My Autobiography: Part 3
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My Autobiography: Part 3

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This document begins with VOLUME TWO: CHAPTER TWO and my PREAMBLE: ...

This document begins with VOLUME TWO: CHAPTER TWO and my PREAMBLE:

PRE-YOUTH DAYS--1956 to 1959

"Confession oozes from every pore....."

The story of who we are, how we come to be this thing we call ourself, the interior and exterior landscape where it all takes place, is to a significant extent created. It is created by a complex of forces. It is/must also be maintained and revised from time to time with the years and with particular circumstances. This task some call the reflexive project. I call it writing my autobiography. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Polity Press, Cambridge UK, 1991.
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The suspiciousness of the historian needs to be most pronounced in that tender region of experience and sexuality, interpersonal relationships and privacy where pride, shame, or embarrassment guide the pen, inventing conquests and denying defeats, distorting feelings and, only too often, copying formulas. Few autobiographers understand all their impulses or are conscious of their ambivalence. They often do not remotely know how much they are really saying. Confession oozes from every pore, even if one tries to conceal one's innermost desires and aversions.-Ron Price with thanks to Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria To Freud, Education of the Senses, Oxford UP, NY, 1984, pp.110-11.

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My Autobiography: Part 3 My Autobiography: Part 3 Document Transcript

  • VOLUME TWO: CHAPTER TWO PREAMBLE 2: PRE-YOUTH DAYS--1956 to 1959 "Confession oozes from every pore....." The story of who we are, how we come to be this thing we call ourself, the interior and exterior landscape where it all takes place, is to a significant extent created. It is created by a complex of forces. It is/must also be maintained and revised from time to time with the years and with particular circumstances. This task some call the reflexive project. I call it writing my autobiography. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Polity Press, Cambridge UK, 1991. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The suspiciousness of the historian needs to be most pronounced in that tender region of experience and sexuality, interpersonal relationships and privacy where pride, shame, or embarrassment guide the pen, inventing conquests and denying defeats, distorting feelings and, only too often, copying formulas. Few autobiographers understand all their impulses or 1
  • are conscious of their ambivalence. They often do not remotely know how much they are really saying. Confession oozes from every pore, even if one tries to conceal one's innermost desires and aversions.-Ron Price with thanks to Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria To Freud, Education of the Senses, Oxford UP, NY, 1984, pp.110-11. ___________________________________________________________ “A book is not an isolated being,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges, “it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.”1 And so is this the case here and the axis this chapter opens with goes back to 1956. In 1956 in September I entered grade seven. I was twelve years old. In 1959, in October, at the age of fifteen I joined the Baha'i Faith. These three years, the three years this chapter concerns itself with, were busy ones playing baseball in the spring and summer, hockey in the winter and football in the autumn. Between games I managed to fit in the last two years of primary school and the first year of high school. At the start of the winter season, in November of 1957, the Guardian died. It was an event, then, on the edges of my life. I recall, vaguely now, a sense of sadness and loss in the small Baha'i community of Burlington which I had so recently joined and which I had been a part of in various ways for some four years. 1 Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” The Modern World Internet Site, 2006. 2
  • Canada only had a few hundred Baha'is at the time. Shoghi Effendi died in the sixtieth year of the Canadian Baha'i historical experience and in his own sixtieth year of life. He was as old when he died as I am as I write these words. By the same year, 1957, at least according to no less an authority than the famous rock magazine Rolling Stone, the "rock 'n' roll era had begun"2 or, as some other received wisdom might have it, the first wave of rock 'n' roll ended.3 Elvis had been inducted into the Army; Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard had crossed over to the pop charts, although I did not find any of these icons an influence on my life. They were all, with Shoghi Effendi who had died on the cusp of his middle and late adulthood, largely peripheral. These singers came into my sensory emporium on transistor radios and the little blue plug-in radio I had in my bedroom. The Guardian hardly entered at all into my mental set in 1957. I had yet to buy any of his books; annual Ridvan letters had yet to become a regular part of my life. I was a young man in a little town in Canada who had just crossed over into puberty and teen age life, had just kissed a girl for the first time and was winning big-time in baseball and at school. 2 Palmer, Rolling Stone, Vol. 12. 3 Robert Miklitsch, “Rock 'N' Theory: Autobiography, Cultural Studies, and the Death of Rock, Postmodern Culture, 1999. 3
  • My first memories of life in a Baha'i community go back to this period. Until that time, the time when my parents began to engage with this small Baha’i community, the only people who ever came into our home were a few relatives, fewer friends and, for a short time in the early 1950s, groups of CCF people. CCF was a small political party in Canada. It stood for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and was a leftward leaning, socialist alternative party in Canada that both my mother and father had taken an interest in during their first years in Burlington on Seneca Street where we lived about three to four hundred yards from Lake Ontario. Both my parents went to groups outside our home, mostly churches where they sang in choirs4 and various religious groups of which Baha’i was one. It has been suggested by some writers that "autobiographies of childhood and adolescence are an autonomous subgenre."5 Early memories are more poetical than historical they say. However true this may be, I use it as a cautionary note and continue on my historical way. I return to these years as I might to a warehouse of cultural scenarios, a kind of "temporal 4 For some time my mother went to the Anglican Church(1957-8ca). Both my parents sang in a United Church(1955-6ca). These two churches were two of the main three denominations in Canada. 5 See e.g. Joy Hooton, Stories of Herself When Young: Autobiographies of Childhood by Australian Women, Oxford UP, Melbourne, 1990. 4
  • central casting."6 I passed my boyhood and youth with some irresponsibility, not as extensive as Huckleberry Finn’s and not as imaginative and mischievous as Tom Sawyer’s, or at least Mark Twain’s rendition of these nineteenth century children of the Mississippi. It often seemed that the years passed slowly back then. My studious nature helped the years to pass, unlike Mark Twain’s far less studious nature and his circumstances which forced him to leave school at the age of twelve offering him very poor opportunities for study. My opportunities, those of the first generation in the West to enjoy educational opportunities which had been extended to all classes, filled by childhood, my adolescence and my early adulthood from the age of four or five to twenty-three. Unlike Mark Twain’s life, which saw his father die when he was twelve and saw him apprenticed at the same age to a printer, my father did not die until I was twenty-one and my apprenticeship, if one can call it that, consisted of summer jobs throughout my late childhood, my teens and early twenties. My apprenticeship, too, took many forms. One of the more crucial ones consisted of laying or crouching in the murky half-light of my bedroom while my body, unbearably frightened, crushed my spirit with fear. As 6 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996, p.30. 5
  • my spirit crushed my body whose tiniest fibers cringed in apprehension about what might happen and what was happening, I waited for the argument between my parents to end. It always ended and morning always came. I could continue with much specificity, about the cringing in my bedroom as I recall the little voice of my youth but not now and perhaps hardly at all in this memoir. Suddenly, or at least it seemed suddenly looking back, at some time in the years of my late childhood, 1954 to 1956, almost overnight, I saw my dad serving a lounge-room full of people. He probably served the guests to our home when the CCF folks gathered in our small lounge-room. But I can not recall; I probably made myself scarce given the level of verbal conflict that partisan politics generates.7 We had a small lounge-room and ten people made quite an impression and filled all the spaces available. Some of the people from this period made a lasting impression on me. I'm sure, with a little historical and archival digging, I could write a small book on these earliest days in the Burlington Baha'i community, but time and circumstance have made many of the memories indistinct. 7 This anecdote is a good example of the difficulty in writing about events in one’s life, in this case, half a century ago. These memories of the CCF are vague in the extreme. 6
  • I'm not sure how edifying such a detailed account of these earliest years of association with this new world religion would be anyway. In many ways they were just ordinary people: reading, talking, eating, being friendly, being idiosyncratic, being themselves, being their social selves. I rarely met them in private. They were people in community. There is a strangeness to people in community, a touch of the bizarre. I find that even now after fifty years of being part of it. And its not just the Baha'i community. It's true of people anywhere who gather together from time to time and take on the nomenclature: community. People in community is, perhaps, the greatest drama in life. It is this drama that is the stuff of fiction, clever and entertaining writing and the best and worst of the modern novel. Had I been able to write fiction successfully I might never have written this autobiography. In that first Baha'i community where I got my start, my first experiences of people of all ages in community, there were retired people, artists, an accountant, a teacher, a businessman and several women who seemed to be housewives. I was never quite sure, then, what everyone did. And I'm often not sure even now. People have their jobs, of course, but what they actually do in their jobs and at all the other times keeps you busy figuring out, keeps you guessing. The unity of the group is what you could call a heterogeneous unity. Heterogeneity was the stuff of the unity, of the 7
  • dynamic unity, of the Baha'i community. The acids of imitation and conventionality have trouble eating such a vitality away. They can and they do, of course, because they are inevitable ingredients of any community which shares customs, a common calendar with its regular events, feasts and fasts, inter alia. One must be on guard that the acids of individualism don't achieve the same result. The question is quite a complex one and I deal with it more fully later in this work, in chapter 17. There were Baha'is back then whom I should mention. Any historians in the Canadian Baha'i community who were part of the Baha'i community in the 1950s in Ontario or who like Will van den Hoonaard, a sociologist at the University of New Brunswick, study that community now would wonder how I could write about this period and not at least mention their names. Nancy Campbell, George Spendlove, George and Hazel Cutriss, Jim Gibb, Helen Macquarie, John and Hattie Dixon, Fred and Jean Graham and others dotted the human landscape and became part and parcel of the lives of the Price family in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. By October 1959, then, joining the Baha'i Faith was like joining a family I had been a part of for several years. Each of the people I have mentioned here had their idiosyncrasies, their individual personalities, their constellation of interests, their families, their biography's but, after 8
  • nearly fifty years, I must confess that most of these details are forgotten in the mists of time. As I reflect on these first associations in the Baha’i community I can’t help but also reflect on Aristotle's concept of mimesis. "The instinct for imitation,” writes Aristotle, “is inherent in human beings from our earliest days; we differ from other animals in that we are the most imitative of creatures and learn our earliest lessons by imitation.”8 My association with the Baha’i community began when I was nine or ten and these several individuals whose homes I entered and who entered the home of my mother and father had qualities worthy of emulation. We all have a sense of a public self, and we keep refashioning ourselves according to the information we process. In one form or another, we are performers. In 1953/4 I entered a world of performers. Those in that world of performers which I entered at the age of nine were not paid for honing their craft as the characters who played the roles in Shakespeare’s plays like Hamlet. But they were all performers who were aware of their audience, as we all are, some of course more than others.9 8 Yu Shibuya, “Shakespeare on Film in Asia and Hollywood,” editor, Charles Ross, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature, March 2004. 9 Shibuya discusses this aspect of the performing self in relation to Hamlet and to our own lives in Shibuya, op.cit. 9
  • “Perhaps the most crucial failing of postwar America’s obsession with family togetherness,” as Benita Eisler observes in her book Private Lives: Men and Women of the Fifties,10 “was the ease with which it concealed destructive family dynamics from the outside world.” As Children in particular were “pressed into service early as happy smiling fronts, emissaries of family normalcy, cheerful proof that ‘nothing was really wrong’ at the Joneses” (170). Moreover, in a culture that touted “a man’s home is his castle,” letting the mask of conformity slip offered little hope of outside intervention. Notes historian Jessica Weiss, “A focus on family to the exclusion of all else isolated couples, leaving spouses few outside resources when conflict erupted.” A battered wife, for instance, found that neighbors and teachers were all too willing to overlook her scars and bruises in order to preserve “the fiction of togetherness,” leaving the woman “stranded trying to make a ‘happy’ home and raise children in between the rage and beatings that she could neither prevent nor stop” (137). My mother had her brother and sister to lean on when my father irrupted in the 1950s when he was in his sixties. I don’t know to what extent she opened-up to her Bahá'í friends. The heat was on our little family of three 10 Benita Eisler, Private Lives: Men and Women of the Fifties. Danbury, CT, Franklin Watts, 1986, p. 10
  • back then; it was on both my mother and father much more than I was aware as they stoically battled on. One of the reasons I have written this autobiography is that I am coming to realize more and more what was really going on in my life: in my family, my religion and my society. I was part of an extraordinary time, the foundation decades at the beginning of Baha'i history in Canada and Baha'i history as it extended its reach especially in the 1950s. I would also like to think that this work, inspite of its length or perhaps because of it, will one day make the leap from autobiography to historical and educational resource. I think there is something epic about this narrative. What I have written may be historically unwieldy; it may wander hither and yon over two continents and two centuries, two marriages and twenty-two towns, but it portrays a story about a subject I know best-- myself. The story tends to go on and on, turning in on itself to some extent as time so often seems to stand still in the microcosm of one’s personal history and the history of one’s religion and society that is its subject matter. Time is often caught with the light, the dust and the hot air or the cloud, the clear air and the cold in the small space of a dim hot airless room, a room full of people or a dozen other settings where time in the reflective light of one’s life does not seem to move. As Tolstoi points 11
  • out in his foreward to War and Peace time and history when viewed from the perspectives of individuals form a “majestic, complex, infinitely varied and indistinct impression.”11 An individual’s experience, as opposed to a formal report, presents a different story. The artist, the autobiographer, tends to turn away from the formal report. It is as if, Tolstoi goes on, the historian and the literary artist are writing about two different subjects. That is why readers of this work will find me weaving the past and the present, different time periods, within one warp and weft, always with some corner of my eye on the future. Some readers may find this style, this approach that I take, disconcerting, discontinuous, confusing, not the tidy narrative that goes from A to B to C in simple time frames incrementally added like the Romans, annalistically, year by year. Organization theorist Gary Kreps, who teaches about narratives in organizations, says that they are "cultural storehouses for organizational intelligence."12 These narratives, whether sequential or with 11 Tolstoi in Tolstoi: The Critical Heritage, editor, A.V. Knowles, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1978, pp.124-129. 12 Gary Kreps, Communication in Organizations, Brock University Course, Internet, 2003. 12
  • interweaving-interconnected time frames as in this autobiography have several functions which I'd like to list here: * reduce uncertainty by providing organization members with pertinent information, enhancing their certainty by increasing predictability; * manage meanings by providing members with common explanations for collective sense-making; * facilitate member bonding by giving common symbolic frames of reference; * illustrate cultural themes, as every organization has unique cultural themes and a unique organizational history; * give keys to the way members in the organizational culture interpret reality, as every organization has sets of cognitive and interpretive schemes or frames; * provide informal networking and connection among organization members; * embody traces and sometimes explicit articulations of the dreams or goals of the organization. I'm not sure this autobiography will provide all these functions, but I've certainly put it on the road to doing so. If good autobiography "frees us momentarily from ambiguity," as autobiographer Jill Ker Conway says it should, and is "rooted in powerful motivations which push to one side the 13
  • conventions of modesty,"13 then I'm not so sure this narrative autobiography is that well-written. The convention of modesty has been pushed aside occasionally but not as much as many readers in this age like to see. A degree of ambiguity is inextricably bound-up with this narrative probably more than many readers would like, but this work will certainly not free readers from ambiguity as Conway says good autobiography should be. Autobiography as a discipline is created and stabilized by at least three elements: (a) constituencies: those who participate in the disciplinary community of autobiography; (b) exemplars: are related to Kuhnian paradigms which Thomas Kuhn describes as concrete puzzle-solutions. There are a core of puzzles and solutions which exist in the literature of autobiography. These discipline problems and their solutions help define the field of autobiography. They exist in a mutually constitutive relationship with a third element; namely, (c) methodologies and practices which are strategies used to explore these exemplars.14 I like to think that what I write may make readers more reflective and more decisive about working on their own inner script, the script with 13 Jill Ker Conway, editor, Autobiographies of American Women: An Anthology, Vintage Books, NY, 1992, pp.xii-xiii. 14 These elements are cited in: Janet M. Atwill, “Art and Disciplinarity,” enculturation, Vol.5, No.2, 2004. 14
  • which they construct the meaning of their own lives. Perhaps, in the process of perusing this book, readers will be able to call forth a more confident inner voice of their own. For, in many ways, the life being written about here is so ordinarily ordinary, so humanly human. This book, like the many houses I’ve lived in, brings together under one roof a simple, busy life and style with a sophisticated and highly articulated transcendental theology, philosophy and global ethic. I am not a famous person, about as far away as most people always are and always remain from celebrity status. I have achieved no special status in the Baha'i community on the appointed side of the Cause. I was often elected to LSAs, but that is quite a common part of Baha'i experience, especially during these four epochs: 1944-2021. I'm not here to overstate my case, to impress readers with what I have done. Far from it. I think what I do is to connect language to experience, mine and readers. For this is the function of every writer.15 I have often come to regard what I do in this autobiographical drama that is this work as something very similar to that of the writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. His writings were a drama as well, a drama of a sustained grappling with the meaning of his life and the 15 John Raul, "Books and Writing," ABC Radio National, 7:25-8:15 pm, 13 April 2003. 15
  • degree to which that meaning could be forged and sustained in his own writing. His positions, philosophical and intellectual, were often tailor- made justifications for his own private behaviour or, to put this idea slightly differently, his thought lined up nicely with his self-interest. He had a respect for the power of lived experience, but he was critical of any life that was based mostly on that experience.16 It is not surprising when one reads a writer like Joakim Garff who said that one can not pursue Kierkegaard historically; one can not explain his life by a mass of facts. Kierkegaard was also very difficult to read; I hope he and I part company in this aspect of our writing. I see my life in many ways as the stuff of the ordinary and for this very reason it is my hope that others who read this will come to see in their own ordinary lives their own stuff as worthy of putting into words and finding a meaning that is there but, somehow, got slipped under the surface unable to be seen. Like Thoreau I have sucked out all the marrow of life that I could find from bones that were available and which I could add to my meal as millions of others have done also or at least tried to do. 16 Vanessa Rumble, “Book Review of Alastair Hannay’s ‘Kierkegaard: A Biography,’” Journal of the History of Philosophy,Vol.41, No.1, January 2003. 16
  • I did well in school during these years and, in grade eight, won a public speaking contest for the whole of Burlington or, perhaps it was for Halton County. Perhaps it was this early success in public speaking that made me yearn, after I became a Baha'i and I read Baha'u'llah's words: "that my voice may be raised in great assemblies and from my lips may stream the flood of Thy praise." Over the years I often did speak, usually to small groups of students. The words of Thomas Mann from his Nobel prize acceptance speech in 1929 have a partial relevance to my life. "The writer and the orator are not only different, but they stand in opposition, for their work and the achievement of their effects proceed in different ways. In particular the convinced writer is instinctively repelled, from a literary standpoint, by the improvised and noncomittal character of all talk, as well as by that principle of economy which leaves many and indeed decisive gaps which must be filled by the effects of the speaker's personality.17 Mann went on in a vein not unlike the one I might voice now that I am sixty: "My disposition and my desires call for peace to spin my thread, for a steady rhythm in life and art."18 For somewhere in my fifties the desire of my heart turned from public speaking to the steady rhythms of writing to spin my head. 17 Thomas Mann's speech at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1929. 18 idem 17
  • And so it is that this chapter, dealing as it does with those first years of my activity in the Baha’i community, also deals with some of the more recent events in my life. I continue my story here but readers will find, as I go along, aspects of my life that I am dealing with now in the early years of this new millennium. The story of my in-school life and experience is a little vague now, not surprisingly after fifty years. But endings, beginnings and middles are only pauses in and between events in some ways. Memory is a complex series of stories without end. It’s as if one possesses a personal museum with each artefact embedded with memory. Each of these artefacts speaks of these memories, but each artefact is only partially renderable, writable and readable as one goes about trying in vain to define and describe the singularity that is oneself. In William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” Faulkner writes that “nothing ever happens once and is finished.” Life’s events and happenings are “like ripples on water after the pebble sinks.” Our stories, made from these pebbles and ripples, find their origin in the “constant struggle with our own heart.” We inherit this struggle and go through it “as though it had never happened before.” A writer shows these struggles “for a moment in a dramatic instant of the furious fluidity 18
  • which is human life.”19 He focuses a light on it and stops it “long enough for people to be able to see it.” Here is some of my furious fluidity as i cast a skeptical eye on my own interpretations of my life, my society and my religion. The memories of my first girlfriend, Karen, are not so vague. In retrospect, looking back from 2009 to 1956, she was either more skeptical about my affections, more fickle than I would have liked her to be or simply more impressed with someone else in the world of romance- marketing. I remember life's first series of kisses in an autumn evening in 1956 outside her basement window and the second series of kisses across the road from her home somewhere in the wooden framework of a house that was just being constructed. We never kissed again after that evening. She went on to others in the great romance and mating game of life. I did not have a second episode of 'necking,' as it was called then, until late August 1962 with a girl whose name is now lost to me. Then there was a third episode of these potentially rising and unruly passions with a lady named Kit in early 1965. And that about covers my romantic activity before I reached adulthood at 21. That is a story I could 19 William Faulkner, “Quotable Faulkner,” Southeast Missouri State University Website, 2006. 19
  • write in much finer detail and I would, if this was a novel or a Mills and Boon plot, but I don't think such a description would enhance this autobiographical account except for those with highly romantic proclivities and reading tastes. In many ways this kind of romantic activity is pretty ordinary, pretty common. Some individuals have more of it oand some less. Sometimes the accounts of this romantic-erotic experience stands out as refreshingly different; but its dominant characteristic is its ubiquity, its commonality, its very pervasiveness in our age. This very ubiquity of romance and its absence is the experience of billions of people especially as the mores and folkways, the ties of tradition, were breaking up in Western society theroughout the twentieth century. As a literary artist I seek the exception, not the common. Given the repetitive aspects of life and how so much of our experience is common, the exceptional in my life will be found in the way I convey my story, not so much in the story itself. Such is my aim, my hope. In the post-war years, the post-war years of both WWI and WW2, traditional values got hit hard. Parents neglected to tell their children the rules of the game that they had been playing and, if they did, children began to stop listening. These were children who grew up and were increasingly cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family 20
  • doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society's values. This is how the great essayinst Joan Didion analyses the post-war years of 1946 to 1967. The kids were less in rebellion against society, she argues, than simply ignorant of it.20 During these pre-youth years,21 as in the years of my childhood, I did things that now I prefer to draw "a veil over." I gave way to those impulses that the historian Peter Gay refers to in his several volume analysis of 19th century bourgeoisie society.22 sometimes the result was productive; sometimes it was a source of shame or embarrassment—even now to relate it. There were and are unsavoury aspects of my life, as there are for most lives, that one can describe in detail; there are sins of omission and commission that prevent one from ever qualifying for the queue of saints. Some biographers and autobiographers seem to be obsessed by the contemplation of their hind parts and the hind parts and the protuberances of those they are writing about,23 as John Morley 20 Joan Didion(1934- ) makes this remark in the context of her emphasis on the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos after WW2. The overriding theme in her work is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work 21 Years after childhood(0-12) and before youth(15 to 30) are the 'pre- youth' years 13 and 14. 22 Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, Volumes 1- 5: 1984-1998. 23 John Morley in "When the Saints Come Marching In: The Art of Baha'i Biography," S. Edward Morrison, Dialogue, Vol.1 No.1, (winter 1986), p.32. 21
  • described what sometimes seems a nasty business, the telling of the truth. Were it not for Baha'u'llah's general advice to limit confession, to limit some of the aspects of my innermost desires and aversions, passions and prejudices, warts, ugly toad-like and venomous qualities, would ooze from every pore, as Gay describes the process. I can easily identify with Carole Slade’s description of St. Teresa of Avila, one of the very few women to describe their life textually before the twentieth century: “in her frequent tone of anguish, I sense a great deal of perplexity over the operations of her soul, particularly a weak memory, inability to control her mental activity, and unidentifiable desires and griefs.”24 Without going into a detailed analysis of the application of this quotation to my own life I might add that, in my case, I had to deal with many quite identifiable desires and griefs. But, like Teresa, I found my emotions as difficult to control as my mind. Baha'u'llah stresses, "not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed." Often what we can and do say is not timely or suited to the ears of the hearers. Walter Lippman, the famous early twentieth century American journalist, said solemnly that his biographers would have to 24 Carole Slade, St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995, p.1. 22
  • become detectives if they wanted to find out much about his life. He was not going to tell it all. I certainly don't tell it all but, unlike Lippman, I give biographers, should there ever be any, a good headstart. The expressions of my concupiscible and irascible appetites get some airing in these chapters and much more so in my journal. My occasional acts of irascibility and concupiscibility get described in this narrative aspect of my memoir when their descriptions are timely. Even some of my major and minor crimes can be found in these pages even though they may not be suited to the ears of the readers, even though readers may, as a consequence, find me wanting and falling from any pedestal they have inadvertently put me on and even though they may not be, as Roger White once wrote, "so epically egregious/as to embarrass the seraphim ruefully yawning/at their mention."25 If, at the end of the narrative, some thirty chapters, readers feel they want to know more about the insides of my life, I would advise they contact my son or my wife. My wife tends to call a spade a spade and my son will, in all likelihood, live to well into the twenty-first century; and then there are my two step-daughters and a multitude of former students and Baha’is I have known in many places. So it is that there should be 25 Roger White, "Lines From a Battlefield," Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, 1979, p.111. "Nor will my shame, as once I thought,/topple the cities, arrest the sun's climb." 23
  • someone around for several decades to come who has known me intimately. Both my wife and my son are open and kindly people who would gladly reveal much more about me than I do here. Over a cup of tea they can tell of things that only those who live in close proximity to those they love can tell. And they will, inevitably, have perspectives on my life that I can not possibly have in the rich mosaic that makes up who it is that we are. My journal, too, as I often say in this memoir, has revelations that can not be found here in this work and can’t be read until my passing—if they can ever be read then.26 If I had been an autobiographical poet at any time up until the end of the 18th century, I would have kept myself subordinate to my subject matter in a much fuller sense than I have done here. What I do here would have been seen, then, as self-indulgent and of no value to any audience.27 In the last two hundred years, though, the confessional strain in autobiographical writing has become a dominant one. I am interested in capturing the essence of a life drawing to some extent on this confessional strain, but not by writing intimately about a concatenation of sins, failings and faults. The rounded character, the full personality, that I describe in these pages, does not require that I confess all my sins which 26 This will depend on what my executors want to do with the body of my writings, their various literary appendages and confessional revelations. 27 Edward Byrne, op.cit. 24
  • from time to time bowed my back by their burden and gave me a great sense of heedlessness, a sense that for a time seemed to destroy me. I sometimes needed to erect personality recreations sometimes it seemed on a daily basis just to survive. Some of one's sins were, at the time of their enactment, sources of great pleasure. They were things I wanted and we are all tempted by my many and varied wants. This rounded personality, this character which I have referred to is something which in some ways I do not create here. As Saul Bellow said in his Nobel lecture in 1976, writers find their characters, they represent them. And as he went on to say, these characters are difficult to define in the midst of the interpretations, admonitions, forewarnings and descriptions of himself by the self-appointed prophets, priests, judges and prefabricators of our time. The terrible things we have lived through also make it difficult. The function of art, the function of this autobiography, is to penetrate through this jungle with the aid of one’s persistent intuitions and art’s magical powers. Sex, the erotic, the feminine, has been for me a major problem in the delineation of my character, my personality, my experience. They have got me into many difficulties and led to many regrets and much remorse, perhaps as far back as the age of four, nearly sixty years ago. My 25
