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Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
Autobiography: Part 8
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Autobiography: Part 8

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The poet Byron expressed the view that his writing derived from a painful intensification of self and the desire for relief from it. To withdraw himself from himself, to be relieved from what he saw …

The poet Byron expressed the view that his writing derived from a painful intensification of self and the desire for relief from it. To withdraw himself from himself, to be relieved from what he saw as his "cursed selfishness," this was his sole, his entire, his "sincere motive in scribbling at all."

While I find there is some truth in this explanation for the origins of my writing, there is so much more to it; indeed, the raison d'etre is quite complex. It is a subject I have gone into from time to time throughout this memoir and I feel the need to expatiate on it to touch the motivational matrix, the explanatory framework, for why and what I am doing. Writing as I do here may be an escape from self, but it is also a royal road to selfhood. This work also negotiates the relationship between self and community in both the Bahá'í Faith and the nations I have lived in, Australia and Canada. This exercise in negotiation is also a source of the complexity I refer to above. There seem to have been many different impulses at work in these volumes.

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  • 1. COMPANION PIECE TO AUTOBIOGRAPHY VOL5 CHAPTER 11 The following chapter of volume 5--and volume 3 in the three volume set at Lulu.com--is to be added to my autobiography after my passing at the instigation of my literary executor(s). The reason for this is the ‘personal nature’ of some of the material. I have placed some of the less personal material here from this last chapter. Readers who have followed my autobiography thusfar will be able to finish this story, this analysis, this memoir, this autobiography in many genres, when they hear of my demise when my literary executor places this addition into the text of my work, if he she or it ever does. -Ron Price, for my 65th birthday on 23 July 2009. VOLUME 5: CHAPTER 11 THE YEARS OF LATE ADULTHOOD There are several major models of human development and all of them outline a series of stages. In this autobiography/memoir I draw on several models and their sets of terms. Erik Erikson’s eight stage psycho-social model refers to the years from 60 to 80 as late adulthood. Gail Sheehy writes about a Second Adulthood beginning at 45. Another model divides old age into three phases or stages beginning at age 65: young old(65-74), old old(75-84) and oldest old(86 and above) with centenarians, of course, those 100 and more. I am now 65 and as I move through these middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80), as I come to the end of the second decade of Sheehy’s Second Adulthood, as I enter the first years of the ‘young-old’(65-74) stage of life, I continue in this chapter, the final one as I presently anticipate, of an autobiography I started nearly 25 years ago. There is no doubt, and the philosopher Nietzsche who emphasized the idea, that time plays a major role in how human beings define themselves. The sense of the historical, the sense of pain, of melancholy, of boredom and much else are all involved in the sense of time and time has certainly played a part in my conception of this work. Many writers describe quite movingly the years of late adulthood and old age and perhaps I will in the years ahead. It is not my purpose to summarize society’s story, a story which can easily be read with some or much effort and interest in a myriad sources in the public domain. But I will refer to
  • 2. some of the writings on the subject of late adulthood and old age as I pass by, as I engage in, this survey of these twenty years from 60 to 80, the early years of old age from 65 to 74 and some of that old-old phase from 75 to 84. ‘Non-renewable’ has been a term in the public domain that has had increased frequency since my middle age(40-60: 1984-2004). Certainly my life and its non-renewable time is something I pass through with a sense of nostalgia for what has gone. There is a sense of ontological security about the past, a sense that the future can not possess. Age, as Goethe says, takes us by surprise and we are insensibly forced to look at it. We may have an old body but our inner self may remain young. In my case I began to feel old in my fifties; that was one reason I retired at 55. I was already feeling old, or at least I experienced the beginnings of such a feeling at that point in my life. When I read that Kierkegaard felt old when he was born, I was comforted in my own somewhat early feeling of being old. Although feeling old, I felt I was in some ways chronicling the zeitgeist of our time. I felt like this in my better moments and in my worst moments I felt I just might be wasting my time. T.S. Eliot had warned me in something he wrote and which I first read back in the 1980s when I was teaching English literature that the writer, the poet, must be prepared that all his writing might just come to naught. And indeed, I have been warned. There is one topic I would like to put to bed, at least give greater exposure to in these final pages, because of the personal importance it became to me in my late forties and still is nearly twenty years later. I alluded to it in Volume 4 Chapter 7, the last chapter before my epilogue. I included it in a series of updates I made to the first edition of this autobiography. It is not my intention to put this section on the internet because of the confessional nature of this topic, the embarrassment it gives me to talk about it publicly and, therefore, it is my present intention to keep this chapter, this section of my autobiography, private until after my death. On the other hand the contents of this chapter may come, in time, not to be embarrassing. Time will tell. Much, indeed, most of what I write that falls into the confessional and too embarrassing category I have written in my journal and I have left that to my executors to decide what to do with it, if anything.
