, "all processes are analogous to childbirth, including postnatal depression. When a book is reviewed, it is like the weaning of children. You're kicked about or even praised--and the book is separated from you. At a conscious level, this may be painful. But at an unconscious level, this leaves one free--to write another novel." What Fowles says here about novels has been partly true of my experience of writing this autobiography. The main difference is that this book is still connected to me by a literary umbilical chord. I will go on working on it for some time to come: until I’m tired of it or I die.
Fowles goes on to say something which I think is also true of writing autobiography, at least--partly--for me. He says: "The novel is an impossible voyage. It's a mystery why you keep doing it." He asked, "Why is an unhappy ending considered more artistic than a happy ending?" and then he answered this question himself: "In some ways the unhappy ending pleases the novelist. He has set out on a voyage and announced, I have failed and must set out again. If you create a happy ending, there is a somewhat false sense of having solved life's problems." For me, the question of endings has not come in to this autobiography. Obviously, I am still alive and could be here for another 30 or 40 years. My story, my autobiography could be only half or two-thirds over. And happiness, for me, has only a tangential relationship with the glitter and tinsel of an affluent society or the superficial adjustments to the modern world envisioned by humanitarian movements or publicly proclaimed as the policy of enlightened statesmanship. Happiness is much more of a paradoxical thing, a conundrum, a galimaufery-to chose a name from a Bahá'í folk group--a mixture of unlike things.
I have set out many times on this autobiographical journey. It is a mysterious journey, an impossible one in some ways. This journey could be divided into three aspects: the spatial, the temporal and the intellectual. I divide and mix the three, partly for convenience, partly due to serendipity and partly due to quite unknown processes. The three are textually interconnected. The temporal journey meshes with the experience of space to shape the protagonist's-that’s me-intellectual development. In a certain philosophical sense, there is no world other than that the one I create, the one of which I am the maker, the one I have outlined here in a general sense.
Henri LeFebvre sees space as active, "not a passive surface" and has three components: perceived, conceived and lived space. Trying to keep the three points of the triad straight is not as important, at least for my argument, as is maintaining a sense of their interlocked relation. Lived, perceived, and conceived space folds into and spins across its several forms, working together to accomplish the production of spaces: place, space, landscape, and location as in--streets, homes, rooms, fields, buildings, people, inter alia. These spaces become embodied with stories, memories, and all sorts of meanings. Although the world is indeed increasingly well connected, we must hold this connectedness in balance with the observation that most people live intensely local lives." This has been true for me throughout these epochs, although in the realm of thought I have been travelling all my pioneering life in wider vistas.
Jean-Paul Sartre's pronouncement that prose is an attitude of mind applies equally well to poetry. I move from one attitude to another throughout this work. There is an inconclusive quality to prose, poetry and art for me. The symbolic and the suggestive are both a strong part of my writing. To be a writer, Joseph Conrad wrote in a letter in 1895, "you must treat events as the outward signs of inward feelings," and to accomplish this "you must cultivate your poetic faculty." Conrad wrote in another letter: "A work of art is very seldom limited to one exclusive meaning and not necessarily tending to a definite conclusion. And this for the reason that the nearer it approaches art, the more it acquires a symbolic character. All the great creations of literature have been symbolic, and in that way have gained in complexity, in power, in depth and in beauty."
Cultural geography is concerned with those aspects of land and space, in both the micro and the macro sense, that shape people's ideas about themselves, and give to their identities a characteristic expression. Landscape is really an all-embracing concept. It includes virtually everything around us and has manifest significance for everyone. This sub-section of geography, the cultural sphere, formulates the complex strategies of identification that function in the name of a people and a nation. It is here that the recollection, the sense, of home and belonging are constructed and create an imagined and/or a real community. There results from this study of land and space a collectiveness that is addressed in different ways by different peoples, that is part of their identity and that structures belonging. I have mentioned this from time to time in this autobiography, but it has not occupied much of my attention. This is probably due to the many places I have lived rather than one which has helped to form my identity.
This whole question of the sense of identity has been part and parcel of the western literary tradition going right back to Homer and the Old Testament writers. Early poetry of the eighth century BCE, Hesiod, Homer and the tradition they belonged to, has as a major theme of the identity of the Greek people, whether united in a military expedition as in the Iliad or as a geographical system in the Catalogue of Ships. My poetry and my autobiography is concerned, too, with the notion of identity, the identity of the Baha’i community and my own identity both within that community and without. It is this aspect of my identity that I give more of my attention to in this work.
The decision to pioneer internationally in 1971, to go abroad as we used to say, a decision I made with my first wife or, more honestly, because of my first wife, after graduating from college in 1967 and teaching for three years, represented an embrace of the challenges and pleasures of the unfamiliar. This reorientation was also a form of disorientation due to the new that flooded in from all sides and pulled old assumptions off their moorings. Just as a compelling theory may force students to fall back on what they know, only to find that the theory has changed the way in which they considered this knowledge, so the experience of living on a foreign continent makes one look homeward and realize that home will never be the same.
The lesson I have learned during my 35 years as an expatriate is perhaps best described as a semantic one: home, Canada, and North America ceased forever to be synonyms in my mind. Even if home still lies "over there," certain signs of it greet the eyes of Canadians abroad no matter where we go. Unlike the USA which, more than any other country, extends beyond its borders with its extensive global permutations and permeations reshaping foreign economic, political, and social, not to mention imaginative landscapes—all in the image of America, Canada remains snowlocked in a bleak and lonely landscape and, even in our more media-saturated world, the country still lies somewhat remote and isolated, clean and distant.
The more I have travelled, the more I have learned, the more I have come to realize that, should I return after having departed home, home and homeland, the objects of my patriotic projections, cares little for me or my loyalty. The idea, then, that I belong to a place, and that that place in turn belongs to me, merely exposes me to disappointment, and conditions me to contest for and die over a fiction, which, by its very nature, denies and defies belonging.
The Canadian or the American abroad--and certainly me in Australia--sees that the foreign landscapes where he dwells are not just mirror images of home. Some landscapes are, of course, familiar in some ways, and some are not. In a globalizing world our experience of contemporary reality is fused with the dreams, fantasies, and satellite image-fed visions of everyone and everything from the original European colonizers in our homeland, to a set of explorers like Lewis and Clark or Cartier and Cabot, to Somali refugees, to the likes of al-Qaeda. These ideas that traditionally existed behind quite clear borders have been in this era of mass communication, mixed into one big pot. To put this a little differently: the world has become one country.
Canada became, particularly in this global age, something that was neither simply a place, nor as a permanent set of values, beliefs, attitudes, or philosophies. It was, it became, an idea, one that was fluid and open to constant change and not defined by traditional constraints like geography, politics, and nationality. My personal experience, however, showed me that thinking of Canada in these terms as I did, was neither simple nor easy. It was easier said than done and, if done as I had done now for over 30 years, it was not easy to put into words. This was true not only of my Canadianness but of my pioneeringness and much else.
"The art of autobiography has many facets. One of the critical facets is omission. One's own forgetfulness is very important. Indeed, as I have pointed out elsewhere, most of my life is simply not here. It has been omitted in the interest of interest. As in the daily round one can only bring to memory a certain portion of one’s experience, otherwise one would literally drown in data, in memories, in a chaos of facticity. As the world passed through the golden age of astronomy during these epochs, as it advanced through a range of new technologies from the computer to satellite, from radio to TV, video to DVD, inter alia, as it doubled its population from 3 to 6 billion, so much was invented and developed, so much impacted on man and society-but I have omitted the discussion of these and so many other facets of the industrial and commercial developments of our time. I belonged to the first generation born into a world in which television had been invented, but not yet popularized.
Claude Simon, in the lecture he gave when given the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985, said, "I find that what one writes or describes is never something which has happened prior to the work of writing. On the contrary the writing produces something in every sense of the term in the course of working." The writing, Simon argues, produces something within its own present. I find this to be my own experience as well. This work has returned unremittingly to decisive and not so decisive events in my life. I have created a seam of light, of gold, of joy, that has had its source, its origins in the Baha’i Faith. With fire my gold has been tested and life’s gold in its many forms has tested this servant again and again. Many of life’s tests I did not pass. But like a close cricket series, I won’t know the score or, indeed, if I won, until the last ball is played and the series has ended. Indeed, I’m not so sure the cricket metaphor about winning even applies here because so often in life the first shall be last and the last first. The act of writing for me is more of an effort of understanding. My aim is to be clear and evocative for in this way I feel more in touch with my subject.
After my years of early childhood, I enjoyed life as a student for some twenty years; for many years I enjoyed teaching, perhaps as many as thirty. I don’t think I was a natural teacher, but I grew into it. After several years I became successful; I became a person enjoyed by my students and enjoying them. I loved to explain things and rarely made a questioner feel stupid for asking. Although I had broad intellectual interests, my pursuit of career and my involvement in the Baha’i Faith left little time for other activities: I did not play golf or follow sports after the age of 21; I did not take up painting or cooking or photography or anything one could call a hobby, although I did collect stamps in my teens; I watched little TV, had no TV from 1956 to 1976, although after I retired I watched over two hours a day; I rarely went to movies, to various forms of entertainment or ate out. I did sing a little and played the guitar; I joined the Baha’i Faith with its world of meetings and outings and I went for a daily walk of about half an hour among a host of other domestic, familial and social activities that are part of the lives of fathers and husbands in the west.
I think it highly unlikely that aspects of my life would become legendary as did the lives of many a celebrity in my time. No series of iconographic images evoked from fact and fiction would ever produce a celluloid dream as has been produced for many a culture hero of these four epochs. There would be no fantastical caricature of my life with its inevitable exaggerations, bright colours and haunting themes and images created for the world of cinema and a mass audience. Mementos and mis-remembering, pride and prejudices, would never be mixed together and served up as legend to hungry fans in this or ensuing centuries. Every year hundreds, perhaps thousands, of visitors would never flock to some of the locales where I have lived. No one would ever have to locate or re-locate my legend in some tangled interweaving of history, myth and memories. For the millions and billions of people in this and future centuries whose names, whose lives and memories would be excluded from history, would not be pulled into some timeless world of myth and dream, legend and narrative associated with the places I have lived, my places of memory and my life’s experiences.
More generally, will a myth of our time be created, as is so often the case with any and every age,a myth with its myriad of elements, with its enormous disparity between conception and reality? Will that myth spawn an immense literature as is happening to all the ages of the past? The concern of a future time will not be with the reality of our time, the time of these four epochs, but with what people have thought and felt about that reality. This thinking, feeling and remembering will undoubtedly contribute to the myth. Myth is the stuff of the history of sensibility. One critic of contemporary Hollywood myth expressed the view that "If you can find the myth, it hasn't been hidden properly, and if it's been hidden properly, you can't find it for sure." My life has been so much wrapped up with the Baha’i myth and I think I have hidden it in this long work. I have hidden it so well that the average reader will have little idea of what it is. There is some truth in this cryptic comment by this Hollywood critic.
There is, of course, myth and myth. Some students of autobiography, as I have mentioned earlier, regard self-authorship as a myth arising out of modern individualism and the increasingly narcissistic nature of modern Western society. It is the view of some of these analysts of autobiography that individuals are only the narrators, not the authors, of their life story. Martin Heidegger, in a book published at the very start of my pioneering journey, Being and Time, said we have two possibilities as we go through our lives. We can be the author of our own story or we can traverse life according to a script composed by others. I like to think we can do both. Scholarship by Baha’is on autobiography from within their community is in its infancy. Indeed, it has hardly got off the ground. When this work is subjected to students of this genre, I will be interested to see the results. By then, I am inclined to think, I will have left this mortal coil.
After countless debates and exhaustive deconstructions about my time and my age which are sure to take place in the future, it will be hard to tell what is left. A lot of talking tends to produce the experience of intellectual exhaustion. Certain images will endure for some people and define the age, the time. That imagery may be contested, may be transcendent, may be bewildering, unbending, and even beguiling. For others it will be text, print, that defines an age, a time, a person, a problem—not images. For still others it will be a combination and still others no images and no text will define the item of concern because the subject at issue will not concern them in the slightest. We can’t all be concerned about the same stuff. The peculiar and compelling image, the subtle and complex text, will prod a future age to re-examine the fascinating crossroads of myth and memory. They will beckon a revisiting, yet again, of another day.
My second wife often complained, although grew to accept, that I devoted insufficient time to my marriage and to shared activity together. In my retirement this changed a little—for the positive—as we came to spend three or four hours together every day. It is perhaps a matter of personal taste whether one attributes my drive first as a student, then as a teacher and finally as a writer and as a Baha’i to personal ego or a genuine commitment to my various roles, roles to learn, to educate and inspire people about learning and to serve the Cause and my writing. Undoubtedly there were elements of all these motivations present at different stages of my life-span. Retirement also brought a greater element of control over my life. Parents, teachers, employers and students had a great deal to say about my life until about the age of sixty. Then the only person I had to please to any significant extent was my wife and, by the age of sixty, I had that worked out, if not entirely to her satisfaction, at least enough to provide the basis for a household harmony and tranquillity so that I could get on with what had become the passion of my life—writing.
I once thought that autobiography meant being able to write without artifice, but I’d like to think any thoughtful observer of this writer will see a certain cunning, game, play, everywhere. That is what I’d like to think. The geography of my book circles and doubles with long footnotes to take the spread of thought. Why footnotes? As Martin Amis writes in his autobiography that footnotes "preserve the collateral thought." In fact, the whole thing is a lattice of collateral." Like Amis, too, I must confess to having compiled this work with one eye on a remote and exacting audience: posterity. And if not the whole eye, then part of the eye, perhaps the retina or the aqueous humour or the eye brows. But at least the job got done before the body gave way, as the philosopher Paul Feyerband’s did. He became paralyzed and had to finish his autobiography from an unfortunate bed-ridden state. Other writers become paralysed with the thought of using the first person: a serious dilemma for an autobiographer. I, too, was reticent to use the first person for the first two decades as I toyed initially with this autobiography. But eventually I found a voice, a voice I was comfortable with. I also found a format that attempted to create what I think is a happy balance between the routine and the banal on the one hand and aphoristic nuggets and sustained analysis on the other. I leave it to readers to assess whether I achieved this balance.
The profession of writer has recently acquired something of the roles of travelling salesman and repertory actor. As I gaze back over the half a century(1949-1999) before I took up writing full time I feel as if I acquired or took part in these roles through the mediums of several spheres of major activity: student, teacher, Bahá'í pioneer and a multitude of geographic, status, career, employment, community and marital situations. Full time writers are often engaged in an endless succession of book festivals and literary conferences which take them round the globe, all of which adds to an air of unreality and stimulus, with books alone being the hub around which their existence revolves. I, too, went around the globe, or at least from one end in the north to the other end in the south, with books being a critical hub of my life. Book festivals were for me programs on the radio.
If I experienced any unreality it was due to a range of factors but attending literary conferences and book festivals was not among those factors. From time to time and partly due to my bi-polar disability I experienced that unspeakable penalty or affliction in which I felt that my whole being had been exerted toward accomplishing nothing. But, insensibly and as the decades wore on, I knew that this feeling, when and if it arose, was transient and that in a few hours at most it would disappear.
As my early sixties advanced from year to year I withdrew increasingly, almost entirely, from the society of those about me and gave myself up to a wondrous study of writing and reading. In many ways, my reading in the first six decades of my life was far from as deep as I would have liked it to be but there was so much else going on in my life that I was unable to achieve the depth that I wanted. With the early years of late adulthood I have been able to both read and write more, much more, at last to my satisfaction. I am conscious of William Hazlitt’s cautionary note that often, if one reads more, one thinks less. Perhaps that notion just provided me with an easy way to excuse myself. I find that concentrated and extensive reading seems to come second to writing and the innumerable odds-and-ends of life. It is true for me, as it was for Hazlitt, that I try most earnestly to cultivate the habit of thinking. I detest nothing so much as servile imitation, affectation and their loathsome odour. I can feel that creep when it comes into my writing and, wishing to think and feel for myself, I try to stamp it out. If I have not drunk deep, hopefully I have at least been an expert taster who makes serendipitous connections.
This reading and writing does not take place in a vaccuum. I continue my role of activist, but I play the role differently than I did in the first forty years of my adult life. As someone who surmounted the educational hurdles that kept previous generations in my family solidly working class, I became a credentialed worker, a professional who experienced considerable autonomy and intrinsic worker satisfaction from the 1960s to the 1990s. And now that paid-labour of the day does not occupy me as it did for decades, nor does raising a family, nor going to meetings and engaging so frequently in social and community activities, I can write and place the products of my efforts at thousands of internet sites with literally millions of my words. Although a critical observer might see and say that I was simply blowing my own horn, I was blowing the Baha’i horn, so to speak. This occupied me virtually all my waking hours.
There were many who blew the horn that I blew, albeit differently shaped, different sizes and styles, but many ordinary people and many thinkers and intellectuals, writers and social scientists blew many of the tunes I was trying to blow both in my autobiography and in other works. Fernand Braudel, for example, of the French annales school, recognised the justice of the sociologist Raymond Aron's observation that 'the phase of civilisations is coming to an end, and for good or ill humanity is embarking on a new phase.' That phase is one of a single civilisation which could become universal. I don’t want to list and comment, quote and analyse, all those who share this global, one world perspective. Suffice it to say, it was a horn which as the epochs advanced was blown by more and more serious students of history’s longue duree. Some of these students had a grand interpretation of history, a meganarrative, along the lines pursued by Oswald Spengler, H. G. Wells or Arnold Toynbee. And some did not. Much of the discussion remains nebulous and unsatisfactory. The story, the blowing, is far from over.
My years of worrying about the success of my three children and whether they too would enjoy the benefits of education in their professional lives that I enjoyed; whether they were happy in their single or married lives and whether my step-grandchildren were winning their races or successful at school, were for the most part over by the time I entered my early sixties. My wife tended to take care of the worry department in these areas and she did a better job of providing care, therapy and advice when needed. The messages of conformity and obedience, of working hard to achieve occupational achievement and self-satisfaction, seemed to be more of a pattern in my children’s lives and the lives of my grandchildren for that matter, than it was in mine forty years before. Although all was not smooth in their lives, they did not give me much to worry about as they went on with their lives as busy as beavers. This subject could occupy many more pages and perhaps it will in some future revised edition of this autobiography, for the members of my immediate family each have their own story and, when looked at in detail, is as long as your proverbial arm.
I should add here, parenthetically, that I, too, worked hard. Perhaps such a remark goes without saying; perhaps my inner drive was due partly to my insecurities and my knowing that my achievements never came easily. Perhaps my relentless pursuit of the high goals I set myself was part of my bi-polar disorder. Perhaps the origins of my ambitious tendency were to be found in my early childhood and my relationships with hard working parents and a conscientious family in general. Perhaps a detailed explanation of the Price and Cornfield family fortunes over time, over previous generations might uncover some explanation for the ardour and effort that characterized my life.
The foundation of the two family-trees, Price and Cornfield, going back centuries is virtually unknown to me. In the last quarter of the 19th century, though, each family occupied the upper regions of the lower class or the lower regions of the middle class. The recounting of the ups and downs of the generations in these two families, generations I have known something about, is beyond the scope of my knowledge or the purposes of this autobiography as I have come to conceive it. The canvas I paint is broad but it is, for the most part, rooted in subjects I know a good deal about. Readers will find some discussion of my family tree in this autobiography but, on the whole, very little outside those members I actually met and got to know well.
"History," wrote the historian R.G. Collingwood, "is the science of res gestae" and res gestae are the actions of human beings, actions that have been done in the past. The first time in the western tradition that we come across this term res gentae is with the emperor Augustus in 14 AD. It is inscribed on his mausoleum. It is a memorial of his achievements. It is a type of official, abbreviated autobiography.
Autobiography, then, to follow Collingwood’s lead, is my own actions in the past. "History," Collingwood went on, "is for human self-knowledge. Knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is." "All history is the history of thought," Collingwood continues, "in so far as human actions are mere events, the historian cannot understand them; strictly, he cannot even ascertain that they have happened. They are only knowable to him as the outward expression of inward thoughts." All this is certainly true, a fortiori, of autobiography.
The history of my thought and action is the re-enactment of that past thought and action in my own mind. My autobiography is a continuous process of interaction between myself and the facts of my life, an unending dialogue between my present and my past. I am, in the words of another historian E.H. Carr, just another dim figure trudging along, but the point at which I find myself in this trudging procession determines my angle of vision and just how dim or how sharp that vision is over the past. In addition, as autobiographer, I am not dredging up everything only what I see as relevant. A good many people simply want to know about the past, my past and my view of things for the emotional or intellectual satisfaction I might provide. The line between comment and opinion is increasingly becoming blurred in newspapers and in the electronic media. Often, the fewer the facts the stronger the opinions. About my life, I have all too many facts and, as I get older, the diversity of opinion I bring to my life, my society and my religion, I find requires the use of outside authorities and experts to provide balance, some fact-checking, some external perspective.
The extent to which an autobiographer fulfils the useful social function of helping people know something better, to that extent does he contribute to the complex of non-practical activities which make up the culture of a society. When and if I stimulate and satisfy the imagination of my readers, I do not differ essentially from the poet or artist. There is an emotional satisfaction of a high order to be gained from extending the comprehending intelligence of people to include elements of the past. Like all rational activities, the study, the reading, of a well written autobiography, an autonomous enterprise and activity in itself, can contribute to the improvement of man. It does so by seeking the truth within the confines of its particular province and that province is the rational reconstruction of the past.
I do not want to dwell excessively on the middle class psychology, either in its individual or collective expression, that played in the centre and at the fringes of my life as an adult since the mid-sixties. Nor do I want to place here a political analysis, an analysis that took society from a politics of the left in the sixties and seventies and then to the right in the following twenty years. Even though my adult life was lived with this psychological and political background, I feel I have alluded to these themes enough in the previous mountain of words. I have drawn here on one of the better analyses of my culture and my class, my status group and its values and beliefs, an analysis that was first published in 1989, just as I was about to complete my last decade of professional employment as a teacher.
Like Gustave Flaubert, the originator of the modern novel who spent much of his life in one house and a great deal of that time in one room I, too, spend much of my time now in a room in a house in the oldest town in Australia at the end of the Tamar River in northern Tasmania. Only the occasional Baha’i activity, family interchange, conversation with a friend, daily interaction with my wife and the inevitable trips to town to shop, to put up posters and to go the library and attend to the several domestic activities that are part of life for everyman took me into the social domain. I had come to see life more as an affair of solitude diversified by company than an affair of company diversified by solitude. For fifty years(1954-2004) it had been the other way around.
With early retirement the tables and the millennium had slowly been turning. As they turned I slowly approached the heartland of my story across the familiar slopes of my earthly life, its actions and thoughts. I tell my story in a way which gives me an invigorating sense of briskness and phrase-relishing. As the epochs advanced I had an increasing and an insatiable spirit of activity. By the fifth epoch the spirit was channeled virtually in its entirety into a sedentary and literary life. In the process I defined my world. I hope readers enjoy my definition and the way I go about putting it together. Like Johnson’s dictionary 250 years ago, it is an ambitious work. But whether it will influence generations as Johnson’s work did, I can only hope. He wrote to escape the pain of life; I wrote to escape society’s endless chat with which I had grown fatigued and to write which was my pleasure.
I write, too, because of life’s very familiarity which one writer called life’s ‘soul fat.’ Familiarity insulates and cushions, dockets the uncanny, translates every tomorrow into a rerun of yesterday. It is an anodyne not be be scorned, but to be appreciated because it helps us negotiate our world through the hostile and the unexpected. Familiarity populates our world with hints of habituation, reassures us with bulletins about the déjà vu and the deja vecu, resists novelty with patterns and conventions that both predate and outlive us. This autobiography is an extended raid on the familiar in order to make it unfamiliar, renewed, fresh. In this I only partly succeed. For being cushioned and insulated from reality by familiarity’s layering of fat has its comforts and gives life a certain ease amidst the reruns. I try not to promise more than I deliver as I survey this territory of the familair and in promising little perhaps, hopefully, I will deliver more.
An autobiography, like a novel, stands between us and the hardening concept of statistical man. "There is no other medium," said William Golding when he received his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983, "in which we can live for so long and so intimately with a character." That is the service both an autobiography and a novel renders. Golding went on to say: "It performs no less an act than the rescue and the preservation of the individuality and dignity of the single being, be it man, woman or child. No other art, I claim, can so thread in and out of a single mind and body--and so live another life. It does ensure that at the very least a human being shall be seen to be more than just one billionth of one billion.." And if the potential reader is not interested in what I have preserved here he need not read my work, need not pick it up. He is free to stop at any juncture. I hope that this work is not just a humdrum inventory of personal recollections that attempt to encourage the disinclined reader. I hope, too, that it is not just a series of casually scanned or, like Flaubert’s novels, savagely chosen details in a frozen gel of chosenness. " Pioneering Over Four Epochs is a portmanteau of personal history, the Bahá'í Faith and endless opinionizing; it is a pinata of literary references and a galimaufery of stuff that I try to beat into shape with the stick in/of my brain--sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
The Cause is going to need pioneers for many generations to come. As I have been writing this lengthy statement of my pioneering experience I have often felt that my story is but one of the first to make it onto paper from the generations beginning in 1937. Some narratives, some genres, like westerns and gangster stories, are dead or are dieing out. The political agenda changes with the seasons, although some problems seem to be perennial. My father used to say "there is always trouble in the Middle East." When the news came on and he was in his latter years, he would leave the room muttering about the endless warfare in Israel. That was in 1960. Nearly fifty years later the story is the same. And the historian AJP Taylor said it was wisest never to have an opinion about the Middle East. The pioneer, in its many forms, has a long life ahead of it and a long life behind it. Opinions about the pioneer, in some ways, have just begun.