  • attraction to the female, if not purely erotic, was awakened and inspired by two four or five year old girls, Marney Groves and Jill Smith both of whom lived down the street and both of whom attracted my desire and interest with a strength I can recall even today nearly all these years later. I don’t think it would be accurate to say I was, with the Canadian poet Irving Layton, a horny pre-adolescent, although this phrase would certainly describe my state by the age of 12.28 My sexuality had an impulsive aspect; my appetite was, from time to time, apparently insatiable and required containing; I was in the grip of sensual conflicts and forces that life released, that required checking, that required resolution. Films like Tom Jones (1963) and Darling (1966) depicted perfectly normal people going about their lives and fornicating without either suffering agonies of guilt or being run over by a steamroller. The freeing-up of sexuality from the restraints of tradition and religion was, arguably, greater than for any generation since the days of Ancient Rome. My clamorous appetites, my religious restraints, exposed me to tensions that were difficult, sometimes impossible, to control. With that lack of control came risks. Had the Baha'i Faith not come into my life in the years after puberty, who knows what would have 28 Joanne Lewis, “Irving’s Women: A Feminist Critique of the Love Poems of Irving Layton,” Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol.13, No.2, 1988. 26
  • befallen me in my young adulthood. Hugh Trevor-Roper, famous British historian, once wrote that "History is not merely what happened: it is what happened in the context of what might have happened."29 And I can apply this aphorism to what I write in this narrative account at so many junctures. Even my most innocuous encounters, for example, with the feminine, the erotic, the sensual, contained the seeds of potential trouble. By my early twenties, on graduation at 23, my quest for a suitable marriage partner was linked to a sensual wakening which I had by then controlled, for the most part successfully, for a decade, perhaps mostly be placing sport, study and religion at the centre of my life. Conscious of an erotic energy that inhabited me and an emotional-sensual ambience that I generated, the conflict between my impulses and defences was sometimes acute and gave me many uneasy moments. I could say as I entered the marital bed for the first time in August 1967 that, although I technically had not engaged in intercourse I had enjoyed much excited premarital play in the urgency of courtship and its new opportunities. 29 Hugh Trevor-Roper, "History and Imagination," in History and Imagination: Essays in Honour of Hugh Trevor-Roper, ed. H. Lloyd- Jones, et al, London, 1981, pp.356-369. 27
  • Mark Twain’s experience of women, expressed in his own autobiography, has been very close to mine. “A thoroughly beautiful woman and a thoroughly homely woman are creations which I love to gaze upon and which I cannot tire of gazing upon, for each is perfect in her own line.”30 Except for a small handful of women, this has been true and, although women have furnished many a delight, they have also supplied many a frustration, for the most part, unbeknownst I’m sure to friends, fellow students and colleagues. As far as my adolescence and very early adulthood, though, with the French writer Andre Gide, I could say that "I lived until the age of 23, completely virgin and utterly depraved; crazed to such a point that I eventually came to seek everywhere some bit of flesh on which to press my lips."31 I experienced some of that craze but little of that flesh. Although I was able to resist the onrush of instinctual urges, it was not without an occasional lapse. The concupiscible appetite and the irascible one have yet to be conquered. This autobiographer was inspired in some way and for some reason and of inevitably by the value of his past. He was reinforced in his inspiration as this oeuvre developed; he found perspectives on the present that contributed to the solution of problems; he gained understandings 30 Mark Twain, Autobiography, editor, Charles Neider, 1959. 31 André Gide in Lawrence Biemiller's Index of Quotations, Internet, January 22, 2004. 28
  • peculiar to where he stood at the moment of writing. Some philosophers call this process 'presentism' and it has an enormous impact on the autobiographical process.32 Another way of expressing this idea is that I began this autobiography with a system of postulates, largely unorganized and not thought out, not examined in any sort of detail. They defined my initial direction, provided my initial starting point. As my work developed, the limits I started with, the view I took of the course of events in my life and in the life of my religion and society, even the direction and purpose of what I was attempting to write evolved and changed; the categories of the very construction altered significantly in the process of writing. The notion of cause, for example, which I began with in quite simplistic terms, I gradually began to see as an "unresolvable categorical distinction" as the modern political philosopher Michael Oakeshott puts it. I'm not sure I see such theorizing about cause as "pretentious muddle", but it is difficult to see the events of one's life with the scientific rigour, the definitiveness, the definiteness, that some seem inclined to do. Often only the flimsiest partition distinguishes one event from another. The events of my life possess none of the solid and absolute character they 32 Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Baltimore, 1978, p.41. 29
  • once possessed, none of the stark and monolithic definition I once viewed them with. They have become peculiarly tentative, multiform historical identities, intricate, partially cohering, partially intelligible, modest constructs held together, as Oakeshott suggests "not by mortar but by their roughly interlocking shapes."33 For readers, it is my hope, as it was of Benjamin Franklin, that what I write, “every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of voice will be so perfectly well turned and well placed,” as to be pleasing, even if readers are not interested in the subject.34 I would like, too, as the Austrian novelist Elias Canetti phrased it, that my autobiography contain on every page something no one has ever heard of. I think it quite possible that this work does. But sad to say many readers probably don’t want to know of it and most people will never read these pages in the first place. Whatever gems are here will remain hidden from the eyes of most men, nearly all men. Factual or historical truth does have a specific urgency, at least for me, that pure fiction cannot, does not, provide. Discussing "The New Biography," Virginia Woolf wrote that truth "stimulates the mind and endows the mind with a curious susceptibility in the direction of truth. No fiction, however artful or highly coloured, can stimulate the mind to 33 Michael Oakeshott, On History, in T.W. Smith, op.cit., p.604. 34 Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1868(written 1771-1790), Chapter 8. 30
  • the same extent.35 To Woolf, the most difficult artistic problem of the biographical novel is that invented facts and verifiable facts may destroy each other when combined, the verifiable facts discrediting the imagined ones and the imagined ones making the verifiable seem dull or incoherent.36 The new fiction biographer solves this problem by creating a context in which the two sorts of facts are indistinguishable, serving both the stimulative function of the truth and the symbolic and evocative functions of fiction. Fact and fiction must be seamless, or at least simultaneous. The means to this end are myriad. But in autobiography, this autobiography, I do not invent facts. I may exaggerate them or understate them; I may leave them out or include too many, but I do not create them ex nihilo. It seems that even the smallest details of my life, when allowed to roll around in my head, often for decades, began to form wholes, aesthetically satisfying, intellectually provocative, yet still tied to the historical reality from which the details came. Until they did, I was not able to make of this autobiography something satisfying to my taste. Of course, it was necessary to select, to focus upon limited bits, aspects of the detail. My desire to illustrate the conflicts in my life, to improvise the selection and 35 Virginia Woolf, "The New Biography," in Collected Essays, Vol. 1-4, Harcourt, NY, 1967, V.4, p. 229. 36 ibid., p.225. 31
  • order the facts in my life as a composer does in musical creativity, alternating between the factual purity or facticity of private art and a certain intoxication of public art, determined which facts I selected, which I expanded and polished, which I distorted and which I seemed to create ex nihilo. This autobiography is, then, selective; in fact most of what I have written, thought or done in my life is not here. It can't be here; there is simply too much to tell and everyone would either go to sleep or push me out the door if I started to tell it all in its repetitive and massive detail. But I still manage to paint the broad picture, the grand canvas. I don't write the story in reverential tones nor do I provide every sordid detail for the curiosity and prurient, or not-so-prurient, interest of my readers. Like the famous spy-writer John Le Carre who became tired of the teaching profession, I did not seriously get into this autobiographical work until I got out of teaching. He got out at 29 and I got out at 55. Like Le Carre, too, I do at least two to three hours of creative writing a day and another five involved in intellectual processes that keep my brain on edge so that my secret clock keeps ticking and my restlessness can find an outlet.37 I'm not so confident, though, that my work will take me into fields of fame, as Carre's work did. But, then, he found fame embarrassing, 37 John Le Carre, ABC TV, 2:50-3:45 pm, 13 April 2003. 32
  • something he clearly did not enjoy. In all likelihood I will never know what the experience of fame is like except in some microcosm, microcosms I allude to occasionally in this lengthy work. There are writers, argues American writer Raymond Chandler(1888- 1959), “who simply cannot take themselves seriously enough.” They possess, he says, a reticence which prevents them from exploiting their own personality. This reticence is, he goes on, “really an inverted form of egotism.”38 Perhaps. Perhaps, too, the difficulty people have in writing their autobiography is due to the fact that it is the closest one can get to living one’s life over again. For many that is a singularly unattractive notion. The words of Edward Gibbon are also germane here: “history is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”39 Many feel, as they approach the end of their days, if not well before, that pattern and meaning elude them. This was how the historian H.A.L. Fisher saw things and he tells us so in the introduction to his two volume work on the history of Europe published in 1935. A new field of history known as the new historicism with a history and development of only a quarter of a century(1982-2008) provides some 38 Raymond Chandler in “Famous Quotations on Autobiography,” EntWagon.com 39 This quotation is found often throughout the Gibbon literature. 33
  • useful perspectives in this autobiographical search. While not wanting to go into detail, not wanting to provide anything approaching a comprehensive study of this new field in the social science that is history, I would like to make some general remarks that are relevant to this narrative and to this new approach to history. This new historicism eschews the use of the term 'man'; interest lies not in the abstract universal but in the particular, in contingent cases, the selves fashioned and acting according to the generative rules, contexts and conflicts of a given culture. These selves, conditioned by the expectations of their class, gender, religion, race and national identity, are constantly effecting changes in the course of history. That is to say, individuals may be conditioned by circumstances, but they have just as much to do with the making of the circumstances. This tautological proposition leads Stephen Greenblatt, one of this school’s major proponents, to assert the new historicism's insistence on the pervasiveness of agency. New historicists stress the idea that everywhere you look in history, there are people, selves or individual agents. They are doing things that affect the course of history.40 New historicists stress things, events, activities as they were experienced by people; they stress anecdotes, particularities and stories that might 40 Patrick Brantlinger, "Rethinking Culture,” Surfaces, Vol.2, No.4, 1992. 34
  • make readers stumble and pause on the threshold of history. I feel I am participating in a small way in an indirect and what for the most part seems like a glacially slow shift in collective understanding, but when viewed over the entirety of my life and all its epochs must be seen as an epochal shift. Greenblatt said the same thing in a book called Practicing the New Historicism. This autobiography certainly shares in the new historicist view of things, at least in some basic, seminal ways. The best framework for interpreting a life, these writers and critics argue, is the framework of an historical context and the best way to understand and interpret the problems and perspectives of an individual or society is through cultural-historical problems. When I was thirteen, in 1957, just before he died, Shoghi Effendi wrote about the "morally and spiritually bankrupt society, now hovering on the brink of self-destruction"41 that I inhabited as a citizen in North America. I was then in my last three months of primary school. My adolescence was just beginning. Without the moral centre that this new Faith provided in the following years, the years of my adolescence, 1957 to 1963, little did I realize at the time, I often wonder what would have become of me. In some ways I was a solid, steady and reliable youth. 41 Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha'is of the World: 1950-1957, Wilmette, 1958, p.120. 35
  • But the paths to personal destruction are often found with slippery slopes. The sexual appetite, which has kept me busy controlling all my life, at least thusfar, might have beaten me in my adolescence and later in my adulthood. Occasionally it did anyway even with the moral restraints of my new religion. At the age of twelve, as I entered grade seven, I could very well have been one of those in that "morally and spiritual bankrupt society," that the Guardian described from time to time in his letters of the 1950s. And sometimes I was. “Boyhood,” wrote that clever nineteenth century Catholic philosopher G.K. Chesterton, “is a most complex and incomprehensible thing. Even when one has been through it, one does not understand what it was. A man can never quite understand a boy, even when he has been the boy.”42 Frances Bacon makes an interesting observation in his Essays,43 published in the 1590s at the same time Shakespeare was writing his Sonnets. Bacon says, writing about his friends, that it is his hope that they will "draw a veil" over the "frequently unsavoury career"44 which he has struggled through. My mother writing, or perhaps it was talking, about my father a decade or so after his passing, expressed her 42 G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography, 1936, chapter 3. 43 Frances Bacon in Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon, Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart, Gollancz, 1998, p.524. 44 idem 36
  • appreciation for him. Was this love? I think it was; in the long run, now that they have both passed away and for many years, I see them as loving people, loving each other and loving me. Like the Australian playright David Williamson, I worried about my mother and, in good times, felt warm toward my father. And now, thirty-five years after his passing, I understand him, at least much more than I did in 1965 when he died. It's difficult, perhaps impossible, for sons to write about their fathers without revealing a good deal of themselves. Even though my life is unlike my father's in so many ways, mine so full of academic, of bookish life, the power of his portrait gives to me a very rich and simple link. If Jorge Louis Borges is right when he says that “to an extent, the death of the father is a natural prerequisite to attainment of Selfhood,”45 that natural prerequisite began to come into play in 1965, if not before in the last years, the late evening of his life since 1960(circa). There had been many feelings evoked by shocking, momentary family altercations caused by my father’s loss of control, his temper: shame, grief, terror, resentment and remorse. 45 See Ruth Bushi, “I do not know which of us has written this page(Borges): The confusion of proper nouns in the tale of Emmanuel Zunz,” Borges Papers: Main Page Internet, 2006. 37
  • For writers and artists whose fathers failed in their life’s ambition, whatever it may have been, there seems always to be a peculiar intensity in the levels of ambition and determination of these creative types. It was as though an artist such as Picasso, whose father was a failed painter, or William James, whose father was a failed essayist, or V.S. Naipaul, sought to compensate for his father’s failure while at the same time using his talent as a creative person as a way of killing the father off, showing his mother who was the real man in the household. My mother never alluded to my father's faults after his passing; both she and I were only too aware of them, but her attitudes and mine softened with the years. Perhaps this was due to prayer. She drew a veil over his weaknesses. The sin-covering eye, it seems to me, is an important part of the oils of both day-to-day life and of writing autobiography. I am interested in catching the ear of the reader, in making an impact, but I do not try to do it by the route of a rampant confessionalism, the spoken word of dialogue characteristic of the novel or of the thriller or of a tantalizing story-line, but through my own particular individuality and personality as it emerges in this writing and as it is placed in the context of a religion with the future in its bones, a religion which is slowly emerging as the world religion on this planet. 38
  • Like Martin Amis’s description of his famous writer-father Kingsley Amis, he places layers of incident which allow him to touch the hems of his relationship with his father without dragging them and him too strongly into some vortex of criticism. I like to think I do the same now that in my latter years I have come to understand a man who was so very important in my life—and still is. I do not want to engage in some psychoanalytic or ethnological study of myself. In the end I face the ultimate unknowability of it all even after the fragments of my past have been unearthed. Still, with my ethnologist's eye I can recall the features, the gestures, the distinctions of money and language that gave my life, my father, my town and its people their individual character. The things I knew then and that I now recall vividly would lead to prolixity if I wrote of them here and it is questionable whether they would be of interest to readers. Over the decades since my father passed away in 1965 I have gained some understanding of him; feelings about and images of him have fossilized. Some of these attitudes are now stripped of meaning and others are rich with ethos and tenderness. The fact that over the years I have experienced much inertia and nothingness since I have had to get on with my life and all its business. This is something that cannot be denied. 39
  • It is part of the ultimate truth of my ongoing relationship, not only with my father but also so much of life’s past. In the past I was often tempted to ask why my father’s explosive disorder resulting in events of such brief duration were just as suddenly replaced by an instantaneous return to normal life. These experiencs produced powerful and unshakable impressions and that is just the point. It is the momentary, violent aberration -- the brief glimpse, the sudden roar of my father’s voice, the sound of my mother's sobs--and not years of ordinariness that leaves its scar. It is this that one ponders for years afterward, striving to make the connection between the frightened child of yesterday and the quizzical, wounded adult of today. ''Different now and yet the same,'' the young Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce's ''Ulysses'' says to himself as he looks at his image in a cracked mirror. My exploration is stylistically very different from anything Joyce ever wrote, but it contains much the same sense of wonderment at the silently watching child that never really leaves me. Annie Ernaux embarks on her memoirs from the premise that 'we have no true memory of ourselves: time and experience inevitably distort our understanding of our past.46 There is some truth in this Annie. Of course, 46 Claire Messud, “A Family Apart,” New York Times, September 13, 1998, a review of Annie Ernaux, Shame, translated by Tanya Leslie, Seven Stories Press, New York, 1999. 40
  • no matter how much I avoid the confessional in this autobiography, I feel, with Goethe, that my autobiography contains "fragments of a great confession."47 Goethe's also insisted on engagement with the outside world as the way to grow and develop in contrast to Rousseau’s tortured subjectivity and his sometimes embarrassing and annoying self- disclosures. Only in the last few decades are we emerging from the romantic sense of autobiography, a tradition laid down by Rousseau and Goethe. My autobiography partakes of this old tradition and some of the new. It focuses, as does the writer Hermann Hesse, on self, the psychology of the artist, the poet and the literary man; on the passion, the seriousness and some of the vanity of life which attempts, so often, the apparently impossible. The goals and aspirations of the Baha'i community often seem to be associated with the impossible, the impossible dream.48 And so, too, does my life. Henry Kissinger tried hard to be frank, to be confessional, in his autobiography. It would appear he was far from successful in this enterprise. For on page 850, he says with a delightful tongue-in-cheek, that he tells of his “first mistake.”49 47 Goethe in Hermann Hesse, Autobiographical Writings, editor, T. Ziolkowski, Jonathan Cape, London, 1973, pp. Ix-xiii. 48 ibid., p. 248. 49 Henry Kissinger in “Famous Quotations on Autobiography,” EntWagon.com 41
  • Autobiographical poetry began to become a significant form of poetry in the 1950s, if not long before in our modern era. Fifty years later, according to David Graham and Kate Sontag, autobiographical poetry might just be the dominant form of poetry.50 Here is a personal perspective on those early days of this new form of poetry: THE NINTH STAGE OF HISTORY: DEEPEST SURGE There comes a time in the career of a great poet when he ceases to take pleasure in rhyming “mountain” with “fountain” and other corresponding banalities. Autobiographical poets seem to take little pleasure in rhyming. I certainly do not and, on the occasions I try, it rarely seems either useful or effective as a form. -Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance, New Directions Books, NY, 1910, p.50. ...Mexico City Blues contains references to events in that Beat poet Kerouac’s life and this makes autobiography one of the most important themes in the poem. The autobiography in the poem is very carefully 50 David Graham and Kate Sontag, eds., After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 2001. 42
  • developed. -James T. Jones, A Map of Mexico City Blues: Jack Kerouac as Poet, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 1992, p.33. There seemed to be an autobiographical surge back then when the Kingdom of God on Earth was getting its kick-start and the ninth stage of history was beginning, Truth, the inner man, the inner life, and over and over they looked: some found Him standing within mighty, powerful and self-subsistent—but not most. Passion for self-revelation, the Confessional Poets, a religious bent, a spontaneity, a sincerity, to put on paper what They saw, loved, hated, felt, an obsessive contemporaneity, a certain bohemian tendency, honesty, suicide, madness, a serious game for intellectuals while everyone else was watching baseball, doing some gardening, moving into their new house or flat and trying to figure out the coldwar. I don’t think many really found Him standing within themselves, but a very precious few went all around 43
  • the world to over one hundred countries because they’d heard Something inside, some Voice calling to them from their deepest and hidden selves. Ron Price 3 October 1995 And so, as I look back to my early to mid-adolescence, I find an undefined and pervasive quality which binds together the many defined elements, the multitude of focal points that drift into the present from more than forty years ago. There is a sense of an extensive and underlying whole; it operates to deepen and to raise that undefined but enveloping everyday experience that I had all those years ago. I feel it as an expansion of myself; I also feel as if so much of it all was just sound and fury signifying nothing. As Baha'u'llah puts it so eloquently, life is "like a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreams to be water but when he comes upon it he finds it to be mere illusion." But this participation in life, even then, even in the years 1956 to 1959, brings to me now forty years later, as I sit in this small Tasmanian town in mid-summer, "a peculiarly satisfying sense of unity."51 My several and varied sensibilities 51 John Dewey, Art as Experience, Capricorn Books, NY, 1974(1958), p. 195. 44
  • seem to go back insensibly to these years. That which I should have done and haven't; that which I shouldn't have done and did are part of the picture in all our lives and they make up what is our unique style of life, a unique personality, a peculiar mosaic. The process is often, if not always, chaotic, puzzling and vast, booming and buzzing, silent and pervasive. It is essentially interpretive story telling drawing on an empirical base called the life one has lived. Perhaps Alan Williamson was right when he wrote that "the most interesting technical development in American poetry in the last two decades of the twentieth century would be the refinement of largely autobiographical poetry."52 There is an ironic twist in our global society, or at least the part I have lived in and it is this: that in the midst of the refining, the civilizing, the integrating process that was taking place, there was much that was disintegrating. One of the characteristics of my work is to be conscious of both these tendencies. This is part of the backdrop that makes society, as Saul Bellow said in his 1976 Nobel Prize speech, so difficult to define and describe with its private disorder and public bewilderment. 52 Alan Williamson in Edward Bryne, op.cit. 45
  • I give one of the final words in this chapter of days long gone to Rudyard Kipling who wrote: I see a store of ingots of spice and precious stones. It is these that I have gathered with the help of my dear bones.53 The following poem, written about a year after my retirement, puts the years 1958 and 1959 and perhaps as far as 1974 up to the age of 30 into yet another perspective: A REVOLUTION Arthur Marwick says “I believe that 1958 to 1959 was a point of change....and that another point of change is apparent by 1974....I would apply the term ‘cultural revolution’ to this period, a social and cultural transformation.”1 This aspiring poet, the author of over six thousand poems, became a Baha’i in October 1959 during that first point of change. In February 1959, presidential confidante, former Harvard president James B. Conant, warned, “we are in a period of real peril”; for even in the 1930s, “we were not faced … with the kind of struggle which 53 Kipling in Lennard Bickel, This Accursed Land, 197, p.200. 46
  • now characterizes our divided world.”54 At the time I joined the Bahá’í Faith there had been a sense of apocalypse-soon among both President Eisenhower’s advisers and his political opponents. Sober and cautious commentators and friends of the administration joined the chorus. Strident calls for a massive program of civil defence and the construction of thousands of bomb shelters echoed everywhere. In Canada this sense of crisis trickled into the life of fifteen year olds like myself, living as I did not far from the American border. But for the most part it was a trickle; my sensory emporium was filled to overflowing with a grade ten curriculum, a consuming passion for sport all year round and an equally consuming passion, but entirely unrequited, for girls in their teens.55 Life with my parents, my Bahá’í community, my extended family, rock and roll music, climatic exigencies-hot summers and cold winters-summer 54 Robert H. Zieger, “Uncle Sam Wants You..…to Go Shopping: A Consumer Society Responds to National Crisis, 1957–2001," Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 34, Number 1, 2004. 55 Unrequited love is love that is not openly reciprocated even though reciprocation is usually deeply desired. The beloved may not even be aware of this person's deep feelings for them. This can lead to feelings such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and rapid mood swings between depression and euphoria. I would like to think that my earliest mood swings in life were due to this unrequitted love but, on reflection, I tend to the view that my swings were due to the first manifestations of BPD. 47
  • jobs, indeed, many things kept me busy when short news reports of social problems and tensions came into my ears. In the summer of 1960, nine months after I became a Bahá’í, Democratic Senator Henry Jackson declared that the American people must face up to “the fact that we are now in a war.”56 At the time I was just finishing several weeks with the A.&W. Root Beer Company. They had wonderful root beer which I had enjoyed in liberal quantities, but I made no money and this was a cause of more concern than the threat of war, a threat which existed far, far out on the periphery of my intellectual frontier. My last year in the midget baseball league had begun and, as usual, I was on the mound much of the time. I drank in the beauty of Susan Gregory day after day, for she lived only three houses away, but it was a frustrated appreciation and rock-'n-roll was stretching my senses as well with its stimulation and sensory-erotic overdrive. This was less than three months after a U.S. District Court in New York ruled that Lady Chatterley could be shipped through the mails after years of censorship. The comedian Lenny Bruce, who was tried for obscenity in 1961 and again in March of 1962, was acquitted. They were the first 56 Remarks of Senator Henry Jackson, United States Subcommittee on National Policy Machinery, 28 June 1960-1 July 1960. 48
  • of his many arrests for obscenity.57 In addition films began to be made from a female perspective; for example, A Taste of Honey(1960), Breakfast at Tiffany’s(1961) and The L-Shaped Room(1962). By 1962 I had gone pioneering on the homefront with my parents. By 1974 I had been pioneering in the international arena with my first wife for three years. By 1974, too, this marriage was over; I’d endured what one psychiatrist called 'a mild-schizo-affective disorder', taught Eskimos, Aboriginals and trainee teachers and had entered a relationship with a Christine Armstrong(nee Sheldrick). She became my second wife in 1975 and her two daughters, Vivienne and Angela became my step- daughters. The following poem tries to summarize those sixteen years. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Arthur Marwick, The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy and the United States: c.1958-c.1974, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1998, p.801. It was a revolution all right. Those sixteen years took me across the biggest ocean in the world and from one pole to the 57 Maria Damon, “The Jewish Entertainer as Cultural Lightning Rod: The Case of Lenny Bruce,” Postmodern Culture, 1997. 49
  • other, from one marriage to another, one classroom to another, one country to another, one mental state to another, one mental hospital to another, from primary teaching to post- secondary education, from adolescence to early adulthood and further into the meaning and experience of pioneering the newest of the world’s religions over two epochs, in the dark heart of an age. Ron Price 13 October 2000 I close this chapter with a poem that comments on one famous autobiography written over 1600 years ago. It is an autobiography that throws light on my own. AN INNER CONTINUUM 50
  • In order to understand people better some human beings take a great interest in themselves. In order to portray others convincingly, some writers constantly examine themselves.1 It is this penetrating intrapersonal interest that is the source of many great novels, essays and autobiographical pieces. A good example is the Confessions of St. Augustine, written in 397 AD, just as Christianity was in the midst of capturing the soul of Roman society, after four centuries of slow and episodic growth.-Ron Price with thanks to 1 Andre Deutsche, Thomas Mann: Diaries 1918-1939, London, 1983, p.vi. That rapid and gentle fall of paganism back then when you wrote those Confessions1 , amidst smiles of contempt for the last struggles of superstition and despair, you witnessed as you told of your yearning, your wandering, your groaning, your inner life, the note of urgency, of poignancy, of tension, of unexpected emotions, of intense personal involvement with ideas, with an inner continuum, of light and shadow, of one long battle with the self, with an inner depth of infinite complexity, an inner self-portrait and its 51
  • myriad involvements where light crept back over rain-soaked landscapes and darkness often spread over the limitless room of your heart-so long ago. Ron Price 30 September 1996 1 St. Augustine wrote his book Confessions in 397 in the midst of the great conversion process to Christianity during the late Roman Empire. He was one of the first writers in history to make an attempt to discuss his inner life. I do not go quite as far as Augustine does in his confessional mode. I do not, as American essayist Logan Smith describes the elegance of autobiography, collect the ignominies of my nature and “transfix them for show each on the bright pin of a polished phrase.”58 Although much of this poem is written with St. Augustine in mind, much of this same poem is also quite applicable to the content, the process and the setting within which my autobiography was written. In the next chapter this autobiography will take readers to the point where I join the Baha'i Faith. It is an event, an occurrence, a memorable experience for which the German word is Erlebnis. At its zenith Erlebnis is "an 58 Logan P. Smith, “Quotations on Autobiography,” EntWagon.com 52
  • extraordinarily rich and powerful idea" that founds thought "in the inexhaustible meaning of experience."59 Erlebnis also connotes "something whose meaning cannot be exhausted by conceptual determination" and something which has lasting importance in the place of memory and reflection. It is an experience that is both unique and complex and, in some ways, is my sole property. It is an experience which contains an unmistakable and irreplaceable relation to the whole of my life. The web of history and of my life is spun from a series of points in time, a series of contours, which gather meaning and coherence around them and weave together my life. I come to understand myself by, as the historian Dilthey once put it, a "circuitous route."60 The vestiges of my experience I try to put into words and unpack their meaning. There is an intricate linkage of related and interlocking, interacting parts. Although this account appears linear there are a multitude of dimensions and a complex convergence and intersection of fields and systems. Not the least of these intersections and connections is the personal with the social. This was Dilthey's primary concern. I shall return to this theme later. 59 John Arthos, "To Be Alive When Something Happens: Retrieving Dilthey's Erlebnis," Janus Head, 2001. 60 Wilhelm Dilthey, Pattern and Meaning in History: Thoughts on History and Society, editor, H.P. Rickman, NY, Harper, 1962, p.71. 53
