This autobiography/memoir of a Bahai over seven decades of teaching and international travel is one of the few extensive personal accounts of the experience of a Western Bahai beginning in the second epoch (1944-1963) of the Formative Age.
This autobiographical study begins at the start of the first three North American and global teaching Plans of: 1937, 1946, & 1953, respectively. This study integrates a lifespan, his projected lifespan, 1944 to 2044, his life-narrative, into the context of the history of the Bahai community back to 1743, the year of the birth of that Babi Faith's chief precursor Shaykh Ahmad. The author includes over 2000 references from the humanities and social sciences within the western intellectual tradition. His account goes through to the year 2044.
This work draws on many studies of autobiography and biography, life-narratives, memoirs and diaries, as well as a broad range of experience, to analyse this author's society, his Faith, his community and himself in those critical first eight decades of organized and systematic teaching plans, 1936 to 2016. It is his hope that he will be able to extend this study of his personal experience and the teaching plans until at least 2036, when he will be in his 90s, and possibly until 2044, the end of the second century of the Baha'i Era. Time, of course, will tell.
Readers will find here at Baha'i Library Online(BLO) the introductory sections, Parts 1, 2 and 3, of the author's epic 2500 page five volume 7th edition. These three Parts, now sub-divided into 6 separate sections, are an abridged, truncated and necessarily provisional edition for BLO.
This section, this post at BLO, is Part 2.1 and, as the title suggests, the entire work is a study of autobiography as a genre, an analysis of its process and its content, as much as if not more than, a study of the author's life, his society and his religion. The Office of Review of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States has given him permission to post this work in its current form on the Internet.
The 3rd edition of this document was originally posted at BLO in 2003. A hard copy was placed in the Baha'i World Centre library also in 2003; that 3rd edition has now been edited and revised many times in the dozen years since 2003. The current edition, the 7th, was posted here at BLO in celebration of the 50th anniversary, in April 2013, of the first election of the Universal House of Justice in April 1963. This document is now in the early stages of an 8th edition. This 8th edition is envisaged to be published in its final form somewhere in cyberspace, perhaps at BLO, in April 2021 at the end of the first century of the Formative Age if, as the author points out, he lasts that long. In 2021 he will be 77, and in 2044 he will be 100
In some ways this autobiography is simply a form of self-reflection and writing known as auto-ethnography since this work explores the author's personal experience and also connects his autobiographical story to wider cultural & political, sociological & psychological meanings & understandings. This account differs from ethnography which is a qualitative research method in which a researcher uses participant observation and interviews in order to gain a deeper understanding of a group's culture. Auto-ethnography focuses on: (i) the writer's subjective experience in interaction with the beliefs and practices of others, (ii) research and writing, (iii) story and method. The author's aim, among many, is to connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political. This is the core of auto-ethnography.
Analytical auto-ethnographers focus on developing theoretical explanations of broader social phenomena; auto-ethnographers like this author also focus on narrative presentations that aim to open-up conversations & evoke responses from others. As part of the author's prefatory work, he takes his family history and his historical commentary on society, as well as on this latest of the Abrahamic religions, back to the century 1743 to 1844, the precursor period of the Babi Revelation. He then continues into the century 1844 to 1944, the year he was born in Canada. He then takes his readers through the 2nd century of the Baha'i Era, from 1944 to 2044.
In putting this account together the author deals with some 15 generations of history, of his family, of the Babi-Baha'i religions and the Babi Faith's precursor period. That's a total of 300 years, from 1743 to 2044. This series of volumes attempts to integrate the experience of these generations into a coherent whole. After more than 30 years of working on this vast expanse of history and personal experience, he feels he has just begun. This is one of the many works which this author and editor, online blogger and journalist is now working on as he goes through his last years on Earth.
Pioneering Over Four Epochs:
An Autobiographical Study and a Study in Autobiography: Part 2.1
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs
VOLUME 3: CHAPTER 2: HOMEFRONT PIONEERING 2: 1965 TO 1967
"To capture one's life textually is a doomed struggle....."-Author Unknown
Western autobiography has a strong emphasis on the individual and tends to be linear and chronological; autobiography among many non-western cultures has a strong focus on community. These tend to be non-linear, circular, include flashbacks and a range of techniques involving the perspectives of others in addition to the narrative position of the main storyteller. -Ron Price with thanks to Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, Random House, NY, 1976.
By the time my father died in May of 1965, several weeks before his seventy-fifth birthday and three months after the death of Winston Churchill, my relationship with the lovely 27 year old divorce, Kit Orlick, was cooling off. It was the 2nd most serious of the unserious relationships I had in the sixties before my first marriage in 1967. Kit seemed totally unmoved by the Bahai Faith and its teachings, as I have already pointed out, even if we had each been mutually moved in other ways by our relationship, however brief that movement had been. In June 1965 I saw Kit for the last time. It was the start of a Canadian summer as we walked a block away from my mother's new flat near the centre of the CBD of Hamilton, a city of 300,000 where I was born twenty-one years before.
Downtown Hamilton, like lots of downtowns, was becoming a shadow of its former self by 1965. Urban centres, romanticized in the Petula Clark song, were losing their vibrancy just as I was about to make my first plans to live in a remote backwater of Canada that had no downtown. By 2013, nearly 50 years later, Hamilton was changing for the better, but it is not my intention to discuss the changes in urban life in that city of my birth in any detail. These details can be found elsewhere, especially on the internet.
Another aspect of my life had also cooled off in the months just before my father's death in May 1965 and I describe it in the following prose-poem which I wrote over forty years later:
A DIFFERENT PENETRATION
Shortly after I retired from full-time work in 1999 and part-time work in 2003 as well as much of the voluntary work in 2005, work I had done for decades, I saw a documentary film entitled The Weather Underground.(1) I felt a certain nostalgia as I watched this television documentary since the complex and historical origins of the group at the centre of this TV doco, the Weathermen and later the Weather Underground Organization, could be traced back to the 1960s and particularly my second year at university, 1964-5, when I was a history and philosophy student at McMaster University in Canada. The Students for a Democratic Society(SDS) was first formed in 1960 and the Weathermen was a split-off from the SDS in 1969.
The academic year, 1964-5, was the year of the free speech
movement centered at the University of California, Berkeley under
the informal leadership of students. It was also the year of SNCC:
the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee and other
groups concerned with civil rights and anti-Viet Nam protests.
Although I never joined any of these groups, I did take part in two
demonstrations in Hamilton and Toronto in the spring of 1965. I
attended one conference in Ottawa concerned with civil rights,
voter registration and specifically the treatment of Negroes in
Selma Alabama, among other concerns. I was, for a few months
anyway, caught up on the fringe of a complex series of socio-
political movements and their milieux on my university campus.
As a result of an all-night vigil I took part in on the steps of the American embassy in Toronto I got my picture on the front page of the Hamilton Spectator. It was in March of 1965. It was the only time in my life I made the front page of any paper. The confrontation was a display of masculinity on both sides, a declaration of toughness, which sidelined women physically and morally,2 even though women made up a proportion of the protesteers--one of whom slept right under my nose and my lips that night.-Ron Price with thanks to 1“Hot docs: The Weather Underground,” SBS TV, 10:00-11:35 p.m., August 15th 2006; Pioneering Over Four Epochs, August 16th 2006; and 2 R.W. Connell, "Politics of Changing Men," Australian Humanities Review, December 1996.
By the time you got going in(1)
that summer of '69 I was just
heading for Cherry Valley to
teach kids from the farms of
southern Ontario in grade 6
and play soccer at recess….
and the world was on its way
to the moon and outer space.
You were right, the revolution
was on its way and you played
your part by blowing things up
and I played mine by working
within the nucleus and pattern
of a new world order born in the
Siyah Chal in 1853, ground in the
mill of adversity, such a different
scene than yours was back then.
And, yes, the revolution goes on,
quietly in some places, noisy in
others, largely unnoticed, in the
hearts of millions who have no
commitment except, perhaps,
their families, jobs, girlfriends,
some leisure-time activity like
sport, gardening and watching
TV and who spiritually dropped
out with a withdrawal that is almost
deafening from a world they have
long found to be quite meaningless
at the socio-historico-politico level.
The revolution goes on just about
entirely out of our control as we
work to produce a new pattern of
human life, little by little, day by
day with a social model and a vision that
penetrates to the very purpose of life:
mine and yours, history's, the future's.(2)
(1) The group known as the Weathermen.
(2) Douglas Martin, “The Spiritual Revolution,” World Order,Winter 1973-4, pp. 14-21.
SELMA ALABAMA POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ACTION
The three Selma to Montgomery marches in late February and March of 1965 were part of the Selma Voting Rights Movement. They led to the passage in July of that year of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark federal achievement of the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. Activists publicized the three protest marches to walk the 54-mile highway from Selma to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery as showing the desire of black American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in defiance of segregationist repression. A voters registration campaign in Selma had been launched in 1963 by local African Americans, who formed the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL). Joined by organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), they began working that year in a renewed effort to register black voters. Most of the millions of African Americans across the South had effectively been disenfranchised since the turn of the century by a series of discriminatory requirements & practices.
Finding resistance by white officials to be intractable, even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending segregation, the DCVL invited Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the activists of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to join them. SCLC brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to Selma in January 1965. Local and regional protests began, with 3,000 persons arrested by the end of February. On 26 February 1965, activist & deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being mortally shot several days earlier by a state trooper during a peaceful march in Marion, Alabama. The community was sorrowed & outraged. To defuse & refocus the anger, SCLC Director of Direct Action James Bevel, who was directing SCLC's Selma Voting Rights Movement, called for a march of dramatic length, from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Bevel had been working on his Alabama Project for voting rights since late 1963.
I mention all the above detail for two reasons. The first reason is Selma, an American historical drama film released in late 2014, directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb & DuVernay. It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James Bevel, Hosea Williams, and Martin Luther King, Jr. of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC. This five-day march, which took place 50 years ago, is depicted in detail in this newly released film, “Selma.” The film stars British actors David Oyelowo as King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and American rapper and actor Common as Bevel.
The second reason I write about all this in some detail here is that: I belonged to a very small and largely informal McMaster University branch of the Student Union for Peace Action (SUPA) and SNCC. I attended conferences as far away as Ottawa, and many discussion sessions. I also spent a night on the steps of the American embassy in Toronto on 10 March 1965 as an expression of my protest and concern for civil rights issues. I remember my photo being on the front page of the Hamilton Spectator. Huddled in winter clothing, wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, several dozen protesters endured daily police brutality and constant exposure to chilly temperatures. Images of marchers in the streets of Selma mirrored the images of demonstrators in front of the consulate on University Avenue in Toronto.
During this short period of two to three months in the middle of my university life I was slowly working out the nature of my personal response, just how I would work-out, my stance in relation to the problems afflicting the world's peoples. The story of the 1960s civil rights movement is conventionally viewed as a distinctly American phenomenon arising from that nation’s longer history of slavery, civil war, segregation, & racial violence. A recent paper challenges this conventional view by looking at the dynamic relationship between black activists in Halifax and Toronto, & the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a radical organization based in southern states from 1965 to 1967. Neither SNCC nor Canadian activists saw themselves in local or even national terms. While their aim was to transform local injustice, their sightlines were transnational. This paper takes two instances from 1965: (i) the Selma, Alabama, solidarity protests in Toronto which I was part of & (ii) the Freedom Singers Maritime Tour. These two instances chart how activists on both sides of the border recognized music’s strategic importance to public protest. Both events mark a high point in SNCC/Canadian solidarity.
In 1964-5 I was a student in my second year of a history and philosophy honours program at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario and, for perhaps two-to-three months, I participated on the edges of political and social activism in a very small group of no more than a dozen students at my university. I was part of the 8-day demonstration outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto on 10 March 1965 in which Canadian activists voiced their support for southern movement workers in Selma, Alabama. This small group was, as I say above, part of the Student Union for Peace Action(SUPA), and the Canadian Friends of SNCC. The empathetic association between southern SNCC chapters, Canadian SNCC chapters and SUPA gelled in March '65 with the groups’ concerted response to civil rights violence in Selma, Alabama. The strategy was intended to pressure the U.S. federal government to intervene in civil rights abuses in Selma. As SNCC’s chairman at the time, John Lewis, explained, “I don’t see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam and the Congo....and can’t send troops to Selma, Alabama.”
SNCC’s more aggressive style by 1966 centred on the ideology of “Black Power.” By 1966 the civil rights campaign had moved from the rural South and places like Selma Alabama into the urban North as the Black Power movement gained momentum. The result of this more aggressive approach was a transformation of the northern support base in Canada. Groups such as Canadian Friends of SNCC, composed predominantly of white youth like myself--disappeared. By 1966, too, I had transferred my social concerns to the Inuit people of Canada, and had begun my preparations to teach on Baffin Island. This was the beginning of what has become 50 years of social activism in a Bahá'í perspective. I have been deeply committed to the Bahá'í Faith and have channeled my social and political, my psychological and sociological concerns through the various Bahá'í approaches to current social issues. For more on the Canadian activists in 1965 go to: http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/topia/article/viewFile/34316/32854
In writing this extensive autobiography I do not aspire to be one of Australia's myriad “laughing skeptics”; nor do I aspire to be a detached intellectual viewing my life and society in serious, abstract and political terms with some ax-to-grind. By the time I took the Bahá'í Faith seriously in the summer and autumn of 1965 I had become mistrustful of “large ideas, and especially idea systems,” of a political nature, ineed, I had been inoculated against partisan politics. The old religions also held no attraction to me either as sources of commitment, or as is so often the case like some kind of add-on factor for a middle-class life trajectory where one ticks the box for 'Christian'.
I try, though, in my discussion of both politics and old systems of religion, as well as much in popular culture and the mass society, to maintain a light touch. I try, like Epstein, to dish-out the bons mots without meanness or acerbity. Readers may not always agree with my judgments, but I aim to render them with art and wit; if I am unable to achieve such literary heights as, say, Clive James does with such cleverness, I at least aim to place my judgments in a context of some insight and understanding. I have no definition for the 1000s of middle class people I have known in my life who play with politics and religion with little real commitment to either, and in a much lower register to, say, their enthusiasm for sport and entertainment, and who really get turned-on by these aspects of popular culture. Contemporary poetry is “slightly political, heavily preening, and not distinguished enough in language or subtlety of thought to be memorable.” Epstein made this comment in his latest book published in 2014, and I have to agree with him. I include my own poetry in that context.
In May 1965 my father died; I worked for the Canadian Peace Research Institute that summer, and started my third year at university in an honours sociology course in September at McMaster university. In October I attended a Bahá'í conference in Chatham Ontario, and it was at that conference that I decided to pioneer for the Canadian Bahá'í community to the eastern Arctic. My social activism within the Bahá'í community had begun to take on a new form. The Bahá'í Faith is the only religion in the world that defines consciousness of the unity of mankind as its central theme and dedicates itself almost single-mindedly to the achievement of that goal. More and more, of course, are the people of all religions and philosophies becoming concerned about the ways and means of bringing unity & harmony among the contending and conflicted groups on the planet. It is the Bahá'í view that no amount of individual saintliness will, by itself, achieve the result of overturning the unjust and oppressive social conditions throughout the world. The Bahá'í approach to social issues is discussed time and again throughout both this book and on my website. Political, economic and social reform are all at the centre of the Bahá'í agenda, an agenda I have now been involved with in a wide variety of ways for over 60 years. For a general statement on the Bahá'í Faith and Social Action by Christopher Buck published in The Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, ed. Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn Herr, pages 208-213(Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2007) go to this link: http://bahai-library.com/buck_bahai_social_action
August 16th 2006
He'd come out from Wales just after the Great War, or just before. perhaps at some future time I'll go to one of those genealogical sites and get a more detailed information base on my father. The acute depression in Wales in the 1920s, or some other set of events in the first years of the 20th century sent him to America where he hoped to make a quid. Such is my hypothesis. He and I never talked about this time of his life. So I would never know what year he went to the States or even where he went. Since he is dead now and has been for fifty years I have had to piece the picture together, work out where he was and what he was doing. This man I did not know, this man, my father, I have had to recreate just about from scratch, built around the picture I have of him in my mind's eye from about eighteen years of memory, say, 1947 to 1965.
Who was this man who had planted the seed in my mother in October 1943? In about the first week of October the seed that became me thanks to his fertilizing of my mother's egg. Early October was, I always thought, the most beautiful time of year in Canada. The autumn season, rich in yellow, red and the most colourful combination of leaves from maple, oak, birch and the multitude of Canada's trees was magic. Pensiveness found its best home in October before it got frozen in another Canadian winter, and pensiveness was found on the mind's canvass set in the grip and drama of hushed and howling ice and snow. I had 26 winters before leaving for Australia in the summer of 1971.
To think I had come into existence at the best time of year, even if it had been due to a man whom I had never really known at all in spite of living under the same roof for two decades. This is and was hardly an earth-shattering revelation; indeed, it is and was a common enough occurrence in our complex and changing world. As I got older, as I approached my late middle age and was trying to get a handle on life, my father and his life became more significant to me.
I learned from the Department of Immigration in Canada that one, Frederick James Price, had arrived in Canada on 28 November 1921. He was 26 when he left Wales, left his home in the southern borough of Merthyr Tydfil where great ironworks had made an income for his father and grandfather before him, where his father and mother owned a pub and where the Welsh Liberal(on his father's side), David Lloyd George had become Prime Minister five years before. He had gone to Des Moines Iowa, as far as I know. In 1921 it the beginning of the multi-party system in Canada. Not that it mattered much to this man from Wales; he had lost interest in politics, at least in some ways, by the time he had arrived in Canada, or so I once thought. If the Department of Immigration was correct, then he arrived in the USA at the same age as I arrived in Australia.
For the next twenty years, from 1922 to 1942, Fred served in the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA). The Freedom of Information Act has not enabled me to piece together his life during these years. Fred's story both in the C.I.A. and in his first marriage are a total mystery to me. He joiuned the Bahá'í community in about 1960. I never had the opportunity to meet Fred's three children. The girl is now in her old-age, if she is still alive. His two boys were killed in 1943 in WW2. I could fill in those twenty years, but only with hypotheticals.
FATHER AND SON
I find myself at the age of 70 in a position not unlike that of my father when he was 70. Living in a country I moved to in my twenties, far from home; no brothers and sisters, parents both gone; divorced, no children in my life from that first marriage; finished my employment-life of over half a century; survived the tests and difficulties and enjoyed the pleasures and experiences of decades in a second marriage. My failings were many but, like my father, I found a closeness with my wife that I have with no other person on earth; I have a kind, gentle and humorous son who shares my religious convictions, who feels very close and is as quiet as my father; an energetic pursuit of life's goals during the day with a normal fatigue and even exhaustion as late evening approached; a certain ambivalence about life's goals, doubts and anxieties, a sense of loss, of not having achieved and all this mixed with an awareness of the pleasures and joys that life has brought over the years.
I, too, had a perception of my own energy systems and physical strengths beginning to wain, to run lower than ever before, no longer the reliable resource they had been for so long; possessing a new religion, a commitment shared with my son and wife; a memory, a history of experience going back seven decades, with its windows and mirrors reflecting the wars, the social change, the tempests and trials of myself and my society; possessing a small group of 'friends' with whom I also share this religious commitment; I had a wife whose sister, brother and their respective children were friendly but distant; they were part of the constellation of my wife's family; my family, and what was left of them, were far distant in another country; my life covered many of the years of the twentieth century and a handful of years of a contiguous century; I, too, waited for what would be my final hour at some unknown and future time.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 16 March 2004 to 4 June 2015.
I see you now with your grey hair,
never an extra pound on your slim body,
saddened, tired, with age and life's story.
I, too, now have grey hair and many more pounds
than you had as you headed into your final hours.
There is no law or precept I can follow
to try and tell of who and what you were.
Just sensation and watchfulness, a certain
enthralment to creativity itself,
the genial recurrence of the ray divine,
the power, the benefit, the leven,
of faithful souls, all mix with convictions
and turn the chaos of life and everything
we are to words on a page and types of harmonies.
You are part of the consciousness, the cosmos,
I've built out of sweet memory and mysterious time.
16/3/'04 to 5/6/'15.
In April 1965 The House of Justice had referred to a sense of an impending breakthrough in large-scale conversion. What I was experiencing at the time was a different breakthrough, one of a different order, distracted as I was by the power of sensory and sensual stimulation, during the greatest drama in the world's spiritual history. It appeared that I was not girding myself for heroism but, rather, reaching out for a palliative when fear and depression had overwhelmed me. The world's confusion, which was increasing with every passing day, had invaded the centre of my life as it often would down life's track.
Leon Trotsky was right when he wrote that "a man must live in the service of a great idea." But I was finding it very difficult in these first months and years of service for and in the Canadian Bahá'í community; this was especially the case from October 1959 to October 1965. In some ways the main difficulty was working out just what to do in the midst of a torrent of rain and storms, a tempest of private troubles. Some troubles, both my own and the world's, seemed to be unsolvable by action. One's only recourse was acceptance and a patience that soothed resignation's quagmire. It was my hope, as I entered the field of autobiography in my early 40s, and looking back over so many years of my life, that I might exhibit a literary versatility. Perhaps I might find a sophisticated literary amateurism, part of the English temperament that I inherited as a Canadian, to deal with the complexities of the life I had lived. It was a job, this literary life, that I aspired to do well. If I had the skill that Churchill had in writing his four volume History of the English Speaking Peoples, a history he wrote from 1937 to 1957, I might do justice to my life and times. Lacking that skill, I shall have to settle for this amateurism in dealing with the complexities of my life, my society and my religion. Time will tell as I go through this 4th decade of my autobiographical efforts, 2014 to 2024.
Half of my four year post-secondary training had been completed by the summer of 1965, and nearly all of my Bahai enthusiasms had been given such a shaking that they nearly dropped right out of my life. In some ways I was lucky to get off so lightly from my first serious sexual romp in the first months of 1965 just before my father died at the age of 75. Sexual expression had become a much more overt and pervasive feature of western society in the sixties; it was difficult to escape its push and pull. There is no question that had Kit, that first woman of serious choice, been interested in the Bahai Faith I would probably have married her. In many ways she was all I wanted in a woman and, knowing no others, women that is, in the not-quite-biblical-sense, I could hardly compare or contrast. The older I have become the more I have come to think of this as an advantage. Find the woman you want when you are young and keep her for the distance, as she keeps you and you can grow together. Serial monogamy, what had become a choice of millions in the West, although superficially attractive to me in the nineteen sixties, held less and less attraction with the years.
As this serious pre-marital relationship waned my religious proclivities waxed. I blushed "to lift up my face" to my Lord so often then and now, indeed all my life "my longing hands" have so often been "ashamed to stretch forth toward the heaven" of His bounty. This sense of shame certainly kept me on track but it did not prevent me from doing all wrongs. It is not easy to burn the bridges across which one's sins and their associated, their accompanying, desires move. The desires of the flesh have moved through my psychological veins for decades. These "wantings", these "sins", move and have their being---and their results I clinged-to even after many decades. The process has involved a lifelong challenge. By my 70s, in 2014 though, I began to think that my prayers for the diminution of the desires of the flesh, indeed, several of my many sins, had been answered even though my outward petitions had been denied. The dominant desire, the real prayer of my heart, had been answered. I thank William and Madeline Hellaby for this idea in their book "Prayer: A Bahá'í Approach."(p.86)
My circumstances, especially those associated with my enlarged prostate and its medication, had changed me and my desires. As I write this update in the last months of my 71st year, in June 2015, my sexual passions have finally cooled thanks to both my medications and the shutting down of access to explicit visual stimuli on my computer by the time I had turned 70 in July of 2014.
Slowly, it would seem, Bahá'u'lláh pulled me back from the prison of delight in which I was caught and the phoenix of splendour that was His Cause rose again in my life. I put it in these lofty tones, these superlatives, because I have found over forty years, indeed half a century now, that there is something otherworldly, something that is a source of immense tranquility, something that is, paradoxically, "the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden" in my experience of this Cause founded by the Ruler of the kingdom of names and the most precious Being ever to walk the face of this earth: such is my belief. Even now, in my 70s, it would seem that Bahá'u'lláh by the grace of God has been pulling me back from desires that I had spent decades trying to keep under my control. This is a complex idea both in the abstract and in day to day physical reality. I leave this with readers for there is much more that needs to be written on this subject for clarification and meaning. I have written much more on this subject and readers can access these words in the autobiography sub-section of my website.
The fact that this autobiography is lacking in many details in many areas of my experience I do not see as a problem. The insistence on entering every fact, however insignificant or significant, into the autobiographical ledger merely because it is there, results in a pedantry, a dry and tedious literary landscape that turns most readers off and, more importantly, turns me off as the writer. The biographer Lytton Strachey once suggested to biographers to “row out over the great ocean of material and lower down your little bucket into that ocean.” I have tried to follow his advice. It is the sheer girth of a work that dooms many contemporary autobiographies. At 2500 pages this work is doomed to extinction in relation to the great mass of society for this reason. If it does find a life it will be among a coterie so small as to have little to no significance in the wide-wide world.
My aim is to produce a book that gives me a voice, that may contribute in its own small way to a wider culture, but I am not creating a literary monument. I do not believe biggest is best &, if my book possesses an elephantine quality, it is because, like those biographies of the Age of Empire, its author has come to possess what he likes to think is a deep familiarity with the world he has come to inhabit and an even deeper familiarity with his own self, a self he often became immensely fatigued-with from time to time as he went through his adult life.
The mothlike spirit, the gentle life of the heart with its embryonic spiritual belief, within me nearly died in 1965. Perhaps it was the paradox of choice that I was being tossed about with, that was part of a life of living and burning. The first three years of pioneering certainly provided a burn. Many people lack persistence and staying power in the face of difficulty. Paul Johnson says this was true of the great writer Tolstoi except in his true trade, his writing. When I compare myself to my second wife, perhaps the only other human being I have come to know to any depth, I don't seem to have that staying power. I think the fact that my wife and I are still together, after 40 years(1975-2015), is due to her persistence. I have often felt like leaving but, when the point came to pack the bag, I don't think I had the courage and, in later years, the adventurousness. The relationship had become too comfortable even if it had had its tensions and dissatisfactions. The Bahai writings say that God does not test a soul beyond its capacity. If that is true, I have often felt that the measure of my capacity to withstand hardship could be contained in a thimble. Perhaps one measures one's thimble in retrospect. Of course, others, reading this work, might see in me a gallon measure of capacity to endure suffering. We all judge and see things so very differently.
So it was that I entered the third year of university in September 1965 still without any clear direction as far as job, career and future employment. All my subjects in this third year were units of sociology, thanks to Kit Orlick and her intoxications in what had become the dry and depressed life of a young man being thrown around by manic-depression. I had certainly found a new lease on life but I think it had more to do with those complex and elusive elements of body chemistry and several injections of erotic stimulation, not any spiritual and idealistic behavioural pattern in my everyday life. Of course, I knew nothing of this back then. On the first day of autumn in 1965 I was on my way to my first classes in: sociological theory, the sociology of the family, social control, comparative social systems, the sociology of work and research techniques. I was comfortable and I would sail through the rest of the year, my final year of university, on a slightly manic hit/high of that body chemistry and much milder injections of the erotic not so much with Kit who had faded into the woodwork shortly after my father's passing in early May 1965. A new girl appeared on my sensory horizon who lived in Guelph, and in Guelph both my erogenous zones and spiritual aspirations were given some satisfaction in the late summer and autumn of 1965.
I could certainly provide more detail here, the kind of detail that evokes many a scene with visual precision, as many a biographer has done back to Boswell and Johnson. Being there helps, although not always. The compact biographies and autobiographies that come out of the English tradition are, on the whole, absent in the United States. Australia, Canada and the USA are all amorphous, diverse and far too sprawling in their sheer immensity to produce compact life-stories, or so it has been stated in overviews of those autobiographical traditions. I'm not blaming geography for this sprawling autobiographical product of mine, just using landscape as a partial explanation for this burgeoning book. But, however long this memoir may be, I trust readers will find here an imaginative reconstruction, a reconstruction which extends an emotional sympathy to myself, my religion and my society, although I hope that sympathy is balanced with the generous application of my rational faculty.
By December 1965 when the Universal House of Justice raised its call for two hundred more pioneers, I had begun to acquire that sense of mission and purpose which had slipped to the periphery during the sensual assaults provided by Kit Orlick and that girl in Guelph who, by December 1965, had also slipped to the periphery and right out of the narrow constellation of my erotic life. I have happy memories of that girl in Guelph who provided me with a relief of my sexual passions without any penetration but some heavy 'petting' as we used to call it. Guelph also provided me with some meaningful social life with 3 young people, and several adult Bahá'ís of whom Lulu Barr and her brother and sister were three such souls. I could write a separate chapter on my time in Guelph, the city to which I hitch-hiked in the autumn of 1965 from time to time.
By late December when I attended a Bahá'í conference in Waterloo, I had left behind me, at least eight months before, that socio-political involvement that I mentioned above in that prose-poem above. It had been only a brief dalliance, in retrospect. The key that autumn that began to unlock my sense of purpose was a deepening institute, a weekend series of talks in Chatham Ontario, a town that had been in the nineteenth century the end of the underground railway. It was the place where former slaves arrived in the freedom of a new country. I have often thought that at the time, in October 1965, that I was one of those modern slaves to my senses and, more recently, to my intellect. There in Chatham, though, I found the beginnings of a freedom from myself that would take a lifetime to really attain. In retrospect, it could be seen as a new prison, one that has made me part of that Most Great Prison in one way or another ever since.
In October I heard the talks of two men: Jameson Bond and Douglas Martin. What they had to say and how they said it galvanized my being. Just about overnight I decided to pioneer among the Eskimo, as the Inuit were then known, to go to teachers' college after finishing university and to serve this new Cause in a remote outpost of Canadian society. It would take nearly two years to achieve that goal and that story follows in the pages ahead. Most books, writes William Allingham, are records less of fullness than of emptiness. I had certainly felt a profound emptiness in the first years of my pioneer experience. It was an emptiness that I did not seem able to fill and the years of employment ahead, at least the years before leaving Canada in 1971, did not fill that need to belong. The major collective centres: school and family, job and the opposite sex, marriage and material comforts, success and failure, although each partially filling that emptiness, in their own way in my life, seemed to require some larger, wider commitment. That commitment, for me, took a big step in that weekend in Chatham in October of 1965. It became, as Victoria Glendinning called it, and has been all these years, my elsewhere community.
And as I look back on these seminal events in the trajectory of my lifeline from a distance of 50 years; as I touch down on these highlights, these crucial decision-points, the memorable experiences, I can see the truth that Allingham expresses here. There was for me, as there has been for millions, a kind of hell of frenetic passivity in life in these four epochs, especially in the first and second epoch. It gradually turned into a heaven of often frenetic activity in epochs three and four. This dichotomy is not a simple one for life in all these epochs had both heavens and hells, and they provide the stuff of this narrative.
Working out how to live, what to do, where to find meaning, what to avoid, who to marry, when to marry, what career to follow, whether to go fishing this afternoon or to watch the movie was, for decades, a conundrum. It is only in these years of my late adulthood, over 60, that these conundrums have significantly dissipated. This hell, as I say, could just as easily be called a hell of frenetic activity. It seems to me that millions become so adjusted to this hell that it becomes a normal behaviour pattern. Of course, it is not always experienced as a hell; sometimes the spaces seem to be filled to overflowing with life's rewards, life's juices.
Virginia Woolf, trying to express what I am trying to express here, put it this way: "We are porous vessels afloat on sensation, sensitive plates exposed to visible rays. We take the breath of voices in our sails and tacking this way and that through daily life we yield to them." Some live their lives from one great individual moment to the next, tumultuous thoughts and feelings transform chaos into meaning as they struggle to understand the violent moods of their soul. They learn to absorb what the fiery, the violent and the desolate moods might teach & to express heightened moments of remembered intensity, partly due to a sensitivity to the shudderings, the inconsistencies of life, partly due to a gradual awareness that this is their road to survival, partly due to incapacities in other domains of life and partly, perhaps, to those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence and His many earthly gifts.
Some of this personal story, some of my experience, may be of help to readers by means of a type of healing process which, if I gave it a name, would be 'understanding.' "My name is Ron and I'm a Baha’i who has battled along this road," could be the beginning to my story. Hopefully, some readers will experience healing through a sense of understanding, as they read my story and reflect on the frustration, the damage and the hurt they have had in their lives. For the Baha’i community is engaged in a very serious business: the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. It is no tea-party, although sometimes it may feel like that and there is certainly a lot of tea consumed in the process. It is impossible to be involved in an exercise of such importance, such seriousness, such global dimensions and such intensity without people being hurt from time to time. It’s really part of the process no matter how hard we try; in fact the harder we try, often the more hurt comes our way. Again, that too is part of a bigger process.
In trying to tell you my story I’d like to draw on the words of one of Canada’s famous editors, Peter C. Newman. I found Linda Richards’ review of his autobiography in January Magazine. His autobiography is called "Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion and Power." The last words in his book are: “We non-fiction writers are like sailors, infected with the germ of distance, who can never be tamed or domesticated; only rented on occasion, but never bought. Those of us who have gained some measure of credibility practicing this mad craft thrive on a pretend intimacy that spawns betrayal. However friendly an interview, however intimate the revelations, we writers remain temporary sojourners in a strange land.” Newman was married four times so he may have been difficult to domesticate. I, on the other hand, feel that two marriages over nearly fifty years have domesticated me significantly, although my wife might put this in a more comprehensive perspective. Credibility is also only partially established. Betrayal, what there has been of it in my life, would require a more detailed discussion to establish the forms of its existence and what it has meant in my daily life. Again, I think my wife might offer views on this that might be more useful to readers.This has yet to be written
There is something about telling others the story of our disappointments that heals. A broken relationship, a sad heart, personal trials and tests demand that we tell the story to our closest confidant. There is some of that in this work, although I would not call what I write, as I mentioned before, a confessional. I do put my heart on my arm occasionally, but I don’t stick it out with all its warts and bruises. Some of us need to sing the blues to help us get over them. Some stories from our lives we carry around and they feed us with damaging, confusing and inaccurate information. These stories need to be told, and then replaced with healing, accurate, positive stories that are based on understanding and insight, stories that maintain the factual basis of our life but facts that are rooted in ‘wisdom and the power of thought, that are embellished with a fresh grace, distinguished with an ever-varying splendour and the new and wonderful configurations of existence.’
Perhaps, to some extent, Theodore Adorno, the critical theorist of the Frankfurt School was right: thinking and writing domesticate our explosive impulses; they sublimate anger. They channell painful emotion in the direction of socially critical thought. They purge the tensions of life, which might otherwise be purged by sport, an active sex life, soap opera or any one of a multitude of socially functional gratifications. You pays your money and you takes your choice, as my philosophy professor used to say. But whatever we do to deal with life's tensions it is often the case that "to reach our goals we are forced to precede along increasingly long and difficult paths with the connection between ends and means often elusive, veiled, obscured and entirely lost.
While parents or others may have told us "you can't," others will help us replace this negative story with the "I can" story. The dichotomy, of course, is not simple for, as the Alcoholics Anonymous motto emphasizes, there are things we cannot change and we need to have the wisdom to accept the things we can’t change. Our lives will reflect this new story of success, these new understandings. Telling stories that are dark and painful and that embody new understandings give us a chance to realize that we are in the middle of our great Life Story, and that the future contains the hope of possibility. Personal stories are for sharing and for hearing and for seeing and for feeling. As the storyteller, as I paint with words and the gestures of meaning the varying sensory images in my personal history, readers' imaginations will I hope take them to often faraway places, let them meet people they have never met or remember those whose voices have become faint in their memories, and give them an understanding of experiences they may or may not have experienced. This is all accomplished by a portrayal of both the familiar and the unfamiliar-made-familiar as the teller identifies, internalizes, and then portrays the images and events in the story.
There has developed in the last half century or so what some have called a "culture of celebrity." Its roots can be traced back to the 1830s, Charles L. Ponce de Leon has suggested. Leo Braudy in The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History traces the roots of this Western preoccupation with fame and the public person back to Roman times. It is not my intention in writing this autobiographical work to join this frenzy, this cult of celebrity, this preoccupation with fame. I would lament any fame or renoun that came with celebrity status because it would cost me the anonymity that I have come to enjoy, to prize, especially since my retirement in 1999. Indeed it seems to me that I may achieve the fate of one, Victor Serge. Outside a small but devoted fraternity of admirers, he is now, nearly sixty years after his death, an obscure presence, dimly remembered and little read. A sad fate this very well may be for a remarkable writer, a writer who suffered, it seems to me, much more than I have, as yet. But I have my doubts whether Serge is rolling, turning or being concerned in any way in his grave or in some heavenly place that the pen cannot tell nor the tongue recount.
And so this is not an autobiography that is aimed at making a contribution to the cult of celebrity. I shall not rise into the stratosphere of celebrity with a luminosity of any intensity. I am not going to try to keep reality at bay which seems to be the main function of reality television. I do not accumulate here a temendous wealth of detail concerning every aspect of my existence. I do not construct a personality as it might be done in the entertainment industry. There is some of the warts and all, some observations through my bedroom keyholes but, for the most part, readers will find here a deliberate eschewing of the celebrity model with its appeal to voyeurism and some happiness-fantasy in a mythical past, with a magnification and veneration that rewrites history. I do not glossily slide without nuance over the surface of my life; I do not overrate the significance of ordinary people in my life, although I do probe into motives and psychologies as far as I am able. I recognize in the process, though, that no single perspective is adequate for either the autobiographer or the historian in their task to describe or judge human motives.
This is not a book about gossip or a book that is motivated by--and harbours-great resentments. I have my regrets and my share of remorse, but it is a modest quantity in the great scheme of life. Walter Winchell, the columnist who invented modern gossip in the 1920s and became its most famous practitioner, understood the powerful subtext of gossip as a form of empowerment. Having grown up poor, uneducated, and Jewish, essentially an outcast, he nursed deep resentments himself, and he realized that by exposing the rich, powerful, beautiful, and famous, he could draw on larger public resentments. Gossip was a form of democratization — a great leveller. It demonstrated that the celebrated were no better than the rest of us and sometimes much worse. Or, put another way, it allowed people to feel better about themselves by feeling worse about those who had so much more. While I would not want to claim that I have been free of resentments--who could--or totally immune or aloof from all the gossip I have heard in my life--and I’ve heard my share--this book is virtually free of these subjects or at least tries to be.
The Hippocratic Oath also serves me well in this autobiography. ’Whatsoever things I see or hear concerning the life of man, in any attendance on the sick or even apart therefrom, which ought not to be voiced about, I will keep silent thereon…’, such words from the Hippocratic Oath that founds the doctor's confidential relation to his patient also founds my relation to my readers. Of course, ‘strictly confidential’ means in practice, both for me and virtually everyone else I’ve known, no ‘absolute’ or ‘strict’ confidentiality. In the absolute sense, for so many reasons, confidentiality does not exist.
According to a recent article in a psychoanalytic journal “strict confidentiality did exist until the 1960s, but since then we are witness to its degradation..’ Readers will have to look far and wide here to read the disclosures of those whom I knew and who had the right to speak about their life assured that their disclosures would be held in strictest confidence. Within the dynamic vicissitudes of life, given life’s complexities, subtleties and enigmas I give utterance to some aspects of people’s personal lives because my remarks seem timely, although I’m confident that not everyone will find my remarks suited to their ears. You can not win them all, so goes one colloquial saying downunder.
The secrets of significant Baha’is or not-so-significant ones, periodic strip searches of myself and others are not my line, although I do exploit the dynamic of resentment and hope from time to time inevitably in this account of life’s flotsam and jetsam. In one thousand pages I think it is impossible to totally free of the unsavoury and the disreputable, the stuff of so much that is contemporary autobiography, although I think I side-step most of what has appeared on my path in these pages. Stakeouts, chases and subterfuges, the stuff in the sandwich of television and cinema thrillers are simply omitted from this narrative even though my life has not been entirely free of such entertainment for the voyeur. This may disappoint some readers. There is something about celebrity narrative and gossip that is so easily digested, so accessible, containing little of the complexity of real life and none of the amplitude of great literature. It is essentially ephemeral, useful for a voracious media but ultimately irrelevant. Much in the print and electronic media is in this category.
Perhaps much of this autobiography will also be irrelevant but it won’t be because of the gossip it contains or the pitch, however veiled, however unconscious or however overt, to celebrity. In the first generation which was exposed to television and the second exposed to radio, I have had my fill of hype. More than fifty years of it now has sensitized me to its noise, its overstatement, its preference for entertainment over edification, its function to distract with trivia. Although I am aware of the burgeoning literature over the pros and cons of TV, I tent to lean toward the views of Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death.(1985).
Readers of this autobiography may complain about the ease with which I dismiss certain parts of my society, my religion and my life. While I think there is much to admire in this lengthy work, I fear there may be much to frustrate this same reader and place that admiration in a more balanced perspective. I find it impossible not to skim across great chunks of my life, my society and the Baha’i Faith with significant details simply left out. Not keeping a record of events as the days, months and years passed; keeping little documentation for the first forty years and virtually none for the first twenty, I surely miss out much detail. I trust I make up for this failing by conveying some of the spirit of my life and weaving what life I have described in an entertaining way.
But given the dominance of celebrity, its presence, on the public landscape over such a long period of time, over two thousand years and more, I can’t help but reflect on the significance of even my very limited preoccupations with this often insidious germ. However unconsciously this germ occupies my attention, even if I do not want to admit to its presence, still it creeps in. Perhaps there is an inevitability to the existence to these kinds of tendencies in any autobiography. They certainly play a part in the long history of autobiography and readers may find some of these inevitable tendencies slipping in here. With more than six hundred pages to go in this account, perhaps readers would be advised to wait, to read a good deal more before they try to answer this question, this issue of my concern with fame. I felt a certain ambivalence about my celebrity status while I was a teacher for many years and would probably do so again should it come my way.
Abraham Maslow points out that "our organisms are just too weak for any large doses of greatness." He continues: "The person who says to himself, 'Yes, I will be a great philosopher and I will rewrite Plato and do it better,' must sooner or later be struck dumb by his grandiosity, his arrogance." Man's true greatness and distinction, Bahá'u'lláh informs us, "lieth not in ornaments or wealth, but rather in virtuous behaviour and true understanding." "Man's highest distinction," Bahá'u'lláh goes on, "is to be lowly before and obedient to his God; that his greatest glory, his most exalted rank and honor, depend on his close observance of the Divine commands and prohibitions. If there is any general context for whatever work I accomplish on this earth, these quotations provide a starting point.
The famous War Poet of WW1, Robert Owen, expressed the view that: "I want no limelight and celebrity is the last infirmity I desire." With this view I completely concur, although I would add that, if such celebrity accrued, in the process, to the glory of this Cause of God, I would welcome such an 'infirmity.' I think it unlikely, though, that I will ever face this issue.
This chapter 2 comes to an end in late August 1967, when I arrived on Baffin Island. The story of my time on Baffin Island is found in the next chapter.
VOLUME 3: CHAPTER 3: HOMEFRONT PIONEERING: 1967 TO 1968
Before spending any time dealing with my 10 months of experience on Baffin Island, 8/'67 to 6/'68, I would like to turn to a discussion of the collection of letters that has gradually been accumulated during my pioneering experience for the last fifty-three years. Perhaps they will reveal part of some unconscious preoccupation with fame, although my conscious mind thinks this unlikely. I'm confident the discussion of my letters will reveal, what is also the intention of this long narrative to reveal, namely, that full understanding of social phenomena and of our own dear lives is impossible. "We can, though, recognize the unalterable, irreducible role of the religious impulse," as expressed through the one Power that can fulfil the ultimate human longing of the minds and hearts of the people of the world. Letters often provide the roundest portrait of an individual that can be found. There is some truth in this, but my several thousand letters are not found here for reasons of prolixity.
This brief overview of some three thousand letters suggests a context. These letters represent the expression, among other things, of my religious values, embedded in social relations, in one of the multitude of social forms with its infinitely manifold contents. Readers will find in both this general overview of my letters and the letters themselves, should they ever be published, a strange mixture, a melange, of my attempts at selfless devotion and the multitude of my human desires that are far from selfless; my pretensions, my efforts, to acquire, to develop humility's necessary spirit and the many forms of enthusiasm and elation, joy and pleasure, of sensual immediacy and spiritual abstractions. Some might call these emotional elements 'the religious frame of mind.' At least Georg Simmel expressed it this way. He equated this frame of mind with piety. Without this pietas, it was Simmel’s view, society would be impossible. It was and is the essential bond by which society is held together. It was certainly one of the bonds that held my life together. There were many others.
Virtually all these letters, and since about 1995 emails, have been elicited, socially necessitated in some way or part of some promotional exercise for the Cause or my poetry. Occasionally and more frequently with the years, though, a letter is entirely proffered, an exercise in spontaneous giving, an exercise for the fun of going surfing on the waters of language or the waters of life, to meet a soul as best as one could with words.
In a review of some 50,000 war letters from the 1860s to the 1990s, Vivian Wagner wrote recently in Book Page that: “One of the few positive things that can be said about war is that it inspires good correspondence.” Much is hidden, she goes on, between the lines. Much, too, is revealed that tells of what it means to be human and to endure. I am sure this is equally true of the literally hundreds of thousands of letters written during the great spiritual drama the Baha’i community has been engaged in during the several Plans over these four epochs. Most of these letters, of course, will never see the light of day. I’m sure, though, there will be more than a few which will survive: here are some.
The Bahai writings and an immense print and electronic media also provide these functions by means of a burgeoning resource base. I set out as I write on a daily basis, usually, on a mission of self-discovery. I set out to find what I really think about a subject. I have some fixed opinions or views, and some not-so-fixed, when I start to write; writing is a process that brings these many views out of me. I suppose there's a certain element of showmanship, of display, of play. But, for the most part, I'm really trying to figure out what I think about certain things. If, in the process, what I write has an educational, teaching, service, social-activism role in relation to readers---that is a bonus.
I trust that what may appear initially to readers as extraneous or irrelevant, inappropriate or unnecessary-events, ideas & commentary--may come in time to be seen--as I see this entire opus or epic, and each of its parts--as all of one piece, all on the same page as they say these days. Strangely, and in ways that surprise me, this work seems to be a product of a different self than the one I display in my habits, in society and in the context of my virtues and vices, my everyday self. I have mentioned this before, and so it is that this memoir is less a record of what actually happened to me, my society and my religion than a discovery-creation which grows out of a loosely defined and complex set of aesthetic, biological, psychological and socio-historical factors.
This memoir is also more the record of multiple versions of the self in the guise of a single self that has the appearance of being a simple, a single, self, body, mind, entity. This memoiristic work is a complex interplay of now-sad-and-blackish content, of now-joyful-and-iridescent fact with my now-mercurial and my now-intransigent mind. It contains trace elements of the poetic, of riddles, of quizzicality, of quirkishness; instances of spiritual aspiration and performances of a sportive mind. Hopefully readers will find here Narcissus touched by Mercury. As the early years(60-65) of my late adulthood became the middle years (65-75) of late adulthood in 2009, and I went on two old-age pensions, I like to think my life was characterized, as the French philosopher-sociologist Alexis de Toqueville put it, by the quiet possession of something precious. This French sociologist-philosopher wrote: "that which most vividly stirs the human heart is certainly not the quiet possession of something precious but rather the imperfectly satisfied desire to have it and the continual fear of losing it again."(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America) I could only say "sometimes, Alexis, sometimes."
I try to avoid the pepper shaker and the overuse of salt in my writing. Thusfar in this autobiography readers have been taken to 1968, arguably the lowest point in my life. I hope that readers who have come this far don't see me as a man with a big mouth who is overly impressed with himself: “A world filled with people like me would be intolerable.” The world needs a rich diversity.I try to be forceful, but humorous and just self-deprecatory enough to remain grounded and winning. I'm not sure I really achive this, but such is my aim. At the age of seventy-one, I am not inclined to grumble, as many in their dotage do, that everything sure seemed better in the old days. My progress with bipolar disorder and modern medicine in general is part of my tribute to the modern world. I am quick to quote George Santayana’s remark that one of the reasons the old complain about the world is because they cannot “imagine a world being any good at all in which they will not be around to participate.” I quote Santayana because he provides a polar-opposite to my own view. I tend to see the world heading to better and better pastures but the process even as I head into my last years is fraught with troubles.
VOLUME 3: CHAPTER FOUR: 1968 TO 1971
Before beginning the narrative involved in chapter four, a chapter that begins on my arrival back in Quebec and Ontario in June of 1968, and ends in June 1971, my last days in Canada before entering the international pioneering field, I'd like to include SOME GENERAL REFLECTIONS ON THE SUBJECT, THE GENRE, OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
In the 1960s and 1970s, the period in my life from the age of 16 to 35, I went through the rest of my teens, and all of my 20s and the first half of my 30s. I learned many things largely unobtrusively, largely indirectly, and for the most part quite unconsciously. In the 1980s and 1990s, from the age of 35 to 55, the whole thing, life, seemed to slow down and, by the new millennium in 2001, I felt I could finally make a beginning again; I could begin to recover from the booming & buzzing confusion that was, that existed, in life, especially in retrospect as I looked back at those years from the age of 70.
I could begin to tack through daily life as the new century began without the frenetic passivity, or frenetic activity. The desolate moods eventually disappeared; the shudderings of life softened and a watchful Providence gave me new and milder tests to occupy my soul. I found, quite insensibly and without realizing the significance of the process until at least my fifties and sixties, that the Bahai Faith had provided a new kind of civic life, a new kind of civility. It was, and is, a civility which I scarcely appreciated for it was so unobtrusive in its acquisition and expression in my daily life. I had been given a master plan back in the 1950s and early 1960s, and an interpretive schemata with which to view life, an ontology, a cosmology. An emotional and psychological complexity emerged beginning in my late teens as an overlay on this plan, this metanarrative, this explanatory pattern.