  • 3. Saul Bellow once wrote that “disappearing from something and never coming back”1 was his way of making a significant change. When this chapter is made public I will have made a significant change in my life; I will have disappeared and I will never be coming back! Death puts us all in a hole, as the Báb once wrote, “for those who speak no more,” unless, of course, we are cremated and then our ashes can go anywhere. In 1991 I began to write poetry with a frequency that increased by 1992 to a point where it could be called an obsession and it remains an obsession to this day. It was a type of poetry that increasingly combined the prose which had been an important part of my life since the start of my pioneering experience thirty years before. At the same time, in my late forties, it became obvious that my sexual activity was going to remain, in all likelihood and for the most part, an unfulfilled fantasy and desire. Except for two short-brief periods in the first few months-years of both my marriages, my sex drive proved to be an instinctual urge that was difficult to satisfy. The reasons are complex and I hope to dwell on them at another time. "When you've finished a patch of your life,” Doris Lessing once said in an interview, “you look back and you see that it has a pattern which you didn't notice when you were living it."2 I’m sure that will be true of these years of late adulthood as well. One such pattern emerged somewhat serendipitously and I can see that pattern as I cast my eye over all those years of moving from place to place. I can now see those same years, if I desire, in juxtaposiiton with the five travel books of Mark Twain. Were I to follow Mark Twain’s pattern I might write or I might have written, seven to fourteen such books for the major regions in which I lived and had my being during my pioneer days. I could very well see what has been written here in this autobiography as a series of travel books very much in the vein of Twain’s style. 1 Saul Bellow, “Talk With Saul Bellow,” Harvey Brett, The New York Times On the Web, September 20th 1953. 2 Doris Lessing in The Progressive, June 1999. 2
  • 4. Against this 19th century American writer’s travel books the charge might be brought that they are ill-composed: the chapters follow a certain chronological and geographical order; but the paragraphs frequently seem to owe their juxtaposition to the most casual association of ideas. This license was the law and studied practice of Mark Twain’s humour. “To bring incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and to seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis,” Mark Twain declared, “of the American art.” I don’t see my juxtapositions as absurdities, but there are many an incongruity and I do wander about in my outline and description of each locality where my soul, for a time, resided. Mark Twain saw his travel books as collections of joyous miscellany. Mine, too, are a miscellany but with ingredients preconsidered and formulable. I am not as inflexible as Aristotle in the importance I give to choosing my subject matter. I hold with the classicists, as Twain did, that the proper study of mankind is man. We both traverse in each of our travel books territory of world-wide interest, or so it seems to me. He describes what meets his eye with rapid, vivid, unconventional eloquence. I describe what meets my mind more than my eye, although I don’t think my phases are particularly unconventional and my wife would say I possess a certain visual illiteracy. I sketch historical background in a highly personal fashion and give to that background an individual twist. While both Mark Twain and I impart a good quantity of information, hopefully useful and sometimes diverting, we keep the thread of our personal adventures spinning, rhapsodising each page each in our own style. Twain clowns around or introduces an elaborate burlesque on the enthusiasm of previous travellers.3 I maintain a more serious demeanour for my concoction. For both of us, though, we provide a prepared concoction each of us in various degrees of preparedness. Time will not reduce the rich variety of the topics, the subjects and the landscapes that come under the survey of my mind and eye, though time will inevitably alter both my descriptions and the nature of the curiosity and 3 Mark Twain in The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21), Volume XVII, Later National Literature, Part II, Mark Twain.