Since literature takes as its subject all human experience, and particularly the ordering, interpreting, and articulating of experience, it is no accident that the most varied literary projects find instruction in the great mass of literature and its history and that the results of these projects are relevant to thinking about literature. What is true for literature, is also true for the other arts, such as painting and film and—autobiography. Within this great mass of literature, metaphor always plays a crucial role in autobiographical self-recognition and self-creation since it provides a ready means of perceiving order in an otherwise inchoate experience. The voyage paradigm or metaphor is used time and again in the history of western autobiography. At the close of the only Latin novel to survive, the poet Apuleius writes: "You have endured and performed many labours and withstood the buffetings of all the winds of ill luck. Now at last you have put into the harbour of peace.... Neither your noble blood and rank nor your education sufficed to keep you from falling a slave to pleasure.... But blind fortune, after tossing you maliciously about from peril to peril has somehow . . . landed you here in religious felicity."
This work of nearly 2000 years ago could very well apply to me and my life, at least in some major dimensions before I, too, landed in a region of religious felicity. The metaphor of journey as travelled by others has its applications to my trip as well.
The reader should also keep in mind as he reads this work that there is what autobiographers calls the interstitial self—the self that emerges in life’s multitude of interstices, some in discourse, others in private. Sometimes this interstitial self emerges only for a moment to deal with and negotiate a conflict, a particular point in a relationship, indeed, many of life’s especial situations. Sometimes the person is unaware of some of his interstitial selves. He is drawn back into familiar territory where there is a more stable position, a more familiar self and his interstitial self disappears as fast as it came into being. At other times, this interstitial self is grasped as a way to escape the restrictive discourses that so often arise in social life. In addition to this interstitial self there is another conventional autobiographical term, the hybrid self. This is a self that can be seen as shifting among positions and discourses, sometimes combining them into a true hybrid. At other times I am very aware of the contradictions and contradictory situations in life and that I must maintain quite separate and independent discourses, languages, so to speak, of the self. Then there is the unfound self, a self that seems unfindable. It took me 19 years(1984-2003) to finally find a voice that spoke to me of me so that I could write this autobiography in a satisfactory way. Beginnings are often difficult for novelists and autobiographers. People think of writing their story or some story for years but may, in the end, never pick up their pen. I shall say no more on what can be a complex subject, the subject of selves. But it is an important aspect for readers to consider as they delve into this autobiography.
Readers need to keep in mind G.K. Chesterton’s turn of phrase in his discussion of the future of Charles Dickens’ writings. Chesterton notes that there are a number of important factors which ensure the immortality of a man. "The chief of them," he adds, "is the unquestionable fact that if they write an enormous amount of bad work they are well on the way to immortality." This may lead a man to being put below his place in his own time, but it does not affect his permanent place, to all appearance, at all. Shakespeare, for instance, and Wordsworth wrote not only an enormous amount of bad work, but an enormous amount of enormously bad work." Some of the feedback I have received in the three years since I finished the 3rd edition of this work would indicate that what I have written is just that, an enormously bad work. So, perhaps, my immortality is assured, at least if Chesterton is onto something here.
Chesterton goes on to say in his discussion of the future of Dickens’ writings that it is the very exaggeration of his characters that will immortalize him. The realistic narrators of their time are all forgotten, but the exaggerators live on. Chesterton sites the example of Homer and his characters in the Iliad and Odyssey. I might add the example of the Bab and Baha’u’llah’s writings which to a western ear and the moderate tones of the stiff upper-lip of the English literary tradition, often seem exaggerated. My own work, sadly, aiming as it does for realism, factual detail and accuracy of circumstance, will probably pass through the wings of time and be no more substance than the eye of a dead ant as the Bab, or was it Baha’u’llah, wrote. I have not sufficiently exaggerated my story.
Chesterton has left me with some hope for a place in posterity’s literary home. Chesterton also felt that those writers with a poetic inclination had a greater future than those without. So, perhaps, in the end, my poetry will save a place for me in the rooms of the future amidst their lush or not-so-lush furnishings. Among these furnishings, perhaps on the walls, will be the carefully arranged portraits of my emotional credentials, my intellectual and psychological interests, indeed, a whole gallery of stuff. It is difficult to see what value all these gallery pieces will have but their association with a new Faith which claims to be the emerging religion on this planet will give them a significance I can scarcely appreciate at this early hour.
A person is not simply determined and dominated by the pressures of any overarching discourse or ideology such as the secular pluralism in which we as citizens of western democracies are immersed. We are all, I believe, the agents of our own personal discernment capable of identifying and interpreting society’s dominant discourse in order to insert ourselves into it or confront and resist it. The dominant cultural forces within our world do not take away our free will--entirely. But just as Darwinism and the Civil War shattered the psyches of Americans living in the last 40 years of the nineteenth century(1863-1903) and two great wars and the holocaust(1914-1945) shattered the psyches of those living in the twentieth century. We in the last half of the 20th century and the early 21st have all of this shattering of the social and psychological ethos of our times behind us and an entirely new crop of traumas to add their bewildering and deranging affects.
There cannot be any doubt at all that my own literary corpus can not be appreciated apart from the influences of my age. In an attempt to sketch the course of my literary endeavours it would be futile to detach their succession from the experiences of my personal life, largely determined, as they were, by the revolutionary changes of my time, by other changes in the condition of both Canada and Australia where I have lived, developments in the religion I have been associated with and in the various intellectual shifts and alterations in the multitude of centres around the world.
The probing of 'Canadianness' or ‘Australianness’ turns out to be a puzzling and somewhat brain-racking exercise in my pioneer situation. But all is not puzzle and probe for the brain. Much of the contemplation is enriching and interesting for the psyche. In the end, too, there is a balance between this national identification and a local as well as an international level of experience and analysis.
The world I have grown up in, at least since Norman Vincent Peale wrote what was arguably the first modern self-help book in 1937, has grown accustomed to the standard victim-recovery cycle of modern self-help books. Part of pop-psychology, one of the many substitutes for religion in my time, the self-help genre can not be found in the text of this book. Like Proust's masterpiece, I like to think my work is edifying precisely because my struggle goes on and on and just changes its form as the years go on. Unlike Proust, I do get better from the illnesses that dot my life. I may not get totally cured; the battle of life may change its form and conten; I often blame or am tempted to blame others for my problems; I do not welcome suffering, as Proust seems to do, as an opportunity for thinking up fresh ideas and for entering into a richer relationship with experience. But once it has come and gone I welcome the insights that come in its train.
An interesting question that Erich Fromm raises in his book The Art of Listening(1994) has to do with what we regard as the maximum of suffering which is in each of us; or as William James put it in his Varieties of Religion Experience(1900) what are the limits of our sacrifical propensities. At the age of 62 I do not know, but I am aware that my capacity has been approached in recent years. I know to a significant extent what I can and can not do; I can see the edge approaching but, unless I have some advance warning, I still fall off. Having reached my limit, I still plunge into the abyss if I take too much on. Too much now is quite easily defined as too much social interaction.
I like to think too that if any of this memoir is some form of self-help, I am offering it in the form of a manual, a philosophical guide for the intelligent person. If self-help there be here, I hope it is a welcome departure from the usual bellyaching, angsting and endless expressions of concern. ''Our best chance of contentment,'' Proust writes ''lies in taking up the wisdom offered to us in coded form through our coughs, allergies, social gaffes and emotional betrayals. If we can also avoid the ingratitude of those who blame the peas, the bores, the time and the weather, then some degree of contentment may be ours.'' Following the inevitable nine, seven or five steps of those self-help books may also help, I say with tongue in cheek.
For some, especially writers, language itself is the primary arena within which the shattering experiences of life are coped with and the individual assertivenss and agency becomes manifest from behind the angst. For writers talk is more important than action, indeed talk itself is action because words determine thoughts and actions. "Language... is the parent, and not the child, of thought.... Men are the slaves of words." This may have been true of the philosopher Kant whom posterity caricatured as a man "who was all thought and no life" or "a man who neither had a life nor a history." I’ve come to the view that thought and action, two of the major facets of our lives, can not be separated. The practical and the mystic have become one in our day.
My journey is not only the core and central thread of my life story; it is also the recurrent and most enduring principle of my life. Nowhere, throughout the narrative, will one encounter a complacently ensconced pioneer. I have been a migratory and volatile spirit which has sprung out of the most established and rooted position in a conservative Canadian consciousness. I have often been beaten down by circumstances, depressed by body chemistry and situations, called by that curious combination of sorrow and a strange desolation of hope into a quietness, but complacency has not been a quality I have battled with—although I must say that complacency sounds restful and not unattractive after some of life’s other battles I have had to contend with.
My resistance to the dominant mores of my time has been articulated, made public, and critiqued in several textual identities of which this autobiography is one. My discernment, my autonomy, my sense of personal agency is manifest, it seems to me, in this very writing. This writing is both the site and symbol of my resistance to the dominant ideology of my time and its major cultural manifestations. This resistance takes place with the aid of the great power of retrospect and hindsight and gives to much of life's messiness an order and shape. In the end, though, much is messiness, for not all of thought is ordered, tidy and logically sequential.
If I give to my life artistic form, spiritual vision and design in retrospect; if I discover a more profound truth in the context of this vision than an unfertilized collection of facts could deliver, I understand that is part of a design-imposed, meaning-making, process that I give to my life. Perhaps a great deal of what has happened to me is fate, destiny, a certain predestination. Such was the view Henry James took of his life when he wrote his autobiography in the evening of his life. There is little doubt of the importance of fate from a Baha’i perspective. I wish I could say in this context that my sentences had a quality of stunning exactitude, lyricism and comedy, an aphoristic concision but, alas, style is not a quality bestowed on me as it was on Flaubert. Perhaps this is because I have not been willing to work at it as obsessively as he over many decades. But I have made a start.
I wish I could also say, too, that I possessed the kind of grand and exuberant personality that the great twentieth century literary critic William Empson is reputed to have possessed. Such a personality would have been handy in so many of the social situations in life. So much of life has been social. That refined, sophisticated, and erudite scholar with his great reckless energy for life, with his willingness to throw his entire self into the interpretation and criticism of literature, William Empson had an energy and passion that informed his critical work and served to renew in the common reader a sense that there is some literature that can matter deeply to all and any of us. Alas, although I shared Empson’s energy it did not result in any literary erudition in my case; although, like Empson, I threw myself into my academic life in varying degrees with some success over half a century, I never made it to the major leagues. My destiny was to be a minor poet in the minor leagues. But I enjoyed playing poetic-ball in a small town in the minors. If you love playing ball part of you does not care where.
I was certainly not in the same league as Empson, arguably one of the three greatest literary critics in the last several hundred years; although we both had sexual proclivities and desires which, in the case of Empson, seemed to result in great notoriety. I had certainly experienced shame, fear and guilt in relation to my sexual urges and activities, among other sources of shame. Fear of exposure was very real and, after my young adulthood, I was not able to share my concerns with anyone except my wife. These were battles I fought, for the most part, on my own. Being honest about my failures in the sexual domain was virtually an impossible thing to do outside my immediate marital relationship. There simply was not the context, the relationship for such a degree of intimacy or confessionalism. And my religious values did not encourage such confessionalism.
People like myself write always, as Virginia Woolf puts it, "of the doings of the mind; the thoughts that come to it; its noble plans; how the mind has civilized the universe. They show it ignoring the body in the philosophers’ turret. Those great wars which the body wages with the mind a slave to it, in the solitude of the bedroom against the assault of fever or the onset of melancholia, are neglected. Nor is the reason far to seek. To look these things squarely in the face would need the courage of a lion tamer; a robust philosophy; a reason rooted in the bowels of the earth." I think in this two thousand page tomb I have shown some of the courage of a lion tamer; I have shown some of the robustness in my philosophy and some of reason’s bowels. I leave it to readers to judge how much.
These battles of my emotions in the lion tamers’ cage did not keep me away from God as many such battles do to others. My sense of unworthiness seemed instrumental in drawing me closer to God, to appreciating His forgiveness, something I was assured of over and over again by Baha’u’llah. I had right desire, but possessed wayward appetites, a sort of contagion of the lower self, part of an inward war made of thin but tough veils, battles which I often lost, susceptibilities of conscience which were simply not strong enough. I was not willing, or so it seemed, to burn the bridges across which certain sins continually came. In a world like this, in the darkest hours before the dawn, I was confident I had much company, company that ran into the millions—if not billions—in my sins of omission or commission.
Alcohol was never a problem for me as it was for Empson. Comparisons with others, of course, are sometimes useful but, as the cliché goes, comparisons are often odious. Autobiography's ultimate purpose, Henry James felt, was to fix the self for all time, to put forth the idea that the autobiographer matters and that his life is significant in the supposed order of things. I certainly like to think my life matters, that it has meaning in the ultimate scheme of things, that in writing this autobiography I am not merely imposing form on chaos, that all that I think is not merely an exercise in subjectivity, that my life is not so deeply private as to be beyond scientific scrutiny, that it derives its importance from factors beyond that which is unsystematic, even chaotic, uncommunicable and emotional in life.
The scientific domain contains an important element of subjectivity and total objectivity is always impossible. One of the key elements of science is that it exists in, indeed generates, a community, a framework, of interpretation. Indeed, the scientist can only function within such a community. That is also true, at least in some ways, for this autobiographer. The community in question for me is the Baha’i community and, more generally, the human community.
What makes my work scientific is that I am engaged in a "conscious, explicit organization of knowledge and experience." I am not just engaged in making true statements. One can do this in any quiz or game like trivial pursuit. Proof, in scientific terms and in autobiography, "means nothing more than the total process by which we render a statement more acceptable than its negation." An important caveat here is that the convictions I bring to this exercise, my feelings of certitude, indeed much that I might call tentative hypotheses for example, are part of a psychological state not part of my knowledge. Certitude can often be had with no knowledge at all and hypotheses are things anyone can make. Our emotions organize themselves around our convictions and become part of our way of life. This is one’s faith, one’s religion. And we all have a religion in this sense; there exists around this religion or faith a theoretical uncertainty and it exists for all of us. Such is some of the intellectual orientation, some of my foundation view, that I take to this autobiography.
Nothing convinces an artist more of the arbitrariness of the means to which he resorts to attain a goal, to assert this autonomy, however permanent it may be, than the creative process itself, the process of composition. The creative self, the source of this process, is a society of perishing occasions or selves and the context is an aesthetic one. The writer’s task is to develop a coherent system of ideas by which every item of his experience can be interpreted. The fundamental building blocks of nature are not bits of passive, inert, dead matter, but momentary unities of experience, actual entities which are involved in a creative advance into novelty. Such was Whitehead’s way of looking at the process. Although I have never been a serious student of Whitehead’s I have been broadly aware of his views for forty years.
Verse really does, in Akhmatova's words, grow from rubbish among other things. To express this same idea more elegantly, one could say that verse grows out of slime the same way as a lotus flower. The roots of prose are no more honorable. But there in the roots can also be found faith and thought--the lotus flower’s embryo. Without faith and thought no society can long endure and without a common humanity and a practical basis for world order appalling catastrophe threatens to engulf humanity.
As this autobiography has come to take form increasingly since I began writing it over twenty years ago, I have felt a measure of literary and psychological power and humility. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that self-narrative is a tool used to gain self-determinacy. This work is also partly an illness narrative, partly a salvation narrative, partly a travel narrative, as autobiographers often call these sub-genres, and partly an act of becoming and re-becoming. Through self-narration I partly re-make myself, re-fashion and re-invent a new understanding of myself. With this story I try to resist the several disabling definitions that could label my life and so to write myself into/with a rhetorical normalcy. Narrative is used as a tool, a technology, that is intended to be a vehicle to freedom, self-definition, and self-expression. Unlike some writers, I have no obsession with being taken seriously. What consumes many words of many writers in an attempt to be taken seriously, consumes little of mine. I have not set this work before the public with the confidence, still less the complacency, of an established master. This book belongs to my middle and late adulthood. I had no reputation to defend, indeed, I was hardly known anywhere except by coteries so small and insignificant that it might be wondered why I bothered to write this work at all.
In some ways this book is a valediction to my international overseas pioneering experience as a formative event in my life and the lives of the many international pioneers. When an event ends, its history begins. The end of my venture is not yet, but it certainly feels like the beginning of the end or, as Churchill once said, the end of the beginning. As a project, this writing is understandably tinged with nostalgia, but that is a price I don’t mind paying for what happens with greater intensity when I write. Most works of history are generated by some personal experience and intellectual debate would be more fruitful if historians admitted from the beginning that they were writing, at least in part, about themselves. As autobiographer I have no problem with such an admission. By placing my own experience within my work there is an honesty in my attempt to understand myself and the world with which I deal. There is also a kind of parallel between the traveller, the pioneer, writing retrospectively to give shape and meaning to his experience, and the historian giving shape and meaning not only to his own intellectual travels but to the part of the story of history that he writes.
Autobiographies, and certainly the one I am writing here, are not playbacks of life events. They require a point of view from which past events are tied together and are made relevant for a here and now, with an eye on the autobiographer’s future orientations. I am quite conscious, as Jerome Bruner points out too, that my memories often become victims of my self-making stories.
And so it is that the self, myself, becomes a product of my telling and not some essence to be delved for in the recesses of my subjectivity. My narrative, my memoir, grants to this written context of storytelling, this social setting on paper, what might be called certain literary privileges that are unique to this setting, that are different than the context, the setting that would exist, and does exist, when I tell the story orally, in a short essay form or in a poem.
Salman Rushdie said at a conference recently that he found it interesting that the organizers would invite him, a writer, to speak at a conference about communication. "Writers don’t speak, writers write," he said. By the time I came to write full-time in my mid-fifties, I had had 50 years of talking and listening in great quantities and I did not mind not speaking; indeed, I preferred quiet. I was ready for the writing art. My corridor of flesh, of skin, bones and fluid, a corridor that allows language an access to the direct experience of writing as well as what one is writing about, enjoyed what Helene Cixous called in her equating of body and text, the pleasure of writing and the pleasure of sexuality/sensuality. In writing, the self folds around absences and my writing functions as a substitute for the social, the sexual, the verbal. My whole body is poised in between and resonates with, movements, spilling toward words that mark out the journey along the markings on the page. Running between the blue lines, the movement out of nothing takes my senses beyond the limit of skin, beyond the optic nerve, beyond the taste buds, beyond the beat of the ear drum, deep inside my throat, beyond the vocal chords. In writing this autobiography, I go beyond, below, within.
The imaginative powers with which one writes possess a flexibility and elasticity born of the very tension they seek to resolve. At least that is the way that Bahiyyih Nakhjavani puts it in an article published in 1982, the year I arrived north of Capricorn in an important part of this pioneer journey. After twenty years on the pioneer trail I had certainly experienced much tension. Perhaps, as Nakhjavani expresses the concept here, my imaginative powers had begun to give birth to both a flexibility and elasticity that would manifest themselves in my writing in the next several decades. I liked her theory. These imaginative powers exercised themselves as I stepped outside of society in order to gain a more critical perspective on it not so much for the purpose of defining myself as for understanding what I was not.
An important part of this tool of autobiography is repetition which Arthur Frank says is a medium of becoming. And all this becoming, all this repetition, took place in a world of memorabilia with all its metaphysical significance. Sometimes this metaphysical significance got lost in the daily round of habit. There is often nothing as old and tired as today’s newspaper. Repetition is not always ennobling, refreshing. It provides a context but only one part of life’s context and that part is usually neither new nor bright.
Perhaps at a later date I will expand on this notion of the metaphorical significance, metaphorical nature, of physical reality in general and this memorabilia in particular. From the newspaper to the knife, fork and spoon the memorabilia of our lives have much to speak to us. But this is a separate topic. Perhaps, though, I’m not to be trusted with either metaphor or facticity. The members of the Fourth Estate, the working men and women of the print and electronic media, whom intellectuals have been inveighing against for more than a century are, like novelists, all professional contorters, twisters of stories, of memorabilia, in one way or another. Much of the contorting, though, in media can be viewed as an authorless form of literature. Autobiographers do their share of contorting as well, but they are far from anonymous. Autobiographers are active participants. They are, in a sense, behind the scenes, but readers know who they are. If there is any contorting and twisting done, at least readers know who is doing it even if they don’t know when and if it is done. Memorabilia offers a rich mise en scene for contorting and for playing with the metaphorical nature of reality.
The result of this playing with memorabilia is that some writers plumb the depths of experience while others remain fixed, gloriously or not-so-gloriously, on the surface. What some writers lack in profundity they make up for in verbal dexterity. In life’s exacting ledger of posterity each writer plays with life’s memorabilia in a myriad of ways. Some drive their pens on the tumbling ocean’s surface and its endlessly repeated waves while others go to its depths discovering new and mysterious life forms. Different watery memorabilia cross each person’s life and the significance of this memorabilia, the appreciation the writer offers his readers of what he experiences, the pleasures of the everyday objects, the commonplaces enlivened by humour and sweetened by pathos, are all so varied.
Given all the television shows, commercials, and infinite number of images that people are confronted with every day, their creators usually go by unnoticed, working behind the scenes. Their identities are known to a knowledgeable few, but for the most part, they remain anonymous. In place of sentences and paragraphs, aesthetic devices are used to portray mood and appeal to the senses of sight and sound. At its lowest point, mediums within media such as television, film, music, and computers can appeal to people's lack of attention. A lack of the ability to read will not hinder their enjoyment for any given sitcom or video game. Readers of new work through the use of appropriation, if the work is successful, will be able to disregard the original author's influence on the creation. The author will have become an inactive participant, whose roll will no longer extend itself into the piece's interpretation. The death of the author is the only thing that will yield a pure, untainted view of the piece. Some may say that this authorless creation lacks soul. Perhaps. On the other hand, when one views the credits at the end of some program, some film, it is clear that the creation is the collective work of many and could be said to possess a collective soul. Perhaps this notion of the collective soul has been present right back to the beginning of narrative in the western tradition. In place of speculations and fabrications about the narrator of Hesiod, for example, modern analysts are returning us to the way Hesiod the narrator, the Sender of the Way,5 would surely want to be understood--through his words. If we don’t know who wrote the words, does it matter.
Often, though, if not to a significant extent, we come to be known through our body language. A study of body language reveals how much of our entire communication process relies on body language. I was often seen as a laid-back person. One of my students once said that he thought I was so laid back that I might as well have been parallel to the ground. I never felt I was super cool like, say, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, Jim Morrison in the Doors or Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. They were all cool and I was not in their league.
Any writer, and especially those like myself who have spent a good part of their lives in Australia, cannot but see that the power of religion, especially belief in revelation, is weaker today than it was in any other epoch in human history. More and more children grow up without faith in God, without belief in a reward and punishment associated with the divine, without belief in the immortality of the soul and even in the validity, the importance, of a common ethical system. The genuine writer cannot ignore the fact that the family is losing or has lost its spiritual foundation. Such were the views of Isaac Bashevis Singer, expressed in his 1978 Nobel Lecture given about ten days before I left Ballarat for Tasmania. When Singer wrote these words in 1978 I was struggling with another episode of manic-depression; I was out of work and with three kids and a wife; I was more concerned about my own spiritual foundations than society’s. Many would agree with Singer. Like so many issues, I think the ones raised by Singer are more complex and require much more than two or three core sentences. I think the ideas Singer expresses here are substantially true, the issues surrounding them are not simple, though, and so I will leave this issue for another volume.
I have often felt that a writer is only doing his ethical and political duty if he or she becomes morally independent of their formative society. But this can only be achieved partly. I was especially conscious of this as a student, as a teacher and, indeed, as an employee in many an organization. One could disobey the rules, one could have a different set of moral standards, one could have different interests than the great majority, one could flaunt the organizational standards but only to an extent. Moral independence from the group is one of the grandest themes of all literature, because, as some argue, it is the only means of moral progress, the establishment of some higher ethical concept. Consciousness of this honourable calling may induce the poet to present himself as at once dignified and eccentric – epithets which catch some aspects of myself as a social presence.
Of course, in the Baha’i society I have no desire to be morally independent of its mores and folkways, its customs and beliefs. But, given the fact that the moral and ethical preachments and encouragements in the Baha’i writings are so extensive, Bertrand Russell’s words which he once told a meeting may be pertinent: "the Ten Commandments are like an examination paper and should bear the rubric: ‘Only six need be attempted.’" One can do in life only so much. If, as one noted Baha’i writer once pointed out, there are some 1400 virtues that one can find in the Baha’i writings, one may do well in life if one only manifested, say, eight or nine hundred. Perhaps the general point here is that the subject is not simple.
In life we do not have direct access to the thoughts of other people. We have to infer the working of other minds from surface phenomena such as speech, body language, behavior, and action. R. D. Laing put the point vividly: "your experience of me is invisible to me and my experience of you is invisible to you. I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man’s invisibility to man." This autobiography and whatever memorabilia remains of my life has taken away some of the invisibility. But still, however much I have put together clues to my life and described its unfolding patterns, however much I have developed various theses about why I and others reacted to the possibilities and circumstances the way they did, I could easily have wasted my time and never touched the truth. This is a theoretical possibility that the autobiographer must acknowledge. Unlike Samuel Beckett, though, in his discussion of Proust, I am not a writer suffering mysterious agonies whose origins are unclear to him. Most of the agonies I have suffered in life have been all too clear to me. Like Beckett’s work on Proust, though, my autobiography is also intended as an academic study.
In that half century before the Declaration of the Bab in 1844, when His two precursors were alerting people to the coming fulfillment, Goethe made the following comment about his own great oeuvre. He called his work and especially his autobiography--one big confession. Looking at his work and the work of other great writers in the broadest sense, you could say the same of them all: Shakespeare, Balzac, Wordsworth, etc. We find, so runs the argument, total self-examination and self-accusation, a total confession in the work of any author. They are naked, I think, when we look into their words. "Maybe it's the same with any writing," said the British poet laureate, Ted Hughes, "writing that has real poetic life."
Hughes went on to say in that same interview that "maybe all poetry, insofar as it moves us and connects with us, is a revealing of something that the writer doesn't actually want to say, but desperately needs to communicate, to be delivered of. Perhaps it's the need to keep it hidden that makes it poetic — makes it poetry." The poet is actually saying something he desperately needs to share. The real mystery is this strange need. Why can't he just hide it and shut up? Why does he have to blab? Why do human beings need to tell their stories and confess? These questions possess an ambiguity for me and for others. One way I deal with this ambiguity is to see myself as a poet in the realm of prose. Another way is to recognize and admit I’ve had a secret nearly all my life. I’ve had things that I could rarely if ever say and some things I could say but rarely to any depth and intimacy.