  • But for now, in the part of the autobiography that seems unavoidably linear, it is 1959 and it is early October in the heart of the autumnal beauty of Ontario Canada. VOLUME 2: CHAPTER THREE PREAMBLE 3: PRE-PIONEERING DAYS--1959 to 1962 "Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper...." Since social roles are no longer handed to us by society, as they were for most of history, we now have to choose them for ourselves. This is part of the exercise we call selecting a lifestyle. This is not a luxury of the affluent classes, nor is it about fancy jobs and consumption, although these are part of the process, for some more than others. It is essentially about behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. And the process of choosing a lifestyle with respect to these internal and external forms is quite complex and often quite unconscious. Much of our lifestyle is socially constructed. It is part and parcel of the historical, cultural and moral landscape in which we live. In the case of the Baha'i there is a powerful influence of Baha'i culture on the construction of the self. As Firuz Kazemzadeh said in the interview back in the 1960s, 99% of what we are is our culture. This autobiography is, in part, a description, of how this new religion and this culture combined over four epochs in the second century of Baha'i history to produce one, sole, individual. -Ron Price with 54
  • thanks to Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Polity Press, Cambridge UK, 1991. ___________________________________________________________ Another powerful influence which I feel I must comment on at this early stage of this autobiography is the significance of domestic space, a significance I have come to appreciate thanks to the writings of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. He explains in his The Poetics of Space that our surroundings are psychological and metaphysical in their workings on the mind and spirit. By the time I was 15 I had come to occupy three houses with my parents, mostly in a small town. The domestic space where I lived as a child and early adolescent and the space which I now occupy as a retired man and writer are more than simply living spaces and places. They represent, as Bachelard argues, places of interaction and places of privacy where the artistic process is nurtured. The interior space and the objects within it, both spatially and aesthetically contrived, the mundane and accidental, can all become, each in their own mysterious ways, vital components in the artistic process. Bachelard wrote, "The house allows one to dream in peace … The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity to its depths".61 For me, Bachelard puts his finger on a subtle, complex and mysterious process 61 Janet McKenzie,“A Review of Mel Gooding’s Ceri Williams(Moffat:Cameron and Hollis, 2002),” in Studio International, 2003; Gaston Bachelard, 1964. 55
  • that I want to draw to the attention of readers at the outset of this autobiography. Like Matisse, who was greatly interested in and influenced by flat Islamic patterning in floor rugs, the space in the houses I lived in from 1944 to 1959 and the space in my house and study now, from 1999 to 2005, represents a rich domesticity. It stands for a life I enjoyed, a life in which I loved, lived and suffered. In its way this domestic life was luxurious, especially in the post-war western civilization of the last half century where physical luxury and comforts became pervasive to a degree unknown in any previous age of history. In the sense that the contents of these homes and this study are things which I have wanted and needed, they are a matter of feeling and spirit. They were always more useful than beautiful, more functional and practical than aesthetically pleasing, although they have always given me, in the sense of their collective nature, a pleasing form and pattern. They were and are things which are the accoutrements of a civilised life, my civilized life, my sheltered space. There was a unity to this place and space and there was a unity to the spiritual and intellectual space I came to occupy at the age of 15. 56
  • “Even when one is dealing with a collective, with a multiplicity of creating forces, unity is nevertheless illustrated through the image of a single consciousness,” so writes a student of romanticism.62 The spirit of a people, the spirit of history, a certain zeitgeist: there are many words for this unity. Everything capable of being drawn into its crystallizing form, everything with relevant meaning can be gathered together in one consciousness and subordinated to its unified accent. “Whatever does not admit to such a reduction could be seen as accidental, unessential”63 or part of a wider polarity. Now, in this house where my study exists just behind a large lemon tree standing on a cul de sac, a house built 34 years ago here in this small town, the oldest in Australia--some two hundred years old--with several thousand other inhabitants, a house built on the bank of the Tamar River in northeast Tasmania, I am surrounded by a family of one, my wife and by objects familiar, valued and often unknown to me. The paintings, indeed many objets d’art, reverberate with colour and with the imprint of my wife’s domestic and artistic taste. They speak to me of her and, to some extent, of other aspects of my life. They possess a decorative vigour and give me a sense of the fullness of good things, sweet sounds 62 M. M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, edited and translated by Caryl Emerson, Manchester, 1984, p. 82. 63 David Chandler, “One Consciousness', Historical Criticism and the Romantic Canon,” Romanticism on the Net,2002. 57
  • and even of a certain perfume of life itself. It is the perfume of familiarity and safety. Of course, this has not always been the case. For life is not always perfume, not always safe. Life has often brought to my senses poisonous vapours of different kinds: depression, fear, sadness, a frequent death wish, tension, argument, bewilderment. Now, the perfumes, the objects, reflect a contained, a pleasing, domesticity. They give to me a deeply tender feeling, a feeling of comfortableness, of ease of life; but I am detached from them in mood and taste, at least I think so. These items of domestic and physical companionship speak of a life that is so much my wife’s and mine that they reinforce our togetherness and the fact that she is mine and I belong to her, although we rarely put it this way. We share this common space each in our own way, more than thirty years down marriage’s track. It has not always been tranquil for life’s tests have often bowed my back and made me wish for death. And life’s tests have even more frequently brought discomfort, anxiety and sadness to my wife. In addition, the combination of music, garden, books and the domestic spaces in all their variety operate on another level. It is a level inhabited by harmonies and dissonances of colour and shape. The artist Vasily Kandinsky informs my view here. Music, Kandinsky once wrote, can be 58
  • used to represent reverie but it can also be something more dramatic, something engaged with one’s world intimately, symbolically. And so can other objects of this space take part in a similar drama and engagement. A complex set of signs and an original approach to a range of intellectual and artistic shapes, objects which preceded me in time or which came along in time as I did, result in creating a space that makes connections to aspects of my literary oeuvre. This space encompasses many oppositions of subject, theme and mood in its role as my immediate world of space. Albert Camus once said, speaking of my parents’ generation, that “Nobody can ask them to be optimists.”64 Having lived through two world wars, a depression, arguably the nadir of history, only to arrive at the atomic age on the eve of total destruction, they strove to put history and their lives together. They had enough optimism to become Baha’is and to raise a son with that same optimism in that space of music, gardens and books, a space that was not always perfume, not always safe. I certainly did not think of it at the time, back in the 1950s, but the socio- historical experience of my parents played a role in their lives, a role they hardly understood themselves. For our age is one which sees most 64 Albert Camus, Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1957. 59
  • personal suffering in psychological terms and circulates psycho-variables endlessly in analysing our selves and others. Another aspect of the space where I grew up and spent my years until my early twenties was the region of Canada in which I lived. It has been known as the Golden Horseshoe since 1954 coincidentally the year my mother first heard of the Baha’i Faith. Hamilton-Burlington is at the epi- centre of this horseshoe. It was and is a densely populated and industrialized region or urban agglomeration centred around the west end of Lake Ontario in southern Ontario with outer boundaries stretching to Lake Erie to the south and Georgian Bay on the north. Most of it is also part of the Windsor-Quebec City corridor. With a population of 8.1 million people as I write these words, it makes up slightly over a quarter of the population of Canada and contains approximately 75% of Ontario's population, making it one of the largest population concentrations in North America. Although it is a geographically named sub-region of Southern Ontario, Greater Golden Horseshoe is more frequently used today to describe the metropolitan regions that stretch across the area in totality. All my days until I was 23 were spent in the built-up region of this Golden Horseshoe which extended from Niagara Falls at the eastern end 60
  • of the Niagara Peninsula, wrapped around Lake Ontario west to Hamilton, anchored by Toronto on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and continued to the east of Oshawa. The wider region spread inland in all directions away from the Lake Ontario shoreline, southwest to Brantford, west to the Kitchener-Waterloo area, north to Barrie and northeast to Peterborough. The whole region's area covers approximately 33,500 km², out of this, 7,300 km² is covered by a Greenbelt. My life contains stories of experiences in all of these centres, the major spaces in this horseshoe, but most of these experiences will not be told here—for there is just too much to tell and, as I have said and will say many times in this work, one must be selective. My final game of baseball was played in Oshawa in August 1962 just east of Toronto where the core of the Golden Horseshoe terminates. The wider region of the Golden Horseshoe spreads inland in all directions away from the Lake Ontario shoreline. This wider region goes southwest to Brantford where I worked one summer, in 1967, before marrying at the age of 23 and moving to Baffin Island. This wider region of the Golden Horseshoe also extends west to the Kitchener-Waterloo area where I used to attend Bahá'í firesides while at university in my early twenties. It also extends north to Barrie and northeast to Peterborough where I used to go 61
  • for summer holidays and to a Bahá'í summer camp on a lake called Kashabog. Such, then, are some preliminary observations at the outset of this chapter which begins when I am 15, in second year high school and just about to join the Baha’i Faith. ___________________________________________________________ My father, Fred, stood by the screen door of the lounge-room and watched the rain fall. It pelted down strongly, minute after minute, as if it would never stop. It was not unlike his life, he thought to himself, all six and a half decades of it by 1959. He seemed mesmerized by the sight: the clouds, the grey-silver light that filled the world outside the door, making it difficult to see the other side of the street and the houses and trees perhaps fifty yards away. The half-light softened his world and, for a short time, took him into another world. It was a world of nostalgia, memories, sadnesses, enigmas and a wondering where he was going to go from here. For he had always worked and worked hard as far back as he could remember, back to his first years in America and his last years in Wales. And now his working life was over. He was a retired man. He lit a cigarette, one of the thousands he had made from his Spud tobacco over many years. His mind drifted back to Iowa, to the coal mines, to the CIA, 62
  • to that pub in Wales where he located his first memories and where he went in his memory so often. His first marriage, his two sons and a daughter, his second marriage and his one son, who sat in the lounge- room in a house just off Lake Ontario and who had just started grade ten at Burlington Central High School, a kilometre or two on the west side of town. Such is the picture I have of my father in the summer and autumn months just before I became a Baha'i in early October 1959. In six years my father would be dead and I would scarcely have got to know him. Such was the normal scene between fathers and their sons back then. 1959 was the year the Barbie Doll was introduced and the Frisbee entered popular culture, Cadillac tailfins reached their zenith; Bonanza and Rod Stirling's Twilight Zone made their first appearance. The first integrated circuit was demonstrated that year and the Ski-Doo snowmobile debued. Rock and roll singers: Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper became the first martyrs to the music cause, a cause that by the time I went pioneering in 1962 was grossing under $1 billion and 40 years later was grossing 40 times that figure." The impact of the economic and popular- musical boom on youth culture was then, in the late fifties and still is in the new millennium, enormous. 63
  • Alot went on in the popular culture world in 1959 as my dad slipped into retirement and I slipped into the Baha'i Faith about as unobtrusively as can be. I talked a lot to my mother, at least that is how I remember it nearly fifty years ago. In retrospect I feel as if I had just made a beginning in my relationship with her. By the summer of 1962 I finished grade twelve and got a job putting nuts and trinkets into slot-machines for the Dundas Penny and Nickle Company. I worked for Frank Duff. I got my driver's licence that summer so I could drive Frank's truck all over a section of southern Ontario from Niagara Falls and Fort Erie to Hamilton and Toronto. Life beckoned onwards and outwards not downwards and into long conversations with parents. And now, as I write this retrospective account, I am alternatively saddened, aroused, puzzled and stimulated, but never able to fully fathom the events that make up an endless but essentially periodic and episodic remembering and rehearsing of events. These events, having been witnessed, having been lived through, I am compelled to review again and again in a plot and a script that has come down from the past. These events also possess a facticity that requires of me a fidelity to a narrative line, to a direction of events that attempts to explain an entire life but knows it is elusive, greatly changing and far from uniform. 64
  • By August of 1962 I had been a Baha'i for nearly three years, my father for two and my mother for seven. My nine year baseball career was ending, my six year hockey career had ended in March or, perhaps, April. I had ceased playing football with the boys in the powerline or out on the street after school, in the evenings and on weekends. I have told the story of these times often in my poetry and so will include some of that poetry here: 1959 A man must live in the service of a great idea. -Leon Trotsky in Intellectuals, Paul Johnson, Harper and Rowe, NY, 1993, p.177. There is no single other creature in all history like yourself. -ibid., p.291. The sonnet goes back to the twelfth century. -Ron Price, "Analysis of Literature: Poetry," Resource File in My Study, 27/10/96. I became a Baha’i 65
  • the year of Ben Hur and Charlton Heston, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Charles Mason Remey in his voluntary exile and the Frisbee. I got the highest marks in my school life that year and my dad finished his working life. The Beatles were getting their act together and I said “I believe” as naturally and simply as breathing air. Ron Price 27 October 1996 ------------------------- HELP ME DAD! 66
  • The poets achieve their status primarily by their respective abilities to experience deeply or to feel deeply rather than to write well. -Murray Krieger, The New Apologists for Poetry, Greenwood Press, Westport Conn., 1956, p.60. The function of writing is to formulate emotional intensity. -Joyce Wexler, Laura Riding’s Pursuit of Truth, Ohio UP, Athens, 1979, p.84. As I write this poem I can feel, at a distance in time, my father's presence. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 20 February 2003. How did you stand it? All those arguments and your wife in tears: it used to break my heart. And here we go again but, by God, I’m going to nip this one in the bud. I don’t have your thick skin. I just can’t stand it, wears me out, leaves me feeling ashamed, remorseful, sad, in basic doubt. 67
  • How did you feel, dad, when mother cried? Was your Welsh heart eventually worn thin by that veil of tears before you died? Did they drown your fires so you did end your life in a sea of despondency with just enough hope to give me your second chance? Help me from your New Abode. I don’t think I can win this on my own: 'tis too big a load, too long a road. Ron Price 4 December 1995 PIONEERS COMING OUT 68
  • 1 September 1962 This was the first day of my pioneering life, although I could take it back to about August 20th 1962 when I left Burlington to go to a Baha'i camp at Kashabog near Peterborough in northern Ontario. I was eighteen and I was about to start my matriculation year at high school. The world was warming up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, not that I gave it much thought, immersed as I was in a new school, a new town and nine matriculation subjects on the horizon. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 1 September 1992. When I started pioneering, wandering as I was between two worlds: one dead, the other having just been born, seeking my own identity, trying to give birth to myself, so tentative, so new, so fragile, so alone and by myself in a vast and spacious land: marginal, inferior, inadequate, mute, invisible, just-about-non-existent, 69
  • dissolving, a nobody. That’s how it was back then at the end of that Ten Year Crusade when I was 18. I felt like some quintessence of... nothingness, some empty shell, cavity, social vacuity, humanly crippled, passive, like a water colour which does not exist, at the end of a conversation, an after-thought, with a tongue half in shadow and half like a frozen bone. I passed through groups like a breeze at room temperature, unobtrusively blank, could be a missing person noone missed, modest, in the picture somewhere, difficult to say where precisely, but you can find me if you look long enough. I'm that fellow you can hardly see, right there--see? 70
  • P.S. Thirty years after the start of this pioneering venture, at the age of 48, my world had been transformed so many times. I had become a different man, a different person. The process is so very common. Psychologists call it the process of human development in the lifespan. Physiologists say the composition of your very bones is completely changed every seven years. At the anatomical, the physiological level, I was a new man, then, more than four or five times over. And psychologically, spiritually, intellectually, socially, on just about every imaginable scale I could think of, my world at forty eight was so completely different to the world I inhabited at eighteen. There were threads of continuity, of course. Historian Herbert Butterfield once wrote that "the study of the past with one eye on the present is the source of all sins and sophistries."65 Leaping back from supposed effects to supposed causes, however practical and pervasive an exercise it is, however explanatory, often does not yield true understanding. At the same time, I find there is a cumulative deposit of experience in my own life and across generations, persistent patterns of conduct, of attitude and thought, protocols and institutional practices, habits and obligations, what Abraham Lincohn referred to as the "mystic chords of memory"66 that I turn to, that we all turn to in life. There is, too, that partnership between 65 Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, London, 1931, p.31. 66 Abraham Lincohn in T.M. Smith, op.cit., p.609. 71
  • the present and the past, that rhythm and continuity, which Burke saw at the core of human experience. Within this core we find ourselves and others, adventurers responding as best we can to what is often an ordeal of consciousness, inheritors of the imaginative achivements of those who have gone before. There is in this introspective gaze something that is apparently solid; civilization certainly seems so and something resembling dream, vain and empty, resembling reality but, on closer inspection, more like illusion. Writing of this process, this transformation of our lives, is much like conducting an orchestra. Conductor Catherine Comet says one per cent of a conductor's work is done at concerts, four per cent at rehearsals and 95 per cent at home with the score.67 For me, its the same: one per cent of my work is done in writing this autobiographical narrative, four per cent in gathering notes, writing drafts and doing research and 95 per cent in living the life. To learn a score takes a conductor from one day to several months, but to learn one's life takes a life, perhaps several lifetimes. The job is never done. 67 Catherine Comet in Conductors in Conversation: Fifteen Contemporary Conductors, G.K. Hall and Co., Boston, 1991, p. 29. 72
  • General interpretations of my whole experience, like a conductor’s perception of a symphony, are often the basis of powerful judgements, of conceptions which define, which determine, the direction of the future. They are part of the basis of the kind of politics Thomas Hobbes saw as the "still centre of a whirlpool of ideas which has drawn into itself numberless currents of thought, contemporary and historic."68 This is certainly the kind of politics that is also at the centre of my Baha'i perspective: an overview, a cosmology, a weltanschaun. We clearly have lessons to learn as we describe and define where we are going. It could be said that we are in a similar position to that of Henry Adams.69 Politics, Henry Adams learned over 200 years ago, are "ineffectual" and would remain so for a very long time. Americans, he also came to learn and in light of new, undeniable realitites only badly understood, must nonetheless be ready to discard knowledge long thought to be certain. Such painful education left Henry in a place very much like our own. And we are still learning, at our peril, the problems associated with thinking we are right and the other fellow wrong.70 68 Michael Oakeshott in his introduction to Leviathan, 1947, pp.xii-xiii. 69 Henry Adams in a book whose name I do not know. 70 Paul A Bove, “Giving Thought to America: Intellect and The Education of Henry Adams,” Critical Inquiry, Vol.23, No.1, August 1996. 73
  • Conductors are involved in a process of trying to hear what they are supposed to hear, of hearing what the sounds are that are actually being produced. It is difficult to listen while the orchestra is playing. This is also true of writing. It is difficult to write the way you hear, feel, think and act. And, like any conductor, an autobiographer must accept that something will always go wrong, that the pace of things is faster now than it once was. The conductor, Charles Dutoit, says that analysis of the score, the structure, of a piece of music, is the key to memory. I think this is also true in writing an autobiography. I have analysed my life, my religion and my society ad nauseam and this is a crucial dimension of the writing experience when it comes to putting words down on paper. Between the smallest point in my past life and all the other points a rich network of memories leaves me with choices in the present as far as which steps, which path, to take in the long path of life. But the choices, at least for me, are within a narrow range of activities. To continue the analogy between composing, conducting and writing the words of John Corigliano are apt. Corigliano finds that a composer setting out to write a new piece should have “something terribly important to say” —something so important that the music will not be used as background noise, the fate of much music today. I think what I have to say is important, but I am inclined to think it will remain in the 74
  • background in the short term, if not forever. The act of composing is a difficult, frustrating process for most composers. Sometimes it is for me and sometimes it is not. With few exceptions, this is the message from these composers. Although they find the going rough, their greatest satisfaction is in the final product. There is nothing else they prefer doing, and nothing else is like the mystery of the process. But there is no mystery to inspiration. The muse sings for them and me only by dint of incessant, tedious and sometimes not so tedious work. Remaining ever alert to new ideas is also important.71 Me too! The autobiographer comes back, again and again, to his individual experiences. Like a homing pigeon, a homing beacon, life narrativizes itself. The conceptions I make of past and present events are held together by threads of meaning, are preserved by memory and lifted out of the endless stream of what has happened. They determine how I feel and what I think at any moment of my life. This power of narrative to construct, to determine, my cognitive and feeling system, the very meaning of my life and its value, derives from how I shape, group, connect and build the raw materials of my existence. This is what creates my identity. These decisions of reflective narrative construction, of how 71 Ann McCutchan, The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process, Oxford University Press, NY, 1999. 75
  • I chose to tell my story, determines my identity. To put this another way "the knowledge of the course of one's life is as real as the experience itself."72 These traces of my life-threads are spun differently than they would have been in, say, Homer's Iliad nearly 3000 years ago when the gods were said to spin the threads of human life according to their own desire or will. But whether these threads and weavings are fashioned by the gods or man’s own will, the process takes place in mysterious, wondrous ways. Research on the processes of ethnic and religious identity often centers upon the way in which individuals come to understand the implications of their ethnicity or their religious affiliation and how they make decisions about the role of that ethnic group or religion in their lives, regardless of the extent of their ethnic or religious involvement.73 In the half century of my association with the Baha’i Faith it seems to me that I could define my identity as simply one aspect, arguably the critical aspect, of the way in which I conceive of my location within and my relationship to the wider society at the local, regional, national and global levels and to others in it. Identity is also a process in which I continually assess the ‘fit’ 72 Dilthey, op.cit., p.103. 73 J.S. Phinney, “A three-stage model of ethnic identity development in adolescence,” in M. Bernal & G.P. Knight, editors, Ethnic Identity Formation and Transmission Among Hispanics and Other Minorities, State University of New York Press, NY, 1993, pp.61-79. 76
  • between myself and the different social systems in my environment. Inevitably, at least I have always felt it so, there is a discrepancy between the identity I portray in my social world and the internal identity I construct for myself. Sometimes these two worlds achieve congruence but, given the multiplicity of selves and the multiplicity of others, congruence is more often an ideal, an ideal rarely achieved—at least in my case. My experience of incongruence was often a necessary component of any congruence. One got something of both worlds. Let me offer and example. In Woody Allen’s film Zelig (1983), the Jew’s temptation to disappear behind a false identity broadens to any ethnic identity’s hunger for assimilation or Everyschnook’s fear of being different in a culture that worships the uniform, the common denominator of secular Everyman. The Baha’i has to deal with this temptation but it manifests itself a little differently. He does not seek so much to disappear behind a false identity, but just to be an Everyschnook with Everyschnook’s job, non-job, family, non-family, TV, gardening, a set of clothes and an aren’t-I-a-nice-chap disposition. Here the Baha’i component of identity is often simply left out of the exchange. The Catholic Saint, Teresa of Avila, Florence Nightingale and Baha’u’llah Himself among many others have indicated the limitations of 77
  • words. In the identity complex referred to above this is so often the case. There is no doubt that words themselves have their limitations and are to be considered inferior to deeds. Teresa said ‘I'm not good for anything but talk. Don't put me to work,’ she went on, speaking as if directly to God. ‘My talents are with words; everything adds up to just words.’ (Life 21.5). Florence Nightingale states this same preference with similar force: ‘I would much rather live than write—writing is only a substitute for living.’ And again: ‘I think one's feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into actions, and into actions which bring results.’74 Having spent my entire adult life dealing with words in my employment, in most of my service work and even in my retirement I am more than a little sensitive to this dichotomy between words and deeds. The fixed characteristics of this autobiography could be seen as observable vestiges of my life, my identity. You could say that this work is what I have of my life that is available for inspection. The full story of my life, indeed, the full self that I am, is really not accessible. The small part of my life that is my conscious self is like an island that arises from inaccessible depths. My writing, my expression, lifts something out of these depths and my life becomes accessible as a reproduction of creative 74 Carole Slade, St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995, Introduction. 78
  • thought.75 That is what readers are getting here. At least that is one way of putting the source, the basis, for my analysis of self and society. I don’t have the problem, at least not yet, that American novelist Philip Roth gave vent to. He said that when he writes fiction he is accused of writing autobiography; and when he writes autobiography he is accused of writing fiction. What comes out of my depths is at least seen as something that is myself. But I do have the problem expressed by Anna Quindlen in the New York Times. "Most recently, however,” she said, “I have been a reporter of my own life. Half of me has lived---thoughts, opinions, marriage, motherhood, friendship, doubts---and the other half has watched me live, notebook in head. 'Could you get up and get me a beer,' my husband said one night, 'without writing about it?'"76 The world's population had gone to about 4.5 billion from the 3.5 it had been in 1962 or the 2.5 it had been the year I was born. The swing to the left that characterized the 1960s politically had become a swing to the right by the early 1990s, if not earlier. But the Baha'i philosophy and practice, its politics and sociology were neither of the left or the right. The coherence of its philosophy, its system, lay in many of its features: its structure of legitimate authority, in the passionate thought that 75 ibid. p.116. 76 Anna Quindlen's farewell "Life in the 30's," The New York Times, 1 December 1988. 79
  • pervaded its parts, the guiding clue, its thread of Ariadne, the music which gave meaning to its message was the conception of Oneness: one religion, one planet, one people, one country.77 But to continue with that poem above, its pioneering theme and the social context of that pioneering: So many had come out in these years: women, blacks, ethnics, lesbians, gays and another generation of pioneers. I’d been crushed and blown to the ends of the earth, but a new man had been born, a new gold of some worth, a chalice of pure light had made me drunk from far up in the north way down to places that stunk. Part of a new race of men 77 Oakeshott discusses this same concept of " a passionate, a dominant thought" with respect to Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan.(Introduction, 1947, pp.xviii-xix). 80
  • slowly coming to birth; it’s gone on to great progress in these first decades at the start of this tenth stage of history. We’re mapping the cosmos and the human brain as knowledge expands beyond what anyone can attain: the fruit of these years with the rain coming down, in a dark heart of transition with a whole world of new sound. The journey’s been swift; the journey’s been long, on a tortuous road with my paths yet to lift me up and away to a world quite beyond, to that sweet undiscovered country, far away from this abyss. Ron Price 81
  • 1 September 1992/ 16 June 1996 IN TACT Writing autobiography is the only important thing that ever happened to me: the description I made of part of my life...it was the most important because I fixed it in words. And now what am I? Not he who lived but he who described. -Italo Svevo in The Complex Image: Faith and Method in American Autobiography, Joseph Fichtelberg, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989, Preface. The following poem is one simple way of describing, summarizing, my experience of the 1960s. I was 15 when the sixties started and 25 when they ended. I wrote this poem after seeing a 1990 movie Flashback. This poem is somewhat of a 'flashback' to these sixties. About the only external thing still left that stands out easily from this period of time is the fact I still say “Man”. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 4 February 1996. I was too busy at high school and university and teaching kids 82
  • to really become part of the sixties. Manic-depression, a schizo-affective state kept me on heat, nose-down, although I had time for a beard, a demonstration, a little sex, but nowhere near as much as I would have liked and I thought that other guys got. My dad died; I grew up; taught Eskimos, country, small town kids; got married. It was a busy decade for me, back then and when it ended I got ready to go to Australia. Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll always stayed on the edge of my life, peripheral to the core. And my religion remained intact, surprisingly, protecting me from me. 83
  • Ron Price 4 February 1996 Nearly forty years later I was trying to express some of the developments that had taken place in my life and some of the events of the intervening time from the mid-fifties to the mid-nineties when a lifetime of Baha'i experience had occurred and western society had gone through another forty years of great change. The pioneering story could be expressed in so many ways. Perhaps, in the end, when all is said and done, this work will serve as a contribution to the formation of a climate in which concepts, a mode of analysis, an introspect discourse, was introduced and entered into Baha’i community life. Some will say this is long overdue; others will probably argue it is not necessary at all. Much of the artistic and literary production from the late 1970s to the present time, both within and without the Baha’i community, has evidenced an engagement with artistic and educational paradigms that had yet to be embraced by the wider Baha’i community or by the relevant university departments in academia. But, again, this issue is far too complex to discuss here in any detail. But let me say a few things about the subject indirectly through poetry. PIONEERING TO SPITZBERGEN 84
