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My Autobiography: Part 2
My Autobiography: Part 2
My Autobiography: Part 2
My Autobiography: Part 2
My Autobiography: Part 2
My Autobiography: Part 2
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My Autobiography: Part 2

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A 2600 page, five volume narrative, a 300 page study of the poetry of Roger White, the major Bahai; poet of that half-century; 6600 prose-poems, 120 pages of personal interviews, 400 essays; 5000 …

A 2600 page, five volume narrative, a 300 page study of the poetry of Roger White, the major Bahai; poet of that half-century; 6600 prose-poems, 120 pages of personal interviews, 400 essays; 5000 letters, emails and interent posts; 300 notebooks, six volumes of diaries/journals, 12 volumes of photographs and memorabilia, a dozen attempts at a novel, indeed, an epic-opus of material has been integrated into an analysis of my religion, my times and my life. This variety of genres aims at embellishing and deepening my own experience and that of readers. Only a very small portion of this epic work is found here, a portion that readers can dip into anywhere.

This is Part 2 of my autobiography

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  • 1. VOLUME ONE: CHAPTER THREE: LETTERS "The very texture of history....." Abstract: Very few of my letters are on the internet since they are either personal, private or professional and I prefer to keep them confidential until my passing from this mortal coil. I now have about 10,000 letters, emails and internet posts in 50 volumes. Notes: This collection of letters, what has become by degrees a voluminous epistolarium, comes from my Bahai life, 1959 to 2009, from my years as an adolescent and then as an adult, at the early, middle and late stages of that part of human development as the psychologists call them. Now, into the early years of the evening of my life, the early years of late adulthood, I post this reflection on a lifetime of writing letters within the context of my society, my Bahai life and especially my pioneering life. Although I have not been able to locate any letters before 1962, before my pioneering life began, the first letter I recall writing was in 1959, some 50 years ago, to a fellow Bahá’í-youth in Japan. In addition to the 4000 letters, there are 6000 emails and internet posts. I have not kept the internet posts. They are scattered throughout the world- wide-web and, in many cases, will be untraceable. Virtually this entire body 1
  • 2. of epistolary material was written during the dark heart of an age of transition, as the Universal House of Justice characterized our time back in 1967. It is an age which was my life, perhaps the darkest in history but also, paradoxically, an age bright with promise. This collection of 10,000 items including, as I say, those hybrid forms of letter--the email and internet post--which emerged as a new millennium was opening are written by and to a homefront(1962-1971) and then an international pioneer(1971-2009). They are communications written to: a friend, a colleague, a fellow Bahai, a person or persons at one of 1000s of sites on the internet, a Bahai institution at the local, national or global level, one of a multitude of other organizations, a family member and some association or other. Readers will find here mainly general commentaries on my letters and letters as a genre, prose-poems on letters, mine and those of others in history and literature. Except for the occasional letter the body of my correspondence is not included here. Another 10,000 letters and assorted items of correspondence were written in connection with my employment from the mid-1960s to the early years of the new millenium, but virtually none of them were kept. The number of 2
  • 3. emails received in the first two decades of email correspondence(1989-2009) was beyond counting, but 99% of these emails were deleted. The small number of emails that required a response in some detail were kept as were the responses and they were kept in my computer directory after August 2007. On my demise some or all of this collected correspondence may be published. Some of it may be kept in the national Bahá'í archices of Australia if they are interested. We shall see on both these counts. I shall not see for I shall have gone to the land of those who speak no more, as The Bab put it so succinctly. He might have added to the land of those who write no more. Those mysterious dispensations of Providence and my executors will determine what happens to this lifelong collection of attempts to connect with the minds and hearts of others by means of the traditional letter and its modern variants. Note 2: beginning in August 2007 all correspondence of significance was kept in my computer directory files; the only hard copies kept were an assortment of quasi-epistolary and literary material that did not seem to have a logical place in my computer directory. 3
  • 4. Note 3: Some of this section of my autobiography is found under “Personal Letters” at the Baha’i Academics Resource Library. The description there is as follows: Letters of Ron Price: 1958-2008 Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section VII—Letters by Ron Price Editor:Bill Washington Published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and a Study In Autobiography Section VII: Letters " The thousands of letters and thousands of hours that this homefront and international pioneer for the Canadian Bahai community has spent writing letters, emails and internet posts in the last fifty years, 1959-2009, I dedicate to the great letter writers in Bahai history. I dedicate these hours and these communications to the Central Figures of this Faith, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice--individuals and institutions that have produced a treasure house of correspondence. Then there are the many whose names are on Bahai lists but who have played little to no part in the Bahai community in their years of membership; as well as the not-so nameless and traceless, each of whom has their story and their varying degrees of writing and who, collectively, have written what I have little doubt are literally billions of letters, emails and written communications of an epistolary nature. To these I also dedicate my collection of letters. If I also include in my dedication, the massive quantities of correspondence that has been written by the 4
  • 5. institutions of this Cause on the appointed and elected side of its administrative structure; and the epistolary work of the two chief precursors of this Faith, those two chief luminaries in the earliest history of this emerging world relgion, and those who also wrote letters in responding to the seeds these precursors sowed and were involved in different ways in the earliest days of the history of this new Faith as far back as the time that Shaykh Ahmad left his home in N.E. Arabia in 1770 to 1783(circa)---the letters of this multitude to whom I dedicate my own epistolary efforts might just reach to a distant star if they were laid side by side! Many, if not most, of the epistolary communications of this nearly two and a half centuries of Babi-Bahai history are now lost to historians and archivists. Saving letters is not a popular sport and, some would argue, neither is writing them. But, still, the epistolary paper trails of this newest of the worlds great religious systems spread back, as is obvious, to well before the French revolution in 1789 and these trails are significantly more than just a trace. No other religion has placed so subtle and significant a value on this method of exchange, writes Bahiyyih Nakhjvani in her book Asking Questions.(George Ronald, Oxford, 1990, p.6.) 5
  • 6. At some future time, when the tempests we are living through in these early decades and, perhaps, centuries of the Formative Age of this Faith, an Age which began in Bahai history in 1921, are over and a relative calm has been produced in the affairs of men, historians, archivists, biographers and analysts of many a kind will possess a literary and epistolary base of a magnitude undreamt of in any previous age for an analysis of the times, the epochs of the first two centuries of this Bahai Era(B.E. beginning in 1844) and the century of its precursors, 1744-1844. My focus here is not on this wide and many-genred literary base, however, it is on the letter and, more recently, the email and internet postings of many kinds, kinds resembling the letter in many basic ways. Letters give us a direct and spontaneous portrait of the individual and they are also useful in providing an analytical resource for social and institutional analysis. I could include here, diaries and journals since they are letters, of a sort, letters to oneself, a book of thoughts to and by oneself. But these genres, too, are not my focus in this review of my letters and this form of communicaton that are part of the history of this Cause. 6
  • 7. As the poet and philosopher Emerson once said: My tongue is prone to lose the way; not so my pen, for in a letter we surely put them better.(Emerson, Manuscripts and Poems: 1860-1869) This pioneer, in a period going back now fifty years, has often found that one way of doing something for another was: to write a letter, since the mid-1990s send an email and, since the late 1990s, post on the internet. Not endowed with mechanical skills and proficencies with wood and metal; not particularly interested in so many things in the popular culture like sport, gardening, cooking, heavy doses of much of the content in the print and electronic media; indeed, I could list many personal deficencies and areas of disinterest, I found the letter was one thing I could do and write and in the process, perhaps, document some of my sensory perceptions of the present age, perceptions that were relevant to the future of a religion whose very bones spoke of a golden age for humankind which was scarcely believeable, but was worth working for and was at the basis of my own philosophy of action in this earthly life. Hopefully my letters would evince some precision and, perhaps, for a future age they would be of value. I often wondered, though, how useful this interest, this skill, was in its apparent single-mindedness for it was not, as a I say, a popular sport! The exercise resulted, too, in a collection of many a dusty volume of paper which, as T.S. Eliot once put it with some emphasis, may in 7
  • 8. the end amount to an immense pile of stuff with absolutely no value or purpose. There is, too, some doubt, some questionableness, as to whether anyones letters should be taken as a reliable guide to biography and still less to history. Letters often tell us more about postures that replace relationships than about the relationships themselves. Sharon Cameron points this out in her analysis of Emily Dickinsons letters in her book: Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre(Johns Hopkins UP, Baltimore, 1979, p.p.11-12). Some writers of letters spring to an intimacy in their correspondence that they do not possess in reality, in their day-to-day life. I am one of those now in my sixties, for I am not particularly keen on intimacy any more, at least outside of cyberspace. Life has given me decades of it and I have grown tired after the many years of conversation and the many degrees of intimacy that went with it. In letters I can spring to an intimacy and then forget it in a moment. Such was the experience and view of George Bernard Shaw, as voluminous a letter-writer as there ever was. Shaw once said: a full life has to be cleared out every day by the housemaid of forgetfulness or the air would become unbreathable. Shaw went on to add that an empty life is peopled with the absent and the imagined and the full life--well, I'll let you examine the life of Shaw and draw your own conclusions to this somewhat 8
  • 9. complex question of what constitutes a full life.(Frank Kermode, The Uses of Error,Collins, London, 1990, p.253. Im sure this quite provocative thought of Shaws is partly true, especially in our age of radio, television and assorted media that did not exist in Shaws time when the letter was, arguably, one of the chief means of civilized discourse. No matter how carefully crafted and arranged a letter is, of course, it is harmless and valueless until it is activated by the decoding reader. This was a remark by one Robert McClure in another analysis of Emily Dickinsons letters(The Seductions of Emily Dickinson, p.61). I leave this introduction at BARL, the following commentary and whatever letters I have written that may be bequeathed to posterity to these future decoding readers. I wish them well and I wish them a perceptiveness in order to win, to attain, from the often grey, familiar and accustomed elements of the quotidian in these letters, any glow, flare and light in these 5000 pieces of writing, written at a time which may well prove to be the darkest hours in the history of civilization when a new Faith expanded slowly, imperceptibly in some ways and emerged from an obscurity in which it had long languished since its inception in the 19th century and its earliest historical precedents in the mid- to-late 18th century. Over these four epochs in which my own life and letters 9
  • 10. found their place in history(1944-2021), as the first streaks of a Promised Dawn gradually were chasing away that darkness; and as this Cause slowly became a more familiar and respected feature on the international landscape, these letters became, for me, an example of my attempt, however inadequate, to proclaim and name and the message of Bahaullah. These letters illustrate, and are part of, the struggle, the setbacks, the discouragements over these same epochs and especially the years after the unique victory that the Cause won in 1963 which has consolidated itself(Century of Light, p.92) in further victories over more than four decades(1963-2007), the period when virtually all these letters were written. These various communications are also, from my point of view anyway, part of the succession of triumphs that the Cause has witnessed from its very inception. However exhausting and discouraging the process has often been--and it has often been--I can not fail to take deep satisfaction on a number of fronts: one of these fronts is these letters and the mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence that, for me if not for others, are revealed therein. 10
  • 11. My letters surprise me. If earnestness and sincerity could give them immortality they would be immortal; sadly in letter-writing as in life earnestness and sincerity, however dogged and plodding, are rarely enough. If thirst for contact and intimacy could give them immortality they would be immortal. Sadly, again, thirst is not always present and intimacy is not always desired and even when they are present in letters, these qualities are never enough as a basis for the longevity or the popularity of a corpus of letters mixed as letters always are with a quotidian reality that is enough to bore most human beings to death. The boredom is sufficient to prevent nearly all readers from ever getting past a brief examination of the cover of a book of such letters on library shelves. If immortal they be, it will be due to their association with a Cause that is, I believe, immortal. These letters will possess a conferred immortality, conferred by association, as the Hebraic and the Greek traditions would have expressed it each in their own historic and cultural contexts. The American poet, Theodore Roethke, once said that an incoherent yet sincere piece of writing often outlives the polished product. I'm not sure how much this truth, if truth it be, applies to letters. Letters have enough of a problem surviving and even more of a problem ever being read in some fine 11
  • 12. collection usually made after a writer's death and, if one adds inarticulateness to the recipe, the salt may just lose all of its savour. The letters will float unread on some literary bath-water, back-water. Letters, in some ways, possess the shapeless urges of the unconscious and try to catch the movement of the mind of the writer amidst a practically practical and a humanly human everydayness. They often remain, for most readers, just that: shapeless and beyond the mind and the interest of the general, the ordinary, reader. Often neither the recipient nor posterity take any interest in the individual product or the entire epistolary collection, as the case may be. Even when given a fine shape, as the letters of Queen Victoria have been given, they come over time to catch fewer and fewer peoples eyes. Still, her letters give ample testimony to her character, her everyday life and the times. One does not write a letter to increase ones popularity and if, as Eliot implies, one writes with one eye on the future, when that future arrives one will be pulling up the proverbial daisies. Words in Air(Faber 2008): The complete correspondence between two American poets, Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, is a deep and abundant treasure-trove of letters. It is an unrivalled collection of letters for lovers of the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. They will relish the advent of this bulky 800-pager. Added to her equally extensive collected letters, One Art 12
  • 13. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1994), these volumes allow us direct access to her private voice, and we can construct a vivid sense of Bishop as a person, in all her benign and complex aspects. Perhaps the greatest tribute one can offer to such a wonderful letter writer as Bishop who outshines Lowell is that it makes us wish we had known her. The same is true of Keats, Byron, Sydney Smith, Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Dickens, Nancy Mitford and a select few others. These letters form the perfect accompaniment to one of the most precise, thoughtful and beautiful poetic oeuvres of modern times. Whether this will be true of my letters in relation to my poetry only time will tell and future readers in that future age. Inventivess and humour are two wonderful assets and, if they are possessed by a letter writer, the letter can come alive. The letters of the poet Roger White possessed these qualities and they had a narrative momentum without which his letters would have grown static and repetitive. Sadly, I have often felt that my letters expose the limits of my literary, my epistolary and certainly my humorous sensibility. My letters often grow limp, or so it seems to me, perhaps because I have often felt limp; or they become crowded with quasi-mystical, quasi-intellectual, abstractions as I have tried to deal with concepts that I only half understand and ideas far beyond my 13
