I began the process of diary and journal making on January 19th 1980, nine years after my international pioneering life began, eighteen years after my homefront pioneering life began and twenty-seven years after my association with the Baha'i Faith began.
Some diarists want to record the smallest impulses, what seem to me to be the most trivial details, of everyday life. Consequently their extant diaries come to occupy a great bulk if they keep at the exercise for many years. The banality, the indiscriminate agglomeration of daily detail, the constant repetition of physical, quotidian and psychological aspects of phenomenal reality, of everyday happenings, what for such diarists becomes a type of photograph of their lives, is impossible for me to record. It simply seems pointless and, more importantly, it is a cause of some angst just to write down such daily conventionalisms.
I actually feel physically quite uncomfortable recording so much of this mundane material. To overcome this banality I give my diary context by means of prose-poems. This poetic medium allows my diary to sail on different oceans, wider journo-diaristic rivers and seas, more finely tuned and analytical rivers and estuaries with perspectives that enrich quotidian reality. I invite readers to come sail with me. By the time we sail together, though, I am inclined to think I will be beyond this mortal coil in that Undiscovered Country as Shakespeare refers to the afterlife in Hamlet.
My diary-journal contains the most confessional of my writings and I leave the publication of the whole or a part of my journals in the hands of those Baha'i institutions into whose hands, as my literary executors, I have reposed my trust.
Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section X.2 Diary or Journal:
Section X.2 Journal
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and a Study in Autobiography
The material below in this document at Bahai Library Online(BLO) is not sequential but is, rather, a pot pourri of journal and diary entries, essays and poems about my journals and dairies written over more than three decades: 1980 to 2013. This document attempts to place my diary and journal in a wider context. I also write about the journals and diaries of others because they throw light on my own work. The entries here comprise a divergent collection of material that gives an account of this pioneer's life in a wide variety of ways, disparate and contrasting, similar and representative, typical and atypical. This account is episodic and far, far from complete. It is just one part, section X.2, of what is now an extensive autobiography.
I try in the following, as I say above, to set a context for my diary-journal. Readers will find here a context, but not the diary, the journal. That now lengthy gamut of words may, in fact, never be published, but a perspective is offered here at BLO that may entice others into the net of language that this spider has woven in threads which I understand are stronger than steel and, I like to think, hotter than summer heat. But however strong and however hot my words, a context is here for my diary and journal keeping.
I have not known anyone in my life in the Bahai community, or for that matter among those in other interest groups or individuals who do not share my affiliation with the Bahai Faith, who kept a diary or a journal for more than a relatively short time. I have known some who kept a diary for a few years at most and, those who have gone that far wrote about what they did today, what they ate, whom they met, the weather, the time they did this and that, where they went, inter alia. Most of my writing in this private domain is more journal than diary. A journal is completely different that a diary. A journal is about examining your life. It’s a system for your mind and spirit. Journals, hopefully, lead to insight, growth, and sometimes, achieving one's goals. In my case, sometimes my journal helps the achivements of these aims and sometimes it doesn't.
My use of poetry, though, results in a synthesis of diary and journal and so it is that those who come across this autobiography at some future time, should it be preserved after this climacteric in history, will find much that is both diary and journal in other parts of my autobiography. I find that American writer, critic and very humorous man, Gore Vidal, in his own memoir Palimpsest, gave a personal definition of memoir that I find useful: "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked." My work is both memoir and autobiography and I tend to use the words interchangeably.
The word autobiography was first used in 1809 while Shaykh Ahmad, that founder of the mystical Shaykhi order, exponent of the role of the creative imagination and great precursor of the Bab, resided in Yazd. Autobiography, as a literary form, though, goes back to antiquity. I refer to this unlikely, surprising and, I'm sure for some, irrelevant, name here because the story of Babi-Bahai history can arguably be taken back to the life of this luminous Star of Divine guidance, as the historian Nabil calls him in the opening lines of his immortal history: The Dawn-breakers. As far as we know this man from the town of Ahsa in the northeast of the Arabian peninsula, this contraversial, fearless and much feared mujtahid(1743-1826)kept no diary or journal and left no autobiography or memoir. Handel's Messiah premiered on April 13, 1742, a work which will arguably remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition. The timeframe, the historical backdrop, the wider context for my autobiography, my memoir, my journal and diary goes back to 1743, two centuries before my conception in Canada in October 1943, when Shaykh Ahmad was born, when Handel's Messiah was making its entry on the musical stage of history and what we call modern history was at its very dawning lights.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 1.0 AND VOLUME 1.0.1 OF THIS JOURNAL
Over the years, since beginning to keep a journal by sensible and insensible degrees from August 19th 1980 to January 19th 1984, I have written several introductions to the various volumes of what are now seven two-ring binders and one arch-lever file of journalistic and diaristic volumes. This Volume 1.0 has been created to serve as an introduction to the complete set. This volume contains a variety of resources that are not particularly journal or diary material. The material here is useful in a broad sense relating as it does to: (i) my alumni associations, (ii) questions of ancestry and the family tree, (iii) several introductions to my diaries, journals and relevant articles; and (iv) print resources about personality tests, archives and oral history in general. Volume 1.0.1 contains articles about photographs and a series of 70 photographs from the period 1908 to 1953, photographs from within my family but before my association with the Bahai Faith. As the years go on this volume will serve as a collecting point for these and ancillary resources to the Journal.
It has been 33 years(1980-2013) since I kept the first poem that has some autobiographical, diaristic, relevance; and it has been twenty-nine years since I made my first diary entry. While this Volume 1.0 contains few explicit journal entries, it does contain a range of resources which are broadly relevant to the keeping of a journal and, until I am able to work out a better, a more logical, arrangement of the material, this volume will serve as a catch-all for material which, while related to the keeping of a journal, has little that could be called explicit journal entries, little actually journal material.
These volumes of my Journal are, of course and I must emphasize, part of a larger work Pioneering Over Four Epochs, the part numbered, labeled, Section X.2. Pioneering Over Four Epochs is an autobiographical work first published in its 3rd edition on the internet in November 2003. Section X.2, though and as I say above, will not be published in my lifetime, not the journal or the diary. Time will tell if it ever does get published, to what extent and in what form. As Clive James emphasized in a panel discussion at a literary festival in Cheltenham in 2008, writers and poets like myself have been stage-managing their exit from life since Byron's days. I alway enjoy James' humour, honesty and insight. This may be what I am doing, at least in part if I was going to be self-critical in extremis, as I head down into the middle years(65-75) of late adulthood and can partly see the writing on the wall that marks the demise of those who speak and write no more. But I am doing so many other things as well that are much more important to me than stage-managing my exit from this terrestrial domain. I invite readers into both this journal and into the other parts of this memoir, this autobiography, to find out what I think I'm doing. In the process they can assess, from their perspectives, what they think I'm doing and they may gain, in the process, some insight into what they are doing.
The organization of this journal has undergone many changes, much shape-shifting, in the first twenty-nine years of its existence as I have tried to give it’s burgeoning and unwieldy form some order and some arrangement that is logical, useful to future readers and useful to me as I reflect on my life, my society and my religion. Indeed, as I have tried to keep my journal alive,in the world of existence, for I have often felt like bringing it to an end and even now, after nearly three decades of engaging in its often wordy guagmire, I can only hypothesize what its present, highly malleable and plastic form may finally become. We shall see as the years pass by on this narrow strip of land, in this country of the inner self(Abdul-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful(MF),p.83). What Providence reveals as I attempt to acquire grace for that day when I shall take leave of this world, time will only tell. In the next decades of the unfoldment of this journal, as long as my earthly life lasts, as I head into my 70s in the next 8 months, and my 80s in 2024, as impressions continue to flow in, the world's stage will find some literary form in these journals.
The book of my own self which needeth none but myself to make out my account each day(Bahaullah, Four Valleys)--as all of this comes together in written form---perhaps a worthy legacy, a trace, will be left behind that will be the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to my fellow beings.(SDC, p.3) Acquiring this grace that I refer to above is no point-scoring exercise; it is rather a subtle, a highly complex and mysterious affair of the spirit and mind, the soul and the heart. The trace I leave behind is not something I regard with casual indifference but, rather, like the historian Thucydides who wrote the history of the Peloponnesian War, what I write seems to me worth writing contributing as it does, or so I like to think, to understanding a vast process that is taking place. A tempestuous disturbance in the affairs of humanity has been taking place all my days, as the political and religious unification of the planet procedes on its inevitable course. With lives that are touched by this tempest's unprecedented and unpredictable violence and with this one life, mine, caught up in a Force that has been sweeping the face of the earth in these epochs, I set out to write my mundane and introspective journal.
11 October 2008 to 6 December 2013
PREFACE TO VOLUME 1.1 OF THIS JOURNAL
Until I lived in Katherine, a small town in Australia's Northern Territory, and until I was in my 40th year and had just received a copy in late 1983 of my grandfather’s life story from 1872 to 1900 in England and Canada, I did not keep a journal except in the form of a few autobiographical poems about my life in Tasmania(1979-1982) and the Northern Territory(1982-1984). I recalled in some of those few poems earlier aspects of my life in Australia(1971-1978) and Canada(1943-1971)as a pioneer and in my pre-pioneering days. As I recall I don’t think I ever took the idea of keeping a journal seriously until the stage of my pioneering life:'north of Capricorn'. Even then, after making a cautious, a tentative, a feeling of my way as I went along, an experimental, beginning to this journal in the middle years of the 1980s, the years in the heat of this northern part of Australia dried my words as they went on the page. Slowly as I moved into the northern part of Western Australia in 1986, suffering in yet another town as I passed into my early forties, an age which some say should be the beginning of spiritual maturity, my journal began to take some form like the crystallization of some salt in a supersaturated solution. I might add that the salt was not losing its savour but, rather, it was finding some concrete form. The naked eye could see that there was salt there in the first place. Metaphorically speaking, I might say that this salt was the crystallization of my life in journal form among other forms, some forms encouraging, dynamic and exciting and others tedious, discouraging and dry as a dog biscuit.
I had known people who kept diaries or journals; indeed, I recall my mother keeping a diary when I was a child and adolescent. The few people I met who kept diaries seemed to record only trivia, at least such was my perception of the contents of their diaries. Perhaps there were people whom I knew who did keep journals containing details beyond the quotidian realities of life, but if these people existed, they never spoke about their journals, at least not to me. Perhaps I should have asked but, it must be said, that until the age of forty in 1984 the idea of keeping a journal just never entered my mind.
Volume 1.1 attempts to recreate the past by writing my journal retrospectively not with the view of recalling specific days and dates, times and hours but, rather, to recall periods and places where I once lived and about which I could write some useful material, some impressions and memories that may be useful to a future time. Future volumes will actually contain contemporary diary/journal entries, entries that are not the recollections of many years ago, not retrospective. Other genres, especially my narrative Pioneering Over Four Epochs and my poetry, also make up for the absence of a journal before my years north of Capricorn: 1982-1987, years that began my second twenty year block of pioneering(1982-2002)
“What to leave out and what to put in? That’s the problem” says Hugh Lofting in writing about journals in his book Doctor Dolittle’s Zoo. And so it is. There are two schools of thought concerning the permissible methods of autobiography, of keeping journals, writes Lofting. One school emphasizes the use of historical, biographical, materials. The other allows a fictional element, indeed, any form the autobiographer chooses. In either case the self depends for its existence on verbal action.”(1) My journal belongs virtually entirely in the first school. By the time I was forty, in 1984, I began to feel the desire to keep some kind of journal. I began to feel that my life was not just a random set of events but that I was a player in a very serious ballgame; indeed, it was not a game, although it had some features like a game. It also had features like a war, the war Abdul-Baha describes in His use of a military metaphor in His Tablets of the Divine Plan. I felt, or at least it was my hope, that my journal would contribute to the legacy of overseas or international, and national or home-front, pioneering that has been contributing so effectively and essentially to the growth of the Baha’i community around the planet, especially since 1937 at the formal outset of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Plan. If war was too strong a term and game was too weak a word, perhaps the word drama struck the right chord. What I was playing a part in was nothing less than the greatest drama in the world's spiritual history. I was contributing my small part to the realization of that Wondrous Vision which constituted "the brightest emanation" of Bahaullah's Mind. I was playing a role in helping to establish the fairest fruit of the fairest civilization the world has yet seen.
But whether I was engaged in a game, or war, whether I was a farmer or a soldier, whether I was an actor, a director, a producer or a humble janitor cleaning the rooms after everyone went home, whether I was a precisioned instrument or a casual observer---to draw on similies I heard from others as I walked the walk--I was putting one foot in front of the other on a lifelong pioneering journey, I had entered the world of journal keeping some 3 decades ago. Solitude was and would be a key to unlock this journal's potential. Solitude can be used well by very few people wrote Abraham Cowley(1618-1667)in his essay on solitude. They who do use solitude well, he wrote, must have a knowledge of the world to see the foolishness of it, and enough virtue to despise all the vanity. I'm not sure how much of this clever quotation applies to me, but solitude became an increasing need for me as the second decade of my journal writing began in 1994, as I could see the end of my career as a classroom teacher and as I passed the age of fifty. By then, fatigue had called a truce to this old born-war as Roger White describes in his poem "Notes from a Battlefield." As I write this second edition of the preface to the first volume of my journal, I have become even more fitted to solitude and that truce has allowed me to enter another part of the play, another scene, in that drama as a retired teacher.
After several years in the 1980s having to deal with people who actually felt like enemies, and seeking the Friend with "faith straining feebly against an unbelieving night," as White puts the context for the individual struggle, I have now been retired from FT work(1999), PT work(2001) and casual/volunteer work(2003)as a teacher for a decade(2003 to 2013). I am now fully engaged in independent scholarship to put my daily activity in the best of literary lights and part of this independent scholarship is the keeping of this journal.
I have been attending Baha’i meetings and activities for 60 years, and have been a part of what sociologists call the social construction of reality long enough to yearn for solitude which I can people with thought, memory and imagination. Shakespeare emphasizes this capacity to people one's solitude as a useful and necessary skill for a writer. As I go about translating so much that has been, is and will be my life into written form, into journal form solitude is, indeed, much of the backdrop to my daily modus vivendi, a latin expression meaning my way of life, my way of living. In yet another sense in which the phrase is also applied, it is a term which describes a temporary agreement between contending parties pending a final settlement. This latter meaning has, for me, some use, and that use lies behind my solitude as part of its philosophical and practical base. My pitiable trophies, to again draw on White's words, seem so trivial, so much that is magnificent in this Cause "menaces" making me feel "estranged from excellence." I have nurtured so very many imperfections but--for now--I shall cease to draw on White's poetic words to tell my story in a way he tells it so much better.
This preference for solitude in my private life, after completing what is required by duty and its accompanying pleasures and anxieties, helps to some extent in making the entries to my journal with some kind of regularity. It took about a decade to experience any serious regularity in making journal entries. As I say above I was in my fifties. Then, in the second decade of making journal entries(1994-2004), I found that the process took on a second stage, what I might call an episodic seriousness. Now, nearly 30 years after making my first entry, my journal is beginning to assume some kind of meaningful whole. The process of making journal entries and the content of my journal has begun to take some form. I hope this particular kind of writing may be useful to the Bahá'í community of the future but, more importantly, of use to me in stimulating the recording of material which still lacks a useful and energetic frequency.
As I say, this journal is assuming a form that is encouraging me to make more journal entries and overcome the writer's block that resulted in the relative dearth of entries for so many years. Still, as I say, entries do not flow as frequently as I wish they did. The self-discipline, the stimulus and the pleasure required to write in this journalistic vein does not seem to have arrived yet. It is not a form the public will see anyway, of course, at least not while I am alive. C'est la vie, as the French say. I watch the process, the expansion of this journal, with interest and I am amazed at just how slowly anything weighty, meaty, with depth, falls on the paper. If I include my poetry which, as I say above, has features of both diary and journal, this written contribution to the future has a great weight in pounds! But I would like my journal to stand on its own as a relevant genre of autobiographical resource to a future age.
Emily Dickinson says in one of her poems that “Fame is the tint that Scholars leave upon their setting names.”(3) I am a type of scholar. There are clearly tints of my life here in these volumes of diary and journal. As I attempt to preface this journal with some overall context I can find no more apt word than 'trace' for what I might place over or under my life to summarize what I have done and where I have been even if it possesses a great weight in pounds. When I go beyond to the gates that open on the Placeless it is my desire to leave a tint, a flavour, an indefinable something for future generations of pioneers, the many generations that the Baha’i community will require. This indefinable something is what the 20th century poet W.H. Auden said was the most valuable thing a writer could leave behind him--something that could be of use to the future and the men and women who would be dealing with its challenges and demands, its eccentricities and enigmas.
This is my second “introduction,” my revised introduction to this first volume, volume 1.1, of my journal. By the time I came to finalize the text of this introduction it was eighteen years after the first draft was written(1995, 2013). I had been able to accumulate many articles on journal and diary keeping by 2008. Some are found in Volume 4 of the journal and some in a five volume set I call notebooks: 1,2,3,4, 5 and 6, a type of extension of my journals and diaries. These notebooks are given a special section in my autobiography, section IX: notebooks. Even now after making a quarter of a century of diary and journal entries and keeping notebooks for perhaps half a century, a strong and directed, a diaristic-journal voice is still elusive insofar as all this journaling is concerned. In poetry, though, I have found a voice. Whether any, many, others hear it is another question, but in my solitude that is not a concern. Thanks to the internet I know someone hears it, indeed, thousands now, fortuitously, serendipitously, as if by some magic, some Providence, some mysterious process quite beyond my understanding, but one that is drawing me on like a magnet.
(1) William Spengemann, The Forms of Autobiography: Episodes in the History of a Literary Genre, Yale UP, 1980, Introduction.
(2) James Russell Lowell in Henry David Thoreau, editor: Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Pub., 1987, NY, p.5.
(3) Emily Dickinson, Number 866.
8/12/’95 to 6/12/'13.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 1.2
The value to future historians and people engaged in any one of the many disciplines that attempt to explore the nature of social reality and utilize this journal, this resource, as an aid, such value is difficult for me to assess. I am now caught-up in the heat, in the middle, in the milieux, of my pioneering experience, some 51 years. If I live to be 120 years old, this is the mid-point! Here is a lengthy manuscript, both my journal in particular and my autobiography in general from a pioneer who sojourned on this earthly plain during the second, third, fourth and fifth epochs. Only time will test the usefulness of all that he has put together. Beginning in the 1980s, there began to appear in the Baha’i community, a new type of reflective book on the experience of Baha’is in this Formative Age. Much else was also appearing in print form for the Bahai community as the 1980s marched on from year to year, not the least of which was what very well may have been the initial crystallization of an international image for the Bahais of the world. Writing this journal is based on the view that my effort is worth it, may be worth it, because at the core of history is the periodic appearance of a God-Man, a manifestation of God Who, in this modern age, has established a framework for the unity of humankind. And I am playing a part in that process which is so much more than a "once upon a time" story. Sustained description of the events I play a part in, significant excursuses into my past, the past of my society and religion are all part of this journal.
From my own experience, David Hofman’s biography George Townshend(1983)and Roger White's The Witness of Pebbles was a beginning point for a direction of commentary on the inner landscape of people’s lives. Perhaps this inner exploration was stimulated by the experience in Iran of another wave of oppression to and opposition of the Bahai community there. Each Bahai will tell their own story, have their own literary preferences and see the evolution of the Bahai library, so to speak, from their own perspective. This is only saying the obvious. Only a relative few of the stories of individual lives ever make it into print. But, as I look back over more than half a century of experience in this new religion, I recognize that a new stage, a new paradigm, has opened up in the last two decades as I went about writing this journal. I like to think my contribution here in both this journal and in my autobiography in general will become a small part of what is already becoming a burgeoning field of biography, autobiography, essay, reports, indeed, a host of printed matter that will threaten to swamp any interested historian, reviewer and analyst of the future. I have written about this emerging paradigm, a new culture of learning and growth in the Bahai community in another article at BLO, an article with this same title and so will say no more about this topic here.
Cyril Mango says in his introduction to Byzantium that the fifty thousand manuscripts in libraries from the Byzantine period(324-1453 AD)"have a strangely opaque quality; and the more elegant their diction, the more opaque they become. That is not to say they misinform us: on the contrary, Byzantine historians and chronicles have a reasonably good record for veracity. They give us the external husk of public events; we look in vain for the underlying realities of life. If we turn to epistolography, a genre that was assiduously cultivated throughout the existence of the Empire, we are even more disappointed: instead of personal reflections, we are offered erudite cliches.. ....Only on rare occasions is the curtain raised.” (Cyril Mango, Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome, Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1980, p.7.)
This opaque quality that Mango refers to is found in the literature and inhouse correspondence of organizational bureaucracies around today's world and is one of the reasons why, as Mango says, that however eloquent their diction, they give us only an external husk. Underlying realities, the many necessary raising of the curtains, are found in personal reflections--one form of which is the diary or journal. If there has been any tendency for this opaqueness to occur in the correspondence, in the existing archives of Bahai manuscripts, the archives of paper that have begun to fill back rooms, spare rooms and all sorts of library and archival spaces for local, national and international branches of the elected and appointed side of this emerging world unification agent that is the Bahai community--as this new Order took on a significant expansion in these epochs--perhaps what is found here in these personal comments will compensate a little.
Given the decline in letter writing on the part of a good many of the people of this age and the tendency of many of the existing letters and emails to be superficial and of little value to anyone; given the plethora of written communication from Baha’i institutions, communication which has for many that same opaque quality even now; given the disinclination of most of the people I have ever met in the Cause to write the story of their experiences, what is here may enrich the archives for a future person examining the first century of the Formative Age(1921-2021) and, if I live until 2044, the first two centuries of Bahai history(1844-2044). I have no problem relating to "the style" of official communication, but there are many who do, given the degree of illiteracy in society, given that opaqueness I refer to, and given the burgeoning nature of print that has come into society in our time.
This section of my journal, 1971 to 1987, has been written in retrospect, since I did not begin to seriously keep a journal with any seriousness until 1987. It is an exercise--this retrospectivity--that has not, as yet, yielded much fruit. I have as yet written very little in journal form about these years. Perhaps in the years ahead I will be more successful and write in more detail than I already have done. It may be, though, that other writing commitments and interests may prevent a further journalistic elaboration. I have added some photographs to embellish the journal and I hope they will serve some useful purpose. As I point out in the introduction to another volume of journal/diary material, I have also collected a range of useful articles on diary and journal writing. I hope one day to be able to integrate some of this analysis of diaries and journals into my own text. For now, though, this brief introduction to this further sub-section of volume one, that is Volume 1.2, will have to suffice.
8 January 1996 to 6 December 2013
INTRODUCTION TO NOTEBOOKS
After completing the first edition of my autobiography in May 1993, I began collecting resources on the subjects of autobiography/memoirs, journals/diaries and letters/notebooks. Twenty years later, that is by May 2013, I had collected a number of arch-lever files and two-ring binders on these subjects. I also collected five extensive files on the letters of famous people. I felt that first edition(1986-1993) of my autobiography was entirely unsatisfactory and thought that there must be more to the process of writing such a work, indeed, more to the final product than what I had then achieved.