If most poetry doesn't seem to be in any sense confessional, it's because the strategy of concealment, of obliquity, can be so compulsive that it's almost entirely successful. The smuggling analogy may help us here. The smuggler is loaded with interesting cargo that seems to be there for its own sake but, in reality, it’s there for another purpose. I do a little smuggling here in my autobiography, but I feel as if I’ve declared most of my baggage, most of the items in my larder, so to speak. If my larder collects something of the food of other writers, I usually declare it. I draw on other writers because I find in reading their works and biographies I am so often reading about myself. Reading the words of famous writers often seems tantamount to reading about oneself, writing about them becomes pleasurably self-revelatory?
In that half century before the Declaration of the Bab, characterized as it was by those two chief precursors of the Babi Revelation, there emerged what was the defining quality of autobiography: the author’s historicisation of his/her own unique development. Goethe, it is often argued, was the first truly modern exponent of autobiography. "It was he who first wrote his own life as the history of an individuality. He saw his personal formation as the effective interplay of his self and his world." I have taken Weintraub’s thesis about modernity, the self and autobiography and put it into the context of Baha’i history. The history of autobiography by Baha’is recapitulates Baha’i history. That is, the encounter with the great mass of humankind on the planet has elicited among Baha’is many cultural responses. There has been a growing tendency to think of the self in the same way that the fully evolved Western autobiographer does: as an individual being shaped by the contingencies of his or her experience. Baha’is, at least some and at this stage still relatively few, are stimulated, by their various experiences of pioneering, community building, extending the Baha’i teachings to their contemporaries, study and many other activities to produce an historicized sense of a highly individualised self, just as in modern western autobiography. Autobiography is not merely a handy evidentiary supplement to other sources, it is one of the premium sites for the articulation, the expression, of the development, the process, of spiritual development. In many ways spiritual development and spiritual realities are intangible abstractions. But autobiography can help the individual give concrete expression to the subtleties of this gradual and complex process.
A study of autobiography by Baha’is in the next century must and will have something to say about the prodigious evidence of autobiography’s many dimensions and expressions in the first two centuries of Bahá’í history at least since Shaykh Ahmad arrived in Iran in 1805/6. This study, though, is not my purpose here. My work is but one more example in the long line.
Edward Said, Professor at Columbia, said in 1999 that the main cause he is fighting for is "not something about political parties or positions or organizations, but rather an individual commitment which I don’t regret at all." For me, my cause is both individual commitment and organizational, Baha’i Administration, the nucleus and pattern for a future World Order.
Writers, autobiographers, indeed, all human beings, throw off some of their luggage, their baggage, when they talk or write. But to tell it all is just not appropriate. They and we deliberately strip off the veiling analogies occasionally and go to the root confessing some item of one’s deeper life. The luggage, the baggage, is open to all for inspection. Perhaps Sylvia Plath in our time, in the months before the Universal House of Justice was elected, in early 1962, went further than most. "Her secret," Ted Hughes said, "was most dangerous to her. She desperately needed to reveal it. You can't overestimate her compulsion to write as she did. She had to write those things — even against her most vital interests. She died before she knew what The Bell Jar and the Ariel poems were going to do to her life, but she had to get them out.
She had to tell everybody, like those Native American Indians who periodically tell everything that was wrong and painful in their lives in the presence of the whole tribe. It was no good doing it in secret; it had to be done in front of everybody else. Maybe that's why poets go to such lengths to get their poems published. It's no good just whispering them to a priest or a confessional. And it's not for fame, because they go on doing it after they've learned what fame amounts to. No, until the revelation's actually published, the poet feels no release. In all that, Sylvia was an extreme case, I think."
I suppose I got this sense of release on the internet in the early years of this new millennium. I certainly was not interested in fame, as I pointed out elsewhere in this autobiography. Like Plath I felt compelled to write but, unlike Plath or those native American peoples, I did not feel the need to tell all. With more than 2000 pages, though, there is enough to keep most readers busy for a time. I’ve had a need to write about the Baha’i Faith for, perhaps, forty years. My autobiography gave me this opportunity. It also gave me the opportunity in which I could say 'me voici', 'it's me here.'
Peter Read, in his article Private Papers and a Sense of Place in an online seminar Private Lives Revealed: Letters, Diaries, History,1 analyses the nineteenth century English poet John Clare’s verse. He sees Clare’s verse as an interesting example of private papers. Clare's poetry was so eclectic, his language so personal, his personal involvement so touching, that Read argues Clare’s poetry was much more akin to a collection of private papers that we might find in a library than to the poetry of a poet who could have become, but didn't, one of the best-known poets of the nineteenth century. Instead, wrote the cultural historian John Barrell in discussing Clare, "insofar as Clare was successful in expressing his own sense of place, he was writing himself out of the main stream of European literature."
Accomplished poets and novelists are fully aware of the need for their readers to be able to generalise from the emotions which the writer presents about a particular place to their own world view and life experiences as readers. Private papers often reveal such private emotions, and private emotions often reveal intense, ungeneralised concerns for particularities which hardly ever surface amongst the published works of professional writers. I mention this article and the poet John Clare because I sometimes think that all of my writing could be seen as a simple, if lengthy, collection of private papers.
During the last two decades, while I was writing this autobiography, some of the scientific work from the physical and biological sciences and the philosophy of science was turning away from regular and smooth systems in order to investigate more fragmented, more chaotic phenomena. So, too, in the study of the writing of autobiography there was an increasing consciousness, an increasing interest, in autobiography’s complexity, ambiguity, indeed, its chaotic content. In the last two decades there has been much interest in chaos theory, but I don’t want to go into this labyrinthine subject. There is certainly an element of the fragmented, of the chaotic, in my own life, in all our lives. Sometimes the feeling of life’s fragmentation, its lack of cohesion, partakes of a certain absurdity, a certain vanity and emptiness. Sometimes these feelings are pervasive and sometimes they are short-lived, momentary feelings. This new direction in autobiography can be seen emerging all the way back to the 1950s. But it is not my purpose here to write a history of autobiography. I do present short capsules of that history from time to time because it throws light on my work.
Speaking of direction, as I have from time to time in what has become a four book set, the process in writing autobiography is as invisible as is the role of director in a theatrical production. I create something, as does a theatre director, that can never be touched. Both art forms, both roles, are measured, to a significant extent by the number of people in the audience or in the readership. Just as it is the role of the director to make the production as meaningful and illuminating as possible, so is this true of the writer of an autobiography. The director’s work is finished when the play is staged and the autobiographer’s is finished when the book is sent to press or, now, posted on the internet. Both are responsible for the artistic vision and the coherence of the product. Both are managers of a project. In the case of autobiographers, though, they have the multiple role of lighting, designer, composer, costume and set designer, writer, publicist, among others. They must create the space where all of these roles collaborate to present the final multi-dimensional product. They must engage a certain sensibility, possess a certain desire, a striving and sometimes even a passionate ecstasy or enthusiasm for their task. If this sensibility and passion does not result in an attractive package noone will get turned on, noone will read the book.
After more than three decades of living in Australia and nearly three living in Canada I have come to accept what one writer called the "Toquevillian paradox." Simply stated it is the view that the highest excellences in life are nearly always achieved through moderate, not extreme, zeal. There is usually something blinding about zealousness, something that overshoots the mark. Eagerness attracts but overeagerness repels. Sincerity, yes, but an emotional intensity turned up too high, no. A general social climate of pervasive, vast cynicism, skepticism, even indifference toward personal commitment, toward the epic and the tragic in life requires of the writer, the poet, like myself a moderate expression. My unashamedly introverted voice I have learned to express with humour, with a light touch and with an extended autobiography, at least I like to think so.
I am also conscious of a basic rhetorical problem that I have as autobiographer; namely, creating an appearance of honesty. All autobiographers have this problem. Howard Helsinger puts the problem this way: "Testifying to his own character, the autobiographer is a suspect witness whom the least skeptical auditors might doubt..….The more personal his testimony, the less liable to corroboration by public knowledge, and hence the paradox: the greater the autobiographer's effort at introspective honesty, the more his subject he grows to doubt."
The poet Elizabeth Browning, expressing another problem faced by the autobiographer, once wrote: "To be one’s own chronicler is a task generally dictated by extreme vanity and often by that instinctive feeling which prompts the soul of man to snatch the records of his life from the dim and misty ocean of oblivion." Even at the early age of fourteen, she recognized the "extreme vanity" inherent in an autobiography. Vanity has enigmatic qualities; it possesses some of that obscuring dust of acquired knowledge and some of those illusions of satanic fancy. I am warned.
I think this is the great gain that Australian culture has taught me, that I have learned through some osmotic process. I have learned to keep my zeal well-contained, my excitements and intensities appropriately moderated. I have become more comfortable this way. Much must be concealed when one enters the social domain. General ideas and sustained and subtle thought are, for the most part, kept for very special occasions, occasions which are inner and private rather than public and social. And any naturally occurring ecstasy I have learned to express in the inner recesses of my being, but not something for public consumption.
I have learned as well to express and experience a genuine and expansive kindness—around a core which already existed as part of my Canadian heritage—and I have learned to love pleasure in a way that my more restrained Canadian conservatism never allowed me, even in my youth. There is even a certain boisterousness, an honesty, an energy, in the Aussi psyche which has insensibly crossed the borders of my personality and penetrated my emotional nodes. When occasion allows and when it seems right I have found recesses of my personality that in my youth and young adulthood were quite unknown to me. In this experience there was catharsis, relief and a feeling that I was tapping into something that was there but never before experienced. But there was also exhaustion. The social domain was a game I could only play for limited amounts of time by my fifties and by my sixties I kept it as limited as possible.
Just as casting is important in the role of the director so too is this the case for autobiographers as they choose just whom they will include in their work from the thousands of people who have been on the stage of their life. The right cast helps the dramaturgical process on the stage as well as between the covers of a book. A good play, a successful production, says Sue Rider, "is one which is electrifying, spiritually, emotionally, visually and intellectually stimulating for the people who see it, the audience." This is, I think, equally true of the final product of an autobiography. As the writer of this work, I have to be like a creative director and create an artistic environment where my own creativity can blossom. Flexibility, openness to change, listening to others, indeed, a wide range of qualities needed for creativity to find a home are necessary if the work is to live and engage others. Even then, in the end, only some will come to see the production or read the book. Few of the total population will become stimulated. The exercise is not fundamentally about popularity, at least not to me, however important a variable popularity may be.
Rather than seeing form, literary or physical, as something divided into the classical binaries of order and entropy, form now is often regarded as a continuum expressing varying degrees of pattern and repetition, elements that are at the core of structure, any structure. Insofar as the structure of this book is concerned, it seems to me it is more cumulative than sequential. What readers get here is more a group of semi-independent analyses occurring in unevenly distributed clusters, rather than linear arguments leading to a clear conclusion. The individual analyses I put on page after page are themselves often partial and the conclusions are stated somewhat obliquely. Some of the book's best moments are suggestive in ways that elude easy articulation. I want readers to realize that I am grappling with some of the central theoretical issues of autobiography, particularly in a Baha’i context, in a way that few Baha’is, if any, have done before.
Not everyone will enjoy thinking about such matters, such analysis and introspection, as I have raised in this book, and those who don't will probably dislike this book or, more importantly, they will probably not even pick the book up or come to know of its existence. What I try to do is make a case, one that is undeniably personal and quite idiosyncratic, but ultimately I hope persuasive--a case that this book is less interesting for its connections to existing scholarship than for the fresh and, I like to think, provocative things that I have to say. Each reader, especially each Baha’i reader, has been weaned since the late 1970s and early 1980s--a generation now--on a diversity of print that no previous generation has enjoyed and I trust this diversity has set a heterogeneous perspective, thus overcoming whatever homogeneity had existed before. This experience of the last generation makes, I like to think, a receptive climate for my work. But, of course, those looking for a narrative, an interesting story, are likely to be disappointed when they come to read this work.
Doris Lessing once wrote that the great bourgeois monster, the bourgeois nightmare is repetition. It is, of course, both nightmare and salvation. At one end of the continuum we find extreme order, pattern and traditional forms and at the other end we find gibberish, chaos and disorder. Fragmentation is something we all experience and it is found between life’s extremes and at the extremes as well. Fractal autobiography works in the ground between the extremes of life. Digression, interruption, fragmentation and lack of continuity, then, are part of the normal world of autobiography. Fractal comes from the Latin for fragmented or broken: hence the term fractal autobiography. Autobiography, as a literary form, possesses a certain malleability, a certain pluralism of forms. In my work, my narrative and analysis, there is no single triumphant highway; rather, there is a maze of paths, a network of disparate forms. I have experienced much of my life this way. If there is any single, any major, creative achievement, it lies in the synthesis of divergent forms such as prose and poetry and content and ideas from several of the social sciences and humanities mixed with the quotidian narrative of an everyman.
However much of a synthesis I achieve, my work is riddled with heterogeneity, a strange composite of belief and scepticism, action, yarn and analytical or metaphysical obstruseness. Some of my narrative seems fashioned out of an adventure story and some seems derived from what I have read, heard and seen in several dozen places: amid the sounds of students moving down corridors and in classrooms, amid the screech of traffic in a taxi and many cities and towns, the deafening clatter of machines in a tin mine, the whisper of voices in offices and the variously pitched voices of people in lounge-rooms across two continents. Into such robust and not-so-robust stuff, however, I infiltrate fine-spun strands of philosophical and psychological speculation. My story and my analysis characteristically oscillates between contraries. Whatever unity I feel I achieve in the midst of these contraries and this heterogeneity; I’m sure there will be readers for whom this unity is equally elusive, usually unattained and, in attained, not of interest to them.
William Empson in his now classic work on ambiguity suggests, the "essential key to the poetic use of language is that it is the reader who invents reasons and weighs judgements as to why a poet has chosen to convey the facts he has." Ambiguity is a major device for the poet to engage us imaginatively, by forcing us to evaluate the balance of a particular phrase. There is much poetry in this autobiography and there is some ambiguity. Ambiguity is unavoidable in both daily life and in poetry. I must say, though, that I try to avoid the ambiguous as much as possible to make the readers’ job easier and because, for the most part, I like to call things straight. Much of the humour everywhere, but especially here in Australia where I have laid my hat for decades, is based on ambiguity among other factors. I find it both enriches life and lightens it as well as causes problems between people because of that very ambiguity which so often can result in taking a comment the wrong way, causing offence.
As architect Nigel Reading writes, "Pure Newtonian causality is an incorrect, a finite view, of life’s processes, but then again so is the aspect of complete uncertainty and infinite chance." The nature of reality is now seen as somewhere in between. One writer called this interplay between chance and causality, a dynamical symmetry. It occurs to me that this shift in focus from a simple, a polarized view of life to a more dynamic, more complex, more chaotic view is something that is expressed in, found in, my autobiography. Of course the whole idea of freedom, of free will, is an illusion "in a world where every effect must have a necessary and sufficient physical cause." It’s an old conundrum, free-will and determinism.. I like to think that we overcome this encompassing determinism by what Whitehead calls a "creative advance into novelty." This is an expression I first came across nearly forty years ago. I liked it then and, after 40 years, I find it expresses much that has been my experience.
The poetry, the autobiography I am calling fractal shares many traits with that contested term--postmodern. Often the postmodern writer dismisses the very idea that a historical, coherent, composite person ever existed. The biographer does not have to dig for true persons with existential truths surrounding their lives. For such people and such truths do not exist. Some historical figures, like Dickens and Shakespeare, are so large, so amorphous, that they can take whatever shape biographers want to give them. Many a postmodernist would argue that voice "is a patchwork of other people's voices" as well as their own. I would argue, with the postmodernist, that this work of mine is, among other things, but an echo of hundreds of different books that I read in preparing to write this autobiography. To many a postmodernist I simply don’t really exist as a character. I’m just a little patchwork figure. In someways this is an exaggeration, but it contains some of the spirit of the approach of the postmodernist to autobiography. These remarks contain, too, some of the spirit of my own approach, my own understanding, of this literary creation of mine.
Some contemporary poetries and genres of autobiography show an allegiance to romantic, confessional or formalist traditions. And so does some of my work. Fractal poetry, fractal aesthetics and fractal autobiography describe another feature of my literary topography. When poets and autobiographers address aesthetics, their own work, their writing, inevitably shades their views. I write from perceptions of where my poems, my autobiography, have been lately and where they are both likely to be headed. I write in a middle, a fractal, ground between the elitist and populist polarities or views of autobiography. As the curtain begins to fall in these early years of the evening of my life, on what has been an adventurous sixty years, I scramble about with cultural theorists and artists to attempt to sum up the last half century or so of both my personal life and society’s cultural production and historical experience. It's a self-interested activity, of course, with one eye on an hypothesized readers in the future. I stand with social critics and philosophers as the millennium turns and I gaze both backwards and forwards. I would like to exclaim, "aha! I've got it." I’d like to win a gold star and enjoy endless invitations to dinners and panels for the next 10 years—well theoretically. In reality, though, I have come to experience a strong distaste for much in the social domain.
The art critic, John Ruskin, organized his past life chiefly in terms of moments of vision because he conceived himself essentially as a spectator, as one, that is, who lived chiefly by seeing. He said he felt fully alive only when engaged in the act of vision. For Ruskin, the core of his life experience was the thirst for visible fact and a standing apart from the flow of life so that he could look on. For me, as it is for all of us, the eye is the chief tool of the rational faculty, but I have often felt somewhat illiterate visually. I am not able to encompass my life so centrally around vision as Ruskin did and, although I too have been a spectator--aren’t we all—I have been much more than this. I am storyteller, recaller of events, analyst, historian, psychologist and sociologist writing so that those of the generations to come will not forget the four epochs of the first century of this Formative Age or, to put it more accurately, will have more insights into the period in question.
In conventional fiction and autobiography a narrative continuity is usually and clearly discernible. But it is impossible to create an absorbing narrative, it seems to me, without at the same time enriching it with images, asides, themes and variations—impulses from within. Just as the first historian in the West, Herodotus, placed great stress on personal identity and motive over institutional factors and often halted his narrative "for tangential observations," so is this my approach.
This emphasis on and use of the tangential is evident in much fiction: Joyce, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, and Faulkner are obvious examples. The narrative line has tended to weaken, merge with, and be dominated by, the sum of variations. This is also true in much autobiography. Each narrative step in a great deal of modern writing is likely to provoke many sidewinding pages before the next narrative step is taken. A lot of the power of many writers is to be found in these sidewindings. In addition, a writer’s side-glances or, as Emily Dickinson called the process, 'looking aslant on the world', are equally important. What happens in jazz when the melody merges with the improvisations and the improvisations dominate has been happening in fiction and autobiography for some time now.
This is certainly true in both my autobiography and my poetry. There is some narrative in my autobiography and there is a sense of continuity which is clear, but there are also variations, improvisations, sidewindings, side-glances and impulses from within. These variations, I know from experience, are too much for many readers. But as in daily life, one can not connect with everyone.
There is another element of this memoir that some readers may have trouble connecting with. That is its epic quality. I see this work as an epic in its own right and as a small part in a much bigger epic involving the origin and development of the Baha’i Faith and its community.
"All historical epics," as Benjamin Friedlander notes in his analysis of Bahá’í poet Robert Hayden's epic, "are first of all affirmations of community." While there is affirmation here, my rendition of epic is more a simple preoccupation with a continuing historical tradition which I played a part of during four epochs. Like Hayden's America and his failed attempt at an epic of the Negro comunity, my epic rendering of community--the Bahá’í community--is, partly, a problem with many algebraic variables but no one solution. I do not see my work as either failure or success but, rather, work in progress/process. This work and my life has been captive by the fascination of those things, mixed of light and darkness, that are the passing phenomena of this spacially and temporally conditioned universe of names and forms that I have absorbed in my life. The shaping force of civilization is lived experience and at the heart of this epic is just that: inner experience--mine, peculiar and private, at a particular juncture in history. Community is problematic, enigmatic and the sine qua non of this memoir. But I can't help but agree with the sentiments of Joseph Campbell when he says: "each individual is the centre of a mythology of his own." As Baha'u'llah says, we each must find for ourselves the indwelling God, the Thou at the centre of our world--and the crossover, for the Bahá’í, the cornerstone of community, is symbolized by Baha'u'llah.
Many historians make of their work, the content of their work, an epic. Herodotus, to continue drawing on his history, makes of the Persian wars a great epic. These wars are for him a "struggle between barbarism and civilization projecting this back into events long after they occurred." The Baha’i epic is ideally suited to be the screenplay for a Cecil B. DeMille epic film, but it will be some time before the Baha’i narrative is seen in this context of epic. My own view is that the entire history of this Faith, beginning with the lives of its two precursors reads uncannily like a dramatic presentation of history on celluloid. But I leave that for future directors, producers and cinematographers.
The earlier senses of 'form' in previous centuries in both autobiography and poetry are not important to me. I have rejected them as irrelevant or, at best, mildly influential to what I am aiming to achieve. Perhaps, to put the issue more accurately and more simply, I have introduced my own autobiographical mix and my own prose-poem form because it serves my purposes more usefully. I find that the literal activity of writing itself is very often my focus. This may prove difficult for some readers as it has often proved difficult for me. The fragmentary, labyrinthine storyline that I present here, like that of Baha’i history itself, might also present formidable obstacles to readers or, indeed, to any commercial screenplay or epic that might come out of this work down the road of time. But I shall be long gone before such this epic is ever translated onto the big sreeen or the stage, or so I am inclined to think. If the barren beauty and the forbidding nature of many of the landscapes I have lived in is ever to be combined with this memoir’s literary and psychological complexities would it ever appeal to escapist movie audiences?
There is a second historian who provides somewhat of a model for my writing; indeed, I like to think I combine or at least aim to combine the best of Herodotus and the best of Thucydides. Perhaps the reason I even refer to these first historians of the western intellectual tradition is that they were part of a course on Greek history which I taught in the late 1980s and early 1990s and so I became more than a little familiar with their works. I like to see this work the way Thucydides did his: as a possession for all time, as a piece of investigation, interpretation and analytical writing, as an account of the moral and social breakdown of society, as part of a mythic paradigm underlying this work, as one attempt to give expression to the will of God and motivation as the two factors which shape the course of history, as an attempt to give expression to the continuity and development of my time and an analysis of the fundamental illness of the age—disunity. Thucydides sought a stable centre for society and I see that stable centre as one that will evolve, in time, from the nucleus and pattern of the Baha’i Order. Thucydides thought an absense of romance from his work would, over time, detract from its interest and lose him the applause of the moment. There is much which will detract from my work: lack of romance, absense of a simple and provocative story line, a lack of simplicity in the style of my writing. Thucydides’ culture was shaken to its roots and he feared for its survival; such is the case with my age and my society. It was shaken to its roots before I was born and the shaking has just gone on and on. Perhaps one day I will draw some further parallels with other historians. Fifteen years ago, at the same time that I began to write poetry extensively, I began a file on the major historians of history and there is much more I could add here from their several philosophies of history. But, for the moment, this will suffice.
My poetry has its beginnings in many places and times. One of the crucial beginnings is in modern times right at the start of the Kingdom of God on earth, from a Baha’i perspective, in the early 1950s. Specifically, the American poet Allen Ginsberg had a list of slogans that he kept over his desk back in 1954 in San Francisco. The slogans came from Ginsberg’s friend Jack Kerouac. Kerouac called them: "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose." They went like this:
"Blow as deep as you want -- write as deeply, fish as far down as you want, satisfy yourself first, then readers cannot fail to receive telepathic shock and meaning-excitement by the same laws operating in his own human mind.... Nothing is muddy thatruns in time and to the laws of time---the Shakespearean stress of a dramatic need to speak now in my own unalterable way or forever hold my tongue. Make no revisions….write outwards swimming in a sea of language to peripheral release and exhaustion ... tap from yourself the song of yourself, blow! -- now! -- your way is your only way...."
Although it would be nearly forty years before I was able to put these words into poetic practice, they say much about the way I go about writing and why?
The objects which occur to me at any given moment of composition, what we might call objects of recognition, can be, must be, treated exactly as they occur to my mind and my senses. Ideas, imaginations, abstractions, conceptions, preconceptions from outside this sensory apparatus, world, paradigm are, for me, introduced to enrich the sensory, the intellectual, picture. They are handled as a series of additions to a field in such a way that a series of tensions are created. These tensions are made to hold and to hold exactly inside the content and the context of my autobiography and its prose and poetry. This content and context has forced itself into being through me, through my writing as autobiographer and poet. This is a central aspect of anything I might say about the memorabilia which will remain after I am gone and which will remain forever irretrievable by me.
The self-chosen place of the autobiographical mode, the point of real reference, is the act and the situation of writing, which provides a sense of coherence. Coherence can be obtained in many ways in life. But, for me, the autobiographical mode, the situation of writing and its products are an important aid. They provide an overarching internal coherence. The recent increase of writings in the autobiographical mode, as far back as the early 1950s and sixties, seems to represent both a reaction to the so-called crisis of the novel and a possible artistic solution to the fragmentary nature of human experience. Yet at the same time the autobiographical turn reveals the paradox inherent in this form. My autobiography reflects a nostalgia for stability, continuity, past experiences and their memories as well as a desire to understand the paradoxes and complexities of life and deal as best I can with life’s vacuous, empty, semblances of reality, absurdities and vanities. I’m sure for readers that my narrative will seem disjointed, even plotless; if that is so, it may be due to the fact that life often seems this way. Defining and detecting omissions, the reasons for what I do select, the discontinuities and the irregularities in my autobiography may be as problematic for my readers to assess as it is for readers of many a historical text. Perhaps I am in good company.