  • 14. philosophical and literary capacity to put into words. In some of my earliest letters, letters to my first wife which we used to call my love-letters, written in the early months of 1967, I fell back into an emulation of the Guardian's writings, hardly appropriate Judy and I often felt later, when we read them on a quiet Sunday afternoon, to express my feelings for her. Of course, the feelings they expressed were ideological and intellectual and not aesthetic and romantic. These letters were, in the end, thrown away. Sometimes, especially in the first three decades of my letter writing, say, 1957 to 1987, a letter will contain a certain inwardness and at other times I gamble with an intensity of emotional expression. And so, by the 1990s and the turn of the millennium, I had gradually, insensibly, found a voice, a balance, to put my emotions and thoughts into a form I was comfortable with. Although I had emerged from a literary milieux in my adolescence and young adulthood(1957-1971) confidence in my literary ability was slow in developing and did not really take on any solid form and shape until I was 28(1972) and living in Whyalla South Australia as an international pioneer for the Canadian Bahai community. Confidence, though, is no guarantee of the ability to connect with a reader or readers. I am sure some found my emails and letters far too long for their tastes and interests. One advantage of 14
  • 15. a long letter I found was that I was able to express an idea, even mention the Cause in some tangential fashion. In a shorter letter this would not have been possible given the social and cultural climate in which I was writing. Occasionally, someone shocked me with their feedback, especially on the internet and I slowly learned to package my words in small doses on most of the sites on the WWW. Shock is often a useful antidote for some policy one is pursuing or some behaviour one is exhibiting in letter writing or in other areas of life. Letter writing is a little like gambling; you have to stake a great deal, everything it often seems, on one throw. Unlike gambling you often have no idea whether you won or lost. But this is often the case in relationships and in life: one cannot possibly evaluate what happens to our letters, to our acts, to our lives--or anyone elses--in terms of whether they will result in justice, harm or benefit--since their fruition, ultimately, is destined for another plane of existence. But, still, we do judge and we do evaluate, as I do here in this lengthy analysis at the Bahai Academic Resources Library Site. MASTER FILE TO MY COLLECTION OF LETTERS 15
  • 16. The outline below of the categories for the collection of my letters has existed for the last half-dozen years(2001-2007)--since the official opening of the Arc Project on Mt. Carmel. This collection tends to get altered from time to time due to the changing nature of what is still a live body of work. Only the occasional letter is found here at the Bahai Academics Resource Library or on the internet in various places since these letters are either personal, professional or private. I prefer to keep this body of writing confidential until at least my passing. At the present time there are some 50 volumes under ten major Sections delineated below by roman numerals. Section III below contains my contacts with sites on the internet and there are some 25 volumes of site contacts at: site homepages, forums, discussion boards, postings, replies, inter alia. The headings, the categories, of the letters are as follows: I. Personal Correspondence: 1. Volume 1: 1957-1984 2. Volume 2: 1985-1988 3. Volume 3: 1989-1994 4. Volume 4: 1995-1996 16
  • 17. 5. Volume 5: 1997-1999 6. Volume 6: 1999-2001 7. Volume 7: 2002-2003 8. Volume 8: 2003-2004 9. Volume 9: 2004-2005 10.Volume 10: 2005-2006 11.Volume 11: 2006-2007 12 Volume 12: 2007-indefinite II. Writing to/from Baha’i Institutions 1. Magazines/Journals 2. Individuals 3. Baháí World Centre 4. Universal House of Justice 5. International Teaching Centre 6. NSA of the Baha’is of Australia 17
  • 18. 7. Hands of the Cause 8. Continental Board of Counsellors 9. BROs and RTCs 10.1 LSAs; 10.2 Auxiliary Board Members and 10.3 Assistants 11. National Committees of the NSA of the Bahais of Australia 12. NSA and National Committees of the Bahais of the United States III. Contacts with Publishers, Magazines and Journals Vol 3.1 to 3.11 Vol 3.12.1 to 3.12.16 Vol 3.13 to 3.17 IV. Communications with Canada: Vol 4.1 Vol 4.2 Vol 4.3 V. Roger White:1981-1992 Vols. 1 to 4 VI.1 Association of Bahai Studies 1. Association for Baha’i Studies: Australia 2. Association for Baha’i Studies: Canada Vols.1 and 2 18
  • 19. VI.11 Other: 3. Bill Washington 4. Judy Hassall 5. Writing Articles for Magazines:1980s 6. Dialogue Magazine: Editor of Arts and Culture VII. 1. Baháí History in WA and the NT Vol. 1 to Vol.4 -Letters, Essays and Notes VIII Other Individuals: 1. Dennis MacEoin: Issues and Essays 2. Graham Hassall IX. Correspondence For Writing Novels/Essays 1. From 1987 to 1991 X Correspondence For Job Hunting 1. 1960 to 2007 XI. On-The-Job Correspondence 1. 1960 to 2007 Some 10,000(circa)letters were written in connection with job applications, job inquiries and on the job responsibilities: 1957-2007. An uncountable number of emails were received and sent since about 1987 but, as I say 19
  • 20. above, 99% of them were deleted. Virtually none of the communications from the job world were kept, except for a few in two two-ring binders. Very few letters or items of literary memorabilia remain from the years 1953 to 1967. Even if ninety-nine-hundredths of the emails I received were sent to oblivion since 1987 a small but significant body of this hybrid type of letter was kept in the last two decades, 1987-2007. One day all of the introductions I wrote to each of the many volumes of my letters and emails, internet posts and replies and the several general statements I wrote concerning my letters may be included in a collected letters since half a century has been spent in my Bahai life and in the pioneering process writing letters. For this first edition of The Letters of Ron Price: 1957-2007 on BARL the above outline and comment on the overall layout and organization of my letters and emails that I have written and received and thrown away and deleted will suffice. There are three categories of my letters that one day may be found in the event of my demise and in the event that such a search is desired: 1. extant letters or fragments of letters that I have written or received, in public repositories or private collections including my own collection, that 20
  • 21. have been examined in the original manuscript or typescript, in photocopy or email; 2. published letters written or received for which no extant originals have yet been located; and 3. unlocated letters for which varying types of evidence--photocopies, emails and complete or partial typed transcriptions have been located. The database of information for these three categories of letters, at this stage far from complete, aims to contain the following fields or information bases for each written and received item:(a) year and date, (b) addressee, (c)place and (d) original. It is hoped that the terms: manuscript, typescript, postcard, photocopy, typed copy, handwritten script, email or some combination of these terms (for instance typed copy of handwritten script) will accompany each item. Minimal descriptive information—fragment or mutilated—is provided parenthetically where relevant. 21
  • 22. The technicalities of presentation when complete are those of convention; namely, (a) intrusions into the text are marked by square brackets; (b) spelling and punctuation is to be silently corrected; (c) some mannerisms are to be maintained; (d) dates are to be made uniform and (e) et cetera. I have provided below some analysis and some illustration, some context for whatever creativity is to be found by readers when and if this collection is ever published. Letters are always, it seems to me, exemplary illustrations of a writers creative capacity and the significance of his epistolary skills. I do not claim that my letters are masterpieces of the letter-writing art. If they disclose a personality that is well and good, but the world has millions of personalities now disclosed for the public eye, stories of individuals overcoming tribulation and achieving success. Another such story is not required. And I have no intention nor do I wish to make any claim to my life being a representative of that of an ideal Baha’i or a Baha’i pioneer. This is not an account of an exemplum. Claims to representativeness, it seems to me, are at best partial and at worst highly misleading to those who might glean some context for mentorship. I find there is something basically unstable or slippery about experience or, to put it in even stronger terms, in the words of Baha’u’llah, there is something about experience that bears 22
  • 23. only “the mere semblance of reality.” There is something about it that is elusive, even vain and empty, like “a vapour in the desert.” There are so many exegetical and interpretive problems that accompany efforts to tie down the meaning of a life, of an experience, of a relationship. There is something divided, duplicitous, something that has happened but has yet to be defined and described or, as is usually the case, never described, at least not in writing, depending of course on the experience of the person and their literary skills. There are innumerable and indispensable points of reference in a life and yet so many of them take on the feeling of a mirage, as if they are not really there, like a dream, particularly as the years lengthen into later adulthood and old age. Some of the disclosure that takes place in a selection of letters can make the world better off, but this is not always the case and I certainly could not guarantee a positive result for my disclosures here. For most people, of course, the exercise, my disclosures, are totally irrelevant. If these letters disclose something of the Bahai Faith, some new perspective over these four epochs, I will feel that this amassing of correspondence has been worthwhile. These letters of mine are not so much examples of carefully crafted writing as they are of unstudied informality, spontaneous indiscretions and a certain cultivated civility. I like to think these letters possess a wonderful 23
  • 24. chameleon-like quality for it is necessary that I reshape myself for each correspondent. Each letter is a performance and an impersonation. These letters contains many voices. On the occasions when I send out form letters, at Christmas and Ayyam-i-Ha, this diversity and variety is not achieved. For some respondents to my letters my reshaping is not appreciated or enjoyed, indeed, no response was forthcoming at all to many of my letters. As in the world of interpersonal interaction, of verbal exchange, so in the world of letters: not every communication is meaningful to both parties and, as in the world of the teacher that I was for years, not every comment of mine was returned. The next section of this somewhat long posting here at BARL comes from chapter 3 of my memoirs. Not all of chapter 3 is included here but enough to give a taste and a critique of the letter-writing process from the point of view of this Bahai who began his pioneering life 45 years ago in 1962 and who wrote his first letter to a Japanese Bahai youth in 1957. It seems to me that those who read these letters one day, if they ever do, will have difficulty grasping the nature of my personality inspite of, or perhaps because of, the extensive literary base I have provided. The only impeccable writers and the only personalities we feel we understand, William Hazlitt noted nearly two 24
  • 25. centuries ago, are those who never write and people we have only briefly met. I would add to Hazlitt's analysis here that we often feel we understand a personality, but it is always in part. Getting to know people is a bit of a mystery at the best of times whether they are beside you on a bus, a train, a kitchen table or a bed. One is always adjusting ones mask for correspondents and, in the process, one creates a series of self-portraits, a mosaic of true and false, real and unreal. The quality and maturity of my relationship with others is, as William Hatcher pointed out 25 years ago, the best measure of spiritual progress and growth, acquiring the capacity for such mature relationships depends essentially on an intense inner life and self- development. The letter is a reflection of this inner life but, in the end, it is but a reflection of a spirituality which lies at the centre of ones heart and soul.(William Hatcher, The Concept of Spirituality, Bahai Studies, Vol.11, 1982, p.25.) I assume that human personality is essentially unknowable, that it is the revelation of a masquerade in a stage play--for all the worlds a stage. This is not to say that there are not some aspects of life that are revealed through letters, but readers must keep in mind that they are dealing with fragmentary, often ambiguous and decidedly opaque material over which they will be unable to wield any kind of imperial authority and comprehension. Whatever 25
  • 26. insights they gain in readings, they will be inevitably partial and will have a distinct tendency to crumble in a epistolary world that is often obtuse, dull and vulnerable from the onslaught of the quotidian. Collections of letters are not the most favorite fare in the popular periodical press, journalistic studies and at book launches. They exist, letters that is, in a somewhat secret, fenced off area of privacy, an island of subjectivity, where even the external world is experienced as an inner world. This, the sociologist Georg Simmel once said, is the essence of modernity. Readers will find, too, that however much a letter reveals the springs of action, there exists a nice and secret world to which he or she is never privy. Oftentimes neither is the writer aware of his motivational matrix, for mystery abounds in our worlds. The writer, namely myself in this case, turns his letter like a historical microscope with some sensitivity and with some attention to minute causality, but it is a causality he never fully grasps and a sensitivity he only attains to partially. The road these letters describe I'm not sure I would ever have entered either the road of the letters or the road of the analysis, if I had known of its length when I wrote that first letter fifty years ago. Performance struggles with ideal when one writes and when one lives. That is the name of the game. My choice and my command of language, to 26
  • 27. whatever degree of imperfection and perfection I attained, were the fruit of exercise and with the arrival of more leisure in my mid-fifties that exercise was able to find much fuller expression. Some of the facts of my past, my religion and my society are presented in these letters in a language that is rich in a type of coherence and a type of embedded comment. I like to think that the cumulative effect of this comment is to predispose readers in favour of a particular interpretation of reality and the world. But my more skeptical self is more inclined to the view that a collection of letters is not likely to change the world view of readers no matter how open and receptive they may be. The stubborn testimony of unexceptionable facts, the facts of my life, gradually bring me to the bar of history and the sober discretion that I trust these same facts embody are a statement about my present age and hour. At the bar there is no final verdict only a series of temporary assessments and the discretion results in no final judgement. These letters present a divergent and unfocused, an unconnected and bewildering mass of material. The collection is just too immense, the expression too forcible, the factual matter too inescapable for my intellect or the readers to close down any questions with definitiveness, decisiveness and precision--with answers. Rather, it seems to me, these letters open questions up and enlarge what is and was a narrow circle in which nature has 27
  • 28. confined me. If complete answers are found they simply carry the seeds of more questions. As the years went on, too, my thoughts became more complicated and, although my perspective could be said to remain the same, it was within such a different context that my letters came to be written. From the late fifties and early 1960s, to the years as they passed over the decades, my letters might as well have been written by a different person. The questions I dealt with changed from decade to decade, person to person and my inclusion of the responses to my letters provides a thorough contextualization not so much to my influence, an entity which is difficult to measure at best and at worst quite irrelevant to my reasons for including them, but to the letters themselves and the backdrop they provide to a period over several epochs of various urgent and interlocking challenges, painstaking and frustrating individual and community work. Writing often draws attention to itself. This is especially true of letters where attention often does not pass through to the subject but gets stuck on the personality of the writer. For ours is an age, par excellence, of the celebrity. The awkward and tangled reality of the past, though, is displayed for all to see from my perspective in these letters. The surface of my past gazes out upon history, from my letters with all their quotidian dryness, everydayness, 28
  • 29. tedium and boredom. The past seems to elude the net of language as that language gets caught up in minutiae, in the tedious and the toilsome. And anything called certainty is endlessly deferred, although there are pockets of certainty enough to go on and give us a feeling that the sky will not fall down. At least not in my time. I think there is little doubt that these four epochs are the scene for the greatest and most awful period in the history of humankind. Gibbon once said this of Rome in the 2nd century AD. My account here of the immensity and wonder of this period is an account from a quite personal and limited perspective. It is an account, too, which renders my version of a vision and my interpretation of a plot and script that derives from two god-men in the 19th century. My letters are pregnant with delightful observations that are as deep and as shallow as the person I am and they are pregnant as well with the most trivial images and thoughts as watery and limpid as amniotic fluid. For my letters, like the letters of most others, contain what is often called telephone talk, talk which nullifies serious artistic or psychological exchange, talk about life's simplicities, talk about life's conventionalities like the weather and the events of daily life. 29
  • 30. Readers may find my letters something like the way that Carlyle found Scott's letters. They are never without interest, he pointed out, yet they are seldom or never very interesting. Id like to think that my letters might impart something of my soul, my joys and anxieties, and something that may engage the sympathies and pleasures of those who happen upon them in their journey. In an age in which communication has become more audible, with animated and electronic emails and sound systems improving in quality decade by decade, it seems that communication has also become more, or at least often, ephemeral; with billions of emails biting the electronic dust each week, if not each day, I offer this collection of letters as one mans record of his age. PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS VOLUME ONE: CHAPTER THREE: LETTERS The very texture of history..... Perception, reflection and social interaction are at least three of the many psychologically diverse contexts in which the word self appears in our everyday discourse. Autobiography is an important part of the narration of this self and this autobiography, like all autobiographies, finds its home in 30