  • Price’s poetic mission was to assist in the emergence of a Baha’i consciousness in world literature: its history, its being, its truth, its community, its beauty. He wanted to write both powerfully and simply; he wanted to be understood by Everyman, to feed Everyman. After four years of writing poetry he knew only that he was feeding himself with the rarest of morsels, but whether his poetry would ever be read by the great mass of the faithful or even a small minority of the faithful, he had no idea. Perhaps his poetry would be read after this prelude, now long in the making, long in the experiencing, of entry-by-troops. Perhaps it would not. Perhaps it was little more than self-indulgence, a marginal activity where some new life was found. Perhaps it was as much a form of activism as going to a meeting or being part of a teaching program. The hero of his poetry was himself in the act of thinking things out, feeling and finding a way, giving expression to that inner life and private character. The marvels and the miseries of his mind’s and his life’s makings he had laid out in his poetry, over three thousand poems now. It was not all smooth conclusion and marble floor. As he looked at his creation, on the shelf now, he felt he had captured the drenching of the years through his skin, the rusting of his bones like pipes and the epoch- making transformation of the Cause which he had for nearly forty years 85
  • been identified with, from that obscurity which it had long endured. -Ron Price with thanks to various writers in Text and Sex, Don Anderson, Vintage, 1995. This is my skin, man, my soul; I could not have given more if I had pioneered to Spitzbergen or the great back-o’-beyond, or endured the miasmal ooze of those fragile and tense lounge-room meetings that dried out your mouth with their good terror. This here is my blood and sweat, man; I could not have told it more straight than if I’d walked a tightrope. Yes, there was some necessary slack; you can’t tell it all, all that dirty laundry for all to see; you need a certain tact, you know. Not everything is timely and suited to the ears, as Ali once said. 86
  • After you’ve been to a million meetings and redoubled your efforts too many times, you are travelling at the speed of light and burning out before coming back as a shooting-star. After you’ve heard about 1844 so many times that you begin to wonder if anyone knows anything about some of the crucial events of 1843 or 1845; after all this necessary repetition, you go inward. You go in search of the real you, you put it in poetry and you go outward with some new gift from the Giver of gifts, with some new eye and new ear, some resplendent tokens from planes of glory, some court of holiness, solemn consciousness and a celebratory joy so exquisite that the pivotal centre 87
  • around which the realities converge is acclaimed and proclaimed as the Covenant and its dynamic effect on your struggle and redemption. Ron Price 29 November 1996 Here is a letter, one of a series I have written on a monthly basis to a colleague of mine from the final decade of my years as a teacher in a Tafe college. I have written to him every month now for five years. This colleague is an agnostic or perhaps an atheist. In 2003 he became 63. He had been retired from teaching for about five years. He still lived in Perth. My letters to him are probably the most informative of my letters since they have gone on for more years than most other correspondents with the possible exception of Roger White, my mother and one or two others. This man, John Bailey, coincidentally, arrived in Australia the same day I did, July 12th 1971. He had come here from England. I have now written to him sixty times since 1997. -------------------------------------- 6 Reece St George Town 88
  • Tasmania 7253 15 March 2002 Dear John Your letter of February 28th arrived last week and I've just finished writing out a list of favorite poems. I notice there is not one of Hardy's there; I think that is because I don't expose myself to his poetry enough; indeed that is true of so many poets. The world is burgeoning with stuff: poetry, philosophers, songs, inter alia. I knew of the sociologist, Bourdieu, from my sociological theory but had never heard of the American chap you mentioned in your letter...can't even remember his name and it was only a few days ago that I read your letter. Usually I have your letter in front of me when I reply, but not today. That's another problem, memory. I keep a "To Do" list for the trivia and the not-so-trivial things of everyday life that I have to attend to or I won't remember it. I took a memory test at the doctors, so concerned was I. But I got 30 out of 30 in the test of its trivial but basic its-and-bits. The doctor was a locum from Bendigo and he specialized in the problems of the aged. Although I'm not in the "old" category yet, it won't be long before 89
  • late adulthood is upon me, the 60 to 80 period, as we came to know it when we taught that Human Development course at Thornlie Tafe. March is still warm in Tasmania as it is throughout Australia; but we have still not had a day over 25. The evenings are always delightfully cool 14 to 8 somewhere when I go for my evening walk these days. To respond to some of the points raised in your letter, I'll say the following: 1. Ken Brehaut: never heard of him. I liked your little poem...no need for rhyming was there. Here is a little poem you might like on the theme of "departing." Those who his company eschew complain, "This parting's overdue"; while those who count his presence dear protest, "He was too briefly here." Still others mutter with a yawn, "Oh, was he here? So, has he gone?" -Roger White 90
  • 2. Still teach at School for Seniors, one hour per week. Creative Writing at the moment. I do it for the contact, for the social side of my nature. I seem to enjoy little 'hits' of a couple of hours into society. Anything more is a bit of a strain, although for some Baha'i activities they go for 4 to 6 hours. The Baha'i calendar is divided into 19 months of 19 days with a meeting(Feast) every nineteen days. 3. The Australian Maritime College is on the outskirts of Launceston. It's a half hour drive from here. Dan is not particularly enamoured of his job as a Research Engineer, but after 22 months out of work he is happy to have it. 4. The eroticization of culture: a sociological perspective. I have 7 arch lever files with some 60 major-minor theoretical perspectives or orientations in sociology. The erotic hardly gets a mention. There have been several major/minor thinkers who have given sex/the erotic a major place in society: Freud, Reich and several other psychologists, but I can't think of one sociologist who has put it in any distinguishing place. My dictionary of sociology does not even include: "erotic" or "sex." Let me know if you can think of any major thinker in sociology. 91
  • In my day to day experience I have found the erotic, sex, of more than a little importance. It has caused me more than a little angst, indeed, has occupied far too strong a place in my mental set, as it has our culture's. You can, though, keep those articles you mentioned--on this occasion. 5. Alain de Botton: have seen his whole series now. Astronomy, health, social issue programs have had centre stage for so long; I am happy to sit with one philosophy program in the wings. Inevitably it's somewhat simplistic as you say. I think what I like is the setting he takes us to. If you know a little about each philosopher, as I usually do, I think it makes the program more meaningful, pleasurable. 6. Weekdays and weekends are, for me and for Chris, for the most part, indistinguishable. The punctuation is: MAJOR--family activity, Baha'i meetings, going to Launceston to: make radio programs, go to the library and having a swim/sauna; and MINOR: walks, lunch, radio and TV programs, evening meal. The writing between the punctuation points is 'reading and writing' 6 to 8 hours a day. I'll include a poem or two and sign off.... Ron 92
  • ------------------------ And now, for another poem that comments on my attempt herein to tell the full story of my life and times. SINGING ONE'S SONG--WITH AN ITCH American literary legend John Updike, creator of forty books, was pondering as to whether he had done his best, sung his song, had his say. As he approached sixty-five he said he felt a certain panicked awareness of what he hadn't put in his books: "almost everything" he mused. "Worlds are not in them. In the face of this vacuity arises the terrible itch to--what else?" he continued to ponder.1 I, too, am conscious that there is much that is not in my poetry or, indeed, in my autobiography. But, given its function, its purpose, what I am trying to do and say through these thousands of poems, I have no concern, no worry, about what is not in my poetic creations. I have sung my song, had my say, done my best, although only a small handful have read any of it and although one always feels one could have done better. In fact, in some ways, my problem is the opposite to Updike's. I have written so much poetry that I feel the reader is faced with overload should he or she really want to try to take it all in. If I have any itch at all it is 93
  • that the coterie that reads my poetry will be so small as to make both me and my poetry irrelevant to the general public. -Ron Price with thanks to Gail Sheehy, Passages for Men, Simon and Schuster, Sydney, 1998, p.217. I've defined myself, staked out some turf, some individuality, set out the happenings of my life and connected them with my religion, my society and the several landscapes of my days. Through poetry I consciously prepare to replace what I have lost in zest, energy and joy through years of wearing down at the edges in this abode of dust, being consumed away, for weary of life was I. 94
  • Ron Price 16 February 2002 At the time I joined the Cause, in October 1959, the Hands of the Faith, the Chief Stewards of Baha'u'llah's embryonic World Commonwealth, held their third Conclave. A plan of action, writes Peter Smith, was adopted to accomplish the goal of the establishment in April 1963 of the Universal House of Justice and the formation of 33 new National Assemblies in 1961 and 1962.78 Charles Mason Remey went into 'voluntary exile' after this Conclave and in 1960 proclaimed himself the Second Guardian of the Faith. This story can be found in more detail in several books. At the time I had no idea that all of this was happening. I was fifteen years old, had just become a Baha'i and went on playing baseball and hockey, focusing on my grade ten studies and the girl down the street who was the most beautiful thing in my neighbourhood and my world. The Baha'i Movement had been in Canada for sixty-four years on the eve of my pioneering venture. It had been on earth for just under one hundred 78 Peter Smith, The Babi and Baha'i Religions: From messianic Shi'ism to a world religion, George Ronald, Oxford, 1987, p.129. 95
  • years. I had no sense of this time perspective back then. I measured things by the next ball game, the next year at school, the heat of the summer days or the cold of the winter winds, my mother's next meal and the other routines that took place automatically in life. As I drove up the driveway to our new home on Tweedsmuir Avenue in Dundas, in the first week of autumn of 1962, I had become exceptionally interested in the first genuine girl-friend in my life. I was on heat for perhaps the second time in my life or perhaps the fiftieth. My feelings and actions resembled more the enthusiasms of a dog after its bone or its mate than a spiritual entrepreneur about to launch the adventure of his lifetime. My parents helped form the Local Spiritual Assembly(LSA) of the Baha'is of Dundas, one of the nineteen then in place in Canada. The several hundred Baha'is in Canada joined in 1962 some 360,000 to 380,000 on the planet. None of us had much of an appreciation of the contribution and the ultimate reach of the expanding Movement we had joined in recent years. The Guardian had spent thirty-six years writing magnificent letters expounding the significance of this new Faith, its teachings, its principles and its Administration. But neither my mother, my father nor I spent much time reading these lofty epistles, some of them published but, for the most part, in books we did not own. It had taken my mother everything she had just to get to 1962, just to survive. 96
  • That year, too, she would retire and resign from the Faith. Three years later my father had a Baha'i funeral. My mother had been, like the Jewish mother-matriarch, the emotional centre of my consanguineal family. One day I would marry and find a mother-substitute, another woman who would be the emotional centre of my affinal family. The international Baha'i community in 1962 was in the process of completing the first twenty-five years of a global teaching program(1937- 1962) and had entered the last year of the famous Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963). The Dundas LSA was part of an administrative apparatus that was essentially an instrument for the propagation, the protection and the unification of the Baha'i community. However simple it appeared on the surface, it was quite a demanding experience for my parents, especially my mother. Combined with the pressures of the last year of her job in the overseas student section at McMaster University in Hamilton, Baha'i administrative service was more than she could bear and at the age of 59 she decided she did not want to serve any longer. The period 1959 to 1962, going though my mid-to-late teens also witnessed the decline of the Protestant work ethic, an emphasis on instinctual urges, on pleasure and impulse. The age of rock and roll had arrived, in fact its history went as far back as the first year of my mother's 97
  • contact with the Baha'i Faith, 1953-1954. In 1954, one year before Bill Haley and the Comets' Rock Around the Clock became number one on the pop charts, what some called the original white rock 'n' roll song and what Robert Palmer called a "turning point in the history of popular music"; and one year before Elvis covered Little Junior Parker's "Mystery Train,” then signed under the expert tutelage of Colonel Parker with RCA; in 1954--the same year the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation unconstitutional--the nineteen-year-old and still very much alive Elvis Presley walked into the Memphis Recording Service and cut Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "That's All Right."79 My mother had just started walking into firesides in Burlington Ontario that same year. The Guardian had already characterized this society I had grown up in, in his many letters and books. Indeed, his analysis was trenchant and detailed. So, too, had many other writers offered their analysis and prognosis. Readers can delve into the literature, the novels, the newspapers, magazines and journals of the period to get a more accurate picture and it is not my purpose here to explore too much of the social and literary analysis of the time. The millions of hours hundreds of thousands of intelligent people have spent analyzing cultural phenomena 79 Robert Miklitsch, “Rock 'N' Theory: Autobiography, Cultural Studies, and the Death of Rock," Postmodern Culture, 1999. 98
  • have given rise to no generally agreed upon set of models, but many interesting things have been said drawing on the many models available. Some of this analysis I bring into this autobiographical mix. Perhaps newspapers’ most famous reporter, James Reston, expressed my purpose here when he wrote back in 1962, when this pioneering venture was just beginning: "How can I know what I think until I read what I write?"80 As Bruce Bawer points out, too, in his article “The Other Sixties” in The Wilson Quarterly81 from the late ‘50s onward into the beginning years of the 1960s one is struck “by the sudden proliferation of the word new.” There was talk of a new world order, a new math, a new feminism in Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl(1962), a new spirit in the Catholic Church in the convening of the Second Vatican Council(1962). There was a new popularized high culture in Leonard Bernstein’s promotion of classical music. Food and fashion were also affected with the new. There was a new consciousness of social problems: the population explosion, crime and pollution, et cetera. This newness was reflected in the movies in a defining work of the period about prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird(1962). So many things were seen as new, partly 80 James Reston, during the 1962 New York newspaper strike; quoted by Anna Quindlen in "Life in the 30's," The New York Times, 1 December 1988. 81 Bruce Bawer, “The Other Sixties,” The Wilson Quarterly, Spring, 2004. 99
  • as a result of the prosperity of the 1950s which resulted by the 1960s in a feeling people could now do something with that prosperity. The late fifties was a period, writes Bawer, between the tranqillized fifties and the rock-and-roll sixties, between the acceptance of sacrosanct middle class values in the earlier 1950s and their dismissal in a condescending fashion in the 1960s. There was a new awareness of disturbing realities concealed beneath society’s genial and placid surfaces. These years, 1959 to 1962, were a “decent, earnest, innocent interlude”82 that ended sharply on November 22nd 1963. They were also my first three years as a Baha’i. The programs that people did respond to were largely in the media, especially on TV. Television’s ascendance by the end of the 1950s marked the end of Hollywood’s time as the unchallenged purveyor of public history. Film had been a primary cultivator of people’s notions of history for some three decades.83 The laundry list of personality traits and social attributes used to construct and explain the lives of the famous were in large part congruent with those qualities that marked a successful producer in the era of film studio dominance. An emphasis on uniquely gifted individuals, in a word--fame--at the root of history and change 82 ibid., p.10. 83 George F. Custen, “The Mechanical Life in the Age of Human Reproduction: 1961-1980,” Biography, Winter, 2000. 100
  • tended to be the ethos conveyed on the cinema screens during the first and second epoch of the Formative Age(1921-1962). Unlike film which tended to inspire, television seemed to inspire mostly a kind of docile and dull familiarity. But television had advantages. In the portrayal of history, for those who took an interest, it made the viewer feel personally connected to the story of humankind in an intimate but startlingly casual way. Pioneers of the third, fourth and fifth epochs, the years beginning in 1963, have now been exposed to four decades of this kind of intimate, casual and often inspiring narrative. I’m sure millions of people have not been affected by the stimulating affect of media portrayal of history. But millions have. And this portrayal affects the writing of autobiography in ways that time and space prevent me from dealing with here. These pioneers, like the rest of the population though, were also subjected to conventionalized strategies in the portrayal of biopics, as biographies on TV have come to be called. The tension between the often chaotic, complex and prolix details of some person’s life which of necessity must be conveyed in a one or two hour time slot, or some multiple thereof, and the need to make that narrative entertaining and exciting, some have argued destabilized the film biography. Here neatly wrapped up in 101
  • various standardized time packages were: “Stories of . . .,” or “The Life of . . .” Here are the lives, so go the messages again and again, of the men and women who had shaped this world. I don’t want to belabour the story of and the influence of media on the narratives conveyed to the Baha’is, indeed to the generations of recent epochs of the Formative Age, but I think it is important that we are at least aware that for the first time in human history, most children are born into homes where most of the stories do not come from their parents, schools, churches and communities and in many places even from their native countries, but from a handful of conglomerates who have something to sell. The implications of this are both positive and negative but, for now, I will leave this theme. As I have pointed out in other contexts the more than fifty years of my contact with the Baha'i Faith(1953-2005) were also the first fifty years of television.84 It is not my intention here to go into my own television interests, my viewing habits, beginning in 1953 and extending for more 84 The TV push began in 1946 and in Canada 1949/1950 saw the introduction of significant numbers of TVs. In Australia it was 1955/1956 that the TV phenomenon took off. So, 1953 would mark the mid-way point in the two cultures. There now exists a massive, a burgeoning, documentation of our time, our age in all its manifestations. I do not need, therefore, to repeat that here. 102
  • than thirty of those fifty years. The print and electronic media: television, radio, film, newspapers, magazines, journals, hi-fidelity music on 45s, 33 1/3s records, CDs, DVDs, video-games, videos, VCRs and the cassette tape brought a great deal of enrichment into my life during this half- century. And as much as these mediums were a source of entertainment and education it is impossible to venture even a cursory summary of just what that education and entertainment was. Should I venture forth into this domain it would require too much space and occupy far too much of this autobiography. I sometimes feel that I have gone too far in this autobiographical exercise as it is and, far from appraising and reappraising my life, my times and my religion, this book has come to contain a surfeit of detail and may just perform a gentle suffocation on readers. In the pursuit of understanding, I sometimes feel as if I have bombarded my life with ideas and facts and, like someone having trouble sleeping and anxious with worry, I have drowned my night, my moments, in too much thought. Perhaps I should have turned on the TV, gone for a long walk, played more tennis or got myself into the garden. I trust, though, that inspite of all this analysis that a living, breathing man emerges. Although, I'm not sure it matters. This is one story, though, that has not been mediated by that queen of the consumer durables, the televison. And it is unlikely that it will find much space in the public domain but, with the seemingly endless stories that fill the media space, 103
  • I’m confident that this one will not be missed by your average consumer of human narrative. The philosopher Martin Heidegger said that what is closest to us in our everyday worldly endeavors, that which surrounds and shapes our embodiment, is furthest from us in terms of our ability to take it up critically and "under-stand" it. I think there is at least some truth in this aphorism and it is possibly for this reason that Socrates advised us to examine our lives—because it is so very difficult. In Being and Time Heidegger argues that every human being should be understood most fundamentally as an embodied answer to the question of the meaning of existence. I like this idea because it helps me justify the extensive analysis contained in this lengthy work, in this life I have been thrown into, in media res. For truth becomes in this context: dis-closedness and not the basis but the destination of my investigations. The essential revolution of our time has been advancing quietly, largely unnoticed, in the hearts of millions of people who had spiritually dropped out of a world they found meaningless. The routine tasks have continued to get done by the forces of the time--or they have not got done as the case may be. But the roots of faith, without which no society can long endure, had been slowly severed in the twentieth century. The revolution 104
  • has indeed been spiritual and it is clearly out of human control.85 Bell and Mills, and many others in a list of scholars too long even to just mention their names, characterized this revolution in books I have studied in history, sociology, philosophy and politics at university during the years 1963 to 1967 and in the four decades beyond as a teacher, a lecturer and as a continuing student which I will remain for the rest of my life. The Baha'i Faith has continued to provide the core paradigms for my understanding. I saw the world in terms that could be described as: sub specie praeteritorum and sub specie aeternitatis86 as adumbrated in an increasingly extensive Baha’i literature. As early as 1953 I had been exposed to Baha'i literature and Baha'i prayers and, by 1962, I had come to memorize many of them, even the Long Obligatory prayer. The memorizing took place in part because I often felt the need to pray and so I often prayed using the prayers of the Central Figures of this Faith. In addition, I also heard others say the same prayers repeatedly as the months and years rolled on. The words I always found immensely attractive. The Baha'i Revelation expressed the hopes and aspirations of human beings everywhere and certainly in my own heart. My mother, too, had provided a fertile soil for the cultivation of spiritual leanings and 85 Douglas Martin, "The Spiritual Revolution," World Order. Winter 1973/4, p.14. 86 in the perspectives of the past and eternity. 105
  • yearnings. In her long search she had come to make a daily reading of spiritual themes part of her routine--and so it became part of mine by the age of 18. The history of my family which had its roots in Wales and in England in the late nineteenth century and in France on my mother's side earlier in that same century, had been characterized by a mixture of belief and agnosticism. I won't go into the long and complex story here but, suffice it to say, my own autobiography finds some of its deepest roots in the story of my grandfather's life which he wrote from 1921 to 1923 and which was finally published and in my hands in the early months of 1985. I would not go so far, though, as the Nero Wolfe theory of knowledge. If one applies this theory, wrote Katha Pollitt, “You can just sit quietly in your room ... and through sheer mental effort force the tiniest snippets of information to yield the entire story of which they are a fragment, because the whole truth is contained in every particle of it, the way every human cell contains our DNA."87 Perhaps a poem will set my grandfather’s work in context: 1953: A TURNING POINT IN HISTORY 87 Katha Pollitt in The New Yorker, January 19, 2004. 106
  • The closing chapters of Thomas Hardy’s autobiography The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, published in 1930, were left to Hardy’s second wife, Florence, to write. She did some editing of the early chapters. She deleted Hardy’s frequent vicious attacks on the reviewers who had been vicious in their attacks on him. She also cut out some descriptions of society people Hardy had met in London. She also used her red pencil in some of Hardy’s references to Emma, his first wife. Jealousy seems to have played a part here. We now have, though, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, edited by Michael Millgate who makes a convincing attempt to restore Hardy’s original text. -James Gibson, Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life, MacMillan Press, London, 1996, p. 176. As Harold H.Cornfield, my uncle, explains in his Foreward to my grandfather’s account, A.J. Cornfield’s Story, written about 1921-3, the content of the existing typed copy “is correct.” 1 The kind of problem referred to above in relation to Hardy’s autobiography is not present in the only completed autobiography(my grandfather’s: 1872-1901) in my family. This autobiography of my grandfather 107
  • goes back a long way, sort of fleshes things out in our family back to, what, 1872, or thereabouts? This kind man’s work, at the outset of the Formative Age, with his seal of good-housekeeping in a Foreward in 1953, the beginning of the Kingdom of God, serves as a foundation for my work: Pioneering Over Three Epochs. It starts in 1953 when a new Age began for my family at what was a turning point in American Baha’i history.2 I was, then, nine. 1 Harold H. Cornfield, A. J. Cornfield’s Story, pp.i-ii. 2 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith: Messages to America: 1947-1957, Wilmette, 1965, a letter 18 July 1953, pp.110-122. Ron Price 13 May 1999 108
  • Heredity, readers should note, is a concept that is variously emphasized in different parts of the world. North America is a land of self-invention and identity is less a function of birth than of consumer choice. Literary descent, in any case, is not so much paternal but avuncular, fraternal or even maternal. As a young man I enjoyed a literary uncle and mother. I don’t want to leave the above and passing mention of my uncle here without this brief comment, this short context. I could say much more, but that is true of so many topics and when one is heading for more than 1000 pages one must limit the story somewhere. By 1962 my grandfather had been dead for four years. Our family had become ensconced in this new Movement in a town where the first Baha'is arrived, perhaps, a decade before. In the Hamilton region, the major city in the area, Baha'i history went back to Lulu Barr in 1939. The history of the Baha'i Faith in my home town and its environs was still in its first quarter century when my mother, father and I joined. Autobiographies were rare back in these early days of Canadian Baha'i history. They are just about as rare now. Occasionally some Baha'i of note writes their story or a brief version of their story is made part of a 109
  • compilation of stories.88 Generally they are intended as exempla, for inspiration and the consolidation of Baha'i tradition. When the great American writer Henry James was writing his autobiography, F.W. Dupee, his secretary, informs us, "a straight dive into the past brought to the surface treasure after treasure."89 James was writing about "the classic years of the great America-European legend."90 I find much treasure, too, when I dive into the past, into these years of the Ten Year Crusade. I was eighteen years old when it ended and eight when it began. Little appreciation did I have then in those ten years as a child, a pre-youth and a youth of "the brilliant succession of achievements" that led to the Cause being established in over two hundred and fifty countries and territories.91 88 It is not my intention to write a history of autobiography in the Baha'i community here. Biography is extensive and has a long history; autobiography is a rarer phenomenon; examples include, And The Tree Clapped Their Hands, Claire Vreeland, editor, Oxford, 1994; Annamarie Honnold, Why They Became Baha'is, New Delhi, 1994: contains 34 autobiographies; Andre Brugiroux, One Planet One People: the Adventures of a World Citizen, One World, Oxford, 1991, among others. 89 Henry James' Autobiography, Introduction F.W. Dupee, Princeton UP, Princeton, N.J., 1983, p.viii. 90 idem 91 The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, Baha'i World Centre, 2001, p.79. 110
  • From 1959 to 1962 I finished grades ten to twelve. In some ways, these were uneventful days when I view them from the perspective of forty years later. These were years of the interregnum, as Peter Smith called them in his historical summary of this period.92 The messages of encouragement that had been "the spiritual lifeline of countless Baha'is around the planet" had suddenly been taken away when the Guardian died. The great Crusade gradually approached its victorious close and the Administrative Order was in crisis.93 The Hands of the Cause held the fort together "with a spiritual distinction that is without parallel in human history."94 In these years, too, from 1960 to 1962, I used to get on a bus often on a Friday afternoon after school in Burlington and travel to Toronto some 40 miles away to attend youth firesides. Loretta and Bruce Frances who lived in Etobicoke organized these happy affairs which combined the serious and the social. It was during this time that Loretta took me to hear a popular singer, Vic Damone, a Baha’i who has been singing now for more than 50 years and an internationally famous Canadian pianist Glen Gould. I remember Gould playing an Arnold Schoenberg piece. 92 The term 'interregnum' applies to the years between the Guardian's period of office and those of the Universal House of Justice: 1959-1963. 93 The Universal House of Justice, op.cit., p.81. 94 ibid.,p.82. 111
  • Schoenberg had charted new paths in music during the years of ‘Abdu’l- Baha’s leadership of the Baha’i community(1892-1921). One writer called him “the last but unacknowledged exponent of a dying classical tradition.”95 I think both these experiences took place in 1961 or early 1962. It was in Toronto where I met a circle of about a dozen young people in their teens and twenties who were Baha’is. I should mention the sociologist Daniel Bell's The End of Ideology which he published the year I joined this Cause and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, published in 1976, when my pioneering venture was fourteen years into its swing with five years on the international front. Bell argued that what the world needed, and needed desperately, was a truly powerful ideology with a new vision of life for the imagination, one that would function as part of a moral repertoire to be drawn on by all of humankind.96 Of course, Bell, like C.Wright Mills, in the late fifties, had already spoken about the exhaustion of liberalism, socialism and political ideas in general.97 Most of the population went on hoping that some political party would save the day or some leader would manifest a set of 95 Constructive Dissonance: Arnold Schoenberg and the Transformations of Twentieth-Century Culture, editors: Juliane Brand and Christopher Hailey, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997. 96 Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Basic Books, NY, 1976. 97 Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology, The Free Press, Glencoe Illinois, 1960; C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959. 112
  • qualities that the media would accentuate and help to assuage the crisis of confidence and credibility that increasingly assaulted the political institutions everywhere in the last half of the twentieth century. The great majority of those in all classes,98 increasingly uncommitted to any religious or political group, at least in Canada and Australia where I did all my pioneering, occasionally carried a placard, opposed some policy and then returned to their lives of talking about the affairs of the world while jobs, families, their homes and some interest like tennis or gardening while TV filled their days with its pagan torrent of images. This is not to say that the awareness of the citizenry of western society had not increased but the average person throughout western society, the general society I lived in and had my being, simply did not seek out an alternative political order outside the parliamentary tradition they saw exemplified night after night on their televisions. Marxism until perhaps the 1970s attracted the interest of some, but in countries like Canada and 98 Although the gap between rich and poor widened in these several decades of my pioneering experience, there was,too, what some sociologists called the embourgeoisment of society, that is, the great majority becoming somewhat middle class in terms of how they occupied themselves, how they filled in their time. But, as Herbert Gans and Edward Shils among others argued: "the mass was slowly emerging from its immemorially old and clod-like existence." The analysis of a large package of issues relating to these themes is massive in sociological literature and in the literature of other social sciences and the humanities and I can not do justice to them here. 113