  • 5. the degree of interest of the readers who come across this work. The type of reader who will one day take an interest in this autobiography may, in fact, never come to exist and, if he does, he may after a short time become extinct. On the other hand such readers may continue to inhabit the globe and gratify their historical sense by acquaintance with a certain pioneer of yesteryear on a tremendous voyage over four epochs in the first century of the Formative Age. Joining this pioneer and this reader in a journey across two continents, the reader may find that my mental acuity has been sharpened by the tempest of two world wars which took place in the thirty years before he was born. The slaughter of millions during this thirty year period and the sixty-five after his birth by a mix of other methods would be enough to either sharpen or asphyxiate the mind and emotions. Readers of whatever quantity that arise in future years may find, too, that this pioneer’s spirit was left reeling and his mind bewildered as it watched some mighty wind of God invading the earth and deranging its equilibrium. If it was not a mighty wind of God that deranged his equilibrium from time to time, it was a series of events, partly chemical in nature, partly circumstantial and partly due to life’s inaccessible mysteries that afflicted his mind and troubled his spirit. Mark Twain in gathering together his travel books followed his own advice to Rudyard Kipling: “Young man, first get your facts; then distort them as you please.” In the process, one could argue, Mark Twain produces a more readable book. The facts get distorted and vitalized by means of some poetical enlargement into a great adventure for the mass market. My problem is not to get my facts, but to choose them and arrange them in such a way that they please me and interest my readers. This is no easy task. I bring poetical enlargement to the exercise, but I strive to present that enlargement in a context of accuracy, personal experience and societal understanding. Whether I please the reader, I shall probably never know, although I have been getting some useful feedback on the internet in the last half-dozen years, some positive and some negative. We forget, obsessed as many of us are with extending our lives, that death lasts much longer, and as private as mourning may be, tombstones are often our most public and enduring record. Perhaps we all should follow Sir Rupert Hart-Davis' example given to him by T.S. Eliot, a man not noted for his comedic aspirations. To eulogize he told mourners an anecdote: "One day when Eliot was being driven somewhere, he and the chauffeur passed
  • 6. the time by discussing the merits of their respective dogs. Eventually the chauffeur thought that perhaps he had overpraised his own dog, and said, 'But, sir, he isn't really what you'd call a consequential dog.'" Of course Eliot was a consequential man, and his chauffeur knew it. But speak of things too consequentially and they do get ridiculous. How do you lend weight to ashes without appearing to apply them, like war paint, to your own reputation? By laughing the whole business off, acknowledging that even the most consequential dog has its final day, one can take a serious subject and lighten its effect, make it arguably inconsequential. I forget, too, at least I do not give sufficient emphasis, that the concept, process and outcome of writing is based on collaboration. Thinking and creativity are essentially social processes. My individual identity is a synthesis of the qualities of multiple role models and influences. Collaboration contributes to vitality by supporting the ongoing development of a changing self. That creativity may be seen as a social process could be a slightly contentious claim. Arguments are often made for one individual’s ability to think and create effectively in sustained isolation; for example, Henry David Thoreau or Ludwig Wittgenstein among other writers. However, I think it is true that we live in an age where, as isolated and even alienated as many feel, with a lack of community at the heart of so much unhappiness in contemporary Western society, never before has there been such a profound and sustained engagement with the notion of collaboration in the arts, especially working cross-arts with the possibility of thinking as a social process. The late twentieth into the twenty-first century has seen creative collaboration develop in a range of contexts, though it continues to be the inevitable outcome of two or more artists/creative people deciding to share ideas and practice. But collaboration has also become an academic goal/strategy/methodology, recognized as useful for creative projects. It is now, of course, significantly aided by computer technology and the Internet, which enhance the possibility of worthwhile long-distance collaboration. Indeed collaborators ping-pong files across continents as well as counties. Text can be sent with such speed and alacrity that the creative momentum is easily sustained. Much of this autobiography is the result of ideas, of text, of borrowing, of synthesizing, the work of others and making my own mix of it all.