  • 31. all of these contexts.1 But since the reality of man is his thought and what endures, after life has completed its course, is the soul, it is hardly surprising that there is a curious intangibility,2 an inherently spiritual abstraction, associated with defining, with expressing, who we are. And it is hardly surprising that this work of mine, this autobiography, contains a great deal that is better described as thought and not so much that one could describe as action. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Jens Brockmeier and Donald Carbaugh, editors, Narrative and Identity: Studies in Autobiography: Self and Culture, John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2001; and 2Hannah Arendt in Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, Adriana Cavarero, Routledge, NY,2000, p.ix. Although there is this curious intangibility that makes up any attempt to describe who we are, men’s beliefs in the sphere of human conduct are part of their conception of themselves and are intrinsic to their picture of the world. Both these beliefs and this conduct can be found expressed again and again in my letters.-Ron Price with thanks to Isaiah Berlin quoted by Robert Matuozzi, “When Bad Things Happen to Other People,” Philosophy & Literature, Vol.25,No.1, 2001, pp. 173-177. 31
  • 32. On the dust jacket of The Selected Letters of Marcel Proust: 1880 to 1903 the publishers, Doubleday and Company, have written “letters are the strongest indicators of personality, perhaps the purest form of autobiography. We look at them as a means of knowing the author as a human being, of gaining perspectives on his life and work and, perhaps, divining the secret foundation of his creativity.” I think there is some truth in this remark. There is also, from my own experience, some truth in the sentiments of Thomas Wolfe who is quoted by Elizabeth Nowell in her introduction to the Selected Letters of Thomas Wolfe “a writer writes a letter in order to forget it.” Once down on paper, I find, the emotion or experience loses its compulsive force and can be stored away and forgotten. I have stored away some 5000 letters in over fifty volumes. Since beginning to collect these letters in 1967(with some retrospective findings and recollections going back to 1957) I have come to see them as an autobiographical tool. I leave it to readers to assess just where this autobiography is strongest and where it is weakest, where it is useful and where it is irrelevant. This is difficult for me to assess. If this autobiography works for readers, it will not be because I have filled it with facts, with details, with the minutiae of life documented with great 32
  • 33. enthusiasm and eagerness in letters to friends and a variety of institutions. Success in this life narrative that has been going down on paper over many a year will be due to its basis, its centeredness, in ideas, the quality of the writing and this narratives connection with an emerging world Faith. If it becomes a success, at least in the short terms, at least in the next, say, several decades, as I have indicated before, in all likelihood that success will still be one that resonates with only a few people. But whether it resonates with many or a few, I believe, as Gilroy and Verhoeven argue, these letters are marked by and sent to the world. They counter, too, tendencies to flatten out the uniqueness of the individual in some falsely understood egalitarianism or sense of human equality. The Bahai teachings make clear that equality is a chimera. Our uniqueness as individuals derives from our constitutive relation with others, from our living in community, indeed, a number of factors. The epistolary form was long associated in the western tradition with the feminine and the history of female subjection. As far back as Cicero in the first century BC, it was associated with everyday speech. Here in this autobiography my letters function as a crucial form of communication in the teaching and consolidation work of a pioneer. Indeed, one could say that my story, the narratability of my life, my very uniqueness, arises within the 33
  • 34. context of an interaction process that the letter goes along way to illustrate. The following Latin expression contains some truth: vox audita perit littera scripta manet--The voice heard vanishes, the letter written remains. The dynamics of epistolary writing have been much studied in recent years. Analysts who read and study letters see them as something more than simple documents of a particular time and place. They, or at least some, see the letters as text that are only partly susceptible to explication or decipherability. Such documents bear a different relation to the world for a future reader than for the writer at the point when the letter was originally written. In some ways this is only stating the obvious. The act of reading a collection of published letters is inevitably shaped by a series of decisions made by both the letter-writers themselves and the readers. Letters are often exchanged, perhaps for years, usually without either participant considering them as an exercise leading to publication. There are at least two people I wrote to over more than ten years and a sub-collection of these letters would fill a sizeable book but, when they were written it was for the immediate purpose at hand not with the view to being read at some future time. T.S. Eliot puts this process well: The desire to write a letter, to put down what you don't want anybody else to see but the person you are writing to, but 34
  • 35. which you do not want to be destroyed, but perhaps hope may be preserved for complete strangers to read, is ineradicable. (T.S. Eliot, English Poets As Letters Writers, From a lecture given in 1933 at Yale University) Certainly the extensive collection of my letters sent and received to these two individuals might take a future reader into the hearts and minds of three people at a unique, a significant, time in history and shed light on the period in question in ways that other genres of writing cannot and will not do. This sub-collection could be said to be (a) a dramatization of the appreciation of one man for the poetry of the most significant poet of the epochs under review and (b) the effort of one Bahai to explore his Faith en passant, indirectly, to a friend, colleague and fellow retiree. These two interlocutors are not so much possessed of a literary calibre superior to others I wrote to, although in most cases that was true, but the correspondence went on for many years, more years than that of others. Eliot goes on:We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written. There are several components in what we could call this selective and personal epistolary machine: the act of writing, the act of reading and the world of interpretation. To focus on reading is to bring to light the complexity of the communication process, to recall that not all of a 35
  • 36. readers questions are going to be answered by reading the said letters. Readers may only have partially formulated questions in their minds or, perhaps, they may not even understand their own questions. Any message, including a letter, encounters a scrambling process upon entering the readers zone of associations and responses. I wish readers well dealing with the inevitabilities of scrambling which they will have to deal with in my letters. There is a conceptual intersection in each letter between reader, writer and world. And it is a busy intersection. And the discourse that takes place at these intersections possesses a paradoxical entwinement of minds and words. This is true of snail-mail or fiber-optic-borne email. Like the view at a busy intersection, much of what is seen is predictable while at the same time the specific details are to a large extent unknown or seen so differently by each spectator. A recent essay that I wrote introducing a volume of letters gathered in the first years of my retirement will serve to illustrate many of the things Id like to say about this overall collection of letters. They were letters written just before and just after the completion of the Arc Project in 2001. I think, as Emerson wrote, that letters often put things better than verbal communication and provide perspectives that are timely here in this ongoing autobiographical statement. The letters of James Boswell, to chose for 36
  • 37. comparison one historical example from collections of letters, open a window onto the real man, a man hidden behind his great biography, his biography of Samuel Johnson. Of course, one must be sensitive, too, to epistolary disguise, posing, theatrical attentiveness to the social presentation of self, concern for appearances, standardization of responses and what might be called mannerisms in letter writing. As in life, there are many selves which write letters, many social conventions, courtesies, honesties, et cetera. and there are many worlds about which a writer writes. It is the fate of those who toil at many of life's employments, particularly the more introspective arts of which letter writing is one, to be driven more by the fear of evil, sin, personal inadequacy, regret and remorse, the sense of disappointment and the many discouraging aspects of life, than they are attracted by the prospect of good, of virtue, of praise or of victory, of giving pleasure and peace to readers. Many of the scribblers on the journey of life, ones I have met and ones I have not, are often exposed more to censure, with little hope of praise. They feel the disgrace of their miscarriages, the insufficiency of their language and the punishments they might receive or have received for their neglect of duty, principle or person. Their success, if any, has often been, if not usually, without applause and their diligence has 37
  • 38. reaped no external reward. Also, as Susan Sontag noted parenthetically in her preface to Letters: Summer 1926, the greatest writers invariably demand too much of, and are failed by, readers. It would be pretentious for me to claim to be a great writer, but I have been aware of the implicit and explicit demands I may make on readers and of the importance of keeping my expectations low. I have tried for many a year to put these principles into practice for Sontag is right. Among these unhappy mortals is the writers of letters. Humankind seems to consider them like pioneers of literature doomed to work in societys private spaces with their home in little mailboxes and, more recently, in optic space. Every other author aspires to publication and praise. Letter writers, while they may enjoy a certain wild exuberance, must resign themselves to the tyranny of time and fashion--and the mind of one or, at the most, several readers. Each letter has no hope of a mass audience. There on the page they must disentangle perplexity and regulate life's confusion for themselves and their lone readers. They must make choice out of boundless variety and do it without any established principle of selection. They must detect adulterations without a settled test for purity. 38
  • 39. It happens, and especially in letter , that in things difficult there is danger from ignorance and there are so many difficult and complex things in life. In things easy there is danger from confidence and there are many an aspect of life that is easy and hardly requires any thought. The mind, afraid of greatness, and disdainful of littleness, hastily brushes over the more important aspects of life and/or dwells far too little on the everyday. It withdraws itself from painful epistolary dialogue and from the search required and so passes with scornful rapidity over tasks not adequate to its powers. Sometimes it feels too secure to exercise caution or too anxious for vigorous effort. It is afflicted by a literary idleness on plain and simple paths; and is often distracted in the labyrinths of life and interpersonal exchange. Dissipation stalks his literary intentions as words roll off his pallet onto the page. Readers may wonder what these phrases I have just written have to do with the art of writing letters. I leave you to ponder. In an age when little letter writing goes on, I'm not sure how much meaning readers need to find here in these complex epistolary ideas. A large work is difficult because it is large, even though all its parts might singly be performed with facility; where there are many things to be done, each must be allowed its share of time and labour, in the proportion only 39
  • 40. which it bears to the whole; nor can it be expected, that the stones which form the dome of a temple, should be squared and polished like the diamond of a ring. Those who have much leisure to think, will always be enlarging the stock of ideas, and every increase of knowledge, whether real or fancied, will produce new words, or combinations of words. When the mind is unchained from necessity, it will range after convenience; when it is left at large in the fields of speculation, it will shift opinions. If any custom is disused, especially the literary, the words that express that custom often perish with inactivity. As any opinion grows popular, it will innovate speech in the same proportion as it alters practice. Since I retired from full time work in 1999 my mind has been unchained but, as yet, my opinions are not popular. They are, though, growing in the public place at a faster pace than ever. I leave it to readers to assess the junction, the intersection, between my letters and the pace of change in society on the subjects that occupy both me and that wider milieux. By 1999 my life had become more speculative than active, more literary, than people centred with its endless listening and talking. This shift in my literary and daily avocation is strongly reflected in the quantity and content of my letters and coalesced in my first extensive publications on the internet. 40
  • 41. In the hope of giving longevity to that which my own nature repels me, forbids me, to desire, namely, the fame of my letters and my immortality through them, I have devoted this collection of letters, the labour of years, to the honour of my religion and as a testimony to one of my life's achievements. There is a glory to life from its arts and its letters. Whether I shall add anything of my own writings to these arts and letters, to English literature, must be left to time. Much of my life has been lost under the pressures of illness, lack of direction, a certain frivolity, jobs that were fill- ins, conversations that seemed to go nowhere, activities that functioned largely to fill in time, the desire to be entertained regularly and daily, inter alia. Much of my days have been trifled away. Much time each day has been spent in provision, in functioning, for the tasks of the day that was passing over me, doing what was in front of my nose. I have not thought my daily labour wasted; I have not thought my employment useless or ignoble. If, by my assistance, foreign nations and distant ages might gain access to the propagators of knowledge and understand the teachers of truth, or if my labours might afford light to some of the multitude of the repositories of learning, then my employment will be more worthwhile than any contemporary achievement. For vision and a sense of the future inspires so much that I do. When I have been animated by 41
  • 42. this wish, I look with pleasure on my collection, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. Useful diligence in the microcosm of letter writing may in the end prevail.- Ron Price with thanks to Samuel Johnson, Preface to the Dictionary From Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1755, Edited by Jack Lynch. I wrote the essay which follows as part of the second edition of this autobiographical work, a second edition I worked on from 1993 to 2003. It was one of my essays that was, in that process of ten years in the evolution of this autobiography, simply gathered into an appendix and not integrated into the body of that edition. In the third edition I achieved a better integration of material, of my autobiographical resources. My imaginative function became more fertile in the third edition. As the poet Wallace Stevens writes, referring to imagination: I am the necessary angel of earth/Since, in my sight, you see the world again, I am seeing the world again with greater vividness than I once did. Robert Graves, a prolific letter writer, saw his letters as a sort of spontaneous autobiography and his poems as his spiritual autobiography. I like the distinction. Perhaps, one day, a 42
  • 43. selection of letters from my spontaneous autobiography will become available. Here, then, is some of that essay.....As the 38th, 39th and 40th years of pioneering took their course in the first years of my retirement, 1999 to 2002, I wrote some of the following about the letter-writing experience.... Across the line of time I thought I would try to make a brief summary of this letter writing experience, an experience which goes back to the first letter I received from the international pioneer Cliff Huxtable in St. Helena in 1967. Cliffs wife Cathy had just died at the age of thirty-five. Cliff is still in St. Helena thirty-five years later. He has remarried. He never wrote again. I replied but I did not keep a copy of the letter; indeed I kept few of my personal letters until about 1982, twenty years into the pioneering venture. As I have pointed out on previous occasions I wrote and received letters going back as far as about 1962 when this pioneering journey began; before this back to the age of 13 in 1957 as a Bahai youth and junior-youth as the period before 15 is now called a few letters were written. But I have not kept the letters from the earlier period before 1967, except a rare item of the species. There were many letters after 1967, at least up to about 1980, which 43
  • 44. were destroyed. Some of these may be in private hands but, since I have no fame, no significance in the general public eye, it is unlikely that many, if any, letters are being kept privately by their recipients. The most assiduous search will, in all likelihood, not come up with the discovery of any epistolary manuscripts. I find it interesting and more than coincidental that virtually the entire corpus of my letters comes from a period that began with what the Universal House of Justice in 1967 called ‘the dark heart of the age of transition.’ Even the letters before 1967 which were not kept come from a period that the Guardian described in 1957 as one hovering on the brink of self-destruction. Such was the widest context for that first letter to Hiroshi Kamatu in Japan in 1957. By those dates, from 1957 to 1967, “a mood of cultural crisis: a sense that something had gone terribly wrong in the modern world, something that we could neither assimilate nor put right,” had entered our psyches. One writer called our society a post-traumatic culture. Indeed there have been, since the fifties and sixties, a host of characterizations of the shift, the crisis, of these days. It was in many ways an insensible process without a beginning date, but it was like a tempest which blew and blew decade after decade, a 44