The application of this plan to the complexity of my life seemed to take forever; indeed, it seems to be a lifelong process that does not look like it is going to end even now as I write these words in the evening of my life. The journey was slow and arduous--and still is in my late-sixties and early 70s. But along the way, over those several decades, there were many signposts, many defined forms, many decisions that helped me orient myself, enrich and evaluate my day-to-day life. I was not destined, as so many are in our western capitalist, consumerist, society, to experience an impoverishment of quality in my activity as more material goods were acquired. Indeed, by 1973, even amidst a heart-rendering divorce, I had begun to acquire that first attribute of perfection that 'Abdu'l-Bahá stresses in His Secret of Divine Civilization, namely, "learning and the cultural attainments of the mind."
As I try to translate this experience, indeed all my experience, into an autobiographical form I am reminded of the words of philosopher Maurice Blanchot who sees in literature life's fundamental mystery. The basis of this mystery, both literature's and life's, is partly due to the written word having such power over us and yet, at the same time, being so completely estranged from the world it supposedly refers to. In this paradox, this dichotomy, lies its mystery. I am more than a little conscious of this reality as I write my narrative. When we say that literature takes us to "another world", we overstate the case, at least for millions. For all of us this escape only applies to some of the literature. There is an asymmetry of experience in literature that Blanchot focuses our attention on relentlessly. This asymmetry is partly due to literature's mystery, partly due to its potential power, partly due to its very estrangement from the world and partly due to the quintessential mystery of life itself.
There is an a-cultural aspect, too, to art and literature which is hard to accept wholeheartedly, he says. Literature seems in a curious way divorced from life. In this age of shortcuts, in which the value of literature is judged by how well it effaces itself, we are hardly aware of this asymmetry. It is denied, avoided and even denounced. Blanchot's consciousness of this fundamental aspect of literature makes him a most important writer. For he describes the experience of the writer, certainly this one as I write this work.
Before continuing this autobiographical study, I'd like to insert a short poem here, poems which speak in an interesting way to my themes. I was, in the mid-sixties, a young adult, a third generation of Canadians of English stock in Canadian Bahai history. Some eighty per cent of the 220 million people in North America at the time lived within 1000 miles of the Hamilton complex of towns where I grew up in what was and is still called the Golden Horseshoe. I was, among other things:
..............a teller of tales;
who lives surrounded by his stories
and the stories of many others
that happen to him through them,
and he tries to live as if he were
recounting it all, again and again.
-Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
All men are invisible to one another.
Experience is man's invisibility to man.
Experience used to be called the Soul.
-R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
This whole autobiographical exercise is like being an artist or poet-in-residence. The finest work you produce is yourself or, at least, a view, a picture, of yourself. The life you live and the life you tell are inseparable: in some respects they are twins, in other ways they are like friends, members of the same family or, indeed, perhaps hardly comparable. As we live, we organize and reorganize our story; we create ourselves as we go along. Charles Hartshorne, the major process philosopher in the last half of the twentieth century, says this is the ultimate reality: self-creation, making oneself, self-construction, self-fabrication. Your life-story happens on several levels: the outside story, the story at the level of existing, the events; the inside story, is your interpretation of these events, your meaning, your creation; it is what you do with what happens to you. The third level is the level you project to the world. Somewhere here is my everyday self that is seen and has been seen in a multitude of ways by those who have known me. This level for me is also my autobiography. The fourth and final level is the impression my story creates on others. It is their reading of my story, my life as I write or tell it and their reading has a thousand meanings from something profound to something quite meaningless.
Beyond these four levels, as Gregory Bateson argues, life for most of us is an improvisatory art; we make it up as we go along. Although it may be that the world is in-between stories, the Bahá'í feels he is part of the new story, part of mankind's one great story, the grand symphony that this world is, as Joseph Campbell calls it. My own story, told in many forms in this autobiography Pioneering Over Four Epochs, is an attempt to relate my small micro-world to the grand opus, as it is enviseaged in the Bahá'í literature. It is also a linking of past, present and future in some story-form, some alluring sequence. Hopefully the sequence is helpful or pleasureable to others. As Montaigne once wrote, the process is not easy because ideas are fleeting, difficult to define and often vague. Often it seems like a storm of thoughts blowing in my head, a storm that is quite impossible to order.
“All serious work must be at bottom autobiographical” says Thomas Wolfe: novel, poetry, autobiography, essay, et cetera. And we continually edit this story, we continually confer meaning and purpose, thus rescuing our story from randomness through some simple narrative lust. But, as I said above, for the Bahá'í there is still a master plot, a master theory, within which our life is but a sub-plot. However tedious, mundane, routine, repetitive, boring, uninspiring, smoothly ticking over our life may appear there are tensions and conflicts which never go away and which, unresolved or resolved, are one of the major sources of our meaning and purpose. The reader of autobiography, of my story, gets a neat package, gets some equilibrium, with passions spent, even though life is not so neat. The equilibrium is dynamic and passions are far from spent. Life often appears in the end like a daydream, “bearing the mere semblance of reality.” Carl Jung says that we "can not know what we are really like. We can only experience ourselves as a scientific problem." Autobiography is an attempt to unravel this problem, to face the reality of life that we are often reluctant to face. Part of the problem is not that the autobiographer faces a blank page but, rather that he faces a mind over- filled vastly overfilled with mountains of experience higher than Mt. Everest and deeper than the deepest ocean abysses.
There is a pattern of build-up, climax and relief, a sense of what's next. These are found in the world I create as much as the plot that is developed. This is especially true due to the multiple-genre format to my autobiography. No matter how meaningful, how accidental, how significant or insignificant my story is, I can not help but be concerned with the literary. In fact, my guess is that most people never write their story because they are beaten by the literary. The literary dimension is simply too much for them. They really prefer gardening, or reading, or sewing or one of a thousand things. They are beaten, too, by the idiosyncratic, by the endless sense of life being in transition. Life, too, as we get older, gets longer, bigger, deeper, thicker and, thus, harder to put down. It seems to elude logical meaning, directionality, obvious and unquestioned improvement. It's all too complex, too beyond definition and the simple story.
I used to think, for example, that I was a pretty good guy, one of the better human beings around the place. I was much more blinded to my sins. When I said the Long Obligatory Prayer and I came to the part toward the end where it says "my back is bowed by the burden of my sins" I had trouble thinking what my sins were. Now, though, that I have lived fifty more years since memorizing the LOP in my late teens, and now that I have collected so many sins of mission and commission I have no trouble saying this prayer and finding in myself, in this part of the prayer, a personal burden for the host of sins in many categories of human experience.
“This world is not conclusion”, says Emily Dickinson, “a sequel stands beyond”. Perhaps those who have no sense of sequence or a sequel beyond find the whole idea of writing their story depressing. For me, Emily's words are so appropriate to my own story and I weave that “sequel which stands beyond” as best I can into the texture of this life. It is not conclusion; it is continuity. The neat chapters in my life, even my view of the afterlife, are culture-bound and held together by a sub-culture, the sub-culture of my religious beliefs, attitudes and values.` Whatever the chapters, whatever the sequel, the origin and end of autobiography converges in the very act of writing. Everything collapses into the act of producing the text. That which does not collapse, does not find a place and is left in the home of the nameless and traceless, an oblivion which the world will never locate.
One of the main features of this autobiography, indeed most autobiographies if not all, is narrative and identity. Both narrative and identity are at the core of any coherence that this writing possesses. Peter Brooks, a psychoanalytically oriented literary theorist, puts this concept, this idea, as follows: Mens sana in fabula sana: mental health is a coherent life story, neurosis is faulty narrative. Continuity, in my opinion, is at the centre of coherence. It is one form of coherence and the one that is specifically related to my narrative since it operates in time. Time is unquestionably a basic constituent of narrative. Continuity is a chronological linkage between the main three temporal dimensions in which we all operate: past, present, and future. In some ways this is only stating the obvious. But it is this linkage, characteristic of both stories and narrative identity, that is destabilized by illnesses. And it is the implicit or explicit assumption of continuity that underlies the experience of disruption as one of the traumatic aspects of illness. In this autobiography, in my own life story, disruption by illness certainly destabilized my life on several major and a multitude of minor occasions.
Other major and minor disruptions, and tangents, also occur in this story. They represent a critical core, a certain literary style, in this narrative. They are part of many of my life's splits into the “befores” and “afters.” They permeate not only my life story shadowed as it is by varying degrees of personal tragedy and catastrophe, but also all life-narratives characterized by turning points such as migration stories, conversion stories, and/or any one of the multitude of traumas people experience in life. Readers will find these tragedies and these turning points occurring here as they do in different ways in all our lives. These disruptions often make one feel a little like those Heraclitans of old who believed one could never step into the same river twice, so profound were the changes that take place in our lives. In the several periods I have had of lived chaos my reflections have also been chaotic and consequently any story-telling I might engage in confused, if not impossible. Telling this story and even more so writing it, as I am now doing, is a way of taking control, creating order, thus keeping chaos at bay.
Perhaps disruption,then,is more the rule than the exception. Sometimes narrative can present the burning process of life in too clean a fashion and the transformation that has taken place as too complete. Such an approach to narrative can implicitly deprecate those who fail to rise out of their own ashes. Often, too, we rise out of our own ashes, but descend in some of the quieter, silent moments of despair and anguish and that sense of transformation which we went through evaporates. The phoenix has risen but just as quickly it descends and wonders if it has ever enjoyed any fight at all. Fragmentation settles in for a moment, a few minutes, an hour, a day. My defense of, my brief reference to, fragmentation is at least partly motivated by the desire to legitimate and respect its reality in my life. Whether my construction of continuity or transformation is an attempt to control the anxiety of disruption, indeed, the several questions bound up with this discussion, I leave these provocative notes with readers to chew over.
One thing that I have found difficult to insert, include, add to this narrative is the whole conception of place. It is important to me in my understanding of the culture, the many cultures I have been a part of. Place is intensely personal but it is also a neutral category that helps in a curious way to define who I am. The link between place and myself, though, is complex. The houses I have lived in and the places I have worked in, the houses, halls and dozens and dozens of spots I have visited, drunk tea in, chatted to people in are all part of the landscape of my life, making my consciousness strangely horizontal.
Little did I know, indeed it was impossible for me to imagine, when my homefront pioneering life was in its early stages in the mid-1960s, that I would come to live in 37 houses in the years, the half century, from 1962 to 2013. Many of these houses, homes, are virtually meaningless to me now or, to put it more accurately, my memory can hardly bring some of them back into focus. In other ways, some of these houses seem to serve as starting points, as mnemonic devices, from which I aimed to get somewhere, to travel somewhere, do something. For movement has always provided for me a sense of difference between the past and the present. Really, it is impossible for me to even imagine this story without a base, a foundation, in place, in location, in landscape, in land, in the world and its several continents. Much of this experience, indeed most of it in more than forty years of pioneering, was not unlike that which characterized the experience of those in small settlements in North America or Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were morally demanding; there were constraints on individualism. There was always the capacity to move elsewhere. This latter fact promoted the extension of the Cause even further.
Mark Twain has sometimes been considered the first great American traveller. As far back as 1853, at the age of 18, his travelling began. His was not the ‘grand tour' of those enamoured of classical civilization. His was not the safe and secure, the comfortable and easy; he seemed hell-bent on seeking out the dangerous and the difficult. This is what makes a journey; this is what a journey means. So it was to Twain and so it has been to millions of travellers. In our age of the fast track and the fast lane often the traveler is suspended in an airplane as in a space capsule; he or she neither ages nor remembers. Life starts again on arrival. Torpor, stupor, listlessness, lethargy is often associated with travel-the long trip in the car, the train, the plane. Then there are the forms of disequilibrium: seasickness, nausea, bad headaches, temporal dislocation and spacial disorientation, lost time, other time. Twain seeks out the dislocations and tells readers about them in fine detail. Space and time are liquid, sometimes blurred or warped or distended. For when we travel we are experiencing a ride of passage. I've often wondered why Twain seemed to focus on failure even what he calls the “systematic monotony” of failure. Perhaps, like Twain, that is what we want when we travel. There is nothing surprising about humans seeking encounters with what seems threatening to their comfort, pleasure, and safety. What might be slightly more strange is our refusal to acknowledge that odd--but important--behavior.
Paul Bowles, an American novelist after WW2, selected the wonderful title Without Stopping for his autobiography. It's a title that indicates that he never arrived and never returned, that he engaged in a continuous passage. That continuous passage, a characteristic he largely shared with Henry Miller, allowed readers to see the three characteristics of passage: danger, trance, and failure, in all of his travels. Incessant movement through incessant dangers, in a dream-like trance and lost to the activities of home are the themes of much of Bowles' writing. And all of this is a means to an end writes Bowles. It's going "there" and being "there" for which we quite strongly show our need, our craving. It's a craving for the new, for fresh experiences that break or extend our notions of ourselves and our fellow humans as well as our world. It is a notion that begins while we are at home and functions to take us into some other space or place.
More of us than we might suspect would agree with Paul Bowles when he declared “Each time I go to a place I have not seen before, I hope it will be as different as possible from the places I already know.” We love the surfaces of the familiar but we love our ruptures, too, and need them. We all do. I think that is true of some of us, but not all—and it depends on what time in our lifespan. It was true of my desires for adventure and change back in the early decades of my life, early in my pioneering life. But after 40 years of it, say, 1959 to 1999, I yearned for the familiar and the same, the routine and the comfortable. Adventure was something I came to prefer in my mind, as long as my body did not have to go anywhere. Even here, though, the course of true love, of one's true desires and wants for physical movement and adventure of stasis, never do run totally smooth, as Lysander is want to say in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
There are, of course, aspects of life in which, as Shakespeare says, “the wheel is come full circle,” by which we mean that someone's actions have passed through phases only to return to their starting point, a starting point to which we might ascribe to the inevitable workings of Fate--but not necessarily so. The only child that I was back in the 1950s, that child of middle aged parents who amused himself by himself, that learned to be alone so much of the time without anxiety and with only his mother around the house is now, half a century later, doing the same thing, amusing himself by himself.
“Men and women of little interest and no distinction,” writes Anthony Storr, “feel impelled to record their life-stories.” Storr goes on to say that such people are often less imbedded in a social nexus, feel impelled to make their mark in some individual fashion, are less dependent on others and ignore convention. All these factors I could apply to my life, especially as I have approached the middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80). Writers, generally, come from the middle class, where privacy is more easily obtainable and where solidarity with friends and neighbours is not so stringently demanded or desired. In addition, and finally on this note of the solitary, one's relationship with the divine and happiness itself is often easier to achieve outside of human relationships. This has certainly been true of my life now that I am in my sixties, but I dwell on this topic in many places in this length y work.
Whatever degree of that tendency noted by Tocqueville in relation to American life in the 1830s, that same tendency of Bahá'ís, indeed, of all peoples in the West where I had lived and had my being more than a century and later, to isolate themselves and “withdraw into the circle of family and friends” leaving the greater society to look after itself was to some extent unavoidable. The withdrawal into a small-town, small community, family, some localized, collectivized and communal orientation was always there, but the outreach was impossible to totally stifle even when few responded to the reach as was often the case with the Bahá'ís whose outreach during these epochs was irrepressible. Individualism, too, in its diverse forms, was never overcome by the inevitabilities of conformism in the Bahá'í groups I was associated with over the decades. The comparison between Bahá'í communities during these epochs and the communities of early American and Australian history is an interesting one but not my purpose here. There are myths surrounding both and I'm sure future historians will excavate the current historical sites and reveal any inaccurate and distorted representations of the actual situation
The various people mentioned in my text are infinitely more complex than those who appear in novels. If I had the skill I might create these complexities for people to enjoy in fiction form. I could define them, analyse them and give them depth and texture. But I will leave this to others and to future generations. What makes them more complex than those characters in novels, at least for me, is that I became accutely aware of these complexities as a result of getting to know them in their daily lives, in their homes, around kitchen tables, in various microcosms. As I say, if I had the skill, I might create their lives on paper, on the basis of the reality of their lives. Sadly, I can not develop their personalities in a world of fiction. I have found this too difficult to do and, for the most part, I have left this in a separate file as a separate subject.
Although these people are known to me more intimately than the myriad strangers in my life, the host of associations who just crossed my path in the work place, in other interest groups that I joined, in the media, in neighbourhoods and in the towns and cities I lived, I never entered 99.9% of their homes. Even the ‘best known' remained, as I moved into my sixties, enigmatic, elusive, shadowy, incoherent, contradictory—strangers in a strange land.
None of those whose lives I came to know more intimately occupy a central place in this story, though, and for the most part their place could best be described as peripheral. Partly, of course, this is because I have moved around so much and most of the people that have been in my life have disappeared from my radar screen. There are a few in my address book in towns I shall never see again, in a country I shall never see again, or they have passed away or are part of that great jungle of humanity that is filled with literally hundreds of people I have known but for many strange and elusive reasons it is not likely that, in this earthly life, I shall come to know them in any intimate sense. I noticed, just the other day, that the address books I had until my late thirties, have virtually no one in them who continued on into my fifties and sixties, except a small handful of family members.
This should not be a concern especially in the light of the following vivid comments of R. D. Laing: “your experience of me is invisible to me and my experience of you is invisible to you. I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man's invisibility to man.” But in another sense, the workings of our minds are perfectly visible to others in our actions and the workings of autobiographical minds like mine or fictional minds in novels are perfectly visible to readers from characters' actions. The conjectures, the hypotheses and the opinions of readers can make all sorts of constructions about who I am. I'm not sure I'd go all the way with Laing, but there is enough truth here to make a useful point.
The Bahá'í Faith, of course, occupies the pivotal position in the landscape of my mind. Jerome Bruner, famous educator in the last half of the twentieth century, once wrote that "perceiving and remembering are themselves constructions and reconstructions. What is laid down is not some aboriginal encounter with the real world, but is already highly schematized. There is no mental reference shelf of our aboriginal real world encounters." That is why, as Porter Abbott argues, "to recapture one's life textually is a doomed struggle with inherited literary forms.
Many theorists of autobiography these days say that there is little to distinguish autobiography from the novel. Both are acts of intentionality; both are corrupted by the present; both are stories more told than lived; both aim to make connections between a disparate, heterogeneous experience and some unified totality; both are narrative: dreaming, remembering, hoping, despairing; both surrender to the randomness of of life and action; both have to deal with what often seems like life's messy, irrelevant, redundant and contradictory clutter; both deal with the ordinariness and triviality of people's lives and their efforts to find significance.
And so it is that many writers flee from autobiography because they want to flee from their personal narrative and its conception of sequence, from the riddle of self, from what they see as a factitious and fictitious coherence consciously or unconsciously introduced into their path, their life, from the telling of their secrets, from what they see as the impossibility of the very existence of autobiography. Like the poet Sigfried Sassoon who had become alientated from himself due to WW1, many writers in the last half of the twentieth century became alienated from themselves and their societies by a different set of contemporary horrors. During the years 1980 to 2000 there was, therefore, a shift from fact to fiction in the writing of autobiography. But this was not true in the case of every writer of autobiographer. It was not the case in my own writing. I wanted my work "to be good medicine for distempered times" the way Benjamin Franklin's was for ours.
As central person, my role, my circumstances, my character changes again and again in this narrative. I am especially conscious of this for I am storyteller, character, audience, narrator and reader all at once. Like Sassoon, I too felt conscious of a war that had changed me, but it was a war of a quite different kind. Like Franklin, I felt in many ways my auto- biography was a rambling series of digressions. I felt, also, again like Franklin, it was a form of action. Part of the key was to "harness aspiration to possibility by small, gradual and unmomentous remedial acts and by self-discipline and self-trust." In these early years of my pioneering venture I had not yet learned the wisdom that Franklin advised, namely, to keep one's own counsel, to guard one's tongue and to proceed cautiously "given the unreliable mix of humanity." I'm not sure I ever fully learned this wisdom. But I was aware of the aphorism of 'Abdu'l-Bahá that "stories told about others are seldom good. A silent tongue is safest." It was one of His many many wisdoms I never quite fully learned to implement.
From time to time I refer to one of the primary or secondary relationships in my life. They are unavoidable. They are necessary. They have contributed so much to the pleasures and pains, the richnesses and routines, the day-to-day activities and meanings of life. This third edition explores these relationships in far more depth than the first two editions, but the potential for exploration is really quite infinite, certainly more than they have enjoyed thusfar. Perhaps in future editions these relationships will acquire the exposure they deserve. The relationships with the three central women in my life: my mother and my first and second wife, for example, all deserve much more attention than I have given them thusfar. My one child and two step-daughters as well as my four grand-children also need to come into focus. As this work develops in the last decade of my late adulthood, the years from 70 to 80, and in my old-age, I hope to give attention to these people of primary importance.
My identity, then, is quintessentially biographical not biological. It is the answer to the question: what is your real, inmost story? What took place in those half a million hours, two hundred and twenty thousand days and sixty years of real autobiographical data? According to Lewis Thomas this is all we have and, after the trivia are eliminated, he says that all we get is eleven years or 4000 days or 64,000 hours, three time frames to define your period of meaningful activity in life even if we live beyond sixty. The past develops like a plot; it thickens. That is why I can write a poem about an early childhood experience and then write it differently next year. Raccontio ergo sum. I want things to come out right, I suppose; I'd like to be saved, especially from myself, my lower nature. Thus, I am religious in my persistence to tell my story, to create and define my world, to write a Grand Unified Story. I am also trying to get back time but, alas, it is unredeemable.
The memories I draw on connect what happened once upon a time with what is happening now in a process of synthesis which is quite mysterious, quite delightful and often immensely frustrating. At the core of the frustration for me is what I feel is an inability to make my story live as much as it lived in the act of living it. I read the words and they often seem flat, beyond reification. I am also conscious of just how brief the first edition of this narrative was: some eighty pages. The poetry is one simple, yet effective, way to overcome these frustrations. It conveys in quite apt, quite fitting, quite emotionally satisfying ways both my person- al experiences in pioneering and the heady days in these earliest years of the Universal House of Justice's assumption at the apex of the Bahá'í administrative system.
“Without forgetting” says Nietzsche, “it is quite impossible to live at all.” The autobiographer must forget a great deal and use it, perhaps, as Graham Greene says “as compost for the imagination.” We define our world very much by what we forget, by the nature or type of personality we have: gloomy, poetic, sentimental, joyful, melancholy, etcetera. Mine I might call Priceland. I'm not conscious of the type of land it is, not yet; I'm too immersed in creating this land at the moment, in defining it and describing it. We also define our world against what we might call a gestalt of pastness which is partly a prelinguistic darkness. Writing explodes this darkness and creates a new gestalt. What goes on the page flows mysteriously out of the incomprehensible moods of the present and what is forgotten in the competition among available memories.
Whatever anecdotal brilliance is created is derived from these moods, from simple literary skill, from the richly informative retrieval cues and from a host of other factors. It is these moods, this multi-factorial writing situation, as much as anything, which creates whatever wholeness comes into existence in the text. This wholeness draws more on the present, then, than it does the past. In other ways, the past is quintessential, the sine qua non of the entire exercise.
I do think my life has a certain direction, integration sub specie Bahá'í Faith. Obviously, too, there are contradictions between my personal goals, aims, purposes and what I actually do to achieve these. Until I die, though, I will try to make a comprehensible story of my life. I will try and tell if faithfully, fully and make it into one piece, a single journey. For I am conscious that the extraordinary lingers just behind the ordinary and I want to bring it out in my life and in the lives of others when it can serve as some form of meaning therapy, what Victor Frankl calls logotherapy. My imagination has been feasting for years on a diet of rich and diverse experience and rich and diverse ideas. This richness is in a narrow range of activity involving: people, places and books. “Rich”, “diverse”, “narrow”, I could add other adjectives, adjectives which suggest a certain epistemological ambivalence. I am aware, though, of the anecdote about how Ezra Pound taught the young Ernest Hemingway to guard against over-populating his work with adjectives. I do some guarding in this text, but probably not enough to please a man like Pound.
The autobiographical act, like life itself, generates this ambivalence. It also generates lived facts, lived events, as artefacts. My poetry is part of, an expression of, these lived facts in these darkest hours before the dawn, before, while and after, the Arc on Mount Carmel was completed, for much of this autobiographical work took place in the years when the Shrine of the Bab was embellished with beauty and form on the side of Mt. Carmel. But, strangely, surprisingly, unbelieveably, "there is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument," as Robert Musil argues. There is something Musil emhasizes, which a monument is impregnated with that repels attention. Roger White makes the same point in his poem The Artefact. White says in that poem that the monument is "coffined in glass--a pity that such beauty not be seen." We "set it in a place of honour in the central square," but were not conscious of the "exquisite power" there. I trust this autobiography, while emphasizing and symbolizing larger themes, is in part a tribute to the permanence of the commitment enshrined both there and in my heart. It is difficult to convey the power the Bahá'í edifaces and terraces on Mt. Carmel possess to evoke the sublime. These monumental creations have created a space for themselves in the visual vocabulary of Bahá'í experience. For millions of Bahais it is the experience of the visual that contributes to making their faith unique. This is also true for me.
I should say something about self-deception, since there is in narration 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, we who would venture into autobiography. 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.” We aim in our autobiography to monitor our hearts for self-deception. We aim for artistic coherence and ethical satisfaction as we attempt to integrate, analyse and identify the countless versions of our story and their inevitable secrets. This is unending work-poetic work-and it is central to self-creation. In other ways the self-deception is accidental, incidental.
Margaret Atwood, in a lecture on poetry given in Wales in 1995, several years before I retired from a 40 year working life, said: "About no subject are poets tempted to lie so much as about their own lives." We need to be aware of our own deceptiveness and our tendency to avoid discrepant and uncomfortable information, to block it out. Embracing this knowledge is part of the construction of our self-concept. 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.” Well, this is mostly true for me, except that I have consulted a small handful of letters.
There were three men went down the road
As down the road went he:
The man he was,
The man folks saw,
The man he wished to be.
SOME SPECIFICS: 1965-1974:
Our ultimate aloneness in the universe is a truth which some find frightening. This aloneness is a part of the core experience in writing autobiography, part of its very raison d'etre. It may just be that one of the best routes to self-forgetfulness, which ‘Abdu'l-Bahá says is at the heart of self-realization, is through self-understanding on the road travelled by means of autobiography.
The road, thusfar in this narrative, has taken me to December 1965 where, in Davison Michigan, I attended a pioneer training institute. I have made a few comments about the years 1967 to 1974, but I return here to 1967. The decision I had already made to pioneer among the Eskimo was consolidated. I had only to complete my several courses in sociology by the end of April 1966, enrol at Windsor teachers' college in the summer, complete the course by May of 1967 and then it would be off to pioneer among the Eskimo in August of 1967. It looked easy. It proved to be far from easy. The hurdles came both before and after pioneering.
Before pioneering to Baffin Island in August of 1967, some nineteen months away, I had three girlfriends that kept my emotional life on the boil: Heather Penrice from October 1965 to April 1966; Dorothy Weaver from May 1966 to March 1967 and Judy Gower, April 1967 to August 1967. Rather than describe the fine points of these three relationships, I'll include three poems here to suggest some of the flavour of the physical side of these relationships and at the same time not saying much that is specific to these relationships. Each girl brought much that was a source of pleasure and delight into my life and I remember much from our time together; even after nearly fifty years I remember them all as if it was yesterday.
The sexual impulse is the most vehement of cravings, the desire of desires, the concentration of our willing. -Arthur Shopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 1844.
That's certainly true for some, Arthur,
but others are endowed
with desires of a different willing,
cravings with different filling,
appetites aimed at a different tilling
on the adventure of the road to death.
Personally, I've found it an annoying itch,
certainly has absorbed my concentration
far more than I have liked, wished, desired,
caused me a lot more trouble than I ever
imagined and I will be glad to rid myself,
eventually, of the concupiscible appetite's
never ending pull, its insistent urge.
I often wondered why Bahá'u'lláh
spoke so little about this thing
which has plagued me and stopped
me often from being able to sing.
1 November 1999
CONTINUITIES AND DISCONTINUITIES
Poetry is like trying to remember a tune you've forgotten... A poem is written because the poet gets a sudden vision.....he juggles with sounds and associations which will best express the original vision. It is done quite intuitively and esoterically. That is why the poet never thinks of the reader. The vision has something to do with sex. I don't know what it is; it's subtle, elusive, indefineable. It's not surprising, obviously two creative forces in alliance, closely connected.
The result is a poetry of self-indulgence, the patter of the entertainer, fodder for future social historians from a poet who needs emotional isolation, from a poet who touches our hearts by showing his own, who reveals the paradoxes and enigmas of our lives by putting his own on the table, who provides, for me, perspectives on unity that emerge out of aloneness and solitude. -Ron Price with thanks to Andrew Swarbrick, Out of Reach: The Poetry of Philip Larkin, St. Martin 's Press, NY, 1995, p. 21.
He pursues self-definition,
the nature of identity,
exclusion and difference,
a voice of Englishness
back in that ninth and
early tenth stage of history,(1)
after the loss of imperial power,
diminished influence, a new value
to English experience.
A remorseful tone, secular
but communal and telling,
not untrue, not unkind, on the margins,
exposed to the beyond,
imprisoned in a personality,
something he has been given,
reticence, the English privacy ethic:
where difference merges
into absolute unity;
where uniqueness and loneliness
are clarified as oneness,
29 June 1998
(1) 1953-1963-ninth stage of history; 1963-1973-first ten years of the tenth stage of history. Larkin did not write "many poems after 1973."(ibid., p.164)
A. REAL TOUCH
This organization of formed words, this noble energy, which comes to rest in this apparently natural, but partly artificial and mysterious place, which attempts to know the meaning of humankind and the world with clarity, form and beauty and with choice, uses the most succinct, memorable and affective speech---the poem. The engine of this process is the imagination and it tends toward greatness when it is inspired by a systematic vision of civilization, global civilization, what Jung called the big vision. Strangely, we know the real poem when we touch it. But, like sexual intercourse, explaining and doing it are only remotely connected. The poet writes poetry for the experience, the reality, the joy. -Ron Price with appreciation to Dave Smith, Local Assays: On Contemporary American Poetry, University of Illinois Press, 1985, chapter one.
There's not the tactility,
hunger not as pitched,
taken up and up,
always more to touch,
to excite, but the feelings
play with the brain,
the brain massages,
moves out, over, over and up
into unpredictable spaces,
places, surprise by joy,
don't know what's coming,
feels like it was done by someone else
when you look at it
and you can look at it,
can leave something behind
beside some wet excrescence
and rumpled sheets.
There's a fullness, a detumesence,
a relaxed ease, a feeling of coming close,
of arriving, if only for a minute,
a second, at a place of satisfaction,
at a real point-like touch.
7 June 1996
B.There was not much detumescence involved with each of these three women, the last of whom I married. With each of course there is a story. The major woman in my life until then, my mother, had moved down the street when my father died in May 1965, and occasionally we had dinner together in her little flat until early September 1966 when I left for Windsor and teachers' college. In April 1966 the second phase of the Nine Year Plan was announced and at the same time I was writing my final exams in sociology. When the House of Justice called for heroic deeds "such as are performed only by divinely sustained and detached souls," I was only beginning to be conscious of just what that heroism was in my own life, my own pioneering trajectory. From May to September 1966 I experienced a more penetrating notion of just what heroism meant in my inner life and private character, for I had become conscious that I would have to leave my mother only a year after my father had died.
In her 1963 consciousness-raising classic, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan called the plight of the suburban housewife the "problem that has no name." These women were cooks, cleaners, diaper changers, and lovers, but they lacked identity as individuals. Their hopes and dreams remained secondary, blending with the needs of the families they nurtured. In a figurative sense, they were invisible, even to themselves. Friedan's description partly describes my mother and her description helps to explain why my leaving home in 1966 was so difficult for my mother. She had, it seems to me in retrospect, more of that umbilical cord to me than I had to her.
May 1966 also witnessed the fiftieth anniversary of the writing of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. I had only just heard of them some seven months before in October 1965 in Chatham, in that southern corner of Ontario. It was a document that came to have more than a little significance to my life, especially thanks to Jameson Bond who had spent the 1950s in the District of Franklin and seemed to treasure the Tablets of the Divine Plan like these were a document for war, or what I'm sure he would have called 'the war metaphor.'
C. So much was happening in the wider political and social world in the sixties. It was being documented in books, newspapers, magazines and journals, on the radio, television and in the movies and has been since then as well. There is little need for me to tell any of the story here or, indeed, any of the multitude of versions of that history or the social analysis that might go with it. Matthew Hart, though, in his review of Christopher Hitchens book 'Why Orwell Matters', wrote that George Orwell illustrates, by his commitment to language as the partner of truth, that it is much more crucial how you think and how you express what you think. Orwell, Hart goes on, thought that "politics are relatively unimportant........principles have a way of enduring, as do the few irreducible individuals who maintain allegiance to them.
Orwell, Hart writes, was a man who struggled to master strongly-felt prejudices and emerge on the right side of history. The absorbing thing about his independence was that it had to be learned; acquired; won. The evidence of his upbringing and instincts is that he was a natural Tory and even something of a misanthrope. He had to suppress his distrust and dislike of the poor, his revulsion from the "coloured" masses who teemed throughout the empire, his suspicion of Jews, his awkwardness with women and his anti-intellectualism. By teaching himself in theory and practice, some of the teaching being rather pedantic, he became a great humanist.
There is no doubt that we all have to master many strongly-felt prejudices. If we are to see with our own eyes "and not through the eyes of others" and know of our "own knowledge and not through the knowledge of" our neighbour, we will have to learn this, acquire this capacity, win this victory over intellectual and social conformity. My own upbringing and my own instincts provide a base for a battle I have been fighting and will fight all my life.
Some writers, like Barthes and Foucault, see the text as something quite different from the writer who writes. The text, they argue, exists quite separately from the author. As Barthes once put it: "I am my own symbol, I am the story which happens to me." They both see the text as something which consumes the writer. It consumes him to such an extent that both author and world become lost in the text; both endlessly disappear. Barthes claims that authors are the only persons, by definition, "to lose their own structure and that of the world in the structure of language." This gives writing a kinship, they continue, with death itself. In the process the self is obliterated. Both Barthes and Foucault agree, though, that writers must take responsibility for their work and must work with and through their institutions with the ideas in their written works. And so it is that this autobiography seeks the imprimatur of Bahá'í institutional review and support, seeks a place in the Bahá'í community and in a strange way, seeks to become something quite separate from the one who wrote it. I feel it is both me and not me in a curious sort of way.
I shall list here a few of the events of the sixties just to capture some of the flavour of the times. They are events that had a tangential relationship with my life and, in a strange way, were both part of me and separate from me. The war on poverty began in January 1964; the Civil Rights Bill was signed in July of 1964; LBJ, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was President from 1963 to 1968; Marilyn Monroe was assassinated in August of 1962; Jackie Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963; Bobby in June of 1968 and Richard Nixon began his Presidency in January 1969. We took our first pictures from the Moon in 1969 and saw the blue oasis of our earth out in the middle of nowhere. These events all took place in the USA, but they seemed part of an emerging global community. In the midst of all this, in 1967, the rock era peaked or so Simon Frith states with conviction, with the release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's album. The 150th anniversary of Bahá'u'lláh's birth in November of that year was largely incidental, certainly of less significant to the wider, the popular, culture than that Beatles' album. At the time I had my hands full with teachers' college, my last year of post-secondary education, with my impending marriage and with fifteen Eskimo kids aged 8 to 10 on Baffin Island.
In Australia the long run of the Liberals in government, begun in 1949 was nearing its end as the 1970s began; the Aboriginals got the vote in Australia in 1969. Canada had its own story, as did Europe and the U.K., Russia and China, Africa and Asia: the list is endless and it is not the purpose of this autobiography to tell this secular story in any detail. Readers can go elsewhere to many places for the story in its many forms. There are literally mountains of material & the principal concern of this autobiography is not to tell that story. Occasionally I will refer to it, like the background colour of a painting, to widen the text and the texture of my story. Global civilization emerged in my lifetime, with a 500 year warm-up begining with Columbus(1492-1992), with those pictures from the Moon. A true paradigm shift certainly occurred in the sixties; perhaps it was part of that tenth and final stage of history that Shoghi Effendi referred to in 1953---as beginning in 1963. While I was going to university, teaching Eskimos and recuperating in a psychiatric hospital, the world began to be All Connected.
A generation of hippies and student activists made what is often called the modern counter culture between 1964 and 1968, the years of my early twenties, according to one writer. It was their attack on technology, work, pollution, boundaries, authority, the inauthentic, rationality and the family that was the centre of their ethos. The essence of a generation, according to the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset, is a particular type of sensibility. One study of the sensibility of the generation that came of age between 1964 and 1968 was done by Richard Flacks at the University of Chicago in 1965/6. He studied activists, non-activisits and parents. In some ways, I feel, his study was a study of me, my generation and my parents. Since my picture had been on the front page of the Hamilton Spectator, the major daily paper in the Hamilton area, for protesting the treatment of negroes in the USA some time in 1965; since I was the only student in Hamilton in the years 1963 through 1967 to achieve that distinction, if that is what it was, I could be seen as an activist, although somewhat further east than my confreres in Chicago. My involvement in the Bahá'í Faith was also a type of activism. I was the only Bahá'í student on campus during those years at McMaster University. I have documented my Bahá'í activities during these days in a letter to 'The Campus Association of Bahá'í Studies' dated July 15th 1992. McMaster was founded in 1957 and my activities came in its first decade of its existence. Before that time the university had been a Baptist college/university. By the 1950s that religious affiliation had ended, but the religious and philosophical influence of McMaster filtered into my life through some of the lecturers and professors I had in the years 1963 to 1966.
Flacks' study revealed that parents of activists placed more stress on intellectual and artistic pursuits, humanitarian concerns and self-expression than issues like career, material success and winning. That certainly described my mother in the 1960s. Flacks argued further that my mother's generation exhibited four value-patterns: aesthetic and emotional sensitivity, romanticism and intellectualism, humanitarianism, moralism and self-control. I think my father was more interested in winning and working to win but, by 1960, he'd given up with winning in the material world and retired to work in the Bahá'í community, for a time, and then to read his detective novels before happily and not-so-happily passing away in 1965. I'm sure there were many exceptions but, insofar as my mother was concerned, these value-patterns could be said to describe her to a tea, at least in the years of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.
Inevitably, the questions and issues are much more complex and can not be properly dealt with in a short space and in the brief analysis that I have provided here. My father, for example, may have had much more idealism than I have given him credit for but, in retrospect, I don't think I ever got to know him very well. I was just coming of age when he was on his last legs. He died when I was 21. At 21 I was just beginning my 'spiritual affliction,' as my mother might have termed it, with a grand vision, an urgent purpose and the need to fast in March to 6:45 pm. Fifty years later it appeared that this affliction was showing no signs of losing its bite and this vision was more firmly entrenched than ever. In some ways everything I have written here is woven, as deftly as I can, around this vision.
GENERALITIES ABOUT AUTOBIOGRAPHY AS A GENRE
In the introduction to the autobiography of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, Rufus Jones writes that "There are mysterious moments in the early life of the individual which we call 'budding periods.' They are incubation crises, when some new power or function is coming into being. The budding tendency to creep, to walk, to imitate, or to speak, is an indication that the psychological moment has come for learning the special operation. There are, too, similar periods in the history of the race, mysterious times of gestation," writes Jones, "when something new is coming to be, however dimly the age itself comprehends the significance of its travail. These budding periods, like those others, have an organic connection with the past. They are life-events which the previous history of humanity has made possible." Jones, of course, is writing about the period 1640 to 1660 in England, known as the Commonwealth Period, when something knew came into the consciousness of people. The parallels, the paradigm, here are relevant to this time and this autobiography. Fox's work is literally soaked in theistic terms, what you might call a god-language. Although I have been inspired by a new Revelation, the nearly 700 pages of this autobiography do not seem to be imbued with that God-intoxicated idiom that Fox was over three hundred years ago.
This autobiography is as much interested in the process, the psychology of autobiography, as it is interested in telling my own story. Richard Beach, for example, has described the way adults who were once teachers write their autobiographies. Beach said that ex-teachers are less likely to retell events and more likely to use description than are younger writers. That is certainly true of me, an ex-teacher. Another analyst, Lynn Bloom, in her analysis of autobiography and autobiographers, says that writers, philosophers and academics tend to write autobiographies that emphasize adult performance in various ways. They focus on childhood and end with marriage and parenthood, quite often. Often, too, they carry sophisticated assumptions about strategies, subjects, purposes and readership. If readers find too much analysis here for their taste, they should keep in mind Bloom's comments here about 'sophisticated assumptions and strategies' of autobiography. Those looking for a gripping yarn in this work, will have stopped reading long ago.
SPECIFICS ABOUT MY LIFE, MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Pioneering, then, was gearing me up to a move to the far north of Canada. In September of 1966 I drove my 1954 Studebaker on its four hour drive down from Hamilton to Windsor to set up shop in a flat and ready myself for the first classes of primary teacher training. I'd gone down to Windsor in May, driving Dorothy Weaver's parents' yellow Cadillac but, after several weeks living in three houses and taking on the job of vaccuum cleaner salesman, I found myself very depressed, slightly or extremely paranoid depending on what day you saw me, and attempting to adjust to my role as trainee pioneer. But the fear, the paranoia, the episode of my bi-polar tendency, beat me and I retreated to my mother's flat in Hamilton where she had moved after one year of trying to live in Dundas after my dad's death.
I got a job as a Yummie Man, for the Good Humour Company, and spent the next ten weeks working eighty-five hours per week selling ice cream in Burlington, Hamilton, Ancaster and nearby places whose names I have long forgotten. I think that was the only summer in my life that I went to the movies by myself but, on the positive side I had some quality time with my mother and driving every day for so long gave me lots of time to think about the question of pioneering to the north or staying with my mother and helping her out in her old age and aloneness.
There were no girls in my life from perhaps March to September 1966, for the first time in a year, the only year in which there had been a strong input from the feminine element in my life. Dorothy Weaver had entered on the periphery, but there she remained after several weeks in May. This helped me focus on the major issue at hand: my career and my future. On the first day or the second of September 1966 I was off to Windsor in my nearly breakless car. I could see my mother crying as I drove down the street away from the flat I had spent the summer in with her, under her roof for the last time in my life.
The first letter to youth from the Universal House of Justice had gone out in the week before I started to sell ice-cream. I had been at Davison Michigan at the Bahá'í summer school at the time in an intense preparation program for my pioneering ahead. The summer school was clearly, as I look back in retrospect, the consolidation of an idea. I remember talking to Douglas Martin while there about my role in the Cause. There was only one direction to go in but, due to my love for my mother and my sensitivity to her need for my support, I needed the summer months to finalize my decision. Perhaps some of the influence on my decision-making back then in 1966 was the ‘protean self' that I was developing through the sixties. This protean self was many-sided and more fluid, more appropriate to the restlessness and flux of our time. It is a type of self which enables us to engage in continuous exploration and personal experiment. The emphasis is on multiplicity not fragmentation, on fluidity not fixed and firm, settled and self-assured personalities. The bi-polar swings I had experienced for four years by 1966 encouraged these discontinuities and, in the end, may have enabled me to make what was for me an epochal shift from home and hearth to Eskimo culture.
The House of Justice was "supplicating Divine confirmations expansion consolidation" in their cablegram of September 1st. Perhaps some of these confirmations showered down on me as I headed for Windsor. I'm sure my mother did not think so at the time, if she ever did. It was one of my most difficult decisions in life.
The year in Windsor, at least until early May of 1967, was occupied with studies, Dorothy Weaver, Johnny Weetaltuk, Jamie and Gale Bond and their two children. I came within a hair of marrying Dorothy, of having a big argument with Johnny, the Eskimo boy, of losing whatever virginity I had left and of getting kicked out of college for not wearing a tie and not taking my science class seriously. I got through the gauntlet, though, received a sixty-six per cent average, passed the Bahá'í deepening program and insensibly got entangled with a lovely young woman named Judy Gower who lived in Toronto. The relationship went back, and I must confess it is now somewhat hazey, to mid-1965; it got fertilzed at a Bahá'í conference in Waterloo in December 1966 and, through a series of letters in early 1967 the relationship was cemented. I asked Judy to marry me in about March or April and five months later we were married.
That summer I worked for the Motor Vehicle License Branch of the Department of Transort as a clerk in their Brantford office. I took a train to Scarborough on weekends to be with Judy and her family and on August 18th 1967 we were married on a Friday evening outside centrefield at a baseball park in Scarborough. There were hundreds of people in attendance and the next week we went to Canada's capital, Ottawa, for our honeymoon and an orientation program for those working with Eskimos. The next week we flew to Baffin Island and the town of Frobisher Bay in the District of Franklin to start our marriage, to begin teaching grade three Eskimo children and to fulfill the Canadian Bahá'í community's top priority goal.
A NOTE ABOUT MY SUMMER JOBS
The summer work situation for teens by the 21st century in North America was bad. Compared to the relative ease with which I spent my summers from about 1953 to 1966 when I graduated and had a FT teaching job, teens now have problems getting work in the summer. In 1999, according to one study, 52.6 percent of American teens between age sixteen and nineteen had summer work. In 2013, only 32.3 percent do. And these numbers are worse for young blacks and Latinos. In 1999, about 33 percent of black teens had summer jobs; now 19 percent do—a reduction by almost half. But the decline is true for all groups: 39 percent of white teens worked this summer—a sharp decrease from the 1999 figure of 63.3 percent. I leave this subject to readers who have the interest.
In July and August I worked at my summer jobs, jobs I had from grade 4 to the end of my four-year university programs. In the summers back then in the 1950s and early 1960s, I went swimming in Lake Ontario with my friends among other activities which I have written about in my autobiography and which will not be of interest to many after I pass from this mortal coil. In May-June I completed another successful year of primary and, then, high school, and in April a not-so-successful season of ice-hockey.
While I was finishing high school and at university in the early-to-mid-sixties, I was not into reading novels at the time and had my hands full getting through: (a) the academic demands of Ontario’s secondary school curriculum, (b) summer jobs to pay for my education, (c) an intense engagement with sport, (d) the first decade of my life with a new religion, (e) four years of a B.A. and a B.Ed. combination, (f) the first year of marriage and the beginning of a career in teaching in 1967/8, (g) as well as the psycho-social, psycho-sexual demands of my first episodes of what came to be called, in 1968, a schizo-affective disorder.
A month after I began my pioneering life, in September 1962, Ringo Starr recorded and released ‘Love Me Do.’ The twist, a new dance, became the craze that same year. Michael Harrington became famous for his study of poverty The Other America. The era of the ‘spectacle’ had just arrived in these early sixties. Movements, sub-cultures and new institutions, were all thoroughly imbued with the entrepreneurial profit-making ethic.(1) -Ron Price with thanks to Arthur Marwick, The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy and the United States: c.1958-c.1974, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, p.13. That summer, from late June to late August, I worked for the Dundas slot Machine Company.
Statistically, from my birth until my life of FT employment began in 1967, the summer-job scene looked like this: 0-8--play/play/more play...4 1/2 years; 9-14: odd-jobs/collect bottles for 6 summers(6X2 mo=1 year)..deliver newspapers, leisure-jobs...student-9 1/2 years); 15-23: student and summer jobs(2 years of jobs..6 years--student(2 1/2 mo x 9=2 yrs).
In the summer of 1960, after completing grade 10, I got a job at one of the first dozen A&W Root Beer restaurants that had then opened in Canada. There were nearly 2,000 A& W outlets across the USA at the time. The first A & W had opened in Canada in 1956. I only worked for A & W for several weeks that summer because my father, who had just retired, and was on a Canadian pension, was not allowed to have any of his dependent-children making any money. When I started that job at A & W neither he, nor I, nor my mother knew about the conditions that prevailed in the then Canada Pension Plan(CPP), a contributory, earnings-related social insurance program.
So it was, as I now recall after the passing of more than 50 years, that I spent the rest of that summer in 1960 doing other things. Before starting grade 11 in September 1960, and at the age of 16 in this small town in southern Ontario, I did not get another job. The A & W Root Beer experience was a disheartening one for me and it was the price I paid for having honest parents, or at least an honest father, or at least a father who wanted to obey the rules of the then CPP.
That summer in July and August of 1960, I finished my midget baseball career before moving into the juvenile category as it was then called in this town on Lake Ontario between two big cities.(1) I was mostly on the mound, but I also hit lots of home runs. I was what used to be called, and still is, "a slugger." I was very serious in my desire to go to The Show.(2) This enthusiasm came to an abrupt end in the following year when I started playing juvenile baseball, the league for 17 and 18 year old boys. Our team from this little town of Burlington, of 5000 people, played the big city boys from cities of 300,000 to a million. The quality of my playing, of my baseball skills, came to be seen in a wholly new perspective. I was clearly not in the running for The Show. I had to make a serious, a major change and adjustment, in my career aspirations.
That summer, then, I went swimming in Lake Ontario as often as possible and played Monopoly in the cool of the basement in our family home in the hot summer days of July and August. I wanted to make it with the girl at the corner of Seneca Street where I lived. This girl, Susan Gregory was her name, remained completely elusive, sad to say; not sad now of course but seriously sad then. I experienced the last months of my first year as a Baha’i youth that summer and autumn in 1960. The Baha’i Faith had been in Canada for more than 40 years by then after being pioneered from the Middle East in the 1890s from Iran, Palestine and Egypt.
In July 1971 I became an international Baha’i pioneer myself for the Canadian Bahá'í community and moved from Canada to Australia. I was then 27. McDonalds, another famous chain of take-away stores, had just opened that same year, in1971, their first restaurant in the Sydney suburb called Yagoona. As I write this prose-poetic piece in November 2010 McDonalds has come to have nearly 800 outlets across Australia and McDonald's Corporation is the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants serving more than 58 million customers daily.
