This document attempts to place in a general perspective the approximately 10,000 letters, emails and internet posts I have written from 1960 to 2016. None of the collected letters of any Bahai, thus far in the Bahai Era, have been published.
This collection of letters, what has become by sensible and insensible degrees a voluminous epistolarium, comes from my Bahai life, 1953 to 2016, and especially that part of my Baha'i life when I was a pioneer-traveler in and for the Canadian Baha'i community beginning in August 1962. In 1953 I was 9 and in 2016 I was 72. The letters come from my mid-to-late adolescence, and then from the early, middle and late adulthood stages of human development as the psychologists call the phases of the lifespan from: 15 to 19, 20 to 40, 40 to 60, and 60 to 80.
Since no man knows when his own end shall be, I could now be in the early or late evening of my life. I am now in the last decade(70-80) of late adulthood(60-80) according to one model of the life-span used by developmental psychologists. I post this reflection on a lifetime of letter-writing within the context of my society, my Bahai life and especially my pioneer-travel-teaching life. In 1962 my travelling and pioneering life for the Canadian Baha'i community began; the recollection of my letters before 1962 is very dim, and so the beginning date for my letters as 1960 is somewhat arbitrary. By 1960, though, I had joined the Baha'i community in Canada.
In addition to the 5000 letters, there are 5000 emails and internet posts. I have not kept the internet posts. They are scattered throughout the world-wide-web and, in many cases, will be untraceable. Virtually this entire body of epistolary material was written during what I have come to see as "the dark heart of an age of transition", an age which was and is my life, certainly one of the darkest in history as well as, paradoxically, in that century of light, the 20th century and the first two decades of the new millennium, the first decades, as well, of a new paradigm, a new culture of growth and learning, in the Baha'i community.
This collection of 10,000 items including those hybrid forms of letter, the email and internet post, which emerged for most of us in those fin de siecle years, and as the third millennium was opening, are written by and to a home-front pioneer-travel-teacher for a decade(1962-1971). They were then written by and to an international pioneer and travel-teacher over a period of five decades(1971-2016).
These are communications written to and from: a friend, a colleague, a family member, a fellow Baha'i, a person or persons at one of 1000s of sites on the internet, or a Baha'i institution at the local or regional, national or continental, or global level. There are snailmail, email and internet posts to a multitude of organizations or some personal association in an unnumbered set of contexts. Readers will find here at BLO general commentaries on my letters, and the letter as a genre, as well as many of my prose-poems on the subject of letters. These poems deal not only with my letters, but also those of many of the great letter-writers in history and literature.
Except for the occasional letter found below, the vast body of my correspondence is not included here at BLO. That collection of letters will be left in the hands of my executors to do with as they see fit, and the Australian Baha'i archives in Sydney which now has some 50 years of my correspondence.
Another 10,000 letters and correspondence of many types were written in connection with my employment from the early 1960s into the 1st decade of this third millennium, but virtually none of them were kept. The number of emails received and sent in the first 25 years of email correspondence(1990-2016) was beyond counting, but 99% of that incoming-and-outgoing correspondence was deleted. The small number of incoming emails that required a detailed response were kept as were my responses if they were more than a few lines.
On my demise some or all of this collected correspondence that can be accessed may be published. We shall see. I shall not see for I shall have gone to the land, a hole, for those who speak no more, as The Bab put it so succinctly. He might have added to the land of those who write no more. Those mysterious dispensations of Providence, and my executors, will determine what happens to this lifelong collection of attempts to connect with the minds and hearts of others by means of the traditional letter and its modern, its postmodern, variants.
More than a dozen years ago, in 2003, I began to keep all correspondence of significance in my computer directory; the only hard copies kept were: (a) letters from the few people who did not have an email facility and (b) an assortment of quasi-epistolary and literary material that had some relevance to communication with others. When I placed my letters in the National Baha'i Archives of Australia in 2010 I did make some copies of my incoming and outgoing emails from the period 2003 to 2010. All communications in and out are now kept in my hard drive, and on a memory stick. The result is a collection of hard copy and electronic letters from a 55 year period: 1960 to 2016.
The art of letter writing suffered a series of grievous blows in the last two centuries, say 1815 to 2015, and even more grievous since the outbreak of the Great War in 1914: the photograph and the telegraph, the telephone and the radio, television and the internet. The most recent blow has been, what might be called: the "e-mail-Facebook-twitter-age". This last blow has only been with us for a decade, perhaps two: 1995 to 2015. The telephone has had a full century or more to erode the letter-writing experience of humankind. Radio and television have now had, each in their own ways and together, nearly a century to erode the letter-writing experience of the peoples of the world. Of course, the experience and the results of all of these technological changes depend somewhat on where one lives. Keeping people's eyes away from print in all its forms is happening as billions more human beings are now on Earth. In 1815 there were 1.1 billion people on Earth, and now there are 7.3 billion people.
When I began writing letters in the early 1960s the world's population was 3.1 billion. Paradoxically, there are probably more people reading and writing letters now, especially their hybrid forms the email and the internet post, than at any time in history. Television, of course, makes us all more passive, in many ways more superficial, and also inarticulate--even those who don’t watch, since they must live among those who do. This, of course, is a quite complex topic which I deal with in my writings from time to time. There is reason to doubt, in fact, there is not much reason to believe, that the letter collection business will survive as a literary form for many more decades. Again, such a question has many complex permutations and combinations in the answer department as we all head at the speed-of-light through this 21st century and beyond.
What our wired descendants will be missing is on display in many extraordinarily rich volumes, and collections of letters now available in hard copy and in electronic form. It is not my intention, though, to comment in great detail in the following paragraphs of this book-length thread at BLO on the many highly diverse collections of letters. I do so from time to time in a cursory fashion below at Baha'i Library Online(BLO) to illustrate some aspect or other of the process and the art, the history and the human experience---especially my experience and study---of letter-writing over the last several millennia on the one hand and the last several decades on the other.
The Letters of Ron Price: 1960-2015:
Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section VII--Letters
edited by Bill Washington
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and a Study In Autobiography
, Section VII: Letters
The art of letter writing has suffered a series of grievous blows in the last two centuries: the photograph and the telegraph, the telephone and the radio, the television and the e-mail-facebook-twitter age. This last blow has only been with us for a decade, perhaps two: 1995 to 2016. The telephone and the radio have had a full century or more to erode the letter-writing experience of humankind. Television has now had five to seven decades depending on where one lives. Television makes us all more passive, superficial, and inarticulate – even those who don’t watch, since they must live among those who do. The role of television, though, is really quite complex and it would take a much more extensive commentary here to examine the ways and means that it affects peoples' character and verbal capacities.
There is reason to doubt, in fact, there is not much reason to believe, that the letter collection business will survive as a literary form for many more decades. What our wired descendants will be missing is on display in many extraordinarily rich volumes, and collections of letters. It is not my intention to comment in these introductory paragraphs on the many rich collections of letters, but I do so from time to time in this now lengthy thread at Bahá'í Library Online(BLO).
While the above series of blows to humanity's letter-writing experience continued decade after decade, the world's population went from 1.1 billion two centuries ago in 1816 to 7.4 billion in 2016. It could be argued, then, that there are in all likelihood more letters being written now that at any time in history. By the 1930s many people interested in literary culture recognized that the world of letters was no longer the foundation for the public sphere. Since at least the eighteenth century, the shared tastes and habits of mind cultivated by a literary education for a few had defined public reason and governed public debates. But suddenly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the authority of letters was clearly eroding as formal education was becoming an experience for masses of people and not just an elite, the rich and the aristocracy. The sociologist Jürgen Habermas and others have shown, or at least have argued, that the late nineteenth century was in effect the twilight of the world of letters, the beginning of a “post-literary” age. Profit-driven publicity had far more influence than cultural criticism. Mass opinion mattered more than reflective deliberation. Howells complained that literature had become just one more product in the entertainment market: “if you don’t amuse your reader, practically, you cease to exist.” My letters, it could be argued, are part of this new public sphere, of this world of letters, of this shift that has taken-place in the decades after the passing of Bahá'u'lláh in the 1890s.
People began noticing the many changes in human and sensory experience with the advent of the industrial revolution in general and railway travel in particular. For the first time, passengers were subjected to a stream of intense stimuli: unpredictable low-level shocks, the whizzing by of objects in one’s field of vision, a constant awareness of physical risk. These physiological changes created what historians call an “industrialized consciousness.” This was a new kind of mental orientation to the world, and one that spread throughout populations. Slow and steady agricultural societies became speeded-up industrial “risk societies.” I leave it to readers with the interest to set the world of letter writing, the world I entered by sensible and insensible degrees in the 1950s and 1960s, into a wider context of history and culture, society and psychology.
To be sure, then, there was a new divide between literary culture and mass culture that was just beginning in the last decades of the life of Bahá'u'lláh. This was certainly true by the time that the Tablets of the Divine Plan were unveiled in New York in 1919. By the time I began to write letters some 40+ years later this was even more true. Literature and art had become more cerebral and reflective; realist painters and writers were dubbed “the analytic school;” mass culture ushered in new sorts of sensational experience, from amusement park thrills to the zany chases of Keystone Kops. At the same time, however, writers did more than just lament this state of affairs; they also turned their analytic gaze on this dizzying new media environment. I think my generation has largely missed the way writers from these first decades of mass media were able to combine analytic thought and the unruly sensory experience they found in mass culture. So in Frantic Panoramas, a recent book by Nancy Bentley,she repositions literary writers of the late 19th & early 20th centuries not as mere reactionaries but as the first media theorists. She sees them as the first intellectuals to try to think through the implications of the industrialization of print and image. Of course, all of this historical and sociological, psychological and social scientific theorizing is both highly comnplex and subject to all sorts of permutations and combinations of analysis and commentary.
Many readers who come to this analysis, this statement, which introduces my collection of letters, will not be especially interested in the history of the last two centuries and the historical context I provide to my letter-writing in the last 50+ years. I write this for my own interest and the possible interest of a few readers who come to this post at BLO. In the decade or more that this lengthy piece has been at BLO it has attracted some 15,000 hits. I trust that at least some readers have found their reading of some value.
To the great letter writers in Bahai history I dedicate the thousands of letters, emails and internet posts, and the thousands of hours that this homefront and international pioneer from the Canadian Bahai community has spent writing these forms of communication in the last 55 years, 1960-2015. I dedicate these hours and these communications to the Central Figures of this Faith, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice--individuals and institutions that have produced a treasure house of correspondence.
There are also the not-so-nameless & traceless, each of whom has their story and their varying degrees of writing and who, collectively, have written what I have little doubt are literally billions of letters, emails and written communications of an epistolary nature going back as far as the late 18th century. This was as far back as that historian and commentator, Nabil-i-Akbar, went in his discussion of Babi and Bahá'í history. There are many whose names are or were on Bahai membership lists but who have played little to no part in the Bahai community in their years of membership but they, too, have their stories and many have their letters; to these I also dedicate my collection of letters.
As the new paradigm, the new culture of learning and growth, spread in and across the international Bahai community in the two decades (1996-2016) in the period in which this collection of letters took their form, the old dichotomies which characterized discussion in Bahá'í community life gradually slipped away: deepened and uninformed, active and inactive, veteran and novitiate, pioneer & indigenous, among others--dichotomies that were partly the result of historical circumstances and partly the result of the inevitable categories into which people place other people. They began to slip away, but such divisions could not, of course, be entirely erased from the mental sets of the believers in the community. One would not want such terms to entirely disappear, and they were certainly not erased in the language I used in my letters, letters which will not be found here, but will only be available to archivists and my executors on my demise, an occurance which is likely in the years between now and 2044 when I will be 100, if I last that long.
In these same years that this new Bahá'í culture was spreading over the 120,000 to 140,000 localties where Bahá'ís resided, a new form of communication came to dominate the literary landscape based on what one might call "a Facebook style of communicating." I will not comment on this new form of communicating because it has just about replaced the traditional letter-writing genre. But these are still the early days of this billion-coloured form, and who knows what forms lie ahead for human beings in the decades and centuries ahead. As the first years of the 21st century rolled along incrementally from 2001 to 2015, I found I was writing hardly any letters as I had written in previous decades. Most of my communication was in cyberspace: emails and internet posts. Some of these were lengthy and the list of those to whom I wrote was longer than ever but it was all on the world-wide web. I did keep a list of personal correspondents in my computer directory and it was a very long list. Readers wanting to keep-up with my 21st century letter writing need to access: (i) this computer directory and the many communications with the individuals on that list, and (ii) my internet communication at 100s and 100s of sites. This will be a big job and I leave it to some future age, if that age shows any interest at all in this great mass of writing.
I have deposited the great bulk of my written communication in the National Bahai Archives of Australia as a gift for some future student of this emerging world religion. It is a religion which seems to me to have a significant, indeed a unique, role to play in the unifying fabric of the planet. All my letters and emails after 2003 are now kept in my computer directory and it is my hope that they will be made accessible by the executors in charge of my literary estate, my papers as they are generally called.
If I also include in my dedication, firstly, the institutions of this Cause on the appointed and elected side of its administrative structure which were responsible for the writing of massive quantities of correspondence; secondly, if I also include the epistolary work of the two chief precursors of this Faith, those two chief luminaries in the earliest history of this emerging world religion, and those who also wrote letters in responding to the seeds these precursors sowed and were involved in different ways in the earliest days of the history of this new Faith as far back as the time that Shaykh Ahmad left his home in N.E. Arabia in 1770 to 1783(circa; and thirdly, if I also include the emails and internet posts of the last two decades(1995 to 2015)--the total mass of the personal communications between individuals among this multitude to whom I now dedicate my own epistolary efforts might just reach to a distant star if they were laid side by side!
Many, if not most, of the epistolary communications written during this nearly two and a half centuries of Babi-Bahai history are now lost to historians and archivists. Saving letters is not a popular sport and, some would argue, neither is writing them. But, still, the epistolary paper trails of this newest of the world's great religious systems spread back, as is obvious, to well before the French revolution in 1789 and these trails are significantly more than just a trace. No other religion has placed so subtle and significant a value on this method of exchange, writes Bahiyyih Nakhjvani in her book Asking Questions.(George Ronald, Oxford, 1990, p.6)
At some future time, when the tempests we are living through in these early decades and, perhaps, centuries of the Formative Age of this Faith historians, archivists, biographers and analysts of many a kind will possess a literary and epistolary base of a magnitude undreamt of in any previous age for an analysis of the times, the epochs of the first two centuries of this Bahai Era(B.E. beginning in 1844) and the century of its precursors, 1744-1844.
The Formative Age of this new religion, this new Faith community, began its history in 1921 shortly after the Great War when the institutionalization of the great charismatic Force that initiated this new System, this latest of the Abrahamic religions, began another of its critical phases. When these tempests of trials are over and a relative calm has been produced in the affairs of men, historians will be able to look back and the base for their study will be immense, greater than in any other period of history, for this Faith has grown-up in the full light of modern history, and the historical details, the histroicity, is extensive, far more so than is the case in any of the other great religious sytems on the planet.
My focus here is not on this wide and many-genered literary base, however, it is on the letter and, more recently, the email and internet postings resembling the letter in many basic ways. Letters give us a direct and spontaneous portrait of the individual and they are also useful in providing an analytical resource for social and institutional analysis. I could include here, diaries and journals since they are letters, of a sort, letters to oneself, a book of thoughts to and by oneself. But these genres, too, are not my focus in this review of my letters and this form of communication that are part of the history of this Cause since its inception in the middle of the 19th century.
Two famous writers had their emails, their correspondence to each other in 2009, published in 2013. Both elderly writers with their glory days behind them, one American, one British, have never met or even spoken on the telephone. In his introduction, the American emailer, Joseph Epstein, argues that this is what makes their year-long correspondence ‘a touch magical’, though a better way to describe it would be ‘a touch artificial’. Each of them dutifully deliver between 1,500 to 1,800 words a week, every week for a year. The first thing to be said about their exchanges is how extraordinarily unpleasant they are, almost as though they were trying to make it into the Guinness Book Of Records under a section called Authors, Most Bilious. It is all a bit like watching a tennis match, but instead of the competitors bashing balls to and fro, they prefer to bash authors and artists more successful than themselves. Such is the way one reviewer described the exchange. Whatever the content, though, the book illustrates the continuing saga of letter-writing in this 21st century.
As the poet and philosopher Emerson once said: My tongue is prone to lose the way; not so my pen, for in a letter we surely put them better.(Emerson, Manuscripts and Poems: 1860-1869) This pioneer, in a period going back now fifty years, has often found that one way of doing something for another was: to write a letter, since the mid-1990s send an email and, since the late 1990s, post on the internet. Not endowed with mechanical skills and proficencies with wood and metal; not particularly interested in so many things in the popular culture like sport, gardening, cooking, heavy doses of much of the content of television; indeed, I could list many personal deficiencies and areas of disinterest, I found the letter was one thing I could do and write and in the process, perhaps, document some of my sensory perceptions of the present age, perceptions that were relevant to the future of a religion whose very bones spoke of a golden age for humankind which was scarcely believable, but was worth working for. It was a religion which was at the basis of my own philosophy of action in this earthly life.
Hopefully my letters would evince some precision and as, that great man of letters, Samuel Johnson once wrote, "withdraw some travelers in a future age from the power of the senses" and in the process make the past predominate over the present and advance them in the dignity of thinking beings." Should my letters do this, these letters would surely be of value, or so I would like to think. I often wondered, though, how useful this interest, this skill, was in its apparent and sometimes single-mindedness. For the activity of writing, and far more of collecting, letters was not, as I say, a popular sport in my time. This exercise resulted in a collection of many a dusty volume of paper which, as T.S. Eliot once put it with some emphasis, may in the end amount to an immense pile of stuff with absolutely no value or purpose.
In a review in The New York Times in September 2011 of Vol.1 of the Letters of T.S. Eliot: 1898-1922, William Logan writes: "After a poet is dead, his letters are the windows to his soul-or perhaps just the cellar doors." I'm not sure what part of a house, or what part, if any, of my soul, readers of my letters will gain access to. I'll leave that to the readers who ever find themselves engaged with my letters.
Samuel Johnson, the author of the first major and modern English dictionary, made the following comment about letters which is typical of the honorific place letters held in the eyes of some centuries ago before the advent of Babi-Bahá'í history. It is a place that in the eyes of some that the letter still does occupy: "A man’s letters are the mirror of his breast; whatever passes within him is shown undisguised in its natural process. Nothing is inverted, nothing distorted, you see systems in their elements, you discover actions in their motives."(Quoted in Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, Chatto and Windus, London, 1957,p.191) More recently Janet Altman expressed the view that:"To write a letter is to map one’s coordinates – temporal, spatial, emotional, intellectual – in order to tell someone else where one is located at a particular time and how far one has traveled since the last writing.(Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form, Ohio State University Press, Columbus, 1982.)
There is, though, some doubt, some questionableness, as to whether anyone's letters should be taken as a reliable guide to biography and still less to history. Letters often tell us more about postures that replace relationships than about the relationships themselves. Sharon Cameron points this out in her analysis of Emily Dickinson's letters in her book: Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre(Johns Hopkins UP, Baltimore, 1979, p.p.11-12). Some writers of letters spring to an intimacy in their correspondence that they do not possess in reality, in their day-to-day life. I am one of those, now in my 71st year, for I am not particularly keen on intimacy any more, at least outside of cyberspace. Life has given me decades of it and I have grown tired after the many years of conversation and the many degrees of intimacy that went with it.
There are letter-writers whose letters show a very public personality profile, and there are other letter-writers who are very private. Samuel Beckett was one such writer. There is slowly now coming onto the market a four volume work that is a collection of his letters. Even though he once remarked "I do not like the publication of letters", in the end, he bowed to the wishes of publishers, academics, family and friends and agreed that his correspondence should be made public. A writer's life and letters are inextricably commingled. The first two volumes of his letters came from a time when he was not well-known by the public, and the last two volumes come from the period when he had achieved worldwide fame as a dramatist. these last two volumes show a man calmer, more reflective and more worldly, so writes a reviewer in The Irish Times of Beckett's Volume 3(1957-1965). I leave it to readers who have the interest to examine the several reviews of this third volume as well as the other volumes. I could make comparisons and contrasts with my collection, but I will leave that exercise to future readers if, indeed, any arise to do any commentary on my decades of letter-writing.
In letters I can spring to an intimacy and then forget it in a moment. Such was the experience and view of George Bernard Shaw, as voluminous a letter-writer as there ever was. Shaw once said: a full life has to be cleared out every day by the housemaid of forgetfulness or the air would become unbreathable. Shaw went on to add that an empty life is peopled with the absent and the imagined and the full life--well, I'll let you examine the life of Shaw and draw your own conclusions to this somewhat complex question of what constitutes a full life.(Frank Kermode, The Uses of Error, Collins, London, 1990, p.253) I'm sure this quite provocative thought of Shaw's is partly true, especially in our age of radio, television and assorted media that did not exist in Shaw's time when the letter was, arguably, one of the chief means of civilized discourse.
The publishing house Dodd, Mead & Co. wrote to Bernard Shaw in 1949, then a nonagenarian, proposing an edition of his collected letters. Shaw replied: "There are billions of them; and I am adding to them every day. Not until my death can any collection of them be described as complete; and their collection, classification and selection would be the work of years by some fanatical Shavian, and quite out of the question as a commercial job. It has been proposed over and over again; but nothing has ever come of it. Put it out of your head." But Shaw was wrong: the corpus of twenty-four published collections (as of early 2007) of correspondence—thirty-three volumes—is far from ‘‘complete,’’ especially where Shaw’s publishers are concerned. The four large tomes of Shaw’s Collected Letters—the work of years by Dan H. Laurence, our foremost fanatical Shavian—contain a mere 133 letters to twenty-three publishers. However, there exist roughly over 500 unpublished documents written by Shaw to his publishers and many hundreds to Shaw from his publishers, some bearing Shaw’s handwritten reply. I mention these words about Shaw's collected letters because they throw light on my own collected letters which, compared to Shaw's are a drop in the bucket. Shaw was also deeply involved with publishers over his 60 years of writing; my life with publishers is yet another drop in the bucket.
The act of picking up the pen to write even a leisurely letter becomes an almost magical ritual whereby one evokes the presence of the addressee. For this reason, what we might call “interior dialogue” or “pseudo-dialogue” is a fundamental occurrence in epistolary discourse. Interior dialogue is haunted by an air of falseness, says Altman. When the partner’s words are imagined, the letter writer is addressing a manipulated pseudo-presence; when they are quoted, the dialogue borders on artifice. Interior dialogue is an attempt to approximate a conversation of the here and now which both grows out of and is doomed by the epistolary situation. The ‘now is unseizeable,’ Altman points out, ‘and its unseizability haunts epistolary language’.(Altman, p.140)
No matter how carefully crafted and arranged a letter is, of course, it is harmless and valueless until it is activated by the decoding reader. This was a remark by one Robert McClure in another analysis of Emily Dickinson's letters(The Seductions of Emily Dickinson,p.61). I leave this introduction at BARL, the following commentary and whatever letters I have written that may be bequeathed to posterity to these future decoding readers. I wish them well and I wish them a perceptiveness in order to win, to attain, from the often grey, familiar and accustomed elements of the quotidian in these letters, any glow, flare and light in these 5000 pieces of writing, written at a time which may well prove to be the darkest hours in the history of civilization when a new Faith expanded slowly, imperceptibly in some ways, and emerged from an obscurity in which it had long languished since its inception in the 19th century & its earliest historical precedents in the mid-to-late 18th century.
Over these four epochs in which my own life and letters found their place in history(1944-2021), as the first streaks of a Promised Dawn gradually were chasing away that darkness, at least in some ways as it also seemed to intensify in other ways; and as this Cause slowly became a more familiar and respected feature on the international landscape, these letters became, for me, an example of: (i) my communication with other Bahá'ís and Bahá'í institutions, (ii) my attempt, however inadequate, to proclaim the name and the message of Bahá'u'lláh, and (iii) an assortment of aims and purposes spread over more than 50 years.
As Patrick Kurp points out in his review of "The Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht" in The Quarterly Conversation on March 4, 2013: "Unless he is John Keats, a poet’s letters seldom stand alone as literature. They might hold our attention as gossip (Lord Byron), psychiatric case study (Robert Lowell) or the after-hours thoughts of a combative poet-critic (Yvor Winters), but few could be pleasurably read without the additional scaffolding provided by the poetry or, in some cases, detailed annotation. Even Marianne Moore, one of the 20th century’s great poets, was on most occasions a rather business-like writer of letters. In contrast, a reader unfamiliar with Keats’ verse can find his letters immensely readable with only occasional reference to the poems."
Keats' letters were first published in 1848 and 1878. During the 19th century, critics deemed them unworthy of attention, distractions from his poetic works. During the 20th century they became almost as admired and studied as his poetry, and are highly regarded within the canon of English literary correspondence. T. S. Eliot described them as "certainly the most notable and most important ever written by any English poet." Keats spent a great deal of time considering poetry itself, its constructs and impacts, displaying a deep interest unusual amongst his milieu who were more easily distracted by metaphysics or politics, fashions or science. Eliot wrote of Keats's conclusions; "There is hardly one statement of Keats' about poetry which ... will not be found to be true, and what is more, true for greater and more mature poetry than anything Keats ever wrote.
"This prompts a question," says Kurp: "What makes a good letter? How does it transcend its immediate context and purpose? What gives it the readability of a first-rate poem or essay? No formula is comprehensive, but wit surely plays a part (think of Flannery O’Connor’s letters), the unguarded humor of the moment. So too, the mingled impression of spontaneity, like good conversation in prose, with the care and polish of a seasoned writer. Perhaps the most important ingredient is revelation of character, the writer’s willingness to reveal, inadvertently or otherwise, some truth about himself. This should not be confused with confession, a contented reveling in one’s sins and misfortunes. The best letters, like the best poems, are simultaneously personal and not confessional."
My letters illustrate, and are part of, the struggle, the setbacks, the discouragements over these same epochs and especially the years after the unique victory that the Cause won in 1963 which has consolidated itself(Century of Light, p.92) in further victories over more than five decades(1963-2015), the period when virtually all my letters were written. These various communications are also, from my point of view anyway, part of the succession of triumphs that the Cause has witnessed from its very inception.However exhausting & discouraging the process has often been--and it has often been--I can not fail to take deep satisfaction on a number of fronts: one of these fronts is these letters and the mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence that, for me if not for others, are revealed therein.
If one reads the many collections of letters that are now available to the student of literature and history, one can get, as I have done, useful perspectives on one's own letter writing, one's own life. In the selected letters of Elia Kazan(1909-2003), for example, a collection spread over some 650 pages, one can see how a person strains in everyday life to be as nice a guy as possible so that people would like him and, in the process, develop a rapport with some famous actors and celebrities. In reality one comes to see that Kazan's letter-writing life was fundamentally unhappy and unfulfilled, that he often bullied others and felt aimless and artistically spent. I leave it to readers with the interest in letter-writers and biographies to follow-up on the intimations I provide here.
Kazan had an unstoppable drive and a restless energy. I, too, have often had these two qualities although now, in my 70s, with medications keeping me in bed for half the day, these qualities have lost their heat. Kazan also had quite complicated relations with women. However complicated mine might be, or have been, in the last 60 years, they were relatively untroubled compared to the relationships this film director had with women. One can read the tortured justifications of his extramarital affairs in his letters to his first wife. Of course comparisons, it is said, are odious. Still, they can not be avoided. I have been fortunate, perhaps due to luck, destiny, those mysterious dispensations of Providence or my own will, or some combination of all these factors, not to have to write such justifications. Still, I can appreciate and understand the dilemmas Kazan got into and, but for good fortune, I have been free of such a moral morass.
On the spectrum of letter-writing readability, I really find it difficult to make any personal assessment that would be of use to future readers. Anthony Hecht (1923-2004) combines elements of Keats and Moore. He is never less than charmingly fluent, even in the letters he writes home from summer camp as a boy. In 1935, age twelve, in the first letter included in his Selected Letters, Hecht writes from Camp Kennebec in Maine: “Mike and Meyer, in the comedy skit, went over with a bang and Alan acted as Mike. I am learning to swim and as I am a freshman the boys are pouncing on me. I wanted to tell you that it has been raining here for two days and it is necessary to wear boots.” Already we hear the gift for comic timing in the future author of “The Dover Bitch” and “The Ghost in the Martini.” I leave it to readers to make their assessment. If the quality of my letters can be as useful and charming as Hecht's I will be more than satisfied.
I did not have the struggles of, say, the conductor Leonard Bernstein trying to find a way to live in a society hostile to his sexual orientation, his homosexuality. As a Bahá'í who was keen to let others know about this Faith, my main struggle was with indifference but, after some two decades of dealing with that indifference, it presented no serious problems; it was just part of the reality of life which I accepted by the mid-1970s after more than two decades of association and membership in this new world religion. In a recent publication of "The Leonard Bernstein Letters" we learn about how Bernstein used all his assets to make an impression and, in writing letters over many decades, I certainly aimed to create good impressions. It would be dishonest to say otherwise.
My letters surprise me. If earnestness and sincerity could give them immortality they would be immortal; sadly in letter-writing as in life earnestness and sincerity, however dogged and plodding, are rarely enough. If thirst for contact and intimacy could give them immortality they would be immortal. Sadly, again, thirst is not always present and intimacy is not always desired and even when they are present in letters, these qualities are never enough as a basis for the longevity or the popularity of a corpus of letters mixed as letters always are with a quotidian reality that is enough to bore most human beings to death. The boredom is sufficient to prevent nearly all readers from ever getting past a brief examination of the cover of a book of such letters on library shelves. If immortal they be, it will be due to their association with a Cause that is, I believe, immortal. These letters will possess a conferred immortality, conferred by association, as the Hebraic and the Greek traditions would have expressed it each in their own historic and cultural contexts.
Many of the letter writers in the first century of this Formative Age (1921-2021)are now dead, and their epistolary products are lost to history. The archives of local and national Bahai communities as well as the international archives in Haifa have come to house many a letter but the vast majority of personal correspondence of Bahai to Bahai and Bahai to people in a host of other interest groups, causes and quite individualistic perspectives and ideologies in the first century of this Formative Age has not been kept. It is not kept by the writer of the letter nor by the recipient; it is not kept by the local or the national Bahai community. The reasons for this are many and it is not my purpose in this lengthy post to expatiate on the permutations and combinations of archival collecting in the more than two hundred national Bahai communities and territories around the planet, the 17,000 local assemblies, the 16,000 clusters, the 120,000++ localities and among the six million or so Bahais. I'm sure when the history of these times in the Bahai community are recorded there will be plenty of letters kept, sometimes serendipitously and sometimes through various channels of planning. I have commented in this theme from time to time in the following series of essays, prose-poems and articles in this commentary on letters here at BLO. With some 10,000 clusters still unopened to this new Faith, its history reflected in epistolary form has really only just begun.
Through all of the trials and troubles of the decades from the 1940s to the 2010s, I did not always sail with apparent calm, nor with a lively interest in what was happening to me or my society. At times I was like "a phlegmatic lone yachtsman navigating his leak-proof vessel over tempestuous wastes of water." And so, having an unemotional and stolidly calm disposition was only part of my demeanor; the spectrum of my emotions and attitudes was highly varied as befits someone who had to struggle with bipolar I disorder for several decades. These words above regarding that lone yachtsman were used to describe the letters of that intellectual giant of the 20th century Isaiah Berlin whose letters, when finally edited, will be found in four volumes. It would be well to keep in mind, however, that letter-writing is a performative act, and some letter writers are bravura performers. As the years went on from my late 50s when I had taken an early retirement and gone on a disability pension, through my 60s, and into my 70s in 2014, I was never less than engagé, committed, and preoccupied with my literary tasks. In private, like Berlin, I came increasingly to exhibit an attitude of amused skepticism, of liberalism and and of value-pluralism. These were essential intellectual stances in a world which was tearing itself apart and had grown skeptical of ideologies and religions of whatever ilk. This engagement, though, was only apparent for half the day since by the time I went on two old-age pensions in 2009 at the age of 65, I spent half the day in bed for an 8 to 9 hour sleep. In those 12 hours when I was not in bed I still had to attend to the duties of domestic, family, and community life leaving only 6 to 8 hours a day to my literary pursuits.
The world and its time-honoured and powerful institutions seemed, by the turn of the millennium, and as I entered my retirement years away from FT, PT and casual paid employment, after five decades of student-and-employment life(1949 to 1999), to be hurtling toward the inevitable end of their political and religious orthodoxies. They were clearly all in trouble. A general, insidious and insinuating self-destruction seemed to characterize the daily round as these institutions tried desperately to deal with the troubles of the age. I hope, though, that my letters evinced my unshakable commitment to my version, my understanding of the Bahá'í Faith and what it claimed to be: the latest, the newest, of the Abrahamic religions. The Bahá'í Faith's deep commitment to what is sometimes called value-pluralism had become a critical part of how I saw this Faith: “the conception that there are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational, fully men, capable of understanding each other, working together, and sympathizing and deriving light from each." I was in the same intellectual ball-part, at least in some respects, as Isaiah Berlin, although I did not enjoy either his wealth and I would never enjoy either his fame, his literary talents, or his erudition. Berlin and I shared the view that it was best to avoid claiming to be an expert on what people wanted and needed, and on what was to be done. This was a temptation that was to be avoided. At the same time, I recognized that the Bahá'í Faith had a System and a Plan, but it was one that I gently insinuated with a quiet voice into the maelstrom and the vicissitudes that were resulting from the tempest afflicting society.
The American poet, Theodore Roethke, once said that an incoherent yet sincere piece of writing often outlives the polished product. Although I'm sure this is sometimes the case, I'm not inclined to think it applies very much to letters. Letters have enough of a problem surviving, and even more of a problem ever being read even in some fine collection usually made after a writer's death. If one adds inarticulateness to the recipe, the salt may just lose all of its savor. The question of savor is, for the most part, irrelevant, though, because in the literally 1000s of archives around the planet where local Bahai communities keep their paper-trail since the inception of their Bahai experience, their Bahai administrative history, the boxes and boxes of files usually house only official correspondence, institutional correspondence and a vast range of literary material that would bore the average local reader to death. Hence these boxes, even after the evolution of several decades of local Bahai experience, rarely are seen by anyone. This is not due to the secrets or mysteries found in them. It is due to so many reasons: the speed of history, the complexity of the times, the burgeoning sources of print and the stimulus of the electronic media now available especially in developed countries, inter alia. Again, I comment on this theme as well in the following pieces of writing.
The vast body of letters float unread on some literary bath-water, back-water. Letters, in some ways, possess the shapeless urges of the unconscious and they try to catch the movement of the mind of the writer amidst a practically practical and a humanly human everydayness. They often remain, for most readers, just that: shapeless and beyond the mind and the interest of the general, the ordinary, reader. If my letters do come to appeal it will not be for their literariness or wit but for their ordinariness, their witness to a time, a period, in Bahai history, as the second half of the first century of the Formative Age approached in the 1960s, and as that second half continued on its petty and not-so-petty pace from year to year ending in 2021. Often neither the recipient nor posterity take any interest in the individual literary product or the entire epistolary collection, as the case may be. Even when given a fine shape, as the letters of Queen Victoria have been given, they come over time to catch fewer and fewer people's eyes. Still, her letters give ample testimony to her character, her everyday life and the times, if only to a coterie of historians, antiquarians, and students of letters. An antiquarian or antiquary (from the Latin antiquarius, meaning pertaining to ancient times) is an aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past. More specifically, the term is used for those who study history with particular attention to ancient artifacts, archaeological and historic sites, or historic archives and manuscripts. The essence of antiquarianism is a focus on the empirical evidence of the past, and is perhaps best encapsulated in the motto adopted by the 18th-century antiquary, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, "We speak from facts not theory".
This was also true of the letters of Penelope Fitzgerald whose letters in 2008 were collected into a book entitled "So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald." The book was edited by Terence Dooley and reviewed in the London Review of Books(Vol. 30 No. 18) on 25 September 2008. After five hundred pages of her letters, the reader becomes used to an eruption of the startling, the comic and the inexplicable, into a life that Fitzgerald was often at pains to portray as humdrum. Her correspondence is compelling and possesses a character that makes these letters, written mostly to family and friends on small occasion or none & with no eye on posterity, enjoyable reading. I hope that the same is the case with my letters but, I must confess to having my doubts!
Fitzgerald was born in 1916 into a family so variously distinguished that it was hardly surprising she took the remarkable for granted in later life. Her father was Edmund Knox, editor of Punch & one of four brothers. Punch, or The London Charivari, was a British weekly magazine of humour and satire established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. Historically, it was most influential in the 1840s and 50s, when it helped to coin the term "cartoon" in its modern sense as a humorous illustration. It became a British institution, but after the 1940s, when its circulation peaked, it went into a long decline, closing in 1992. It was revived in 1996, but closed again in 2002.
Fitzgerald's uncles were Dillwyn, the classicist & cryptographer, one of the most important code-breakers of both world wars; Wilfred, the Anglo-Catholic priest and theologian; and Ronald, who became a Roman Catholic priest famous for his translation of the Bible, his satirical wit and a series of popular detective stories. Fitzgerald later wrote a biography, The Knox Brothers, a title which she reminded Malcolm Muggeridge he had advised against on the grounds that ‘it would sound like a circus.’ It was her second book. The first, a life of Burne-Jones, appeared two years earlier, in 1975, when she was nearly 60. Until then child-rearing, teaching, a difficult marriage and the constant struggle to keep the family afloat, had left little time for writing. The marriage and the family failed several times, once literally when their houseboat sank in the Thames. Other biographies followed but it was her novels – one of which, Offshore, won the Booker Prize – that were responsible for her late flowering as a celebrated author and somewhat reluctant figure in London literary life. My life possesses none of this distinguished collection of family and friends, and the traumas in my life do not lend themselves to the kind of literary expansiveness that resulted in Fitzgerald's collection of letters. I did have my traumas and they are largely described in my chaos narrative leaving my letters to cover the largely quotidian aspects of daily reality.
In the years that I began to think seriously about collecting my letters, the decade of the 1970s and more so in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan became the President of the USA. Letter writing was clearly important to Reagan. Even as president he kept dashing off letters to friends, pen pals, media people, statesmen, critics, and the kind of people who write to presidents never expecting a reply. He wrote letters in the Oval Office and his White House study, at Camp David, on helicopter rides, and during long trips aboard Air Force One. A man writing a letter is a man in the act of thinking, and it was an exercise Reagan obviously enjoyed. After his first meeting with Gorbachev, for example, he sent a "Dear Murph" letter about it to his old friend George Murphy, a former senator and actor who had once played Reagan's father in a film. Thanking Murphy for "that most generous review of my performance," he said he had "enjoyed playing the part," before adding: "Seriously it was worthwhile but it would be foolish to believe the leopard will change its spots. He is a firm believer in their system.... At the same time he is practical and knows his economy is a basket case. I think our job is to try to show him he and they will be better off if we make some practical agreements without attempting to convert him to our way of thinking.(See: Russell Baker, “Reconstructing Ronald Reagan,” The New York Review of Books,Volume 54, Number 3 • March 1st 2007.
Reagan's letters suggest a man for whom writing was less a habit than a need, like food and water, as though the very act shaped his thoughts as much as the thoughts shaped the writing. Reagan didn't type; he wrote by hand in blue or black ink on a yellow legal pad or dictated for his secretaries to transcribe, and so the drafts were often saved, stuffed into a box and then forgotten. In 1996 Kiron Skinner, now a professor at Carnegie Mellon, was researching a book on the end of the cold war when she stumbled on the first batch. As she dug a little deeper, more boxes appeared. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume, she called in Martin Anderson, who served as Reagan's first domestic-policy adviser, and his wife Annelise, a Reagan aide at the Office of Management and Budget, to help. First there were 1,000 letters, then 3,000, and in the end the trio sorted through more than 5,000, and suspect there are an additional 3,000 or 4,000 out there still unaccounted for—until they turn up on eBay.
Reagan was called the great communicator, and that was usually meant to describe the way he spoke. But it may be that one secret to his success, his ability to persuade people, was that he took his beliefs more seriously than he took himself. Spelling and grammar errors aside, the prose is literate, not literary; he does not seem to try to make an impression with shiny turns of phrase. He stays out of the way of the arguments he is making, and in his asides and self-deprecation, there is the verbal version of that little duck of the head, the modest gesture that says, "This isn't about me. This is about things that matter more than both of us."
I would like to make a few comments about the process of writing letters and some of the now extensive theory behind the process. One does not write a letter to increase ones popularity and if, as Eliot implies, one writes with one eye on the future, when that future arrives one will, in all likelihood, be pulling up the proverbial daisies. But addressivity, the quality of turning to someone in a letter, an email or an internet post, is a constitutive feature of a person's utterance. Without that turning, that addressivity as some analysts call the process of turning and response, the utterance does not and cannot exist. Addressivity can also be defined as "otherness" or language's "othering", the quid pro quo relationship established between dialogic partners.Quid pro quo, I should remind readers, involves "give and take", "tit for tat", and a "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" attitude and manner. The letter is but one of the various typical forms this addressivity assumes and the various concepts of the addressee are constitutive, definitive features of various speech genres.
The word is oriented toward an addressee, toward who that addressee might be. Word is a two-sided act. It is determined equally by whose word it is and for whom it is meant. As word, it is precisely the product of the reciprocal relationship between speaker and listener, addresser and addressee. Each and every word expresses the "one" in relation to the "other." I give myself verbal shape from another's point of view, ultimately, from the point of view of the community to which I belong. A word is a bridge thrown between myself and another. If one end of the bridge depends on me, then the other depends on my addressee. A word is territory shared by both addresser and addressee, by the speaker and his or her interlocutor.
What is present for the letter writer is necessarily intentional, just as consciousness is intentional since it represents accessibility to reality. In letter writing there is an inevitable emphasis on sensory perception and corporeal things. The writing of the letter is, therefore, very akin to the spoken word as an expression of a particular reality experienced by a particular speaker. The phenomenological "I" is therefore that being which is comprised of both "the things themselves" and his/her interactions with them. The things themselves are everything which is the world, including the perceiving consciousness which speaks them.
"I" is the ground of all other indices in language, determining the difference between here and there, and now and then. More importantly, the first person pronoun marks the fundamental distinction between "I" and "you." As one theorist never tires of reminding us, consciousness of self is possible only if it is experienced by contrast. This is not merely a phenomenological speculation, but one of the prime characteristics of language itself. I use the word "I" only when I am speaking to someone who will be a "you" in my address. It is this condition of dialogue that is constitutive of person for it implies that reciprocally I becomes you in the address of the one who in his or her turn designates himself or herself as I. This polarity of persons is the fundamental condition in language of which the process of communication is only a mere pragmatic consequence.
All letter-writers have different styles and intents. Marshall McLuhan, a media theorist from the 1960s, reveals to us what he makes very explicit in his correspondence. He reveals to us through his letters that his own writings are dramatic, comic and satiric, utilizing the tactics of hyperbole, analogy and metaphor, so that (as he suggests) he ought not be described as a framer of theories but as a creative communicator--an essayist and poet. Such a statement raises problems for most critiques of McLuhan which usually regarded him, in one way or another, as a theorist. For him, however, writing theoretical works is not creative and creative activity is the prime means of understanding the processes of the new electric age. I am not into McLuhan's MO. I have my own.
In some ways my letters are not letters in the usually accepted sense. There is little of the chat, the gossip, the backbiting that add spice to the correspondence between even the loftiest of souls. The voice is not the rhapsodic drone, as is the case of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke's letters, but there is much introversion—me, me, me, and more me. My letters do not have as much of what one writer called Rilke's "windy expatiation on the joys and sorrows of composition." On the other hand, I would like to think that, like Rilke's letters, mine might "impress readers with the passionate dedication with which I address the task of living." In my case it is the living as an ordinarily ordinary person. By my 60s, I craved solitude, as Rilke did. “I am my own circle, and a movement inward”, wrote Rilke. I, like Rilke, was and am prepared to sacrifice much to secure it. Rilke realized very shortly after marrying that "domesticity held little bliss for him, and quietly detached himself from wife and baby daughter." Although domesticity and marriage has had its tests and difficulties, I enjoyed the state of matrimony and, especially in my retirement, with children gone and the extensive responsibilities of family and community behind me. This is not to say that raising children held no joy. Far from it. From the mid-1970s to, perhaps, the early years of the 21st century, I was involved in the process of raising children and after, say 2003, it was grand-children and retirement. But I will leave that story to my autobiography. I also have a large selection of letters to my children and my consanguineal family kept in my computer directory.
Rilke once remarked to Lou, his lover, with devastating candor, “What are those close to me other than guests who don't want to leave?” Nor did he think he should be expected to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow: “The very feeling that there is a connection between my writing and the needs of the day is enough to make work, that is, writing, impossible for me.” I, on the other hand, saw raising children and providing for my wife from, say, 1975 to at least 2000, as my responsibility, and I attended to it until the age of 55 to 60 when my children had grown-up, and when I went on a disability pension. I could continue here making comparisons and contrasts between my letters and Rilke's, but I do not have sufficient interest in doing so. I could also provide contrasts with the letters and the lives of dozens of other writers, but my heart is not into such a project, and so I will pass on here to other topics, other features of the vast land of the epistolary.
I'd like to draw on some comparisons and contrasts between my letter-writing and that of William Empson. Sir William Empson(1906-1984) was an English literary critic and poet, widely influential for his practice of closely reading literary works, a practice fundamental to New Criticism. His best-known work is his first, Seven Types of Ambiguity, published in 1930. Empson, like myself, wanted his readers to ask questions like: what is this letter-writer, this internet poster, this poet and writer trying to persuade us – and himself – of? What is he intending to say, and how, if at all, has he succeeded? What are ‘the ideas his mind was working upon’? What is the story being told? Literature, unlike propaganda, was writing in which people were in at least two minds about what mattered to them, but still meant what they said. Literature in any form-letters, poems and essays, autobiography and internet posts in my case--is there to alert readers, to make them think rather than assent; close reading was the preferred antidote to indoctrination. This was Empson's manner and mode, style and aim. It is also mine. He thought we should be able to articulate what a writer was getting at, and this seemed to mean, for him, that if a writer’s work wasn’t paraphrasable it was probably up to no good (‘obscurity in a writer,’ he once wrote, ‘may be due not to concentration but to a refusal to speak out’). It was pernicious to be vague, he implied, and disingenuous to be opaque.
The reader was entitled to know what the author thought, which meant knowing what his conflicts were. I have spent years writing about what I am thinking. My conflicts are given a special attention in what I call my chaos narrative now some 300 pages in length and available here at BLO. The writers whom he valued, and who crop up most often in his letters were: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Herbert, Donne, Marvell, Fielding, Coleridge, Joyce, Orwell, Dylan Thomas. I have some of these writers in my prose, poetry and letters and many others. Religion and politics for Empson are virtually inextricable from each other, and so is this true for me. But the politics that concerns me is not the partisan politics of the left and the right, labor or Liberal, Republican or Democrat, inter alia. The religion which concerns me is not one of the old religions in many of its forms: its sects and cults, its denominations and branches, its isms and wasms. All of these forms of religion and politics give voice to the personal conflicts of their times, but not to their resolutions. These old religions, say, 2000 BC to 1800 AD, and the political parties that have arisen since 1800, for the most part, provide bad solutions to often insoluble problems. Both Empson and I sometimes intimate, and often insist, that it is the function of literature to expose these terrible frauds. I do so in my letters and essays, narrative and poetry, internet posts and emails. But I do not beat people up in my literary exercises; I try to keep peoples' emotions in one piece and not invoke fire from heaven on those with whom I do not agree and who do not agree with the absolutes that are my own stock-in-trade.
Like most literary critics Empson never really changed his mind even though, like many literary critics of his generation, he believed that literature was valuable because it could change people’s minds. So is this the case with me; I have had some very strong and fixed views for decades, although these views are now more articulate and nuanced, more subtly expressed and informed, calibrated and refined, coloured and distinguished, than when I wrote in my late teens and twenties. From the very beginning, in his prodigious work written when young, Seven Types of Ambiguity, published in 1930 when he was 24, Empson had an astonishing eye and ear for the nuance, implication and hidden argument of a text. I have tired to develop such eyes and such an ear, but I am not in his league. What close reading supposedly got you closer to, wrote Empson, was the complexity of a writer’s articulated intentions. I trust that at least some readers come close to the complexities of my words. The reason to read literature, as Empson reiterates in his letters, is that it lets us get to know about intentions different from our own. Readers get to know some new, some different view. But this is far more difficult than people usually realise. This is what and why morality was invented to help us deal with these varied views. I have had to deal with this all my writing life and, indeed, it has not been easy. This is putting it mildly since I began writing letters over 50 years ago.