  • 45. tempest that had already begun in the lives of my parents and, arguably, my grandparents. If one tried to get a picture of the hey-day of my letter writing I think it would be in the 1980s when I lived, first in Zeehan on the west coast of Tasmania, and then in the north of Australia, north of Capricorn, although in the early years of the new millennium, after my retirement, there was a new lease on letter-writing life in the form of emails. I do not have any interest in going through this collection of letters that I wrote north of Capricorn or, indeed, from the full period 1957 to 2002, now in over 50 2-ring binders and arch-lever files. Perhaps a future day will see me making some minute analysis of the extent and the content of these letters. Perhaps, should their potential value become more evident to me, I shall take a more serious interest in them. Thusfar I have made only the occasional annotation to these letters. As the first editor of this collection, I have given them order and shape; I have set them in context, but I have made no attempt to correct their errors, to improve their expression or comment on their individuality: whom I wrote to, why I wrote and under what circumstances. 45
  • 46. I have, though, taken a very general interest in the collections of letters of other writers to help provide useful perspectives on my own collection. I have opened a file of introductions to collections of letters obtained from books of the letters of famous writers and have kept additional notes on the genre because I think in the years ahead I may write a history drawing on letters, mine and those of other Baháís in the world during these four epochs. The analysis of the letters of other writers also helps me enrich and understand the context of my own pieces. These letters are like arrows from the same quiver. I send them just as high and far as I can. In my journal it is the same. Perhaps these letters and my journal are simply the product of a peculiar self-centredness. Their appeal I’m sure will not be due to my wit, my humour, the adventurousness or the romance of this narrative, but rather( if there is to be any appeal at all) to the ordinariness of the content and, most importantly and as I have indicated before, their association with this new global Cause. Their appeal for me, for me as the writer, is the sense of surprise. V.S. Naipaul said the same thing in his nobel prize lecture given in 2001. Some of that surprise comes from the fact, says Naipaul, that the self that writes is not the everyday self. They are very different. The everyday self is 46
  • 47. essentially superficial and, if not superficial, it is at least domestic and practical and must deal with the minutiae of life just to get from one day to another in one piece: fed, housed and clothed-and hopefully loved. I’m not so sure about this characterization of the double self, but that sense of surprise I find on every page I write and this surprise certainly possesses an appeal. It helps to keep me going, keep me writing. “The secretion of ones innermost life, written in solitude and for oneself alone, that one gives to the public,” writes Naipaul. “What one bestows on private life—in conversation, however refined it may be—is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents the world. While I’m not sure this is entirely true, it certainly is in part. Maugham puts this idea a little differently. I had an impression, this is Maughams summing up of the writer Thomas Hardy, that the real man, to his death unknown and lonely, was a wraith that went a silent way unseen between the writer of his books and the man who led his life, and smiled with ironical detachment at the two puppets. Somewhere in all of this lies the real writer, the real me. Is this real me to be found in the id, the unconscious, the reflexes, the hormones, in a socialization process, the roles of a protean man, in feeling good? This complex question really requires a 47
  • 48. book on its own, but I think from a Baha’i perspective the real me is best found in thought and action guided by the behavioural principles of this Cause to put the case as succinctly as I can. This is not a collection of letters of a famous person or to famous people, like the collections of letters of Einstein to President Roosevelt, or the collection of Jane Austen's letters or those of, say, one of the Presidents, Prime Ministers or other prominent members of the community. My collection has no curiosity value like the letters to Santa Claus or to lovers or to mothers or from children, suicide victims or entertainers to an assortment of people. Whatever significance this collection has is tied-up with the emergence of a new world Order and a new religion and whatever future that religion may have. These letters bear the traces of contemporary historical practices, literary styles and tastes and they are surrounded by what could be called the envelope of contingency. In this sense they are communications to and with the world, with society, however personal and private they may appear to the casual observer. There are few communications with famous people either in the Bahai world or out. Outstanding thinkers, artists, political figures, scientists or significant Bahais on the elected or appointed 48
  • 49. side of the Cause will not be found here. The pivotal figures of these epochs are virtually absent. That is not to say that fascinating personalities are not present, that individuals with great charm are not found among the pages, that devotion and faith, patience and understanding are not here. There is a storehouse of humanity, a kalaidescope of personalities, here that I met on my journey. There was a certain excitement which I found pleasant but transitory and, as I look back over it, not something I would want to repeat or make permanent. There is something tumultuous about existence and these letters reflect that quality. This tumultuous quality is due to many causes that are not my purpose to describe here. Even the most intimate of relationships contains a trace of strangeness and, inevitably, this is reflected in letters. These letters are, for me at least, part of a potential global epistolary collection, part of the literary expression of a global diaspora, a national and an international pioneering movement, that was only in its second generation when I got into the field in the 1960s. The recent eighteen-volume series on global diasporas and the six volume work of the International Library of Studies of Migration, will, in all likelihood, have no mention of the Baháí diaspora when they are completed. The former is or will be made up of 49
  • 50. original works, while the latter is a collection of previously published articles on selected themes. International migration and diasporas have come to constitute distinctive fields of inquiry and there is considerable overlap between them. The study of international migration is broader in scope and partially subsumes diaspora studies. Diasporas arise from international migration. Constant interaction between diasporic communities in dozens of sovereign states and with various homelands is one of the defining features of this international migration. After nearly seven decades of international pioneering as part of an international teaching Plan, this interaction and these many diasporas seem to me, in many ways, to have just been initiated and only briefly been given any academic study. The major events of this pioneering venture, the various processes concerning its growth and development, and aspects of the diasporic life of, say, Baháís from North America in Australia would necessarily interest only a small body of people at this stage of that groups history. Indeed, at this early stage, however massive the exercise involved, and the global pioneering venture is indeed a massive one, the significance of collections of letters is hardly appreciated as 50
  • 51. yet; indeed, I would think for most people including the pioneers themselves there would be very few collections of letters extant. What are termed Baháí studies or international Baháí pioneering studies will one day, though, I am confident, be a part of an extensive study of the great Baháí international diaspora of the last sixty-seven years(1937-2004), a full two-thirds of the first century of the Formative Age. So I am inclined to think, anyway. These letters are part of what is, in fact, a grand narrative. Specific letters relevant to the history of the Cause in the Northern Territory(NT) I kept for two decades(1982-2002) in special files as resource material to help me write the Baháí history of that region. I have now given them to the Regional Baháí Council for the Northern Territory. Much more collecting of letters written by Baháís in the NT could be done by history writers and archivists with greater enthusiasms than I now possess and I hope some day such an exercise will be accomplished. In the disintegration of society that is part of the essential backdrop to these letters and the contrasting integration, the generation that took part in the pioneering venture of the years 1962 to 1987, marks the first years of the tenth and final stage of history. It is a stage coextensive with a crucial stage in the 51
  • 52. institutionalization of the charismatic Force, the routinization of that charisma to use Webers term, in the Universal House of Justice. If these letters appear to indicate an aloofness from the controversies of the day, from the endless issues that occupied the front pages of the newspapers and the images and sounds from the electronic media; if they refrain year after year from any association by word or deed with the political pursuits of the various nations of the world, with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programmes of parties and factions, it is because this is the advice, the position, taken by the leaders of my Faith following principles and practices laid down by the Founders and leaders of this Faith beginning in the 1840s. I, too, following these considered views, have tried to further the aims of what is to me a beloved Cause and to steer a course amid the snares and pitfalls of a troubled age by steering clear of partisan-political subjects. Many writers do the same. They steer clear of politics and go in for sex, religion, humour, theology, inter alia, in their writing. They belong to no lit crit school, have no followers and simply cannot be easily labelled politically. 52
  • 53. What does occupy the Baháí often appears trifling. Such is the feeling I have frequently had in relation to these letters. The words of Thomas Henry Huxley, the nineteenth century biologist and educator, I find encouraging. He opened his autobiography with a quotation from a letter from a Bishop Butler, a bishop of the episcopal seat of Aukland, to the Duchess of Somerset. The bishop wrote: And when I consider, in one view, the many things . . . which I have upon my hands, I feel the burlesque of being employed in this manner at my time of life. But, in another view, and taking in all circumstances, these things, as trifling as they may appear, no less than things of greater importance, seem to be put upon me to do. As archaic, as anachronistic, as the style of the good bishops words may be, the point for me is important, namely, that Huxley saw his autobiography, even the humble letter, as something put on him to do, by the interpositions of a watchful Providence, the eye of a necessary Fate or the simple needs of circumstance, however trifling it appeared to be. I am reminded, in this context, of the words of Roger White from A Sudden Music. White says that the highest service a Baháí can often render is to simply do the thing under his nose that needed doing. For me, writing letters was often this thing. And so it was, that over time, as the years went on, what was once seen as a trifling exercise took on a patina of gentle 53
  • 54. significance, perhaps even the sense of letters being a small example of what the Universal House of Justice called nobler, ampler manifestations of human achievement in their discussion of the subject of freedom of thought. If I was not a good cook, a good gardener, a good mechanic, a good painter, indeed, if I did not operate successfully in so many areas of life, as indeed most of us can say about so many domains of activity, I could at least write a letter and do it well, at least such was my personal view. Perhaps, like one of the greatest letter writers of all time, Voltaire, I would do most of my best and significant work in the years ahead. He did his best writing from the age of 64 to 84. I’ve always appreciated the words of Evelyn Waugh in terms of this particular capacity to write letters. Beware of writing to me,” he once said, “I always answer.” He referred to his letter writing habit as “an inherited weakness,” part of his “great boringness.” It was partly due, he said, to “never going out or telephoning.” Like Thoreau my life showed a devotion to principle, but by the time I was sixty I was only too conscious of just how far my life had been from the practical application of that principle. I have little doubt that were many more individuals, more sincere and more genuine in their devotion to that same principle or principles, than I have or would 54
  • 55. be. As Clausewitz notes in his series of essays On War to be faithful in action to the principles laid down for ourselves this is our entire difficulty. The many things to which the Duchess’s correspondent here refers are the repairs and improvements of his episcopal seat at Auckland. I doubt if Huxley, the first great apologist of Darwinian evolution, this largely self- educated man, one of Englands founders of primary schools for all, this father of eight children, this coiner of the term agnostic, saw himself as an instrument of the deity. But, like the good Bishop Butler, I'm sure he felt he had things of great importance to do and that they had been put upon him. Even the humble letter. Virginia Woolf wrote that it was not until the nineteenth century that self-consciousness had developed so far that it was the habit of men to describe their minds when they wrote their letters and their autobiographies. I write in this new tradition, although I am conscious, as Woolf puts it plainly, of the worlds notorious indifference. And it may be many years, if ever, before this collection of letters has any interest to even a coterie of people. Letter writing has occasionally been a routine, perfunctory, exercise; occasionally a joy, a pleasure, a delight; occasionally part of some job or community responsibility. “Letters were the very texture” wrote Henry 55
  • 56. James “of Emerson’s history.” There is certainly a texture here that is not present in the other genres of my wide-ranging autobiography. Some letter- writers are janus-faced and some, like Truman Capote, the author of Capote’s letters in Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote are three-faced. There was the face for gay friends, the face for non-gay friends, and the face for the friends he made in Kansas while writing In Cold Blood. I think I have a multiple-faced letter writing persona: one for Baha’is of a conservative type, one for a more liberal orientation, one for those who are Baha’i in name only, one for youthful types, one for old people and one for...and on goes the list, the persona. Letter writing partly overcomes, together with my writing in other genres, the ancient enmity between life and the great work. And it was apparent that, if I was to achieve any ‘great work,’ it would be in bits and pieces spread out over many years, many decades. Like the great work of inner life and private character, achievements in my life seem to have been small steps backward and forward. The texture of these largely private communications is also a result of a new written form, the email, a form which was present in Volume 5 of my personal letters as well, but makes a strong appearance in this Volume 6(the year I retired from full-time work) of these letters. Nine out of ten communications by then were emails not letters. I think the first email I 56
  • 57. received was in 1990 or 1991, but I have kept few emails before the mid-to- late 1990s when email traffic began to replace the letter and, for me at least, by 2000 the telephone to a significant extent. Even the emails over the last dozen years, 1995-2007, were largely deleted. So much of what has come in since the email entered my life has not been worth keeping in my archive. Like the ten thousand letters I wrote in the organizations which employed me over more than 40 years and which either lie in files now or are on the scrap-heap, the detritus, of one of historys myriad paper-trails no one will ever follow, a vast quantity of emails I have received have disappeared in an electronic void. Their electronic successors, like the mobile phone and text messages, have not been part of my experience in their early years of operation and so there will be nothing in this collection of messages over 50 years from these additions to the electronic industry and their communications functions. In the early years of retirement, 1999 to 2002, I rarely used the telephone. In retirement I had come to find the telephone an intrusion after more than forty years of my finding it a pleasure, a convenience or a necessity. Of course, I still owned a telephone and answered it when circumstances required with courtesy and kindness and, when possible, with humour & attentiveness. 57
  • 58. A great deal of life is messy work offering to the artist irrelevant, redundant and contradictory clutter. Much of letter writing falls into this category; it spoils a good story and blunts the theme, like much of conversation, much of life, it is random, routine and deals with the everyday scene, ad nauseam. But these letters tell of a life in a way that is unique, not so much as a collection of letters, for collections are a common genre over the centuries, but as a collection of letters in the third, forth and fifth epochs of the Formative Age of the Baháí Era. They present pictures that tell of a concrete reality, a time and an age, that I hope will stand revealed to future readers. For these epochs were characterized by what Toynbee calls a schism in the soul in an age of social disintegration. A fully seasoned universal state with its supreme authority and its supreme impersonal law, argues Toynbee, were not part of the cosmology and the basic unit of social organization, for humankind in this half century, although some serious and significant beginnings to that process were made in that direction. What is here in these letters and in my other writings is, in part, some signs and signals of the embryo of that unit of social organization at the global level. The Bahai Faith has been central to my education, my ambitions and my assumptions as far back as the early 1960s and late 1950s. Much of this 58