After that summer in 1960, I never worked in a takeaway food-store again, although I thought about it when I was finding the teaching profession more than a little source of anxiety. I never took the risky plunge into a franchise. The teaching profession, however frustrating from time to time, provided secure employment and with three kids to raise my secure employment was crucial. I have eaten in takeaway places often though, in the decades, the half-century, from that summer of 1960 to this summer in Australia in 2010. As I head into the middle years, 65 to 75, of late adulthood, as some human development psychologists call the years from 60 to 80 in the lifespan, I'm sure my life experience with takeaways is far from over. Of course, no man knoweth what his own end shall be, as the poet sayeth. -Ron Price, (1) Hamilton and Toronto were and are at the centre of the Golden Horseshoe in Ontario; and (2) this is colloquial name given to the Major Leagues in baseball, 18 November 2010.
Fifty-years of eating takeaways
after those first hamburgers in
June-July 1960, half a century
of A&W, McDonalds, Subway,
Hungry Jacks, KFC, & Chicken
Treat--on and on goes the litany
of take-away organizations who
have given me that fastest food
for someone always on the run
my father used to say & used to
ask me to slow down and stop
wolfing my food down..dear dad…
Now I still wolf-it-all-down after
five decades of these quick-&-easy
feedings along the highways and
byways in the two dozen towns &
cities where I have run surviving
in this third-world war-a war with
no name, as a soldier with no rank
or serial-number in a battle with no
guns or swords or unifroms and that
is never seen on TV: one Henry Miller(2)
wrote--described in 1941 in the midst of
that previous war my father’s sons were
killed in before I was born a lifetime ago.
(1) “When the destruction,” write Henry Miller, “brought about by the Second World War is complete another set of destructions will set in. It will be far more drastic and far more terrible than the destruction which we are now witnessing in the midst of this global war. The whole planet will be in the throes of revolution. And the fires will rage until the very foundations of the present world crumble.”-Henry Miller in The Phoenix and the Ashes, Geoffrey Nash, George Ronald, Oxford, 1984, p.55.
(2) Henry Miller(1891-1980) was an American novelist and painter. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of 'novel' that is a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist, free association, and mysticism. It was a mixture that was distinctly always about and expressive of the real-life Henry Miller and yet it was also fictional. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, and Black Spring. He also wrote travel memoirs and essays of literary criticism and analysis. He was among the first major writers to use the “F” word in his novels.
P.S. This prose-poem was written in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the passing of Clara Dunn on 18/11/'60. Clara and her husband Hyde Dunn were among the few Bahá’is who left their homes to pioneer in response to the unveiling of the 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan in 1919. They travelled to Australia where their combined efforts across several decades succeeded in established a firm pillar of the world-wide Bahá’i community. Both were named Hands of the Cause of God by Shoghi Effendi, Hyde posthumously, in 1951, and Clara in 1952.
MORE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ANALYSIS: A WIDE FIELD OF READING AND STUDY
I came across a delightful passage written by Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain as he is more popularly known, about the process of writing autobiography. His own autobiography is fragmentary, instinctive and contains often unrelated reminiscences and anecdotes. He seems to take pen in hand, like a brook running down through the woodlands as he goes on and on, and writes his narrative according to one law, namely, that there is no law. Mark Twain emphasizes that the writer must make the trip and not worry about the how. With this liberating and refreshing concept in mind I will include the following addition to this account that I wrote with some two months to go before the end of the thirty-fifth year of pioneering,and two years before retiring from FT paid-employment, in June of 1997. I first inserted this piece into one of the appendices of the second edition of my story and it looks like it may end up somewhere in this 7th edition, perhaps what will be the final edition.
A brief analysis of African American autobiography indicated that a large number of African American writers wanted to document their lives not so much to celebrate themselves but “because they believed that the most treasured possessions of a people are the records of their activities”. My intention here is not to flatter or raise my estimation in the eyes of some future readership, not so much to write of success as to talk of meaning and discover it even as I write, not so much to write a story of celebration as one of survival and struggle, where pride is mitigated by the elusiveness of the prize and the sense of failure in so many areas of my private experience.
My intention is simply to place on record the account of one of the many who have served in the international pioneer arena in the first half century of the last stage of history as the Guardian defined the years after 1963---back in 1953. It is an experience of service of a pioneer in the first generation of Canada's overseas Mission and the second generation of the international Bahá'í community's Mission. As I have indicated previously, I think it is unlikely that many will write their accounts. If many do, mine will be just one more. Either way, I think it is important enough to write.
My first ‘up-date on pioneering', which became part of the second edition of this still unpublished work, written on 8 October 1995, mentioned that my journal and poetry had really taken over the role of narrative, although the journal has not been utilized much in the last several years. Samuel Clemens' encouragement certainly helped me take up my pen here, but there were several other factors that contributed to the rise of this third edition. In the years 1993 to 2003 there were many winter rains coming down in teeming torrents, much summer heat and the slow and unobtrusive passing of time, over three thousand days, which served as a backdrop to this third edition.
So much of the external world is repetitive, mundane and difficult to see in a perspective of significance. The ordinarily ordinary and the humanly human seem to fill up our days, our space, unavoidably. As Murphy put it in his inimitable style and phrasing: "ninety per cent of everything is crud." While I don't hold that to be literally true there is a great deal in the external world that ninety-nine per cent of humanity could never write about because they could never find the words to make it sound even the remotest bit interesting. I find it difficult and I must say, often uninspiring, to write about developments in the Bahá'í community, within my family, my work or indeed any of the external facets of my life. What I write here will be more about the inner life, more philosophical, general. Privacy, that remarkable discovery, which became a realistic possibility about the time that Shaykh Ahmad was born in the mid-eighteenth century, became for millions no, billions, of people in my time an aspiration and a necessity. Linked with leisure and comfortable surroundings, privacy became the basis for what Disraeli called, a hundred years before, “the cult of Home, the enemy of community.” It was certainly the place, the domain, for me and most of those I have known in my life, for “the closely monitored, highly charged interaction...the staging area for emotional conflicts and sexual catastrophies,” where the foundations for attachments were formed and where resources were amassed for any autonomous adult ventures in love, in society, in employment, in life.
The modern domestic setting, my home, provided, too, unsurpassed protection from unwanted witnesses. By the time I wanted to set down the circumstances of my life in what were these refinements to a third edition to my autobiography, I had had a lifetime of interaction, enough to last me until the day I die, or so I felt as I passed the age of sixty. As the nineteenth century philosopher Walter Bagehot wrote in 1853, “Behind every man's external life, which he leads in company, there is another which he leads alone, and which he carries with him, apart.” Great painters of men have an enormous capacity for solitude, Bagehot mused. He was thinking of Shakespeare at the time. I had determined, after some forty to fifty years of really quite massive human interaction, to live a more solitary life.
But with the coming of the precurors of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh and the inevitable march of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, aspirations to having a room of one's own had become virtually universal at least in the West and in the middle and upper classes. And in writing this work, that is what I had acquired. I did not become a hermit as a further exploration of this autobiography might indicate to some readers, but I did not have wall to wall people in my personal space day in and day out as I had had for years. I still responded, as I had for so many years, to expectations and intimations that these days, these epochs of my life, were associated with "climactic changes of direction in the collective life of the human race."
This autobiography provides readers with several modes of seeing, modes that are interconnected, interdependent, if this work is to be at all successful, at all pleasing to me. Some of these modes are excessively intimate and confessional, some philosophical and excessively detached. I try to create a sympathy that is performed across the paralyzing distance of a life, a time, an age, a distance that leaves readers free. I don't want to tell readers what to think; I want to leave them quite free to interpret this work in their own way. The relation between these two kinds of seeing, two modes of experience, provides the meat for the ideological frame, for any realistic interpretation. There is here a realistic theater of disclosure and one of concealment. The space of concealment that I inhabit may be exposed in my journals, my poetry or my essays. For I do not, indeed can not, tell it all. These areas of concealment were implicit, complicit in the making of my world. I try to deal with this complicity in ways that are comfortable to me. The words of Ovid, the motto of Descartes, are useful here: “He lived well who concealed well, he who was private and unobtrusive.”
The connection between the privilege, the necessity, of privacy and the consequences of public display, the ability to stage my life, so to speak, while still remaining private and unseen is a tool, a sign and an instrument of the privilege of writing. In this sense, realistic dramaturgical writing thematizes the relations of visibility governing the theater of my life, the social environment of my world that I show, I put, on this literary stage. The drama, the theater, and the society of my life are all a natural part of what for me is the working out of what for me is a realistic and idealistic vision at the centre of my life. This vision is a feature of my environment, a determinant, a constitutive part of reality itself.
“Instead of advice” says Donald Hall in his book about poets and poetry, “I offer the gift of my existence and endurance.” One tires of advice and we seem to have a great enthusiasm for giving it to each other. I have already given enough of it to drown any particular recipient and so what Hall says here has a refreshing candor, a lovely way of putting what I am trying to do. I do have some inhibitions, justified and appropriate it seems to me, about undressing myself in public. I have already said too much, in some ways, about my private self and this is in some ways a reflection of the influence of modern psychology and all that is involved in the self-development movement. I do not think that it is necessary to talk about one's inner life in order to be close to others, although in some situations it is essential, advisable. But whether it is necessary or not, the inner life serves as a refuge from the external world. The story of that external world and my comings and goings in it are often, it seems to me, not illuminating in any way to the lives of others who chance to read it.
Wordsworth said he found the desire for fame decreased as he got older. I can't remember if I ever had much desire for fame. I don't think I did but, whatever the case, I have little to none now. Looking at the stars of populat culture, the famous, the celebrity, now involves looking underneath their skirts, inspecting their pants, sniffing their bedsheets and spying through their bedroom keyholes. Today the biography of a celebrity is expected to chronicle not just their lavish homes and priceless jewelry but the personal anxieties and emotional tensions, the drunken collapses and nervous breakdowns. Such biographies lead to frenetic and distasteful contests of luridity between the tabloids, gleeful at the misfortunes of the rich and famous. How could anyone want that?
There are many styles of celebrity-watching. Indeed, the industry is burgeoning. One of the major styles is a standard mix which emphasizes certain formulaic features such as veneration and magnification. But it is a veneration so extreme as to rewrite history, even at the cost of refusing to acknowledge sometimes fairly well-known facts. Though presented as biographies, these glossy-portrayals are in fact disturbingly reductive rewritings of history: official portraits, glossily sliding over the surface of events. They vastly magnify the significance of some rather ordinary people, with melodrama, with good and evil stylization, with musical-sound affects and visual-stimulus-background with little nuance and little probing into the motives or psychologies of their purported subjects. A showbusiness-like style, a host of stock phrases, a documentary and reporting ethos and often all one has is a type of promotional video. The net result so often is: reality is kept at bay or a type of reality is exposed which is of little interest to a person like myself.
Inevitably, though, autobiography requires an element of assertiveness of the self. Writing is a way of engaging the entire self and all the senses-and both sides of the brain I am told. Deep impulses, deep inspiration, are involved at the same time as one orders one's life on paper. One could also refer to it as tinkering with one's life, writing about it to work it out, to transform life into art. If the process of personal growth is, as James Joyce said, linguistic then what I do here links my own growth with my writing. Certainly autobiographical writing makes more vivid those parts of the everyday one chooses to probe. The placid surface or the not-so-placid surface of ongoing life gets an underpining of some kind, perhaps with the deeper currents of the past. In so many of the biopics in the media the personality in question is portrayed as both one of the best of the human race and just an average person. I would like to be seen as neither. I am neither a man of the people nor an outstanding person/ality. In some ways I come from quite ordinary stock and in other ways the generations which proceded me had outstanding qualities. The bag is mixed, complex and far beyond some simple stereotyping.
I find much of my past richer now. Many of my recent poems are about the act of pioneering, the beginning of the pioneering process, back in 1962, as if I can only get some just appreciation of it from a distance. Perhaps, too, this is part of a longer process extending into eternity when one can begin to judge one's life the further one gets away from it, like some shooting star or distant galaxy. I'd like to include here a poem I wrote during the last months of my teaching career about fame. In a strange way I sense thart if I achive any fame in life it will come to be associated with this pioneering process. This poem provides, for me anyway, a helpful perspective on the subject, a subject I've dealt with, gone into, early in this autobiography and in my poems as well. Readers should keep in mind that when I insert poems into my text it is based on a view of poetry not unlike that of Robert Duncan who wrote: “We begin to imagine a cosmos in which the poet and the poem are one in a moving process.” Duncan goes on to say that the poet is part of one long historical process beginning with creation, going through both his own long journey and the world's. “The real is what is given to us,” says Duncan, “and the most real” is seen in our falling away from perfection which we see again and again in what happening to us. “Between the god in our story and the god of our story,” continues Duncan, “between the form and the realization of what is happening to us lies what stirs the poet.” To answer that call, to become the poet, means to be aware of creation, creature and creator coinherent in the one event.
NOW A LAUGHTER, LOW
After reading several of Emily Dickinson‘s poems, strongly suggestive of a breakdown(i.e. 599, 937, 410 and 341), I thought I would try to describe my first intense episode of the bi-polar tendency, as it is now called, or manic-depression as it was then termed, back in late May and early June of 1968. Dickinson brilliantly translates her experience into art. These poems are among her most powerful. She is in some ways the precursor of the many poets of the twentieth century who have tried to describe some of their fearsome, their traumatic, experiences in poetic form; and, sometimes, the mysterious integration of the personality that eventually results.-Ron Price with thanks to Joyce Carol Oates, “Soul at the White Heat”: The Romance of Emily Dickinson's Poetry, Critical Inquiry, Summer 1987.
The first day's night had come
with no idea of what fearsome
terror was soon to make me numb.
All the next day I tried to sing,
but my strings had snapped;
the bow, it had no ring.
And on the second night,
until the morn
unrolled in horror from a height,
I remember, well, that trip to hell.
The second night-and third-
was utter madness; for to tell
the story now, ‘tis like some yarn,
a happening to someone else,
quite long ago, some mountain tarn.
But bone by bone I dropped in fear.
A cleaving of my mind, my brain had split.
I was alone, noone was near.
A great abyss had swallowed me.
A pain so utter, schizoid me
had left my world a fearsome sea.
Now, of course, those days long gone,
a formal feeling covers their tomb,
a quartz contentment, like a dawn.
Some new life was born back then
in those freezing moments, when
a stupor entered in and after years,
many years, there was a letting go,
and, yes, a funny side, a laughter, low.(1)
25 March 1999
(1) some of this humorous side which I now see in so much of my experience is, I have little doubt, due to living in Australia for nearly thirty years. The tragic here is neutralized, to some extent if not always entirely, through the lens of humour; or, as the Australian poet Bruce Dawe put it, the dry landscape has sucked all the tragedy out of the Australian psyche and left him with, at worst, a dessicated soul; but, at best, a soul that sees the lighter side of all of life. Given the difficulty that religion, that other tool for dealing with tragedy, has had in providing that soul with some therapeutic, some visionary, form in the late 20th century, this humour may just be part of the package that is the key survival tool downunder. There is something about the human capacity to confront tragedy and the difficult in life that is a, perhaps the, source of human dignity in life. But, again, this theme must remain unexplored, unfinished here.
YET MORE GENERALITIES AND THOUGHTS ABOUT AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Dorothy Richardson, a nineteenth century Australian writer, made of her life a work of art. Her writing was a journey to the heart of reality for her. So much of the everyday is mundane, a passing dream that one does not have the time to react to except in a fleeting and perfunctory way. When Henry James says we must “observe perpetually” he is talking about the fine tuning, the stopping to have a good close look, reacting and storing up for detailed analysis. Often, too, autobiography is not what one writes, but what lingers in the background uninscribed, undescribed. This unwritten story comes back from time to time in a poem. Poetry allows for this nearly unconscious response, or conscious response to the unsensed.
I have written many pages now about autobiography and, not wanting to reread it all again before entering a comment that I may have made before, I want to underline what is essential to this whole exercise. It is the vision of the future at the heart of this Cause and at the heart of my life. I want to contribute a part, and I feel I am doing something here in this written exercise, to contribute to the periphery of this great foundation stone that is being laid in these first two centuries of the history of this Cause. Part of the challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present. So much of the surface of my contribution in everyday life involves planting seeds that are essentially early precursors to the harvest and recreations of the past in the present. Seed planting is such a quiet, uneventful process or, more importantly, so often unmeasureable. The contribution comes and goes, in definable and indefinable ways. This one, this writing, this contribution, may last.
And so I leave this self, this meaning system, identity, entity, steeped as it is in my own history and the history of humankind, the person that is writing this ongoing account, even something new that seems to arise out of a complex pool while I write; I leave it on the page for those who follow in the years, the decades, perhaps centuries ahead. I leave this voyage, this journey that I place on paper, free of linguistic or stylistic confinements and, like Samuel Clemens, I simply let it flow down the hillside free of any laws, except perhaps gravity. This is my trip, this writing and I trust as the years go on I will not worry about the how, or even the why. I have thought about these things enough for now.
VOLUME 3: CHAPTER THREE: 1967 TO 1968
"A bi-polar disorder led revolt...."
Determining just what it means to be involved in self-study research has proven very difficult. Many personal troubles cannot be solved merely as troubles.
They must be understood in terms of public issues and in terms of problems of history-making. Public issues and personal problems are intertwined.-Ron Price with thanks to C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959, p.226.
In late August 1967, then, my new wife, Judy, and I arrived on Baffin Island to get our rented unit in order so that in the first week of September I could begin teaching a class of grade three Eskimo kids. If the ethos of teenage revolt that George Melly describes in his Revolt Into Style: The Pop Arts was evident in much of North America and western civilization, it manifested itself in unique ways in Eskimo culture and its fringes in Frobisher Bay. The songs of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger from 1962 to 1966 that Melly analyses and which he argues reflect this spirit of revolt among the young did not float through the air-waves on Baffin Island because all they got in the sixties was the CBC and the BBC. But still the revolt was on anyway.
My life manifested a certain degree of revolt; at least from 1963 onwards there were signs of it in my personal life. While I attended university, 1963-1966, I experienced some of that bourgeoisophobe that Gustave Flaubert raved against as far back as the 1840s and 1850s and Frederick Nietzsche later in that same century. Flaubert devoted his literary career to exposing the weaknesses of the middle class and Nietzsche raged against the cultivated philistinism and mediocrity of the same group. This rage against what I saw as the moral platitudes and hypocrisy of the middle class lasted from 1963 to , to my year among the Eskimo. But the schizo-affective disorder of June to December 1968 that put me in several psychiatric hospitials knocked this antagonism for six and ended this middle class sensitivity or conscious rejection of the middle class. When Martin Luther King was murdered in April 1968, one writer argued, a decade characterized by a sense of determined mission and often chaotic change came prematurely to a cataclysmic close. As it did come to a close my own sense of determined mission and its cataclysmic change came to a premature close in a series of four mental hospitals from Frobisher Bay to Whitby Ontario.
I had come from a culture which in the last two centuries had been increasingly rejecting its inherited tradition and especially once the sixties arrived, once that tenth stage of history came into our lives in April 1963. Andy Warhol's art, the Mods and Rockers, a Pop culture had come to play its rhythms in the interstices of my life and affected my ambience, my philosophy of life in complex and indefinable ways. Improvisation, the instinctual urge, creativity, they were all the buzz in those years before my wife and I went to this hunting and gathering community then going through a transition from their stone age culture which was dizzying in its speed.
I had had my first year of service on an Assembly in Windsor in 1966/7; I had felt the breasts of three women although had yet to be involved in any penetration, as if virginity could be so clinically defined. Kissing had, as Shoghi Effendi emphasized so clearly back in a letter he wrote in the late 1940s, inclined its practitioners to go too far. I had gone too far in one direction if not in another. I had logged many months of depression and fear; I had had my faith and its intellectual foundations challenged by my philosophy professor as early as 1964 and by the demands of just getting through the day as early as 1962. I was, indeed, fortunate to survive from the zanniness of my youth: driving a car with little to no breaks, having no idea of what career to follow as late as my twenty-first year even after fourteen years of education, running the guantlet of the puzzles and peculiarities of the opposite sex and just how to deal with them and my own passions and desires.
I always liked Roger White's poem "Applesauce" for his clever comment on sexuality. He sent it to me just after I arrived north of Capricorn on yet another pioneer move, fifteen years after the one I am writing about here and long after the sixties had ended. So I include it here:
I tire, Eve, of innocence,
Let's kiss and grow contented.
Suppose we touched, where I protrude
And you're cunningly indented.?
Oh Adam, what a sweet pastime!
I'm glad that I consented.
Tell me, dear, what shall we call
This game that we've invented?
With half my heart I'd call it love
And not have it repented;
The other half would name it sin
And urge it be prevented.
Had I not led you to the fruit
Guilt would be circumvented.
My punishment's to have my crime
Spake the snake:
All Adam's sons are cursed to woo
A maid and gently take her;
But after they've made applesauce
They'll like as not forsake her.
And down the centuries men proclaim:
We'll take the pleasure, she the blame.
Let posterity lament
That mother Eve gave her assent;
In slithering wisdom I rejoice
That she gave birth to slippery choice.
In April 1967, at the National Convention in Fort William Ontario, Judy and I studied the Ridvan Message of the Universal House of Justice. They had referred to "perpetual movement" and "the ceaseless surge of the sea" and the Cause with its "spiritual charge which no force on earth can resist." They had also defined deepening as "a more adequate understanding of the significance of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation." I have spent the last thirty-five years trying to implement this definition. The celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Bahá'u'lláh was announced in June of that year. By the time it arrived in November 1967, Judy and I had been living in our pioneer post for nearly three months. We had plunged into the sea of pioneering and I nearly drowned. The change in personal status from bachelorhood to married man, from student to full time employee, from resident in the familiar landscape of southern Ontario to Baffin Island, precipitated an episode of schizo-affectivity. But more of this later.
By April 1967, too, I had served on my first local spiritual assembly for eight months. Not to mention LSA work as it is called would be to deprive this autobiography of some of the most significant experience of my life and the most difficult. I last served on an LSA in 1999 in Western Australia. From time to time in this account I will refer briefly to some of this Bahá'í work in groups. In 1966 I was elected vice-chairman and so had little paperwork to do in this city of Windsor, Canada's most southerly city. I think we had ten Bahá'ís at the time.
There is something about an LSA that brings out both the best and the worst in its participants, at least that has been my experience. Before going north to Baffin Island in August 1967 I had my first taste of LSA work while I was at the same time a student at Windsor Teachers' College. All the meetings were at the home of Jamie and Gale Bond. Johnny Weetaltuk and I would come up from our flat as would Dorothy Weaver where we lived a cross from a whiskey distillery, Bruce, an old man and Knight of Bahá'u'lláh, Gerald Robarts, a son of John Robarts, Jan Jason who went on years later to write a biography of Marion Jack and an Iranian accountant, a man whose name I have long forgotten joined us. The names will mean little to readers and it is not my intention to expatiate on our many meetings, our long agendas, the interesting interpersonal dilemmas we got into and my relatively passive role, lokking back nearly forty years later. It was a mix of humanity to keep any normal person quite busy, sitting as we did in a small lounge-room discussing Bahá'í affairs for two to three hours once or twice a month. It was unquestionably a training ground in relating to and working with a degree of human diversity which would be of more use than I could then appreciate and invaluable as the years of my life progressed. I have often come to see my LSA work as a crucible for my maturation in the wider world. I shall return to this topic later in this account. I was not to serve on an LSA again until 1975.
When I look as far back as the sixties, when I try to classify, to organize, my impressions, I find, with Helen Keller, that "fact and fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present." Gertrude Stein once said you are never yourself, so trying to find this elusive figure the self is impossible; or to put this enigma another way: to read one's own face is as difficult as to read the face of God. Perhaps it is this fundamentally mysterious quality to the autobiographical experience that leads some, and certainly me, to a greater consciousness of time, a greater sense of its movement, a greater sense of being an agent of time. And at the day to day level, I seem to have almost an obsession, albeit a quiet one, with time. A sense of urgency, a sense of crisis, has been with me all of my adult life and both the Guardian and House of Justice have described these features of modern life in their spiritual, moral, social and political aspects again and again. Major social scientists, historians and philosophers have also voiced similar sentiments in my time. Perhaps Jacques Barzun, who was appointed a Professor at Columbia University at the outset of the implementation of the teaching Plan in 1937 and published that same year his Race: A Study of Modern Superstition, is one of the best examples of a contemporary cultural historian who sees our times in terms of decadence, confusion, farce and cultural desolation.
Perhaps some general reflections of a poetic nature and a short essay are timely here, before I continue with my narrative into the Canadian Arctic in August 1967.
INCREASING IN NUMBERS
What is ‘real' has to do with what we believe and experience, not necessarily with what ‘is'.1 Some find the best guide to the mechanisms of history in a prophet, a Christ-figure, an academic, a Marx;2 and others in pop-psychology, astrology, or nihilism. -Ron Price with thanks to 1L.P. Turco, Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 1986, p.154. 2Eric Hobsbaum "synthesized myriad competing social swells into great epochal waves" in his four volume study of history: The Age of Revolution, Capital, Empire and Extremes, respectively.
The snowgeese, wild voices of the Arctic, have been increasing in numbers since the 1950s. -David Attenborough, Wildscreen, Channel 2, Perth, Western Australia, 14 September 1995, 8:30 pm.
They've been increasing in numbers
in a big way since the ‘50s,
a vivid reminder that there's power
in natural cycles.
Ever since Jamieson Bond went north
beyond the Arctic Circle,
these wild voices of this northern clime
have been flooding south more than ever.
Snowgeese, you were never part of The Plan.
Was there a new spirit in the north,
calling you, calling you by the thousands?
Or was it instinct, nature, some specific
environmental process that led your
dazzling floods of whiteness to travel
three thousand miles across a continent?
What took me, not much later, across
two continents as the numbers increased?
I was part of The Plan, part of the
dazzling floods of the beauty of the rose,
bent on rising above water and clay, and
flying with the nightingale unfolding
inner mysteries high above the earth,
close to that Voice from on high,
beyond the blue-white sky.
14 September 1995
DO IT AGAIN SOMETIME SOON
Poetry is not meant to be a time capsule of enigmatic and profoundly mysterious wisdoms, nor is it a psychiatric catalyst for confession. Sometimes, inevitably, it seems, it is. All poetry is decided by context. It exists as act and as meaning simultaneously between the concrete and the abstract. Meaning is crucial, central, the essence of its art. Profound feeling, meaning, authenticity: these are found in great poetry. Poetry is like the music which creates, releases, clarifies the feeling, the meaning. There is the poet's single ‘sound' and the common ‘sound' of all men. These two sounds exist in tension, synchronisation, oscillation. To put this question of sound differently one could ask the question: where exactly do time, place and eternity meet? Well, it's like skiing on a surface of snow all winter. They all meet right now, as the poet glides, bounces, pushes, slides, over a surface of stubborn, exacting, threatening, exciting words as he conquers yet another mountain, peak, hill, snow-clad place, or is defeated as sometimes he must be. -Ron Price with thanks to the ABC: Wide World of Sports, 11:00 to 12:30 pm., 7 June 1996; and Dave Smith, Local Assays: On Contemporary American Poetry, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1985, p.13.
The precipice always seems steepest
just before the first big drop,
but then there is a rush:
down, down, down,
through the mountain slope,
over the edge, through the air,
no sides, at first, only a feeling
of openness, emptiness, nothingness,
will it come? what will come?
This is no orgasm: no predictability.
Of course, you say, some words will come;
they usually do, out of the great mountain-side:
the snow is always there this time of year,
great depths, inches and inches, waves upon waves,
turned up by the skis, words swimming from life's ocean:
a million events and a hundred billion atoms
swimming around in my world alone.
Then, up and over and down, down, down:
you've got your sails set now, ready for the final turn,
ready to do it again sometime soon, maybe now.
7 June 1996
With a little less than sixty hours to go before spring, before my thirty-sixth year of pioneering came to an end, we journied to the King's Park and Botanic Garden, walked around its pleasureable treasures and returned home. Spring in Australia is considered the first day of September. This park is the former meeting place of Aboriginal tribes; it is now the home of 450 species of plants, 70 types of birds and many small reptiles. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 29 August 1998.
How is it I have come here?
A taste of spring verdure,
running water, sweetest flowers,
green, endless green, a sea of green,
my eyes drink it all in, pace after pace
through garden paths made for me,
for the world. Especially the yellow snow,
from the wattle. You never see this on Baffin.
Especially the reds, purples, blues and whites,
a different array than Frobisher Bay.
There is, too, the cacti's perfect geometry;
especially my wife's face of intense delight
and my son's casual insouciance;
especially my heart, relaxed,
tranquil at last.
29 August 1998
AN ESSAY:”THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POETRY IN PERSPECTIVE
Anyone who has examined seriously the literature on autobiography in recent decades, in the very years that this pioneering story has been taking place, say, 1953 to 2013; anyone who has attempted to fathom the nature and meaning of both his Bahá'í community experience and his inner life; any pioneers, and especially international pioneers, who have attempted to regulate their lives to the rhythms of crisis and victory and become the fundamentally assured and happy people they are asked to try to become; will immediately recognise complexity at all levels: global, community and the inner person. They will recognise the contradictions and paradoxes in their behaviour and the divergent identifications which barely ever fuse to make one coherent and continuous self. The ever-elusive and evanescent quality of experience makes it difficult to grasp, apprehend, define and formulate. This work, which runs for some 2500 pages, tries to grasp this experience, however elusive, in the form of a meta or mega-autobiography. However massive this work is, it is not my life work, as Augustine, Beckett and Rousseau's was. I did not even approach this work seriously until I was nearly sixty. Much of my life work was in fact behind me. A member of the generations of the half-light, my light was waning when I picked up my pen to really put this story together. The evening of my life had begun. Of course, the Bahá'í day begins at sunset. And as I wrote this work I felt I was making a new beginning. I was writing what that theorist of autobiography, James Olney, calls autography and periautography, words that denoted an emphasis on the inner life as much or more than the outer form.
Samuel Beckett, that difficult Irish playwright, at least difficult for many who live immersed in popular culture and don't read much, said that in the end only two things decisively shaped his life: memory and self. As I turned the corner into late adulthood I put them both on paper as best I could. I felt the autobiographical imperative intensely as I headed into my 60s. I was also conscious of its potential futility, even the impossibility of the enterprise. Yet I entered again and again into the field,a field that meant endless introspection. "The unexamined life is not worth living," so Socrates is supposed to have said. My field, though, was not so much myself and my memory but the presentation of the self in life-writing and insight into a human being and humankind, at perhaps the greatest climacteric in history. For my journey was also the journey many others would take. There is--and was--some altruism here, or so I like to think.
Pioneering, of course, has always meant quite simply--to Bahá'ís--leaving their homes often to far-distant countries to spread the message of Bahá'u'lláh across the surface of the planet. The second task of pioneers has been, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani puts it so well, is to make their home elsewhere and, more importantly, "remove strangeness" in that place. The process, she emphasizes, is "arduous, often unrewarding, lonely and immensely routine in many respects." Making a home for this new Revelation is often the most difficult of tasks. My earliest Bahá'í experiences, in the late 1950s and early 1960s made me pioneer-conscious. The Guardian's letters, the emphasis at meetings, indeed, one of the major thrusts of my Bahá'í orientation by the time I was 18 was one of pioneering. The year 1962, then, launched me into what was in fact, although I did not realize it at the time, the start of the second generation of 'pioneers' raised up by the Guardian's insistent and persistent call. As the years went on pioneering felt richer and richer, like the discoveries of a gold mine. Inevitably, too, the search for gold on many a prospecting exercise often led to nothing but dust and heat, fatigue and emptiness. But I felt the promise, the hope, the vision. In a much larger sense, too, it goes without saying that anything I write is pro-Bahá'í in the same way that what the negro W.E.B. Du Bois wrote was pro-Negro, or Saint Augustine, was pro-Christian---and one could site many other examples of the religious bias of several score of the literary community going back to the roots of the Hebraic tradition to say nothing of the other religious traditions.
There was, without doubt, an innocence when I started out on the venture. Slowly, unobtrusively, it became a lost innocence. An elegiac note deepened with the years as people died, as illness took its toll, as a marriage failed, as unrealistic expectations found sensible, sane and natural courses to run in and as my own burden of sin and human heedlessness evoked, often in subtle, often in obvious and direct, ways a solemn consciousness. It was a solemn consciousness to which societal conditions contributed their often melancholy notes. Millions had died in the first half of the 20th century through two major wars. The next 70 years, those of my own life, saw hundreds of milliions of dead creating a slough of despondency that well-nigh drowned the world in tears. As the Universal House of Justice wrote so beautifully in 1991, though, this solemn consciousness was "itself the wellspring of the most exquisite celebratory joy." In the spirit of this joy and this solemnity so much of the activity of my life as a pioneer can be found. There is a dynamic and redemptive effect on everyday life resulting from this contatenation of forces. Whatever burden, whatever loss, is entailed, and it often is, still there is light at the end of the tunnel and hope's springing eternal.
Slowly one comes to understand the meaning and the secret intent of one's personal myth, as Jung called the inner core of one's life. One must be conscious of underlying and often unconscious tendencies to invent the story of one's life, so that the reality we create will defy any tendencies we have to doubt. Seizing the authentic story of our lives may just be our essential, but difficult to attain, goal and aim. That might be how the psychoanalytically-oriented theorists of autobiography could put the process.
There is little doubt that what we experience we process, we elaborate, in unending sequences of images and acts. We call this thinking. New experience becomes ordered and integrated as part of this unending process. We try to fit it in without straining and disquieting the self. We also want to know who we are, how we should behave and how to achieve order, coherence and continuity in our lives. Autobiography deals with all of these processes, all of these fundamental questions. There is the ‘me' and the model I am trying to emulate in the person of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and the extensive elaborations in the writing of the other legitimate successors to Bahá'u'lláh. Albert Thibaudet argues that the great essayist Michael Montaigne originally set out in search of paradigms in order to write a manual for the perfect gentleman. But his attention turned to the exceptions and the discrepancies that contradict the paradigm. It was Montaigne's view that no human act could claim to be a fixed model or universal rule, or polar star. All exempla, no matter how noble, should be treated as mere anecdotes, dissimilar entities, unique features of a diverse world, Montaigne concluded. To him anyone's behaviors were pieces of a disorderly world, instants in an ever-changing state, figures in universal flux. Any paradigmatic figure becomes, in the end, part of an accidental existence, an irregular universe. “Every example is lame” Montaigne argued. His instruction to us all was not to hobble ourselves before exemplary men. I am cautioned. Although I still believe in an Exemplar, I am aware of all the individual discrepancies, exceptions and idiosyncrasies.
The goal of orderly daily life, Montaigne went on, is unity. So is this true of the Bahá'í. The Bahá'í becomes his own theatre. My life has been my theatre. Repose cannot be attained, said Montaigne. The mind is like a runaway horse and gives birth to chimeras and monsters. So much of our thought is inept and strange and to put these thoughts in writing makes us ashamed. Looking for a silent conversation with himself alone, he experienced feverish disorder, a proliferation of worries, a swelling horde of unreal creatures. Montaigne states that if he uses the word “I,” this I is “different from rather than identical to what he discovers within himself. He also saw a close relation between solitude and melancholy, especially for those engaged in intellectual pursuits. One of the effects of such a melancholy is ‘brilliant inspiration”. I quote these words because I find them to be significantly true of my experience.
Unity, consistency, aims and goals, degree of self-mastery, resistance to the telling of certain stories whose confessional nature makes resistance a normal and necessary event: are all part of our search for our authentic and idiosyncratic self at the centre of the lives we lead and our relation to the complex of social and historical factors that make for the great sweep of chronological, geographical, technological, economic, inter alia, time and movement that shape our perceptions of what is taking place. This is a view of history, founded perhaps by Jacob Burckhardt, which sees the total life of a people at the centre, not some single factor like economics or religion. It is a view which I find useful in this autobiographical work. But it is not the only view of history which has influenced me. Isaiah Berlin's focus on ideas, investing ideas and ideals with personality, with corporeal shape, with the breath of life, with something beyond mere abstraction is close to my own focus.
There is an inevitable selective reporting; The true and indigenous autobiography is only a narrative inchoate as Frederick Wyatt calls the fragment of our lives we have conveyed. Anecdotes are chosen for their illustrative power, to further a line of thought, for their narrative smoothing effect. That is why I have chosen poetry as my main autobiographical genre, with journal and narrative, letter and essay, notebook and novel, as the back up, as a critical support staff. Narrative tends to evenly hover in its attention. Poetry tends to plunge and even to crash. It is difficult, even undesireable in some important ways, to make the story smooth. There is a tendency as we write the story of our lives to convey deeply entrenched platitudes. Trying to be positive, as so much of the popular psychology in the last several decades has emphasized, we try to be comfortable and safe and avoid the bewilderment and the unsettled places "where certainty shifts and reason shakes." We avoid the hazardous and settle for the facile. As I survey the forty-odd years of my pioneering life, I became tired of the hazardous. My spirit wanted to settle in a quieter abode as the fortieth year of pioneering crossed my threshold. Whatever outrage and frustration I experienced from time to time, they dissipated by the turn of the millennium when I began my life in Tasmania and sought to find some effective, some new, way I could promote this Cause. For so much that I had been doing seemed not the slightest bit effective. And, if it was, I had simply grown tired of meetings, endless meetings or, as commedian John Cleese put it colourfully in his training films, "meetings, bloody meetings" and "more bloody meetings." My new approach can be seen and summarized in a paper presented by Graham Hassall at the World Association for the Promotion of Bahá'í Libraries and Archives in August 2003 in San Francisco. I shall leave this subject for now.
Narratives, like those of biographies and autobiographies, which purport to tell the truth have had limited value in American psychology. Science has never been able to deal with their complexities, some writers argue. I would argue, as many do now,that hermeneutics and reconstruction both are useful tools in examining autobiography. They can bring out its meaning; delve into cultural-historical context or indeed a host of other contexts; examine inconsistencies, baises, textual distortions, dishonesties, basic assumptions, omissions, the power of perspective. For the longest journey, as former secretary-general of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskold once said, is the journey inwards. It is a sacred journey and one that has to do with coping and surviving. It is part and parcel of the autobiographical act.
With some seven thousand poems, millions of words, hundreds of letters, two or three hundred pages of journal, four hundred pages of narrative, some three hundred essays: there is at the very least a base for analysis and interpretation in my literary corpus. More importantly, there is a solid foundation for future Bahá'í historians to gain some clarity of insight into these four epochs of the Formative Age and especially the experience of one pioneer.
AND BACK WE GO TO MY PERSONAL ACCOUNT: 1967:
For nine months, in 1967 and 1968, I strove valiantly to teach sixteen Eskimo children. Judy took on a pre-school class in our home and was quite successful at her job. Judy had always been successful with children and still is, as I write this narrative. In 1968/9 she went to Toronto Teachers' College and got her qualifications as a primary school teacher. We cultivated a few friends; in December Dorothy Weaver visited us from Ft. Chimo Quebec; in April an attractive woman in her late twenties, Daphne, arrived as a pioneer; later that year she married Doug Green. In June Josephee Teemotee became a Bahá'í, the first declared Eskimo in the district of Franklin. Someone told me he tried to murder his father the next day and they sent him to a correctional institution in Yellowknife.
It was a difficult year to put it mildly. I found teaching the Eskimo children very difficult, although there seemed to be no symptoms of manic-depression in my life. The visual, the aestheitc experience is different in the Arctic. Things are very small: you look at tiny little beautiful flashes of flowers in the summer; or they are very big, magnificent vistas where you can see for 50 miles. And this means I looked at my human world from an entirely different perspective than I did in southern Ontario where I had spent all my life to this point. On Baffin Island the visual provided a transcendent experience in that you necessarily focus on the things smaller and the things larger. Things human-sized, the middle-range, are often fairly unattractive; a lot of the landscape is gravel; it's bleak and yet the people who say it's bleak have usually been conditioned not to see the tiny beauties or the great vistas.
In June 1968, though, I seemed to competely flip. It was due to body chemistry not the landscape. I have described the experience elsewhere, a number of times in my life. So I will turn to that description and insert it here:
I have integrated the words of Leonard Woolf from his autobiography Beginning Again published in 1964 in which he describes the British writer Virginia Woolf's life and her history of manic-depression. I have integrated her story into my own experience because I found a remarkable similarity. Leonard Woolf's description of Virginia Woolf's manic-depressive history, the first description I have read of such an illness in any significant detail, was so apt that it seemed pertinent to apply it to my own experience with alterations to suit my own particular case. The account below may be of use to some with a similar life experience or with some other 'difficulty'. If we never know the difficulty others have gone through, we may find our own battles, sometimes, insufferable. We may lose the plot, the courage to go on. The light may simply burn out.
There seemed to be a process in which I crossed from sanity to insanity, from normal behaviour to abnormal behaviour. Due to this "process" it was difficult to define just where one was along that 'normal-abnormal' continuum. This was true at both the depressive end and the manic or hypomanic end of the spectrum. So it is that I find it difficult to actually number the times when I crossed over, perhaps as many as eight, certainly as few as four, in my whole life, or at least until the last brief episode in 1990 when I went off my lithium for between one and three months when I made one of the dozen attempts to write the only novel I have ever tried to write.
At the hypomanic end there were experiences like the following: "violent emotional instability and oscillation", "abrupt changes" and "a sudden change in a large number of intellectual assumptions." Mental balance, a psychological coherence between intellect and emotion and a rational reaction to the outside world all seemed to blow away, over a few hours or a few days, as I was plunged into a sea of what could be variously described as: emotional heat, intense awareness, sensitivity, sleeplessness, voluble talking, racing mental activity, fear, excessive and clearly irrational paranoia--and in 1968 virtually total incoherence at times--at one end of the spectrum; or intense depression, melancholia, an inner sense of despair and a desire to commit suicide at the other end. The latter I experienced from 1963 to 1965, off and on; the former from 1964 to 1990, on several occasions. It is really quite impossible to summarize this quarter-century of episodes, so varied were they in intensity and expression. But if, as Toynbee argues in his history, that "the greater the challenge the greater the stimulus," the greater the energy evoked, the more vigourous and more versatile the response, then the 1970s, and especially in Australia, saw the beginning of the forging of a potent instrument in my personal and professional life. It was an instrument that gave aesthetic and intellectual expression to the emotional experience of crisis, of calamity, of ordeal which had been part of my life from the start of my pioneer experience in 1962.
My longest depression was in 1963 and 1964 in perhaps two six month periods: from June to November and July to December, respectively. The longest episode of hypomania was from June to November 1968. The hypomania in 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1990 were treated quickly with medication, although the 1978 episode, beginning in January, seemed to last for at least three or four months and had a mostly depressive component. Unlike Virginia Woolf, I had no experience of this variously characterized illness in childhood. It was not until I was 19 that any characteristics of this illness became apparent in my day-to-day life. Unlike Woolf, who experienced the two phases of mania and depression one after another in sequence, my episodes seemed to be quite separate tendencies; they did not follow each other within several months, mania leading to depression. In the 1978 episode, though, elation and depression followed each other within a two to three month period. Clearly, in the episodes in the late '70s, fear, paranoia and the extremes of depression seemed to be much less than those of the 1960s. I like to think, and the Bahá'í teachings repeat, that God never tests us beyond our capacity. So it is that the more ruthless the execution that is done by the Pruner among the shoots that he finds sprouting in springtime out of thew willow's head. The more abundant will be the vitality "that the tree will concentrate into the shoots which are spared." The pruning that took place in the 1960s produced a vigorous growth in the 1970s; the pruning of the 1970s produced another growth in the 1980s and again in the 1990s and so on. Such is the pattern in my life as I look back.
There are a variety of manic-depressive profiles. Mine is different than Woolf's but it has a typicality. It is bipolar because both ends of the spectrum, the mood swings, were experienced over the period 1963 to 1990, twenty-seven years. Thanks to lithium it was virtually over by the time I was 46 years of age. And it would have been all over by the age of 36 if I had stayed on the medication rather than trying to live without it. I could go into more detail comparing Virginia's experience and my own, for her story goes on for over 350 pages; but this short account will suffice. Perhaps at some future time I will go into more detail. This account has none of the fine detail that I could include like: mental hallucinations, specific fears and paranoias, electroconvulsive therapy, psychiatric analysis and diagnosis, experiences in and out of several hospitals with a great number of people, situations and, looking back, humorous and absurd events. Perhaps one day, when the enthusiasm exists, I will go into that kind of detail. For now, this general account, these few paragraphs, must suffice.
I think it is important to state, in conclusion, that the whole notion of 'madness' is really not an appropriate word for a clinical disorder, a bio-chemical, an electro-chemical imbalance having to do with brain chemistry. Other words like nuts, loony, psycho, crazy betray a lack of understanding of the disorder and the stigma and ignorance of history. For the one to three percent of the population who suffer from this illness it is now largely treated by lithium carbonate, or other medications which any good psychiatrist can prescribe. I don 't have to search for the 'real me' which I used to think I could find between the depressive and the manic end of some behavioural spectrum. Like everyone else I have my battles between my lower and higher nature, as Jung might have put it, and I must battle on, fighting my battles, in the end, by myself as we all must, with the help of friends and loved ones when necessary, as it so often thankfully is.
In the last twenty years I have had no experience of clinical depression, except for a short period in 1990 when I unwisely went off my medication. Of course, I have had the occasional circumstantial depression, the kind of depression any human being gets from time to time when the hurts of life become more than the spirit can bear. But these short-lived periods are suffered through easily compared to those 'clinical' experiences in manic-depression, or the bi-polar tendency as it is now labelled, which went on for days or weeks and, on occasion, months. “Every trouble in life,” wrote Bagehot, “is a joke compared to madness.” While I would not use the word ‘madness,' and while I would not call many of my other trials and tribulations ‘a joke,' there is some truth to Bagehot's words.
Generally in these recent twenty years the most uncomforable experiences I have are: "the flu" for two or three days a year or, more recently, in the last four years since retiring from employment, fatigue in the evenings due to overwork, too much writing, arguements with my wife, the various embarassments and problems we all face from day to day, frustrations of Bahá'í community life and an exhaustion with my work as a teacher. But compared to the bi-polar episodes of earlier years they were, for the most part, child's play. There is a secret strength in all that suffering and whatever peace of mind I now possess it is in part due to having lived through all those years of anguish. It was a tempering process: "With fire We test the gold; and with gold We test Our servants." With T.S. Eliot, too, I was only too conscious that decent men often have as many nightmares as the not-so-decent. And I had plenty of them yet to come.
I write the above for the occasional person who may one day read this. It is intended to be as much use to the reader as it has been to me in the writing. It may encourage the reader to write his or her own story. From my experience as a teacher I know that we all have 'our story' and, for some, it is useful that some people tell that story on paper. The very constitution, the elements, of my experience consist not only of the objective, external realities of my society, my culture which become part of the very air I breathe or insinuate themselves into my mind and emotions often unbeknownst; but also of internal elements: slips, gestures, symptoms, silences, thoughts and feelings which become part of my emphatic conduct or my noisily trumpeted convictions. These convictions are often distorted expressions of wishes which sometimes are the precise reverse of their overt manifestations. There is a complexity to belief that we have only begun to read. Perhaps that is why Bahá'u'lláh says at the hour of the soul's ascension belief or disbelief can be completely reversed.
As I look back over those first episodes of manic-depression, perhaps the package of them for the first 18 years of my pioneering life, from 1962 to 1980, I can see some parallels to the experience which Thomas Henry Huxley had when he referred to "the long wait" in which "the faith in self" finally seemed justified. Huxley wrote about a "turning point" which came in his life. This seemed like a helpful perspective to draw on in my own experience. In the case of my Cape Horn, as Huxley called it, the ship was actually wrecked and its inhabitant withered. But after a recuperation on the shore of life, a sleep on the shore, on the sand and a rejuvenation with the fruits of the land, I was ready again for the assault of life.
These bizarre, strongly abnormal, bi-polar experiences made me at first attracted to and then skeptical of conspiracy and mental illness themes in films and finally drawn to them again. Characters with mental disabilities or mental illnesses have long been staples of literature. In the forty years associated with my pioneering days, I did come to enjoy the range of conspiracy films such as JFK, All the Presidents Men and Dave, inter alia with their underlying presence of paranoia; films on various disabilities like Repulsion, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Shine, Awakenings, Rainman, Lorenzo's Oil, My Left Foot, inter alia; and films exhibiting several kinds of visionary or sensory paranoia based on and appealing to feminism or right-wing politics such as: Basic Instinct, Dirty Harry and Rambo, among others. But I am no conspiracy theorist myself like my fellow traveller Noam Chomsky. I do not hold the view, as Chomsky seems to do, that if people only knew what was going on, they could rise up and sort out the world's problems. The utopian force I have been identified with for half a century is no panacea. Even if the world becomes, for the most part--and as I believe it will--affiliated with this new Faith, there will be many problems to deal with, many complexities. The peace, love and unity that the Bahá'í Faith offers to humankind is no simplistic rabbit's foot. It requires tireless, continuous effort on a planetary scale for many generations. This story comes from one of these generations.
Sometimes with genuine and believeable story-lines, such films were often fanciful, delusional and irrational. Sometimes inspiring, they were not always the visionary films, not examples of the visionary paranoia and the heightened awareness of real possibilities their producers claimed them to be. If they did illuminate the hidden dimensions of history and of the personal, they were dimensions that for this Bahá'í illuminated the political and the social, the historical or the contemporary in quite different terms than they did for the mass that watched them, although that was not always the case. Bahá'í perspectives provided for me, anyway, representative glimpses of a counterpoint to the conventionalities and social puerilities often conveyed by these films. My own experience of mental hospitals and mental illness gave me, I often felt, a depth and a nuance and, as the years went on, a quiet and realistic base from which to assess the many emphases and claims that were voiced in the visual medium on these subjects. I have probably bunched together too many films here, but during these epochs there were films that dealt with so many of the personal and social problems of our times and problems I suffered from as well. They were films that were entertaining and informative, inspiring or dull. I could write my autobiography solely around films that served, in some ways, as the backdrop of my life.