The resources that I have summarized above in the several arch-lever files and two ring binders represent, then, the efforts in the first 20 years(1993-2013) after the completion of the first edition of my autobiography to draw together a useful body of resources to enrich, to deepen and extend that original edition of my autobiography. These resources, as well as a host of other resources, have proved invaluable in my efforts to write the second to the fifth editions of what is now a 2600 page narrative: Pioneering Over Four Epochs, a narrative that was reviewed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States. I was given permission to post that narrative in cyberspace but not in a hard-copy book.
1 January 2005 to 6 December 2013
PREAMBLE TO VOLUME 5 OF MY JOURNAL
In these graceless hours
when faith strains feebly against an unbelieving night
my nurtured imperfections not so epically egregious,
as to embarrass the seraphim ruefully yawning
at their mention;
nor will shame, as once I thought,
topple the cities, arrest the sun's climb.
What assault on heaven guarantees attention?
Inured to the banality of pain
and the ordinariness of suffering(sanctified or plain!)
it is joy that is remembered.
-Roger White, "Lines from a Battlefield," Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, pp.111-112.
As the spring season hits its mid-point tomorrow in Australia and as the golden days of richly coloured brown and red, yellow and amber trees in Ontario in the northern hemisphere hit their high point, I will update this summary of my journal, not one of an artist with paint or clay, but one of an artist in the medium of words. Those who work in the more familiar art mediums of painting and sculpture, pottery or one of the various forms of design or, indeed, those who have not found any medium for their artistic potential, may find this summary of the five volumes of my journal useful, such is my hope. As I have said before in other contexts than this, keeping a journal I have found difficult. I know many others do as well, artists and people in all sorts of walks of life. The Australian artist Donald Friend's work with the art journal has been helpful to me in this vein, in the vein of keeping and maintaining a diary. Anyway, here is a somewhat lengthy post. If it is too long for any individual reader just stop reading when your eyes tire or your mind finds what you read here irrelevant to your experience and interests. If site administrators, who often vet this post on the internet, find this post too long, they should feel free to edit it to their taste or simply delete it from their site.
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 5 OF MY JOURNAL
After more than twenty-four years of haphazard journal keeping(1984-2008) and an equally haphazard twenty-two years of dream recording(1986-2008), there looms ahead of me the shadow of a type of journal that my work may attain to: part of the shadow is prospective and the other retrospective. What, indeed, will I make of this loose, drifting material of my life, as Virginia Woolf calls the material in her journal and which very accurately describes mine, however incomplete, however irregular are my entries, however superficial the content often is. Do I want this journal to be so elastic as to embrace anything solemn, slight, beautiful or ugly that comes to mind, sort of a capacious hold-all? Will this journal, this particular way of conveying my memoir, when all is said and done and the roll is called up yonder(assuming there is a roll and there is an up-yonder), resemble a place where I have flung a mass of odds and ends, some with reflective ardour and great meaning, some with fatigue and sadness, some with guilt and shame, some with a sense of their utter triviality, their tedium and life's chouder.
The purpose of this overview of my journal, written after more than twenty-four years of making episodic entries and introducing, as it does, the 5th volume of this journal, is to analyse, give definition and pattern to the autobiographical memory that I have put on paper across my lifespan in this literary form. I use other genres of writing to record memory, but I deal here with the genre of journal. Autobiographical memory, in so far as it relates to my journal, can be broadly defined as a type of episodic memory for information related to the self, both in the form of retrospective and prospective memories, as well as aims, goals and expectations. If this retrospective, episodic account relates to the retrieval in the present of memories, experiences or past events, then prospective autobiographical memory is concerned with the retrieval of expectations, anticipations or future events which likewise are connected in some way with the present.
On the basis of what I have written here in these 24 years, it would appear that a collection of flotsam and jetsam, as Woolf says, has been put on record. This material has been born from a vaster collection of life's flotsam and jetsam, some of which is meaningful to me in the moment or at least hopefully so but, ultimately and possibly, about as useful and valuable to others as the eye of a dead ant. I hope this is not the case but, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, one has to be prepared that all which one has written may become a dead letter. I get a sense of order in putting all this on paper; I sometimes get pleasure and sometimes I don't. the keeping of a journal is its own intrinsic reward, its own burden, its own multi-functioned literary polis. This multifunctionality is only obvious when one examines the multitude of journals kept by others over the centuries.
Suzette Henke describes how many keepers of journals come to their journals out of shattered lives, out of a need to relive their lives in terms of some dream, some myth, some endless story which they compose. This is not the case with me but, as my fifties wore on and turned into my sixties, I seemed to wear on if not out. I seemed to lose some of life’s heat or at least felt the need to transfer the heat to other areas of my psychological house if I was to keep warm. There had been some shattering of my life, but the shattering was not like broken glass which was difficult if not impossible to repair. The most recent shattering was of my social nature, a nature I had manifested for several decades, indeed as far back as I could remember, perhaps as far back as my first memories 60 years ago. It is difficult to define just what it is that lies under this journal, that is its raison d’etre or raisons d’etres. But one of the leitmotifs, one of the glues which binds the journal together into a coherent whole, if indeed it has coherence and wholeness, is my need for solitude. What motivates me to want to add an extra level to an already present story, autobiography or memoir was conveyed, in part, by Shakespeare in sonnet 94: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds.”
By the age of fifty I had certainly collected lots of deeds whose memories were not endearing. Perhaps by means of memoir, autobiography, poetry and diary I was trying to work some magic to reflect the self I wanted to be or understand the self I had become. Such was the case with that famous diarist Anais Nin. I don’t think it was the case with me, though there was some of Anais Nin’s aim in my own. My journal tended to be the place of my most confessional writing and, for that reason alone if for no other, it deserved to exist on its own. It was and is a genre of particular use to me as a writer for its several purposes which this brief essay attempts to outline.
As this journal has developed over nearly 25 years, it has served simply to help me to describe my life, not especially to deal with accounts of personal complexities like the desire to fight or flight, nor to battle on, nor adopt some defensive escape, nor as a strategy to cope with traumatic personal history, although I have often experienced all of these inner wantings to escape, to battle on or deal with trauma of different kinds. To want to cut and run and great inner fear or anxiety of some kind were common enough occurrences in the more than six decades of living thusfar. It was Baha’u’llah, not Shakespeare, I think who put his finger on a core reason for the shift in my life activity as my fifties wore on and became incrementally my sixties. Excess of speech is a deadly poison and its affects last a lifetime, this founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote in the 19th century, and I had had an excess of life’s verbal art and its twistings and turnings in the 60 years of my memoried life: 1947/8-2007/8. Of course, there is much more in the motivational matrix that has led to this journal and I elaborate on this matrix here as far as I am able and as much as I desire in this introduction to Volume 5.
I did not desire to take part in that conversational/verbal part of life as my sixties grew insensibly into their middle years, 65 to 75. As the year 1984-1985 opened and I began this journal at the age of forty I found myself in possession of a talent, a gift, perhaps an unmerited grace, namely, the gift of the ability to write. I had been conscious of its developing nature since, perhaps 1972 in my first year as a high school teacher, after more than two decades of struggle as a student and a teacher to place words on paper. In 1984 I was writing a column in the local newspaper of 800 words every week. I won’t deal with the origins of this writing activity in the local paper nor the development by sensible and insensible degrees in the dozen years before 1984 going back to Whyalla in South Australia. I had come to like the idea, the base, the origin, of art, in unmerited grace. Some writer whose name I have now forgotten used this uplifting phrase or idea, although the question it deals with is far from simple and one must work at acquiring and developing this gift if it is to be used effectively. Writing had been a talent which had grown slowly with the years, first as a student(1949-1967), then as a teacher(1967-2005), then as a writer in publications of various kinds from the 1970s onwards. It was in the sheer exercise of this gift and harnessing it to life's service and the causes that concerned me that was part of the motivating base for producing a diary, although much more could be said here and interested readers can find more of my comments on this theme in my other writings.
My journal became, in part, a textual testimony, a form of scriptotherapy, a testimonial, an episodic narrative, a form of defence and assertion, albeit partial and temporary. It became, along with the other genres of my writing, a form of living, a way of spending my time, my life, the way I wanted to. I could make some comparisons and contrasts of my journal work with the work of others. I found, as I say, the journals of others have helped to provide useful perspectives on my own writing, but I will not deal with this subject here for the literature on journals is now burgeoning. All of this journal writing was not therapy and it took some years for this journal to even take on any form worth calling a journal.
These five volumes of my journal are found in eight two-ring binders and two arch-lever files. Three of these binders contain photographs with some commentary and one of the binders contains comments on some of my dreams. I have made a periodic attempt to write a retrospective journal for the years 1844 to 1984, but thus far the attempt has had limited success. I don’t want to leave the impression that journal writing is a fertile field. Far from it—for me. Much of my efforts at a journal are now and have been for many years dry, uninspiring, far from encouraging.
Henry David Thoreau's fine Journal kept from 1839 to 1861 gave expression to Thoreau’s view, his vision of the destiny of America in terms of life in death. That became a dominant feature of my writing as far back as the 1980s, the feature of life in death. I am confident that will be a strong part of the experience of many generations of the American pioneer in general and the Baha’i pioneer in particular. There are times in this account when I focus on the inner self, my experiences, my community; there are other times when I focus on my society, the land, a more open perspective. I seem to be a more tolerant person than Thoreau, although I confess that by the time I retired at 55 in 1999 I had begun to tire of people and conversations about the ordinarily ordinary. Like Thoreau, I rarely have the public in mind when I write, although I do have a future public in mind as the Australian artist Donald Friend did in his journal. In the last century over one billion deaths have occurred from trauma of different kinds and so it is not surprising that an individual journal should be seen in terms of life in death. But readers will have to wait for my demise to read more on this theme. I only want to allude to it here.
Henry Miller arguably the first writer to use the “F” word long before it broke out in the media in the 1960s, was one of the few post-WW2 American writers of note who wrote praiseworthy things about many of the things I hold dear and especially this dear Cause. He also wrote, somewhat prophetically in the following words:
"When the destruction brought about by the Second World War is complete," wrote Miller, "another set of destruction will set in. And it will be far more drastic, far more terrible than the destruction which we are now witnessing. The whole planet will be in the throes of revolution. And the fires will rage until the very foundations of the present world crumble." Not a happy note to include in the introduction to a volume of my journal, but certainly interesting and written back in the early 1940s! Decades ago people would have trouble comprehending Miller's idea here, but not any more.
In the case of some of my retrospective journal work making entries is difficult. For, when I write about events taking place forty years ago, I cannot rely on closeness to the event. I must rely on what Peter Braustein calls possessive memory. “Possessive memory,” writes Braustein in his history of the counter-culture, “leaves the person and his memories in a lover’s embrace. The person is in possession of his memories, and no one else can touch them; at the same time, his memories are in possession of him.” Braustein applies this idea to those activists in the sixties who experienced “a sense of self-generation so powerful that it became a constitutive part of their later identity.” Without going into the many contradictory views that have emerged in sixties studies, there is little doubt that I experienced several early stages of my own variety of activism in the sixties. I was 15 when the sixties started and 25 when they finished. My adult life began during those years and that “sense of self-generation” is still a part of my identity even now. If it wasn't I don't think I could keep writing. Like many of the sixties generation, I felt as if I was an agent of history and I still do.
In writing my life story in the last years of my fifties and now early sixties, I came to realize more than I ever had before, perhaps for the first time in any full sense, that the success I had achieved in life grew not only from my own hard work and certain favourable circumstances of my environment, but from the foundation provided by my parents and my grandparents on my mother’s side. The journey of understanding, like the journey of life itself, is an emotional one that I have tried to write about with honesty and with a fresh eye for those primary relationships in my life: father-son, mother-son and grandfather-grandson, wife-husband, among several others I could possibly include. Of course, not all is emotion, again thank goodness. There is intellect, reason, the cultural attainments of the mind and a host of other qualities that psychologists enumerate in their studies of personality and that historians describe in their study of the past.
I still do not feel I have found the flow, the filling up of the springs, the raising of the streams of this journal, as Thoreau put it. The accumulating grists are really yet to be ground in the first 24 years of writing this journal. They may, in fact, never get ground, if poetry and narrative, essays and notes steal the material, take the stage and leave this journal-prose always waiting in the wings.
This journal does have less concern for form than my poetry and for that reason there is potentially an easier flow, once the flow begins, at least a flow in a different direction to other genres I use. I have mentioned before that Thoreau has been invaluable in helping my journal writing, but I still await the flow in this journal, a flow that has come to my 6500 prose-poems upstream somewhere. This journal seems to meander downstream in one of those u-shaped bows one reads about in geography books. The flow so often stops as if one of the Australian droughts finally took away all its water, all the water of life. In Thoreau's last years, from the late 1850s to his death in 1862, he wrote with energy and control, but with little interest in getting into print. This is certinaly true of my Journal. I see it as one of my life's repositories of energy, thought and creativity with no eye on publication. But I have to confess to having one eye on posterity as the other tries to keep its focus on the hallowed beaty of the Beloved as Bahaullah puts it in His Hidden Words.
There is a type of unity in death, thought Thoreau. We need to learn how to die in order to learn how to live was his view. Part of this process, as far as the Journal is concerned, is the pleasure of serendipity. The only thing we leave behind, Thoreau thought, was ourselves. This journal is just that: myself. It is as if one wants one’s leaves to survive, one’s autumnal hints and the reds, browns and golds of autumn. In my case I often feel as if winter has come to my Journal and no leaves can be found on its branches. Life is sometimes cold and dry. This is certainly the case if I measure my life by my journal even now after two dozen years. But there are other indices of measurement, thank goodness and there is always the future until the last syllable of ones recorded time.
Thoreau said that Emerson was more familiar with his work than he was. I’m sure, should this material ever be published, that there will be those who become more familiar with it--and perhaps with me--than I. I lose touch with this journal as one often does with aspects of one’s life: with those one loves, with one's feelings which also seem to dry up especially in areas which were once rich, wet and alive. Perhaps this is a way to develop friends in the next life and be ready to meet them when they, or rather I, arrive. I’ll follow this theme later. Thoreau said that the best growth in trees is in their old age, with harmony and regularity. He also said good deeds act as an encouragement to yourself, to your artistic pursuits, your writing. May I build up a niche of good deeds and may my tree grow best in the years ahead.
Journals can track the contemporaneous flow of public and private events. They are not given all in a piece, all at once as in a book, such as a life history might be. But rather, they are written discontinuously, daily or episodically, over varying intervals of time and as such they provide a record of an ever-changing present. Other types of autobiographical texts or life documents such as letters, rather than documenting the present, tend towards making retrospective sense of a whole life or towards retelling significant moments, epiphanies or crystallizations of experience. This proximity to the present, the closeness between the experience and the record of experience means that there is the perception at least that journals are less subject to the vagaries of memory, to retrospective censorship or reframing than other autobiographical accounts. Still, there are in my letters as well as in my poems much that others might place in a journal and so it is that my letters and poems might be seen as all of one piece.
I certainly think there is potential in these folders that contain my Journals and the unfolding aspects of my life. It is a potential, as I indicate above, that I have hardly begun to realize as yet in these first and several journal volumes. There is, I like to think, something unique, some unique contribution to my overall autobiographical opus: Pioneering Over Four Epochs, that has begun to reveal itself after more than two decades of making entries.
A description of "a life without secrets and without privacy" wrote Boris Pasternak, describing as he did the life that was his and on display in society in its different forms, is like some "show window." It is simply "inconceivable," he concluded. For me, this privacy is essentially the life of the mind and many things I have not revealed in the other forms of autobiography. But the revelation comes in my journal. My journal includes aspects of personal life that I might term intimate revelations. I could include those elements of human experience that seem most private, most hidden, most personal, most shameful, most embarrassing, a source of most guilt and those things that do not tend to be divulged in the normal course of interpersonal life. They are revealed episodically in these journals when time and the inclination have combined to allow me to insert them into the narrative. They are often that sort of entry that has concerned many a writer and artist and which these artists and writers have wanted to burn either before or after their demise from this mortal coil. They are the sorts of things at their most intimate level and form that one may confide to one or two people in one's whole life, if One confides them to anyone at all.
I have tried, too, to eliminate the trivial from what I write, but this is difficult for so much of life seems to amount to trivialities and their many particularities and their ephemerality. When one tries to put one's experience on paper the trivial seems to abound in detail and this is the reason why many never keep a journal. The mere contemplation of the exercise of writing down what one does on a daily basis is more than the average person can bear; indeed, the activity amounts to an inner revulsion, for many reasons--and this is not simply because most people don't like to write. It is just too tedious for words, both the process and the content when one reflects on the daily events after the fact. And this is not just due, as I must again emphasize, to the average person’s distaste for writing. But enough on this sad but complex theme.
I have no intention of writing in public places like this about all the boredom and the chowder, as Paul Simon call some of the aspects of life; nor do I intend to write about all of my sins of omission and commission, all the points of shame and guilt that rise up from my life like a forest of trees. But many of them I do write about in my journal and not elsewhere. Whether I deserve to have had these experiences, whether they came to me as a result of destiny, circumstance, capricious passion, whether I can even grasp the causative factors that gave rise to them at all or whether I can’t, I am not a believer in the virtues of public confession, beyond a certain point. There are times for public confession, public to some degree, for the spontaneous acknowledgment of wrongs I have committed or faults in my character. There are times when I would like someone, usually a close companion of some sort, to forgive me or accept me even with my faults. That point or points tends to be, for me at least, when I admit to personal struggle and battle in the hope that my admission may help others with their battle and struggle. Those who are keen to read the more confessional intimacies of my life and in more detail than they will find in my published accounts, in these introductions and in other places, can read about them in the posthumous collection of my journals, should my executors decide they are relevant and helpful to a public audience.
Readers who have followed this series of introductions to my several volumes of journals will by now realise that much of what is written here in this introduction is virtually the same as the introduction to volume 4 of my journal. I have also written many of these words some six months before officially opening this volume 5 of my journal on January 20th 2006. It seemed useful to begin the contemplation of the 5th volume of this journal before that opening date of January 20th 2006. Volume 4 was becoming too full to continue using that 2-ring binder. The size of my volumes, the extent of the entries, is based on the room in each arch-lever file or two-ring binder for the entries I place. In addition, it was more than 37 years ago that I arrived in Australia as an international pioneer(12/7/'71) and so, perhaps, writing many of these introductory words to this 5th volume of my journal today(14/10/’08) is timely and appropriate.
After 33 months(20/1/06 to 14/10/’08) now of making entries in this volume five, I conclude this introduction and leave the processes of making entries and writing introductions to those mysterious dispensations of a Watchful Providence. If Providence is not that watchful in my personal direction and if that King by Whose commanding word the whole creation hath been called into being--has other things to do than to be concerned with the intimacies of my life on a daily basis, I can at least recount the tokens that tell of the glorious handiwork of the universe in which I am an infinitesimal part and some of the fiery, painful aspects of its immensity. Finally, I leave to reason and virtue their steady and not so uniform course while the extravagant wanderings of my vice and folly continue their path down destiny’s corridors with my free will giving me opportunities on the one hand and closing doors on the other as I travel. As this awful, awkward and tangled scene in what is perhaps history's greatest climacteric plays itself out before my eyes, I conclude this introduction to my journal Volume 5.—Ron Price,14 October 2008.
JOURNAL/DIARY WRITING ON THE INTERNET:
It has been some 18 months since I first came across ‘journal writing on the Internet.’ After a year of casual and largely neglected searching for diary/journal sites and making relevant postings, in May 2004 I laid out the first significant list of sites and placed a significant number of postings at several of these sites. This work, this activity, fits in very nicely with my autobiographical work Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
January 27th 2004
INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME THREE OF JOURNAL
The introduction below seemed a suitable piece to reproduce since it is relevant to other sections of this autobiography and to future executors, individuals or institutions concerned with publication and what to do with all of this writing journal writing.
Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, demonstrated a deep concern over his autobiographical materials. The question interests me, but with a substantial body of my autobiography, especially my poetry, in the Baha’i World Centre Library, other libraries in the Baha’i world and at a host of sites on the internet, the various issues associated with preservation and possible future publication of my journal do not occupy much of my attention. this is not to say that this topic is of no interest as I have indicated in other places in these introductory words on the subject of journals.
I would, though, like to encourage readers to approach my journal as Clemens encouraged his readers--that is to “start it at no particular time in your life; wander at your free will all over your life...drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale...”(1) It would appear that Clemens had little luck in influencing later editions of his autobiography in this direction of reader interest. I do not think my autobiography will be published before I die. This was true of Clemens’ work. He was very frank. I have been too; perhaps I will be more frank as time goes on. I would think a generation will be enough to protect anyone who might slip into the text of this autobiography. Since there are various definitions of generation from twenty to thirty years, we will take the bottom end as the safe length of time for any party interested in publication of some or all of the text. If in the opinion of the BWCL, or anyone serving as the executor of my estate, part or all of the autobiography should be published before this time, I shall have no objection. Twenty years is merely a suggested guideline.
Unlike Clemens I have no wish to influence future editors. When I leave this mortal coil I shall be happy to leave everything I have written to the BWCL, my executors and, indeed, any Baha’i institution whose responsibility it becomes to decide on what happens to what I have written. I recall hearing that one or more people thought that what I had written should be burned and, although this surprised and somewhat saddened me at the time, I would hope that my writings do not fall into the hands of people or institutions who come to hold this kind of view. As I have pointed out in other contexts, if some of the material is considered too “frank, honest, inappropriate, or unwise” to publish, then just leave it out. Editing is a professional skill and in the right hands the soul of the text is easily kept. I place my hope on Bahá'í institutions when I am in the land of those who speak and write no more, as I have placed my hope on them in this earthly life.
I shall say no more except to thank Samuel Clemens for his ideas. I trust the above clears up any complexities, ambiguities and grey areas insofar as what I have written is concerned.
29 September 1995 to 14 October 2008
(1) Michael J. Kiskis’s Introduction to: Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review, University of Wisconson Press, Madison, 1990, pp. xv-xix.
THE THIRD EPOCH: PART ONE: 1962-1966
I have divided my life up into epochs, borrowing the term from geology and from the Bahai writings, due to the immense changes in our time. I have taken the publication of Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ as the beginning of Epoch 1; the second Epoch as the explosion of the atomic bomb in 1945, Kennedy’s Assassination in 1963 as the beginning of Epoch 3, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1988/9 as the beginning of Epoch 4 and 9/11 as the beginning of Epoch five. This retrospective diary entry goes back to the ‘cusp’ of Epoch 2/3 in 1962/3. (note: readers may find my epochal shifts defined and written a little differently than this initial description for all of this is still in the experimental stage. And, in memory, I make the following comment:
I am not a machine simply displaying the past. I am also attempting to define the meaning of this past, this aspect of my life as it was then expressed, now. There is no true or objective meaning, no pristine or univocal feature to the past. But there is also no total relativism where any interpretation will do. Just as life is unfinished, so is the meaning of the past. One attempts to grasp the meaning in terms of personal identity and selfhood. The story of our lives that we relate to ourselves in an episodic, sometimes semiconscious way is a virtual uninterrupted monologue.
The action of our lives is revealed best to ourselves. We are the storyteller and we need the full story to get full perspectives on the past. Hence, the real and significant meaning of these lunch time periods of solitariness will not be unfolded until my life is finished and, perhaps, beyond my life in, arguably, helping others who read this autobiography accept their tendencies to be by themselves in a society of many more billions than now. The interpretation I give my life can become a canonical version in a published autobiography, but it can come to mean something quite different to readers if they overcome the canonical pull of an initial orthodox view. There is my story and there are the many stories of others. This is my action(a narrative component) and my history is required to define and interpret my action.