  • 59. education was peripatetic and that of an autodidact. What is here is spiritual autobiography and psychological revelation in a different literary form than my poetry and it tells of a period during which the Baháí Faith made a significant leap forward in its numbers and in the maturity of its community. Often, to the Baháís working in their personal lives and in their communities this maturity and this growth was either not evident or not appreciated. So often it was the struggle itself that dominated their perspectives, their emotional life and their thoughts. Often, too, readers awareness of the many Ron Prices that make up my life and whatever maturity I have or have not attained is sharpened by their dip into the pool of my letters. But perhaps most importantly the number of collections of letters from international pioneers during this period may not be that extensive given the busyness of peoples lives and what seems to me to be a quite natural disinclination to keep letters beyond a salient few of some personal importance. If, as Anthony Burgess suggests, artists must be judged not merely by excellence, but by bulk and variety, then at least Id be in the running, if ever I should want to be running. Sometimes, though, bulk compromises quality. Perhaps that is the case here. I leave that to readers to judge. As yet my literary landscape has not been surveyed professionally or 59
  • 60. by amateurs. I certainly hope I escape the fate of Burgess, at least as it was held in the hands of biographer Roger Lewis who wrote: From an aesthetic viewpoint, all of Burgess relentless productivity was one vast waste of words and paper. But one never knows for sure. Film critic Gerald Peary notes in his essay on the biography Clint: The Life and Legend, there are at least two Clints. I think it is fair to say there are probably more than two Clint Eastwoods. There are certainly more than two Ron Prices with hopefully a golden thread joining all the selves as well as threads of many other colours. On the internet I found by the year 2007 at least 50 Ron Prices: car salesmen, writers, poets, evangelists, Deans, Board Members, harpists,insurance salesmen, etc. etc. After more than fifty years of excessive contact with human beings, the quiet, only child, the self who had learned in his early childhood(up to 1949) how to occupy himself in a solitary way, seemed to want more of that solitude. Price was ready by the turn of the millennium for televisions more metonymic contact with others. He found in this medium, a medium which had been part of his life on and off for half a century, that all of those storytellers, priests, wisemen and elders which in many ways had become 60
  • 61. lost to society in the years of its disintegration in the previous century and especially in recent decades, the decades of his life, had become restored to cultural visibility and to oral primacy in his nightly fare on TV and in the daily fare of radio programs. With embellishments from the internet and books, embellishments which were usually more satisfying to the mind, he felt little need for any human contact at all. And society, he felt, seemed to have little felt need, for his story, drowned as society had become in a plethora of stories, day after day, night after night and year after year from the tidal wave of productions of the print and electronic media Those storytellers came along in the convincing guise of highly literate specialists: newsreaders, commentators, scientific and artistic experts as well as writers and producers with their endless capacity to generate stories in the form of movies, interviews, who-dun-its, soap-operas, a cornucopia of stuff that rested the eyes and stimulated the mind in varying degrees. It was here in the media that the sophists of ancient Greece were reborn. The sophists with their emphasis on the power of the intellect arose as Greek society in the fifth century BC was becoming more complex. They were rootless people without any commitment to community. And they are very much like many of the worldly wise who come upon the scene and pontificate, 61
  • 62. publicize and entertain millions but, unlike Socrates of old, they generally have no commitment to community except in the most generalized sense. Our troubled times approximate more closely the conditions of Greece and Rome and comparisons like those I make to the sophists are useful. The media now tend to direct not only our knowledge of the world but our knowledge of ways of knowing it. And the new sophists play an important role in this mix. Not to mention this important aspect of contemporary social and intellectual life in an autobiography of this nature would be a serious omission. A new nonliterary culture had come to exist at about the same time that my pioneering life began. “Its existence, not to mention significance, most literary intellectuals are entirely unaware, wrote Susan Sontag in her groundbreaking 1965 essay, One Culture and the New Sensibility. While this work does not focus on this complex theme, the presence of a large group of people in my society, a group who reads to such a limited extent, is a simple reality of life whose implications I can not possibly dwell on. Readers, if interested in this topic, can examine this article by Skinner and his discussion of the new sensibility of a non-literary culture. This not 62
  • 63. literary sensibility had implications for my letter writing, but I will not go into them here. The media had many functions. It allowed me to get back to my writing day after day, having been gently and alternatively amused, stimulated, entertained and informed. I could see why millions had no need to write letters for they had had sufficient human contact on TV. Those with a higher degree of need for a particular type of sociability could use the telephone and/or join one of many volunteer organizations that came to be dotting the landscape by the time I retired. As I mentioned above though, by the year 2000, I seemed to be writing more letters than ever. By nine oclock at night my eyes and mind were so tired from reading and writing--usually at least a six to eight hour minimum of the days time and a ten hour maximum--that I was happy to consume televisions products. With an average of two hours of TV consumption nightly I could finish my eight hour reading-writing day after 11 pm and before 3 am. Millions of my words were slowly permeating some of the literally millions of internet sites. Yes, I was writing more letters than ever. 63
  • 64. Perhaps this is why so many events in my life, events that could be stories, did not become stories. Baháí holy days, Feasts, deepenings, secular holidays by the bundle, a seemingly infinite number of birthdays, annual dinners, suppers for friends, good-grief, the list of repeated activities one engages in over lifes years could go on and on. Over fifty years at, say, fifty events a year, makes for at least 2500 special days, special occasions. And little of it appears here in these letters. One might ask why? Is it the repetition, the routine, the sameness? Is it that these events are part of the very texture of life and, like the air, are difficult to write about in a book like this. They come to occupy two or three lines in a letter; they become the base of an occasional poem; they fill hundreds, thousands of hours of life with a million eventualities. At best, they provide suggestive openings for readers of a letter, unobtrusive patterns of juxtaposition, recurrence, contrast and familiarity out of which fresh and unpredictable understandings may emerge. There is something about the routines, the repetition of events in the ordinary life of the individual and I refer to this repetition frequently in this autobiography, that is like the experience of the criminal in prison. The crim discovers on his release that he is not the only one to perceive the lagging of time in terms of suspended animation. His old friends do also. They act as 64
  • 65. though he has returned from a brief trip to the toilet or out of town for a few hours, even though he may have been in the nick for a decade, greeting him casually and then going about their business. Ones actions so frequently point to somewhere, some time, when and where one has been before and frequently. One often resumes a relationship as if one has only, as Withnell puts it in that humorous turn of phrase, been to the toilet. This is part of the backdrop that often gives one the feeling that little change has occurred in ones being, behaving. It is this terrible sameness that takes the experience of writing a letter completely out of the realms of meaningful activity and is, perhaps, one of the main reasons why relatively little takes place. My letters were, among other things, strands of experience woven into patterns, patterns in a channel, a channel that in the early years of my retirement became filled with electronic signals; they came to fill many arch- lever files and binders and, after 2007, lists of items in my computer directory. They were an expression of an art, a means of communication. By the time Volume 4 of this collection of personal correspondence was gathered in 1995 I had, as I have indicated, become exhausted by personal contacts. Perhaps this was due in part to my proclivity for solitude in contrast to a more social inclination, a more social mode of existence that 65
  • 66. had been such a strong part of my life for half a century. I was more inclined to think that this social disinclination was due to many things in a list too long to enumerate here. This may be part of the reason for any apparent aloofness and any insistence on solitude that is found in either my letters or my poetry, especially after about 1995 when I was in my early fifties. In 1985 a second volume of personal correspondence was opened. Part 1 of Volume 1(1957-1974) and Part 2(1974-1984) of Volume 1 opened the series. The first fifty years of my letter-writing life had their home by 2007. The several themes which analysts might want to follow through the letters had begun to be apparent. My autobiography arose out of the juxtaposition of several temperamental disinclinations that rose up in my life over several decades and came to a head in the years 1992/3 to 2002/3. Curiosity about the future and the afterlife among other interests also played their part. Evelyn Waugh says that it is in these temperamental disinclinations that one finds the origin of autobiography. Perhaps, like Rilke, I had been for decades too responsive for my own peace of mind.(1) Perhaps my letters are, like Rilkes, an indication of a great need of imparting the life within me.(2) Perhaps they are simply a matter of pouring experience into a mould to obtain release, to ease the 66
  • 67. pressure of life. When inspiration to write poetry lagged I often turned to correspondence. It was a handicraft, a tool among several others, that could keep me at work in constant preparation for the creative moments.(3) As the social dimensions of my psycho-social life were waning by the mid- 1990s and, like Rilke, I began to thirst for solitude, the wider world was experiencing 56 wars being fought around the globe. Among other devastating effects, these conflicts created at least 17 million refugees and left 26 million people homeless. Another 300 million individuals suffered because of disasters not related to war. This state of affairs, following the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the proclamation of a new world order, indicated serious disarray among the community of nations. And yet, each day dedicated human beings -- among them international civil servants, government officials, nongovernmental workers, and a broad spectrum of volunteers -- continued to cope with complex and seemingly intractable problems, in efforts to alleviate suffering and advance the cause of peace. This wider drama, a drama that was always present in the background as my own life winding its way down the road, was simply beyond one’s imagination to understand in any detail. I got broad pictures, but the details were usually complex, overwhelming and elusive. 67
  • 68. The drama of my life became largely an inner one as the 1990s came to an end. The external battle, its pleasures and anxieties, went on but in a much more subdued form. Perhaps, like Thoreau, I lacked a certain breadth and coarseness of fibre and by my fifties I came to prefer, as Thoreau had been all his life, to be more isolated from my surroundings, more insular and solitary. I came by my late fifties to plant myself near the sea with a granite floor of principle beneath me, although often there were layers of intervening clay and quicksand which, even in my solitude, seemed to entrap me. Of course, that trap was the one I had seen all my life: the trap of self, of ego, of natures insistent self and of lifes inevitable complexities. Was I too quick or too slow to answer lifes call, too inclined or not inclined enough to switch off its insistent urgings? Lacking the right words for the right time or failing to come up with the right verbal package did I rush in where angels feared to tread? Was this equally true in the letters I wrote? One could not always frame the words to say-it-right in every letter and email. I hope, I believed, I was saying it better in my poetry which Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said is the poet’s true autobiography. 68
  • 69. These letters, it seems to me, stand in sharp contrast to what Frederic Jameson refers to as the four losses that are symptomatic of our age of postmodernism. These losses have come to characterize our society increasingly since the 1970s: the suspension of subjective inwardness, referential depth, historical time and coherent human expression. These letters in some basic ways define my identity and my communitys by telling the story of myself, the community I have been part of and the events of the time. There is clearly referential depth here, subjective inwardness, the story of a search, an open-ended drama of personal narratives, a sense of the complexity of these historical times. There is also here in these letters what Roland Barthes calls an image of literature to be found in ordinary culture. This image, he goes on, is tyrannically centred on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions, while criticism consists for the most part in saying that my failure is the failure of Ron Price the man. The explanation of a work, he concludes, is always sought in the man or woman who produced it....in the voice of a single person, the author confiding in us. While the art and craft of letter writing have declined in this century, letter stories have thrived. Cast as love letters and Dear John letters, as thank-you notes and suicide notes, as memos and letters to the editor, and as exchanges 69
  • 70. with the United States Post Office, examples of epistolary fiction have been published by the hundreds, among them the work of many of our most notable authors. Why has this form of fiction writing remained so popular? Gail Pool, the editor of Other Peoples Mail says it has something to do with the rhetorical question: Who is immune to the seduction of reading other peoples mail? I like to think my letters offer a similar seduction. That is what Id like to think. Time, of course, will tell. Although epistolary fiction enjoyed its greatest popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time when letters were central to daily life, this style of writing still has a place and a popular one it would seem. Letter stories are about communication and they are effective in framing our modern concerns: the struggle to find meaningful stories, relationships, and lives amid the social and moral disarray of the era and the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, artist and audience, private and public domains. My own letters accomplish this similar framing exercise. Written and received over nearly fifty years, my collection of letters delineates the themes of our time as do the themes of the stories in Other Peoples Mail. Offering seventeen stories written by a culturally diverse group of authors, Other Peoples Mail represents what letter tales, at their 70
  • 71. best, can do. They may be written from the Canadian wilderness, a private school in Geneva, a concentration camp, or beyond the grave. They may be comic or satirical, poignant or tragic, but all are united in their distinctive format. For letters are distinctively individual. Other Peoples Mail is the first collection of its kind. It is a unique and important anthology. Pools highly informative introduction explores the nature of letter fiction. Literature and writing instructors may find in this lively anthology a useful resource. My collection offers a single perspective, a single individual, a single background to a life, a distinctive format, at times satirical, at times poignant, tragic, humorous and lively and, no doubt and inevitably--as collections of letters are for most people--boring and therefore unread. In that tidal-wave of print and visual stimulation that occupies todays world, collections of letters, for the most part, slip into a quiet niche, unknown and unnoticed and not missed. It often takes many years after a persons death for the entire collection of a writers letters to be published. It took 125 years for Gustav Flauberts letters to be fully published in five volumes. Even assuming my letters get published and, if I was to follow in Flauberts footsteps, readers could anticipate the publication of the full oeuvre of my letters in, say, 2150!--or thereabouts!! 71
  • 72. The tangled root and the tranquil flower is here: cool detachment, indifference, and an anguish of spirit.4 I leave it to future readers to find these roots and flowers, these several temperaments. I trust their search will have its own reward. I hope, too, that this opening comment on Volume 6 of my personal correspondence in Section VII of Pioneering Over Four Epochs sets an initial perspective of some value. These words above written on several occasions from 1999 to 2002 for the third and fourth editions of this autobiography were completed after living for more than four years in George Town Tasmania. Some writers move to enclaves where many other writers live. Brooklyn USA is a good example. George Town, with its small population of perhaps 6000, has hundreds of gardeners; people who fish, water ski and go boating can be found in abundance. So can artists, cooks, cleaners, factory workers, inter alia. But writers are a rare lot and Im happy with it this way. During the time the letters in this particular part of the collection were written I began work on some thirty-two instalments on The History of the Baháí Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997; I also completed my book The Emergence of a Baha’i Consciousness in World Literature, organized and refined the second edition of my website Pioneering Over Four Epochs into fifteen hundred pages and gathered together a body of resources for 72
  • 73. what became the third edition of my autobiography which I wrote later in the twenty-first to twenty-fourth months of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006). During this same period a feeling of approaching apocalypse was tending to drown out humanist beliefs in history as the progressive development towards a better world. Endtimes or apocalyptic thought and theory, of course, is not new. Some argue that it was formulated for a popular audience for the first time in 1970,(5) but I wont go into detail here on the evolution of this line of thought which is really quite complex. Baháís, of course, remained optimistic but often the battle tired the spirit and, in some cases, at least in mine, turned that spirit to letter-writing. I would like to think that readers will begin with an endless pile of words but end up with a world. Perhaps it is a world which will endure, a trace from the twentieth century and beyond into the twenty-first that will last forever. _______________________________FOOTNOTES___________________ 1 Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke: 1892-1910, trans: J. Greene and M. Norton, WW Norton, NY, 1945, p. 12. 2 idem 3 idem 4 ibid.p.13. 73