‘It seems to me,’ he writes to Philip Hobsbaum in 1966, ‘that the chief function of imaginative literature is to make people realise that other people are very various, many of them quite different from you, with different “systems of value” as well; but the effect of almost any orthodoxy is to hide this, and pretend that everybody ought to be like Homer or Dr Leavis or some other scholar. One of the most effective ways of creating an orthodoxy, as Leavis at least seems to have known, is to identify an enemy: the pretence that everybody should be like X always involves the assumption that they must hate Y, be as unlike Y as possible. Empson, who believed in the ‘straddling’ of contraries rather than their resolution, who found ambiguity in literature more truthful than conviction, could not avoid unequivocally taking sides when it came to the Fascism of the 1930s and 1940s, and what he took to be the virtual fascism of the Judeo-Christian God. I, too, only straddle contraries sometimes, although hatred is no a word I would use to characterize my emotional orientation to anyone who does not agree with me. My letters, like his letters, like all our critical writings, show that we are unambiguous as we can be in the articulation of our views. Empson's hatred of the haters of variety is not my style and manner, my emotional position. He wanted a variety of sorts of feeling, and an unendable clash of different philosophies. So by his own lights he couldn’t and didn’t create his own orthodoxy. I found and I find all of this very pleasing, very similar, to my own way of seeing things, my own way of going about things. I follow and believe in a certain orthodoxy, unlike Empson, but I try not to hit people over the head with it.
Like Empson, I do not want to gang up to bully the bullies; what I am after, and what he was after, is/was piecemeal refutation of unacceptable arguments whenever they occurred. Letters were one of the ways in which he could do this, and one of the ways I can do this. ‘What else does one write criticism for except to win agreement?’ he asks in a letter to Christopher Ricks, and yet the winning of agreement – or perhaps the winning of too much agreement, the way literature coerced assent instead of opening argument – was the very thing that troubled Empson. And it troubles me. Coercion in any form is, for me, anathema. Indeed, the thing Empson seems to have been most at odds with himself about was conflict. So when John Wain praises Empson’s poetry in his book Professing Poetry, Empson replies in what I'm sure readers will find a curious way: ‘I feel it is very discerning praise, so it is at least sympathetic; and the best I can do by way of thanks is to say where I think it is wrong.’ Empson believed that disagreement was often the more adequate response; to say where you think someone is wrong is to be on the side of variety.
Empson's letters, unlike my own, are fascinating. John Haffenden, the editor, has done more than anyone to make Empson readable rather than merely mandarin. They are a testament to the virtues of spirited and truculent disagreement. And they are the closest thing we have, in Empson’s case, to autobiographical writings. Empson planned to write something autobiographical towards the end of his life, but it came to nothing; it is not surprising that this should be so. In my case, my writings at least since my mid-50s, are highly autobiographical. I shall say no more about Empson and leave him to readers with the interest to Google to their hearts' content.
Inventiveness and humour are two wonderful assets and, if they are possessed by a letter writer, the letter can come alive. The letters of the poet Roger White possessed these qualities and they had a narrative momentum without which his letters would have grown static and repetitive. Sadly, I have often felt that my letters expose the limits of my literary, my epistolary and certainly my humorous sensibility. My letters often grow limp, or so it seems to me, perhaps because I have often felt limp; or they become crowded with quasi-mystical, quasi-intellectual, abstractions as I have tried to deal with concepts that I only half understand and ideas far beyond my philosophical and literary capacity to put into words. In some of my earliest letters, letters to my first wife which we used to call my love-letters, written in the early months of 1967, I fell back into an emulation of the Guardian's writings, hardly appropriate my first wife and I often felt later, when we read them on a quiet Sunday afternoon, to express my feelings for her. Of course, the feelings they expressed were ideological and intellectual in the main and not aesthetic and romantic as would have been the norm, the typical and the appropriate for such a relationship. These letters were, in the end, thrown away. The words of the English essayist William Hazlitt are interesting to quote here although not really relevant. "A poet, in his private letters," Hazlitt worte, "seldom thinks it necessary to keep up the farce of feeling; but casts off the trickery of sentiment, and glides into the unaffected wit, or sobers quietly into the honest man."(Letters of Horace Walpole) My letters to Judy were certainly sober reflections, far too sober and, in my case, quite lacking in wit.
Sometimes, especially in the first three decades of my letter writing, say, 1960 to 1990, it seemed to me as I looked back that my letter contained a certain inwardness and at times I gambled with an intensity of emotional expression. By the 1990s and the turn of the millennium, though, I had gradually, insensibly, found a voice, a balance, to put my emotions and thoughts into a form I was comfortable with. Although I had been socialized in a literary milieux in my childhood and adolescence (1944-1963) and emerged from that milieux in the first years of my young adulthood(1965-1974), confidence in my literary ability was slow in developing and did not really take on any solid form and shape until I was 28(1972) and living in Whyalla South Australia as an international pioneer for the Canadian Bahai community.
Confidence, though, is no guarantee of the ability to connect with a reader or readers. I am sure some found my emails and letters far too long for their tastes and interests. One advantage of a long letter I found was that I was able to express an idea, even mention the Cause in some tangential fashion. In a shorter letter this would not have been possible given the social and cultural climate in which I was writing. Occasionally, someone shocked me with their feedback, especially on the internet and I slowly learned to package my words in small doses on most of the sites on the WWW. Shock is often a useful antidote for some policy one is pursuing or some behaviour one is exhibiting in letter writing or in other areas of life.
I would like to think that this collection of letters possesses some narrative force and thrust and readers may indeed detect some story-line surprising in a collection of letters. My metamorphosis from my first letters in the early 1960s to those I wrote when I was 69 in 2013 and on two old-age pensions is not without its drama and that drama can be seen through the letters if they are followed chronologically and if they are appropriately selected.
Another engaging aspect of the collection is its depiction of cataclysmic change in the world during the half century from, say, 1965 to 2015 and, the previous half century: 1913 to 1964, on the eve of the great tempest, the war to end all wars, and the eve of the election of the first Universal House of Justice. The letters resolutely ignore most political events--events that are the flesh and bone of political and social analysis in the wider culture, in media culture--but perhaps precisely because of this they serve to remind readers of the ordinary lives that were led in the midst of extraordinary events. So much of these times were extraordinary that the senses were dulled to their impact, their surprise, their eventfulness. This collection's chronicle of movement, my movement, from place to place, of the experience of job, family and Bahai community life as it changed over these fifty years may--perhaps--be of interest one day, if not to readers in the world I now occupy. Given the documentation of our times in both the print and the electronic media as well as the vast body of print now available in Bahai archives I have my doubts that this body of letters will be of any interest until some future and quite unknown time.
Is it too much to see in this collection something of an author in the twilight of his life putting his literary affairs in order through the auspices of his letters, in the desire to help insure their relevance and readership? Perhaps this is what I am doing. If all these letters possess any relevance that will be decided by others than I. The Archives Department in Australia expressed an interest in housing my letters, and in 2010 I sent that Department four boxes of my correspondence. By 2003 I had begun to keep all significant emails in my computer directory and there was no need to forward them to any Bahai institution. Whatever future emails I kept would be in the hands of my executors on my passing. The Canadian Bahai Archives said they did not have enough room for my epistolary resources in their office in Thornhill Ontario when, as one of their international pioneers, I approached them in 2009. The archives of local and regional Bahai institutions have another set of perspectives in this evolving Bahai world. Who knows what my executors will do with my emails kept electronically beginning in 2003? Perhaps I will try the Afnan Library(c/-George Ronald Publishers, 24 Gardiner Close, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 3YA, England) which already has one of my CDs with some 200,000 words of my writing. Perhaps I will just post this overview on the subject here at BLO. For now, my thoughts on the subject of archiving my letters beyond 2009 have gone as far as they can go. All my letters after 2003 are now on a message stick updated periodically and automatically by the summer of 2013.
Letter writing is a little like gambling; you have to stake a great deal, everything it often seems, on one throw. Unlike gambling you often have no idea whether you won or lost. But this is often the case in relationships and in life: one cannot possibly evaluate(in any ultimate sense)what has happened to one's letters, to one's acts, to one's life--or anyone else's--in terms of whether they will result in justice, harm or benefit--since their fruition, ultimately, is destined for another plane of existence. But, still, we do judge and we do evaluate, as I do here in this lengthy analysis of communications to and from others in my life in this lengthy post at the Bahai Academic Resources Library Site.
MASTER FILE TO MY COLLECTION OF LETTERS
The outline below of the categories for the collection of my letters began to take form in the first dozen or so years of my retirement from FT employment(1999-2015), especially after the official opening of the Arc Project on Mt. Carmel in 2001. This collection tends to get altered from time to time due to the changing nature of what is still a live body of work. Only the occasional letter is found here at the Bahai Academics Resource Library, or on the internet in various places. This is because these letters are either personal, professional or private. I prefer to keep this body of writing confidential until at least my passing. At the present time there are some 50 volumes under ten major Sections delineated below by roman numerals. Section III below contains my contacts with sites on the internet and there are some 25 volumes of site contacts at: site homepages, forums, discussion boards, postings, replies, inter alia. The headings, the categories, of the letters are as follows:
I. Personal Correspondence:
1. Volume 1: 1960-1984
2. Volume 2: 1985-1988
3. Volume 3: 1989-1994
4. Volume 4: 1995-1996
5. Volume 5: 1997-1999
6. Volume 6: 1999-2001
7. Volume 7: 2002-2003
8. Volume 8: 2003-2004
9. Volume 9: 2004-2005
10.Volume 10: 2005-2006
11.Volume 11: 2006-2007
12.Volume 12: 2007-2015
13.Electronic: On Message Stick
II. Writing to/from Baha’i Institutions
1. Baháí World Centre
2. Universal House of Justice
3. International Teaching Centre
4. NSA of the Baha’is of Australia
5. Hands of the Cause
6. Continental Board of Counsellors
7. BROs, RTCs and Bahai Councils
8.2 Auxiliary Board Members
9. National Committees of the NSA of the Bahais of Australia
10. NSA and National Committees of the Bahais of the United States
III. Contacts with Publishers, Magazines and Journals
Vol 3.1 to 3.11
Vol 3.12.1 to 3.12.16
Vol 3.13 to 3.17
IV. Communications with Canada:
V. Roger White:1981-1992
Vols. 1 to 4
VI.1 Association of Bahai Studies: Vols. 1-3
1. Bill Washington
2. Judy Hassall
3. Gary Olson
4. Toni Edmonds
5. Graham Hassall
VII. 1. Baháí History in WA and the NT
Vol. 1 to Vol.4
-Letters, Essays and Notes
VIII Magazines, Newspapers, Journals, Media
2. See Media Studies Vol. 2.1-Newspapers
3. See Media Studies Vol. 2.1 Radio Stations
4. See Media Studies Vol. 2.1 Magazines
IX. Correspondence For Writing Novels/Essays
1. From 1987 to 1991
X Correspondence For Job Hunting
1. 1960 to 2001
2. 2001 to 2008
XI. On-The-Job Correspondence
1. 1955 to 2005
I wrote some 10,000(circa)letters were written in connection with job applications, job inquiries and on the job responsibilities: 1960-2008. An uncountable number of emails were received and sent in the years 1991-2015 but, as I say above, 99% of them were deleted. Virtually none of the communications from the job world were kept, except for a few in two two-ring binders. Very few letters or items of literary memorabilia remain from the years 1953 to 1967. Even if ninety-nine-hundredths of the emails I received were sent to oblivion since 1990, a small but significant body of this hybrid type of letter was kept in the twenty-five years, 1990-2015. One day all of the introductions I wrote to each of the many volumes of my letters and emails, internet posts and replies and the several general statements concerning my letters may be included in a collected letters since half a century has been spent in my Bahai life and in the pioneering process writing letters. For this first edition of The Letters of Ron Price: 1961-2015 on BARL the above outline and comment on the overall layout and organization of my letters and emails that I have written and received and thrown away and deleted will suffice.
There are three categories of my letters that one day may be found in the event of my demise and in the event that such a search is desired:
1. extant letters or fragments of letters that I have written or received, in public repositories or private collections including my own collection, that have been examined in the original manuscript or typescript, in photocopy or email;
2. published letters written or received for which no extant originals have yet been located; and
3. unlocated letters for which varying types of evidence--photocopies,emails and complete or partial typed transcriptions have been located.
The database of information for these three categories of letters, at this stage far from complete, aims to contain the following fields or information bases for each written and received item:(a ) year and date, (b) addressee, (c)place and (d) original.
It is hoped that the terms: manuscript, typescript, postcard, photocopy,typed copy, handwritten script,email or some combination of these terms (for instance typed copy of handwritten script) will accompany each item. Minimal descriptive information—fragment or mutilated—is provided parenthetically where relevant.
The technicalities of presentation when complete are those of convention; namely, (a) intrusions into the text are marked by square brackets; (b) spelling and and punctuation is to be silently corrected; (c) some mannerisms are to be maintained; (d) dates are to be made uniform and (e) et cetera.
MY LETTER-WRITING: A CONTEXT IN MY RETIREMENT
By 2006 I freed myself from most volunteer organization activity and spent all my volunteer activity in the form of: (a) formal/informal Bahá'í work and (b) internet posting/writing to promote and publicize (1) the Baha’i Faith and my own writings, a package which, in the end, was inseparable. I had been gradually moving to this orientation, this way of spending my time, over the previous several years especially since my retirement from FT teaching in 1999. Fourteen years ago, in May 2001, I virtually ceased applying for jobs and went on a Disability Support Pension. I now have a file which contains the last traces, the residues, of the job-hunting process. Indeed, this file represents a world, not so much of job-hunting, but one of independent scholarship and writing, a world—which in this file anyway—has an employment orientation. Sixteen years ago, in July 1999, I ceased permanent full-time employment.
This file represents the results of a new type of job that occupied my attention, a type of job that had been emerging for years but in 2001, after I no longer had to apply for FT jobs, it emerged from whatever obscurity in which it had been languishing. This type of job involved: (a) writing tasks of various kinds and (b) promoting the Baha’i Faith by means of this writing. Not all of these tasks are in this file, but this file was opened in 2004 and has now been in operation for ten years to house items of writing that are still part of that world of the job application process in one way or another.
This volume entitled Letter Writing: Section X: Volume 2 and a second volume entitled Publishing Volume 3.2.2 should be considered companion pieces to Letter Writing: Section X:Volume 1 These new volumes are follow-ons from the job hunting file I had used for years and which had its last edition in May 2001 when I went on the Australian Disability Pension.These new files provide a way of indicating, as I say above, the new “job-hunting orientation” that has developed since my lifetime career, my full-employment, ceased in 1999.
The whole idea of applying for a job in any serious way had ceased by mid-1997 at the earliest, as the end of my teaching career approached more clearly. Now, nearly 20 years later, in November 2014 at the age of 70, I have had some 15 years of putting into practice this new approach to living. I have ceased full-time work for the previous 15 years with only the occasional dalliance, the occasional application, an application as: consultant, as temporary employee, as a work-at-home person and, of course, two years of obligatory applications due to the wishes of Centrelink. Some of these dalliances are found in this file. Forty-seven years ago, in December 1967, I had been at my first full-time job for four months after leaving my home territory, home towns and entering the professional job world as a teacher. Now, I had a new profession which brightened the horizon. I had become: self-employed, an autodidact, an independent scholar whose life was one that the Greeks saw as productive leisure-time with work, jobs, employment, left to slaves!! Of course, this notion of slavery, leisure time and employment is too complex to discuss here.
The Publishing Volume 3.2.2, one of the two companion files to this one, contains (1) feedback from other writers and websites (2) information on the expert-about site and (3) a variety of other information especially places/sites to send poetry and essays.
MORE ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
I have provided below some analysis and some illustration, some context for whatever creativity is to be found by readers when and if this collection is ever published. Letters are always, it seems to me, exemplary illustrations of a writers creative capacity and the significance of his epistolary skills. I do not claim that my letters are masterpieces of the letter-writing art. If they disclose a personality that is well and good, but the world has millions of personalities now disclosed for the public eye, stories of individuals overcoming tribulation and achieving success. Another such story is not required. And I have no intention nor do I wish to make any claim to my life being a representative of that of an ideal Baha’i or a Baha’i pioneer. This is not an account of an exemplum. Claims to representativeness, it seems to me, are at best partial and at worst highly misleading to those who might glean some context for mentorship. I find there is something basically unstable or slippery about experience or, to put it in even stronger terms, in the words of Baha’u’llah, there is something about experience that bears only “the mere semblance of reality.” There is something about it that is elusive, even vain and empty, like “a vapour in the desert.”
There are so many exegetical and interpretive problems that accompany efforts to tie down the meaning of a life, of an experience, of a relationship. There is something divided, duplicitous, something that has happened but has yet to be defined and described or, as is usually the case, never described, at least not in writing, depending of course on the experience of the person and their literary skills. There are innumerable and indispensable points of reference in a life and yet so many of them take on the feeling of a mirage, as if they are not really there, like a dream, particularly as the years lengthen into later adulthood and old age. Some of the disclosure that takes place in a selection of letters can make the world better off, but this is not always the case and I certainly could not guarantee a positive result for my disclosures here. For most people, of course, the exercise, my disclosures, are totally irrelevant. If these letters disclose something of the Bahai Faith, some new perspective over these four epochs, I will feel that this amassing of correspondence has been worthwhile.
These letters of mine are not so much examples of carefully crafted writing as they are of unstudied informality, spontaneous indiscretions and a certain cultivated civility. I like to think these letters possess a wonderful chameleon-like quality for it is necessary that I reshape myself for each correspondent. Each letter is a performance and an impersonation. These letters contain many voices. On the occasions when I send out form letters, at Christmas and Ayyam-i-Ha, this diversity and variety is not achieved. For some respondents to my letters my reshaping is not appreciated or enjoyed, indeed, no response was forthcoming at all to many of my letters. As in the world of interpersonal interaction, of verbal exchange, so in the world of letters: not every communication is meaningful to both parties and, as in the world of the teacher that I was for years, not every comment of mine was returned.
The next section of this somewhat long posting here at BARL comes from chapter 3 of my memoirs. Not all of chapter 3 is included here, but enough to give a taste and a critique of the letter-writing process from the point of view of this Bahai who began his pioneering life 46 years ago in 1962 and who wrote his first letter to a Japanese Bahai youth in 1960--or so I recall with some doubt as I write these words more than 50 years later. It seems to me that those who read these letters one day, if they ever do, will have difficulty grasping the nature of my personality inspite of, or perhaps because of, the extensive literary base I have provided. The only impeccable writers and the only personalities we feel we understand, William Hazlitt noted nearly two centuries ago, are those who never write and people we have only briefly met. I would add to Hazlitt's analysis here that we often feel we understand a personality, but it is always in part. Getting to know people is a bit of a mystery at the best of times whether they are beside you on a bus, a train, a kitchen table or a bed. One is always adjusting ones mask for correspondents and, in the process, one creates a series of self-portraits, a mosaic of true and false, real and unreal. The quality and maturity of my relationship with others is, as William Hatcher pointed out 25 years ago, the best measure of spiritual progress and growth, acquiring the capacity for such mature relationships depends essentially on an intense inner life and self-development. And the measure of ones spirituality depends on much else, too much else to venture an analysis of in this brief statement. The letter is a reflection of this inner life but, in the end, it is but a reflection of a spirituality which lies at the centre of ones heart and soul.(William Hatcher, The Concept of Spirituality, Bahai Studies, Vol.11, 1982, p.25.)
I asssume that human personality is essentially unknowable, that it is the revelation of a masquerade in a stage play--for all the worlds a stage. This is not to say that there are not some aspects of life that are revealed through letters, but readers must keep in mind that they are dealing with fragmentary, often ambiguous and decidedly opague material over which they will be unable to wield any kind of imperial authority and comprehension. Whatever insights they gain in readings, they will be inevitably partial and will have a distinct tendency to crumble in a epistolary world that is often obtuse, dull and vulnerable from or within the onslaught of the quotidian. Collections of letters are not the most favorite fare in the popular periodical press, journalistic studies and at book launches except perghaps in the form of letters to the editor. They exist, letters that is, in a somewhat secret, fenced off area of privacy, an island of subjectivity, where even the external world is experienced as an inner world. This, the sociologist Georg Simmel once said, is the essence of modernity.
Readers will find, too, that however much a letter reveals the springs of action, there exists a nice and secret world to which he or she is never privy. Oftentimes neither is the writer aware of his motivational matrix, for mystery abounds in our worlds. The writer, namely myself in this case, turns his letter like a historical microscope with some sensitivity and with some attention to minute causality, but it is a causality he never fully grasps and a sensitivity he only attains to partially. The road these letters describe Im not sure I would ever have entered (either the road of the letters or the road of the analysis) if I had known of its length when I wrote that first letter fifty years ago.
Performance struggles with ideal when one writes and when one lives. That is the name of the game. My choice and my command of language, to whatever degree of imperfection and perfection I attained, were the fruit of exercise and with the arrival of more leisure in my mid-fifties that exercise was able to find much fuller expression. Some of the facts of my past, my religion and my society are presented in these letters in a language that is rich in a type of coherence and a type of embedded comment. I like to think that the cumulative effect of this comment is to predispose readers in favour of a particular interpretation of reality and the world. But my more skeptical self is more inclined to the view that a collection of letters is not likely to change the world view of readers no matter how open and receptive they may be. The stubborn testimony of unexceptionable facts, the facts of my life, gradually bring me to the bar of history and the sober discretion that I trust these same facts embody are a statement about my present age and hour. At the bar there is no final verdict only a series of temporary assessments and at the bar where individuals read these letters there will be combinations of the non-event, the boring, the occasional bright spark or low flame, perhaps a burning sensation or two, a little indigestion, a wishing and a willing that is beyond my pen to even attempt a description or a discretionary comment. But no final judgement.
These letters present a divergent and unfocused, an unconnected and bewildering mass of material. The collection is just too immense, the expression too forcible, the factual matter too inescapable for my intellect or the readers to close down any questions with definitiveness, decisiveness and precision--with answers. Rather, it seems to me, these letters open questions up and enlarge what is and was a narrow circle in which nature has confined me. If complete answers are found they simply carry the seeds of more questions. As the years went on, too, my thoughts became more complicated and, although my perspective could be said to remain the same, it was within such a different context that my letters came to be written. From the late fifties and early 1960s, to the years as they passed over the decades, my letters might as well have been written by a different person. The questions I dealt with changed from decade to decade, person to person and my inclusion of the responses to my letters provides a thorough contextualization not so much to my influence, an entity which is difficult to measure at best and at worst quite irrelevant to my reasons for including them, but to the letters themselves and the backdrop they provide to a period over several epochs of various urgent and interlocking challenges, painstaking and frustrating individual and community work when the Bahai Faith increased by 30 times, from 200 thousand in 1953 to six million in 2008.
Writing often draws attention to itself. This is especially true of letters where attention often does not pass through to the subject but gets stuck on the personality of the writer. For ours is an age, par excellence, of the celebrity. The awkward and tangled reality of the past, though, is displayed for all to see from my perspective in these letters. The surface of my past gazes out upon history, from my letters with all their quotidian dryness, everydayness, tedium and boredom. The past seems to elude the net of language as that language gets caught up in minutae, in the tedious and the toilsome. And anything called certainty is endlessly deferred, although there are pockets of certainty enough to go on and give us a feeling that the sky will not fall down. At least not in my time.
I think there is little doubt that these four epochs are the scene for the greatest and most aweful period in the history of humankind. Gibbon once said this of Rome in the 2nd century AD. My account here of the immensity and wonder of this period is an account from a quite personal and limited perspective. It is an account, too, which renders my version of a vision and my interpretation of a plot and script that derives from two god-men in the 19th century. My letters are pregnant with delightful observations that are as deep and as shallow as the person I am and they are pregnant as well with the most trivial images and thoughts as watery and limpid as amniotic fluid. For my letters, like the letters of most others, contain what is often called telephone talk, talk which nullifies serious artistic or psychological exchange, talk about lifes simplicities, talk about lifes conventionalities like the weather and the events of daily life.
Readers may find my letters something like the way that Carlyle found Scotts letters. They are never without interest, he pointed out, yet they are seldom or never very interesting. Id like to think that my letters might impart something of my soul, my joys and anxieties, and something that may engage the sympathies and pleasures of those who happen upon them in their journey. In an age in which communication has become more audible, with animated and electronic emails and sound systems improving in quality decade by decade, it seems that communication has also become more, or at least often, ephemeral; with billions of emails biting the electronic dust each week, if not each day, I offer this collection of letters as one mans record of his age.
I should say something about self-deception, since there is in letter-writing an inherent straying away from what actually happens, however slightly or innocently, a quiet but discernable progression from fact to fiction. Self-deception, lieing, secrecy, forgetfulness, confusion, gaps: they are all part of the story and our processing of the story. Everything we communicate, some analysts argue, is an orientation towards what is secret without ever telling the secret. As Henry Miller puts it: “I am I and I have thought unspeakable thoughts and done unthinkable things.” One aim in writing letters is toaim for artistic coherence and ethical satisfaction as we attempt to integrate, analyse and identify one of the countless versions, todays, this moments and hours part of our story and its inevitable secrets. This is unending work-poetic work-and it is central to self-creation. In other ways the self-deception is accidental, incidental. As Yeats put it: “I have changed nothing to my knowledge; and yet it must be that I have changed many things without my knowledge; for I am writing after many years and have consulted neither friend, nor letter, nor old newspaper.”--Source Unknown
Our ultimate aloneness in the universe is a truth which some find frightening. This aloneness is a part of the core experience in writing letters, autobiography or anything else. It is part of our very raison d’etre. It may just be that one of the best routes to self-forgetfulness, which ‘Abdu’l-Baha says is at the heart of self-realization, is through self-understanding on the road travelled by means of writing letters among other forms of activity. I have drawn on the following three sources for some of the above.
(1) Henry Miller in “Confessions and Autobiography” Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, editor, James Olney, Princeton, 1980, p.122.
(2) James Olney, “Some Versions of Memory/Some Versions of Bios: The Ontology of Autobiography”, Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, editor, James Olney, Princeton UP, 1980, p.262.
(3) Quoted in The Stories We are: An Essay on Self-Creation, William Lowell Randall, University of Toronto, 1995, p.345.
It was Charles Darwin's custom to file all his letters received and when his slender stock of files ("spits" as he called them was exhausted, he would burn the letters of several years, in order that he might make use of the liberated "spits." This process, carried on for years, destroyed nearly all letters received before 1862 at the age of 53. After that date he was persuaded to keep the more interesting letters, and these are preserved in an accessible form.
For different reasons my letters before 1982, in other words the first 20 years of my correspondence, are few in number. The concept of saving letters grew on me slowly over more than two decades, the first two decades of my traveling-and-pioneering.
SERENDIPITOUS LETTER WRITING AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY
We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and communities. These are part of the core substance of the letter, although even the student of the epistolary genre can be guilty of serious omissions and patterned distortions when he or she writes his or her letter. The introspecter and retrospecter in letter writing can give us rare access to inner experience from their position of aloof detachment and passionate engagement. Monopolistic access to my own inner life has found many grooves and at least one or two of those patterned distortions away from letter writing and toward religion. I hope the time has not yet come, as Virginia Woolf said can come, when I may have forgotten far more of significance than I can remember. Certainly I am far from the position Heinrich Boll was in when he wrote that “not one title, not one author, not one book that I held in my hand has remained in my memory.”
The letter is both the ultimate Insider and the ultimate Outsider in applying scientific understanding and insight to the self, the interplay of sequences of status-sets, roll-sets and intellectual development. What results is not so much a condensed description than a step toward elucidation.1 I feel as if I have just made a start in the first two decades of my attempt at an analytical discussion of the letter and my letters in particular. After five decades of dipping in and out of letter writing I don’t think I was at all conscious of letter writings hermeneutic influence until atleast the late 1980s when the Arc Project had been officially announced. If the letter appeared in my life it was accidentally, serendipitously and hardly worth any analysis, but that began to change as this Cause I have now been associated with for more than half a century was finally emerging from the obscurity in which it had languished for a century and a half.--Ron Price with thanks to 1Sociological Lives: Social Change and the Life Course, Vol.2, editor, Matilda White Riley, Sage Publications, London, 1988.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY: ANALYSIS YET AGAIN
I have provided a succinct narrative account of my life.1 It is chronological; the factual material is ordered, sequential. But, clearly, sharpness of detail, revealing anecdote, even suspense and analysis of motivation are given with insight and style much more effectively in my poetry. There is so much poetry now, some 7000+ poems spread over 1000s of pages. This collected and compendious mass of material, if it is ever to provide a basis for biography in the future, must be shaped, interpreted, given perspective, dimension, a point of view. The narrative first edition possesses much but has no life. It is like so many PhD theses which transfer dry bones from one graveyard to another but lack individuality and vitality.
Such a biographer, if he or she is ever to exist, must provide the creative, the fertile, the suggestive and engendering fact, an imaginative, a referential dimension. Such an analyst must enact a character, a place, a time in history. He will do this through language, through imposing a formal coherency on my material, although inevitably there will be present the incurable illogicalities of life, as Robert Louis Stevenson called the inconsistent, the unresolved paradoxes of life. He will give the reader a portrait not an inventory. This is what any biographer must do. I do this in my autobiographical poetry. I provide many pictures, many moods, many sides. Details balloon; they repeat; they illuminate. I discover things about my life, but I do not invent them. I have done little discovery in writing this autobiography thusfar.
As Plutarch and Boswell, two of history's most famous biographers, demonstrated:"anecdote rather than history teaches us more about the subject."2 I see my narrative as the home of history and my poetry as a source of rich anecdote. It was for this reason I turned to poetry as a reservoire of autobiography; it seemed to teach, to convey, much more than narrative. Claude Levi-Strauss helps us to understand why several poems about one object, or person, provide more significance or meaning than a narrative when he writes:
To understand a real object in its totality we always tend to work from its parts. The resistance it offers us is overcome by dividing it...Being smaller, the object as a whole seems less formidable....it seems to us qualitatively simplified.3
One can not know everything about anyone, even oneself. The mountain of detail that one does know would sink a ship and would not enlighten anyone. The task of achieving comprehensiveness not only is impossible, it is irrelevant. But there are intelligible dimensions of one's life and it is these dimensions that my poetry deals with best. Imagination is critical in writing biography. Some writers see invention more important than knowledge. Inevitably, there is an element of invention, of moving beyond the factual, but my own preference is to use imagination in a framework of factual experience, as far as possible. To read my poetry should be to immerse oneself in the first several decades of Bahá'í experience in what the Bahais see as 'the tenth stage of history' and, especially, that time when the spiritual and administrative centre on Mt. Carmel received its richest, its definitive, elaboration and definition. There are several unifying nodes of experience for my poetry, in addition to the above. I have drawn them to the reader's attention from time to time in the introductions to some of my poems.
From a Bahai perspective my poetry will undoubtedly possess a moral appeal associated with overcoming hardship, a quality that characterized most nineteenth century biography. But the moral framework, while retaining a certain simplicity, is expressed in a portait of complexity, refinement, mystery, a slumbering world, my own idle fancies and vain imaginings and the streaming utterance of a new Revelation.
Freud commented that biographers choose their subjects 'for personal reasons of their own emotional life.' 3 I'm sure this is equally, if not more, true of autobiograhers. After criss-crossing Australia as an international pioneer and teaching in the northernmost and southernmost places in Canada-all of this over thirty-six years, I have watched this emerging world religion grow perhaps fifteen times. I have taught in schools for nearly thirty years and feel a certain fatigue. I must write this poetry for the same reason a foetus must gestate for nine months. I feel, with Rilke, a great inner solitude and that my life and history is itself a beginning, for me, for my religion and for the world. I want to suck the sweetness out of everything and tell the story.
I sigh a deep-dark melancholy but keep it in as far as I am able. I am lonely and attentive in this sadness. My poetry gives expression to this process and to my destiny which comes from within. My poetry is the story of what happens to me. For the most part "life happens" and one must respond to the seemingly inevitability of it all, although the question of freedom and determinism is really quite complex. Reality, I record in my poetry, comes to me slowly, infinitely slowly. My poetry records this process. My poetry is an expression of a fruit that has been ripening within me: obscure, deep, mysterious. After years it now comes out in a continuous preoccupation as if I have, at last, found some hidden springs. It is as if I have been playing around the edges, with trivia, with surface. Finally something real, true, is around me. I stick to my work. I have a quiet confidence, a patience, a distance from a work that always occupies me. And so I can record a deep record of my time. I am preparing something both visible and invisible, something fundamental. This part of it is called autobiography.
1 When this essay was written, the 2nd edition of my autobiography was floundering in such a state that I was just about to give up writing it. An 80 page first edition was completed five years before this essay was written and it felt highly unsatisfactory.
2 Ira Nadel, Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1984, p.60.
4 ibid., p.122.
The discourse, the impulse, of autobiography and that of ethnography is combined in autoethnography. Autoethnography is an alternative to a tendentiously-characterized and conventional autobiography, on the one hand, and to a exoticizing, native-silencing brand of anthropology, on the other. Autoethnography is simply a form of self-narrative that places the self within a social context. As an autobiographical revision of ethnography it may aim at giving a personal accounting of the location of the self by making the ethnographer the subject-object of observation. It involves the ethnographic presentation of oneself as the subject which is usually considered the ‘object’ of the ethnographer’s interview. The standard model of the personal memoir, the autobiography, supports an liberal-individualist ideology and tends to isolate the author-subject from community.
Works by women and/or members of historically marginal or oppressed groups often resist the hegemony of the individualist account and give more weight to the social formation or inscription of self-hood and to the ways in which the author-subject negotiates the terms of his or her insertion into the identity-categories their culture imposes on them. Where the representation of cultures is concerned, critics commend autoethnography’s intricate interplay of the introspective personal engagement expected of an autobiography and the self-effacement expected of ethnography’s cultural descriptions. The impulse for self-documentation and the reproduction of images of the self pervade our everyday practice. The common business of social existence is the occasion for endlessly resourceful and enlightened dramatizations of self. We are each in our own way articulate exegetes of the politics of selfhood.-Ron Price with thanks to James Buzard, “On Auto-Ethnographic Authority,” The Yale Journal of Criticism,Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 2003.
The above essays contain just some of the ideas that I came across in the literature on autobiography. I have drawn on just some of the array of writing which has appeared in autobiographical literature especially since the decade 1950 to 1960. This literature has transformed our understanding of autobiography. --5/5/05
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
CHAPTER THREE: LETTERS
The very texture of history.....
Perception, reflection and social interaction are at least three of the many psychologically diverse contexts in which the word self appears in our everyday discourse. Autobiography is an important part of the narration of this self and this autobiography, like all autobiographies, finds its home in all of these contexts.1 But since the reality of man is his thought and what endures, after life has completed its course, is the soul, it is hardly surprising that there is a curious intangibility,2 an inherently spiritual abstraction, associated with defining, with expressing, who we are. And it is hardly surprising that this work of mine, this autobiography, contains a great deal that is better described as thought and not so much that one could describe as action. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Jens Brockmeier and Donald Carbaugh, editors, Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography: Self and Culture, John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2001; and 2Hannah Arendt in Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, Adriana Cavarero, Routledge, NY,2000, p.ix.
Although there is this curious intangibility that makes up any attempt to describe who we are, men’s beliefs in the sphere of human conduct are part of their conception of themselves and are intrinsic to their picture of the world. Both these beliefs and this conduct can be found expressed again and again in my letters.-Ron Price with thanks to Isaiah Berlin quoted by Robert Matuozzi, “When Bad Things Happen to Other People,” Philosophy & Literature, Vol.25,No.1, 2001, pp. 173-177.
On the dust jacket of The Selected Letters of Marcel Proust: 1880 to 1903 the publishers, Doubleday and Company, have written “letters are the strongest indicators of personality, perhaps the purest form of autobiography. We look at them as a means of knowing the author as a human being, of gaining perspectives on his life and work and, perhaps, divining the secret foundation of his creativity.” I think there is some truth in this remark. There is also, from my own experience, some truth in the sentiments of Thomas Wolfe who is quoted by Elizabeth Nowell in her introduction to the Selected Letters of Thomas Wolfe “a writer writes a letter in order to forget it.” Once down on paper, I find, the emotion or experience loses its compulsive force and can be stored away and forgotten. I have stored away some 5000 letters in over fifty volumes. Since beginning to collect these letters in 1967(with some retrospective findings and recollections going back to 1957) I have come to see them as an autobiographical tool. I leave it to readers to assess just where this autobiography is strongest and where it is weakest, where it is useful and where it is irrelevant. This is difficult for me to assess.
If this autobiography works for readers, it will not be because I have filled it with facts, with details, with the minutiae of life documented with great enthusiasm and eagerness in letters to friends and a variety of institutions. Success in this life narrative that has been going down on paper over many a year will be due to its basis, its centeredness, in ideas, the quality of the writing and this narratives connection with an emerging world Faith. If it becomes a success,at least in the short terms, at least in the next, say, several decades, as I have indicated before, in all likelihood that success will still be one that resonates with only a few people. But whether it resonates with many or a few, I believe, as Gilroy and Verhoeven argue, these letters are marked by and sent to the world. They counter, too, tendencies to flatten out the uniqueness of the individual in some falsely understood egalitarianism or sense of human equality. The Bahai teachings make clear that equality is a chimera. Our uniqueness as individuals derives from our constitutive relation with others, from our living in community, indeed, a number of factors.
The epistolary form was long associated in the western tradition with the feminine and the history of female subjection. As far back as Cicero in the first century BC, it was associated with everyday speech. Here in this autobiography my letters function as a crucial form of communication in the teaching and consolidation work of a pioneer. Indeed, one could say that my story, the narratability of my life, my very uniqueness, arises within the context of an interaction process that the letter goes along way to illustrate. The following Latin expression contains some truth: vox audita perit littera scripta manet--The voice heard vanishes, the letter written remains.
The dynamics of epistolary writing have been much studied in recent years. Analysts who read and study letters see them as something more than simple documents of a particular time and place. They, or at least some, see the letters as text that are only partly susceptible to explication or decipherability. Such documents bear a different relation to the world for a future reader than for the writer at the point when the letter was originally written. In some ways this is only stating the obvious. The act of reading a collection of published letters is inevitably shaped by a series of decisions made by both the letter-writers themselves and the readers. Letters are often exchanged, perhaps for years, usually without either participant considering them as an exercise leading to publication. There are at least two people I wrote to over more than ten years and a sub-collection of these letters would fill a sizeable book but, when they were written it was for the immediate purpose at hand not with the view to being read at some future time. T.S. Eliot puts this process well:
The desire to write a letter, to put down what you don't want anybody else to see but the person you are writing to, but which you do not want to be destroyed, but perhaps hope may be preserved for complete strangers to read, is ineradicable. (T.S. Eliot, English Poets As Letters Writers, From a lecture given in 1933 at Yale University) Certainly the extensive collection of my letters sent and received to these two individuals might take a future reader into the hearts and minds of three people at a unique, a significant, time in history and shed light on the period in question in ways that other genres of writing cannot and will not do. This sub-collection could be said to be (a) a dramatization of the appreciation of one man for the poetry of the most significant poet of the epochs under review and (b) the effort of one Bahai to explore his Faith en passant, indirectly, to a friend, colleague and fellow retiree. These two interlocutors are not so much possessed of a literary caliber superior to others I wrote to, although in most cases that was true, but the correspondence went on for many years, more years than that of others.
Eliot goes on:We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written. There are several components in what we could call this selective and personal epistolary machine: the act of writing, the act of reading and the world of interpretation. To focus on reading is to bring to light the complexity of the communication process, to recall that not all of a readers questions are going to be answered by reading the said letters. Readers may only have partially formulated questions in their minds or, perhaps, they may not even understand their own questions. Any message, including a letter, encounters a scrambling process upon entering the readers zone of associations and responses. I wish readers well dealing with the inevitabilities of scrambling which they will have to deal with in my letters. There is a conceptual intersection in each letter between reader, writer and world. And it is a busy intersection. And the discourse that takes place at these intersections possesses a paradoxical entwinement of minds and words. This is true of snail-mail or fiber-optic-borne email. Like the view at a busy intersection, much of what is seen is predictable while at the same time the specific details are to a large extent unknown or seen so differently by each spectator.
A recent essay that I wrote introducing a volume of letters gathered in the first years of my retirement will serve to illustrate many of the things Id like to say about this overall collection of letters. They were letters written just before and just after the completion of the Arc Project in 2001. I think, as Emerson wrote, that letters often put things better than verbal communication and provide perspectives that are timely here in this ongoing autobiographical statement. The letters of James Boswell, to chose for comparison one historical example from collections of letters, open a window onto the real man, a man hidden behind his great biography, his biography of Samuel Johnson. Of course, one must be sensitive, too, to epistolary disguise, posing, theatrical attentiveness to the social presentation of self, concern for appearances, standardization of responses and what might be called mannerisms in letter writing. As in life, there are many selves which write letters, many social conventions, courtesies, honesties, et cetera. and there are many worlds about which a writer writes.
It is the fate of those who toil at many of lifes employments, particularly the more introspective arts of which letter writing is one, to be driven more by the fear of evil, sin, personal inadequacy, regret and remorse, the sense of disappointment and the many discouraging aspects of life, than they are attracted by the prospect of good, of virtue, of praise or of victory, of giving pleasure and peace to readers. Many of the scribblers on the journey of life, ones I have met and ones I have not, are often exposed more to censure, with little hope of praise. They feel the disgrace of their miscarriages, the insufficiency of their language and the punishments they might receive or have received for their neglect of duty, principle or person. Their success, if any, has often been, if not usually, without applause and their diligence has reaped no external reward. Also, as Susan Sontag noted parenthetically in her preface to Letters: Summer 1926, the greatest writers invariably demand too much of, and are failed by, readers. It would be pretentious for me to claim to be a great writer, but I have been aware of the implicit and explicit demands I may make on readers and of the importance of keeping my expectations low. I have tried for many a year to put these principles into practice for Sontag is right.
Among these unhappy mortals is the writers of letters. Humankind seems to consider them like pioneers of literature doomed to work in societys private spaces with their home in little mailboxes and, more recently, in optic space. Every other author aspires to publication and praise. Letter writers, while they may enjoy a certain wild exuberance, must resign themselves to the tyranny of time and fashion--and the mind of one or, at the most, several readers. Each letter has no hope of a mass audience. There on the page they must disentangle perplexity and regulate lifes confusion for themselves and their lone readers. They must make choice out of boundless variety and do it without any established principle of selection. They must detect adulterations without a settled test for purity.
It happens, and especially in letter writing, that in things difficult there is danger from ignorance and there are so many difficult and complex things in life. In things easy there is danger from confidence and there are many an aspect of life that is easy and hardly requires any thought. The mind, afraid of greatness, and disdainful of littleness, hastily brushes over the more important aspects of life and/or dwells far too little on the everyday. It withdraws itself from painful epistolary dialogue and from the search required and so passes with scornful rapidity over tasks not adequate to its powers. Sometimes it feels too secure to exercise caution or too anxious for vigorous effort. It is afflicted by a literary idleness on plain and simple paths; and is often distracted in the labyrinths of life and interpersonal exchange. Dissipation stalks his literary intentions as words roll off his pallet onto the page. Readers may wonder what these phrases I have just written have to do with the art of writing letters. I leave you to ponder. In an age when little letter writing goes on, Im not sure how much meaning readers need to find here in these complex epistolary ideas.
A large work is difficult because it is large, even though all its parts might singly be performed with facility; where there are many things to be done, each must be allowed its share of time and labour, in the proportion only which it bears to the whole; nor can it be expected, that the stones which form the dome of a temple, should be squared and polished like the diamond of a ring. Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas, and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce new words, or combinations of words. When the mind is unchained from necessity, it will range after convenience; when it is left at large in the fields of speculation, it will shift opinions. If any custom is disused, especially the literary, the words that express that custom often perish with inactivity. As any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice. Since I retired from full time work in 1999 my mind has been unchained but, as yet, my opinions are not popular. They are, though, growing in the public place at a faster pace than ever. I leave it to readers to assess the junction, the intersection, between my letters and the pace of change in society on the subjects that occupy both me and that wider milieux. By 1999 my life had become more speculative than active, more literary, than people centered with its endless listening and talking. This shift in my literary and daily avocation is strongly reflected in the quantity and content of my letters and coalesced in my first extensive publications on the internet.
In the hope of giving longevity to that which my own nature repells me, forbids me, to desire, namely, the fame of my letters and my immortality through them, I have devoted this collection of letters, the labour of years, to the honour of my religion and as a testimony to one of my lifes achievements. There is a glory to life from its arts and its letters. Whether I shall add anything of my own writings to these arts and letters, to English literature, must be left to time. Much of my life has been lost under the pressures of illness, lack of direction, a certain frivolity, jobs that were fill-ins, conversations that seemed to go nowhere, activities that functioned largely to fill in time, the desire to be entertained regularly and daily, inter alia. Much of my days have been trifled away.
Much time each day has been spent in provision, in functioning, for the tasks of the day that was passing over me, doing what was in front of my nose. I have not thought my daily labour wasted; I have not thought my employment useless or ignoble. If, by my assistance, foreign nations and distant ages might gain access to the propagators of knowledge and understand the teachers of truth, or if my labours might afford light to some of the multitude of the repositories of learning, then my employment will be more worthwhile than any contemporary achievement. For vision and a sense of the future inspires so much that I do. When I have been animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my collection, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. Useful diligence in the microcosm of letter writing may in the end prevail.-Ron Price with thanks to Samuel Johnson, Preface to the Dictionary From Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1755, Edited by Jack Lynch.
I wrote the essay which follows as part of the second edition of this autobiographical work, a second edition I worked on from 1993 to 2003. It was one of my essays that was, in that process of ten years in the evolution of this autobiography, simply gathered into an appendix and not integrated into the body of that edition. In the third edition I achieved a better integration of material, of my autobiographical resources. My imaginative function became more fertile in the third edition. As the poet Wallace Stevens writes, referring to imagination: I am the necessary angel of earth/Since, in my sight, you see the world again, I am seeing the world again with greater vividness than I once did. Robert Graves, a prolific letter writer, saw his letters as a sort of spontaneous autobiography and his poems as his spiritual autobiography. I like the distinction. Perhaps, one day, a selection of letters from my spontaneous autobiography will become available.
Here, then, is some of that essay.....As the 38th, 39th and 40th years of pioneering took their course in the first years of my retirement, 1999 to 2002, I wrote some of the following about the letter-writing experience....
Across the line of time I thought I would try to make a brief summary of this letter writing experience, an experience which goes back to the first letter I received from the international pioneer Cliff Huxtable in St. Helena in 1967. Cliffs wife Cathy had just died at the age of thirty-five. Cliff is still in St. Helena thirty-five years later. He has remarried. He never wrote again. I replied but I did not keep a copy of the letter; indeed I kept few of my personal letters until about 1982, twenty years into the pioneering venture.
As I have pointed out on previous occasions I wrote and received letters going back as far as about 1962 when this pioneering journey began; before this back to the age of 13 in 1957 as a Bahai youth and junior-youth as the period before 15 is now called a few letters were written. But I have not kept the letters from the earlier period before 1967, except a rare item of the species. There were many letters after 1967, at least up to about 1980, which were destroyed. Some of these may be in private hands but, since I have no fame, no significance in the general public eye, it is unlikely that many, if any, letters are being kept privately by their recipients. The most assiduous search will, in all likelihood, not come up with the discovery of any epistolary manuscripts. I find it interesting and more than coincidental that virtually the entire corpus of my letters comes from a period that began with what the Universal House of Justice in 1967 called ‘the dark heart of the age of transition.’ Even the letters before 1967 which were not kept come from a period that the Guardian described in 1957 as one hovering on the brink of self-destruction. Such was the widest context for that first letter to Hiroshi Kamatu in Japan in 1957.
By those dates, from 1957 to 1967, “a mood of cultural crisis: a sense that something had gone terribly wrong in the modern world, something that we could neither assimilate nor put right,” had entered our psyches. One writer called our society a post-traumatic culture. Indeed there have been, since the fifties and sixties, a host of characterizations of the shift, the crisis, of these days. It was in many ways an insensible process without a beginning date, but it was like a tempest which blew and blew decade after decade, a tempest that had already begun in the lives of my parents and, arguably, my grandparents.