“Our own existence can not be separated from the account we give of ourselves. It is in telling our own stories that we give ourselves an identity,” Paul Ricoeur states in arguing that we generate ourselves and give them unity through the narrative we create. We create ourselves, not merely give them expression, through literary reporting. I am I only insofar as I express myself, or as Tagore put it: “the poem not the poet.” Roger White would have liked this line of thought. “The reality of man is his thought.” We live, dream, make love, do everything in the context of narrative. And then we tell the story not live it. We give shape, form and order to what is often confused and formless primordial experience. This process makes explicit our prenarrative, prefigured and at best only partly examined life and its fixed sequence of events.
And so, as I reflect back on those periods of aloneness in the midst of a sea of humanity, I see them as essential. Just as I see my present aloneness in another sea of humanity critical to my sense of self, identity and comfort. More than that, it was and is as essential as breathing for me. It seems to be above ethics; it is an expression of my inherent nature which, at the age of 51, I have come to understand and define more fully than ever before. It may change through some cataclysm, but I would think it unlikely after the evolution of thirty years. Indeed my first memories going back to the age of four, forty-seven years ago, have a strong element of the solitary in them.
This period of four years, 1962 to 1966, less four months, was to be a typical length of years for my stay in a certain region. Four years in the Hamilton-Dundas area, two-and-a-half in South Australia, four in Victoria, four in the NT, four in Tasmania. In other regions the length of stay tended to be either very short, one year usually, like in Windsor, Zeehan, Frobisher Bay, or very long, eleven years in Perth, 15 years in Burlington.
The third epoch began in April 1963. I had been pioneering for eight months. This period of forty-four months, as I remember it under the microscope of my memory, was an extremely turbulent one. The first signs of manic-depressive illness surfaced in this period and I have referred to it elsewhere and will not, therefore, dwell on it in detail here. I had no idea when I left southern Ontario for the first time in 1967 that I was a manic-depressive. As far as I was concerned I had been depressed or elated and this emotional turbulence was now over. When I hit Windsor in May of 1966 the depressive edge resurfaced, but I lived in a vaccuum as far as understanding what was happening to me. It is difficult to get a perspective on just where one is at any time, even now. Although one of the reasons I am enjoying the distance of middle age is the perspective I gain on things, on where I am, on what I want and what I should or should not do.
Revised May 2004
It has been nearly eight months since I recorded my last dream. Last night, on waking, I was with a girl, a young girl, and we were at a university walking around looking for a couch to neck on. We never really found the right place but we spent a good deal of time walking and looking and then I woke up. There is certainly no “common sense” to this dream, as Adler points out. But my life-style may be the author of this dream or at least consistent with it. Adler also says “our contact with reality is lessened” and we dream to seek “a solution to our problems.”
Clearly reality and common sense are far removed from the content of this dream and this dream defends my desires “against the demands of common sense.” I do not seem to want to “solve my problem,” the problem of the erotic desires....the feleings aroused in this dream conform themselves to my sexual preferences--or so it would seem. Perhaps, as Jung says, I should just entrust myself to the flow of things, of feelings, as they come in my dreams, build up a series of dreams and, then, “undertake definitive analysis.”(p.3) Perhaps I should just accept Shakespeare’s view that these dreams are “vain fantasies,” as “thin of substance as the air;” or Kant’s view that they are “only wild and absurd chimeras.”
INTRODUCTION TO MY EXPERIENCE OF DREAMS: 1953-2003
In The Baha’i Holy Year 1992-1993 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." 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 in the year 1953. In 1992 I also started collecting notes and photocopies from various sources, commentators on dreams and dream-theory, essays on dreams and I read the occasional book that was relevant to the search into my dreams and their meaning. Now, after a decade of recording some of my dreams, keeping notes on dreams and providing a succinct summary of the previous thirty-nine years of my dream life(1953-1992), I have established a base of understanding, a base for the integration of my dreams into my autobiography, to the extent that that is possible. This essay is an attempt at an overview, an understanding, an adequacy of perspective, a context to begin an examination of fundamental questions vis-a-vis my dream life.
What I will actually do with this initial examination, this initial elaboration, of my understandings and those of others I have drawn on is a question yet to be worked out. Perhaps I have already made a start with some of my poems that allude as they often do to dreams and my dream life. Three of these poems can be found in my two-ring binder, but I have not included them here in this introductory survey.
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 and in life by the dream process. He also felt dreams helped us contact the shadow self. Adler, in contrast, saw dreams as the antithesis of common sense and reality, indeed, as their arch-enemies. Our life-style often gets out of touch with reality and common sense and dreams can help us see this unreality in context, Adler went on.
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 archetype, etcetera. For that reason I find this realism attractive as an interpretive system or non-system. A famous quotation from Shakespeare, "dreams as the children of idle brains," supports this view.
But this is not all and I feel there is potential in the dream world, a potential I have scarcely fathomed after this one decade of study and analysis. Brian Finney says that dreams arouse “expectations of significance that remain unfulfilled because of their private and indirect nature.”(1) The following pages of my file will reveal some of these expectations and some of my radical departures from common sense and reality, throwing light, I trust, on this autobiography.
I find, too, many of the quotations and articles now available on this subject from various sources relevant to my understanding and experience of dreams. I read them from time to time when I am trying to sort out a dream and its meaning. The literature now is burgeoning.
In these first eighteen years of dream description(1986-2004)(2) and a dozen years of study and analysis(1992-2004) it would seem I do not often come out of my dream world with my pen in hand, only when there is some leftover affect that stays in my mind on waking, perhaps two or three times a year at the most, on average. In the five years since coming to Tasmania, 1999 to 2004, I have made five entries. After all these years I have recorded only ten pages of written and typed notes, about half a page per year.
I hope this brief essay and the material which follows(in my file but not included here) 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. REM sleep was discovered in 1953. This was the first empirical breakthrough in dream science.(3)
1953 was a significant year, with the Kingdom of God beginning as it did that year, from a Bahá'í perspective. Of course in the half century since then(1953-2004), there has been a vast increase in the empircal study of dreams, sleep and the associated issues and problems. But it is not my intention here to dwell on this burgeoning literature. Perhaps in a future, a follow-up, essay on the subject.
As 'Abdu'l-Bahá says "a most wonderful and thrilling motion(4) appeared in the world of existence in that year,1953, mirabile dictu. Let it be seen what breakthroughs and insights appear in the years of my late adulthood and old age from the further study of dreams and in the development of the Baha’i Faith with which I have been associated for that same half century.
1 Brian Finney, The Inner I: British Literary Autobiography in the Twentieth Century, p.206.
2 Including a one page archive of dream experiences going back to the beginning of my pioneer life in 1962.
3 John Holt, "Does Sleep Make Sense?" The Australian, 19 January 2000, p.29.
4 'Abdu'l-Bahá in God passes by, Wilmette, 1957(1944), p.351.
PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS: VOLUME 1:SOME OF CHAPTER FOUR:
MY JOURNAL AND THE TURN TO POETRY
"Enormous piles of trivia......"
One's identity is tied to an interpretive appraisal of one's personal past as it takes place in autobiographical narrative and it is inseparable from normative ideas of what a life is or what it is supposed to be, if it is lived well.1 Of course, this identity which I construct is not the same as the objective reality, the complex reality, outside me. Knowing myself in some direct, simple and final sense is just not possible. I construct my understanding of who I am; it is a process of creation, of discovery, in a complex interaction of inner and outer realities. And no matter how much I accent my own life, a strong sense of community runs through all this writing. Regardless of the autobiographical ‘I,’ the persona of self in so much of this narrative, the voice that speaks represents a community, a people, the Bahá'ís.
This identity is being increasingly expressed in this new millennium in the form of memoir which, as critic James Atlas wrote, is displacing the novel. People want to read "nonfiction about ordinary people."2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Mark Freeman, Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, Narrative, Routledge, London, 1993; and 2 James Atlas, New York Times Magazine, quoted in Proteus: A Journal of Ideas, Vol.19, No.2, Fall 2002.
Orwell urged readers to keep a diary—as Winston Smith does in the novel—not only to recover and preserve the past, but also to maintain an accurate perspective on the truth: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps towards it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it.” I don’t disagree with Orwell, but thusfar, in twenty years of diary keeping, life’s struggle in the direction of diary keeping has not had much success.
Poetry has become both my diary and my journal. And so too has this narrative autobiography, this memoir, this first person story of an ordinary person, myself. The narrative coherence and continuity that I provide through several autobiographical genres can and does counteract some of the fragmentary, impersonal nature of much of modern life and reconstruct much of le temps perdu. There is in so much of modern life an incessant stimuli, the exposure of feelings to contrasting excitations, rapidly changing, closely compressed, requiring from time to time a withdrawal from this outer world, a retreat into what you could call a blaze attitude, a protective reserve, a seclusion from stimuli and, most important to me since the age of fifty-five, an ardent journey in an intellectual life. There is even a slight aversion, a strangeness and a repulsion for much that is modern life. This dichotomy of psychic life, the enormous impact of so many stimuli and forces of modernity in part, accounts for the withdrawal into diary, into writing, into poetry, into art and the "fateful struggle," perhaps the most fateful we all experience in our time between the two ways of defining ourselves: in community and free of community.
Arendt writes that the narratable self, the story of our life "cannot be said to be a product of our life-story." To put this idea another way: our life, who we are, our identity, is not reducible to the contents of our story. It is rather something that is interwoven with our autobiography and coincides in complex and subtle ways with "the uncontrollable narrative impulse of memory which produces the text." This story, this narration, "reveals the finite in its fragile uniqueness." Indeed it sings its glory and tells of its tragedy. But one does not live in order to "leave behind a design, a destiny, an unrepeatable figure of one’s existence." To tell a story is not our "only aspiration deserving of the fact that life was given us." But telling stories says something about the meaning of life and "the fleeting mark of a unity that is only glimpsed." "It is the gift of a moment," Cavarero writes, "in the mirage of desire." To put it even more strongly: our story and the world are "like a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreameth to be water but, on coming upon it, he finds it to be mere illusion." The Bee Gees put it a little differently after five decades in the world of popular music when they said “this is where we came in.” I certainly feel an element of this, but I also feel a sense of great personal transformation as well.
"What makes a figure is the lore," the Jungian psychologist James Hillman declared. Lore may be created out of this narrative over the decades but, in the years immediately ahead, those of my lifetime and beyond, whatever lore has been created thusfar in my life will have been dissipated by my living as I have from the Canadian Arctic to the west and south of Tasmania in over two dozen towns. By the time anyone takes an interest in this work I and those whom I have known will in all probability be dead. I am not likely, then, to have the experience of the poets of the Beat Generation, say Ginsberg and Kerouac for whom lore made them more than they were. And people like Richard Nixon: you can't get rid of him. There is no way to forget him, because of the lore. Freud and Jung are full of lore. They are very much alive as figures in the imagination. We keep on learning from them, through the lore. Of course, ultimately, one can not tell if lore will in time accummulate around one.
Perhaps this fragility, this elusiveness, this illusionary nature of life, is why I have found diaries tedious in the composition, often pointless even as I make the entry. Diaries tell more about what we don't know and don't experience than the banalities we might enter. Is this part of the reason why so few people even keep a diary in these days of profound changes in a world history that are so little understood? Is this why, according to Hannah Arendt, it is others who must tell our story? Here is a poem that deals with diaries. There is a tendency to anaesthesia, to banality, implicit in the development of our technological society and the diary can counter some of this. Indeed, there is much in our society that can and does counter these negative tendencies, that expands our horizons, enlarges our imaginative faculties and sympathies. I like to think that the diary can animate and enlarge our response to 'the other' rather than cloistering it. As James Boswell's 'London Journal,' which covered a major portion of his life, filled more than 8000 manuscript pages, perhaps there is hope for my own. And if my journal, my diary, can not do it, poetry can.
THE EFFERVESCENCE OF THE SOUL
Some diarists, writers of journals and memoirs, some autobiographers and a legion of others, have very little, it would seem, from the hand of destiny or, even if they have, they are not able to turn what they have been given to much meaning. If they find great meaning they are not able to put it into written form. The exercise of introspection and of soliciting the internal and external tale of one's own life-story into some literary form does not become part of their experience. Often meaning is found, indeed, everyone finds some meaning in their lives, but it is rare to turn that meaning into a written form. Of course, in our time, in these epochs, written expression became like a fountain and libraries, bookshops and a host of other venues became filled with the products of print.
With death giving chase to those who can write and with huge or not-so-huge ambitions and desires, imaginations and thoughts shouting to get out, many writers turned their book, their literary excursions into a universe over which they are the sole ruler and in which they are the only subject. The diary, the journal, the memoir, the autobiography, becomes for many an addiction, a mistress, a lover, a basis for the scientific investigation of the self. It becomes an extension in the world of words of a writer's cosmology, a sketch of some kind of meaning over lifes terra incognita so that he or she can create in comfort. These inner meanings, this map of the writers existence, these creative imaginations attempt to produce some reality consistent with the facts they see around them. And so often the result is, sadly, just an enormous pile of trivia, a classification of unrealities as Colin Wilson calls much of writing in an attempt to work out some reality and deal with the ‘distressing insignificance,' as Andre Gide calls so much of the written word and especially diaries.-Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Mallon, A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, Ticknor and Fields, NY, 1984, p.286.
Some call it the poor man’s art1
with a slowly accumulated past
which makes the shrinking future
bearable, as if one is writing
for some “you”, some person
never quite known.
Here you can create a life,
your flesh is made word
while time’s wing’d chariot
hurries near and you hold on,
cheating the clock and death.
Some find therapeutic relaxation
in this art,
this happily lawless enterprise,
or unpremeditated scribbling.
writing on a blank page,
a sort of chronicle of everything,
the effervescence of the soul.
7 October 1996
1 the art of personal reminisence in a written form.
SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS
The diary is an underrepresented and loosely conceptualized genre and can be looked upon as a more ‘fluid’ type of autobiography. It constitutes a valuable basis for the investigation of the strategies and influences that make up the multiple processes of our identity-construction. Several possible purposes have been suggested for a diary: expression, reflection, memory and creation. But in today's email world diaries "are virtually an archaic art form," says Australian writer Barry Oakley. They go back to Greek and Roman times. In recent centuries groups like the Society of Friends kept diaries instead of going to confession. The diary provides a type of historical artifact that gives readers access to the dividing line between public and private. A hundred years ago there was a great gulf between the two spheres; it is a gulf which has been reduced in the recent epochs of this Formative Age. Diaries are not so much the incarnations of privacy they once were. But all art is autobiographical, as Federico Fellini once said, and a diary is a form of art.
The diary has a noble and interesting lineage, a long and distinguished history. Over the years my diary has felt more archaic than noble, more tedious than stimulating, no matter whether I took a highly organized and systematic approach like Ira Progoff recommended or whether I took a more subjective and idiosyncratic approach as Anais Nin would have recommended. If Boswell was right "that a man should not live more than he can record, as a farmer should not have a larger crop than he can gather in," I should have given up diary keeping long ago, for I have lived far more than I could ever record. In this sensate culture, to use a term from the sociologist Pitrim Sorokin, the diary offers an opportunity for a short period of reflection on something about the day, something worth saying something about. Walt Whitman, inspired by such a view, left two and a half million words covering the last four years of his life, 1888-1892, by allowing Horace Traubel to record everyday conversations, correspondence and activities as a form of biography. It was a biography resembling a diary and it provided "the pulse and throb of the critter himself,his real life in sort scraps.
Such a way of getting at autobiography or biography, Whitman felt, counteracted the smartness, the cleverness, the impudent knowingness, which he disdained in so much writing. Perhaps, too, it was a way Whitman could counter his particular belief that: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” I wonder if Whitman would find my autobiography infected with an impudent knowingness? Certainly these words of Whitman do not represent the presiding spirit for this work. Hopefully I find some golden mean between impudence and an excessive humility. It is difficult, impossible, for me to assess.
The textual maze which exists in Whitman's nine editions of Leaves of Grass: its massings, its accumulations, its additions, deletions, revisions and rearrangements, is counteracted or at least supplemented in some ways by the four years of notes, diary-like, taken by Traubel. This diary is, perhaps, an effort by Whitman to monumentalize himself, to give to his life a last invocation. I think it is unlikely that my diary will ever achieve such a lofty height; indeed the whole idea of monumentalizing myself is abhorrent. But Whitman's work is suggestive of useful poetic possibilities in my own writing.
Had I kept a comprehensive diary it would reveal the many things I have never been good at or interested in: gardening, cooking, mechanical work, building, interior decoration, shopping, physics, fishing, outdoor camping, shooting, playing basketball or soccor, cricket or water polo. Good God! The list is endless. It is highly unlikely that when and if this journal is ever published “many statues will come down,” as the Duke of Wellington is reported to have said. For not only have I not written about many areas where I had no interests, I have not written a great deal about so many where I did have interests. Unlike the Duke of Wellington, though, I don’t have to worry about statues of myself falling down or staying up.
To record my impressions of a deepening, a Feast, a conference, a study circle, a devotional meeting, a cluster meeting, an LSA meeting, a meeting for prayer, a gathering for purely social purposes; my impressions of special committee meetings or any one of a myriad institutional meetings associated with the Cause, with the many schools where I worked as part of the teaching profession or with some sector of any one of a number of organizations I worked in during the years 1961 to 2001, and to do this with regularity, would certainly have filled up many a diary. There may have been Bahá'ís and others during these epochs who, while being able to keep up such a regimen, would never have done so. Inconvenience, a failure to appreciate the significance of the event, the lack of a desire to put those sort of experiences in writing--there are many reasons--for few descriptions of these sorts of events being left to posterity by the great masses of the faithful. There is something about routine, repetition and a complex series of circumstances unique to each person, that make these kinds of events simply impossible for virtually everyone to record in any way at all. The few that make it, the exceptions, prove the rule.
But, if Oscar Wilde was right and “a man’s face is his autobiography,” then many a story can and might yet be told. I am sure, though, that there are millions of faces which will remain undescribed and unillumined by the words of writers and poets, philosophers and academics. The literary critic Paul De Mann asserts that through autobiography one's name is made as intelligible as one’s face. Autobiographical personification represents an imaginary, absent, or deceased person speaking or acting. And long after the face is gone the words will remain. They may remain, though, as the Roman poet Horace once wrote, “unknown and unwept, extinguished in everlasting night,” in the main because they simply have no “spirited chronicler.” And those who own the faces are usually not likely to produce the memoirs that might have given them an earthly immortality. For, as the famous English novelist George Meredith once said, memoirs are like the backstairs of history and few seem to want to describe and give an account of those stairs. Indeed, there is much that one could list as part of those backstairs, extensions of memoirs you might call them: cheque-stubs, grocery lists, a range of financial statements, doctors reports, insurance and government forms, great accummulations of personal documents of various kinds, accummulations which get higher as the years get longer.
Some of these documents and papers would or could be immensely revealing, but virtually all of them, like some vast landscape of gray detritus, will remain condemned to oblivion, to dust and ashes, as if it had never existed at all. Often the best of a person can be found in these gray non-entities, but to pour over them for insights, for statements of a person’s character, for the goings-on of smeone’s life, often results in simply giving attention to the pettiness of their lives and the irrelevance of the multitude of the sources. Teasing sense and nonsense from what is often chaotic and prolix, often trivial even if once important, among the its-and-bits of paper scattered in the personal and archival files of individuals, either before or after their deaths, would test the energies and interests of most would-be researchers should they ever get on the path of some biographical investigation. Naturally, they do not even tread the path or want to tread the path and these details of people’s lives, along with virtually all of the other details that never make it to paper, disappear into oblivion’s vast reaches which know no bounds. The paper remains just so much stuff in old boxes, the last stage on the road to oblivion’s boundless reaches.
Archives, like memoirs, can be both seductress and deceptive mirror of reality. They can falsify and distort the person being studied. They can be both too facile and too ambiguous as a means of entering into any kind of meaningful discourse with, or any detailed analysis of, the person under consideration. In the end, they can often tell very little anyway about the reality of a person’s life. And so they remain, if used at all, as just a pile of dry bones transferred from one graveyard to another. The mere contemplation of such material, for most people, produces a kind of weariness and, so often, a profound sense of irrelevance at the weight and extent of the mountain of paper and memorabilia. And so, if the person’s life had any worth recording in some way, beside a small box/insert on a family tree, there evolves a lamentable but quite understandable neglect and disinterest in the attitude of those living to the vast majority of those who are dead. And their lives slip as close to oblivion as can be and as quickly as possible, as the sands of time cover their lives forever.
Sometimes an account is produced. The first century BC was probably the first century which produced a great stock-pile of resources for a future age. This stock-pile is often referred to as history. Sadly, perhaps predictably, the vast numbers, the great mass of humanity has little or no interest in this stockpile. For the professional ants who deal in Roman history, a small coterie, this archive of knowledge is crucial. Along with this professional enthusiasm which has actually increased during these recent epochs, there prevails an atmosphere of anarchic confusion, apathy and disinterest, in the attitude of western man to this first blossoming, the first eruption, of memoirs and archives, known as part of Roman history. In the end, it seems, there is a fragility in the lives of those who even get around to producing their memoirs.
My diary has largely fallen into disuse in the last several years. Given my comments in previous paragraphs about memoirs it is hardly surprising. When I make a diary entry there is a feeling of dullness and poor writing and, if I am pleased about the entry, I am disinclined to make another and another. So the diary falls into disuse with the rare recrudescence. Making diary entries seems like a type of housecleaning, a getting rid of garbage, a sort of exhibitionism, a running on and to what end? There is an inevitable retrospective gaze in diary keeping, a type of self-confinement in the solipsistic sphere of recent and personal memory. I have always sensed that somehow my diary concealed rather than revealed who I was. My diary felt like what Arendt called "the radical model of the unreliability of every autobiography." Occasionally, if I examine its contents going back as it does more than fifteen years, and in a wider retrospective form for my entire life back into previous generations, I see gleams of light and fascination. I certainly think there is potential there, a potential far from being realized as yet in its first four volumes, a potential for something unique, for some unique contribution to my overall autobiographical opus: Pioneering Over Four Epochs. The retrospective side, the side that goes back to my youth, begun with some enthusiasm several years ago, has yet to really amount to much other than the occasional entry. The fact that I have a diary at all, suggests a desire on my part to tell my story in this particular way but, for the most part, it would appear that this desire for narration must become, what Arendt calls, Sophoclean, biographical, not autobiographical.
There is, it seems, an inevitable fragmentariness to diary keeping and, for some, a philosophical, transcendental, content, somewhat characteristic of the writing that has accompanied drug-taking over the centuries. This is certainly true, at least in part, of my diary writing, although the only drugs I take are for my bi-polar tendency and they slow down my mental activity and its imaginative function not speed it up in colourful directions. Looking back to the beginning of my efforts to write a diary in the early 1980s, I think one of the reasons I turned to poetry and autobiographical narrative was my dissatisfaction with the diary, my diary. Many of my entries are a reflection of my practice of writing down sentences, photocopying pages from what I am reading and eventually including them in a prose-poem, a diary entry, an essay. I found over many years that I integrated this material into genres other than the diary. My method is diaristic in practice. I scrupulously record but the product is not a diary. Indeed, in this work as a whole, I push the envelope--as they say these days--of autobiography as a single genre producing a multi-genre container, a protean instability, that is the nature of this work.