Disproving what I say will require readers to tell different stories and to do this will reveal different assumptions, explanations and interpretations of my life and times. To change the narrative is to change the explanation. At the same time, I should not want all those who would analyse this work, to be apologists for me and/or what I say. I think there are many problems with my account: the frequent shifts of locale make narration difficult; the extensive use of analysis often gets in the way of a good story; chopped-up narrative, analysis of questions that can’t be answered by narrative and, for readers, a situation of being faced with the reality of the limits of narratological analysis. No matter how much readers study this text there are problems they simply cannot solve: problems with the text, problems with my life, problems with my analysis. If readers are stimulated in their thinking I will be more than satisfied.
Conventional autobiographies could be regarded as the proper medium for the realistic representation of a self and for the narrative recovery of past events from the perspective of the present. Many contemporary autobiographical texts of the last half century stress the illusory nature of what could be called mythopoetic endeavours. Due to the breakdown of a clear demarcation between reality and fiction or reality and imagination, the traditional conception of the autobiographical genre has lost its degree of certainty and truth. Any sense of perfection, of completeness, of comprehensiveness cannot be achieved in written works and most certainly not in these kinds of writings composed of thousands and thousands of potential scraps of recollection--so runs the argument. Memory follows exactly the course of events and chronology, but that which emerges from this chronology is totally different from the actual happening. This is partly due to memory’s role in transfiguring the past by bathing things in a sentimental glow, making the good old days appear more beautiful than they actually were. Also, I have come to regard my life as a matter of events of the soul, events which, to quote Levinas again, "resemble mystery rather than spectacle, and whose meaning remains hidden to whoever refuses to enter into the dance."
A few years ago I heard an interview with Australian historian Inga Clendinnen. She said the following about memory: "Memory is profoundly unreliable and profoundly coercive. Memories can seem absolutely real, realer than reality, as you know quite well when you get a sudden whiff of a scent and you're transported back into some situation you'd thought you'd forgotten and you remember everything about it. You know, the sound of the magpies, the smell of the grass, it's there, held in that whiff of scent." And she continued: "I think we construct our memories. I think we have vivid sense impressions and out of them we construct a narrative and the narrative is about the sense we make of what's happening to us and our dominant mood and what we think matters about the scenes we're involved with. And we classically do this very slightly, of necessity, after the event. And then those memories which are personal and private and vivid can become consolidated into a kind of group narrative as with family memories."
I think Clendinnen is right here. At least my experience reflects her views on memory. I often tell stories about something in my life and, after many years of telling a particular story, I begin to wonder if any of what I am saying is true. But I remember the story and I have come to treat it as gospel truth for so long that I feel it to be gospel truth. And it is truth because it matters to me. There's a whole lot of social meaning being invested in our stories and tales. There is also a whole lot of complex interplay between personal and community forces, and between ideology and philosophy on the one hand and practical considerations and activities on the other. This interplay is revealed in my decisions, behaviour and the patterns in my life.
Cherished memories are often all a person has as they head into old age, but these memories are often false in terms of many of their basic substantive details. That's the problem with human memory. It's both fallible and creative. It's also part of our most private, personal and cherished possession. If you attack someone's memories, you're attacking the seams of their being. Nonetheless it's the historian’s and the autobiographer’s jobs to tackle their own and other people's memories. As an autobiographer it is important that I really understand just how perverse and creative memory is and that it must be kept under close scrutiny.
More generally, though, I leave to posterity the debates that will inevitably occur and recur across the public sphere, debates that will act as if constantly taking the temperature of the habitations of autobiography within the cultural industry. One must acknowledge the impossibility of explaining how all the differentiations across the world of popular non-fiction work in both the contemporary world and, a fortiori, in some future time and place. Publishing houses, both on and off the internet, quite deliberately position themselves with their many-sided strategies in adopting and legitimating their own territories of transaction. These territories of transaction form a valuable framework for the public promotion of authors and genres.
Editors working on both high literary and popular mass market manuscripts are very aware of the different demands posed on and by these widely differentiated genres. This speaking up on behalf of popular non-fiction in general and autobiography in particular, as I have done here, I think raises new questions and interpretations of the nature of the game. Despite all the doomsday rhetoric of the past thirty years, and there has been much, there is something about the role of the genre of autobiography in the cultural industry that keeps rising up with renewed vitality from the overcrowded marketplace, the smouldering pit and the firey furnace of the world of publishing.
Listed below is a brief outline are some potential scraps of recollection and memory that have not made it into this autobiography thusfar. I have placed these scraps in a series of appendices to bring this epilogue to a conclusion.
List of 15 Appendices Which Follow:
2. Horowitz and package: A Model-Some Comparisons and Contrasts.
3. Ron Price, "Omissions Are Not Accidents: Erasures & Cancellations
in Ron Price's Manuscripts: A Hypothetical," Unpublished Manuscript, 2006.
4 Punctuation and editing drawing on an article by Emma L. Roth-Schwartz, "Colon and Semi-Colon in Donne's Prose Letters: Practice and Principle," in Early Modern Literary Studies, Vol.3, No.1, 1997
5. A record of books read or partly read: 1962-2007.
6. A Study in Time Management: My Retirement Years: April 1999 to April 2007
7. A note on Choosing One’s Literary Executive
8. This essay draws on the "Preface To The Electronic Edition, Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, 2002; and 2 Writings: Washington to James Craik, 25 March 1784.
9. Origon and Purpose of My Epic Poem.
10. Outline of my collection of 6000 poems, 60 booklets of poetry
11. Letter-Poems: A Blended Genre
12. My own funeral: some thoughts at my 50th birthday
13. My bi-polar disorder: a 60 year study in context:1947-2007
14. Some poetry and comments: on my poetry collection.
15. Baha’i literature:1907-2007
NOT FOUND IN THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The material below is found in my home in its study and, although not included in this autobiography, it could be useful for future autobiographical, biographical and historical work.
SECTION III Characters/Biographies: 24(ca) short sketches
SECTION V Published Work : Essays-Volumes 1 to 4-200 essays(ca):
See(a) Resume Vol.5 Ch 1 above
& (b) Section V: Volumes 1 to 3
of private collection.
SECTION VI Unpublished Work : Essays-Volumes 1 to 6-200 essays(ca)
: Novels-Volumes 1 to 3---12 attempts
SECTION VII Letters : Volumes 1 to 35: 4000 letters(ca)...
SECTION VIII Poetry : Booklets 1 to 60: 6000 poems(ca)
SECTION IX A.Notebooks :300(ca)......................................1966-2007
B.Notebooks :300(ca) no-longer-extant…….1949-1999
SECTION X.1 Photographs : 12 files/booklets/folios........…1908-2007
SECTION X.2 Journals : Volumes 1 to 5......................1844-2007
SECTION XI Memorabilia. :.............................................….1908-2007
It has been my view, in writing this work, that a piece of autobiographical literature is most effectively religious, psychological, sociological, historical and, indeed, any one or many terms I might apply, not by propounding abstract dogma, theory or general propositions, but by representing human experience concretely and honestly-whatever the professed beliefs of the author. My thesis, if I could call it that, is that the work of unbelievers like writers Yeats and Faulkner, or of Eliot before his conversion, can present a vision of reality of profound significance to Baha’is insofar as it is faithful to the truth of human experience. For, whatever the beliefs of writers, they all must take some of the elements that shine in the eye of their memory and try to accord to each of them whatever splendour and sadness, melancholy and delight the different apparitions play in the mystery that is their lives.
Though Beethoven's final religious views are somewhat obscure and Mozart was associated with the Masons, their musical creations often furnish far greater spiritual enhancements to our lives than many of those being contributed by devout believers in our time. By the same token, the first thing a Baha’i should ask about a work of literature of this type I have written is whether it is honestly and skillfully crafted. Of course, I have studiously avoided the works of covenant breakers in composing this autobiography. While this may be strange to those who are not Baha’is, it is only consistent with the teachings of my Faith, teachings at the basis of this work.
This epilogue has expanded to some 60,000 words of further reflections on the overall autobiographical process, a process that has interested me, off and on, for some twenty-three years. As I head through the early years of my late adulthood, incrementally and insensibly, I feel similar to the sociologist Norbert Elias who said in an interview: "I have an unusual talent and I feel I have a duty to do something with it. A duty towards other people. I work even harder than ever." Of course, I see whatever talent I possess as a gift from God. Elias worked passionately for years at his intellectual tasks. I don’t work as hard as he and my talent is not as striking as his. But I devote as much of my time as humanly possible to the many intellectual tasks that have been unfolding as the evening of my life entered its early hours. One never knows when one’s own end will come, when the early evening will become late evening and when night may fall and "by a sleep to say we end." Like Marcel Proust I am an exacting advocate of the belief that life is unfathomably complex, too complex in fact for even a 1000 page masterpiece like this to do it justice. I know my work is never done but, inevitably, my life will end and whatever work I have chosen to do will also be terminated.
The historical trends of at least the last several decades or more, trends which account for the dramatic reduction in respect and veneration for elderly individuals in Western societies have, as yet, only a limited negative affect on me and my life style. This negative causal perspective of the elderly is only partially true and I do not want to go into detail on this subject until, perhaps, I myself enter into old age at the age of 80 and beyond. Some theorists say we have in the last hundred years invented the very concept of the elderly, just as we invented the concept of childhood in a previous period. These same theorists suggest we now deny death and avoid thinking about dieing. With the creation of the concept of the elderly in my own lifetime has come their isolation from society into special homes. People tend to avoid encountering these homes and thus are not reminded of life’s carnal mortality.
An image of the elderly, so goes this view, as ineffectual and incompetent is promoted. They are seen as unable to contribute to society’s work force. This view of the elderly is a natural extension of the view of people as "human resources" to be used and exploited in accordance with technological demand. When their usefulness as resources comes to an end, then they come to an end. In the context of such a vision, elderly individuals cease to exist in any meaningful way at all. In their capacity as a standing reserve, they are unable to stand on their own. They can no longer contribute to the world of linear vision and they are directed to the infinite beyond, a world devoid of generational rhythms and traditions. As I say, I shall return to this theme as I advance into this final stage of the lifespan.
Perhaps my experience with this book may be somewhat like the experience of Authur Schopenhauer with his famous work, The World as Will and Representation. Alfred Estermann's study Schopenhauers Kampf um sein Werk examines the relationship between Arthur Schopenhauer and his publishers, focussing in particular on the three editions of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation), published by Brockhaus in 1818/9, 1844, and 1859. Shopenhauer had grand expectations for his book but the reality of the book’s reception, at least for the first 40 years, was far apart from these expectations. Acceptance and recognition of this now-classic work came slowly. Like many authors, Schopenhauer was certain of the brilliance and significance of his work when he first offered it to his publisher. I’m not sure I would characterize my book as either brilliant or significant, although I would certainly like to. I enjoyed writing it but I’m not as confident about its reception in either the short or the long term. I leave the assessment of this work to others and to those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence, dispensations that I have often refered to in these pages.
HOROWITZ AND PACKARD:
SOME USEFUL COMPARISONS & CONTRASTS
In the preface of Daniel Horowitz’s book "Vance Packard & American Social Criticism"(University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1994) which I read in 2006 after I had finished the bulk of this memoir I came across an approach to how I would like to deal with any person who is interested in writing, and possesses the skills to write, my biography. I include parts of Horowitz’s preface below for future reference should it ever be useful and should anyone ever seriously contemplate writing my biography before or after I pass from this mortal coil. I draw on this preface and my several comments below and make it into the second appendix of my memoir, adding as it does a few pages to this autobiography.
"In the spring of 1985," Daniel Horowitz writes, "I began to research a chapter on Vance Packard for a book on the response of American writers to affluence in the years after World War II. I interviewed Packard in the spring of 1986 and in that summer went to Pennsylvania State University to examine the material he had deposited there, covering the period since 1957. A year later, when the chapter had grown to ninety pages, I told him I might write a book on him alone, rather than just a chapter on him in a work that included chapters on others as well. When I arrived at his home in New Canaan for a second interview and entered his living room, he pointed to more than forty boxes of material, mostly for the period before 1957, and a tabletop copier. He informed me that he would act as my research assistant, helping to reproduce anything I wanted. Not long after that visit, I decided to write this book."
Horowitz goes on to explain in his preface why he decided to write the book on Packard. "I wrote the book," he said, "for several reasons in addition to the availability of the material in his living room and his willingness to cooperate. Ever since I began teaching in the mid-1960s, I have taught widely-read works by writers trained as journalists, such as William H. Whyte, Jr., Betty Friedan, Alvin Toffler, Anthony Lukas--and Packard. As I thought about doing this book, I realized how long and how seriously I had considered the questions raised by the careers of journalists: the complicated relationship between reader and writer, the distance that separated authors who were professors from those who were not, the challenges that faced a free-lance writer in America, and the impact of best-sellers on popular consciousness and, in turn, on social movements."
If any person expressed interest in writing my biography, some outline and analysis of my life, I would like to be able to introduce such a person to the corpus of my published and unpublished work: my 300 notebooks, 35 volumes of letters amounting to some 4000, some 60 booklets of poetry numbering over 6000 poems, my several volumes of published and unpublished essays, attempts at novels, inter alia. The writings of others in my many notebooks might be useful to such a biographer and, if used, they would keep such a person as busy as a beaver for some time. If Providence dictated that I had met my demise by the time such a person arose, I would like to think that this future biographer would be introduced by some future executor of my estate to boxes of what are now on shelves in my study and in an adjoining room.
"In the years since 1986," Horowitz continues in his preface, "Packard has cooperated with me eagerly and fully. He sent me material he had discovered. He suggested people I could talk to and then called in advance of my arrival, encouraging them to speak freely. He answered my questions and responded to my requests for more documentation and for verification of facts. Again and again, he displayed the fundamental personal decency that his friends had mentioned to me. His assistance has made my task both easier and more difficult. Easier, because he placed in front of me none of those stumbling blocks that living subjects often put in the way of inquiring scholars. More difficult, because of the abundance of the material he uncovered and because of the sense of gratitude that I felt toward him."
Packard died in 1996 and the exercise that Horowitz initiated took ten years while Packard was alive. It is my hope that I might reach the age of 100, thus providing a period of some 40 years for such a biographer to arise. But, as I intimate above, I am not holding my breath, simply outlining a perspective, a direction, for possible future excavation of a life. Often, when writers are gone from this terrestrial domain, they are left alone. As W.B. Yeats once said in the Irish Senate in 1925, "I would hate to leave the dead alone." With Yeats, then, I live in hope that in the long range I shall not be left alone and what I have written may yet have its place of relevance. But this is the case only if such a biographical effort would enhance the progress, the experience, the meaning, of the Cause to future generations. I have been identified with this Cause for more than the critical half century of its history at the very start of the Kingdom of God on Earth, 1953-2003 and what very well may be many more years in the second half.
"Despite his generosity, this is not an authorized or official biography, as I understand those adjectives," Horowitz emphasized. "For this to have been such a book: (a)Packard would have had to initiate the request that I write about his life; (b) he would have to grant me exclusive access to material, and (c) he would have to reserve to himself the right to read and comment on what I had written before it appeared in print. None of these conditions have obtained. In April 1988 we signed a simple agreement that gave me nonexclusive rights to draw on his papers. Except in the case of my use of one short document, Packard never asked to see what I was writing, nor did I offer him the opportunity to do so."
The above paragraph summarizes the three preconditions of what makes a biography "official." None of these three conditions are ever likely to exist insofar as my life is concerned, or so it seems to me in these early years of my late adulthood. An official biography or even an unofficial one is simply not a likely occurrence in my lifetime. I would leave the selection of an official biographer, should such a situation ever arise after my death, to my executor or executors and those mysterious dispensations of Providence. I am merely suggesting the broadest of frameworks here and doing some initial mental excavation and anticipation for what might eventuate in the future.
"As I proceeded," Horowitz went on, "I came to understand one of the reasons Packard respected my autonomy as an author. As a magazine writer from 1942 to 1956, Packard faced editors who carefully monitored what he wrote, often making sure that he changed the words that would appear under his name in order to suit the needs of his employer. When he emerged as a self-employed writer in 1957, he cherished his freedom to write as he pleased. Throughout his life he has remained a committed civil libertarian. I am sure there are other writers who, though they prize their own freedom of expression and fight to preserve it for others, would abandon these abstract principles when confronted by someone who is writing about them."
Packard worked as a journalist from 1937 to 1957 and then as a full-time writer of books until he published his last book in 1989. I worked as a student from 1949 to 1988 and as a teacher from 1967 to 2005 writing various genres of material from the fifties to the early years of the new millennium. Over the years 1983 to 2007 I increasingly devoted my time to writing, first essays and articles in newspapers, in-house tasks for employers and poetry for my own taste and after 1999 virtually full-time work as I writer. There was always a high degree of professional sensitivity on the part of supervisors, employers, newspaper editors and academics regarding my writing. When I became a full-time writer in the early years of the 21st century I only had to please myself and, inevitably, internet moderators and posters where I placed much of my work. One could not just write willy-nilly whatever came into your head: one was always one's own editor with an eye on the audience and my emotions on what I might call "a wide range of sensitivities.".
Of course, given the present and temporary system of Bahá’í review, a system which I welcome and one which engages the trust and the affection I possess for my fellow Baha’is who must implement it, a system which casts a shadow on the good name of the Faith in the eyes of certain non-Baha’is,1 I too have no difficulty in abandoning such abstract principles of freedom of expression, the right to write what I please, confronted as I am by this system of review. Such an attitude on my part requires me to view the Administrative Order as the context for a moderate freedom, for the very "structure of freedom for our Age."2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1 "Extracts from Letters of the Universal House of Justice On Issues Related to the Study of the Baha’I Faith," Baha’i Canada, May 1998; and 2 "Letter to the Followers of Baha’u’llah in the United States of America," The Universal House of Justice, May 29th 1988."
"Though many of our conversations focused on his public life, Horowitz went on, "and our talk never became personal, he shared with me his thoughts, experiences, and memories. He still has a reporter’s commitment to accuracy and an ample capacity to recall details and events. What developed over time was a somewhat formal and, I think, mutually respectful relationship. Sometimes as I returned home, I wondered what Packard thought of this historian who had entered his life and persisted in asking questions that were sometimes obvious and other times unexpected. He was, after all, a skilled interviewer himself, more sophisticated than his colloquial talk and unassuming manner suggested. In addition, in the past few years he has been writing a book in which he reflected on his life and work.
"At moments he would jokingly talk about how he was trying to get me to show his life in a favorable light. For example, at the end of a letter in which he mentioned the considerable prescience with which he had written for forty years, he remarked, "The self-cheering goes on." 1 At other times he sent me signals that I interpreted as encouragement to offer a frank appraisal of his life. He once forwarded a marked-up copy of a review of Sally Bedell Smith's biography of William S. Paley. Packard underlined a number of passages, including some with quite negative statements about Paley's life. For example, he highlighted a passage where the reviewer noted that Paley emerged in the book as a "toweringly small man: insecure, petty, jealous, ungrateful, snobbish, . . . a philanderer" and also "a tyrannical father. . . a pathological liar; abusive, resentful, cruel, neurotic, hypochondriac, self-absorbed, tightfisted and greedy.'' 2 In the accompanying letter, Packard remarked, "Here is a good example of why well-researched biographies have a much better reputation as good reads than autobiographies, which, unless they are confessional, are usually suspected, with good reason, of being efforts at image protection and enhancement."
As much as I would want to avoid the problem of image protection and enhancement in my autobiography—and I think I have gone a long way toward doing so by means of: (a) my moderate confessionalism, (b) the Australian habit of playing the self down and exhibiting a certain honestly felt tiredness with life and (c) my difficulty, also an Australian trait, of going in for consistent self-delusion—some of these natural, if somewhat odious, qualities slip in. I should also add that, if any person takes the slightest interest in writing my biography, my relationship with that person would inevitably be different than that between Horowitz and Packard. There are also a range of people in my life who would offer some quite different views of myself. Some of these people are close and intimate: my wife, step-daughters and son. Several work colleages and some of those of whom I write, Baha’is and others would also offer differing perspectives. But I leave this to and for biographers. There is little doubt that the views of others would provide some useful perspectives. If a biographer does not arise, say, in three generations, there will be no one on Earth who will have even known or met me by then.
"Vance Packard and American Social Criticism" was published in the early years(1994) of my own serious writing ‘career’ which one could say developed by insensible degrees over as many as forty years(1952-1992) but really got going in the Holy Year(1992-1993). It differs markedly from what Packard might have written of his own life. Horowitz writes, still in that preface, "I well understood that my task was to present my interpretation of his life and work, not his view. Though in correspondence and interviews he offered me his own views, I incorporated them into the text only when I believed they illuminated the past I was trying to recover. I suspect that he will want to correct some statements that I make, but I hope that most of those will concern issues of interpretation and few of them, questions of fact. Grateful as I am to him, in the end my commitment is to offer a book that both acknowledges and evaluates his contribution at the same time that it sets his life and writing in their historical contexts."
Clearly, too, whatever some future biographer might write on my life will differ from my own autobiography, memoirs. By that time, I trust, I will have gone to those retreats of my compassionate Lord and be the recipient of His mercy and forgiveness forever and ever. I will have forsaken this swiftly passing world and soared away to unseen realms.--July 10th 2006
I have added below an additional number of appendices taking the total to fifteen. Some autobiographers outline detailed statements on their sleeping patterns, eating and drinking habits, interest/hobby activities, job/duty statements, detailed descriptions of their relationships with individuals. Some of these they place in appendices. My additional appendices are as follows:
This appendix consists of the following essay:
Ron Price, "Omissions and Changes Are Not Accidents: Erasures, Cancellations, Additions, Deletions and Alterations in Ron Price's Manuscripts: A Hypothetical," Unpublished Manuscript, 2006.
Most of the omissions in my work are not intentional, nor are they accidents. Indeed, very little that I have written is accidental. Although it must be said, that serendipity does come into my writing more frequently than I am myself aware want to admit or understand. Some skeptical observers may call this serendipity an accident.-Ron Price, June 1st 2006.
Sitting in some library at some future and hypothetical time at least 100 years after my passing, lets say about 2140, an imagined person is poring over erasures, scissorings, cancellations of various kinds in my letters, essays, poems, notes and diaries, cuttings, photocopies, pastings-in, notes at the side and in the text added for emphasis and comment. This imagined person comes across a few tamperings. They were tamperings that occurred both before and after Bill Washington applied his experienced editorial pen to this vast corpus of memoir-words in the years 2004 to 2007. Tampering with text has taken many forms and I can not possibly cover them all here and I make no attempt to be systematic. I just want to offer a general commentary on the subject.
In the more than 100 years since my passing in 2040 at the age of 96, I anticipate that only the occasional person might see fit to make some alteration to the original text. I must remark upon what I hope is the powerful effect of reading my manuscripts. Harold Boom, a late 20th century literary critic, declared after spending several weeks with my work that "there's something about the way Price's words go racing across the page, with the spaces between them, that change your idea of everything you've read before about the Bahá'í Faith in its first several epochs of the Formative Age, well, at least, the Formative Age from 1944 to 2044." I like to think that Boom was one of those I prayed for from the next life. I certainly like what Boom has said here.
My handwriting, where it exists, is relatively rare. Most of my material is in typed script of different kinds and styles. Likewise, the mutilations that might come to exist in the century after my demise, as I say, 2040-2140, are also likely to be rare. Readers cannot help but wonder what might provoke an earlier reader or readers to initiate responses creating the gaps in my documents or changes to the text.
If omissions are not accidents, as part of the title of this brief essay indicates, and as the opening quotation points out, then many inclusions are more than just happenings or accidents, as well. Erasures are rare because there is little in the text that is done in pencil. Cancellations of my words by hands other than my own are, as I have said, are also likely to be rare. Some editing will inevitably be done by others, perhaps half a dozen editors and friends to the many years of my collected writings. Who knows really; this is just a hypothetical to satisfy my own curiosity and sense of play. My own editing is only occasionally obvious. The erasures and cancellations are of various types, and I want to be clear that I have no desire to focus on each and every kind made by other hands or by myself.
To anyone familiar with my work they will know that since writing my first pieces in the 1960s and since keeping the works of others in that same decade, except for the inclusion of my mother's work back to the 1930s, my oeuvre is massive. I have written these words to provide a perspective on a possible future of my writings. It is a future which, as I say, is essentially hypothetical. Time will tell if it has any truth, any validity. It is just a play with the future, so to speak.
This short paragraph comes from a prose-poem I wrote on the subject of punctuation and editing and it draws on my reading of an article by Emma L. Roth-Schwartz, "Colon and Semi-Colon in Donne's Prose Letters: Practice and Principle," in Early Modern Literary Studies, Vol.3, No.1, 1997. After teaching punctuation and reading about the subject, off and on, for half a century, I concluded, as I wrote this autobiography, that I have little interest in making statements about my use of punctuation for future literary scholars. There are dangers, of course, in inattention given to punctuation both by myself and future students. There is damage done to sense and style by repunctuation, mine and others, for punctuation must be seen as an act of interpretation. I find that I sometimes punctuate different copies of the same text differently.
I certainly don’t feel tied to the punctuation and phraseology that editors and scholars find in my work. Bill Washington, through his initial editing, set the stage for a punctuation style, a style that was mine but was made more consistent through his professional efforts. Some writers do not want editors to change anything. I am not of that ilk. My hope is that future editors may yet come close to that happy state of affairs in punctuating and editing my work, a state described by Francis Clement in 1587 in which he says that with punctuation "the breath is relieved, the meaning conceived, the eye directed, the ear delighted, and all the senses satisfied."1 This is also true of good editing.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Anthony Graham-White, Punctuation and Its Dramatic Value in Shakespearean Drama, University of Delaware Press, Newark, 1995, p.46.