If one tried to get a picture of the hey-day of my letter writing I think it would be in the 1980s when I lived, first in Zeehan on the west coast of Tasmania, and then in the north of Australia, north of Capricorn, although in the early years of the new millennium, after my retirement, there was a new lease on letter-writing life in the form of emails. I do not have any interest in going through this collection of letters that I wrote north of Capricorn or, indeed, from the full period 1957 to 2002, now in over 50 2-ring binders and arch-lever files. Perhaps a future day will see me making some minute analysis of the extent and the content of these letters. Perhaps, should their potential value become more evident to me, I shall take a more serious interest in them. Thusfar I have made only the occasional annotation to these letters. As the first editor of this collection, I have given them order and shape; I have set them in context, but I have made no attempt to correct their errors, to improve their expression or comment on their individuality: whom I wrote to, why I wrote and under what circumstances. Ileave any future efforts to collect and edit this collection to my executors and any Bahai institutions which take an interest in this collection.
I have, though, taken a very general interest in the collections of letters of other writers to help provide useful perspectives on my own collection. I have opened a file of introductions to collections of letters obtained from books of the letters of famous writers and have kept additional notes on the genre because I think in the years ahead I may write a history drawing on letters, mine and those of other Baháís in the world during these four epochs. The analysis of the letters of other writers also helps me enrich and understand the context of my own pieces. These letters are like arrows from the same quiver. I send them just as high and far as I can. In my journal it is the same. Perhaps these letters and my journal are simply the product of a peculiar self-centredness. Their appeal I’m sure will not be due to my wit, my humour, the adventureousness or the romance of this narrative, but rather( if there is to be any appeal at all) to the ordinariness of the content and, most importantly and as I have indicated before, their association with this new global Cause. Their appeal for me, for me as the writer, is the sense of surprise. V.S. Naipaul said the same thing in his Nobel prize lecture given in 2001.
Some of that surprise comes from the fact, says Naipaul, that the self that writes is not the everyday self. They are very different. The everyday self is essentially superficial and, if not superficial, it is at least domestic and practical & must deal with the minutae of life just to get from one day to another in one piece: fed, housed and clothed-and hopefully loved. I’m not so sure about this characterization of the double self, but that sense of surprise I find on every page I write and this surprise certainly possesses an appeal. It helps to keep me going, keep me writing. “The secretion of ones innermost life, written in solitude and for oneself alone, that one gives to the public,” writes Naipaul. “What one bestows on private life—in conversation, however refined it may be—is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents the world. While I’m not sure this is entirely true, it certainly is in part.
I am not a letter writer of the order of a Lawrence or a Flaubert. These famous novelists used the medium of the letter to fill a need, not for mere self-expression, but for some larger exercise of the personality. This larger exercise communicated their exasperation or their enthusiasm, an almost instinctive enlargement of their reaction to things. What others found in motivated and unmotivated physical activity these letter-writers found in the act of writing. I write from time to time about Flaubert and I will say no more here about this particularly famous letter-writer.
My letters do not possess that reserve found in the letters of Walter Benjamin. In a review of the letters of Benjamin by the sociologist Fredric Jameson, Jameson writes: "even where he lets himself go with people he trusts, one has the feeling not of the revelation of some true inner self but merely of the relaxation of that reserve." It seems to me that my letters possess only a moderate reserve. "Many of Benjamin's letters seem to have been provoked less by a need for expression than by the practical necessities of which Benjamin’s life was so full." This practicality was also at the centre of my letter-writing but so, too, was expression.
Maugham puts this idea a little differently. I had an impression,this is Maughams summing up of the writer Thomas Hardy, that the real man, to his death unknown and lonely, was a wraith that went a silent way unseen between the writer of his books and the man who led his life, and smiled with ironical detachment at the two puppets. Somewhere in all of this lies the real writer, the real me. Is this real me to be found in the id, the unconscious, the reflexes, the hormones, in a socialization process, the roles of a protean man, in feeling good? This complex question really requires a book on its own, but I think from a Baha’i perspective the real me is best found in thought and action guided by the behavioural principles of this Cause to put the case as succinctly as I can.
This is not a collection of letters of a famous person or to famous people, like the collections of letters of Einstein to President Roosevelt, or the collection of Jane Austens letters or those of, say, one of the Presidents, Prime Ministers or other prominent members of the community. My collection has no curiosity value like the letters to Santa Claus or to lovers or to mothers or from children, suicide victims or entertainers to an assortment of people. Whatever significance this collection has is tied-up with the emergence of a new world Order and a new religion and whatever future that religion may have. These letters bear the traces of contemporary historical practices, literary styles and tastes and they are surrounded by what could be called the envelope of contingency. In this sense they are communications to and with the world, with society, however personal and private they may appear to the casual observer. There are few communications with famous people either in the Bahai world or out. Outstanding thinkers, artists, political figures, scientists or significant Bahais on the elected or appointed side of the Cause will not be found here. The pivotal figures of these epochs are virtually absent.
That is not to say that fascinating personalities are not present, that individuals with great charm are not found among the pages, that devotion and faith, patience and understanding are not here. There is a storehouse of humanity, a kalaidescope of personalities, here that I met on my journey. There was a certain excitement which I found pleasant but transitory and, as I look back over it, not something I would want to repeat or make permanent. There is something tumultuous about existence and these letters reflect that quality. This tumultuous quality is due to many causes that are not my purpose to describe here. Even the most intimate of relationships contains a trace of strangeness and, inevitably, this is reflected in letters.
These letters are, for me at least, part of a potential global epistolary collection, part of the literary expression of a global diaspora, a national and an international pioneering movement, that was only in its second generation when I got into the field in the 1960s. The recent eighteen-volume series on global diasporas and the six volume work of the International Library of Studies of Migration, will, in all likelihood, have no mention of the Baháí diaspora when they are completed. The former is or will be made up of original works, while the latter is a collection of previously published articles on selected themes. International migration and diasporas have come to constitute distinctive fields of inquiry and there is considerable overlap between them.
The study of international migration is broader in scope and partially subsumes diaspora studies. Diasporas arise from international migration. Constant interaction between diasporic communities in dozens of sovereign states and with various homelands is one of the defining features of this international migration. After nearly seven decades of international pioneering as part of an international teaching Plan, this interaction and these many diasporas seem to me, in many ways, to have just been initiated and only briefly been given any academic study. The major events of this pioneering venture, the various processes concerning its growth and development, and aspects of the diasporic life of, say, Baháís from North America in Australia would necessarily interest only a small body of people at this stage of that groups history. Indeed, at this early stage, however massive the exercise involved, and the global pioneering venture is indeed a massive one, the significance of collections of letters is hardly appreciated as yet; indeed, I would think for most people including the pioneers themselves there would be very few collections of letters extant.
What are termed Baháí studies or international Baháí pioneering studies will one day, though, I am confident, be a part of an extensive study of the great Baháí international diaspora of the last sixty-seven years(1937-2004), a full two-thirds of the first century of the Formative Age. So I am inclined to think, anyway. These letters are part of what is,in fact,a grand narrative.
Specific letters relevant to the history of the Cause in the Northern Territory(NT) I kept for two decades(1982-2002) in special files as resource material to help me write the Baháí history of that region. I have now given them to the Regional Baháí Council for the Northern Territory. Much more collecting of letters written by Baháís in the NT could be done by history writers and archivists with greater enthusiasms than I now possess and I hope some day such an exercise will be accomplished. In the disintegration of society that is part of the essential backdrop to these letters and the contrasting integration, the generation that took part in the pioneering venture of the years 1962 to 1987, marks the first years of the tenth and final stage of history. It is a stage coextensive with a crucial stage in the institutionalization of the charismatic Force, the routinization of that charisma to use Webers term, in the Universal House of Justice.
If these letters appear to indicate an aloofness from the controversies of the day, from the endless issues that occupied the front pages of the newspapers and the images and sounds from the electronic media; if they refrain year after year from any association by word or deed with the political pursuits of the various nations of the world, with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programmes of parties and factions, it is because this is the advice, the position, taken by the leaders of my Faith following principles and practices laid down by the Founders and leaders of this Faith beginning in the 1840s. I, too, following these considered views, have tried to further the aims of what is to me a beloved Cause and to steer a course amid the snares and pitfalls of a troubled age by steering clear of partisan-political subjects. Many writers do the same. They steer clear of politics and go in for sex, religion, humour, theology, inter alia, in their writing. They belong to no lit crit school, have no followers and simply cannot be easily labelled politically.
What does occupy the Baháí often appears trifling. Such is the feeling I have frequently had in relation to these letters. The words of Thomas Henry Huxley, the nineteenth century biologist and educator, I find encouraging. He opened his autobiography with a quotation from a letter from a Bishop Butler, a bishop of the episcopal seat of Aukland, to the Duchess of Somerset. The bishop wrote: And when I consider, in one view, the many things . . . which I have upon my hands, I feel the burlesque of being employed in this manner at my time of life. But, in another view, and taking in all circumstances, these things, as trifling as they may appear, no less than things of greater importance, seem to be put upon me to do. As archaic, as anachronistic, as the style of the good bishops words may be, the point for me is important, namely, that Huxley saw his autobiography, even the humble letter, as something put on him to do, by the interpositions of a watchful Providence, the eye of a necessary Fate or the simple needs of circumstance, however trifling it appeared to be.
I am reminded, in this context, of the words of Roger White from A Sudden Music. White says that the highest service a Baháí can often render is to simply do the thing under his nose that needed doing. For me, writing letters was often this thing. And so it was, that over time, as the years went on, what was once seen as a trifling exercise took on a patina of gentle significance, perhaps even the sense of letters being a small example of what the Universal House of Justice called nobler, ampler manifestations of human achievement in their discussion of the subject of freedom of thought. If I was not a good cook, a good gardener, a good mechanic, a good painter, indeed, if I did not operate successfully in so many areas of life, as indeed most of us can say about so many domains of activity, I could at least write a letter and do it well, at least such was my personal view. Perhaps, like one of the greatest letter writers of all time, Voltaire, I would do most of my best and significant work in the years ahead. He did his best writing from the age of 64 to 84.
I’ve always appreciated the words of Evelyn Waugh in terms of this particular capacity to write letters. Beware of writing to me,” he once said, “I always answer.” He referred to his letter writing habit as “an inherited weakness,” part of his “great boringness.” It was partly due, he said, to “never going out or telephoning.” Like Thoreau my life showed a devotion to principle,but by the time I was sixty I was only too conscious of just how far my life had been from the practical application of that principle. I have little doubt that were many more individuals, more sincere and more genuine in their devotion to that same principle or principles, than I have or would be. As Clausewitz notes in his series of essays On War to be faithful in action to the principles laid down for ourselves this is our entire difficulty.
The many things to which the Duchess’s correspondent here refers are the repairs and improvements of his episcopal seat at Auckland. I doubt if Huxley, the first great apologist of Darwinian evolution, this largely self-educated man, one of Englands founders of primary schools for all, this father of eight children, this coiner of the term agnostic, saw himself as an instrument of the deity. But, like the good Bishop Butler, Im sure he felt he had things of great importance to do and that they had been put upon him. Even the humble letter. Virginia Woolf wrote that it was not until the nineteenth century that self-consciousness had developed so far that it was the habit of men to describe their minds when they wrote their letters and their autobiographies. I write in this new tradition, although I am conscious, as Woolf puts it plainly, of the worlds notorious indifference. And it may be many years, if ever, before this collection of letters has any interest to even a coterie of people.
Letter writing has occasionally been a routine, perfunctory, exercise; occasionally a joy, a pleasure, a delight; occasionally part of some job or community responsibility. “Letters were the very texture” wrote Henry James “of Emerson’s history.” There is certainly a texture here that is not present in the other genres of my wide-ranging autobiography. Some letter-writers are janus-faced and some, like Truman Capote, the author of Capote’s letters in Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote are three-faced. There was the face for gay friends, the face for non-gay friends, and the face for the friends he made in Kansas while writing In Cold Blood. I think I have a multiple-faced letter writing persona:one for Baha’is of a conservative type, one for a more liberal orientation, one for those who are Baha’i in name only, one for youthful types, one for old people and one for...and on goes the list, the persona. Letter writing partly overcomes, together with my writing in other genres, the ancient enmity between life and the great work. And it was apparent that, if I was to achieve any ‘great work,’ it would be in bits and pieces spread out over many years, many decades. Like the great work of inner life and private character, achievements in my life seem to have been small steps backward and forward.
The texture of these largely private communications is also a result of a new written form, the email, a form which was present in Volume 5 of my personal letters as well, but makes a strong appearance in this Volume 6(the year I retired from full-time work) of these letters. Nine out of ten communications by then were emails not letters. I think the first email I received was in 1990 or 1991, but I have kept few emails before the mid-to-late 1990s when email traffic began to replace the letter and, for me at least, by 2000 the telephone to a significant extent. Even the emails over the last dozen years, 1995-2007, were largely deleted. So much of what has come in since the email entered my life has not been worth keeping in my archive. Like the ten thousand letters I wrote in the organizations which employed me over more than 40 years and which either lie in files now or are on the scrap-heap, the detritus, of one of historys myriad paper-trails no one will ever follow, a vast quantity of emails I have received have disappeared in an electronic void. Their electronic successors, like the mobile phone and text messages, have not been part of my experience in their early years of operation and so there will be nothing in this collection of messages over 50 years from these additions to the electronic industry and their communications functions.
In the early years of retirement, 1999 to 2002, I rarely used the telephone. In retirement I had come to find the telephone an intrusion after more than forty years of my finding it a pleasure, a convenience or a necessity. Of course, I still owned a telephone and answered it when circumstances required with courtesy and kindness and, when possible,with humour & attentiveness.
A great deal of life is messy work offering to the artist irrelevant, redundant and contradictory clutter. Much of letter writing falls into this category; it spoils a good story and blunts the theme, like much of conversation, much of life, it is random, routine and deals with the everyday scene, ad nauseam. But these letters tell of a life in a way that is unique, not so much as a collection of letters, for collections are a common genre over the centuries, but as a collection of letters in the third, forth and fifth epochs of the Formative Age of the Baháí Era. They present pictures that tell of a concrete reality, a time and an age, that I hope will stand revealed to future readers. For these epochs were characterized by what Toynbee calls a schism in the soul in an age of social disintegration. A fully seasoned universal state with its supreme authority and its supreme impersonal law, argues Toynbee, were not part of the cosmology and the basic unit of social organization, for humankind in this half century, although some serious and significant beginnings to that process were made in that direction.
What is here in these letters and in my other writings is, in part, some signs and signals of the embryo of that unit of social organization at the global level. The Bahai Faith has been central to my education, my ambitions and my assumptions as far back as the early 1960s and late 1950s. Much of this educatyion was peripatetic and that of an autodidact. What is here is spiritual autobiography and psychological revelation in a different literary form than my poetry and it tells of a period during which the Baháí Faith made a significant leap forward in its numbers and in the maturity of its community. Often, to the Baháís working in their personal lives and in their communities this maturity and this growth was either not evident or not appreciated. So often it was the struggle itself that dominated their perspectives, their emotional life and their thoughts.
Often, too, readers awareness of the many Ron Prices that make up my life and whatever maturity I have or have not attained is sharpened by their dip into the pool of my letters. But perhaps most importantly the number of collections of letters from international pioneers during this period may not be that extensive given the busyness of peoples lives and what seems to me to be a quite natural disinclination to keep letters beyond a salient few of some personal importance. If, as Anthony Burgess suggests, artists must be judged not merely by excellence, but by bulk and variety, then at least Id be in the running, if ever I should want to be running. Sometimes, though, bulk compromises quality. Perhaps that is the case here. I leave that to readers to judge. As yet my literary landscape has not been surveyed professionally or by amateurs. I certainly hope I escape the fate of Burgess, at least as it was held in the hands of biographer Roger Lewis who wrote: From an aesthetic viewpoint, all of Burgess relentless productivity was one vast waste of words and paper. But one never knows for sure.
Film critic Gerald Peary notes in his essay on the biography Clint: The Life and Legend, there are at least two Clints. I think it is fair to say there are probably more than two Clint Eastwoods. There are certainly more than two Ron Prices with hopefully a golden thread joining all the selves as well as threads of many other colours. On the internet I found by the year 2007 at least 50 Ron Prices: car salesmen, writers, poets, evangelists, Deans, Board Members,harpists,insurance salesmen, etc. etc.
After more than fifty years of excessive contact with human beings, the quiet, only child, the self who had learned in his early childhood(up to 1949) how to occupy himself in a solitary way, seemed to want more of that solitude. Price was ready by the turn of the millennium for televisions more metonymic contact with others. He found in this medium, a medium which had been part of his life on and off for half a century, that all of those storytellers, priests, wisemen and elders which in many ways had become lost to society in the years of its disintegration in the previous century and especially in recent decades, the decades of his life, had become restored to cultural visibility and to oral primacy in his nightly fare on TV and in the daily fare of radio programs. With embellishments from the internet and books, embellishments which were usually more satisfying to the mind, he felt little need for any human contact at all. And society, he felt, seemed to have little felt need, for his story, drowned as society had become in a plethora of stories, day after day, night after night and year after year from the tidal wave of productions of the print and electronic media
Those storytellers came along in the convincing guise of highly literate specialists: newsreaders, commentators, scientific and artistic experts as well as writers and producers with their endless capacity to generate stories in the form of movies, interviews, who-dun-its, soap-operas, a cornucopia of stuff that rested the eyes and stimulated the mind in varying degrees. It was here in the media that the sophists of ancient Greece were reborn. The sophists with their emphasis on the power of the intellect arose as Greek society in the fifth century BC was becoming more complex. They were rootless people without any commitment to community. And they are very much like many of the worldly wise who come upon the scene and pontificate, publicize and entertain millions but, unlike Socrates of old, they generally have no commitment to community except in the most generalized sense. Our troubled times approximate more closely the conditions of Greece and Rome and comparisons like those I make to the sophists are useful. The media now tend to direct not only our knowledge of the world but our knowledge of ways of knowing it. And the new sophists play an important role in this mix. Not to mention this important aspect of contemporary social and intellectual life in an autobiography of this nature would be a serious omission.
A new nonliterary culture had come to exist at about the same time that my pioneering life began. “Its existence, not to mention significance, most literary intellectuals are entirely unaware, wrote Susan Sontag in her groundbreaking 1965 essay, One Culture and the New Sensibility. While this work does not focus on this complex theme, the presence of a large group of people in my society, a group who reads to such a limited extent, is a simple reality of life whose implications I can not possibly dwell on. Readers, if interested in this topic, can examine this article by Skinner and his discussion of the new sensibility of a non-literary culture. This not literary sensibility had implications for my letter writing, but I will not go into them here.
The media had many functions. It allowed me to get back to my writing day after day, having been gently and alternatively amused, stimulated, entertained and informed. I could see why millions had no need to write letters for they had had sufficient human contact on TV. Those with a higher degree of need for a particular type of sociability could use the telephone and/or join one of many volunteer organizations that came to be dotting the landscape by the time I retired. As I mentioned above though, by the year 2000, I seemed to be writing more letters than ever. By nine oclock at night my eyes and mind were so tired from reading and writing--usually at least a six to eight hour minimum of the days time and a ten hour maximum--that I was happy to consume televisions products. With an average of two hours of TV consumption nightly I could finish my eight hour reading-writing day after 11 pm and before 3 am. Millions of my words were slowly permeating some of the literally millions of internet sites. Yes, I was writing more letters than ever.
Perhaps this is why so many events in my life, events that could be stories, did not become stories. Baháí holy days, Feasts, deepenings, secular holidays by the bundle, a seemingly infinite number of birthdays, annual dinners, suppers for friends, good-grief, the list of repeated activities one engages in over lifes years could go on and on. Over fifty years at, say, fifty events a year, makes for at least 2500 special days, special occasions. And little of it appears here in these letters. One might ask why? Is it the repetition, the routine, the sameness? Is it that these events are part of the very texture of life and, like the air, are difficult to write about in a book like this. They come to occupy two or three lines in a letter; they become the base of an occasional poem; they fill hundreds, thousands of hours of life with a million eventualities. At best, they provide suggestive openings for readers of a letter, unobtrusive patterns of juxtaposition, recurrence, contrast and familiarity out of which fresh and unpredictable understandings may emerge.
There is something about the routines, the repetition of events in the ordinary life of the individual and I refer to this repetition frequently in this autobiography, that is like the experience of the criminal in prison. The crim discovers on his release that he is not the only one to perceive the lagging of time in terms of suspended animation. His old friends do also. They act as though he has returned from a brief trip to the toilet or out of town for a few hours, even though he may have been in the nick for a decade, greeting him casually and then going about their business. Ones actions so frequently point to somewhere, some time, when and where one has been before and frequently. One often resumes a relationship as if one has only, as Withnell puts it in that humorous turn of phrase, been to the toilet. This is part of the backdrop that often gives one the feeling that little change has occurred in ones being, behaving. It is this terrible sameness that takes the experience of writing a letter completely out of the realms of meaningful activitiy and is, perhaps, one of the main reasons why relatively little takes place.
My letters were, among other things, strands of experience woven into patterns, patterns in a channel, a channel that in the early years of my retirement became filled with electronic signals; they came to fill many arch-lever files and binders and, after 2007, lists of items in my computer directory. They were an expression of an art, a means of communication. By the time Volume 4 of this collection of personal correspondence was gathered in 1995 I had, as I have indicated, become exhausted by personal contacts. Perhaps this was due in part to my proclivity for solitude in contrast to a more social inclination, a more social mode of existence that had been such a strong part of my life for half a century. I was more inclined to think that this social disinclination was due to many things in a list too long to ennumerate here. This may be part of the reason for any apparent aloofness and any insistence on solitude that is found in either my letters or my poetry, especially after about 1995 when I was in my early fifties. In 1985 a second volume of personal correspondence was opened. Part 1 of Volume 1(1957-1974) and Part 2(1974-1984) of Volume 1 opened the series. The first fifty years of my letter-writing life had their home by 2007. The several themes which analysts might want to follow through the letters had begun to be apparent.
My autobiography arose out of the juxtaposition of several temperamental disinclinations that rose up in my life over several decades and came to a head in the years 1992/3 to 2002/3. Curiosity about the future and the afterlife among other interests also played their part. Evelyn Waugh says that it is in these temperamental disinclinations that one finds the origin of autobiography. Perhaps, like Rilke, I had been for decades too responsive for my own peace of mind.(1) Perhaps my letters are, like Rilkes, an indication of a great need of imparting the life within me.(2) Perhaps they are simply a matter of pouring experience into a mould to obtain release, to ease the pressure of life. When inspiration to write poetry lagged I often turned to correspondence. It was a handicraft, a tool among several others, that could keep me at work in constant preparation for the creative moments.(3)
As the social dimensions of my psycho-social life were waning by the mid-1990s and, like Rilke, I began to thirst for solitude, the wider world was experiencing 56 wars being fought around the globe. Among other devastating effects, these conflicts created at least 17 million refugees and left 26 million people homeless. Another 300 million individuals suffered because of disasters not related to war. This state of affairs, following the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the proclamation of a new world order, indicated serious disarray among the community of nations. And yet, each day dedicated human beings -- among them international civil servants, government officials, nongovernmental workers, and a broad spectrum of volunteers -- continued to cope with complex and seemingly intractable problems, in efforts to alleviate suffering and advance the cause of peace. This wider drama, a drama that was always present in the background as my own life winding its way down the road, was simply beyond one’s imagination to understand in any detail. I got broad pictures, but the details were usually complex, overwhelming and elusive.
The drama of my life became largely an inner one as the 1990s came to an end. The external battle, its pleasures and anxieties, went on but in a much more subdued form. Perhaps, like Thoreau, I lacked a certain breadth and coarseness of fiber and by my fifties I came to prefer, as Thoreau had been all his life, to be more isolated from my surroundings, more insular and solitary. I came by my late fifties to plant myself near the sea with a granite floor of principle beneath me, although often there were layers of intervening clay and quicksand which, even in my solitude, seemed to entrap me. Of course, that trap was the one I had seen all my life: the trap of self, of ego, of natures insistent self and of lifes inevitable complexities. Was I too quick or too slow to answer lifes call, too inclined or not inclined enough to switch off its insistent urgings? Lacking the right words for the right time or failing to come up with the right verbal package did I rush in where angels feared to tread? Was this equally true in the letters I wrote? One could not always frame the words to say-it-right in every letter and email. I hope, I believed, I was saying it better in my poetry which Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said is the poet’s true autobiography.
These letters, it seems to me, stand in sharp contrast to what Frederic Jameson refers to as the four losses that are symptomatic of our age of postmodernism. These losses have come to characterize our society increasingly since the 1970s: the suspension of subjective inwardness, referential depth, historical time and coherent human expression. These letters in some basic ways define my identity and my communities by telling the story of myself, the community I have been part of and the events of the time. There is clearly referential depth here, subjective inwardness, the story of a search, an open-ended drama of personal narratives, a sense of the complexity of these historical times. There is also here in these letters what Roland Barthes calls an image of literature to be found in ordinary culture. This image, he goes on, is tyrannically centred on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions, while criticism consists for the most part in saying that my failure is the failure of Ron Price the man. The explanation of a work, he concludes,is always sought in the man or woman who produced it....in the voice of a single person, the author confiding in us.
While the art and craft of letter writing have declined in this century, letter stories have thrived. Cast as love letters and Dear John letters, as thank-you notes and suicide notes, as memos and letters to the editor, and as exchanges with the United States Post Office, examples of epistolary fiction have been published by the hundreds, among them the work of many of our most notable authors. Why has this form of fiction writing remained so popular? Gail Pool, the editor of Other Peoples Mail says it has something to do with the rhetorical question: Who is immune to the seduction of reading other peoples mail? I like to think my letters offer a similar seduction. That is what Id like to think. Time, of course, will tell.
Although epistolary fiction enjoyed its greatest popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when letters were central to daily life, this style of writing still has a place and a popular one it would seem. Letter stories are about communication and they are effective in framing our modern concerns: the struggle to find meaningful stories, relationships, and lives amid the social and moral disarray of the era and the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, artist and audience, private and public domains. My own letters accomplish this similar framing exercise.
Written and received over more than fifty years, my collection of letters delineates the themes of our time as do the themes of the stories in Other Peoples Mail. Offering seventeen stories written by a culturally diverse group of authors, Other Peoples Mail represents what letter tales, at their best, can do. They may be written from the Canadian wilderness, a private school in Geneva, a concentration camp, or beyond the grave. They may be comic or satirical, poignant or tragic, but all are united in their distinctive format. For letters are distinctively individual. Other Peoples Mail is the first collection of its kind. It is a unique and important anthology. Pools highly informative introduction explores the nature of letter fiction. Literature and writing instructors may find in this lively anthology a useful resource. My collection offers a single perspective, a single individual, a single background to a life, a distinctive format, at times satirical, at times poignant, tragic, humorous and lively and, no doubt and inevitably--as collections of letters are for most people--boring and therefore unread. In that tidal-wave of print and visual stimulation that occupies today's world, collections of letters, for the most part, slip into a quiet niche, unknown and unnoticed and not missed. It often takes many years after a person's death for the entire collection of a writer's letters to be published. It took 125 years for Gustav Flauberts letters to be fully published in five volumes. Even assuming my letters get published and, if I was to follow in Flauberts footsteps, readers could anticipate the publication of the full oeuvre of my letters in, say, 2150!--or thereabouts!!
By the time I was in my 70s, after more than 50 years of writing letters, my literary habitat was somewhat like Flaubert's, hermit-like. My medications took the fire and energy out of my physiological processes and I was happy to get my 6 to 8 hours of a literary-life under my belt from day to day. Like Flaubert my life was largely sedentary with a daily restorative walk, the occasional swim, a little TV and 12 hours in bed for a 9 hour sleep. My temperament was not characterized by the sadism and pessimism that Flaubert had to deal with, that was the nucleus of his inspiration as Leon writes about in his review of the Flaubert-Turgenev correspondence in the LRB in 1985. Turgenev wrote that Flubert had "tenacity but no energy." That could be said of me due to my seroquel and effexor which confined my energy to about 6 hours each day. Flaubert, we are also informed was "in many ways an unpleasant man."(See: Searching for Emma by Dacia Maraini) Although I have had my weaknesses and faults, my general character was not unpleasant.Flaubert sought relief for his erotic urges in prostitutes; I slowly learned to control my libidinal urges over decades of the exercise of self-control, a subject I write about many times in my memoiristic writing. Readers will find no evocative pages of my writing in the satisfaction of my sensual needs.
John Sturrock writes about Flaubert's letters that they were "the most uninterruptedly enjoyable correspondence of any French writer,"(LRB, 1993) especially his "wonderful letters....to his mistress Louise Colet." Letter writing allowed Flaubert to enter into a relationship with people whose personalities would have been too difficult for him in real space." In letter-writing one does not have to put up with the small annoyances that are part of most cohabitations. By his 40s Flaubert had given-up on the possibilities of romantic love; by my 40s, and even totally by my 60s, I had become resigned to the limitations of a marriage that was worth preserving and worth going the distance in---in spite of whatever intractable difficulties that institution had come to present for me or for my wife of many years. Flaubert, Barbara Beaumont informs us, kept "the ephemeral imprint of personality out of his fiction. An artist should be, like God, wrote Flaubert,"present everywhere, yet visible nowhere." His letters, though, were filled with his feelings, opinions and his inner life. So,too, is most of my writing, letters and essays, narrative and poetry.
The tangled root and the tranquil flower is here: cool detachment, indifference, and an anguish of spirit.4 I leave it to future readers to find these roots and flowers, these several temperaments. I trust their search will have its own reward. I hope, too, that this opening comment on Volume 6 of my personal correspondence in Section VII of Pioneering Over Four Epochs sets an initial perspective of some value. These words above written on several occasions from 1999 to 2002 for the third and fourth editions of this autobiography were completed after living for more than four years in George Town Tasmania. Some writers move to enclaves where many other writers live. Brooklyn USA is a good example. George Town, with its small population of perhaps 6000, has hundreds of gardeners; people who fish, water ski and go boating can be found in abundance. So can artists, cooks, cleaners, factory workers, inter alia. But writers are a rare lot and Im happy with it this way.
During the time the letters in this particular part of the collection were written I began work on some thirty-two instalments on The History of the Baháí Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997; I also completed my book The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature, organized and refined the second edition of my website Pioneering Over Four Epochs into fifteen hundred pages and gathered together a body of resources for what became the third edition of my autobiography which I wrote later in the twenty-first to twenty-fourth months of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006).
During this same period a feeling of approaching apocalypse was tending to drown out humanist beliefs in history as the progressive development towards a better world. Endtimes or apocalyptic thought and theory, of course, is not new. Some argue that it was formulated for a popular audience for the first time in 1970,(5) but I wont go into detail here on the evolution of this line of thought which is really quite complex. Baháís, of course, remained optimistic but often the battle tired the spirit and, in some cases, at least in mine, turned that spirit to letter-writing. I would like to think that readers will begin with an endless pile of words but end up with a world. Perhaps it is a world which will endure, a trace from the twentieth century and beyond into the twenty-first that will last forever.
1 Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke: 1892-1910, trans: J. Greene and M. Norton, WW Norton, NY, 1945, p. 12.
5 John Sutherland, Apocalypse Now, Guardian Unlimited Books, June 2003
17 February 2003
The genre that Henry Miller enjoyed writing most was the letter. Long letters to close friends, wrote Mary Dearborn,(1) were his favourite pieces of writing. I must add that I, too, have come to enjoy this form of writing much more since retirement, but they are rare occurrences these long letters, if one defines a long letter as, say, four typed pages, 2000 words, or more. The attitude that many have in my time is: why write it if I can say it on the telephone? Many are like famous Samuel Johnson who wrote letters with great difficulty and reluctance. And although I take delight in conversation over limited periods with some people, I am equally happy now to have little to no conversation except with my wife. However fine, too, that my letters may be, the greatest of lifes arts is the art of living.--(1)Mary Dearborn, The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller, Harper Collins, London, 1991, p.12.
I have read or browsed through many books of the collections of the letters of famous and not-so-famous writers and have found them enlightening. They have served to provide stimulating perspectives for my own work. Keats, the nineteenth century poet, seems to be the most attractive of the letter writers, at least for those like myself who write poetry. He seems likeable, lovable, someone we would enjoy travelling with. But you would have to get him young for he was dead at 26. Unlike Shakespeare or even Jane Austin, who remain impersonal, elusive, inscrutable, enigmatic, we feel we know Keats through his letters. He does not hide himself. My letters clearly bring me closer to a Keats or an Emily Dickinson, than a Shakespeare, although I know I shall never be in the league of any of these great writers. Dickinson tended to blend poetry and prose in her letters and, in the last decade this has been true increasingly of my letters. I strive to fashion a lively interchange between poetry and prose and, as yet, I have really only just begun this process with any effect. A cosmic and cosmopolitan range in the written word is as evident in the literary homebodies like Socrates, Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson as in the literary travelers like Xenophon, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. Having been both a homebody and a traveller perhaps I might more easily find that range.
Ceremony and necessity, vanity and routine often require something to be written. To be able to disentangle oneself from these inevitable and several perverters of epistolary integrity is not always possible. A letter is addressed to a single mind of which some of the prejudices and partialities are known and must therefore please. The pleasing process is not always by favouring others, but sometimes by opposing them. If a man keeps his thoughts at a level of generality in his letters he is safe; and most hearts are pure while temptation is away. It is easy to awaken generous sentiments in privacy, to despise death when there is no danger and to glow with benevolence when there is nothing to be given. When such ideas are formed they are easily felt and they sprinkle letters with their declarations There is, indeed, no transaction which offers stronger temptations to fallacy and sophistication than epistolary intercourse. What we hide from ourselves,we do not show to our friends.(Leslie Stephen, Samuel Johnson,MacMillan & Co., Ltd. NY, 1900).
I feel an immense kinship with that American philosopher and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau. Much of my sense of kinship derives from my awareness of my differences from him. He had a hunger, as John Burroughs points out, for health and the wild, wilderness, wild men, Indians. He felt close to the subtle spirits in this wilderness. He lived life delicately, daintily, tenderly. Burroughs said he was unkind. By contrast, I see myself as kind, one of the kind Canadians 'Abdul-Bahá refers to in His immortal Tablets, although my affinity for the wild and the wilderness is clearly not as strong as Thoreaus, indeed, at the age of 60 it hardly exists. But I have his hunger, although it expresses itself differently. It is an isolating hunger, as Thoreaus hunger isolated him. My hunger is not for health or the wild but, rather, for knowledge and civility. When younger, until the age of about forty, I hungered for health. By my mid-fifties I hungered for solitude. In my late teens and twenties I hungered for sex. After working in the garden, I hunger for water. Since I eat a very light breakfast, by two in the afternoon I hunger for lunch. Our hungers change with the time of day and the season, with the stage of our life and our psychological needs.
By my years of middle adulthood,forty to sixty,knowledge became, increasingly, my great desire. By sixty the symptoms of my bi-polar disorder were, for the most part, treated. I yearned, too, for that quiet civility with which genuine engagement with my fellow men could be enjoyed. It was a yearning, though, which was quiet and possessed of an instinctive reticence. Perhaps this reticence was due to a fatigue with much conversation and the many traces of moral and intellectual laxity that not only stained my life but the name of the Faith I regarded as holy and precious. For, as Shoghi Effendi stated so boldly at the start of the first Plan in 1937, the controlling principle in the behaviour and conduct of all Baháís has implications for modesty, purity....cleanmindedness...moderation...and the daily vigilance in the control of ones carnal desires. Any thorough examination of the last fifty years of my life, 1953 to 2003, would reveal that I am far from casting that sleeve of holiness over all that hath been created from water and clay. I see myself as modest but not prudish but, sometimes, modesty and moderation gave way to an excessiveness and a lack of control of sexual thoughts, feelings and associations. This is a separate subject I cover in more detail in my journal, my diary. But let me make a few general comments on the subject of sex here.
On the subject of my sex life I think I could put the matter into a general context with the observation that for me, as for the famous autobiographers Pepys and Boswell, no seduction, no sexual experience, was complete until I had recorded its details in my diary. What is a complete account for me, of course, is in a class of its own and quite distinct from the accounts of either Pepys or Boswells sexual proclivities. My sex life, quite apart from my writing and the intellectual labor that has gone into it and however stimulating it may be to the reader will be found revealed in my unexpurgated diaries published, if they ever are, long after my death. Much of my behaviour in life I would define as cyclical and repetitive. My dedicated toil in life, a toil that often led to successes of various kinds, was often followed by an orgy. But it was an orgy of exhaustion, depression, a deepening relationship with Thanatos and, sometimes anger,frustration & disappointment. This was not always the case, but to avoid these words would present a picture of my life far less than honest.
The record of my sexual life, however appetizing readers may find it, is remarkably thin on the ground. Readers should not get their hopes up too high as they contemplate a future reading of my post-humously published diaries. In applying my customary powers of literary exposition to more than half a century of sexual activity with a thoroughness that leaves little to the imagination would require more space here, inspite of what I often felt to be its insufficiency, than I really want to devote to the subject. From my earliest erotic enthusiasms in childhood and my loss of virginity in the arms of my first wife on my wedding night at the age of twenty-three to my surprisingly late-discovered masterbatory abilities in middle age, my sexual exploits are given the kind of detail that would satisfy the most ardent voyeur, well, at least some ardent voyeurs. I leave readers with such interests and the readers who acquire a taste for what I write here, with a reward at the end of the tunnel of my life. Stay tuned, your persistence will yield its just deserts. My sexual achievements or lack thereof, my career in fornication, like many of my forays into aspects of life’s burgeoning variety of pursuits and however stimulating they may be when well-written-up, will, it seems to me, in the end contribute little to nothing to my literary reputation or an understanding of the pioneering life. I was, like Henry Miller, enthralled by women.(Erica Jong in the Devil at Large, 1993) This enthrallment is a story in itself and relatively little of that story is found in my letters.
As the literature on personality disorders indicates, we all have certain tendencies in the direction of various negative symptoms and adaptations, or disorders as they are termed in the literature. After more than forty years of the periodic study of psychology, I am aware of my tendencies toward some of the major types of disorder: psychotic, neurotic and extravert and some of their respective sub-types. This dark side of my personality I am more than a little conscious of after 60 years of living. But my tendencies, my symptoms, are all partial. Exceptfor bipolar disorder, I do not fit into any pure type, any particular disorder, any full characterization. As I say, if I did possess any full-blown disorder, and there is no doubt I did due to my bi-polar tendency, it is now, for the most part, ancient history. How these tendencies, many and several, affected my letter-writing is difficult to assess. Im not sure how valuable such an assessment would be and to do so here is beyond the scope of this analysis of my letter writing.
Sometimes my letters reveal a melancholy cast of mind or hide a personal belief that I am a contempible animal. For, as Baháulláh wrote, we all have our backs bowed by the burden of our sin and from time to time we need to feel that our heedlessness has destroyed us. This need is particlarly apparent when we say the Long Obligatory Prayer. Sometimes my letters reveal a host of other characteristics: humour, delight, pleasure, joy, fun, insight and understanding, et cetera. But whatever my letters reveal if they were effective they needed to possess a sensitive understanding of the language appropriate to each relationship. I strove to make my letters relaxed, nearly colloquial and natural so as to establish a relationship with the correspondent comparable to that in private conversation. To put this another way, I tried to write letters as I spoke.
The humour that was lacking in my young adulthood developed in my middle adulthood as my sense of disillusionment and discouragement also developed. Humour, wrote the celebrated Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock, is a comforter which reconciles us to realities over ideals. This comforter possesses a thread of melancholy and my letters reflected this in my middle age and beyond, or so it seemed to me, as I became more aware of my limitations and failures and as I exhibited a seeming kindly contemplation of lifes sorrows and incongruities and as I also exhibited, from time to time, that sense of utter futility that occasionally embraces the most optimistic of our race.
I’d like to think that, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, my letters could be read in the same way Katherine Suzannah Pritchard read those of Miles Franklin: “Every literary nerve in me thrills to your lovely breezy way of saying things….And it’s almost as good as a yarn with you to read one. I just simmer and grin to myself when I do: with a sense of real contact with you.” That’s what I’d like to think. I’d like to think, too, that others might learn not to be too tedious in the exposition of whatever Gospel they may be espousing, particularly that associated with the two nineteenth century God-men at the centre of the Baháí paradigm. But I am more inclined to think these letters simply preserve a record of a life in the context of a period of four epochs in the historical development of a new world Faith. Perhaps I give my life and times a fresh and novel colouring; perhaps my writings will enjoy a coterie of the worlds readers interested in the great experiment of which I am but a part. Again, Id like to think so. But it is difficult to know. In a world of mass entertainment, a diversified print and electronic media, collections of letters dont rate highly on the scale of popular interest, as Ive already said. Thats just a simple fact. A coterie of people, it seems to me, may take an interest in these letters one day. One day in a world of say, twelve billion, in which the Baháí Faith is playing an important role in a future world Order, that coterie may be a significant number. We shall see.
These letters “hang there,” as Thomas Carlyle wrote of the letters of Oliver Cromwell, “in the dark abysses of the Past: if like a star almost extinct, yet like a real star; fixed, once a piece of the general fire and light of Human life.” These letters also play some part in answering Carlyles key biographical questions: how did the subject influence society, and how did society influence the subject? My letters may indeed become extinct. Certainly their present state of influence resembles extinction more than influence of any kind. The nine hundred letters of Cicero written in the middle of the first century BC were one of the first, arguably the first, in history to give us an understanding of the times. Of course he had, and his society had, no telephone, fax, email, computer, et cetera, to convey messages. The letter was, for perhaps two and a half millennia, much more crucial as a genre of communication. Somewhere in the nineteenth century, gradually, letters, like biographies, became much more human and revealing, not like the wax figures they had been. After perhaps a century and a half of this fresh wind, my letters join, add-onto this new tradition. Perhaps readers will find here: the creative fact, the fertile fact, the engendering fact. One can but hope. However much my life and my thinking have been focussed on a single point, elaborated across a wide field of action and behaviour, I would think my letters are a good illustration of the application, the delineation, of this focus. During these four epochs there was so much happening in the public and private spheres to fragment daily life. My letters, it seems to me, provide a lens that magnifies many of my autobiographical gestures and throw light on a life, a time and a religion in a way that my general autobiography does not. So did Ciceros and, as famous as he has been, now he is read only by a coterie
Signs of the continuous evolution of a lifelong scheme of devotion are difficult to describe without appearing to be fanatical or obsessive or unduely pious, in a world that has lost any interest in piety. Years even decades of concentrated effort are easy to accummulate but the evidences of that effort are not as easy to amass given the hurried, the frenetic, excitements of modern society which militate against any pretensions of devotion to a single purpose. Daily life, indeed, ones entire life, tends to be fragmentary because we live in a perpetual hurry. And even when not in a hurry we get inundated in our daily life by a host of usually disconnected, sometimes interesting and stimulating but so frequently, if not always, fragmentary events and happenings, news and entertainment. If a life of devotion involves any serious writing as mine clearly does, the vast accumulation of materials and the demand for exhaustive inquiry often overpowers the potential and would-be-conscientious writer. Should he or she go down the literary trail it often becomes difficult to maintain vivacity and spontaneity. If writers can not bring the stars of the universe closer, if they cannot wake their fellow human beings up, give them a certain morning freshness and elan, some sparkle of understanding, they might be advised to pursue other lines of work. Some letter writers make other subjects the centre of their discussion. The letters of the poet Elizabeth Bishop are about loss. Each letter writer brings to the table his life and, although I would like to bring the universe closer and share sparkles of understanding, these lofty goals are rarely attainable. One must settle for a mode and manner closer to the earth, to everydayness, to the boredom and the chouder, as Paul Simon put it in one of his songs. Elizabeth Bishops letters are certainly closer to the earth and, when they sparkle, it is a sparkle of a talented and intellectually sophisticated person.
Elizabeth Bishop once said that she felt sorry for people who could not write letters. I do not share Bishops feeling. She also said she felt that writing letters was like working without working. Yes, that is so for me. If I shared Bishops feelings for non-letter writers, I would feel sorry for most of the human race--and sometimes I do, but it is for so many reasons. Im not sure how many people want to read about the fabric of a persons life as conveyed in a letter; after half a century of TV and a century of movies it seems to me people find out about the fabric of peoples lives in so many ways. After 50 years of writing letters, I tend to the skeptical and slightly cynical side about their value. I hope I am wrong.
For, as Lord Altrincham noted with some humour and some truth, “autobiography is now as common as adultery and hardly less reprehensible.” He could have added that the mundane nature of so much that is daily life makes for a tedious story for much of the time, tedious because so repetitive, so pervasive, so common, so quotidian. This may be the reason some writers completely abandon writing about the personal; why diaries in our age are rare and why letters and the study of them, especially ones own--may in fact be unique!!
Here are two letters below taken somewhat at random from my collection. Readers will not find here in my autobiography or on this BARL site much of my letter collection, but I include these samples to illustrate various themes. The first is written to a radio station program presenter for a discussion program on a particular theme: the topic of early retirement. It seemed a fitting topic for, at the time of writing the letter, I had been retired from my career for eighteen months. I strive to address both the universal and the individual in my letters, both the quick and the dead as Dickinson put it referring to the living souls and the dead of spirit, the quotidian and the philosophical. I try to leave meaning unsettled or open-ended, organized but not a simple step-by-step series of prose assertions. I often bow to convention, to cliched phrases, like the ending of letters which are often more conventional courtesies than content. Quoting from just four letters will minimize the revelation of many of my unsuspected foibles, weaknesses, inconsistencies and faults. Indeed, I like to think these letters will not seriously diminish the admiration of readers for whatever gifts, strengths and attainments I have been endowed. The admiration of readers for whatever a writer writes is very difficult to assess in the earliest stages of his public appearance, especially on a medium like the internet.
All letter writers have a landscape, a background, a mise-en-scene: perhaps some great city, like Boswells historic London; or the city of the Covenant, New York, like some early 19th century Bahais; or some rural milieux of beauty like Wordsworths Lake District; or some intense social activity like Evelyn Waughs twentieth-century London; or a world of travelling like D.H. Lawrence; or a particular correspondent as did Joseph Conrad; or some of what the writer thinks and feels as was the case with Alexander Pushkin. There is a little of many landscapes or backgrounds in my correspondence, spread as it is over more than fifty years. I could, should it be my want, dwell on the significance of landscape in much more detail than I have. For a half of my life, some thirty years, for example, I lived within a mile of a lake, a bay or a river. For another twenty years I drove with my family for an hour or less to get to a beach, to a place I could swim. The beach became, during these years, a centre of activity especially in the summer months, at least some of the time. I could say much more here; I could write about the various city landscapes; the tundra, the savanna, the temperate regions & their affect on my life, the mutual interaction. I will conclude this all-to-brief discussion on landscape with Emersons words: The difference between landscape and landscape is small, but there is a great difference in the beholders.
6 Reece Street
4 October 2000
Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet, by Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein was reviewed in the online edition of The spectator by Richard Davenport-Hines on 16 March 2013. the title of the review was: "Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein." I include some of this review below for its commentary on what my letters are not and on letter writing since the onset of the internet in, say, the last two decades. This new technology of emails has not killed the gentle old craft of letter-writing writes Davenport-Hines. Joseph Epstein and Frederic Raphael, septuagenarian pen-pals who have never met, the one based in Chicago and the other dividing his year between South Kensington and Périgord, have set out to prove the doomsayers wrong by publishing their email traffic for the year 2009.
These two writers have the wit to be great letter-writers. It is unfulfilled talents or time-wasters, failing to find other means of self-expression, who excel as correspondents. Epstein is an essayist, editor and short-story writer whose earnings from his magazine work, as revealed in his emails, made this reviewer’s eyes goggle with envy. Raphael is the novelist, classicist and Oscar-winning screenwriter from whom superb essays and books are still pouring forth. It is not from men so replete and exuberantly confident that the rueful half-lights of a great letter-writer can be expected.
Epstein and Raphael are bruisers, not bruised. Epstein writes of a good friend whose career fell flat: ‘He was unmemorable, I think, because his writing had no fist: no anger, no attack to it; it was too well-mannered, too quiet, too wanting in point of view.’ This could never be said of the pugnacious, dogmatic, loud-spoken exchanges in Distant Intimacy. Puns, quips, jibes and corny Jewish jokes sustain the pen-pals’ gleeful repartee about publishers, editors, celebrity agents, Hollywood producers, phonies and crooks. Epstein’s character-sketch of Alfred Appel, compiler of a volume called The Annotated Lolita, and a champion bore of monumental egotism, is a jewel of portraiture.
My letters provide few, if any, jewels. I am, perhaps, far too well-mannered; I have little of the pugnacious and the dogmatic, few puns, jibes and jokes. In Distant Intimacy Epstein writes of fellow writers with deadly effect. I do not engage in put-downs of any type. If I know of someone as an inveterate womaniser of narcissistic type I leave out this piece of information in my correspondence. If someone does not know a clitoris from a kneecap I don't refer to such ignorance. Readers here might like to know more of this volume of letters in this internet age and I leave it to readers with the interest to check-out some of the reviews.