"The best one can hope for," writes Simon Brett in his Faber Book of Diaries, "ís to present an entertaining selection." Selectors would have to eliminate the repetitious, for the diary is traditionally the home of the repetitious and this is true no less of my own occasional reportings. I would hope, though, that selectors might find what Brett calls "serendipitous juxtapositions of material." I hope, too, they would come across some versatility, the variety of roles the diary can fulfil: confessional, apologia, a venting of spleen and a colouring of reality, a bald record of facts and a seesawing of emotions, a chronicle of the aspirations and the disillusionments of time. There is no doubt that the diary provides an experimental canvas for a writer's identity, for his personality. There is so much of what Sallie Munt calls the "visiting self which leans into the experience of others," listens and tries to learn. This thread of "the visiting self" goes back, right back to my first memories. For so much of life involves listening and, as Gore Vidal once said in an interview or one of his historical novels, "one of life's most painful tasks is listening."
Should my diary ever be published I trust readers will not find in its pages the self-righteous, hectoring, frequently insufferable smugness that characterizes so much religious verse and autobiography and is essentially contrary to my temperament. For I am only too conscious that, as Tom Dooley once wrote, so very many people in my life are "like children growing up in an alcoholic household. They're hungry for trust. They want to believe. They want the truth to be out there. But experience has made them too cynical to believe anything." And so, to some extent, as I write these words, I have in my mind's eye, some of those wonderful people I have known in my life, people whose cynicism and skepticism are as thick as a brick. After a lifetime of hearing and experiencing broken promises and unbridgeable gaps between ideals they want to believe and practices they know and see that abound in their families, their body politics and the places where they live, work and have their being, belief even in the breathings of the Revelation that is the Baha’i Faith becomes impossible.
Such people represent the great majority of people I have known in my life and their cynicism and skepticism, their doubts and their incapacity to commit has complex and very real roots. Many of these people have very positive and enthusiastic attitudes to a wide range of personal activities like: gardening, maintaining their home and their family or improving their tennis, their boating or their artistic skills and they were usually intensely pleasure-loving people. But to expect them to sign on the dotted line, to make a commitment to a religious organization like the Bahá'í Faith, was a completely unrealistic expectation on my part. This I was soon to learn and to learn insensibly by degrees in the nineteen sixties. It was an expectation that became more realistic, more tempered, adjusted to the realities of the western culture I lived, moved and had my being in for half a century by the time I wrote these words. So many seemed to get their meaning systems topped up by the print and electronic media and its secular and spiritual humanism, by a belief in nature or an enthusaism for one or a number of life’s activities. The Baha’i Faith became just one more of literally dozens of claimants to a pluralistic spiritual throne in western society.
Going back to the start of the Heroic Age, as I do in that first volume of my journal, was an imaginative thrust, but whether it will yield much of an autobiographical nature, yield much of value for this journal, this diary, only time will tell. My idea, my plan, in my first volume, was to recreate the years before 1987, the year I began making regular and periodic entries into the journal. I have added some photographs going as far back as 1908 and a brief sketch of my family history going back to 1844. But there is little flesh on the bones of this long era and its several epochs and stages: 1844-1921, 1921-1944, 1944-1962 and 1962-1987. It is my hope that in the years of my late adulthood and old age I may take advantage of this diary-form and add some detail, some comments perhaps on the many moments in le monument psychoanalytique of my life. But, as anyone following my poetry or my autobiography will realise, much of what I want to say is being said in my poetry and my narrative. And it may remain so for, immersed as I am in the naturally spontaneous auto-narration of memory(as we all are), self makes its home in this familiar place. I become, through my story, what I already was. And I seem to go through this process much more comprehensively, effectively and efficiently, through genres other than the diary or journal. I both discover and create myself more clearly, more usefully, in my poetry and narrative, even in my letters and essays. If, as M. Brodie writes, “autobiography is likely to mirror less what a man was than what he has become,” then perhaps the diary has its place.
A SHORT ESSAY
Here is a short essay I wrote introducing that retrospective part of my journal from 1971 to 1987. I wrote it on several occasions from 1996 to 2008.
"The value to future historians of this resource, a lengthy manuscript divided into many pieces, the episodes of a journal, from a pioneer during the second, third and fourth epochs, is difficult to assess, caught-up as I am somewhere, perhaps, near the middle of the experience. Only time will test the usefulness of all that I have put together illustrating as it does the complex relationship between a human being, his life-story and the society in which that story takes place. This is an intimate construction of a self that narrates his self to himself and to others who will one day read the story, for this story, this writing, is all I will leave behind, however real or artificial the text is. In some ways, as Carolyn Heilbrun puts it, "we live our lives through texts." An autobiography, it can be said, swallows up my life in a monolithic statement. I try to counter this reality as best I can. I try to provide a multi-vocal account. For in whatever way I write my story, there is always so much more and so many other ways of telling the story. Perhaps Cavarero is right when she says that "autobiography does not properly respond to the question 'who am I?" It can’t, at best only in part.
“If there has been any tendency for this to occur in the world of Bahá'í manuscripts, the great mass of letters that all Bahá'í communities have begun to collect in their archives in the last several decades since the growth, the flowering of Bahá'í administration in the 1950s and 1960s, and, indeed, this is a possibility, perhaps what is found in introspective works like those cited above, autobiographies like this and journals and collections of letters like my own, will compensate, counter, any tendency to opacity. With the decline in letter writing on the part of a good many of the people of this age and with the tendency of many of the existing letters to be 'official' and 'concerned with business and policy,' there is often little that has 'personal' value. The email, of course, has arisen in the last decade and it seems to represent a renaissance in letter writing.
“Given the plethora of written communication from Baha’i institutions, especially as these four epochs have advanced insensibly during my life, communication which has what you might call 'an opaque, institutional,' quality; given the disinclination of most of the people I have ever met in the Cause to write the story of their experiences, what is here may enrich the archives for a future person examining the first century of the Formative Age(1921-2021). We shall see. Certainly this new world religion became, by my late adolesence and early adulthood, the central preoccupation of my life. Through its paradigms and sifting mechanisms I explore the major issues of life and, in this autobiography, I report what I have found through what is my "letter to the world." For me, this diary, represents a very small part of this letter. Much more is found, as I have said before, in my poetry which is the quintessence of my autobiography.
“This section of my journal, 1971 to 1987, has been written in retrospect, since I did not begin to keep a journal even on rare occasions until 1984, when I was aged 39, some twenty-five years after beginning my Bahá'í experience. It is an exercise that has, as yet, not yielded much fruit. Perhaps the years ahead will be more successful. In 1971 I arrived in Australia aged 27 and by 1984 I had been living north of Capricorn for eighteen months. During those years I remarried, had one child, took care of two step-children, enjoyed an interesting career as a teacher and lived in four states and territories of Australia; indeed, my autobiographical narrative and my poetry tell a great deal about this period.
“The prospective side of these journals has also received only the occasional visit in recent years. And, if this pattern continues, it may be that this volume, Volume 4, becomes, in the end, my last volume. This will certainly be the case unless I feel moved to add more than I have in the last several years. I am only too aware that, although I can produce what might be called an autobiographical self, a self-portrait of sorts, in these pages, I am unable to reproduce a real self which reflects a continuous inner truth and shares the beauty and ugliness of life. There is some of what you might call my attempt to record what the Puritans and Pietists might have called my ‘progress in piety.’ There is little of that diversity of material that Leonardo da Vinci kept in his celebrated diary. There is little of the recorded conversations and sexual exploits that James Boswell recorded in his memorable diaries. I do not preserve with any taste for this restricted form of exhibitionism, a chronicle of my days and my little adventures. The meticulous care and enviable precision that has characterized many thousands of diaries in the last two centuries I can also find, but only on rare occasions, it seems. The congenial habit of writing which enriched the modicum of leisure I enjoyed for many years and which I now enjoy for great quantities of time I reserve for the most part for my poetry. I have been faithful, assiduous, to my silent friend. But that friend is not the journal, except on the rarest of the rare occasions. Perhaps it is because I see the exercise somewhat as Daphne DuMaurier once saw it: “self-indulgent.” Or perhaps I see it to some extent, as Quentin Crisp did, “an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing.”
“Factors that are involved in the growth of people are exceedingly elusive and I don't seem to be able to deal with them as well in my diary as in poetry. It seems just too difficult to make entries on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. After nearly twenty years of thinking about it and making occasional entries, there is little evidence that the diary is going to be a fertile field for this autobiography. I have a good deal of company in this regard for many people have a similar problem. And many others who are able to diarize with regularity gather up endless piles of trivia, dreamy adolescent fantasies and egotistical meanderings. For others, too, the diary was their conversation, their society, their companion and their confidant. Perhaps mine may function in this way at some future time in the later evening of my life.
“A description of a life without secrets, and without privacy” wrote Boris Pasternak, describing only the life that is on display in society in its different forms like in some show window is "simply inconceivable,” he concluded. For many the diary has been the target of affection, of sensual infatuation; indeed, some seem to have virtually lived for their diary. For it was here that the secrets of life were revealed in all their boldness and honesty. The famous Russian diarist Marie Bashkirtseff was such a person. This talented and ambitious woman lived in and for her diary. Perhaps this is because the process begins with a sense of being alone. It is an orphan form.
“I can appreciate this sentiment of living for writing, but for me it is not in the diary. It is in a different genre. Pasternak was not inclined, and neither am I, to write about the smallest impulses, the most trivial details of everyday life in his dairy or anywhere else. This excessive, indeed, entire occupation with everyday stuff, is the lifeblood of most diaries that I have tried to read and read about. The diary of Thomas Mann was of this sort. For me, privacy is essentially the life of the mind. That is what is found in my diary, my journals, when time and the inclination combine to allow me to make some entry. And there is so little there, thusfar. The maelstrom of my life, it must be said, is found elsewhere: not in my diary. And the maelstrom that I write of is largely an intellectual one, a life of ideas, of the wider world and of relationships. And I deal with that in this book, this narrative, little by little, page after page--with a moderate confessionalism. In this I do not follow the advice of US author Evelyn Waugh who advised me not to write my opinions about life and art and especially about myself. He suggested that I just “give the relevant facts” and let readers make their own judgements. Nor do I follow the advice of T.S. Eliot who once said of Henry James that 'He had a mind so fine no idea could violate it.' If that is the ultimate compliment for an author, this work would not receive it. This narrative is soaked with ideas.
“Readers will find disclosed in what I do write in my journal an active emotional investment in sympathetic and silent introspection, in pent-up feelings and unrealized wishes. They will find, I trust, a balance between emotional excess and reserve, between effusions of hope and self-esteem and self-critical comments and feelings of despair. I like to see in the little diary that I have thusfar kept: frankness not familiarity, emotional honesty not sentimentality, a moderate vitality of feeling not repression nor abandon. That’s how I’d like to see my various entries; I leave it to readers to make their own particular assessments.
“These were some of my thoughts in the early stages of Volume 4(2000-2004) of my journal. I may come back to these thoughts, these words, at a future time to make some more detailed comments as I expand on this introduction to this fourth volume, but for now these words will suffice. The canvas on which I have sketched my self-portrait and my portrait of these epochs has expanded with the years but that canvas has yet to include the diary as a source of paint and colour to any significant extent.
“For most diarists, it would appear, the diary is not essentially a reflective instrument. Like the Earl of Cadogan, most diarists regard day to day or even periodic self-examination in the form of a diary as a waste of time. The recapture of atmosphere or even evocative descriptions, purely topographical reporting, are for most practitioners of this historic art not part of its essential purpose. The diary is a place for matter-of-fact material to the point of banality. So, in the end, one gets a corner of a person's life: weather, a practical grip on the essentials of daily life. Sometimes the person revealed in the diary is the antithesis of the person people meet in life. The result is that most diaries are really of value only to the study of history and then the history of the quotidian, the everyday life. In life and in diaries there are many houses in which we dwell: the house of food, family, landscape, flora and fauna, friendships, job, hobbies, interests. There are central facts at the core of people's diaries: pain and pleasure, failure and success, commitment and dalliance, ability and inadequacy, crime and punishment, inter alia. Another central fact that appears from time to time in this narrative is my meditation on how my surroundings have shaped my life and how I in turn give form and meaning to them. I don’t think I do a particularly good job of describing the human background around my life: family, friends, Baha’is, teachers, academics, work colleagues, neighbours, students, childhood and adolescent companions, important/significant people. At l east I do not feel I acheive the depth that these various individuals and groups deserve but, alas, one can only do so much in 800 pages. Some autobiographers deal with this issue by focusing on the stages in a person’s life and the kind of person that existed in each stage.
“Your average reader would just never get near a diary and, if he did, he'd drop it soon enough after a boring tour of dairy trivia. For a diary is not a novel or a biography, a colourful magazine or a human interest story in the daily paper. For the student of history, of course, the diary represents a house of possibility: military diaries, travel diaries, fictional diaries, intimate reminiscences by all sorts of people, reflect the inner movement of a human life, successive cycles of self, spontaneous accounts suited to the temperaments of their writers, spontaneous accounts that reflect human temperament. For the psychoanalyst the diary can often tell much about a person's inner life, their emotional investments, their capacities, their talents and their weaknesses, their joys and tragedies, their sexual bewilderments and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Sometimes our psychopathology is friendly to our creativity; the disturbance is productive. This is often true of writers and it is certainly true of me. The journey from psychopathology to creative writing, though, is a complex one to describe and I shall not pursue that road here.
“Some diarists put their most intimate secrets into print and then, like Evelyn Waugh, have to destroy the contents. Waugh refers to his 'quite incredibly depraved' morality, his undergraduate homosexual experiences. Occasionally I put some of my own 'intimate-dark-secrets' on paper but I don't insert them in my diary, at least not many of them. The sense of shame, Bahá'u'lláh says, is confined to a few, but Rosamund Dalziell in her book Shameful Autobiographies discusses how shame shapes us all. I may not reveal many of my dark secrets and the few I do reveal may lead others to a confrontation of shame in themselves. Certainly to Dalziell shame is the driving force in many Australian autobiographies. My own presentation and representation of shame in my life is important; I would agree with Dalziell here. But, as she continues, shame seeks concealment. It is central to problems of identity. The autobiographical confrontation with shame can and does heal deep wounds, as Dalziell argues. In my own case, I have found the exercise of writing this narrative one of increased understanding, part of that general literary attitude of 'how do I know what I think until I see what I've said.' This aphorism applies as much to my dark secrets as it does to my general life.
“Hermann Kesten, in his introduction to the diaries of Thomas Mann,informs us that Mann's interest in himself was based on his desire to know others better. His penetrating interest in himself helped him portray others more convincingly. Many of his diaries he burned because he wanted to get rid of that part of his past which was "a mass of secret, very secret, writings lying around." Although secret, although intimate, he felt they were the most human of what he had written, all-too-human. I have very little in this category, although there are some things I have written about or experienced that I would not leave lying around in a diary should I decide to describe them in intimate detail. Neither do I feel the same way that Mann did about what to put into a diary. Mann wrote that:
I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of rereading and remembering than for taking back, reviewing, maintaining awareness achieving perspective.
“I achieve these things through my poetry, although I do not attempt to capture each day, as Mann does. If I felt the way Mann did there would be more in this diary for a future age. Whatever degree of self-revelation and self-description I want to achieve is, for me, best achieved through poetry. Mann's extant diaries came to occupy a great bulk. The banality, the indiscriminate agglomeration of everyday detail, the constant repetition of physical and psychological detail and everyday happenings, what for Mann was the photograph of a life, is impossible for me to record. It simply seems pointless and, more importantly, it is largely painful to record this quotidian reality. It is not that the daily life itself is painful, far from it. But the process of writing about it for the consumption by a coterie or a mass seems totally irrelevant. I am not trying to fill in a vaccuum of loneliness or a great store of unoccupied hours. I have been occupied for years with quite intense relationships and the solitude of these years now in late middle age is a blessing. I fill in the spaces of this blessing with writing about three large and sweeping concepts: my religion, my society and myself.
“I want to live my life and I also want to write about it. Most people seem to have little to no interest in writing in general and writing about their lives in particular. The physical act of making the kind of recordings found in most diaries is actually psychologically quite uncomfortable for me; recording mundane material, however insightfully written down, is simply beyond me, beyond my desires. The surface of life acts as a stimulus, but I am more interested in what is below the surface. It is not the events of my life that I find fascinating but their interpretation. My energetic temperament, my varied activity over so many years serves as a backdrop for the real life, the inner life. The circumstances of my life could have quite easily ended in failure due to ill-health or unemployment; or in the kind of career success that would have prevented me from ever putting pen to paper. But through a mysterious and not-so-mysterious set of circumstances I was able, by my mid-fifties, to devote a very substantial amount of my time to intellectual pursuits. In the years 1999 to 2004, for example, I could work an average of six hours a day, inspite of the hectic and hurrying pace of modern technological society. Often, especially in my lower moments, I could not help agree with the sentiments of Franz Kafka who wrote that "In the fight between you and the world, bet on the world." Without a group ethos, without agreement on a plan, a way, a set of principles, there is no way the lone individual could do this alone, achieve what I wanted the world to achieve.
“Perhaps part of the reason for my discomfort in writing about the quotidian is an attitude similar to that of the twentieth century writer and philosopher H.L. Mencken who wrote that "in the end every man of my limited capacities must be forgotten utterly. The best he can hope for is a transient and temporary postponement of the inevitable." Like myself, Mencken spent endless hours writing; writing absorbed him, as it does me. These words of Mencken struck a chord of familiarity with my sensory equipment. It is said that within two and, at the most, three generations, there will be no one on earth who will even remember I have been here, unless I create something or something is written down about me of some note. I feel the way Mencken did about so much of what has been my life. Perhaps, too, and much more basically, we simply cannot know our own life. As Hannah Arendt might add, "only those of others," only others, as I've said above, may be able to tell our story and reveal our identity. Still, Bahá'u'lláh says we should look within and find Him standing within us "mighty, powerful and self-subsisting." For the qualities, the talents, the abilities, we possess are, indeed, a gift. They are all gifts. They are not "us." They are "gifts." It is these gifts that we expose to the gaze of others, to the world of appearances, the world of corporate materiality and its perceptible concreteness, its sensed reality, its embodied uniqueness. They are difficult for us to see; they seem hidden and when I go to write of them in my diary they seem banal, empty, hardly visible. In the interactive exhibition of life which Bahá'ís call 'the Bahá'í community,' among other names, we strive to know what is significantly unknowable, unmasterable, invisible.
Still there is the impulse to self-revelation, to action. For action is, as Hegel once wrote, "the clearest illumination of the individual." The heightened impulse to self-revelation can result in great deeds but the meaning of those deeds is not in the story which follows. The story saves the deeds from oblivion; it immortalizes them. For actions are fragile things: they appear, are consumed and are gone. But the poet and the historian save them, interlace them, recount what has happened in the shared space of appearances and, when I am gone, this story will be left. But little of it will be in this diary. This protagonist will be found elsewhere. The protagonist of this narrated story, this agent of a life of action, leaves behind his story. My story is not one of wild animation or of an especially vital energy. My energy is on the whole quietly expressed. There is no bold and vivid dance to lift the reader into a world of fame and celebrity. But the reality, the origin, of the story is the thought and the action that took place in this world of appearances. The story is a series of events not a text, not words on paper. It is an irrefutable aspect of my life not so much in terms of a guarantee of a post mortem fame, but in terms of something unrepeatably unique.
“The American poet William Carlos Williams put the transient insignificance of this life more succinctly in the foreword to his autobiography:
"Nine-tenths of our lives is well forgotten in the living. Of the part that is remembered, the most had better not be told; it would interest no one, or at least would not contribute to the story of what we ourselves have been. A thin thread of narrative remains, a few hundred pages, about which clusters, like rock candy, the interests upon which the general reader will spend a few hours. The hidden core of my life will not be easily deciphered." So...here are a few hundred pages of a thin thread of narrative, my rock-candy.
“I do not assume there is going to be a coterie of souls hanging onto my very words, those words about my life which have aspects which are difficult to decipher. But if a coterie does arise to trumpet this Cause and my words, if that does happen and my words are of benefit to people at a future time, that is well and good. If not, let these words become dust and ashes. Within two or is it three generations anyone who actually knew me will have died. This is true of all of us, as I have indicated before. The vast majority of humankind have been nameless and traceless. Time will tell if these words of mine will live on, if the vicissitudes of my odyssey in this external world or the battles of my inner consciousness will find any degree of immortality.
“Virginia Woolf describes the essays about self written by the philosopher Montaigne. His diary was the essay. He told the truth about himself, and invented and reinvented himself in a series of essays. This was in about 1580. In the end, writes Woolf, "his book was himself." For me, my book is my poetry and to a lesser extent my essays, my interviews, my diary or journal, my letters, my efforts at writing a novel, my notes on various subjects and finally my autobiographical narrative. My self is articulated in and by historical particulars which this diary seems unable to provide. The forensics of remembrance are part of what has become a bewildering quantity of autobiographical material and the diary is only a small part of that material. I kept no diary, except a small retrospective edition as I indicated above, until I was in my forties. What happened to me and my society in the years 1944 to 1984 or to 2004, then, can best be found in other genres of history and literature, psychology and sociology, the print and electronic media, not in any diary for these years, except for a few miniscule and sometimes not-so-miniscule entries.
Readers may not find much of the quotidian here, but they will find pieces of my political and social philosophy, my religious views and some of my sociological and psychological orientations. There may be none of the partisan political, party programs, sectarian and factional interests and their clamorous and contending interests, but there is much of the political in the sense described by that historian of ideas Michael Oakeshott. "The whole impetus of the enterprise" of political philosophy, Oakeshott stated in his introduction to a 1947 edition of Hobbes' Leviathan:
"....is the perception that what really exists is a single world of ideas, which comes to us divided by the abstracting forces of circumstance; is the perception that our political ideas and what we may call the rest of our ideas are not in fact two independent worlds, and that though they may come to us as separate text and context, the meaning lies, as it always must lie, in a unity in which the separate existence of text and context is resolved."
Such is some of my own political philosophy expressed through the mouth of a prominent twentieth century thinker. I juxtapose this snippet of philosophy with some of my experiences as a teacher from the 1970s to 1990s. Many of my male students in high school and in post-secondary colleges were fascinated by motor-bikes and the outlaw biker motor cycle movies, beginning with the Wild One in 1953 and ending in the early 1970s, chopper-operas as one reviewer called them. Such media material may provide these students, these bikie-enthusiasts with a greater connection with the fifties and sixties than reading this autobiography and going with me on the several backward glances I take at these years. If it is history and general and detailed social comment on my early decades in society(say 1944-1964) that readers want they are probably best advised to go elsewhere. I provide some, but not enough to satisfy and appease the hunger. The potential of the diary, too, at least for me, I just have not been able to exploit.
“I write to transport myself, to approach the ineffable and there, on the rarest occasions, I tremble and cry. There is a happiness which is paradisiacal, silent and just but impossible to share. I have yet to come close to this sort of experience while making entries in my diary. Sometimes a diary or journal can help describe the spiritual path. Even with all the guidance and illumination of a particular spiritual path, the process, the factors involved in personal growth seem exceedingly elusive. After more than forty years as a Baha’i and a Bahá'í on the journey of a pioneer I am faced with an intangible growth process that has gone on over the years. Active germination of this process often takes place, so the Baha’i writings emphasize, at the low end of a seemingly negative phase of a psychological cycle, that is, during calamities and crises: the tests.