A RECORD OF BOOKS READ OR PARTLY READ
IN A 45 YEAR PIONEERING LIFE: FROM 1962 TO 2007
It is impossible for me to make an accurate record or even a reasonable guesstimation of what might be called my reading record since 1962, my matriculation year, the start of my pioneering experience, to the present time, some 45 years later. I have made a start at such a record, such a rough guesstimation, though. And here it is:
C. Poems Read : 4,000
D. Poems Partly Read : 6,000
E. Articles Read: : 10,000
F. Articles Partly Read(1/4 or more) : 50,000
____________________________Total : 70,000
Ron Price Feb. 8th 2007
A Study in Time Management: April 1999 to April 2007---Retirement
A.1 FIVE CATEGORY TIME DELINEATION/ALLOCATION
FOR STUDYING AND WRITING EACH DAY
The statistical information below attempts to outline the time I spend on a daily, monthly and yearly basis at the tasks I have set myself to accomplish, in the form of goals or as a result of serendipitous activity, during the first eight years of retirement. The data below is a guesstimation only for I did not keep precise daily statistics. Since I must attend to various domestic tasks, community activities, family, Baha'i and 'other' matters it would appear that the 8 to 9 hours per day is about the most realistic average time allocation spent at reading and writing.
CATEGORY NO OF HOURS % OF MONTH AT EACH LEVEL
1. Super-efficient : 10-12 hours 12%
2. Very Efficient : 8-10 hours 32%
3. Efficient : 6-8 hours 38%
4. Good : 4-6 hours 10%
5. Poor : 0-4 hours 8%
A.2 STATISTICAL TOTALS:
HOURS/DAY AND HOURS/MONTH
Number of days at the above five levels in a thirty day(month) period is a guesstimation only:
1. 3.6 days @ 11 hours= 40 hours
2. 10.0 days @ 9 hours= 90 hours
3. 14.0 days @ 7 hours= 98 hours
4. 1.4 days @ 6 hours= 12 hours
5. 2 days @ 5 hours= 10 hours
Total: 30/31 days = 240/250 hours
Total: 240/50 hours/month; or 240/50= 8 hours per day.=56 hours/week
This is about 1/3 of the 720 hours(of total time) available in each month
Another 240 hours(1/3 of total time) is devoted to sleep
Another 240 hours is devoted to 'other.'
B. LIST OF MAJOR ACTIVITIES & TIME ALLOCATION:
1. Reading and Writing(as above) : 33%
2. Domestic & Family Activities : 30%
3. Outside: Social, Walking, etc. : 4%
4. Sleeping/Being in Bed, Ablutions : 33%……..Total: 100%
C. DETAILS REGARDING READING AND WRITING ACTIVITIES 1999 TO 2007 IN B.1 ABOVE:
From August 1999 to August 2007, exactly eight years, I wrote:
1. Three books: (i) Roger White's Poetry: 350 pages, (ii) Autobiography/memoirs: 2500 pages, 3 volumes and (iii) My Website: 650 pages, an estimation. Total: 3500 Pages.
2. 22 booklets and of poetry, some 1000 poems(approx.)
3. When not working on a book or writing in some other genre I:
(a) read, (b) make notes, (c) reorganize my files & systems, (d) post internet items and develop these WWW resources and (e) engage in one of ‘B: items 1,2 & 3’ above.
D. BREAKDOWN OF ACTIVITIES ON DAILY BASIS
IN SECTION B.1 ABOVE
The time allocations above over an 8 hour day are very broad guesstimations only.
E. CONCLUDING STATEMENT
The above provides an overview of the new arrangements, the new time allocations in my life in the years 1999 to 2007 since retiring from the teaching profession and what had been in the decades before living a life within the great work/home, school/home divide with its extensive involvement in: Baha'i community activities, formal employment, raising children and studying in formal education programs, inter alia. All statistics/data above are guesstimations only and how long this new picture will last into the years of my lateadulthood and oldage is difficult, impossible, to estimate.--Ron Price April 21st 2007
A NOTE ON CHOOSING ONE’S LITERARY EXECUTOR
Edward Gibbon is best known for his enormous book on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. For a man who wrote so much on this one subject he showed admirable restraint in his memoirs. His memoirs can be found in one volume that almost disappears beside the large tomes that make up his History. Gibbon himself never put together the autobiographical pieces he wrote upon finishing his life's work. These autobiographical parcels were first collected in a decorously edited volume by Lord Sheffield, Gibbon's literary executor. Unfortunately Lord Sheffield showed far too much restraint in his editing. He excised practically anything that anyone might find offensive. This is yet another example, of the many, why some writers regard editors as a useless sort of breed who should not be allowed much more activity in their lives than to correct spelling mistakes and grammar and why authors must take the utmost care in choosing their literary executors. I do not share that concern for editors that others do. Mine is a more modest concern.
This sentiment, this concern, may be true in relation to Gibbon’s autobiographical work. It was also a concern of my mother’s brother insofar as the editing my mother did of her father’s autobiography. But it is not an accurate overall view of what editors generally do and what their roles entail. In the hands of a good editor the work of any author can find a good home. Such is my hope. Lord Sheffield's cutting diminishment of Gibbon’s text was only discovered long after the fact. Sheffield covered his tracks well. Only in 1894, a century after Gibbon died, when Gibbon's papers were made public, was the magnitude of the editorial interference revealed.
Since that time the work has been refashioned by a number of editors. Almost all contemporary editions include all that is good in Gibbon’s autobiography. Lord Sheffield's version was a great success. The later and complete versions are even better. -Ron Price with thanks to ‘The Review of "Memoirs of My own Life,"’ by Edward Gibbon in The Complete Review, 2000.
There are many other articles on ‘literary executors’ which I have kept in my journal and, should future executors be interested in some of my views in more detail they are free to read them, but are under no obligation to do so. Taken together they provide a more comprehensive view of just how I see the ideal editor. For now, though, I am happy to proceed with the editing work of Bill Washington with no caveats aside.
This brief essay draws on the "Preface To The Electronic Edition, Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, 2002; and 2 Writings: Washington to James Craik, 25 March 1784.
The preservation of Washington’s papers was a subject never far from his mind. Washington was born in 1732 and died in 1799. His deathbed instructions to his secretary Tobias Lear in December 1799, to "arrange and record all my late military letters and papers . . . and other letters,"1 were only the continuation of a practice that Washington had begun as a young man when he began saving his incoming letters as well as copies of most of his outgoing correspondence.
It was not until the years of my middle age that I began, at first insensibly, to take an increasing interest in the preservation of my papers. In the last decade of that middle age, from 50 to 60, 1994-2004, that interest took a more serious, a more organized form. In the 25 years preceding that middle age, my years from 15 to 40, 1959 to 1984, the year I joined this new Faith until my second year north of Capricorn, the collecting of letters gradually assumed a proportion from no interest to a significant one.
Washington, at the age of 52, immediately after the American Revolutionary War(1775-1783), declared that no history of his life, "could be written with the least degree of accuracy, unless recourse was had" to his papers for information.2 The American Revolution was a period of momentous events and Washington did, indeed, play a significant part. This is equally true of these days, of my life in the 8th, 9th and 10th stages of history from a Baha'i perspective. They are momentous days. But given the nature of the global theatre in which the Baha’i revolutionary program is being implemented and the thousands of people whose lives are as significant, if not more so, than my own, it could be seen as presumptuous to compare myself to the famous American George Washington. My intention is to contrast a significant and famous individual in history with the ordinarily ordinary person who is also a member of the Baha’i community.
It is in this contrast, with some elements of useful comparison, that the following prose-poem finds its place. I have been simply one of the links in the chain, one of the soldiers in the field, one of the threads, part of the very warp and weft of the Baha’i community in the first half century of the Kingdom of God on earth(1953-2003), one of the many participants in the first stages of the transatlantic field of service of the North American Baha’i community, a testing period of apocalyptic proportions marking the lowest ebb in humankind’s fast-declining fortunes during the weightiest spiritual enterprise in recorded history.
Washington spent much of his time organizing and copying his papers. He even went so far as to plan a separate building near his mansion house for their safekeeping, although that plan remained unrealized at his sudden death in December 1799. After my retirement in 1999, two hundred years after Washington’s death, I spent some time, on and off over five years, organizing my own papers into some framework. By the time I was 60 that framework required little attention, little further organization, only the occasional reorganization, the occasional refinement and adjustment.
Comprised of more than 17,400 letters and documents in thirty-seven volumes, plus a two-volume index, John Fitzpatrick's work on Washington’s papers was a monumental achievement by any standard. Fitzpatrick’s experience in the Library of Congress, which owns the single largest collection of Washington manuscripts, more than 60,000 documents, had ably prepared Fitzpatrick for the herculean effort necessary to bring out an edition of that scale over such a short span of time.
Whether my own letters and documents, my papers and poems, ever find a home in some voluminous collection is not my worry or concern. I have spent a little time placing them all into some ordered arrangement and I leave it to my executor, the Baha’i community and those mysterious dispensations of Providence which I mention from time to time in this now lengthy work to do with them what they will. -Ron Price with thanks to the 1Preface To The Electronic Edition, Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, 2002; and 2 Writings: Washington to James Craik, 25 March 1784.
The greatest of all arts—
the management of the mind
and the art of living1
can be acquired in part
from letters and papers,
poems and essays in the
great archives of history.
The playful spirit, the light,
humorous touch, the portrait
of a mind, the spontaneous
and unique expressions of
personality, of indiscretion
and virtue scrawled across
the pages of these papers—
but what inducement to any
preservation? To possess
a part of me? Surely not!
To enjoy fine examples
of writing? Surely not
in a world drowning in
the written/spoken word.
To have the pleasure of a
vivid picture of a character
and person with glimpses
into his life? What value?
So much of life contains only
the insubstantial correspondence
that we might call telephone talk.
And what value is this, pray tell?
To paint one of the threads
of the warp and weft
of the Baha’i community
as the Kingdom of God on earth
was being born and developed
in its first half century—now that
art work, dear friends, is of value!
1G. Birkbell Hill, editor, Letters of Samuel Johnson, Clarendon Press, 1892.
Ron Price November 19th 2005
I have always liked the way Arnold Toynbee describes the spread of a divine, a fundamental, impulse in society. It is like a light caught from a leaping flame, an inspiration caught in peoples’ souls, a spark which gives light unto all who are in the house, a light whose influence is felt "even at points that are astonishingly remote from the centre of radiation." I first came across this Toynbeean paradigm in the mid-1960s at the outset of my pioneering life and it fits the Baha’i paradigm and at the same time paints my own work in an eloquent perspective.
Bahiyyih Nakhjavani writes in her fine essay on the artist and the seeker that "our greatness rests not in ourselves as much as in our ability and desire to circle around the great." It seems to me in life we all select the ones we want to circle around.
Any writer who aspires to a wider audience, even an autobiographer like myself, has a number of role models to chose from. So let me say a little here about the selection from my role models from outside cognitive neuro, though I have tried to select something from what they have said that sketches meaning over the terra incognita of life. This allows me to create in comfort, as part of a promising, operating, model, part of an infinite series of experiments in an effort to realize the vision of the oneness of humankind and as part of a force with an important role to play in the future of humankind.
The Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith, my role models, indicate that there is a map for my journey, humankind’s journey; there is a goal in the journey and vague sentiments of good will, however genuine, are not enough. The map and the goal has been elaborated in the first century and a half of the existence of these Figures and their authorized interpreters, in a massive body of print. My role models circumambulate, skirt around this body of print. I could, and I do, select scientists and writers in the arts for my models and many do serve as such models for the exercise I am involved with. Some of those that have made a sustained effort at popularizing science and literature and commented on a larger scene, a large sphere, and created a significant niche have played an important part in the evolution and elaboration of my own ideas, values and beliefs. But these people from the sciences and arts are not my models for fundamental philosophy and value systems that I share with others in community, that are my reasons for community. For agreement on principles in writing what I write comes from community and, even when there is agreement on principles, coordinated action is not easy.
Finally, before I close this appendix #8, let me say something about the general situation that the average person is now in with respect to information. He or she is awash with data of many kinds. I am often told about some amazing new fact or invention and when I ask the source of that bit of knowledge, am told by the person: "I read it" or "I saw it on TV". Usually the person recounting the story cannot inform me whether the information came from an academic journal, a science program on TV, the Oprah Winfred Show or perhaps an ad on TV. In some ways the source matters and in some ways it doesn’t. Information becomes validated simply because it exists. The information climate has become complex, absurd, burgeoning and wonderful all at once. Educators, entrepreneurs and politicians sing the praises of the potential benefits of the information revolution—and I do too. This autobiography has been significantly aided by this revolution as has my life in general. But what I also see, and I see it every day and have for decades, is a shattering of the world we once knew through fragmentation and an explosion of information into bits and pieces.
People are much more aware of the globalization of the world but, at the same time, they no longer understand the significance of this interdependence and interrelationship and how their lives and the things they consume are linked to everything else in the world. We are no longer aware, for example, of the sources or producers of food, clothing, material goods. The links are vague and often completely unknown. Much of the world’s goods are simply objects to be purchased without knowledge or care for the condition of the workers who laboured to make them available, the ecological costs of their harvest, manufacture and transportation. I have tried in this autobiography to draw together some of the links, some of the connections, tried to overcome some of the fragmentation of life, my own life, into some coherent whole. By bedtime so often my brain like many another brain-billions perhaps--in my complex world had become a mush of factoids. Some anchorage to a central, a spiritual source, some context that informed me why it mattered at all, was critical, at least critical for me. And I have written of this theme over and over again in this autobiography.
The one thing television—this queen of the consumer durables--cannot tolerate is dead air because the viewer is armed with a channel changer and the attention span of a hummingbird. It is not unlike the real life of any person and it is a central problem when one goes to write autobiography—a lot of the time in life is "dead time." There is little going on and little if anything that can be said about this time. TV producers , directors, owners and advertisers all end up competing for viewers by being more raucous, outrageous, shocking, unexpected, entertaining, etc to capture and hold a fragmenting audience. The victim of all this is reality.
Conscious as I have been for many a year of the fragmentation of the audience that might read this book and conscious, too, that I am not ever likely to attain celebrity status, acquire a mass market or get up-front in the print and electronic media--I needed an established way to reach whatever audience I could. Attention is a precious commodity, and people tend to rely on trusted gatekeepers, such as magazines, newspapers, television. This is breaking down somewhat, with the web's ability to bypass them and this is what I have done, simply bypassed the mass for the fragments since I first got this book into some marketable shape in 2003. I have also developed a certain skepticism about, a lack of appetite for, celebrity after more than fifty years of being exposed to its many forms.
I have been on guard, too, as an autobiographer that I don’t slip into the same slot as mass media people of trying to get readers. I must confess that I am not completely innocent. As information channels have opened up and computers access information anywhere on the planet, programs have become increasingly short, strident, loud, kinky, sensational or violent in order to keep an audience. And there is much that is good. I hope, in this autobiography, that I exemplify more of the latter, more that is good, than the former.
The "op-ed" pages of local newspapers provided me with a place for well-written articles of about 700-1000 words. This is an entry-level niche that didn't exist several decades ago. I could not have broken into such a market in the 1960s or 1970s. I was at that time too busy, too sick, too married, too jobbed and not sufficiently matured as a writer. But by the 1980s I was able to sort a few things out in my personal and professional life and in the 1980s I was able to break into that market with some 150 essays in newspapers. This market expanded in the 1990s and in this new millennium with the extension of web portals having editor-selected commentary. In the last three years, 2003-2006, I have found many an essay, article, comment niche for getting my pieces out there and it is here that I have placed much of this autobiography.
In many ways what I am doing in this autobiography is simply extending what I did as a baby, what all babies do. The first sign that babies are going to be human beings and not noisy pets comes when they begin naming their world and demanding the stories that connect its parts. Once they know the first of these they will instruct their teddy bears, enforce their world views on victims in the sandlot, tell themselves stories of what they are doing as they play and forecast stories of what they will do when they grow up. They will keep track of the actions of others and relate deviations to the person in charge. They will want a story at bedtime. Nothing passes but the mind grabs it and looks for a way to fit it into a story, or into a variety of possible scripts.
I try to represent and present the world, my world, both truthfully and beautifully. The task is not easy. It is not easy to be truthful or present the picture as a place of beauty. When I read Balzac or Dickens I get a strong sense that they do not believe the world to be a beautiful place. They wish to console their readers with an encouraging picture of how the world ought to be. Dickens stops short of describing in full detail the depths of despair to which poverty drives the people of London, because he does not want to cause his readers pain, or show them something repulsive. Balzac is both entertaining and truthful, but he does not remain true to his personal vision. The comedy in their works is overcome by the suffering world.
Dostoevsky takes some of their techniques and themes, but his personal vision is different and this vision guides his stories. He adds the strange, tragic beauty of St. Petersburg to the bittersweet comedy of the realists. In the process he introduces a new world of people redeemed within a Christian cosmology and their suffering world. They are not defeated by it. As a Christian writer, he saw the world from "the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for". There is some of this in the Baha’i mystery. I deal with some of this mystery in this autobiography and I leave some to readers.
The world I present in this autobiography is the one I experience and the cosmology I believe in. My world view is a Baha’i one, not the Baha’i one but a Baha’i one. It has much of a view of life as pure mental activity somewhat like that of H.G. Wells; the activity of the intellect and the senses, creative will and imagination has much to do with the world I see and live in. This is partly the romantic temperament speaking. The evil I see in the world is not so much due to stupidity, as Tolstoi saw it, but man’s lower nature which manifests itself in many ways of which stupidity is but one. Health, energy and joy is certainly at the core of my Weltanschauung, for I know what life is like when one of these three key ingregients is missing. For years, like D.H. Lawrence, Maupassant and Blake, I saw sexual love and the fuel of sexual activity as a sort of nirvana.
We need the sciences and the arts, more and better sciences and arts, not for the technology, not for our leisure time, not even for our health and longevity, but for the hope of wisdom which our kind of culture must acquire for its survival. This book, I trust, is but one very small part in that process of acquiring wisdom.
ORIGIN AND PURPOSE OF THIS EPIC POEM
I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon acquired the initial inspiration and conceptualisation for the magnum opus of their lives: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. Three years ago I began to think of writing my own epic poem and fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. The poetic work of my own life, my epic, I have come to see in terms of all the poetry I have written, the poetry I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library and what I have entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs. T.S. Eliot observed toward the end of his life that he could not be called a great poet because he had not written an epic. Of course, if indeed I be a great poet, it will not be because I have written an epic but in spite of it. Whatever greatness accrues to my writing, prose or poetry, it will be due to my association with the Bahá’í Faith and the relevance of my writing to the development of the Bahá’í Faith over four epochs.
Classical scholar, J.B. Hainsworth says that "the defining feature of an epic is that it combines expansiveness of form with greatness of soul and a clear focus on a central theme of universal appeal." Hainsworth goes on to say that this combination was first achieved in the Iliad where a concise and focussed narrative centered on the idea of heroism. While I would not want to make any claims to greatness of soul, being only too aware of my limitations and weaknesses, my association with the great epic of our time embodied in the history of the Baha’i Faith, gives to this work some of the reflected light of that great epic.
I have begun to see all of this poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print, or the Confucian Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and written over more than fifty years(1916 to 1968), are a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of my poetry. The conceptualization of my work as epic has come long after its beginnings. My poetry slowly defined itself as an epic after half a dozen years of intense and extensive writing and many more years, perhaps as many as thirty, of occasional writing. I began to see my poetic opus as one immense poem. I like to think this poetry creates one voice, a voice for future times, to the Baha’i culture I’ve inhabited all these years.
Pound was twenty-nine when he began to write his epic. I was fifty three when I began to see all my poetry, poetry I began writing at the age of thirty-six or, perhaps, as far back as eighteen, as part of one immense epic. Pound was acutely conscious that the cultural, the historical tradition had broken down and he was searching for a new basis, "new laws of divine justice." His task was to reassemble this tradition or,at least, search in history where not only the fall from innocence was located but also the locus for the process of redemption could be found. I, too, was aware of this breakdown. I, too, felt the need to reassemble history, not as Pound did, but rather to find truths which were perennial but not archaic within the broad framework of a new Revelation from God, a Revelation which defined and described the continuities and was Itself a basis for redemption in this new and complex age.
Written now, for the most part, over a little more than eight years(1992-2000), the epic I am writing covers a pioneering life of 39 years. It also covers much more. I have now sent 39 booklets to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of this pioneering venture. But the epic journey that is at the base of this poetic opus is not only a personal one of over forty years back to the time I became a Baha’i, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah, which has its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history have their origin: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences.
Generally, the way my narrative imagination conceives of this epic is itself an attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life, as far as possible, to that of the religion to which I belong. I have sought and found, in recent years, a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference and of a certainty mixed with and defining itself by the presence of its polar opposite, doubt.
Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives. When we die all that remains is our story. From a Bahá’í perspective much is taken on into the eternal realm and whatever part we have played in the advancement of civilization is also left. But that part is often obscure, especially in the case of the ordinarily ordinary person which I have been on this mortal coil.
I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or will be significant to the entire society. It contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds of battle in their contemporary and historical manifestations. It involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause as it has expanded across the planet. The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, are found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information-giving lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in my inner life more than in its external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. Of course, in the end, it is really quite impossible to impute any significance to one's work. Such imputing must be left to the future and to others.
In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. The Muses were the inspiration of artists. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus who was known to have a keen understanding of both music and poetry. We know little about Calliope, as we know little about the inspiration of the Muses, at least in the Greek tradition. In the young and developing poetic and artistic tradition of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, holy souls "who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God" can be a leaven that leavens "the world of being" and furnishes "the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest."(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, 1956, p.161.) In addition, among a host of other inspirational sources, the simple expression ‘Ya’Baha’ul’Abha’ brings "the Supreme Concourse to the door of life" and "opens the heavens of mysteries, colours and riddles of life." Much could be said about inspiration but I shall leave the topic with the above brief analysis and comment.
Mary Gibson says in Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians(Cornell U, 1995, p.96) that one question was at the centre of Pound's Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order can cohere." This question was one of many that concerned Pound in the same years that Baha'i Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its embryonic form in the last years of the second decade of this century, a form that would in time manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy.
At the heart of my own epic is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from a belief in an embryonic World Order, that a cultural and political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. Wallace Stevens’ sense of the epic "as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice"(Jay Parini, editor, the Columbia History of American Poetry, Columbia UP, NY, 1993, p.543) is also at the centre of my conceptual approach. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open-ended autobiographical sequences. It is a didactic intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape is in no way predetermined. In many respects, this long poem is purely speculative philosophy, attempting to affirm a romantic wholeness on a fragmented world, something Walter Crane tried to do in the 1920s. This long poem, or seemingly endless series of poems, is an immense accumulation of fragments, like the world itself, but they are held together by a unifying vision. So,too, was Pound’s epic.
Pound was intent on developing an "ideal polity of the mind". This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested a menacing fluidity, an indiscriminate massiveness of the crowd. The polity that is imbedded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime has been one that has grown so slowly; the groups I have worked in and with have been small. My style, my poetic design, though, is like Pound’s insofar as I use juxtaposition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Like Pound, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was "the historical." Also, for Pound, was a new world order based on the poet’s own visionary experience. It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain old ground from the novelists. But, unlike Pound, I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future. The visionary experience that will guide world order is not mine, but that derived from the Central Figures of my Faith.
Those who are quite familiar with the poem Leaves of Grass may recall that Walt Whitman often merges himself with the reader. His poem expresses his theory of democracy. His poem is the embodiment of the idea that a single unique protagonist can represent a whole epoch. He can be looked at in two ways: there is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even to attempt, to represent an entire epoch, this private/public dichotomy is an important underlying feature of this epic poem (Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, Harcourt, Brace and Co., NY, 1994, pp.447-78). I also like to think that, while this poetry has a focus on my own experience, this experience is part and parcel of the experience of my coreligionists around the world.
In my poetic opus, my poetic epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, the reader should sense a merging of reader and writer, a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become. There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history’s experience, at least as far back as the 1840s, if not the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in those halcyon and terrifying years of the French Revolution.
There is much more than verse-making here, though. Here is the ruling passion of my life: the Baha’i Faith, its history and teachings. It seemed to wrap and fill my being during my pioneering life, the process beginning as far back as 1953 when my mother first heard of the Faith. Indeed, I came to see myself as part of what ‘Abdu’l-Baha called that "heavenly illumination" which flowed to all the peoples of the world from the North American Baha’i community and would "adorn the pages of history" (Citadel of Faith, p.121). My story inevitably became part of that larger story of the Baha’i Faith and, again, that larger story which is history itself. Stephen Sicari suggests that the structural principle in Pound is "the search for unity." If I had to define the structural principle behind my own sharply fragmented, multifarious material with its vivid multiplicity and diversity, it would be my attempt to express the unity I found and that I believe lies behind and in the world of creation.
For it is the narrative imagination that is at the base of this epic poetry. As far as possible I have tried to make it honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, knowledgeable. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Baha’u’llah exhorted me in Hidden Words. I leave behind me traces, things in the present which stand for absent things in the past. The phenomenon of the trace, Paul Racour writes, is similar to the relationship between lived time and astronomical time, a relationship at the basis of calendar time. For history is "knowledge by traces", as F. Simiand puts it (Paul Ricoeur, "Narrative Time", Philosophy Today, Winter 1985). And so, I bequeath my traces.
The traces I bequeath are also, to continue an important theme of the epic tradition, those of the wandering hero. It is a hero, a wanderer, with many dimensions described in many contexts. It is a journey of redemption to union with God, as it was for Dante. It is a journey of adventure and finding my home, as it was for Odysseus. It is a journey that attempts to embody my vision of the Baha’i world order, as the poet Virgil tried to articulate his vision of Augustus’ order during the crucial years of the establishment of the Roman Empire(29-19 BC). It is a personal epic, a personal journey, an inner journey, within the tradition of William Wordsworth and his Prelude. There are elements of the Miltonian epic here with the foregrounding of the author, his weaknesses and his strengths, in what is par excellence, a theological-religious journey. And there is the monumental journey of Baha’u’llah over forty years which acts as a metaphorical base for my own journey. The wanderer I draw on is, in other words, a flexible, elastic, figure who allows me to include in my epic poem virtually anything that I want to include in the text.