The program Life Matters today, Wednesday October 4th, was on the theme“Taking Time Out.” I won’t try to summarize all the points made by the guests: Ester Buchholz, Margaret Murton and Gavin Smith and the many callers discussing as they were, what one speaker called “the neurosis of our time: a lack of aloneness.” I will briefly tell of my own experience here in this letter. Fit in what you can when, and if, you read this letter.
Eighteen months ago I retired after 30 years as a teacher in primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions. I was fifty-five and, with community obligations outside my classroom in the evening and on weekends, I felt ‘talked-and-listened-out.’ I felt I had had enough. I wanted some time out. I wanted to give some time to what had become a personal, a private, interest in reading and writing poetry. In the last 18 months I have had six to ten hours a day given to this engaged, alone, solitary, stimulating exercise.
The person who takes on such a ‘time-out’ over extended periods of time needs to know themselves, though. I knew I had to cater to my social side. I could not cut it all out or I’d get some kind of withdrawal symptoms. So I spend time helping organizing the local seniors’ group; I have a radio program for half an hour a week; I am involved with the Baha’i community and my wife’s family here in northern Tasmania. All of these activities together do not involve a lot of time, but they give me that needed social contact, that balance between solitude and being with others, which I find essential to my comfortableness.
I would not go back to the work-a-day world. After a lifetime of talking and listening, I knew at 55 I had had enough of what by then had felt like years of full time engagement with others. I wanted time out to engage in interests that did not involve people at all. I got it. After 18 months I feel the story has just begun. And it has. I would like now to engage readers in the multiplicity of experience my life in the Bahai community and in the many worlds that life has taken me to since I became associated with it back in 1953. My adventure over five decades has been an emotional and physical one, an adventure of intellectual growth, of culture-shock and of creative achievement. Can my letters express these experiences and engage readers as a result?
Gerontologists are talking about our living to well over 100 if we take care of ourselves. They talk, too, of the loneliness of the aged. I see no evidence of that emotional construct on my horizon but, who knows, I could be back with people one day. For it’s possible that, at 55, my life is just half over. While my mother was the dominant person in my life until my twenties; my first wife in my twenties as well and my second wife the dominant person to this day. Like the women in Lawrences life, these women in mine were all of independent mind, resolute and highly articulate. My correspondence, however, does not really deal with these important relationships; or does it deal with other important relationships in my life, like those of my father, my uncle and a small handful of academic Bahais, among others. Admittedly, too, my letters come nowhere near the honesty and completeness with which Lawrence disclosed his personality. I feel quite confident that no one in the future will say of my letters, what James Boulton said of the letters of Lawrence, namely, that they were masterpieces of the letter-writing art and an unexampled expression of his creativity.
The following letter to the program presenters of an ABC Radio series Life Matters is one of a type that I sent over the years to various people in the media to drop a gentle note from the sweet-scented stream of eternity into someones lap. It was a form of teaching I was able to do but, like so many forms, it was always difficult to measure its effectiveness, its result.
This next letter is one written to my family members thirty-one years after leaving Canada, thirty-five years after leaving southern Ontario and nearly forty years since I had seen any of them. Eight months before writing this letter I did have a visit with my cousin, my mothers sisters son, David, himself a retired teacher as well, and his wife, Barbara.
Dear Dave and Barb
Time seems to go by faster as you get older, you hear it said so often, and it certainly seems to be the case. Ill soon be sixty and I assume, as long as I am in good health and I have a range of interests, the years will spin by irretrievably from my grasp as one writer put it. And so is this true of all of us. And so the time has come again for the annual letter to what is for me about a dozen or so friends and relatives, the periodic up-date of events in this swiftly passing life. At one level not a lot seems to take place: the same routines, habits and activities fill the days as they did this time last year. At another level a great deal takes place. On the international and national landscape the events continue to be of apocalyptic/ cataclysmic proportions as they have been off and on it would seem since 1914--or, as the sociologist Robert Nisbet argued persuasively , since about 500 BC. Mark Twain once said that to write about everything that took place would make a mountain of print for each year. James Joyce produced several hundred pages to describe one day in his book Ulysseys. Ill try to reduce the mountain of life to a small hill or two in this email.
Chris and I have been here in George Town at the end of the Tamar River in northern Tasmania for three years and three months. Daniel has been with us and working at the Australian Maritime College as a research engineer for two of these years. He is happier with his job now than he was in the first year, although occasionally he applies for another job somewhere for graduate engineers; Chris is not suffering from ill-health quite as much as this time last year, having received some useful medication from her doctor and treatment from an osteopath. Both Dan and Chris plug along battling with the forces that destiny or fate, divine will or predestination, free will or determinism, circumstance or socialization throw up for them to deal with from day to day.
I feel as if I have completed the first stage of my final domestic training program that qualifies me for shared-existence with Chris in matters relating to hearth and home. I seem to have been a difficult student but, after nearly four years of being under-foot we seem to have worked out a reasonable modus vivendi(those four years of Latin in high school were unquestionably of some value). The in-house training had been rigorous, to say the least, but I received a passing grade-which was all I was after! And now for the second stage.
My step-daughters continue their work, Vivienne as a nurse in the ICU at the Laun- ceston General Hospital(20 hrs/wk) and Angela in public relations for an international firm centred in Bali. Thankfully Angela did not suffer from the recent bombings in a place that had been seen(until the bombings) somewhat paradisiacally in the Indian Ocean, although even Bali has had its traumatic problems in the last few decades as a brief history of the place will reveal. I wonder if there are any places in the world left which havent been significantly touched by the changing landscape and the traumas of our times. Angela travels for a real estate firm selling time-share apartments. Lives seem to be busy, active things, for those you know well, those whose lives are intertwined with your own and I could write chapter and verse on all the comings and goings of family and various close friends. But I think this will suffice for an annual letter.
I continue writing, an activity which was one of the main reasons I retired at the early age of 55. After nearly four years away from the work-a-day world, I get the occasional magazine and journal article published(listed on the Net in section 24 part (v) of my Website). Its all just smalltime stuff you might call it, nothing to make me famous or rich, sad to say. My website is now spread over 15 locations on the Inter- net. The simplest spot to locate my material is at http://users.intas.net.au/pricerc or go to the Yahoo search engine. You can also find me at the Poetry Superhighway. Then go to Individual Poets Pages and type Ron Price. I also finished a book of some 80 thousand words on the poetry of a Canadian poet who passed away in 1993:Roger White.You can locate this book at http://bahai library.org/books/ white. Of course, much of this material may not interest you. Poetry is not everyones game even if its spiced with lots of prose. Dont feel any obligation to check it out, just if it interests you. It will give you an idea of some of the stuff that goes on in my head, for what its worth. Other than these Internet developments my day to day habits and activities are much the same as last year at this time: walks, presenting a radio-pro- gram, 2 hours of teaching/ week, two meetings (school/Baháí)/month, radio/TV programs to take in, lots of reading, etc
You may find my writing a little too subjective, introspective. Like Thoreau I seem to be more interested in the natural history of my thought than of the bird life, the flora and fauna that I find here in Tasmania. I read recently that Thoreau took twelve years to identify a particular bird. I found that fact comforting. I understand, for I have the devil of a time remembering the names of the birds, the plants and the multitude of insects that cross my path and my horizon from month to month. But what I lack, what interest is deficient with respect to the various forms of plant and animal life here in the Antipodes, I make up for in my study of the varied humanities and social sciences. In the three decades of my teaching career I have acquired, if I acquired nothing else, a passion for certain learnings, certain fields of study. My study is littered, I like to think ordered, by files on: philosophy, psychology, media studies, ancient and medieval history, modern history, literature, poetry, religion, inter alia. I move from one field to another from day to day and week to week and I can not imagine ever running out of gas, of enthusiasm, interest. Thus, I occupy my time. If J.D. Salinger is right in his claim that theres a marvellous peace in not being pyblished it looks like much peace lies in waiting for me.
One delightful event this year which Id like to comment on was a visit with my cousin Dave Hunter, his wife Barb as well as Arlene, the wife of another cousin, John Cornfield. I had not seen any of my family members for some forty years and we had a day in Melbourne travelling hither and yon, eating delicious meals and getting caught up on many years of life. I found I had an appreciation for my family that had got lost in the mists of time living as I have been since my mid-twenties first in the far-north of Canada and then on a continent far removed from North America. There is nothing like forty years absence to make the heart grow fonder and give one a fresh appreciation for ones family.
As you all get stuck into winter(at least those of you in Canada who receive this email), summer is just beginning here with temperatures going into the mid-twenties in the daytime occasionally on the hottest days and the low-to-mid teens at night. This is about as hot as it gets in any part of the summer in this section of northern Tasmania. I look forward to your annual letters again this year in the weeks ahead and to the news from your life and your part of the world. Am happy to write again in another email to anyone wanting to write occasionally in more detail on whatever subject but, if that does not eventuate, I look forward to writing to you again at the end of 2003. I trust the up-coming season and holiday is a happy one and the Canadian winter(or the Australian summer, as the case may be) is not too extreme this yearGreetings and salutations.
For Ron, Chris and Dan Price
PS Ill send this a little early again this year to avoid the Christmas rush of letters/cards and emails.
My letters, it seems to me, do not have that naturalness and general amiability that the poet Matthew Arnold possessed. He was endowed with a sunny temper, a quick sympathy and inexhaustible fun. I have some of these qualities and more now that I do not have to struggle with a bi-polar disorder, the endless responsibilities of job and a large Baháí community. Arnold was endowed with self-denial; indeed it was a law of his life; he taxed his ingenuity to find words of encouragement when he wrote letters. I do, too, but I don’t tax myself too much. They come quite naturally really, but self-denial is not a quality that I feel particularly well endowed with. Perhaps I was once, but less so in recent years. As the years have gone on into late middle age, I have slowly discovered, as William James put it, “the amount of saintship that best comports” with what I believe to be in my powers and consistent with my “truest mission and vocation.” We were both men who were, for the most part, free from bitterness, rancour and envy and, it seems to me, this is reflected in our letters. But the inhibition of instinctive repugnances, perhaps one of saintship’s most characterisitc qualities, is difficult to determine by an examination of a person’s letters.
I take much pleasure from most of my letter writing which obviously the poet Samuel Johnson did not. I don’t think my letters have that “easy power” which those of Henry James possessed. Indeed, so much of their content, it seems to me, is repetitious. In a large collection of letters, like a large collection of life, repetition it seems to me, is unavoidable. I am encouraged, though, by some of the remarks of language philosopher Roland Barthes. He says that readers learn how to acquire the experience of those people they are reading. Rather than being consumers of my letters, then, they become producers. This is partly because literature, of which letters and autobiography are but a part, takes in all human experience, ordering, interpreting and articulating it. Readers learn to set aside many of the particular conditions, concerns and idiosyncrasies which help define them in everyday affairs.
And so I have hope that what may be for many readers a banal collection of decades of letters, may be for others a body of print that will arouse a response in the reading self, the reading system, the meaning, the identity, system, of others. Perhaps, too, that response will be something quite significant, something that their interpretive principles allow them to see and that even a relaxation of cultivated analytical habits which often happens while reading a letter may help them to see. Of course, whatever reasonable arguments I present, whatever challenges to magnanimity I raise, they are, again, as William James puts it so succinctly, “folly before crocodiles.”
Here is an introduction I wrote to a collection of letters to Baha’i institutions in Canada going back to 1979. By 1979 I had been an international pioneer for eight years and a pioneer for seventeen. This letter I keep in a two-volume, two two-ring binder, set to institutions and individuals in Canada.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 4.1
Who knows what will become of all these letters, now contained in some fifteen volumes of assorted sizes and contents. “Letters enabled Emily Dickinson to control the time and place of her relationships,” writes James Lowell in his introduction to a volume of her letters.1 I’m sure they have a similar function for me; I have become even more conscious of this as the email grew and developed throughout the 1990s and became a more important part of my life and as my world of employment became a world of retirement filled as it was with writing and reading. I do not keep a copy of all my emails, only the main ones. Since so many emails are of the short and snappy variety, basically a form of entertainment, the funny and the wee-wisdom, as I call them, the variety which exercises that control which Lowell speaks of in a light way, an important part of this new variety of my correspondence I simply do not keep a record of in my files. I suppose, though, that since they are never recorded in the first place, it will never be missed.2
Lord Melbourne, writing about George Crabbe, indicated that “I am always glad when one of those fellows dies, for then I know I have the whole of him on my shelf.”3 There is certainly a type of person, perhaps many, a variety of selves, a type of prose, that is unique to the letter. I sensed I had something of Roger White when I had even the few letters he wrote to me in one file on my shelf. The sombre and weird outlook in Dickinson’s poetry, by no means the prevailing condition of her mind, is not pre- sent in her gay and humorous letters. For those inclined to judge White too harshly or strongly from some of his poetry, if they read his letters, they would get quite a different picture of that wonderful poet. I leave it to future commentators to evaluate this dichotomy between my correspondence and the other genres of my writing, should they wish to do so. No amount of imaginative activity can recreate a genuine experience of things and letters convey the timbre and tone, the texture and the reality of genuine experience. The necessary narrative ability in writing a letter to order and unify the past, present and future, coloured by words and the imaginative function that dances with them seems to be a rare and creative gift. But, as Sharon Cameron notes in her analysis of Emily Dickinsons letters, they may tell us more about postures that replace relationships than the relationships themselves however creative and imaginative they may be.
Letters at one time in history had a function, at least in the more literate quarters, that is conveyed in the following quotation from David Marrs introduction to a collection of Patrick White’s letters.
Are there no letters? There’s nothink I like better than a read of a good letter. Look and see, Mrs. Goosgog, if you can’t find me a letter.I’m inclined to feel melancholy at this time of night.4-The Ham Funeral
The TV, video and the DVD probably have this entertaining function now, largely replacing any function the letter may have had to keep people amused. As I indicated above, the letter may even have been on the verge of extinction had it not been for the email’s resurrecting role. As the 1990s progressed, the email came to dominate the landscape and replace the letter. With the world population doubling in these three epochs, too, I’m sure the letter/email is now in safe hands, even if nine-tenths of the production is not worth saving or pondering over after an initial read.
And so here, in this small volume, the reader will find my correspondence (i) with the Canadian magazine Baha’i Canada going back to 1985, fourteen years after I arrived in Australia as an international pioneer, (ii) with the International Pioneer Committee as far back as 1979 and (iii) from National Convention communications with pioneers overseas from 1990. With its companion Volume 4.2 any interested reader will get a correspondence from Canada to and from a pioneer overseas in the third, forth and one day soon fifth epochs of the Formative Age.
Perhaps at a future time I will provide a more extended analysis of this collection, but for now this material is at least placed in a deserving context for future readers.
1 James R. Lowell in The Letters of Emily Dickinson, Vol.1, T.H. Johnson, editor, Belknap Press, 1958, p.xix.
2 See my collection of unpublished essays. they are now in the Baha’i Academic Resource Library. I have written a 2000 word essay on the “funnies and wee-wisdoms” email style.
3 Christopher Ricks, Beckett’s Dying Words, Oxford UP, NY, 1996, p.205.
4 David Marr, Patrick White’s Letters, Random House, 1994, p.vi.
10 February 2000
Such are the introductory words to another volume of letters, one of many introductions written in the fourth decade, 1992 to 2002, of this pioneering venture.
Again on this subject of the letter let me add this short essay in relation to a special type of letter, the job application, which was arguably the dominant form of letter I wrote during all my pioneering and job-seeking life, 1961-2003.
INTRODUCTION TO FILE OF JOB APPLICATION LETTERS
LETTER WRITING 2 JOBS A WEEK FOR 42 YEARS JOB HUNTING 1961-2003
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 personal and professional background, my writing and my life. This resume might be useful for the few who want to assess my suitability for some advertised or unadvertised employment position which, I must emphasize again, I never apply for anymore. I stopped applying for full-time jobs six years ago in 2001 and part-time ones in 2003. I also left the world of volunteer activity, except for work in one international organization, claiming as it does to be the newest of the world's great religions of history, the Baha’i Faith, two years ago. The age of 63, then, sees me self-employed as a writer-poet. I gradually came to this role in the years after I left full-time employment in 1999, eight years ago.
Not being occupied with earning a living and giving myself to 60 hours a week in a job and many other hours to community activity marked a turning point for me so that I could devote my time to a much more extensive involvement in writing. Writing is for most of its votaries a solitary, hopefully stimulating but not always pleasurable leisure-time-part-time-full-time pursuit. In my case in these early years of my late adulthood, writing is full-time about 60 hours a week.1 I have replaced paid employment and activity with people in community with a form of work which is also a form of leisure, namely, writing and reading.
Inevitably the style of one's writing and what one reads is a reflection of the person, their experience and their philosophy. On occasion, I set out this experience, this resume, in an attachment to this brief essay, this introductory statement on the history of my job application process.2 If, as Carl Jung writes, we are what we do, then some of what I was could and can be found in that attachment. That document may seem over-the-top as they say these days since it now goes on for more than 20 pages, but for nearly half a century of various forms of employment, years in the professional and not-so-professional job world produced a great pile of stuff/things. As I say, I make it available to readers of this account, when appropriate, and I update it to include many of the writing projects I have taken on during these first years of my retirement from full-time, part-time and volunteer activity.
The resume has always been the piece of writing, the statement, the document, the entry ticket which 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 to yet another place or, indeed, from place to place be necessary or desired. But this seems unlikely as I go through these early years of late adulthood and head into the last stages of my life.
In the last three years which are the first of my late adulthood, a period from 60 to 80; and in these early years of my retirement(1999 to 2007), I have been able to write to a much greater extent than I had ever been able to do in those years of my early and middle adulthood from 1965 to 1999 when job, family and the demands of various community projects kept my nose to the grindstone as they say colloquially. And now, with the final 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 than I’ve ever had, the years of late adulthood beckon bright with promise. My resume reflects this shift in my activity-base.
The process of frequent moves and frequent jobs which was my pattern for forty years is not everyone's style, modus operandi or modus vivendi. 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 in these recent decades. For many millions of people during the years 1961-2003, my years of being jobbed, the world was their oyster, not so much in the manner of a tourist, although there was plenty of that, but rather in terms of working lives which came to be seen increasingly in a global context.
This was true for me during those years when I was looking for amusement, education and experience, some stimulating vocation and avocation, some employment security and comfort, my adventurous years of pioneering, my applying-for-job days, the more than forty years from 1961 to 2003. My resume altered many times, of course, during those forty plus years is now for the most part, as I indicated above, not used in these years of my retirement, except as an information and bio-data vehicle for interested readers, 99% of whom are on the internet at its plethora of sites.
This document, what I used to call a curriculum vitae or CV, 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 work. For they take the position we are not what we do or, to put it a little differently and a little more succinctly, "we are not our jobs." I frequently use this resume at various website locations 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, enrich my experience add some enrichment to my life, etcetera. The use of the resume saves one from having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. One doesn'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 at the other end of the electronic set of wires, as the case may be.
During those job-hunting years 1961-2003 I applied for some four thousand jobs, an average of two a week for each of all those years! This is a guesstimation, of course, as accurate a guesstimation as I can calculate for this forty year period. The great bulk of those thousands of letters involved in this vast, detailed and, from time to time, quite exhausting and frustrating a process, I did not keep. I did keep a small handful of perhaps half a dozen of all 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 those 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; given the amount of writing done in the context of those various jobs,(3) some of the correspondence seemed to warrant a corner in the written story of my life.(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. The things we do when we retire!(5)
(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, on request or in my autobiography.
(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, subject notes, inter alia, in my many jobs. None of that material has been kept in any of my files and, over 40 years, it amounted to literally millions, an uncountable number, of words.
(4) The Letters section of my autobiography now occupies some 25 arch-lever files and two-ring binders and covers the period 1960 to 2007. I guesstimate the collection contains about 3000 letters. This does not include these thousands of job applications and their replies, thousands of emails now and an unnumbered quantity of in-house letters at places where I was employed. I have kept, as I say above, about half a dozen to a dozen of these letters and none of the approximately 10,000 documents I wrote in the years 1961 to 2003.
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 to 1995 which would once have been in the form of letters, is now in the form of emails. They are kept in my letter-files. (See the internet site 'Bahá'í Library Online' and the 'Personal Letters' section for an extended discussion of this aspect of my life: writing letters.
That's all folks!
Writing in a different vein, making comparisons and contrasts between my letters and those of other writers could occupy a book if I so desired. But I shall be brief here. I shall make some remarks about Robert Frosts letters, writing as he was at the beginning of the evolution of Bahai administration in the USA. Randall Jarrell says that Robert Frosts letters unmask him at least partially. They also show that his life was as unusual as his poetry. Im not so sure that is true of me and my life. It is very hard to judge your own work and your life. Jarrell also says that Frost was very concerned to know what others thought of his work and whether he was any good.1 This subject of the reactions of others to my work, particularly my poetry, also interests me, but I know that this is always an unknown land filled with so many different reactions from total indifference to great enthusiasm. I must leave the evaluation of my letters to future readers. For I cant imagine any interest being shown in my letters except perhaps when I am so old as not to care a jot or a tittle what people think and that will, of course, require the rapid evolution of the Bahai system in society. And that is very difficult to gauage in the decades ahead, say, up to 2044 when I will be 100 years of age and the Bahai Era two centuries old.
Now that I have passed out of the shadow of decades of manic-depression, or the bi-polar tendency as it is now called, thanks to two medications: lithium carbonate and fluvoxamine; now that I have passed out of the shadow of a working-meetings-talk-and-listen week of 50 to 60 hours, there is an emotional steadiness to my everyday experience that generates, that provides, a subtle and a quiet exquisiteness that augers well for the years ahead and for the writing program that I am presently embarked upon. Even at my weakest and most exhausting moments which in the past were often filled with the wishes of thanatos, the depths of depression can not be visited. It is as if there is a wall of emotional protection that won’t let my spirit descend into the depths, even though death is sometimes wished for late at night, from midnight to dawn, out of a certain tedium vitae and a complex of factors Im not sure I fully understand myself. William Todd Schultz, in his analysis of the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein, wrote that wishing to die can connote a wish to be rid of the superegos tormenting presence. It can be paired with an uncompromising sense of duty. The lacuna of death is actually preferred to the anguish of living under the scrutiny of an endlessly demanding internal judge. There is some of this in my experience of thanatos but, after more than forty years of experiencing this feeling of wishing to die, I think it has more to do with my chemistry than psychology and more to do with the id than the superego.
It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine what really happened in life, as distinct from simply what the evidence obliges me to believe. What is known in ones life or in history is never fixed, finished or independent. Our life, like history itself, is created, revived, re-enacted, re-presented again and again in our minds eye. All autobiographers can do, or their fathers the historians, is to shape the rudimentary collection of ideas about the multi-coloured and multi-layered narrative of life into an intelligible idiom. Some of the events are understood better than when they happened, when they were lived, and some are not. Some are completely forgotten and some one goes over in ones mind ad nauseam. Some become part of the great mystery that is life and some become part of the great foam and chaff that disappears on the shore of the sea. Some of my life can fit into the model, the framework, I give to it. Some can not be fitted into any pattern, any grand design or sweeping theme, no matter how I chop and analyse the experiences. Whatever unity and pattern there is, I must construct myself; it is I who confer any novel coherence onto the whole, any shifts of direction in lifes expression, any understanding on the changes and chances of the world; it is I who will write about the passing day, the trivial, the necessary, the distracting bits of infill that accompany my life as the universe moves through its incredible journey through space and time.
My relationship with my wife is more comradely and affectionate, more united, after years of difficulties, after nearly forty years of difficulties in two marriages. We are more accepting of each other’s peculiarities, shortcomings and eccentricities. There is lots of space between us as we share the solitude of life, as Rilke describes it in his Letters and there is, too, a fresh spark of delight that accompanies the familiarity. I could write extensively about my wife, so important is she to this entire story. But were I to do so it would lead to prolixity. So, instead, I will write about her from time to time as the occasion arises in what has become a 2500 page book.
Id like to insert four poems here and depart somewhat from the epistolary theme. A poem of Emily Dickinson is timely as the opening poem, timely in relation to all the sad aspects of the past which she says can “silence” us, if we give them too much of our time, if we “challenge” them. Dickinson, who writes a very useful juxtaposition of prose and poetry in her letters, prose that opens into poetry and poetry that opens into prose,writes:
That sacred Closet when you sweep--
Select a reverential Broom--
And do it silently.
‘Twill be a Labour of surprise--
Of other Interlocutors
August the Dust of that Domain--
Unchallenged--let it lie--
You cannot supersede itself.
But it can silence you.
And in a short poem that talks of her desire for a fairer house for her expression than prose alone could build, she writes:
I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous for Windows--
I like that attitude to letters that Dickinson describes. Her letters construct possibility. I like, too, that attitude to the past that Dickinson describes so succinctly in the above poem. There is a reverence, a sacredness, to memory, a need to let it lie in its august state, a recognition that it is a source of our identity, a need for silence while following its paths and always the possibility that it can take over your life if you let it and, of course, often you do. For, however sacred it may be, there is an enormous tangle to our days, a tangle, as Germaine Greer describes it, “of telling, not telling, leading, misleading, allowing others to know, concealing things from others, eavesdropping, collusion, being frank and honest, telling lies, half-truths, white lies, letting out some of our story now, some of it later, some of it never.
“Pure autobiographies are written,” wrote Friedrich Von Schlegel, “by those fascinated by their own egos as was Rousseau; or by authors of a robust or adventuresome self-love as was Cellini; or by born historians and writers who regard their life as material for future historians and writers; or by pedantic minds who want to order their lives before they die and need a commentary on their life.” I suppose there is some of me in each of these characterizations of the autobiographer. I might add the following caveat of the famous New York Times journalist James Reston who once said: “I do not think thinking about yourself is a formula for happiness.”If he is right then I am far from discovering that formula.
Let me include two poems about this autobiographical process because, it seems to me, the process is as important as the content of autobiography. It may be that for some readers, my poetry and not my letters, will be more useful to their intellectual and emotional sensibilities. There may be some, too, who will be concerned about the possibilities and the impression created by a too liberal use of the effacing pencil by editors. For this laissez-faire age and all its liberal eccentricities and effusions may not last forever. My letters, with all their editorial shortcomings, of which I willingly take my full share right at the source in various ways, constitute the nearest approach to a narrative of my life if one does not have the autobiography,any biography that is in time produced, and my poetry.
Kevin Hart, a poet who lives in Australia, says that writing poetry is about retrieving something you have lost. When you write a poem you lose that thing again, but you find it by writing about it--indirectly. This indirection involves, among other things, finding how to write about this lost person, place or thing in your life.1 One thing I find I lose frequently and have to retrieve, recreate, find again in a new, a fresh way, a way with hopefully more understanding than when I last passed by, is history, mine and all that is the worlds. I need a narrative, a chronological, base to bring out the truth of the past; I need silence to contemplate the sources of inspiration and know- ledge; I need to be able to tell a good story in my poetry for this is what will give it enduring literary worth. A good story, it seems to me, is one thats a little too complicated, twisted and circumlocuitous to be easily encapsulated in a newspaper or television story. Oliver Goldsmith once said, the most instructive of all histories, of all stories, would be each mans honest autobiography.2 That may be true but it depends on just how the story is told. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Kevin Hart, Poetica, ABC Radio National, 2:05-2:45 pm, 3 November 2001;and 2MarkS.Phillips,Reconsiderations on History and Antiquarianism: Arnaldo Momigliano and the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Britain, The Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.57, No.2, pp.297-316
Can we have a dialogue
with all that is and would be?
Can we enjoy a special happiness
in the energy of contemplation,
honoured as we are
with the two most luminous lights
in either world?
Can we work
with this structure and this Plan.
travelling as we do
or staying put in this one place?
Two great tendencies
seem to fill the mind:
mystery and analysis
before the ever-varying splendour
and the embellishment of grace
from age to age.
3 November 2001
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FEVER
Price’s attitude to his poetry was not unlike that of Sylvia Plath’s. He saw himself as an artisan. He was an artisan with an idea. All of his poems began with an idea, a concept, a something; at worst the beginning of a poem was what Roger White called a poor connection on a telephone line. But it was a connection. Sometimes the connection was sharp and clear. He was happy to flow down whatever river the water was willing to go down, to make whatever product he could make, as long as it exhausted all his ingenuity in the process, as long as the water flowed to the sea becoming part of that great body of life. Sometimes Price’s poetry was confessional, showed the indictment of immediate experience. Some of his work was what Robert Lowell once described, in reference to the poetry written in the last year of Plath’s life, as the autobiography of a fever. Sometimes Price would disappear into his poem and become one with it. In poetry Price found his lie could defeat the process of easy summary. -Ron Price with thanks to Stanley Plumly, “What Ceremony of Words,” Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath, editor, Paul Alexander, Harper & Row, NY, 1985, pp.13-17.
You were always an intruder, then,
in the natural world, self-conscious,<
uneasy, an unreal relation to the grass,
better to withdraw, you thought,
and did, right out of it into oblivion.1
I’ve earned my place, especially now,
after all these years; there’s a sacredness
here and in the grass; there’s a glory
in this day, the day in which the fragrances
of mercy have been wafted over all things2
and there is the in-dwelling God
to counter the scorn, contempt,
bitterness and cynicism
that fills the space and time
of so many of the spaces
of modern life.
Part of the entire stream, the river of life;
part of a global sanctification,
far from any emotional cul-de-sac,
any bell jar, close to truth’s irrefutable
and exciting drama, but far, far
from the Inaccessible, the Unsearchable,
the Incomprehensible: no man can sing
that which he understandeth not.3
I belong here, Sylvia
in this incredible universe.
I was just getting launched
when you were bowing out;
you’d been trying to bow out since 19534
when I’d just breathed the first words
and the Kingdom of God on earth
had begun in all its glorious unobtrusiveness.
1 Sylvia Plath’s suicide in 1962
2 Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Carmel.
3 Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p.121.
4 Plath’s first attempt at suicide was in 1953.
23 February 2000
Id like to think that one day I might have some of the experience that Thomas Carlyle had back in 1866, as the very outset of a new Revelation that Carlyle had absolutely no awareness of in the England of his home. In that year, two months after the death of his wife, he was reading some of her letters from the year 1857. He said he found in those dear records a piercing radiancy of meaning. Carlyle wanted his own letters preserved as a record of his life so that his record would be as full as possible.
Carlyle writes eloquently concerning the value of letters, the careful preservation of them, the authentic presentation of them and an adequate elucidation of them by future critics. In this age of speed, of the email, of the burgeoning of communication in all its forms, I hesitate to wax enthusiastic about the value of letters. Instead I simply leave them for a future generation and wait to see what those mysterious dispensations of Providence will bring. So much of life is waiting. Indeed, as one definition of faith I always liked put it: faith is the patience to wait.
For a perspective on this theme of faith I conclude this chapter with a letter and a poem, one of the few poems I have written thanks to Emily Dickinson which I feel has been successful. She was a great letter-writer, a great sufferer and an enigmatic person which, in the end, I think we all are.
The unseen heroism of private suffering surpasses that to be found on any visible battlefield...the lonely soul’s unnoticed though agonized struggle with itself....the struggle for higher life within the least believer partakes of the same basic ingredients as the most heroic....The ordinary self must respond to the dull pain at the heart of its present existence. -With thanks to Benjamin Lease and Geoffrey Nash in Emily Dickinson’s Readings of Men and Books, MacMillan, London, 1990, p.69 and “The Heroic Soul and the Ordinary Self” Baha’i Studies, Vol.10, p.28 and 25, respectively.
Success is counted sweetest
when life has given all,
even if in bits and pieces
amidst its ever-present call.
A nectar goes right into
the marrow of the bone
as if destroying cancer
in the centre of one’s home.
There is an outer victory;
‘tis measured every day,
tho' so frequnetly it
that faces us when we pray.
Then there is what’s inner;
few can define its charms,
slowly distant strains of triumph
burst free of all alarms.
All those many losses
on all those battlefields
proceed this plumed procession,
a rank of angels heals.
29 October 1995
And so, at the end of several thousand letters, at the end of all the battles and the losses, I anticipate that there will be a rank of angels who will, as Abdul-Bahá puts it in so many different ways in His Memorials of the Faithful, be there as I am plunged into the ocean of light. And there, lapped in the waters of grace and forgiveness I shall review my days on this earthly plane which passed as swiftly as the twinkling of a star. I trust I will be able to recall that I made my mark at what was a crucial turning point of a juncture in human history the like of which never came again in the story of human civilization. Will I be able to recall, at that future time, a time beyond time in that Undiscovered Country, deeds that have ensured for me celestial blessings? Will there be regrets and remorse? Will letters continue to be written in that place? Who knows
Here is a letter, the penultimate letter to those colleagues I worked with in the teaching profession in Perth sent eighteen months after I left the classroom and at the start of my fortieth year of pioneering, written from Tasmania where I began the years of my retirement.
8 September 2000
G’day from Tasmania!
It has been nearly a year since I wrote to you folks at the Thornlie Campus of the SEMC of Tafe but, since I have been thinking recently of the place where I spent more than ten years teaching, I felt like writing. John Bailey, now a retired Tafe teacher, writes occasionally, as do several of the Baha’is and others that Chris and I got to know in Perth. Sometimes we get a phone call and, on one occasion, a visit from a student. So we keep in touch in one way or another. Most emails and letters end, though, within the first few years after moving from a town or city. Such are the perils of living in two dozen towns over your adult life. There was, though, one chap I wrote to for a dozen years from 1980 to 1992 and we never even met. He was a poet who lived in Israel at the time and passed away in his early sixties, in 1993.
It has been 18 months since teaching my last class in Human Services and 12 months since my wife, Chris, and I moved to George Town in Tasmania. Time flies! I’m glad I pulled the plug when I did at the ripe old age of fifty-five. The time was right for me. It felt right in leaving and the first 18 months have confirmed that was the right decision. Twenty-nine years in the game was enough for me. Centrelink and the several private employment providers don’t put any significant pressure on you here in northern Tasmania, a region of high unemployment. The concept of ‘mutual obligation’ has not resulted in me taking on any jobs I don’t want. I have a Web Page which is considered ‘an embryonic business’ by Centrelink; I also work for a home tutoring organization in Victoria and am the President of the George Town School for Seniors. The total time per month, in recent months, on all of these ‘exercises’ together is about two to three hours. Of course, in addition to the above, I must apply for 3 jobs/fortnight and that takes, roughly, two hours a week of various forms of paper-schuffling. It is a pleasing change from the mountains of marking and endless talking and listening.
When I left the classroom in early April last year I was really emotionally worn-out, in ‘emotional labour,’ I think was the term I came across on a Four Corners program about Call Centres I saw a few weeks ago. It was not just a fatigue with teaching but, it would appear in retrospect, a fatigue with a range of other social obligations I was involved with in Perth. Wall-to-wall talking and listening. Now, after 18 months, I have just enough social contact to satisfy my needs for sociability and enough time in solitude to cater to that other side of me. I have a weekly radio program on the local community radio station which I run for the Baha’is of Launceston; and there are activities in the Baha’i community in Tasmania to keep me in touch with humanity and prevent me from becoming the total hermit which part of my personality seems to need at the moment. I write lots of poetry and prose, read lots of books, walk 45 minutes every day and argue more with my wife, who has been going through meno- pause and giving me the biggest challenge of my early time of retirement.
George Town is a town of about 8000 people. I look out my lounge room window (the whole wall is window) and can see the Tamar River, the Bass Strait and the Asbestos Mtns(soon to be renamed). Winter temperatures go down to zero to five at the low end and ten to fifteen in the day. Things are warming up now in the early days of spring, but won’t get to the high temperatures of Perth, perhaps thirty degrees once or twice during the whole summer. We are half an hour from Launceston and other critical points on the Tamar River where my wife’s family lives. My family, consisting now only of cousins and their children in Canada, might as well be on another planet. One perfunctory letter a year is the only contact left now. Moving many thousands of miles from home, after thirty years, tends to limit intimacy in most cases. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, only to a point, I guess.
I do not miss teaching, although I enjoyed it immensely for most of the time I was in Perth. I get my kicks from writing and reading, a lot of little things, and the slower pace of life. I think one needs to get some intellectual/psychological/emotional sub- stitute for whatever one gets from the teaching profession, if one is not to hanker after it when it’s gone. Of course, we are all different and must work out our own game plan, so to speak.
I have been thinking of Thornlie Tafe, where I spent ten pretty intense years, in the last week or so when I’ve been out for my walks in the bush near my home here in George Town, and so I decided to write. If any of you feel like writing do so; I’d love to hear from you. But I know you are all busy and getting in gear for the last term of another year. After living in so many towns since I left my home town in 1962, I find the places I have lived in become a little like chapters in a book, slices of memory.
Time moves us all on, whether peripatetic creatures like myself or more sedentary types who live and die in the same city. I have happy memories of Thornlie from 1989 to 1999; one leaves a little of oneself wherever one dwells. And so I write this letter.
I wish you all well in your own careers and in your personal lives. May you all be survivors and, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, if you can’t find much happiness perhaps you can settle for measures of pleasure that you can tease out of existence. I will enclose 3 or 4 poems to that end. Cheers!
I will not include those poems here, but I will quote the prolific letter writer Anais Nin who said that the living moment is caught and in catching this moment, by accumulation and by accretion, a personality emerges in all its ambivalences, contradictions and paradoxes--in its most living form. Some of me the reader will find here in this chapter. If readers want any more of the personas they have found here, they are advised to go to my collections of letters. And there they will find the dispersed and isolated facts of my life and some of continuitys threads. But there is much in my life that is not in my letters. My childhood, adolescence and, indeed, much of my adulthood is just not there, for there are no letters for long periods of my life. Readers are best advised to go to films of the period, the print & electronic media and books from the last half of the twentieth century. These letters and my life provide only a small window. Although much of the electronic media is bubble and froth, light and noise and, although its mindlessness may be having a negative affect on western civilization, there is much there that can supplement rather than supplant the civilization of the book and fill in a picture of society and life that my letters, no matter how comprehensive and exhausting, simply can not describe.
In the foreword to a collection of the letters of poet Robert Frost, Louis Untermeyer wrote that Frosts letters provided a portrait of a man and his mind and a gradually unfolding and ungarded autobiography. The same could be said of the collection of my own letters and the thousands of pages found therein. There are vivid pictures of character and personality and glimpses into life, art and the meaning of the Baháí experience over several epochs found in these letters. But whether a future reader can find me in my art, my letters, is questionable. Freud did not think it was possible and an able novelist like Henry James challenged his future biographers to find him in his art, his novels and his letters and in his many moods. How important it is to be able to find and isolate, explore and connect, a person and his community in these epochs is a question that will or will not have significance in the decades and centuries to come.br>
As epoch followed epoch, first the third epoch, then the fourth and finally the fifth, as this autobiography finally found its form, western culture became increasingly complex, although there were strong currents of conformity, perhaps as there always had been and as there always would be for the social animal who was man. I like to think, although it is difficult for me to measure, that there was a gradual evolution in my personal letter writing style, evidence of a search for delicacies of feeling and the intricacies and subtleties of human beings in community. This was true of the letters of Henry James, wrote Leon Edel, the biographer of Henry James. I find it difficult to discern the quality of my own letters but, as the outward battle of life, a battle that I had been engaged with at least since the start of my pioneering experience in 1962, lost its fire and its heat as the the millennium turned its corner, as I went on new medications for my bipolar disorder and as I did not have to deal with the pressures of job and community life, my interior world felt vivified and redeemed. The former enthusiastic temper of espousal that I poured into people and relationships sometimes with that “rapturousness of life” that James writes about and sometimes with all sorts of other emotional stuff, I came to pour into the intellectual side of life by the year 2000
Some biographers and autobiographers regard a judicious selection of letters as the most useful and succinct aid to their task that there is. Im not sure if that is the case, although it may be true for some people. Benjamin Franklin, for example, lived much more than he had time to write the story that he was perpetually telling. This is not to say that he did not accomplish much of his mission in life without using persistent, practical prose as his primary tool. As he once said: “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing about.
It seems to me quite impossible to write all of life, certainly all of mine, into the shape and form of a series of letters, no matter how numerous. The electronic age has made our communications more audible and therefore, in some ways, more ephemeral and so I must confess to some skepticism regarding the future of my letters or, indeed, the future of the vast majority of letters that have been written in this new age of the print and electronic media that has emerged in the first century of the Formative Age.(1921-2021). At the same time, I am forced to admit that I have just lived through one of the most enriching periods in the history of the Baháí Faith and who knows, who can measure and define, the nature and extent of ones achievements? We, into whose hands, as Shoghi Effendi once wrote, so precious a heritage has been entrusted have helped in our own small ways to advance the Cause toward its high destiny in this the greatest drama in the worlds spiritual history.
And the humble letter may just endure. For this Cause is, indeed, one constructed around the letter, a veritable treasure-house of correspondence, in words that I opened this posting at the BARL. No other religion, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani notes, has placed so subtle and significant a value on this method of exchange. And so I live in hope that the life I have lived and expressed as it is in the letters I have written, becomes of some use to the Bahai community. The boundaries within which I write I have set out in these letters. The energies out of which I write find their source in my religion; my experience in late middle age and the early years of late adulthood enables these energies to express themselves in this literary craft. The passion to write or erotic passion seems to come unbidden although there are often specific stimuli to arouse the energies in both of these domains. The structures within which the poetic and the literary flashes that fall onto the paper are defined and described are, I hope, intellectually interesting. I have worked over the years to make them more distinctive. But I know from my many years as a teacher that appreciation of distinctiveness is entirely in the mind of the beholder, the reader.
The political action of ordinary people in relation to the transformation of the cultural and political landscape of Europe since the Reformation in 1517 has become a serious object of historical study. This historical study is recent. In the years since I have been pioneering, that is since 1962, ordinary people have come to occupy a much more central place in history’s story. Such study naturally takes issue with previous scholarly interpretations relying as they did on elite-centred accounts of the big changes of the last five hundred years. This emphasis on ordinary people explicitly undermines these elite-centered accounts of both the Reformation and the consolidation of the peculiarly European system of states. It also brings into question the explanation of other developments and changes in western society in the last five centuries. In a far more constructive sense, however, these more recent studies of the role of ordinary human beings have broken the exclusive claims of rulers and the ruling class to political and cultural sovereignty. The ordinary citizen, by boldly entering political arenas that had been legally closed to them, helped to shape the cultural and political landscape of modern Europe. In the last forty years this fact has been at last recognized.
I mention the ordinary man, in closing this section on letters, because underpinning this autobiography is the view that ordinary people doing ordinary things within the context of the Bahaí community can and do play an important part in contemporary history, unbeknownst to the majority of humankind. Letter-writing is just part of this ordinariness; indeed, ordinariness is enshrined in the published collections of letters. This ordinariness makes for what is for most people tedious reading. Contemporary readers avoid collections of letters. This essay does not try to resurrect the letter from its insignificant place in the lives of pioneers around the world. That would require a much greater force than this simple essay. But, it seems to me, I have provided a context for the 5000 letters, emails and postings on the internet. The letters that I have written, it is my considered opinion, will remain in the dust-bin of history unread by the great majority of humankind. Given the burgeoning quantity of print human beings are and will be faced with in their lives I think that conclusion I have come to here is a reasonable one. Time, of course, will tell.
Id like to offer the following light note on a type of email I have received in abundance in the last two decades. I have entitled this brief essay: A SUB-GENRE OF EMAILS and it was sent to the many people who wrote to me by email as the twentieth century came to a close.
I hope you enjoy this little piece of gentle satire, analysis and comment. It will serve as a more detailed response to your many emails over recent months. Now that I am not teaching sociology and the several social sciences, as I had been doing for so many years; now that I am not having my mind kept busy by a hundred students a week, other things come into the gap: like responding to emails.
Funwisdein, the editor mentioned in the following paragraph, in the end, rejected my contribution to his book, but encouraged me to try for his next collection so impressed was he with the quality of the short essay which follows. I trust you enjoy it, too, even if it is a little longer than my normal missives. And, if you dont enjoy it, I hope you at least tolerate its presence. For we must all, in and out of the world of emails, increasingly learn to tolerate each others eccentricities, thus making the world an easier place to live in.
WEE-WISDOMS AND FUNNIES: A SUB-GENRE OF THE EMAIL INDUSTRY
Ron Price, Wee-Wisdoms and Funnies: A Sub-Genre of the Email Industry, Human Communication in the Twenty-First Century, editor, Harry Funwisdum, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 45-63.
The following is a digest of Prices twenty-one pages that did not make it into Funwisdums new book. Price is a prolific writer and, although he is neither famous nor rich, he churns out some provocative stuff from his word-factory on the Tamar River, at Port Dalrymple, in northern Tasmania.
Receiving so many funnies and words-of-wisdom as I do week after week from a small coterie of people, I thought I would try to respond more befittingly than I normally do with my perfunctory and usually brief set of phrases and sentences, if indeed I respond at all. What you find below is a more reflective piece that sets all these wisdoms and funnies I receive from you--and others--in some perspective, a perspective that derives in large measure from my years as a teacher/lecturer and from some forty years now of imbibing funnies and wisdoms from a multitude of sources. Indeed, it is probably these years as a teacher that have resulted in my habit, engrained after all these years, of responding to any and all incoming mail/email. I enjoyed teaching but, as the years approached thirty-in-the-game, I got tired of much of what was involved in the process. Some of the emails and letters I receive now are somewhat like pieces of work I used to have to mark. Like making comments on the work of students, I think it important to respond to such emails and letters with courtesy and with honesty. This is not always easy for courtesy and honesty do not sit easily together, especially if the content of the received material is neither funny nor edifying, as is the case with so much of the material I receive.
It has been ten years since the email became part of my daily life. This short think-piece is a reflection on an aspect of the email industry as well as a celebration of the many advantages of this wonderful, although not always rewarding or intellectually engaging, mechanism of technology. I think I write this for me more than I do for you, since the thrust of so much of this sub-genre of email communication does not, for the most part, require any reflection, or anything more than a minimum of reflection. I really wanted to have a think about an aspect of this industry that has engaged my attention for some of these last ten years. Quick hits, so many emails are, like jokes themselves-affections arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing, as the philosopher Emmanuel Kant once defined laughter. Perhaps, they are a sign of a mind lively and at ease, as Emma once said in Jane Austins book by the same name. These quick hits require quick responses, if any at all.
Is this humour and wisdom? Or is it the trivialization of the human battle, as the literary critic Susan Langer once defined so much of the output of the electronic media factories? After ten years(1991-2002)( minus a few months of travelling to Tasmania) of receiving what I guesstimate to be some 2500 pieces of this type of email, I felt like writing this little piece on one of the aspects of the genre. I hope you dont find it too heavy, too much thinking, too long without the quick-natural-lift, message or laugh that is part of the particular sub-genre of emails I am concerned with here. In the end you may see me as too critical but, as I used to say to my students, that is the risk you take when you open your mouth or write.
CARRY ON GANG
I have been giving and receiving various forms of advice/wisdom for some 40 years now, 2002 back to 1962 when life began to assume a more serious aspect for me in my late teens and when school, sport, girls and entertainment found some competition from serious ideas in lifes round of activities. First as a student imbibing humour and wisdom from the several founts of knowledge and laughter I was then exposed to or that I investigated as a youth(teens and twenties); and then as a teacher/lecturer in the social sciences(including human relations, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, negotiation skills, working in teams, a list of subjects as long as your proverbial arm)I received and dispensed advice and wisdoms in a multitude of forms. I was clearly into the advice and wisdom business. It was part of the very air I breathed. I should by now be a fount of unusually perspicacious aphorisms from the wisdom literature of history, or at the very least run wisdom workshops for the lean and hungry. In addition I should have an accumulation of jokes/funnies to keep everyone laughing in perpetuity.
But instead I feel a little like the marriage guidance counsellor who has been married six times. He has never been able to pull-it-off, marriage that is, but he has had a lot of experience trying.
For some fifteen years, during this educative process, I used to give out a summary of the wisdom of the ages on several sheets of A-4 paper to the approximately one hundred students I had every term or semester. Thousands of intending students of leisure and life and I went through the material to see if we could come up with the wisest of the wise stuff, practical goodies for the market-place and the inner man/woman. For the most part I enjoyed the process. Giving and receiving advice was a buzz. Of course, it had to be done in a certain way for advice givers and jokers can be as tedious as they are valuable and entertaining.