  • Australia, only a very small handful. In religion some responded to the programs of various Christian evangelisms but most of the people I came to know outside the Baha'i community in the fifty years 1953-2003 had no interest in a religious commitment, although they often had an interest in religious, theological and historical questions. Millions were attracted to various forms of fundamentalism in this half-century, but the people in my life, for the most part, were not of this ilk: liberals, conservatives, socialists, hedonists, indifferents, et cetera. Not everything and everyone held together, though. In August 1962 Marilyn Monroe, it would appear, committed suicide. David Cohen, writing about Marilyn Monroe in the New Scientist,99 said "you can't choose what life to live, but you can choose how to explain it to yourself and others." That may be true; I'm not sure. I think there is a measure of freedom to choose. In the summer of 1962, in Monroe's last months, I was getting tired of the familiar, the old world of Burlington, where I had lived since I was three years old. I yearned for a change. And I got it. That change was a life of pioneering. I was one of those "nice, law-biding and solemn people" that Canadian writer Mordecai Richler talked about when he came to Australia and 99 David Cohen, "What's a Real Life?" New Scientist, 8 November 1997. 114
  • whose interview I heard in 1999 on National Radio.100 In recent years, he said, Canadians had been treating their Indians better, been mapping their consciousness for the first time in their literature and tasting of popularity. They lived, he went on, between the forbidding territory of the North and the megagiant to the South. I feel I have recently begun to map the consciousness of the Baha'i community in the early years of its second century in Canada, as a pioneer from its shores; and in the final twenty-five years of the first century of the Australian Baha'i experience. The consciousness, of course, that I am most concerned with in this work is my own. It's a small part to play but, then, we all play small parts, in the end. An important transformation in my opinions and character took place during those pioneering years which this autobiography is concerned with, the years 1962 to 2008. To write this lengthy work required those years and the transformation involved. John Stuart Mill discusses this process of transformation in his autobiography. He analyses how this transformation was a prerequisite to his future success. His transformation, he says, found its origins in a dry heavy dejection in the melancholy winter of 1826–7. During this winter of his emotions he was 100 M. Richler, "Interview: Books and Writing," ABC Radio National, 25 April 1999, 7:50-8:15 pm 115
  • not incapable of his usual occupations. His description of his inner life could be the very words I might use to describe a series of depressions that went on for perhaps three decades and which I describe elsewhere in this text.101 Mill tells of how “the cloud gradually drew off” and he again enjoyed life. He says he had several relapses, some of which lasted many months, but he never again was as miserable as he was in that winter of 18267. I, too, had several relapses. My story from, say, 1963 to 2008, some forty- five years, is a more checkered, more complex and diverse, one than Mill’s and I will come to it later in this memoir or autobiography. After this depression in the winter of 1826-7 Mill withdrew from attendance at his debating society. He informs us that he “had had enough of speechmaking” and he was glad to carry on his “private studies and meditations without any immediate call for outward assertion of their results.” This, too, was a periodic experience of mine and by the early years of the new millennium private studies came to occupy more and more of my time. 101 John Stuart Mill, “Chapter XXV: Part 1--A Crisis in My Mental History,”Autobiography, Harvard Classics, 1909-1914. 116
  • Mill also makes the point in describing his recuperation from depression that: “When I had taken in any new idea, I could not rest ‘til I had adjusted its relation to my old opinions and ascertained exactly how far its effect ought to extend in modifying or superseding them.”102 This one sentence is a fine statement, an excellent description, of a process that became central to my life in the 1960s and continues half a century later. Mill goes on in his autobiography to outline the major influences on his thinking. Perhaps I will do the same in this work one day but, for now, I will leave this theme that the influence of John Stuart Mill and his autobiography has had in the exposition of my own life. I'll add to this section some poems that offer overviews of where I was physically, intellectually and spiritually back then on the eve of my homefront pioneering experience in the summer of 1962. SOME DIVINE VITALITY Eight years before Wordsworth passed away in 1850, he wrote a poem whose title was: "A poet!-He hath put his heart to school." The following poem draws significantly from this poem of Wordsworth's. The master, the schoolhouse, indeed, the curriculum and the system of instruction for 102 idem 117
  • me is also Wordsworth's Nature, the world of physical reality, but over and above nature, the "Source of all glory and majesty", Baha'u'llah, the prophetic figure of this age Whose growing influence is the most remarkable development of contemporary religious history(1). This Figure provides for this poet the basis for his personal sifting mechanism and the interpretation of physical reality and its meaning. I did not possess Wordsworth's awesome fitness, nor his equable temperament. Although by 2002, with my bi-polar disorder treated by yet another form of medication there was much more equanimity in my temperament. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) The Baha'i International Community, Baha'u'llah, 1992, p.1 Yes, I put my heart to school under the Master of Love in the schoolhouse of oneness and did a live current quaff, although at times a stagnant pool and, more than that, quite dead. But in the end, each time, it did renew itself somewhere under the metallic stars with sweet new life, 118
  • some divine vitality, some blended holiness of earth and sky that generated nerves and sinews even as I did sigh and susceptibilities of ear and eye. -------------------------- MORE THAN SEX GOING ON HERE Sexual intercourse began In 1963 Between the end of the Chatterly ban And the Beatles' first LP. -Philip Larkin, Annus Mirabilis, quoted in Margaret Drabble: A Reader's Guide. Sexual activity began in 1962 Between the beginning of my pioneering, the complete institutionalization of charisma in the conveyance of authority in an emerging world religion. 119
  • -Ron Price, Untitled Poem, several lines quoted here. The year I became a Baha'i Lady Chatterly's Lover1 went on trial, four-letter words became okay, sex was opened to public discussion endlessly, the unsayable became sayable and pornography began to travel in rivers to the sea of our lives. The permissive society was well on its way; Betty Friedan published her Feminine Mystique and the tenth stage of history made its entrance2 in the greatest drama in the world's spiritual history--- as I tasted my first experience of depression,3 hungered for sex and was initiated into the mysteries and secrets 120
  • of pioneering a new Faith.4 Ron Price 1 August 1998 1 The first year of my experience as a Baha'i was October 1959 to October 1960. 2 The tenth stage of history is part of a Baha'i paradigm of history. It began in 1963. 3 This outline of the early 1960s is found in many places. I drew on Margaret Drabble: A Reader's Guide, Valerie Myer, Vision Press, NY, 1991, pp.13-14. 4 this poem is another example of the vahid(Farsi word for unity), a poem of 19 lines. ----------------------- If sex began in 1962 and I could certainly make a case that it did, it was a long way, in this initial physical dalliance of late August 1962, from any significant degree of intimacy. Indeed there was nothing more than perhaps a minute's worth of the fondling of breasts. Certainly Robert Burns' description of his sexual intercourse in Letter No.215103 as a 'horn 103 Richard Hindle Fowler, Robert Burns, Routledge, London, 1989, p.187. 121
  • of plenty' which 'electrified the very marrow' of both his and her bones was, for me, an experience that was a long way off. Compared to Burns' 'thundering scalade' mine was a mild and moderate affair. But for a young man of eighteen who had had no sexual activity to date that mild excursion could have led to a much more extensive and intensive relationship. But there were brakes put on my physical desires by the religion I had, by then, been a part of for six years. In 1962 I was 18 and my experience of the struggle with unfulfilled sexual desire, if beneficial to my soul as the exercise of self-control generally is and if already a part of my life for my teen age years—the struggle had just begun, little did I know. This struggle was “not such a plague” as it came to be in later years. I was “caught in that sensual music,” as Yeats calls the first blossoming of sexuality, its heat, its promise and its enthusiasms, in his poem Sailing To Byzantium. If it was not such a plague and if I did not neglect what Yeats goes on to call those “monuments of unageing intellect,” I was still often sexually charged. If my sexual encounters were infrequent, this sensual music was still a burden even at times a sort of torture.104 I thought marriage might be a 104 Sarah Fallik, “The Mutually Interdependent Relationship of Nature and Artifice,” CSU@Homepage. 122
  • refuge from this frustration and it both was and wasn’t. A certain “lust and rage” continued to “dance in attendance” in my middle age. UNIQUENESS AND LONELINESS CLARIFIED AS ONENESS Poetry is like trying to remember a tune you've forgotten... A poem is written because the poet gets a sudden vision.....he juggles with sounds and associations which will best express the original vision. It is done quite intuitively, esoterically or simply. That is why the poet, for the most part, does not think of the reader. The vision has something to do with sex; I'm not sure what the connection is. It's just a feeling that I have. It's not surprising, obviously two creative forces in alliance, closely connected. The result is a poetry of self-indulgence, the patter of a type of entertainer, fodder for future social historians from a poet who now needs emotional isolation, from a poet who hopes to touch hearts by showing his own, who reveals the paradoxes and enigmas of people’s lives by putting his own on the table, who provides perspectives on unity that emerge out of aloneness and solitude, his frustrations and tests, his failures and victories. -Ron Price with thanks to Andrew Swarbrick, Out 123
  • of Reach: The Poetry of Philip Larkin, St. Martin 's Press, NY, 1995, p. 21. He pursues self-definition, the nature of identity, through separateness, exclusion and difference, negative self-definition, a voice of Englishness back in that ninth and early tenth stage of history1 , after the loss of imperial power, diminished influence, a new value to English experience. A remorseful tone, secular but communal and telling, not untrue, not unkind, on the margins, exposed to the beyond, imprisoned in a personality, something hidden, something he has been given, 124
  • reticence and an English ethic of privacy: where difference merges into absolute unity; where uniqueness and loneliness are clarified as oneness and endless continuities. Ron Price 29 June 1998 1 1953-1963-ninth stage of history; 1963-1973-first ten years of the tenth stage of history. Larkin did not write "many poems after 1973."(ibid., p.164) Henry Miller, twentieth century American writer, wrote that he was reaching out for life, for something to attach himself to, when he reached out for June, the woman who became his second wife. But, he says, he was left high and dry from his effort to grasp life in this way. In the process he found something he had not been looking for--himself. The several erotic, sexual, relationships I have had in life have certainly taught me their initially cunningly constructed, stimulating and protective cocoons. They create an autonomous realm with privileged moments of 125
  • rich and sensual experience, but they also possess a fragility and transience. Far from impervious to the pressures of reality these rituals of celebration and delight and their atmosphere of splendid isolation, which I found intoxicating and which gave me an illusion of closeness, vibrated in the end to the surrounding facts of life, facts which involved patience, discipline and values and beliefs which tested all the human qualities I claimed to possess. The end result, for me at least, is that the real learning and the most comprehensive crucible of any spiritual attainments have been beyond this cocoon, beyond these fragile relationships, in the context of long term and monogamous settings. I have had two in life. Anxiety is difficult to document and impossible to measure, but it makes fleeting appearances in this autobiography. I try to tell of it honestly and accurately but, in the end, even the most exacting conscience finds it difficult to convey the inner traces, the realities of anxiety, tension and trouble. However religious, however obsessive, however intense I have been in my inner life and private character, my Baha'i conscience does not provide much rich and fascinating material as, say, the diaries of William Gladstone the nineteenth century British Prime Minister which literally bulge with the play of his conscience on matters of domestic life and death.105 105 Peter Gay, op.cit., p.248. 126
  • It seems to me, as I look back over those first forty years of pioneering, from 1962 to 2002, that I too reached for life, many times, again and again, countless times, for something to grasp, something to attach myself to: a series of stimulating pacifiers, the women in my life, who took the edge off loneliness and made me feel good; the academic life and its translation into the teaching profession; the Baha'i Faith and its intellectual and spiritual meaning constructs. They were all stimulating pacifiers, each in their own way. With each of these attachments, these meaning and activity systems, you could call them by many names, I did find survival mechanisms, pleasure, purpose. Like Henry Miller, at least by 2002, I found myself by insensible turns of the tide of experience and was able to express the process by which it took place in prose and poetry. But it was a finding that was also a losing, a sense of power that was also a sense of powerlessness, a sense of meaning and richness and a sense of bone-dry weariness that came back again and again.106 If regreat and remorse rooted out weakness, as 'Abdu'l-Baha said it did, I did my share of rooting out of weakness. I should, by now, be as strong as an ox! 106 Ron Price with thanks to Henry Miller in Mary Dearborn, The Happiest Man in the World: A Biography of Henry Miller, Harper Collins, London, 1991, p.310. 127
  • Mary Dearborn states that Henry Miller walked a narrow line between acceptance and rebellion, rejoicing and disgust. Perhaps we all do in our own way; some are more conscious of it than others; for others the extremes are not as sharp. My bi-polar illness and the simple consciousness of my failings, my sins of omission and commission, perhaps made me more conscious of this same narrow line. I am certainly conscious of this line as I survey my own experience as a pioneer as far back as 1962 and beyond even into my early childhood. I try in so many different ways in my writing, in my poetry, to focus on the forging of my soul, my spirit, my life, on the anvil of experience and suffering. I also write of other topics; for there has been so much more than suffering. There has been joy and the rich cultural attainments of the mind.107 The construction of an autobiography by a Baha’i is the response of one person to their lived experience that one day may assist in understanding Baha’i identity, Baha’i experience, in the last half of the twentieth century or, indeed, at other times in the future. I should emphasize that Baha'i identity is not some entity waiting to be uncovered. In a way 107 Ron Price with thanks to Mary Dearborn, The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller, Harper and Collins, London, 1991, .311. 128
  • Baha'i identity is a sort of invention. There are so many versions of Baha'i identity, so many ways it gets expressed that it is an illusion to search for one core expression and, even assuming you could locate such an intellectual construct, it would have so many forms, so many characteristics it would be more like that proverbial vapour in the desert. The notion of a collective identity, an identity which unquestionable exists, is something which is also artificially imposed upon a diversified landscape and population, on a variety of untidy social relationships, attitudes and emotions to suggest a cohesion that is often not really present. I have lived in many landscapes which it seems to me have been suited to develop the spirit powerfully; in some, like Baffin Island, the Eyre Peninsula and South Hedland everything lies naked and uncovered before God, and there is no room for the many distractions which are often present in urban life. There have been so many places, like Toronto, Melbourne and Perth, where little crevices of consciousness can hide and where seriousness has such difficulty in running down one’s scattered thoughts. At the same time, whether I have lived in city, town or country, my lifestyle, centred as it has been on reading and private study, has taken my consciousness and firmly and scrupulously closed it around itself. In so many places I have had to say with truth: "Whither shall I 129
  • flee from Thy presence?" With the electronic media’s labyrinthine tentacles invading as they do the remotest and fairest reaches of the mind, distraction can and did add appreciably to my scattered thoughts. The whole notion of landscape, of place, this place, Samuel Beckett describes as follows: “if I could only describe this place and portray it. I've tried, but I feel no place, no place around me. There's no end to me; I don't know what it is: it isn't flesh; it doesn't end; it's like air.”108 This, too, is an important part of my notion, my experience, of landscape. Insinuating itself over virtually all the landscapes where I have lived is a pattern of private withdrawal in the wider society, a withdrawal which is as obscure in its psychology as it is transparent in its external shape. The public realm has become more and more reported on and less and less experienced. Politics, it seems, has become the front for a servicing and supply system for the private realm. I have been more than a little conscious of these patterns in these pioneering years. There has been too, especially for the Baha’i, a sexual morality utterly at variance with the massive propaganda of eroticism to which all the places in my consumer society where I have lived, with the exception of Baffin Island, are subject. And all of this, like a great and silent orchestration, plays everyday in the theatre of my life like some continuous musak which is 108 Samuel Beckett, “The Samuel Beckett Endpage,” Internet Site. 130
  • there but not there.109 However obscure it may be and however silent it packages and homogenizes reality, a secondary reality as some call it, in a powerful and seductive way, completely altering community structure as it has been understood historically and making democracy little more than video-taped propaganda. I may have overstated the case somewhat, but issues of this nature, explored ad nauseam in the social science literature, can hardly be separated from this autobiographical narrative. Indeed to explore them in the detail required would necessitate a separate study. The subjective experience of a Baha’i pioneer travelling and working in two countries and some two dozen towns from the second through the fifth epochs of the Formative Age(1944-2021) is itself a phenomenological field. Here in this massive phenomenal reality the student can obtain a focus for his study of the concept of narrative identity. For the problem of identity, a confederation of identities, is always unfinished. At any moment one’s identity is partial, subjective, partially an illusion, many-chambered. At any moment the sense of who we are is partly a result of who other people are. The issue is, though, a complex one and, for now, I'll leave this subject at that. 109 For a detailed analysis of these themes see: Martin Pawley, The Private Future, Thomas and Hudson, London, 1973. 131
  • The chief fictional character at the centre of autobiography is one's self. I say fictional because, as I see it, there are so many selves in our lives. If you want to know what the self really is you must approach the question from many points of view. There are so many examples. When a human being's behavioural control system becomes seriously impaired, when one is seriously ill, that control system can cause the person to behave in ways that are quite uncharacteristic. There is more than one character "inhabiting" that body. We are in many ways protean selves. The self that we present is fluid and many-sided. It does not require any fancy metaphysical speculation to see the multiple, discontinuous, resilient nature of the self we present to the world. One can discover multiple selves with no problems at all. I find after a week in bed with some illness, a rare experience at that, I lose all sense of virtue and interest in life. I am pleased to hear, in the Baha'i writings, that the soul is not affected. It is obvious that there is an early you, the child, the adolescent; there is the you of middle age or late adulthood. The story of our lives does not cohere around one self, one imaginary point, but coheres around at least two, if not more, different imaginary points. We sometimes encounter psychological disorders, or surgically created disunities, where the only 132
  • way to interpret or make sense of them is to posit in effect two centres or multiple centres of gravity, a protean self. One isn't creating or discovering a little bit of ghost stuff in doing that. One is simply creating a theoretical abstraction. It is an abstraction one uses as part of a theoretical apparatus to understand, predict and make sense of the behaviour of some very complicated things: ourselves. The fact that these abstract selves seem so robust and real is not surprising. They are much more complicated theoretical entities than entities with a single centre of gravity, a unitary self, a firm and fixed, a settled and continuous, entity. Even if we posit a single centre of gravity, that centre has a fairly robust presence once we start playing around with it. But no one has ever seen or ever will see a centre of gravity. It is an abstraction like so many things we deal with in life and which Anton Zijderveld discussed in his book The Abstract society.110 As David Hume noted, no one has ever seen a self. As Hume went on to write: "For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the 110 Anton C. Zijderveld, The Abstract Society: A Cultural Analysis of Our Time, London, Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1972. 133
  • perception. If anyone, upon serious and unprejudiced reflection, thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is that he may be in the right as well as I and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continued which he calls himself, though I am certain there is no such principle in me."111 This is not to say that we do not notice continuities. When I read of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl's remarks at the beginning of his essay "On the Resurrection Day," that he "went along with whatever anyone said" because he counted "agreement with the friends as more important than anything else,"112 I could not help reflect on similar remarks by 'Abdu'l-Baha113 and how important this line of thought was in my own interaction patterns in providing a philosophical base for harmony and ease in relationships. _______________________________ 111 David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, I, IV, sec. 6. Draws fairly heavily and without specific citation on several recent papers and summary remarks at the 1983 Houston Symposium on the nature of the self. References to these can be found in my recent book The Intentional Stance, MIT Press, 1987, p.x. F. Kessel, P. Cole and D. Johnson, eds, “The Self as a Center of Narrative Gravity,” Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives, Hillsdale, NJ, Erlbaum, 1992. Danish translation, "Selvet som fortællingens tyngdepunkt," Philosophia, 15, 275-88, 1986. 112 Mirza Abdu'-Fadl, Letters and Essays: 1886-1913, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1985, p. 8. 113 'Abdu'l-Baha in 'Abdu'l-Baha, H.M. Balyuzi, George Ronald, Oxford, 1971, p.27. 134
  • VOLUME 3: Homefront Pioneering CHAPTER ONE HOMEFRONT PIONEERING-1--1962 to 1965: "Beginning with a kiss...." I do believe that I have something of importance to transmit. I think of myself as speaking to an inviolate part of other people, around which there is a sort of nearly sacred perimeter, a significant space. It is a place where the human being really has removed to, with all his most important spiritual possessions."1 But I am not naive enough to think that I will actually reach this space, this part, of other people. I may in a few cases, but the great majority of humanity in these epochs in which I have lived and written will, in all likelihood, never see or read any of what appears in this autobiography. That is not necessarily a measure of this work. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 American writer Saul Bellow, Internet, December 2002. __________________________________________________________ 135
  • The Baha'i Faith had gone from 2500 centres around the world when my mother first saw that advertisement in the Burlington Gazette in 1953 to some 7000 when I pioneered to the next town in 1962. During this same time period the number of LSAs doubled to more than 1500 on the global stage. I've always had at least a mild and, at times, excessive interest in statistics as if they represented something quite important. In some ways, they do. And yet, at the same time, they don't. One must avoid the pitfall implied in the following words of Gertrude Stein: “Counting is the religion of this generation, its hope and its salvation.”114 One pearl, as 'Abdu'l-Baha pointed out in answering a question an interviewer once asked about Baha'i statistics, is worth a thousand fields of sand. One of these LSAs, which is the point I want to make to open this chapter, was the LSA of Dundas where my mother and father served in the early evening of their lives--and, as it turned out for my father, the late evening before night fell in May 1965. As the House of Justice once wrote to a Pioneer Committee about those who move to other towns: "There are also many who, although they go primarily for some other purpose, nevertheless fill a goal....and there is no reason not to record them as pioneers in your files."115 My mother had 114 Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography, 1937, Chapter 3. 115 The Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Pioneer Committee of Europe, 22 September 1974. 136
  • to be closer to her work for the sake of her energies and good health and, in the end, both my parents filled a goal and in 1962/3 served on the LSA of Dundas. "Narrative is precisely the privileged medium for understanding a temporal and hence human experience," writes Anthony Kerby, "experience that is paradigmatically a historical reality."116 This autobiography clearly deals with historical reality and my purpose is, in part, to set the story straight, to set out a story, as straight as a story can be, to put it on paper. There are many ways to tell that narrative and I have come to prefer the poetic form that allows me to jump all over the place and all over time. This particular narrative sequence also provides some order and shape by means of interlinking analysis. But whatever form writers use to convey their lives, the inner motive many share is "the need to better understand our own lives so that we can live together more productively."117 Americans, who were the recipients of the Tablets of the Divine Plan nearly a century ago, have historically been good at preaching, at teaching. In the process they often are teaching themselves. Poets and 116 Anthony Paul Kerby, Narrative and the Self, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1991, p.4. 117 Michael Pusy, Jurgen Habermas, Ellis Horwood Ltd., 1987. 137
  • writers, Baha’is who have been mapping the spiritual territory of the planet, giving an identity to the new global neighbourhood we have all come to occupy especially in recent decades, have been involved in an interminably relentless effort to define their resolutely high-minded ideals in practical terms. For their Faith is founded on the highest of high-minded theories and ideals, not only sup specie aeternitatis but also as part of the social environment they all share.118 This is their burden and their opportunity. This, too, is mine. When one is telling about one's life, at least for most of us, there is an inevitable ordinariness which one must deal with. It is this very ordinariness that keeps many people from ever attempting to record their story. It nearly kept me from writing mine. To define life's ambiguities, to circumscribe its latitude, to apply the principles, to extend the consequences, to reconcile the real or apparent contradictions, is a useful and complex and, I think, an important task.119 Many these days sketch their culture's realities in cinema and on television, on radio or in the creative and performing arts. I do it by writing and, at this stage, on the 118 Geoffrey Moore, “American Poetry and the English Language: 1900- 1945,” American Literature Since 1900, Sphere Books Ltd., London, 1975, p.134. Moore mentions the burden of the English poet and novelist in these terms. 119 Edward Gibbon put it this way in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Internet Quotations. 138
  • internet. It this story should ever enter the frame of cinematic autobiography: autobiographical sketches, investigative autobiography and autobiographical docudrama or even moc docs, as parodies or invented autobiographies are sometimes called, I hope that the tendency to contrive a story is avoided at all cost, although I can appreciate that the depth of a literary effort is difficult to attain in the visual medium. There have been several celebrity autobiographies in the cinema during my pioneering life such as Sartre by Himself (1976), Simone de Beauvoir(1982), The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg(1993) and Marlene (1984). There have also been several non-celebrity autobiographies such as Alan Berliner’s Nobody’s Business(1996). But I do not anticipate this life-story of mine moving onto the screen or into people’s lives via their DVDs or their VCRs. There is an excellent article among several now available analysing these above productions and their pitfalls so I won’t go into them here.120 Such an exercise would be a little premature and perhaps not a little pretentious. 120 Audrey Levasseur, “Film and Video Self-Biographies,” Biography, Vol.23, No.1, Winter 2000. 139
  • Even those who might feel some claim to fame must deal with, what Paul Simon called in one of his popular songs, 'the boredom and the chowder.'121 Here are three poems which place this business of fame, of glory, of renown, into what I hope are helpful perspectives, contexts that gradually evolved during my own pioneering days. Inevitably pioneers, if they are to be successful, if they become successful, have to deal with the whole question of distinguishedness. Baha'is are exhorted by Baha'u'llah to be distinguished and when they become so new problems, tests and challenges face them. ''When success happens to an English writer,'' Amis once wrote in a profile of Kurt Vonnegut, another cherished uncle, ''he acquires a new typewriter. When success happens to an American writer, he acquires a new life. The transformation is more or less inexorable.''122 My success has been so ambiguous, so subtle, so obscure, spread over so many places that there was little point in buying a new typewriter, especially in this age of the computer. I have done my best to get a new life, but I’m not sure if anyone knows, even me. AN ECHO 121 Paul Simon, "Duncan," Paul Simon, CBS. 1 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.111. 122 A.O. Scott, “Trans-Atlantic Flights,” The New York Times On the Web, January 31st 1999. 140
  • The House of Fame is a phantasamagoria, an assembly of phantoms or insubstantial images. It is also seen as a monster the like of which was never formed by nature: half human, half animal, transformed from incredibly small to incredibly large. It is a dream, a veil of a profound truth. It places too much emphasis on the individual for me to feel comfortable with it. So, I have always wanted to keep fame in some manageable context. Such a context was my success as a classroom teacher. -Ron Price with thanks to Piero Boitani, Chaucer and the Imaginary World of Fame, Barnes and Noble, 1984. Hesiod called fame a kind of divinity. Pindar in the fifth century and Boccaccio and Petrarch in the Renaissance, fifteen hundred years later, portrayed fame, or glory, as a maiden, a beautiful lady. Baha’u’llah associates individual fame, at least in one context, with what He calls ‘loftiness’ and with the eternal glory of His Cause. Indeed, if fame does advance the Cause, it is worth pursuing. -Ron Price with appreciation to Boitani and an ‘unauthorized provisional translation’ of a prayer for difficult decisions. No fame, no rank, no class, I need, for where I stand, where I enjoy a worth within this certain place, 141
  • knowing just how far this art does go in this quiet possession knowing, too, that all these feelings, thoughts and intimacies are so complex to show and tell in all their many-edged sharpnesses which I know will bring disturbing, unsatisfactory, ambiguous, problematic and incomplete conclusions, endowed as fame is with infinite eyes, ears and tongues, a creation of chance, effort's reward in a world of swarming crowds: language’s apotheosis without a certain name, proof, only dust, some little nook in a vast kingdom, a dominion which will endure forever, where glory has always responded to virtue like an echo. Ron Price 15 September 1996 ---------------------- 142
  • DEALING WITH FAME Fame is difficult for a successful writer to deal with and impossible to disregard; it dries you up, or it makes you think you are infallible, or your writing becomes puffed out with self-esteem. It is a complication that the imagination can well do without. When and if it comes to you, you have to treat it like other facts of life, simply.1 Self-esteem is also a complex concept to deal with. Family, community and religious forces seemed united in trying to make me feel humble, guilty, obedient and fearful back in the fifties. By late adulthood in my sixties, though, I became aware that the inner dimension of spirituality contained a mixed- bag of tricks: passion, exaltation, despair, utter helplessness, defeat, shame and repentance.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Thom Gunn and his discussion of Allen Ginsberg’s attitude to fame in Shelf Life: Essays, Memoirs and an Interview, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1993, p.103; and 2 William Hatcher, “The Concept of Spirituality,” Baha’i Studies, Vol.11, p.25. Ginsberg’s poetry(1950s to 1990s) feels a bit like a complex progression through an exceptionally frank and full autobiography...the writing is at intervals tedious and even foolish; it is only so as any good friend’s 143
  • conversation may be on his off days, and I would not want to take those days otherwise than in the context of a whole life. -ibid., p.104. I’ve dealt with fame for years in classrooms across this land, in small doses mind you, say, one hundred students at a time. In this quantity it is like a little shot of adrenaline, a pick-me-up, a power-booster, in a job that’s pretty hard to do, especially if students don’t have any enthusiasm for their teacher. I think the problem with any fame of greater circumference than these little places in our lives would be the invitations to speak, to seminars, a talking more and more when my real desire, at least now, is to say less and less. Here is where the complication lies, the source of 144