If I were a Hollywood actor in the last 25 years, say, 1988 to 2013, I would be calling my agent to be on the lookout for roles in which I could play a mentally troubled character. Kathy Bates earned her Oscar playing a madwoman in Misery in 1990; the next year, Anthony Hopkins earned one for the role of a cannibal, Hannibal Lecter; in 1993 Holly Hunter was the mute heroine of The Piano; 1994 produced Tom Hanks as the strange but winning Forrest Gump; in 1995 there was the alcoholic Nicholas Cage of Leaving Las Vegas; Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor award for his 1996 performance as schizoaffective pianist David Helfgott; 1997 was Jack Nicholson's turn for doing obsessive compulsive disorder; James Coburn picked up his Oscar as the sadistic paranoid father in 1998's Affliction; and in 1999, Michael Caine was a narcotics addict and Angelina Jolie co-starred as the sociopath of Girl, Interrupted. That's ten Oscars in ten years and I am not counting many films since then and the many borderline cases like Jessica Lange who is half mad in most of her movies and has already collected two Oscars. The illness I had suffered from, starting over forty years ago, had become, in some ways, a source of claim to fame.
But it was not all a story of a new age of understanding. On television, that most popular story-teller in modern society, people negotiated their attitudes to and their understandings of different social and political issues of which mental illness was but one. The most common disability portrayed on television during the years that this autobiography was being written, 1984/5-2004/5, has been mental illness. People's information and knowledge of the subject comes, for the most part, from TV which often perpetuates the stigma and the negative sterotypes by inaccurate depictions, misinformation and uninformed dramatic sketches. This has been part of the world of the mentally ill for centuries and it has been part of the backdrop of my own experience in these several epochs. In some ways it is difficult to appreciate how far society has come in its knowledge and understanding; in other ways the problems are massive.
This autobiography suggests, exemplifies, a psychological reality that opposes and withstands the plague of popular fantasies that bombard consciousness in these epochs. My identity is not merely an image, ultimately empty, a symbol of another's demand on my life in an image-conscious society. I accept that image has become a central aspect of life today; indeed to some extent I revel in it. I play the game, but realize it's a game. I know that much of my desire I have been taught through my only partly avoidable immersion in society's realities. I have been hooked, as we all have been in varying extents, by the "aesthetics of consumerism.” "Coolness" and "glamorousness" I am aware of in some symbolic world that I inhabit in a depthless realm of masks, of images and brand names whose cache and status inevitably change, revealing no stable core at best or no substance at all. But I know my reality is not this. The movies I have seen are entertaining but have only what some writers call a secondary reality. Consequently, I am plunged into and forged by a sea of signifiers which, while stimulating my sensory emporium, ultimately signify something approaching nothing. I am conscious of body image but I get no sense of identity from my body. My psyche, to the extent that it is filled with electronic media products, is a void because that environment is an abyss, and the inner world, if one can call it that, which it recreates in this narration is just as depleted. This subject, which I have alluded to here only briefly, is a long and complex one. But I shall leave it here.
Throughout this entire pioneer period I was able to use my mind first as a student, then as a teacher, then as a lecturer and finally as a writer-poet. I was able, by the 1990s, to make poetry out of human life, out of a human life in which I had ceased to want to play such an active part. The words of the poet Shelley were pertinent here:
Nor seeks nor finds he mortal blisses,
But feeds on the aerial kisses
Of shapes that haunt thought's wildernesses.
But from these create he can
Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of Immortality.
HERE WE ARE IN 1968:
In early June 1968 I went into a hospital in Frobisher Bay and in early December 1968 I came out of the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital having been treated for what has been variously named over the years: a mild schizo-affective state, manic-depression, a bi-polar disorder. Perhaps some day I will describe the eight shock treatments, the experience of the bizarre and the disturbing which I saw every day in this vast mental hospital, my visitors and how I treated them, the people I got to know in the hospital, the other treatment programs which were tried and my own internal fears, anxieties and strange behaviour patterns. However traumatic this experience was and however much it led to a breaking of continuity in my life, a radical fragmentation, a shattering of narrative identity, for a time, it has not led to a ‘before' and ‘after' bi-sected, bi-partite division of my life as is often the case in illness narratives.
In October 1967 the House referred to humanity entering "the dark heart of this age of transition." I had just begun to enter yet another dark heart of a mental disorder which, in a strange and secret way, strengthened my entire life. The third phase of the Nine Year Plan also began in the first two months Judy and I lived in the District of Franklin. The Six Intercontinental Conference were over and some nine thousand believers had attended around the world. The first oceanic conference was held in November celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Bahá'u'lláh. In April the second election of the Universal House of Justice took place. In June 1968 the Continental Board of Counsellors was established. Much was happening in the Bahá'í world as it began to experience the entry of thousands of young people into the Cause. The history of these experiences are described in various Bahá'í books and I shall not go into the events in the Bahá'í community in detail here.
However difficult my own life was during 1967/8, there were other sufferers from bi-polar illness whose attacks were far worse than mine. The American poet Robert Lowell, for example, had a series of attacks from 1949 to 1974, every year. In a book about his experience the illness was defined as: that terrible condition in which the mind is bombarded by more sensation than it can accommodate, when associations succeed one another so quickly and so intensely that the mind feels stretched to the breaking point." By December 1968 my psycho-emotional life seemed on track again and so it remained until the late seventies, for the most part.
HERE WE ARE IN THE 1960S:
During all of these experiences in the 1960s, the Nine Year Plan proceded apace to eventually more than exceeding all of its goals. When the statistical report for the progress of the Cause in the USA came out in August of 1968 I was headed for the first of a series of eight shock treatments in the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. Statistics were far from my mind at the time. I was having a great deal of trouble just getting through the day, although a set of different therapies were being tried, none of which seemed to be of much help. Hundreds of new centres had been opened to the Faith in the first four years of the Nine Year Plan. As I walked around the various 'cottages' where I was being institutionalized, as I was being locked in rooms and marched around like a prisoner; as I seemed to be hallucinating, having visions that both I and the Cause I belonged to were under attack, the news was out that great progress in the advancement of the Cause was taking place.
Whatever progress there had been in the growth and development, the consolidation and extension of the Cause around the planet--and from the time my mother first had contact with this Cause in 1953 until today, in 2013, this Faith has grown 25 to 30 times--it was necessary to keep in mind that "civilizations come to birth in environments that are unusually difficult and not unusually easy." To put it a little more precisely, "the most stimulating challenge is to be found in a mean between a deficiency of severity and an excess of it." But the skills, the knowledge and the attitudes involved in writing about that challenge take a lifetime to acquire. For we are all works of art in progress. When I write I like to think of myself as a conduit; I am available for something to enter, perhaps that "leaven that leaveneth the world of being." Like any other art that is taken seriously, writing is a discipline that must be learned if, as Thomas Hardy once wrote, "one is to contain the monstrous and self-dividing energies of existence." But, like anything else, there are effective and ineffective ways of learning. Levine, in his analysis of Hardy, says that "the effect of a refined sensibility is to write books," while the effect of pure sensitivity is to be crippled.
The war in Viet Nam and the government policy sending troops to the first television war was under seige in America. The following poems widen the perspective on war; for it is not my aim here to expatiate on the pros and cons of the war in Viet Nam or indeed on a host of other political events which the reader can find exhaustively analysed in books and in the electronic media and analysed ad nauseam in the last half century. It is my hope that I can provide, especially for Bahais and the seekers among their contemporaries, some perspectives that they will find refreshing, illuminating and, hopefully, both intellectually surprising and provocative. For the most part these perspectives will not draw on the dead weight of the classics, what Marx said was like a weight, a nightmare, on the brains of the living. My perspectives are largely from those of a new world religion and a literature that draws from the humanities and social sciences and a multitude of stylizations of reality that are born in the initimate, personal and subjective processes of writing of many a modern. For it is these stylizations that determine the dominant category of experience, the essential event, for the reader.
Besides being an historical document, this work is, or so I like to think, part of an ``early warning system'' that art opens in the ``doors of perception.'' As media changes have accelerated during these four epochs, technologies have begun to perform the function of art in making human beings aware of the impact of technology. Using Erza Pound's definition, the artist can be seen as the ``antennae of the race'' in anticipating social and technological changes by several decades. The prophetic artists' work enables consumers to prepare to cope with these changes. Technology, McLuhan believes, reaches beneath consciousness and alters sensory balance and perception without human awareness or resistance. The artist is not the only social player who can counter technological effects but the artist brings a certain expertise, a certain awareness “of the changes in sense perception.” McLuhan, like many philosophers and certainly most Baha''s, endows human beings with a limited freedom. The artist provides a map to adjust the psyche. Of course with many artists there are many maps and in the last several epochs people get exposed to a plethora of maps. The media bring many of these maps into our lives and they deeply affect people because the media are, for McLuhan, human extensions. However, it is possible to assess media effects before media are introduced into society, thanks to the artist. I like this idea of McLuhan's which he says serves us with a freedom of action through the arts. But the idea is too complex to deal with here in more detail.
A NEW AND AN OLD KIND OF WAR
Carl Von Clausewitz's On War which he wrote in the years 1817 to 1829, aimed at an understanding and clarification of the principles of conflict, of war. The nature of war seems to be changing, certainly for me and my daily life and most of my contemporaries in this half century, 1953-2003. In my lifetime the nature of warfare changed a great deal. But all the wars I fought were in my personal life. Even here the principles of warfare outlined by Clauswitz were relevant. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 9 February 2003.
It's a different war these days
than the ones my father
and his father and fathers before
went to with guns and uniforms
and marching, marching. Marching.
A tightening in the gut, real fear,
morning after morning,
wanting to run away
from this stoney, narrow and tortuous path,
learning to love it, slowly, slowly, slowly--
well, most of it.
It's the kind of war that wears you
down, year after year as you learn
to keep your forces concentrated-
that simple law of strategy-
and keep faithful to the principles
you--and he--have laid down.1
1 These were the first two principles laid down by Clauswitz in his book.
9 February 2003.
TIME MAY VINDICATE
Thucydides began his history of the Peloponnesian War with a short prelude, a description of critical events from 435 to 432 BC. He believed it was going to be “the greatest war of all” and “worth writing about”1 The war that is the chief concern of this poetry begins in 1937 with a hiatus period covering major events of the twenty years back to 1917. Thucydides gives a short account of the period before the war, the period 479-431 BC. He called this period ‘the Pentecontaetia.' The years before 1919, back to 1844, seventy five years, I shall call the Heroic Age. Some of my poetry is devoted to events of that three-quarters of a century. -Ron Price with thanks to Thucydides, History of the Pepolonnesian War, Penguin, 1972, p.35.
There's a perpetual restlessness here
as I hop-along from place to place
through an immense complexity1
only touching down, sharp edge,
on a life, a place here and there
where I lived and watched it rage,
far from the fringes of that Golden Age,2
hardly knowing, unbeknownst,
like some kind of game,
light electric entertainment,
as an old world fell apart
and a new one was born
in which self crystallized
little-by-little around a world
of language and I tried
to describe that war, so different,
create it in words for the first time,
to perpetuate in memory deeds
which should not be forgotten,
which supremely tested beliefs.
Travelling and reading, I derived
from my generation new understandings
of the early stage of this new war.
And so I write an everlasting possession3
which time may vindicate, just may.
1Thucydides does not off the reader a resting place or a solution to the complexity of history. He offers perpetual restlessness.(James Boyd White, When Words Lose Their Meanings: Constitutions and Reconstitutions of Language, Character and Community, University of Chicago Press, 1984, p.88)
2 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, 1965, p.21.
3 P.A. Brunt, Studies in Greek History and Thought, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993, p. 137.
1 February 2001
I'd like to close this chapter with a letter that pursues this war theme in a different direction. I wrote the letter about the same time as these two poems. It provides some useful insights I think on this overall venture that has been the pioneering experience. It is a letter I never sent but I entitled it: THE NEW-OLD WAR . I wrote it on Christmas Day four months before retiring from teaching. The letter draws on metaphor which, during these pioneering years, came to have increasing importance to an understanding of my pioneering venture and my life. Literary theorist Marshall McLuhan was one of the masters of metaphor. He recognized how to leverage the power of metaphor for both rhetorical and pedagogical value. In literary critic Donald Theall's critical review of McLuhan: The Medium Is the Rearview Mirror, published in 1971, he described McLuhan's method as follows: "In McLuhanese, his metaphors could be described as providing a “Do-It-Yourself-Creativity-Kit.” In this way, even the initially less adequate metaphors, those that seem to confound more than clarify, can be useful for meditation which will lead to some kind of creative insight. For me this became increasingly true for virtually the entire history of the Bahá'í Faith.
86 Fitzroy Road
25 December 1998
Dear Universal House of Justice
This is a letter I will probably never mail but I must write it anyway to get a few things off my chest. I suppose what I write was precipitated by watching a recent movie Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks. The movie showed, possibly better than any has since movies started their journey a hundred years ago, the horror of war. With the aid of the best in sound technology and cinematography and a gripping storyline the eyes, the ears and the emotions were mixed and stirred as they never have before in a war movie. As is so often the case with film, description was wonderful; analysis was lacking. The audience was left, as it so often is, to figure out the whys and wherefores.
This letter, as a result of the intensity and emotion of the film, may be equally intense, overly emotive, over-the-top as they say in Australia. But I trust this letter will convey a slice of truth as did the movie. Some notes, some musical themes, in this poetic autobiography that I send in the form of booklets of poetry like this one, are created and played for the listening ear of a future reader whom I have in my mind's eye. And that is an essential part of this poetic opus: finding reflections of myself, my religion, the realities of life, in many of the pockets of life to which I turn and conveying them in print(J. Hatcher, George Ronald, 1984). Here a future reader will find impressions of the battle from an individual soldier during the earliest years of the tenth stage of history, 1963-1998. I should note, before passing on to other themes, that I often draw on the writings of other artists in the obvious and blatant ways as well as the most subtle in the form of quotation, emulation, allusion and absorption. That is why there are over 1800 references in this entire opus.
We all know about the terrors of war, we citizens of the emerging global civilization. These sorts of wars have an enemy, guns, swords, uniforms, bullets, tanks, aeroplanes, all sorts of military paraphernalia. As far back as civilization goes wars were obvious, blatant, clear-cut, although often complex in their logistics and battle plans as well as other features of what were often long and tortured affairs.
But the battle, the war, of which I write and which we are all engaged in this final stage of history is not in this category, not based on military materiel. It involves a destruction far more drastic and terrible than any of the ones I have described briefly above. This battle does not have a ‘front', as the wars had which we are used to describing in this century, or in those more limited engagements of previous and recent centuries. The battle now is everywhere and it is often, usually, not visible to the senses. Sometimes, of course, it is visible. Sometimes people die in one of literally hundreds of ways from one of thousands of causes. But most of the deaths are spiritual and most of the battles not visible to the outward senses by, say, interested observers.
One of the reasons I will never send this letter is that my own particular battle is just one of millions now. Mine is really no worse or no better than most of the others; or to put it more accurately, it is difficult to measure, to quantify, the individual soul's battle. There are marginal and sometimes extreme differences from person to person, of course, but they are impossible to judge or place in any hierarchy. If some of these individual ‘battlers', as they are called in Australia, ever wrote to you about their battle, their story would be different than mine: we all have different battles. But these battles, these post-modern wars, are infinitely more complex than those of yesteryear. Many people would not even begin to see their lives in these quasi-militaristic terms, as days lived in a war zone on many fronts. They would simply not use the language of war. They see life as a game, as theatre, an exercise in winning and losing, a play on a stage. Some would see it filled with meaning and others with no meaning. But either way, the notion of life as a war, as a battle, would be foreign to them. This is partly due to the seductive, insinuating nature of the process.
But it is not foreign to me and this is what I write about in this letter. This letter will serve as a representative of one that I'm sure millions might write, millions of often stoic souls who battle on and on year after year each fighting in their own way for the truths they have espoused. I tire of this old-born war. After thirty-six years of pioneering, three years of getting ready for it and six years of watching it from the sidelines back in the 1950s, I think I have dried out. Like this dry dog-biscuit of a land, Australia, I have had all my juices sucked out. I feel as if I have lived life to the full, recognised and embraced the ocean of this Cause and thrown my whole life into its service. As Saint John says "that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die."
THE LAST WORDS IN THIS CHAPTER:
I have drowned. My imperfections, imbalances and immaturities, as long as your arm and nurtured over many years, do not appear so epically egregious as once they did. I avoid wasting precious energy on guilt and a host of unproductive mechanisms, although unacceptable behaviour still dogs my path. Action is the willingness to dramatize intentionality, and therefore knowledge, faith and love. Sadly, this wllingness is not always there, even with an intense inner life. Sometimes, as William Hatcher notes, there are "precious moments of despair, of utter helplessness and defeat, of shame and repentance." The angels, I imagine, yawn at the mention of my troubles and my sense of shame in all likelihood bores these angels to death, although it probably protects me still from even more shame. My suffering, now and over the years, is so ordinary, banal, trivial. Still, I must and I do take stock and make deliberate efforts to bring my life into balance, harmony and consistency with the standards of this Cause.
However much suffering has made me the man I am, it seems to have lost the old bite it once had. Its flavour, its spice, its enriching function lies, it seems, in its retrospectivity. And so I, a sorry soldier, with my camp in ruins, speak from a weariness of battle far prolonged, as a bird weary of flight. The shining names of others on scattered tombs no longer appears as radiant, as they once did. They have become overly familiar and not as sweet as their remembrance once was. A legion stretching to horizon's end, they have, I trust, by now entered the Garden of Paradise, they who are champions of the Peerless One.
But all is not a sad tale. I find aspects of this war, this set of endless skirmishes and engagements, enchanting in some ways. I have even become enamoured of some of the very intransigence of the enemy's army. Their implacability, their very immoveability, is an aphrodisiac, though fatigue makes me call truce each day. I make my own noose each day out of my failings and I stroke the face of the traitor: for how can one describe one's infinite failings which one lives with so finitely year-after-year? I seem to love the enemy and seek the Friend. This Friend is echoed in these lines from Shakespeare's sonnets:
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings/That then I scorn to change my state with kings. and
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,/All loses are restored and sorrows end.
The joy I possess is an inward one, for the Friend is, in the end, an inner One and it is difficult to share except indirectly. That is why I write so much poetry. It is as if I write it to my Lord, for the world does not seem to want to listen, or to write to me: nor would I want it to most of the time.
And what is this war-like tempest that blows year after year tearing down the very foundations of the earth with its subtle and not-so-subtle terror? What is this mighty wind of battle whose origins I can neither perceive nor probe? What is this rampant force that silently fills my ears with jingles, the Ten Top Tunes, the most wonderful classics, sports highlights and tinkling trivialities as millions die in the blazing cross-fires of life on battlefields that have no guns, trenches or signs of military might? As I feast on the fleeting and the false I am delivered from greatness. I endlessly magnify the mediocre, the ignorant and the second rate. The very complexity of it all makes it difficult to define the excellent. In these early years of this tenth stage of history, as the Guardian defined the years after 1963, a great maelstrom blows and blows.
My trouble, indeed society's, seems rooted in our souls and, however much analysis we pour unto our problems, the answers elude us. For they are immensely complex both for those of us who are the promoters of this Cause and those billions of souls who will one day embrace its message. For there are a million questions in this complex jungle of modern life.
Some of the ocean's turbulence I can no longer face. I have swum in its pearl-promising waves before. I know of the adventurous excitements and the wet dangers. I want to turn back now to a sun-warmed sand and leave the waves for another day, a future time. I can not swim in some of these great pools any longer; the poisoning stone fish frighten me. I feel like a frightened bird who has torn his pinion and bloodied his head. I want to go home and ‘neath the shade of protecting wings I want to nestle forever. The sea always asks more and in some of these watery escapades, in some of these wild and mounting waters, I no longer want to sail. I can no longer even look upon the frothed treachery that laps on some of the sea's shores. I say prayers now, but only lines, never finishing.
My prayer book feels like an overworked horse that I must leave alone to rest out in the pasture. I tire of the language, the words used year after year to say and do what must be done year after year, again and again. For what we must do seems to repeat itself again and again. The same story is told over and over in its labyrinthine forms, unvarying. Now I face the long wait for the salient dove to bring that living twig. Devotion feels like a lean provision for this journey now. This devotion brought me far and now I must go the distance on the heart's thin soil with a fatigue whose name is so ancient as to have no name.
For many years I have identified intimately with the Guardian who, by at least the 1940s, was worn out from the burden of his labours. But he carried on until his passing in 1957 at the age of 60. Of course, I carry my own burden, much smaller than Shoghi Effendi's. I am currently making some adjustments in my employment and residence in order to carry this burden more effectively into the future. Life seems to be a series of such adjustments until the Lord relieves one of the burden and its accompanying weight, responsibility, pleasures and joys.
I feel He has given it all to me. I have been blest with the ocean, but I must swim alone in the sea. Always there is “the work” upon which to expend my energy. This “work” I feel is partly my reward for coming this far in the battle. This is the deepening, the understanding, the insight, the sweeter pleasures, the joyous even tearful end of things. It is an end that possibly, probably, would not have come had there been no war. For war is productive of much good and my days have tasted a sweet new life, a spiritual springtime filled with the fresh leaves, blossoms and fruits of a consecrated joy. Had there been no war there would not have been this consecrated joy. I no longer have to do everything, as once I did; I can and do find joy in some of the work. I have found my corner where I can watch the tempest blow, where I can deal with a manageable chunk of the war. But from some of the action, some of the fronts on which the war is being waged, I must retire.
Swift would I be, though, Lord, if Thou wouldst but call, for You are my aim, my hope, my all. I have chosen death, Lord. In this old-new born war I know there is no escape. I've seen my candles fail, my petals rust. But I have found a golden seam of joy, consecrated joy, seemingly imperishable joy. This inner brightness, inner light, can be found in my poetry, along with the rusted petals, the failed candles and the story of my retirement from some of the battlegrounds.
Saint John writes in that same chapter 12 that "the resurrection of the dead" is "sown in corruption" and "raised in incorruption." When I view my life as a whole I can see aspects of corruption beginning when I was a child. I trust that my life will see me "raised in incorruption." By the time I arrived in Australia in 1971 at the age of twenty-seven I had collected perhaps two dozen years in which evidences of corruption had entered my life. They were not my last. The insistent self, which manifests itself from one's earliest days, requires a lifetime to work on. 'Tis a tenuous entity the self and, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá expressed it in a pithy phrase, "however tenuous that veil may be, at the last it will completely shut a person out."
Readers will find in this work, if they have not already surmised, that my most favoured centre, my natural focus, for observation, for gaining perspective, for orientation is the Bahá'í World Centre, the spiritual axis, indeed, the nucleus and pattern of World Order as it was evolving on the earth in its pattern of Centres and Institutions. Readers will find that I extoll this framework of Order as my most favoured centre, my preferential System for defining my world. It is not that I am indifferent to other places and systems; indeed, often where I am, home and hearth, serves my immediate purposes of comfort and companionship, love and the satisfaction of personal needs. I bring my readers back to both this home and the larger home within which my spirit moves and has its being. I trust I do not observe men as some writers do--like the lepidopterist who collects butterflies and pins them to his board for study.
Again and agan in life we all reconstitute our memories. I have done this agan and again in relation too the Bahá'í World Centre and in relation to so many other people, places and things. These reconstituted memories form the basis of my remembered self. The shared stories and memories I have within my family, my friendships, my religious community and other individuals and groups define my particular social self. These new memories sometimes bolster and sometimes compete with my previously remembered selves and my previous memories. The narrative construction of human reality, in particular the social reality, and the role of stories in communication and social interaction, forms the story, the autobiographical story or autobiography which is central to human personality. Readers will find, if they have not already, that I come back often to the process of autobiography. Consciousness of this process is, I think, crucial to understanding our own personal lives.
Human stories are rich and of such a complexity and variability that it is difficult to define human narrativity and to separate this narrative from the living body which such narrative abilities emerge from. However, embedding such a story-telling capacity in human agents like ourselves with our rich behavior repertoire, our complex biology and our arguably even more complex social reality, makes for paradox, irony and subtlety and requires a brilliant inventiveness, understanding and wisdom to unravel it. After nearly twenty years of working on this story I feel I have only begun.
CHAPTER FOUR: HOMEFRONT PIONEERING4:--1968 to 1971
"Three rules for writing an autobiography......"
If there are three rules for writing a novel or an autobiography and noone knows what they are, how do we know there are only, or even, three? -Ron Price with thanks to Somerset Maugham in D. Brodie, Writing Changes Everything, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1997, p.15.
We come now to the last phase of the homefront pioneering part of the journey. Of course, at the time when I left that great psychiatric hospital by the side of Lake Ontario in Whitby, I had no idea that my homefront pioneering had just thirty months left in its itinerary. Australia was not even an idea in my mind except perhaps a map I'd drawn in grade four with some sheep on it. This homefront journey was nearing its end. I was not a recorder of the events during these homefront years, a Bahá'í recorder then, nor am I now, of the events in the history of the Bahá'í community at the local, the national or the global level. This would be done in more detail than I could ever achieve by thousands of others around the globe. I was writing a particularistic work that was not based on painstaking recording, detailed description or a peeping and prying into the events of others. In some ways I was not writing anything new. For what I experienced I am sure would have been experienced by many others Bahá'ís, more refined and with deeper insight and understanding than I would ever achieve. My life was not any more felicitous or happy than a myriad other Bahá'ís who travelled the path I travelled in these epochs. It is probable, too, that this work, however lengthy or some might say 'wordy,' will not add appreciably to the facts and figures, the significations and appreciations, of these times or life's incredible mystery. I lack the detective's eye; the dews and hints of nature, the quick flashing moments and movements of people and palces in my day to day life, pass me by and, usually, quite willingly. But I give the reader endless interpretations, endless speculations, endless subjectivities, endless preoccupations with soul. I sometimes wonder if this book can bear the weight of my preoccupations. I would like to be able to say that I give readers self-forgetfulness and self-abandonment on the one hand; and entertainment and a good laugh on the other. But, sad to say, readers will have to look elsewhere for these admirable qualities. 'Abdu'l-Bahá advised us to be self-forgetful and to use humour. But that does not seem to be my lot, the creature of the half-light that I am. It may be that there is some truth in the advice of Norman Mailer; namely, that "it is often impossible to comprehend anyone else until one has plumbed the bottom of certain preoccupations about oneself." After twenty years of being preoccupied with this story I feel, in some ways, as if I have just begun the plumbing.
In December 1968, then, I came out of the hospital and Judy and I settled down in Toronto. In the opening weeks of 1969 I got a job with a security firm, drove an armoured truck, counted money and carried a loaded gun for the first and only time in my life. The loaded gun I'd carried for several years before then had nothing to do with bullets or shooting people. It was a spiritual gun and it had enormous amounts of ammunition, largely hidden, symbolic, of the imagination. After about three months of trying to secure the worlds of various organizations, I got a job as a systems analyst with the Bad Boy Company in Toronto. And this led, sensibly and insensibly, after another three month period to a few weeks of unemployment in the summer months. I never really got a handle on that job. I think the only reason they hired me from a group of some 450 applicants was the fact that I had worked with Eskimos and my supervisor, a young man of about thirty, had had a stint in the Virgin Islands and these brief dips that each of us had had into the third world had created, mostly unbeknownst to me at the time and especially during the interview process, a psychological bond that went a long way to endearing me to him and thence to the job. But, in the end, I really had very little idea just what I was supposed to do most of the time. Eventually this became painfully apparent and, after much discussion back and forth, I decided to leave before they fired me.
The day Apollo 11 was launched for its manned moon landing, July 16th 1969, I was hired by the Prince Edward County Board of Education as a primary school teacher in the country town of Cherry Valley. I was given a grade six class of boys and girls from country farms and hamlets. And there I stayed for one year. Teaching is a consuming activity. You really have to focus on what you do. Your main time goes there. There is little time left for a personal life. It's like a monkey on your back; the process bosses you around, takes over your life. It is a good preparation for writing. Thirty years later I would be ready for a new focus, a new passion, a new place for my energy.
The week I started teaching, in early September 1969, I had been a pioneer on the homefront for seven years. There were many areas I had been tested in during this period: the dominant personality, the perfectionist, I had had to deal with for most of the three years I was at university. This was a personality that kept reappearing in my life, in Bahá'í communities, in my professional work and in my private life. I had lived in the remote wilderness of Canada with its coldness, its vastness and with its emotional chaos which gradually wore me out. I had come close to a spiritual death before I had gone to the north. On the other hand, I had been given, by the grace of God, those mysterious dispensations of Providence, North America's only psychiatrist to care for me at the Verdun Psychiatric Hospital in Montreal where I was placed when I came out of Baffin Island. I had been given a good wife and two good parents. Indeed, the litany of goods and bads that we all recite when we review our life added up in my favour both then and now.
When the second message to youth from the House of Justice arrived in October 1968 I could not help but note the emphasis on "outstanding obligations to others, including those who may be dependent on him for support." My mother could be said to be in this category. Not that I could do much about it at the time for I was in the middle of that set of eight shock-treatments in the Whitby Psychiatric Hospital. In August 1970, after I had been back in the teaching profession for a year, the House referred to pioneers as "associates in the execution of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Divine Plan." After eight years in the field I felt I had earned this accolade. And I still feel this way. There always seemed to be a degree of romance, a flavour of excitement in the vocabulary of the Bahá'í teachings. My mother always said the Bahá'í Faith was meant for anyone who had a theatrical sense in life. Solzhenitsyn, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in December of that year, 1970, said that “in recent decades mankind has imperceptibly, suddenly, become one, united in a way which offers both hope and danger.” This theatre, this one world, I had entered at my birth in 1944. In 1959 I joined a global community motivated by concerted action towards that single goal of the unity of humankind. It was a group that had a map for the journey to that goal and not just vague sentiments of good will. It had explicit agreement on principles for co-ordinated progress.
Of course, there was no assumption, then, nor is there now, that I or this group of Bahá'ís have achieved some state of lofty perfection; rather it is a view that Bahá'ís possess and that I possess as helpers in the execution of His Plan. I think, too, that what is involved, at least for me, has been a quest for selfness, a search for identity. This is a theme that has been part of, has resonated through, American literature since the martrydom of the Bab. I was conscious, too, of the bankruptcy of the culture I had grown up in. The Guardian had expatiated on this theme time and again in his letters. By the late 1960s, after being a Bahá'í for a decade, I had become conscious of my role as a "fisher of humankind." The valley of the shadow of death, mentioned in the Book of Psalms, the 'slough of despond' which was the world, the society, I lived in with its "thousand forests of wild trees" had rare and fruitful trees. My task was to find them. My task was also to "be born from the womb of the world of nature." Both these tasks required a superhuman effort. I was not always equal to the superhuman challenge.
As I write these words I am listening to Augustin Burrows who is describing his autobiography Running With Scissors with its black humour, its very entertaining format, its high degree of readability. It is one of those few autobiographies that is funny and written in a way that is attractive to readers. It is full of eccentricity, strangeness, violent scenes, mental illness, the chaos and rebuilding of a life, the use of writing as therapy, a survival mentality and immense human resilience. I do not possess Burrows' gift for writing in the style he does nor is my life filled with the horrors his was. Mine is a more middle-of-the-road life, or so it seems to me, even with all the ups and downs included. There has been much that has burned in me over the years and this Cause, the Bahá'í Faith, has been a place for me to deal with the fire. Mark Twain wrote that it would require a library to deal with the burning inside him and "a pen warmed up in hell to record it all." I, too, have had my hell, but in recent years there has been a cooling and it is this cooling that has allowed, that has stimulated, the writing.
The term ‘resilience’ has been used in recent years from politicians to community service providers to the seemingly endless supply of self-help gurus. The concept is undergoing a renaissance of sorts in contemporary Western society. One possible explanation is that individuals and their communities are experiencing increased and intensified levels of adversity and hardship, necessitating the accumulation and deployment of ‘more resilience’. Whilst a strong argument could be made that this is in fact the case, it would seem that the capacity to survive and thrive has been a feature of human survival and growth long before we had a name for it. Rather than an inherent characteristic, trait or set of behaviours of particularly ‘resilient’ individuals or groups, resilience has come to be viewed more as a common and everyday capacity, expressed and expressible by all people. I have certainly required some of this quality in the last 72 years of my life.
Having researched the concept for some time now, there is the feeling that we are only marginally closer to understanding this captivating but ultimately elusive concept. What we are fairly certain of is that resilience is more than basic survival. but less than an invulnerability to adversity. The concept rests somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Given the increasing prevalence of populations affected by war and other disasters, we are certain however that efforts to better understand the accumulative dynamics of resilience, are now, more than ever, a vital area of public and academic concern. In our contemporary world, the concept of resilience is coming to represent a vital conceptual tool for responding to the complex challenges emerging from broad scale movements in climate change, rural and urban migration patterns, pollution, economic integration and other consequences of globalisation.
The phenomenon of human resilience is defined as the cumulative build-up of both particular kinds of knowledge, skills and capabilities as well as positive affects such as hope, which sediment over time as trans-personal capacities for self-preservation and ongoing growth. Although the accumulation of positive affect is crucial to the formation of resilience, the ability to re-imagine and utilise negative affects, events and environmental limitations, as productive cultural resources, is a reciprocal and under-researched aspect of the phenomenon. In short, resilience is the protective shield which capacitates individuals and communities to at least deal with, and at best, overcome potential challenges, while also facilitating the realisation of hoped-for objects and outcomes.
Closely tied to the formation of resilience is the lived experience of hope and hoping practices, with an important feature of resilience related to the future-oriented dimensions of hope. Yet it is important to note that the accumulation of hope, as with resilience, is not headed towards some state of invulnerability to adversity; as presumed to exist in the foundational period of psychological research on the construct. In contrast, the positive affective experience of hopefulness provides individuals and communities with a means of enduring the present, while the future-oriented dimensions of hope offer them an instrument for imagining a better future to come. I encourage readers to read-up on this concept for its usefulness in deal with life's challenges.
The famous American writer, Doris Lessing, said in an interview just over two years ago now that the sixties generation, those who came of age in the sixties, were the most self-indulgent generation that had ever existed. They were, she went on, the least self-critical. It was also a generation filled with suicides, drug addicts and casualties of various kinds. Former certainties, those that had existed up to and including WW2, were eroded quickly in the late forties and fifties. Empires that looked like they would last forever in the 1930s, the British, the Fascist and the Nazi, were blown apart or gradually replaced by new worlds, new paradigms, new perspectives on world politics.
To most Canadian and Australian historians who began writing in the 1960s, the imperial past was at best irrelevant and at worst embarrassing. They sought to invent new conceptions of national identity that focused on the multicultural roots of their societies and on the need to compensate the native peoples who had been dispossessed of their lands by the European invasion. These new interpretations did not go uncontested and became the subject of what has been called in Australia “The History Wars.” When I came to maturity in 1965 I was hardly aware of these issues even though I had begun in that year to focus my own interests on pioneering among the Inuit(Eskimo), even though I was a second year student in history and philosophy and even though I was just completing an 18 year experience of school which had a significant British content. Questions of national identity and the British connection were largely peripheral to my life as I struggled with a host of my own personal and intellectual issues.
I think there is some truth, though, in Lessing's analysis. There had been a good deal of social criticism in American writing as I was growing up, although I was too busy with my life, with the private world of family, friends and school, a private world that millions never leave as they go through life. Mummy and daddy and life as endless indulgence is, for many, the last and the only analysis. I have certainly had my share of self-indulgence, so I take a cautionary stance on criticizing others for theirs. I hesitate to give a great expose about by roots, about my ordinariness, my humanity, my devotion to family, hobbies, children, my great love for my friends, and so on. For in all these areas of life, often given such an emphasis and even exaggeration in so many autobiographical narratives, the unpromising, ordinary surroundings of those who became celebrities and sometimes great men and women are described in detail. Greatness springs from a very mortal clay. Focusing on their struggles, their suffering, and their triumphs over adversity, their stories thus reconfirm the American/western democratic mythology about great people arising from the mass; or in Australia the triumph over adversity without religion, money or talent but, rather, some marvellous combination of several central aphorisms from Murphy's Law and Shakespeare's intellectual corpus.
If there is any myth at the heart of this narrative it is the Bahá'í myth, a myth I am unable to reduce to an aphorism or two or indeed some general philosophy of suffering. I suppose with a pleasant and persuasive voice-over narration, mood music, reconstructed events and manipulated time sequences, a cohesive and engaging drama of my life could be presented. But whoever did the job, whatever team took on the task, I would want some significant engagement with the Bahá'í myth, some sculpting of my life not in the mythology of Hollywood, western democracy or, indeed, one of the many myths that now litter the contemporarty western intellectual tradition. I think the requisite understanding of the Bahá'í myth will be some time off in the future before our age or, indeed, my dear self, appreciates its depth and its meaning.
For my life has a host of incommensurate juxtapositions, local, space, time and relationship gaps, distortions, incompatibilities and pieces of contradictory information that can not be smoothed over into a tidy narrative sequence. Some future biopic industry needs to consciously and unconsciously question the elusive border between fact and fiction which make up all our lives. Producers and directors need to be full of self-doubt about their status, their role, as organs of truth and reality. The highly personal interventions into public life that biographical narrative often makes need to focus audience attention on the realities of the human struggle not on the formulaic, mythic structures and familiar narrative paradigms of the lives of celebrity entertainers. I hope I have helped readers focus on this struggle in this now lengthy work.
Our culture seems to have a profound need for unsullied heroes, possibly even saints. The many popular biographies of the last several decades seem to have far more to tell us about our present society which produces and consumes them, than about the celebrity subjects they purport to expose and explore. In some ways this is understandable and I would be the last to criticize them for I have often enjoyed them along with millions of other viewers. But my more questioning spirit tells me we have only just begun to explore the telling of a life. If this account contributes a little in this latter direction it will have all been worthwhile.
Lessing referred to Paul Goodman, C. Wright Mills, Dwight MacDonald, W.F. Buckley and David Reisman as all part of the "high water mark of American social criticism." A review of social criticism since 1960 is beyond the framework of this autobiography but, needless to say, it has been burgeoning. No one can keep up with it anymore and this autobiography only makes a passing glance at some of the major analysts of the last forty to fifty years. But I like to think that this work succeeds like good fictional texts in representing life: in underlining its fullness, complicatedness, inexplicability, fragmentation, and its subtextual richness, a richness which cannot be represented by traditional uses and the linear narrative of historical facts.
It was several years before the confidence and ego strength I had lost in that massive bi-polar episode, or mild schizo-affective state, returned. "There is a courier in the heart", writes Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, "who carries messages of inner meaning to the soul." This episode, however 'mild' it was labelled by one psychiatrist, was terrifying to me as a young man in my mid-twenties. Striving, too, to understand the Bahá'í System I had been a part of for a decade now could only yield a partial result. As the House of Justice wrote in December 1969 "we stand too close to the beginning of the System ordained by Bahá'u'lláh to be fully able to understand its potentialities or the interrelationships of its component parts." In time I was confident that this was a Cause that would prove "to be the thing which the world of religious and thoughtful men" would long for. During these first ten years of my pioneering life it would appear that the time had not arrived, although there was a response in the last twelve months of my time on the homefront that seemed to be the evidence of a 'spiritual elan.' As the darkest hours before the dawn were fast descending on civilization all across the planet, an enterprise, the great in the world's spiritual history, was unfolding unobtrusively before the world's multitudes. As I prepared to go overseas in 1971 that enterprise was only thirty-four years old. Indeed, it was just the start of a process comparable, perhaps, to the laying of the foundations of Christianity during Rome's darkest hours in the fifth and sixth centuries AD.
God had long ago spoken to Abraham in Exodus with the words: "Leave thy country, leave thy father's house and go to a country which I shall show you." In my case, my first wife had spoken to me and, for various reasons, her words seemed like a good idea.
The Guardian said that we stood to close to this new System back in 1930 and three quarters of a century later there is still much truth in them. The everyday experience of many Bahá'ís is a testimony to the truth of these words but, at the same time, there has been great advancement. There is often "blurring of vision;" and "errors of judgement" for we who are the generations of the half light. When the House of Justice called for 733 pioneers at Ridvan 1969 I had just taken that job with the Bad Boy Company and I felt that my whole life had been a 'blur" and one long 'error of judgment.'
The scene improved by mid-summer 1969 with the offer of that job and for the next two years I worked as a primary school teacher in Prince Edward County Ontario. When Judy and I left Picton and Canada in July 1971 there were some fifteen or more youth who had joined the Faith in that little country town of five thousand people. Dozens more whose lives had been touched by the spirit of the Cause would hear about it again in future years, long after Judy and I had gone to Australia. Perhaps some of what Judy and I had both been looking for, the House had described in their June 10th 1966 letter to youth: amusement, education and experience. We were certainly getting some of all three in the first four years of our marriage.
In April 1971 the House of Justice announced that the Bahá'í community was approaching the end of the first half century of the Formative Age. The Eastern Proc Team, as it was called, had come to Picton and we had had many teaching sucesses as a result. A few months before, in late 1970, a French terrorist group, the FLQ, had climaxed several years of bombing by murdering the Quebec Labour Minister. The War Measures Act was invoked. To most Canadians, though, as Mordecai Richler noted, it was a non-issue. An exodus from Canada followed, nevertheless, in the months ahead. Judy and I were part of that exodus, unbeknownst to us.
That same Ridvan message of 1971 pointed toward "a new horizon bright with intimations of thrilling developments." A wonderful spirit had been released by four oceanic and intercontinental conferences and the "practical benefits which accrued to the Cause from them" were seen in the months and years ahead. But that is part of the story in the chapters ahead. On July 12th 1971 Judy and I left Canada and on the same day the House announced plans for the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The early years of our lives had been lived remarkably close to those years of the life of 'Abdu'-Baha; indeed, He passed away a brief twenty-three years before I was born.
Nine years of pioneering on the homefront were nearing their end and during this time I had lived in ten towns: Dundas, Hamilton, Windsor, Frobisher Bay, Whitby, Scarborough, King City, Toronto, Brantford and Picton. I had also taught primary school in other towns: Cherry Valley, two of Toronto's suburbs whose names have long since left me, and two small towns outside Windsor: Amherstburg and Kingsville. I had served on two LSAs and on one registered Bahá'í Group. It had been a traumatic period. The tempest that Shoghi Effendi had referred to back in the opening paragraph of The Promised Day Is Come had been a part of my life during this nine year period. It had also been parts of the civilization I was part of and the global civilization that had been emerging some historians argued since the 1840s.
"It is difficult" wrote David Hume in 1776 as he began his eleven page autobiography, "for a man to speak long of himself without vanity." Vanity, defined as an ostentatious display, as empty pride, as conceit, as an emphasis on personal attainments, I know there to be something of in this multi-faceted autobiography. In my poetry this vanity is dealt with more comfortably. It would seem to me impossible that these things not be present in some degree for life is, in part, "vain and empty". It is not misplaced in autobiography; it is inevitable, in some degree.
More importantly, I'd argue, there is what the autobiographical theorist Roy Pascal calls "an assertion of inner standing." For self and identity are not so much 'facts' as they are ways of thinking about self and others and their: actions, bodies, personalities, competencies, continuities, needs, subjectivity, space and geography, ways of pointing forward and back. As such self and identity are constructs of memory and imagination and, therefore, as I have said before in other analyses of autobiography, there is danger of falsification, of creation for defensive purposes against the encroachments of the world on the self, of an oversimple explaining of the self to the self and its world. There is what Lionel Trilling calls "the inauthenticity of narration". By that he means that part of life is beyond explanation, beyond narration, comprehension. There is also the problem in this connection, this thinking about self, that Hamlet had. One view of Hamlet that has been part of the mainstream of interpretation is that he is "the victim of an excess of the reflective faculty which unfits him for action." My wife, I am only too conscious, has often told me that she sees my life, especially since my retirement in 1999, as one dominated by "an excess of the reflective faculty."
In a review of Boris Pasternak's Hamlet, a poem of Pasternak's is quoted at the outset. This poem speaks to this autobiography and I will, therefore, quote some of it here. "I'm grasping in the echo's distant range/What will occur during my years....Father, I beg you, take this cup from me.....to live a life is not an easy task." Like Hamlet, I appear I be waiting, to delaying, as I write and read day after day. But I trust that "there's a divinity that shapes our ends. Rough-hew them how we will." I have, too, as Pasternak noted in his autobiography, a sense that life is "devoted and preordained to a task." Hamlet is, if noting else, a mysteriously personal play. And so too is this autobiography, at least I hope I have conveyed some of the mystery. Hamlet marks a cultural and historical watershed as does this work in relation to certain aspects of Bahá'í history like: the completion of the Arc, a survey of four epochs; certain aspects of secular history and certain aspects of my own life. The comparisons of Hamlet to my life, to all our lives, are extensive but, for now, I will leave the analogy at this point.
We need to tell our story, to understand our life, hence our "subjective faith in continuous personal identity", in existence itself. Hence we invent ourselves, selves we cannot directly perceive. To read my autobiography, as any other, is to encounter me as an imaginative being.
There is, then, self-affirmation and self-justification in my autobiography. This would seem inevitable, indeed necessary, qualities in any autobiography. The process of writing is the process of shaping, shifting, perhaps even sanctifying, one's life. I am like the main character in a novel, my novel. The challenge of the infinite, of causality, of sheer description is perplexing in both novel and autobiography. Like Edward Gibbon I find much of the meaning and shape of life in my work, my vocation, my writing. Like many autobiographers I find much of the meaning in my religious affiliation and its related activities. Much of what could be seen as the chaos of human experience is made reasonable, explainable. There is sense and sensibility among the dark and enigmatic aspects of life's run. But the web of psychic action, of complex psychological and moral perceptions is still mysterious. Life often lacks orderly and revealing patterns. A logic of events is often just not present in the flux, the impermanence, of immediate experience. These events are simply, and not-so-simply, constructed in autobiography, in my autobiography. The exercise rescues life, my life, from any incipient confusion, from the precarious, in part at least.
But as many autobiographers draw to our attention: words are precarious. They are not dependable. They impose on our understanding. They can be changed at will. But they can be the story of the self's inner experience. This is my intent; hence my gradual turning to poetry. I articulate, again and again, some significant form for what is often simple incoherence, vague and unformed thought, a partial understanding of Providence's plan. For I am a process as much as a state of being and these are both reflected in my autobiography, in the story of my life. The form I find in poetry is an emotionally acceptable one that allows a balance between fact and interpretation.
My students over thirty years would, if ever interviewed, see me in a multitude of ways, as would the individuals and the Bahá'í communities in which I lived and had my being since 1962. Such a process, if undertaken, might help to answer the question always implicit in autobiography: why am I worth writing about? The face presented to the world: its role, image, appearance, pose, the public self, the self as others see me, the social or historic personality, the sum of my achievements, my appearances, my personal relationships; and my personal self-image, my private self are difficult to reconcile. The teaching profession affords one of the best vocations for obtaining an assessment of how others see you in a day-to-day public sense. I have had some negative reactions to my teaching style, in the first several years of teaching and in occasional groups over the rest of my career but over the 29 years of teaching perhaps 23 or 24 were virtually free of significant negative reaction. Over this period I became the entertainer, the guy who knew a lot, the friendly Canadian.
Writing autobiography, writing about the self, implies profound exposures. Even disguises may often function as instruments of revelation. It is difficult to get the balance between revelation and concealment. I am more comfortable with poetry as a form to help me obtain the balance, as I have pointed out above. The unmapped territories of the imagination and feeling are more easily described in the securities of poetry's more flexible forms.
"The value and truth of autobiography are not dependent on the degree of conscious psychological penetration, on separate flashes of insight;" says Roy Pascal. They arise out of "the monolithic impact of a personality (which) creates a consistent series of mental images out of its encounter with the world." Perhaps that is why I write here, to help create this picture because something remains unsatisfied. I'm after that 'consistent series of mental images' that Pascal refers to here. I want to dominate and define a life, as Gibbon did. But that is impossible to do in the daily course of events. Perhaps it is the desire for intellectual companionship, a stay against confusion and drifting, a natural disposition to repose after the endless verbal and administrative rigeurs of my work as a teacher and the love of study which renews itself again and again, as it was for Gibbon. It would appear that whatever talents I have at writing, at writing to any significant extent, I need some tranquillity in which to work, in which to liberate the forces within me.
In recent years I have come to accept a certain degree of human limitation which I had hitherto not done. This has underpinned my life with a degree of comic vision to soften the sense of the tragic which operated in the early stages of my autobiographical narrative. There is some fear in me that I will be found wanting, but alas that is the lot of us all and that fear is now vague and amorphous. It only occurs in my lower moments when life itself looks like a gloomy lot. Perhaps, as Patricia Spacks argues, autobiography "in its essence amounts to an insistent demand for attention. Apology of one sort or another is built into the undertaking."
There is an atmosphere of unceasing activity involved in writing. It is not just coincidental that my writing has taken place at the same time that my interest in LSA activity, going to talks, deepenings, so many forms of standard Bahá'í activity has ceased, or significantly attenuated. Perhaps this writing is partly a way of keeping busy in a meaningful sense when the usual things that occupied my time do not do so any more. There is a freedom, a pleasure, a depth, a meaning, I achieve in written reflections on my experience that I do not achieve, in quite the same way, in my several social roles.