Now that I approach the evening of my life, the wisdom continues to float in, unavoidably, inevitably, perhaps to an extent I even encourage it. From emails and the internet, among other sources, material is obtained from:
(i) the wisdom literature of the great historical religions;
(ii) the wisdom of the philosophical traditions(outside religion);
(iii) the wisdom of popular psychology and the social sciences(usually from the fields of (a) human relations, (b) interpersonal skills, (c) pop-psychology, (d) management and organizational behaviour and (e) endless funnies from known and unknown word factories.
Unlike some of the other academic fields like, say, the biological and physical sciences, the social sciences(the disciplines in which the wisdom literature is now located are either old-like history, philosophy and religion--or young like economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, human relations, etc.) are all inexact, highly subjective and infinitely more complex than the physical and biological sciences. Everybody and their dog can play at dispensing their wisdoms, with the dogs sometimes providing the best advice in the form of close friendships, at least for some people with canine proclivities. Unlike the physical and biological sciences, though, knowledge and experience is not required. Anyone can play the game. Often the untutored and apparently ignorant and those who have read nothing at all in the field, can offer humble wisdoms and funnies which excel the most learned, with or without their PhDs. So be warned: its a mine field, this advice and wisdom business. A great deal of useless stuff gets attractively packaged. Many ideas are like many attractive young women; the beauty is only skin deep, as it were.
The result for many practitioners who would really like to be both wise and entertaining is the experience of a field that resembles a mud-pie, poorly constructed and not of much use to humanity, although lots of laughs are had and wisdom gets distributed liberally. The industry, the word factories, pour out their wisdoms and their humour with greater frequency with every passing day.
I felt like having a little think about this sub-genre of emails at this ten year mark and this half-way point(if I live to be 98!) in what you might call my wisdom/advice-lifeline, as I, and you, continue to imbibe the endless supply of resources available from the endless supply of word factories. I hope the satire here is gentle and does not bite too hard or at all. Canadians are on the whole nice people who try to perform their operations on their patients in such a way that they leave the hospital without the suspicion they have even been operated on, but with the new glands fully installed for daily use. Like the pick-pocket and the burglar, I want to get in there and out without alerting anyone to my work. The New Testament calls it the act of: The Thief in the Night. But, again, this is a prophecy capable of many interpretations, as all prophecies are.
I send this your way in response to your many emails in recent months. There are, perhaps, a dozen people now who are into this sub-genre and who send me this special type of material in the course of a normal year. This dozen sends me many delightful pieces, more it seems as the years go by, including photos to embellish the content of the wisdom and humour.
I feel, after so many years of giving it out as a teacher, it is only fair that I now receive it all as graciously as mine was accepted by my students over those many years. Like my in-class jokes, some of the material I receive is funny, some not-so-funny; some is wise, some not-so-wise. But, then, you cant win them all. Both wisdom and humour are irrepressible. So, carry on gang.
George Bernard Shaw used to say that I can no more write what people want than I can play the fiddle. So he wrote what he thought people needed. What people need and what they want are usually not the same. Many found George presumptuous. I hope what you find here is not in the same category as Shaws, presumptuous that is. I hope, too, that this somewhat lengthy read has been worth your while. If not, well, you now have:
.....ten choices (and many more combinations of choices) regarding what to do next:
(i) delete the above;
(ii) print and save for pondering because its wise, clever and something quite personal from the sender;
(iii) read it again now, then delete it;
(iv) save the very good bits and delete the rest;
(v) none of these;
(vi) all of these, if that is possible;
(vii) write your own think-piece on this sub-genre of emails;
(viii)send me a copy of your writing on this sub-genre of emails for(a) my
evaluation(1)or (b) my pleasure;
(ix) dont send it to me; and/or
(x) dont think about what Ive written; just dismiss it as the meanderings of a man moving speedily toward his last years of middle adulthood(the 40 to 60 block).
(1) using(a) the scale: A+(91-100), A(81-90) and A-(75-80); B+(71-74),B(68-70) and B-(65-67); C+(60-64, C(55-59) and C-(50-54); D(25-49 hold and try again) and E(0-24 attend a workshop on wisdoms and funnies; and (b) anecdotal feedback.
August 20 2003
Life is a densely knit cluster of emotions and memories, each one steeped in lights and colours thrown out by the rest, the whole making up a picture that no one but the person who experiences that life could dream of undertaking to paint or to write. Experience comes in and is left to rest in memory and the writer crystallizes it in expression where it happens to fall or at some point later in life,perhaps in a letter. As long as the wear and tear of the act of living and its discriminating processes do not tax the mind and emotions the letters go on in an endless cycle of vivid and not-so-vivid, incessant and often uneventful adventure. I find the daily drama of my work now that I have given up FT, PT and casual/voluntary employments, with all the comfort and joy that the work of the imagination brings me, hardly appears with more than a faint undertone in whatever conversation my letters are engaged. And even when I am also engaged in some sociable pursuit or act of urbanity, my heart lives in its solitude, in the shrine of its labour and the intensity and serenity of its occupation. Writing letters, now in these years free of just about all the employments mentioned above, is such an occupation. The love of tranquillity and its association with writing grew, as it did for the philosopher David Hume, far more rapidly than my years.
INTRODUCTION TO LETTERS
SECTION 1: VOLUME 8
SECTION VII OF PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
This volume was begun at the start of my 42nd year of pioneering, just before the mid-point in the Five Year Plan(2001-2006). It was completed in November 2004 three months into my 43rd year of pioneering. This volume takes me and any readers who care to follow this journey to the end of my 37th year of letter collecting. The first letter I received and that I kept in this total collection was on December 1st 1967, although I noticed recently a small handful of letters written to my mother going back to November 1960 which can be found in volume 1 of this larger collection.
Barry Ahearn, a professor of English at Tulane University and the editor of the letters between poets Zukofsky and Williams, says that a poet’s correspondence is the raw material of biography: the poet’s first hand perceptions, unguarded, unpolished, and uncensored. “It’s a way of recovering the warts-and-all humanity of these individuals.” These poets, Ahearn goes on, “are writing things about themselves which they might not otherwise.” Ahearn also edited selections of letters between Pound and Zukofsky, published by New Directions in 1987, and Pound/Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E.E. Cummings, University of Michigan Press, 1996. The contrasts and comparisons between my correspondence and the letters of these poets is interesting, but not my purpose to examine here in this introduction.
In the letters between some writers, there is often a persistent and passionate debate around some issue. The 450 letters written between 1953 and 1985 that are collected in The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, edited by Albert Gelpi, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, and Robert J. Bertholf, curator of the Poetry/Rare Books Collection at SUNY Buffalo are an example of such a debate. “It’s a huge argument,” Gelpi says. “It brings the correspondence to a remarkable personal as well as literary climax because these two poets, who were so close, who thought of themselves as anima and animus to each other, as brother and sister.” Suddenly, says Gelpi, these poets “found themselves having to recognize that there were actually fundamental disagreements between them about what poetry is, how the imagination works and how poetry functions in society.”
Thusfar, in my eight volumes of personal correspondence and many other volumes to particular institutions and individuals, there is very little of what you might call sustained debate. There is often disagreement, but the disagreement is usually dealt with in one or two letters at the most. Disagreement is rarely if ever sustained, although this is not true on the internet where sustained debate and dialogue often goes on and on ad nauseam. This is not to say that there are not many areas in which my correspondents and I disagreed, but for the most part the areas which were critical were simply not discussed beyond a minimal exchange often by means of indirectness, humour and what might be called the Australian cynical beneath surface style which criticizes as it smiles with a cleverness that I have come to enjoy and appreciate more than I did on my arrival in these Antipodes. Sometimes the inferences pile up in a letter and the surface of the exchange gets broken more than desired.
Whereas Levertov and Duncan wrote one or two letters a month for thirty years, the longest correspondents thusfar in my life have been Roger White at 12 years and John Bailey at, perhaps, 8. Roger and I wrote some five or six times a year while John and I wrote once a month. Sustained epistolary relationships began to take on different forms as the internet entered its third decade in my life, the years after 2009. For the sake of discussion here I assume the first two decades of internet writing were 1991 to 2011. There were many other correspondents with many patterns: singles, twos, short and intense, long and infrequent. A student of these letters will find innumerable patterns and non-patterns.
Gelpi says that Levertov and Duncan were both too strong and too honest and too committed to poetry to obfuscate or to simply pass over issues. They end up really arguing it out,” Gelpi says. White, Bailey and I deal with issues much more subtlety. In these letters readers will get glimpses of creative origin and process, the nuts and bolts of various articulate minds engaging in the act of writing prose and poetry, writing emails and letters, trying to sort out a host of problems, ideas and issues. These letters/emails offer a much fuller understanding of whatever publications I have produced and will produce. They also offer, I would also argue, a useful insight into the development of the World Order of Baha’u’llah, a sort of tangent to the immense quantities of correspondence contained in Baha’i administrative archives. Of course, time will tell regarding the relevance of these letters in the years ahead as Baha’u’llah’s Order gains in strength and influence in the world. In the end all these letters may become simply dust and ashes at the local tip.
Readers will see me sometimes groping and fumbling, sometimes confidently writing, sometimes making tentative steps and then bold steps toward trying to grasp the merits of what another person is saying. Often I am completely misunderstood, but so is this such a common experience in daily life when nothing is written at all. In personal letters I often drop my guard; whereas in a more public face, in some public articulation of ideas, such an exposure doesn’t take place, at least not the kind of real human hesitation that contains real human fear. And if it does, if I adopt a confessional mode I often regret it, as I do in everyday life. Often, too, there is a drawing close. One can never be too sure. Such is life. There is a limit to ones personal revelations. Teaching and consolidation has taken many forms over these four epochs: 1944-2021. Many of these forms are found here.
As this 43rd year of pioneering opened in the last three months, this introduction to Volume 8 of Section 1 of my letters: Personal Correspondence, a volume which I began fifteen months ago, came to be filled more quickly than previous volumes of personal correspondence. I had originally planned in a vague sort of way that this arch-lever file would last for at least two years, but the great volume of internet site material, postings, replies to my postings and emails prevented this from occurring. There has developed insensibly in the last several years a burgeoning of emails and they have filled the space available in this file very quickly.
By November 2004 my postings on the internet had become so extensive as to be in a category of correspondence on its own. As I have indicated, most of this internet posting I have not included here. It simply became too much to copy and file. This was true not only of the irrelevant material, some 90 to 95 per cent of the two to four hundred emails I received everyday, but even the 5 per cent that was of value. If these electronic sites become archives themselves, then one day my material can be retrieved by an assiduous researcher, if it is deemed to be of value.
So it was that most of the internet material, probably ninety-five percent of it, I deleted. I have kept what I see as relevant to this ongoing collection. The other ten sections/divisions of my letters have also been added-to during this time, but each of these other sections has their own story and I do not deal with it here. It may be that all of these letters and emails may become a grey residue, as I said above, at a local tip, freeing my executors from the burden of what to do with all the paper. And it may be that the contents here will be a useful archive for a Cause that has gone from strength to strength and, as one writer put it several decades ago, will come to conquer the world by storm.
Ron Price November 15
1 This introduction has been written and revised half a dozen times since the inception of this volume 9 fifteen months ago.
SECTION VII OF PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
INTRODUCTION VOLUME 9
OF PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE
After twenty-two years of a vague, largely unconscious and undirected process of letter collection, 1960 to 1982, there began an intense, directed letter collecting activity that has continued for a further twenty-two years, 1982 to 2004.
This volume was begun at the start of my 44th year of letter collecting. Since I first wrote the introduction to the last volume of personal correspondence, Volume 8, I have discovered some of my mother’s letters going back an additional seven years to November 1960. I had been a member of the Baha’i Faith for 13 to 14 months at the time of the first letter in my Mother’s small handful of letters. This file, Volume 9 of my personal correspondence, begins with 18 months left in the current Five Year Plan(2001-2006). The beginnings of this file also coincide with the third month of the 43rd year of my pioneering, the first month of the 46th year of my membership in this Faith and, arguably, the end of the 50th year since the beginning of my association with this Faith through my mother’s first contact with the Cause in 1953.(1) As I pointed out at the outset of the previous Volume of this collection, the first letter I received and that I kept in this collection was on December 1st 1967
With the small handful of letters that I noticed recently written to my mother by others going back to November 1960 and which can be found in Volume 1 of this larger collection of correspondence, this body of letter-writing could be said to go back 44 years(1960-2004). The great bulk of this correspondence, though, goes back only twenty-two years to the time Chris, Dan and I moved north of Capricorn. There is very little in the collection before 1982 and even less before 1974, some thirty years ago now. Those first 15 years(1967-1982) of letters, or 22 if one includes my mother’s letters, barely made a dint in the epistolary world. As I say, it was not until the middle years of the Seven Year Plan(1979-1986), our going north of Capricorn in 1982, that I began making any conscious effort to seriously collect my incoming and outgoing letters.
So much for outlining the general time-frame for these letters. The vast majority of Baha’is will leave no letters, will provide no historical material by means of this useful genre. There will, though, be a core of inveterate letter writers. I quoted in that last introduction to my personal correspondence, Volume 8, a Barry Ahearn, professor of English at Tulane University and the editor of the letters between poets Zukofsky and Williams, who said that a poet’s correspondence is the raw material of biography: the poet’s first-hand perceptions, unguarded, unpolished, and uncensored. “It’s a way of recovering the warts-and-all humanity of these individuals, because they are writing things about themselves which they might not otherwise,” says Ahearn. Ahearn also edited selections of other warts-and-all letters, those between Pound and Zukofsky, published by New Directions in 1987, and Pound/Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E.E. Cummings, University of Michigan Press, 1996.(2) Readers will certainly find lots of warts in my writings, but whether they will find that many of the greater, the uglier, warts in my letters is another question since, as Baha’u’llah once wrote and as I was sensitive to when I wrote: “not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed; not everything that can be disclosed is timely and not every timely utterance is suited to the ears or eyes of the reader.”
Keen students of biography may find some rich and varied warts in my Journals which, as the years go on and I am more comfortable to confess what I am still not comfortable to confess in my letters, may curl their mental toes. It may be, though, as Roger White writes in his poem “Lines from a Battlefield,” my “nurtured imperfections” are “not so epically egregious” and the angels will simply yawn at their mention.(3) For the most part, what is found in my personal correspondence is of a moderate, tempered, hopefully judicious, expression of thought. I may not have exercised a rigorous discipline on my words while I have given vent to an individuality, a spontaneity and, I think, a certain degree of equanimity.
I hope I have been a source of social good, for that has been my aim. By the time I came to write this introduction at the outset of the accumulation of yet another collection of letters/emails/postings in November 2004, I was receiving 300(circa) emails a day, most of which I simply deleted. Perhaps as many as a dozen emails were kept and responded to each day, although I never kept a statistical tabulation of the incoming and outgoing items. For the most part, only items of some literary, informational, social, religious, philosophical or historical significance were kept in my files although, here too, I’m sure I kept material that would be of no use to anyone. On the other hand I’m sure I did not file material that may well have been useful to future historians and archivists.
In the burgeoning world of print, on the internet and in daily life, I could not help but wonder, as I have oft-expressed before, what value this collection of mine would be to anyone. But I shall persist and hope it has some worth. As I indicated in the introduction to my last volume there was coming to be just too much to keep track of. I shall return to this introduction at a later date and an appropriate time and finalize these words to Volume 9 of my personal correspondence before Volume 10 appears on the horizon probably some time in 2006.
The sheer repetition that appears in these letters will give ammunition to any admirers and any critics who come along in the years ahead. My admirers, I hope, will delight in seeing the constancy and firmness of a core of my opinions across the years. I have only rarely found any withering pressure to yield vis-a-vis this core. Those who become my critics will see a frequent repetition of familiar themes and facts as confirmation of a supposed, an apparent, lack of creativity, perhaps even a simple-mindedness. Who knows what they will say if, indeed, they say anything at all. In parsing my arguments, though, I hope that both admirers and critics do not overlook what I hope they see as genuine sincerity and doggedness in my letter collection. I often tired of writing out again and again the same arguments and sentiments. Staleness not freshness often dogged my path so that I did not enjoy the experience of that phenomenal letter-writer of my time, President Ronald Reagan, who felt when he wrote a letter that “he was expressing his views for the first time.”(4) I experienced some of this useful emotional and intellectual feeling but not as frequently as I would have liked.
An ordinary politician, indeed any person in the public eye or in some bureaucratic position that had to deal with community concerns often resorted necessarily to scribbling a code for the appropriate form-letter response that would go out from some organizational word-factory. Many other people I have known personally use the telephone to achieve whatever intimacy is required. As the years went on into my fifties and sixties I avoided the telephone and, except in my place of employment, I rarely resorted to the use of form-letters.(5) President Reagan, the man who became known as The Great Communicator, thought it was his duty to write individually to everyone who wrote to him and so, in the process, wrote some 10,000 letters in his lifetime. The only person I have known like this in Australia was Philip Adams. I am not in their league but, when I did write a letter, I felt as Reagan did, that I was writing to a friend. I also like to think that my letters had some of the quality of those of Phillip Adams: a succinct and pithy content of thought and argument.
I’m not sure that my letters offer examples of the toughness, discipline, and canniness that the President exemplified in his letters and which were required in his extensive dealings with the public. His public geniality masked these qualities. I leave it for critics to assess whether these qualities are present in my letters. I tend to think that these qualities were masked by humour but this is too difficult and complex a subject to assess in this space.
Finally, I am conscious that my letters could be used both to my disadvantage and to the disadvantage of the Baha’i Faith if they were to fall into the hands of severe critics, enemies of the Cause and that permanent lynch mob that the world creates out of its bosom and the depths of its heart. For evil men, as the Guardian once wrote, we will always have with us. And so I entrust these letters to the appropriate Baha’i institutions on my passing. There is much to be pondered in my letters including my day to day efforts as a practitioner of the protocols of a religious piety originally imbibed at my mother’s knee more than half a century ago. I’d like to think that readers will also enjoy what is a shrewd mix of practicality with ideological conviction. That’s what I’d like to think but it is difficult to assess oneself in these areas. My nuanced view of man, society and religion might also be useful to readers--or so I hope. I hope these letters will also bring to future readers a subtlety, a stimulation and a pleasure that will enhance their work for this Cause in the decades ahead as it comes to play a greater and greater part in the unification of the planet.
Perhaps one of the many mentors who have influenced my writing, Alistair Cooke, who wrote in conversation and spoke in prose and who perfected the journalism of personal witness,(6) has left his mark on my letters. I like to think so. His sentences never seem to be dull; he never loses touch with narrative, with the writer as storyteller, with the importance of context and history. I dont think I have ever been in his league nor will I ever acquire his skills. I have often felt my writing dull. Ones own percpetions of the quality of ones work is often no measure of its real worth. Ernest Hemmingway also felt his letters dull and stupid and they were far from that.
Writers like Cooke and Hemmingway, among others, were instrumental in providing me with a set of goals in my letter writing, although my goals were also quite idiosyncratic and the Bahai community hardly needs me to articulate any set of explicit goals in writing letters. I should say, though, that writing letters performed somany functions and I refer to them in these many essays in this post at BLO. I leave it to readers to assess whether, like Cooke, my letters are both diary and testament in addition to being analysis and commentary. As the years went on, though, I was like Hemingway, a confirmed, habitual and even compulsive correspondent. Letter writing increasingly became a necessity. Unlike Hemingway, my letters did not detract from my potential novel writing. They may have kept me from writing poetry or essays. My epistolary effervescence, which began in the 1980s, was in some ways a form of relaxation to warm up my brain, a form of play in a way, an antidote to other more serious concentrations. Unlike Hemingway, too, I keep one eye on posterity when I write; Hemingway felt it would take care of itself.(7)
Vincent Van Gogh's letters are one of the great epistolary legacies of the nineteenth century despite their unreliability as biographical evidence. As Patrick Grant puts it in a recent critical study, the letters stoop to “special pleading, evasion, manipulation, and the like,” yet still make vivid the courage and cunning Vincent brought to his “imperfect” life and art. This general description of this famous artist's letters place the whole question of the reliability of letters, the letters of anyone, under the searing light of analysis and commentary, a searing light that this commentary shines on my own correspondence in this now extensive internet post.
1 I say ‘arguably’ because I’m not sure exactly when my mother first began her involvement with the Baha’i Faith in 1953/4.
2 Kevin Larimer, “First-Class Mail: A Poet’s Letters,” Poets and Writers Magazine,
3 Roger White, Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, p.111.
4 Reagan: A Life in Letters, edited by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, 2004.
5 Except of course at Christmas and the Ayyam-i-Ha/Naw-Ruz period when I regularly used a form letter.
6 Alistair Cooke: Letter From America: 1946-2004, Allen Lane, Camberwell,, Victoria, 2004, p.xvi.
7 Ernest Hemingway: Selected letters: 1917-1961, Carlos Baker, editor, Charles Scribners Songs,NY, 1981, pp.ix-x.
December 4 2004
The history of the epistolary form could be seen as the history of the man who explores, discovers and philosophizes, while the woman awaits his messages, responds to his actions of conquest, seduction and abandonment. Indeed the core of epistolary literature has been described as a man’s narrative and a woman’s reaction to that narrative, her monument to his passages through her life. Other analyses of epistolary narratives are descriptions of scenarios driven by seduction, erotic love or male dominance. Such is not the case of this collection of letters. If anything, the general context for these letters could be said to be a cultivation of friendship. Such could be said to be one of my lofty aims. The Greek philosopher Isocrates once wrote that not all eternity could blot out the friendships of good men. The older I got, though, the more enigmatic the notion of friendship became. Still, I think the body of my letters reveal much about the friendhips I did achieve, their meaning, their complexity, their range and much else.
This collection of letters and its many sub-categories is part of the author’s effort to compensate for the tendency of his fellow Baha’is throughout the history of their Faith not to leave an account of their lives, their times, their experiences, as Moojan Momen has made so clear in his History of the Babi-Baha’i Religions: 1844-1944. This epistolary narrative is yet one more attempt, along with the other several genres by this writer, to provide a prose-poetry mix of sensory and intellectual impressions to try to capture the texture of a life, however ineffably rich and temporarily fleeting.-Ron Price with thanks to Elizabeth C. Goldsmith, editor, Writing the Female Voice: Essays in Epistolary Literature, Pinter Publishers, London, 1989.
I have written introductions to many of the above thirty-five volumes to set a context for the guesstimated correspondence of 3000 letters. One day I may include these introductions here, but it is unlikely. For this third edition of my Web Page in May 2003, though, the above outline and comment, in addition to the following two brief essays, will suffice to provide a framework for an activity that has occupied many hours of writing during my pioneering life.
THOUGHTS ON MY COLLECTION OF LETTERS
By the year 2003, thirty-five years after the first letter arrived in my colleciton, I had gathered, amassed, collected, some 35 volumes of letters and these volumes are listed above. I often wondered about the relevance of attempting to keep such a collection. Would it be of any use to future historians of the Cause examining as they might be the Baháí experience in the last half of the twentieth century? Would this collection be seen by some readers of this web or, indeed, any future readers of this collection should there be any such readers, as an inflated attempt to blow ones own horn, so to speak? Just an exercise in pretentious egotism?
In the introduction to the Cambridge edition of the collection of D.H. Lawrence’s letters(Vol. 1: 1901-1913), James T. Boulton discusses the major influences on Lawrence’s life. These influences are reflected in his letters. Indeed, as Aldous Huxley comments, Lawrence’s life is written and painted in his letters. I feel this is only partly true of me and my letters. There are very few letters in my collection before I was forty years of age. Virtually all the letters I wrote to my mother(1966-1978) are, in the main, lost; all the letters I wrote to old girlfriends like Cathy Saxe and Judy Gower in the 1960s are gone. Both of these women had a formative influence on my development as a person. Our relationship was mediated by the teachings and philosophy of the religion we had so recently joined in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They would have been interesting documents had they been kept and they would be viewed in a different perspective with the passage of time. My mother was the dominant figure in my life, at least until I was 22. Judy Gower became my first wife and dominated the personality landscape until I was 29. There were other women, but I did not write to them, at best only on a rare and occasional basis: Dorothy Weaver, Heather Penrice, Terry Pemberton-Pigott, Kit Orlick. With them I had varying degrees of intimacy as my adolescent male friendships slowly disappeared. Dorothy went on to marry Bill Carr, the first Baháí in Greenland.
It is difficult to measure the affect of these people on my development. And one might add, so what? Who cares? Whats the point? In the short term and, as I write these words, there appears to be little point. The relevance, if there is any, is tied up with the progress and advancement of the Baháí Faith in the 21st and succeeding centuries. D.H. Lawrence is now famous and so his letters became important. The relevance of this collection lies in the hands, or the arms, of the future, in the development of the Cause in this and successive centuries. In addition, the place, the part, played by and the significance given to, international pioneers in that development by future historians and analysts will also be a factor in deciding, ultimately, whether this collection will come to have any value at all. I would like to think that this exercise in collection and preservation has been worthwhile but, of course, it is impossible to predict. By that future time, Im sure, this issue will not be a concern to me, at least I assume that to be the case when one moves beyond the grave.
My collection of letters begins first, while I was pioneering on the domestic front in northern Canada in 1967. But it was not until I arrived in Tasmania in 1974 that the body of letters begins to any significant extent. By then I had begun a serious relationship with a woman who would be my second wife, Christine Sheldrick. After more than 30 additional years since then this collection does paint my life in a way no other body of my writing does. I am not trying to cultivate an image in these letters as some letter writers have done in the past. Reading about D.H. Lawrence’s letters reminded me of the nature and value of an epistolary portrait, especially a portrait containing expressive vividness, energy and imaginative resourcefulness. James Boulton says these were qualities in Lawrences letters. I would like to guarantee readers that these qualities were present in my letters. But I could hardly make such a claim and retain any claim to humility. Humility is a quality I admire and I do not want to lose all possibility of laying claim to possessing it. Indeed, the history of the letter is the history of portraits and relationships, communities of sentiment and life stories.(1) Would this collection be of any use to the Baháí community a century from now? Would there be any value in this literary memorabilia, in these warm and unpolished thoughts from the brain
Reading about Katherine Mansfield’s letters I came across a remark by Lytton Strackey.He said that great letter writers write constantly, with recurring zest. One of the few famous writers in the twentieth century to say praiseworthy things about the Baháí Faith, Henry Miller, preferred writing long letters to friends to any other kind of writing. But who reads collections of his letters today? Special interest groups in the community? The years 1975 to 2000 saw a vast production of my letters, but I am not so sure this production will continue. Time will tell of course. Strackey points out that a fascinating correspondence results from the accumulated effect of a slow, gradual, day-to-day development, from a long leisurely unfolding of a character and a life. I like this idea, but it remains to be seen just how long this life, this collection will be.
Behind the entire collection lies a passion, not so much a passion for life, although that was true in the years up to say 48 to 50, but a passion for experiencing the deeper realities, deeper implications at the roots of my Faith. I seem to waver from a fragility and vulnerability to an enthusiastic involvement, from an aloofness, a coolness, to a white-hot intensity. There is present in these letters the evidence of an urge to the immoderate as well as an indifference to so much that is life in the world of popular culture. One certainly does get a picture of a slowly unfolding life.
I have enjoyed two particular collections of letters outside of Baháí literature: the letters of Rainer Maria Rilke and those of John Keats. Both these men were poets. Both say a great deal about writing poetry. I have also kept two files of quotations on the subject of letter writing and collections of letters from over three dozen writers. While all of this has been useful to me, I am quite unsure what use my own letters will be to others either now or in the future, beyond, of course, their immediate use and function at the time of writing. It is interesting that, as yet, the now extensive body of Baháí literature and commentary has no collection of letters to enrich the collection, outside those of the central figures of course. Perhaps such collections will be part of a future phase of the intellectual development of this tenth stage of history, but in the meantime, beofre and if such collections are made, I can take pleasure, from time to time when ideas flow fast and abundantly, when I am unable to sleep, when I am alone, rested and relaxed, in a certain firing of the soul through these letters.
1 Thomas O. Beebee, Epistolary Fiction in Europe: 1500-1850, Cambridge UP, 1999.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME SIX OF PERSONAL LETTERS
As this 38th year of pioneering opens up I thought I would try to make a brief summary of this letter writing experience, an experience which goes back to the first letter I received from Cliff Huxtable on St. Helena in 1967 while I was living on Baffin Island. As I have pointed out on previous occasions there were letters received and mailed going back as far as about 1957, but I have not kept the letters from the period before 1967. There are many letters after 1967, at least up to about 1980, which were destroyed. Some of these may be in private hands but, since I have no fame, no significance in the general and public eye, it is unlikely that any of my letters are being kept in private hands.
If one tried to get a picture of the hey-day of my letter writing I think it would be the twenty years: 1981 and 2001. Certainly the first two decades of my letter writing, 1961-1981, were relatively sparse compared to the following twenty years. I do not have any interest in going through this collection of letters in some thirty two and three ring binders. Perhaps a future day will see me making a more minute analysis of the extent and the content of these letters. Perhaps, should their potential value become more evident to me, I shall take a more serious interest in my letters. Thusfar I have made only the occasional annotation to my letters. I have also taken only a very general interest in the collections of letters of other writers. I have opened a file of introductions to collections of letters by some 40 writers and have kept additional notes on the genre from the writings of other letter writers. As the Cause has gone from strength to strength in the last several decades, indeed as it has been transformed in the years I have been associated with the Baháí Faith: 1953-2003, I seem to waver from seeing significance in the whole idea of keeping a collection of letters, to seeing the exercise as a pretentious, if not meaningless, act.
Letter writing has occasionally been a routine, perfunctory, activity; occasionally a joy, a pleasure, a delight; occasionally part of some job or community responsibility. Letters were the very texture wrote Henry James of Emerson’s history. There is certainly a texture here that is not present in the other genres of this wide-ranging autobiography. This texture is also a result of a new writtten form, the email, a form which was present in Volume 5 of these personal letters as well, but one that makes a strong appearance in this sixth volume of these personal letters.
A great deal of life is messy work offering to the artist irrelevant, redundant and contradictory clutter. Much of letter writing falls into this category; it spoils a good story and blunts the edge. Like much of conversation it is random, routine and deals with the everyday scene, ad nauseam. But these letters tell of a life in a way that is unique, not so much as a collection of letters, for collections are a common genre over the centuries, but as a collection of letters in the third, forth and fifth epochs of the Formative Age of the Baháí Era in the first several decades of the tenth stage of history when the Faith expanded some 12 times. They present pictures that tell of a concrete reality, a time and an age, that I hope will stand revealed to future readers. For what is here is, in part, spiritual autobiography and psychological revelation in a different literary form than my poetry.
The future of the Cause as well as the context within which these letters were written is very great, at least that is my belief. These days are precious. In these days in which I have worked for the development of this Faith in the last half of the twentieth century, when these letters were written, the individual Baháí, myself included, while believing in the future greatness of the Cause, was confronted daily by the apparent insignificance and the small numbers of his particular Baháí Group. The contrasting immensity, pervasiveness and complexity of the wider society in which he worked made it difficult for him to see a letter written or a meeting attended in terms of any special significance. But this will not always be the case as these years of the Formative Age advance.
These letters are, among other things, strands of experience woven into patterns, patterns in a channel, a channel that is letter writing, an expression of my art, a means of communication. By the time this collection, Volume 6: 2000-2001, begins I had become exhausted by personal contacts. This was my reason for any apparent aloofness and any insistence on solitude that is found in either my letters or poetry. Perhaps, like Rilke, I had been too responsive for (my) own peace of mind.1 Perhaps the letters are an indication of a great need of imparting the life within (me.).2 Perhaps they are simply a matter of pouring experience into a mold to obtain release, to ease the pressure of life. When inspiration to write poetry lagged I often turned to correspondence. It was handicraft, a tool, among several others, that could keep me at work in constant preparation for the creative moments.3 For the drama of my life, certainly by the time this volume of letters begins, was largely an inner one. The external battle went on but in a much more subdued form. The tangled rootand the tranquil flower is here: cool detachment and an anguish of spirit4 and much more of the former than the latter. I leave it to future readers to find these roots and flowers. I trust their search will have its own reward.
Most of the correspondence with any one individual in the thirty-five years of collected letters(or 50 depending on the definition of the beginning point) was short, from, say, a week to three months. Occasionally a more frequent correspondence was struck up and lasted for several years: there are perhaps half a dozen correspondents in this category. On rare occasions a correspondence continued for many years: Roger White for a dozen years and Masoud Rowshan for nineteen. Much of what I call institutional correspondence goes on for many years, twenty years or more. Perhaps in my dotage I might analyse this collection of letters in more detail. For now, though, these letters will have to sit in their files getting dusted on a monthly basis.
I hope this opening comment on Volume 6 of Section VII of Pioneering Over Three Epochs sets an initial perspective of some value. These words, begun on 1 September 1999, were continued on several occasions and completed on 26 August 2001 after living for nearly two years in George Town.
1 Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke: 1892-1910, trans: J. Greene and M. Norton, WW Norton, NY, 1945, p. 12.
26 August 2001
I have only recently been able to free myself of the demands of employment and the various volunteer activities that occupied me for so may years. In order to pursue, with that same unclouded happiness, the literary activity that Henry James pursued at the core of his faith, I seek out the same triangle of forces he sought out: silence, seclusion and a solitude that yields concentration. Often, too, like James, my letters do not engage in the activity of persuasion or proselytising. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the main one is that people generally seem immune if not actively hostile to efforts to engage their overt religious sympathies and convictions.
The matters which deeply concern me usually do not find a place in my letters, although they do come to occupy some niche--as postings on the internet did about bipolar disorder and apologetic discussions on the Bahai Faith found a place on many an internet thread. So let me say one or two things about apologetics, the kinds of things I often opened my postings on many an internet site. the following paragraphs are an example of such a posting, a posting that appeared many times on the internet.
Apologetics is a branch of systematic theology, although some experience it’s thrust in religious studies or philosophy of religion courses. Some encounter it on the internet for the first time in a more populist and usually much less academic form. As I see it, apologetics is primarily concerned with the protection of a religious position, the refutation of that positions assailants and, in the larger sense, the exploration of that position in the context of prevailing philosophies and standards in a secular society. Apologetics, to put it slightly differently, is concerned with answering critical inquiries, criticism of a position, in a rational manner. Apologetics is not possible, it seems to me anyway, without a commitment to and a desire to defend a position. For me, the core of my position I could express in one phrase: the Bahai Revelation. With that said, though, the activity I engage in, namely, apologetics, is a never ending exercise.
The apologetics that concerns me is not so much Christian apologetics or one of a variety of what might be called secular apologetics, but Bahai apologetics. There are many points of comparison and contrast, though, which I wont go into here. Christians will have the opportunity to defend Christianity by the use of apologetics; secular humanists can argue their cases if they so desire here. And I will in turn defend the Bahai Faith by the use of apologetics. In the process we will both, hopefully, learn something about our respective Faiths, our religions, which we hold to our hearts dearly.
At the outset, then, in this my first comment on apologetics, my intention is simply to make this start, to state what you might call my apologetics position. This brief statement indicates, in broad outline, where I am coming from in the weeks and months ahead.-Ron Price with thanks to Udo Schaefer, Bahai Apologetics? Bahai Studies Review, Vol. 10, 2001/2002.
Id like now to make some final comments in outlining my basic orientation to Baha’i apologetics. Critical scholarly contributions or criticism raised in public or private discussions, an obvious part of apologetics, should not necessarily be equated with hostility. Often questions are perfectly legitimate aspects of a persons search for an answer to an intellectual conundrum. Paul Tillich once expressed the view that apologetics was an answering theology.(Systematic Theology, U. of Chicago, 1967, Vol.1, p6.)
I have always been attracted to the founder of the Bahai Faiths exhortations in discussion to speak with words as mild as milk with the utmost lenience and forbearance. I am also aware that, in cases of rude or hostile attack, rebuttal with a harsher tone may well be justified. It does not help an apologist to belong to those watchmen the prophet Isaiah calls dumb dogs that cannot bark.(Isaiah, 56:10)
In its essence apologetics is a kind of confrontation, an act of revealing ones true colours, of hoisting the flag, of demonstrating essential characteristics of faith. Dialogue, as Hans Kung puts it, does not mean self-denial.(quoted by Udo Schaefer, Bahai Apologetics, Bahai Studies Review, Vol.10, 2001/2) Schaefer goes on: A faith that is opportunistically streamlined, adapting to current trends, thus concealing its real features, features that could provoke rejection in order to be acceptable for dialogue is in danger of losing its identity.
It is almost impossible to carry the torch of truth through a crowd without getting someones beard singed. In the weeks that follow, my postings will probably wind up singing the beards of some readers and, perhaps, my own in the process. Such are the perils of dialogue, of apologetics. Much of Bahai apologetics derives from the experience Bahais have of a fundamental discrepancy between secular thought and the Bahai revelation on the other. In some ways, the gulf is unbridgeable but, so too, is this the case between the secular and much thought in the Christian revelation or, for that matter, between variants of Christianity or secular thought itself. That is why, or at least one of the reasons, I have chosen to make postings at this site. In addition, this site invites debate.
Anyway, thats all for now. Its back to the winter winds of Tasmania, about 3 kms from the Bass Straight on the Tamar River. The geography of place is so much simpler than that of the spiritual geography readers at this site are concerned with, although even physical geography has its complexities. Whom the gods would destroy they first make simple and simpler and simpler. I look forward to a dialogue with someone. Here in far-off Tasmania--the last stop before Antarctica, if one wants to get there through some other route than off the end of South America--your email will be gratefully received.
Apologetics, though, I rarely engage in in letters or emails. On the internet there are many opportunities for such engagement. But I will not be posting examples of this engagement here.
Before I include two poems, I would like to quote the poet John Keatrs in relation to identity:
The poetical mind, Keats argued: has no self – it is every thing and nothing – It has no character – it enjoys light and shade;... What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the chameleon Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other Body – The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute – the poet has none; no identity – he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God's Creatures." If I did not have a religio-philosophical centre in the Bahá'í Faith, I would subscribe to these words of Keats even more fully than I already do.
Let me post two prose-poems thought as we come to the conclusion of this rather long item at BARL.
After reading some 20 pages of letters from the Universal House of Justice on The Study of the Baháí Faith, I was reminded of a great many other letters over the years. I tried to summarize my reaction to the content of these and other House letters which I have kept in three two-ring binders going back to the mid-1970s after purchasing the first two volumes of the letters of the Universal House of Justice in Wellspring of Guidance and Letters: 1968-1973. The following poem represents one such reaction, one summary.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 22 May 1998.
Where does one fit this1 in?
On the one hand is the words sweetness
from the lips of the All-Merciful
and, on the other, is all else;
on the one hand
a system emerging inexorably
from obscurity and, on the other,
narrow and limited understandings;
bringing into visible expression
a new creation and a painfully slow,
often unsuspected, manifestation of benefits.
Oh, to be au courant with the varied learning of the day
and the great events of history,
so as not to prove unequal
to an emergency,
and possess comprehensive knowledge.2
For there are so many emergencies,
so many complex interrelationships
and principles to keep us busy
in these epochal days at the dark heart.
22 May 1998
1 Extracts from Letters of the Universal House of Justice on Issues Related to the Study of the Baháí Faith, May 1998,published in Baháí Canada,pp.1-20.
2 Abdul-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, USA, 170, p.36.
3 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, USA, 1957, p. 111.
STRANDS OF MANY-COLOURED GLASS
Virginia Woolf was never confident for long about who she was. She was frightened that the centre of her personality would not hold. The protean nature of her personality caused her to be lured by the vast elements of nature, earth, sky and sea, which would protect her. She was a spider; her letters were her web. The whole composition, her collected letters, was spun in a hall of mirrors. It took a certain courage for her to enter that hall which might be filled with terror, with a nightmare, a funhouse of distortions, all part of her manic-depressive episodes. Many strands of her identity were attached to her many friends through the letter. The horrid, dull, scrappy, scratchy letters she said were those letters we write only to those for whom we possess real affection. In writing letters you have to put on an unreal personality, except to those who are your intimate loved ones, and even then there are the limitations of this swiftly passing world. It is rare that you can really tell it all. When we say we know someone it is our version of them, a version which is an emanation of ourself. Friends, defined in letters, were therefore part of her fragile stability.1 For me, they are part of a changing kalaidoscope which is difficult to tie down. 1 Virginia Woolf in Congenial Spirits: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press, London, 1989, p.xii.
We inhabit a selfhood in our letters
and reach out, condensing life,
therefore, falsifying it,
becoming more or less
than what we are,
as you did
before you gave yourself
to the waters.
I am a many-coloured thing
in my letters,
something both real and unreal
in that many coloured glass of eternity,
no hall of mirrors, nightmare,
no funhouse of distortions.
I had them all long ago;2
now in a web of many strands
emanating from those writers of letters
who have filled my life
with their epistolary delights.
21 May 1999
1 Virginia Woolf committed suicide by drowning in 1941.
2 With the gradual use of lithium as a medication for those with the bi-polar tendency in the late 1960s and 1970s, the distortions in that ‘hall of mirros’ which Woolf experienced became ancient history for most manic-depressives.
3 Letters play a very significant part in the edification and the guidance of the believers.
21 May 1999
By November 2004 my postings on the internet had become so extensive as to be in a category of correspondence on its own. As I have indicated, most of this internet posting I have not included here. It simply became too much to copy and file. This was true not only of the irrelevant material, some 90 to 95 per cent of the two to four hundred emails I received everyday, but even the 5 per cent that was of value. If these electronic sites become archives themselves, then one day my material can be retrieved by an assiduous researcher, if it is deemed to be of value.
So it was that most of the internet material, probably ninety-five percent of it, I deleted. I have kept what I see as relevant to this ongoing collection. The other ten sections/divisions of my letters have also been added-to during this time, but each of these other sections has their own story and I do not deal with it here. It may be that all of these letters and emails may become a grey residue, as I said above, at a local tip, freeing my executors from the burden of what to do with all the paper. And it may be that the contents here will be a useful archive for a Cause that has goes from strength to strength and, as one writer put it several decades ago, comes to conquer the world by storm.
Ron Price November 15 2004
The sheer repetition that appears in these letters will give ammunition to any admirers and any critics who come along in the years ahead. My admirers, I hope, will delight in seeing the constancy and firmness of a core of my opinions across the years. I have only rarely found any withering pressure to yield vis-a-vis this core. Those who become my critics will see a frequent repetition of familiar themes and facts as confirmation of a supposed, an apparent, lack of creativity, perhaps even a simple-mindedness. Who knows what they will say if, indeed, they say anything at all. In parsing my arguments, though, I hope that both admirers and critics do not overlook what I hope they see as genuine sincerity and doggedness in my letter collection. I often tired of writing out again and again the same arguments and sentiments. Staleness not freshness often dogged my path so that I did not enjoy the experience of that phenomenal letter-writer of my time, President Ronald Reagan, who felt when he wrote a letter that “he was expressing his views for the first time.”4 I experienced some of this useful emotional and intellectual feeling but not as frequently as I would have liked.
An ordinary politician, indeed any person in the public eye or in some bureaucratic position that had to deal with community concerns often resorted necessarily to scribbling a code for the appropriate form-letter response that would go out from some organizational word-factory. Many other people I have known personally use the telephone to achieve whatever intimacy is required. As the years went on into my fifties and sixties I avoided the telephone and, except in my place of employment, I rarely resorted to the use of form-letters.5 President Reagan, the man who became known as The Great Communicator, thought it was his duty to write individually to everyone who wrote to him and so, in the process, wrote some 10,000 letters in his lifetime. The only person I have known like this in Australia was Philip Adams, although I’m sure there are many others. I am not in their league but, when I did write a letter, I felt as Reagan did, that I was writing to a friend, although I often pondered on the meaning of that term. I also like to think that my letters had some of the quality of those of Phillip Adams: a succinct and pithy content of thought and argument.
I’m not sure that my letters offer examples of the toughness, discipline, and canniness that the President exemplified in his letters and which were required in his extensive dealings with the public. His public geniality masked these qualities. I leave it for critics to assess whether these qualities are present in my letters. I tend to think that these qualities were masked by humour but this is too difficult and complex a subject to assess in this space.
Finally,6 I am conscious that my letters could be used both to my disadvantage and to the disadvantage of the Baha’i Faith if they were to fall into the hands of severe critics, enemies of the Cause and that permanent lynch mob that the world creates out of its bosom and the depths of its heart. For evil men, as the Guardian once wrote, we will always have with us. And so I entrust these letters to the appropriate Baha’i institutions on my passing. There is much to be pondered in my letters including my day to day efforts as a practitioner of the protocols of a religious piety originally imbibed at my mother’s knee more than half a century ago. I’d like to think that readers will also enjoy what is a shrewd mix of practicality with ideological conviction. That’s what I’d like to think, but it is difficult to assess oneself in these areas. My nuanced view of man, society and religion might also be useful to readers--or so I hope. I hope these letters also will bring to future readers a subtlety, a stimulation and a pleasure that will enhance their work for this Cause in the decades ahead as it comes to play a greater and greater part in the unification of the planet.
It has been said that mans most important actions usually proceed from mixed and dubious motives with virtue and vice equally distributed and hardly ever mutually exclusive. Im not sure if this is the case as one student of the decline of the Roman empire and of the works of Edward Gibbon pondered to himself. But certainly in my case, in the case of a person I have come to know perhaps altogether too well, I know of the virtue and of the vice that was part of my life and was revealed, also in part, in my letters. I do not tell it all in my letters or even in my journals but I think I strike a balance between dull chronicle and rhetorical declamation as I proceed with what you might call a philosophical history which some regard as the highest form of historiography. For I give meaning to my letters in the same way I give meaning to history, to the washing of dishes or the attention to the removal of waste matter from my body or my house. Impartiality is an impossible goal; subjectivity inevitable and judgement often held in suspense as I offer in my letters a range of options to my readers.
My letters will reveal for the reader, when and if they are published later in this century or one of the next,an endless success of engagements with the past in which the dramatis personae were never fully able to fathom, control or command the events. Perhaps, though, through the diligence and accuracy with which I attempted to document my times in a very personal, idiosyncratic way and record the transactions of my past for the instruction of future ages, the crimes and follies, the misfortunes and failures will be attested to in a different way. For I would like to think that my words would be for use not ostentation and that they would provide multiple layers of insinuation, innuendo and hidden meaning. For my letters provide no answer book only the meaning I give it and, in the end, only the meaning readers give my letters.
1 I say ‘arguably’ because I’m not sure exactly when my mother first began her involvement with the Baha’i Faith in 1953/4.
2 Kevin Larimer, “First-Class Mail: A Poet’s Letters,” Poets and Writers Magazine,
3 Roger White, Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, p.111.
4 Reagan: A Life in Letters, edited by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, 2004.
5 Except of course at Christmas and the Ayyam-i-Ha/Naw-Ruz period when I regularly used a form letter.
6 Four months before the conclusion of this volume, on July 29th 2005, I came across a review of some of the collected letters of Francesco Petrarch. I have appended to this introduction(Appendix #1) my interpretation of that review and its relevance to my own collection of letters.
November 27th 2005
Petrarch’s letters are divided into two sections: the Familiares(350) and the Seniles(128). They are both monuments of Petrarch’s epistolary activity, to humanism in the 14th century and to Petrarch’s own special vitality and constellation of interests. Even after nearly 700 years there is no critical text for the entirety of the collection of Petrarch’s letters. If it has taken that long for society to possess a critical overview of Petrarch’s extant letters, it is most probable that my own letters will never find a place in critical epistolary literature. Not that I mind really for I write these introductory pieces, overviews of my own letters, to help me place my own life in perspective in what are the darkest hours in history. I do keep one eye on the generations to come but it is not a glance with much weight, with what you could call a long and steady look because the whole question of the value of this oeuvre is too iffy for words.
Petrarch’s Seniles are not simply those letters which belong chronologically to the late part of Petrarch’s life, 1304-1374. Although the date 1361 when Petrarch was 57 can be taken to mark the beginning of the collection known as the Seniles, Petrarch included in the Familiares letters written after that date, and in the Seniles, other letters written before that date. What this fact suggests is Petrarch’s concern with the overall design. The sense of the structural architecture of his epistolary collection is as evident as in his poetry. If I was to divide my extant collection into a similar two sections, with 45 years under my letter-belt, so to speak, it may just be timely to begin the Seniles. For I am now 61 and have just entered late adulthood to use a term from development psychology. Old age is nearly 20 years away and if, God should grant me a long life it is just possible that I could have another 45 years, taking me and my letters to the age of 106. Given the advances in medicine that is just a possibility.