“This autobiography is an attempt to establish a personal relation with this elusive phenomenon of growth, this subtle movement and the changes in my life. It is an attempt to establish an instrument capable of drawing together the contents of my life and to compress then into a manageable space. This may allow me, hopefully, to put the change process, the quality of movement, of my life under the microscope. It is the closest I can get, with the other several genres of my writing, to intimate documentation of a full life, or nearly full, within the protective and nurturing wings of this new world religion.
Readers will get neither a bittersweet tale of a charmed lamplit past, nor a narrative that is a dark figure of loss, fragmentation and loneliness. Rather, they will get a poem revised and revised and revised. They will also get a diary sketchy and limited. They will get thousands of letters, ten attempts at a novel, perhaps 300 essays and over 150 binders and files of notes on unnumbered topics. Some, if not much, of this material was written hastily; some of it is superficial. The haste and the superficiality is partly due to the vast quantities of print that became available during these epochs and the virtual impossibility of achieving what 'Abdu'l-Bahá called "the necessary qualification of comprehensive knowledge." The sheer speed of the age and its postmodern quality, a quality and a word which came into western vocabulary for the first time in the 1950s and 1960s, define speed and superficiality as inevitable features of life in the years of this pioneering venture. But whatever the conception of this work, it is conceived in terms of an imaginative migration of the spirit, a migration that tries to capture half a century of experience with an emerging new religion.
“This autobiographical work is indeed an instrument capable of mirroring the inner process of the psyche. A diary can be even more helpful in this direction, but it would appear not to be helpful yet as I approach the years of late adulthood. The diary is loose and unstructured, spontaneous and a reflection of my particular temperament. It reflects the inner movement of life in ways not-yet-suited to my particular ways of writing; hence the absense of any significant degree of continuity and structure. Hence, too, there is little of it available to readers. But autobiography in the wider sense of life-writing, with continuity and structure, readers will find here aplenty.
"The road is before us!" Walt Whitman proclaims in “Song of the Open Road,” asking us to drop everything in an endless journey on: "The long brown path before (us) leading wherever (we) choose.” Whitman’s poem, in fact, all of his work establishes the model for an American attitude toward travel. It is an attitude that is not oriented around an end to be gained, but a never-ending movement, expansive, restless, and difficult. It was an attitude I observed a great deal in the decades of this study. My life echoed some of this attitude raising to a certain extent the specter of endless autobiography but, for the most part, my work was goal directed and expansive only within a context. Although I felt I could go on refining this work of autobiography, I also felt I could not keep writing endlessly beyond the 800 pages that it had become.
"In Paul Bowles' 1949 novel, The Sheltering Sky, considered by some to be one of the great accomplishments in fiction of the first years of my life, is a novel that transfixes readers with its presentation of a bleak landscape and the gradual swallowing of its characters into death and cultural strangeness. Bowles chose the title Without Stopping for his autobiography. It’s a title that indicates that he never arrives and never returns and that he engages in a continuous passage. He seems to echo his maternal grandfather who “never slept twice in the same town” during his own years of travel. Bowles scarcely seems to pause, though those pauses can be months, even years, long. That continuous passage, a characteristic he largely shares with other writers like Henry Miller, allows us to see the three characteristics of passage: danger, trance, and failure, in all of his travel. Incessant movement through incessant dangers, in a dream-like trance, and becoming lost to the activities of home are the themes of much of Bowles’ writing.
"Bowles’ actual method of composing is one that literary historians can better discuss. Like most autobiographers Bowles himself is uninterested in the factual; his autobiography is an autobiogony, a creation of the self. What he creates is a self who writes in a manner essentially connected to passage, without stopping. He must write without reference points, without the conscious, by allowing random events to hold the pen and by opening the doors of the unconscious by whatever means he can including cananabis. Only the unconscious can write about death, he says; in fact, in passage, even a passage lasting decades, any activity must be a death, a rupturing of the usual, the accomplished, a rupturing of home. The unconscious can write about death because the unconscious is death. While I give much more importance to the conscious, the rational faculty, I try to open doors of perception by means of prayer, meditation, study and the cultural attainments of the mind. There is certainly the feeling of no stopping, except of course, for sleep and those meditative moments. There is also the feeling of creating myself, of autobiogony.
“My autobiography is, for me, a single instrument, a single form, far from succinct, spread over several genres, and it reconstructs the range and movement of my life, aspects of the religion I have believed in and features of the society I have lived in. It is encompassing and open-ended. My version of reality is conveyed here among these millions of words. Generally my work is more therapeutic than confessional. My silent past is recreated. I reenact the drama of my life. I have a springboard to dive into the past and the rest of my life. I reread my past and create, in subtle and difficult to define ways, my future. But, thusfar, I seem to achieve these goals more happily through poetry than diary. I insert much of what I have to say at a juncture of history and psychology, history and memory, psychohistory and autobiography. Much, if not most, of history I do not include. History presents evidence of great change and discovery, but it also presents us, as Alexander Herzen noted, with “the autobiography of a madman.” So it appears from some perspectives.
Some diarists, like Evelyn Waugh, have a taste for exaggeration and fantasy. Indeed, exaggeration appears to be a major problem in autobiography generally. Perhaps this is because, as Oscar Wilde once wrote: "Where there is no exaggeration there is no love, and where there is no love there is no understanding. It is only about things that do not interest one, that one can give a really unbiased opinion; and this is no doubt the reason why an unbiased opinion is always valueless." I think Wilde is a little over the top here, but his words exhibit a clever turn of phrase containing some truth.
The diarist, on considering publication, must cut out libellous or offensive passages. There is a need to protect the privacy and reputation of the diarist. No future publisher will have that problem with the little there is in my diary entries. If excisions are to be made it will be to protect readers from boredom. A cautious abbreviation here and there would be, the removal of phrases and sentences, I would think, would be a wise editorial move. I have tried to avoid ample and excessive accounts of various activities in my diary entries. Repetition has been limited but is, inevitably, unavoidable. Any records of social engagements, indeed, anything of a trivial nature that would weary a reader, or myself in conveying the anecdote, is best left out and, for the most part, this is what I do. Ultimately, autobiography, as Samuel Goldwyn once said, is best written after one is dead.
Nietzsche once said that three anecdotes were enough to describe a man perfectly, to illustrate the truth of a person's life, especially those who love privacy and solitude. If this were true then certainly this diary will reveal three anecdotes, but I am inclined to think that much more is required and, even then, the entity, the man, remains somewhat elusive. An autobiography like this needs to have shape. Life, it is often said, has none. If this is true then it explains the problems autobiographers have in giving it shape.
“One of the reasons that my narrative autobiography insensibly was replaced by poetic autobiography after 1993--and then integrated into that narrative-- was that, as Maurice Blanchot writes, “the phenomenon of recall, the metamorphosis it heralds in the transmutation of the past into the present, the impression that a door has just opened onto a peculiar realm of the imagination” was a more frequent occurrence when I wrote poetry. Writing poetry, among other things, revived such moments of the past and was a response to a very basic inspiration. The imagination takes possession of what is basic in my life during the act of writing poetry. Truth palpitates, at least occasionally, at these moments of writing. These rare moments, which have been occurring on average once or twice a day for the last ten years, are secret centres where time is reborn from its own ashes in mysterious flashes of luminosity and timelessness, freed from its own tyranny. But these occurrences are not confined to the experience of that day and so 'diary' seems an inappropriate vehicle for these processes I have just described. These occurrences are also not so much determinants of my present memory, although one can't deny past events, as it is my adult personality that determines what I remember and how; it is also social organization and interpersonal context which gives a "persistent framework into which all detailed recall must fit." Maurice Halbwachs argues all our memories are collective except dreams and, he concludes, "we are never alone."
“The reimagining, the reimaging of my past and the world's, of at least some elements of it and the present--the act of autobiography--is expressed for me at the threshold of various genres. One of the essential difficulties writers, and especially autobiographers, have is that they are several people, several personalities, in one. There are the developmental personalities, the people they are at different stages of their life. There are the personalities they are as a result of the several roles they have at any one time in their lives. In addition, there are the opinions that others have of them and these often range from the sublime to the ridiculous. The autobiographer is caught at the centre of a web of contradictory voices. It is impossible to avoid some confusion in this jungle of options, variations and differences. In the midst of this confusion is found my voice, an indulgent, digressive first-person voice which follows the lure of my thoughts and meditations among the currents, pools and eddies of fact and metaphor. I'm sure some readers will occasionally want to tap me on the shoulder and say, "hey, man, get on with the story."
Some autobiographers, some diarists, what they write is a description of the constant war they fight with these conflicting selves. My own life has sometimes been a war, sometimes a battle, sometimes a game, sometimes a laugh, sometimes a search for pleasure, for meaning, for entertainment. In some ways the fight, the inner war is, as Robert Owen once wrote, dulce et decorum est. In other ways it possesses a fatigue the aches one's very bones. The poet William Blake puts this fight in a context which has both a degree of romance and a degree of truth and so I quote it here:
I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
And, I should add, "In Australia's dry dog biscuit of a land" and "In Canada's frozen wastes and icy stands." The infusion of the practical as a result of years of being a classroom teacher, of attending Assembly meetings dealing as they always do with people in everyday situations, of being in a marriage and raising children all tend to give a texture of reality to what I write, if not to my readers at least to myself. This immersion in the practical made me quite conscious that I could never claim to be a great man or an outstanding citizen(whoever could make such a claim, anyway?), but it just might help to make what I write significant. For what I write about is within the context of a Movement with a great future. Any greatness I achieve will be due to my association with this Movement. But I shall have to leave this decision, the relevance of what I write, to history. I shall never know. It seems pretentious to even consider the question.
The process and the content that the autobiographer and especially the diarist is engaged in, is often trivial, sometimes disturbing, part of an apocalyptic age and I think one of the greatest possible consciousness-altering activities available. But this activity is not, at least for me, part of my writing in my diary. Reminiscing takes a richer form, for me, elsewhere. Autobiographical introspection finds a happier, deeper, home in other places. If great memoirs are the result of style, in the main, readers must look elsewhere. But wherever one looks, like Samuel Johnson, my writings teem with self-references, with efforts to be acquainted with myself, with some moral analysis of my psychological predicaments, with what one could call my spiritual autobiography.
Autobiographical truth is not a fixed but an evolving content in an intricate process of self-discovery and self-creation. The self at the centre of all autobiographical narrative is the product of a partly fictive structure and process. It is shaped by the needs of the present: memory and imagination come to these needs like a bee to a honey pot. For this reason, in part, an autobiographer like Ghandi saw a hollowness in his pretensions. For this reason, too, autobiographers spar with their readers and potential judges, as Erikson notes, “at least between the lines.” Thusfar my sparing is largely on pages outside my diary. The changes, surprises and shifting ground of life and self, which spar with an inner man and an outer world, will be found in a thousand other places.
“The fate of ideas living against the grain,” writes William Carlos Williams “have always held me breathless.” So wrote Williams at the age of sixty-eight after what he called “a more or less uneventful existence.” So much of the day to day scene falls into this uneventful category; although it may be eventful in the daily run of life it is difficult to see the event and write about it as an event of some significance, some note, something worthy of recording for posterity. What is meaningful is so often an inner event, an inner journey. The external voyage is usually so common as to end in a tedious repetition should the writer decide to put the event on paper. "I can't seem to get beyond a somewhat superficial discussion of what's going on," is a common complaint. And it is a complaint that I voiced as well, especially in the first twenty years of this autobiographical exercise. But, once the writer gets behind the literal and into the figurative aspects of the external voyage, of voyaging, what Philip Edwards calls "The Metaphorical Voyage," a new, a whole, world opens. This 'voyage metaphor' can be seen in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh all the way back to Homer in the western intellectual tradition.
As a pioneer of a new idea, a new message, I would like to think that I have made some small contribution to the ever-advancing civilization that is enshrined in the Baha’i conception and philosophy of history. I would like to think, on balance, too, that there has been a personal accretion of virtue but that is difficult to quantify and evaluate. Something, though, has grown in the soil of my heart and mind and I see it in what I write on the page. It could be discussed in my diary, but I seem to prefer poetry for this discussion. There is a great virtue in both solitude and in the community activity of helping to lay the foundations of this new Order of Baha’u’llah. The relationship between this solitude, this isolation, this contribution to the new Order and “the days of blissful joy” off in some future place and which Bahá'u'lláh describes as pertaining to the afterlife are impossible to describe.
There is here, though, in this autobiography what the Australian writer Donald Horne says autobiography can do quite well: handle the complex development of a particular person's intellectual ideas. I think my diary helps a little here toward that end. And the end, in this regard, is achieved via a circuitous route, unsystematically, in an enigmatic process that is difficult even for this author to understand.
Another possibly useful embellishment to this autobiography are the some fifty to sixty files, arch-lever and two-ring binders, on such subjects as: ancient history, history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, media studies, personal writing, post-graduate studies, literature, poetry, Baha’i files, writing, autobiography and biography, miscellaneous, letters, et cetera. I can’t imagine anyone keeping this material, although it provides insights into my spiritual pilgrimage and into my reading, an activity which has given many of my days a solidity and value that was invaluable. It is a type of diary, a type of academic journal. I will not try to summarize this vast collection of material here but, when and if this autobiography comes to see the light of day, I would like to emphasize that the absence of this body of notebooks, if absent it becomes, would be a loss in the overall understanding of a life, my life. There is simply too much of this type of material to keep in the event of my demise given that I possess neither name, nor fame nor rank but, perhaps a list of the titles of the files and binders would be useful:
SECTION E.6: 2003-2004 A. Entries:
I have just spent a day in bed after 7 days(25/12-31/12) of much talking and listening.(about 24 hours worth). While in bed I thought of making an addition to this journal about all this talking and listening and about the patterns in a lifetime of the days of sickness. When one talks and listens for some 24 hours there is a great deal one could enter into a diary for so much is said. If I were a Thomas Mann I would try to capture each passing day in all its "impressions and content."(See his Diaries 1918-1939: Hermann Kersten, Forward) Diary keeping would be "a prayer-like communion." Self-revelation and self-exposure were his creative impulses. Not so with me. The idea of writing about 15 hours of conversations with relatives, and another nine with friends, Bahá'ís and associations fills me with a sense of fatigue.
Mann felt his revelations were rare; in these days when the mood and spirit of self-exposure is more extensive, such an approach would not be rare. Indeed, for me, it would be insufferable. What I said to whom and why and what they said to me and why and what the whole thing means is simply outside the framework of my desires.
Their supreme banality would produce a diary without "literary value." There is, though, "a background of historical upheaval"(idem) and forces of integration against which al of this takes on some significance. Alas I do not have the insight and energy, inclination and desire to pursue what meaning and significance this great mass of verbalizing and listening has in the scheme of things.
In early to mid-childhood I had many illnesses(1944 to 1953). In the next 50 years I tended to be ill with flu/colds/viruses, etc. an average of twice a year from 1 to 3 days each. Since I never kept any data on this subject, this is a guesstimation. In the last 20 years of my working life(1979-1999) I tended to be very healthy and not absent from work hardly at all......this is my second Journal entry in 19 or 16 months, depending on how one defines an entry. Given that fact I will make this section to cover two years: 2003-2004.
Today, after two days of recovering from some flu/virus/bug of some kind and 20 hours of chin-wagging--and yet another four hours worth of the movement of the chin last night due to a visit of a local contact and a phone call from a contact from Perth, I felt like making an entry of a medical nature. There will be no medical reports in this corpus of autobiography and my comments about my bi-polar illness and statements like the one which follows will serve whatever use they have.
27 October 1997
After five months of no journal entries and only seven entries in the last twelve months, my reading of Alex Aronson's Studies in Twentieth-Century Diaries: The Concealed Self(The Edwin Mellen Press, Queenston, Ontario, 1991) has inspired this entry. It is an entry that may take more the form of an essay than an experience.
Aronson says that events that were once tedious, banal, quotidian undergo a transformation, sometimes becoming precious and rare, a newly discovered reality. If this journal ever gets published I trust such a transformation will occur. Perhaps it is the other way around, if it becomes a new reality, then it will be published. May it be therapeutic, cathartic, releasing as it saves my experience from oblivion.
The longer I pursue this autobiography in its many genres, the more they are all blending into one organic whole. I would think it could be organized chronologically or by genre and chronologically within the genre. My aliveness is increased by all this writing; my solitude finds its natural home, its place through this writing. A journal is a "kindly blankfaced confidante" says Virginia Woolf; it is a close relationship without having to do any listening, without having to explain yourself to someone else, only to yourself. It is a place of tranquillity. There is an inescapable duty to observe oneself; I use poetry for this, rather than journal, now.
There is an unceasing introspection involved in journal entry. If I was to focus on one theme that has been plaguing me the last several years it would be: the tension between the metropolitan Bahá'í community and my self. I am so tired of thinking of the theme I have no desire to write about it...I am too tired to write any more now...bedtime beckons....I shall continue, God willing, tomorrow....
I have come to acquire an inexplicable distaste for hearing and uttering words like: teaching, deepening, institute, fireside, LSA, Feast. It is like an endless talkfest, round-and-round, seeming to go nowhere. A lifetime spent being a spreader of the fragrances with virtually no response. I feel like going to a retirement village for Bahá'ís who have been farming their wares all their lives and noone has been buying. The farmer got poorer and poorer and then no longer could afford to keep planting the seed and never getting a harvest. To keep planting: if that isn't martyrdom nothing is.
One of the functions of diaries, indeed this entire autobiography, is to articulate my various defeats. Like that first generation of Babis who, by 1852, were running out of petrol, even the veterans, "the stoutest supporters" got discouraged: and this is true of our own generation. I have always regarded myself as one of the "stoutest supporters" and I am worn down. I am discouraged, disillusioned in spirit. I still have belief and ideas fill my cup; they are richly present every day. I spread the fragrances as well as I can given the lack of response from people. I feel myself not so much the cripple that Kierkegaard describes and says we all are. Our inner life is a puzzle; no image can describe it fully or even significantly. This inner life is plagued with thoughts of going to meetings and activities associated with endless talking about a subject I have been talking about all my life. I want to put an end to talking until we have some response, not the vaccuum we now have.
I do not have the problem some writers have, like Patrick White, who look in the mirror and know they have to live with half-truths, uncertainties, equivocation. I have the truth but I must dispense it wisely. The world I live in does not want the teachings full strength. So, like Rilke and Sartre, I take refuge in my books and strive to understand the "infinite oddity of the human position"(ibid.,p.65) and the vast complexity of existence. I try to state my case honestly, so that the light shines out from behind the ambiguity of my many selves, my contradictions and the deceptions and lies involved in my attempts to be sincere.(ibid.p.66) If no one will ever know me well, in my completeness, I am condemned to inevitable solitude with sociality around the edges. Tolstoi found it hard to be with people; Sartre found "hell was other people". I find people in certain doses quite stimulating. But it is hard to get the doses just right.
Stendhal says that describing happiness diminishes it; there is something about the process of what I am saying here that gets to a point and then the only thing to do is retreat. Anais Nin says that orgasm is the only time she is "at rest, at the summit, the grace, the miracle.(ibid., p.91) For many years I sought this same height, but it became unattainable. I do not feel the desire to dwell on this theme in my journal. For years I experienced great anxiety, but little now. Perhaps this is one of the areas I deceive myself in here. I still find women, especially young women, sources of beauty and eroticism: in some ways more than ever. It is a constant preoccupation; at least in the social world I am very aware of feminine beauty. My visual-aesthetic sense of sharper than ever. Perhaps this is a topic that is part of my concealed self.
Perhaps I should say something about my sexual experience in more detail since it has been so important to me. But there is nothing I want to add to what I have already said. Whatever details I have left out I shall leave with my Lord; I feel I have been confessional enough in this autobiography. I have no desire to add to the public's knowledge of my sins of omission, to my inadequacies, to my failures in this area of human experience.
My higher purpose, my raison d'etre in presenting this journal and autobiography is to present a vision of human experience not confess all my sins of omission and commission. What I have already said will appaul many. What I have not said will annoy and disappoint others. I have tried to take a middle course insofar as the revelation of juicey bits is concerned. When it is published I shall be long gone from this mortal coil. I have no compulsion to be in the public eye, to be observed, to be looked up to, to exhibit a tormented quest for identity, to be a lesson for the less introspective. I do desire peace and tranquillity and I achieve some of these qualities when I write. I do desire to be of practical/philosophical use to future generations. I desire, as I have said elsewhere, to be a bridge between this generation of the half light and future generations in the full light. Because of these desires I have acquired a certain enthusiasm for this writing, a certain possessiveness. I want my writing to be preserved.
I hope the above words help provide some perspective on previous and future journal entries. I hope, too, that the distinction between diary and journal is a clear one because the terms are often used interchangeably in the literature on the subject and I, too, am not that clear. Perhaps a future editor will tidy-up this loose-fitting terminology.
Having spent so much of the last 12 days in conversation and, having reflected on that conversation in the first two entires of this Gregorian calendar year, I thought I would add one or two general remarks. Firstly, I do not want to leave the impression that the conversations were all trivial and unmeaningful. “The intricate internal windings,” as Montaigne calls the “nimble motions of the soul”(or life within us) that one could describe in hour after hour of chatting is no easy matter. Advising retirement and contemplation as Montaigne did 400 years ago and following that advise four years ago as I have, still it is difficult to describe what “the soul throws up every second.”
But since communication is, to Montaigne, our chief business I shall attempt to make a few pertinent remarks about what is now close to 30 hours of personal chatting out of the last 288 or 10%. “Our duty is to share,” he writes. So let me say that deep and meaningful conversation is always better than its opposite but, after 40 years of it in a myriad social settings, it does not satify or appease the hunger. There is an immense feeling of deja vu--no matter what the topic. I think that, perhaps, I am victim, of the notion that “excess of speech is a deadly poison,” as Baha’u’llah writes in His Tablet of the True Seeker.
I could write about so many of the depths and pleasures of the conversation I overheard or took part in during the last dozen days, the food which was delightful and the general ambience which was pleasant, but I was most pleased to arrive home and enjoy the greater pleasure of silence.
It has been nearly thirty years since the sixteen and a half months of my stay in Whyalla. It was the first place, the first town, where those “mysterious dispensations of Providence” rewarded me so overtly with career success. I had been a Baha’i for a dozen years at the time. But while It gave with one hand; It removed with another as my marriage showed serious signs of breakdown.
I have made entries in 1985, 1995 and 1996. Here I am again in 2000 attempting to write ‘retrospectively.’ But the vibration is not coming and the dryness is too discomfiting to continue writing. So I end this piece here.
30 August 2000
And so these two documents, my Life Story and my Pioneering Story, were down on paper by August 1986, at least the first drafts. The Pioneering Story, of course, became Pioneering Over Three Epochs, my narrative autobiography, by 1993. And a poetic autobiography followed in a big way in and after 1992. That poetic autobiography was emerging in South Hedland, but that soty is told in my booklets of poetry, especially the Warm-Up: Arcade booklet.
I am still striving to write retrospective Journal. Journal writing was just beginning in this town. As I write these words the oils have not begun to flow for retrospective Journal writing.