Turning life into story, into poetry, provides a means to account for everything. It helps to overcome that sense of superfluity "which restlessly and uselessly torments" human beings and which they "longingly alter and realter."Individuals ceaselessly view and review their lives in a type of endless contest; in the process they develop a hermeneutics of suspicion or positive meaning which thinly or thickly coats their lives during so many of their leisure and working moments. Perhaps that is why so many garden, read, watch TV and engage in an endless list of 'occupiers.'
Writing autobiographical poetry helps to define, to separate that sphere of action and of life which has meaning and that which is, to a large extent, superfluous. It increases the connectedness, the coherence of the life process, the daily acts of significance and trivia which inseperably interact. It puts them on display; they reveal uneasiness, concealment, self-justification, sincerity. I adjust my character; I define its nature not unlike a woman does before a mirror, only I deal more with the inner person than the external image.
Like Boswell, I am, myself, my most significant audience and meaning is significantly expressed in my poetic discourse. If it is not written down it seems, perhaps, that it will not endure. Boswell describes how actively his imagination responds to the fancied demands of others and that in this sense he, and we, can in some degree be whatever character he, and we, choose. I have found this to be the case and, in fact, the possibilities of choice become virtually infinite when in the public domain. The attendant responsibilities are enormous. Social life I find is both light and frivolous on the one hand; and serious and significant on the other. The affects are, for me, punishing; they seem to deny the reality of limitation, but only in part, for limitation is part of the very pith of life. I find my forays into the social send me back to my study, to my privacy, for a sense of renewal, a sense of consolidation, of meditation.
I think it is timely to include another interview at this point, the point at which homefront pioneering becomes international pioneering. Since I refer so often in my narrative to the poetic aspect of my autobiography I would like to insert here one of the twenty interviews and approximately thirty thousand words I simulated in the first ten years, 1992-2002, of my writing poetry in the intensive way I did producing during these years nearly six thousand poems and two million words. The subjects suitable for poetry seem to be anything that has ever happened. And within that anything, I am free to interpret, reinvent, and juxtapose, all in the service of producing a greater understanding of what it is to be alive, what it is to be a Bahá'í during these epochs.
Ted Koppel wrote in his book History in the Making and the Making of Television that “a live interview on television is more than an interview--it is the whole editorial process: the interview, the editing, the structuring and restructuring of a story on the spot.” I feel that way about these interviews which I have choreographed, so to speak.
Now that you have finished sending your poetry to the Bahá'í World Centre Library in celebration of the Arc Project, fourteen years of poetry, nearly all of what you had written up to the end of the twentieth century; now that you have been out of full-time employment in the teaching profession and out of an extensive attendance at Bahá'í meetings of various kinds for over two years; now that you are on the eve of your fortieth year of pioneering, I think it's timely that we continue these interviews as a means of marking your progress or the lack of it and as a means of defining the ongoing process that is involved in your personal and poetic life. This seems like a good time to catch you in: it's quiet; it's raining; we won't be disturbed, although you might get a little tired since it's after midnight. If you do, we'll finish this interview in the morning after you've had your haircut. How does all that sound to you?
Yes that's fine, but I'll just get some Weet-Bix if you don't mind and put on Beethoven's Fourth Symphony as a little background music.(Gets up, returns with Weet-Bix and puts the Beethoven record on his record player)
I: How is the writing coming along?
P: Quantitatively I think I'm averaging about 8 hours a day of reading and writing, although I don't time myself: some in the morning, some in the afternoon and evening. Qualitatively it is always difficult to measure. I tried writing novels in the last two years, three or four attempts, but ground to a halt after several thousand words on my major attempt. I could list several essays and odds and ends for magazines which I have been able to get published since 1999, but the poetry is still centre-stage, still magnifying my life and what I'm thinking about, making it new again, making it shine, as David Malouf once put it in discussing poetry..... Look, let's pick this up in the morning. I'm getting a little too tired for this.....
I: Sure(they go off.....) See you in the morning......
P: (early afternoon) Sorry for putting you off so long; I hope you enjoyed your walk around Pipeclay Bay and down at Bass Strait and Low Head. There were a number of important e-mails that came in this morning: several form Western Australia and two from the Bahá'í World Centre. I also wanted to listen to an interview with Robert Dessaix and get some information off the Internet on Somerset Maugham. I'm always better after lunch anyway....
I: You are now working on your 47th booklet of poetry and are at the end of your ninth year of serious poetic writing with an output of about 5500 poems. Are you producing more poetry now that you have freed yourself from the various constraints you operated under until mid-1999? What do you think keeps you at it, at the poetic response?
P: Keeping track of how many poems one writes after several years gets a little tiresome. But I don't think I'm writing any more poetry now than I was when I was a teacher and a Bahá'í in a large Bahá'í community. I would guesstimate that I am writing now, as I have been for many years, a little less than two poems a day. Essays and interviews help me clarify what I'm trying to do; novels seem to get in the poetic road. I must have a dozen attempts since the early 1980s gathering dust in my files.
Also, I have an immense freedom now that I did not have before. I'm not famous; I'm an unknown really, so noone is watching over me. There is none of that pressure which comes from being in some public's eye. And I use that freedom to write poetry. The poetry I write makes me focus on reality, on what happens inside my head and out in the world. So, although it looks like escapism, what I am doing, it is really quite an intense involvement in life. When you write poetry, the poem takes you on a trip, not a fantasy or an escape, but an integrative exercise where everything in your life, your knowledge and your experience, comes together to focus on a particular direction that the poem is assuming as you write. There is a bit of a risk, a bit of a punt in the process. Life, a spark, arises between what you see, what the external experience is, and what's inside you. You could call this the spark of reflection, an arising from, an answering to, the depths of your life.
I: To keep churning out these poems you must have something to say and, of course, you can't always take that for granted, can you? There's no guarantee, is there?
P: No, that's true. I remember reading about Emerson's concern, quite a strong one if I recall, that his creative edge would disappear and he'd have nothing more to write. Well, in nine years that has not happened to me. There always seems to be a reservoir of something, a rich interaction between the three foci in my poetry: my self-society-religion, churning out those sparks I mentioned above. And the Internet is paying off more than I dreamed. There is enough print there to keep the fires stocked forever. That was a bit of a worry before I retired because, while I was living in Perth, I'd been used to having a dozen or more books around my study at any one time from several libraries in that big city. Finally, this period, both in the Bahá'í community and in history, is part of a great climacteric, a great paradigmatic shift. There is just a teeming mass of stuff to put on paper, it seems to me.
I: Now that your role in life is quite different, now that you spend your time largely with print and much less with people, as you did when you were a teacher and going to "endless meetings", as you once put it, do you feel any different?
P: Well, I can't call myself a teacher now, perhaps a "retired teacher." I'm not "the chairman" or "the secretary" of the LSA; I don't have to respond to as many 'personal requests for my time' as I did, say, from 1992 to 1999 and for many years before that. I still feel it's a little pretentious to call myself "a poet." As one poet I once read in an interview put it: other people can call me a poet. I prefer to say: 'I write poems' or 'I write prose-poems' or 'I do alot of writing.' Also, I'm still a husband and a father, a step-father, an uncle, a step-grandfather. These roles take some of the edge off the immense amount of solitude which is at the centre of my life. I'd say generally that I'm much more organized and, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá once put it in a letter, more focused on a single point.1 I am trying, as He put it in that same context, to become an effective force.2
I: How do you see your role as a Bahai now? Is it different than it was in, say, the 1990s?
P: I am one of those Bahais who lived through those "three decades of struggle, learning and sacrifice"(1964-1994)3 and who is now trying "to capitalize on the insights gained" by these years of experience. I trust that what is now, for me, more than forty years of service in total will refine my present endeavour and purify my motivation so that I will be, as the House says in that book Century of Light "worthy of so great a trust,"4 the continued involvement in the prosecution of the Divine Plan. I want to find more and more meaning in life. I have always refused to believe it's merely a dreary sequence of events. So I write poetry. My work is my testimony . . . I want to give myself in sacrifice of some sort, to participate in the common body of human life . . . my poetry lets me do that as does my religion.
I have always, at least since October 1964 when I was first exposed to what could be called 'the military metaphor' in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, seen the whole exercise, my whole experience as a Bahá'í, in terms of a very serious undertaking. Life was no game, no fun parlour, it was serious business, very serious. As two of the teachers I had back in 1964 put it: it was war! But the war is played out in the theatre of our daily lives. My thirty years in Australia had taught me to play it with humour. By the late 1990s, as I approached the age of 55, I had worn myself out in the particular theatre of operations where I lived. It had not been the first time. So I moved to northern Tasmania to refocus, recoup, redirect my energies. This I am now doing.
I: You seem to have quite a range of content in your poetry: from the great processes of history to the ordinary little things. Could you put this aspect of your poetry into perspective for us?
P: All the little things that happen to us in our lives never get recorded. I try to get some of them into my poetry, so that they won't get lost. All that is not recorded--and there is so much--needs to get a look in now and then. You can't get it all down or we'd all drown in the trivia, the boredom and the chowder as well as the 'deep and meaningfuls.' I want to preserve things, some of the rich experience of these past decades, some of the sacrifice, learning and struggle, some of the things that never get into messages and letters. I want to keep this recent history and keep it in context. My poetry provides a host of contexts for our Bahá'í experience. Generally the contexts are three: my own life, my community's, my society's and the world's.
Also, and finally with respect to your question, language, the language I use in poetry, is a way of defining who I am, of defining what holds us together in our communities as Bahá'ís, of specifying identity. To do this I have to relive history, to relive the big and the small. They are both part, important parts, of the complex and simple world we live in.
I: Isn't there something in your poetry about making the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar, to choose someone's clever phrase?
P: No question about it. But it's time for my afternoon walk. I've had about five hours of pushing words up a hill or down a hill or along the plane and it's time to take by body, the temple of my soul, and give it something to do other than sitting, walking around this house and talking to you.
I: Can I join you?
P: If you don't mind listening to my saying prayers out loud. That's one of the main functions of my walk.(the two go off on a walk and return)
P: That was a pleasant hour. It is an important hour to me to get that exercise, to do some deep breathing to counter a COPD(chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), to say some prayers for a range of purposes not the least of which is protection, the purposes are multiple and are indicated by each prayer and too many to outline here. The prayers also allow me to finish off the eight hours that are my working day. With the interviews I hear on the radio, the news programs, the dinner and lunch, the domestic work and a little TV, the day passes very pleasantly. This is how I am spending my recuperative period, my preparation period, my time of an intensive writing of poetry. There is in this increasingly long exericse a delicate recuperative strategy for dealing with the charging lorry of life.
I: One final question comes from a similar one asked to Australian writer David Malouf by Helen Daniel about the stillness in his novels. Do you think your poetry slows life down or moves things along?
P: I think it does both. With many of my poems I want time to stop completely so that I can move into the moment, explore the second, the event, over many stanzas. At other times I want my poem to survey a vast track of land, of space, of time and only this poem can take such enormous distances and focus them as succinctly as I do on, say, one page. Time and space are dimensions in your hands as a poet which you can play with with great freedom and purpose.
I: I think that is all for now. I look forward to returning to these and other themes in the years ahead. Happy writing and happy living, Ron.
P: You, too! What was your name again?
1 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Haifa, 1978, p.111.
3 The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p.108.
I will close this section on homefront pioneering and its four parts with two poems which tend to paint some of the big picture in different ways:
THE AGE WE LIVE IN
It is not so much authorial ego or that I am a compulsive self-historiographer which compels me to document my life more fully than most. All this poetry is my workshop where my awareness of life expresses itself quintessentially. I also see myself as part of a global pattern, a representative figure, part of a mytho-historical process which may be of use to future generations. I was born into a new age with the Kingdom of God just beginning when I was nine years old. In my lifetime the Bahá'í administrative process, the nucleus and pattern for a new Order, went through a radical growth period. I have been committed to the promises and possibilities of this new way of Life.1 As F. Scott Fitzgerald was committed to and had a belief in American life in the 1920s, as American was going through new beginnings so, too, do I feel strongly, passionately, a new commitment, a new belief and new beginnings.
George Bull points out in his introduction to his massive biography of the life of Michelangelo that people are often best understood "in the crowded context of the significant changes and continuities of the age."2 The age I have lived in and through has also faced "significant changes and continuities." My life, I have little doubt, can be understood, too, as Michelangelo's and so many others have been understood, in this same general context of their age. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Matthew Bruccoli, editor, The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, NY, 1945, p.vii; and 2George Bull, Michelangelo: A Biography, Viking Press, 1995, p.xviii.
I, too, saw myself as coming
at the end of a complex
that had its beginnings
in the district of Ahsa,
those birds flying over Akka
and those Men with beards
and I identified with it.
I was born near the start
of yet another Formative Age:
would it last as long as the Greeks?1
I understood profoundly well
the claims of this new belief
as you did the claims of your craft.2
I was, like you, fortune's darling
in this new age and I was, too,
the shell-shocked casualty
of a war that was more complex
than any of us could understand.
1 their Formative Age lasted from 1100 to 500 BC; this one began 23 years before I was born.
2 F. Scott Fitzgerald, arguably the major American writer between the wars: 1919-1939.
F. Scott Fitzgerald "began assembling his Notebooks"1 some time after May 1932. He was thirty-six and had eight years to live before his death in 1940. He used his Notebooks to record ideas and observations. Bruccoli, in his review of these Notebooks, says they are not that interesting as literary documents but, since they were from Fitzgerald, they are important.2 Two novels and a collection of short stories appeared from the eight years that Fitzgerald utilized Notebooks.
R. Frederick Price "began assembling his Notebooks" in the 1960s and 1970s, but little remains from these collections. In the 1980s and 1990s Price began to assemble an extensive collection of notes from the humanities and the social sciences, not so much observations as quotations from his reading, photocopies from books, magazines and journals and, by the late nineties, material from the Internet. A vast amount of this, too, has been lost, given away or left behind where he lectured and taught. His poetry, of course, contained the sorts of notes that came from observations and ideas. By 2003, as this statement was being recorded, over one hundred and fifty two-ring binders and arch-lever files as well as over fifty booklets of poetry filled with notes represented Price's collection of Notebooks. -Ron Price with thanks to 1&2Matthew J. Bruccoli, editor, The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, NY, 1945, p.viii & p.ix.
It had become a massive embrace,
filled the spaces all around him
like a sprawling glove
that noone could wear,
like a collection of old shirts
nicely hung and arranged
to wear on cold or warm days.
He'd been warming to them for,
what, forty years now?1
It had been a lifetime
since that early start
with lots of practice
even in those earlier years,
perhaps as far back as '53--
surely not that soon,
not in grade four2
when the Kingdom
was just arriving
and that Crusade
to conquer the world?
2 I have vague recollections of 'notebooks' from school from about 1953 through 1958, grades four to eight in Ontario Canada. Nothing, of course, remains from this period except a few old photographs. The oldest item from a 'notebook' that I possess comes from 1962. After 1962 the term notebook was more accurately: arch-lever file, two-ring binder and booklet to describe the place I put notes.
Perhaps the following lines from the poet Coleridge put some of the origins of that Kingdom and my efforts over half a century to collect notes, in perspective:
"...And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise."
VOLUME 4 CHAPTER 1:
HOMEFRONT PIONEERING CONCLUDES(June 1971) AND INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING OPENS: (12 July 1971 TO 12 December 1974)
VOLUME 4: International Pioneering
INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING 1: 1971-1973
"Writing autobiography requires boundary construction....."
The truth of a well-rendered autobiography is deeper than the life it describes. This depth is found in its link to history, sociology, psychology and much that is outside the individual but which he or she becomes a part of simply by living, often consciously but more often quite unconsciously and by learning and the cultural attainments of the mind. -Robert Bullough and Stefinee Pinnegar, "Guidelines for Quality in Autobiographical Forms of Self-Study Research," Educational Researcher, Vol.30, No.3, pp.13-21.
The writing and the reading of an autobiography is not a timeless process, but embedded in an ongoing history of the search for identity of both the writer and the reader and the communities in which they live.(1) This writing is embedded in many places: consciousness, conversation, wordless action and the many modalities of sense. The writing requires boundary construction of gates and fences, small and large buildings, roads, driveways, indeed a whole geography, both physical and psychological.(2) For I do not enjoy the freedom of Humpty-Dumpty who is known to have said in a rather scornful tone: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”(3) -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Bruce Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century, NY, Basic Books, 1975, p.163; (2)Rethinking Psychology: Vol.1: Conceptual Foundations, editors J. Smith, R. Harre and Luk van Langenhove, Sage, 1995; and (3)Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.
There have been times in my life when, like Anne Frank, that Jewish prisoner in WW2, I've had to carve an enclave of normalcy out of a milieux of fear and mental terror. There were times when I could not do this and fear and mental terror simply won the day. Thankfully this did not happen many times in my life. Such horror was only periodic and rare. Only on the rare occasion, too, did the city or town I lived in assume a fantastic Dostoevskyan diabolical identity. The nightmarish quality of life only visited me several times and, then, for short periods of several months at most. It is not my intention to make of this story what in autobiographical parlance is often called an illness or disability narrative,a chaos account. Looking back at the fifty years in which symptoms of bi-polar disorder have manifested themselves and casting a sideward glance at others who have also had this disorder, it seems to me inaccurate to place this illness and its several manifestations at the centre of this memoir, although I recognize that explicit consideration of this illness has in some ways enriched the repertoire of the writing of my life. By showing the interrelations of my bodily dysfunction and the cultural conventions of my time, I challenge the stigmas attached to my bi-polar condition by simply--or not so simply--telling my story. If readers want that story they can find it here at BLO in the list of my writings.
The creation of meaning in the midst, too, of life's surface tedium, trivia, repetition and anxiety has often been an ongoing challenge. These sorts of experiences are much more common than rare, at least in my life, in most people's lives. In fact, as Georges Gusdorf once put it, "I exercise a sort of right to recover possession of my existence now and later." As I draw the past up into the present I make a pledge and try, in a quiet way, to prophecy the future. There is more than a chronologically unfolding testimonial here. I like to think there is insight and understanding about my life in such a way that it can illumine other lives. The act of shaping life into a story in itself implies, suggests, creates, meaning. As I deplore my weaknesses, failings and disappointments I express an equal desire for a spiritual change in my own life and in the world. My preoccupation with moral self-improvement has become a part of life, but in a gentler, milder, less self-accusatory form than it once was. Shaping my life does not involve the creation of some artificial construction, some stereotype, which I can completely fathom. At the heart of my life is a mystery, a moral mystery and no matter how much I am concerned with self-improvement, mystery confronts me at every turn. Some understanding exists, of course, but always mystery.
The projection, the understanding and anticipation of events of the near future critically affects the present. As a writer I am conscious of this. In some ways the anticipations I had on arrival in Australia are similar to the ones I have now. In some ways they are different. There was a great expectation in the air in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many thousands of people had become Bahais in those few years. In the last thirty years the pattern of enrolment in North America, Australasia and in Europe could be described as "discouragingly meagre," as it was described by the House of Justice in its Ridvan letter of 1979. Slowly on my arrival in Australia I regained my confidence and composure and was able to launch into my career as a teacher in the state of South Australia and find a success I had never anticipated.
On my arrival in Australia in 1971 I was hoping to make it in my career as a teacher; now in 2003 my hopes have been transferred to writing. "My future changes my present and past," writes Margaret Farley, "at the very time that it is the future which I am anticipating." There is a unity to the recollected past, the unfolding present and the antipated future. A strong thread of experience in my Bahai life there has been the antipation of great things to come on the horizon.
In 1971 "a new horizon, bright with intimations of thrilling developments in the unfolding life of the Cause of God" was discernible. The continuing transformation of society, what some called the Third Wave, what others called yet another stage of the industrial revolution and still others came to call a series of paradigmatic megatrends, continued the catastrophic changes at a far deeper level than the major revolutions of the past or so it seemed and as some analysts described it. At a more mundane within a year of my arrival in Australia: the Two Ronnies appeared on TV, the Watergate story began to unfold, the Beatles went solo, Rod Stewart released 'Maggie May,' and George Harrison 'My Sweet Lord.' In the world of popular culture there was always much going on and the only way to avoid it was to not have a TV, not listen to radio, avoid readings newspapers and magazines and stay as far away from society as you could.
There has emerged in the last decade or two what are sometimes called technology autobiographies. Such autobiographies focus closely on an examination of the interaction of the writer with technologies. As citizens of a highly technological culture, most writers see and use technologies as a daily experience. As Kitalong et. al explain, “Technology is taken for granted, invisible, a mere backdrop to these writers' lives. Writing technology autobiographies encourages a writer to reflect upon their own and sometimes other people's experiences with technology. This leads a writer to think critically about technology, about his use of and dependency on the many forms of technology: the print and electonic media as well as the immense cornucopia of material goods thrown-up by the world of science: refrigeratos and stoves, cars and transport, a wealth of hobby apparatus, the list is endless. In the process, the invisibles in the autobiographer's life become more visible, the implicit can be made explicit.” My method here is to deal with technology serendipitously as I go along rather than in some systematic way.
In the first eighteen months in Australia, from July 1971 to December 1972, there were some thirty people who joined the Faith in Whyalla. An LSA was formed and the town of 30,000 in that semi-desert country was lit up, so to speak. It was the first LSA outside the major metropolitan areas, the major cities in Australia outside of the Eastern seaboard and Tasmania. "Thrilling developments" did indeed occur. In the political world of Australia the Labour Party under Gough Whitlam came into power in December 1972, the first time for Labour since 1949. In the USA President Nixon, who had come into office in January 1969 was on his way to impeachment and resignation in 1975 due to the Watergate Affair of June 1972. In October 1971 Iran also celebrated the 2500th anniversary of the inception of the Persian Empire. Were I to list and discuss all the events on the national and international scenes in this narrative the result would be prolix and take me away from the central focus.
Perhaps part of the process, for both Judy and me, was the breaking of the cake of custom as a result of travelling half a world away from our home thus releasing energies which crystallized in this new environment. Toynbee describes how the Saga and the Epic arose in response to a new "transmarine environment." It would be a dozen years before the saga that I was to write, that was the written story my life, began to emerge and over thirty years before it took some public shape in my epic poem. Perhaps, like "the art of the Homeric Epic and the Icelandic Saga" mine would "continue to flourish when the stimulus which had first evoked it was no longer at work." Perhaps my work would attain its literary zenith in the altered circumstances of a later age when I was, hopefully, beholding some splendours on a lofty mount in that land of lights that 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to so frequently when describing the afterlife. The chief creative force at work in my world, the Bahai Faith, had only begun its journey in my wider world, had only just begun to manifest its transforming energies in any obvious and recognized way. In the next thirty years I was to witness more of this slow unfoldment of creative drive and energy.
Some very powerful claims have been made about the frontier-like qualities of the Bahai pioneering journey. In some ways they are not dissimilar to those made about outer space. In both cases there is a liberating promise to those currently earth-bound or bound to a local region in which they were born. Indeed, people around the world, at least those submerged in television's delights, are familiar with Star Trek's Captain James Kirk's famous words, "Space: The Final Frontier." We frequently draw analogies between the outer-spatial frontier and the 18th and 19th century's North American frontier, often in an effort to motivate the public to support the exploration and colonization of Mars and the general space program. "The frontier that was opened by the voyage of Christopher Columbus is now closed," astronautical engineer Robert Zubrin has argued. The North American frontier was closed in 1894, but the frontier represented by the global teaching plans for pioneers is still wide open after a little more than a century of its operation. In 1958 when the then Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson boldly positioned space as the primary concern of the Senate agenda, the Bahai community had had a different pioneering space on its agenda for, arguably, more than half a century(1894-1958). Johnson's language was militaristic and part of a Cold War era rhetoric; the Bahai language is and was essentially spiritual and is concerned with the spiritual conquest of the planet. It is through dealing with this concern that one deals, directly and indirectly, with the many public concerns of the planet. The religious dimension that the Bahai Faith allows me to interpret my historical experience, the experience of my time, in the light of a transcendent reality.
One of the key structural elements of the Bahai Faith, like that of American civil religion, that emerges from this Faith's history and its theology is an ongoing tension between inclusion and exclusion, expressed religiously as covenant and conversion, expressed politically as democracy and theocracy, and expressed in its extensive literature and themes of chosenness and closeness to God. The truth claims explicit and implicit in the myths and metaphors of Bahai history make the metaphorical dimension of the Bahai Faith so important. In other words, Bahai history not only conveys values, it also claims that those values are true at the most fundamental level. There is, in other words, a sense of myth as “true story,” where truth is understood not only in terms of facticity, or historical accuracy, but also in terms of ontic reality and, therefore, meaning. That is, the Bahai history and its doctrines not only claim to take its believers beyond what seems to be the facts, the events, contained in its narrative past, but also to show them the truth of existence. As an ontologically true story, the metaphorical nature of the Bahai paradigm claims to be both a model of and model for ultimate reality. At its heart, then, is a myth which claims to be paradigmatic. Although I could not have expressed this complex thought as I have here back in my teens when I became a Bahai, I was more than a little conscious of these wider implications of my belief.
I find it interesting to contemplate a comparison between Donald Pease's description of most American national myths which "presuppose a realm of pure possibility where a whole self has internalized the norms of American history in a language and series of actions that corroborates American exceptionalism" and those myths, those great truths, at the heart of the Bahai journey. The myth of the American frontier presupposed just such a realm of pure possibility to support a dream, perhaps a fiction, of American exceptionalism and, in so doing, sutured over individual identities with a fiction of a collective, national identity, such is the provocative argument of Catherine Gouge, an argument that contains some truth. Sometimes the Bahai dream seems like a fiction, but generous helpings of reason, faith and experience within the Bahai community has given this dream the status of vision. And vision creates reality. Time, of course, will tell if that dream in fact becomes reality.
A country, a movement, an individual, always needs some frontier. The Bahai community will certainly have that for some time to come as I have had all my life as a pioneer. Individual roles in this theatre of pioneering life are both scripted and unscripted, full of flaws and perfections, plausibilities and implausibilities---and there are jobs for just about everyone. Each individual has the freedom to "play" any part he or she desires, if they have the talent; hopefully that part will be useful to the Bahai community and others. I don't want to overestimate the extent to which the crossing of an ocean or a national boundary sets international pioneers apart from those who are born and raised in a place, for this overestimation can easily be done as it was for emigrant writers who crossed the Atlantic in previous centuries. I have found there to be a strong element of the fragile and the tenuous in the experience of this pioneer. What Whitlock calls "a conflicted relation to experience" is part of the journey. But neither do I want to underestimate the experience.
There is a tension between remembering and forgetting; there is often an outpouring of affection for the new country and an influx of nostalgia for the old that compels me back to the country of my origin--Canada. Canada has often been a beckoning presence in my memory, a presence that causes me to return psychologically in reminiscence to the places where I spent the first 27 years of my life half this convex world away. My mental image of home in Canada is charged with emotional energy. The first few months in Australia were much more fraught than the months before leaving Canada. The tension associated with the unfamiliar and the loss of the familiar soon disappeared as day to day life came to fill the mind and emotions.
It is certainly pertinent here to mention the era of globalization which had just dawned as I got into my late teens. National sovereignty became more fragile in such an era; national cultures began to be penetrated by transnational flows of ideas and media products. National identities became increasingly porous. This is not the place to provide readers with a focused and carefully researched analysis of the response of Canadians and Australians to these flows of ideas, to this fragility of identity. For both Canadians and Australians questions of identity and external pressures were not entirely new. The proximity of both of these cultures to the American giant, in the case of Australia primarily through television; the linguistic permeability of the Anglophone regions to U.S. culture, and a complex and fragmented national identity have produced longstanding challenges to maintaining a distinct national culture. In contrast to places where languages such as Catalan, Basque, and Welsh formed sturdy quasi-natural barriers to cultural incursions from powerful neighbors, Anglophone regions like Canada and Australia experienced more difficulty in preserving a distinct culture in the face of the bombardment of their cultures by the United States with its global power and corporate backing. Their capacity to confront the U.S.giant in any terrains of cultural expression is a story unto its own that I do not want to get into here. Globalization has many implications for this autobiography but it is a theme that requires its own separate analysis and that analysis is not to be done here.
I've had, during all these epochs, what you might call a three-tiered construct of myself. There's the ideal self that I struggle to attain; there's the flawed self which obstructs my progress and there is some third self that tells the story here, that watches the struggle between the ideal and the reality, between the desire for self-improvement and the reality of defeat and victory, loss and gain, the allurements of the trivial, the passions and the daily response where wining and losing take place. Of course, it is impossible to be absolutely good; any such aim is doomed to failure. There is a process, though, where the deeper, purer, the better self can emerge. I find it difficult to paint the portrait of my self-development. In some ways it has been remarkable, if I go back to the start of these pioneering days at eighteen. In some ways I seem to be battling the same forces in my environment as I was at eighteen and still losing. Of course, the more evidence about a person which one gathers--and as one gets old one gathers a great deal of evidence about oneself--the more complex and difficult it is to "know" that someone. As the great essayist William Hazlitt once wrote "interest and prejudice take away the power of judging, especially of those we love. The harder and longer you look, the more impossible it becomes to attain knowledge of others." And this, it seems to me, is also quintessentially true of yourself, true for the autobiographer.
I have a fighting spirit and it has been exemplified time and again over these forty and more years. But it is nothing like the fighting spirit of my wife, the woman I have lived with now for nearly thirty years and who has exerted more influence on my life than anyone else with the possible exception of my mother. I also seem to have a spirit that gives in, that lacks the self-discipline, that does not possess the strong and plucky fighting quality or the persistent energy to overcome the temptations and excitements of the external world, at least not anywhere near to the extent I would like to be able. Of course, like so many things, my assessment of this quality of self-discipline is a matter of perspective. Passivity and stagnation, being overcome by the passions of the moment, the inability to exercise the requisite self-control which "undoubtedly has a salutary effect on the development of character and of personality in general," I am only too aware of. The effort required for a true and extensive self-improvement I simply do not possess. I feel like I am simply one of the millions in the middle range of accomplishments. "A film about goodness threatens to bore its audience," says Jean Schuler in her analysis of the film Babette's Feast. So is this true of an autobiography about goodness or, indeed, about holiness, should the autobiographer manage to aspire after this oft-sought-after quality. It is as impossible as roses blooming in winter. Readers should not be concerned that goodness or holiness occupies centre-stage here. I'd like to think that there was more of these things, these personal qualities, in my life than there has been. The recesses of domestic space, for example, I have often found to be the sites of my life's most intricate invasions where my spiritual inadequacies stand revealed in all their baseness and everyday dullness. God accepts from us what we have achieved in our days, I believe, I trust, I certainly hope.
After six months in Australia, after teaching a grade four/five class for five months, I was ready to give up teaching as a profession. I did not feel at the time that I could cope with bottoming out yet again. It was at this point that I transferred to secondary terching and in February began to teach the social sciences at Eyre High School in Whyalla. I remember praying out in the bush, outside Whyalla, in January sometime for some help with my life because I felt as if I was bottoming out yet again. The prayer on this occasion was said with a degree of intensity I don't think I had expressed before, nor have I since. If I ever experienced a type of divine intervention in my life and there were several which I could list in this category, if I wanted to write a type of narrative in which as a mortal I was approached by a god, who intervened decisively in that mortal's life, this was one such occasion. One never knows this sort of thing for sure. But this divine encounter motif, found in the literature of several religious traditions, I have included in several examples, at several points in this narrative. In Whyalla in January, at some time in the hot dry afternoon or early evening, I said prayers with an intensity that I look back on now as marking an epiphany between my life ‘before' and my life ‘after' the prayers.
At Ridvan of 1972 the House of Justice had referred to youth as "storming the gates of heaven for support in their enterprizes by long-sustained, precedent and continuing prayer."I had done my greatest, my most intense 'storming' some three months before. I was then twenty-eight. I still had two years of life left as a youth, a youth as the House had defined this age group back in 1966. By September 1972 I had been a pioneer for a decade. Prayer had from the start been an important part of my life as a pioneer from the fall of 1962 on those back streets of Dundas when a certain loneliness, isolation and an inner sense of battle caused me to storm the gates of heaven in a much quieter and far less intense way.
Often I paint a picture of some event, some experience, something I did in those first six decades of living and it is not pleasing as I put the colours on the page, as I contemplate the events. I get a sense of embarrassment, a sense of shame, a sense of guilt, a sense of wrong done, a feeling that I wish I had not done what I did. But I can not deny the truth of what I am and what I have done. In some ways the stuff that does not please me is as much evidence that I have really lived as the stuff that pleases me. The ups and downs, the heights and depths, the firey course and the dull grey skies that are all part of my life, will tempt you, dear reader, to look shyly and suspiciously at me as you read this document. You might ask: what are these things Price has done? My answer is that I tell you some of them and I leave some things out. If I met you in my daily life and we both got to know each other, even then both you and I would not tell it all. No one dumps all their personal detritus on others unless they are in some kind of therapy program. And, although this autobiography serves as therapy in some ways, it is not part of a psychiatric therapy program of 'tell it all.'
I have of course commited wrongs to people I have loved, as millions have done before me and would do after. The sharp edge of guilt I often felt in relation to my children, my parents, each of the women I married, friends in the Bahá'í community I had come to love each in their own way. Perhaps some of the pleasure I took in applause was "a need for forgiveness," as it was for the poets Robert Frost and Ezra Pound. Perhaps the guilt took the edge off my egotism. Since, as T.S. Eliot once said, "no intelligent writer knows if he is any good," guilt works here to deepen, to soften, the writer's self-perceptions and keep any over-enthusiastic, over-the-top sense of identity and self-image more realistic. Regret and remorse can, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá, once wrote, root out weakness. Even a genius like Leonardo said, at the end of his life, in a melancholy mood containing some of that regret and remorse: "Tell me if anything ever was done." The seeds, the roots, of these emotions are many and my life has had its share. Perhaps these very emotions will make, as they did for the poet Robert Frost, my best work in my old age. And the combination of doubt and certitude that I live with will be, as it is already, the base of my passion. Tennyson put the dilemma succinctly in his poem In Memoriam XCVI:
There lives more faith in honest doubt
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
Of course, with an issue as complex and difficult as the doubt/certitude dichotomy, one needs Shakespeare's balancing comment from Measure for Measure:
Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.
I have extracted something that goes beyond the facticity of life's action. As I contemplate my life within the context of this autobiography, I feel as if I am regaining time, reliving my days, as if time, coiled in some essence, enveloped in that essence, has become identical to eternity. I take all that I have done and all that I have not done and, like you, I take it into eternity. Perhaps these poems will tell something about the process:
A. A TASTE OF ETERNITY
Emerson wrote that every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature, in this physical world, corresponds to some state in the mind. That state in the mind can only be described by presenting that natural fact, that physical world, its appearance, as a picture in the mind. The “correspondence” between mind and world is a sort of circuitry which we associate with art and creativity, with reception and projection, with memory and imagination-Ron Price with thanks to Emerson in American Fiction 1940-1980, Harper and Row, NY, 1983, p.17.
That garden in my heart
where you both1 did live;
the sweet-scented stream
that ran past the willow
and the spruce;
that great blue lake2
where we swam together
in the summer;
the green fields and parks
where we3 played baseball;
the beautiful young girls
who will remain clear as glass
in my mind's eye,
carved from beauty's rose;
those uncles, aunts and cousins
who defined what family was
then and now: you4 help me feel
a lowly evanescence
and fill my heart
through the vitalizing fragrance
of His Day
in these spaces of existence
where I strive to possess
a spiritual conscience,
where memory melts my spirit
in a warm light that tastes
even of the fruits of eternity.
18 January 1999
1 my mother and father in our garden: 1950-1962
2 Lake Ontario
3 my friends and fellow baseball team members
4 all of existence, but especially the memories
B. THIS ARK OF ETERNITY
Roland Barthes, among many critics of autobiography, says that the conception of the narrative life, of a series of sequential events defining that life, is a fantasy. Life, he says, is mobile, dynamic, complex, intricate and mysterious. Each literary work is unique, a new style and the self which creates it can not be known. One simply cannot recover one's life textually. Such an effort is doomed by means of inherited literary forms.
While I have no trouble with Barthes' view of autobiography; while my poetry expresses this mobile and dynamic conception of my life and my world, I also strive for a stable inner narrative or, at least, a transfer of narrative from my poetry to life by means of the unifying entity of myself and my religion and my world. It seems to me that both views have some useful perspectives to offer my poetic idiom and how I view what I do. Barthes' perspective, though, makes me more inclined to see my work in a modest vein, not as some monumental exercise with a remarkably significant potential influence but, rather, as something mysterious and intricate, subtle and elusive, far removed from some series of events called my life. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 20 June 2003.
This ark of eternity, launched
nearly forty years ago1
on this ancient sea,
wings its way through space,
even as favoured birds.
It inhaled the perfume
from His flowers and now
it tells its tale
in these many poetic lines,
in these days of darkness,
carnage and confusion
in which it has flowed
over these four epochs
while He summoned it.2
1 My arc of pioneering, launched in 1962.
2 The Bab, Bahá'í Prayers, USA, 1985, p.127.
Judy and I lived in Whyalla, a four hour drive from Adelaide, for eighteen months. I had my first taste of success in the teaching profession in the high school in west Whyalla. My relationship with Judy deteriorated, though, and within a year of leaving Whyalla, in October 1973, we separated, never to join again. In the last months of 1973, as Judy and I were separating, I formed one of those dangerous liasions that teachers are advised not to form with one of my fifteen year old students.
Her name was Anne and for several months, from October to December of 1973 we had a more intimate relationship than was professionally advised. The reason I refused to break with her earlier in those three months of that dangerous liaison, even as the end of the school year loomed which would have been a logical time, was my eager pleasure in our activities, a loneliness and emotional instability after my separation and my sheer attraction to this sweet, young girl. I visited with Anne and her brother in Sydney in December when the school year came to an end and on December 31st we parted company, never to meet again. Those three months were difficult ones for me. I found the break-up with my wife was much more full of anxiety than I had anticipated. I was happy to finish the school year and move on to Tasmania, to a fresh start, a fresh job and a new life.
C. The following poem by Emily Dickinson seems timely in this context:
A Deed knocks first at Thought
And then-it knocks at Will-
That is the manufacturing spot
And will at Home and well
It then goes out as Act
Or is entombed so still
That only to the ear of god
Its Doom is audible--
The concepts of deviance and normalcy had become disturbingly fluid by the early 1970s after a five decade slide that began entre des guerres, if not before. To Alfred Kinsey and the perspectives emerging from a scientific study of sex, Anne might have been seen as a normally developing female experimenting with her sexuality. But my interpretive or epistomological frame was not that of any of the post-war sexologists. I viewed my sexuality and Anne's from a Bahá'í perspective. The control I needed to exercise was lacking. Anne was no archetypal temptress or femme fatale. In female relationships before my marriage in 1967 I had “stolen the honey of a spasm,” to use Vladimir Nobokov's words, “without impairing the morals of a minor.” This time there was more than some “surreptitious spasm.” At the mercy of my lust, of my sexual predation, of female magnetism, then, I now recall this transgression with Anne repentantly. It did not help me then, nor does it now, to know that male and female sexual proclivities of post WW2 adolescents and adults often strayed far beyond familiar notions of normality. Sexual experimentation has taken millions since, say, the end of WW1 into a brave new world that had little to do with sacrosanct notions of the purity and relative innocence of men or women. And if historian Peter Gay is to be believed, that brave new world was happily or not-so-happily occupied by many of the nineteenth century's middle class more than a hundred years before my indiscretion. Desire was, at the end, a malady, or a madness, or both for me and for many another soul.
David Bohm, a physicist, has described the process of scientific discovery in which imagination and insight play a part. He depicts the researcher who is engaged in intense work over a long period of time without apparent result. In a moment of relaxation, he emphasizes, an image or insight will appear within the researcher's consciousness, unbidden and unexpected. There follows a further sequence of diligent work to fathom the meaning of the insight.
"The function of insight is twofold: to remove blocks in our customary and fixed conception of things and to gain new perceptions. When we fail to attend to the central role in knowing of this deep imagination or insight, we become trapped in the already given." I like to think that my experience with this young woman, at a critical period in my life, as I went through the first months of the separation and divorce process, was a source of new insight and new perception that was to last me all my life.
As I try to weld my life into one seemless whole, into one granite-like solidity of truth with its rainbow-like intangibility of personality, I look back on those days in late 1973 and I think Jean-Paul Sartre offers some helpful words: "There are no true stories. Things happen. You tell about them one way. They are often quite the opposite when viewed by another." Or, as Lytton Strachey puts it: "Facts about the past are not history any more than butter, eggs, salt and herbs are an omlette." You have to whip them up in a certain way. Sometimes I have whipped myself as I whipped the story up. Sometimes I have been kinder. I leave it to the reader to make his own bacon and eggs here.
OUR OWN HOUR OF EXTREME PERIL
...a Revelation which, flowing out, in that extremely perilous hour, from His travailing soul, pierced the gloom which had settled upon that pestilential pit, and, bursting through its walls....infused into the entire body of mankind its boundless potentialities.-Shoghi Effendi,God Passes By (1957), p.93.
The last forty years(1962-2002) have been jam-packed with massive quantities of communication, very successful much of the time, not so successful at others, extensive seed planting, but a meagreness of outward results in the teaching field, much joy and not a little despair. I have tried in this poem to capture this process within the context of perspectives gleaned from the Tablets of the Divine Plan and God Passes by. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 31 January 2003.
Sharp and clean, right through,
heart to heart, man to man,
person to person, straight shooting,
we know where we stand,
as much as anyone knows
this sort of thing
given that we are talking
about human communication.
For a most wonderful state
of receptivity is being realized.1
I've seen it, experienced it
at least since that new horizon,
bright with intimations of thrilling developments2
and then the new paradigm of opportunity,
the silver lining and dazzling prospects.3
We tried to be heavenly armies,
freed from the human world,
divine angels, with that trumpet,
that Israfil of life,
blowing sweet new breath,
but we got trapped
by the defects of nature
and the promptings
of the human world
and could not conquer.
Ideal forces and lordly confirmations
did come to our aid.
It may be that we will be crowned
with brilliant jewels....may irradiate
upon centuries and cycles.4
But there was so much
to which we did not attain;
we burned out several times trying,
trying and, at times, we lost the plot.
But, thanks to him, our vision
now has form on that mountain side
and all that work,
going back all those decades,
has been revitalized.
It is as if that maiden
who spoke to Him
in the depths of the Siyah-Chal
was giving us, too, a sweet new life
born of beauty for our own hour
of extreme peril.
1 ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan(1977), p.41.
2 Universal House of Justice, Ridvan, 1971.
3 Universal House of Justice, Ridvan, 1988, 1990.
4 ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, op. cit., p.48.
Inevitably when a writer tells a story, his own or some fictionalized account, it is open to interpretation in ways other than those intended. Often, too, the story is part of some ongoing self-examination. This is true of the autobiography here. This self-examination holds out possibilities for recomposing my life, for working on the inner script with which I compose the meaning of my life. This examination also illustrates, sad to say, the reality of stagnation and repetition in my life.
The Bahá'í writings say we are either going forward or backward; we are never standing still. Often it may feel like it is. It is often difficult to understand the dynamics of what is going on in your life, although you may know how you feel quite precisely when you are going through some intense experience. Bob Hass, who was interviewed on The Jim Lehrer Hour in 1998 said "with most intense experiences we hardly know what we're feeling. We can reflect on it later and put it together." And so I reflect here on an event that took place thirty years ago. It makes me more conscious of what the twentieth century thinker H. Mencken said of autobiographers. "No man," he wrote, "can bring himself to reveal his true character, and, above all, his true limitations as a citizen and as a believer, his true meannesses, his true imbecilities, to his friends or even to his wife. Honest autobiography is, therefore, a contradiction in terms." The moment a person evaluates their life, Mencken went on, they try to "guild and fresco" the events. I would add, after thirty years in Australia, they either play up themselves and the events or play them down. To get an accurate perspective, tone, manner, mode, is difficult.
My autobiography, it should be obvious by now, reveals some of my limitations but all the unsavory aspects of my life are not set out for everyone to see. It is not different in one's everyday relationships with others. To some we reveal much; to others we reveal nothing at all. On the rarest of occasions we reveal all. But, in the end, "life bears the stigmata of finality. There is a relentless succession of facts, at once inflexible and arbitrary....He who tells of his life is the most oppressed of all slaves among storytellers," if he does not go on some imaginery journey. Autobiography from the start has been steeped in history but, however ancient its pedigree, it lacks standards of quality and objective foundations on which to judge its worth. Of course, it's just as difficulty to judge one's worth as a person. One evaluates one's life; one can not help to do so, but the final word, the final assessment, can never be in. As Jung points out: it is difficult to know what and who one is really like. But, still, we must take account ere we art "summoned to a reckoning." And the longer one lives the more there is to take account of in toto. Failings and sins add up and make us who we are as much as our successes and wins. And the society we live in plays a very strong role in determining what we experience.
A host of unrepentantly Marxian critics have described the baleful impact of capitalist production on those whom it exploits and the depoliticizing effects of commodity fetishism on consumers. The Bahá'í could also point to this same 'commodity fetishism' and its baleful impact on people's search for religious truth. On the other hand postmodern ethnographers and sociologists have argued that consumerism empowers capitalist subjects by granting them a limited but politically important space in which to live out utopian fantasies of autonomy. Perhaps the Bahá'í Faith occupies some of this utopian space created by the capitalist enterprise and the pioneer, as he searches for seekers among his contemporaries, is assisted by this general capitalist thrust.
I'm not sure that shopping Malls and the burgeoning host of individual shops have much potential for the Bahá'í teacher, though. A study conducted at Temple University indicates that malls are the most popular gathering places for teenagers in the United States. The same study could be duplicated or close to it in Europe or Australiasia. In a controversial paper presented to the Popular Culture Association, Richard Francaviglia compared malls to amusement parks such as Disneyland. William Severini Kowinski expands on this notion by describing malls as "the feudal castles of contemporary America." By keeping weather out and keeping itself always in the present—if not in the future—a mall aspires to create timeless space. Removed from everything else and existing in a world of its own, a mall is also placeless space. By the 1980s, if not before, I was unable to put up a poster for a Bahá'í activity in any shopping mall. Malls are not public places where citizens can express their views or distribute leaflets, so went a supreme court decision some twenty years ago now. Even congregating freely is not the same as it was in the old town squares. Individual shopkeepers put up my posters and give me an opportunity, for a quick chat.
To keep people inside the mall and encourage them to see shopping as entertainment, designers attempt to create a "carnival" atmosphere. Once inside a center, shoppers have few decisions to make. Corners are kept to a minimum so the customers will flow along from store to store, propelled, as the developers say, by "retail energy." Said one observer of mall design, "The mirrors, the music and the sound of rushing water create a sense of distortion. There is never a clock to remind one of the world outside the mall." “I think this is a pretty fair description of most of the cinema today,” so write Jonathan Rosenbaum in a recent book. “Both films and shopping malls function as media that aim at producing and controlling the notions and measurements of space and time, designed to supersede all others. They offer themselves to us like self-contained planets,” he concludes among other remarks. I'm not sure how accurate Rosenbaum is but, given the amount of time I have spent watching movies and wandering around shopping centres in the years 1955 to 2005, it seemed to me that Rosenbaum's remarks deserve a place here. They already occupy a place in my media studies files along with those of dozens of other electronic media and popular culture theorists. I have found the ideas of many of these social scientists provocative. Like so much that I read in the social and behavioural sciences and the humanities, what they write stimulates my mind. If all goes well, it may stimulate my readers. But whether is does or does not, so much of my experience as a person, especially since my years at university, 1963 to 1967--over 40 years—has been in this domain of ideas and from time to time I am compelled to place some of them in this autobiography.
Those eighteen months in Whyalla exerted many pulls and pushes, strains and stresses in the midst of my most successful teaching experience both personally at the high school and in the Bahá'í community. This was one of the many episodes of entry-by-troops that the Bahá'í community had in the first forty years of my pioneering experience and in the first four decades of the full institutionalization of the charismatic Force that gave it birth(1963-2003). After the opening of the temple in Chicago in 1953 and the election of the apex of the Bahá'í administrative system in 1963, the process of entry-by-troops brought about "a rapidly increasing supply of active believers." An episode of particular concentration of new believers occurred in my life from 1970 through to 1972 in Whyalla. I have often thought that this process of entry-by-troops in many places involves very few people becoming Bahá'ís and, paradoxically, noone joining at all in others. But this theme requires a separate essay.
The prevailing political paradigm, during all of these epochs, until at least the 1990s, was the "phenomenon of the Cold War." It began in the middle of the Seven Year Plan(1946-1953) and began to get hot in 1950 with the Korean War. I was six at the time. A materialism with complex and sinuous roots got a new lease on life after WW2 and by the late 1940s it was becoming "a kind of universal religion claiming absolute authority in both the personal and social life of mankind." Religion was reduced in some places during these same decades to a "kind of personal preference" and often an "endorsement for campaigns of social change." In other places an outright fanaticism, a fundamentalism and an extreme reactionary conservatism had left it with an anachronistic voice in general liberal circles. In these decades, too, society had become increasingly atomized, "a new stage in the process of disintegration" which Shoghi Effendi had described so well. The Universal House of Justice had begun its period of office less than ten years before my experience of entry-by-troops in Whyalla and Picton. Society was disintegrating at a rate which was deafening and often in ways which were seductive, insinuating, silent and obscure. Perhaps the process had started a long time ago. Alexis de Toqueville in his two volume study Democracy in America, which he wrote after his visit to America in 1831-2, pointed out many of the deleterious aspects of American democracy as well as its strengths. "As men grow more alike, each man feels himself weaker in regard to all the rest," he wrote. This aspect of American culture, of democratic culture, may, in the end, be part of that quality 'Abdu'l-Bahá exhorts Bahá'ís to attain at Feasts, namely, to "feel less than the rest." But much that Toqueville writes says a great deal about why the process of teaching others, of extending the Cause to a greater numerical portion of humanity is difficult if not impossible. He writes, among many relevant passages and examples, about the privatization of the individual. "Everyone shuts himself tightly into himself and from there claims the right to judge the world....(and has)...a tendency to invest little energy in public concerns."