  • 74. 5 John Sutherland, Apocalypse Now, Guardian Unlimited Books, June 2003 Ron Price 17 February 2003 PS. The genre that Henry Miller enjoyed writing most was the letter. Long letters to close friends, wrote Mary Dearborn,(1) were his favourite pieces of writing. I must add that I, too, have come to enjoy this form of writing much more since retirement, but they are rare occurrences these long letters, if one defines a long letter as, say, four typed pages, 2000 words, or more. The attitude that many have in my time is: why write it if I can say it on the telephone? Many are like famous Samuel Johnson who wrote letters with great difficulty and reluctance. And although I take delight in conversation over limited periods with some people, I am equally happy now to have little to no conversation except with my wife. However fine, too, that my letters may be, the greatest of lifes arts is the art of living. -(1)Mary Dearborn, The Happiest Man Alive: A Biography of Henry Miller, Harper Collins, London, 1991, p.12. I have read or browsed through many books of the collections of the letters of famous and not-so-famous writers and have found them enlightening. They have served to provide stimulating perspectives for my own work. 74
  • 75. Keats, the nineteenth century poet, seems to be the most attractive of the letter writers, at least for those like myself who write poetry. He seems likeable, lovable, someone we would enjoy travelling with. But you would have to get him young for he was dead at 26. Unlike Shakespeare or even Jane Austin, who remain impersonal, elusive, inscrutable, enigmatic, we feel we know Keats through his letters. He does not hide himself. My letters clearly bring me closer to a Keats or an Emily Dickinson, than a Shakespeare, although I know I shall never be in the league of any of these great writers. Dickinson tended to blend poetry and prose in her letters and, in the last decade this has been true increasingly of my letters. I strive to fashion a lively interchange between poetry and prose and, as yet, I have really only just begun this process with any effect. A cosmic and cosmopolitan range in the written word is as evident in the literary homebodies like Socrates, Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson as in the literary travelers like Xenophon, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman. Having been both a homebody and a traveller perhaps I might more easily find that range. Ceremony and necessity, vanity and routine often require something to be written. To be able to disentangle oneself from these inevitable and several 75
  • 76. perverters of epistolary integrity is not always possible. A letter is addressed to a single mind of which some of the prejudices and partialities are known and must therefore please. The pleasing process is not always by favouring others, but sometimes by opposing them. If a man keeps his thoughts at a level of generality in his letters he is safe; and most hearts are pure while temptation is away. It is easy to awaken generous sentiments in privacy, to despise death when there is no danger and to glow with benevolence when there is nothing to be given. When such ideas are formed they are easily felt and they sprinkle letters with their declarations There is, indeed, no transaction which offers stronger temptations to fallacy and sophistication than epistolary intercourse. What we hide from ourselves,we do not show to our friends.(Leslie Stephen, Samuel Johnson,MacMillan & Co., Ltd. NY, 1900). I feel an immense kinship with that American philosopher and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau. Much of my sense of kinship derives from my awareness of my differences from him. He had a hunger, as John Burroughs points out, for health and the wild, wilderness, wild men, Indians. He felt close to the subtle spirits in this wilderness. He lived life delicately, daintily, tenderly. Burroughs said he was unkind. By contrast, I see myself as kind, 76
  • 77. one of the kind Canadians 'Abdul-Bahá refers to in His immortal Tablets, although my affinity for the wild and the wilderness is clearly not as strong as Thoreaus, indeed, at the age of 60 it hardly exists. But I have his hunger, although it expresses itself differently. It is an isolating hunger, as Thoreaus hunger isolated him. My hunger is not for health or the wild but, rather, for knowledge and civility. When younger, until the age of about forty, I hungered for health. By my mid-fifties I hungered for solitude. In my late teens and twenties I hungered for sex. After working in the garden, I hunger for water. Since I eat a very light breakfast, by two in the afternoon I hunger for lunch. Our hungers change with the time of day and the season, with the stage of our life and our psychological needs. By my years of middle adulthood, forty to sixty, knowledge became, increasingly, my great desire. By sixty the symptoms of my bi-polar disorder were, for the most part, treated but the story went on and I treat that story in another place in this memoir. I yearned, too, for that quiet civility with which genuine engagement with my fellow men could be enjoyed. It was a yearning, though, which was quiet and possessed of an instinctive reticence. Perhaps this reticence was due to a fatigue with much conversation and the many traces of moral and intellectual laxity that not only stained my life but 77
  • 78. the name of the Faith I regarded as holy and precious. For, as Shoghi Effendi stated so boldly at the start of the first Plan in 1937, the controlling principle in the behaviour and conduct of all Baháís has implications for modesty, purity....cleanmindedness...moderation...and the daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires. Any thorough examination of the last fifty years of my life, 1953 to 2003, would reveal that I am far from casting that sleeve of holiness over all in my life that has been created from water and clay. I see myself as modest but not prudish but, sometimes, modesty and moderation gave way to an excessiveness and a lack of control of sexual thoughts, feelings and associations. This is a separate subject I cover in more detail in my journal, my diary. But let me make a few general comments on the subject of sex here. On the subject of my sex life I put the matter into a general context with the observation that for me, as for the famous autobiographers Pepys and Boswell, no seduction, no sexual experience, was complete until I had recorded its details in my diary or journal. What is a complete account for me, of course, is in a class of its own and quite distinct from the accounts of either Pepy’s or Boswell’s sexual proclivities. My sex life, quite apart from my writing and the intellectual labor that has gone into it and however stimulating it may be to the reader will be found revealed in my 78
  • 79. unexpurgated diaries published, if they ever are, long after my death. Much of my behaviour in life I would define as cyclical and repetitive. My dedicated toil in life, a toil that often led to successes of various kinds, was often followed by an orgy. But it was an orgy of exhaustion, depression, a deepening relationship with Thanatos and, sometimes anger, frustration & disappointment. This was not always the case, but it was not possible to avoid these words due to my bipolar disorder and the account of my experience of this disorder presents a fuller picture of my life and one that is far more complete and honest. The record of my sexual life, however appetizing readers may find it, is remarkably thin on the ground. Readers should not get their hopes up too high as they contemplate a future reading of my posthumously published diaries. In applying my customary powers of literary exposition to more than half a century of sexual activity(12-64) with a thoroughness that leaves little to the imagination would require more space here, inspite of what I often felt to be its insufficiency, than I really want to devote to the subject. From my earliest erotic enthusiasms in childhood and my loss of virginity in the arms of my first wife on my wedding night at the age of twenty-three to my surprisingly late-discovered masterbatory abilities in middle age, my sexual 79
  • 80. exploits are given the kind of detail that would satisfy the most ardent voyeur, well, at least some ardent voyeurs. I leave readers with such interests and the readers who acquire a taste for what I write in the region of my erotic inclinations, with a reward at the end of the tunnel of my life. Stay tuned, your persistence will yield its just deserts. My sexual achievements or lack thereof, my career in fornication, like many of my forays into aspects of life’s burgeoning variety of pursuits and however stimulating they may be when well-written-up, will, it seems to me, in the end contribute little to nothing to my literary reputation or an understanding of the pioneering life. I was, like Henry Miller, enthralled by women.(Erica Jong in the Devil at Large, 1993) This enthrallment is a story in itself and relatively little of that story is found in my letters. As the literature on personality disorders indicates, we all have certain tendencies in the direction of various negative symptoms and adaptations, or disorders as they are termed in the literature. After more than forty years of the periodic study of psychology, I am aware of my tendencies toward some of the major types of disorder: psychotic, neurotic and extravert and some of their respective sub-types. This dark side of my personality I am more than a little conscious of after 60 years of living. But my tendencies, my symptoms, are all partial. Except for bipolar disorder, I do not fit into any pure type, any 80
  • 81. particular disorder, any full-blown personality disorder or characterization. As I say, if I did possess any full-blown disorder, and there is no doubt I did due to my bi-polar tendency, it is now, for the most part, ancient history but still dragged into my modern world and those who are interested in this disorder in my late adulthood can read of it in another place in my memoir. How these tendencies, many and several, affected my letter-writing is difficult to assess. I’m not sure how valuable such an assessment would be and to do so here is beyond the scope of this analysis of my letter writing. Sometimes my letters reveal a melancholy cast of mind or hide a personal belief that I am a contempible animal. For, as Baháulláh wrote, we all have our backs bowed by the burden of our sin and from time to time we need to feel that our heedlessness has destroyed us. This need is particlarly apparent when we say the Long Obligatory Prayer. Sometimes my letters reveal a host of other characteristics: humour, delight, pleasure, joy, fun, insight and understanding, et cetera. But whatever my letters reveal if they were effective they needed to possess a sensitive understanding of the language appropriate to each relationship. I strove to make my letters relaxed, nearly colloquial and natural so as to establish a relationship with the correspondent 81
  • 82. comparable to that in private conversation. To put this another way, I tried to write letters as I spoke. The humour that was lacking in my young adulthood developed in my middle adulthood as my sense of disillusionment and discouragement also developed. Humour, wrote the celebrated Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock, is a comforter which reconciles us to realities over ideals. This comforter possesses a thread of melancholy and my letters reflected this in my middle age and beyond, or so it seemed to me, as I became more aware of my limitations and failures and as I exhibited a seeming kindly contemplation of lifes sorrows and incongruities and as I also exhibited, from time to time, that sense of utter futility that occasionally embraces the most optimistic of our race. I’d like to think that, at the other end of the emotional spectrum, my letters could be read in the same way Katherine Suzannah Pritchard read those of Miles Franklin: “Every literary nerve in me thrills to your lovely breezy way of saying things….And it’s almost as good as a yarn with you to read one. I just simmer and grin to myself when I do: with a sense of real contact with you.” That’s what I’d like to think. I’d like to think, too, that others might learn not to be too tedious in the exposition of whatever Gospel they may be 82
  • 83. espousing, particularly that associated with the two nineteenth century God- men at the centre of the Baháí paradigm. But I am more inclined to think these letters simply preserve a record of a life in the context of a period of four epochs in the historical development of a new world Faith. Perhaps I give my life and times a fresh and novel colouring; perhaps my writings will enjoy a coterie of the worlds readers interested in the great experiment of which I am but a part. Again, Id like to think so. But it is difficult to know. In a world of mass entertainment, a diversified print and electronic media, collections of letters dont rate highly on the scale of popular interest, as Ive already said. Thats just a simple fact. A coterie of people, it seems to me, may take an interest in these letters one day. One day in a world of say, twelve billion, in which the Baháí Faith is playing an important role in a future world Order, that coterie may be a significant number. We shall see. These letters “hang there,” as Thomas Carlyle wrote of the letters of Oliver Cromwell, “in the dark abysses of the Past: if like a star almost extinct, yet like a real star; fixed, once a piece of the general fire and light of Human life.” These letters also play some part in answering Carlyles key biographical questions: how did the subject influence society, and how did society influence the subject? My letters may indeed become extinct. Certainly their present state of influence resembles extinction more than 83
  • 84. influence of any kind. The nine hundred letters of Cicero written in the middle of the first century BC were one of the first, arguably the first, in history to give us an understanding of the times. Of course he had, and his society had, no telephone, fax, email, computer, et cetera, to convey messages. The letter was, for perhaps two and a half millennia, much more crucial as a genre of communication. Somewhere in the nineteenth century, gradually, letters, like biographies, became much more human and revealing, not like the wax figures they had been. After perhaps a century and a half of this fresh wind, my letters join, add-onto this new tradition. Perhaps readers will find here: the creative fact, the fertile fact, the engendering fact. One can but hope. However much my life and my thinking have been focussed on a single point, elaborated across a wide field of action and behaviour, I would think my letters are a good illustration of the application, the delineation, of this focus. During these four epochs there was so much happening in the public and private spheres to fragment daily life. My letters, it seems to me, provide a lens that magnifies many of my autobiographical gestures and throw light on a life, a time and a religion in a way that my general autobiography does not. So did Ciceros and, as famous as he has been, now he is read only by a coterie. 84
  • 85. Signs of the continuous evolution of a lifelong scheme of devotion are difficult to describe without appearing to be fanatical or obsessive or unduely pious, in a world that has lost any interest in piety. Years even decades of concentrated effort are easy to accummulate but the evidences of that effort are not as easy to amass given the hurried, the frenetic, excitements of modern society which militate against any pretensions of devotion to a single purpose. Daily life, indeed, ones entire life, tends to be fragmentary because we live in a perpetual hurry. And even when not in a hurry we get inundated in our daily life by a host of usually disconnected, sometimes interesting and stimulating but so frequently, if not always, fragmentary events and happenings, news and entertainment. If a life of devotion involves any serious writing as mine clearly does, the vast accumulation of materials and the demand for exhaustive inquiry often overpowers the potential and would-be-conscientious writer. Should he or she go down the literary trail it often becomes difficult to maintain vivacity and spontaneity. If writers can not bring the stars of the universe closer, if they cannot wake their fellow human beings up, give them a certain morning freshness and elan, some sparkle of understanding, they might be advised to pursue other lines of work. Some letter writers make other subjects the centre of their discussion. The letters of the poet Elizabeth Bishop are about 85
  • 86. loss. Each letter writer brings to the table his life and, altough I would like to bring the universe closer and share sparkles of understanding, these lofty goals are rarely attainable. One must settle for a mode and manner closer to the earth, to everydayness, to the boredom and the chouder, as Paul Simon put it in one of his songs. Elizabeth Bishops letters are certainly closer to the earth and, when they sparkle, it is a sparkle of a talented and intellectually sophisticated person. Still, the letters reveal an Elizabeth Bishop which she allowed her friends to see. She proved herself a most attractive and compelling friend. Her letters often focused on the everyday. Elizabeth Bishop once said that she felt sorry for people who could not write letters. I can’t say that I share Bishop’s feeling. I would not be able to keep up with my correspondence even though most people who have been in my life are not letter writers. Bishop also said she felt that writing letters was like working without working. Yes, that is so for me, sometimes the work is harder than others. If I shared Bishop’s feelings for non-letter writers, I would feel sorry for most of the human race--and sometimes I do, but it is for so many reasons. I’m not sure how many people want to read about the fabric of a person’s life as conveyed in a letter; after more than half a century of TV(1949-2009) and more than a century of movies(1895-2009) it 86
  • 87. seems to me people find out about the fabric of peoples lives in so many ways. After 50 years of writing letters, I tend to the skeptical and slightly cynical side about their value at least to most people. I hope I am wrong. It is clear from Bishop’s imaginative and colorful correspondence that letter- writing was a kind of release. And so it is for me. For, as Lord Altrincham noted with some humour and some truth, “autobiography is now as common as adultery and hardly less reprehensible.” He could have added that the mundane nature of so much that is daily life makes for a tedious story for much of the time, tedious because so repetitive, so pervasive, so common, so quotidian. This may be the reason some writers completely abandon writing about the personal; why diaries in our age are rare and why letters and the study of them, especially ones own--may in fact be unique!! Here are two letters below taken somewhat at random from my collection. Readers will not find here in my autobiography or on this BARL site much of my letter collection, but I include these samples to illustrate various themes. The first is written to a radio station program presenter for a discussion program on a particular theme: the topic of early retirement. It 87