Petrarch’s ‘Letter to Posterity’(ca 1372), which is as close as he came to an autobiographical narrative, is one of several letters he wrote to dead figures from history. When I came across this idea it had an instinctive attraction to me, although time will tell if I implement it. Lots of ideas in life never get beyond the ‘that’s a good idea,’ stage. There is a symmetry to Petrarch’s letters, letters which address the past and those which address the future. They encapsulate what you might call his time travel one of his literary passions. They also imply the concomitant of his love for past and future, a concomitant which one can easily see in reading the letters, namely, a distaste and even loathing for the present. The Seniles gain their special pathos from the oscillation between such moments of praise and blame. These same polarities exist in my writing, more so in my poetry and essays than in my letters, I think. But without rereading these letters I must say that I’m not really sure.
We can learn much from these letters about the details of Petrarch’s life as we can about mine. Petrarch was never concerned to simply reveal himself to his correspondents. On the other hand, I find self-revelation in letters in often essential if one is ever to gain any degree of intimacy. The model of Seneca’s treatise-like epistles was always at least as important as that of Cicero’s familiar letters, to Petrarch. I have never considered using the letter in any treatise-like way. Perhaps at a future time. My letters seem to exist at some half-way point between intimately personal and essay-like, between the style of the letters of Mozart and those of Richard Wagner.
Petrarch’s tendency to let a letter swell into a treatise informs the structure of the Seniles. There are a number of letters on single topics which occupy an entire book, alternating with books composed of numerous shorter letters. For example, Book 7 comprises Petrarch’s exhortation to Pope Urban V to return the Holy See to Rome; Book 9 consists of complementary letters to the Pope and his secretary Francesco Bruni, congratulating them on the accomplishment of that move; the two letters of Book 12 to Giovanni Dondi carry on a polemic against physicians; in Book 14 Petrarch instructs Francesco da Carrara on the qualities of a good prince. From this point of view too, his ‘Letter to Posterity’ acquires a special importance as one last epistolary treatise to culminate the pattern: a treatise on the self. My autobiography and my poetry serves this function.
The topics treated in Petrarch’s texts are representative of the more important concerns of Petrarch’s later years. His quarrel with physicians, for example, amounts to an obsession. I, too, have my obsessions. As my wife sees it, I possess a worry and self-absorption that is exceeded only by her worry. Self-absorption lay behind much of my volition and action--and the thick web of my letter writing. My letters are important, though, not for their revelations of any particular psychological tendencies or particular views of the times or of history nor to indicate how I came to think my thoughts or take my actions during these epochs but, rather, for their association with a movement that I believed was slowly, imperceptibly and inevitably going t6o take the world by storm. I shall leave this subject of obsessions, self-absorptions and psychological tendencies and see what becomes of them in the next 37 years as I head for centenarian status in 2044! At the opposite pole in what might be unkindly called his garrulousness, Petrarch increasingly expresses a resolve to be brief in his correspondence.
Plutarchs resolve to turn his mind toward eternal life creates an ongoing counterpoint with his earthly literary urge, an urge which is not only an opinionated old man’s inability to be silent, but lies more fundamentally in his sheer pleasure of reading and writing. At the same time, we obtain glimpses of the practical obstacles to his correspondence, such as the interference of border guards. I have no problem with border guards as some of my fellow co-religionists from Iran have had. Life, I’m sure, will unfold for me different practical obstacles in my life as life unfolded different obstacles for those Iranian who began to populate the Bahai communities in the West in significant numbers after 1979.
We also become aware of just how much Petrarch loves what he feels he must renounce. I, too, have loves that I should renounce but, if I dealt with them here, this introduction would become far too long. These words about my letters already possess a prolixity which will keep virtually all readers far from whatever insights they possess. In his final letter, a letter to Boccaccio, Petrarch becomes truly moving in his valediction “Farewell, dear friends, Farewell, dear letters.” This is a fitting end to his life of letters and to mine, for now.—Ron Price with appreciation to Francesco Petrarch, “Letters of Old Age” and to Stephen Murphy for his review in Italica Press on the Web.
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
VOLUME 10 PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE
With the opening of this arch-lever file of personal correspondence there now exists ten volumes of personal letters to individuals for future biographers, analysts of embryonic Baha’i institutions and communities and interested parties of various ilks. This volume of letters opens the 23rd year of my extensive letter collecting and the 46th since the first letter in this collection found its place in volume 1 and was dated November 27th 1960. For the most part these letters are a casual, although to some extent, systematic collection. In recent years I have also added some non-epistolary material because it seemed appropriate and I will leave it to assessors to sift out this material, to keep it in appendices, to simply include it as part of a varied type of letter/communication or to delete it as desired. The decision as to how to organize this assortment of resources I leave in the hands of anyone who takes a serious interest in it. To decide what to do with it all belongs to them.
In some ways my collections of writing are themselves manifestations of my effort to make my life subservient to a personal need to be a letter writer, a poet, an essayist, a note-taker, as Dylan Thomas’s writing efforts were part of his self-appointed task to make his life subservient to his need to be a poet. This is a subtle idea and quite complex and I deal with it more extensively in my writing, especially my poetry, from time to time over the years. But the idea, however intricate, delicate and subtle, needs to be given an airing occasionally in these periodic reviews of my letters.
There is, it seems to me, an unavoidable self-consciousness in my approach to the business of writing since perhaps the 1980s. This self-consciousness was also the case with the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas as I pointed out above as Paul Ferris states in his introduction to Thomas’s collection of letters. This self-consciousness has done Thomas some harm at the hands of his critics--as Ferris notes in his discussion of the analysis of Thomas’s critics from the 1960s and 1970s. However self-conscious I may have been in providing future readers with a ringside seat at a period in the cultural transformation of the Bahai community and in offering them an insiders view of the birth and development en passant of its community in the West I can not see this as doing any harm. Who knows, though, what will befall both my community and my letters in a future epoch?
Perhaps my somewhat dogged sense of living within the confines of a self-constructed role as a writer in the first century of the Formative Age will prove my undoing. As a writer, I revel in the context of a range of a complex set of implications both for me and for the Baha’i community of which I am a part. Perhaps this will bring me some “harm” as well in the long term. Of course, if this harm ever occurs, I will be long gone from this mortal coil. In the short term the problem is irrelevant at least insofar as any public is concerned occupied as it is with a host of problems that this same public does not in any way connect with this new and revolutionary Cause.
Since my retirement in 1999 I have written a great deal more in all the genres of my writing. In my years of full-time employment and student life as far back as the late 1940s, if I take the analysis as far back as the years of middle childhood, the notebook dominated my writing life. Then the essay and several attempts at a novel as the years went on. The extent of my writing in all other genres in the last dozen or so years(1992-2005) has exceeded whatever I had done before. This is especially true of letters.
In the most general of senses, I see my letters as “a kind of spiritual journal.” Robert Gittings says this of the letters of John Keats written at the time of the birth of Baha’u’llah and the Bab. There is an obsessive quality in some of Keats’ letters, occasionally a sign of morbidity and despair and many signs of self-control and the lack thereof. This is also true of my own letters and journals. Like Keats, I try to face my difficulties, fight my battles and get on with the journey. I do not always do this successfully. There is obviously an effort, occasionally if not often, to put on a good face for the sake of the recipients of the letters, for the purpose of stressing the positive and to try to confront the disapppointments of life with that stiff upper-lip and persistence which is part of the English tradition.
I would like to draw extensively here on the words of Rachel Donadio who discusses the email in her article in the New York Times because so much that is in my collections of letters in recent years is in the form of an email. “Back in the 20th century,” Donadio writes, “it was often lamented that the telephone might put an end to literary biography. In lieu of letters, writers could just as easily gab on the phone, leaving no trace. Today, a new challenge awaits literary biographers and cultural historians: the e-mail. The problem isnt that writers and their editors are corresponding less, its that theyre corresponding infinitely more -- but not always saving their e-mail messages.
Publishing houses, magazines and many writers freely admit they have no coherent system for saving e-mail, let alone saving it in a format that would be easily accessible to scholars. Biography, straight up or fictionalized, is arguably one of todays richest literary forms, but it relies on a kind of correspondence thats increasingly rare, or lost in cyberspace.
My correspondence is not lost. I keep a goodly measure of it in each of my collections of letters. I like to think that my correspondence reflects a sensitivity to, an appreciation of, the idiosyncracies of the recipients of my emails. Writing is like talking and, in the process, one tries to create some impression. With the passing of time, whatever talking I have done will have gone into the ether, but this writing, these letters and emails, will reveal much about my life and my times. Many of my poems sprinkle the pages of my emails in an impromptu, often impulsive and serendipitous fashion, although I often do not keep a copy of the whole of a letter with all of its poems. Worrying about trees and the extent of print one produces became a concern in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2004 alone Farrar, Straus & Giroux, to chose but one publisher, put out The Letters of Robert Lowell” and a biography of the critic Edmund Wilson that draws on his letters. The list of publications that draw on correspondence is extensive. But that doesnt necessarily mean that publishing companies are saving their own communication with writers. This is also true of many a writer. A great deal of personal communication is just going down the proverbial tube. Since the email became part of my life some 15 years ago(1990-2005) I have tried to save emails that are significant, relevant or important in some way for the tasks at hand. I have written about this subject before and I do not want to go into detail here. But this subject does need to be given an airing occasionally.
I try to save substantive correspondence about issues concerning books were working on, or about our relations with authors, but Im sure I dont always keep the good stuff, particularly the personal interchanges, which is probably what biographers would relish,Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, said. He made this comment via e-mail, of course, like most of the editors and writers who might make a comment on such an issue. I dont think weve addressed in any systematic way what the long-term future of these communications is, but I think we ought to,” Galassi continued. I include these comments here in the introduction to Volume 10 of my personal correspondence because virtually everything in the last few volumes of personal correspondence is now an email. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and I have commented upon them before.
Random House Inc., whose imprints include Alfred A. Knopf, Doubleday and Bantam Dell, has not set any email guidelines. At present Random House Inc. does not have in place a distinct corporate policy for archiving electronic author-publisher correspondence, and we have yet to establish a central electronic archive for housing publishing material, Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, noted. Each of our publishing divisions decides what author-publisher correspondence and materials they wish to retain. W. W. Norton doesnt have a policy for saving e-mail messages or letters, leaving it to the discretion of editors, and Harcourts archiving policy doesnt yet govern e-mail communication. So, it appears, I have lots of company in my new problem, a new problem that arose in the 1990s and especially since my retirement in 1999.
Although David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, said he considers the collected letters of Harold Ross, the magazines founding editor, the best book Ive ever read about The New Yorker, you wont see Remnicks collected letters or e-mail correspondence, any time soon.Oh, God forbid, Remnick said. For one thing, The New Yorker routinely purges messages from its system. And I do the same; I have to with over 200 emails coming in every day from the many websites I am a member of in the last several years.
Deborah Treisman, who as The New Yorkers fiction editor is in communication with most major living writers, confessed she doesnt always save her messages. Unfortunately, since I havent discovered any convenient way to electronically archive e-mail correspondence, I dont usually save it, and it gets erased from our server after a few months, Treisman said. If theres a particularly entertaining or illuminating back-and-forth with a writer over the editing process, though, I do sometimes print and file the e-mails. The fiction department files eventually go to the New York Public Library, she said, so conceivably someone could, in the distant future, dig all of this up.
The impact on future scholarship is not something that Ive spent much time thinking about, Remnick said. “As much as I respect lots of scholarship in general, what matters most is the books and not book chat. Somethings obviously been lost, even though I dont think its the most important literary thing we could lose. This may be the case for me and my letters and the final result of all this worry-warting may be that it all simply bites the dust and all the issues about what to save and what to erase may prove irrelevant, immaterial, in the ‘who could care less’ basket.
Book chat or no, irrelevance or not, great letters are great literature. In Robert Lowells letters, for instance, the mundane quickly opens up into whole worlds of feeling. I think our letters on the agency tax-money must have crossed,Lowell wrote Elizabeth Hardwick, his soon-to-be ex-wife, in 1971. Through long hours of revising, a leisurely bath and a quick dressing, I have been thinking about our long past, he continued. Not having you is like learning to walk. Some entire books dont convey as much raw emotion as those eight words do . I feel the same is true of some of my correspondence. In the end, of course, the significance of what I write is so intimately tied up with the growth and development of the Baha’i Faith as the emerging world religion on the planet.
Designed for constant and instant contact, e-mail messages inevitably have a different tone from postmarked missives that allow correspondents the time to ruminate and percolate, to apply a critical eye to their own lives. Often less nuanced, more prosaic, written in haste and subject to misunderstandings, e-mailed thoughts are microwaved, not braised. It often occurs to me that e-mail may render a certain kind of literary biography all but obsolete, Blake Bailey, the author of a biography of Richard Yates and a forthcoming one of John Cheever, said. The messages are too ephemeral: people write them in a rush without the sort of precision and feeling that went into the traditional, and now utterly defunct, letter. 95% of the emails I receive are certainly ephemeral and oblivion is the only place for them and that is where they go within the day they are sent. But there is much in the emails I write and receive that is not in this ephemeral category. And these emails are found here.
Unless one possesses the emails or letters at the other end of the conversation or dialogue one misses a great deal. I have tried, where possible, to keep copies of relevant correspondence at both ends. One misses a great deal, too, when all one possesses is the advocacy or the judgement of the letter-writer. It is often difficult to find out the truth of an idea or a situation in one’s own household; people who live in the same house often have completely different stories to tell. A number of views is often necessary, but not possible when one is dealing with the contents of a letter. The copiousness of letters is no guarantee of what is authentic, true and accurate. Perhaps, as a major biographer of Wagner, Ernest Newman, said: “There can never be too many documents.” He might have added: there can never be a final truth.
November 27th 2005
THE LETTER: A HISTORICAL NOTE
I want to draw on some of the experience of one of the world’s first letter writers, Cicero(106 BC-43 BC). The information comes from Frank Frost Abbott’s book Commentary on Selected Letters of Cicero(Boston. Ginn and Co. 1909). The letters were written between the years 68 BC and 43 BC. As there was no postal system in the middle of the first century BC, letters had to be sent by ones own messengers or the messengers of ones friends. This made the composition of a letter a more serious matter in Ciceros day than it is in ours. But his letters were not always studied productions: some of them were written while he was travelling; others between the courses at dinner.
These words about letter writing just before the time of Christ provide a useful contrast with my own experience. In my case there were a very few letters written while travelling or while eating dinner and, of course, the whole process is as fast as the speed of light now.
When a letter was ready to be sent, it was rolled up; a thread was wound about the middle of it and sometimes passed through the papyrus itself, and a seal was attached to the ends of the string. Abbott spends some time describing the process of writing letters, the technology involved and the courtesies that attended the exercise. I could go into a similar description and analysis, but with the literally billions of emails and letters written in my lifetime, I’m sure there is no need to add anything on these matters here.
A study of Cicero’s letters involves a study of his life and his philosophy. Such a study comments also on Cicero’s style and his general purposes in writing. Letter writing at that time was considered a ‘supreme literary art.’ Our knowledge of the late Roman Republic was due in significant measure to Cicero’s 900(ca) letters. There is little doubt that knowledge of our time can be significantly improved by a knowledge of my letters, although I like to think there is some historical and social value in them, especially to the Baha’i community.
I came acroos an internet item the other day entitled: "The Ten Stupid Things Writers Do To Mess Up Their Lives." It could be of use to help potential writers to overpower their addiction to distractions. In particular, it could have helped provide tips to support resolutions to write for at least an hour each day or some portion that the potential writer feels he or she can reach. It’s easy for a writer to let their aspirations slip into oblivion while they dawdle away hours eating, watching TV, playing on the internet, planning vacations,reading junk mail, inter alia. People's procrastinating patterns are embedded in their lives like ingrown toenails. A writer has to want to include writing in their life and continue to maintain a balanced life. They need to let go of old habits. One needs clear and concise weapons for the battle. One such weapon is to write letters.
Some days I simply do not answer the phone or go to the door. I keep writing no matter what. I often save time by combining social activities with exercising, or satisfying other basic needs. One must struggle with guilt after one turns down an invitation from a best friend or a family member whose life centers around her child. Instead I spend time more time in solitude; writing requires solitude. It helps me to hear of other writers talking about their struggles with decisions between writing and spending time with their family and friends.
Ron Powers, in his biography Mark Twin: A Life, writes that in their old age men employ what is left of their skills. Mark Twin employed what he had left of his skill in writing. At the age of 61 he was financially ruined, creatively exhausted, emotionally broken, his wife Olivia was chronically frail and his daughter Susy had just died. But his writing, his thinking and his reading continued until his death 12 years later. There was serenity and peace, writes Powers, in Twain’s old age. And there was much else as Powers tells us in his 700 page biography and as others have told in theirs about this ‘Voice of America.’ -Ron Price with thanks to Geoffrey Wolff, “Mark Twain:Voice of America,” The New York Times, October 2nd 2005.
Something had gone out of me,
too, Sam, by the ripe age of 61.
But, ironically, I felt my creativity
to be just beginning. I felt a little thin
on the ground to put it colloquially.
It’s as if I had an excess of speech,
like some deadly poison, taking
the stuff out of me. I, too, have
a frail wife, Sam, but we lean on
each other in different ways, Sam.
I’m comfortable on my disability
pension after a life of shape-shifting
from the Arctic to the Antipodes.
My decades, like yours, have been
contested, exploratory, blood-soaked,
Sam and my warring personalities
have finally got some resolution.
My letters and journals, like yours,
are clue ridden, although with 100
thousand letters, with their strike-overs,
legible erasures and endless notes,
you left more clues to who you were.
No microcosm, your world, all over
creation and mine, too, in 37 houses
and 22 towns over two continents.
I had my years, like you, as a showman
in classrooms creating an ambiguous mosaic,
inspired by sights, sounds and processes,
especially those of a new religion, Sam.
October 3rd 2005
Writers are people who write. Letter writers are people who write letters. Period. So why is it that letter writers allow so many different things to prevent them from doing that task effectively? Perhaps it’s because they haven’t merged the three Cs of writing: creative work, critical thinking and courage. To not know what you’re going to write until you put your fingers to the keyboard, that’s extremely liberating. Write what comes to mind and worry about revising it later.
Writing is not just a way of words but a way of thought. Thinking is a critically underdeveloped aspect of writing. Letter writers need to ask four questions: 1) Why does it matter?--2) What’s the point?--3) Why is the story being told? and--4) What does it say about life, about the world or about the times we live in?
Writers should also know the themes of their letters because the themes are what draw readers’ interests. One-word themes can be universal. Courage is needed for every letter, not just in seeking people out and getting the best quotes and information, but also in one’s own career path as well. Courage is also necessary in experimenting with one’s writing, in improving it and in striving to do one’s best. We have to connect first with our purpose. You have to see it before you can have it.
AN ESPECIAL NEARNESS
In his short life(1795-1821) John Keats passed through periods of extreme restlessness and depression, tragedy and illness. Keats’ poetic life was very short(1814-1821), but he was gradually able to find a tone of voice for thinking aloud in verse and for fitting his meditations on the meaning and purpose of life into a formal and flexible poetic.
During these seven years he made an increasingly conscious effort to make himself more effective as a poet. All his experience, reading and thought was used for poetical purposes. He tried to shape every new influence toward a study of poetry and toward his particular and developing notion of poetry. The result was that his writing shows “an almost instant transmission of impressions, thoughts, reading and ideas into poetry.”1 So was this my aim and the following prose-poem links Keats’ poetic efforts and my own. -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Gittings, Selected Poems and Letters of Keats, Heinemann, London, 1981(1966), p. 8.
I, too, worked toward a method
for dealing with life’s complexity
as my own engagement with life
deepened with age so that I could write
frankly about myself and about poetry.
My enveloping desire was to express
my excitement, curiosity and interest
in writing and find ways of expression
for my own growth, for the incredible
changes and chances of the world,
so that I may soar in an atmosphere
of an especial nearness which sooner
or later will influence my own soul.
September 24th 2005
The following is a hypothetical book and is entitled An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence Between Ron Price and John Bailey(1997 to 2011). It is edited and has a 50 page introduction by Mrs. Belle Lettre. It is published in Ottawa Ontario by Tecumseh Press, 2080, pp. 252. The book contains a selection of 50 letters by each writer from an archive of 320 letters. The correspondence between Price and Bailey has until now been generally available mainly in the selective and unreliable editions of Arthur Setlet: Ron Price’s Letters to John Bailey (1997-2010) and The Letters of John Bailey to Ron Price (1997-2011), which were published in 2056 and 2057. Belle Lettre’s Annotated Edition of the Correspondence, which meticulously reproduces transcriptions of 50 of the 320 available letters between the two men, together with copious annotations, a lengthy and intelligent Introduction, various Appendices (including facsimiles of several letters), an Index, and a Bibliography, is a most welcome addition to Canadian poetry and Baha’i studies.
Mrs. Lettre’s edition has an appealingly modest and workman-like quality. At a time when the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council is funding editions of/about early Canadian prose and poetry works in the Baha’i community it is rewarding to see a volume such as Belle Lettre’s Annotated . . . Correspondence which has, to judge by its acknowledgments pages, been created and published through the painstaking efforts of an energetic and enthusiastic committee and a relatively small grant from the Ontario Arts Council’s subsidiary, Baha’i Studies in Ontario.
Mrs. Lettre’s Introduction runs to over fifty pages. Rightly observing that the Price-Bailey correspondence represents the only extensive exchange between Price and a trusted literary friend which covers the entire span of Price’s mature creative life. Lettre shows how the letters bear both on the poet’s literary career and on his private life at a time (1997 to 2011) of great poetic activity for him and changes in his personal, professional and Baha’i community life. As anyone who has read the Price-Bailey correspondence in manuscript knows, the letters offer detailed insights to several of the books that began to be published in the years after 2056/7 on both Price and on many other individuals and developments in the Baha’i community back at the turn of the century. The correspondence also offers insights into Price’s family life and aspects of his ill health and his private life. This private life emerges as quotidian and touchingly so--on occasion. Attitudes to various political and social questions, his fellow poets, and so on, are also part of this special collection of letters.
A valuable aspect of Lettre’s Introduction is its discussion of the different uses made of the Price-Bailey correspondence by critics and biographers from Carl Cannot to Munro Cando as far back as the beginning of the second century of the Formative Age in 2021. It is a discussion which, from a particular, although limited perspective, offers an overview of features and perspectives on Baha’i history and sociology which have, in a peculiar and unfortunately limiting way, been dominating the discussion of developments in Baha’i history in the 4th and 5th epochs. The sequence of letters is remarkably readable and the editor has done a discreet, methodical and judicious job.–Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, September 19th 2005(updated 19/2/'11)
I’d like to think there was something
enduring in all these letters, John.
I know it is of absolutely no importance
to you and the way you see ultimate things.
But I’d like to think that those 1300 pages
and more than half a million words can
bear some ultimate fruit down journey’s
long, stony and tortuous road. I would.
–Ron Price, September 20th 2005.
Irving Layton, one of Canada’s most famous 20th century poets, “experienced a mingling of scorn and neglect in his earlier years,” wrote Peter Hunt in his lengthy 1977 essay on Layton in the journal Canadian Poetry Studies.1 This scorn and neglect greeted Layton’s poetic output in the 1940s and early 1950s. By 1956 Layton was receiving the accolades of eminent critics. In 1959 he won the Governor-General’s Award for his book A Red Carpet for the Sun. That year I became a Baha’i after six years association with this new Faith. I did not write my first poem until 1961 and did not begin to write poetry at all seriously for another 30 years until the early 1990s.
If as another poet, Roger White, wrote in his poem Notes On Erosion, “neglect will foster love’s thrusting growth,” perhaps neglect will have a similar function with respect to poetry. For those same 30 years(1961-1991) I neglected poetry and for the next 15 years(1991-2006) society neglected me and my poetry. To scorn and neglect Layton responded aggressively, attacking those who attacked him and who criticized his vision and craftsmanship. I did not have this problem. For those 45 years I was not surprisingly and not sufficiently well-known nor significant in a literary and public sense to be either neglected or scorned.
Layton had an exalted view of his work and this view came to be echoed by influential critics by the 1960s. I had no such view of my work, although writing poetry gave me great pleasure. Layton wrote in what George Woodcock called “the little zoo of Canadian letters.”1 I wrote in another zoo, certainly smaller than the Canadian one, a little zoo at the other end of the world. Layton wrote with “the ferocity of a ring-tailed roarer,” said Woodcock. I was not sure how to characterize my work with such convincing and graphic words.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Peter Hunt, “Irving Layton, Pseudo-Prophet—A Reappraisal,” Canadian Poetry Studies, No.1, 1977.
So many liked your work;
I was too young back then,
when you really got going
in that poetic Canadian zoo.
Criticism continued coming
your way all along the road,
at least in the years before
I really got going to climb
those poetic mountains
with appreciation’s spirit,
with a gift of language far
too inadequate to the task.
Yearly you were capturing
Canadian experience and
the poet’s long vocation
with your fusion of joy,
thought and intense feeling
or, as others said, with a
stunted, distorted view of life.
And all the while I was capturing
experience, too, my life’s1 and
that of a new world religion.
1 Layton wrote his first major poem in Montreal in 1944, the year I was born and in the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963), my first ten years of association with the Baha’i Faith when I was 9 to 19, he was his most prolific.
September 13th 2005
LETTERS FRUITION AND LIFE
Felix Mendelssohn(1809-1847) composed letters in his youth, 1819-1830, “filled with both drawings and vivid descriptions of nature, architecture and people.”1 The philosopher Goethe(1749-1832) also included drawings in some of his letters. Goethe’s drawings, in his letters and in other places, are now gathered into six volumes. This combination of forms, art and prose, was not something readers will ever find in my correspondence. Drawing, painting, what might be called the figurative arts in general, were for the most part not creative expressions in my life.
Letters from the period of my childhood and youth, 1944-1965, and any of my art-work, are non-existent. There are two letters, both written by others to my mother, from this period, but none of the letters I wrote to (i) a pen pal, Hiroshi Kamatu, in Japan, (ii) to a girl in Georgetown, Cathy Saxe or (iii) anyone else whom I can not even recall now.-Ron Price with thanks to 1R. Larry Todd, Mendelssohn and His World, Princeton UP, Princeton, N.J.,1991, p.26.
There was no evidence back then
in those years up to 1965 that
artistic mediums really liked me.
Most of us don’t ever get going
in our early years anyway: seeds
are planted for the future harvest.
So many seeds were planted then
in those two Seven Year Plans,
that Ten Year Crusade and, then,
as the Nine Year Plan began by
my mother and father, my aunt,
my grandfather and uncles and
more Baha’is than I can remember
and a world in gestation: the Kingdom
of God on earth had begun, a new wind
was blowing, rock ‘n’ roll had started
with its new rhythms and blues and tones.
Perhaps the first fruition began in early
October of ’65, ten weeks into maturity,
with the embryo of my pioneering life
taking form, finally taking a rich form
30 years later when a special rendezvous
of the soul, a special inner life, a special
quickening wind, amplified and clarified
my perspectives and the brightest emanations
of Baha’u’llah’s mind became available at last:
that Unerring Balance, that Straight Path, that
source of true felicity, given tangible form,
part of the confirming assistance from another
world in ever-greater measure, part of that
befitting crescendo and those eternal traces.
September 10th 2005
For someone like myself who has an archive of over 5000 letters, the archaeological research in what has come to be called the Cave of Letters, has a special interest. The first research was done in this cave near the Dead Sea in Israel in 1960/1 and the letters which were found came from 132 AD(ca). No research was done again until 1999. My own cache or cave of letters was amassed during this time(1960-2005) and can be found, not in a region of karst topography, but in a small room in a small town at the end of the Pacific rim, the last stop on the way to Antarctica. Like those ancient cave documents from the period of time of the Second Revolt of the Jews against the Romans just one century after the crucifixion of Christ which chronicle what life was like two millennia ago, my letters document the life of an international pioneer at another important time in history, the first four epochs at the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth(1953-2021).
These letters in the Cave of Letters from nearly 1900 years ago are part of a priceless collection of artefacts. State-of-the art archaeological technology has enabled historians to add a substantial amount of new information to the existing bases of knowledge from the second century AD. It is difficult to see how my letters can provide anything like the same function given the multitude of sources of information about our contemporary way of life or, more particularly, the way of life of the international Baha’i in the first century of the evolution of Baha’i administrative institutions.-Ron Price with thanks to “Lost Worlds: Ancient Refuge in the Holy Land,” SBS TV, 7:30-8:30 pm, September 4th 2005 and “2000 Excavation of The Cave of Letters,” Internet Site, 2001.
I wonder if azimuths, inclinations,
station sketches, computer programs,
cross-sectional maps, survey data,
archaeological and geophysical analyses,
digital pulseEKKOTM100 and 1000 GP
systems and their resulting profiles using
antennae frequencies of 100 and 450 MHz
and a backpack transport system…….
..….and radar stratigraphic analysis
to investigate both lateral and vertical
geometry of reflection patterns;
archaeological probes using endoscope,
metal detector and other excavation
techniques. Two dimensional electrical
resistivity and tomography analysis----
…all of this just might reveal something
that the present generation of analysts
would not be inclined to even examine.
For the meaning of history is not so much
in the living but in retrospect as new fields
emerge, new meaning systems have their day,
and this earthly life finds its ultimate perspective.
September 5th 2005
YEATS AND ME
There are several complicating factors for readers in their appreciation of my poetry and the several genres of my writing. One is that it helps readers to possess what you might call a memory-bank of names, symbols and personal references planted, propagated and grafted in one careful arrangement of ordered writing or simply in place in their brain. Without this possession readers are at a distinct disadvantage in gaining any depth of understanding of my work.
A second complicating factor is that I have written a great deal about myself. Like the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, I have also written thousands of letters, large autobiographical accounts, innumerable essays, published and unpublished, introductions to various pieces of work, millions of words in prose-poetic form, explanatory notes, talks, the beginnings of novels. How far can I be trusted as a reporter on my own life, the life of my society and of my religion? Should all of my writings be considered as ancillary parts in one large self-construction, but possessing no objective reliability. These are questions that can be legitimately asked about the oeuvre of Yeats. Alasdair D.F. Macrae asks these questions in the introduction to his book on Yeats,1 but gives no categorical answer. –Ron Price with thanks to A.D.F. Macrae, W.B. Yeats: A Literary Life, MacMillan, London, 1995, p.3.
These same questions
can be asked about my works
with many possible answers
for these words of mine are
not rootless flowers but are
the speech of a man, standing
alone and by himself for years,
at the beginnings of his community,
on a path no other man has gone,
accepting his own thoughts
and those of a thousand others,
giving his life and his words
to the world as we all do
each in our own ways.
At the opening of that
Seven Year Plan you1 said
the poet writes of his life,
out of its tragedy, remorse,
lost love, loneliness, no bundle
of incoherence or accident and
not everything about everything.
But I am not a reliable assessor
of those several proportions
that make up the me that is me
and the changes and chances
of these my earthly days are
far from tidy, patterned, glib,
formulaic…many rags & bones.
1 Yeats in 1937
August 31st 2005
The hungering for immortality, for fame and renown, not so much in the next life but in this has been a part of the yearning of the heart of many a human being since the dawn of civilization. In some ways this hunger is a natural yearning, a normal human desire. I come across examples of its expression frequently in my study, my reading. This evening, in a book about the life of a leading Roman in the first century BC, I came across it in the first two lines of the introduction. The immortality Cicero hungered for has been achieved not by what he did but by what he wrote in the years 63 to 43 BC, “the sheer bulk and variety of his writings.”1 He is accessible to us today and so he remains of unique interest. He projects himself into posterity through his extant correspondence of 900 letters.-Ron Price with thanks to(1)D.R. Shackleton Bailey, Cicero, Duckworth and Co. Ltd., London, 1971, p.ix.
Letter writing was a supreme literary art
in those years before Christ was born
and we know more of Rome’s history
in these years thanks to these letters.
Or, should we say, thanks?
Patterson says Cicero is
an intellectually pretentious,
thoroughly heartless slumlord
who is unreservedly, unashamedly
fond of his own glory and, sadly,
the major source of information
on one of the most vital periods
of our intellectual-classical past?1
What sort of fame is this?
His moral code, his philosophical
refuge, succeeded by the life----
four decades later----of a man
who wrote a letter, not one word.
1 Orlando Patterson, Freedom, 1991, p.232.
August 30th 2005
GRAHAM GREENE: HIS CORRESPONDENCE
In Vol. 16 No. 11, June 1994 of the London Review of Books, Colm Toibin wrote an article "How many nipples had Graham Greene?" He begins his piece as follows: "Greene received one hundred and eighty letters a month, he told one of his correspondents. Some of them were fan letters; others came from journalists who kept him informed about the places in the world which he cared about; academics wrote with lists of questions; publishers wrote looking for quotes for books they were about to publish. Authors wrote. In 1973 Greene wrote to Josef Skvorecky: ‘Your letters reach the length of a book by this time ... I feel sad that you are wasting such good material on me, but if you ever come to write about these events I can always send you the letters back.’"
Toibin continues: "He did not, in general, waste good material on his correspondents. He was, he wrote to the Hungarian film-maker Robert Lazlo, ‘a bad letter-writer’. His replies were terse, polite and to the point. ‘I wish I could write you as interesting letters as you write to me, but nothing goes on outside my window except blue sea and mountains,’ he wrote to Skvorecky. His letters were dictated and then sent to England and typed on pre-signed notepaper by Greene’s sister Elisabeth Dennys. The carbon copies were kept and are now filed with the original correspondence. He left them to his family. They have been catalogued and are in London waiting to be sold. I am sitting at a small table in an office above the auction rooms facing the files and boxes. I am told that I can spend an afternoon and the following morning going through the files. I am the only outsider who is allowed to see them. I cannot photocopy anything. There is always a discreet presence in the room."
I could write more about Greene's letters as well as the letters of many others in the history of the Western tradition, but I leave that to readers with the interest. With the decline, the virtual elimination of snailmail, and the conversion of everyone to emails, my letter-writing has taken-on a whole new form and pattern. In less than 3 months I will be 70 and I will, perhaps, write more on my letter writing. Time will tell.
LETTERS FROM A NARROW WORLD
I saw the following piece in the New York Times.com which I read occasionally. I began to read this internet newspaper just this year. The article about some of the letters of T.S. Eliot caught my fancy because it gave rise for the first time to some thought as to the monetary value my letters might have at some future time. Of course, it is not a subject that there is any point contemplating because, should my letters ever have any money value, I will by then be long gone from this mortal coil.
The growth and influence of the Baha’i Faith fifty years after my passing is very difficult to measure. Whatever value my letters have—and it is impossible to estimate any value—will depend on the place of this Cause in the years ahead and the value of the contribution of the international pioneer in Baha’i history. If I assume, for practical purposes, that I die in 2021 at the age of 77, then fifty years after that point in time would take humanity to 2071 or BE 227.
As the New York Times.com pointed out in this article about some of the letters of T.S. Eliot which I came across today, August 12th: “nearly 50 typed letters, some illustrated and including poems, from T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) to his first godson, Tom Faber, are to be sold by the Faber publishing family on September 20th 2005 at auction at Bonhams in London. Thomas Erle Faber (1927-2004), who became a physicist and a member of the board of Faber & Faber Publishers, was the son of Eliots friend and publisher, Geoffrey Faber. Private and largely unpublished, these letters enjoy an estimated value of about $50,000. They are to be sold, along with 84 other letters to Eliots friend Enid Faber, the wife of Geoffrey. Also for sale are (a) inscribed first editions of Eliots work and (b) a silver pocket watch, given to Eliot, then 12, for Christmas 1900 and passed on to Tom Faber a boy of 13.-Ron Price with thanks to Lawrence Van Gelder, “T. S. Eliot Letters Are to Be Auctioned,” New York Times.com, 12/8/’05.
Where will this Cause be
when another 70 years
of this Plan have been
put into a divine framework?1
Where will I be
when another 70 years
of my life have been
put into its divine framework?
Gone from this darksome
narrow world, I will have
hastened away to the land
of lights and, I trust, will
have found infinite rewards;2
of course, one never knows
for sure, for certain, beyond
doubt, question and ifyness.
1 1937-2007; 2007-2077
2 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, p.101.
August 13th 2005
Pushkin(1799-1837) was the founder of modern Russian literature and Russia’s greatest poet. In 1829 at the age of 29 he fell in love with a beautiful 16 year old girl. In 1830 Pushkin was having one of his most prolific periods of writing and that year he proposed marriage to this beautiful Petersburg socialite, Natalya Goncharova. He had finally received her agreement after an agonizing period of trying to convince her family that he had the means to be a good match. But she was both jealous of Pushkin and something of a flirt. His letters to her alternate between snarky rebukes of her affairs and exasperated explanations of why he cant make it back home. Their marriage lasted only five years. Pushkin died in January 1837.
Pushkin wrote to his young wife-to-be in that fall of 1830 as follows: “I wake up at seven oclock, drink coffee and lie in bed until three oclock. At three oclock, I go riding, take a bath at five and then have a supper of potatoes with barley kasha. I read until nine oclock. This is what my days look like, each just like the last.” While lying in bed Pushkin was singlehandedly founding modern Russian literature. -Ron Price with thanks to Author Unknown, “Internet Sites on Aleksandr Pushkin,” Internet, 2005.
I found this account particularly interesting because 144 years later in 1973 when I was 29 I, too, fell in love with a young girl. She was 15 and her name was Anne. She had been in my humanities grade 10 class at Para Hills High School in South Australia where I was a teacher. For some eight months we got to know each other on a strictly platonic level. But in early October 1973 after my first wife and I separated, Anne and I began a sexually intimate relationship that lasted until late December. She, too, was fickle and I discovered this in the third month of our affair bringing it crashing to a halt. Who knows what unhappiness, like Pushkin, I would have had if our affair had become a marriage?
I had just begun to have some success in my writing life in 1972/3, but it would be another twenty years before my period of literary fruition really took off in the early 1980s and moreso in the 1990s. And as I write this I have had 38 years of marriage, have never fought the duels Pushkin did and have played a small part in laying the foundation for an extensive, a massive, literature in the social sciences and humanities written by Baha’is.
I had dried out in a dry
dog-biscuit of a land
after freezing in Canadian
winters and she was waiting
for me like some angel-touch:
young, fresh, firm and willing.
And I was dizzy with desire,
lost after making shifts from
Baffin to semi-desert country.
He gave me to her or, perhaps,
her to me, a gift, anodyne
to ease life’s pain that had come
too sharply of a sudden-shock.
And ease it did, helped me move
to the end of the Antipodes where
I would find more angels, more than
I had ever seen, who would ease life’s
pain and give it to me slowly drop-by-
drop for the rest of my life: but still
that holy passion stirred me
in the country of my inner self
as I continued on the journey
to the Desired Unknown Country.
Ron Price July 29 2005
AN OBSCURE AND COMPLEX WAR
On April 21st 1937 the Seven Year Plan began in the North American Baha’i community, although it had been mentioned for nearly a year by then in the letters of Shoghi Effendi.1 One week later, on April 28th 1937, Saddam Hussein was born. He became President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003. In 2003 Saddam was deposed by the US and its allies. On December 13th 2003 he was captured and, as I write this prose-poem, he is about to stand trial before the Iraq Special Tribunal later this year. In the last ten days of April 2006 the formal Baha’i teaching Plans begun in 1937 will enter their 70th year as will “the world’s best known and most hated Arab leader.”2 -Ron Price with appreciation to 1Shoghi Effendi, Messages To America: 1932-1946, Wilmette, 1947, p.7 and to 2Gerald Butt, Middle East Analyst, BBC News, 4 January 2001.
The charismatics have a triumphalism;
Saddam Hussein fed triumphalist slogans
as he was fattened by fawning praise.
Triumphalism is as common as the air.
His life has been one long war while
we engaged in a different war
supported and reinforced by ideals:
ideals forces and lordly confirmations,
attacking as we did fortifications, castles,
right and left wings, lines of the legions,
right to the centre of the powers of earth,1
such was our vision, our goal and our acts.
Our war, though, was unobtrusive, unreported,
unbeknownst to those masses of humankind.
Confrontation2 was and is not the game
of our vanguard, our standard-bearers
this radiant army of the Lord of Hosts
in this gigantic task, on this immense field,
where the privilege is immeasurable,
infinitely precious and the concentration
of energies and resources involves no guns,
no swords, no uniforms as our spiritual
destiny unfolds in a manner that is as
glorious as it is obscure, as transformative
as it is beyond our capacity to understand.
1 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, pp. 47-48.
2 Saddam means “one who confronts” in Arabic.
August 2nd 2005.
HOMO LUDENS *Man the player.
Jack Kerouac had an evolving set of etymologies for the term beat. In The Origins of the Beat Generation originally published in Playboy in 1959, Kerouac wrote: The word beat originally meant poor, down and out, deadbeat, on the bum, sad, sleeping in subways. But he added that in the 1950s the word gained an extended meaning to denote people who had “a certain new gesture or attitude which I can only describe as a new more. Kerouac suffused the “beat” label with positive connotations; he later extended the word beat,” giving it a religious significance.
For Kerouac the importance of the beat label lay in its openness of signification among other purposes. He returned to it in the 1960s several times to pour new meanings into it. In several letters he claims to have shown that beat was the Second Religiousness of Western Civilization as prophesied by Oswald Spengler. This second phase always takes place in the late stage of a civilisation. This second phase, he stated, possesses something of the beatific, the sublime, but it coexists with coldhearted times of urban skepticism and cynicism. This religiousness is the reappearance of an earlier spiritual springtime in history. It also becomes well-rooted and grounded in the culture. To Kerouac, the Beats were also saints in the making, walking the Earth doing good deeds in the name of sanctitude and holiness.
These beats only lasted until 1949 Kerouac said in another context, in one of his many interpretations of the term, an interpretation he gave toward the end of his life in 1969. Kerouac also said that “the beats” was just a phrase he had used in his 1951 written manuscript of On the Road to describe young men who run around the country in cars looking for odd jobs, girlfriends and kicks. In 1958 a San Francisco columnist Herb Caen coined the phrase beatnik to denote members of the growing Californian bohemian youth culture which Caen associated with new barbarian tendencies in America. The appellation “beatnik” came to enrage Kerouac in the last decade of his life: 1959- 1969. By the late 1960s Kerouac was denouncing the youth culture which had followed his example. To Kerouac they had gone off the road, so to speak. Kerouac continued to flirt with numerous religious systems, but he became in that last decade of his life someone who preferred to stay at home, no longer King of any Road or King of any Beats. –Ron Price with thanks to Bent Sørensen, “An On & Off Beat: Kerouacs Beat Etymologies,” philament: An Online Journal of the Arts and Culture, April 2004.
You1 were never impressed
with the hippies who had
evolved during those Plans
of the 1940s and 1950s2
from the beatniks-hipstirs.
I was 21, 22 and 23 when
hippie was catching on3
in its two strands: art/
bohemian and peace/
civil rights. And it was
reaching its height when
I was among the Eskimos,
experiencing a mild schizo-
affective disorder and trying
to teach primary school kids.
These hippies had dropped out
of a world they found meaningless,
played with sex, drugs & rock-‘n’-roll
while I played with a new religion---
but for some of us the play was as
serious as it could be: homo ludens.4
1 Jack Kerouac(1922-1969).
2 Plans: 1946-1953 & 1953-1963.
3 The term hippie was first used in a newspaper on September 6th 1965. Six weeks before I had just turned 21. The term began to be used extensively by mid-1967.
4 The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga discusses the seriousness of play, the role of play, in culture in his book Homo Ludens(1938).
Treasures lie beneath God’s throne and poets have the key: so says an Islamic tradition. During the more than a dozen years I have written poetry extensively, I have come to see part of my role as helping other poets travel in company. Poets who are my contemporaries and poets yet-to-come do not need to travel in isolation. My work can help them define where they are going and where they have been. My thoughts can help other poets regenerate, refresh their perspectives; they can help them infuse creativity into their voice and their lives. They can help them see that a mighty effort is required in order to acquire an abundant share of the poetic art. To put this another way: the poet must strive night and day, resting not for a moment,1 as ‘Abdu’l-Baha puts it; or, as the sculpture August Rodin wrote: toujours travailler.2 -Ron Price with thanks to ‘Abdu’l-Baha in The Creative Circle, editor, Michael Fitzgerald, Kalimat Press, 1989, p.182; and Rodin “Always Work,” in Letters To a Young Poet, R.M. Rilke, WW Norton, NY, 1962, (1934), p.95.
Letting divine impulses flow
into our beings is surely at
the heart of the poetic game.
These heavenly suseptibilities
are a magnet attracting
the Kingdom’s confirmations,
opening doors of meanings
and healing waters, unbeknownst.
Unbeknownst, too, are those
intermediaries, like rivers, who
bring the leaven which leaveneth
within the powers of reflection,
industry, work, study and prayer
on the longest road of life: art.
March 15th 2005
June 14th 2005
Life is full of literally hundreds if not thousands or even millions of episodes that would result in a mountain of paper, as Mark Twain noted, if we were to write them all down for posterity. Some of these episodes last only a few seconds, minutes, hours or days; some last for years or decades. Some of these episodes are recorded in my letters and they dramatize, in some ways, the kaleidoscopeic turbulence of the world I lived in and about which I wrote over these four epochs. The episode that has led to my writing the following prose-poem has been a series of Monday afternoon visits to a seniors’ home here in George Town. About 1:30 in the afternoon I pick up a 66 year old man named Daryl MacArthur whose family history goes back to the first convicts in Tasmania. I first met Daryl when he lived three doors down from my home and we went for our daily constitutional along local streets: Reece, South, Mary and White. That was nearly six years ago in 1999.
Daryl’s wife has died and he has moved into a home for senior citizens in the last few months. I take him into George Town for various personal purposes: to do some banking, to visit the house he rents, to go to a second hand shop, to newsagents or just to have a cup-of-coffee. About 3 pm I take him back to his room at the seniors’ home in Ainslie House.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, April 18th 200 5.
Today it was banking
and a lawyer, a cup of
coffee and a chat on
this fresh autumn day
with a slight wind
blowing our 126 years
through a little episode,
hardly a chapter or a page,
not even a paragraph in
the great book of life,
perhaps part of a sentence,
although always difficult
to assess ultimate meaning.
Got myself into the library
for forty minutes while Daryl
had his meeting with a lawyer.
Must have browsed through
half a dozen books especially
Paterson’s In From the Front.1
That war inspired his best writing:
genial and graphic description,
swift and vigorous prose,
making his brilliant letters,
exquisite, enthralling missives
part of the history of our time.
And my letters, I thought,
inspired by another war:
what would someone say
about them spread over
the first decades of the last,
the tenth stage of history?
Not the end or the beginning
of the end, but the end of
the beginning of history’s
endless succession of episodes
when some of the world’s
dramatis personae were able
to see the outlines of a new,
a golden age on the horizon,
lofty summits of achievement,
far beyond the valley of misery
and shame where pundits said
we were slowly sinking deeper
in a slough of despond as a tempest
blew us all like a mighty wind of God
1 William Curnow, On A.B. Paterson: In From the Front, MacMillan, Sydney,2002, p.1. The war here was the Boer War.
2Thomas Turners third of a million word diary has been reduced to one hundred and thirty thousand words for this book. Turner kept the diary from the age of 24 to 35. Drink and marital inharmony troubled him and he tells us of his guilt and remorse. He wrote to record the misdemeandors of others,to justify his actions and ensure they were correctly remembered. His preoccupations were parochial as are most diarists in most times.-Ron Price with thanks to The Diary of Thomas Turner: 1754-1765, editor, David Vaisey, OUP, NY, 1985.
Ron Prices two million word autobiography, spread over several genres, will be difficult to reduce, although a compendium of all its genres may convey the most accurate autobiographical picture. He was never troubled with drink, drugs or even money in any serious way. Although he had to deal with the misdemeanors and idiosyncrasies of others, as we all do, in the long run of life they came to occupy little role in his writings, unlike his grandfather’s work which partly inspired his own. The compendium of human inadequacies and weaknesses which is part of our lot on earth was like those dustmites that occupy much of life’s domestic space but, in the end, they remain unseen and insignificant. While contributing much to the environment, they seem, looking back, to be irrelevant. Price’s work, at least part of it, could easily be included in that sub-genre of autobiography: justification literature.
Ill-health and marital discord, inharmony, kept him busy during his two marriages. From 1967 to 2000, at different periods, in different degrees of intensity, with different rough edges knocked off, his tests, his battles, his challenging experiences, his frustrations appear from time to time in his writings. These preoccupations, far reduced in intensity as the millennium turned its corner, are evident in his poetry, his letters, his autobiography, his essays and his journals. These preoccupations are not excessive. By the time he began to write seriously in the 1980s his health was excellent and his marital life far less troublesome.