30 August 2000
“Possessive memory,” writes Peter Braustein in his history of the counter-culture, “leaves the person and his memories in a lover’s embrace. The person is in possession of his memories, and no one else can touch them; at the same time, his memories are in possession of him.” Braustein applies this idea to those activists in the sixties who experienced “a sense of self-generation so powerful that it (became) a constitutive part of (their) later identity.”1 Without going into the many contradictory views that have emerged in sixties studies, there is little doubt that I experienced several early stages of my own variety of activism through my involvement in the Baha’i Faith. I was 15 when the sixties started and 25 when they finished. My pioneering life began during those years and that “sense of self-generation” is still a part of my identity even now. Like many of the sixties generation, I felt as if I was an agent of history and I still do.-Ron Price with thanks to Rick Perlstein, “Who Owns the Sixties?” Lingua Franca, Vol.6, No.4, 1996.
PICTON ONTARIO: LATE AUGUST 1969 TO EARLY JULY 1971
For a period of two years, less about 50 days, I lived in this small town in Prince Edward County in southern Ontario. I want to avoid, in telling the story of this period, the difficulty common to most memoir writers, namely what, according to Virginia Woolf, makes them failures.1 I want to describe myself, what the experience was like in Picton for me; I want to tell something of the person to whom all the things happened during those nearly two years, namely myself. I don't just want to recall a scene here and a sound there, an event here, an accident there. I want to try, as far as possible, to "fit a plug into the wall and listen in to the past."2 This is how we can, Woolf argues, relive our lives and avoid that weakness common to memoirs of just dealing with external events.
It is not an easy task to give an account of a person to whom things happen or happened, even if that person is oneself. Partly this is because we are all immensely complicated beings and life, too, had a pervasiveness that is also very complex. Telling what happened without some account of the inner life and private character of the person; telling of the highlights of these nearly 700 days without some attempt to tell of the typical day or days and how they were actually spent, are both unsatisfactory and misleading. They keep the memoir superficial.
Being aware of what one can leave out and making some analysis of this usually large and significant region of omission, of one's personal and social culture is also important. Then, too, there is the cotton wool, the non-being, the unconscious part of life which gets lived but does not seem to put a dint in our being. This cotton wool contains mountains of stuff, largely the fluff of everyday life. One does not feel any need to put this sort of non-entity material into words and yet it represents so much of the hours and days of our lives.
Putting my life into words makes me feel whole, gives me a feeling of wholeness, takes away some of the power of life to hurt me. It is a deep pleasure, this writing, not the only pleasure, but an important one. It involves a searching for pattern underneath that cotton wool and surface black and white that is difficult to summarize or comment on in any way.
In writing, in putting my life into a set of memoirs, I am doing what I feel is necessary. It is not necessarily more important than so many other things in life which must be done like the dishes or having a clean toilet bowl, but it is something to whose pleasure I am drawn, compellingly, even obsessively.
Finally, Woolf emphasizes that what we write today would be different than what we would write tomorrow. What we write is also dependent on what we have just done, what energy we possess and what plans we have for the next brief space of time, plans which often change like the wind. In my case, right now, I feel the need to go for a walk for I have been working for, perhaps, three hours today reading and writing. I have also had lunch and breakfast, washed the dishes, walked to the shop, tidied my rock garden on the river bank, massaged my wife's neck, said some prayers and chatted briefly to my son and wife, all in the space of about two hours. I might get another three hours of reading and writing in before I go to sleep tonight.
What I have briefly described in the above paragraph has a significant effect on what I write about that period of time between twenty-eight and thirty years ago in Picton when I was twenty-five and twenty-six years old. If I take as my jump-off point the nine photographs in my Journal:Vol.1.1 from this period, I find myself with photographs of Bahá'í youth in Picton and Bahá'í visitors from other parts of Canada; as well as the town centre in winter and the house we lived in, probably in spring.
Picton was the place where I experienced 'entry-by-troops' for the first time in my life. It was both exhilarating and exhausting to have a dozen or so youth join the Cause in a period of two or three weeks. Both my wife, Judy, and I taught primary school at the time. This was the first time in my life I felt any real success in teaching both in my professional career and in the Cause.
Getting a sense of direction in the writing of this memoir has been a problem for me for years, arguably as many as fifteen. This is a factor in making me restless and wanting a walk after just starting this exercise. My doctor's report last week informing me of the need for brisk exercise to counter my chronic obstructive pulminary disease may also be a factor that is moving me away from the task at hand. For what, indeed, is the task at hand?
If I take Virginai Woolf's recipe for an interesting and useful memoir, if I follow the approach she takes in her Moments of Being, I must write about myself, my inner life, the influences on my life at the time, significant others and presences in my life and what was done and not done. Again, as so often--always--happens in this memoir business, the task seems tedious in the extreme. And so I leave this brief essay which closes down my Journal: Vol.1.1. I leave this Canadian experience only lightly touched upon in the hope that at some future time some illumination, some gift of Providence, may find me with something to say, something I feel is worth saying.
The question people face when they contemplate writing about their life is one of its meaning and significance. We shall see.
14 July 2001
1 Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being, The Hogarth Press, London, 1985(1976), p.65.
1 June 1999
Chris and I went to a movie this afternoon, the first in two months. We would go, on average, perhaps every two months, sometimes with Daniel. Today’s movie was called Matrix and its last line pointed toward the need for some kind of ordered society after the laissez-faire anarchy of our own day. Today is the first day of winter with two months of ‘retirement’ under my belt. A very relaxed existence with lots of poetry writing. I am on my way to get Dan who comes home from work after his own two months’ start. We are planning our superpayout policy. Over and out.
One aspect of my Baha’i experience that emerged, as I recall now with the perspective and interpretation of experience to define what it meant, was my tendency to want to be by myself. To balance the pull of the group, just to be alone, not to have to talk, to experience the solitude that I had become used to in my private life as an only child and perhaps for reasons I am still not conscious of, I used to go off by myself at lunch times during seminars, conferences and activities which brought together what were large numbers of Baha’is even then: 1962-1966. This isolation was not possible during the coffee breaks or after the seminar when one depended on others for a ride, etc. and I recall enjoying endless conversations, socializing and stimulating interaction which I enjoyed to my heart’s content. In fact, it was difficult to pull me away from these interchanges.
Hamilton and Toronto were important centres of Baha’i activity and I remember, from a distance of over a quarter of a century now, what seem like endless weekend functions at the YMCA and large buildings whose names have slipped into the anonymous colours of time. Here I got to meet important Baha’i luminaries, friends I had come to know and make new associations. This was an important stage of my pioneering experience for it laid part of the foundation for more extensive pioneer-travel teaching. Most of those whom I got to know in this period I have never seen again, except occasionally during the last phase of my homefront pioneering from 1966 to 1971. International pioneering resulted in a marked break of continuity in the social dimension of my Baha’i experience. But this pattern of social interaction and desire for my own company, like two sides of a coin, began to emerge in these earliest years of my Baha’i life.
4 December 1995
This is the sort of day one would wish did not happen, unless one was able to practice the aphorism “be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity.” It is so easy for this beautifully simple sentence to slip off the lip, but so infinitely difficult to put it into practice. I do not think in all my life I will even come close. Difficulties make my heart ache as it did today for the argument I had with my wife for two hours this morning, for the second day in a row. We have now had three or four arguments ina week for the first time in months, if not years. We analysed the process more rationally this evening for another two hours and took in a movie and dinner for $40, a rare experience for us. My heart and mind revolt at the thought of even attempting a cursory analysis. This my thirty-fourth year, month number four, and I’m still fighting battles as old as mankind and as old as my life. Am I destined to end my life sad and unhappy in terms of most of what this earthly life has to offer so that I may gain a special affinity for the spiritual world. I can only take so much even after all that this pioneering life has taught me.
I feel unable to handle much more, even though I have been given a hardening and tempering experience. I seek the solitude of my study and avoid much of the public space after the necessities of job and a few basic Baha’i duties. I feel so tierd of it all: meetings, endless meetings, nearly fourty years of them! Thank my dear God for the poetry and His dear Messenger’s Writings. They give me a centre of meaning and job amidst a sea of aridity. Oh, if I could just be relieved of it all!
Whyalla: July 1971 to December 1972.
Whyalla offered Judy and I our second experience of ‘entry-by-troops’, one of the few in Australia in the Third Epoch. This second one brought us both excitement and a marriage burn-out. The relationship, of course, between the burn-out and the teaching process was more complex than can be stated in a casual turn of phrase. To be brief: having as many as twenty new believers and having our home become a buzz of activity produced strains, not dissimilar to the ones experienced in Picton in 1970-1. Judy found herself getting tired of (how can I convey the sequence of emotional and spiritual processes that produced her resignation in 1973) the endless series of meetings, an emotional enthusiasm that often reflects a certain kind of orthodoxy and dogmatism that loses its gentle edge and becomes a voice of puritanism, one-way-ism and a ‘this is the way things should be and you are wrong for thinking and feeling something different’ attitude. I was, perhaps, at the centre of this pushy attitude. Judy had to push as well to assert her independence, her identity, herself. The result was a tension in our marriage that, when added to the tensions of sexual frustration, of distance of home, and professional career involvement(the teaching profession) busted the whole scene. In October of 1973, about a year after leaving Whyalla and enjoying the last stages of the giddy heights of the entry-by-troops process, I left Judy. In December, two months later, I left South Australia.
There is an intensity of emotion, energy, a certain spiritual pitch that few can sustain for long periods of time without requiring some quiet edge. To put it another way, to maintan one’s belief over a whole lifetime, at least during the epochs that I watched the process, requires a practical understanding of group processes and especially an understanding partner, friend and/or community. The avoidance of arguement is critical and the acceptance of the views of another without being the cause of acrimony. Letting people be who and what they want to be, unless it involves violence or some similar emotional trauma and not pushing them into some activity you think they should do. July increasingly found herself alone, not understood and not accepted. Her arguementativeness precipitated mine and we lost the kindness, the bond that unites. Two months after leaving Whyalla Judy resigned and twenty-two years later I am waiting for a second experience of entry-by-troops in Australia. It’s just around the corner.
2 December 1995
That was quite a day! A two hour discussion with my wife that flowed from what she saw as a minor flaw in my current approach to the Cause. Chris, who knows me better than anyone in some ways (and one could argue is blinded to some of my qualities, although I do not know), feels that my non-attendance at certain Baha’i functions, my expressed frustrations about LSA meetings and my desire not to want to be with certain Baha’is represents a fundamental change of attitude to the Cause and one I should watch because it could be the beginning of one might term in the vernacular, backsliding. I don’t seem to react well to criticism; at least I often do not demonstrate an easy acceptance of my weaknesses. And so was precipitated a lengthy discussion, the kind of discussion we often have had over the years. They often take place during the ‘time of the month’, Chris’ periods. It is at these times that she lets loose about some aspects of my incapacity. Often her comments are accurate and justified. Today I saw them as at least partly true but, at this stage of the game, I have no intention of altering my social profile in the Baha’i community.
I am happier than I have been in years, significantly due to writing poetry and it has taken me some time to work out (I) my attitude to certain people, (ii) my role and function in the Baha’i community, (iii) the balance between my personal, professional and my Baha’i life. Chris admitted that her reaction to me may be partly based on jealousy. This was the first time she has said this. I did not anticipate this one. This was new stuff to me. I explained how I felt about my poetry, about the Cause and after some two hours Chris went shopping and I read and wrote poetry until lunch time. We both slept for a half hour to an hour and then went to see Drew and Chellaney Gates’ art exhibit. We went with the McColls and then spent the evening with them, had dinner and came homne about ten pm. Chris is now watching a little TV and will soon be in bed. Such, in general terms, is the outline of the day, this Saturday.
The weather was delightful for the second day of summer. A pleasant coolness: a perfect spring day without the heat of sommer which will soon be upon us. There was a sadness for me in the day. My wife was upset with me, with the way I was, am and probably will be. I will try to do something about it, little by little day by day, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha has put it, but there is a sad coating on life along with other coatings. All the time can not be perfect spring weather. I leave this passage thinking: what on earth could I add that would deepen the expression, refelct and broaden my understanding of my experience. I can think of endless details to add, but I am so tired I have no fuel to provide the energy to say anymore. Even if I had, what can I suck out of the day that will shed any light on any life?
2 December 1995`
The gold band at the horizon spread out like roughed-up tin foil and sent out long strands of dark cloud. The evening was young on this first day of summer. I left comfortable for this was one of my golden years in the middle of middle age. My brain was half busy with a scattered agenda: the poem I had written in the late afternoon while my wife attended to domestic tasks and duties resulting from her religious commitment; a series of ‘what shall I do about this’s?’, one of those items that are always on the agenda; the analysis part of life which tends to occupy both the intersticies as well as large slabs of the light and on this occasion focused on why I should bother cultivating the young thirty-five year old single man whom I was visiting this evening.
Matthew Gorman had been in the hospital for a month; I’d known him for four or five years. He was a manic-depressive and mildly schizophrenic personality who was recuperating from his latest attack, or episode as it is often called. He was waiting outside the hospital when I arrived and for the next three hours and fifty minutes we discussed our worlds and the world. We moved around to two cafes, a pub, a park, his bedroom, the porch outside his room and the space outside my car door. I won’t try to even summarize the many topics which engaged us with some intensity for those two hundred and thirty minutes. There is a certain therapy when manic-depressives get together and I prefer my togetherness to occur in this organic fashion through the natural growth of a relationship, a relationship that arose out of our meeting at a Baha’i fireside. Matthew is a Catholic and after four years he seems to be an even stronger Catholic than he was when we first met.
Matthew’s mind is busy and his imagination and memory combine to produce a thorough excavation of the inner landscape. I rarely seek out the companionship of someone, having had an elegant sufficiency of human contact through my work and my own community responsibilities. How often I will seek out Matthew remains to be seen. The exercise certainly does Matthew good; to bring joy, happiness, some pleasure to someone--to relieve a sorrowladen heart--is one of the best things a person can do in life. Life should be like a flame warming all it comes in contact with. Matthew has one other friend who visits him and a girl he spends a lot of time with. I can not think of anyone I would bring as much pleasure to as Matthew. I can think of many who would like to see me and whom I could bring various positive things. But if I use the criteria of gladdening and warming hearts as the basis for human contact, developing friendship, what to do when one wants to reach out, Matthew unquestionably falls into place. There is no question, no decision-making, nothing to agonize over, no toing-and-froing or circulating of complex dubieties. Life becomes more simple when one sorts out the motivational basis for action and aligns one’s emotions with that motivational basis: the values uppermost in one’s mind. The alignment of human choice, human decision with the spiritual values involved with that choice. It all sounds simple enough, but I find it has taken me over thirty years to begin to cyrstallize the process, for it is a process.
I had started out this evening’s writing with the intention of writing about what I thought others I know might be doing tonight and to make this piece a personal reflection to the varied hues that make up this human community. But I find I have run out of petrol and I must go to sleep.
10 December 1995
The NSA of Canada has had regular contact with its international pioneers since I came into the field in 1971, but most of the contact has been of a routine nature. Through its international pioneer committee an attempt was made to make that contact personal. I have kept these letters and one day they may represent an archive of some historical note for the third and forth epochs. Two letters stand out from all the rest: one of these was written by the then NSA secretary, Doug Martin, on 25 June 1975, just after I have begun to work in Ballarat.
Among other things in that letter which are most helpful one passage of the Guardian’s has stood out in terms of providing an overriding perspective on what he called the life processes and regulating our life to their rhythm. The major difficulty in examining one’s life in terms of the seven stages of life is to know just which stage one is at. I tend to think this seven phase process repeats itself through life. I get my best view of where I am at in a retrospective sense.Recently, about 1992, I began to write a great deal of poetry and the writing gave me a marvellous sense of victory, of happiness, of joy. About the same time, or shortly after, certainly by 1995, I began to go through a crisis phase. I began to find much of my experience of Baha’i community life tiresome in the extreme. It was as if the pleasures and energies derived from community interaction were being sucked out of my being. I had tasted this experience before, but only briefly, in Melbourne and I solved it by moving to Ballarat after several months. In both cases the dryness was on the macro level, the big metropolitan level. In my own community I could cope with some occasional patching up from my wife. Anyway, this is how I define my present state in terms of this seven stage process.
Katherine and Port Hedland both provided a microcosm for the flow of an entire seven stages in the time I lived in those communities. Katherine, it could be argued, began with grace--the getting of the job--led to a tremendous vistory for the Cause and myself both in my job and in my writing. Then along came Peter McKinnon, a crisis of a type I had not known before and my wife’s health problem. South Headland was the same only Ann Bremer took Peter’s place. In Perth the victory of getting a job was followed by a crisis, serving on the LSA of Belmont was an exhausting experience. The ‘greater calamity’ which has followed and which I think I have just finished the bottoming out, has been the dessication of my Baha’i community experience, the joy juices have been sucked out and are, I trust, just now beginning to return. During this difficult time I have argued with my wife, too often to suit me, and dropped out of nearly all community activity outside of Belmont.
Some continuities have not been threatened: my job has stayed good; my relationship with my son remains a happy one. Even though we have argued, my wife and I have tenderness and kindness, if not alot of eroticism, at the centre of our life. The crisis or calamity in my life in the area of sex and its disappointments I have learned to cope with, although it has been a source of some sadness. Indeed, I am finding the joys of life are coming to be largely spiritual. Perhaps that is why I am withdrawing in recent years from as much social involvement as possible. The spiritual joys are in the main other worldly. I get much pleasure from the daily round and am nowhere near any depression, just the dryness I mention above.
Such, then, is the wide view of the period 1982 to 1995. Perhaps, as Roger White says, “my nurtured imperfections” are not so “epically egregious”. “The seraphim” he says, probably “yawn at their mention.” My shame will not topple the cities. It is joy that is remembered. If that is the case, the joy I have been given in recent years is a “compelling victory” that is the sweetest in my life. This diary will record how this seven phase process will articulate itself in the years to come. I have had now 33 and 1/3 years in the pioneering field. Another 33 and 1/3 years will take me to the ripe old age of nearly 85. We shall see.
1997: VOLUME 3 SECTION E OF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JOURNAL
Last Entry for 1997:
As this 36th year of pioneering moves into the second week of its fourth month the nature of the battle expressed in previous journal/diary entries has not abated. I mention the Cause to many people, planting the Name in the personalities of the recipients as well as I can. It is part of the watchful, clever and persistent seed-planting style that nets no harvest, not even a single grown plant. I have included in my collection of letters a batch of student feedback sheets to indicate that, although little harvest is taking place, much teaching is still part of my pioneering experience. I should also mention the sauna bath where I get in a great deal of "quick and appropriate mentions". My wife thinks I am cowardly and of course there may be some truth in that. I am no brave hero. But the dominant style I use in the sauna is: "the best religion I've heard is...". While not identifying myself as a believer, since this would "load the emotional network and make the recipient less inclined to listen...putting his defenses up more," I give the Faith a big plug. I contextualize it of course. i.e. I establish a setting of social issues, the world, life in two or three sessions of sweating in the steamy room and then mention the Cause as casually as I can and then move on in the conversation so as to appear as unevangelical as possible. It's like a feather from heaven or, as Nietzsche says, when the truth comes it will be like a dove on the shoulder.
I have done a great deal of teaching in recent years, indeed over these 36 years of pioneering much planting has been done. I have felt like part of the army of God, but I have not felt like a conquerer of the East or the West. But then, it only took one Bahá'í to arrive in a country for the Guardian to say it had been "spiritually conqured." As the Tablet(p.47) indicated I felt I could honestly say I was "attracted with the fragrances of the Merciful". But I had not been fully "delivered from human qualities and the defects of the world of nature." Indeed, in some ways, I was tainted with these defects more than ever. This was a battle that would never end. I was especially conscious of its anxieties in the morning on first rising, on trying to be involved in Bahá'í community life which I had virtually severed in recent months.(except for the occasional appearance at an LSA meeting or a Feast.) In some ways I felt this was one of the low points in my relationship with the Cause and this the 36th year of pioneering!)
I had started classroom teaching in 1967 and here I was in 1997, thirty years down the track, still teaching. I had, in fact, taught for 26 years and had four years off doing other things, being: sick, unemployed, a journalist, a maintenance scheduler and a worker with unemployed youth. I was ready to retire but could not afford it, not yet:15 months from now at the earliest and perhaps as many as 11 years at the latest. Time would tell.
I had written poetry for five to six years very steadily and that was the richest experience of all. This journal entry makes ten years of entries. I had had entries before December 1987, indeed as far back as 1984. But I loaned them to a friend and never got them back. I had also loanded my grandfather's story and a copy of my narrative autobiography, two years ago, and still don't have it back. I trust I have leanred my lesson. If God allows me to become an octogenarian this diary could go for forty or more years.
6 December 1997
8 April 1999
After attending the Feast last night, perhaps the fourth or fifth since September-the most poorly attended Feast period in my Baha’i life-I had a bad taste in my mouth. I enjoyed the readings, the music, the hospitality and the interaction, but the consultation in which I was the chairman was difficult. It was difficult because of one or two personalities. I seem to have developed a thin skin for difficult interactions. I have no more taste for the chairman role. Last night’s experience confirmed my desire to ‘go it alone’ for a time. Where we live in Tasmania shall determine the new interaction pattern and that will not be determined until mid-1999.
I had a delightful chat with an Iranian family last night, the Samandaris. This was the first Feast in their home. Two beautiful daughters: Rosita and Beta were a pleasure to watch and interact with. They had a deaf daughter, Azita and a son, Frank. This may be the first and the last Feast in their home, the home of Beta and her non-Baha’i husband, Joe. Such was the setting for an experience that was pleasureable, but frustrating. Like so many situations in life, the blessing is mixed. Today I will bring another battle to an end, the last visit to the College to tidy-up my office. A personal era is coming to an end here in Perth. Another city, place, where I have collected achievements and failures, sins of omission and commission, accomplishments and evil doings. His benevolence “melteth my heart within me”. “My sins boileth the blood in my veins.” It would seem the blood boileth quietly, for my spirit is tired and saddened by life, by my own poor self which I have to live with year after year knowing what I have done. But my Redeemer liveth! So hope springs eternal in my veins.
7 April 1999
Since a number of events of varying significance are taking place this week it seems essential to make a diary entry. My son arrived home with his graduation degree framed. He got a job, a week or so ago, so he is in a position to be independent. My step-daughter also got a new job, two years out from RMIT in public relations, at a salary of $48,000, so she is secure and in 8 months will marry if all things go well. Tomorrow night I go in to the College to finish some marking and bring home some files: my last time to attend this place of employment. My wife works at painting the house in preparation for our exist from WA and settling into Tasmania.
At another level I have ceased to attend any Baha’i function in Belmont. In the eleventh year(July 98-July 99) I have lost interest in attending Baha’i activities, although I have volunteered to lead (i) a sing song and (ii) a youth deepening in the last few days. Perhaps I just need a rest from such activity; I’m not sure.
It is a great relief not to have to go to work, to write poetry and walk at leisure with no pressure to 'entertain the troops.' We will be in Perth for between 1 and 3 more months.
I have been taking testosterone for nearly six months because I was so tired. It makes me ‘horny’ as well. I may stop it now that I don’t have to perform in classrooms. The sex itch is a nuisance, although I discuss this and most subjects in my poetry. My letters in recent years should prove a useful autobiographical resource, especially since this diary has been so infrequently entered into. When we leave it will be after 11 and ½ years in Perth.