  • 88. seemed a fitting topic for, at the time of writing the letter, I had been retired from my career for eighteen months. I strive to address both the universal and the individual in my letters, both the quick and the dead as Dickinson put it referring to the living souls and the dead of spirit, the quotidian and the philosophical. I try to leave meaning unsettled or open-ended, organized but not a simple step-by-step series of prose assertions. I often bow to convention, to cliched phrases, like the ending of letters which are often more conventional courtesies than content. Quoting from just four letters will minimize the revelation of many of my unsuspected foibles, weaknesses, inconsistencies and faults. Indeed, I like to think these letters will not seriously diminish the admiration of readers for whatever gifts, strengths and attainments I have been endowed. The admiration of readers for whatever a writer writes is very difficult to assess in the earliest stages of his public appearance, especially on a medium like the internet. All letter writers have a landscape, a background, a mise-en-scene: perhaps some great city, like Boswells historic London; or the city of the Covenant, New York, like some early 19th century Bahais; or some rural milieux of beauty like Wordsworths Lake District; or some intense social activity like Evelyn Waughs twentieth-century London; or a world of travelling like D.H. 88
  • 89. Lawrence; or a particular correspondent as did Joseph Conrad; or some of what the writer thinks and feels as was the case with Alexander Pushkin. There is a little of many landscapes or backgrounds in my correspondence, spread as it is over fifty years. I could, should it be my want, dwell on the significance of landscape in much more detail than I have. For a half of my life, some thirty years, for example, I lived within a mile of a lake, a bay or a river. For another twenty years I drove with my family for an hour or less to get to a beach, to a place I could swim. The beach became, during these years, a centre of activity especially in the summer months, at least some of the time. I could say much more here; I could write about the various city landscapes; the tundra, the savanna, the temperate regions and their affect on my life, the mutual interaction. I will conclude this all-to-brief discussion on landscape with Emersons words: The difference between landscape and landscape is small, but there is a great difference in the beholders. ---------------------------- 6 Reece Street George Town Tasmania 7253 4 October 2000 Dear Rebecca 89
  • 90. The program Life Matters today, Wednesday October 4th, was on the theme“Taking Time Out.” I won’t try to summarize all the points made by the guests: Ester Buchholz, Margaret Murton and Gavin Smith and the many callers discussing as they were, what one speaker called “the neurosis of our time: a lack of aloneness.” I will briefly tell of my own experience here in this letter. Fit in what you can when, and if, you read this letter. Eighteen months ago I retired after 30 years as a teacher in primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions. I was fifty-five and, with community obligations outside my classroom in the evening and on weekends, I felt ‘talked-and-listened-out.’ I felt I had had enough. I wanted some time out. I wanted to give some time to what had become a personal, a private, interest in reading and writing poetry. In the last 18 months I have had six to ten hours a day given to this engaged, alone, solitary, stimulating exercise. The person who takes on such a ‘time-out’ over extended periods of time needs to know themselves, though. I knew I had to cater to my social side. I could not cut it all out or I’d get some kind of withdrawal symptoms. So I spend time helping organizing the local seniors’ group; I have a radio 90
  • 91. program for half an hour a week; I am involved with the Baha’i community and my wife’s family here in northern Tasmania. All of these activities together do not involve a lot of time, but they give me that needed social contact, that balance between solitude and being with others, which I find essential to my comfortableness. I would not go back to the work-a-day world. After a lifetime of talking and listening, I knew at 55 I had had enough of what by then had felt like years of full time engagement with others. I wanted time out to engage in interests that did not involve people at all. I got it. After 18 months I feel the story has just begun. And it has. I would like now to engage readers in the multiplicity of experience my life in the Bahai community and in the many worlds that life has taken me to since I became associated with it back in 1953. My adventure over five decades has been an emotional and physical one, an adventure of intellectual growth, of culture-shock and of creative achievement. Can my letters express these experiences and engage readers as a result? Gerontologists are talking about our living to well over 100 if we take care of ourselves. They talk, too, of the loneliness of the aged. I see no evidence 91
  • 92. of that emotional construct on my horizon but, who knows, I could be back with people one day. For it’s possible that, at 55, my life is just half over. While my mother was the dominant person in my life until my twenties; my first wife in my twenties as well and my second wife the dominant person to this day. Like the women in Lawrences life, these women in mine were all of independent mind, resolute and highly articulate. My correspondence, however, does not really deal with these important relationships; or does it deal with other important relationships in my life, like those of my father, my uncle and a small handful of academic Bahais, among others. Admittedly, too, my letters come nowhere near the honesty and completeness with which Lawrence disclosed his personality. I feel quite confident that no one in the future will say of my letters, what James Boulton said of the letters of Lawrence, namely, that they were masterpieces of the letter-writing art and an unexampled expression of his creativity. The following letter to the program presenters of an ABC Radio series Life Matters is one of a type that I sent over the years to various people in the media to drop a gentle note from the sweet-scented stream of eternity into someones lap. It was a form of teaching I was able to do but, like so many forms, it was always difficult to measure its effectiveness, its result. 92
  • 93. This next letter is one written to my family members thirty-one years after leaving Canada, thirty-five years after leaving southern Ontario and nearly forty years since I had seen any of them. Eight months before writing this letter I did have a visit with my cousin, my mothers sisters son, David, himself a retired teacher as well, and his wife, Barbara. ------------------------ Dear Dave and Barb Time seems to go by faster as you get older, you hear it said so often, and it certainly seems to be the case. Ill soon be sixty and I assume, as long as I am in good health and I have a range of interests, the years will spin by irretrievably from my grasp as one writer put it. And so is this true of all of us. And so the time has come again for the annual letter to what is for me about a dozen or so friends and relatives, the periodic up-date of events in this swiftly passing life. At one level not a lot seems to take place: the same routines, habits and activities fill the days as they did this time last year. At another level a great deal takes place. On the international and national landscape the events continue to be of apocalyptic/ cataclysmic proportions as they have been off and on it would seem since 1914--or, as the sociologist Robert Nisbet argued persuasively , since about 500 BC. Mark Twain once said that to write about everything that took place would make a mountain of 93
  • 94. print for each year. James Joyce produced several hundred pages to describe one day in his book Ulysseys. Ill try to reduce the mountain of life to a small hill or two in this email. Chris and I have been here in George Town at the end of the Tamar River in northern Tasmania for three years and three months. Daniel has been with us and working at the Australian Maritime College as a research engineer for two of these years. He is happier with his job now than he was in the first year, although occasionally he applies for another job somewhere for graduate engineers; Chris is not suffering from ill-health quite as much as this time last year, having received some useful medication from her doctor and treatment from an osteopath. Both Dan and Chris plug along battling with the forces that destiny or fate, divine will or predestination, free will or determinism, circumstance or socialization throw up for them to deal with from day to day. I feel as if I have completed the first stage of my final domestic training program that qualifies me for shared-existence with Chris in matters relating to hearth and home. I seem to have been a difficult student but, after nearly four years of being under-foot we seem to have worked out a reasonable 94
  • 95. modus vivendi(those four years of Latin in high school were unquestionably of some value). The in-house training had been rigorous, to say the least, but I received a passing grade-which was all I was after! And now for the second stage. My step-daughters continue their work, Vivienne as a nurse in the ICU at the Laun- ceston General Hospital(20 hrs/wk) and Angela in public relations for an international firm centred in Bali. Thankfully Angela did not suffer from the recent bombings in a place that had been seen(until the bombings) somewhat paradisiacally in the Indian Ocean, although even Bali has had its traumatic problems in the last few decades as a brief history of the place will reveal. I wonder if there are any places in the world left which havent been significantly touched by the changing landscape and the traumas of our times. Angela travels for a real estate firm selling time-share apartments. Lives seem to be busy, active things, for those you know well, those whose lives are intertwined with your own and I could write chapter and verse on all the comings and goings of family and various close friends. But I think this will suffice for an annual letter. 95
  • 96. I continue writing, an activity which was one of the main reasons I retired at the early age of 55. After nearly four years away from the work-a-day world, I get the occasional magazine and journal article published(listed on the Net in section 24 part (v) of my Website). Its all just smalltime stuff you might call it, nothing to make me famous or rich, sad to say. My website is now spread over 15 locations on the Inter- net. The simplest spot to locate my material is at http://users.intas.net.au/pricerc or go to the Yahoo search engine. You can also find me at the Poetry Superhighway. Then go to Individual Poets Pages and type Ron Price. I also finished a book of some 80 thousand words on the poetry of a Canadian poet who passed away in 1993:Roger White.You can locate this book at http://bahai library.org/books/ white. Of course, much of this material may not interest you. Poetry is not everyones game even if its spiced with lots of prose. Dont feel any obligation to check it out, just if it interests you. It will give you an idea of some of the stuff that goes on in my head, for what its worth. Other than these Internet developments my day to day habits and activities are much the same as last year at this time: walks, presenting a radio-pro- gram, 2 hours of teaching/ week, two meetings(school/Baháí)/month, radio/TV programs to take in, lots of reading, etc 96
  • 97. You may find my writing a little too subjective, introspective. Like Thoreau I seem to be more interested in the natural history of my thought than of the bird life, the flora and fauna that I find here in Tasmania. I read recently that Thoreau took twelve years to identify a particular bird. I found that fact comforting. I understand, for I have the devil of a time remembering the names of the birds, the plants and the multitude of insects that cross my path and my horizon from month to month. But what I lack, what interest is deficient with respect to the various forms of plant and animal life here in the Antipodes, I make up for in my study of the varied humanities and social sciences. In the three decades of my teaching career I have acquired, if I acquired nothing else, a passion for certain learnings, certain fields of study. My study is littered, I like to think ordered, by files on: philosophy, psychology, media studies, ancient and medieval history, modern history, literature, poetry, religion, inter alia. I move from one field to another from day to day and week to week and I can not imagine ever running out of gas, of enthusiasm, interest. Thus, I occupy my time. If J.D. Salinger is right in his claim that there’s a marvellous peace in not being published it looks like much peace lies in waiting for me. 97
  • 98. One delightful event this year which Id like to comment on was a visit with my cousin Dave Hunter, his wife Barb as well as Arlene, the wife of another cousin, John Cornfield. I had not seen any of my family members for some forty years and we had a day in Melbourne travelling hither and yon, eating delicious meals and getting caught up on many years of life. I found I had an appreciation for my family that had got lost in the mists of time living as I have been since my mid-twenties first in the far-north of Canada and then on a continent far removed from North America. There is nothing like forty years absence to make the heart grow fonder and give one a fresh appreciation for ones family. As you all get stuck into winter(at least those of you in Canada who receive this email), summer is just beginning here with temperatures going into the mid-twenties in the daytime occasionally on the hottest days and the low-to- mid teens at night. This is about as hot as it gets in any part of the summer in this section of northern Tasmania. I look forward to your annual letters again this year in the weeks ahead and to the news from your life and your part of the world. Am happy to write again in another email to anyone wanting to write occasionally in more detail on whatever subject but, if that does not eventuate, I look forward to writing to you again at the end of 2003. I trust 98
  • 99. the up-coming season and holiday is a happy one and the Canadian winter(or the Australian summer, as the case may be) is not too extreme this yearGreetings and salutations. For Ron, Chris and Dan Price PS Ill send this a little early again this year to avoid the Christmas rush of letters/cards and emails. My letters, it seems to me, do not have that naturalness and general amiability that the poet Matthew Arnold possessed. He was endowed with a sunny temper, a quick sympathy and inexhaustible fun. I have some of these qualities and more now that I do not have to struggle with a bi-polar disorder, the endless responsibilities of job and a large Baháí community. Arnold was endowed with self-denial; indeed it was a law of his life; he taxed his ingenuity to find words of encouragement when he wrote letters. I do, too, but I don’t tax myself too much. They come quite naturally really, but self-denial is not a quality that I feel particularly well endowed with. Perhaps I was once, but less so in recent years. As the years have gone on into late middle age, I have slowly discovered, as William James put it, “the amount of saintship that best comports” with what I believe to be in my 99
  • 100. powers and consistent with my “truest mission and vocation.” We were both men who were, for the most part, free from bitterness, rancour and envy and, it seems to me, this is reflected in our letters. But the inhibition of instinctive repugnances, perhaps one of saintship’s most characterisitc qualities, is difficult to determine by an examination of a person’s letters. I take much pleasure from most of my letter writing which obviously the poet Samuel Johnson did not. I don’t think my letters have that “easy power” which those of Henry James possessed. Indeed, so much of their content, it seems to me, is repetitious. In a large collection of letters, like a large collection of life, repetition it seems to me, is unavoidable. I am encouraged, though, by some of the remarks of language philosopher Roland Barthes. He says that readers learn how to acquire the experience of those people they are reading. Rather than being consumers of my letters, then, they become producers. This is partly because literature, of which letters and autobiography are but a part, takes in all human experience, ordering, interpreting and articulating it. Readers learn to set aside many of the particular conditions, concerns and idiosyncrasies which help define them in everyday affairs. 100
  • 101. And so I have hope that what may be for many readers a banal collection of decades of letters, may be for others a body of print that will arouse a response in the reading self, the reading system, the meaning, the identity, system, of others. Perhaps, too, that response will be something quite significant, something that their interpretive principles allow them to see and that even a relaxation of cultivated analytical habits which often happens while reading a letter may help them to see. Of course, whatever reasonable arguments I present, whatever challenges to magnanimity I raise, they are, again, as William James puts it so succinctly, “folly before crocodiles.” Here is an introduction I wrote to a collection of letters to Baha’i institutions in Canada going back to 1979. By 1979 I had been an international pioneer for eight years and a pioneer for seventeen. This letter I keep in a two- volume, two two-ring binder, set to institutions and individuals in Canada. INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 4.1 Who knows what will become of all these letters, now contained in some fifteen volumes of assorted sizes and contents. “Letters enabled Emily Dickinson to control the time and place of her relationships,” writes James 101
  • 102. Lowell in his introduction to a volume of her letters.1 I’m sure they have a similar function for me; I have become even more conscious of this as the email grew and developed throughout the 1990s and became a more important part of my life and as my world of employment became a world of retirement filled as it was with writing and reading. I do not keep a copy of all my emails, only the main ones. Since so many emails are of the short and snappy variety, basically a form of entertainment, the funny and the wee- wisdom, as I call them, the variety which exercises that control which Lowell speaks of in a light way, an important part of this new variety of my correspondence I simply do not keep a record of in my files. I suppose, though, that since they are never recorded in the first place, it will never be missed.2 Lord Melbourne, writing about George Crabbe, indicated that “I am always glad when one of those fellows dies, for then I know I have the whole of him on my shelf.”3 There is certainly a type of person, perhaps many, a variety of selves, a type of prose, that is unique to the letter. I sensed I had something of Roger White when I had even the few letters he wrote to me in one file on my shelf. The sombre and weird outlook in Dickinson’s poetry, by no means the prevailing condition of her mind, is not pre- sent in her gay 102