New and not-so-new difficulties emerged in the 1980s and 90s: with personalities, with a certain weariness from overwork, in his marriage and from the general nature of lifes travail which we all experience in various degrees. Finally, in George Town, in his retirement, the hassels of life had slipped to the perifery. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, April 18th 2005.
They came as separate poems and when I had what seemed like a sizeable number, I think it was usually somewhere between about fifty and a hundred, I made them into a little booklet. The plastic binding cost me five dollars at a local Xerox shop; the paper and the ink cartridge had another cost, lets say seven or eight dollars all up. From 1992 to 2004 I produced 53 booklets of some 6000 poems. It works out to a little more than a poem a day. I started writing poems back in 1962 at the age of eighteen with Cathy Saxe who lived in George Town Ontario. Then, in 1980, I started saving the poems I wrote. I was thirty-six at the time. At 48 I became even more serious about poetry. It was then 1992. As far as direction in my poetry was concerned, well, I really didn’t know where it was going. I had, from time to time, several senses or intimations of direction and, after one period of strong intimation in the mid-1990s, I organized my poetry into four time periods, each with a different heading or title drawing on the historical construction of the Shrine of the Bab and its embellishments in the gardens and terraces on Mt. Carmel as my metaphor, my physwical analogue.
I don’t write books of poetry as books. I don’t write them like, say, my autobiography, or my critical work on the study of Roger Whites poetry. I dont lay them out like my website, my letters, my essays or my attempts at novels. My poetry has some inner evolution which, even after 42 years, is essentially mysterious.-Ron Price,Pioneering Over Four Epochs,May 12,2004.
Back in the 80s
I took little interest
in rhyming bed & head:
there were enough, I thought,
banalities in life
without my adding to them.
There was so much
I did not need to know:
the Hang Seng, the FTSE
the price of gold,
the price of a new hoe.
My eye, as Shakespeare said,
was in a fine frenzy rollinG
from earth to heaven and
heaven to earth........,with
my imagination bodying forth,
turning things I did know
into a shape, giving them a name,
a habitation--something more
than airy nothing.
May 12 2004
After 18 years as a student, 30 years as a teacher, 5 years as a writer and uncounted and uncountable hours typing minutes, letters, reports, comments, essays, just about every conceiveable genre of writing, I finally acquired just two months before the age of sixty, what is known as RSI, repetitive strain injury, or as it is also known, cumulative trauma disorder. Im surprised I did not acquire this disorder earlier in my life, having sat as I have for thousands of hours with my fingers over a typewriter, a word-processor or with a simple pen in hand, endlessly turning the pages of a book. I began, in late May of 2004, a series of exercises to counteract RSI symptoms: the tightness in my neck and back, soreness in the arms especially at the shoulder joints. These exercises were prepared for the most part by my son, Daniel, and others I got off the Internet.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, June 13th, 2004.
While writing poetry I worry:
a little about the affects of RSI
the accomplishments of others
and pleasing my wife and son
and others who cross my path.
But in my writing:
my job is simply or not-so-simply
to learn to accept what occurs to me
and to give it the dignity and worth
What I write can be called
many things: poems,
messages, pieces of language,
parts of a long work,
a long statement, an epic,
a very long poem,
low level wisdom literature,
with parts that will
always be missing
as I struggle obsessively
to give expression
to the complexities and
incredible wonder of it all.
1 Peter Stitt, The World’s Hieroglyphic Beauty: Five American Poets, University of Georgia Press, 1985, p. 98.
June 14th 2004
In the London Review of Books,Vol. 32 No. 21, November 2010 a reivew entitled "Do Not Scribble" by Amanda Vickery appeared. It was a review of two books: "The Pen and the People: English Letter-Writers 1660-1800" by Susan Whyman(Oxford, 400 pages, 2009), and "Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters" by Dena Goodman(Cornell, 400 pages, 2009). Vickery begins: "There is a voyeuristic pleasure in being privy to secrets drives many archival historians. After ploughing through bundles of faded letters reporting on wills and the weather, pigs and piles, what researcher’s heart would not thrill at the words: ‘Please burn this letter that no mortal eyes may read it’? Manuscripts may seem to offer the pleasures of the peephole but no serious historian would argue that personal manuscripts offer access to unvarnished, unmediated truth. Letters do not simply display our feelings on the page; they are compositions."
Vickery continues: "It was an 18th-century truism that the best letters were effusions from the heart. A long critical tradition praised those who captured the spontaneity of talking. ‘You see my letters are scribbled with all the carelessness & inattention imaginable,’ Alexander Pope claimed in a missive of November 1712. ‘My style, like my soul, appears in its natural undress before my friend.’ When Hester Piozzi wrote in 1788 that personal letters were ‘familiar chat spread upon paper’ she was parroting a line at least as old as Erasmus. Jane Austen, unsurprisingly, was mistress of the conventions: ‘I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of the letter.’" For more of this review readers with the interest can Google the remaining paragraphs.
Emotion is the fuel of one of the most compelling documents a historian can hold – the love letter. Mary Hewitt, the young wife of a Coventry lawyer, kissed his letters when he was away and invited him to imagine her a Woman of Feeling languishing for want of him: "post days are all sunshine when we are to have a letter [in the] morning … I find a secrett pleasure ye night before when I lay me down in bed [that] … I shall hear from my dear before I rise next morning it makes me sleep ye beginning of ye night very sweet but towards morning my Ears are all attention to hear Molly come in with here is a letter from my master but if I see her come & no such news [expected] I give her a very sower looke & turn tother side & don’t care wther I gitt up or no.
Back in 1967, in the first several months I wrote a serious of love letters. I did not keep the originals nor did the recipient keep hers, as far as I know. The demands of courtship were changed irrevocably by the rise of letter-writing. As Robert Darnton has argued, ‘living cannot be distinguished from reading, nor loving from the writing of love letters.’ Today, extramarital affairs are most likely to be discovered by reading a partner’s emails or texts. In fact, having an affair and using any form of written communication at all is rank idiocy these days. My love letters are, if anything, only a period piece.
Long before Freud, Samuel Johnson suggested that the impression of artless intimacy given by letters could be a sham. ‘There is indeed no transaction which offers stronger temptations to fallacy and sophistication than epistolary intercourse … A friendly letter is a calm and deliberate performance in the cool of leisure, in the stillness of solitude.’ All letters were to a greater or lesser extent works of art. As Toby Ditz concluded in a study of merchants’ letters in 18th-century Philadelphia, they ‘do not simply record or describe their surrounding economic and social reality (though they may well purport to do so); they “inscribe” or “rework” it.’ For Ditz, even the apparently pragmatic communiqué artfully underscored the straight-dealing character of the ideal merchant. All letters perform for an audience. ‘Scribal publication’ (copying by hand and circulating by letter) was common among early modern intellectuals. Most letter-writers of any literary stature were only too aware of the tradition of publishing correspondence. John Evelyn, for example, arranged his manuscript letter books to resemble a collection on the classical model. In this Facebook age, I can not imagine my letters having any life-expectancy. I can already see the oft-used acronym: TLTR. Too long to read are words which fill internet spaces.
Forty-five years ago in 1959, the year I became a Baháí, there was a film released that was made in England called The Devils Disciple. The film was set in 1777 in the days just prior to the surrender of the British to American troops at Saratoga. 1777 was in the middle of the American Revolutionary War(1775-1783). And 1959 was, of course, days of a quiet revolution in my own life centred as it was at the time on baseball, schoolwork, ice-hockey, girls, on the endless indulgence that was growing up in the fifties in the middle class in Canada and on a new religion that had blown into my life thanks to my mothers continuous combination of curiosity and need. -Ron Price with thanks to Candidus, Hollywoods Treatment of the 18th Century,The Colonial Movie Critic, April 2004.
I must have missed that one
as I have come to miss most
of the films of the 20th century
which is not to say I have not see
an eye-full of stuff since
the Kingdom of God on earth
had its silent and unobtrusive start
back in 53 when that temple
in Chicago was finished and
that superstructure of the Babs
Sepulcher in Haifa was completed.
I was on my way to being
a disciple of another kind
in a religion that was on its way
to being the religion for humankind.
And in 59 I only saw movies at
the Roxy Theatre down by the lake
where Id been a marque
with my bag of metal-letters.
Maybe The Devils Disciple
just did not come to town:
maybe I was at a fireside that night
or the snow was drifting at 20 below
or maybe I had a grade ten exam
or maybe I had to play ice-hockey.
The dust of time has hidden this
from view as the revolution has proceeded.
April 28 2004
NO POWER-POINT PRESENTATION
In the Guardian’s letters and the messages of the Universal House of Justice there is a sense of order, pattern and precision given to Baha’i Plans, programs and community life. We read again and again about a sequence of activities, a progression and development and direction and guidance in the foreground and background of these texts as the Baha’i community is forged in what might be called ‘the crucible of transformation.’1 We experience whatever hardships and tribulations are part of our life together; they exist subtlely and not-so-subtlely in the spaces of the foreground and background of these communications as we read colouring them with the patterns of our lives.
We know that only some of our Baha’i life can be reduced to a set of numbers, lines with arrows on the end, circles and squares, triangles, rectangles and different coloured icons such as those that can be found in power-point presentations. We who are actually engaged in what often resembles a battle, a battle of community and inner psychic life with its demands and responsibilities, with its conflicts, its joys and pleasures know there is often little consonance between what we experience, what we actually feel and what we read. They blend together in a mix that requires some skill to paint in words or colours, in some artistic form.
What we experience we often feel to be inconsequential, idiosyncratic, subtle, too personal to us as individuals to ever share, although this experience is often deeply etched on our remembering minds. A flood of everything from the trivial and inconsequential to the intensely meaningful comes into our sensory emporium. An intricate and coloured pattern on a Persian carpet, a beautiful woman whose features delight the eye week after week, a dominating personality whom we are happy to see the end of after every meeting, a particular way that someone performed some simple act, exhibited some gesture or said a prayer: all of this and more than we can ever convey comes swimming in as we read the words of the authorized interpreters of this Revelation.
Human beings in the Baha’i community are not highly trained machines2 as are their equivalent numbers in the army, navy or marine corps. Guns, swords and military technology are replaced by a spiritual weaponry that is impossible to quantify, to measure, but subtle and often powerful in its operation. There are, though, some characteristics that fighting men and women and Baha’is share in common. They involve at least three disparate and even contradictory energies: inconsequential observations, technical concentration and fear. For fear it seems is impossible to totally eradicate from human interaction. The interplay of these energies are such that after the events it is difficult for the individuals to produce a conclusive and comprehensive account of their part in the activity or battle. Any one battle or activity is a composite of the experiences of all those who take part and any attempt to reconstruct the story as a whole must be a synthesis of contradictions or, at the very best, a hypothetical reconstruction based on near-agreement.-Ron Price with thanks to 1 Glenford Mitchell, “The Literature of Interpretation: Notes on the English Writings of Shoghi Effendi,” World Order, Winter 1972-73, p.20; and 2J.E. Morpurgo, Barnes Wallis: A Biography, Ian Allan, London, 1981, p. 267.
The above prose piece is today’s prose-poem!
Ron Price, June 21. 2004.
BIG TASKS AHEAD
It is my hope that I can exploit whatever physical durability, whatever strengths of constitution, whatever endowments conferred by birth that I possess to their maximum advantage in the years and, perhaps, decades that remain to me. Longevity is not always a blessing. But if God grants me the years of a centenarian I will still be here in 2044, with more than four decades of life left. If I am to be catapulted into international renown such a rise to fame must take place in the first four decades of this new millennium. The following prose-poem is a meditation on this theme of fame among other things. I have been, by any measure of literary success, a late bloomer. I have written three books in the first five years of my retirement, age 55 to 60, and posted hundreds of essays, poems and communications of varying length on the internet, but none of this will be a source of fame and renown, at least not in this earthly life. As I head into my sixties, I feel as if I have served my apprenticeship: as reader, as writer and as a person who has experienced the world and what it has to offer. I am ready for whatever big tasks lie ahead. Beside postings on the internet, itself a bottomless pit of publication, I have no idea what the big tasks are that may lie in my path.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, November 16th 2004.
THE EARLY BUDS ARE OUT
If this unearthly Love has power to make
my life immortal and to shake ambition
into some fitting portal where I brim
my measure of contentment and with merest whim
search, poorly, after fame, then ‘tis a Love
that I shall keep ‘til the call from above-
and then...-With thanks to John Keats, “Endymion,” lines 843-47.
These things of beauty will be joys forever
and their loveliness will increase
far down the centuries and ages.
Eras will not see these wonders pass into nothingness.
Dreams and quiet places sweet and still
will fill these marbled flower gardens
binding us to primal points of holy seat
made for our searching. Such beauty
moves us far beyond incipient sadness;
takes this young sprouting freshness
canalized in energy-lamps everywhere
in the vineyard. Some created grandeur
cools in the hot season and sprinkles
our air with musk-rose blooms,
strengthening our loins in this
submissive and now natural worship.
Such wonder, too, for and with the dead
who have entered the garden of happiness,
now circling ‘round us in mystic intercourse,
yes, in circles here--all so dear like the moon
which haunts then cheers as clear bright light
seeming to bind our very souls subtle but tight.
This place, I prefer it have no name,
its music brings a joy to valley and plain.
The early buds are out now: milk in pails
is coming down the lane while lush juicy fruits
are being brought in by sail in little boats.
I’ve got one. I steer it in many quiet hours
down deeper streams where I hear bees
which hum in globes of clover over there.....
Autumn brings its universal tinge of sober gold
to this world on mountain side wherein I hold
such thought that can only be described as bliss.
The trumpets have already blown and, now, my path
is dressed in green, in flowers, indeed a marble bath.
Those assembled ‘round the shrines had looks of veneration,
‘twould be here for many years to come, each generation
would have its awed face, companions in a mountain chase.
I therefore reveal unto thee sacred and resplendent tokens
from the planes of glory to attract thee into the court
of holiness, nearness and beauty, and draw thee to a station...
For here is the heavenly abode in the Centre of earthly realities
and here I am, as if led by some midnight spirit nurse
of happy changes toward some magic sleep, toward
some soaring bird easing upward over the troubled sea of man.
The words found here sound a strange minstrelsy,
have tumbling waves in echoing caves:
a silvery enchantment is to be found
in this mazy world with its new song,
its upfurled wings which enervate our lives.
Try them! You may open your eyelids
and feel a healthier brain. Some influence
rare goes spiritual through this Damsel’s hand;
it runs quick, invisible strings all over the land
making of fame and renoun far lesser lights
unless they be for the exaltation of this Cause1
and that attack to the very center of earth’s powers.2
1 From a prayer by Baha’u’llah sent to the author by Roger White.
2 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, Wilmette, 1977, p.48.
26 May 1995
Revised 16 November 2004
PS This prose-poem found its initial inspiration in a series of articles from the journal Bookforum. When I come across a new journal on the internet, I first make a quick survey of all available articles that I want to read in the journal; then I make a list of the ones I want to photocopy. Then I read and write from this photocopied base. This particular poem was born in an article by Richard Wolin, Socratic Apology. It was about the hermeneutical scholar Hans-Georg Gadamer who died in 2002 at the age of 102. I had first come across this scholar in the 1990s when I taught sociological theory-Ron Price, 16/11/04.
THE RON PRICE PAPERS
Should there ever be such a thing as The Ron Price Papers, they will be somewhat like those of C.Wright Mills which are a vaguely indexed collection of over 90 archival boxes containing a variety of documents including:1 lecture notes, notes for his use when writing, notes on a wide range of topics in the humanities and social sciences, clippings and assorted pieces from newspapers and journals, much photocopy material, correspondence to and from a wide variety of people over more than forty years, letters and emails to publishers and internet sites where his work was found and where he tried to publish, inter alia. Like Mills papers, too,arguably these files are a manifestation of (his) method of working.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1 and 2 The University of Texas Archive and Kim Sawchuk, C. Wright Mills: A Political Writer and His Fan Mail, Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol.26, No.2, 2001.
I really did not get going
until late middle age1
when teaching, all those meetings
and such a myriad collection
of lifes odds-and-ends
did not consume my energies
making it impossible to be
scrupulous, systematic, one-eyed
about all this writing and publishing.
I never rose at 4 am2 for coffee
except to have pee and hug the pillow,
especially after I was properly medicated,
but by 9 am I could get going
on what was, on average, a six hour day
and, at least, a forty hour week.
And I dont think you could
ever call the letters I received
fan mail, although some people
appreciated the letters I sent them.3
1 Mills, a famous sociologist and author of The Sociological Imagination(1959), died at 46. It would be ten years after this, at the age of 56, before my files began to emerge with anything you could call a system.
2 Mills rose at 4 am habitually to work on his files.
3 The author of the article I draw on here is particularly interested in eight archival boxes of mail in The C. Wright Mills Papers from people who were only known to Mills on the basis of a texual relationship. This author called these letters Mills fan mail.
1 October 2003
The words of American writer Thomas Wolfe in the 1920s in relation to his book Look Homeward Angel could very well be applied to my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Wolfe wrote: “I have never called my book a novel. To me it is a book such as all men may have in them. It is a book made out of my life, and it represents my vision of life...”1 Whereas Wolfe’s book and his vision was put down at the age of twenty, mine was defined more precisely and in great detail closer to the age of sixty. -Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Wolfe in American Literature Since 1900, editor, Marcus Cunliffe, Sphere Books, London, 1975, p.55.
What have we here:
for a life, my life,
which would have been buried,
private, individual, inner,
concrete and subtle.
In a world overwhelmed
by the accelerating pace
at this climacteric of history,
I have set it down, my days,
avoiding petty animosities,
brash narcissistic confidence
and its arrogant, unattractive
Here is a document
to be judged only by its art,
not how many home runs I hit,
how many letters I wrote,
how successful or unsuccessful
I have been as a teacher over
what feels like several epochs.
As Hemmingway said back in ’37,
as that war was hotting up:
a man alone aint got no bloody chance;
and as Scott Fitzgerald said
in that same year that Picasso
launched his Guernica,1
rigorous selection was required
by putter-inners like me;2
seven-eighths of the iceberg
is still below the water.
1 Perhaps the most famous painting of the century was completed in April 1937.
2 Dennis Welland, “The Language of American Fiction Between the Wars,” American Literature Since 1900, Sphere Books, London, `1975, pp.48-55.
9 May 2003
Some writers, poets, have a deeply melancholic strain, theme or current in their work, one that could be seen as an expression of a difficult childhood and an adolescence of misery. The famous poet Philip Larkin was such a man(1922-1985). He made his poetic debut in 1945. Larkin was the most famous of the Movement poets in Britain in the ninth(1953-1963) stage of history. He was undoubtedly the preeminent poet of his generation, at least in the U.K. In the first two decades of the tenth stage of history(1963-1983), Larkins fame continued.
Larkin never married. Philosophically, he saw life in terms of boredom, pessimism and fear, especially fear of death. His vision of life was imbued with the tragic. He focused on intense emotion, was obsessed by universal themes, the commonplace and the often dreary details of his life, as Thomas Hardy had been at the turn of the same century. -Ron Price with thanks to Michael Walker,Just an Ordinary Muse,A Review of Collected Poems, Philip Larkin; and Collected Letters, Philip Larkin, editor Anthony Thwaite, Faber and Faber.
Part of the essence here
is the everyday
and the ordinary way.
There is darkness too,
but enough light
to make me feel
there is so much
that is worth recording
and soothes private
that tells the wonder
of the simple things,
that is replete
and religious allusions
and takes place
when the inspiration arises.
There is hope, too, that
I will one day be read.
Age softens regret,
but increases its quantity.
Still I feel I found a place
where I could say:
this is my proper ground.
Here I shall stay
with that Special One
Who has an instant claim
on everything I own.1
1Philip Larkin, Places,Loved Ones.
2 September 2003
THE NECESARY CHOREOGRAPHY
I often call my work poetry but, in many ways, it is essentially the same as my prose except that it is arranged on the page somewhat differently. Once set down on paper my poems are sent out into the world and belong to that world. Many things that are personal to me, that have meaning to me, are to be found in my verse. True poetry springs from what a particular man feels and thinks at a particular time in relation to some particular thing, idea, event or person. For me, too, a particular mood with its necessary choreography establishes much of the raison detre of a poem. There is a Price associated with my essays, another with my letters and still another can be found in my diary, in my attempts at a novel, at history writing, at autobiography and biography. Of course, there is only one Price and it should be kept in mind that the central vision that informs all his work is a poetic vision. It is in his poetry that the reader can begin to see Price whole, see his essence, if indeed the essence of a human being can be seen in this earthly life. -Ron Price with thanks to Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems: 1923-1967, Allen Lane, London, 1972, pp.xiii-xv.
I have tried over the years
to write more clearly, plainly
stripping away the ornate,
the ornament and the cleverly
inventive, aiming toward
a certain sanity,
a certain simplicity,
and enjoyment with tools
made of things akin to myself
like conviction, humiliation,
anguish1 and consecrated joy.2
1 ibid., p.259.
2 Abdul-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, Last Lines.
15 April 2002
Thats all for now!
THIS IS NOT AN ARRIVING
Love is...a high inducement to the individual to ripen...it is an exacting claim on him...love is burden and apprenticeship....(not) light and frivolous play...something new enters us in our sadnesses...the future enters into us this way in order to transform itself in us; therefore, be lonely and attentive when you are sad. In this way, destiny goes forth from within people, not from without into them. -Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, W.W. Norton, NY, pp.54-65.
Go into yourself and cleanse.
The list is long and will keep
you busy with its regularity
and it must be don
or your house, your home,
will not enjoy effulgent glories,
infinite and unseen grand
divine knowledge or immortality.
What is this cleansing? A scouring
of your memory and imagination
of what is idle in the talking department
and what you hear
on that internal telephone receiver.
Accept your aloneness here,
your trust in God
and your holding to him
and try to do what you know
you should do--simple, that simple.
Can you hear the tremulous after-ring
of memory clarifying the message
of all that is unclear, undefined,
unknown, pointing toward a fate, a destiny,
like a wide, wonderful web that is finally
threading your life with its tender hand
and binding you with a million
infinitely fine lines, to focus you
like some precisioned instrument,
ready now, although often bloody
in the exchange? But you clean it off:
the bright red imaginings,
hot with heart’s intensity;
washing worldly affections,
clean and smooth with flowing water
from the tap of your mind.
Can you clear your eyes of all those
perceptual confusions, sadnesses,
that make you feel
so very useless and inadequate?
All is gestation and bringing forth
pregnant with pain and soon-to-be-born,
hopes for the future; all is waiting
with deep humility and patience
for developing clarity, ripening,
waiting for the sap: no forcing here.
It will come. It will come.
This is not an arriving;
and love the difficult, the unsolved,
as you grow in and through them.
Use experience, here and now,
to rally toward exalted moments later,
toward the cleansing, the grace,
the quaffing of wisdom, the emptying out.
Life must be seen as difficult, serious
and approached with reverence:
not all this lightness, frivolity,
endless playing. Creative thoughts<
come from many thousands of nights
and days of love and striving, endlessly:
filling thoughts with sublimity and exaltation.
The surface is so often bewildering;
go to the depths where meaning unfolds
like the petals of roses, a jacaranda
at last will be in bloom. Everyday
is a new beginning as we suck
the sweetness out of the trivial,
the profound and the funny;
work through us as part of our destiny,
as predisposition, as pulsation, gesture
rising out of the depths of time,
helping us hold to what is difficult.
FRESH CENTRE OF RICHNESS
I have a faculty...for burying an emotion in my heart or brain for forty years, and exhuming it at the end of that time as fresh as when interred.-Thomas Hardy, Notebooks, in The World of Poetry: Poets and Critics on the Art and Functions of Poetry, Clive Sansom, selector, Phoenix House, London, 1959, p.26.
Some would say that’s not a good idea, Thomas;
confusing burying with repressing is understandable.
For me burying is an unconscious process
associated with memory, so that remembering
is like creating something anew,
not always mind you, experiencing it
for the first time, again and again.
If I have any gift as a poet it is this
and it extends from strong experiences
to minute observations. This is the fresh centre
of richness which feeds imagination,
feeds the present with charged particles,
with blood and bone, with glance and gesture
and the poem rises and goes forth like a phoenix
from ashes where emotion lies burried,
exhumed fresh and tasted as if in some other world
by some other me, as if for the first time.
17 September 1995
Distinctive voice is inseparable from distinctive substance...we will feel, as we read, a sense that the poet was not wed to any one outcome....the reader is freely invited to recreate in his own mind....the true has about it an air of mystery or inexplicability ........the subject of a serious poet must be a life with a leaning, life with a tendency to shape itself... -Louise Gluck, “Against Sincerity”, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry, Ecco Press, Hopewell, N.J., 1994.
Every atom in existence is distinctive
especially these Hanging Gardens:
we’ve got distinctive substance here
and some of us have been waiting
a long time-try forty years-for this
apotheosis of the Ancient of Days
in a holy seat, at last a genuinely
holy seat in a world of seats, seemingly
endless seats: the light of the countenance
of God, the Ruler of the Kingdom of Names
and Fashioner of the heavens hath been
lifted upon thee.*
Here is a world where affliction is married
to ecstasy, suffering defined with virtuosity,
colour mounts on colour, temperatures mix
and pure gold comes from the alchemist,
pure fire, pure spiritual energy so that
my pages stain with apple-green;
my letters are written in chrysolite;
words find marble, gates and shrines
embedded in diamonds and amethyst.
What is this molton gold, ink burnt
grey, revelation writing? ....cheering
thine eyes and those of all creation,
and filling with delight all things
visible and invisible.* Yes and no,
always, it seems, yes and no.
Conflagrant worlds interacting:
the myth is tragic here. A grandeur
that is magnetic, but even here,
the meaning must be found.
Can you see the scars, the evidence:
there’s been emotion here to the
essence of our hearts. I try to name,
localize, master, define that scar,
but it is beyond my pen, beyond the
poignant inadequacy of my strategems.
No response of mine goes deep enough.
This poetry of functional simplicity
will never reach Zion, the City of God,
but I will try: May my life be a sacrifice
to Thee, inasmuch as Thou hast
fixed Thy gaze upon me,
hast bestowed upon me Thy bounty,
and hast directed toward me Thy steps.*
* Tablet of Carmel
INFINITELY TENDER HAND
Give me anything which is from God. Desire or anger or communion of saints or even hurt. But nothing any more of the dreariness and the mechanism of man.-D.H. Lawrence, The Collected Letters of D.H. Lawrence, Harry Moore, editor,, 1962, p.950.
It is necessary, even good, to lie down in the rag and bone shop of the heart, where all the ladders start, from kissing to horrid strife. -Paraphrase of Sandra Gilbert, Acts of Attention: The Poems of D.H. Lawrence, Cornell UP, London, 1972, p.221.
Give me fresh rain and an ocean to see,
a waterfalls tumbling gown to the sea
near the dusky dwelling of my solitude
and the sweet-sounding lamentation
of the multi-coloured rag and bone shop
of my heart where surfaces bewilder,
multiplicity and complexity confuse.
I seek a tranquill voice deep down,
to lighten the burden of homelessness,
try to raise the submerged sensations
of an ample past in this state
of unutterable aloneness where
that after-ring of memory and
the wide web of an unfolding destiny
guided by an infinitely tender Hand.
10 October 1995
The poetic view of life consists in...the extraordinary value and importance of everybody I meet....when the mood is on me. I....see the essential glory and beauty of all the people I meet....splendid and immortal & desirable.-Rupert Brooke in: A Letter to F.H. Keeling, September 1910.
My productiveness proceeds in the final analysis from the most immediate admiration of life, from the daily inexhaustible amazement at it.-R.M. Rilke, Selected Letters.
In one Baha’i community where we experienced entry-by-troops I had the experience I describe below. The poem is factually based, although an element of poetic license trims the edges. -Ron Price,5:50 pm., Saturday, 30 December 1995, Rivervale, WA.
She really was a beauty;
one of those women I always
wanted to take to bed with me.
And here I was in her lounge room,
late at night and alone and she
wanting it and telling me so.
It’s funny the sort of people
you attract to the Cause in these
early epochs of its global spread.
You think it might be those spiritual
types you read about, saintly women
who have always been waiting for the truth.
This bed-wise woman was
no Mary of Magdala, but she had
her garden of pleasure, her perfume,
her glistening hair, smooth-armed,
gold-bangled, fingers slender, knowing
the words men like to hear.
Marking me tonight, probably
knowing I was beyond her wiles,
part of some new marble dream
I’d brought to town with its words
of soft rain for the dry and stoney hills;
somehow she knew it could not be.
Not these words, they could not
penetrate her urgent desire,
her full warm breasts
with that sweet new life
for which she could live
and some day die
in a greater fullness and joy
than she could imagine.
And so I passed her by
my days of infidelity had not come yet.
Someone else would teach me the lessons
that could have been mine that night.
30 December 1995
DRY GRASS AND THE KINGDOM
Poetry can communicate the actual quality of experience with a subtlety and precision approachable by no other means.-F.R. Leavis, New Bearings in English Poetry.
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. -R.M. Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 17 February 1903.
I can remember those days when I was young,
dry grass under a tree where we sat in summer
and wondered what to do on long hot days:
you could only play so much baseball
and it was too early to go swimming.
We all sat there: George, Benny, Ken Pizer.
Life had hardly started yet--1953--
the beginning of an age, a Kingdom,
celebrated with Monopoly, Sorry,
swimming and endless sittings under this tree
We were not troubled by war, women or
Scientific discoveries interested us not,
as long as we could watch our television
programs at the end of the day and
our parents didn’t argue.
Secret disquietudes, inner lonelinesses,
the tensions of a society on the edge of
self-destruction did not touch us
on this dry grass under the tree.
TAKING ON IMMORTALITY
When One has given up One’s life
The parting with the rest
Feels easy, as when Day lets go
Entirely the West
-Emily Dickinson, number 853.
How many tears have fallen here,
how many little sighs.
There’s more to come of tragedy
and romance too beneath the skies.
They’re at the heart of human hearts,
as they wither and in time die.
They are the seed of solemn consciousness
without which joy would never come or fly.
Thank God for that joy; it rains
on some and washes sighs away.
For others sorrow dries them out.
Romance and tragedy lay their hands
on them and make them ready to depart:
they’ve died and can do no more,
but take on immortality.*
*I was thinking of Shoghi Effendi here. Ruhiyyih Rabbani, who knew the Guardian in an intimate sense that noone else did, says seven lines from the end of her Priceless Pearl that “The man had been called by sorrow and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness.” Henry Adams once said in one of his letters(1) that “The inevitable isolation and disillusionment of a really strong mind--one that combines force with elevation--is to me the romance and tragedy of statesmanship.”(1) Letters of Henry Adams: 1835-1918, 2 Vols., Houghton Mifflin, 1930, Vol.1, p.314.
26 December 1995
ROOT OUT WEAKNESS
The sky wears masks of smoke and gray
The orchestra of winds performs its strange, sad music
Embittered wine rises from fowl deeds.
Its dregs can root out my weakness.-With thanks to Emily Dickinson in Woman of Letters, Leaves Turco,State University of NY Press, 1993, pp.40-1.
Some deeds are so lonely
they taste of bittered wine.
I’ve walked with them on back-side streets
sorting out their place and time.
I’ve sat with them to cogitate:
what brings them to the fore?
Like some disease they do attack
and peace goes out the door.
For me these lonely deeds are born
in the recesses of my heart,
in anger and depression
they found a good kick-start.
As the years go by I’ve learned
to avoid them like a lion,
but from time to time they come
and remorse takes me far from my Zion.
Sad regrets go to the root
and weed out a weakness
which seems endemic.
Life provides a practice field
for a process far from simple
One day, I trust, I’ll see this weakness
in a new perspective, a new strength
will have emerged
and me, much more selective.
8 July 1995
Thomas Turners third of a million word diary has been reduced to one hundred and thirty thousand words for this book. Turner kept the diary from the age of 24 to 35...Drink and marital inharmony troubled him and he tells us of his guilt and remorse. He wrote to record the misdemeandors of others, to justify his actions and ensure they were correctly remembered.His preoccupations were parochial as are most diarists in most times. -Ron Price, comment on The Diary of Thomas Turner: 1754-1765, editor, David Vaisey, OUP, NY, 1985.
Prices one to two million word autobiography, spread over several genres, will be difficult to reduce, although a compendium of all his genres may convey the most accurate autobiographical picture. He was never troubled with drink, drugs or even money in any serious way. But ill-health and marital inharmony kept him busy over the years from 1968 to 1999 at different periods and in different combinations. These preoccupations, far reduced in intensity, are evident in his diary, his poetry, his letters and his journal. The preoccupations are not excessive. By the time he began his writing in 1983 his health was excellent and his marital life far less troublesome. New and not-so-new difficulties emerged in the 1980s and 90s: with personalities, with a certain weariness from overwork, in his marriage and from the nature of lifes travail. These preoccupations are not dominant in his letters and are essentially parochial ones.-Ron Price, “Comment on My Autobiography,” Pioneering Over Three Epochs, unpublished, 1999.
Gawler was right beside a famous
wine producing area: the Barossa.
But I was interested in a different wine
and I was as high as one can get
on some complex combination
of spiritual and material ambition:
not entirely unhealthy or healthy.
I got a kick in the spiritual teeth that year,
but hardly appreciated its true significance
as I headed for higher heights in places
I had never heard of and successes
I had not yet dreamed. The price I paid
were deep scars to my spiritual credentials,
irrecoverable, irremediable, part of the burden
of my sin, the source of my melting heart,
my boiling blood and my blushing soul.
28 April 1996
THE MIND, WITHOUT COPROREAL FRIEND
The Letter hangs there in the dark abyss of the Past: if like a star almost extinct, yet like a real star, fixed; about which there is no cavilling possible.-Jane Welsh in The Collected Letters of Thomas Carlyle, Vol.1: 1812-1821, Duke UP, Durham North Carolina, 1970, p.xii.
A letter always feels to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.-Emily Dickinson in Emily Dickinson: The Poet on the Second Story, Jerome Loving, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 1986, p.ix.
She lived on the edge of my life
where uncles and aunts live, mostly;
in a place I visited every so often,
up past the long hill in a town called
Waterdown, a funny name really, when
you think of it. I haven’t thought about
that town for years, really. She was
more my aunt when I was young, little,
just a little boy, an adolescent. Then I
moved and moved and moved, further
and further away until she became a letter.
She got old; she was already old; she became
a grandmother, then great-grandmother,
terribly old to a little boy, but I got older
and I became a grandfather myself, well,
a step-grandfather, really. And I, too, became
a letter: two fixed stars, almost extinct,
but real stars. And, if that’s all you’ve got,
that’s all you’ve got: something visible,
a picture of the soul, perhaps that’s bit strong,
agents of intimacy, yes, I like that; immortality,
the mind, without corporeal friend. That’s a bit
archaic(only Emily Dickinson would say that).
But it has a certain ring to it, the more you roll
it around in your mouth and your mind.
7 February 1996
MORE ON EMILY DICKINSON
Before going on to the next poem, I'd like to make a brief comment about the blending of poetry and letters. "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 other of her forebears, as well as a host of her descendants, 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 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 the oft-quoted editorial "doubt where the letter leaves off and the poem begins" (L, p. xv). Sixteen years 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. 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" in Dickinson's writings and mine?
• How useful is the appellation "letter-poem," which foregrounds the genre traditionally devalued as "lesser" and "private" when compared to "poems"?
• 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?
• What sorts of insights are enabled by the twentieth-and-twenty-first-century conventions of marking manuscripts as "private" and print documents as "public"? How are critical understandings and interpretations constrained by these conventions equating the "public sphere" and the origins of print culture?
• 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?
In its original version “I Love Lucy” debuted Monday October 15 1951 at 8:00 pm. It ran until May 6 1957. -Patricia Mellencamp,High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age and Comedy, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1992, p. 322.
Shoghi Effendi appointed the first contingent of Hands of the Cause on December 24 1951 and the final contingent in October 1957.-Baha’i World, Vol XIV: 1963-1968, pp.449-455.
While you were laying the foundation
for the Kingdom of God on earth
in those, your final years,
another foundation was being laid
for an industry that would sweep the world by storm.
The three camera, living room, laugh track,
studio audience format has endured
all these years as have those contingents
now in their final days
having protected and propagated
for well-nigh half a century,
our standard bearers.
That zany, off-key, star, vaudeville comedian,
dispenser of popular culture in those years
when the Kingdom of God on earth
was getting its kick-star---Lucille Ball---
part of Desilu Productions,
the biggest production facility in the world, then,
was entertaining millions as you were writing
those brilliant letters telling us of our culture
and where it was at, then,
on the edge of oblivion,
and where our Cause was,
which you planned for them and us,
this Ark of humanity.
4 October 1996
The history of the career of George Herman(“Babe”) Ruth can be divided into two basic stages: 1920 to 1927 and 1928 to 1935.....by 1935 Ruth had left the Yankees and his youthful vitality, energy and hitting prowess never returned. He died in 1948.-Ron Price, from a summary of Ruth’s life in Collier’s Encyclopedia, Vol.20, p.306.
The development of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the USA can be divided into two basic stages: 1922 to 1926 and 1927 to 1936....by 1936 the National Assembly...and the national committees and Local Spiritual Assemblies were sufficiently strong to come together for the execution of an international missionary program.-Loni Bramson-Lerche, “Development of Baha’i Administration”, Studies in Babi and Baha’i History, Vol.1, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1982, pp.260-275.
The year after He came west the Babe’s
career began and as that Order began to
take its first shaping in the late teens and
during that haitus, before the international
teaching campaign began, the Babe’s career
came to its maturity and end. His batting
average was .378 the year of the beginning
of a conscientious and active following
Baha’i laws and teachings in 1924, just about
fully organized beyond a loose movement; and
as the “World Order Letters” came out year after
year his career slowly came to an end. As he came
to his retirement, the Cause emerged from dealing
with its endless minor problems to propagation and
unifying its own community in its Formative Age while
a beauty not matched by any domical structure since
Michelangelo’s dome on the Basilica of St. Peter emerged
as each of the 735 home runs were hit by the Babe.
23 December 1996
SEVERAL OF THE ABOVE PROSE-POEMS REQUIRE EDITING TO MAKE LESS SPACE BETWEEN THE LINES<
WHO I AM
The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is that it scatters your force. It loses your time and blurs the impression of your character....There is the mortifying experience....the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved.... grow tight about the outline of the face with the most disagreeable sensation.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”.
That is all very well, Mr Emerson,
if you do not live in, do not cultivate,
a community. The forced smile, the
undisclosed knowledge, the timing of
remarks, the suitability to the hearer,
the dead letters, moments, hours, days,
those smiles, the control of spontaneity,
the tight muscles---are all part of life
in community. But so, too, is the magnetism
of originality; its lustre is transferred to self-
reliance, the spontaneous baffling star shooting
its ray of beauty even into the trivial.
As you say, Mr. Emerson, the power men possess
to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No
man can come near me but through my act.* We
must resist our temptations and enter into a state
of war so that our prayers can become soliloquies of
jubilation not means to effect private ends. For the
secret of fortune is joy in our hands.and perserverence
which the angels themselves swiftly attend, even here,
even in my own home where I travel from in my mind
in the pursuit of self-culture, for that first attribute of
perfection. I have travelled for this Cause and found
the man I was and am, like some chiseled marble of Phidias;
now with the cumulative force of all life’s cultivation
a deep peace has come, a testimony to His principles,
and so, too, a weariness from years and years of work
and some of that sorrow and a strange desolation of
hopes**. This makes up some of my quietness, part
of who I am in community, my spontaneity and reserve.
24 March 1996
* Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”.
** Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, 1969, p.451.
Thats all for now
LETTER WRITING: THE PIONEER & A LONG TRADITION
I want to add this short essay as a sort of addendum to my comments on letter writing, my letter writing and the letter writing of pioneers because it provides some historical context particularly for me as a person of Welsh ancestry and it seems particularly relevant to this autobiography. I am indebted in my writing of this short essay which follows to a Bill Jones and his article Writing Back: Welsh Emigrants and their Correspondence in the Nineteenth Century in the North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Vol. 5, No.1, Winter 2005.
Jones points to a remark made by Eric Richards in relation to British and Irish people who moved to Australia in the nineteenth century that migrants were “more likely to reflect on their condition and their lives than those who stayed at home.” I’m not sure if pioneers in the Baha’i community did more reflecting on their condition and lives than those who stayed at home, but there is no question I did a sizeable amount of reflecting and I documented a portion of it in my letters and, after about 1995, in my emails. I am also inclined to think that, as the decades advance and as collections of the letters and emails of pioneers take form, they will reflect mutatis mutandis Eric Richards’ comment.
As is true of most European peoples whose histories took on an international dimension as result of nineteenth-century migrations, that emigrant letters became the largest and arguably the most important source for an insight into the mentalities, activities and attitudes of ordinary migrants. Commentators have long emphasised the importance of emigrant letters in illuminating the human and personal aspects of the experience of migration. The comparison and contrast between emigrant letters and those of Baha’i pioneers is heuristic.
Just at the time when the collections of Welsh migrant letters were first being published in the 1960s, my first letters as a Baha’i pioneer in Canada--a pioneer with a Welsh ancestry--were being written and collected. A continuity of little to no significnace to the outside world or even within the Baha’i community at the time was taking place, a continuity that began in Wales in the 19th century. Perhaps, in the long run it would be a continuity with some significance. Time would tell. Alan Conway’s collection, published in 1961, The Welsh in America: Letters from the Immigrants appeared just as my own collection was taking in its first letter. By the time H. S. Chapman’s article about letters from Welsh migrants “From Llanfair to Fairhaven,” in Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club and Letters from America: Captain David Evans of Talsarnau, my own collection of letters were beginning to assume a substantial body of material for future archivists and historians, writers and analysts. I belonged to a religion within which the letter had assumed more than an insignificant proportion and those mysterious dispensations of Providence would determine whether my letters and those of other international pioneers would take on any significance. As a non-betting man, I was inclined to the view that one day they would.
This brief analysis can not do justice to the many dimensions that collections of letters from Baha’i international pioneers embrace, although I hope what I write here contributes in a small way by conveying something of the diversity and complexity of the subject. I am only discussing somewhat impressionistic- ally a few of the functions of the letters of pioneers and the relationships between them and certain aspects of the process of pioneering. I also want to discuss certain features of the letters as texts, examine some of their contexts and subtexts, and try to explain some of the complex ways in which this correspondence came into existence. My remarks here are limited, though, for this is a short essay and deals with its subject in a general and personal way making no attempt to be comprehensive, well-researched or extensively analysed. I seek to shed light on some of the experiential aspects of emigrant letter writing over two centuries and pioneer letter/email writing and receiving in the period: 1971-2021, the period in which I was myself an international pioneer.
A collection of letters like my own are so unlike any of the nineteenth century collections from European or United Kingdom migrants to the colonies, the new world, any world outside of the Eurocentric world migrants had been born in. Their letters, their history, production and reception, intersected with, contributed to and were shaped by key contemporaneous developments in that part of the nineteenth century in which their letters were written. These included the conspicuous increase in literacy, the emergence of mass print culture and formal state-based education, the expansion of the postal service and of reading and letter-writing in general, the social and cultural practices of the time together with the growth of instructional literature devoted to a range of cultural and educational pursuits.
In the case of my letters, only a few were written back to my country of origin and the few that were were not written essentially to explain to anyone or convince anyone of the value of this new country as a pioneer destination for them. My letters, for the most part, were produced and intersected with developments in my country of destination. The affects of the spread of media technology: TV, coloured TV, DVDs, video and by the 21st century large-screen plasma TVs, the computer; social and political developments locally, nationally and internationally; the decline of letter writing and the increase in the use of the email; the expansion of the Baha’i community from, say, 200 thousand in 1953 to, say, 800 thousand in 1971 and to nearly six million in 2003, indeed, the list of influences is and has been endless. This brief statement can not do the subject justice. I leave that to future writers and students of the subject of letter writing and pioneering in the Baha’i community.
Numerous scholars have emphasised that the writing and receiving of letters had a high priority for those emigrants who engaged in correspondence over 100 years ago. Without denying the importance of emigrant letters in any way, however, we should be careful not to exaggerate and over-romanticise their significance to all emigrants and to the emigration process in general. This is equally true of the letters and the emails of pioneers in the last half of the first century of our Formative Age: 1971-2021. Undoubtedly they have immense importance as the main, if not the only, practical method of keeping in touch with relatives, friends and neighbours back in the Old Country or country of origin. Yet letters and emails also had certain limitations that undermined their effectiveness in these regards. Not every emigrant or pioneer wrote letters and emails. The pleasure taken in the act of writing was not universal. In the 19th century not everyone could write; in the last half of the 20th century virtually everyone could write, at least in the western world, but new influences kept many from writing more than the perfunctory communication.
Some emigrants in the 19th and pioneers in the 20th wrote only very occasionally and the number who wrote regularly in both centuries was perhaps smaller still. The email certainly resulted in an explosion in the sheer quantity of written communication from pioneers and among the general population and I am confident that this sheer quantity would one day be reflected in the letters and emails of pioneers. Further, the importance attached to the act of writing to people on either side of the Atlantic and/or the Pacific varied from family to family and changed over time. For so many families, one of the most intense consequences of emigration was disintegration or, perhaps the word ephemeralization, is better. The situation was often created in which connections with family and friends were broken or they became tenuous at best. There were also other important elements to the process of maintaining correspondence that could complicate matters and even restrict the letter’s effectiveness in keeping families together and keeping friendships alive. If letters were chains that bound distant kith and kin and connections with Baha’i communities of origin, they were often fragile or poor links for many a pioneer. Even when the links were strong, the letters and emails were often thrown away and became of no use to future historians.
Pioneer and migrant correspondence was a multi-faceted, complex and sometimes ambiguous, even contradictory phenomenon. There is no doubt that the relationship between the letter writing of some emigrants and some pioneers was characterised more by apathy, neglect and avoidance than by emotional intensity and deep psychological need. Some people preferred gardening, watching TV and engaging in any number of a cornucopia of activities that popular and elite culture had made available in the late twentieth century. The hobby apparatus of many a leisure time activity became immense as the 21st century turned its corner. So many people really did not like to write and when they did they saw its only significance in personal terms, in terms of their relationship with the person they were writing to. This was only natural.
Personal preference and circumstances as well as factors far beyond the control of emigrants/pioneers and their families could limit the effectiveness of the letter/email as a means of communication. Yet, for other transnational families, the letters received in and sent from the country of origin were all as precious as life itself. Written correspondence was the principal means of sustaining that transnationality and a future age would collect and analyse this sustaining force and this often ephemeral reality.
The practice of writing, receiving and responding to letters in the 19th century and, say, until what Baha’is called the ninth stage of history beginning in 1953--to a country of origin from, say, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Patagonia, South Africa and elsewhere was an essential element in the process of emigration and pioneering and the lived experience of emigrants/pioneers. It had a centrality that was lost, though, in the second half of the twentieth century and the second half of the first century of the Formative Age(1971-2021) as the letter was challenged by mass use of the telephone and, later, e-mail, and by cheaper and faster overseas travel. I would suggest that because of their richness as literary artifacts, their symbolic importance and their revelatory power, the position that the written communications of pioneers beginning in the nineteenth-century and continuing until, say, 1953, should occupy, is prominent. These letters should be found, if not the very best place in the house of the Baha’i literary heritage, then at least a significant one that might draw the visitor’s eye as the threshold is crossed. Further, like families and friends in nineteenth-century, we need to bring emigrant and pioneer letters out to study them more often, to pass them around and scrutinise and discuss their contents. My view is that it will be some time before this kind of scrutinizing takes place. In a very real sense those large and laden letters that take wing across the oceans, still await — and deserve — our responses—perhaps our children’s children!
PIONEEING OVER FOUR EPOCHS
VOLUME 11 PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE
With the opening of this arch-lever file of personal correspondence there now exists eleven volumes of personal letters to individuals for future biographers, analysts of embryonic Baha’i institutions, communities and interested parties of various ilk. This volume of letters opens the 24th year of my extensive letter collecting and the 47th since the first letter in this collection found its place in volume 1 and was dated November 27th 1960. For the most part these letters are a casual although, to some extent, systematic collection. These volumes of what I have called personal correespondence are part of a wider collection of letters to and from: (I)Baha’i institutions,(II) publishers on and off the internet, (III.1) Baha’i magazines and journals,(III.2) Non-Baha’i journals and magazines, (IV) individuals: (a) in Canada and (b) particular/special individuals in my life like Baha’i writers, inter alter, (V) places of employment and (VI) family and friends regarding annual letters/emails.