  • 7. Much of my writing is done within predetermined frames, but this does not make my work flawed and unexercised. This is how Naipaul views Conrad's creative imagination. "Conrad's subjects and all his conclusions seemed to have existed in his head when he settled down to write. We almost begin with the truth, portable truths, as it were, that can sometimes be rendered as aphorisms and work through to their demonstration." Other contemporary writers Naipaul denounces for their experimentation and linguistic play as existing for their own sake, or for private glamour with the writer no longer awakening the reader to "the sense of true wonder". I’m not sure how Naipaul would view my work. He likely never will. But, if my writing comes to be seen as Naipaul’s was by one critic: “a wonder of clarity with complex ideas given shape in simple English and achieving that most difficult of tasks--having writer and reader seem simultaneously to be making the same journey—I will feel the road has been worth walking. Writers are often untrustworthy when it comes to explaining the nature of their craft and calling. I hope I am not in that category. I present myself as an explorer on a heuristic voyage. My themes, I like to think, are consistent and obsessive. I could not describe myself the way Naipaul did with the following words: ''I couldn't truly call myself a reader. I have never had the capacity to lose myself in a book; like my father, I could read only in little bits. In my early career I hadn't begun to think in any concrete way about what I might write. Yet I continued to think of myself as a writer.'' I, on the other hand, am a reader, often in little bits but often, too, lost in the print. Until my forties I had no idea what I might write, although I knew I did want to write much more than in classrooms for students. But from the age of forty to sixty-five, from 1984 to 2009, that changed by sensible and insensible degrees until the activity took over my life and one of the results is this memoir. Like Naipaul I have tried to recognise the fragmented aspects of my identity and to see how they enabled me to become who I now am. This is a ceaseless process, this reconstituting of my individual self deep in its home in history. It is what much of Naipaul's work has been compulsively engaged in—and much of mine.4 The greatest miracle for Naipal, he says, was getting started. I feel--and the anxiety is still vivid to me--that I might easily have failed before I began. For me, this getting 4 Robert McCrum, “Fragments from a Universal History,” The Observer, Sunday 18 January 2004
  • 8. started has gone on for the last 65 years. Who knows what lies ahead now that I have begun!? The nineteenth-century French critic Sainte-Beuve believed that to understand a writer it was necessary to know as much as possible about the exterior man, the details of his life. If this is true I have certainly provided those details. But this method is a beguiling one, argues Naipal in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001. Using the man to illuminate the work can only take one so far. This position might even seem unassailable. But Proust was able very convincingly to pick this view apart and readers of this autobiography need to keep Proust’s comment in mind as they reflect on what they have read here. Proust wrote that: "This method of Sainte-Beuve ignores what a very slight degree of self- acquaintance with the writer teaches us; namely, that a book is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices. If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it." Those words of Proust should be with readers here as they survey my life and this work which depends on what can be called inspiration. I have laid out a great deal of detail about my life and my quirks and friendships, but the mystery of the writing remains. No amount of documentation, however fascinating, can take readers there. The autobiography of a writer will always have this incompleteness. "In fact," Proust writes, "it is the secretions of one's innermost self, written in solitude and for oneself alone that one gives to the public. What one bestows on private life, in conversation, or in those drawing-room essays that are scarcely more than conversation in print, is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents the world."5 In contrast to this type of autobiographical intimacy is the life and attitude to self and others of Sir Isaac Newton. I came across a biography of Newton just three days before my 65th birthday.6 I am not inclined to read a biography from cover to cover and was pleased to be able to read a review 5 Marcel Proust in V.S. Naipaul’s Acceptance Speech in 2001 