  • puffed-outness, self-esteem taking the ego in directions it would be better not to go. In the meantime I continue to write the tedious, the quotidian, the visionary, the new political, the true and the beautiful which I always feel as insight. Ron Price 4 May 1996 "Authors in general," wrote W.H. Auden, "overrate the extent and value of posthumous fame."123 That may be true of me. But, like Auden, I would like to be of use, of value, to future generations, even if it is in a small way. That seems to me to be a legitimate, a valued, desire. Blanchot says that Proust “gained a sense of finding himself after being lost, a sense of freedom from ordinary time, into deep, dense and vast motions with an intermittent simultaneity of the whole of life or parts 123 W.H. Auden, W.H. Auden: Forewwords and Afterwords in Selected Essays of William Hazlitt, Geoffrey Keynes, editor, Random House, NY, 1970, p.159. 145
  • thereof and a unique ecstasy in time.” I found some of this when I moved over from the restrictions of narrative autobiography to the open landscape of poetry. I felt I was working in the dark less and giving more of what I had to give. I felt, too, that I was creating a memorial not out of self-indulgence but by providing a series of landmarks leading back to myself, my religion and my society.124 Whether these landmarks would immortalize me, of course, was another question. I think it was simply a desire to be of value in the long term. It took me many years to eventually see August 1962 as the start of my pioneering life. It was a venture that coincided with "the first attacks on Vietnam in 1962."125 As Gillian Boddy asks: "When does one really begin a journey, or a friendship or a love affair? It is those beginnings which are so fascinating and so misunderstood. There comes a moment when we realize we are already well on the way--deja.126 At this early stage of the tenth chapter of this work, which explores the opening phase of my pioneer life, I'd like to introduce an essay I wrote 124 Ron Price with thanks to Maurice Blanchot in The Siren’s Song: Selected Essays, Harvester Press, Brighton, 1982, pp.77-8. 125 "Question Time: An Interview With Noam Chomsky," The Observer, Sunday November 30, 2003. 126 Gillian Boddy, Katherine Mansfield: The Woman and the Writer, Penguin, Ringwood, Victoria, 1988, p.161. 146
  • several years ago and have recently revised, an essay which widens the focus of the pioneering experience somewhat. I entitle it as follows partly in celebration, in honour, of the Baha'is who pioneered between 1963 and 1988, the first generation of the tenth, and final, stage of Baha'i history. PIONEERING: THE FIRST GENERATION & HISTORY’S TENTH STAGE Freud, reinforcing the work of Marx, has encouraged the historian to examine himself and his own position in history, the motives-perhaps hidden motives-which have guided his choice of theme or period and his selection and interpretation of facts, the national and social background which has determined his angle of vision, the conception of the future which shapes his conception of the present. -E.H. Carr, What is History? Macmillan, London, 1934, p. 134. This could very well apply to the poet. It certainly applies to me. Poetry and history are branches of the same tree. My aim in my poetry is, among other aims, to bring history to life, to convey the true significance of things, on the printed page. My aim is also to explore both the outer world of action and its sensibility and the inner world, the private 147
  • chamber. One of the most powerful determinants of this sensibility and this inner world that gives rise to poetry in particular and literature in general in the Baha’i community is the pioneering experience. This experience has been seminal in shaping the creative sensibility of many Baha’i writers, certainly this one. I have entitled my overall literary corpus Pioneering Over Four Epochs and the poetry I have written is the largest part of that corpus. This pioneer life, begun in 1962, just after John Glen went spinning around the earth in the first manned space flight, is rooted in a struggle between the apparently slow growth in the new way of life I am pioneering, trying to bring into reality; and a range of transformations in the wider society. It is difficult to grasp both these time lines, mutually exclusive worlds, apparently. Now in my forty-first year of pioneering, I have seen an Arc of buildings rise on Mt. Carmel, an apotheosis of all my beliefs, one of several that I have experienced during this adventure in movement from place to place. I have been part of a global diaspora and this autobiography could be considered but one of the genre of autobiographies written during this diaspora. Describing the struggle within and between these two worlds I write a great deal. I see this writing as a social act, part of social reality, part of 148
  • historical reality. After all these years, more than four decades now, I see many of the aspects of this struggle as boring, tedious, problems I have had to return to again and again in building the sinews, the nucleus, the warp and weft, of this new World Order, as well as my own character. There is so much to focus on in this development that has been described and catalogued by the Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan messages since 1963. The progress has been immense. Douglas Martin, longtime servant of Baha'i administration to at least as far back as the 1950s, said in a talk he gave just after the now famous/notorious 9/11 incident: "the maturation of the Baha'i community of the United States since the 1960s has been breathtaking."127 Often, to pioneers working in far-flung and remote places on the planet, this maturation has been less than obvious. But that, too, has been part of the international pioneer's struggle. These Ridvan messages, among others, have provided a way of approaching the seemingly unmanageable diversity of political, social, economic and cultural events and the concomitant activity within the Baha’i community. These same messages, I have come to see, as an important source of cultural continuity, as a contributing factor to the 127 Douglas Martin, "Public Talk," 22 October 2001. Notes taken by Cindy Pacileo and on the Internet. 149
  • distinctive social sensibility and the emergent multicultural mosaic of the late 20th century and early 21st Baha'i community. The recurring observations of these complex social and cultural stresses in both the wider world and within the Baha’i community are a hallmark of the House’s writing, as they were of Shoghi Effendi for thirty-six years, an immensely positive and heuristic posture toward the events on the entire planet. New possibilities for development are explored in these messages within the matrix of international crises. The main thrust of my remarks--among many main thrusts--here is to place my pioneering experience of the last four epochs within a broad, but brief, framework of institutional developments in the Baha’i Administrative Order, within the experience of the wider world and within my own private, personal experience. This short essay is but one of many that accompany my collections of poetry. As far back as about 2000 BC, in some ways the historicity is not important, in the Old Testament Abraham is called to go to "the land that I will show you."128 It was a concrete, earthly destination in Ur of the Chaldees. It was a home in which Abraham was to develop the society God was calling him and his progeny to build. His calling was 128 The Bible, Genesis 12:1-3. 150
  • ultimately to the service of humanity. His call was accompanied by an appeal to all to adopt the universal moral code. Israel's God was the God of all humankind.129 The call of Abraham took place once but it inaugurated the history of a divine-human relationship which is still unfolding. The Baha'i community sees it as unfolding in our time and the international pioneer is simply part of that eternal process of leaving one's home and journeying to a land of promise. History became for the Jews what it is becoming for the Baha'is: an extended course of instruction filled with lessons and tests by which God seeks to educate them for the great redemptive work which is one of the many functions of the religion they have extended in these four epochs across the face of the earth. In this narrative the Baha'is find the meaning and purpose of their lives. They seek not so much to lift the people of the earth up to heaven; rather they seek to bring heaven down to earth. And this they are doing, creating the Kingdom of God on earth. And this story, this autobiography, begins at the confluence of my first contact with this unearthly Force and the beginning of this earthly kingdom. “The process” wrote Shoghi Effendi, referring to the unsuspected benefits of this new order, is painfully slow in becoming visible to the 129 General Editor, "Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change: Series I, Culture and Values Vol.7," Internet, 2002. 151
  • eyes of men. It also manifests over time “a series of crises which at times threaten to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress ha(s) engendered.”130 My own hopes had been blasted on numerous occasions in the areas of health, jobs, marriage and service to the Baha’i community. And so I write, not so much to tell the story of Baha’i history, of the Baha’i community, for that has been told many times. I write as a metaphor for my own release, for personal meaning, to perfect my understanding. For suffering ceases to be suffering when it has found a meaning. Such was the view of Victor Frankl in his Man's Search for Meaning and quoted by Elizabeth Rochester in her long and fascinating letter to international pioneers over twenty years ago.131 Combinations of circumstance and temperament, health and sickness, failure and success ensured that my pioneering years from 1962 to 2002 tested my very metal to the hilt. By the early years of my retirement, though, by my early sixties I was able to obtain that tranquillity which was conducive to the literary way of life. I found, too, what Ruskin had found, namely that the moment a man can really do his work he becomes speechless about it. All words become idle to him – all theories.132 If ever I needed a platform, a place to enthuse, a place for speech and words, I 130 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.111. 131 Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, p.179; quoted in Pulse of the Pioneer, January 1981. 152
  • could go to the internet. In everyday life, in the social domain, it was virtually absent from my conversation. I try to tell the truth, memory’s truth, which selects, illuminates, exaggerates, minimizes and glorifies. In the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but coherent(as coherent as possible) version of events. My own version of Baha’i history, Baha’i experience, is hardly definitive. Rather, what I write is my own version of reality, memory’s special kind of world. It is one of what could be millions of versions, of stories, of accounts, of explanations. Narratives, sequences of events in my head, have always been with me, have always been part of my day to day living. I feel the same way about my relationship to popular culture, to music, to a circle of human beings within my family and without. I can't remember a time when I didn't have a deep investment in story-telling of some kind, in narrative, in music, in physical activity and/or sport, in much that is popular culture, in people. The feelings, the discoveries, the experiences, the thoughts of any one year were too many, too bewildering in their multiplicity, to be written down. I would have had to spend too much of my life in writing them down. 132 John Coyle, "Ruskin, Proust and the Art of Failure," Essays in Criticism, Volume 56, Number 1, January 2006. 153
  • It seems to me, though, that identity, a Baha’i identity, does not exist until one's story is told. Whether one tells one's story in some sequence like this on paper so to speak or simply rehearses it over and over as we all do in our own minds, perhaps does not matter. Autobiography, organized or in pieces in one's brain, is a crucial part of that identity, that story which makes us real. Autobiography is part of our aesthetic need to unify and clarify through our acquaintance with a world, which as William James put it, is “multitudinous, beyond imagination, tangled, muddy, painful and perplexed.”133 James thought it was harder to conceive of a whole, undivided life than it was to conceive of the pluralistic world in which that life exists. And there is some truth in James' view; for our life is so very filled with a great blooming and buzzing confusion of this's and that's and to get some picture of the whole is not easy. This sense of the whole, even if it is attained, is expressed in terms of a sense experience which is itself a text perpetually modified by memory. Composition like the one here is always and already a revision. There are many parts of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, perhaps the first poetic autobiography for example, which would seem to indicate this fact. It 133 Leslie Munroe, “History as Story Sequence:Katherine Mansfield and Alice Munro”, The Writer as Historical Witness: Studies in Commonwealth Literature, UniPress, London, 1995, p.190. 154
  • was often not until years after the event took place in his life that the moment of composition for Wordsworth revealed the real reason for the event’s taking place and its associated emotional experience. In his retrospective writing, though, something struck home. The significance often hit home so hard that he gave to that power, the significance, that arose in him the name imagination. It was as if the abyss of the intervening years in his life between the event and his writing about it gave to his imaginative function a new vitality. One author called this function "the tragic, pervasive and necessary condition” of Wordsworth. It was what defined his nature as a mature poet. His apocalyptic vision was based on a strong sense of retrospectively or history, if you like. The depth of such retrospectivity may only be visible and assessable through its textualisations in concrete forms of revision like in Wordsworth’s Prelude. A trip down memory lane was for him, as it has become for me, a trip down revision lane. The term reflexivity or self-consciousness commonly associated with Wordsworth's Prelude is memory, revision and now all mixed together. I say all of this about Wordsworth for I find it all echoes in my own writing experience.134 Vision creates reality and is rooted in the past. 134 Soheil Ahmed, “Textual Revision and the Historicity of the Self: Some Factual Inaccuracies in The Prelude,” Romanticism on the Net, November 2002. 155
  • As far as this new Faith is concerned, in the space of a little more than two centuries(1793-2008) the infinite variety of writings and commentaries, legal and philosophical opinions, journal, magazine and newspaper articles, reports, minutes, histories, buildings and propterties, inter alia, now fill many hundreds of volumes and thousands of acres. Only a few fortunes could purchase it all; no mind can grasp and no eye can ever read it all, even if it wanted to do so. Given the incapacity of anyone to digest the vast contents concerned we are all faced, to some degree, with enigma and a burgeoning reality that can only be partly understood. Of course, each of us tries as far as our capacity and interest allows or, as one writer put it, as a measure of each individual’s incapacity. What is true of our own lives is also true of this Faith. An autobiography like this which deals with all of this is faced with two mountains that can never be climbed. Just as it is impossible to say that an English national identity was formed in the eighth century with a full-blown English national consciousness evident by the fourteenth century; just as such a view can only be dismissed as an anachronistic reading of the past, so, too, is it just as impossible to say that a Baha'i international identity has been formed in 156
  • the two centuries or more of Baha'i history. The notion of a Baha'i international consciousness is, for me anyway, a little premature. That the embryo of something one could call an identity or consciousness has emerged in the half century I have been associated with this new Faith, I am happy to concede. But that is all, there is nothing clearly discrete, distinct, full-blown, at least not yet. There is something about international pioneering that is bound up tightly with Baha'i identity, for me. Over a lifetime there is a plasticity, a variability, a fragmentariness to this business of identity. As I examine my behavior, it seems to be so variable across contexts, across decades, that in some ways it is best to see me as having or being multiple selves. But there is also a sufficient degree of behavioral consistency across decades of contexts for the self to be construed as unitary. Given evidence for both consistency and variability, there is no simple resolution to this issue. If one can claim any sense of unity in one’s self and one’s experience some writers suggest that we need to find a principle, simple or complex as it might be, by which past and present events as well as future expectations are integrated into a coherent autobiography or biography.135 135 A. Blasi & K. Glodis, “The development of identity: A Critical Analysis from the Perspective of the Self as Subject,” Developmental Review, Vol. 15, (1995), pp.404-433. 157
  • A theory of oneself as a person also consists of a narrative of a continuous self that extends across time.136 In my lifetime the literature on identity formation and the concept of self and self-esteem has become so extensive that I have simply trimmed some of the edges in what I write here. Perhaps this is more a reflection of my travel teaching and pioneer role since 1962. Unquestionably, though, this autobiography is, for me, a declaration of cultural pride, an historically resonant expression of contemporary Baha'i identity. Rooted in half a century of Baha'i experience, this written and hand-crafted improvisation is a self-affirming response to the homogenizing forces of mass production, mass culture, mass leisure and mass cultural ideals. The Canadian habit of mind, Margaret Atwood says, is “synthetic.... (with) the ever-failing, ever-renewed attempt to pull all the pieces together, to discover the whole of which one is only a part.”137 I have pulled my life together in these poems; I have tied my life down after forty years of peripatetic existence. This Canadian-Australian hybrid has 136 H.D. Grotevant, “The Integrative Nature of Identity: Bringing the Soloists to Sing in the Choir,” in J. Kroger, editor, Discussions on Ego Identity, 1993, Hillsdale, N.J., pp. 121-146; and T.R. Sarbin, “The Poetics of Identity,” Theory & Psychology, Vol. 7, 1997, pp.67-82. 137 ibid., p.195. 158
  • written between the vastness of two continental land masses and a cosmology taking in all of time and space on the one hand and the microcosm of fragments found in everyday life on the other. He tries to find a middle ground. Some of that ground is in this autobiography. He touches with reluctance on many a topic, and despatches with fatigue and impatience much that has crossed his path. Many an odious vice, many of society's crimes and punishments, many of its habits and customs, many of which impinge on his life in a multitude of ways, he simply ignores and omits allowing him to focus on what seems to him a useful part of his narrative. Most of what I have written and which I have preserved in my personal archives is less than a quarter century old(1983-2008). This exercise of my middle ground, my middle adulthood and the early years of my late adulthood, it would appear, is far from over. As middle adulthood, middle age, turns insensibly in the next two years to the middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80)138 and, two decades from now, to the fifth year of old age--depending, of course, on what model one uses 138 Of course the age of 60 could be seen as just entering the middle years of 'young-old' age, the years 55 to 75. But, as I mention again, I use the model of late adulthood being 60 to 80; and old age being 80++ for this work. 159
  • to classify the stages of human development--I shall continue to write poetry and engage myself in that synthesis referred to above. After pioneering a new model of social organization across two continents, in more than half a century of its institutional expression in a form known as The Kingdom of God on Earth(1953-2008), I am now simply trying to tell my story. The stream of my autobiographical musings, its introspective candour and, I trust, its lucidity make the storey worth reading. I trust. The analyses of our century, our times, are many. Just before the break- up of communism, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Francis Fukuyama, a former analyst with the Rand Corporation, wrote the following in a talk he entitled "the End of History." "There is some larger process at work," he wrote, "a process that gives coherence and order to the daily headlines. The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an 160
  • "end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism."139 Fifteen years later the waters are muddier. The summary Fukuyama gives here of the twentieth century is useful here to place in context this tenth stage of history. I attempt to integrate much from the social sciences, much more than the work of one theorist, into the body of this autobiography. The work of British historian Michael Oakeshott, for example, whose best known collection of essays appeared in 1962140 as my own pioneering life began, has influenced my writing from time to time in this autobiography. While it is impossible to go into a detailed analysis of his many works, for this is not a dissertation in political philosophy, there is much in his works that I find useful in approaching the writing of this autobiography. The rational, the scientific, is essentially the application of reason as systematically as possible to the affairs of life. This kind of rationalism is at the core of what I write here. So, too, is Oakeshott's disposition to use and enjoy what is present, what is familiar and available. Oakeshott stressed the importance of 139 Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History," The National Interest, Summer 1989. 140 Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, editor, Timothy Fuller, Indianapolis, 1991. 161
  • establishing a principle of identity and for him this was done primarily through understanding.141 This process is never complete. To return to my story: My feet hit the ground, F.O.G.142 as the Canadian Baha'i community came to use the term in recent decades, in the early evening, about 8 pm if I recall of September 3rd 1962. It was a Sunday. I had arrived home from the Baha'i summer camp and home was in this new town, Dundas. I brought with me a lovely young girl about my age and I recall kissing her on the steps of the stairs leading up to the second floor, the first house I had lived in with a second floor. Such high expectations I had of that relationship. Was I a little wiser and knew my Shakespeare, I might have said: What's to come is still unsure. In delay there lies no plenty, Then come kiss me sweet and twenty; Youth's a stuff will not endure."143 141 The Baha'i writings stress this same principle in many places. I did not come across the works of Oakeshott until 1991 the year after he died. I was teaching a course in the History of Ideas at the time. His career stretched during throughout the years of the Formative Age of the Baha'i Faith. He saw the importance of Greek and Roman ancient history, subjects I was teaching at the time I first read Oakeshott. 142 F.O.G.=feet on the ground. 143 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, II.iii; song by clown. 162
  • But I did not know my Shakespeare and my expectations were too high on many fronts. Baha'iyyih Nakhjavani argues persuasively in her Four on an Island that most human enterprizes, artistic or practical, usually fall short of our expectations. Whatever expectations I might have had of this pioneering venture, even now after all these years, they far exceed the reality of my own accomplishments. The gap between expectations and reality, hopes and accomplishments must be dealt with and dealt with effectively if one is to be happy and not disillusioned with self and life. In other ways, the experience has been such that I could never have predicted its results, its content, its trajectory. That Abrahamic sense of mission to other peoples, to all peoples, was filled with ambiguity and paradox. This was true thousands of years ago and it was true today. It was true for this young eighteen year old who was trying to pass his most difficult year of schooling, who was beset by hormonal fluctuations that brought him into the depths of depression and into new sexual flights of fancy and who was being transformed, quite unobtrusively and seductively, by a set of beliefs that were insinuating themselves into his life by their very attractiveness, in a manifestly paradigmatic covenantal relationship that was both uprooting and displacing, challenging and 163
  • guiding, him in a new set of dynamics that varied endlessly from individual to individual. The girl and the romance mentioned above were short-lived. Whatever bonding there had been as a result of touching a breast for the first time in my life, the bond, like so many bonds that are essentially physical, was over as she drove out the driveway never to be seen again. Yes there was a bond, a connection, a high, the kind that affects millions in their dance between love and lust, self-control and release. She drove off that evening, down the driveway of our new house in this new town sometime early in the evening on that first Sunday in September. My passions and my attentions were transferred to my studies for the next nine months as I tried to lay the foundations for my academic and career future by passing matriculation studies, grade 13 as it was then known in the Ontario system of education. I would have liked to channel my passions into the arms of the opposite sex, but the two or three efforts I made that year were abortive and not worth trying to tell of their sad, or perhaps, thankful, details. Part of the definition of the pioneer is one who removes obstructions. Central to the pioneer experience is an acute awareness of obstructions 164
  • and a striving to overcome them. In September 1962, the first obstructions were my studies and an emotional life of aloneness being, as I was, in a new town. Studying and aloneness would continue to be part of my experience for many years to come; in time they would become my friends, but in 1962 they required a persistence and tenacity that, while not slipping away from me, kept my nose to the grindstone as we say colloquially. The American historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, published his famous 'frontier thesis of American history' in 1893. The pioneer, the rugged individual, was placed, for Turner, at the centre of the American historical experience. Historian Gregory Nobles, in his discussion of the Turner frontier thesis, emphasizes that there were "many frontier experiences among the European colonizers of North American, not just the English but also the Spanish and the French" as well as "other, less prominent European players"144 And so is this true of the pioneer experiences over the epochs of the first century of the Formative Age. Just as recent scholarship has recast the North American frontier as a zone of interaction between groups, so will any future scholarship shape the Baha'i pioneering experience as an incredibly diverse series of zones 144 Gregory H. Nobles, American Frontiers: Cultural Encounters and Continental Conquest, NY, Hill and Wang, 1997. 165
  • of interaction, among such a mass of players that it may not be possible to synthesize the themes and the complexities of it all. In a new, somewhat obscure and complex, sense we are all pioneers now; we are all working out a survival modality in what seems like a new world, a new age, a new historical zone. However one tries to define or explain the past, though, our knowledge is always incomplete, to some extent inaccurate and beclouded by ambivalent evidence and biased historians. Some historians argue that the story of the past is mostly guesswork and prejudice.145 Analogies, however insightful, never tell the whole story. This is true in both the macrocosm of history and in the microcosm of our own dear lives. Those who examine the past, historians and autobiographers, inevitably oversimplify and hastily select a manageable minority of facts and faces "out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend."146 In any large body of writing about a subject, whether that subject is oneself or a myriad other topics, a certain number of inaccuracies and false opinions are bound to appear. It is the duty of the critic to identify and expose them in a fairminded and temperate manner. 145 William and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, MFJ Books, NY, 1968, pp.11-13. 146 idem 166
  • This will be a difficult task for any critic, at least insofar as much of this work is concerned. In 1894 a Baha'i from Egypt arrived in the USA and began to actively teach in the Chicago area. He could be said to be the first Baha'i pioneer in the West, although the term 'pioneer' was not used until 1924, and not used widely until 1936, by the Baha'i community (Will C. van den Hoonaard, The Origins of the Baha'i Community of Canada: 1898-1948, p.181). The Baha'i pioneer is certainly central to the Baha'i historical experience. The pioneer is also central to, at the heart of the concept of, this narrative. Pioneers inhabit the landscape of this story and especially one, the one I am most familiar with. Like Thoreau, I would gladly write about someone else, but I don't know anyone as well as I know myself. The impulse to ponder and to distil leads to this account and, like Lawrence, "the end cracks open with the beginning"147 and it all comes from within, but only it would seem after a lifetime of pondering. The term 'pioneer' is used by the Baha'i community to describe those who travel to another town or another country to serve that community and the wider communities they work in and for. Indeed, the term can apply to 147 Sandra Gilbert, Acts of Attention: The Poems of D.H. Lawrence, Cornell UP, London, 1972, p.132. 167
  • any Baha'i who advances the teaching and consolidation process of this new Faith. I have laid out on my website forty-two divisions of poetry, one division for each of the forty years of my own pioneering. There are two divisions and an introduction, called an 'index' on my website, for my warm-up, my preparation, period for pioneering: 1959-1962. Readers are advised to go to this site if they would like to explore this pioneering experience in a dominantly poetic rather than narrative vein. All of my poetry is not about the pioneering process. My poetry ranges over much that is modern life, much that is the Baha'i Faith, its history and its teachings and much that is my own life. A list of the topics on that website can be found at the end of the introductory page, the 'index.' But to return to the immediate story.......... Looking back from the lofty height of a forty year distance in time, it seems to me that those mysterious dispensations of a Watchful Providence were guiding me through the labyrinth of sensual passions that often clouded my late adolescent world. The attractive girls in my classes, the heat generated by dancing with girls on Saturday nights never seemed to develop into relationships, to come to anything serious. The one girl I did invite to a school dance seemed so utterly uninterested 168
  • in me that my confidence was shaken for nearly two years. I could argue, of course, that my lack of success with the opposite sex was the product of a modesty and shyness and an energy that had been channelled into sport and now academic work. There is no need to invoke a transcendent influence here at all. One can never be entirely sure when one is being guided. There is, though, nothing that is "more powerful that "absolute certitude." This was not a popular idea in the academic milieux I spent much of my time in and would in the years ahead. But in the Baha'i community I was becoming a part of more and more I was increasingly able to commit myself to its massive truth and the multitude of truths enunciated by its Central Figures and Their successors.148 This absolute truth, though, operates in the context of a "theoretical uncertainty" which William Hatcher says is part of even "the surest of statements" and is "our greatest asset in adapting to our human situation."149 Until the summer of 1962 I had found much happiness and pleasure in the company of my high school friends, soul-mates is too strong a term. If 148 Doug Martin, "Personal Notes from Talks by Douglas Martin," September 2001. 149 William Hatcher,"The Science of Religion," Baha'i Studies, Vol.2, 1977, p.9. This issue is a complex one and involves a definition of faith being the "process of organizing of our emotions around our assumptions." (ibid., p.8.) 169
  • there was a golden period in my young life, it was the period up to my eighteenth birthday in July 1962. In retrospect it seems to me like some kind of lost paradise of simplicity, of wall-to-wall sport, school and endless indulgence, punctuated with the occasional family crisis, the frustrations and attractions associated with the presence of beautiful young girls and the need for money, mine and my parents. I had been a somewhat solitary and introverted child of parents who could well have been my grandparents due to their late marriage, but during my late primary and high school years I blossomed. I was the apple of my parents' eye and was their lovingly indulged only son. Although my father would fly into a rage during a chat with my mother about some issue, usually a financial one, it was all in the context of his love and interest in our welfare. My home was always open to my friends and, after 1953, to the Burlington Baha'i community. Books, music, gardens and writing were things treated with respect in these now seemingly remote but halcyon days. In August 1962 I left Burlington and its paradisiacal simplicity or so it seems to me now looking back after forty years. Its very familiarity had become stale, boring, tedious. A nearby town just ten miles down the road was a change, a good change. It was a start to the mysterious journey of life that beckoned, little did I know at the time. Those golden years 170
  • were replaced by the academic demands of matriculation, by the absence of the old friends I had cultivated for a dozen years, by the confusions and depressions of the final year at high school and my university years in a new town and by a cold wind which set in. These were the years, as I have indicated above, of my first entanglements with those beautiful girls. However one describes the contrast, those simple days of youth had gone. I had indeed pioneered. The process, though, was as insidious as a seed. I was not conscious, in any way, that these were my years of preparation for a long road ahead. I had begun to sing a new song and it had become more intense, more important, in this new town. It was so clouded in difficulties that I found it difficult to sing.150 It was also clouded in what might be called a politics of the left. As Alan Bloom was to write 20 years after I graduated: ''The fact that in Germany the politics were of the right and in the United States of the left should not mislead us. In both places the universities gave way under the pressure of mass movements.'' In the 1960s the participants were full of animal spirits and spiritual animus and they often undertook ''the dismantling of the structure of rational inquiry.''151 150 Ron Price with thanks to Roger White, "New Song," Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, pp.117-118. 151 Alan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, 1987. 171