More than two dozen arch-lever files and 2-ring binders are now part of this collection containing only communications with internet sites in their myriad forms. Some dozen or more files are found in connection with the other topics/subjects listed above. Unlike telephone calls and conversations, letters can be bundled, tied with ribbons, stored for decades or, as in my case, placed in binders of different sizes and kept fresh, dried-out and worn but enduring—each one unique—to tell a future age about these epochs I have lived in and through.
Although I have never made a numerical count of all these communications, my guesstimations would be: 6000 emails and postings on the internet and 4000 emails and letters to friends and others. I leave the exercise of counting this collection to future students of the Cause should the subject be of any value and interest. Whatever future students and casual readers do with this resource it is much more than voyeurism.. The person or persons who make some selection of these letters for publication purposes will perform a type of exercise in literary archaeology disclosing layers of a past, their past, to reveal who they are and how they came to be who they are, at least in part.
In recent years, especially since my retirement from full-time work in 1999 and especially since bringing part-time work and most of my volunteer work to an end at different times in the years 2001 to 2005, I have added more non-epistolary material because it seemed appropriate and I will leave it to future assessors to sift this material, to set up and separate out a series of relevant appendices, to simply include this non-epistolary resource as part of a varied type of letter/communication or to delete it as desired and if preferred. The decision as to how to organize this assortment of resources I leave in the hands of anyone who takes a serious interest in these resources in the years ahead either before or after my passing, as the case may be. To decide what to do with it all will belong, in the end, to others than myself. Of course, whether these letters even become an addition for some future understanding of what made up the Baha’i community and its people back in the early epochs of the 10th stage of Baha’i history, remains to be seen.
The Day of the Covenant, November 26th, is an auspicious occasion in the Baha’i calendar. It has been my intention to open this and future arch-lever files of personal correspondence, each one numbered in a successive numerical series, on this special day and, perhaps, or so it seems from the collections in recent years, on an annual basis. But after nine months of collecting letters/emails in this volume of letters, I came to a decision that had been insensibly forcing itself on my epistolary life, namely, to keep all correspondence electronically. My wife has been concerned at the burgeoning nature of the files in my study and the adjoining spare bedroom. The rest of this collection will, then, be kept—not in these paper/hard cover files—but in cyberspace, as they say.
I would like to be able to give a certain specialness to my letters other than their association with this embryonic World Order. If I could do, for example, what Julius Caesar did when he wrote letters while in battle, I’m sure such an exercise would give a patina of significance to what many may find to be a dry-as-dust collection. In war he had disciplined himself to be able to dictate letters while on horseback. He gave directions to others to take notes, as Oppius informs us. Baha’u’llah, we are also informed, often kept several secretaries busy when He revealed letters among other genres. ‘Abdu’l-Baha often stayed up all night writing letters. It is thought that Caesar was the first who contrived a means for communicating with friends by cipher or code when the press of business left him no time for a personal conference about matters that required dispatch and there was some urgency to his matters. Indeed, the history of epistolary communication is filled with interesting anecdotes. My anecdotes, suffice it to say, are simple and far from exciting. Although I often felt a sense of urgency while writing my letters, the matters were hardly earth-shattering when viewed in a wider, a societal, context.
Some readers may find the narrative part of my autobiography, now in four volumes and 2500 pages, overly analytical, even alien and remote. Perhaps these letters may bring the real current of my life and times alive and with that once rare gift for self-revelation, a gift that seems now to be more common, more evident. With Carlyle, it would be my wish that these letters would preserve as full a record of my life as possible. Carlyle knew the value of letters in biography as I know only too well; he knew, too, that collections of letters often went unread. Carlyle had much to say about the value of letters, but I will not draw on his many views of letters nor quote from the 6000 letters in his extant collection. I will note, though, Carlyle’s opinion that ill-health, fatigue and overwork strongly detracted from the quality of his letters. Indeed, I rarely write at all when these situations visit me.
Some writers take great pleasure in conversing with old friends and associations; it helped to distract him from his depressions and other physical and psychological maladies. Samuel Johnson was such a conversationalist. But he disliked writing letters. Many other litterateurs disliked taking up the pen to write a letter. I, on the other hand, enjoy writing letters and, with the years, have come to prefer it to conversation. I have for years taken pleasure in the verbal arts, but I came to tire of conversation. I rarely write to anyone now whom I used to know in Canada before 1971, except my first wife. I rarely write to anyone I knew before the 1980s. I seem to have written letters more copiously after the age of 50, after 1994. I would like to think that the recipients of my letters might cling to them and to my memory as the recipients of the letters of Henry James. But, alas and alack, I think it most unlikely. In our age of mass communication with a burgeoning of messages of every sort, letters and emails I think, even interesting and entertaining ones, get lost in the avalanche. The collection of Henry James’ letters constitutes one of the greatest self-portraits in all literature. My letters are not in James’ league, although the paint brush of life can play on the canvas with some success. As I can not say too frequently, the value of this portrait is only insofar as it is part of the growth and development, as it contributes to the understanding, of the Baha’i community over these several epochs.
My letters, too, contain an Australian-American simplicity that is essential in much of my communication. Whatever simplicity is there I acquired in the hard knocks of the classroom and Bahá’í community life. There is some complexity, some delicacies of feeling and intricacies of mind, that can be found across the pages of my letters. Some of that complexity I acquired in my reading. If life is no mere succession of facts and much more “a densely knit cluster of emotions and memories, each one steeped in lights and colours thrown out by the rest, the whole making up a picture that no one but oneself could dream of undertaking to paint,” then my letters come close to that painting. They are also, as the Globe and Mail informed us in 2002 in introducing the book The Book of Letters, “history on the fly….unselfconscious witnesses that bring history gloriously to life” or, I might add, ingloriously.
In the same way that James created his life in his writing, I feel I do the same. This is true in my letters in its own peculiar way and in my poetry, in a sort of poetic fashioning of experience. There was an incessant adventure, an inner cycle of vivid activity, by the time I took up writing as a full-time passtime at the turn of the millennium. And this is reflected in my letters, at least that is how I felt and experienced this epistolary act—increasingly as the decades ran their natural course and as letters became a more copious outpouring. As many-sided as my letters may be, they tend to show only one side of my self. This is my impression, although I leave this assessment to readers--for it is difficult for me to comment on this facet of my letters.
As I have pointed out before, there is much in life that never appears in my letters. In recent volumes of my letters, though, my life possessed a calm it had not had before. I’m not sure this reality, this fact, is obvious from reading my letters. A new happiness has unquestionably entered my life since the turning of the millennium and the sheer quantity of the correspondence that I have kept has increased partly owing to this very pleasant feeling. That the main source of this happiness was due to first an anti-depressant medication in 2001, then a combination of an antipsychotic medication and a new anti-depressant medication in 2007. For those who crave context and history, these letters may function to serve that purpose, not so much as a series of sensational, humorous or even especially interesting events that I document, but more as a part of some rounded culture, some personal life and its passions, manners and some of its intimate flavours.
I’d like to think my letters were something like those of Alistair Cooke over the years 1946 to 2004, conversation that was conveyed in prose, the journalism of personal witness that never loses touch with narrative, with the letter-writer as storyteller. But I am not in Cookes league. I am an amateur compared to Cooke and I do not have an audience of 22 million; I do not possess a flattering readership. The great bulk of my emails and all my letters have an audience of one. Like Cooke, though, even when the content of a letter is about some crisis or other; even when it was necessary that I must wax solemnly about the times in society or events in my own life which have grave/sad implications, I never felt that I was intended to put off those things in life I was presumably designed to enjoy. And so my letters probably have a bias for the positive rather than the melancholy, the entertaining and the somewhat intellectual rather than the trivial and the tawdry. But readers should not expect too much entertainment in my letters; there are other mediums to seek out if they want entertainment.
In the end, though, I find as I browse through all this epistolary stuff, that I am glad to leave it to someone else to make special selections of my letters, to see what it all means and to provide a base for some marketable commodity. I have absolutely no interest in commenting on any of the specific letters other than the occasional explanatory comment as I slip a letter into the collection. And now that the rest of this collection is in an electronic form perhaps there will be a new spirit, a new ethos, a new me. We shall see.
26th November 2006
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 12: 26/11/'07-26/11/'08
Beginning with volume 11 of Division 1 of my personal correspondence and as the final months and days of that volume came to an end on 26 November 2007, I started to keep the bulk of my archival correspondence in electronic form. Hard copy of emails became electronically kept in my Dell computer(Pentium 4) Model-optiplex GT280 and its operating system WindowsXP. No longer did my printer, a Xerox Docu Print Model N17 have to copy material, although readers of this file will see a wide variety, indeed, a cornucopia of non-email-non-letter material. Some emails are, for various reasons, included in this file but, for the most part, they have been excised from this hard-copy collection of letters of varied resources and collected items.
My monitor, an Acer-LCD-type/model-Al1715 with a screen resolution of 800 x 600 pixels and a screen size of 17 inches, showed me other items to keep in this file and then, seeing their potential relevance for the future, I placed a copy in this 2-ring binder.
Inevitably, much that was incoming did not lend itself to electronic form or to placement in this file and was simply deleted. This has been the case with much/most email resources since I began receiving this new form of communication some twenty years ago, 2008-1988, circa.
It has become obvious with this new development of an electronic letter archive that much material which I used to keep is no longer kept. This has been true of the very short pieces especially short emails, various items of memorabilia and other odds-and-ends whose content seemed irrelevant to keep for any future use by me or others.
This file, Personal Correspondence: Volume 12, did seem to be a relevant place to keep: (a) first and further editions of introductions, (b) first and further editions of other short pieces of writing and (c) some early editions of tables of content, inter alia. The result of these additions to the “letters/emails” file, was a collection of a sort of hotch-potch of stuff. At a future time, I may evaluate where to go with this new development of non-epistolary material which, strictly speaking, does not belong in such a file. But, for the time being, the elimination of much epistolary material and various memorabilia--that had formerly been placed in the first eleven volumes of personal correspondence—has meant a significant reduction in the size of the file, from an arch-lever to a two-ring binder. There is still, I feel, too much material being kept and, hopefully, I will reduce the size of these files even more in the months and years ahead.
26 November 2008
LETTER WRITING: THE PIONEER & A LONG TRADITION
I want to add this short essay as a sort of addendum to my comments on letter writing, my letter writing and the letter writing of pioneers because it provides some historical context particularly for me as a person of Welsh ancestry and it seems particularly relevant to both my autobiography and my collection of letters. I am indebted in my writing of this short essay which follows to a Bill Jones and his article Writing Back: Welsh Emigrants and their Correspondence in the Nineteenth Century in the North American Journal of Welsh Studies, Vol. 5, No.1, Winter 2005.
Jones points to a remark made by Eric Richards in relation to British and Irish people who moved to Australia in the nineteenth century that migrants were “more likely to reflect on their condition and their lives than those who stayed at home.” I’m not sure if pioneers in the Baha’i community did more reflecting on their condition and lives than those who stayed at home, but there is no question I did a sizeable amount of reflecting and I documented a portion of it in my letters, after about 1995 in my emails and after I retired in 1999 in posts on the internet. I am also inclined to think that, as the decades advance and as collections of the letters and emails of pioneers like myself take form, they will reflect mutatis mutandis Eric Richards’ comment.
It is true of most European peoples, whose histories took on an international dimension as result of nineteenth-century migrations, that emigrant letters became the largest and arguably the most important source for an insight into the mentalities, activities and attitudes of ordinary migrants. Commentators have long emphasised the importance of emigrant letters in illuminating the human and personal aspects of the experience of migration. The comparison and contrast between emigrant letters and those of Baha’i pioneers is heuristic and, I would think, an inevitable exercise in any exploratory study of the role of the letter in the evolution of the Bahai community and its embryonic Administrative Order.
Just at the time when the collections of Welsh migrant letters were first being published in the 1960s, my first letters as a Baha’i pioneer in Canada--a pioneer with a Welsh ancestry--were being written and collected. A continuity was taking place of little to no significance to the outside world or even within the Baha’i community at the time, a continuity that began in Wales in the 19th century. Perhaps in the long run it would be a continuity with some significance. Time would tell. Alan Conway’s collection of letters from Welsh migrants published in 1961, The Welsh in America: Letters from the Immigrants appeared just as my own collection was taking in its first letter, a collection at the time that I was not even aware I had begun amassing. By the time H. S. Chapman’s article about letters from Welsh migrants “From Llanfair to Fairhaven,” in Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club and Letters from America: Captain David Evans of Talsarnau, my own collection of letters were beginning to assume a substantial body of material for future archivists and historians, writers and analysts. I belonged to a religion within which the letter had assumed more than an insignificant role, indeed, a very prominent one, and those mysterious dispensations of Providence would determine whether my letters and those of other international pioneers would take on any significance in some future epoch. As a non-betting man, I was inclined to the view that one day they would.
This brief analysis can not do justice to the many dimensions that collections of letters from Baha’i international pioneers embrace, although I hope what I write here contributes in a small way by conveying something of the diversity & complexity of the subject. I am only discussing somewhat impressionistically a few of the functions of the letters of pioneers and the relationships between them and certain aspects of the process of pioneering. I also want to discuss certain features of the letters as texts, examine some of their contexts and subtexts, and try to explain some of the complex ways in which this correspondence came into existence. My remarks here are limited, though, for this is a short essay and deals with its subject in a general and personal way making no attempt to be comprehensive, well-researched or extensively analysed. I seek to shed light on some of the experiential aspects of emigrant letter writing over two centuries and pioneer letter and email writing and receiving in the period: 1971-2021, the period in which I was myself an international pioneer.
A collection of letters like my own are so unlike any of the nineteenth century collections from European or United Kingdom migrants to the colonies, the new world, any world outside of the Eurocentric world migrants had been born in. Their letters, their history, production and reception, intersected with, contributed to and were shaped by key contemporaneous developments in that part of the nineteenth century in which their letters were written. These included the conspicuous increase in literacy, the emergence of mass print culture and formal state-based education, the expansion of the postal service and of reading and letter-writing in general, the social and cultural practices of the time together with the growth of instructional literature devoted to a range of cultural and educational pursuits. In the case of my letters, only a few were written back to my country of origin and the few that were were not written essentially to explain to anyone or convince anyone of the value of this new country as a pioneer destination for them. My letters, for the most part, were produced and intersected with developments in my country of destination. The affects of the spread of media technology: TV, coloured TV, DVDs, video and, by the 21st century, large-screen plasma TVs, the computer, inter alia; social and political developments locally, nationally and internationally; the decline of letter writing and the increase in the use of the email; the expansion of the Baha’i community from, say, 200 thousand in 1953 to, say, 800 thousand in 1971 and to nearly six million in 2003, indeed, the list of influences is and has been endless. This brief statement can not do the subject justice. I leave that to future writers and students of the subject of letter writing and pioneering in the Baha’i community.
Numerous scholars have emphasised that the writing and receiving of letters had a high priority for those emigrants who engaged in correspondence over 100 years ago. Without denying the importance of emigrant letters in any way, however, we should be careful not to exaggerate and over-romanticise their significance to all emigrants and to the emigration process in general. This is equally true of the letters and the emails of pioneers in the last half of the first century of our Formative Age: 1971-2021. Undoubtedly they have immense importance as the main, if not the only, practical method of keeping in touch with relatives, friends and neighbours back in the Old Country or country of origin. Yet letters and emails also had certain limitations that undermined their effectiveness in these regards. Not every emigrant or pioneer wrote letters and emails. The pleasure taken in the act of writing was not universal. In the 19th century not everyone could write; in the last half of the 20th century virtually everyone could write, at least in the western world, but new influences kept many from writing more than the perfunctory communication.
Some emigrants in the 19th and pioneers in the 20th wrote only very occasionally and the number who wrote regularly in both centuries was perhaps smaller still. The email certainly resulted in an explosion in the sheer quantity of written communication from pioneers and among the general population and I am confident that this sheer quantity would one day be reflected in the letters and emails of pioneers when such collections were eventually made. Further, the importance attached to the act of writing to people on either side of the Atlantic and/or the Pacific varied from family to family and changed over time. For so many families, one of the most intense consequences of emigration was disintegration or, perhaps the word ephemeralization, is better. The situation was often created in which connections with family and friends were broken or they became tenuous at best. There were also other important elements to the process of maintaining correspondence that could complicate matters and even restrict the letter’s effectiveness in keeping families together and keeping friendships alive. If letters were chains that bound distant kith and kin and connections with Baha’i communities of origin, they were often fragile or poor links for many a pioneer. Even when the links were strong, the letters and emails were often thrown away and became of no use to future historians.
Pioneer and migrant correspondence was a multi-faceted, complex and sometimes ambiguous, even contradictory phenomenon. There is no doubt that the relationship between the letter writing of some emigrants and some pioneers was characterised more by apathy, neglect and avoidance than by emotional intensity and deep psychological need. Some people preferred gardening, watching TV and engaging in any number of a cornucopia of activities that popular and elite culture had made available in the late twentieth century. The hobby apparatus of many a leisure time activity became immense as the 21st century turned its corner. So many people really did not like to write and when they did they saw its only significance in personal terms, in terms of their relationship with the person they were writing to. This was only natural.
Personal preference and circumstances as well as factors far beyond the control of emigrants/pioneers and their families could limit the effectiveness of the letter/email as a means of communication. Yet, for other transnational families, the letters received in and sent from the country of origin were all as precious as life itself. Written correspondence was the principal means of sustaining that transnationality and a future age would collect and analyse this sustaining force and this often ephemeral reality.
The practice of writing, receiving and responding to letters in the 19th century and, say, until what Baha’is called the ninth stage of history beginning in 1953--to a country of origin from, say, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Patagonia, South Africa and elsewhere was an essential element in the process of emigration and pioneering and the lived experience of emigrants/pioneers. It had a centrality that was lost, though, in the second half of the twentieth century and the second half of the first century of the Formative Age(1971-2021) as the letter was challenged by mass use of the telephone and, later, e-mail, and by cheaper and faster overseas travel. I would suggest that because of their richness as literary artifacts, their symbolic importance and their revelatory power, the position that the written communications of pioneers beginning in the nineteenth-century and continuing until, say, 1953, should occupy, is prominent. These letters should be found, if not the very best place in the house of the Baha’i literary heritage, then at least a significant one that might draw the visitor’s eye as the threshold is crossed. Further, like families and friends in the nineteenth-century, we need to bring emigrant and pioneer letters out to study them more often, to pass them around and scrutinise and discuss their contents. My view is that it will be some time before this kind of scrutinizing takes place and, when it does take place, it will be in some academic environment not in popular circles. In a very real sense those large and laden letters that take wing across the oceans, still await — and deserve — our responses—perhaps our children’s children!
In his introduction to a collection of 840 of Waughs 4500 letters of Evelyn Waugh, Mark Amory makes the point that one of the ideal conditions for letter-writing in our time is any one or a combination of: adventure, boredom and idleness. While these three conditions virtually never coexisted in my life; boredom and idleness did in my late childhood, when I was 10 or 11. It was other ideal conditions than these that led to my letter writing. Amory also notes that letter-writers often have libellous passages which must be taken out. I should not think this will be a problem with my correspondence. Although libel is not a subject that has entered my mind in my letters and I am confident that it will have no place in the future of my letters, the subject of friendship has, indeed, occupied my mind as a letter writer and it is to this subject that I now turn to close this subject here at the BARL.
SOME THOUGHTS ON FRIENDSHIP IN: LETTERS/EMAILS AND INTERNET POSTS
These many volumes contain letters and emails, communications with many a person over many a year. The correspondence with some barely exists; there is at most one letter from many individuals over many years. The correspondence with others takes place off and on for varying lengths of time. Robert Risch, a student of writer Ernest Hemingway, describes the letters between Ernest Hemingway and Evan Shipman, a correspondence with a particular type of person who got on with Hemingway, a difficult chap at the best of times or so it is said. I include the following two paragraphs of Rischs words here as an opening note on the subject of friendship in letters, emails and internet posts.
Evan Shipman’s letters to American novelist Ernest Hemingway(1899-1961) reveal a strong kindness running through his actions and his manner. Ernest Hemingway and Evan Shipman shared many of the same interests and activities and they are apparent in their correspondence: “Paris in the 1920s, being short of money, loving art, writing and adventure, reading the same books, Spain, war injuries, friends doing well, friends doing not so well, families of culture, mothers they disappointed, fathers with whom they bonded, having their work criticized at times unkindly,”1 are but a few. Most of th e time, each man reacted to these things in very different ways, yet they remained friends. Hemingway may have lost as many friends as he found in his life, but the friendship he shared with Shipman went the distance.
Men like Hemingway make up their own rules because they need to win; they think they know it all, such was the view of Philip Kolb in his study of the letters of another writer. They are difficult to please and friendships with them are arduous. If Hemingway and Shipman had been on a sports team, Hemingway would have no doubt led the team in scoring and probably penalty minutes. The media would have camped out in front of his locker. Shipman would have led the team in assists and would have come and gone without many people noticing. But even the Hemingways of life need good friends. Without them the game is not worth the play.1
This correspondence between Hemingway and Shipman tinctured as it is with fame and literary renown, was totally unlike that between myself and the recipient of this very short essay, John Bailey. This man, to whom I have written more letters than any other person in my several decades on this mortal coil, could always be relied upon to send me in his letters: quotations from the humanities and social sciences, words of wisdom from known and unknown sources, elements of the quotidian, reminiscences from our common experience in the teaching world and the world of Western Australia where I spent 13 years and accounts of his annual trips with his wife after he had retired. He was a type of correspondent, as I found all of my correspondents, unique unto himself. He was not demanding. I have written to demanding personalities; I have written for demanding personalities and even now, after the evolution of more than two decades, I think of that writing to the demanding, the critical and those who were usually pushing some barrow of a partisan-political nature with distaste, coolness and some degree of emotional alienation.
The only competition John Bailey had from other correspondents in my epistolary life, in terms of frequency and duration of writing, was with a poet who has now passed on, Roger White. Roger and I corresponded from 1981 to 1992. John and I have been writing now from 1996 to 2007. Roger, too, was not demanding, not judgmental; there was a lightness in his authorial step even when dealing with serious content. This was also true of the letters I received from John Bailey.
Acquaintances and familiarities, occasional contacts, some little intercourse, wrote the essayist Montaigne over 400 years ago, these are what people commonly call friends and friendships. But he says, these are not friendships. Friendships involve: being mutually taken with one another, being endeared, being confirmed by judgement and length of time, one soul in two bodies. Friendship of this type is remote and rare. I’m not sure if I have ever experienced such friendship. Indeed, after these many years, I’m not sure I would even seek out such a friendship. I think the type of friendship I have and which I cultivate in my letters and emails, is a friendship that lies somewhere between the two types that Montaigne describes. The subject is a complex one, though, and requires more time than I desire to devote at this juncture.
One of the extensive, if not interesting, letter writers in history was one, Horace Walpole. For some time he contemplated writing a history of his times but after twenty years of consideration, he gave the idea up and decided to write another kind of history based on letters.2 Each of the friends he wrote to was “particularly connected….with one of the subjects about which he wished to enlighten and inform posterity.”3 There is little doubt that I could approach a history of my times through the vehicle of the letter. But it would be a particularly idiosyncratic history, not your comprehensive view of an age. It would be a more personalized, more subjective, exercise. I would have to approach it through the vehicle of those I knew, knew in varying degrees. After only a brief reflection I think such an exercise would be beyond my capacity and, more importantly, my interest.
Sadly, if not thankfully, most people who have taken the time to write to me have done so infrequently and I am not sure if I could add much to an understanding of my times through their meager correspondence. Most people prefer gardening, watching TV, reading, arts and crafts, various forms of exercise, nice long sleeps and good food. Epistolary activity is not on their list of enthusiasms. Then, too, I often wonder if one ever really knows anyone in life even when one shares a good deal of ones correspondents enthusiasms. If one wants depth and breadth, one just about needs an afterlife. And for that purpose I think many would still decline the offer and prefer the quiet, obscure and unemotional dalliances of oblivion. This side of the grave, it seems, we know in part and we prophesy a much smaller, an infinitessimal, part.
Recently I came across the letters of Petrarch(1304-1374), poet and historian, precursor to the Renaissance. He wrote, to my surprise, letters to dead figures in the past. I had already begun to think of what Virginia Woolf called posterity’s “featureless face,” those not-yet-born, as I approached the age of 50 over a decade ago. Generations yet unborn insensibly became part of my perspective. During the years, what I now think of as my warm-up years of letter-writing, 1957 to 2007—50 years, I became more interested in posterity, in those not-yet-born, in the generations that would come after me. The idea had germinated, but the idea of writing to those who had died or those not yet born had never crossed my mind. I would have to sit on these ideas for the moment.
Many of my notebooks, more than 300 now in total, consisted of photocopied material and I am not sure what relevance they would have to a future age. But my correspondence—that is a different subject. Time will tell what eventuates in this direction, the direction of letters and emails, friendship and letters, those from the past and those not-yet-born. I don’t like writing novels, short stories, scripts for the media, advertising pieces, nor books except on a very few topics. It seems the letter at least has found a place in my life amidstmy poetry. If I only write to those now living while being inspired by those who have left this mortal coil and while keeping one eye on the future this will take me to my final end.
December 19th 2005
1 Ron Price with thanks to Robert Risch, “Evan Shipman: Friend and Foil,” The Hemingway Review, Vol. 23, No.1, Fall 2003.”
2 Horace Walpole, Letters, Vol.1-16, editor, Paget Toynbee, Yale UP.
3 Virginia Woolf, Collected Letters, Vol.1, 1966(1925), London, p.102.
THE DEVELOPMENT AND LISTS OF 4000 INTERNET SITES FOR POSTING: 2001-2008
I have tried in what follows--in this 21,000 word document--to provide both a developmental outline of my site acquisition and posting process at websites in the years 2001 to 2008. I also try to provide reasonably comprehensive lists of websites where I have posted my writing, made postings with Baha’i content and responded to people about some aspect of the Bahá’í Faith and other and often related issues. Some of the sites are ‘information only’ sites, perhaps as many as 10% of the total found here, mostly in list #1 of the five lists, but they are information sites which have a potential for posting Baha’i content down the track and/or provide information relevant to this internet task of Bahá’í teaching or so it seemed at the time I placed the site on the list.
The information below is, for the most part, for my own record. I do not expect the average person who reads it to take it all in. I have sent a copy of this list to a very small handful of people/institutions: (a) whom I thought would find it useful and/or (b) have asked to have a copy of this list. Readers should not make any attempt to grasp the detail here since it goes to 110 A-4 pages as of 1 July 2008. Their interest, if they have any at all after they have seen it as an email attachment, would best be in terms of a general overview and each person will get a different sense of that overview and its meaning and relevance to the teaching work. Readers are advised to just pass on when the going gets tough, when the labyrinth of information gets too twisted and complex to take in. They should just try and obtain the most general of pictures of what they find here and the 1000s of hours of time represented by what is located on these approximately 4000 sites.
In addition, there are many sites where I post my writing and engage in Baha’i-related dialogue on issues and with content which are not included here. When one deals with a number of sites of the order of 4000 and when they are listed and commented on briefly as I do here, it is only too obvious that the exercise is a massive one involving literally millions of words. The processes involved in my internet publishing are complex and extensive and I try in this document to provide a comprehensive picture of my activity for anyone who is interested. Keeping a detailed, accurate and comprehensive list of all my postings has become beyond my capacity or interest. But a sketch is found here for anyone taking some general interest, a sketch of these 110 A-4 pages, and the sketch is sufficiently detailed to be of use to anyone who does take a serious interest in my work on the internet.
I have taken only a mild interest in record keeping, an interest which leads to maintaining a modicum of order within this vast system of writing on the internet, writing as I say which involves literally millions of words and the equivalent of many books. What is found here is, therefore, not totally comprehensive, but provides a reasonably complete picture. The following five(5) lists are intended to sketch this general picture of my work on the WWW, give those interested in what work I do a perspective on how they might locate my writings and, hopefully, see for themselves the wonderful teaching opportunities that are available to them should they desire to post on the internet as well or just survey what I have done for whatever reason they may have and for whatever reason I have sent them an email copy of these five lists.
I have written what follows for my own interest and record keeping so that I may find information I need to keep up with utilizing my particular pattern of internet posting. Without some record accessibility of data, to what I have done and what I might do in the future is not as easy and convenient. The following outline is one I have written and revised several times in the last seven years: 2001-2008 to keep it up to data and because I really think I am onto something very valuable in the teaching work. It is exciting to me and, if I can transfer some of this excitement to others, that would be valuable in its own right.
My story on the internet began insensibly in the 1990s. The story goes through to 2008 with a special focus on the two Five Year Plans: 2001-2006 and 2006-2011. There are now, as I indicated above, about four thousand sites involved in this exercise and, given this massive number of sites, my presence at most of them is relatively thin because I try to scatter the seeds wide, so to speak. This is not always the case, though, and at some sites I have a strong presence and literally thousands of people access my writings.
There are 110 A-4 pages of: (a) descriptive prose explanation and (b) internet sites to give readers a taste, a sample, of the sites involved1 and how I go about what I am doing on the internet. These lists1 will serve as my base for a future of internet posting and teaching that I find very satisfying. Teaching the Faith, the Bahá’í Faith, has always been a very important part of my life. This list will serve, too, as a base/framework for any interested person to find out more about this internet work, the latest chapter of my individual teaching initiative.-Ron Price-Updated 1/7/’08.
1 The listing below of internet sites is set out in an organizational form that divides the sites into Lists 1 to 5. It incorporates earlier lists in my computer as far back as 2001. It takes the process of site listing to 1 March 2008. The 1st list began in 2001; the 2nd list was composed mainly in 2002-2003; the 3rd in 2004-5. The 4th and 5th lists were made mainly from 2006 to 2008 for my convenience and the convenience of readers. Anyone wanting these lists, now contained in this single document of 110 A-4 pages, can write to me and I will send them by email.
INTERNET SITES: STAGE 1:
After two decades(1981-2001) of keeping a rather small collection of publishers and relevant files for the purpose (a) of publishing a book of my own, (b) of publishing Baha’i material in magazines and in the periodical press or (c) of simply buying hard/soft cover books written by someone else, I began in the Australian winter, June to August of 2001, forty days from the start of the Five Year Plan of 2001-2006, to keep what became in the next seven years an extensive collection/series of arch-lever files and two-ring binders. I recorded publishers and websites that were useful in my work to promote my prose, my poetry and the Cause.
By July 2003, two years into this file and site collecting exercise, I had a list of a large number of sites and publishers, several hundred locations, more than I could log onto regularly. I also acquired and listed many other sites in connection with various subjects, topics and disciplines much of which I have listed here and much of which I haven’t. The total number of sites came to more than 1000. In some ways this is not significant given the fact that the number of sites on the internet now numbers well over a trillion if not trillions.
In July 2003 I divided this large list into several subsidiary lists, created to give some specificity, some individual subject location, to what had become a burgeoning, unmanageable, list. These subsidiary lists, taken together, were still unwieldy, but it served as a sort of library of locations when and if I wanted to draw on the information or log into a site and do a posting. These subsidiary lists are now located in various files: religion, the Baha’i Writings, Canadian poetry, Australian poetry and Baha’i history, inter alia. This list below served as the core, the outline, of my site acquisitions or site activity two years after I had made a start with that original list of internet sites in the winter of 2001.
In May 2001 the 2nd edition of my website went online and the Baha’i World Centre officially opened the Terraces and the Arc Project. I use this date as a measuring time/rod/demarcation point for my work on the internet in these early years of my retirement from the teaching profession, 1999-2007. This 2nd edition of my website did coincide with the onset of my record keeping. In fact both my website and my recording began within the ten day period: 21/5/01-1/06/01.
By 2004 I had added many more sites and developed what I came to call my Publishing Volume 12. This Volume 12 can now be found in 18 Parts which I will refer to later in this account. This second list, this Volume 12, is a list I refer to in my computer directory as “List #2." I devoted most of my internet site attention to this Volume 12 as the early months of 2004 advanced. By April 2004 I was devoting virtually all my time to Volume 12. By October 15th 2004 Volume 12 had more than 500 additional sites, by June 30th 2005 it had more than 1000 and by April 21st 2006, five years into the original exercise, I stopped counting.1
I write all of this, as I say, largely for my own information, just to keep a record of how this exercise evolved. I realized, too, that: (a) what I was doing had a significance to me that I had not anticipated and (b) a written statement might be useful one day if, in fact, what I was doing did take on a significance that I was already strongly intimating. The story is here if I ever need it for some purpose. I have sent, unrequested, copies or partial copies to several individuals and Bahá'í institutions just to give them an idea of the work I am doing. Thusfar, I have received only one encouraging response, from the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia Inc. on 9 October 2007.
1 This List #1 below of 1000 sites(not included here) is not complete and as time goes on it becomes more incomplete as more sites get added. I update this List #1 infrequently. I have lost interest in keeping my computer file completely up-to-date because of the very burgeoning nature of the exercize. It has proved difficult to keep an exact figure of how many postings I do at each site and when and what the content was at each site. This is due to the number of sites on all the lists, that is, List #1 to List #5. With well over 4000 sites in all the lists it is unlikely that most readers will have any interest at all in the names of the sites or, for that matter, this general outline. But I write this overview for the reasons I have already indicated.
1 July 2008
STAGE 2: A Comment
By 1 July 2008 when the new teaching Plan(2006-2011) was two years and two months old(April 2006-June 2008), the process of searching out sites, forums in the social sciences and humanities, in popular culture and to a lesser extent in the biological and physical sciences, forums for posting and publishing various items of my writing, various material in relation to the Baha’i Faith, responding to issues raised on the sites by others and engaging with specific individuals at these sites, had developed far more than I had anticipated on 21 May 2001 at the start of the whole process.
At the start of this site and internet searching process seven years before(2001-2008), I simply had no idea of what it would lead to in the teaching work. My own website went into its second edition on May 21st 2001, the date of the official opening of the Terraces. My website’s first edition went from 1997 to 2001 and had virtually no value in the teaching work.
In the embryonic years of my internet life, the decade 1991 to 2001, I had no idea of the potential for placing my writings on this world wide web or interacting with others in relation to the Cause, my writing or, indeed, any other subject. In those years the internet was essentially a source of information and a basis for emails.
As the seventh year of searching out sites for posting or publishing items was coming to its end, I found myself keeping only a very general record of my postings at sites where I was a registered member. To even log in to all the sites, as I have pointed out above, at a greater rate than once/month had become impossible even if I devoted, say, 10 to 12 hours to this internet process each day. I do not possess the energy or enthusiasm for this extended type of application.
This activity, of acquiring and servicing sites principally, especially, for Baha’i teaching, came to occupy my time intensively in 2003 & 2004. In early 2004, after completing my third book, the fourth edition of my autobiography Pioneering Over Four Epochs, I looked for an extensive writing outlet and the internet satisfied this search. From 2005 to 2008 my activity at websites actually decreased, though, because: (1) of what I can only call internet fatigue and (2) I had turned to non-internet writing: poetry and autobiography.
I kept going back to this posting process when I was unable to work on my book or books, when I was not moved to writepoetry, when I got tired of reading and when I wanted “little writing and posting jobs” that I knew would contribute in their own way to the teaching work. During these internet-posting-days-or-hours I usually spent from 2 to 10 hours; the variation was and is large. Although it is possible to quantify the time I spend posting poems, essays and comments of various kinds on what are called threads at internet sites, I do not keep an actual daily time record.
It is more simple to say I have three main activities: writing, posting and reading and I alter them to preserve my sanity and because I simply get tired of any one activity if pursued beyond a certain length of time. The average is, as I say, about 8 hours a day devoted to these three activities in total.
2. Developmental Background:
The first edition of this particular list of sites, sites especially devoted to publishing and posting(1) in 2001/2 was a very short list consisting of only a small handful of locations. A second edition in 2003 became a third edition in April 2004. That original list of a few sites in 2001 had burgeoned to over 800 sites by January 1st 2005 and to over 1000 by May 21st 2005. The contents of what became eleven files(8 arch-lever files and 5 two-ring binders) and well over 1000 sites is now divided into 18 parts, a division that evolved naturally and was not based on any inherent system. As the sites were contacted and their forum outlines copied, filed and used for recording my postings, the collection of resource/site information, et cetera was brought together into these several volumes.
This list, like the first list described in the first document(List #1) became, as I say above, too lengthy a list to really service properly. It required the work of other Baha’is and so I placed a notice/article in the Australian Baha’i Bulletin which appeared on October 12th 2004 across Australia. I also presented a workshop at the Tasmanian Summer School on “The Art of Using the Internet.” There was no response to my notice in The Bulletin and no evidence of any increased presence of Baha’is other than myself at the vast majority of the sites, except of course at specifically Baha’i sites, ten months after the advertisement. The participation of Baha’is at websites is difficult to assess when one is talking about 2000 sites. The sheer magnitude of the task/process, the number of sites and the vast quantity of participants over all these sites is simply beyond any one person to assess participation levels by the thousands of Baha’is on the internet.
I have given this entire package of 15 arch-lever files and 7 two-ring-binders, in 18 parts, the label Volume 12: Publishing because the total exercise is one of publication in some form or another on the Internet. I made several copies of an earlier list of sites for those attending the workshop on “the use of the internet” at the Tasmania Baha’i summer school in February 2005. Volumes 1 and 2: The Baha’i Faith and the Arts(1.1.,1.2, 2.1 and 2.2) and Volumes 3 to 17: Publishing(excluding Vol.12) contain a large body of sites on: Australian Poetry, Canadian Poetry, Cinema/Media Studies and several collections involving The Baha’i Faith and the Arts. These subjects contain a burgeoning list of sites, sites which I acquired and serviced during the first three developmental years 2001 to 20042 but which, at least for the most part and at least since Ridvan 2004, I have come to service or contact relatively infrequently. This latter category of sites, while being devoted to posting and publishing as well, as the titles on that list indicate, is also devoted to obtaining information.
At this stage of development, these sites serve as an archival base that I service periodically as the need, interest and desire arises. Sections like (a) Canadian Poetry, (b) American poetry, (c) diary/journal sites, (d) literature and (e) cinema/media sites I try to service more frequently but this, too, has become impossible on even a regular basis.
3. Future Development
In the months and years that lie ahead I’m sure this base of over 4000 sites will be extended into further parts and volumes. I hope, too, that the other 1000 or more archival/information sites will find my presence there more extensively than thusfar. But, as anyone can appreciate, well over 4000 sites to post Baha’i material in some kind of teaching capacity is too much of a bite to chew, as one might put it colloquially. This activity is clearly a publishing and teaching device that has assumed impossible dimensions. There is always work, publishing work and teaching the Cause in the process. Perhaps, too, I will develop a system for servicing the sites with more frequency and thoroughness, especially if others become involved in this activity which I am confident they will in the years ahead even if this involvement is not part of any coordinated exercise and even if, at present, I have not engaged anyone else in a similar level of activity.
There is necessarily a life other than posting stuff on the internet. It could be argued that I spread myself too thin and should aim for depth and not breadth and that may be true. Posting at sites has a certain serendipitous quality just like teaching the Cause in everyday life. On the internet, so in life, I have scattered seeds far and wide, but not necessarily deep/in one place. Depth, of course, is always difficult to measure and all I want to do in this brief outline is give readers a general picture of my website activity.
Since the completion of my autobiography by Ridvan 2004, I have had no specific idea/plan for another book, although intimations of a book to write occur from time to time, but I do not seem to have the inspiration, the specific direction, to take on a book. I spend some time occasionally, as I said above, working on the sixth edition of my autobiography and developing ideas for other books. But, in the main, I now work in this milieux of over 4000 sites3 when the spirit moves me. These sites provide enough to keep a marathon runner-writer busy into perpetuity, well into several more Olympic games or, in terms of the Baha’i calendar, at least to the end of the fiof the Formative Age in 2021 or even the end of my own first century in 2044 and two Baha’i centuries.4
1 The term ‘publishing’ refers to systematic posting of essays and, indeed, a variety of other material on the internet, material like: emails/letters, parts/chapters of books, poems, prose-poems, reviews of films books, inter alia. In addition this List #2 is comprehensive but not absolutely accurate due to the sheer number of sites involved.
2 In the six year period before the first edition of my own website, from 1991 to 1997, and the four years after the creation of the 1st edition of my website, from 1997 to 2001, I began to search out and contact websites. This was the first decade of my use of the email facility as well. These were embryonic years and I have no record of any results, any sites listed from this decade of beginnings. Of course I was still employed professionally as a teacher in Tafe until 1999 and as a volunteer teacher with a School for Seniors until 2004 or actively engaged in community work of different kinds until May 2005. I dropped these involvements at various times in the years 1999 to 2005.
From 1999 to 2001, during the first two years of my retirement, I began to set up my systems: files, categories, internet order and form, etc. here in George Town for future writing and work on the internet. In these first two years I really only began to see, insensibly for the most part, the potential for publication and teaching in this medium. But as the 2nd edition of my website went on-line in May 2001, at the start of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006) and at the same time as the opening of the Terraces, I began to see the internet potential for ‘seed planting.’ By April 2006 I was spending virtually all my time reading and posting on the interent; and in writing articles, essays and books generally.
3 A team of several people could be kept happily employed servicing these sites with a minimum of regularity and a periodicity of once a week, fortnight, month or whatever frequency, depth and breadth; indeed many more could also be employed should this exercise be seriously taken up by a group of Baha’is, especially/only people with skills at writing and depending on the time they could devote to this exercise. No coordination would be required for such an exercise, although if it was to be done in a sophisticated way that is another question. It would be too onerous and complex a task for me to enagage in from this remote backwater. Perhaps a small team of two or three would be best. In addition, there are many more sites which will be added to this list as time goes on. I think this idea, this proposal, is unlikely to be taken up in the short term, in the immediate years ahead.
4 I hope this brief essay provides a useful base of information, a useful outline, to anyone expressing interest in this activity of internet posting. I have written this introduction, as I say above, partly for my own use simply to outline just how this activity has developed in recent years and partly for interested others who think they might like to give their writing skills and their interest in teaching the Cause on the internet a good workout. Readers should not concern themselves unduly with the above process of development that I have outlined. It is essentially a sketch for my personal purposes and interest. But, as I have also said above, my interest in this process of record keeping is minimal and my reason for outlining the process has had, thusfar, little interest and value to anyone else.
STAGE 2: LISTS 2 & 3:
INTERNET SITES IN 19 PARTS (15 arch-lever files & 8 two-ring binders)
A SUMMARY STATEMENT
Most of the internet site information below was gathered after I stopped writing the 4th edition of my autobiography, Pioneering Over Four Epochs at Ridvan 2004. In late May 2004 I initiated the 5th edition of that book and a copy was placed in the Baha’i World Centre Library. Work on that 5th edition has continued from time to time as inspiration and relevant content has come to mind. Posting on internet sites came centre stage in 2004, but after several months of posting the spirit became exhausted with the process and had to move on to other activity. What is found here on this list below in Volume 12: Parts 1 to 19, was initiated in 2004 and continues to 1 July 2008 as I make this summary statement.
On 23 May 2008 I will have been engaged in this exercise for seven years since the opening of The Terraces(23/5/01), the opening of the 2nd edition of my website and since recording my postings on the internet. The internet site titles/ headings from over 4000 sites now in 2008 I have listed in a document of some 110 pages. They can be obtained from me under separate cover. As the months and years go on, of course, more sites, will be added.
There are some 1000 sites(a guesstimation) put together from 2001 to 2008 which are for the most part only information sites. No posting is done to these sites, no dialogue, no interaction—just information is obtained. This list is comprised of both Baha’i sites and other interest group sites for information and publication and I have not included it here.1 I have subtracted these 1000 sites from the total of all my sites giving a working base of some 4000 sites at which to post, interact and teach.
Each Baha’i who makes the effort to register and post at internet sites will obviously do so on the basis of his or her own interests and capacities. My list inevitably will not be another person’s list. But the following list of sites will give anyone who is interested in posting Baha’i material and what for them is ‘Baha’i related material’ an idea of the sites on which I am ‘working.’ Feel free to write to me for more advice on how you might take advantage of this immense teaching opportunity. -Ron Price, 1 March 2008.
1 There are several lists of sites now which taken together come to over five thousand sites. Some are Baha’i information sites and some useful sites for posting Baha’i related material. I have not included them all here; they are available to anyone who is interested. I have included here(above and below) a total of some 110 pages of A-4 size(font 14) material.
2 Given the range and extent of the internet sites I have posted at; and given the limitations of time and energy, the presence of the Baha’i Faith at most of these sites is still (a) embryonic, (b) slight and (c) requires much more development/interaction/postings to be noticeable or significant in any quantifiable sense. To put it another way, the Baha’i presence at these sites is still coming out of obscurity. But, for the most part, the history of these sites is coextensive with my own involvement. The years 2000/2001 and after were, in many ways, beginning years for many, if not most, of the sites. I am pleased that I was able to get involved in these foundation years.
3.17 THE BAHÁ'Í FAITH AND THE ARTS
VOL. 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2.1(Volumes 1 and 2):
These five arch-lever files had their origins decades ago, but it was not until the formation of a Working Group for the development of the Arts in the Australian Bahai Community in 2003 that these particular files came into existence. Now in 2008 after five years, these resources have their present form as set out in their respective Tables of Contents.
Volume 1.1 deals with film sites; volume 1.2 with general Baha’i sites. Volume 2 consists of section 2.1 contains material from Mark Foster’s Site. Volume 2.2.1(Volumes 1 and 2) has resources from the Jollyroger.com site. Volume 2 is not concerned explicitly with the Arts in Australia. There is a broad relevance of Jolly Roger and Mark Foster to the Arts as I see them and work with them on the Internet. It was this that inclined me to include them here under the head: The Baha’i Faith and The Arts.--28 February 2008.
A.1 WORDS TO TYPE INTO SEARCH ENGINES eg….GOOGLE-ETC.
TO GET ITEMS OF MY WRITING BY TOPIC:
1. Type my name Ron Price(with or without a space between the names) followed by any of the following subjects/topics/words.
2. The following code indicates the frequency with which the topic has listed item/posts that I wrote.(Excellent:E;Very Good:VG; Good/Fair:G; Average:A; Poor:P; No use:N)
schools-other RPS Perth-F Pioneering Over Burlington-F Four Epochs-G/E ; Windsor-F
There are also many writers, thinkers and people with other skills and under other topic areas as well as many other subjects one could add here, too many to list. Here are a few more:
sub-topics in history and many of the humanities and social sciences
gardenssport: baseball, hockey, golf, etc. teens aged (PTO)
A.2 SOME SPECIAL TOPIC-SUB-SECTIONS
ON THE INTERNET with extensive listings:
RonPrice....................................500 sub-sites in the first 600 sub-sites
pioneering over four epochs…..200 sub-sites in the first 250 sub-sites
Pioneering Ron Price………….200 sub-sites and then slow fade out
Bahá’í Ron Price………………300 sub-sites and then fade out
Poetry Ron Price………………dozens of sites
Literature Network......................80 poems
Literature Ron Price....................many sites
Great Books&Literature Forums.80 poems
Baha’i Library Online.................100s of poems; dozens of sites.
Jolly Roger Great Books.Forums..80 poems
A.3 Total List #5: 1350. I have selected 1000 as a working base for list #5 to bring the grand total of all my lists/sites to a total of 5000. I find it difficult to come to an accurate number/total for lists #4 & #5. My guess is that list #5 could be anywhere from 1000 to 15,000 or even many more.
Total Sites: Lists #1-4-=4650-update 1/10/08;
Total List #5: 1350(less 1000-info only sites)
Grand Total: 5000(updated: 1/10/08 to 5000-6000 a guesstimation)
There are dozens of other topics I could add here. The list of internet sites in Section B of this report could all be added here. The site listed in section B, if preceded by my name and typed into the search engine search box, should enable the reader to locate my material. This is not always the case since internet sites have a certain dynamism; that is, they change their content, their layout frequently and it is often difficult to locate my material unless you are highly specific in your request.
Generally, though, there is enough information provided here for anyone to access many of my postings/writing to assess its relevance, its suitability, its quality, its role as a teaching tool which is, of course, its main purpose. The above lists provide a broad and sufficiently detailed outline for anyone to draw on, for anyone to extend to topics of personal interest by inserting some other topic/name and evaluate my activity on the internet, if desired and for anyone to get some wide-angled view of just what I do on the Internet.
INTERNET POSTINGS NOT EXPRESSED ON THE ABOVE LISTS
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 2001-2008. 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 5000 sites or (b) typing some specific words into the Google search engine as indicated in the following:
2.1 Approximately 5000 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 sim pler 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 seven years(2001-2008). From the early eighties to the early years of this new millennium(1981-2001) I tried to get my writing published in a hard/soft cover and to get some coverage for the Cause or my own writings, but with little 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. This is becoming obvious to anyone who examines the internet seriously even now.
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.
That's All Folks!