And so the wanderer that I describe in my epic is a composite. But this wanderer is not in search of the Path; rather, he has found the Path and the wandering takes place on the Path. The wandering through the sea of historical, sociological, literary and other texts, books and articles, etc. is all part of the experience, the context, the definition, of the Path, for this particular journeyman. For the reader will come across many references, many texts, many quotations here. They are laid on a Baha’i-paradigm-map; I am not alone, as Pound was, relying on his own wit and courage with no framework of guidance and meaning within which to sift history’s and experience’s immense chaos into some order. I find that the actual writing of the poem assumes characteristics of the epic journey itself. This was true for Pound, for Dante and, in all likelihood, the mythical Homer.
It may be that my journey on this Path is only half over and that this epic found its initial conceptualization at the mid-point of my Baha’i life. If I live to be ninety-five, my journey within this framework of belief has just passed the half way mark (age 15 to 95, a period of eighty years, with age 55 the half-way point). So I like to think that what I have now, after only eight years of intense writing of poetry, is what Pound had: "a dazzling array of finely wrought fragments straining in their own unique way to achieve order and unity" through the deployment and development of this image of the wanderer in its many forms. That is what I like to think. Time will tell, though, if I can sustain and define in precise and dazzling terms the structural, the organizational, principle enunciated above. This structural principle is based on a view of my poetry as: the expression of my experience, my sense, my understanding, in the context of my wandering, my journey and of the concept of the Oneness of Mankind. Can I continue to develop this epic, beyond the start I have given it, to a satisfying conclusion in the years ahead?
In the earliest stages of my own epic I think these words of Sicari aptly describe my own position, my view of my own epic. The nature, even the existence, of affinities between my own epic and the artistic forms called epics that have come into existence in the last three millennia did interest and concern me, though this may not concern students of my work should they one day arise. I should add, parenthetically, that Pound's pre-Cantos poetry(before 1917) is a meditation on and an investigation of his own identity. This is equally true of my own poetry in the years before I conceived my writing as epic, that is, the years before the autumn of 1997.
I would like to add, in conclusion, that this journey, this epic, is experienced as a weight or, perhaps, to use the words of the Universal House of Justice, as a "solemn consciousness." Whatever joy, pleasure and meaning I have experienced has grown out of this wellspring. But all is not "beer and skittles" as my mother used to say. There is a dull pain at the heart of life, the heart of our existence and to deny this pain is to deny life, indeed, it is an offense against life and it encourages a certain asphyxia of soul. I often tend to think that the denial of life's inner tension is a significant part of our ordinariness and cowardice, our sleeping selves, our consciously anti-hero stance. The vanities and cupidities of our life must be faced and, in some ways, we face them all too easily. The transcending of our ordinary self is also at the heart of this epic. And I'm never quite sure how much transcending I've done.
OUTLINE OF RON PRICE’S COLLECTION OF POETRY
What follows is an outline of the titles of the booklets of my poetry and the dates when the poetry in these booklets was written. I have also included a brief description of where I have sent these poetry booklets. There are some six thousand three hundred and fifty poems in this collection and some two million words. Five thousand of these poems are in the Baha’i World Centre Library. In these fifty-nine booklets there are 27 years of poetry, 1980-2007, written after nine years on the homefront(1962-1971), nine years internationally(1971-1980) as a pioneer. During those 18 years of writing the occasional poem none were ever kept.
This poetry is divided into several sections named after the several stages associated with the construction of the Shrine of the Bab and the beautification of the surrounding properties. These several sections of poetry are entitled: The Tomb's Chambers, The Arcade, The Golden Dome, The Terraces and The Mountain of God.
BOOKLET NUMBER / NAME OF BOOKLET/ PERIOD WHEN WRITTEN
1. THE TOMB'S CHAMBERS:
----- Warm-Up: The Tomb’s Chambers August 1980 to 2 March 1987
The above booklet of poetry was not sent to anyone or any group. It was kept as part of my personal juvenilia. But, after twenty-five years in the pioneer field, the following booklets of poetry were sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library or some Baha’i institution or community.
2. THE ARCADE
1 Warm-Up: The Arcade June 1987 to 22 August 1992
3 THE GOLDEN DOME
2 Pioneering Over Three Epochs 2 January 1992 to 22 December 1992
3 Swiftly Changing Tides 4 January 1993 to 22 April 1993
4 The Priceless Treasury 22 April 1993 to 5 July 1993
5 A Yet Greater Impetus 11 July 1993 to 29 August 1993
6 The Darkest Hours Before the Dawn 4 Sept 1993 to 11 November 1993
7 Instruments of Redemption 12 November 1993 to 30 December 1993
8 In Ever-Greater Measure 1 January 1994 to 20 April 1994
9 Time Capsules 27 April 1994 to 11 September 1994
10 The Emergence of a Baha’i 18 September 1994 to 28 November 1994
Consciousness in World Literature
11 Intensest Rendezvous 4 December 1994 to 14 December 1994
12 Soldiering On 16 December 1994 to 5 January 1995
13.1 Vista of Splendour 23 March 1995 to 4 May 1995
13.2 The Prelude 4 May 1995 to 30 May 1995
4 THE TERRACES:
14 Mysterious Forces 1 June 1995 to 29 June 1995
15 Apple Green 2 July 1995 to 10 September 1995
16 The Hunt for Ground Cover 13 September 1995 to 3 December 1995
17 Emerald Green 7 December 1995 to 23 January 1996
18 The Strong Room 26 January 1996 to 8 April 1996
19 Tapestry of Beauty 9 April 1996 to 30 April 1996
20 In Loving Memory 3 May 1996 2 June 1996
21 Ivy Needlepoint 6 July 1996 26 August 1996
22 Tender Packages 30 August 1996 to 3 November 1996
23 The Art of Glorification 6 November to 8 January 1997
24 Canada’s Glorious Mission Overseas 10 January to 14 Feb 97
(sent to IPC of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada)
25 A Small Contribution...Befitting Crescendo 19 Feb to 25 May 97
(sent to the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia)
26 An Imperishable Record of Int’n Service 26 May to 31Aug 97
(sent to several LSAs in southern Ontario)
27 At the Crest 3 September 1997 to 28 November 1997
28 Elegance 29 November 1997 to 4 January 1998
29 A View from the Roof Garden 6 January 1998 to 2 Feb 98
30 Lines, Curves and Concentric Circles 3 Feb 1998 to 13/4/98 31 Silver Green and Grey...and Flame Orange 14 April 98 to 7/8/98
32 As Elegant As 8 August 1998 to 9 November 1998
33 Panorama Road’s Monumental Gates 7 Nov 1998 to 10 Jan 99
34 Impression of a Deeper Curve 12 January 1999 to 18 March 99
35 Cascading Down 20 March 1999 to 16 May 1999
36 Who Is Writing the Past? 18 May 1999 to 6 July 1999
37 The Field Is Indeed So Immense 29 August 1999 to 9 July 99
38 This Dawn and That Dawn 31 October 1999 to 31 August 99
39 Epic 1 November 1999 to 25 December 1999
40 A Celebration of Forty Years 27 Dec 1999 to 15 March 00
41 A Baha’i Poet of the 4th Epoch 22 March 2000 to 18 May 2000
42 39 19 May 2000 to 12 September 2000
43 Finished At last 14 September 2000 to 31 December 2000
5. THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD:
(sent to the IPC of the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada)
(sent to the IPC of the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada and the NSA
of the Baha'is of Australia)
46 Forty Years of Pioneering: 62-02 13 July 2001 to 15 Nov 02
47 Some Poetry from the Fifth Epoch 20 Nov 2001 to 30 Jan 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Institute of Learning for Western Australia)
48 Out From Under the Bushel 31 January 2002 to May 14 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Centre for South Australia)
49 The Fiftieth Anniversary Plus One 2 June 2002 to 30 Aug 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Centre for Canberra in the Australian
50 Twenty Years On 7 September 2002 to 5 November 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Council of the NT)
51 Forty Years On 6 November 2002 to 21 March 2003
(sent to the Baha'i Council of Victoria)
52 Half Way Point in the Five Year Plan:
A Poetic Note Struck 22 March 2003 to 21 October 2003
(sent to the Baha'i Council of Queensland)
53 This Rising Vitality 19 December 2003 to 27 July 2004
(sent to the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Burlington Ontario)
54 Pioneer’s Report:In Memory of Lulu Barr 11 Aug 04 to 16/3/05
(sent to the Baha’i Community of Hamilton Ontario)
(sent to the Baha’i Community of Hamilton Ontario)
(sent to the Iqaluit/Frobisher Bay Baha’i Community)
September 2nd 2005 to December 9th 2005
(sent to the Toronto Baha’i Community)
58 The Inner Life and The Environment: A Gateway not a Carpark
December 20th 2005 to April 9th 2006
(sent to the Baha’i Council for Tasmania)
59 Steeled Through Experience April 12th 2006 to Nov 30 2006
(sent to the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada)
December 6th 2006 to April 12th 2007
(recipient undecided as yet)
B. Some Background Information on the Booklets:
The booklet entitled Warm-Up: The Tomb’s Chambers was not sent to the Baha’I World Centre Library(BWCL). It contained some 35 poems. I kept this booklet in my study. But after 25 years in the pioneering field, this poetic inclination increased and, unable to publish my poetry in the secular press, I sent it out to Baha’i institutions in Canada and Australia. The following paragraphs describe how and who and when and where.
The next several booklets of my poetry were not given titles originally, as far as I recall; and, although they were placed in covers, they were not initially given what has become the standard format for each of my booklets of poetry, the plastic folder/cover. I eventually gave titles to all the booklets and each one is in a plastic cover in my personal collection. I hope, too, that one day the pages can be numbered, a table of contents for each booklet can be arranged and an index can be provided to cover all the poetry. This is a somewhat daunting task given the sheer quantity of material. Since there are still relatively few readers of my poetry in these years of the first century of the Formative Age, there is little need to complete such an exercise for publishing and marketing purposes. And, of course, there may never be such a need.
Booklets 1 to 23 were all sent to the BWCL. Booklet 24 was sent to the International Pioneer Committee of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada in celebration of eighty years of the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan and Canada’s glorious mission overseas. Booklet 25 was sent to the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia in celebration of the contribution of overseas pioneers from other countries to the Australian Baha’I experience, the fortieth anniversary of the spiritual axis and the Guardian’s last letter to Australia. Booklet 26 was sent to the LSA of the Baha’is of Burlington, to be shared with several LSAs in Southern Ontario, where I became a Baha’i in the 1950s and enjoyed some of my initial Baha’i experience in the early 1960s. I sent Booklets 27 to 43 to the BWCL.
Booklet 46 celebrated forty years of my pioneering life: 1962-2002 and was presented to the Regional Baha’i Council for Tasmania to celebrate its first year in office. Booklet 45 I sent to the International Pioneer Committee(IPC) of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada and the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia in celebration of my thirty years of international pioneering, Booklet 44, entitled Fifty Years From F.O.G.,(an expression used in Canada for ‘Feet-on-the-Ground.’) sent in April 2001 to the IPC of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada celebrated the current fifty years of international pioneering, the current situation of international pioneers in-the-field beginning with Alan Pringle in Costa Rica who arrived there in 1951.
Booklet 47 was sent to the LSA of the Baha’is of Melville to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of Western Australia’s new Baha’i Centre of Learning which opened in May of 2001. Booklet 48, celebrates the first anniversary of the opening of the new Baha’i Centre on Brighton Road in South Australia and Booklet 49 the opening of the Baha’i Centre in Canberra and the beginning of the second half century of Baha’i experience in Australia’s national capital. Booklet 50 was sent to the Baha’i Council of the Northern Territory thanking them for including my History of the Baha’i Faith in the NT: 1947 to 1997 in their newsletter ‘Northern Lights.’ Booklet 51 was sent to the Baha’i Council of Victoria in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the election in 1963 of the Universal House of Justice. Booklet 52 was sent to the Baha’i Council of Queensland to mark the half-way point in the Five Year Plan, October 2003. Booklet 53 was sent to the Baha’i community of Burlington Ontario, my Baha’i community of origin, in celebration of more than forty years of pioneering experience initiated within that community. Booklet 54 was sent to the Baha’i Community of Hamilton as a ‘Report from a Pioneer’ and in memory of the first Baha’i in Hamilton in 1939, Lulu Barr. Booklet 55 was sent to the Baha’i Community of Hamilton as a ‘Report from a Pioneer’ and in memory of Nancy Campbell and my parents who served on the first LSA of Dundas in 1962. Booklet 56 was sent to the Baha’i community of Iqaluit in Memory of Jameson and Gale Bond and Dorothy Weaver and a celebration of a decision forty years ago to pioneer among the Eskimo/Inuit. Booklet 57 was sent to the Toronto Baha’i community 37 years after I left to pioneer. Booklet 58 was sent to the Baha’i Council for Tasmania in celebration of the opening of the new Baha’i Centre in Hobart in 2007. Booklet 59/60 was sent to the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada. Booklet 61, recipient undecided as this point.
C. Concluding Comment:
The above outlines twenty-six years of poetic activity, poetic writing, that has taken place for the most part in my second twenty-five years in the pioneering field. As I bring this up-ro-date, we are at the start of another Plan, a Five Year Plan(2006-2011). I look forward to more years of writing as we head toward the completion of the first century of the Formative Age in the next fifteen years(2006-2021). I, too, will complete my own half century of pioneering in the next six years, in 2012. I hope that whoever comes across this poetry gets some pleasure and insight from the experience.--Ron Price August 2006
LETTER-POEMS: A BLENDED GENRE
"Letter-Poem, a Dickinson Genre" does not contend that Emily Dickinson was the only or the first poet to use letters to transmit poetry, to formulate letters as poetry, to exploit the poetic and epistolary so that they inflect, enrich, even become one another. Keats and others of Dickinson’s forebears, as well as a host of her descendants, have come to blend the genres in various ways and for a wide range of purposes resulting in an even wider range of effects. I have come to see some/many of my own letters in a collection now spanning some 40 years as a blend of genres.
In his 1958 introduction to The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Thomas H. Johnson remarked that it was difficult to tel where the letter leaves off and the poem begins" A decade later, when my own collection of letters was taking its first form, Dickinson's eminent biographer Richard B. Sewall identified producing "letter-poems" as a familial as well as an artistic practice: "Dickinson's father's (Edward) sister, Elizabeth, was not only the chronicler but the bard of her generation in the family. She once sent her young nephew Austin a rhymed letter of fifty stanzas on his toothache" (Life 32). Sometimes Dickinson enclosed poems on a separate sheet with a letter; sometimes poems, especially to Susan Dickinson, constitute the entire text of a letter; sometimes a few lines of a poem recorded in the fascicles or in another letter or on a sheet not bound to any manuscript book, either literally with string or figuratively by being sent to a particular addressee, are woven into the prose of a letter.
The following questions could easily be asked of both Dickinson's poems and letters and mine: "What counts as a "poem" and what counts as a "letter?" and "How useful is the appellation "letter-poem" which foregrounds the genre traditionally devalued as "lesser" and "private" when compared to "poems"? And, a final three questions:
1. "What criteria should be used for distinguishing between "poems," "letters," and "letter-poems" and how useful are those for analyzing Emily Dickinson's artistic project and mine?
2. What sorts of insights result from the twentieth and twenty-first-century conventions of marking some manuscripts as "private" and some print documents as "public"? How are critical understandings and interpretations constrained by these conventions equating the "public sphere" and the origins of print culture?
3. What sorts of insights are enabled by conventional genre distinctions between the epistolary and the poetic and what critical understandings and interpretations are constrained by these conventions of genre reinforced by print bookmaking?
I leave readers of this autobiography with these questions, questions I have not answered myself, but questions that have serious implications for this autobiography which draws on poetry, letters and narrative in extensive measure. I leave readers, too, with the following two items: a statement on Baha’i literature in general and a short essay introducing my correspondence with Roger White. And with this my autobiography is nearly concluded, although I may add an epilogue to this epilogue. We shall see.
I began giving thoughts in some organized way to my own funeral at the end of the Baha’i Holy Year, in fact, quite specifically on April 19th 1993. I was 14 months short of my fiftieth birthday. At the time I had been attending more funerals than I had ever done in my life to that point, in those six years since arriving in Perth.
Forty days before the last day of the Holy Year(May 29th 1992-May 29th 1993), on April 19th 1993 then, I decided it was timely to write my own eulogy and to put on paper some kind of statement of 'final words,' to be used in the event of my death. In January 1993 I had drawn up a formal Will. I was nearly 48 at the time. Previous Wills, going back to my late teens, had become out-of-date. Now, thirteen years later in 2006 it seemed timely to revise that initial statement and type it into my computer for ease of access and future use, perhaps in my memoirs.
I have divided this statement into three parts: (A) my material estate, (B) actions to take on my death and (C) my eulogy. These statements now follow:
A. MY MATERIAL ESTATE:
A.1 Clothes, Books and Other Personal Effects
I leave these things to my wife and son to dispose of in any way they desire.(see formal and official Will witnessed in July 2002)
A.2 Personal Writings
I like to think that this great mass of material would be of some use to the Baha'i community. It could be sent to the nearest LSA archive, the Tasmanian Centre for Learning archive or the National Baha'i archive in Sydney. Again, I leave this to my wife and son to work out. I may, at some future time, discuss this question with the various Baha'i institutions concerned and have this issue determined/clarified before my passing. But I have not yet done this. (See formal and detailed statement in the file with my offical Will and in the bottom drawer of my desk for further guidelines on this subject).
B. Actions to Take on My Death:
1. Send an email to my relatives in Canada care of my cousin Joan Cornfield. Joan is my mother's brother's daughter, age 73 in 2006, living in Georgetown Ontario. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org In addition, send an email to my cousin David Hunter at: email@example.com. He lives in Ottawa Ontario.
2. Send an email to The Universal House of Justice:
The words could be as follows:
"Ron Price, Canadian pioneer on the homefront from 1962 and international pioneer to Australia from 1971, passed away on__________ from_______."
3. Send an email to the NSA of the Baha'is of Australia, Inc:
4. Send an email to the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada:
5. Send an email to Judith Noack, my first wife.
6. Buy a tombstone and have it marked as follows:
Ron Price 1944-20xx
Baha'i Pioneer 1962-20xx
7. Pray for my soul from time to time.
8. Organize a funeral service to your taste following (a) the guidelines in the funeral director’s kit and (b) the supervising LSA's specifications.
C. My Eulogy:
My wife or son are free to read the following personally composed statement in full, in part or not at all as they so desire.
"It is conventional for a eulogy, if one is read or spoken at all, to be composed by a person other than the deceased. And if any person or persons would like to say something about me and my life they should feel free to do so at this funeral service. But after listening to several eulogys at several funerals and going to funerals as far back as 1956, both within and without the Bahá’í community, I decided for a time to write my own last words. The first draft of such a statement was written at the end of the Baha'i Holy Year of 1992-1993; I had been a pioneer for some thirty years at the time. I made the occasional alteration over the next thirteen years and on 27 December 2006 I wrote what I hoped would be the final words on the subject, the final words to a statement that might go into the first hard cover copy of my memoir. These sorts of statements are very subjective and one's thoughts and feelings change with the seasons, with the years. Who knows what might eventuate insofar as a final statement by me in the years and possibly decades that remain.
"The first statement I wrote in 1993 was three pages long of double-spaced typing. The second and what I thought at the time would be my final statement was just a simple poem. It was called 'reincarnation.' I don't believe in reincarnation. I have no desire to return to this earth in any form, but I liked the poem. It suited my taste at the time. In the end, in October 2004, I decided against the idea of a eulogy or the use of that poem. That is how things stand at present as I organize this series of appendices to my memoir.
My motivation to write a eulogy, a motivation that existed for over a decade, was due to the overstatements I had listened to at funerals. My mother felt the same way back in 1965 about the eulogies she listened to at my father's funeral. I was 21 at the time and did not understand her sentiments but, now that I am the same age as my mother was then--in my early sixties, I can appreciate her complaint and desire for a more honest but kind set of final words.
"If things went according to the death notices," wrote novelist Erich Remarque, "man would be absolutely perfect. There you find only first-class fathers, immaculate husbands, model children, unselfish, self-sacrificing mothers, grandparents mourned by all, businessmen in contrast with whom Francis of Assisi would seem an infinite egoist, generals dripping with kindness, humane prosecuting attorneys, almost holy munitions makers - in short, the earth seems to have been populated by a horde of wingless angels without one's having been aware of it."
I leave the funeral exercise in the hands of those who loved me and the LSA that assumes the responsibility for its execution. The following prose-poems, while not serving as a eulogy, will serve as some concluding words to this appendix.
MY BI-POLAR DISORDER--A 60 YEAR STORY IN CONTEXT: 1947-2007
--In Whole or In Parts for Internet Sites--
My experience both long and short term with manic-depression, or bi-polar illness as it has come to be called in recent years, and with other maladies; as well as my personal circumstances at home in relation to my wife’s illness in recent years should provide mental health consumers, as they are often called these days, with an adequate information base to evaluate to some extent their own situation, make relevant comparisons and contrasts to their own predicament whatever it may be and thereby gain some helpful knowledge or understandings which may be of use to them in personal terms. There are still many who do not feel comfortable seeking medical support and this account may help such people obtain appropriate treatment and, as a result, dramatically improve their quality of life. I think, too, that this essay is part of my own small part in reducing the damaging stigma associated with bi-polar disorder.
The wider context of my experience which I outline here is intended to place my bi-polar disorder in context and should provide others with what I hope is a helpful perspective on their own condition and situation. This essay of more than 5000 words and more than six A-4 pages is primarily written for internet sites on mental health, especially as manifested in depression and the bi-polar disorder. I also write this essay, this reflection, for my own satisfaction, to put into words something that has influenced my life for over half a century. Originally written in 2003, this piece of writing has been revised many times after my own introspections and the feedback from various internet respondents
1. Manic-Depression: Preamble
After half a dozen episodes, varying in length from several days to several months, and many experiences on the fringe of normality, the fringe of manic-depressive symptoms, and the heart of manic-depression between 1946 and 1980, I was treated with lithium carbonate in Launceston by a psychiatrist and officially diagnosed as manic-depressive. My history to that point had been far from smooth and linear, but periodically bisected, polarized and traumatized.
In some ways the inclusion of the names of those doctors who treated me over the years would personalize this account, but names are not that important and to include them here in this narrative causes confidentiality problems to some readers and at some websites--and so I leave names out. Those whose names I could mention would not be troubled by their inclusion here. I certainly appreciate the clinical work of several of the psychiatrists as well as several of the individuals I have known personally over the years. Their professional work and personal assistance has been invaluable and I want readers to recognize the primacy I give to the work of these specialized doctors and friends for their help and assistance, their saving me from what in any previous age and time period would have been a horrific, virtually end-of-normal-life experience.
I sojourned in a public and private world, from time to time, no less strange to me than if I had been among an exotic jungle tribe in Africa. It is the duty of all anthropologists to report on their exotic travels and field trips, whether to the Earth’s antipodes or to equally remote recesses of human experience, this is my accounting. I came, insensibly over several decades, to associate the extremes of my bi-polar disorder with the role of shamans among tribal, third world, animistic communities, people who relate their myths and their meanings my means of emotionally laden ecstatic visions. On the personal level, I discovered in myself unexpected patience, humility and hope. I learned to treat life as the most precious of gifts, infinitely vulnerable and precarious, to be infinitely prized and cherished. I had not become a saint, though; I still suffered; I was still impatient; I did not always appreciate life; I still got depressed. I had journeyed with my soul into an underworld and come back. It was a spiritual drama—on a psycho-neurological, a psycho-pharmacological, a schizo-affective level. I could narrate this drama in religious terms and describe it as a purgatorial dark night.
Stories in life are chaotic in the absence of narrative order. And so I tell my story here as briefly as possible to help establish, for me, a sense of order. I tell of these events, as a storyteller, my experience of life, to some extent without sequence or discernible causality. Life has an element of mystery no matter how much knowledge and understanding we bring to the problem. I claim that chaos narratives are incompatible with writing or with telling. Those who are truly living a chaos cannot tell of it in words except in the most bizarre fashion. The chaos that I describe in the distant past is told here in a story-form. I now reflect on that experience retrospectively. Lived chaos makes reflection, and consequently story-telling, impossible when one is in the midst of the experience. Telling, and even more so writing, it seems, is a way of taking control, creating order, thus keeping that once experienced chaos at bay.
2. Enter: Lithium
Lithium is, arguably, the central pivot in this whole story. I have been on lithium now for twenty-seven years, about half of the total time I have experienced this significantly/partially genetic disorder. My mood swings, now in 2007, take place, for the most part, late in the evening and after midnight with the death wish still part of the experience, but none of the intensity that my mood swings had for many years, at least until 2001 when fluvoxamine was added to my medication package. The symptoms that affect my daily working capacity are fatigue and psychological weariness, sometimes after a night of light sleeping, tossing and turning and/or sometimes late at night after many hours of intellectual activity. Dryness of the mouth and short term memory loss also seem to affect my daily life as a result of (a) lithium treatment and (b), in the case of memory loss, perhaps due to the eight ECT treatments I had as far back as the late 1960s. My current psychiatrist who specializes in treating people with bi-polar disorder, has been providing his professional advice for the last five years, after a series of psychiatrists I have had going back to 1968.3
It seemed appropriate to outline this detailed statement for several purposes since the issue of the nature of my problem and what I have called manic-depression/bi-polar disorder is a complex one, varies from person to person and has been of concern over the sixty years that I have had to deal with its symptoms in my personal and working life-as have others involved with me. It is difficult to characterize my condition and it is for this reason that I have written what some may find to be a somewhat long statement for both my satisfaction and use by others. I hope the account below, in both long and short term contexts, will explain adequately my reasons for not wanting to work in any employment position or participate in any demanding social context. This account may also provide those interested with some useful information for dealing with their particular problems.