It has been nearly 40 years since I became a Baha’i. If I live to be 95 I am currently at the mid-point, with a diary going back into the 1980s, that will be a 50 plus years journal. Unless some event comes up of more significance, or unless my new status as a person not employed give me new sources of energy, this may be the last entry in WA.
18 January 1999
It is now 7:20 pm, a few minutes before the beginning of the Feast of Honour. About 5:30 to 6:00 my wife was critical of me for not calling my step-daughter and congratulating her for getting engaged. I felt so upset(I just called her) that I could not cool off my emotions to attend the Feast. Chris was able to say her piece and come down to earth and carry on with life, but I was not. Most of my day is spent in relative tranquillity and on the occasion when I get upset I can not cool down for some hours.
This is a test area I still have not passed. Of course, I have got to the point that I really have no desire to attend any organized Baha’i function in Belmont or the city. After eleven years in metropolitan Perth I am in the same position as I was in so many previous towns: I must move on. Was there any town that I could have and should have stayed? For various reasons no! I seem destined to be a nomad; it is my Elsewhere story, my Odyssey, my journey, my life story, my scenario. In four to six months I shall go to Tasmania to what may be my final town this side of the grave.
This test tonight I clearly did not pass. Perhaps it was a crisis using the Guardian’s 7 stage model. Divine power has been released, one could argue, by the fact that I have called Angie and ‘wished her well’. It is difficult to apply this model to the individual, much easier I think to the Cause and its development.
A young Baha’i named Matthew who is 30 and has been in the Faith for 6 months just came to the door. I had a chance to tell him I was burned out from activities. It was good to be honest and straight-the only person I have been that way with thusfar. Perhaps this, too, was a mysterious release of divine power. At any rate, it is 7:45 and the value of my inattendance has been confirmed with some understanding of my self, however minimal. I feel more relaxed. I’ve had a cup of coffee. I shall go for a half hour walk in this cool evening on the edge, say the weathermen, of three days of over 100 degree F temperatures. Perhaps I will do some writing.
24 August 2000.
This Journal now goes bach to December 1987, nearly 13 years. I have attempted a reconstruction going back before the start of my own life, right back to 1872 and beyond to 1844. This reconstruction is far from complete. It may never be complete. A rough sketch has been made. The setting for the transformation of my experience into poetry, a transformation that took place insensibly in the 1980s and early 1990s, is contextualized in these two volumes of my Journal(Vol.2 and 3). A glimpse of my inner life is provided for one of the earliest poets in the Baha’i community, one of the few poets who emerged in the 20th century in the Baha’i community. I have no evidence that other poets are providing the kind of detail provided here. It’s utility only time will tell. The literary raw materials I have provided range widely over several genres. There is here a plunge into my psyche, a survey of my guilts, anxieties, obsessions; some of my sexual frustrations and experiences, some of the endless trivia of life and the major and minor battles in my domestic and foreign fields. Any reader approaching the opus I will have left behind will have before him: an encyclopidic assembly of literary work and a demonstration of my personal perspective, my personal experience, of the Baha’i Faith, which is still in its infancy here in Tasmania and nearly everywhere I have lived in my life.
Just before the outset of the Baha’i teaching Plan in 1937, Thomas Wolfe delivered a lecture at the Colorado Writers’ Conference in 1935. What he said about American writers then could well apply to the Baha’i who writes now at the turn of the century and the millennium:
The writer’s task in our time is the hardest that any writer has known. The physical proportions are vaster and more difficult than the writer in any individual nation on the earth. There is no antecedent, no structural plan, no body of tradition that the writer can draw on. Writers must make a new tradition for themselves derived from their own life, from the immense space and energy of the planet. They must labour in the direction of a complete and whole articulation; they must attempt to discover the entire universe; they must try and form a new and complete language. This is the struggle toward which our lives must be devoted. From the billions of living and non-living forms, from the swarming complexity of life everywhere; from the world’s violence and savagery; from the uniqueness that surrounds us everywhere, we must draw the power and energy of our own life, the special voice that is our own speech and the substance of our art.-Ron Price with thanks to R.S. Kennedy, editor, The Notebooks of Thomas Wolfe, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1970, Introduction.
PAINTING A THREAD
The preservation of his papers was a subject never far from the mind of George Washington(b.1732). In fact, his deathbed instructions to his secretary Tobias Lear in December 1799, to "arrange and record all my late military letters and papers . . . and other letters,"1 were only the continuation of a practice that Washington had begun as a young man when he began saving his incoming letters as well as copies of most of his outgoing correspondence. In the years of my middle age I began insensibly to take an increasing interest in the preservation of my papers. In the last decade of that middle age, from 50 to 60, 1994-2004, that interest took a more serious, a more organized form.
Washington, at the age of 52, immediately after the American Revolutionary War(1775-1783), declared that no history of his life, “could be written with the least degree of accuracy, unless recourse was had to me, or to my papers for information."2 The American Revolution was, indeed, a period of momentous events and Washington did, indeed, play a significant part. This is equally true of these days, of my life in the 8th, 9th and 10th stages of history from a Baha’i perspective. They are momentous days. But given the nature of the global theatre in which the Baha’i revolutionary program is being implemented and the thousands of people whose lives are as significant, if not more so, than my own, it is really presumptuous to compare myself to the famous American George Washington. And that is not my intention.
My intention is to contrast the significant and famous individuals in history with the ordinarily ordinary person who is also a member of the Baha’i community. In the process interesting and imaginative perspectives are gained and one illumines one's life by cicling round the great, as B. Nakhjavani puts it. It is in this contrast, with some elements of useful comparison, that this prose-poem finds its place. I have been simply one of the links in the chain, one of the soldiers in the field, one of the threads, part of the basic warp and weft of the Baha’i community in the first half century of the Kingdom of God on earth(1953-2003), one of the many participants in the first stages of the transatlantic field of service of the North American Baha’i community, a testing period of apocalyptic proportions marking the lowest ebb in humankind’s fast-declining fortunes during the weightiest spiritual enterprise in recorded history.
Washington spent much of his time organizing and copying his papers. He even went so far as to plan a separate building near his mansion house for their safekeeping, although that plan remained unrealized at his sudden death in December 1799. After my retirement in 1999, two hundred years after Washington’s death, I spent some time, on and off over five years, organizing my own papers into some framework. By the time I was 60 that framework required little attention, little further organization.
Comprised of more than 17,400 letters and documents in thirty-seven volumes, plus a two-volume index, John Fitzpatrick's Writings was a monumental achievement by any standard. His experience in the Library of Congress, which owns the single largest collection of Washington manuscripts, more than 60,000 documents, had ably prepared Fitzpatrick for the herculean effort necessary to bring out an edition of that scale over such a short span of time.
Whether my own letters and documents, my papers and poems, ever find a home in some voluminous collection is not my worry or concern. I have spent a little time placing them all into some ordered arrangement and I leave it to my executor, the Baha’i community and those mysterious dispensations of Providence to do with them what they will. -Ron Price with thanks to the 1Preface To The Electronic Edition, Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, 2002; and 2 Writings: Washington to James Craik, 25 March 1784.
The greatest of all arts—
the management of the mind
and the art of living1
can be acquired in part
from letters and papers,
poems and essays in the
great archives of history.
The playful spirit, the light,
humorous touch, the portrait
of a mind, the spontaneous
and unique expressions of
personality, of indiscretion
and virtue scrawled across
the pages of these papers—
but what inducement to any
preservation? To possess
a part of me? Surely not!
To enjoy fine examples
of writing? Surely not
in a world drowning in
the written/spoken word.
To have the pleasure of a
vivid picture of a character
and person with glimpses
into his life? What value?
So much of life contains only
the insubstantial correspondence
that we might call telephone talk.
And what value is this, pray tell?
To paint one of the threads
of the warp and weft
of the Baha’i community
as the Kingdom of God on earth
was being born and developed
in its first half century—now that
art work, dear friends, is of value!
1G. Birkbell Hill, editor, Letters of Samuel Johnson, Clarendon Press, 1892.
November 19th 2005
NOT TOO DISTRESSINGLY INSIGNIFICANT
Miles Franklin was an Australian writer and feminist. She has become an Australian icon in the last quarter century. In 2004, fifty years after her death, her diaries were published. There are few diaries to rival Franklin’s for entertainment. She kept a pocket diary from 1909 to her death in 1954. The materials in her diary make up a million words. They are composed of: literary notebooks, journals, letters, pocket diaries, helpful annotation and linking narrative to enhance the reading experience. This linking work is done by the editor Paul Brunton. The publishing of these diaries, The Franklin Diaries, will not be in the form of, say, Virginia Woolf’s diaries which came out in five volumes in the years 1977 to 1984. It appears that Franklin’s will be episodic: this collection is but the first episode.
I find the interlinking, interlocking, of Baha’i history and Franklin’s history of personal interest. In the month, the year, for example, that the Seven Year Plan began for the American Baha’i community, April 1937, Franklin rejected the OBE. When the full Franklin Diary is published readers will be able to follow diary entries, should they so desire, from the year the Bab’s dust was entombed on Mt. Carmel in 1909 to the beginning of the Ten Year Crusade when the Kingdom of God on earth began in 1953/4. There is, for me anyway, an interesting juxtaposition here of Baha’i history, Australian secular history and the diaries and life of one of Australia’s paradoxical writers and my own diaries. -Ron Price with thanks to Jill Doe, “the Diaries of Miles Franklin,” The Age.com Book Reviews, March 13th 2004.
So far, my story is better told
in the form of other genres,
although you’ll find something
of value in my journals which
are part of my universe and which
I bequeath to posterity as a personal
backdrop to the 4th and 5th epochs
of Baha’i history. There is love here
and addiction; flesh is made word
while time’s winged chariot hurries
near in the midst of a lawless enterprise,
a sort of chronicle of everything, well—
something: effervescence, hopefully
not too distressingly insignificant.1
1 Andre Gide in Thomas Mallon, A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, Ticknor and Fields, NY, 1984, p.286.
November 18th 2005
Some people, not many mind you, plan, consciously or unconsciously, to write their life in the form of their diaries. As much as I can see the potential for doing this life-writing using the genre of diary, after nearly 22 years of episodic diary making, it looks like the genres of poetry and essay will result in more life-writing for me. This is because so much of what I write in these genres is quintessentially autobiographical. Virginia Woolf once wrote in a letter: “I sometimes think that only autobiography is literature.”1 I’d like to think that my writing in all of its autobiographical emphases is the pure expression of “a full-throated ease of inspired self-disclosure.”1 Sometimes there is ease; sometimes there is a full-throat; sometimes what I write is inspired. I’d also like to think there is something elusive, enigmatic and impersonal about what I write. Woolf said the very best writers, the ones who infuse the whole of themselves into their works, possess these qualities and yet, ironically, we know little about them. -1Brian Phillips, “Reality and Virginia Woolf,” The Hudson Review, Autumn 2003.
All autobiographical writing
gives some distortion in its
portrait of the writer. Habit,
style, tendency, inclination,
mood, pattern, judgement,
freedom, capacity, purpose,
to the writer’s evolving
perception of the subject.
After 40 years of give-and-take
in the real, hurly-burly, world1
it was not so much my thin-skin
or fear of the social that drove me
away, it was the whirlwind of this
distracted hour, a jangling mockery
of understanding: mine and others’,
the jingle-jangle of self and of ego,
fatigue, the ashes of my own frail
vulnerability and weakness,
the lance and parry techniques
of an archaic tournament, a certain
sorrow, a desire for quietness
for isolation, for the ceaseless
challenge of my art as it plays
with the loose, drifting material
imaginative matrix of my life.
1 The age of 15 to 55, 1959-1999.
November 21st 2005
This is a diary entry in the form of a poem. I wrote the following after the 30th Devotional Meeting in our little town of 5000.
THE FUTURE HAS NEVER LOOKED SO BRIGHT
After 2 and ½ years, what began as a 2 and ½ hour experience is now 1 and ½ hours. A once a month Devotional Meeting, every third Thursday, originally with four of the five local Baha’is in attendance, now has only two of these Baha’is. With thirty meetings under our belt, we have had six out-of-town Baha’is come once each and two local George Town residents come once each. Such are some of the statistics to which we could add the number of posters, fliers, ads in one newspaper, on 4 radio stations and two TV stations. But the exercise is not about numbers, although it is ostensibly so.
With five months left in this Five Year Plan and this fifth year of the Fifth Epoch of the Formative Age, the immensely promising prospects at the outset, in April 2001, have been more than fulfilled. These opening years of the Fifth Epoch of this divinely driven enterprise have marked the passing of more than a century of my personal association with this emerging world religion. Personally and for the Cause, “the future has never looked so bright.” Baha’u’llah has, indeed, blessed and confirmed my efforts and ours to “advance His purpose for the redemption of humankind and the healing of its ills.”1 –Ron Price with thanks to 1The Universal House of Justice,” May 24th 2001.
This unprecedented project
has reached one of its points
of culmination, a stage in the
fulfillment of Baha’u’llah’s
vision, a celebration of the
creative role of reason’s force.
And in this remote frontier,
an internationally coordinated
plan and program is grafting
a new religious movement
unobtrusively onto its host
society with numerical strength
not the measure of its viability.1
1 Will C. van den Hoonaard, The Origins of the Baha’i Community of Canada: 1898-1948, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996, p.296.
November 17th 2005.
This is a diary entry, again in poetic and prose form. It covers four events in my personal life over four days and reflects on the whole package of events.
After a weekend involving 20 hours of socializing(i.e. talking and listening) at(a) a Bahá'í display at an agricultural show and (b) a Holy Day celebration of the Birth of Bahá'u'lláh, I was engaged in a 90 minute telephone call on Monday and a 90 minute conversation with a friend on Tuesday. Although none of these experiences were unpleasant, I felt they were part of the slow sucking of my life forces. I did not have to face the various degrees of trauma, the varying severity of calamities and the diverse social entanglements that had been part of the long march in my life from 8 to 58: ill-health, marital tensions, employment pressures, perplexities in my sex life, frustrations in Baha’i administration and Baha’i community, worries in my affinal and consanguineal family, worries in raising my own children and in financial matters, inter alia. All of these problematic aspects of life had been removed from my shoulders. In their place I had been given the joys of creative writing and the creative tension that came from having to endure so many conversations and social activity and a residue of bi-polar problems. I really felt I had no reason to complain and I rarely did, except to my wife.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, November 17th 2005.
This all sounds wonderfully simple
in these early years of late adulthood.
But it is not by any means the story.
It is only one story, part of the story:
one can not tell it all, untimely parts,
unsuited to the ears of the hearers
to tell it all in the finest of detail.
There is a kind of knife-edge that
does not allow me to go too far
both here in this poem and in life.
Those 24 hours of talk, talk, talk,
listen, listen, listen are just about
as much as I can bear—for I am
taken to the edge, always to the edge
of uttermost exhaustion and fatigue.
The divine power released in these new
and halcyon days, the liberal effusion
of celestial grace, the fresh impulse,
the acceleration of my life’s march,
winning in the process compelling
victories--have brought new crises
and calamities which I can not defeat.
They will conquer me unless some
mysterious dispensation of Providence,
some scattering angels sooner or later
exercise their influence on my soul.
November 17th 2005
SELF-PORTRAITURE(through historical reflection)
That least systematic and most occasional Roman poet, Horace(65 BC-8 BC), explores the pathological nature of desire. Horace also presents himself and his views of poetry in his poems but, for the most part, the presentation is carefully controlled and creates a poetic fiction open to manipulation and change. The pathological nature of desire had and still has a proud and not so proud tradition going back to Homer and the archaic lyric of a previous Formative Age. Desire in this pathological sense is seen as something external to lovers, an affliction that comes upon them against their will. Love rushes upon them; they are burned; they suffer unquenchable desire for a brilliantly gleaming woman or some strikingly handsome man. The act of looking becomes, in part, a substitute for sexual penetration. This theme and this experience continues into our own time.–Ron Price with thanks to Elizabeth H. Sutherland, “How (Not) To Look At A Woman: Bodily Encounters and the Failure of the Gaze in Horace’s Carmina. Liber 1. 19,” American Journal of Philology, Volume 124, Number 1, Spring 2003.
The centre did not hold for you
or for your world, Horace,
that old world was dieing fast
and the old ideas and systems
were no help, society shredded.
Something was being saved
from the wreck of the times,
from the wasteland, from the
disintegration as you held up
the mirror in your mode, manner,
your autobiographical presence.
You had absolutely no idea that
a saviour would soon be born.
In your poetry of self-portraiture,
your construction of the present
you questioned it all. Most still
have no idea of the new saviour
who has come and gone even with
directness of this self-portraiture--
where it is impossible to miss.
November 14th 2005
Thomas Turner's third of a million word diary has been reduced to one hundred and thirty thousand words for this book. Turner kept the diary from the age of 24 to 35...Drink and marital inharmony troubled him and he tells us of his guilt and remorse. He wrote to record the misdemeandors of others, to justify his actions and ensure they were correctly remembered...His preoccupations were parochial as are most diarists in most times. -Ron Price, comment on The Diary of Thomas Turner: 1754-1765, editor, David Vaisey, OUP, NY, 1985.
Price's one to two million word autobiography, spread over several genres, will be difficult to reduce, although a compendium of all his genres may convey the most accurate autobiographical picture. He was never troubled with drink, drugs or even money in any serious way. But ill-health and marital inharmony kept him busy over the years from 1968 to 1999 at different periods and in different combinations. These preoccupations, far reduced in intensity, are evident in his diary, his poetry, his letters and his journal. The preoccupations are not excessive. By the time he began his significant writing in 1983 his health was excellent and his marital life far less troublesome. New and not-so-new difficulties emerged in the 1980s and '90s: with personalities, with a certain weariness from overwork, in his marriage and from the nature of life's travail. These preoccupations are not dominant in his letters and are essentially parochial ones.-Ron Price, “Comment on My Autobiography,” Pioneering Over Three Epochs, unpublished, 1999.
Gawler was right beside a famous
wine producing area: the Barossa.
But I was interested in a different wine
and I was as high as one can get
on some complex combination
of spiritual and material ambition:
not entirely unhealthy or healthy.
I got a kick in the spiritual teeth that year,
but hardly appreciated its true significance
as I headed for higher heights in places
I had never heard of and successes
I had not yet dreamed. The price I paid
were deep scars to my spiritual credentials,
irrecoverable, irremediable, part of the burden
of my sin, the source of my melting heart,
my boiling blood and my blushing soul.
28 April 1996
BEING ONE: OVER NIAGARA FALLS
The final lesson that poets learn is: everything can nourish. A book, a picture, a tree, a phrase, a scene, a street, a memory. Like a great collection agency, some Niagara over which all flows, or an enormous collage of experience, poets stand ready for a vast miscellany to be reintegrated into an artistic composite. Like alchemists, poets transmute the base metal of life into the precious gold of their art. -Ron Price with thanks to Suzanne Nalbantian, Aesthetic Autobiography, MacMillan, London, 1994, p. 173.
The next thing most like living one’s life over again seems to be a recollection of that life and putting it down in writing to make it as durable as possible. -With thanks to Benjamin Franklin in ibid., p.10.
I never liked reincarnation;
I’ve relived my life, anyway,
tasted it all in its richness and
complexity, its tedium and pain
in these poems, this art of gold,
this playing with base metal,
this great Niagara collage
pounding down over the
precipice of each moment,
finally got a chance to define it,
hold it for a moment and say,
“my god, look, Niagara Falls.”
It’s all like Niagara plunging down
moment to moment, can’t hold it,
can’t really say “my god, look!”
Just too busy getting on with things,
too busy being practical, washing
the dishes with just a trace of the
mystical, like some faint, sweet juice,
better than sex, more frequent,
subtle, down below, no groins here,
dealing with the biggest aesthetic miracle
of all: that all this stuff around me exists!
But the wonder is mostly subdued in:
explanations, words, seeing it again, as if
the mystery of things is no longer there,
inhibiting my(and our) capacity to wonder.
One must say “it is all one: sub specie
aeternitatis1 and one must use thought as
your path through what is a mysterium
tremendum, a source of utter amazement:
here is where feeling must be centred:
again—thought and feeling being one.
17 September 1996
1 Much of this poem is derived from an article by Peter John, “Wittgenstein’s Wonderful Life”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 1988, pp. 495-510. This Latin expression means ‘under the perspective of eternity’.
Poems are footprints of humankind’s earthly journey. The poet participates in the formation of that Pearl which every true poem forms out of the pain of life, and which in turn shapes the pearl of self and meaning. Writing true poetry and setting one’s destiny in order are basically the same thing.-Daisy Aldan, The Art and Craft of Poetry, North River Press, 1981, p.1.
The international pioneer, travel-teacher,
long-distance, spiritual entrepreneur
some times needs to define, look inside,
rendezvous with his Source in order to
remind himself who he is, tell himself
about his inner man and be a little conscious
lest he milk the pain of his life, nurture it
publicly and privately and refer too frequently
to the burnouts which seem to be an inevitable
part of the lives of such journeymen.
Their granite-like lives can thus become
a seemless web along with the rainbow
intangibility of their personalities.
This autobiographical mix of poetry,
journal, letter and essay may just provide
a sound, round basis for biography.*
The real me, the real anyone, remains
in part, forever hidden, no mater what.
9 April 1996
* the basis for modern biography, so argue some analysts of the genre, is to be found in the 1920s
in the decade when the Guardian was laying the foundation for the Administrative Order. William Hazlitt once said that “the more evidence about a person you accumulate the more complex and difficult it is to ‘know’ someone....The harder and longer you look, the more impossible it becomes to attain knowledge of others.. Real character is not one thing, it is a thousand things.”(William Hazlitt in The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay, Graham Good, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988, pp.82-3)
He took refuge in a massive autobiography, in which chronology is replaced by association as a principle of continuity and as a method of mastering his own experience and plumbing his own nature; he was trying to achieve truth by thus recording a voice to speak from the grave. -Robert Penn Warren,” Mark Twain”, Modern Critical Views: Mark Twain, Harold Bloom, editor, Chelsea House Publishers, 1986, NY, p.82.
He took refuge in a massive autobiography, in which chronology served as the basis for continuity in his narrative; in which an indiscriminate agglomeration seemed to characterize his diary or journal when he could capture the very pulse and rhythm of his soul, of his life and times; in which recording quotations and ideas from his reading served as a source of much inspiration; in which even the smallest event, activity or thought could serve as a way of grasping his own life, the Cause he served and the world of reality in all its vanity, emptiness, richness and colour in a poetic idiom.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, May 17th 1997.
Like a river, this Kingdom of Names
and Its mysterious Fashioner flowed
through his life endlessly from its cold
mountain source of towering rock faces,
down, down and across the wide plain
to the sea----sometimes solemn, drifting,
sometimes like the stars in their brilliance
and clarity, sometimes easy like the warm
sun on a summer day or the wind blowing
through his hair, sometimes tight, anxious,
or an endless holiday, indulgence-those early
years-or profound incoherence, or the endless
mixes of sorrow and gladness, calamity, grace
and, now, a happiness, immensely tempered
by some fatigue, some sadness, some inner
control, as if the old river could hardly flow,
but speaking said: only thusfar, you will soon be
in the sea.. This is thy gift and destiny! This is thy
need for redemption. These are your longing hands
and your blushing face, your shame, your shame.
You all have your shame.
17 May 1997
AN AUTHORITATIVE DOCUMENT?