  • With that move in August of 1962 to Dundas, then, the diaspora of my old friends and the loss of all that was familiar, I was jettisoned into a new world in which I had to find new oars. In some ways my new oars were a set of internal resources I had acquired by growing up and I certainly needed them to cope with the problems associated with just getting through my final year of high school. This occupied my time and left me with little else to worry about; even the occasional party, dance, or association with girls was so peripheral and short-lived that these events were just a bubble in an otherwise hermetic existence with books, classes and the struggle to pass nine subjects and nine three hour examinations. In June 1963 I did pass and with a great sigh of relief. A new pattern and architecture had begun to emerge in my mind by the end of 1962, as the Ten Year Crusade was about to enter its final few months. What G.K. Chesterton called 'the landscape of our dreams' had become altered radically from those common and local concerns which keep most young people busy most of the time and which had kept me busy until my mid-teens. Insensibly during all those teen years and growing into a strong force by nineteen, this landscape of my dreams had come to include a vision contained in a new religion. 172
  • This landscape, Chesterton went on, was covered with the flora and fauna of a secret, an inner, planet. I had certainly begun to build, to design, to occupy this place in my mind with the vision, the words, the books, of this new religion which I had been increasingly involved with since 1953. I had no conscious sense of direction for my life when the Universal House of Justice was elected in April 1963 but I had, by the simple process of elimination, confined my career direction to some aspects of the arts and not the sciences. The following brief anecdote will tell why. One critical experience that defined the direction I was to go in as I entered university was my effort to grasp matriculation physics. From early September to some time in November 1962 I tried to disentangle the mysteries of physics and the difficulties associated with acceleration due to gravity, speeds of 32 feet per second per second, et cetera. I must have spent an average of an hour each night in my homework sessions for nearly three months doing physics 'problems.' But it was to no avail; I knew I was not going to pass physics if I stayed in that course, so I switched to history several weeks before the Christmas exam. I got the highest mark in the class in history, an 80, and I never attended one class. This seemed to confirm to me that the arts and not the sciences was the direction of my career as I entered university in September of 1963. How accurate that confirmation was hardly mattered because without physics 173
  • in my grade 13 marks the entire world of the sciences was just not available for me to pursue. One of English dramatist Harold Pinter's biographers, Michael Billington, says that "you don't live at home till your early twenties without developing an awareness of private space or a fear of unwanted invasion."1 This fear for me was limited because my parents had always given me lots of space to be myself. Invasion of my space was not a serious issue, although occasionally it did rear its head, ugly and otherwise. Some of the young misspend their time. This misspending must be accomplished in some genuinely prodigal way: some form of low sensuality, vast laziness or generally accepted profligacy must be proven. In my case no misspending can be said to have occurred in my undergraduate youth to the age of 24, although I must admit to a degree of sensuality which some might consider low but which, after the passing of more than forty years(1968-2009), I consider more to be a search for relief from depression, a natural enough interest in the opposite sex and a rare giving way to the demands of my id.152 152 I have documented the major and specific instances of my sexual experience along the lifespan in my journal but not in this narrative. 174
  • When my father died in May of 1965, I moved out of this private space for ever. I don't recall ever fearing 'unwanted invasion' in my late teens, but I certainly did as a child: the invasion of the temper of a father. But that 'awareness of private space' has been a strong one all my life, if I think of it. When I read David Malouf's description of his early life in his autobiographical 12 Edmonstone Street I was very conscious of this space and its affect on my life. My father, though, had gone on to a different space where the fruitage of this life would "come forth." Whatever irrationality and foolishness this life presented, and it presented much to my father, a man who walked out of the room when the news came on TV I recall by the time he was sixty- five my father, I believed, would find in the world beyond the mirage that was this life and much that was once seen as its fruitage.153 Billington goes on to write about Pinter's "rage against the world." It was also a rage for life, a rage to do something, to achieve something. With the onslaught of the depressive and then manic or hypomanic phase of my manic-depression, as early as September 1963, my life was inhabited by a certain rage as well. But by July-August 1964 the rage had died and I 153 There are many references in the Baha'i writings to the afterlife. I have borrowed two here from 'Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, Haifa, 1978, p.185 and p.263. 175
  • was plunged into the depressive side of my bi-polar tendency. Whatever rage, whatever manic, proclivities I exhibited in these early years of pioneering, 1962 to 1967, they were channelled for the most part into getting through my academic studies in history, philosophy, sociology and education; into one of four serious relationships or, perhaps more accurately, four minor flirtations, with young women at university and into a developing orientation to my new role as a pioneer. It is often, if not always, hard to know when something serious is serious and when it is a flirtation, a short term affair, something that is here today and gone tomorrow, just another name, however intimate, in the long road of one's days. This is also true of political and religious interests; they are often as passing as the wind. I think that, except for a very few Christian evangelicals and Catholics whom I knew in my life, and they were indeed a small handful, most people had no political or religious affiliation whatsoever. The political and religious domain was not unlike the world of entertainment: just something to watch, very occasionally get involved in some way in the form of a demonstration, a letter of protest, perhaps an attendance at a church service at Christmas. It appeared, to me at least, not unlike a form of consumption, a form of shopping. Given the complexity of affairs and the great number of groups to choose from, such an orientation is not really surprising. 176
  • The changing situation in the life of my mother, the death of my father, changing personal circumstances associated with completing my studies in this place in southern Ontario where I had lived all of my life and the changing landscape of the Baha'i communities I was involved with, all influenced my development as a person, as a social and intellectual being. Beer drinking, pub crawling, nights out with the boys, types of partying were not part of my rage. The whole trip through these years of the sixties and whatever rage it contained was pretty serious, although it had its light side, the side that all young people have and they call 'fun.' It was a rage of ideas and emotions fuelled by body chemistry. It had little to do with civil rights, an anti-war stance or the many partisan political events that became part of my world in these heady days of social change. And looking back I think I was lucky to survive, to finish university and begin my career, so tumultuous was my emotional life.. There was for me, during these years of the early to mid-sixties, a developing awe and determination to study the Baha'i writings. A reverence for them developed coupled with an increasing enthusiasm for their content, a systematic examination of their art and a desire to understand what they meant. These writings required an effort to understand what they had to say about me and about my world. I was certainly "painstaking" and "conscientious." This study went on during 177
  • these five years of difficult personal transition, problems and personal maturation.154 The person who lived in those first few houses in those first towns, Hamilton, Burlington and Dundas, indeed any of the houses I have lived in with the possible exception of my present residence in Tasmania, is not the person who is now writing this story, this autobiography. To look back on all that has been my life, the long and medium distances, is to know too much and too little: too much trivia and detail, too little and too much of what is important. To look back is to reinterpret, to tell the story differently every time. Will a third edition of this account add anything useful? Would six editions, like Edward Gibbon's autobiographical efforts in the late eighteenth century, be a source of further enlightenment? My optimistic muse would like to think so, but I can't be sure even if, as Socrates once emphasized, 'the unexamined life is not worth living' and this continued exercise in navel-gazing, to put it pejoratively, goes on for an extended time. I find the process of writing 154 Michael Billington, The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, Faber and Faber, London, 1996, p.27. 1 Judith Wright, Half a Lifetime, editor, Patricia Clarke, Text Pub., Melbourne, 1999, p.290. 2 ibid.,p.288; 3 1953-2003. 4 Mark Twain, 'Interview in 1889." 5 John Murphy, The Voice of Meaning: History, Autobiography and Oral History," Historical Studies, Vol.22, 1986, pp.157-175. 6 idem 178
  • engaging, stimulating and a source of insight; whether others will find it equally so is another question. The "I" is a shimmering multitude, a multiple, a memory-filled entity that expands in many directions. The facts, the events, of my life become more difficult to define, to describe, to play with like the coloured billiard balls they once seemed to be and still do in different ways as they have become more familiar and I play billiards better than I once did. They don't bounce around the sides of my life and into their pockets with quite the precision that they once seemed to do. But in other ways they do. It depends on what game is being played and when and where. If 'reality' is those events and those facts, those discrete billiard balls, they seem to have become something to hide behind like a building which I have come in and out of many a long year, something to call my life, some historical facticity that superficially tidies up what I can not tidy. My private life will leave, as Australian writer Judith Wright once put it, "less trace than the silver trail of a slug which dries and blows away."155 While this may not be true in the years immediately ahead, it certainly is in the long view. But that is the case with virtually all of us. 155 Judith Wright, Half a Lifetime, editor, Patricia Clarke, Text Pub., Melbourne, 1999, p.290. 179
  • In the world of the spirit, though, as Baha'u'llah once wrote, "the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered" by my mouth and "shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb." There seems to be much more going on in that private world than the conscious mind is aware of. "Life is but a show, vain and empty," Baha'u'llah also states, "bearing the mere semblance of reality." It is not surprising, therefore, if my backward gaze leaves me with the feeling, somewhat, that my life is like "a vapour in the desert," something I hope is water but, on facing it squarely, it seems more and more to be "mere illusion." In the first stages, or perhaps they are the last, of the rise of the Baha'i Faith from obscurity one's eye is invariably fixed on that royal, that holy, place of "infinite preciousness,"156 holding as it does within its confines incalculable potentialities representing the culmination of a centuries- long process of evolution through Revelation, the Shrines of Baha'u'llah and the Bab in Haifa and Akka, respectively. I contemplate the fortunes of this radiant spot at first with a sense of its mystery and with a personal feeling of devotion. At length my contemplation evokes a solemn consciousness and, ultimately, an awe and thankful gladness. 156 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, Wilmette, 1965, p. 82. 180
  • The vicissitudes of fortune spare neither man nor the proudest of his works. They bury empires and cities in a common grave. The art of man is "able to construct monuments far more permanent than the narrow span of his own existence: yet these monuments, like himself, are perishable and frail; and in the boundless annals of time his life and his labours must equally be measured as a fleeting moment," such were the views of Edward Gibbon on the nature of life and human creation. I include them here at the outset of my pioneering story for they place whatever I may write in a longterm perspective that,I feel, needs to be cited.157 With a succession of personas that I have had, with a string of achievements and failures, obsessions and relationships, preoccupations and rejections, choices and changes, I can and have described my life. I have looked back through the tunnel of identity at my childhood and, indeed, at all the other stages of my life and my experience in the Baha'i community as well as the many other communities I have inhabited and what I look back at, for the most part, has vanished. What I have recorded is a succession of changes. What I was has changed. If, as Herman Melville states, "failure is the true test of greatness,"158 I have 157 Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Internet Quotations. 158 E.H. Rosenberry, Melville, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1979, 57. 181
  • achieved my portion of greatness. As Wright puts it in the last lines of the closing poem in her autobiography: A ripple goes across the glass. The faces break and blur and pass as love and time are blurred together.159 But then, I pause and think, this life, my life, inaugurates the history of a divine-human relationship that has only just begun to unfold, which seems to require one's life to unfold. I have little comprehension of the nature of this relationship or of my destiny here at its beginning. I have responded to a call to pioneer and journeyed to many places over more than forty years. The story, the narrative, has taken many unexpected turns. It is in this narrative, and in the greater epic narrative that is the history of this new Cause, that I have come to find the meaning and purpose of my life. I have tried, in these early years, the first half century, of the Kingdom of God on earth,160 to play a small part in bringing heaven down to this earth, to transfigure the world. My story is not over yet. The task is immense and there is work enough for everyone. 159 ibid.,p.288 160 1953-2003 182
  • I am conscious, as Mark Twain noted, that the autobiographer "has the most earnest desire to make himself out to be a better man in every little business that has been to his discredit."161 We are not obliged, even in autobiography, to acknowledge our wrongs, our faults, our sins to the nth degree. Much of my dirty laundry I have simply left out, not so much to manage the impressions but for the same reason or reasons I would leave it out in a personal relationship. I've tried, too, to air no one's dirty laundry but my own. It is an issue of taste and preference, of appropriateness. Not everything that a man knoweth, as I have indicated and, as Baha’u’llah wrote in one of His most quoted aphorisms, can be disclosed. Not everything is timely and suited to the ears of the hearer. The autobiographer makes some critical choices about what is and what is not suited to his readers. In the education of a people, as in that of an individual, memory must be exercised before the powers of reason and fancy can be expanded. Writing this autobiography has been a lengthy exercise in both. Finally, I it is my hope that, in becoming familiar with the autobiographical works of my predecessors and in learning to understand and even imitate their approaches, I can equal or even surpass the quality of their works. 161 Mark Twain, 'Interview in 1889. 183
  • More importantly, what my autobiographical work does reveal and describe, often obliquely and unintentionally, are the social and symbolic structures underlying my life. These are, quintessentially, those of the Baha'i Faith in the ninth and early decades of the tenth stage of Baha'i history: 1953-1963 and 1963-2003. If there are omissions, distortions, discrepancies or disturbances in my account, the remembered past which I have put on paper, they, too, are revealing and symptomatic. But I leave it to future historians and students of the social sciences to deal with their significances. For now, in this narrative, in my essays, interviews and poems, I provide an autobiographical hermeneutic, a self-reflective history. I am a historical being who has made history, studied history and here, in these reflections, provided a body of reference for the future. Enquiring into life histories has been part of the standard research methods of the social sciences since the 1920s, since the time the Guardian began to design the Baha'i Administrative system. A life history, my life history, is neither a unique document nor a representative of a group, in this case the Baha'i community. I like to see this entire oeuvre as "the product of a social individual," "the manifestation of an 184
  • ensemble of social relations," as part of "the prism of history which encompasses the universal in the particular."162 "The key to selfhood," wrote Philip Weinstein in his analysis of American writer William Faulkner, "is the selective language we use to articulate our inner selves."163 And this, he goes on, is determined by our voluntary and involuntary affiliations with larger groups. Our very sense of self emerges from this charged field of utterance. There is a clear cultural encapsulation of personality and, for me, a significant part of this cultural guise, cultural determinant, is the religion I first came to associate myself with back in 1953, thanks to my mother's restless curiosity about life and religion. What I am trying to do in this essay and in most of my writing is to give coherence and intelligibility to the great mass of experience and thought that is my life. I draw extensively on a concept of history at the centre of my Faith and this writing may provide, for some, one of a host of entry points for a study of several epochs of Baha'i history, one of many ways of weaving the collective and the individual into one mobile and effusive process. It is often said that a biographer's chief task is to prevent the 162 John Murphy, The Voice of Meaning: History, Autobiography and Oral History," Historical Studies, Vol.22, 1986, pp.157-175. 163 idem 185
  • historian from committing the error of oversimplification and omission. I think one way of defining the autobiographer's task is to give both the historian and the biographer a piece of solid ground to start from. Perhaps this narrative, taken along with my poetry website and the book I wrote on Roger White's poetry, is just that: a piece of solid ground. For the autobiographical act is, as Rosamund Dalziell sees it, "an autobiographical process" which leads to a deeper self-knowledge and a greater recognition of shared humanity, the basis for that solid ground.164 But that solid ground, growing out of an acquired and necessary self- knowledge, involves the swallowing of many a bitter pill. I often wonder why I seem to be compelled to drive into the subject of autobiography, but drive I must even on this lovely fresh and sunny Tasmanian afternoon in spring. It is my desire, at this juncture, to summarize the relevant material I came across in Joanne Finkelstein's book The Fashioned Self(Polity Press, Oxford, 1991). With the Five Year Plan165 having just passed the 18 month point out of 60(30%), with a "coherence of understanding," "a moment of consciousness," a "power of will generated," in "the immensely promising prospects" of this new epoch, perhaps this exercise in autobiography is part of my simple wish 164 Rosamund Dalzeill, op.cit. 165 2001-2006. The last Five Year Plan opened when I was in Tasmania in 1974. 186
  • "to understand the tumultuous forces that influenced the life on this planet and the processes of the Cause itself"166 during the last half century in which I have been involved with this new and powerful global Force. Finkelstein notes on the first page of her book that "our speculations about the nature of our own consciousness and that of others are incoherent and unsystematized narratives interwoven with contradictory ideas and assumptions."167 While the Baha'i Faith provides a great deal of insight into the nature of my consciousness, I feel my task is to make that insight more coherent and understood and to make the narrative that is my autobiography more penetrating and systematic. That is, in part, the aim of the several essay that I have knit together as best I can in this autobiography. Finkelstein goes on, in the last fifty pages of her book, to argue persuasively that our pursuit of the surface, of fashion, of the body, as the main source of personal identity is, "paradoxically, the primary ingredient in the degradation of identity."168 The demands of life passed in the cacophony that is modern civilization produces a desire for the prosaic, 166 The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2001. 167 Joanne Finkelstein, The Fashioned Self, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 1991, p.1. 168 ibid., p. 145. 187
  • the habitual and the predictable in social relations. In the process the inner life is threatened with formulaic manners of acting and styles of appearing and our conception of character and the self seems to be an inchoate, incoherent, undeveloped, unsystematic and motley assemblage of contradictory ideas. Norbert Elias sees a growing conception in our world of the individual as homo clausus. It is a little world within the individual which exists quite independently of the great world outside. All other human beings are also seen as homo clausus. The core of this individual, his true self, his being, appears as something divided within by an invisible wall from everything outside including everyone else. This private realm of interiority is often cherished and protected from external influences. Humans have come to believe that they are the authors of their own character and every event in their lives has a defining meaning. Elias says this concept is misleading; this split has no basis in the true structure of the self. In fact, it is the world which makes us who we are, however separate we may feel. We have a performative, a theatrical, a dramaturgical, self; we have many roles and character is "a striation of performances"169 from an internally rich and varied base of different 169 Ibid., p.161. 188
  • personae. To understand the self is a difficult exercise. To see oneself as identified with various commodities oversimplifies and falsifies what is actually a complex process. To see oneself, one's identity, through immersion in various institutions like marriage, a profession, a religion, a society, is a problem when these institutions are disorderly or corrupt, impersonal or hostile. Institutions of this nature can provide a stable sense of identity, an anchorage, a sense of resonance. They can help us to articulate, to furnish, a developed discourse on the nature of our social experience. They can help us fashion ourselves in accordance with stable not shifting institutional interests, help us embody social ethics consistent with our better interests, so that our sense of community does not wither away and we do not feel like a concatenation of disparate elements, with everything flowing and nothing staying put. Private ruminations not purchased elements, the experience of subjectivity and sense of moral obligation to communally shared values, historical concerns or transcendental aspirations are critical to the sense of self and its integration. The ephemera of images which often dominates modern life is part of the purchase of the sense of identity, part of the self as a momentary social product and its singularity. There is insufficient sustenance for the self here. For the self, character, can not be identified with physical appearance, with images, with the fashioned self. 189
  • I don't think I ever saw the self that way, anyway. When I look in the mirror it is always to get a job done: to shave, to pick a pimple, to cut my moustache, to comb my hair. If I ever do chance to look upon the self that is my body I wonder, often bemusedly, who the chap is that I am looking at. The mirror does not function as a base for preening. Who is this face I chance to look upon at this bright and early hour(if it is early morning) as my psyche struggles to get into the world? In many autobiographies and biographies, the body is given a minute description. This was more true before photography came on stream in the nineteenth century. This bodily description and analysis hardly seems of any value here and so I give it a miss. The accompanying photographs will, I trust, satisfy people’s curiosity. As my life passed from childhood, through adolescence and into early adulthood, ideas came to play a stronger and stronger role in my day-to- day life. I remember reading God Passes by and the Kitab-i-Iqan back in 1962 and often feeling as if I was missing the meaning, missing the point, as if the words were, somehow passing over me as I read. I felt an urgency and a restlessness but so often, I felt, too, as if I had no focus for the surging forces within me. It was often my main prayer to give me meaning, focus, direction, purpose, to help me overcome the sense of the 190
  • trivial, the meaningless, the emptiness, purposelessness that often haunted me. Back in the early 1960s this was often my prayer but, as the years went on, the focus of my prayers changed--and changed frequently. For by my forties this prayer was answered and a focus was found to absorb my energies. Thirty years later that focus is still at the centre of my life and my energies are poured into that vehicle day after day--to the point of exhaustion. Yes, those prayers at the outset of my pioneering life were answered to the full. If the word 'pioneering' meant very little at the outset of the venture in 1962, it has come to by the very raison d'etre of my life. I poured over my books four hours every night, doing the homework assignments, trying to understand nine different subjects so that, in the end, in May and June of 1963, I would be able to pass those examinations. And, in the end, I did. I got a seventy-three percent average. It was enough to enter university which I did in September of 1963. I was also able to direct my energies that year to the fast, the first I ever went on and it was a terribly difficult experience. My mother worried about my haggard appearance especially at 6:30 pm after a long day when it was time to eat and I wanted to wait 'til the sun went down at 6:45. It was a critical experience, among others, in helping my mother resign as she did in about May of 1963. 191
  • By mid to late November 1962 it became obvious to me that if I continued trying to understand physics it was quite possible I would fail and not be able to even get into university. Part of the enduring search that is life and sustained by an unwavering faith in the capacity of language, of words, to get me through, get me somewhere, I picked up history and dropped the physics. I knew I could simply memorize the stuff and I would pass. I got eighty per cent on the Christmas exam, the highest in the class, so I knew I had a winner in the history. The course was Canadian history. It would be some forty years before I could poetically crystallize the most pronounced features of an individual, a landscape, or an event into a few densely concentrated juxtapositions of words.170 This personal stress on the power of language underpinned my work from the beginning of academic life at university and down the long years of my career as a teacher and lecturer and into these years of my retirement. Indeed, with my inability to do physics in the fall of 1962, the first months of my pioneering venture, words became insensibly the focus of my life. It was precisely this priviledging of language which was instrumental in making possible the gradual transition from the ideologically passive and 170 Manuel Yang, CLCWeb, COMPARATIVE LITERATURE AND CULTURE: A WWWeb JOURNAL, Contents of 1.3, September 1999, BOOK REVIEWS. 192
  • intellectually neutral life of my early to mid teens into a more spiritually and intellectually oriented Baha'i, denuded of any partisan political substance, but richly immersed in a literary tradition of words. This emphasis on language comes into my narrative from time to time because it is so central to the story. This brief anecdote conveys some of my understanding of the etiology of my life with words. That summer I worked for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, first in their shipping and receiving department, then cleaning floors and finally in their data processing section. I had tried selling encyclopedias and delivering bottles of soft drink in early June just after graduating but these jobs were, for different reasons, unsatisfactory. I notice in the many autobiographies I have read in recent years how many pages writers devote to their jobs, their marriages, their relationships, the towns, the places they live in and their interests in sport, cooking and gardening. I found reading about these aspects of autobiographical experience so often tedious that I decided not to fill the pages of my own book, my own life, with these same, these common aspects of the day-to-day. Readers, then, may feel I have left a great deal of my life out of this account. And they will be right, but I have lots of company in my approach. Kafka 193
  • "neglected the reality around him," when he wrote his diary171 and Dostoevski rarely recorded daily events in his own "life or in that of his society."172 There are no rules for writing autobiography. On April 30th of 1963, eight months into the pioneering experience, the first Universal House of Justice was elected. The first epoch of 'Abdul- Baha's Divine Plan had ended as did the Ten Year Crusade of Shoghi Effendi. I was not especially oriented to plans and epochs, eras and ages, phases and stages, the various time frames that were part and parcel of Baha'i nomenclature then. Slowly, insensibly as the years went on, I became obsessed by time frames. They seemed to be quite sharp points, sources, of identity, spots where I could measure what I had been doing quite precisely. The House of Justice prayed for strength and assistance in the mighty task before them back in 1963. And I did, too, in my private prayers for I was fighting, perhaps for the first time in my life. When the House said that "the friends must brace themselves"173 I had a pretty good idea of what that meant for me as I approached my final examinations. 171 Heinz Palitzer, Franz Kafka: Parable and Paradox, Cornell UP, NY, 1962, p.29. 172 Ronald Hingley, Dostoevski: His Life and Work, Charles Scribner's and Sons, NY, 1978, p.173. 173 The Universal House of Justice, 30 April 1963 in Wellspring of Guidance, Wilmette, 1969, p.3. 194
  • By October 1963 when the Nine Year Plan was announced to begin in April 1964 I was in the pits of depression and high anxiety, experiencing perhaps my first episode of manic-depression at the low end. It was just about more than I could bear so I decided to go back to the comforts of that familiar job I had with Firestone. I left the university in a state of what you might call, a mild paranoia. But going to Firestone and working in their data processing department doing one of the most repetitive jobs I've ever had in my life, did not help. The day President Kennedy was assassinated, November 22nd 1963, I reentered university and a month later passed four out of five exams. The tenth stage of history had indeed begun, but I was not conscious of any divinely propelled process even if it did begin with Adam several thousand years ago. I was conscious of an energy that filled my veins with an enormous force and then was withdrawn leaving me helpless and depressed. That alternating pattern continued for several years and intermittently until 1980 when my bi-polar disorder was finally treated. But more on this later. I wrote my first essay on the nature of autobiography some two years after completing the initial draft, the first edition of my own autobiography in 1993. I have now been working on a further edition of 195
  • that autobiography for ten years. For years I was overwhelmed with a sense of complexity, with feelings of indifference and with a vision of the magnitude of the task at hand. I felt I could find the motivation to pursue a further, a final, edition if I could get a clear sense that the work I was doing in the field of autobiography would be of practical use to my fellow-man in the decades and even centuries ahead. This very notion seemed presumptuous and this presumptuousness militated against the pursuit of the goals I began with when I set out to write this autobiography nearly two decades before. In the 1990s I came to find the study of autobiography more interesting that the writing of it. So I continued to read about the process and to write these essays. Today I read an article on autobiography and what follows is based on that article. Often I read books and journal articles about autobiography and then write summaries of the relevant parts of the books and articles with the long range aim of drawing these ideas together into some meaningful whole. I also find, like Patrick White, "I live in order that I can write."174 174 Patrick White in "The Patrick White Enigma," The West Australian, February 23, 1991. 196
  • Even as a retired person with far less of the weight of responsibility on my plate than what was present during my forty years of employment and the demands of student, life still takes me into corners of activity that keep me away from the kind of academic pursuits that this brief essay involves. My wife's illness, my class in creative writing at the Seniors School, family duties and obligations of home and hearth however minimal, a necessary amount of physical activity to keep a sound mind in a sound body, fatigue after ten or eleven in the evening and an endless assortment of odds and ends have kept me from continuing this simple but demanding task of writing. A continuing enthusiasm for this writing task seems to arise amidst life's other activities and tasks and so I write. Errors, omissions, even lies, are part of the fiction, the imposture, the truth and the ambiguity that is autobiography; such is one of the many themes that occur and reoccur in autobiographical literature. The creative writer turns to autobiography out of some creative longing that can not be satisfied through fiction. Such a writer finds some peculiar closeness and intensity of effect. It is difficult, in writing autobiography, to keep history and fiction distinct. Nabokov says that the tracing of images into intricate harmonies is what autobiography does. Writers try to repossess the realities of the past from what often appears to be a sterile and fictive world to which they have sacrificed themselves; and from what also is 197
  • experienced as tense and highly momentous confrontations with self, life and other. The historiographical transaction that is autobiography does not contain the total freedom or imaginative response of, say, poetry or fiction. Unreliability is an inescapable condition of autobiography. The reader can watch this writer wrestle with truth, with his experience, his society and his religion. Reliability can also be a problem in the world of day to day life. So what is new? Readers can watch, can read, as I walk the path, the journey, of life between the cultural cringe at one end of the psychological continuum and the strut at the other. Fawning obeisance, obsequiousness, a servile attitude seems to come in at the worst of times and an overconfident, even aggressive self-possession enters at the other end of life's attitudinal matrix of responses to life's complex social and cultural demands.175 These postures enter into my real interactions in day to day life and they enter into my writing. It is important for the critic to understand the organizing principle or purpose behind this work. For the conscious shaping of a life, an informing purpose, exists for most writers of autobiography. A voyage of genuine self-discovery is an essential component of such a work. This 175 Rosamund Dalziell, op.cit. 198