Here are two poems that say something about and Bahá'í Order and the institution at the apex of the Bahá'í administrative Order. For it was in this Order that I invested much energy, much sense of commitment, much concern, indeed, one could argue, my life. The Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin suggests how this investment of energy and language are interlinked. Language, he writes, "lies on the borderline between oneself and the other …it exists in other people's mouths … is populated with the intentions of others."
ROUTINIZATION OF CHARISMA
The Romans all loved or hated Augustus didn't they? The same with kings and queens: there was a personality factor, something extraordinary, personal, often something divine. These authority figures elicited responses of awe, deference and devotion. They range from frenzy-creating preachers to quiet, meditating sages. An inherent instability was part of their authority, their charisma.-Ron Price with thanks to Douglas Barnes, "Charisma and Religious Leadership", Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1978, 17(1), 1-18.
We had our prophetic revelation,
our charisma, our unified world view,
our consciously integrated,
meaningful attitude to life1,
our perceived extra-ordinariness,
our doctine, mission,constructed
beyond-the-human, a gift of grace,
of history, of God, otherness,
revolutionary and then, then:
adhering not to persons,
but to institutions, authority,
central order-relating events,
a legitimating force,
the function of the need for order
in what we could call
a charismatic community
with its collective excitement,
transforming the inherently precarious
into a superhuman facticity
that seems eternal,
free of disenchantment,
7 November 1997
1 Max Weber, some aspects of charisma.
BWs AND HIS CHARISMA
Biological weapons(BWs) have led in recent years to an increasing threat from biological terrorism, especially since 1995 and events in Japan associated with a religious cult and their use of biological weapons. -ABC Radio, 31 August 1999, Symposium of the International Union of the Micro-Biological Society.
By the end of the first phase of the Plan: 1937-1944,
biological weapons, associated terrorism
had become a threat,
a threat which did not go away,
kept breaking out again and again;
and now programs are being put in place
for the first respondents, the front liners,
in case this new terrorism becomes a reality
and not just a remote threat.
As the Universal House of Justice
approaches the fortieth year
of its trusteeship
of that global undertaking
begun over a century before,
of the institutionalization
of His charisma,
the heat seems to be going up
31 August 1999
The temperature from the political and social domain had been going up in these years still coated with the political paradigm of the Cold War. After Whyalla's 18 months Judy and I moved to Gawler, another town in South Australia on the edge of the Barossa Valley, and we both began our new teaching jobs in early February of 1973. We had none of the success in the Bahá'í teaching realm that we had in our professional life. After eight months in our new jobs we decided it would be best if we parted company, if we divorced. I had already accepted a position in Tasmania as a trainer of teachers and three months after we separated I had begun work in Tasmania. Judy went on to marry our carpenter in 1974, Evan Noack.
In Gawler, the walks that had been a part of my life from 1962 to 1966 while I was a student, walks that had functioned as release of pent-up emotions, physical exercise and as opportunities for prayer and meditation, were continued. Walks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had been spiritual as well as physical experiences for all intellectuals, poets and philosophers; now it is still a form of escape from the pressures of the material world and I was to be drawn to this activity again and again throughout my life. My gifts, my endowments, seemed to find their expression in some mysterious, some strange, association with these walks. I seemed to be perfecting, mainly for my own satisfaction, a skill at writing and poetizing, a skill that even to this day has only begun to manifest itself to the eyes of the world.
I arrived in Tasmania on January 1st 1974 at the heart of what later became known as the “Me” decade. Tasmania had its first Bahá'í fifty years before and the state had some fifty Bahá'ís in 1974. Thirty years later there were four times this number. I was not too concerned with numbers, though, on my arrival. I missed Judy terribly, but a series of three young women helped me overcome my loneliness. They were like the “pretty little things” that John Fowles, the famous British writer, said gave him a self-professed solace when his wife Elizabeth died suddenly in 1990. These relationships lasted Fowles eight years before he settled down in 1998 with Sarah, or "she of the Ravishing Auburn Tresses" as he preferred to call her. The third, in April 1974, was one I went on to marry, Christine Armstrong, nee Sheldrick. Here is a poem I wrote thirty years later about Christine and our relationship. "The periods in which men can work together," wrote Kenneth Clark, "happily inspired by a single aim last only a short time-it's one of the tragedies of civilization." Christine and I have now worked together for nearly thirty-five years. The Bahá'ís have been working for 145. And my poetic evocation of this experience has been a serious exercise for nearly twenty. This evocation has involved an immersion in a pool of memories and sensations and has resulted in a more intense consciousness of being.
Frieda loved D.H. Lawrence, even if he drained her emotional reserves or failed to fulfil her needs. The marriage had become her life's work and it's disappointments were inevitable. Frieda believed she had what few women ever have: “a real destiny.” The marriage was also Lawrence's life work, although he acted under a different set of assumptions: a belief in the sanctity, worth and permanence of the institution. He also had a belief in the rescuer's responsibility for the rescued(Frieda). Divorce was putrid and out of the question. Separations, though, were frequent. -Ron Price with thanks to Janet Byrne, A Genius for Living:The Life of Frieda Lawrence, Harper Collins, NY, 1995, p. 316.
Love was not a word that either Chris or I liked to use to characterise our emotional attachment to each other. We both found it too abstract. We both had had our disappointments, disappointments largely ironed out in the first two decades of our marriage, but which continued in varying degrees of residual quality into our fifties. I believed I had what few people ever have: “a sense of destiny.” I believed, like Lawrence, that I had done a rescue job on my wife, on Chris. She was the rescued. We both acted under the assumption that marriage was a challenge, something worth working at and, hopefully, permanent, although divorce was an option which, by the last years of the third decade(1999 to 2004) of our relationship, was never seriously contemplated. A sharing of solitude, “an exchange of two solitudes”, as the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset put it, was certainly a philosophical view that underpinned my marriage, as I saw it. -Ron Price with thanks to Ortega y Gasset, Man and People, p.50.
Marriage in the third and forth epochs
of the Formative Age
was an unstable affair
in and out of the Bahá'í community,
but, however unstable, I found it
especially when pioneering,
travelling from pillar to post,
producing he who would
remember His Lord, thus
acquiring the means of
attracting perpetual grace.
And that barrier, there was
always that barrier, a solitude
in the heart and soul of man
and woman, a mystery that is
the Source of our light and life.
24 May 1999
The following words of the poet Byron seem appropriate to apply to the waters of both my religion and my marriage and I quote them here:
Once more upon the waters! yet once more!
And the waves bound beneath me as a steed
That knows his rider. Welcome to their roar!
Swift be their guidance, wheresoe'er it lead!
Sometimes, indeed on more than a few occasions, this process, this ride upon the waves seemed painfully slow. Various crises threatened the unfoldment of the potential, the virtues, latent within both my marriage and my religion. From time to time my hopes were blasted. This decimation of hope led to the end of my first marriage and on several occasions nearly brought about the end of the second. The roar was on occasion far from welcome.
There was always a great deal happening in the wider Bahá'í community as my own small life continued on its merry or not-so-merry course as the fifties and the sixties tumbled into the seventies and the eighties. As the years of the fin de siecle turned the corner of the new millennium more and more began to happen in the global community that was the Bahá'í Faith which I had joined back in the 1950s. It became impossible to keep up with it all by the 1980s. The number of published books in the 1980s and beyond also got to be beyond most Bahá'ís who either could not afford to buy them or could not keep up with them and read their contents. Email and the internet brought information by the mid-to-late 1990s, to those who wanted it, tumbling in from all over the world. It was all part of the creation and development of a religion which had been born in the mid-nineteenth century. The creation of a new religion is not easy as the revolutionary Robespierre found out in the 1790s and as many others who have since tried have also found out. In many ways this autobiography is an attempt to look at life through the eyes of an emerging community, with revolutionary potential, with a significant, an immense, role to play in the future of humanity.
But in the early 1970s it was still possible to follow the major developments in the Bahá'í community without too much trouble. The revolution in Iran in 1979 seemed to bring about a speeding up of the process, of the release of the liberating energies of this new religion. In the first eighteen months we were in Australia: four intercontinental and oceanic conferences were held(1971), the fiftieth anniversary of the Passing of'Abdu'l-Bahá was commemorated (November 1971), the developments at the World Centre which led to the Arc Project were initiated(December 1971), the Panama Temple was dedicated(March 1972), the nature of the Continental Board of Counsellors was elucidated(April 1972), the decision to build the Seat of the Universal House of Justice was made(June 1972), the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice was adopted((November 1972) and the synopsis and codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas was completed(January 1973).
If I added to this list the developments in the political and social world, those in the international arena and especially those in Australia and Canada; if I added the scientific advancements which were increasing, it seemed, with every passing day, as knowledge seemed to be expanding exponentially; if I also added the developments in the several disciplines of the humanities and social sciences and the myriad books, papers and seminars being published in areas I am familiar with ignoring those I am not; if I commented on changes on the domestic front in food, garden implements, cars, urban life, home furnishings, indeed a host of consumer products, then this short autobiography would assume impossible dimensions. And so, for the most part, these features of life and many others in the last half of the twentieth century I have omitted from this work. Inevitably this autobiography must confine itself to a core of influences and features of my life, my society and my religion.
KNOWLEDGE'S TWENTY-FIVE LETTERS
One hundred trillion nutrinos go through our body every second.1 Indeed, it is safe to say that most of what happens both in this world and in the universe remains completely outside of our awareness. Ron Price with thanks to 1“Stephen Hawking's Universe”, ABC TV, 6:00-7:00 PM, 21 March 1998.
It's more than coincidental that
we've been mapping the universe
while we've been institutionalizing
that charismatic, wonderfully unique, Force.
That soul which is now energizing the world
to a degree unapproached while on earth.
We are now mapping
the cosmos and the microcosm
and building those institutions
which will map our way
for, perhaps, half a million years:
For knowledge's twenty-five unknown letters
are being unveiled before our eyes;
the supreme moving impulse in the world
of being is leavening this earthly dust.
21 March 1998
A CONTRIBUTION TO KNOWLEDGE
Socrates once complained, in his Apology, of the inability of poets to talk analytically about their work. According to the significance of the Greek root of the word ‘poetry' it covers all forms of art or human productivity. In the tradition of the great books, novelists like Cervantes, Fielding or Melville called themselves poets. Poetry with these writers was regarded as narrative, the invention of good stories. A poet was a teller of tales. Aristotle in his Poetics emphasizes subject matter in poetry not language; plot was the most important thing made by the poet in narrative poetry, not the verses, not the rhyme or metre, according to Aristotle. So, the historian and the poet differed not. “Epics,” wrote Cervantes, “may be as well written in prose as in verse.” So it is in this epic, this series of thousands of poems written in the fourth epoch of the Formative Age, that I continue a form of poetry, a poetic tradition, going back to the Greeks. -Ron Price with thanks to The Great ideas: A Synopticon of Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 2, William Benton, Toronto, 1952, p.400.
This is no imaginary construction,
no fable or fantasy of words,
no warble for some made-up tale.
This is a contribution to knowledge
and would pass Kant's muster1
of serious business for understanding,
imagination and a certain play.
I hold the mirror up to nature,
to life and to the world
and have it speak as it lives
and moves before my eyes
over this half century or more.
I strive to be clear, but not ordinary
and use words as simply as possible.
Bacon associated poetry with history;
Aristotle put philosophy in its camp.
My emotions communicate to my intellect
with the power to sap and upheave my world
resulting from some inflamement,
some being carried away with thought
and I heed only one dream: this poetry.2
These many years now I have been drawn
unto Him in prayer and He did answer me
so slowly I was not sure it was Him;
now I am unsure whether I hear with His ear.
Is this the spring whereof the near ones drink?
It is hidden under the veilings of sense.
Have the wrappings of illusion been stripped?3
1 This is how Kant judges poetry: its contribution to knowledge.
2 Emerson's essay “The Poet.”
3 Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys, p.24.
15 November 2000
And so the 1970s saw a new world open before my eyes. That world was Australia. That world saw career success and marital failure by the third year of the seventies. To a poet like Thomas Hardy memory was immortality. Divorced from one's memories and the memories of others, immortality simply ceased to exist. Perhaps this is the basic reason for the undertone of sadness in Hardy as well as in the whole Greek literary tradition and in its many modern veins of secular thought. "The reason," as George Townshend puts it, "is that it is humanistic-and nothing more." By the time I had arrived in Australia I had been cultivating a sacred not a secular tradition that was theistic at its core not a secular humanism. For a dozen years I had been exposed to a Movement which claimed to offer human beings "the Day of Reunion," "the Day of God's fulfillment, the Day of Joy." But no generation of human beings on earth found so much in the world to amuse and divert and flatter and gratify" their senses than mine. It appeared that no religion was needed at all, although paradoxically, the manifestations of the religous seemed to increase with every passing day.
The mallee scrublands of Whyalla and the nearby semi-arid steppe in South Australia which greeted my eyes in July 1971 were one of the most uninviting landscapes I'd ever set my eyes upon in my life and the enthusiastic response to our teaching efforts were more than we could cope with. Within a few months, though, after Judy and I had left Whyalla in December 1973, the town returned to its normal non-responsive state. It would appear, in retrospect, that the people of Whyalla had no felt need for religion at all, at least not the one we offered.
Much of the landscape that came into my purview possessed what Henry James referred to as a “huge insignificance.” I found this to be the case on Baffin Island, in Whyalla, South Hedland, the multitude of disfigured places in an industrial landscape. The physical world was so often, for me, some kind of blank screen or empty stage on which I performed the tasks, the pleasures, the activities that are now a part of my consciousness. This screen, this stage, was one to which I was at times acutely attuned, at times immersed in its pleasures but, unlike my wife, I was usually unable to tell you the name of a plant, a bird or an animal. When required by necessity or circumstance I could write a vivid evocation of a landscape or some part of it. But life usually kept me occupied with cultural and intellectual facets of my existence in which nature was just a part of the texture, the setting for some human activity, for the development and display of human consciousness, rather than a subject in its own right. I was rarely in the posiiton of a tourist, a consumer of views.
Of course one could not complain for it was that very industrial technology that made it possible for me to live in these barren outposts where one would either freeze or roast and where, if one had to remain outside for long, one would expire. And I complained little; I was never a wilderness advocate. We all fill our brains with issues of different kinds. Generally, I found if it was an issue in the media it was not an issue in my intellectual agenda. The electronic media were able to enthuse many a mind and heart for the items on an agenda that were the liberal effusions of its great cornucopia.
In many basic ways the Bahá'í Faith was simply reviving the great tradition of unity and stability by which the ideals of Greece and Rome were transmitted to the Middle Ages, only on a much more pervasive and comprehensive base. Bahá'ís believed the world needed unity more than anything else and that its problems were all linked to the absense of unity. But it was not a unity, Bahá'ís believed, which would be achieved by a Napoleonic thrust or an Alexandrian conquest. It would be achieved by a Bahá'í inspired world Order, qualities, skills, talents and attitudes that were part of this Order and a sense of glory that underpinned this Order. It would also be achieved, as Kenneth Clark informs us, as it always has: "by the skin of our teeth." At least that was how I saw it from a perspective of the epochs in which I lived and had my being.
Many in the partisan-political world had no consistent purpose save a determination to make a name for themselves. The ideological framework and apparatus was often threadbare, anachronistic, based on a simple pragmatism and, often, devoid of any firm political principles. Many of these worldly-wise lived for "political expediency," were "completely without any ideological preconceptions," and "never took up and pursued a policy which might not aid their political interest." Of course, the opposite was also the case with many upholding: policies, programs, principles, schemes and sectional interests with passion, energy and conviction with their attendant conflicts and controversies. In the end, many make of the political world and all of life an adventure with drama, color, and style. The central problem faced by so many, as Walter Lippman noted back in the 1920s, is our low capacity to believe in precepts that restrict and restrain private interests and desires.
The Bahá'í Faith, growing amidst a corrupt world of global forces, a brutalized poor and a veritable maze of human problems in the world, was hopeful and energetic. It possessed fine spirits: poets, painters, novelists, playrights, professionals and tradesmen of a hundred ilks, all heirs of a religious history going back more than two centuries. There was an immense chasm between the work of the Bahá'ís and the work of the world and one of the central ambitions of the Bahá'ís was to fill this chasm with the consecrated joy of their new Faith. For perhaps fifty years I had seen the evidences of these efforts. Although slow, often painfully slow to be manifested to the eyes of men, the creative power and the enlargement of human faculties which the Bahá'í Faith clearly engendered, the heroic self-confidence which became evident from time to time in both individual lives and in the institutions that had grown up especially during the several teaching Plans, augured well for the future. And architecture, that specially communal of arts, began in this half century of my pioneering journey to manifest a beauty that housed the strongest of creative impulses that was born of this new Faith. But the relationship between the arts and society I find is far from simple and predictable. So I close these remarks on creativity and the arts here.
In both my marriages, 1967-75, and 1975 to 2015, sexual ardor, or at least activity, was considerably reduced within a year or two of the wedding ceremony. That ultimate of heterosexual rituals, the honeymoon, was a period that promised much and delivered much but so much that I never anticipated—both good and bad. This is a common, a universal phenomenon, and one that in all likelihood goes back to the earlies years of our species' development. My sexual appetites did not diminish but my opportunities for their satisfaction clearly did. The pleasure in marital sexuality was mixed liberally with frustration over the years. And it was not until my fifties that these frustrations took a back seat, a more moderate place of acceptance, found a more relaxed setting in the spaces of my life. But before this cooling of the heat there were several consequential and inconsequential doses of female devotion that combined with my own narcissistic hunger, for the most part during the interval between marriages. Thankfully they were short-lived affairs without the persistent strain and intermittent depression that often characterizes these sorts of physical intimacies, relationships, when they do not end in fulfilling and lasting union. They were, too, essentially an expression of loneliness and strain; they were not about self-dramatization or an example of a taste for emotional effusion. But they were about the erotic.
By March 1974 a series of intense erotic flings, begun in October 1973, were over and I was settled into a monogamous relationship once again. I have described this period elsewhere in more detail and, perhaps in a future edition I will return to the themes that are explicit and implicit here.
From its earliest origins, romantic love raises the question of intimacy. It is incompatible with lust, and with earthy sexuality, not so much because the loved one is idealised - although this is part of the story - but because it presumes a psychic communication, a meeting of souls which is reparitive in character. I thank that major British sociologist for this way of putting the idea. "The other, by being who he or she is, answers a lack which the individual does not even necessarily recognise," says Giddens, "until the love relation is initiated. And this lack is directly to do with self-identity: in some sense, the flawed individual is made whole." After 48 years of marriage, and a decade or so of varying degrees of pre-marital intimacy, I am more than a little aware of how this most intimate of relationships has made me aware of the many lacks or deficiencies in my self.(Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Cambridge, Polity Press, 1994, pp. 44-45.
Contemporary partnering practices are reconstituting romantic love. When prompted to explain how they know the other person loves them say, in effect: “I know that he loves me because he brings me a cup of coffee every morning” or “I know that she loves me because she takes care of me so well.” These responses are grounded in a realism that helps to convey a sense of sincerity and authenticity about the relationship to the couple’s guests. This realism also helps to address the cynicism about the plausibility of enduring love. The brides and grooms are a socially, culturally and economically diverse group, and they provide a wide variety of understandings of their partnering ranging from deeply nuanced insights into the nature of their relationship, to admissions that their feelings were so private and deeply felt that words were insufficient to convey their significance. Reoccurring themes emerge across the domain of partnered relationships and it is evident that even as marriage partnerships may be entered into for a variety of reasons, romantic love remains the mechanism by which couples talk of their feelings for each other.
Australians' attitudes to romantic love and marriage have, understandably, been shaped by western understandings of romantic love. It is evident, however, that the demands of late modern capitalist society, with its increased literacy, economic independence and sexual equality between men and women, have produced marriage as a negotiable contract between social equals. For some, like Carol Pateman, this sense of equality within marriage may be illusory. Nonetheless, the drive for individual self-fulfilment by both the bride and groom produces a raft of challenges to traditional ideas of marriage as couples struggle to find a balance between independence and intimacy; between family and career; and between pursuing personal goals and the goals of their partners. This shift in the nature of marriage has implications for the “quest for undying romantic love,” which according to Anthony Giddens has been replaced by other forms of relationship, "each entered into for its own sake, for what can be derived by each person from a sustained association with another; and which is continued only in so far as it is thought by both parties to deliver enough satisfactions for each individual to stay within it”.
In October 1973, on the last night I co-habited with my first wife, I began a sexual relationship with one of my students, a fifteen or sixteen year old grade ten student, Anne Mooney, who lived in Para Hills where the school I taught in was located. By the end of December, a total of three months, the relationship was over. Our relationship was not unlike that of the Canadian poet Charles G.D. Roberts in 1927 with a Constance Davies Woodrow who had shamelessly led him on from the moment she met him. Miss Woodrow also had a quixotic and unpredictable temperament and the inconstant Constance inevitably turned her attentions elsewhere after a few months. Roberts then turned his attention to a married woman Kathleen Strathearn, a Canadian west coast school teacher. Outwardly she possessed of all the physical characteristics that this 67 year old father of Canadian poetry, admired most. Roberts has been variously described as a womanizer, an adulterer, a rake or just a lonely man with some very human weaknesses.
Of course in my case, Mooney did not shamelessly lead me on, but I was a troubled, sexually-frustrated married bipolar man. A person who is under 16 is deemed as being incapable of giving consent and, therefore, a critical observer might use these same terms for me as the ones used for Roberts especially after and in relation to another three months of “womanizing” in Tasmania. In December 1973 while in Sydney at Anne's brother's home, my young lover turned her attentions elsewhere and I split, as they say colloquially. I split to Tasmania. In many autobiographies romantic entanglements appear tantalizingly opaque. Sometimes there is a deafening silence on the subject and at other times sexual proclivities are given excessive attention. Biographers often face the difficulty of separating a labyrinthine sex life from the rest of their subject or, alternatively, trying to merge the two and make sense of the whole. We often know a great deal about someone's sex life because they wrote it down in diaries, in their fiction and their letters. It is often the case that we know far too much. Do we need to know, for example, the fine detail: the number of times, the length of the episodes, the eccentricities, the SM, the hunt for the g-spot, if any of these potentially rich and sensitive aspects of a person's sexual life? Did the sensual intimacy bind the partners together? Whole chapters of some biographies and autobiographies concern the subjects and their wives, their girlfriends and their lovers. Readers here will not be given such a joyful, such an intimate romp, although I do not leave the subject totally out of the picture.
In this work there is the occasional hot scene but the liberal effusion of sexual activity is as rare here as it was in my life. I'm not complaining now, although in my thirties and forties I had my share of frustration and did my share of belly-aching. How much of this frustration was due to my being an only child cosseted by my mother, growing up helplessly self-centered, seeing life as one long indulgence as is so often the case with children, possessing a seemingly unshakeable egotism—or rather coming to maturity slowly or never growing up, period, is impossible to say. Readers with an interest in this theme, sex and growing to maturity will not be short on books to read, now liberally effused throughout cyberspace.
VOLUME FOUR: CHAPTER TWO
INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING 2: December 1973-December 1974
Kalle Paatalo(1919- ) is a Finnish author who has written the most extensively selling autobiography in the world. His opus consists of 26 volumes and over 10,000 pages. He has sold over 100,000 copies. My own autobiography is found in one volume of about 1000 pages and has yet to find a publisher or to make a sale. A few read it on the Internet. Such is my modest start.-Ron Price from The Encyclopedia of Life Writing, Internet, 30 July 2005.
Poetry of the kind that has been discovered by a growing number of modern writers is a poetry of self which surpasses fiction and revolutionizes it. You do not so much perceive relationships as experience them and then translate this experience into poetry. I am eternally grateful for being forced by a mysterious and partly understandable set of circumstances into being a poet. Without this method of escape from self that is the process of writing poetry, I would never have known that there was this other world I can live in. My respect for the act of creativity now knows no bounds.-Ron Price with thanks to Karl Shapiro, To Abolish Children and Other Essays, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1968, p.237, p.267 and p.271.
Gibbon wrote somewhere in his Decline and Fall that freedom was "the happy parent of both taste and science." It was also the source of a certain barbarism which in the late twentieth century, if not for millennia before, was daily becoming more apparent. Certainly in the world of the professional teacher control is the word around which so many problems that the teacher faced crystallized. Much of what is happening in the modern world can find no analogy in the past. For this reason the great sociologist Max Weber wrote that "we can learn little or nothing for our contemporary social problems from ancient history."
This may be the case. But whether it is or not, the Bahá'í community is striving to create a new, a living community, based on more than a century and a half of divine guidance. This community would "see life steadily and see it whole." But the process of achieving this whole was a difficult and slow road. At least that was the experience of this pioneer in the four decades of his pioneering journey that this autobiography is describing. If this slow, stoney and tortuous road had not been evident to me in the first two decades of my Bahá'í experience it became painfully obvious in the second two decades.
I have often thought that my role as autobiographer, in what has become a much longer 'movie' than I had originally anticipated, has been very much like that of a film director. "A director," writes Stanley Kubrick, "is a kind of idea and taste machine; a movie is a series of creative and technical decsions, and the director's job to make the right decisions as frequently as possible." A director's taste and imagination are crucial in the making of a film, says Kubrick in that same interview. The film, he goes on, is anything the viewer sees in it. This is certainly true of this work. Kubrick sees film as operating "on a level much closer to music and to painting than to the printed word." It conveys complex themes without the traditional reliance on the printed word. In that sense the autobiographer and the film director clearly part company. The editing process, which I have scarcely begun, takes a long time in both writing and film-making. But, as another film director Roman Polanski wrote, the director "makes the film; he creates it." This is certainly true of this entire analytical narrative. An autobiography, like a film, is an intimate expression of a man's sensibilities, of facets of his personality, a kind of self-analysis. Gelmis concludes the introduction to his book on directors by discussing briefly the obsessive nature of the director. That is certainly true of the work I do here but, in time, this work will end and this obsession to write autobiography will also end. Perhaps in the meantime I could call my work 'the auteur theory of autobiography.' What other theory is there?
When I arrived in the Australian Bahá'í community in 1971 there were less than one thousand believers on what was then a remote continent. There were, perhaps, a million Bahá'ís in the world. In the next twenty years this number rose to five million. I lived in South Australia from July 1971 to December 1973. During this time I served on two LSAs, taught in two high schools and one primary school, became a single man again and knew what it was like to have a girl friend again and not a wife. I'd served as a chairman and as a secretary. My sense of success professionally was matched by a sense of failure, personally. It slowly dawned on me or perhaps I just became more conscious, more aware, of what I already knew, namely, that a person can believe in and love the Cause--even be ready to die for it--"and yet not have a good character, or possess traits at variance with the teachings."
It was here, too, that there began a process which I wish I had began earlier in my life. Perhaps it was the seriousness of Canadians that prevented it. "Not taking anything too seriously," writes Ayn Rand, "is the chief rule Americans adhere to. Everyone makes fun of everyone else, not maliciously, but very wittily and that is the essence of America." If this was a characteristic of Canadian culture, I had missed it, raised as I was by older and more serious parents. But it was a core quality in Australia and, like America, you had to learn to laugh at yourself and others if you wanted to survive. It was a useful skill, but I went on taking life as seriously as before only now it was with a coat of humour. I will be eternally thankful to the culture of Australia and the literally hundreds of people and its media for helping me acquire a lightness, a cynical and skeptical attitude below life's surface, an understanding without which I'm not sure I would have had the capacity to endure the absurdities of life and those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
"To understand the meaning of actions in a life story," A. Nelson informs us, "the author-interpreter must become aware of what his actions point toward in disclosing a possible world. Interpretation puts autobiographical learners in a position to imagine what might take place in their life and how to enact their own account of self." I like to think that my experience, my life, receives fresh relevance, fresh interpretations which decide the meaning of what has gone before, satisfying in the process, to some extent, present and future human needs. I'm sure this takes place all the time, but one can never be too sure whether one's interpretations are always helpful, accurate or true.
As F.C.S. Schiller pointedly informs us regarding the philosophy and religion that is at the heart of our lives, it is so often "the offspring, the legitimate offspring, of an idiosyncracy." The history and psychology of each adherent has far more to do with the development of this idiosyncracy than we are usually conscious of. We need to view the Bahá'í system, he might have said, not from the outside as a logical system and structure, but from the inside, as part of a personal, a psychological process extending over a lifetime and centered, insofar as we experience it in daily life, on these idiosyncracies of the individual.
I think there is something in what Schiller says here, for human idiosyncracy, human behaviour, often seems incorrigible and there seems to be a persistence that individuals have in going in a certain direction. It might be called temperament and it is often the real basis for a bias. People seem to trust their temperament, even when they recognize the weaknesses which arise from it. Often this temperament is also the source of people's sense of anxiety and inadequacy. People of opposite temperament seem out of key, even incompetent, even should they excel and are clearly superior in general ability. To put this yet another way the "inner biography" explains a great deal of the thought of an individual or, as Jung would have it, their "psychic constitution."
I would not go along with the wisdom of David Hume who advises that we "recollect our dreams in a morning and examine them with the same vigour that we would our most serious and most deliberate actions." I wrote the following introduction to a collection of my own dream experiences several years ago and I insert it here with some poems since it seems relevant to the broad questions and issues that relate to dreams, dreams which take place in that one-third of one's life which rarely gets a mention in people's life history.
"In The Bahá'í Holy Year 1992-1993, after thirty years of pioneering, I began to collect my dream experiences. That Holy Year was, as the Universal House of Justice stated, "an opportunity…for inner reflection on the part of the soul." It seemed an appropriate thing to do. My dreams before 1992 had virtually disappeared from my memory except for perhaps six major dreams and dream sequences going back to the beginning of my Bahá'í life when I was fifteen, in 1959. In 1992 I also started collecting notes and photocopies from various sources, various commentators and analysts on dreams, that were relevant to my search into my dreams and their meaning. Now, after more than a decade of recording some of my dreams, keeping notes on dreams and trying to make a succinct summary of the previous thirty-three years of my dream life(1959-1992), I have established a base of understanding, a base for the integration of my dreams into my autobiography. What I will actually do with this base, though, is another question. Perhaps I have made a start with some of my poems that allude as they do to dreams and my dream life. Two of these poems can be found below.
Freud says dreams are the royal road to one's inner life, but there is a tangle of thought and feeling in dreams. Jung said he was helped to overcome the egotism inherent in autobiography by the dream process. He also felt dreams helped us contact the shadow self or, what Adler saw as, the antithesis of common sense and reality. Alfred Adler also saw dreams as the arch-enemies of common sense and reality. Our life-style is vulnerable from reality and common sense and dreams lessen our contact with this reality. Scientifically-minded people seldom dream it is said. This hard-nosed realism, as an approach to dreams, stands as a sharp contrast to many of the other interpretations that see dreams as glimpses of immortality, fragments of a fable, an archtype, etcetera. For that reason I find it attractive as an interpretive system or non-system. But, in the end, no single interpretive system can prove that its dreamwork methodology is comprehensive and unassailable. Dreams arouse impressions of meaning and stimulate inquiry and that is why I write on the subject here. Interpretive authority is absent in dream studies. It is a world of do-it-yourself dream analysis.
I would like to see my dreams as a monument to the women that I have loved in my life, the religion that has inspired me and the many images have been important to me in my waking life. But it would be a monument that did not reflect the content of my dreams. My dreams seem to have been, as Shakespeare said, “more inconstant than the wind.” When my external senses were at rest, the dreams that arose seemed wild and absurd; when that gentle tyrant sleep came to me and with it my dreams, I was left in the morning with feelings which left me with a sense of less contact with reality, with elusive tangents of meaning, with a bridge between the problems in my life and their solutions but it was a bridge that seemed to be made mainly of air.
Brian Finney says that dreams arouse “expectations of significance that remain unfulfilled because of their private and indirect nature.” If I were to include some of my dreams here they would reveal some of these expectations and some of my radical departures from common sense and reality, throwing light, I trust, on this autobiography. It seems to me that the many quotations from various sources relevant to my understanding and experience of dreams are at best provocative and at worse just a strange melange of ideas. I read them from time to time when I am trying to sort out a dream and its meaning. In the first ten years of description, comment and analysis, 1992 to 2002, I have not often plunged into my dream world with my pen in hand, only when some leftover affect stays in my mind on waking, perhaps two or three times a year during those ten years. This emotional review of the events of the waking life seems to take place, for me, periodically, irregularly and quite unpredictably.
I hope this brief essay will be of use to whomever comes upon it. It is certainly of use to me periodically as I begin these years of retirement in late middle-age. It provides a pleasurable resource from time to time as I play with the stuff of my dreams as it slips into my waking life from REM and non-REM sleep.1
1 REM sleep was discovered in 1953. This was the first empirical breakthrough in dream science. (John Holt, "Does Sleep Make Sense?" The Australian, 19 January 2000, p.29)
In Hamlet we have the personification of human nature brooding over its own weaknesses and corruptions, endless suggestiveness, nothing wholly explicable, the utterance of thought in solitude moving slowly in verse, the timidity which we all experience in the many corners of our life. For we are all Hamlet, at least some of the time.1 W. B. Yeats said he was a timid man “except before a piece of paper.”2 My timidity, my shyness, over 65 years now would be a complex phenomenon to discuss in detail. It comes partly from bipolar disorder, although in my youth and young adulthood my timidity was rooted in my social inexperience and a degree of natural reticence. Now in my mid-sixties it comes mainly from an extreme fatigue with social interaction and a concomitant desire to write, a solitary sport if there ever was one.
We are all presented with potentially vivid intellectual, rational and or sensory activity and we all exhibit some inert conduct to juxtapose with that activity. Our emotional response depends on our intellectual perception, our several sensitivities. And this perception is often ambivalent. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Claude Williamson, compiler, Readings on the Character of Hamlet, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1950 and 2W.B. Yeats: Essays and Introductions, MacMillan, London, 1971(1961), p. viii.
It is in desire, clearly defined,
strongly felt, the exercise of power
derived from a connection with the
chord of divine reality, the shout of
Ya Baha'u'l-Abha, that we overcome
the dichotomy of the active and the
contemplative sides of life, irregularities
and unexpected turns in the gorgeous
and not-so-gorgeous oriels of many
coloured thought. Melancholy comes
and, God-willing, its antidote humour.
And for some, a poet's soul, dreams
paint thought with wonder and mystery,
the unexplained and inexplicable
singularities in all of existence.
16 November 1997
Poetry is in essence a symbolisation of the spaces and tensions of mental life; it shows the poet in the process of discovering the world of his own mind, and the consequent drama of identifications between self and objects. Unhindered by the fear of not being understood by its audience and propelled by the duty to transcribe the internal dictates of its Muse, it has an inexhaustible meaningfulness. -Meg Harris Williams and Margot Waddell, The Chamber of Maiden Thought: Literary Origins of the Psychoanalytic Model of the Mind, Routledge, NY, 1991, p.184.
Mysterious, inscrutible, writing
an inside story, asking the reader
to work, to work it out,
shows how his mind creates its world,
how he shapes his place, his patterns
of privacy and interdependence,
interrelated to all things,
an ordering of labyrinths,
recreating a life, its times
of great pitch and moment
and times sicklied over
with the pale cast of thought,
losing the name of action
and gaining the meaning in a man:
a king of infinite space,
of inexaustible,but exhausting,
27 March 1998
My dream-life has taken place virtually entirely at night when I have been asleep. During the period of, say, midnight to 10 am, the one-third of one's life that rarely gets much of a mention, I had a busy time of it. I often go to bed at 2 am or after. I could write a long and separate story of this thirty-three percent of my existence on earth. Having an active brain and a body chemistry that gave rise to manic-depression which was one of the causes of my active night life. Sometimes my eyes were shut with Keat's "careful fingers and begign." Sometimes I enjoyed a "forgetfullness divine." For a short-time at university, feeling that lectures were to a large extent a waste of my time, I used to sleep in the day and study all night. But then Sid Tukeman, the then chairman of the LSA of Hamilton and the chief executive officer of a business firm in Dundas, just down the street from my flat above the Dundas Restaurant, dropped in one morning and got me out of bed. I don't think I ever returned to the habit of sleeping in the day. This was in the autumn of 1965, just after my father died and Sid had taken a fatherly interest in my welfare.
Without going into a long and detailed history of my night time litany: my going for walks at night, my reading habits after midnight, my depressions and dark nights of the soul, my television watching and radio listening, my smoking and eating, my drinking and endless struggles to sleep, my praying and writing, let me conclude this section by saying a little about fluvoxamine which put an end to night-time depression and most of the desires of thanatos. I began to take this medication about two months after completing my fortieth year of pioneering. Often I still do not sleep until after midnight or perhaps as late as 2 am, but there is none of the experience of depression I had at night, off-and-on for forty years. I could say more about the dream process, fit my dreams into a history of dreams, say, among the Hebrews, the Greeks or in contemporary times. But I will leave that subject for now.
It is often said that our world is transformed by the supreme emotion of sorrow. If that is true of sorrow it is true a fortiori of depression. I sometimes think that the sorrow-depression axis is one of the supreme emotional experiences and determinants of whatever I have achieved in life. Oscar Wilde once wrote in his long 50,000 word letter that sorrow was "at once the type and test of all great Art." While I certainly agree with these sentiments, it seems to me there is so much more to be said about the subject of great art, at least from a Bahá'í perspective. I'd make joy and happiness another axis of great importance. Being faithful to principles is also critical and more important than personalities which, to Wilde, were the touchstone of progress and civilization. However one philosophizes about Wilde's ideas, his autobiography is to be found in his 1500 letters. This substitute autobiography reveals Wilde's inimitable amiability and, in his last dozen years, his hubris and self-indulgence.
The experience of entry-by-troops in Whyalla and my own success in the teaching profession, a success denied to me in the first years of my professional life were clearly the highlights of the years in South Australia. My separation from Judy was clearly the low ebb in my fortunes. I often wondered if there was some relationship between the flauting of Bahá'í law in my personal life by my cultivation of a relationship with a fifteen year old girl and the drought in the teaching work for the next thirty years. But then, I mused, the drought occurred all over the Western world and, as White put it in such a clever way, "my nurtured imperfections (were) not so epically egregious/as to embarrass the seraphim ruefully yawning/at their mention;/nor will my shame, as once I thought/ topple the cities, arrest the sun's climb." We are so very often hard on ourselves. Perhaps it is a leftover of the Puritan tradition. To strive is good, but we seem to have more talent at beating ourselves over the head for our failures rather than finding the energy and the wisdom, the perspicacity and practical good sense, to pick ourselves up and move on.
In these early years of my international pioneering venture I had not begun to say what could be called intercessory prayers. That would be another half a dozen years before I would try to draw on the assistance of those who had gone on to the next world. But it was not because their help was not needed; indeed the years after my arrival in Australia were years of heavy testing of my metal and assistance from holy souls who had gone on to that undiscovered country would have been invaluable. In the years 1968 to 1973 wonderful souls had passed on: Hermann Grossman, Lutfu'llah Hakim, Tarazu'llah Samandari, Alvin Blum, Sara Kenny, Maud Bosio, Naim Ward, Ruth Brown, Agnes Alexander, Musa Banani, Matthew Bullock and Marion Little.
In these same years the world of international politics, economics and sociology was filled to overflowing as any international journal covering the issues of the time will reveal. In 1973 alone: a Viet Nam peace agreement was signed in January and again in June. The Fourth Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, in Algiers, urged the establishment of a new world economic order, one of the first references to such an order. In the last months of that first year of high school teaching, 1973, the Arab petroleum-exporting countries placed an embargo on oil shipments to the United States, Western Europe, and Japan in retaliation for their support of Israel. The unstable oil situation resulted in shortages and price increases throughout the world.
This was the start of great price increases in Australia in housing and indeed a host of products as well as salary increases. The process seemed to begin earlier in Canada. In the late-1960s my first wife and I, while living in Toronto and both working were unable to buy a house. It was just not something we seriously contemplated. After moving to Australia in 1971, I bought five houses in the period December 1972 to September 1999, first in South Australia and finally in Tasmania. The house I bought in Tasmania for $100 thousand was worth $300 thousand six years later.
On September 11 of 1973 the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown during a CIA-backed military coup. At that time I had three months of my second year of high school teaching left in Para Hills South Australia and by the time that oil embargo was in place in December of 1973 I had begun my move to Tasmania to teach in a College of Advanced Education. Were I to outline in even the briefest of ways the international events of the period 1968 to 1973 this autobiography would become too skewed to the political realm. My intention in this narrative is to just lightly stroke the world of politics at all levels, the world of economics, the world of sociology, inter alia.
The year in Gawler was much quieter after the hectic days in Whyalla. In the pain of separation and what led up to it, a grief I had not anticipated, I nearly lost my belief system. It was the closest I have come, with the exception of my first year in Tasmania in 1974, to losing the plot of belief. Our marriage ended after six years,1967-1973, after all those pioneer moves and years of service, after such high hopes and promises of things to come. The Bahá'í divorce was not completed until 1975. Much of the problem I faced then, in my marriage, was too intense an enthusiasm for the Cause, an insufficient knowledge of sex and the need to focus more on the relationship and less on the external community activities in the Faith. Generally, a more light-hearted approach to the serious truths of life would have helped. As Umberto Eco once said in his The Name of the Rose "perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at truth. In doing so we can free ourselves from the insane passions and dark interstices that often accompany truth's expression." I don't think my problem was that I did not try hard enough; it was that I did not understand the dynamics, the processes, the realities of life.But I was learning and, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá once said in a talk: "Nothing is more fruitful for man than the knowledge of his own shortcomings." Life seemed to present me again and again with evidence of these inadequacies. But strengths were also inevidence in Australia in these early years and they gave me a basis of hope.
The certitude of one's interpretations of the past can never be demonstrated. All one can hope for is that one interpretation is more probable than another, that one's analysis of the events is a judicial consideration of alternative and opposing views, that the analysis is as comprehensive as possible, that it is fruitful and possesses explanatory power, that is possesses an internal coherence and does not violate reason and is compatible with the general context of the narrative. At this stage, the third edition of this story, I am not inclined to delve too deeply into thorough and detailed analyses of events such as my divorce, my remarriage, my sex life or lack of it or my knowledge of zoology or botany or, as I point out in another context, popular culture. I possess the general desire to know and understand my life, my society and my religion and what I experience in these several domains. This search for explanations is what sustains me, what propels and gives logic to my various drives to write.
So many events in one's life: marriage, divorce, the various sins of omission and commission that the mind and the flesh is ere to, education, work and and daily routines of one's latter years, are repeated a billion times in a billion different ways in autobiographies, biographies and in the day to day run of things by people who never write their story. And I can see little gain here from accounting an endless and thorough explanation of my marriage, the concatenation of events that led to why it failed and how I coped with the process. Perhaps I will do so in a fourth edition written in the later evening of my life.
Obviously, as I reflect on those events in the breakdown in my marriage, a breakdown which began to be seriously set in motion thirty years ago this month, my reflections on these disorienting events lead me to reinterpretations, new stances, new ways of seeing my life and its story. They are stances that the philosopher Paul Ricoeur says belong "to the realm of the poetic," the metaphorical dimension, and they have a revelatory function. Here truth no longer means verification but, rather, the truth and its meaning is found in some physical manifestation of events, a manifestation which involves a letting what shows itself be. "What shows itself is in each instance a proposed world." It is I who do the proposing; it is I who projects my innermost understandings and my own possibilities. And they go beyond the previous understandings; my reflections emerge unexpectedly from and within my past experience. On the one hand I am critically aware of the tradition within which my life has been lived, namely the Bahá'í tradition, its religion, philosophy and everyday understandings. This tradition is of sovereign importance for my present and future understanding. It cannot and should not be dismantled. On the other hand, I am critically aware of the importance of not imposing my own finite capacity of understanding on my experience and at the same time I must be aware of the power of the Bahá'í tradition to throw new light on my experience.
Some readers may find the above somewhat 'thick,' a little too analytical for their liking. I can understand that. So, I'll conclude this discussion of my first marriage with an anecdote from the marriage of Robert Louis Stevenson and some poetry. Stevenson's wife, Fanny Osbourne who was forty when she married the thirty year old Stevenson, thought he had far too many people in his life. She could not get a moment alone with him. I have found in what is now some thirty-five years in two marriages that getting the balance between sharing solitude, quiet companionship without others being present, between having a home that is like grand-central-station and between having a small circle of friends and acquaintances is difficult to achieve. This equation, the solitary-sociability equation, is a difficult one to work out for many. It varies from person to person and from stage of life to stage of life. I simply mention its cruciality here and may comment on the details with respect to my life in a later edition.
I would, though, like to look directly and obliquely at this first marriage through the following poems:
MY LOVE IS NO LESS
Wisdom seems to dictate a cautious approach to teaching, far removed from the more evangelical enthusiasms of the door-to-door salesman. It is not so much a question of finding the correct way, the right way but, rather, what is appropriate to the situation. This differs from person to person and is the resultant, the product, of the interpersonal and historico-cultural dynamics of each situation. -Ron Price, Reflections on a Lifetime of Teaching, 8:37 am, Thursday, 19 December 1996, Rivervale, WA, Australia.
My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear:
-Shakespeare, Sonnets, Number 102.
When they're well-reared,
like a good tree,
they seem to come straight and tall
into life with their branches flowing over
with a rich luxuriance, sweet colours,
blossoms and fruits,
an untutored innocence,
a fresh charm,
pure and goodly issue grown,
rooted into earth's soil, unconsecrated,
unsensitized, yet, not yet simple
and sincere through seasoned burning
and reason's firey-lights, unsullied,
mirrors dust-free, waiting, uncrowned,
yet, with that diadem
of a far-off and eternal life.
Then, a tarnish comes;
the blossoms wither
or the flowers die in autumn,
sometimes never to return again,
sometimes coming back with sweet new life
and a reconsecration, a joy even, unknown before,
some inner disposition, some shadow of bounty,
yes, tender now and simple, a strengthening
by some perpetual force,
an empowering to raise other trees
to that new life;
but there's an inner drying, notes of loss,
shame and battles lost,
sweet's grown common do not possess that old delight
and I do not publicly enthuse,
though my love is no less
than ever it has been in former days of joy
when I was young and wet
and my tongue did publish everywhere.
19 December 1996
I'D CALL IT LOVE
I'd call it love because
it takes so many years.
-With thanks to Adrienne Rich, Two Songs*
A hot alliance forged in bed
is no guarantee
that the two will stay together;
it's so often just not to be.
The promptings of the flesh
but can be sundered in a breath
no matter how high the heat.
Our chilly inner selves we find,
after all the heat and spice;
limbs contorted, hair rearranged,
then cold estrangement throws its dice,
sometimes not once, twice, but thrice.
Slowly we learn to deal with lust's
but it often takes a lifetime
to control and tame the fires.
1 January 1996
* Adrienne Rich puts it this way in her poem:
I'd call it love if love
didn't take so many years.
LOVE YIELDS ITS HEAD
As Price approached sixty he became more reclusive in his private life. By 1999, when he retired, he had worked as a lecturer/teacher for nearly thirty years, except for a four year period either recuperating from teaching, being on the dole or doing other jobs. He felt burnt-out, dried out, strung out, but quietly so. He had finished his years of teaching in a Technical and Further Education training institution, full-time; he attended LSA meetings until 1999. Feasts and the occasional social gathering that obligation necessitated continued to be part of his routine. For the most part he 'performed' well in this theatre of life. Hopefully retirement, which he had now enjoyed for the last four years, would continue to bring him a new lease on life. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 2 February 2003.
Do not doubt that love renews itself
under the cool, metallic stars,
springs up intractably
like the pesky weed
to outrage our stark order,
and being lopped or trampled
yields its head but not its root
which feeds insatiably
in the heart's thin soil.1
Denied, it finds a new taste of wet leaves
on the tongue; it does not die;
only its normal harvest,
having had the fire of its hope
fall to ashes and despair,
finds a new green and wily succulence,
quite unknown, telling of a new crop,
some inner chill, some new heat,
a neck caught in a noose,
endlessly drinking from the seven seas,
his thirst still unquenched,
he asks for more,
but would have it end,
shunning himself, a' times,
drawing away from life's poison.
23 August 1998
1 Roger White, The Witness of Pebbles, 1981, p.71.
I have often felt since, in these intervening thirty years, that Judy was somewhat like a diamond: hard, clean, frank, high-spirited. She was like a wild-horse that I could not tame, should not have even tried. I did not have the survival skills then to handle her spirit and her mind. Late in 1975 I saw her plane leave the Melbourne airport. I did not see it leave the tarmac but I saw it off in the distance as it rose high into the sky. I returned to the Melbourne suburb of Kew where I was living at the time and where I stayed until March of 1976. The failure of the marriage made me take sober stock of myself and required a pensive girding up of the loins of my endeavour in order to persevere along my chosen highway. Girding, though, was not the only thing I did with my loins in the two years after the separation from my wife. In fact, there seemed to be a direct relationship between one form of girding and another.
I had just entered, too, the period known as middle age, the years from 30 to 70. Human development theorists say it is “the least charted territory in human development” and people generally have the wrong idea about what really happens in midlife. Perhaps some of what readers come across here will challenge stereotypes about midlife. The overload stressors continued to manifest themselves during these years, although by the age of 60 they had virtually disappeared from my life-line. Equanimity was not part of my experience; special vulnerabilities continued to distress me: bi-polar illness, job and marriage crises, illness and crises in my family as well. Recent research suggests that mid-life crisis is a myth, but in my case it was a reality, although the job changes I had made early in my life seemed to be beneficial in my midlife years.