for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • 9. by John Derbyshire. That Sir Isaac Newton was a tremendous genius, there is no doubt at all, writes Derbyshire. There are excellent arguments for the proposition that, so far as mathematics and its physical applications are concerned, Newton’s mind was among the most powerful that ever existed. The story of Newton’s life is, however, to put it very mildly indeed, not enthralling. He never travelled outside eastern England. He took no part in business or in war. In spite of having lived through some of the greatest events in English constitutional history, he seems to have had no interest in public affairs. His brief tenure as a Member of Parliament for Cambridge University made not a ripple on the political scene. Newton had no intimate connections with other human beings. On his own testimony which there is no strong reason to doubt--he died a virgin. He was similarly indifferent to friendship and published only with reluctance and, then, often anonymously. He was afraid that public esteem, if he were able to acquire and maintain it, would perhaps increase his social profile, the acquaintance of others, the thing which he wanted to avoid at all costs. His relationships with his peers, when not tepidly absent-minded, were dominated by petty squabbles, which he conducted with an irritated punctiliousness that never quite rose even to the level of an interesting vehemence. He was, “a cold fish,” as the English say. In all probability a biography of Newton, or an autobiography by him had he chose to write one, would never catch the public eye and result in popularity. If this lengthy work in five volumes suffers a similar fate I will feel I am in good company. Fara's book is an intellectual history that follows how the image of Newton was shaped and re-shaped over the centuries, often to fit the needs of changing society or even just individuals. It is unlikely that my work will follow a similar intellectual path down the centuries. If it follows any path at all and if I am in a position to assess that path from the world beyond, I look forward to the exercise in that busy Land of Lights. 6 Patricia Fara, Newton: The Making of Genius, Patricia Fara, Columbia University Press, 2002. See book review by John Derbyshire, “The Apple in Our Eye,” in The New Criterion, May 2003.
  • 10. by John Derbyshire. That Sir Isaac Newton was a tremendous genius, there is no doubt at all, writes Derbyshire. There are excellent arguments for the proposition that, so far as mathematics and its physical applications are concerned, Newton’s mind was among the most powerful that ever existed. The story of Newton’s life is, however, to put it very mildly indeed, not enthralling. He never travelled outside eastern England. He took no part in business or in war. In spite of having lived through some of the greatest events in English constitutional history, he seems to have had no interest in public affairs. His brief tenure as a Member of Parliament for Cambridge University made not a ripple on the political scene. Newton had no intimate connections with other human beings. On his own testimony which there is no strong reason to doubt--he died a virgin. He was similarly indifferent to friendship and published only with reluctance and, then, often anonymously. He was afraid that public esteem, if he were able to acquire and maintain it, would perhaps increase his social profile, the acquaintance of others, the thing which he wanted to avoid at all costs. His relationships with his peers, when not tepidly absent-minded, were dominated by petty squabbles, which he conducted with an irritated punctiliousness that never quite rose even to the level of an interesting vehemence. He was, “a cold fish,” as the English say. In all probability a biography of Newton, or an autobiography by him had he chose to write one, would never catch the public eye and result in popularity. If this lengthy work in five volumes suffers a similar fate I will feel I am in good company. Fara's book is an intellectual history that follows how the image of Newton was shaped and re-shaped over the centuries, often to fit the needs of changing society or even just individuals. It is unlikely that my work will follow a similar intellectual path down the centuries. If it follows any path at all and if I am in a position to assess that path from the world beyond, I look forward to the exercise in that busy Land of Lights. 6 Patricia Fara, Newton: The Making of Genius, Patricia Fara, Columbia University Press, 2002. See book review by John Derbyshire, “The Apple in Our Eye,” in The New Criterion, May 2003.

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