  • voyage takes place in a narrative past juxtaposed with a dramatic present. Confession, apology and memoir exist side by side as various contradictory and often unstable selves battle it out. And so I enter here again some general comments on the process of autobiography. But, now, back to the story-line. In July 1964 the House wrote again on the subject of teaching the masses and I had just been fired from my first summer job with the Bell Telephone Company. The T. Eaton Company filled in this unemployment hole and gave me part-time work until well into my second year at university helping me, among other jobs, to keep the overall debt after graduation to a manageable level. I was a cash-register clearance operator for this large retail chain and I particularly enjoyed the free chocolates and nuts that went on offer night after night when everyone had gone home and I was the only one in the store. As is the case with each of my jobs I could provide detail after detail, but I can not see the purpose in such an exercise. One can simply not include the mountain of detail that makes up our quotidian existence. I think this book is becoming too long as it is. The House wrote again in September defining what was meant by universal participation. I was just about to start a double-major in history 199
  • and philosophy. I decided to move in with three young men in an apartment building which was close to the university. I stayed with them for four months. It saved me money, but my depression deepened as a string of young women came waltzing into our flat week after week and as my body chemistry kept pushing my emotional life into a pit. One of these young women lived across the hall and gave me several necking sessions which, sadly, did not alleviate my depression although it did stimulate my libido. After four months I went back to the home of my parents in Dundas. They had a flat downstairs around the corner from an inexpensive restaurant in Dundas and it was unoccupied. I think I had to pay $10 a week and I was free from the entanglements with the three boys and their girlfriends. My mood of depression seemed to lighten and in about March of 1965 I took a twenty-seven year old divorce skating to the Dundas skating-rink. Her name was Kit Orlick; she had a seven year old son and she studied sociology at McMaster University. She was probably the main reason I transferred to sociology for my third year of university giving up history and philosophy which I had tired of in the interim. The "battle" and the "convulsions" the House of Justice had referred to nearly a year before in their Ridvan message and which involved "teaching" and the "godless and materialistic age" I lived in were being experienced by this relatively 200
  • new recruit at the personal, the biological, level of his life testing him more than he had ever been tested and being prepared, little did he know, for the battles ahead. When Kit Orlick showed an interest in me, the first girl in my life to do so for more than a fleeting instant, evening or weekend, I was overwhelmed and any token resistance to the attentions of the opposite sex were thrown away. This young woman, six years older than I was, scattered my depression to the wind for three or four months and I experienced physical intimacies that I had never known before. It was a period of time beginning in the sixties that some social analysts, especially a group known as the mass culture theorists, saw as characterised by barbarism, social decay and decline, decadence, bread and circuses to use a phrase from history, social morbidity, cancerous materialism and apocalyptic doomsdaying--on the one hand; and a period of great hopes, promises, anti-war sentiments, flower-power, love and utopianism--on the other. The sexual freedom, others argued, was greater than at any period in history since the license of ancient Rome during the decline of the Empire. Perhaps, then, my own license was partly excused. It is always handy to blame society for one's sins of omission of commission. Like so many of my sexual-erotic experiences in life, which as I write this have now been spread out over more than 50 years, they 201
  • have associated with them a regret and remorse. ‘Abdu’l-Baha says, as I pointed out earlier in this work, that regret and remorse can root out weakness.176 They still seem to have some work to do, even as I write. There are endless ways of telling one’s story. For this reason poets and writers like Roger White and Bernard Shaw may be wrong to think that the passive nature of their lives disqualifies them from even attempting to write their autobiography. Roger used to say that he did not think it was possible for a biographer to make anything at all interesting out of his life. I think time will prove him wrong. He, like Shaw, thought his life was in his writing, or as he once put it, quoting Rabindranath Tagore: “the poem not the poet.” Surely, if the reality of our lives are "inner" and "private" in many basic ways, it must be possible to convey something of this reality in a meaningful way. If one does write autobiography, as I do, one can not tell one’s whole story no matter how one tells it: whether one focuses on the inner or the outer realities of life, or both. As I look back on that relationship I had with that delightful young woman, Kit Orlick, who, for a short time, gave to me a physical delight I had never before tasted, I am disinclined to 176 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in “The Meaning of Deepening,” Baha’i Comprehensive Deepening Program, p.39. 202
  • reveal what parts of each other's anatomy we caressed and for how long and where and when. Perhaps it is modesty, perhaps it is a sense of shame; perhaps it is a residual Puritanism from history. But a break was applied again, here, to a carnal, a physical, experience that gave me a pleasure I had never had before. The relationship could have continued after the four or five months that it did, but Kit's total disinterest in a set of ideas that moved the passions of my mind made it impossible for me to continue the relationship, however stimulating it had been and would be physically. The event, the experience, the relationship, was a serious affair and could easily have led to marriage. Kit was well to do, had one child, clearly liked me as a person but we could not connect on a spiritual-religious level. While one tells one’s story, as Montaigne said, one’s story makes oneself and there is so much of tedium, chowder and trivia in life which one simply has to edit out, out of pure necessity. If you put it all in you’d have a mountain of garbage that even the most assiduous reader could not plough through. You take form, make form, as you write and it is fascinating to watch, especially for the writer. Indeed, it becomes the core of the writing engine. It feels to me a little like sculpting or painting must feel like to the artists in these fields. It’s part of the magic of writing autobiography. As William Spengemann emphasizes, autobiography is 203
  • synonymous with symbolic action. Writing is symbolic action. The implications of this idea revolutionize the experience of writing autobiography. One sees the whole exercise in metaphorical terms. While not possessing the freedom of the novel or the facticity of writing history, autobiography does contain enough freedom and enough truth to give it the best of both worlds. In the end, though, the writer decides what portions of reality, of truth, of what happened, he or she wants to put on paper. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand adulthood by projecting forward the issues that are salient in childhood. What is most striking is the lack of predictability from childhood to adulthood and adulthood to old age with regard to life outcomes. Childhood and early adulthood's successes and failures are simply not predictive.177 Developmental models are virtually all age-specific and their primary focus is on change and constancy in the life-span. There are a number of short-comings to developmental models of life-span studies, short-comings that have only begun to be studied empirically as part of life-span studies in the last forty years following the lead of early twentieth century psychologists such as Charlotte Bühler (1933), Carl Jung(1933) and Erik H. 177 P.B. Baltes, "Prototypical Paradigms and Questions in Life-span Research on Development and Aging," The Gerontologist, 14 (4), 2000, pp. 458-467. 204
  • Erikson(1959), among others. Sub-fields of psychology, like psychogerontology, psychobiology and psychohistory, inter alia, have really only begun. The study of a life-span, then, which in some ways is what this autobiography is, is itself a new field. I feel very beginnerish about the application of life-span studies to my autobiography. At the same time, I think it is important to note that the observations of literature, of art history, of socio-history, of sociology and anthropology, indeed, a range of scholarly specializations and their respective images of human beings in society amd in the life course suggest that the field of life-span development is by no means an invention of developmental psychologists. Rather, its recent emergence in psychology reflects an effort to attend to an aspect of the human condition that is part and parcel of everyday cultural knowledge systems of human beings everywhere regarding living organisms. Such social images suggest that the life course, the life-span, is something akin to a natural, social category of knowledge about the human condition. Terms like fluidity and crystallization, multidimensionality and multidirectionality, gain and loss, plasticity and fixity are useful in examining one's life-span.178 178 P.B. Baltes, "Theoretical Propositions of Life-Span Developmental Psychology: On the Dynamics Between Growth and Decline," Developmental Psychology, 23 (5), pp. 611-626. This article examines all these terms and, although they are useful in the examination of one's autobiography, I shall leave this examination until a later edition. 205
  • “Autobiographers”, Brian Finney notes in his introductory words to The Inner I: British Literary Autobiography in the Twentieth Century(1985, p.21), “appear to have as many different conceptions of what constitutes the truth about themselves as readers have different expectations of them.” So, in the end, what I write about those intimacies with Kit Orlick nearly forty years ago is in my hands, in my head and, as in the life of a conversation, one decides what one is going to say to whom and when all of one's days. And it is no different with the written word, with the autobiographical word. If I wanted to write, as Robert Burns did in his Letter No.215 about the 'thundering scalade' he gave one of his women, electrifying 'the very marrow of her bones,' I would do so. Perhaps I have never had such a good fortune as Burns. I had certainly made a start to the process back while I was studying history and philosophy at McMaster University in the winter of 1963/4 and, had I the philosophy of Robert Burns, I just might have achieved in the beds of some Canadian women the electrifying experiences that Burns had in the beds of his Scottish women two centuries before. But alas this was not to be the case, at least not here as I was about to reach adulthood in the city of my birth, the steel city of Hamilton Ontario as the 1960s hit their mid-point. 206
  • If parts of our nature are unknowable, if our degree of confessionalism is in our own hands, if others see us quite differently than we see ourselves, there is going to be only a certain aspect of the truth and only a certain degree of it that opens up for the autobiographer. Even if autobiographies are lies, as Shaw said; if they are not to be trusted unless they reveal something disgraceful, as Orwell hypothesized; if they reveal one’s mendacity as Freud emphasized; if they focus on our personal myths as Jung would have put it--they at least pursue the human, the personal, story from within. Even if autobiography is a caricature of sorts, it cannot deny the tyrannical power of basic facts, however interpretive or subjective. There is an inevitable and, to some extent, naive trusting in memory. And there is always the question of what one wants to disclose, its timeliness, its suitability to the hearers. There is tact and frankness; there is a judicious etiquette of expression and there is the relaxation of restraint. There are words which have "the influence of spring" and there are words which are "like unto blight"179 and cause the blossoms and flowers to wither. There is both historical veracity and artistic creativity, then, in autobiography. The self-portraiture, the process of writing, transmutes 179 Baha'u'llah, quoted in The Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Baha'is of the United States of America, 29 December 1988. 207
  • one’s life into a verbal artefact. It is difficult to reveal one’s private self to the world; some aspects of that self are better left unrevealed and an ambivalence regarding the revelation of some of that inner life is, it would seem to me, unavoidable. Each person has his or her ambivalences, areas they want to evade, areas they want to be diversionary and euphistic about. Evasion, euphistic language and diversionary tactics are all part of a process of saying what one wants to say and not saying it all. The most difficult thing the patient is asked to do in psychotherapy is talk about what the patient has experienced which is too disagreeable or too indiscreet for them to express. Many patients make an attempt at reserving some region or other for themselves, for private business, so as to prevent the treatment from having access to it.180 Many others need to have an agenda for their dialogue. They seem incapable of 'free association.' Patients see this as a form of 'trivial pursuit.' Autobiography is, for me anyway, neither of these psychotherapeutic techniques, although it partakes to some extent, and I think for me a relatively small extent, of both. 180 Susan van Zyl, "The Creature on the Couch Versus the Citizen on the Street," Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, Vol. 8, No.1, 2003, pp. 88-98. 208
  • George Orwell talks about a certain amount of exaggeration in the process of selection and narration and a type of meaning that emerges by the way one retrospectively chooses to order events. In the process of his own analysis Orwell attempts to come to grips with his buried and not-so- buried motives for writing his autobiography. Subjective self-discovery and the capacity for objective reportage are related; factuality and self- awareness seem to walk hand-in-hand. The reader, too, can often correct the unperceived distortions of the writer when that writer, the autobiographer, embraces fully this subjective element. For the reader and writer become more intimate through this style, this tone, of writing. Henry James felt there was really no explanation for the emergence of a literary talent; it is a mystery that can't possibly be explained as a consequence of some acquired facility, like 'conversion'. It seems that James wants not to allay but by his writing to stimulate uncertainty.181 I'm inclined to agree in part, although I'd add that I see it, like all other gifts, as something from God. Memory is notoriously unreliable; it is like a minefield; it is also the great artist, as French autobiographer Andre Marois once put it. Some see 181 Richard Poirier, "Man and Boy: Henry James's Memories of Childhood, Guardian Unlimited, 2004. 209
  • memory as a pandering to the ego; some point out that being told by others what happened is not the same as one’s own account: so that all one really has is memory. “There have been episodes in my life” says A.E. Coppard “which not even the prospect of an eternity in hellfire would induce me to reveal.”182 But even then it is very difficult for the writer to hide his true nature. I see all of my own effort as quite a transparent, honest exercise, an exercise which is conscious of a good degree of probing, conscious of style, language and form. I am conscious that my own life has nothing of the great adventures and incredible stories that are at the heart of many autobiographies and that are made into interesting mini-series and films on television for mass consumption. Hopefully this account has an interesting yarn at its centre and material that will be useful to the Baha’i community as it unfolds its contribution to the globe in the decades ahead. I hope, in aiming to achieve something useful, that I have not poured out a pile of dirty laundry, that I have at least kept the pile tactfully small. Vanity is as common as air and I trust that its ubiquitous folly is at least kept to a minimum in the process of all my navel-gazing. The desire to give the reader pleasure and contribute something original and probing lies in the matrix of my motivations to write. Moliere said that what he tried to do was correct men by amusing 182 A.E. Coppard, Text Unknown, p. 46. 210
  • them. I would like to be able to achieve this, but I am not conscious of much success. I hope I get better at this style of writing, at the use of a comic autobiography. At this stage of my life writing, an autobiography seemed to be something I could do, something I would enjoy doing from among the options one has available in the early evening of one's life after retirement, something for which there was a place in the burgeoning Baha’i literature of this new millennium. I might even find a place for my work in the decades surrounding the emergence of the third century of the Baha'i Era from the 2020s to 2060s. We shall see. I trust, too, that my writing is not characterized by that romantic flavour that Frank Harris writes with in his My Life and Loves published in England in the 1920s in all its 1100 odd pages. There is romance in my life: a sexual aesthetic and motivation, a sensitivity to the beauty of the feminine, of nature and of the intellect; and I trust that it is not removed from the real world, that it is simply part of my experience and not over- emphasized in my narrative, just a part of the intentional and unintentional revelations that add complexity and fascination to the text. The theatrical, the dramaturgical, is present in my work, but hopefully not unduely so. The mock-heroic, the lofty sentiments, the literary and thematic exaggerations and postures I also hope are not overly done, 211
  • stretched too far with too much religiosity as George Moore tended to do in his book Hail and Farewell(1911). Perhaps I got too discouraged by some of my earlier experiences with short biographies that I wrote about people in the Northern Territory of Australia and in Perth Western Australia when I first tried to write about other people's lives. And so I have come to regard the ordinary stuff of life as not worth the paper it is written on. Some writers to avoid, to deal, with this problem go in for humour, for being very clever, for finding wise and practically useful details for their readers to imbibe. I suppose I use these ploys, too, but I think to a limited extent. I feel I am somewhat like Charles Darwin in this connection. He said in the last pages of his autobiography that he had “no great quickness of apprehension or wit which is so remarkable in some clever men.” And so it is that my file of biographies that I have written of others is a thin and non-descript set of A-4 sheets with little to make it very readable. Alan Sillitoe says a writer makes art when he trys to make truth believable. Given a certain shapelessness and plotlessness to life, even if one puts it into some pattern drawn up by human development theorists, the autobiographer strives to give form to an episodic enigma, to create 212
  • the artistic illusion of conclusiveness, beginning and middle and end. Finney suggests this form is best defined in inner terms. The main problem in both biography and autobiography is how to deal with others and yourself: not too high-flying and smug on the one hand and not too humble and self-effacing on the other; not too confessional on the one hand, not too restrained, too moderate and refined on the other. Comedy is one way out of the dilemma. Understanding, wit and verbal skill is another way to hit some solid ground that is winning, genuine and communicates effectively. Few do it well. Freud argues that the spheres of sexuality and obscenity offer the amplest occasions for obtaining comic pleasure. The email industry, beginning in the 1990s, has produced a fount of sources of comic pleasure and sexuality and obscenity are only two of the genres of "funnies" that are now sent across the electronic waves by the millions. I don’t think I have yet achieved much comic pleasure in writing about these domains of life. In fact, after what must be nearly fifty years of sexually motivated funnies, I have grown tired of them. Perhaps in some future edition of my autobiography I will find more sources of humor and provide for readers the pleasure that Freud alludes to. But don't hold your breath, as I've said before in other contexts. 213
  • I have always found it difficult to find sex through love; over the years love blossomed and I stopped looking for sex. I became quite happy with a little and with none. I’m sure I could deal with this feature of my life with more artistry, more wisdom and more humour. Perhaps one day I may find both the desire and the opportunity. Finney states that the history of autobiography is “the history of self-awareness” (ibid.,p.117). The breakup in the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries AD led to St. Augustine's Confessions, arguably the first significant autobiography. His was a more changeable and less static conception of self-statement. The Renaissance, over a thousand years later, led to a concentration in autobiography on the private self, even a creation of a self, especially through an examination of one’s formative, one’s earliest years. This has been especially true in the last two centuries, since the French Revolution, when autobiographers drew their very breath from the past and the mysterious origins of their own lives. The imaginative experiences and insights which come from memories and the process of private excavation are the keys to the very depth and richness of their stories. What is excavated, how and why, are to a significant extent, the basis of the interest and pleasure derived from an autobiography in our time. Often it is necessary to go back to the most remote and inaccessible causes and excavate the intervening layers in an effort to understand the situation of today. This presents a challenge, a difficulty, inherent in the 214
  • genre itself and few, it seems to me, are equal to this challenge. I wonder, as I write these words, whether I will be equal to the challenge. In a world of sensory stimulation, continuous entertainment and panem et circenses writing an autobiography that will hold the reader, many readers, is a high challenge. I do not expect to compete with Hollywood, its magic scene and the colour and gloss of that captivating world. I take refuge in my poetry for its inevitable coterie of readers and for its expansion on themes I have difficulty elaborating in prose. I tend to think in the end that my work will end up for a coterie rather than a mass public either now or at any time in the future. “Childhood is important” wrote Jung late in life “because this is the time when, terrifying or encouraging, those far-seeing dreams and images appear before the soul of the child, shaping his whole destiny.” The prenatal period, infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, middle and late childhood183 all possessed their significances, their dreams and images for any comprehensive autobiography. The several major theorists each describe the major developments during these periods from their perspectives. Occasionally throughout this account I mention the 183 Prenatal:1943-4; infant: 1944-5; toddler: 1946-7; preschooler: 1947- 1950; middle childhood:1950-1953; late childhood: 1953-1957. 215
  • contribution of developmental psychology and those dreams and images to understanding my life and its pioneering orientation. But my approach is not systematic. Autobiographers reach back when they can, when it is appropriate, into the several stages of their life-cycle, into the life of their ancestors(ibid.,p.127) and out into the life of their culture. We all begin in the magic circle of our childhood, reaching out into the world in ever- widening circles as we breathe our own life into things in the act of observing ourselves and our environment. This I have done in my poetry and in my Life Story184 but not in the narrative Pioneering Over Four Epochs which does not really begin until that magic circle begins to enlarge in my adolescence and my contact with the Baha’i Faith takes on more serious aspects. Sometimes, I am only too conscious that, although the light of nostalgia is sometimes falsifying, sometimes illuminating, it always tells something of the observing self and its adult preoccupations. These preoccupations will become readily apparent in the pages ahead. One lives the early years, everything, over and over again. Doris Lessing, for example, says she has been in "nervous flight"185 from her mother all 184 This Life Story is not found in this autobiography; readers must search in other genres of my writing for more details. 185 Lynda Scott, op.cit.p.9. 216
  • her life and over the years, she goes on, she learned "to be kind." We all have themes, patterns, that begin in childhood and continue into adulthood. I think one of mine has been a quest for order, to smooth out the uneven places in my life and the life of others. I could site examples of this quest for order as far back as the age of four and into late childhood. In these years I used to visit my friends and had some inner need to tidy their rooms. Needless to say, their mothers were very pleased to see me coming. Among the many features of the Baha’i Faith is its Order: global, national and local. Infantile amnesia, or what one author called the sweet darkness of one’s earliest years, is the time when many of the formative events and influences in our lives occur. I have no memories before the age of four. Freud argues that affectionate and hostile images of the father are born here and persist all one’s life(ibid.,p.140). This is an aspect of my life, these earliest memories, that I could develop one day in my own story. It is here that the dominating parent is born, the excessively pietistic influence, indeed much that is both positive and negative in life. And one can learn a great deal by examining the etiology of these influences. One can, as D.H. Lawrence suggests, shed some of one’s sicknesses by such retrospection or, as Clive James once put it, one can also get out of the prison of one’s childhood. Both Freud and Jung argued, though, that we 217
  • gain only a partial understanding of our early life and indeed of life itself. There is an inevitable incompleteness, blindness. There are countless subsidiary happenings that don’t get in to our story due to the genre’s pressure to create shape and meaning, and to be bony and bare at the periphery outside that shape and form. George Bernard Shaw admitted this when he wrote that his “story has no plot" and the problem would "never be solved”(ibid.,p.164). Autobiography, then, becomes, to some extent, like a monument to defeat or an expression of acceptance of defeat. Sometimes it is simply an oversimplification of the complexities of personality that defeat any therapeutic, diagnostic, evaluative or descriptive aim of the writer. The wholeness of personality, the realization of its totality and fullness, Jung argues, is impossible to attain. It is only an ideal. Much of modern autobiography has grown out of religious introspection and the soul’s struggle with despair on the one hand and out of some predictable desire for fame, for success, for notoriety on the other. Protestantism made the individual responsible for his own spiritual development and this resulted in an inner conflict and search for wholeness amidst psychological aridity, neurosis, depression and endless analysis as well as the joys and pleasures of life. History has now given 218
  • us nearly half a millennium of Protestantism to develop these themes and their emphasis on the individual. Democracy, too, growing obtrusively and unobtrusively, perhaps for two and a half millennia, has been a second seedbed for autobiography. The historical story of this literary form, autobiography, is long and detailed. It is not my purpose to provide such a detailed examination here. In the twentieth century ‘religious’ became ‘psychological’ and 'spiritual' at least for millions. Perhaps, as Jung states, “the spiritual adventure of our time is the exposure of human consciousness to the undefinable and indefinable”(ibid.,p.208). An autobiography like my own is the account of that exposure in all its subtle, obscure and quite indefinable channels of experience. Finney describes Roy Pascal’s outline of that brief half-century of autobiography from 1782, when Rousseau’s autobiography was published, to 1831 when Goethe’s was written. He says that “there was a feeling of trust and confidence in the spiritual wholeness of the self. There was a meaningfulness, then, that disappears from later autobiography”(ibid., p.209). Modern autobiographers seek to recapture this trust and confidence, but for the most part they are not successful. Some, like Powys in the early twentieth century, achieve a measure of 219
  • success by sheer verbal exuberance and shapelessness in an attempt to capture the evanescent quality of life(Powys, Far Away and Long Ago, 1934). Here is how Powys puts it in a confessional autobiography that is moderate in tone and delightfully revealing in parts: It is most important in writing the tale of one’s days not to try to give them the unity they possess for one in later life. A human story, to bear any resemblance to the truth, must advance and retreat erratically, must flicker and flutter here and there, must debouch(come out of the woods) at a thousand tangents(ibid.,p.221). Writing so much of what I do in poetic form I achieve this flicker and flutter here and there, the thousand tangents. But I would not want to use Powys as my only model because he derives a satisfaction from parading his neuroses, phobias and darkest fantasies, his sacred malice in the form of caricature and excess, as if he is a magician and a near mad-man. What the reader gets, some may see, is the idiosyncratic outpourings of an egocentric and demented eccentric. Perhaps such a characterization is unkind. Some may find that Powys has a gentle and attractive introspection in his autobiography. Each person will see his writing differently. Of the many tendencies since those relatively peaceful autobiographical years from Rousseau to Goethe this is but one of the many subjective 220
  • approaches to understanding of the self. There is some darkness, some of the mad-man in my poetry, my autobiography; but I think it is far from parading of my neuroses, my eccentricies, although I'm sure some will disagree. The writer takes this risk in the world of autobiography. I strive for a moderate middle ground but, what is moderate to one is excessive to another. Some you please and some you don't. Literature is, in the end, analysis after the event and not everyone is going to enjoy the analysis no matter who is the writer. Erik Erikson, the famous psychologist, says autobiographers are concerned with the present, the past and the historical context of the times in which they live. Some writers show a fear of narcissistic self- indulgence in writing their account or a simple disinterest or distaste in doing so and, like H.G. Wells and Arthur Koestler, spend a great deal of time writing about the context of their times. Indeed, there are many ways that autobiographers avoid dealing with the personal. I feel I have erred by spending too little on my times. This has not been out of fear, but the simple difficulty of balancing the three time frames and all that autobiography can contain. It can contain so much and, in the end, overwhelm the reader--and the writer! For years I held myself back from writing anything to publish because I was frankly overwhelmed by the massiveness of the content that always loomed ahead of me: gargantuan, 221
  • amorphous, unmanageable. Even now I may have been unsuccessful. But for some mysterious reason I wanted to try and this is the result. I like Koestler’s emphasis on directing his writing to the unborn, future reader; directing the many levels of truth, the many subjectivities of his life to a future age. Certainly a large part of my own motivation for entering this field of autobiography is for a future age, for those not yet born. But even as I say this, I feel a certain pretentiousness in even admitting to such an interest. Perhaps it is because I frankly don't expect much response in the short term to what I write here. This long term interest seems to be Koestler’s central drive. I think, too, that for some autobiographers, like Storm Jameson, writing is an escape into words, an escape from society, a society she did not feel at home in. This is partly true of me as I have got older. She says that noone can write the story of their life; there is an inevitable impersonality, a partial and unavoidable lack of control that is part of the author's experience. Perhaps that is why each autobiography is so idiosyncratic, a work of art unto itself. We are each unique, each idiosyncratic, each a child of God. My story is just one child’s account. In some ways my story here is a reading of my life, in other ways it is my life. 222
  • What Freud wrote about biography could just as easily be written about autobiography: "Whoever turns biographer commits himself to lies, to concealment, to hypocrisy, to embellishments....for biographical truth is not to be had and, even if one had it, one could not use it."186 Well, I try to limit these weaknesses, assuming Freud is right. I think he offers us some truth. Certainly biographers and autobiographers become disenchanted with their task. Over the twenty years that I have worked at this piece of writing I, too, nearly gave it up. It seems to me it is one of the most beautiful and difficult tasks a literary artist can perform.187 One must watch out, though, lest in becoming entranced or obsessed with the subject matter, as Virginia Woolf puts it, some note does not crack "with too much strumming."188 Woolf was certainly aware of the problem for autobiography was for her a lifelong obsession.189 It is not from the scarcity of facts nor the uncertainty of dates that my attempt to describe the circumstances of these four epochs is problematic. 186 Sigmund Freud in Freud: A Life for Our Time, Peter Gay, W.W. Norton and Co., NY, 1988, pp.xv-xvii. 187 Such was the view of Ira Nadel in her book Biography, St. Martin's press, NY, 1984, p.152. 188 Virginia Woolf, Books and Portraits: Some Further Selections from the Literary and Bographical Writings of Virginia Woolf, Mary Lyons, editor, Hogarth press, London, 1977, p.43. 189 Daniel Albright, “Virginia Woolf as Autobiographer,” Kenyon Review, Vol. 6, Fall 1984, p.1. 223
  • Rather, I must cope with a virtual inundation of material: facts, dates, long and complex events and circumstances, personalities whom I have known and known well but elude the net of understanding and the possibilities, as Freud said in the paragraphs above, of not being able to discover biographical or autobiographical truth at all. The burgeoning of material comes, wrote Thomas Mann, from the190 fact that "A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporary society.”191 Note: Readers are now ready for a continuation of this autobiography into the mid-1960s, the completion of the university studies, the death of my father, the end of my first serious romantic attachment and the first stage of my interest in the Inuit. 190 191 224