3. Manic-Depression: Long-term 1947-2001
There seems to be a process, one of immense variability, that I have experienced on a daily basis for some 60 years. The details, the symptoms, the behaviour, varies from year to year, with the decades, with the days. I cross from some normal behavioural constellation to an abnormal, intense one. The abnormal extreme position varies, as I say, from year to year in content, texture, tone and intensity. In 1946 it was characterized by uncontrollable early childhood behaviour. My mother had to deal with these aberrations. I think the diagnosis of bi-polarism at that early stage of my life is a remote possibility given a statistical average of 1% of manic-depressives having the disorder in childhood. Looking back to my childhood I did have some behavioural abnormalities, but their association with bi-polarism is, I think, unlikely in retrospect.
At the moment my bi-polarism is characterized by a mild tedium vitae attitude and behaviour as I have come to call it--late at night. Due to the above "process" over the last sixty years, due to the part of the process which occurs in varying degrees in various accentuated forms, it has often been difficult to define just where I was at any one time along that 'normal-abnormal' continuum. This was true at both the depressive end and the hypomanic end of the spectrum. It is difficult, therefore, to actually name the number of times when I have had major manic-depressive episodes, perhaps as many as eight, certainly as few as four, in my whole life, from the first episode--which was probably not an episode--in 1946 to the last brief episode in 1990 when I went off my lithium for between one and three months. Defining an episode is not easy for me to do; indeed, the concept of episode is only useful in some respects. In other ways it over-simplifies a complex set of behaviours and has value when trying to describe the experience in writing.
Since 1990 I have generally had little difficulty knowing where I was in this process, this swing of mood and feelings. The great intensities had gone by 1990. Total acceptance of the necessity of taking lithium was a critical variable in this process and it took a decade to achieve(1980-1990). At the hypomanic end of the continuum over the years there were experiences like the following: violent emotional instability and oscillation, abrupt changes and a sudden change in a large number of intellectual assumptions, elation, high energy. Mental balance, a psychological coherence between intellect and emotion and a rational reaction to the outside world all seemed to blow away, over a few hours to a few days, as I was plunged in a sea of what could be variously described as: emotional heat, intense awareness, sensitivity, sleeplessness, voluble talking, racing mental activity, fear, excessive and clearly irrational paranoia--and in 1968 virtually total incoherence at times--at one end of the spectrum; or intense depression, melancholia, an inner sense of despair and a desire to commit suicide4 at the other end. The latter I experienced from 1963 to 1965, off and on; the former from 1964 to 1990, on several occasions.
The longest depression I had was in 1963 and 1964 with perhaps two six month periods from June to November and July to December, respectively. The longest episode of hypomania was from June to November 1968. This episode was also given the name of schizo-affective disorder with the adjective mild placed at the front of the term. The episodes of hypomania in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1990 were treated quickly with medication, although the 1978 episode, beginning in January, seemed to last for at least three or four months and had a mostly depressive component. It was treated with stelazine and the side effects were horrific. I wanted to get under the bedclothes every night after getting home from work due to paranoia and depressive symptoms. Only the 1980 episode required hospitalization in this case for one month.
I had some experience of this variously characterized illness in childhood as far back as about 1947 at the age of 2 and then onward through early, middle and late childhood into the puberty cusp of 12 or 13 I manifested symptoms which, in retrospect, seem to me examples of a lack of control of my emotions, a far too intense activity threshold and activity with what could be called mild bi-polar symptoms. It was not until much later in life, though, that I began to see these behavioural aberrations in childhood, at puberty and during adolescence as possibly having a link with my future mental illness. It was not until I was 19 in 1963 that any characteristics of this illness became quite clearly apparent in my day-to-day life. They did not receive the required medical attention and the diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder, bi-polarism and/or depression did not take place—medically. I was just given lots of advice from religious to common-sensical varying from diet to exercise. And after several months or several years the emotional aberrations disappeared, at least for a time.
My episodes over the years seemed to exhibit quite separate and distinct tendencies and patterns; hypomania was always characterized by elation and depression was always characterized by varying degrees of very low moods. In the 1978 episode, elation and depression followed each other alternatively within a two to three month period. Clearly, in the episodes in the late '70s, fear, paranoia and the extremes of depression seemed to be much less than those of the 1960s.
This account above has none of the fine detail that I could include like: (a) mental and mostly auditory hallucinations, (b) specific fears and paranoias, (c) electroconvulsive therapy, (d) psychiatric analysis and diagnosis, (e) the many years of dealing with suicidal thoughts and the death wish, (f) experiences in and out of half a dozen hospitals, unnumbered doctors’ clinics and the advice from more people than I care to think of, (g) adjusting to medications that varied from ones which put me to sleep to ones which made me high; (h) the affects of these swings on my employment, my relationships and my attitude to life; and (i) the periods in my life when the manifestations of the disorder were few and far between. Many of the situations, looking back, were humorous and the contexts absurd. And there was much else but, as I indicate, I hesitate to go into more detail. My aim here is to make a short, clinical statement, to put the facts on paper. Perhaps later I will go into the kind of detail some readers have already asked for. And so--I want to make this statement as short as possible but as detailed as I can to give a longitudinal perspective.
There are a variety of manic-depressive profiles, different typicalities, from person to person. It is bipolar because both ends of the spectrum, the moods, were experienced over the period 1947 to 2007, 60 years. Thanks to lithium most of the extremes were treated at the age of 35 in 1980. It took another ten years, until 1990 as I say above, for me to fully accept the lithium treatment. From time to time in the 1980s I tried to live without the lithium, to ‘go it alone’, as they say colloquially. Such, in as brief a way as possible, is the summary of my experience over the years. I have written more extensively of this in my autobiography which is readily available on the internet if anyone is interested. I would like, now, to focus on my more recent experience of the last decade and a half, 1991-2007, and especially the last half dozen years, 2001-2007. By 1991 I had no problems with lithium compliance, a problem I had in the first decade of lithium treatment.
4. Manic-Depression: Short-term 1991-2007
In the eight years 1991 to 1999 I finished my life of full-time employment, began my obsession with writing and experienced, at last after a decade a full-acceptance of my lithium treatment. In 2001, after two years of early retirement, my supervising psychiatrist in Tasmania suggested I go onto fluvoxamine in addition to the lithium treatment. Fluvoxamine is an anti-depressant. The fluvoxamine removed the blacknesses I had continued to experience at night, from late in the evening until early morning when I was awake or partially awake. The death-wish has always been associated with these blacknesses. With the fluvoxamine, gradually the blacknesses, the nightly depressions, disappeared or virtually so with only residues of a lower mood remained. The death wish remained as did sleeping problems, but in a much milder form. Like so many things in life, the death wish and mood swings have varying degrees of intensity and coping is the key question—and one not easily described and/or answered.
Frequent urination, periodic nausea and memory problems related, in part and perhaps, to the shock treatments I had back in the 1960s, were new problems by the year 2001. But the dark and debilitating feelings, I had experienced for so many years, were at last removed, if not totally at least virtually. After sixty years of bi-polar disorder and/or manifestations of bi-polar disorder in varying degrees of intensity, with periodic totally-debilitating episodes, most of the worst symptoms seem at last, at least in the last six years, to have been treated and removed. The anger seemed, at last, to have disappeared, little by little, year after year, the anger episodes had finally gone by the time I was in my early sixties. Irritability, it seems to me looking back over nearly 45 years of periodic outbursts of anger or what some call ‘intermittent explosive disorder,’ triggered my anger. Irritability in people who have bipolar disorder is a biologically driven symptom of hypomania or mania. The sexual urges still remained.
In April 2007 I switched from lithium to sodium valproate as my main medication due to the creatinin levels in my blood which had been too high for too long—for about a year. These creatinin levels were indicators that readers of this document can read about in the bi-polar literature to see just how the kidneys are affected. This kidney difficulty could have led to serious health problems had I not gone on to the new medication. As I write this revision of my story I have been on the sodium valproate for one month. My sleeping habits have become more eccentric with varying periods of sleep at night varying from 2/3 to 5/6 and a making up for the loss at night in the daylight hours. My preference and need for sleep seems to be 8 hours/night. this has been the case since the early onset of this disorder back in the 1960s.
5. Other Physical Difficulties:
Five years ago in 2002 I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD) or emphysema which gives me a shortage of breath when I exert myself even mildly. Many millions of people have died from this illness in the last several decades; there are various statistics. My form of COPD is not a serious one. It probably originated in my smoking on average one package of cigarettes every day from the age of 20 to 50. I did suffer from a mild RSI which I have since treated with exercise, thus lessening the effects. These two conditions exacerbated the remaining bi-polar symptoms by making it difficult to engage in an activity for more than short periods of time. The memory problem also contributes, as you can appreciate, to many practical problems in day-to-day life. I mention these things because, although my bi-polar disorder is largely treated, there is a constellation of physical and psychological difficulties remaining. I do not want to emphasize these problems, though, because such descriptions detract from the central theme of this account. Their relevance is indirect.
For the most part in community life I rarely talk about my bi-polar disorder and most people who know me have no idea of my medical history or the difficulties I have lived under physically. I have for many years regarded these difficulties as part of my own spiritual battles that I must face. And they are difficulties that have largely slipped into a low gear in the last several years and do not trouble me significantly. I should mention that a spiritual attitude which has been part of my belief system since the 1950s has helped me more than I can appreciate. This is especially true of the attitude to tests and difficulties in life which the founder of my religion says are often "like fire and vengeance but inwardly light and mercy."
In the last decade or two there has developed in psychiatry what has been variously called a Recovery Model for treatment and care. This model puts the onus on the person with the disorder to work out what is his or her best way to cope, to survive, in society given the conditions of their illness. Such an individual must work out the techniques and strategies for day-to-day living. With each individual the disorder is idiosyncratic; individual consumers of mental health services must work out what is best for them in terms of these services and in terms of what activities are appropriate for them within their coping capacity in life’s day-to-day spectrum with help from specialists as they think necessary. this, too, is a complex question but I don’t want to dwell on it here unduly. It is my hope that my story may help others work out their own particular regimen of treatment programs and daily coping tools.
6. My Wife’s Illness:
My wife Christine, now 60 years of age, also has not been well for many years--since we moved from Tasmania north of Capricorn in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1982 some 25 years ago. Although she, too, has a long history of different kinds of problems which I won’t go into here, it is the more recent ones that I mention below and that affect our life-style in more ways than one. The doctors do not know what the cause or causes of her physical problems is/are, but they are problems that have made life difficult for her and our life together. Her symptoms have included: dizziness, nausea, back-ear-and-eye ache, headache, among some two dozen or more maladies that I have put down on paper to try and monitor on a daily basis and try and find some pattern. Sometimes, with the aid of steroids or some new drug, or some alternative medical treatment, she seems to recover for a time, but her symptoms eventually return, sometimes mildly and sometimes not-so-mildly. At present she seems to be going through one of her best periods of symptom absence.
Perhaps the one advantage my wife’s ill-health, if there is any at all, is that it allows me to focus on her problems, to talk about her problems, when the subject of health and fitness comes up in our personal and community life as it so often does and has. This keeps the focus off of my own disability and I can talk about exercise and diet this avoiding the reference to my own disability. Consequently, people have little idea of the physical problems I face and much more of an idea of hers. I don’t mind this for I am not particularly interested in talking about my disability. After 60 years it has become somewhat tedious in the telling and the thinking.
It is well known that people with bi-polar disorder are disinclined to talk about their problem in public. Such a situation has the disadvantage that people have little idea of the battles I face in my personal life and, when all is said and done in life anyway, we all face our battles alone—hopefully with a little help from our friends as the inimitable Joe Cocker used to sing over forty years ago. This lack of public admission or opening-up can also have disadvantages. I have a core of friends with whom I can share a broad range of intimacies. Mostly, though, these friends do not tend to inquire and I do not tend to expose these battles, now nor in the past, except to a limited extent. I have little need to ‘dump’ on people, as we used to say, not after 60 years anyway. On occasion and with encouragement I do open- up.
7. Creativity and Writing:
When I finally came to accept lithium without any mental reservations by the early 1990s; when I began, too, to see the end of my teaching career on the horizon and when there was a coincidental reduction in sexual frustrations due to taking up masturbation, I began to write poetry a great deal. One could say I was obsessed; my wife certainly would use that word and I have come to accept that word as a realistic description of my behaviour, especially now that I am retired and devote all of my waking hours when possible to reading and writing. The drive to create never seems to leave me and other activities, domestic and social, serve to provide a useful backdrop and alternative to the constant demand. The demand is relentless, obsessive, compulsive, disinhibited, but, on the whole a relaxed and energtic activity: emotion recollected in tranquillity as Wordsworth once put it. Since the early 1990s until this year, 2007, perhaps a total of some 15 years, the output has surprised me. Fame and fortune, though, have not come my way. This does not really concern me for the act of writing is enough of a motivator. The fluvoxamine, since 2001, has enabled me to work after 11 pm and into 2 to 3 am without the black moods. If I wake up at 4, 5 or 6, say, a degree of emotional blackness/worry is present but the transition to sodium valproate seems smooth. The issues of career, sexual frustration and writing, while important to me and to my story are somewhat tangential to the central theme here of the bi-polar disorder. I do not want to emphasize or overemphasize these aspects of my life here.
8. Concluding Statement:
This brief and general account summarizes both the long history of this illness and where I am at present in what has been a life-long battle. I think it is important to state, in conclusion, that I possess a clinical disorder, a bio-chemical, perhaps even an electro-chemical, imbalance having to do with brain chemistry. The transmission of messages in my brain is simply or not-so-simply overactive, not smooth. With increasing diagnostic skills and knowledge and depending on what study you read, some five per cent of the population suffers from this illness. The extremes of this illness have been largely treated by lithium carbonate, sodium valproate and fluvoxamine. This has been my package; there are of course, as I have said, other packages of medication. A residue of symptoms remains which I have described briefly above. The other factors that describe my personal situation I have also outlined and need to be taken into consideration as well to provide a thorough overview of my present context. This overview will help others in various ways, ways I have also outlined above.
I have gone into the detail I have above because I wanted to give readers some idea of the extent of this illness and its subtle and not-so-subtle affects. I really feel quite and quietly exhausted from the battle with this illness and would prefer to continue to live my everyday life quietly and in ways that my health allows. In 1999 I gave up full-time work; in 2003 part-time work and in 2005 most of my volunteer work, except for some Baha’i work largely involving writing. In the years 1999 to 2005 I took part in a wide range of volunteer activities from holding a radio program, to singing in a small choir, to teaching in a school for seniors here in George Town, to organizing a series of public meetings. Now short bursts at writing are about as much as I want to handle, with other short bursts in the form of public meetings and various kinds of social activities which continue to give some variation to my life.
I also take on the inevitable and necessary domestic activities in my home and my wife has become the most critical person in the social interaction scene. These activities and this interaction are all within my capacity for short time periods. Short periods of activity are also necessitated by my chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but that is a separate issue which I do not want to overemphasize or even emphasize here.
In two years I will be 65 and will go off the Australian Disability Support Pension(ADSP) and onto the Australian Old Age Pension(AOAP). I have not worked in full-time employment for eight years for reasons associated with this illness. I have been on this ADSP for six years. Although I have been treated for the worst side-affects of manic-depressive illness, I have little energy, enthusiasm or capacity for full-time employment or demanding social and community activity that entails many hours of interaction. It is for this reason I have been granted the ADSP. My short-term memory loss often feels like the beginning of a dementia condition, although I had a memory test administered in 2001 at the Ann Street Medical Services clinic in George Town and the test did not indicate the beginnings of dementia or even serious memory problems. My wife, though, who knows me well and experiences the affects of this memory loss, has been very concerned and often frustrated by the behaviour associated with my memory loss for several years now. All of this adds to my present incapacity although, again, I do not want to give emphasis to this memory problem because it is really a peripheral, and perhaps unrelated, aspect of the bi-polar disorder.
I trust the above outline provides an adequate information base for you to evaluate my situation. I apologize for going on at such length. I know from experience that some readers tire when required to read long essays, but I felt it was essential to place my illness in context, so to speak. I know there are many, indeed millions, who have problems far worse than my own. But this is my story, my disability, briefly stated. I could say much more and I do in my autobiography/memoirs for anyone who is interested in reading my story. I look forward to hearing from anyone in the weeks, months and years ahead should my experience be relevant to theirs and should they want to discuss these issues further.
23 April 2007
No of Words: 5500
My wife, Chris, has suffered from different disorders most of our married life, although the first seven years, from 1976 to 1982 were relatively troubled free.
2Readers interested in this story in a series of segments can go to the NAMI site, the National Alliance on Mental Illness>Consumers Section>Posting 18/7/06.
3In 1968 I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist with a ‘mild’ schizo-affective disorder.
4The death wish, a rare experience until I was about 35, has been a common occurrence in the last 28 years and requires its own description and analysis.
6Symptoms exhibited in childhood and adolescence are largely not described here, although I could go back to the age of two for manifestations of bi-polarism in my relationship with my mother. I discuss this complex question in my memoirs but not here.
6The affects on my two marriages were a too extensive demand for sex and a tendency to anger; the affect on my employment was, again, the anger and desire for greater stimulation/satisfaction and in life in general a drive to succeed, to achieve. The periods 0-18 and 25-34 had a low incidence of visible symptoms and, although euphoria was rare, feelings of an enhanced emotional-sensory state were common. This, in summary, covers part of a lifetime of experience & attitude.
8Interested readers should go to the internet site HealthyPlace.com Forums. The bi-polar section at that site has a 22 part outline under "My Story" which places my experience of bi-polar disorder in a larger autobiographical context of several hundred pages. Readers may find this an excellent site for relevant information of a number of disorders, mental and otherwise.
9My sexual proclivities and their manifestations over these same 60 years are themselves a separate story. With 90% of marriages where one partner is bi-polar ending in divorce and some 20% of sufferers ending in suicide. I feel lucky to have survived and in the same marital relationship for over 30 years. Perhaps I will go into the sexual, marital and suicidal aspects of my life at a later date.
9For the last 8 years, 1999 to 2007, I do academic work for an average of 8 hours a day and some exercise, relaxation program is essential for my mental balance and the continuity of my persistence. I do not go into the detail of this exercise and its various forms either in recent years or in the last sixty years.
10I have a file of detailed notes on doctors’ visits, various treatments for various problems and background information. It is a file I opened in 1999 on my retirement to assist me in treating myself for particular medical problems that arise. But I have not commented on them here. The focus in this short account is on my bi-polar problem and some ancillary difficulties.
11As I write these words I have just gone off lithium and onto sodium valproate.
APPENDIX 14: SOME POETRY AND SOME COMMENTS ON:
THE RON PRICE COLLECTION
It is the freshness of the child’s approach to experience that you need to cultivate as a writer. -Carmel Bush, Dear Writer: Revised and Expanded, 2nd edition, 1996(1988), p.58.
This poem was written after attending a wedding of a former student of mine, Alister Wilson, at a Church of Christ on Beaufort Street in north Perth.
-Ron Price, 4:50 pm, Saturday, 5 July, 1997.
One comes to churches from time to time
when a wedding or a funeral takes place
and one sits in a pew with light streaming
in from overhead, after centuries of dealing
with light, sitting beside strangers, the myriad
strangers, the special sub-set found at weddings
and funerals, people just like me, all so different,
yet hardly distinguishable, as we go down life’s
road to the end, to a new beginning where the light
of the Great Beyond will define more precisely who
we are and who we have become. Here we must always
remain forever a mystery to each other and to God,
some flotsam and jetsam thrown together in curious
combinations, given a temporary immortality
in this fixed place of the Evangel.
1Evangel means glad tidings, an appropriate term for a wedding.
Another Emily Dickinson poem, number 735, lies behind this composition. She examines in her poem what she calls her(and our) "concluded days". She was in her early thirties when she wrote her poem. I examine below my(and our) "concluded days" from the vantage point of my mid-fifties. I have been impressed, at the many funerals I have attended in the last decade, by the sense of joyfulness, cheer, happy spirits evidenced, almost like a good-bye party. This was also the case as far back as the first funeral I attended in the Baha’i community, my father’s in 1965. In other funerals I have attended, the balance went toward sadness and somberness, an atmosphere of gloom. Getting the balance right is difficult. So, too, in life there should be the right balance, in the contemplations of one’s days, between the sweet and the sour memories. The ‘quiet centre’ contains, it seems to me, a balance of this light and shade, gain and loss, victory and defeat, honey and poison. For everyone the mix is different.
As our days grow to their ends,
flavours and temperatures
emerge from our contemplations:
some tastes are sweet and warm
and some are cool and sour,
some weigh heavy on our hearts,
a burden carried,
a lacerated throat;
some make for garlands-
and, then, at the funeral,
on that dying side
we are saluted:1
hail and farewell!
24 March 1999
1And so we should be saluted for having survived these difficult days with all their piercing ambiguities and, perhaps, in this case anyway, told of the tale. I wrote this poem in the last two weeks of my tenure as a permanent full-time teacher.
A DELICATE CONCOCTION
A poet ultimately constructs a world, a quite autonomous universe, in his work. I have done this in my body of poetry. This world is at once: personal, historical, futuristic, intimately connected with a body of religious beliefs, philoosophy, literature and poetry as true to reality as I can make it. The construction is not unlike the coming of spring. Something fresh and new is seen, heard, tasted or felt. There is a ferment, a heat, an awakening; and the urge to write, a creative fever, is felt. I can’t make it come. It is not orderly or coherent but, in the writing, in going into the mind’s deep well, coherence and order is established, at least to some extent. For life’s truths are multilayered, many-sided and complex and have an elusive aspect. The Apollonian aspect of poetry can only be partly attained; for there is a certain Dionysian element present when one writes poetry.
There is an energy, longing, generated
by striving after an ideal. My poetry is
a giving of form to this energy, this striving,
an expression of an entire way of life,
an interpretation of the universe, a
perception, as penetrating as possible,
of some of the issues in existence.
The poet needs
serenity and gloom,
joy and melancholy,
quiet happiness and a smouldering anger
in a delicate concoction. Like the Greeks
we have an image of a world order
shared by all people in our community.
14 April 1999
Bruce Dawe wrote an endearing little poem about getting to be known by the undertaker, the funeral director, the personnel at the place where funerals were conducted, probably in Toowoomba Queensland where he lived for many years. He had attended so many funerals there that he got to be well known by those who worked at the funeral parlour and the place of burial. Since I have moved around so much in life, thusfar, there has been no chance that I could have got to be well known or even recognized by any funeral director and his assistants in their "immortal grey suits." -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
I’ve attended funerals in so many places,
I’ve never got to be really known by undertakers,
or any of those polished dudes
who drive the cars or
walk around in their grey suits.
I think it’s fated that my face
will be a stranger
at such a final resting place,
where, one day,
I’ll be out of life’s danger.
Perhaps underneath the shade of trees
I’ll watch some friends give out their pleas
that my soul may enjoy some pure water’s fount,
be cleansed of all that was part of my earthly haunt
and behold God’s splendour on a lofty mount.
Yes, I’ll gaze down on such a scene,
I hope, and thank God, for what has been,
that the game is over and the fun
that all has been said and all has been done
and all has been heard and all has been seen.
And that now for me will be perpetuity,
perhaps a rose-garden
at the end of a sea of light
in a world of mysteries
and delight. ...Ron Price 15 October 1999
THE WORDS ‘HERE AM I! HERE AM I!’
Emily Dickinson writes "There is a finished feeling/Experienced at Graves-"(Number 856). Her short poem inspired my own which draws on a short passage from the Long Obligatory Prayer. -Ron Price
Death is tidy, in a box,
at funerals I see.
It has a finished feeling,
quite precise, eternal: be.
There is a leisure, too, that enters
in this wilderness of size.
This is where His footsteps start
and the words ‘Here am I! Here am I!’
4 January 1999
I’m sure it will go unnoticed anywhere in the world should a university, an academic institute, some centre for learning, indeed, one of any number of institutions, buy for a disclosed or undisclosed sum, the entire collection of my papers – all 1 to 3 tons of manuscripts, notebooks and letters. The 1001 boxes containing the definitive archive of this writer, poet, teacher, Baha’i pioneer, Canadian-Australian, father of one and step-father of two, husband, among other roles acquired in his lifetime, are expected to take two years to catalogue, as a Curator of Literary Collections told Price once upon a time. Processing began shortly after acquisition, or perhaps purchase, and transporting from Price’s study in Tasmania to the institution in Canada. Some portions of the collection will be made available to scholars within months of purchase.
The news of this acquisition has not been made widely public, mainly because it is not expected that there be significant interest in the collection. Anyone who is keen to examine the archive can drive down to its new location to get a sense of what this archive contains. The institution, I trust, will very kindly offer to display a sample of the material for anyone to see.
In the said Library at said institution handling a scrapbook in which I gathered my first documents from over 40 years ago in 1962, my first publications twenty years ago, a note of congratulations from several of my internet correspondents, a receipt of payment for my first royalty for my first book, the covers of magazines in which my work appeared. There is also sad evidence of my manic-depressive behaviour from time to time. There are few handwritten drafts of poems, although there are hundreds of pages of notes in his handwriting. Typewritten manuscripts can be found for all the six drafts of my book on the poetry of Roger White as well as my own autobiography in its five editions. There are over 6000 poems in 57 booklets.
The range of unseen material in this collection will keep scholars busy for years to come. Some of the personal correspondence will be closed for 25 years and the letters between myself and, say, John Bailey "might be viewed 100 years from now like the correspondence between Wordsworth and Coleridge". Professor of X says "it will help us hire new lecturers in the field who will have at their fingertips material that will launch their scholarly careers"on archives of this nature. My papers join those of X,Y and Z and a small collection from A, although A has not yet made my complete collection of papers available.
So why might my collection go to Canada and not to Australia at, say, universities in Sydney or Melbourne? The answer is quite simply that in 2134 McMaster Uni might be given $105 million in Coca-Cola stock which has been used to build a collection of manuscripts from contemporary poets. I can not be be quoted in a newspaper as saying that my papers "could not be at a better place nor in more congenial company". But there may have been two further reasons why I might be happy to have my papers in Canada. In Canada I have, as the American Price scholar Joe Jones might put it, "been skewered by the Canadian feminists as being the person who killed Cock Robin, and that is in no way accurate". Consequently, there has been little interest in my work there. Now it is clear that the future compilation of the Complete Poems and the Collected Letters will require much time spent in Canada. Everything is in place for a revival of interest in Canadian academia. McMaster is planning to offer scholarships to fund the study of my collection as an extension of the two currently available for work on their material written by Baha’is..