Lionel Trilling wrote in his book Sincerity and Authenticity about the new radicalism that had come into society in the 1960s, the last years of my adolesence and the first years of my adulthood. He said that resisting impulse was the true basis of human liberty and the basis of our growth as people in human perfections. He said that this growth came from taking on limitations not throwing them off. I had found this lesson a difficult one to learn all my life. If I had been able to accept it more fully in that first marriage I might have been able to save it. But self-indulgence was a "characteristic of the late 1960's and '70's counter-culture movements," movements for which the word 'authority' was anathema. And, although I was not part of these movements, I was influenced by them, by their emphasis on subjectivity and privacy, on the inner basis of knowledge, on being your own person and a general exaggerated emphasis on individuality.
The 1960s had given birth to what some called the counter-culture and a rebirth of classical paganism. Variously described and defined, this new ethos was anathema to traditional values. The motto of the times was, in the words of one of the counter-culture's most articulate spokesman, Theodore Roszak, "do your own thing." Authority, as I said above, was anathema and structure the antithesis of the world this new culture wanted to create. But trying to create community without authority placed increasing demands of governments. Many looked for community, for informal, organic structures and some of these joined the Bahai Faith.
A chaos of private belief, in which respect for anybody or anything, virtually disappeared or, should I say, had to be earned; in which emotions increasingly replaced reason except in one's professional life; in which what was useful replaced what was true as the guide to the perplexed; in which a moral revaluation without morals aimed at authenticity, wholeness and the search for the Real-Me--these came to define the spirit of the time.
It was difficult for many young Bahá'ís, for I was a young Bahá'í in the sixties, to maintain their belief system in the face of the frontal-attack of these new values or new expressions of old ideas. I was fortunate or perhaps it was due to those mysterious dispensations of Providence, to maintain my belief system intact in the years up to, say, 1975. Some historians and social analysts defined the sixties as ending in 1974. The early 1970s in Australia were in many ways a continuation of the sixties in North America where I had lived and had my being. In 1975 I lived in eight houses trying to establish an LSA in Kew. I was still a Bahá'í and in one piece. I was indeed lucky to survive those heady days, however one interprets their meaning.
The following poem comes from the Psalms. I had lived half of my life, half of my life to the age of sixty. There was a blunt reminder here:
Our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years
Or perhaps eighty, if we are strong.....
They are soon gone and we fly away.
In this context much of life is remembering. In some ways this remembering is a disease of the graying and the balding. To go back is to bore and to praise the good old days, to bask in the past, to enter an Eden that never existed, a paradise as legendary as Atlantis. In other ways to remember is to start dieing. The opposite is also the case. Much of religious literature can be summed up in a single word: remember. The Bahá'í religion is, in some ways, like that of the Judaism of ancient Israel, at least insofar as it is embedded in history. To forget one's history is a crime, a crime against yourself and your memory. You become the accomplice in your own demise. To forget the life of Bahá'u'lláh is to partly dismantle your own life. To remember His history is to start living.
In April 1973, when I had just begun, two months before, the best job I had had in my life, until then, in South Australia's first open plan secondary school and when I was at the height of my career in primary and secondary teaching, my marriage was in its last six months, little did I know it at the time. The House had written that month that the Bahá'ís were raising "on this tormented planet the fair mansions of God's Own Kingdom wherein humanity may find surcease from its self-induced confusion and chaos and ruin." I had just begun to serve on the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of Gawler where there had been a Bahai community for less than twenty-five years. That was the case nearly everywhere I lived in this half century of my Bahai experience (1953-2003). They were nearly all very young communities with the possible exception of Toronto where I lived in 1969, where I served briefly on its Assembly and where the Bahai community went back as far as 1913 and the early years of the twentieth century.
The Nine Year Plan ended that April, too. It had been an "overwhelming victory." It had been the second global campaign of the world Bahá'í community. I had certainly been the recipient of Bahá'u'lláh's "unceasing confirmations." A little more than four years before I had just left my fourth mental hospital at the bottom of yet another of the proverbial barrels we go to in life. Bahá'u'lláh had raised me from the depths of a mental sickness that had completed bewildered me and placed me in an educational environment, a professional teaching job which was at the top of my field. Obviously I had to initiate the action, apply for the jobs, move to Australia, et cetera. God only helps those who help themselves, as it is said.
Sixty-nine National Spiritual Assemblies in 1964 had become one hundred and thirteen, 5000 Local Spiritual Assemblies had become 17,000, 16,000 localities had become 69,000. The statistics were im- pressive. My own life in this period had gone from the start of my university life at the age of twenty, from the early sixties in Canada to a pioneer post thousands of miles from my home. I had married in this period and I was just about to divorce. The opportunity to "strengthen (my) own character" and "influence those around" me in the months ahead by obeying Bahá'í law, I lost. We lose many opportunities in life through disobedience.
At the same time: all was not lost. "The acts we perform, the attitudes we manifest, the very words we speak," wrote the House of Justice in 1972, just as I was about to begin my career as a secondary school teacher with more success than I had ever achieved in my life, "should be an attraction a magnet." And so had they become. I had been raised from as close to death row as one can be with eight shock treatments buzzing through my head only five years before. I could not have had that success if that magnetism had not begun to manifest itself in my personal life. Perhaps some of the advice from Frank Sinatra a decade before was paying off: "Whatever else has been said about me is unimportant. When I sing, I believe, I'm honest. If you want to get an audience with you, there's only one way. You have to reach out to them with total honesty and humility." In the teaching profession there is much more than this. That "more" is too complex to deal with here. Sinatra's words, though, have some ring of relevance to my teaching success at this time, in 1973. Reaching out took many forms by the early 1970s. The first male nude in Playboy was Burt Reynolds in 1972; the first gay nude in a leading magazine was in 1982. The emphasis on female sexuality in the 1960s became an emphasis on male sexuality in the seventies and eighties. With the male menopause in the 1990s the would-be pioneer who was male in these four epochs came to see sex, male identity and role as one of that period's dominant themes. But there were so many themes that the result was a certain dizzying effect.
I could see a future on the personal front for the first time since wandering around four mental hospitals as a patient in the summer and autumn of 1968. A world devoid of a future, one that I had to recreate, had a certain lifeless quality. The heart had to struggle day after day to get back on track in mind and soul. But in Australia a new life was injected into me, year after year, or so it seemed, especially as I look back from a perspective of thirty to forty years. A sense of teleological meaningfulness is an essential ingredient for any kind of happy life. International pioneering brought this to me as if it was a gift from God. This gift did not seem to be so much as a result of trying but, rather, it was something given passively, something not entirely my own, someting resulting from a fortuitous combination of waiting, praying, serving, sufffering, obeying.
The sense of life as a humourous adventure, where you learned that complaining must be kept to a minimum and where there was enough happening in one's own life that one hardly needed anyone else around to provide material for a story seemed to be a scenario that was developing on this Australian shore as decade succeeded decade. And, finally, I became conscious that what I was doing and saying and writing might, in the end, have little permanent value, have been in fact a waste of my time and have messed up my life, if not others, for nothing.
I had slowly, insensibly, become involved in a process that would, by my fiftieth year, make me "tired to the bone of life and men," by my fortieth year make me "too weary for more life/But death of oblivion" and by my thirtieth year bring me as close as I would ever come to giving up my very belief in a Faith that had over two decades brought me so much in meaning, purpose, direction and sheer joy. But my faith in 1974 was bleeding on the sands of time and I nearly died, spiritually. I was at the end of my tether. The loss of my first wife had had a devastating affect on my inner being. I felt broken, frozen, burnt through, only bone, nakedness, was left. Lacking faith, I reached out for the tender touch, the warm embrace, the sensual excitement, of a woman. From October 1973 to April 1974 four women appeared on the horizon of my sensory emporium. As a senior tutor in human relations I did a lot of relating. It got me over the loneliness, the emptiness, the sense of loss and it nearly bearied me in the world of the senses.
Bahá'u'lláh's judgement of human behaviour, a rightful function of prophetic office, "is neither too condemnatory, nor reflective of a view of the individual that is dark, negative or pessimistic." The nobility of man is stressed again and again if he comes under the guidance of the Manifestation. But Bahaullah also tells us frankly and truthfully to confront ourselves honestly and not be tricked by fantasy's illusions and delusions, passions and desires. He offers us His forgiveness and mercy. He is not trying to break our spirits or to heap on us heavy guilt. Waging jihad on my passions has always been difficult for me to do in some areas of life. I needed the "help of the Holy Spirit." This help has been in evidence during these four decades of pioneering; I am still in need of its strength and power as late adulthood and old age beckon. I still need to turn the mirror of my heart "squarely toward God." I still need to guide and control my imagination. I still need to release myself from "the multiple identities of passion and desire" and their predictable companions of fantasy. Thirty years after arriving in Australia the battle goes on. I still do deeds that are "unacceptable in the path of God and which, I am confident, impair my spiritual development." It is battles of this nature that lie at the core of this autobiography. It involves the "creational, tumultuous, struggling, never-ceasing, energetic agent" of the imagination.
INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING 3: December 1974 to December 1978
All social and scientific activity is grounded in ideological structures. Alternatively, all writers develop particular narrative styles that reveal their ideological positions. Autobiography is enmeshed in ideology for no man is free of ideas, systematized and unsystematized. Ideology is part of the air we all breathe. But we breathe different air, -Ron Price with thanks to Herve Varenne, "The Social Facting of Education: Durkheim's Legacy," Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol.27, 1995, pp.373-389.
In 1974 I extended and deepened my reading and this process began in January as I prepared for my role as Senior Tutor in Human Relations at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. I had been a serious reader going back to the beginning of my pioneer venture in September of 1962 when I attended classes for thirty hours a week and studied at home for another twenty-five to thirty. Teaching older adolescents and adults a variety of subjects in the trainee teacher curricula required of me a more serious reading regimen than when I was teaching primary and secondary school students in the years 1967 to 1973. Nearly thirty years later this 'serious reading' continues. In some ways, though, it is not a matter of how many books one reads in order to find the tone, the vocabulary, the manner, the mode to describe this pioneer experience; nor is it a matter of how many committees one serves on, how many LSAs or even NSAs, how many kilometres one has put on the Bahá'í-odometre. The writer-poet searches for a language adequate to the mission, the engagement, the venture, the narrative, the story of these several epochs in the last three quarters of the first century of the Formative Age. For it is language, style, that vivifies the raw data of experience, thought and emotion into poetry and prose.
Reading was not all that was deepened in 1974. A physical relationhsip quickly deepened and by April I was living with a young Tasmanian woman and her two children, daughters aged three and eight. The desires of a corrupt inclination, the passions, the concupiscible appetite, there are a host of phrases to describe what continued to occupy my attention as it had before and as it would again. As 'Abdu'l-Bahá put it so eloquently and so succinctly, "desire is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned." This devouring fire can not always be quenched by knowledge and in 1974 it nearly devoured my spiritual life as a Bahá'í.
I arrived in Tasmania on the first of January 1974 wondering to myself if that young girlfriend or, more accurately, ex-girlfriend of mine back in South Australia was pregnant. It was with a great sense of relief in mid-January or thereabouts that I received a letter from her to say there was no worry. I also received a telephone call in late January or perhaps it was mid-February 1974 from my wife Judy to say she was thinking about getting back together. Some time in the last half of February Judy took a flight to Launceston to discuss the possibilities of reconciliation. She said, when she saw me at 1 Hillside Crescent, the house we had bought together in September 1973 in Launceston, that she had changed her mind again. She did not want to renew our marriage. I was devastated.
But I assuaged this devastation, as I have written above, in the arms of three different women in the next month. There were two one night stands, as it is said in the vernacular and there was Christine Armstrong, one of my students in Human Relations. She lived with her sister's family in Launceston in a small room with her two daughters, Angela and Vivienne aged three and eight respectively. Christine moved in to my home and into my bed some time after the fast in early April 1974. For the next eight months I agonized over breaking Bahá'í law, but the agony was not sufficient to put the law over the passion, at least not until December. In early December, just after the Feast on December 12th, I left my job, my home and Tasmania and took a plane to Melbourne obeying in the process the Bahá'í law which I cherished and which I had come to understand more deeply by breaking it.
At the time I left Launceston I felt the wisdom of Shakespeare's words about love and passion: "These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder which, as they kiss, consume." I have often felt the sexual urge to be something like an itch that needs to be scratched; over time another itch came into my life, an itch which could only be cured by the scratching of a pen. Not that the itch had died but a second marriage helped me find a place for the "proper use" of "the sex instinct." Self-control, "when exercised, undoubtedly has a salutary effect on the development of character and of personality in general," wrote someone on behalf of the Guardian in 1940. I have certainly had lots of practice at the exercise of self-control since August 1967 when I first got married. In the last forty years(1967-2008) my soul has had many opportunities to progress due to this exercise of self-control. The occasional lapse, largely due to the process of divorce, is in some ways more a measure of the "hard struggle" it has been. I found the need for self-control as necessary, and as demanding, within marriage as outside of it. The advice from the House was timely, just as I was beginning to contemplate a separation from my first wife in early 1973.
As I write these words about my life back in early adulthood, in the 1960s and 1970s, I am in the early years of late adulthood(60-65). The glories of youth have gone and their beauty and strength. Now contemplation fills my hours and what William McNamara, a carmelite brother, defined as "a long loving look at the real." I have begun to look at life in its totality, as Erik Erikson said must be done in one's latter years. I am aware that the old Adam has not died yet, that I have much to repent and that only some of my confessional is revealed here. Even Oprah Winfrey or Andrew Denton, two television interviewers who get their guests to spill their beans, as we say colloquially. They would not get all of it out of me. I see myself, in the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins' phrase: "wound/With mercy round and round/As if with air." For, without that mercy, I'm not sure I would ever be able to approach the "gates that open on the Placeless."
I sense, as Hopkins and a host of others have sensed, the mysterious shaping of my spirit and my life through the spirit of God. In Hopkins' case the shaping was "to the image of God's son." In my case the shaping is with a much more complex metaphorical connection. The following phrases of Bahá'u'lláh may capture some of it: "the sweetness of thy melody may attract the hearts of all men;" "faithfulness unto the covenant of God;" "may my life be a sacrifice to Thee." There are so many phrases to capture the nature of this shaping process. The Bahá'í writings are filled to overflowing with moral and spiritual admonitions regarding the shaping of the spirit which, one day will assume a form that befits its immortality. This shaping was also a shaping of character "the underlying qualities of a person's moral or ethical knowledge, attitudes, values and commitments that are systematically displayed in one's behaviour." At the centre of this shaping process, unquestionably, was the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í Faith and its writings serve for me as a lens through which I can assess the whole of a particularly complex, often dizzying and confusing time in history and my own life within that time.
While I was learning about the wisdoms of Bahá'í law in 1974 I was able to utilize the passion I had developed for putting up posters. Every Friday night for several months I put up some 50 posters all over Launceston advertising the Friday night firesides. Noone came, if I recall, but the amount of advertising was massive. I also served on the Regional Goals Committee that year, as secretary and editor of the newsletter. I was part of that "vast reservoire of spiritual energy, zeal and idealism" mentioned by the House of Justice in its Ridvan 1974 message. And it would be the last year I could be included with the youth in this connection, for in July I was thirty years old. The House had defined youth as 'those in their teens and twenties" back in 1966 and in July I would be thirty years old. Perhaps "the abundant evidences of Divine confirmation" mentioned in that same message for "dedicated and strenuous service" were demonstrated by the fact I was still able to hang on to my beliefs in spite of not following the law. Perhaps these "evidences" were part of the high energy characteristic of a mood swing approaching the hypomanic phase. Perhaps the accession of energy had more to do with the new job I had, a job which was immensely enjoyable: a senior tutor in human relations. These evidences of energy are but one manifestation of what you might call my style, that matrix of personality, temperament, ways of learning and ways that define one's uniqueness. For we are each and all unique in this complex of factors that make up style. Style and character are the two core elements, says W. Huitt, which make up the 'brilliant stars' that we are and that we should try to become. I had first head the term 'brilliant star' in one of the prayers for children my mother read, probably in the morning before my going to school, during 1953-54, her first year of contact with the Canadian Bahá'í community.
I should insert a word about the idealism in my life. Chesterton once wrote that: “life is worth all this trouble: that in gratitude for the gift of living, no price is too high to pay in love and understanding.” I certainly felt that way much or even most of the time, but I never regarded myself as someone who suffered stoically and when the depths of depression or despair got turned on strong enough my sense of appreciation for suffering's moral and psychological worth was experienced only in retrospect and for the time I experienced the price as too high. And so I had to add to Chesterton's admirable expression of a fine and admirable ideal: “most of the time.”
So it was at Ridvan 1974 that the Five Year Plan was outlined(1974-1979) and the eighteen year period leading to the centenary of Bahá'u'lláh's Ascension in 1992 began. I was as close as I would get in the first half century of my association with this Faith(1953-2003) to compromising my spiritual credentials and actually leaving a religion that had been such a formative influence in my life. When the announcement of the beginning of the work on the construction of the Seat of the Universal House of Justice was made I was struggling with loneliness, obedience to Bahá'í law and my lower nature. At the same time I had the best job I'd ever had. Such a mixture of the good and the bad, the ups-and-downs, happiness and sorrow, with which we live our lives trying to see both the forest and the trees, trying to demonstrate a happy and well-oriented life even in the presence of anxiety: a keen test if ever there was one.
"The problem of how to access and deploy the explanatory power of culture" wrote Anne Kane, "in historical accounts has long remained vexing." At the nexus of culture, social structure and social action the observer finds meaning and meaning is what must be as the explicit target of investigation. Meaning certainly kept me firing those posters up onto shop windows week after week even as I broke Bahá'í law. Meaning had me seek the removal of my voting rights at some time in September of 1974. Meaning had me give up my job, my home and my career just to obey a law that I feared disobeying. Pleasure and the satisfaction of my instinctual urges made me disobey the law. That has always been the case. As Peter Kahn pointed out in a talk he gave: "Satin will appear to you in the guise you find most attractive." Kahn is not talking here about some personification of evil; rather, he is talking about the power of one's lower self. My precipitous move to Melbourne, had been unwise. In retrospect it would have been wiser to simply move to another part of town, thus enabling me to obey Bahá'í Law.
I was being tested where I was weak, an area I found most attractive and the process continues even unto today. I may come back to this theme later in this narrative because I think it is a crucial one for my spiritual path and, indeed, anyone's spiritual path. I was not the only one being tested. In the years 1969 to 1974 the American Bahá'í community went from 13,000 to 60,000. Canada went from about 4000 to 10,000 and Australia from under 1000 to perhaps 3000. Growth in the following thirty years more than doubled in all these countries. Growth measured from 1959 when I became a Bahá'í, or 1953 when my mother first expressed her interest, went from 10,000 in North America, Europe and the Anglo-Pacific region to some 400,000 in the next fifty years. Statistics, of course, can be played with endlessly to prove all sorts of points. I mention these statistics here because this whole question of testing not only militates against many ever entering this Faith, it also forms an important part of the experience of Bahá'ís once they become part of the community.
This 'testing' can be measured in virtually an endless multitude of ways. Community inactivity, non-involvement, withdrawal, loss of voting rights, resignations, divorce, domestic violence, interpersonal rivalries, jealousies and conflicts, varying degrees of alienation and tension that result from people in community, were all part of the texture of community as I experienced it in the years 1953 to 2003. One not only sees many forms of testing; one experiences many oneself. These forms could make a separate book unto themselves should I decide to expand on them in detail. I often think they are not unlike the difficulties that families endure. Some families, like some Bahá'í communities, seem more harmonious; and others more fraught with problems. Inevitably, too, how others read this work and my views depends on what their minds are full of.
My lack of desire to participate in much of the overt Bahá'í activity in greater metropolitan Perth in the 1990s is part of a theme going back at least to 1962 and before: an object so highly cathected with energy--community life—that it becomes a source of both identity and warmth as well as tension and estrangement." This is a theme that could be explored in some depth and yield a long story both in my life and in the lives of my fellow Bahá'ís. For the process of knowing and understanding is, as van Oort puts it, fundamentally one "of interpreting increasingly more complex layers of reference." And this theme is undoubtedly complex. And time, writes Jesse Matz, "becomes human time to the extent that is is organized after the manner of a narrative." Putting this theme into narrative form is difficult. So more on what is involved here another time, another season.
Another aspect of this whole question was raised by Judith Butler in her most influential book Gender Trouble (1990). “Butler argued that feminism had made a mistake by trying to assert that 'women' were a group with common characteristics and interests. That approach, Butler said, performed 'an unwitting regulation and reification of gender relations' -- reinforcing a binary view of gender relations in which human beings are divided into two clear-cut groups, women and men. Rather than opening up possibilities for a person to form and choose their own individual identity, therefore, feminism had closed the options down.” The issue is not exactly the same for Bahá'ís, but there certainly is a tendency, as I have observed, in the early stages of Bahá'í experience to see all Bahá'ís as painted with the same brush. My experience in this regard, deepened over half a century now, is that Bahá'ís are as individual, as individualistic, as unique personages, as any one can find in any community of human beings. they have in common the teachings, the Revelation, the Bahá'í organizational form but, after that, its open slather on who does what and what to expect.
So, in the same way that Butler sees gender as a fluid variable which shifts and changes in different contexts and at different times, the Bahá'í needs to see his fellow believers as an equally fluid variable which shifts and changes. In the same way that it is what you do that defines gender, it is what you do that defines what a Bahá'í is. As the Bahá'í Faith moves from its present six million to, perhaps, several hundred million or more in the twenty-first century, the kinds of free-floating identies that Judith Butler talks about in relation to gender are, I think, strongly applicable to the Bahá'ís in terms of belief, always keeping in mind the centripetal forces of the Covenant to keep the whole thing together.
Then, of course, there are the multitude of sins of omission or commission and which should at least get a mention in an autobiography. John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, in his last book of lessons worth passing on, suggests we should all cultivate a streak of vulgarity. I'm not sure whether this is a good idea or not, but there are several ‘irregular inclinations' which have been part of my life for years. Mortimer describes the vulgarities of several famous people and the sins, major and minor, of the Mozarts, Shakespeares and Leonardos. Whatever vulgarities I possess, they are at least in good company. Besides smoking for thirty years and emiting a great deal of gas, probably from eating too fast; having a temper, which is now for the most part controlled as I near sixty; various sexual irregularities, obsesssions and inclinations which surfaced from puberty onwards and were a source of both pleasure and anxiety; I could list of number of other natural inclinations associated with my anatomy, my use of words and my emotional and mental life. But for fear of disturbing myself, perhaps some sense of shame or is it guilt or simple embarrassment, I hesitate to make the list any longer than I have already made it. I'm not sure, either, whether exposing readers to every sordid detail of my life, to the contemplation of what has been vulgar, excessive and coarse would be either edifying or useful to readers. Such an exposure might be colourful, if I could frame these traits in a humorous context. It might take me off any pedestal readers might be inclined to place me as a result of any reverential tones they find in this lengthy work. The contemplation of the weaknesses and incapacities in my life might appeal to those inclined to heap opprobrium on the broad canvas of my days and darken the picture of my hours and the photos of my years. I have done enough of that myself and would not wish such an exercise on my readers.
In February 1975 I moved into Kew from Elwood, both suburbs of Melbourne. I had been living with three other young men in Elwood for two months after my arrival from from Tasmania. I lived in Kew with Wayne and Anne Williams, New Zealanders who had come to Australia and who, after returning to New Zealand in the 1980s, came back to Australia it would seem to stay. I lived in seven houses that year in an attempt to get nine adults into Kew to help form an LSA. In the end we missed by one believer. Chris and her girls came to Melbourne in April and we attempted to obey the Bahá'í law, this time more successfully. I've often thought, looking back on Chris' persistence in coming after me to tie me down as a future husband, that Shakespeare might have been right when he wrote in A Midsummer Night's Dream that I “should be woo'd and was not made to woo." This abdication of the traditional male role in courting was, perhaps, fitting given my lack of discrimination, my instinctual needs, my impetuosity and my bipolar disorder. Was this experience the role of fate? I will never know with certitude.
I taught at a Tafe college in Box Hill and continued there until March of 1976 when I got a job at the Ballarat C.A.E. lecturing in the social sciences.
From the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies, the rock ‘n' roll music world had provided much pleasure to my life. But with two children to care for, with the increasing cost of records, with the burgeoning quantity of sounds available and limited supplies of money I was not able to continue buying records. Simon Frith argues that the rock era died around 1976 with the Sex Pistols. Many rock historians would, of course, disagree, but my experience of it lost its previous intensity. The promised mass cultural revolution that many believed would come out of rock ‘n' roll simply fizzled out. From my point of view there was a revolution. It continued quietly, part of a process that had been initiated over 130 years ago in 1844. The two decade rock experience(1954/6 to 1974/6) which arguably had ended, had run its course, according to Frith, was simply one of the multitude of societal expressions of a deeper, wider much more profound revolution, a revolution which was spiritual, global and out of human control.
In Kew I served as a secretary of the LSA or what we were hoping would be an LSA. I remember throwing a carton of milk on one of the members, so distraught did I become at one evening meeting which we had in Chris' flat on Pleasant Avenue. Perhaps it was the frustration I was experiencing in trying to obey the Bahá'í law on no sex before marriage as Chris and I now lived in separate residents; perhaps it was the sheer frustration of LSA work; perhaps it had to do with moving to half a dozen houses that year; perhaps it was part of my bi-polar disorder. I have always found it easy to list a series of life's frustrations or tests to justify or explain whatever aberrant behaviour I exhibited. But, lest readers see the throwing of cartons of milk at fellow members as a normal part of LSA work, let it be said that I never saw such an occurance again or heard of it happening to others. Frustrations, anxieties and traumas were part of LSA life as they were part of marriage and part of the problems at the work place from time to time. Perhaps in a future edition I will write about these experiences in more detail.
John Palmer points out in his analysis of autobiography that historically autobiography has served "the traditional power structures." He argues that now autobiographies, at least those found on the Internet, are part of a network of inter-related writings, part of a greater whole, connected to thousands of other texts of every conceiveable genre. A single autobiography is not a discrete document any more, at least not if it is on the internet, but is, rather, part of a diffused body of knowledge that is more easily accessible as a body of interrelated material than are books on a library shelf. This makes the text more fluid, the context more fluid and reader reactions more fluid. Palmer calls this version of autobiography hypertext, as opposed to the traditional constructivist view of autobiography. Palmer sees manipulation as simply a process that is more difficult to take place because the reader had more ready access to more tools of critical analysis. For this reason it is my hope that what I write here will be found located on the Internet as well as in book form and, if the latter can not be achieved, then the former will more than suffice.
Living as I did in a large metropolitan Bahá'í community of several hundred people from December 1974 to March 1976 as well as carrying out the tasks of a job as a teacher I found to be a demanding responsibility. By early 1976 I was feeling exhausted again or, perhaps, I just needed a change; perhaps it was a combination of both. Ballarat, an hour's drive from Melbourne, was an attractive country town, Australia's biggest country town. It had a Bahai community of about fifteen souls. The smallness of the place and the nature of the job were both points of attraction and Chris and I and our two girls moved there in March 1975. And there we stayed until December 1978. As things turned out Ballarat was as busy a place as Melbourne had been. The job required all I had teaching a range of new subjects and requiring another extensive reading program. In addition, for these three years I was either chairman or secretary of the local Bahá'í community. On the home front the demands were no less.
Daniel was born in August 1977; Chris had post-natal depression as she had had in the years after the birth of Angela in 1970. The girls went to primary school. I had the first of a package of three episodes of bi-polar disorder in early 1978; this was followed by a second in 1979 and a third in May 1980. The 1978 episode began in Yerrinbool where I was teaching a course in Bahá'í Administration. Each of these episodes was extremely disorienting and in May 1980 I was finally treated with lithium which put an end to most of my symptoms forever.
I knew at some time early in 1978 that my one year contract at the Ballarat College of Advanced Education would not be renewed at the end of the year. So I began yet again to apply for jobs; I was offered another one year contract at the Churchlands C.A.E. in Perth Western Australia teaching open plan education. But Chris and I decided this was too tenuous an employment situation and we would be better off going back to Tasmania. And this we did in December 1978. I could provide a detailed picture of LSA meetings, deepenings, children's classes, regional meetings, friendships and various relationships, crises and failures, successes and achievements that were part of the texture of my life in Ballarat. I could do this in every town I lived in and perhaps a fourth edition will see a ballooning of this third edition with many more details. But I'm not sure what benefit, what use, this would be to readers.
One development I would like to outline in some detail, though, is one which began in 1978 when I began to pray for the assistance of holy souls who had "remained faithful to the covenant of God and had fulfilled in their lives His trust." I was feeling desperate, mostly as a result of the onset of another episode of manic-depression, at the depressive end of the scale. I was looking for the intercession of those who had "stood unwaveringly firm in His path." I started to pray for the departed Hands of the Cause. I photocopied their pictures from The Bahá'í World, Volume XIV and to this day I often carry the list of their names around with me along with a list of less prestigious mortals, people I have got to know in my travels, now some seventy people. It has been nearly twenty-five years now that I have had a strong emphasis on prayers of intercession. It is very difficult to measure the specific effects of this intercession. There began, in these years around 1980, a distinctive fascination with one of life's imminent contingencies, death. It became a source of adventure, of wonder, of involvement, as a base of reflections and a cornerstone of life's enigmas. It was not an obsession but, rather, a periodic puzzle which, in the 1990s, came into my poetry frequently. It grew out of my bi-polar disorder, the intense depressions associated with the condition and the many obstacles to the satisfaction of life's unappeaseable appetites. It grew out of a recognition of my need for a philosophy of suffering and grew into an acceptance of the unattainable, the unconsummatable and the unrevealable and a recogniton of my limits. My life's core teleology was shifting. It grew out of and was deepened with daily prayers for intercession by "holy souls" and it grew into a sense of peace and a creativity I had never known.
You might say that I have ascribed member status in the club of my life to people who are significant to me, but have passed on to an immortal realm. My interactions with these people constitute and give meaning to my life in powerful ways. These people constitute communities that co-produce and authenticate the stories that shape my lived experiences. (Myerhoff, 1980; White, 1989, 1995, 1997; Hedtke, 2000, 2001). Rather than moving or getting over the loss of these special people, I keep their stories close with mine and they intermingle. Our bonds and ties are strengthened; conversations are constructive, therapeutic; remembering has a healing function here. Many vignettes from their lives are evocative and stimulate my understanding of life. I am animated by the storied nature of their lives and mine; my identity comes from relationship. A living connection is established that grows and shapes and changes over time. When intimacy is nurtured, membered status can grow more important. This is certainly the case in the twenty-five years I have been praying for departed souls with some interest and enthusiasm. I see myself as carrying on their 'story' and their 'legacy,' keeping alive their relationship, their memory and their honour and, perhaps, mine by association. Such an exercise gave and gives vibrancy to the present.
A fascination with, a desire for, a preoccupation with, an interest in, a puzzling over, death conjoined the lives of numerous creators from Emily Dickinson to E.A. Poe, from James Agee to John Berryman, from Jack Kerouac to Sylvia Plath. Even whole philosophies have been crafted out of the subject of death by the likes of Albert Camus and Martin Heidegger. Kierkegaard saw death mastery as a prerequisite for true religiosity. Shopenhauer called death “the truly inspiring genius of philosophy.” Albert Camus saw himself as serving an “apprenticeship in death.” For me the experience was largely a concern that visited me at night; it has been a concern that has touched me repeatedly since about 1980, since my mid-thirties. It had nothing to do with suicide or suicidal intentions as it did in the case of Camus or Wittgenstein. It had some connection with the concept of sin, my personal ‘badness' or what the Bahá'ís call our lower nature. Its etiology had to do with at least several extended episodes of intense depression over nearly twenty years: 1963 to 1980 and a nightly visitation of a tedium vitae until 2002. My preoccupation with death and immortality was not as intense as it was for some writers. It was not the "Flood subject" it was for Dickinson and it did not involve any fear of annihilation.
I have never been concerned with planning a cathartic deathbed confession, a confession that sought psychological absolution. This was not part of my belief system as a Bahá'í. I accepted the promise and enjoyed the hope of a better after-life. The possibility of being spared from the consequences of wrongdoing through confession seemed to me inappropriate, unrealistic. I'm sure there would be some 'cleaning up' at the end of my life, but I had no idea just how or what that would involve. If, as Barbara Meyerhoff suggests, we view those whom we have known in our life as members of a club, we may not be able to 'restore membered status' on more than a provisional basis to some; we can only allocate a distant membership status to some whose behaviour was so abhorrent to us. Priviledged intimate membership status can not be resumed in our final hours. She says that it is not possible for some of us to forgive some people. Their member status in our club is downgraded. What we need to do, says Meyerhoff, is construct a transformative story, a story where forgiveness and apology may come into the relationship over time. But trying to do forgive initially, at the hour of death, could actually be harmful to the development of positive stories and strength. We continue to examine, reinstate and renegotiate membership after a person has died. By the age of sixty, there may have been two or three people I would have had trouble admitting to "the club." But that story is included elsewhere and it would consume too many words to deal with it here.
The desire for death, even though it was only late at night, paradoxically turned me toward life and seemed to give me a new freshness in living, an admiration for and a cherishing of life. This new lease on life, though, did not come immediately. My prayers were answered but insensibly over two decades. I grew close to holy souls in quiet and quite undefinable ways. The feeling was not ever-present. Problems did not cease to exist. The desire to write and the act of writing, the fullfillment of the desire, the great wish to fill my mind and heart to overlowing, which I had had back as early as the age of eighteen, finally came to be realized. My heart and mind, by degrees, filled again and again with an exhilaration, a "taste of liquor never brewed." That liquor, if I gave it one word, was meaning. This had been my main desire back in 1962 and over the years from 1962 to 2002, that desire was achieved, fulfilled. the experience was just about tangible but it was also fleeting. And it would return the next day and, as i write this, it has been returning daily for thirty years.
One thing I can clearly say, though, is that now I have passed from out of the shadow of manic-depression and most of its eccentricities. The sanity, the emotional steadiness, that is largely the result of the two medications I now take and those mysterious dispensations of Providence, has a delightful feeling, an exquisiteness even, that augers well for the years ahead and should help me endure any of the frustrations of life that seem to be an inevitable part of the texture of our days, particularly in late adulthood and old age, the two stages of life that remain to me. Even now, though, I often lose a spiritual battle. Old age is not about winning all of one's battles as a result of all the lessons one has learned in younger years. Indeed, as Mahavash Master, one of the Cause's outstanding teachers whom I got to know in 1975/6, used to say: the tests get bigger as you get older. It's like a school. While I don't find this a particularly attractive notion, I can understand its wisdom.
I found there was more of an awefulness to life's leisure "when viewed in the context of death" and as I headed down the back stretch of this earthly life my continuing quest intensified but at a deeper and quieter level; perception seemed to make the colours of life richer and more selective. The fleeting experiences of daily life remained the same, for the most part, the same in their context of time and much of the ordinariness of life's journey. My awareness, my consciousness, produced, as it had for so much of my life, either a hopeful or a not-so-hopeful vision of my ultimate fate as my mood and circumstances dictated. I often felt burdened by my incapacities, usually at night and in the early hours of the morning. The remaining part of the day, though, was usually filled with hope over these epochs.
In this connection the words that Shakespeare gives to Cassius: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings." These two lines have often been interpreted to mean that fate is not what drives men to their decisions and actions, but rather the human condition. In my case, the human condition had a multifactored base that contributed much to my experience of life. This memoir deals with this base of experience in some detail. Sometimes I felt I was master of my fate, so to speak, and in control. The words of Bahá'u'lláh are pertinent here:
“...the decrees of the Sovereign Ordainer, as related to fate and predestination, are of two kinds. Both are to be obeyed and accepted. The one is irrevocable, the other is, as termed by men, impending. To the former all must unreservedly submit, inasmuch as it is fixed and settled. God, however, is able to alter or repeal it. As the harm that must result from such a change will be greater than if the decree had remained unaltered, all, therefore, should willingly acquiesce in what God hath willed and confidently abide by the same. The decree that is impending, however, is such that prayer and entreaty can succeed in averting it.”
The journey for the first forty years of my pioneering experience seemed, looking back, to be one of movement from place to place and town to town, from job to job and relationship to relationship. By 2002, forty years down the pioneering track, the focus had insensibly shifted to an equally, perhaps even more, arduous journey, an inner one. So much of this inner journey has no pattern, although with much of it the pattern is only too clear. But whether patterned or patternless, this inner world has its own mountains, deserts, seas and valleys, things to conjecture with and things of "unconjectured quantity." There is often a precariousness to conjectures. There are often suppositions which are tentative at best and faltering at worst. I find, as Dickinson found, "my Horizon blocks/With steady--drifting--Grains." And my goals would have no value without a proportionate amount of danger and frustration:
What merit had the Goal--
Except there intervene
Faint Doubt--and far Competitor--
To jeopardize the Gain?
This narrative is the story, the artistic description, of my continuing journey with colours and textures, patterns and problems in a host of areas: job, study, friendships, Bahá'í activities, marital relationships, fate and socialization, freedom and choice, inter alia. But "what's past is prologue," as Antonio says in The Tempest or to put it less succinctly: What's already happened merely sets the scene for the really important stuff, which is the stuff our greatness will be made on or our dreams are made of.
My relationship with each of the women I married has had its ups and downs and provided some of my keenest tests. Now my relationship with Chris is more comdradly, affectionate and united. After nearly thirty-five years(1974-2008) we have come to accept each other's peculiarities and shortcomings with lots of space between us, as Rilke describes the process in his letters. My poetry derives to a great extent from this experience not a classical or a literary tradition and from the sense, as I indicated above, of seeing the past as prologue. I will return to this subject later in this account for it is an important relationship that requires more attention in the pages to come.
In the 1980s and 1990s, after the Universal House of Justice had given an emphasis to the development of the intellectual aspects of Bahá'í community life in their 1979 Ridvan message, there was a burgeoning of Bahá'í books and print and electronic resources. This burgeoning needs to be given some emphasis here both in terms of its expression in the general Bahá'í comunity and in my own life. My many files, now developed into dozens of two-ring and arch-lever files, give ample evidence to this process, this new development in the Bahá'í community. I hope to come back to this theme at a later date. John Palmer, whom I have quoted earlier in this story, says that autobiography is the "artful manipulation of details and events that acquire the status of facts during the construction of a particular persona." I think this process is unavoidable no matter how one writes autobiography; one attempts to construct particular models of a self and what it ought to do and ought not to do, however fragilely it may exist in the expanding circles of linkage on the internet or in the intricate societal network that is coming to exist in today's world. For some writers, like Rilke, the preoccupation with self was the essence of their art. I certainly share some of Rilke's obsession in my own art. It was Rilke's view that it was better to write later in life when you have gathered "sense and sweetness" from a whole lifetime, when you have gathered more experience. For autobiography and poetry are experiences. Here again for me this sense and sweetness are part of this prologue.
If this literary effort is relatively free of inventions and exaggerations, if I have not changed names and physical descriptions to conceal identities, then the book, it seems to me, is more autobiography than novel, more truth than fiction. There has been much ecstacy in my life-the mere pleasure and sense of living has been joy enough. But there has been much frustration, sadness and despair as well. The result is not a chaos of words, a pessimism and a dwelling on the dark side as there is in so much contemporary writing. My words may meander from time to time, may touch on sadness and melancholy but, I trust, they touch on life itself, its ultimate mysteries and extract some of its precious essence. Like that oil, the product of the crushing of that holy Seed, that got ignited in the Siyih Chal and in time lighted the world, I like to think that the unbearable stress that I had to endure from time to time had a similar function of igniting a light in my own life. In the process, perhaps, I have been able to rejuvenate the hackneyed and the trite, the commonplace and the quotidian that inhabits so many of life's interstices. In time, by my fifties, poetry and writing provided the needed release for yearnings and pent-up energies, for spiritual and intellectual intuitions and for the tensons that had come from chemical imbalances which had been at the root of my bi-polar disorder, which had periodically threatened my equilibrium and shackled my daily experience in incapacitating mood swings.
As early adulthood changed insensibly to middle and late adulthood, fear and grief became a rarer and rarer occurrence. The tribulations that were showered upon me over three epochs were gradually dispelled or transmuted by Providence's all-compelling power, especially was this true as yet another epoch opened in 2001; or perhaps it was my capacity to divert, by the labour of thought, the sense of misfortune that seems to grip the soul from time to time; or perhaps it was simply a combination of retirement and the wonders of an antidepressant called fluvoxamine. Human character seems to be replete with contradictions and inconsistencies, rich and flexible with twistings and turnings, beyond some simplifying theory; and while reason and virtue may pursue their uniform or unpredictable course, the extravagent wanderings of vice and folly seem ever ready to use our natural inclinations and tastes, our attachment to the allurements and the trivialities of the world, to bend whatever loyalty we have acquired to sacred principles toward some inner and insistent self, human nature's frail edge and the destructive and negative forces of society.
But always there was teaching and, if not teaching, a thinking about teaching and how to achieve it more effectively. Given the importance of telling others about this Faith in to the day to day process of life as part of the core of this autobiographical story, I will include an essay I wrote on the subject some thirty-four years after my pioneering life began and thirty-seven years after I joined the Faith. Given the fact, too, that I live my art, my writing, and see it as part of an on-going organic process that flows into autobiogrpahy as naturally as water down a river, I include this essay below:
"Usually I tell my classes that I am a Bahá'í and in a typical year that means about three hundred students from late teens to late forties. Such was the case through the 1980s and 1990s and part of the 1960s and 1970s. Occasionally someone follows up my statement with a question to tell them more. Needless to say, I eagerly respond. In twenty-six years of teaching this has meant some six thousand students hearing of the Cause directly and having a Bahá'í for a teacher. Thousands more would have heard of the Faith since usually I was the only Bahá'í in the school. Each level: primary, secondary and post-secondary has had its story of various seed-planting experiences. Looking back over some three decades what surprises me and saddens me, somewhat, is the lack of response. Except for one year in a primary and one year in a secondary school, in 1970-1 and 1972 respectively, I can't think of anyone actually joining the Bahá'í Faith. There seemed to be something in the air in the early seventies, some real receptivity, if one measures receptivity in terms of any obvious, expressed interest in the Faith. But, in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi about ten days before the outbreak of WW2, it said that we "should, under no circumstances, feel discouraged." Slowly one learned this mental attitude.
I'm told there is something in the air again but, as yet, there is no evidence of it, not in the places where I've lived. Whatever receptivity there is it is a general and philosophical one that does not lead many to enquiry about the Cause. Few are stunned by the range, the complexity and sheer beauty of the words of Bahá'u'lláh. The pearl of spiritual knowledge, if it is sought at all, it is sought elsewhere. One must be on one's guard lest the expectation be unrealistic and the term entry-by-troops not be really understood. Otherwise a gap is created between expectation and reality and frustration comes in to take the place.
I have for years developed a close relationship with my students. I know they have a high degree of respect for me. I know I have been one of the most liked teachers wherever I have taught in the twenty-five years in classrooms during the years 1972 to 1999. After an initial mention that I am a Bahá'í, placing that mention in a context relevant to the discussion, I occasionally mention the word ‘Bahá'í', or the Bahá'í Faith, hoping to get some response. Using the platform of a teacher in a school to promote the Cause is not something that I have ever regarded as a wise line: a gentle and appropriate, an occasional and fitting mention is all that seems wise, at least in the first instance.
Thusfar, the climate just does not seem conducive to a fruitful and extensive entry by troops. First, it would seem, the Cause must “become part of the consciousness and belief of the people that hear” its ideas. Over the years when I bring the Cause to the attention of a class of students, the word goes onto the soil but one gets little idea of just what the response is. Students seem to be largely disinclined to talk about my religion. They will talk about religion as a subject and the themes that are raised seem endless. But the Faith seems to awaken no special interest, at least no interest that students are generally willing to discuss. Occasionally I talk to one of my fellow staff members. Here one or two questions are raised, but rarely anything of a substantial nature. It has been this way for all of my teaching life as a pioneer, since 1962, except, as I say, those two years in the early 1970s when as many as two dozen students actually joined the Cause and some fifteen in a small town in Canada. I have described these events elsewhere in my autobiography and it is not my intention to do so here again.
The first memory I have of ‘entry-by-troops' is in the early sixties just before my pioneering life began and just after I became a Bahá'í. Of course, at the time the term was not used in the west to anything like the extent it was by the 1990s. I think the Guardian first used it in a letter in July 1953, about the time my mother was taking her first interest in the Cause. An Iraqi Bahá'í friend of mine informed me back in the mid-1990s when I lived in Perth that 'entry-by-troops' is an Arabic expression used by the Muslims over 1300 years ago. Whatever it's origins it has been applicable to the Bahá'í experience in the West for half a century, but it has not been part of everyday experience of many individual Bahá'ís, uness they fully understand the implications of the term 'process' which the House of Justice emphasized increasingly after about 1993. Most of the response in the places I've lived, in the two continents I've lived and had my being as a pioneer, has been, as I've said on numerous occasions quoting the Universal House of Justice, "discouragingly meagre." At one level I have made an enriching and significant contribution to the spread of the Cause, by the grace of God; at another level I have just been one of the thousands of souls who have planted seeds without much visible response. The classroom, although a potential source of converts, has yielded very little. At least the exercise has been an enjoyable and happy one, if tiring.
There is a Regional Teaching Conference today on the theme of 'the process of entry-by-troops.' I decided several weeks ago, when I first saw the notice in The Eagle, I would not go. I do not think I could bear all the enthusing and I would not want to be a damper on the enthusiasms and intensities of others. We, Bahá'í communities, have been talking about this process for six or seven years now; I have been involved with this Cause for forty years. It has all been a slow process with little overt response and I have become tired of talking about teaching. I do the best I can; at least I say I do, I suppose one never really does one's best because one can always do better.
I would like to mention here, before leaving this topic of entry-by-troops, that some believers during this period did experience a massive influx of new believers. One such person was Dempsey Morgan who pioneered to Africa. Now in his eighties, Dempsey has been a Bahá'í pioneer for more than 40 years and earned his own way around the world twice. He says that the general public doesn't understand the term pioneer. The term missionary is hardly applicable to this Bahá'í veteran who has pioneered in 11 countries, served on 4 different NSAs, 4 different NTCs with 4 different languages and 11 different LSAs. He has been instrumental in bringing into the Cause literally tens of thousands of believers during his productive years. Dempsey's story would be so different than mine and not likely to be written down, if he is typical of his generation of Bahá'í pioneers. Indeed, the experience of Bahá'í pioneers around the world in these same years that I have been pioneering, the second generation of pioneers during the Divine Plan(1962-1987), has been infinitely diverse. The kaleidoscopic fabric of this Faith resists reduction to a single volume, a single story, no matter how carefully constructed.
Some thirty LSA meetings annually for seven years, a multitude of special committee meetings, interminable discussions at Feasts, RTC exercises, conferences and informal conversations since coming to Perth in late 1987, added onto thirty years of more of the same in a host of other places, and one gets a little worn thin to put it mildly and utterly exhausted with the subject to put it frankly. In some ways it is not so much the subject itself that is the problem, it is that so few show any genuine interest and the few one does get into a conversation with present such a ‘mess of intellectual pottage' for the brain that one often wishes one hadn't raised the subject in the first place. It's enough to test that proverbial patience of Job and wisdom of Solomon, as I've mentioned before in another context.
I find teaching the Cause is a little like sharing my poetry with people. It often requires such an elaborate explanation and rational processing that, by the time one has finished ‘explaining things', one often wishes one had kept one's poems in the file. From time to time I read a few poems to a group. People don't seem to know what to say; a gentle murmur of interest is expressed, perhaps out of kindness, politeness and I wonder to myself if it has been worth it. My inner self answers a resounding "no." Sometimes a deep-and-meaningful conversation results, a conversation that goes down a labyrinthine channel where the Cause gets waylaid on the side of the river or falls quickly to the riverbed near the start of the journey.
Surely, it is not all as bad as that. Well, actually it is. It is far worse, but we don't like to admit it or talk about it because we need the enthusiasm to keep on going and honest talk seems to put people off. It seems to me that being realisitc does not necessarily mean being discouraged. In the 1960s authority became anathama. The individual became for millions the supreme authority and so in one's teaching efforts so many turned off before you got going because at the centre of their lives they themselves had become the supreme authority. Of course, the opposite also had begun to take place in my society: a fracturing of authority, the world of a thousand authorities. This problem really requires a separate essay and can't be dealt with adequately here.
I found that in my analysis of people's lack of interest in the Cause I was seen as being a dampener of enthusiasm, a negative thinker, one of the unfaithful, at least to some of the Bahá'ís. As I said above, except for those two years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, few have joined the Cause in the west, at least the parts of the West where I've lived and had my being; at the same time the trajectory in the years 1953 to 2003, the trajectory that this autobiography is concerned with has been onward and upward: two hundred thousand believers globally in 1953 to some six million. In the end, no matter how meagre the response, "it is not for us to wait passively." Vast surges, crises and victories, alternate.
In my personal experience and in the experience of most Bahá'ís in western countries, we can point to one person joining here and one there: one in four years in Katherine, two in eighteen months in Zeehan, one in Launceston during three periods of residence, a small handful in the eleven years in Perth; this is just the start to the litany. My wife became a Bahá'í in 1974 in Launceston. If I was a door-to-door salesman I would have been fired by my superiors long ago. Of course, I'm not selling Amway products, encyclopedia or shoes. I'm into ideas and I know the process takes longer to convey than the multitude of consumer products that dot the windows, the media channells and the store fronts all over the consumer world where I've lived in for the last forty years of my pioneering experience.