I would like to think that my autobiography, in its several genres, makes a useful contribution to the Baha’i intellectual and social heritage--to an understanding of how and why pioneers and especially international pioneers, as well as others in the Baha’i community, wrote their story—and to the continuum of what might be called a recorded reality, recorded experience, recorded perception which reveals time- enduring patterns of an emerging Baha’i consciousness. If nothing else, this great mass of material: letters, journal, essays, narrative and poetry, as well as some character sketches, should become or achieve the status of a authoritative document of social history, a document that maps a corner of Baha’i consciousness and illuminates the reality of Baha’i experience in its multitudinous forms over a period of three epochs in the first century of the Formative Age. -Ron Price with thanks to Dale Spender, Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers, Pandora, NY, 1988, pp. 85-87.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS 2
This technique, stream of consciousness, seeks to record a somewhat random flow of impressions, with its paradoxes and irrelevancies and its looser and less formal poetic structure, that pass through a writer’s mind. The focus is on the person, the writer, the character. Inner feelings and thoughts come to occupy the foreground of attention with a ‘let-it-all-hang-out’ mentality. A miscellany of arbitrary perceptions become important. Each writer organizes and communicates this ‘stream’ in his or her own way. This technique is but one way of trying to capture the human condition and certainly one way that would be useful to this autobiographical poetry. It is also a way of giving my ‘journal/diary’ a new lease on life after lingering in the doldrums in recent years. -Ron Price, A dictionary of Modern Critical Terms, editor, Roger Fowler, Routledge, London, 1990(1973), pp. 231-232.
A lot happens in the course of 15 days holiday:1
chairing a Feast, missing a LSA meeting/
being in an empty room for a public meeting
in which noone came/ going to a Baha’i bookshop
and reading: the diary of Mahmud/ reading a dozen
other books with titles too long to mention here/
going to lunch with a student and her daughter/
being at a ‘pool party’ with half-a-dozen teachers,
editing an article for a friend, going to the funeral
of a neighbour, writing essays and poems, cleaning
the pool, making lunches, washing dishes, watching TV,
listening to my radio, to my hi-fi, making love, brushing
my teeth/ sleeping 8 hours a night/ going to the doctor for
an injection of testosterone/the list is virtually endless as
Mark Twain once said in talking about autobiography/
there’s mountains of the stuff/one has to be selective or
you’d fill up books with piles and piles of irrelevant rubbish/
and poetry should try to elevate/or excite the soul in a moment
of intense awareness/as invisible and inaudible as thought.
31 December 1998
1 looking back over the period 17 December to 30 December 1998 I have summarized these days in the form of a vahid, a 19 line poem.
A diary entry in the form of a poem on a visit to a meeting that turned out to be a non-meeting:
SUZUKI AND THE TEMPEST
For some reason, perhaps a little of sociability, a little out of genuine interest in Dr. David Suzuki and some desire to ask Suzuki a question or two, I went out with my son, my step-daughter and my wife to Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia. It had been a long day and I was very tired, but the evening was fresh and I got my second wind by the time I arrived at this beautiful old building. Sad to say there was no room in the hall and, not wanting to listen to him through speakers, I returned home and wrote this poem from about 8 to 9 pm. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript.
I arrived late, well
actually early, but
not early enough
to get a seat
to listen to this
With four days left in autumn,
with the winter cold
just around the corner,
Suzuki had blown into town
on another of his endless talks.
He'd been turning them on for years.
I'd seen him on TV, on video,
heard him on the radio,
read him in books, journals,
He'd shown his media image
and words, millions of them,
to hundreds of my students:
He was the '80s and '90s
companion piece to Paul Erlich,
a softer voice for a movement
which was here to stay,
late twentieth century's
contribution to the one-world-
which began(you could argue)
with Hugo Grotius, the father
in international law.1
Are you still pessimistic, David?
I might have asked
after listening to him cry
in a radio interview several
Public intellectuals have got
it wrong so often in this century:
it's a bit of a worry don't you think?2
I might have asked,
trying to widen the focus
to take in history and the
problems of pluralism.
But no questions got asked.
Instead: I turned down an
invitation to coffee, told a
young Asian student what
was going on in the hall,
accepted two invitations
to "rally for oldgrowth forests"
and attend a "public forum on
genetically engineered foods,"
hunted around for some friends,
listened to sounds one hears
when religion, politics and an
amazing plethora of enthusiasms
get out-and-about in the public
As this tempest blows with
catastrophic effects into
every corner of the earth,
what, pray tell, is its origin ?
What is its significance?
Its outcome? Unimaginably
glorious or oblivion's
27 May 1998
1 Grotius(1583-1645) had adopted among his many ideas the concept of societas humana, the whole of mankind.
2 For three generations in this century leading intellectuals looked to communism and the Soviet Union for humankind's hope, ultimately a false messianic system. Since the 1970s public intellectuals seem to be a house divided into many streams, rivulets and isolated ponds.
SWEET NEW LIFE
The aliveness that Henry David Thoreau had once known began to slip away from him as he got older, perhaps as early as his thirties. Writing in his Journal was a way to preserve that aliveness, or at least some aspects of it. This was equally true for Price insofar as his poetry was concerned. -Ron Price with thanks to Andrew Delbanco, Required Reading: Why American Classics Matter Now, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 1997, pp.33-48.
I savour and celebrate
the infinite proliferation
of perception and expression
that constitutes life in these
middle years, golden years before
the sunset, as language has, in some
special way, become me, has some
immense power to shape and define
my world with impartial additions to
reality just as life's juices are being
transferred to this new container
made of endless words for: you can
do anything in poetry you want to.1
And this is giving me a sweet new life.
27 May 1998
1 Robert Frost in Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets, Donald Hall, Ticknor and Fields, NY, 1992, p.40.
A DEVELOPING IDIOM
To have struck an authentic note, one not merely derivative but expressive of a new style, is to contribute something to the world’s store of thought and beauty. From my point of view Roger White has struck such a note for Baha’is and expressed a new style, contributing thereby something original to the store of thought and beauty in literature, poetic literature, written by Baha’is. Specifically, I think he has helped lay a foundation for a certain idiom for Baha’is writing poetry. In Australia, some literary critics argue, an idiom did not yet exist for Australian writers until after WWII. And for Baha’is, such an idiom was virtually absent until the 1980s. This idiom, found in White’s poetry, played its part in what could be called the long road out of obscurity.
I also think that the development of literature and poetry, no matter who writes it, is accomplished on a more solid foundation if writers have a mature understanding of the problems, limitations and achievements of the great tradition of literature and poetry, the tradition of the significant dead. In the Baha’i community the tradition of poetry and strongly poetic prose goes back more than a century and a half. Of course, the great tradition of the ‘significant dead’ goes back in the west to Greek and Roman writers as well as the many writers of the Hebraic tradition, if not longer.
Whether one’s own poetry will ever be part of this great story, this long tradition, is impossible to judge, but there is here in this poetry certainly a record of reminiscence, portraits and impressions, an intimacy with times and places that no later reconstruction will ever replace. I think there is a uniqueness of point of view here. There are certain inevitable tensions for the creative writer who is pioneering, as I am, this particular approach to history, to autobiography and to poetry. There is always the risk of artistic failure. The writer, the poet, must accept this reality. My understanding of my particular situation, my creative ability to cope with its problems, may not be a match for the requirements of the present hour.
However flexible and wide ranging is my opus, my oeuvre; however much I swim in the macrocosm and let the mind rest in the microcosm; however much I impress even myself, I am conscious that a literature does not consist merely of high peaks and isolated masterpieces but of a whole varied landscape in which all kinds of work and achievement have their place. I have a place on this landscape. It is a small place, standing as I do on this portion of dust, part of the great Threshold of God, exalted as It is above the knowledge of the learned.1 -Ron Price with thanks to Vivian Smith, Nettie Palmer: Her Private Journal Fourteen Years, Poems, Reviews and Literary Essays, University of Queensland Press, NY, 1988, Introduction; and ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, USA, 1985, p.234.
Part of the dust of that Threshold of Thine,
a desireable place, this place,
with no pretensions to greatness,
unless it be for the glory of God
and the loftiness of the state of Thy servants.1
Swimming as I do between
the microcosm and the macrocosm,
on a landscape of reminiscence,
portraits and impressions,
in intimacy with some of the here and now,
some of what has gone before
and what is yet to come,
with some of the significant dead
and those not yet born, ahead.
1 Baha’u’llah, a prayer, unofficial translation.
2 July 1999
A reflection after listening to a radio interview:
MAN IN A HURRY
For forty minutes Maria Zulstra interviewed a Polish academic, a sociologist who taught at the ANU before retiring. He now lives in Canberra and is aged eighty. He is Mr. Yerzy Suzinsky. I have tried to summarize his statements about his identity. For the interview was largely centred around his inner life and private character, what motivated him, what influenced him and, to a lesser extent, what he did in life. After this summary, I make a brief summary of my life by way of comparison and contrast. -Ron Price with thanks to Maria Zulstra, “The Europeans”, ABC Radio National, 21 November 1999, 1:05-1:50 pm.
I have always been a man in a hurry. I don’t like to waste time. I am impetuous, intuitive, a person who does not think enough before he acts, but is disciplined, tolerant and tries to learn from his immediate environment and make the best of his immediate situation. In retrospect, I should have done many things in my life more thoroughly and been guided more by reason and less by intuition. I found life tough and challenging and so took a tough approach to life. I was, therefore, strict on myself, my family and others with whom I interacted. I found several thinkers and writers highly influential on both my thinking and my behaviour over the years. Thomas Acquinas was one. Several Catholic saints, Karl Popper and a Polish writer not known here, were others. Their acts and thoughts I found useful. Generally, though, I was not the sort of person to reflect alot on my life. I get my sense of identity from my social, my society, activity. -Ron Price, A summary of the words of Yerzy Suzinsky in interview on ABC Radio National, 21 November 1999.
I, too, have been a man in a hurry. I think this was more true after I graduated from university and became a teacher. The lives of most teachers are ruled by the clock. My first wife used to say I was an impetuous person; one fellow teacher I worked with in 1973 saw me as unpredictable and she said that was why she liked me. I’m sure there were others, though, who found this a negative trait. I think I have combined intuition and reason in a fair balance in my life. I see myself as a person who is demanding of himself and easy going on others. There have been many people who have been influential on my life: the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith, several academic Baha’is I have known and/or read over the years: Douglas Martin, Jameson Bond, John Hatcher, Guy Murchie, Roger White, among others; as well as a wide number of secular thinkers: William Wordsworth, Bruce Dawe, Robert Nisbet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound and many others. My thinking and my behaviour has been influenced in ways that are impossible to summarize in a brief space. I taught a great deal of sociology over thirty years in teaching and took a special interest in sociological theory among the many subjects I taught.
Generally, I have been a highly introspective person. The front page of my three volume Journal has the words Know Thyself, ‘gnothi seauton’, from the temple of Apollo at Delphi. In spite of my introspective, reflective nature, I get much of my identity from my affiliation with and participation in the Baha’i Faith.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
Scars are indelible
Traces are intangible,
and stay for life.
unless they are discovered
history’s narrative web.
-unprecedented opportunities--HOLDING IT ALL TOGETHER-
your mark in deeds
A SWEET NEW LIFE
Some critics argue that, taken together, all of Lawrence’s writing-novels, poems, letters, essays, and journalism-constitutes one continuous autobiography. -Brenda Maddox, The Married Man: A Life of D.H. Lawrence, Minerva Press, London, 1995, p.316.
Price would argue that, taken together, all of his writing: poems, letters, essays, diary, journalism, attempts at novels, even his extensive note taking and lecture notes, constitute one continuous autobiography; and if autobiography is, or becomes, out of favour then this massive body of writing might be seen as a window into three epochs of the Formative Age, when the Baha’i Faith grew fro, perhaps, two hundred thousand believers to some six million.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
He’d seen, traversed,
an immense space,
the terrifying emptiness
of two continents,
between and after two wars
in those cities, towns and houses
he’d lived in over nearly five dozen
years and three dozen dwellings.
Its beauty did not elude him
but, what did elude him, often,
were the people.
They had been burgeoning,
had dried him out
with a taste of frozen bone,
like the vast vundra
and the deserts
which had, too,
with a sweet new life.
10 September 1999
A UNIQUE WORK
This Pioneering Over Three Epochs is a unique work: thousands of poems, hundreds of essays, a one hundred and fifty page narrative, several histories from one thousand to fifteen thousand words, several volumes of journal-diary entries, several efforts of varying length in the sci-fi genre, an extensive collection of many hundreds of letters, many volumes of photographs and notes, contributions to local spiritual assembly archives from 1965 to 1999, one slim cassette tape and an additional archive of gathering and complex and increasing proportions.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, April 18th 1999.
This vast mass of material
could be of use some day.
It’s impossible to calculate
at this early date, stage, of history:
the ninth stage and the first decades
of the tenth stage of history,
as the Guardian outlined them
back in 1953.
Here is one story that begins
at the beginning of the ninth
stage of history with an ad
in the local paper, a lady who
was not quite fifty and a little
boy of nine who played softball
in the summer and was in love
with a little girl across the street.
18 April 1999
AN EXACT REPORT
Price’s poetry is partly diary, partly journal, partly prose, partly self-portrait, partly autobiography, partly history, partly sociology, partly short story and, taken as a whole, partly the epic journey of a simple, an ordinary man, a pioneer, who saw himself as one of the plane or coloured threads in the warp and weft that made up the Baha’i community in the several epochs of the last half of the twentieth century. Price’s poetry provides a thematic order which he trusts possesses some universal significance, an intense inner voice, a strong personal element, an existential tone with a commitment to feelings, relations, thoughts, processes and the everyday, and a unity resulting from the pervasiveness of his troubled and not-so-troubled mind. -Ron Price with thanks to Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda translators of Romaji Diary and Sad Toys, Takuboku Ishikawa, Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, Vermont, 1985, pp.1-36.
There’s a chronicling of mind here
in these days of concentrated endeavour,
inscribing our mark on history as we do,
as I forge a style to suit a purpose with
civilization itself out of control.
I present an exact report, an honest diary
of my life, an expression of my will,
my fantasy, far, far from that boredom, that
nothing, that spiritlessness, those lifeless
moments of repose which meander through
existence giving birth to a superficial culture
and the idle pleasures of these days. Here,
I name my days and tell of an inwardness
that is my truth, a ‘thou’ to whom eternity
speaks, often not far from an absurdity, a
vanity, an emptiness, a seeming reality,
that is part and parcel of our very being.
20 February 1999
AUTOBIOGRAPHY: AN UNATTAINABLE GOAL
George Eliot’s ‘autobiography’ was constructed out of extracts from her letters and journals. Her husband, John Cross, cleverly gave the work the stamp of authenticity. In the true tradition of Victorian biography any unseemly references were expurgated, as were any remarks that might indicate that she possessed any human feelings like sarcasm, avaraciousness or sensuality. If whole sentences could not be omitted because of the sense, then words were changed to maintain the sacredness of the picture. -Ina Taylor, The Life of George Eliot: A Woman of Contradictions, William Morrow and Company, Inc., NY, 1989, p.226.
Facts about the past
are no more history than
butter, eggs, salt and pepper
are an omlette. They must be
whipped up and played with
in a certain fashion.
And life is no omlette and
can not be played with in
only one fashion. The very
complexity of life and
multitudes of detail make
the comprehensive, the
tedious. Life’s simplicities
and its inevitable trivia make
deep penetration, entertaining
if reading is to be enjoyed.
The recreation of a life
is a beautiful, but difficult
task: how to explain it to
myself and others, how to
compress one experience,
any experience, into glimpses
of light, shades of darkness,
of complexity, of elusiveness,
of aesthetic order and coherence?
So much is lost, so much barely
decipherable, so much seemingly
arbitrary, fragmentary, infinitessimal,
irrelevant, obscure, difficult to conceive,
impossible to explain, contradictory.
Some concentrated symbol of a life,
a creature in an environment, delicately
and not-so-delicately related, anecdotal,
commonplace, self-defining, an incomplete
literary project, an unattainable goal.
23 April 1999
A diaristic reflection on my two marriages:
BRAVE CHOICE? DIVINER THING?
It is difficult to write about the nature of a marital relationship. The outsider cannot know even half of what is happening and the two individuals themselves often do not understand the fine and not-so-fine workings of their longstanding intimacy. For something that occupies so much attention of men and women in the last half of the twentieth century in the first century of the Formative Age, it is a subject rarely discussed except in clinical terms by some specialist, beginning in various Baha’i books in the 1990s, from one of the social sciences. The secular literature was drowning in such discussions, but only very rarely did any Baha’i discuss his or her marital relationship in print.
Inevitably, those who are friends and associates, colleagues and acquaintances, of the couple concerned come to have different views of the nature of the relationship which characterises that partnership. “The fret and fever that presses in the wake of the strongest passion known to humanity”, as Thomas Hardy was to describe the sexual passion, is a particularly difficult aspect of a couple’s life to measure. Loving your spouse for what he or she is, rather than for what you would want them to be; loving the incompleteness of things, again as Hardy put it; being willing to struggle to change what can be changed, accept what cannot and knowing the difference between the two is an achievement that takes a lifetime and is one of the key marks of wisdom.
I have occasionally referred to the nature and quality of both my first and my second marriage. I have done so in my diary/journal, my poetry and briefly in my narrative autobiography. The account of Thomas Hardy’s experience in marriage has been helpful to me for the contrasts and comparisons I have been able to draw to my own experience. That I have experienced immense frustration in both marriages, sexual and otherwise, as Hardy did in his, goes without saying. But there is a sweetness in my second marriage, both in the sexual domain and in the very amicable relations my wife and I enjoy with each other that cannot be overemphasised. It would seem there has been some learning, however painful, from one marriage to the next and over what has been a difficult twenty-four years in a second marriage. I got married just as society was entering “the dark heart of the age of transition” back in 1967. It has been a tortuous road to hoe, as they say. I trust that from time to time I can add some personal and public dimension to this crucial aspect of human relationships over the three epochs that this pioneering venture is concerned with. -Ron Price with thanks to James Gibson, Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life, MacMillan Press, London, 1996, pp.119-123.
I always thought White put it best
love’s the chief prize we acquire,
referring as he did to maid or squire.
He was always so succinct
when he described my suffering:
to tame the fear’s to tame the fire
‘Tis fear of love of which we tire.
Brave choice secures diviner thing.1
1Roger White, The Witness of Pebbles, p.116.
Ron Price 14 May 1999
1 The reason the title puts question marks after “brave choice” and “diviner thing” is because, although there has been a certain bravery in not being unfaithful, in not going off with some other woman; and although I feel a certain ‘divineness’ in our marital relationship that has come from faithfulness, there is an element of doubt due to the quality of my own deeds, my own imperfections and a range of sins of omission and commission in this sexual domain going back before puberty. My record is far from perfect; indeed in my Western society, there would be few whose lifeline is untarnished, given the excessive and unbalanced emphasis on sexuality and sexual issues.
One could argue that my poetry is all part of a pedagogy of difference, as Henry Giroux calls a process of teaching and learning in which personal experience and history is investigated creatively, the writer explores and reclaims his identity within this context and he examines his self as the primary site of his politicization. My engagement in issues regarding the construction of my self; my addressing questions of history, culture and community; my creation of a language of possibility and of hope that points to the horizon of the not yet, these are all part of the underlieing matrix of my poetry. In some ways, my poetry is essentially an expression of my simple desire to exist, a love for His creation and mine, with no expectation for a return on His or my investment, so to speak. There is a sense of a sublime purposefulness flowing through things that I want to capture, to express in words. What flows through my poetry is a grain of this sublimity, a refining of my perception and that of others, a cherishing of vision, a creating, a making-it-up-as-I-go-along, all within a broad framework, as much as I am able, of what Huxley calls a ‘noetic integrator.’1 -Ron Price with appreciation to Huxley for the concept of a noetic integrator, a “symbolic or conceptual construction which serves to interpret large fields of reality, to transform experience into attitude and unify factual knowledge and belief” in Daniel Jordan and Donald Streets, “The Anisa Model”, Young Children, Vol.XXVIII, No.5, June 1973, p.290.
There is no teasing anonymity here,
rather a meticulous examination of
an age, epochs, plans, the experience
of a community coming out of obscurity
and myself. This is a telling how it was,
back then and is now, for me
and for the beginnings of community,
for those children of the half-light,
as he called us;
and for you, generations still unborn.
Shorn of the merely local and the time-bound
is this poetry that is itself, the expression of a quest:
riddlesome, obsessive, haunting, frustrating,
heroic, romantic—a quest to outlive
its human habitation, its time, its name.
Here is a soul at white heat,
in the midst of the world’s tempest and my own.
What truth is here will dazzle gradually,
except the blind.
There is superb surprise in here,
in these words of mine;
I do not take you head on, dear reader,
but through this mirror of my art.
I lead you to the Grander Truths,
if only you will ride,
will stay with me a time,
I stand in awe of what I write,
its reflections of that Friend,
its restless, improvising voice
from beginning to the end.
I take these years and endless days,
the flower of my time;
I take them in my loneliness
as I seek that God inside:
enchanted, mighty, powerful, self-subsistent.
And as I watch my light go out,
as slowly it surely, thankfully, must,
in this Age that has disseminated the Sun
as it has so clearly, unobtrusively, done.
I watch it wane and quiet go
as I reach out to give my voice coherent form
and spin in orbit
about the kernel of myself
in all the inchoate passions of life.
These poems are my paintings,
the pages of my journal,
the endless movement of my thought2
and what will endure, if any, is impossible to say.
9 November 1999
1 Many of the ideas here came from Joyce Carol Oates, “Soul at White Heat”, Critcal Inquiry, Summer 1987.
2 Pablo Picasso in Critical Inquiry, as above, p.6. Obtained off Internet.
DO YOU LIKE OYSTERS?
Guy de Maupassant's short stories should be swallowed by the dozen, or dozens. This is the only way to get the true Maupassant flavour. You should consume them the way you do oysters. What emerges is an impression of incredible energy, health and vitality. Part of this impression is his delight in sex. Taken on their own, though, none of his short stories could be described as great or a masterpiece.-Ron Price with thanks to Colin Wilson, The Strength to Dream, Abacus, London, 1976(1962), p.155.
One does not want to be swallowed by the booklet or booklets. It is a little like reading the histories of Toynbee or Gibbon or the journals of Thoreau. You need time to savour his big picture. For "poetry", says Franco Moretti in his Shakespearean Tragedy "is synonymous with the organic crisis of a political and cultural order."(Longman, London, p.69) And these are days of high crisis and the search for relevant cultural and political paradigms is upon us. Price is engaged in the serious and engaging business of providing a poetic construction for a new politcal and cultural paradigm at once enticing, powerful and metaphorically rich, whose time has come.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
And it is an immense task,
certainly more than any one
man can construct. And the
poets involved must salute each
other with the phrase: take your time!1
And the conversation is mainly with
myself. And the faults in my style,
like some constitutional blemishes,
I must accept. For what I write is
feeble stuff, containing in its midst
great prospects.2 It is also something
deep in the core of civilization which
I take great delight in contemplation:
strange, joyful, staggeringly complex,
peaceful, working its way toward the
light and deep down into the dark.3
1 Ludwig, Wittegenstein, Culture and Values, editor, G.H. Von Wright, trans. Peter Winch, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1980, p.78.
2 ibid., p.65.
3 ibid., p.47.
9 July 1999