Secondly, my reputation in Canada deprived him of the pot of gold that Canadian universities have delivered to some others. This sale might have gone some way towards compensation for that. But the loss to Australia is sad. The fact is that Australian universities have been too aloof to seek the kind of private and corporate endowments that gave McMaster its purchasing power. In a recent TLS article Joey Towsim indicated that money is available to purchase papers for the nation, but that either university libraries or authors are unaware of it. "In the case of my papers, for example," Mount writes, "the dealer involved had already been rebuffed by the Heritage Lottery Fund in his efforts to secure Alan Sillitoe’s papers for Nottingham." Mount suggests, however, that the sums available would not even have approached McMaster offer.
In 1996 my contemporary at Cambridge deposited my papers at Sheffield University where Harry Smith teaches. Smith was the first person to write a monograph on my work. This option was always open to me, although he’d have taken a lot less money. But were any Australian universities seriously interested in raising the money to keep this major twentieth-century archive in Australia? More recently McMaster has added to their archive my my work my letters to John Bailey from 1996 to 2011, and 400 manuscript drafts of poems from the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. All this later material was in private hands and thus not previously available for study. The result is that future scholars of my work will be going to McMaster and swallowing the power of Coca Cola. Certainly there could be no better place for their conservation, and future collections of my material will now join the original 1 to 3 tons from Devon. It may be an advantage to scholars to have all the material in one place for the work that is to come. -Ron Price with thanks to Terry Gifford, "The Fate of Ted Hughes's Papers," poetrymagazines.org.uk, No 14, Autumn 1999. 1100 boxes is, of course, a guesstimation.
APPENDIX 15: BAHA’I LITERATURE: 1907-2007
I’d like to make a short summary statement, a sort of postscript to some 6000 prose-poems I have written since 1980. It is a post-script not merely to this body of poetry but also to the incredible output of prose and poetry that has emerged from the Baha’i community in the century since the heart of the troubled times of ‘Abdul-Baha’s ministry1 to today: 1906-2006. I have sometimes heard it said that the twentieth century, in the matter of purely Baha’i literature in English, has been dull and uninteresting; that it is even an uninviting domain. As a teacher of literature I have often heard this also said of Shakespeare and the Bible, especially the King James version. Another criticism I have heard is that most of the Revelation is, as yet, untranslated and unavailable and that we are still working with a small portion of the sacred text. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that, given the small percentage of translated writings from the original Persian and Arabic, it is really idle and unprofitable to spend one's time with what is available. It would appear to me, though, that the opposite is the case.
The 20th century saw an immense literature on the Faith become available to the Baha'i community, too much for it to cope with. The staggering Revelation of Baha’u’llah and the body of sacred literature from the other Central Figures of the Baha’i community, to say nothing from the literature produced by the trustees of that Revelation, the Universal House of Justice, as well as the commentaries from the body of believers became just about beyond the capacity of the individual to take it all in. Indeed individuals cannot; they must now pick and choose.
The 20th century to which may be credited translations of the major works of Baha’u’llah, innumerable writings of the Central Figures and the trustees of the sacred texts, the many secular commentaries, poetry, music in many forms and styles, plays and several other genres and forms of literature and the arts has laid a solid foundation for the future. In their present form Baha’i literature and the several forms of expression in the creative and performing arts more than holds its own in the history of Baha’i literature as against the centuries that have preceded it or will follow it as we traverse the years to the golden age centuries hence. Baha’i literature is not deficient either in variety of utterance or in many-sidedness of interest. It is not merely full of the promise that all periods of transition possess, but it’s actual accomplishment is, from my point of view, beyond criticism and its products are possessed of both beauty and relevance. -Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.267 and thanks to "Political and Religious Verse to the Close of the Fifteenth Century," The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes: 1907–21, Volume II: The End of the Middle Ages at Bartleby.com, Great Books Online, 2006.
And finally a word about my correspondence with Roger White, unofficial poet laureate of the Baha’i community in the 1980s, with whom I corresponded from 1981 to 1993.
I’d like to introduce one of my volumes of correspondence with Roger White by a short piece on the literary archives of a father who died at 55. The piece is written by the son, a Sebastian Matthews. By the age of 55 I had ‘died’ to the world of employment, indeed much of the social world and I began to take seriously what I had never been able to do in the previous 40 years, 1959 to 1999: a serious commitment to writing. By my mid-to-late teens, 1959-1963, I could feel the intimations of academic, literary interests developing. The embryo had formed, but the experience had to wait before it could be given full reign. Health problems, sexual proclivities, marital and family responsibilities, spiritual and religious responsibilities, moving from place to place—the list of things that got in the road of my giving my energies fully to literary and academic interests, so to speak—was long. By my mid-to-late teens, too, I also began to organize my life in narrative terms. The first sketches of this life, this narrative, were vague and tenuous but the process clearly began in late adolescence and young adulthood.
The field of narrative psychology which began to develop seriously about the same time that I began to put pen to paper in the mid-1980s to write this memoir. This field emphasizes how human activity and experience are rooted in the feeling of meaning and that stories, rather than logical arguments or lawful formulations, are the vehicle by which that meaning is communicated. I won’t outline the main theorists in psychology who have developed this theme but meaning, I recall as clear as if it was yesterday, was a critical variable to me as an adolescent.
Since my second marriage in 1975, four years after I arrived in Australia, the
concept of narrative has successfully travelled from literature into several new disciplines such as social sciences, law, psychology, theology and health studies. Narrative form is not a dress which covers something else but the structure inherent in human experience and action. But no elements enter our experience, we maintain, unstoried or unnarrativized.
I believe that the ways of telling and the ways of conceptualizing that go with them become so habitual that they finally become recipes for structuring experience itself, for laying down routes into memory; for not only guiding the life narrative up to the present but directing it into the future. I have argued that a life as led is inseparable from a life as told – or more bluntly, a life is not "how it was" but how it is interpreted and reinterpreted, told and retold. Narrative is everywhere in these our storied lives. I thank Bruner and others for their insightful analysis of narratives in our lives. I also thank David Malouf for expressing an aspect of my narrative life, namely, that in an important sense there is no beginning, middle and end to one’s story and one’s stories, and that much of narrative is accidental, unconscious, quite mysterious, written in a context of a writer’s ‘puzzled attentiveness’ and deriving quintessentially from emotional connections both in the writing, the telling and the living.
By the time my correspondence with Roger White was completed in early 1993, I could see the light at the end of my employment tunnel and that other tunnel of community/social responsibilities. My spirit was growing tired of much in the job and social domains and I began to look forward to a period I could devote to writing, to the academic, to the solitary. In that year 1992-3 my poetry indeed did take off and for many years, until my retirement in 1999, I wrote over 500 poems a year. I thank Roger White for providing a literary inspiration, a sort of kick-start. "Letters mingle souls," wrote the poet John Donne. "More than kisses, letters mingle souls," Donne said. I like to think some of this mingling went on in my correspondence with White.
By definition death leaves unfinished business, wrote one Stanley Plumly. I am not sure what exactly is unfinished with Roger but I look forward to whatever eventuates in the world beyond in the language of there.
I have left this short piece of writing on 'archives' to the end of this autobiography because it may be particularly useful to my son Daniel or, perhaps, others involved as executors/friends in disposing of my literary estate. The article is from that piece I referred to above, that source: Sebastian Matthews, "My Father’s Garden: Tending a Literary Legacy," Poets & Writers Magazine, 2003.
Sebastian Matthews writes that: "It would be an exaggeration to say my father, William Matthews, "arranged" his papers. On his death in 1997 manuscripts were found bound together with rubber bands; individual poems often had the name of the journal in which they first appeared handwritten in the lower-right corner; old essays were stored either in a filing cabinet or in one of the computer files on his ancient Macintosh. That was the extent of the order he kept. One box was full of student manuscripts covering piles of old tax receipts; another brimmed over with official correspondence—years of random letters from conference directors, editors, festival organizers, and department heads. Early drafts of a manuscript overflowed one box, while later versions hid in another. Random postcards popped up between manuscript pages. My father kept contradictory lists of poems he’d published in journals, which meant they all needed double-checking.
"After a full day of work, I still couldn’t get a clear sense of the archive’s contents. Entire decades of early correspondence were missing from this man who died at 55. I had been told by old friends that my father had engaged in ongoing correspondence with such poets as: W.S. Merwin, James Wright, Robert Bly, and Richard Hugo. But it seemed that only a few letters from each had survived his many moves. I couldn’t shake the feeling that important aspects of his estate were either tucked away in a storage shed somewhere or gone for good.
"A literary executor was required. I had a vague idea of what is required of a literary executor. Negotiating contracts, editing, trafficking manuscripts, collecting royalties, and registering and renewing copyrights seemed like the typical duties that would be asked of me. But as the daunting task of placing his letters and manuscripts in a university archive loomed, I could see there was more to the role of a literary executor than just legal and administrative details. I was hesitant to take steps forward, because I wasn’t sure what to do first; my father’s will, unsigned, was vague and offered little instruction.
"As my father's son who had gathered together all his papers into boxes, I eventually tried to sort out all the papers in those boxes. But, after I had spread them out on the living-room carpet in an attempt to do the sorting, I found that I kept walking away from the boxes, overcome with a sharp sense of despair bordering on panic. It felt like I had lost my way, was trapped in a dense forest with no discernible path out. The archive had to be catalogued, I understood, for legal and administrative purposes, but why did I have to do it? What about my own work? I had chats with a few others, family and friends, in an effort to sort it all out. My mother put on Bob Dylan or some other record my father and I used to listen to together, and eventually I’d return to the living room and dip my hands back into the boxes. When it was all done, instead of feeling a sense of completion—of a job well done—I was depleted, overwhelmed by the task of going through my father’s literary papers and their constant reminder of my father’s absence. I felt invisible in the work, lost again in my father’s long shadow.
"How does one go about managing a writer’s legacy? And if that writer happens to be your father, how do you avoid resenting him for dumping all this work on you? In order to move forward, I needed to know what my father would have wished. I kept asking myself those questions. And I could only guess at the answers. As a young writer with little experience in the field, with only a few publications to my name, I felt unable to achieve a balance between doing what I thought I should do to keep the memory and wishes of my father in tact and doing what it seemed I was supposed to do. As an executor, as a son, I had been left with only fragments of a map.
The article from which I obtained the above passages can be found in my Journal Volume 4(section B.1.1.(1)) Whoever deals with my literary estate could read that full article by Sebastian Matthews. But I don't anticipate this will be necessary. They may have different problems, if they have any problems at all. My 'papers' have an order, a system, which should make any 'dealings' quite straight-forward. My will is also in order as well. The executors will be one or more of my family members and a Baha’i administrative body. For now, I leave what eventuates to Providence’s mysterious Realm and what comes to me as I am being refreshed "with the crystalline wine cup tempered at the camphor fountain."
At the heart of any artistic endeavor, writes Welsh novelist, poet and dramatist Emyr Humphreys, there is an empty space eager to be filled. This is not the same phenomenon as the vacuum that nature is reported to abhor. It seems to be a space in consciousness that our species longs to have filled and fill. And it goes beyond the primitive sociological truism that human kind is obliged to create rites and rituals in order to make its brief existence more tolerable and meaningful. The continuing desire to create within a given form, be it a building or a novel, a symphony or a play, a film or a sailing ship or, indeed, an autobiography, is a reliable indicator of the health of a given civilization. There has to be more to it than the desire of a multi-national corporation, or a tourist board, to keep its work force happy with ten-pin bowling alleys or operatic spectaculars. Health, Emyr, now that’s a good note to end on.
In autobiography, if anywhere in literature, we are expected to sense that these are texts inhabited by a living person, that an author who was particularly present to himself while he was writing is now present to us as we read. In autobiography, the self or subject is written as text. "Auto-bio-graphizing is the writing of the self as text".
I hope, dear reader, you enjoyed the visit, the text.
21 September 2006
End of Appendices.
MY LITERARY ARCHIVE: A PRICE?
When writers die sometimes their work lives on. If their papers go to some scholarly institution or Baha’i archive in the increasing labyrinth of institutions that have emerged in the last half century in an evolving Baha’i administration around the world, the authors are assured of at least a modicum of earthly immortality. These archives and these institutions are collecting points for the manuscripts and correspondence of writers, authors and artists of various ilks. How such collections of papers change hands, find a monetary value if any and obtain a secure place in some dry set of shelves, boxes and files is the result of a peculiar alchemy between market forces, literary reputations and the growing significance of the Baha’i world Order. The market in literary archives is a rarefied one and, at this stage in the evolution of the Baha’i community, the world of Baha’i archives is for the most part a graveyard of dry bones scattered in the back rooms of the homes of Baha’is throughout the world, for the most part an irrelevant appendage resulting from hours and hours of meetings, discussion and correspondence sent to and from various facets of a fast emerging Baha’i administration.
But what was once a lamentably neglectful history of memoir collecting, autobiographical documents and correspondence in the last half century a burgeoning archive of thousands of boxes of this and that has insensibly arrived on the historical stage. But the professional ants who deal with this archive are not unlike the historians who deal with Roman history. The vast majority of the public could not care less about the history of Rome in the first century BC, a period in which the historical archive is massive. That same public has as much interest in the Baha’i archive as they might have in that of Roman history or, indeed, that of the eye of a dead ant.
The typical archive of literary materials of a non-Baha’i writer is worth between $50,000 and $250,000 in New York or London in 2007. At least that was the information I came across in The New York Times today. That’s if that potential archive is even saleable. Archives like mine are not saleable. Given that there’s nothing extraordinary in a writer’s collection, like a cache of letters from Sylvia Plath — the market currently uses this price/value range and the book/archive seller decides where in that band, that range, the writer’s archive belongs. If an author has a literary correspondence with 10 important people, that makes a hell of a big difference. If the Baha’i Faith becomes the most significant institution, the emerging world religion on this planet, my archive will make one hell of a difference as well. But I’m not going to hold my breath. The emergence of obscurity has been significant in my lifetime, but it has been slow.– Ron Price with thanks to Rachel Donadio, "The Paper Chase," The New York Times, March 25, 2007.
A WAY OF TRAVELLING: A MODUS OPERANDI/VIVENDI
2 JOB APPLICATIONS A WEEK FOR 40 YEARS
JOB HUNTING 1961-2001
The information and details in my resume, a resume I no longer use in the job-hunting world, should help anyone wanting to know something about my professional background, my writing and my life. This resume might be useful for the few who want to assess my suitability for some advertised/unadvertised employment position which, I must emphasize, I never apply for any more. I stopped applying for full-time jobs five years ago in 2001, part-time ones in 2003 and general volunteer activity in 2005. I left the world of volunteer activity, except for work in one international organization, so that I could travel in my mind. And so it is, that after travelling in the world of the great new technological birds of the sky, which began to their extensive movements to and from city and after in the 1950s, after my own years of buying tickets to travel by air(1967-2002)-some 35 years, I never get into the sky any more.
The years 55 to 60 marked a turning point for me into a much more extensive involvement in writing. Writing is for most of its votaries a solitary and hopefully stimulating leisure-time-part-time-full-time pursuit. Travel takes place but it is, for the most part, in one's mind, one's imagination and memory. In my case in these first years of late adulthood(60-62) writing is full-time, about 60 hours a week.1 The times I travelled by air: to Baffin Island, to several cities in Canada, to Europe, to North America, to Australia, to Hong Kong, to Israel over those 35 years are now memories, happy ones that dotted my life with their landmarks of change and transition.
Inevitably the style of one's writing is a reflection of the person, their experience and their philosophy. I could set out my experience in an attachment and I did so for some 40 years in a logical fashion in the form of a resume.2 If, as Carl Jung writes, we are what we do, then some of what I am could be found in that attachment. This document would seem over-the-top as they say these days since it goes on for 12-15 pages, but forty years in the professional and non-professional job world produces a great pile of stuff/things. This document is the last resume I used when I was in the job hunting game back in 2001-3. I have updated it, of course, to include many of the writing projects I have taken on during these first years of my retirement from full-time, casual and volunteer employment.
The resume has always been the piece of writing, the statement, the document, the entry ticket which, over the years, has opened up the possibilities of another adventure, another pioneering move to another town, another state or country, another location, work in another organization, another portion of my life. I'm sure that will also be the case in the years of my late adulthood(60-80) and old age(80++) should, for some reason, movement from place to place be necessary or desired. But this seems unlikely as I head into the last stages of my life. The first step was the job application and the second step, if the first was successful, was to get on a plane and go to a part of the world where you had never been and at the end of the journey would be a job interview.
People who come across this statement might like to see it as "what happens when you can travel and not have to go to work any more." In the last eight years which have been the first years of an early retirement(1999 to 2007), I have been able to write to a much greater extent than I had been able in my early and middle adulthood(1965 to 2005) when job, family and the demands and interests of various community projects kept my nose to the grindstone as they say colloquially. And now, with the unloading of much of the volunteer work I took on from 1999-2005, with my last child having left home in 2005 and a more settled home environment on the domestic front than I've ever had, the years of late adulthood(age 60 to 80) beckon. My resume reflects this shift in my activity-base and travel is what it's all about now. But, as I say, it is travel in my head, on TV and DVDs, on video, in paintings, photos, pictures but never in those jets and their streams of energy, their booming and buzzing through the sky with their silence and their noise.
This process of frequent moves and frequent jobs is not everyone's style or pattern of living. I have lived in 37 houses and 22 towns since I was born: 1944-2004. That was a good deal of travelling, let me tell you. Many millions of people live and die in the same town, city or state and their life's adventure takes place within that physical region, the confines of a relatively small place and, perhaps, a very few jobs in their lifetime. Physical movement is not essential to psychological and spiritual growth, nor is a long list of jobs, although some degree of inner change, some inner shifting is just about inevitable, or so it seems to me, especially as we have moved toward and entered this new millennium. Most of the people on Earth never get on a plane.
For many millions of people during the years 1961-2001, my years of being jobbed, the world was my oyster and the oyster of many a million in the West. It was an oyster, not so much in the manner of a tourist-oyster, although there was plenty of that, but rather in terms of working lives which came to be seen increasingly in a global context, a global oyster. This was true for me during those years in which I was looking for amusement, education and experience, some stimulating vocation and avocation, some employment security and comfort. These were my adventurous years of pioneering, my applying-for-job days, a particular form of travel, the forty year period 1961-2001.
The following resume(not included here) altered many times, of course, during those forty years is now for the most part, as I indicated above, not used in these years of my retirement, except as an information, bio-data, vehicle for interested readers. This document is a useful backdrop for those examining my writing, especially my poetry, although some poets regard their CV, resume, bio-data, lifeline, life-story, personal background as irrelevant to their writing-work. I frequently use this resume at various website locations now on the Internet when I want to provide some introductory background on myself, indeed, I could list many new uses after forty years of only one use--to help me get a job, make more money, experience some enrichment to my life, etcetera. The use of the resume saves one from having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.
I don't have to say it all again in resume after resume to the point of utter tedium as I did so frequently when applying for jobs, especially in the days before the email and the internet. A few clicks of one's personal electronic-computer system and some aspect of life's game goes on or comes to a quick end—and another jet appears like magic on one’s personal horizon.
During those job-hunting years 1961-2001 I applied for some four thousand jobs, an average of two a week for each of those forty years! Well, its not the best base for travel, but it is very common. This is a guesstimation, as accurate a guesstimation as I can calculate for this forty year period. The great bulk of the thousands of letters involved in this vast, detailed and, from time to time, exhausting and frustrating process, I did not keep. I did keep a small handful of perhaps half a dozen of those letters in a file in the Letters: Section VII, Sub-Section X of my autobiographical work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Given the thousands of hours over forty years devoted to the job-hunting process; given the importance of this key to the pioneering venture that is my life; given the amount of paper produced and energy expended in the process; given the amount of writing done in the context of these various jobs,3 some of the correspondence seemed to warrant a corner in the written story of my life, my autobiography.4
It seemed appropriate, at least it was my desire, to write this short statement fitting all those thousands of resumes into a larger context. I like to see it as 'a perspective on travel.' The things we do when we retire!5 Reflections on one’s experience of the age of popular jet travel, the opportunity to travel in a sort of fantasy land that really took off in the 1950s when I was a child and adolescent.
1. This involves reading, posting on the internet, developing my own website and writing in several genres.
2. My resume is only included with this statement when it seems appropriate or on request.
3. Beginning with the summer job I had in the Canadian Peace Research Institute in 1964, I wrote an unnumbered quantity of: summaries, reports, essays, evaluations, inter alia, in my many jobs. None of that material has been kept in any of my files.
4. The Letters section of my autobiography now occupies some 25 arch-lever files and two-ring binders and covers the period 1960 to 2005. I guesstimate the collection contains about 3000 letters. This does not include these thousands of job applications and their replies. I have kept, as I say above, about half a dozen of these letters.
Note: Since about 1990 thousands of emails have been sent to me and replies have been written but, like the job application, most have been deleted from any potential archive. For the most part these deleted emails seem to have no long term value in an archive of letters. They were deleted as quickly as they came in. Of course there are other emails, nearly all of the correspondence I have sent and received since about 1990 which would once have been in the form of letters, is now in the form of emails. They are kept in my files. A brief perusal of my files will indicate a great deal of the form of travel I am emphasizing here. ____________________
That's all folks!
A SUMMARY OF RON PRICE’S INTERNET PUBLISHING
"HIS CUP OF PUBLISHING TEA"
I have outlined below several categories of my writing, my writing projects of varying sizes, genres and subjects on the internet. You can gradually get into whatever categories of my work you desire, if at any time you do in fact desire, over the next few days, weeks, months, years or decades. Most of the following items went onto the internet in the period 2001-2006. Most of it is free of any cost, although some of the self-publishing material costs anywhere from $3 to $20. There are three general categories of printed matter I have placed on the world wide web. These categories are:
1.1. The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White. This 400 page ebook is available at Juxta Publishing Limited and can be downloaded free of charge.
1.2. A paperback edition of the above book is available at Lulu.com for $11.48 plus shipping costs from the USA. This self-publishing site also has a four volume work, a study in autobiography, entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs which is 2500 pages long(four 600+ page volumes). I will be making it available as an ebook and in paperback for $10 to $20 per volume very soon after it is reviewed/approved by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia, Inc. The cost of these books is set by Lulu.com.
2. Internet Site Postings:
Essays, poems, parts of my autobiography and a wide variety of postings/writings in smaller, more manageable, chunks of a paragraph to a few pages are all free and can be accessed by simply: (a) going to any one of approximately 2000 sites or (b) typing some specific words into the Google search engine as indicated in the following:
2.1 Approximately 2000 Sites:
I post at a wide range of poetry, literature, social science and humanities sites across a diverse mix of subjects, topics and intellectual disciplines in both popular and academic culture. The list of these sites is available to anyone interested by writing to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. But a simpler method for readers to access many of my postings would be to:
2.2 Type Sets of Words At Google:
There are literally hundreds of sets of words now that will access my writing at various sites. If you type, for example, Ron Price, followed by any one of the following words or word sequences: (i) poetry, (ii) literature, (iii) religion, (iv) Baha’i, (v) history, (vi) Shakespeare, (vii) ancient history, (viii) philosophy, (ix) Islam, (x) Australia Bahai and (xi) pioneering over four epochs, et cetera, et cetera, you will get anywhere from a few sites to over 150 sites arranged in blocks of ten internet locations. This last site, "pioneering over four epochs", is a particularly fertile set of words to type into the google search engine.
The main problem with this latter way of accessing what I have written is that my work is side by side with the items of other writers and posters who have the same name as mine and/or the same topic. I have counted a dozen other Ron Prices and I'm sure there are more. You may find their work more interesting than mine! There are some wife bashers, car salesmen, evangelists, media celebrities, a pornographer or two, indeed, a fascinating array of chaps who have different things to sell and advertise than my offerings.
3. Specific Sites With Much Material:
Some sites have hundreds of pages of my writing and these sites are a sort of middle ground, a different ground, between the two major categories I have outlined above. The Baha’i Academics Resource Library(BARL) for example, has more of my material than at any other site. My writings are listed there under: (a) books, (b) personal letters, (c) poetry, (d) biographies and (e) essays, among other categories/listings. The Roger White book is at BARL under "Secondary Resource Material>Books>Item #114." I find this site useful personally, but some of the poetry is not arranged in a visually pleasing form. Some readers may find the layout annoying.
There are some sites at which my writing is found in a very pleasing form with photos and pictures and general settings to catch the eye. Some site organizers have their location beautifully arranged. I leave it to readers to read what pleases them and leave out what doesn’t. When one posts as much as I do one often writes too much, says the wrong things or upsets an applecart or two. It's part of the process. In cyberspace, as in the real world, you can't win them all. The pioneering over four epochs word sequence is, as I’ve said, a useful word package to access some 150 sites with my writing and has no competition from other ‘Ron Prices.’
I had no idea when I retired from full-time employment in 1999 to write full-time that the internet would be as useful a system, a resource, a base, for my offerings as it has become. There are literally millions of words now on this international web of words that I have written in the last six years(2001-2006). From the early eighties to the early years of this new millennium I tried to get published in a hard cover, but without any success. My guess is that in the years ahead the world will be awash with books and various genres of printed matter from millions of people like me posting various quantities of their writing.
What I write may not be your cup-of-tea. In that case drink someone else’s tea from someone else’s cup. There is something for everyone these days in both hard and soft cover and on the intertnet. If you don’t like my work or someone else’s go to sources of printed matter you like. One hardly needs to say this, but I do not expect what I write to be everyone’s cup-of-tea.
For those who already do or may come to enjoy my writings, I hope the above is a useful outline/overview. For those who don't find what I write attractive to their taste, as I say, the above will give you a simple handle to avoid as you travel the net. I wish you all well in your own endeavours in the path of writing or whatever path your travel down.
21st April 2006
Revised 21st August 2006