Thankfully, I'm not selling a product and the approach one takes is more gentle. Inevitably, one battles on in classrooms and on the road, in one's home and any place one can find to teach the Cause. And joy comes trickling down the stream because there is a pay-off. However meagre the response, however frustrating the effort, the battle must be waged. Teaching must be attempted and the angels of heaven give us their hidden and not-so-hidden graces. As far as possible I have cultivated what Sallie Munt calls the "visiting self, which leans into the experience of others and listens and learns" After forty years of implementing this style, this way of interacting, trying to learn from others, there has been a wear and tare on my psyche that has contributed to my present fatigue at the age of sixty. The white radiance of eternity gets stained by many things in life, but there are compensations. For me one compensation was that Pearl of Great Price, another the gift of writing, both of which allow me to transform my experience, come close to it and, in a way, recapture it in the form of many lesser pearls. These artistic pearls were counterbalanced by various obsessional anxieties, an illness over which I seemed to have no control. Obsessions seem to be part of my life; moderate interests, of course, have always been there, for one could not be obsessional about everything. I've always liked the Guardian's phrase "dominating passion" which he applied to teaching. I've simply extended this business of passion to several other human interests as well. Australian cartoonist, Bruce Petty, talking about obsessions said today there is an "endless search for endless, huge excitement, and it's obsessional." "It's an undercurrent," he went on, "of an awful lot of life, well my life." To me the word "excitement" translates to "meaning." I get excited about meaning and greater and lesser passions.
Here are several poems in various ways about teaching and passion. I preface these poems with several statements and quotations, epigraphs, whose relevance I trust will not seem obscure.
Price moves in language the way a Jazz musician moves in melody, inventing continuities and harmonies from moment to moment out of the stubbornly disharmonious materials of contemporary life. To understand the kind of discipline and imagination entailed by an aesthetics of improvisation, we might compare a jazz musician with a symphony player. Whereas the symphony player follows the external promptings of the score and conductor, following by rote a continuity forged by others, the jazz musician, in Martha Nussbaum's words, forges continuity freshly, remaining at every point awake and responsive as he brings an intimate understanding of the history of his art and of his fellow musicians to bear upon the requirements of each unique occasion.
To improvise freely does not imply or license ignorance of the past or lack of commitment to tradition, but a desire to renew tradition by testing it at every moment against the discontinuities and surprises the artist invites and accommodates. Price defines the responsibility of the artist in just this way. The artist's first responsibility, he says, is to continue the art, but he can only fill this first responsibility by a second opposing responsibility, which is, to change the terms of the art as given. To continue the art is to acknowledge the historical and communal nature of the artist, but to change the terms of the art as given is to acknowledge that the artist is never entirely possessed or defined by any one community or tradition. To fulfil both responsibilities is to acknowledge continuity and discontinuity, tradition and individual talent. It is to harness individual and collective memory to the dense, particular, mongrel, contradictory, ever mutable energies of the present. In the process I seem to have moved over the decades from various inherited interpretations of the Bahá'í Faith viv-a-vis man and society to a personal and dynamic vision. -Ron Price with thanks to Alan Shapiro, "Introducing Robert Pinsky: October 25th, 1997, Internet Poetry Archives.
You can feel the way it opens
in your brain, your eyes
half seeing some room, street,
a house, Susan Gregory,
the bend of the hockey stick,
the smell of the baseball glove,
the classroom at lunch time
in that geography teacher's room,
the garden golf course
made from old Spud
cigarette tobacco cans
and clubs you found in a garbage can:
a thousand pieces of the past
arise like smoke and drift
off and up into your mind
and out just as fast
as if they did not exist
except in that moment,
so precious, so fleeting,
so much of what you are.
Ron Price 3 January 2003
GREAT STREETS OF SILENCE
Some lines from some poems stand out to such an extent, make such an impression, that I can't resist putting them into my own poems. The first line of this poem is an example. There is a pervasiveness to existence which alternately attracts and repels, makes me feel a sense of awe and beauty and makes me feel alienated, confused and overwhelmed. These physical "streets" can be numbered in the thousands in the over two dozen towns and cities I've lived in. Then there are the spiritual-psychological "streets" which lead away in our lives in "silence."
Much of the landscape in Australia has a sparseness, different from the sparceness of Canada's landscape. The brilliance of the colours in the Antipodes is different again. In Australia the primal force of the sun shapes the environment. With the wind and the sand it bakes and cleanses all signs of decay. There is no cleansing by water. The rivers flow beneath the earth, and rain falls too rarely. In Canada, there is much water, much snow and ice. These are the primal forces that shape life. Both are lands of strong contrasts and there is a majestic quality to the land masses and their features. Australia is bathed in shimmering light. In the winter in Canada a combination of the sun and the snow's whiteness can just about blind you.1 Ron Price with thanks to 1Jill Ker Conway, The Road from Coorain, Vintage Books, NY, 1989, p. 198 and pp.5-6.
Great streets of silence led away1
in endless towns I've been.
I can't contain the all of it
no matter how quick or keen.
In this same immensity
Thy chosen Ones have dwelt.
They too have seen its beauteous forms
and felt just like I've felt.
There is a riddle, too,
that is my self and life.
I've thrown a veil of poetry
over what can't be cut with knife.
1 Emily Dickinson, Poem Number 1159.
26 February 2002
And finally this poem specifically about teaching the Cause since my first efforts, perhaps, forty-five years ago:
THE ART OF GLORIFICATION
A poetry which glorifies, which accords values to the previously undervalued, is part of poetry's very raison d'etre. Poetry should glorify itself, its writer, the community which gave it birth and culture itself in all its diversity. It is poetry of this kind (the kind which glorifies, which shows the true value of the undervalued) which we lack and which we desperately need. -Frederick Turner, “Mighty Poets in Their Misery Dead”, Poetry After Modernism, editor, Robert McDowell, Story Line Press, 1991, p.368.
I've been trying all my life
to befittingly glorify
what has yet to be glorified
by my society, my culture,
my friends, myself,
with a distinctive human voice
and now I have found it, in poetry:
such a small, solitary, but vital part of life.
But, it is just as difficult to share as ever,
bearing some inverse relationship
between popularity and quality.
Still, I come alive,
with the smallest acts of courage
as I play my part
in this greatest renaissance of history
with this hard won,
toughened resolve and realism,
with this autobiographical impersonality.
27 November 1996
Prepare the coward for this daunting deed.
Who calls and points the path knows pain the steed.
-Roger White, “Choices”, The Witness of Pebbles, p.57.
"Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once."
-Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2, lines 32-37.
What would have happened if I'd not found Your name
and I'd gone on to play at passion's game?
I think I would have tried wine and spirit,
anything to kill the pain of life, as I feared it.
And later drugs to help me cope with mood changes,
and months of time in the strangest ranges.
Perhaps I would have passed that mental labyrinth,
gone on to drown in depression's despair
and bleached my skull of everything that's fair
and come out so empty I'd have taken my life
absent of friendship, money and wife.
I'd have ended it all in some pit of gloom
in some remote and dry dock room.
So now I toil-mind, limb, heart and soil,
a coward still, died many times and yet
again I will, far from having had my fill.
Such is the nature of this old-born war
which I would shorten, but I have come
to ruinously adore each strategem your
consummate cunning devises; your
enamouring intransigence enchants me;
your very implacability an aphrodisiac.
There's pain, of course, here too, but
you have saved me from such a mess
I can never repay you--keeping me from
such endless wilderness....*
28 December 1995
THIS POETIC VAULT
.....in poetry the enjoyment of poetic experience of any part of the world is fraught with the necessity of discovering a wider and more inclusive imaginative apprehension, in which more and more elements in experience are caught up and incorporated. The imagination of the great poet at least never rests from this momentous labour which endeavours to encompass the whole of life, and to achieve a comprehensive unity of imaginative pattern. -In Skepticism and Poetry, George, Allen and Unwin, London, 1937; quoted in The New Apologists for Poetry, Murray Krieger, Greenwood press, Westport, conn., 1956, p.107.
Time will tell who and what is great,
but there is momentous labour here,
just recently embarked, energies
transferred to this poetic passion.
We joke about it around the house
and I don't talk about it much:
all part of keeping the serious unserious,
the heavy, light and Murphy's Law
firmly entrenched in an Aussi psyche.
When you're doing something
that never seems to let you rest;
that hangs around your head
waiting to be fed like some new
behemoth; that waits to be translated,
incorporated, tucked into this
comprehensive, imaginative pattern
that encompasses the whole of life--
and by God you've been trying
to play your part, find your place,
do your thing, make your home
in this global Crystal Palace
all your life, with your life, for your life,
to your life and the lives of others
all over the place, so many specific places--
you get an enormous weariness
that keeps coming back after it has
sucked out every conceivable energy
you've got and you die.
Of course, morning always comes
and a more inclusive imaginative apprehension,
some rich and elaborate organizaton of impulses;
more and more is caught up and absorbed
into this great poetic vault which you offer up
to a place as near to your Lord's casket--
His alabaster sarcophagus, where lies
that inestimable jewel--as will be accepted.
If this vast construction, which labours
like a pregnant woman, will not lie on
the spot round which the Concourse on high
circle in adoration may it repose nearby
in the library as your gift for His gift.
* Bahá'u'lláh, Long Obligatory Prayer.
And so I leave you, dear reader, at the end of this third chapter of my international pioneer story, finishing my years in Ballarat, that old gold-ming town where gold was discovered about the same time as the first intimations of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation. Yet another burn-out, a bi-polar burn-out, it seemed, celebrated the end of nearly three years. Four months before the beginning of the Seven Year Plan in April 1979, Chris and Dan and I returned to Tasmania. Perhaps, if I had married a girl from Tuvalu I would be going back to one of those beautiful islands of the Pacific. As it was, Tasmania had its own beauty, a beauty I have now come to love and feel a part of quite intimately in these early years of the new millennium. In December 1979, four days before Christmas, with some 20,000 Local Spiritual Assemblies and 85,000 localities where Bahá'ís resided in the world, although "still very thinly spread throughout the world," I was on my way to the southern end of the southern end of the spiritual axis. Still feeling, even after twenty years as a Bahá'í that so crucial were "these times that the future course of human history" was daily "in the balance."
My feelings of "optimism, confidence, determination and courage" had been given yet another kick in the groin, to choose a metaphor I had come to frequently use. My vulnerabilities were at another all-time-high and I had recently, in the last year to eighteen months, turned to prayer,a specific intercessory prayer to aid and assist me. Only the future would tell in what ways that assistance would manifest itself. In the capacious theatre of my disposition, there seemed to be room, or so it seemed from the first twenty years of my experience as a Bahá'í, for the complete range of qualities: from despair to ecstasy, from suicidal depression to utter joy, amiability and geniality, withdrawal and isolation, for the living of many lives.
INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING 4:December 1978 to July 1982
However much we create our own reality by what goes on in our heads, the world of everyday life never originates in our thought. It is irreducably external to any individual or plurality. This was how the sociologist Emile Durkheim saw things. Others see our reality from a different perspective, as an inner thing that is intimately associated with our thoughts and, therefore, self-created.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, February 2003.
In December 1978 Chris and I and our three children returned to Tasmania. I got a job in Smithton, in the far northwest corner of Tasmania, in February and we lived there for three months. I took a job teaching primary school but found the rigidity of the school style more than I could bear and the emphasis on keeping the kids quiet all the time not part of my approach to teaching and so, after four days on the job, I quit. We returned to Launceston where we lived for the next twenty months. In Launceston I got a series of part-time jobs: as an editor with the Tasmanian CAE in its external studies section, with ABC Radio, as an advisor to unemployed youth with an agency called the Resource Centre Association and as a tutor in organizational behaviour with the same Tasmanian CAE. About four months and again twelve months after being in Launceston I had episodes of hypomania. During the second episode my psychiatrist, a Dr. Glinka, strongly recommended lithium carbonate as the medication, the basis of treatment. I never looked back.
In 1979 I had asked for prayers from the Bahá'í World Centre and within the year I had found the appropriate treatment. In April 1979 a new Seven Year Plan was announced. "The universal anarchy" the House said in their Ridvan message, was part of the engulfment of the world "in a maelstrom." The dark heart of the age of transition was twelve years into its process, a process which it could be argued had started many, many years before. Immediate horizons were dark; the Iranian revolution had just broken out and Bahá'ís were being killed again. In the previous Plan, though, from 1974 to 1979, the number of localities in the world where Bahá'ís lived had gone from 69,000 to 96,000. More than 2000 pioneers had settled in their new homes in that same period. Always, as my own life took its unpredictable course; as I got older and advanced to the next phases of my personal development; as the battles raged on the home front, the Cause advanced inexorably.
Eight months before Chris, Dan, Vivienne, Angela and I left Ballarat for Tasmania, the Universal House of Justice had written: "The Faith is passing though a time of tremendous opportunity and development....and of growing complexity in the problems confronting it." In the next five years these opportunities became evident in our own lives as we were able to pioneer to several places, several localities, where the Cause needed Bahá'ís. I was able to work in organizations where seed-planting could go on and I was finally treated for my manic-depression. In the midst of all of this, unbeknowst to me as far as its significance was concerned, I wrote the first few of a series of thousands of poems.
In 1980 in April I got a job as a probation officer in Devonport. My bi-polar disorder broke out, too, in the first week I had my job and by the end of the week, on Friday evening, I was in the Launceston General Hospital, psychiatric ward. Eighteen years after the first symptoms of this disorder appeared in my life I was still fighting this bi-polar battle. There I stayed for a month. I was offered a job in late May in Papua New Guinea, in Rabaul, teaching communication studies at a university or teachers' college. But, on informing them of my mental illness, they withdrew their offer. Is the lesson here, "not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed?" On my release from hospital at the end of May 1980, I settled down to life in Tasmania and, after eight months of job hunting I got a position in Zeehan with Renison Bell at their tin mine as a maintenance scheduler. And there Chris and I and our three kids stayed for eighteen months.
In the six years since about 1997, I have come to see my life and the Cause I have been a member of since 1959 in terms of an epic. I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon acquired the initial conceptualization for the magnum opus, the epic of their lives: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. In 1997 I began to think of writing my own special epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. The poetic work of my own life, my epic, I have now begun to see in terms of the entire body of my poetry and the other writing I have done, some of which I have sent to the Bahá'í World Centre Library. I have now come to call it: Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
I have begun to see all of this poetry somewhat like Pound's Cantos which draws on a massive body of print and is a massive body of print. I could call the entire opus The Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and written over many decades, 1917 to 1972, are a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of my poetry. The conceptualization of my poetry as epic, in other words, has come long after its beginnings. I have come to conceptualize my poetry, in retrospect, as one immense epic poem. What I write here in this narrative is a sort of background for this epic or the narrative aspect of the poetic part of the epic.
Written over a period of a little less than twenty-five years, this poetic epic now covers a pioneering life of 40 years and an involvement with the Bahá'í Faith of fifty years. I have sent 43 booklets of poetry to the Bahá'í World Centre Library: one for each year of this pioneering venture and one for each of the three years of preparation, 1959-1962. But the epic journey that is at the base of this poetic opus is not only a personal one of forty years pioneering, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh which has its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors to this System, as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history find their origin: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences.
Generally, the way my narrative imagination works in this epic is to attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life and the lives of my contemporaries, as far as possible. I have sought and found a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference. Since this poetry is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives. When we die all that remains is our story.
I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or will be significant to the entire society. It contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds of battle in their contemporary and historical manifestations. It involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause as it has expanded across the planet. The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, are found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in the inner life more than in the external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view.
I am sure that in the decades to come film epics will be made, not so much of my life, but aspects of the epic of which my life is a part. I have certainly provided enough data for such an epic but film makers will have a host of people from the Bahá'í community to choose from, making this work only one of a multitude. Film producers must be cautious though, as they go about their epic exercise, that they do not simply commodify the past, reproduce a consumer product, a consumer discourse, around a materialist spectacle and provide a vehicle for cinematic exhibitionism that enables Hollywood to promote itself by reproducing or recreating the lives, the scale and the ethos, of bygone times.
Of the five top-grossing movies in the seven years before I became a Bahá'í, the first seven years of the Ten Year Crusade, three were epics: Ben Hur(1959), The Robe(1953) and The Ten Commandments (1956). My life has been surrounded by epics. I was born in the midst of the greatest war epic in history. My life has been nourished by epic from cinema, from books and from Bahá'í historiography. In some ways it is surprising that I was in my early fifties before I began to see my own life in epic terms.
No film or no printed text is ever simply the product of an authentic, coherent and unique national, religious or even individual culture. On the contrary, all forms of artistic expression are part of the process through which struggles over the very definition of culture are fought. In other words, the inclusion or exclusion of certain films, books or poems with respect to specific definitions of culture or just some item of culture tells us more about the power relations within which these definitions operate than they do about some inherent feature of the production of the cultural item, its formal features or the way it is consumed. Furthermore, cultural texts are also involved in the production of certain notions of culture, nationhood or religion. This autobiography not only tells a story of the experience of a Bahá'í in the first century of the Formative Age, but it also constructs that history, that society and the Bahá'í Faith itself in specific ways. It presents a teleological history of aspects of a life and a culture. This is not to say that this autobiography is inherently conservative. Autobiography is not a monolithic object but is itself a site of struggle between various opposed groups and conflicting sources.
Indeed, if I am to make my mark at this crucial point of history, it will be largely in the form of this epic poem and this autobiography which tells of forty years of pioneering:1962-2002. Obviously, not all of what I do has meaning and significance to the wider world: in reality most if not all of my doings is neither known nor significant to this wider world. Perhaps that wider world will, one day, take those elements from this story that have relevance to its life. I will not hold my breath waiting.
In the Greek tradition the Goddess of Epic Poetry was Calliope, one of the nine sisters of the Muses. The Muses were the inspiration of artists. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus who was known to have a keen understanding of both music and poetry. We know little about Calliope, as we know little about the inspiration of the Muses, at least in the Greek tradition. In the young and developing artistic tradition of the Bahá'í Faith, on the other hand, although gods and goddesses play no role, holy souls “who have remained faithful unto the covenant of God” can be a leven that levens “the world of being” and furnishes “the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.” In addition, among a host of other inspirational sources, the simple expression ‘Ya'Baha'ul'Abha' brings “the Supreme Concourse to the door of life” and “opens the heavens of mysteries, colours and riddles of life.” Much could be said about inspiration but I shall leave the topic with the above brief analysis and comment.
Mary Gibson says in Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians that one question was at the centre of the Cantos. It was the "question of how beauty and power, passion and order can cohere." This question was one of many that concerned Pound in the same years that Bahá'í Administration, the precursor of a future World Order, was coming to assume its embryonic form in the last years of the second decade of the twentieth century, a form that would in time manifest those qualities Pound strove in vain to find in a modern politico-philosophy.
At the heart of my own epic is a sense of visionary certitude, derived from a belief in an embryonic World Order, that a cultural and political coherence will increase in the coming decades and centuries around the sinews of this efflorescing Order. Wallace Stevens' sense of the epic “as a poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice” is also at the centre of my conceptual approach. This epic is an experimental vehicle containing open-ended autobiographical sequences. It is a didactic intellectual exploration with lines developing with apparent spontaneity and going in many directions. The overall shape is in no way predetermined. In many respects, this long poem is purely speculative philosophy, attempting to affirm a romantic wholeness in a world which has been long fragmented, something the poet Hart Crane tried to do in his poetry in the 1920s.
If I quoted extensively from the most authoritative and readable guides for this half-century of human experience there would be many, too many, and prolixity would be inevitable. Timothy Garton Ash, to choose but one example, for the twenty years, 1980-2000, provided incisive reporting and insightful analysis in The New York Review of Books and in such books as The Uses of Adversity and The Magic Lantern has illuminated complex issues and introduced us to a broad range of diverse personalities.
Pound was intent on developing an “ideal polity of the mind”. This polity flooded his consciousness and suggested a menacing fluidity, an indiscriminate massiveness of the crowd. The polity that is imbedded in my own epic does not suggest the crowd, probably because the polity I have been working with over my lifetime has been one that has grown so slowly; the groups I have worked in and with have been small. My style, my poetic design, though, is like Pound's insofar as I use juxtaposition as a way to locate and enhance meanings. Often several blocks or paragraphs of relatively heterogeneous content abruptly juxtapose all sorts of material. Like Pound, too, I stress continuity in history, the cultural and the personal. At the heart of epic poetry for Pound was “the historical.” It was part of the reclaiming job that Modernist poets saw as their task, to regain ground from the novelists. But unlike Pound I see new and revolutionary change in both the historical process, in my own world and in the future.
Those who are quite familiar with the poem Leaves of Grass may recall that Walt Whitman often merges with the reader. His poem expresses his theory of democracy. His poem is the embodiment of the idea that a single unique protatonist can represent a whole epoch. He can be looked at in two ways. There is his civic, public, side and his private, intimate side. While it would be presumptuous of me to claim, or even to attempt to represent an entire epoch, this private/public dichotomy is an important underlying feature of this epic poem. I also like to think that, while this poetry has a focus on my own experience, this experience is part and parcel of the experience of many of my coreligionists around the world. The poem The Heart of History in an Age of Extremes is one crucial perspective on this experience.
THE HEART OF HISTORY IN AN AGE OF EXTREMES
This morning on ABC Radio National I heard an interview with a Professor of Politics from La Trobe University. He was talking about Eric Hobsbaum's new book The Age of Extremes: 1914 to 1991. His analysis of the twentieth century was a useful one to a pioneer like myself who had grown up, according to Hobsbaum, in the period of the greatest prosperity and advancement in material conditions in the history of humankind: 1945-1970, but had seen a decline in traditional religion as the main psychological support structure for human beings in the West, in and after the 1960s; and the collapse of socialism/communism as a hope for civilization. This poem tries to place Hobsbaum's analysis in the context of my pioneer life(1962-1999) and some of the Guardian's perspectives on history beginning in the second epoch of the Formative Age, in 1944.-R Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
I'd made contact with
what seemed like
in the midst of an age
of prosperity, an epoch,
among the earliest,
in the morning of my life,
epochs which would stretch
to the fringes of a Golden Age.
But as part of that long history
of infinite toil,
I would forge a pioneer experience
in these days
before the Lesser Peace,
with the hosts on high demonstrating
the irresistable force of their might
in ways that I could not see
but which, when looking back
over these past forty years,
have seen the vanguard of the
torchbearers of a world redeeming
the systematic conquest1 of the planet,
the first stirrings of a spiritual revolution.
That, Eric, is........
at the heart of history
in this Age of Extremes.
9 December 1999
1 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, USA, 1965, pp. 21-27.
Hobsbawm, who finished the first of his four volumes on modern history in 1962, the year I began my pioneering venture, said the following about his autobiography: "In some ways my autobiography, Interesting Times, was the hardest book to write. How could I interest readers in an unspectacular academic life? I tried to aim it at two kinds of readers: those too young to have lived through much of the most extraordinary century in history, but who want to know what it was like; and those old enough to have passed through some of its passions, disillusions and dreams. And perhaps also those who want to understand how history has shaped the life of at least one of those who has tried to write it." This could very well serve as a raison d'etre for my own work. In trying to achieve this aim readers will find many and successive restatements of ideas, events and pieces of my life. Like the successive restatments found in many musical scores, the element of repetition in this work is for me a source of depth but, I'm sure, for some readers, a source of annoyance.
In my poetic opus, my epic, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, it is my aim that the reader sense a merging of reader and writer, a political philosophy, a sociology, a psychology, a global citizen--something we have all become. There is in my poetry a public and a private man reacting to the burgeoning planetization of humankind, the knowledge explosion and the tempest that has been history's experience, at least as far back as the 1840s, if not the days of Shaykh Ahmad after he left his homeland in those halcyon years of the French Revolution. If readers are to sense any development, progress, change or movement in this work, they will find that it derives in large part from the lengthening, the shortening, the reshuffling, the reiteration of fragments, of concepts, ideas and experiences in my life as they appear and reappear in the text of this lengthy work. I try not to overdo this aspect of the literary nature of this autobiography but I find it unavoidable to some extent.
There is much more than verse-making here. I have no hesitation in making what Donald Kuspit calls “identitarian claims” for my poetry. Here is the ruling passion of my life: the Bahá'í Faith, its history and teachings. They seemed to have wrapped and filled my being over my pioneering life. Indeed, I have seen myself as part of what ‘Abdu'l-Bahá called a “heavenly illumination” which would flow to all the peoples of the world from the North American Bahá'í community and which would, as Shoghi Effendi expressed it “adorn the pages of history.” My story is part of that larger story, the first stirrings of a spiritual revolution, which at the local level often seemed unobtrusive and uneventful.
It is the narrative imagination that is at the base of this epic poetry. As far as possible I have tried to make the narrative honest, true, accurate, realistic, informed, intelligible, knowledgeable, part of a new collective story, a new shared reality. As I develop my story through the grid of narrative, I tell my story the way I see it, through my own eyes and my own knowledge, as Bahá'u'lláh exhorted me in Hidden Words, but with the help of many others. I leave behind me traces, things in your present, dear reader, which stand for absent things, things from the past, from a turning point in history. The phenomenon of the trace is clearly akin to the inscription of lived time, my time and that of my generation, upon astronomical time from which calendar time comes. History is “knowledge by traces”, as F. Simiand puts it. And so, I bequeath traces: mine, those of many others I have known, those of a particular time in history. There is in these traces of my life and the life of my society, in these time frames, synchronization and non-synchronization, stable and unstable periods, fragments and event structures. The blooming and buzzing confusion which people often feel as they contemplate their life and times is caught up in this concept of traces and what I have tried to convey here.
There are so many passions, thoughts, indeed so much of one's inner life that cannot find expression in normal everyday existence. Much of my poetry is a result of this reality, a search for words to describe the experience of our age. This is part of what might be called the psycho-biological basis of poetry. My poetry allows me to release surplus, excess, energy and an abundance of thought and desire which I am unable to assimilate into the everyday. This poetry is an expression of a thought and desire which I am unable to find a place for amidst the ordinary. It adorns the ordinary, enriches my everyday experience. Some of this desire is found in a poetry whose content has been virtually impossible to discuss in most of my everyday life, except as if it were a breeze en passant: my multifaceted religious faith. I do not write this poetry to convince or proselytize, but as a form of affirmation of all that has meaning and significance in life. I write of that foul rag and bone shop, as the poet Yeats called the heart, and of that golden seam of joy in life, of frailty and strength, the abyss of mental anguish and a heart exulting unaggrieved. It is all part of that trace. And I play with time frames, going forward and backward along the continuum of my life in much the same way as movie-goers have experienced time sequences in: Star Wars, Star Trek, Back to the Future, inter alia.
In June of 1980 I drove a taxi for a few weeks in Launceston and, although I enjoyed driving, I made such little money I went onto the dole in July and there I stayed until I was finally able to find a job on the day before Christmas Day in December 1980. The effort to get that job involved hitch-hiking to the West coast and down to Zeehan. It rained that day; I remember it well, standing as I did on the roads down to Zeehan thumbing a ride.
Many teaching opportunities had arisen in the first two years in Tasmania, December 1978 to December 1980, but as I recall only one person joined the Faith in this time, a Wendy Williams in Rosebery, a small town on the West coast of Tasmania. Perhaps we talked in a suburb of Launceston; I've forgotten now. Was she my sifter of wheat whom Mulla Husayn found in Isfahan. Each of my jobs had its own story and, perhaps, in a fourth edition I may provide more details on the happenings associated with them. The details of daily life, as Mark Twain did say back in the nineteenth century, are mountainous in quantity and simply impossible to relate in toto. There is so much everywhere we go and in ourselves that we don't see, or can't see, or don't want to see. If that were not the case, those mountains would all be Everests and our brains would explode, overwhelmed with detail.
On February 1st I drove down to Zeehan and began work. In the afternoon the mine shut and everyone went out to fight the fire that was threatening to burn the houses of the town. I had not fought a fire as part of a fire brigade since May of 1968 on Baffin Island. In the first twelve months in Zeehan it rained 243 days of the 365. There had been only one or two Bahá'ís who had ever lived in this remote part of the state. Muriel Handley was one soul who had, that was back in the 1960s. She had lived in Queenstown. One other person had lived in Zeehan, I recall from a history I wrote over twenty years ago now. I had gone on a teaching trip with Hassanah Ransome in 1979 and I remember sleeping in the car while Hassanah had gone to a hotel in Queenstown on some typically wet night.
I was thirty-seven years old and happy to have a full-time job again, after two years of only part-time work and unemployment, after more episodes of the bi-polar disorder behind me, after five years in a second marriage with my first son now three years old. I was pioneering at the other end of the earth from Baffin Island where I had begun the journey fourteen years before. I had found a house to rent at $2.00 per week and the salary was far in excess of what I had got on the dole.
While in Zeeham I continued the poster-game and put posters up all down the west coast from Tullah to Queenstown. Having begun postering seriously in 1974, this was to be my last serious postering year in 1981. Eight years of postering had seen hundreds, perhaps, several thousand go up on shop windows. We also advertised firesides in the weekly papers and in that time had two attendees, a Chilean named Joe Fernandez and a Belgian who eventually became a Bahá'í, Ludwig Vinkier. I joined the Lions Club and a Film Society while in Zeehan and also was part of a Folk Music Club which met in Rosebery. Two young men became Bahá'ís as a result of these various involvements. Occasionally I would visit the world of posters again, but it never became the passion that it was from 1974 to 1981.
Chris and I also sold Amway products and this helped us to get to know many people in town. I spent a good deal of my time visiting people and being involved with the only two groups in town: the Lions Club and the Little Theatre Group. In this eighteen month period it was my hope that I could befriend a soul or two, form some relationship and, in the process, introducing them to the Cause. I had been in the pioneering field for nineteen years and in the international field for ten. For various reasons I did not continue this practice of visiting people or joining groups quite as extensively when we moved north of Capricorn. My job consumed my time for 50 to 60 hours a week; the Bahá'í community consumed my time in Perth in the 1990s. Consumed gradually and insensibly by my own inner fire, I seemed to require a quieter life-style by the age of 55, a style in which that fire could burn in a more measured but no less intense way by writing about life rather than taking part in its endless pecularities and pleasures. More could be said here and I will do so later, if and as I refine this work in future editions.
MY ELSEWHERE COMMUNITY
The essential ideas in this poem come from Hugh Kenner's 1997 Massey Lecture in Canada and William Wordsworth's poem “A Poet's Epitaph.” The greatest shift in the last thousand years has been from a Eurocentric, Christocentric, tradition centered, civilization to a gradually evolving global civilization with no special political and moral centre in a universe of infinite space and time. It is this phenemenon that this poem tries to speak to, of, about. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1998.
I have my own Grand Tour1 now,
my ‘elsewhere community',2
my journey through what I know
to what I have yet to learn;
and when the war is over
I will go home.
There are no more Colosseums
or Roman Forums.
My education takes me down
different paths past other Alps,
another Paris, some other Channel
en route to finding out who I am,
absorbing life to make me someone else,
to discover impulses of deeper birth
which come to me in solitude.
The harvest of a quiet eye,
random truths around me lie.
In these verses I impart
what broods and sleeps
what in my own heart
and in my mind I keep.
In the meadows of His nearness
I try to roam to get some clearness.
For the Grand Tour is my own creation
and can't be found on any tourist guide,
only in my own world where I now abide.
27 December 1998
1 In the eighteenth century the Grand Tour was the trip from some place in western civilization through Europe to Rome. This is no longer the Grand Tour. We all make our own, define our own, now.
2 We all have what Hugh Kenner calls ‘elsewhere communities', places we travel to and things we do and think to find out who we are. The traveller absorbs this ‘elsewhere community' into himself to become what defines him throughout life.
NEW ODYSSEUSES NEW WAR POEMS
Odysseus is both hero and poet; he lives his experience twice, once as he endures it, again as he recreates it into art. Odysseus is both doer and knower; he sees and describes everything, even his own house....The notion in the Odyssey of a poet/hero is in epic terms a paradox. The heroic life is a life of action; the arts are relaxations from action....for Odysseus the poem is good in that it revives his sorrow. Poetry is a kind of mourning.-James Redfield, The Making of the Odyssey, Parnassus Revisited: Modern Critical Essays on the Epic Tradition, editor, Anthony C. Yu, American Library Association, Chicago, 1973, pp.150-153.
Could you say there is
an unwavering splendour here,
a ruthless poignancy
in a single, fundamental order,
as if embodied in a divine justice,
There is, here, some intrinsic
sense perception and timeless meaning
in a wondrous drama
of particular circumstance, activity,
the felt presence of some grace
in the now, in memory and in
our anticipated days,
so blest that past ages and centuries
can never hope to rival it.1
Yes there is a belongingness, here,
and a strange sense that
this is not our home,
but our tomb, so it is.
My words flow in this grand epic of return,
this grand journey through a rich storehouse
of new and wonderful configurations,
helping to crystallize a vast reservoir
of thought and its ever-varying delight.
No Mount Olympus for my muses,
no definitive Voice of the Past
here in this performing art,
this newly hatched war poem
on a global Trojan plain2
of strikingly diverse battle scenes
with trumpets of life
blowing across vast distances.
Battle is only part of this epic story.
There is spiritual fatigue
and a weariness beyond words,
part of a solemn consciousness,
wellspring of a celebratory joy,
exquisite, part of a rendezvous of my soul,
I like to think, with my Maker, some great Ocean.
No incurable bitterness here,
but a wishing for death,
a loving of life, endless paradox.
1 Bahá'u'lláh, The Tablet of Carmel, p.1.
2 G.S. Kirk, Homeric Subjects and Styles, Parnassus Revisited: Modern Critical Essays on the Epic Tradition, Anthony Yu, editor, American Library Association, Chicago, 1973, Chicago, pp.203-204.
10 November 1996
I have placed this poem here because I think the epic tradition going back to Homer and the Bible is relevant to this autobiographical work. The most important part of this epic tradition is the most recent chapter in the lives of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh and it deserves a special treatment. One of the more interesting treatments of Odysseus is by Jonathan Shay. His comments seem particularly pertinent for me due to my bi-polarism, my life in so many different places and the probability that I will spend my entire life away from my homeland, after leaving it as a young man. I will mention only one aspect of Shay's analysis. He writes about the term thumos. It literally means 'soul' or 'spirit.' But it also means, says Shay, 'fighting spirit' and 'noble fighting heart.' It is also close to the word 'character.' The ideal soldier, he says, needs to be 'great souled' to be able to adjust to all that comes one's way, to accomplish one's mission, to be able to be that spiritual warrior that is required in life, at least in Bahá'í philosophy. It is difficult as assess, to judge, the quality of one's own soul.
The search for home and attempts to create homes away from home is a key issue that runs through the literature on diasporas, migration, the search for identity and the epic tradition—and it is a part of this memoir. I would argue that the term “home” needs to be subjected to greater scrutiny by literary analysts if we are to enhance our understanding of the concept of home and of how our understandings of home shape the relationships between people and places. There are multi-dimensional perceptions and experiences associated with the word “home.” Some writers use the term “emplacement” to express the process whereby a space that previously had no particular significance to an individual or group is rendered meaningful.
The identification with and the longing for a return to a particular place is often replaced by an identification with and longing for other places and spaces. The yearnings of people searching for home often culminate in a range of different uprootings and resettlements. In my case I returned home to Canada for a brief 24 hour period nearly 30 years after I left and I moved to many homes and towns along the way. And at the age of 55 I was more like a tourist when I finally got home again after 30 years away from my original home.
I had left a country in the first half century of its postcolonial period to arrive in another country in the first half century of its postcolonial life. The term ‘postcolonial' is, of course, a fuzzy, complicated, arguable concept. I use it here to express a set of processes rather than as a temporal moment which permits a neat, though far from incontestable, sidestepping of the many particular historical moments and struggles through which indigenous and minority claims on the modern nation come to circulate and be heard in the public sphere. Often 1931 is considered the official break with the mother country in Canada and the fall of Singapore in 1942 is often considered the parting note, the turning away point, from England by Australia. While not wanting to select a date, as Gelder and Jacobs suggest, I do emphasize that a set of processes in my life and in both Canada's and Australia's history synchronized with the emergence of other processes in their postcolonial history and literature. It is not my intention here to delve into the history of the early decades of this literature and history. My life as a homefront and international pioneer took place in the larger context of these early decades of the postcolonial history of these two nation states and in other larger contexts as well.
While regions like the Caribbean have long been regarded as particularly, if not paradigmatically, postcolonial, Australia and Canada could be said to be representatives of the gradualist style of postcolonial political, literary and historical evolution. If one was to map the field of postcolonial writing and if one were to see the Caribbean as a crucible of a most extensive and challenging postcolonial literary experience because of its history of extreme uprooting and forced hybridization, then Australia and Canada could be seen, a fortiori, as other crucibles for a rich postcolonial literary experience. By the time my writing began to be published in the early 1980s this richness had clearly emerged in the literary traditions of both these countries. As the Bahá'í Faith slowly spread in Canada and Australia in the third, fourth and fifth epochs that I am concerned with in this memoir(1963-2021), the postcolonial literary experience of both Canadians and Australians blossomed. But it is not my intention to describe this blossoming of postcolonial writers and writing nor document the writing of Bahá'ís working in the backdrop of this new literary heritage and age.
Postcolonial studies is, in a very general sense, the study of the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period. The European empire is said to have held sway over more than 85% of the rest of the globe by the time of the First World War and as the heroic age of the Bahá'í Faith was ending. That empire had come to consolidate its control over several centuries. The sheer extent and duration of the European empire and its disintegration after the Second World War led to widespread interest in postcolonial literature and criticism in my time. I was writing at the very start of this postcolonial literary period that emerged. It emerged just as I began my association with the Bahá'í Faith and in 1959 became one of its members. In the decade or so after(1960-71) my pioneering life began, first on the homefront and then as an international pioneer in Australia and postcolonial literature was on the launching pads. But, again, this is not the place for the documentation of the development of postcolonial literature in general and the evolution of Bahá'í literature as a distinct genre.
To return to my time in Tasmania in the second period(1978-1982), it was completed while I worked in a tin mine in one of the remotest parts of this lovely island. I delivered mail all around the mine and got to know many people as a result. Chris and I and the kids often would go into the bush or down to the ocean on the weekends. Occasionally a Bahá'í would visit us; occasionally we would travel to Burnie where a small Bahá'í Group existed at the time. After a year I began to hanker after a job with more meaning and in about April of 1981 I was interviewed in Melbourne for an Adult Educator's position in Katherine Northern Territory. On July 12th 1981 Chris and Dan and I got on a plane and flew to Katherine. Vivienne and Angela had already gone back to live with their father, a chemist, in Longford. Thereby hangs another tale for another edition. It was a move with many after-affects, many long-range implications, a move that I often wish I had never made.
By 1982 when we moved north of Capricorn, Chris and I had been together for eight years. Certain patterns had developed in our marriage which were not to change. I would like to highlight these patterns by contrast with the relationship between nineteenth century American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia. Nathaniel tended to live a secluded life, to avoid polite society, to mix with the uncultivated classes if he mixed at all, to be verbally playful. Sophia was a humble, tender, enlightened woman whose life had much sadness. She lived for her husband and her children. She transcribed his journals after he died and felt near to him spiritually. He was difficult to know unlike many superficial men who are more easily described and understood. "Men like Hawthorne can never be touched and dissected because the essence of their character is never concretely manifested." "The true revelation" of their character, writes Julian Hawthorne in conclusion, "will be made only to those who have in themselves somewhat of the same mystery." Personally, I am inclined to think we are all mysteries and we should exercise caution before yielding our mind to some superficial expression. Some people are able to put that mystery in words for others to read.
Certainly in my late fifties I had become more secluded in my behaviour after years of teaching and community work both inside and outside of the Bahá'í community. I found my character was quite chameleon-like, playful and suited to the situation. My wife and I had a relationship more characteristic of late twentieth century marital twosomes where the wife is much more independent than her nineteenth century equivalent. This is what interests me in the main about Hawthorne and his wife: how much of their relationship is a result of the society they lived in and how much of the relationship with my wife is socially determined. We can not divorce our behaviour from the general society in which we live, no matter how independently minded we may feel.
For someone like myself, an avowed practitioner of a spiritual life centred on this new religion, whose life was at the mercy of a religious vocation he had been committed to for some forty years, the acquisition of a fellow aspirant in marriage, an aspirant both willing and worthy to give and take support along the way, was a blessing of almost mystical proportions. I don't think I really appreciated this blessing until I had been in the relationship for some thirty years. Perhaps the most intimate union that a practitioner on a spiritual path can ever forge in the world of practical realities is with someone who shares, not his bed, but his head.
Of course, my wife's life has had much sadness, in the main due to ill health. Also, in marrying me she moved away from her two daughters, adding fuel to the fire of family tensions which have plagued her for decades and moreso when we moved back to Tasmania a final time in 1999. "The richest of human love is between a mother and daughter," says a wistful Sharon Wohlmuth in her book Mothers and Daughters. "It's more varied than any other." The closeness of that relationship was something I could not and did not compete with. There seems to be a much more profound connection between women and I came to understand some of that profundity by the time I reached sixty.
The Bahá'í Faith, although enriching my wife's life, has added an additional tension and responsibility. In our relationship there is much more playfulness than there was in the 1970s or 1980s. The essence of a character is, it seems to me, never really manifested and dissected. It remains an enigma and this is true of the cultivated and uncultivated. We see qualities but not essence. We see change and some continuities.
We see what people do and, as Russian writer Boris Pasternak wrote, "man is real and authentic when he is doing something." I think, too, that the reality of man is his thought. Perhaps that comes closer to his soul than his actions. For someone like me who writes I come to feel that what I write is more important than I am and this life becomes, through writing and other activities, as Pasternak concluded, a preparation for a world after death. By 1982 I had been pioneering for two decades and had become quite conscious of the afterlife, the post-mortal existence. The sense of mission "which ran like a thread" through my life, unbroken but on occasion somewhat fragile, the yardstick against which I tried to measure all my decisions and the guide I instinctively followed in my actions, did not weaken. But I did tire of "this old-born war." Fatigue often called truce. I often felt I would be unequal to the struggle and I plotted my own demise, especially after 1980 when I was 'finally' treated for my bi-polar tendency. At night I often felt "alienated from angels and celestial concerns." Slowly, with the years, I came to see that my imperfections were "not so epically egregious." And, paradoxially, a certain calm and joy prevailed more than ever before. For it was not a fatigue, a weariness, like that of the Victorians which was born of pessimism, that dimmed my energies. It came from work in and toward a Cause, a vision, that required the work of its adherents, its devotees--and the work was not easy. When I die it will be not from self-destruction as has been the case with many writers in the last century but from self-fulfillment as was the case with Joseph Conrad. I see no signs on the horizon of any self-imposed silence or any abandonment of my writing vocation. I shall work, it is my hope, to the end both as a writer and in the service of this Cause I came to know half a century ago. Writing is not, for me, a dangerous journey into the unknown as it was for Conrad. Although I experience a certain loss of life, it is simply a natural fatigue that comes from the hours of work. The overall exercise is life sustaining. I get worn thin but do not go into a state of utter collapse.
But it was not until my retirement in 1999 and the subsequent working out of what might be called a modus operandi, a modus vivendi with a wife who was not well and a husband who was, even after more than thirty years of marriage, not sufficiently domesticated, that this joy and calm took a firm and pervasive hold. This writing, it seems to me, comes from an interaction of this calm and tranqillity and the memories, tensions and passions of tests and trials of earlier years. As I look back over sixty years, I see myself as a man of naturally equable temperament but, from time to time, I exhibited the contrary emotions of hot-bloodedness, passion, anger, depression and elation It required great self-control on occasion to play the role of an urbane and unruffled man. Sometimes that role was thrown to the wind as some emotion came to dominate. We all vary enormously in our natural emotional temperature. Some vary more than others.
But in July 1982, after eighteen months working in a tin mine and after two years stabilized on lithium carbonate, I was ready for the adventure north of capricorn, a priority goal that had emerged in Australia early in the Seven Year Plan; I was ready for "the golden opportunities for teaching and further proclamation" in an area of Australia, the Northern Territory, where the Faith had been first planted some 35 years before and was struggling when we arrived through the fourth decade of its first half century.
Before passing on to the fifth chapter of this international pioneering narrative, I'd like to say a few things about the land, the environment within which this life of activity takes place. One of the finest descriptions of a part of the vast landscape of Australia is provided by a contemporary writer Jill Ker Conway. She describes a part of Australia where I never lived, but the description she provides could be repeated again and again for areas I have lived in both in Australia and Canada. I provide her words here, only slightly altered, because they tell something of the nature of the land and its features, something of the sense of the earth and its habitation that I often was unable to see because I did not know enough, because I did not take the time to look, because the sense of beauty and understanding for many, for a particular type of person, for me, comes from knowledge and perception and these, it would appear, do not come easily to me in life.
"The Western plains of New South Wales are grasslands. Their vast expanse flows for many hundreds of miles beyond the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers until the desert takes over and sweeps inland to the dead heart of the continent. In a good season, if the eyes are turned to the earth on those plains, they see a tapestry of delicate life. The design is not luxuriant by any means, but it is a tapestry nonetheless as if designed by a modern artist from a somewhat spartan view. What grows there hugs the earth firmly with its extended system of roots above which the plant life is delicate but determined. After rain there is an explosion of growth. Nut-flavored green grass puts up the thinnest of green spears. Wild grains appear, grains which develop bleached gold ears as they ripen. Purple desert peas weave through the green and gold, and bright yellow bachelor's buttons cover acres at a time, like fields planted with mustard. Closest to the earth is trefoil clover whose tiny, vivid, green leaves and bright flowers creep along the ground in spring to be replaced by a harvest of seed-filled burrs in autumn. They are burrs which store within them the energy of the sun as concentrated protein. At the edges of pans of clay, where the topsoil has eroded, live waxy succulents bearing bright pink and purple blooms, spreading like splashes of paint dropped in widening circles on the earth."
"Above the plants that creep across the ground are the bushes, which grow wherever an indentation in the earth, scarcely visible to the eye, allows for the concentration of more moisture from the dew and the reluctant rain. There is the ever-present round mound of prickly weed, which begins its life a strong acid green with hints of yellow, and then is burnt by the sun or the frost to a pale whitish yellow. As it ages, its root system weakens so that on windy days the wind will pick it out of the earth and roll it slowly and majestically about like whirling suns in a Van Gogh painting. Where the soil contains limestone, stronger bushes grow, sometimes two to three feet high, with the delicate narrow-leaved foliage of arid climates, bluish green and dusty grey in color, perfectly adapted to resist the drying sun. Where the soil is less porous and where water can lie for long after a rain, comes the annual saltbush, a miraculous silvery-grey plant which stores its own water in small balloonlike round leaves. This plant thrives long after the rains have vanished. Its sterner perennial cousin, which resembles sagebrush, rises on woody branches and rides out the strongest wind."
"Very occasionally, where a submerged watercourse rises a little nearer the surface of the earth, a group of eucalyptus trees will cluster. Worn and gnarled by wind and lack of moisture, they rise up on the horizon so dramatically they appear like an assemblage of local deities. Because heat and mirages make them float in the air, they seem from the distance like surfers endlessly riding the plains above a silvery wave. The ocean they ride is blue-grey, silver, green, yellow, scarlet, and bleached gold, highlighting the red clay tones of the earth to provide a rich palette illuminated by brilliant sunshine On grey days these eucalyptus possess a subdued blending of tones like those observed on a calm sea."
And so Conway tells us of the land as I might tell you of the land, of the lands, where I have lived. But Conway tells it so well. Many people, as Australian writer David Malouf points out, talk about some aspect of the land when they are asked to define or describe what makes them Australian. I'm sure this is true of Canadians. It is also true of me and, now that I have lived for half my life in each of these two countries, I define myself partly by some identification with the land. I'll close with some lines from Roger White's poem We Suffer In Translation because they so aptly describe some of my identification.
In Australia I have for years been intimidated by the relentless sun that oppresses the dusty gardens, the sidewalks, everything in sight. I move through "the unalleviated glare" of a Katherine, a Whyalla, a South Hedland, a Belmont or Stirling or Gawler. The world is "bleached to a silvered insipidity" and even the green leaves gleam weakly on their smooth and shiney surfaces. I run for cover to the air-conditioned coolness of my house or to the beach where I can lose myself in the waves below the ocean's diamond studded surface and where only sun-glasses will give my eyes what thye need to endure the endlessly sparkling interplay of water and light.
In Canada the story is, of course, different. Images of northness, seasonality, spaciousness, magnificence, an extravagant teeming abundance where nothing is moderate and where on my mind's canvas Canada has become obdurately autumnal or gripped intransigently in the hushed or howling drama of winter's death, all this remains etched on my brain as if carved by the finest sculptor with alternating subtle and sharp lines. Somehow, in some way, a piece of my soul is there in those lines. These images cover my life or, perhaps better, they come from within, mysteriously creeping out to the edges of my consciousness unasked, unobtrusively, defining me in ways I can hardly put to words. But they make me that hybrid that I am: a Canadian who lives here, more plausible than a tourist, someone who has been asssigned a slight substance, grudgingly or with a mild enthusiasm.
The sense of place, of space, is an extension of the sense of self. It is rooted in the notion of continuity and it is in keeping with the fashionable concept of psychogeography, the idea that history and the self is imprinted on landscape. Psychogeography impinges on all that we do and, as Howard Stein writes in his final words in an article on the subject, it helps us "gain considerable breadth and depth of comprehension into spacial meaning and action" on life's stage. Increasingly history, geography, psychology, all the social sciences, are coming into play to explain places and peoples. This autobiography certainly draws on many disciplines in its effort to explain my life, my society and my religion.
VOLUME 4: CHAPTER FIVE
Go to document Part 2.2 at this site for the continuation of this autobiography.