  • 103. and humorous letters. For those inclined to judge White too harshly or strongly from some of his poetry, if they read his letters, they would get quite a different picture of that wonderful poet. I leave it to future commentators to evaluate this dichotomy between my correspondence and the other genres of my writing, should they wish to do so. No amount of imaginative activity can recreate a genuine experience of things and letters convey the timbre and tone, the texture and the reality of genuine experience. The necessary narrative ability in writing a letter to order and unify the past, present and future, coloured by words and the imaginative function that dances with them seems to be a rare and creative gift. But, as Sharon Cameron notes in her analysis of Emily Dickinsons letters, they may tell us more about postures that replace relationships than the relationships themselves however creative and imaginative they may be. Letters at one time in history had a function, at least in the more literate quarters, that is conveyed in the following quotation from David Marrs introduction to a collection of Patrick White’s letters: 103
  • 104. Are there no letters? There’s nothink I like better than a read of a good letter. Look and see, Mrs. Goosgog, if you can’t find me a letter. I’m inclined to feel melancholy at this time of night.4-The Ham Funeral The TV, video and the DVD proably have this entertaining function now, largely replacing any function the letter may have had to keep people amused. As I indicated above, the letter may even have been on the verge of extinction had it not been for the email’s resurrecting role. As the 1990s progressed, the email came to dominate the landscape and replace the letter. With the world population doubling in these three epochs, too, I’m sure the letter/email is now in safe hands, even if nine-tenths of the production is not worth saving or pondering over after an initial read. And so here, in this small volume, the reader will find my correspondence (i) with the Canadian magazine Baha’i Canada going back to 1985, fourteen years after I arrived in Australia as an international pioneer, (ii) with the International Pioneer Committee as far back as 1979 and (iii) from National Convention communications with pioneers overseas from 1990. With its companion Volume 4.2 any interested reader will get a correspondence from 104
  • 105. Canada to and from a pioneer overseas in the third, forth and one day soon fifth epochs of the Formative Age. Perhaps at a future time I will provide a more extended analysis of this collection, but for now this material is at least placed in a deserving context for future readers. 2 See my collection of unpublished essays. they are now in the Baha’i Academic Resource Library. I have written a 2000 word essay on the “funnies and wee-wisdoms” email style. 3 Christopher Ricks, Beckett’s Dying Words, Oxford UP, NY, 1996, p.205. 4 David Marr, Patrick White’s Letters, Random House, 1994, p.vi. Ron Price 10 February 2000 Such are the introductory words to another volume of letters, one of many introductons written in the fourth decade of this pioneering venture. 105
  • 106. Again on this subject of the letter let me add this short essay in relation to a special type of letter, the job application, which was arguably the dominant form of letter I wrote during all my pioneering and job-seeking life, 1961- 2003. INTRODUCTION TO FILE OF JOB APPLICATION LETTERS LETTER WRITING 2 JOBS A WEEK FOR 42 YEARS JOB HUNTING 1961-2003 The information and details in my resume, a resume I no longer use in the job-hunting world, should help anyone wanting to know something about my personal and professional background, my writing and my life. This resume might be useful for the few who want to assess my suitability for some advertised or unadvertised employment position which, I must emphasize again, I never apply for anymore. I stopped applying for full-time jobs six years ago in 2001 and part-time ones in 2003. I also left the world of volunteer activity, except for work in one international organization, claiming as it does to be the newest of the world's great religions of history, the Baha’i Faith, two years ago. The age of 63, then, sees me self-employed 106
  • 107. as a writer-poet. I gradually came to this role in the years after I left full-time employment in 1999, eight years ago. Not being occupied with earning a living and giving myself to 60 hours a week in a job and many other hours to community activity marked a turning point for me so that I could devote my time to a much more extensive involvement in writing. Writing is for most of its votaries a solitary, hopefully stimulating but not always pleasurable leisure-time-part-time-full- time pursuit. In my case in these early years of my late adulthood, writing is full-time about 60 hours a week.1 I have replaced paid employment and activity with people in community with a form of work which is also a form of leisure, namely, writing and reading. Inevitably the style of one's writing and what one reads is a reflection of the person, their experience and their philosophy. On occasion, I set out this experience, this resume, in an attachment to this brief essay, this introductory statement on the history of my job application process.2 If, as Carl Jung writes, we are what we do, then some of what I was could and can be found in that attachment. That document may seem over-the-top as they say these days since it now goes on for more than 20 pages, but for nearly 107
  • 108. half a century of various forms of employment, years in the professional and not-so-professional job world produced a great pile of stuff/things. As I say, I make it available to readers of this account, when appropriate, and I update it to include many of the writing projects I have taken on during these first years of my retirement from full-time, part-time and volunteer activity. The resume has always been the piece of writing, the statement, the document, the entry ticket which has opened up the possibilities of another adventure, another pioneering move to another town, another state or country, another location, work in another organization, another portion of my life. I'm sure that will also be the case in the years of my late adulthood(60-80) and old age(80++) should, for some reason, movement to yet another place or, indeed, from place to place be necessary or desired. But this seems unlikely as I go through these early years of late adulthood and head into the last stages of my life. In the last three years which are the first of my late adulthood, a period from 60 to 80; and in these early years of my retirement(1999 to 2007), I have been able to write to a much greater extent than I had ever been able to do in those years of my early and middle adulthood from 1965 to 1999 when job, 108
  • 109. family and the demands of various community projects kept my nose to the grindstone as they say colloquially. And now, with the final unloading of much of the volunteer work I took on from 1999-2005, with my last child having left home in 2005 and a more settled home environment than I’ve ever had, the years of late adulthood beckon bright with promise. My resume reflects this shift in my activity-base. The process of frequent moves and frequent jobs which was my pattern for forty years is not everyone's style, modus operandi or modus vivendi. Many millions of people live and die in the same town, city or state and their life's adventure takes place within that physical region, the confines of a relatively small place and, perhaps, a very few jobs in their lifetime. Physical movement is not essential to psychological and spiritual growth, nor is a long list of jobs, although some degree of inner change, some inner shifting is just about inevitable, or so it seems to me, especially in these recent decades. For many millions of people during the years 1961-2003, my years of being jobbed, the world was their oyster, not so much in the manner of a tourist, although there was plenty of that, but rather in terms of working lives which came to be seen increasingly in a global context. 109
  • 110. This was true for me during those years when I was looking for amusement, education and experience, some stimulating vocation and avocation, some employment security and comfort, my adventurous years of pioneering, my applying-for-job days, the more than forty years from 1961 to 2003. My resume altered many times, of course, during those forty plus years is now for the most part, as I indicated above, not used in these years of my retirement, except as an information and bio-data vehicle for interested readers, 99% of whom are on the internet at its plethora of sites. This document, what I used to call a curriculum vitae or CV, is a useful backdrop for those examining my writing, especially my poetry, although some poets regard their CV, resume, bio-data, lifeline, life-story, personal background as irrelevant to their work. For they take the position we are not what we do or, to put it a little differently and a little more succinctly, "we are not our jobs." I frequently use this resume at various website locations on the Internet when I want to provide some introductory background on myself, indeed, I could list many new uses after forty years of only one use-- to help me get a job, make more money, enrich my experience add some enrichment to my life, etcetera. The use of the resume saves one from having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. One doesn't have to say it all again in 110
  • 111. resume after resume to the point of utter tedium as I did so frequently when applying for jobs, especially in the days before the email and the internet. A few clicks of one’s personal electronic-computer system and some aspect of life’s game goes on or comes to a quick end at the other end of the electronic set of wires, as the case may be. During those job-hunting years 1961-2003 I applied for some four thousand jobs, an average of two a week for each of all those years! This is a guesstimation, of course, as accurate a guesstimation as I can calculate for this forty year period. The great bulk of those thousands of letters involved in this vast, detailed and, from time to time, quite exhausting and frustrating a process, I did not keep. I did keep a small handful of perhaps half a dozen of all those letters in a file in the Letters: Section VII, Sub-Section X of my autobiographical work, Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Given the thousands of hours over those forty years devoted to the job-hunting process; given the importance of this key to the pioneering venture that is my life; given the amount of paper produced and energy expended; given the amount of writing done in the context of those various jobs,(3) some of the correspondence seemed to warrant a corner in the written story of my life.(4) 111
  • 112. It seemed appropriate, at least it was my desire, to write this short statement fitting all those thousands of resumes into a larger context. The things we do when we retire!(5) ____________________________FOOTNOTES______________________ (1) This involves reading, posting on the internet, developing my own website and writing in several genres. (2) My resume is only included with this statement when it seems appropriate, on request or in my autobiography. (3) Beginning with the summer job I had in the Canadian Peace Research Institute in 1964, I wrote an unnumbered quantity of: summaries, reports, essays, evaluations, subject notes, inter alia, in my many jobs. None of that material has been kept in any of my files and, over 40 years, it amounted to literally millions, an uncountable number, of words. (4) The Letters section of my autobiography now occupies some 25 arch- lever files and two-ring binders and covers the period 1960 to 2007. I guesstimate the collection contains about 3000 letters. This does not include these thousands of job applications and their replies, thousands of emails now and an unnumbered quantity of in-house letters at places where I was employed. I have kept, as I say above, about half a dozen to a dozen of these 112
  • 113. letters and none of the approximately 10,000 documents I wrote in the years 1961 to 2003. Note: Since about 1990 thousands of emails have been sent to me and replies have been written but, like the job application, most have been deleted from any potential archive. For the most part these deleted emails seem to have no long term value in an archive of letters. They were deleted as quickly as they came in. Of course there are other emails, nearly all of the correspondence I have sent and received since about 1990 to 1995 which would once have been in the form of letters, is now in the form of emails. They are kept in my letter-files. (See the internet site 'Bahá'í Library Online' and the 'Personal Letters' section for an extended discussion of this aspect of my life: writing letters.) __________________________________ That's all folks! Writing in a different vein, making comparisons and contrasts between my letters and those of other writers could occupy a book if I so desired. But I shall be brief here. I shall make some remarks about Robert Frosts letters, writing as he was at the beginning of the evolution of Bahai administration in the USA. Randall Jarrell says that Robert Frosts letters unmask him at least partially. They also show that his life was as unusual as his poetry. Im 113
  • 114. not so sure that is true of me and my life. It is very hard to judge your own work and your life. Jarrell also says that Frost was very concerned to know what others thought of his work and whether he was any good.1 This subject of the reactions of others to my work, particularly my poetry, also interests me, but I know that this is always an unknown land filled with so many different reactions from total indifference to great enthusiasm. I must leave the evaluation of my letters to future readers. For I cant imagine any interest being shown in my letters except perhaps when I am so old as not to care a jot or a tittle what people think and that will, of course, require the rapid evolution of the Bahai system in society. And that is very difficult to gauage in the decades ahead, say, up to 2044 when I will be 100 years of age and the Bahai Era two centuries old. Now that I have passed out of the shadow of decades of manic-depression, or the bi-polar tendency as it is now called, thanks to two medications: lithium carbonate and fluvoxamine; now that I have passed out of the shadow of a working-meetings-talk-and-listen week of 50 to 60 hours, there is an emotional steadiness to my everyday experience that generates, that provides, a subtle and a quiet exquisiteness that augers well for the years ahead and for the writing program that I am presently embarked upon. Even 114
  • 115. at my weakest and most exhausting moments which in the past were often filled with the wishes of thanatos, the depths of depression can not be visited. It is as if there is a wall of emotional protection that won’t let my spirit descend into the depths, even though death is sometimes wished for late at night, from midnight to dawn, out of a certain tedium vitae and a complex of factors Im not sure I fully understand myself. William Todd Schultz, in his analysis of the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein, wrote that wishing to die can connote a wish to be rid of the superegos tormenting presence. It can be paired with an uncompromising sense of duty. The lacuna of death is actually preferred to the anguish of living under the scrutiny of an endlessly demanding internal judge. There is some of this in my experience of thanatos but, after more than forty years of experiencing this feeling of wishing to die, I think it has more to do with my chemistry than psychology and more to do with the id than the superego. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine what really happened in life, as distinct from simply what the evidence obliges me to believe. What is known in ones life or in history is never fixed, finished or independent. Our life, like history itself, is created, revived, re-enacted, re-presented again and again in our minds eye. All autobiographers can do, or their fathers the 115
  • 116. historians, is to shape the rudimentary collection of ideas about the multi- coloured and multi-layered narrative of life into an intelligible idiom. Some of the events are understood better than when they happened, when they were lived, and some are not. Some are completely forgotten and some one goes over in ones mind ad nauseam. Some become part of the great mystery that is life and some become part of the great foam and chaff that disappears on the shore of the sea. Some of my life can fit into the model, the framework, I give to it. Some can not be fitted into any pattern, any grand design or sweeping theme, no matter how I chop and analyse the experiences. Whatever unity and pattern there is, I must construct myself; it is I who confer any novel coherence onto the whole, any shifts of direction in lifes expression, any understanding on the changes and chances of the world; it is I who will write about the passing day, the trivial, the necessary, the distracting bits of infill that accompany my life as the universe moves through its incredible journey through space and time. My relationship with my wife is more comradely and affectionate, more united, after years of difficulties, after nearly forty years of difficulties in two marriages. We are more accepting of each other’s peculiarities, shortcomings and eccentricities. There is lots of space between us as we 116
  • 117. share the solitude of life, as Rilke describes it in his Letters and there is, too, a fresh spark of delight that accompanies the familiarity. I could write extensively about my wife, so important is she to this entire story. But were I to do so it would lead to prolixity. So, instead, I will write about her from time to time as the occasion arises in what has become a 2500 page book. Id like to insert four poems here and depart somewhat from the epistolary theme. A poem of Emily Dickinson is timely as the opening poem, timely in relation to all the sad aspects of the past which she says can “silence” us, if we give them too much of our time, if we “challenge” them. Dickinson, who writes a very useful juxtaposition of prose and poetry in her letters, prose that opens into poetry and poetry that opens into prose, writes: That sacred Closet when you sweep-- Entitled “Memory”-- Select a reverential Broom-- And do it silently. ‘Twill be a Labour of surprise-- Besides Identity 117
  • 118. Of other Interlocutors A probability-- August the Dust of that Domain-- Unchallenged--let it lie-- You cannot supersede itself. But it can silence you. And in a short poem that talks of her desire for a fairer house for her expression than prose alone could build, she writes: I dwell in Possibility-- A fairer House than Prose-- More numerous for Windows-- Superior--for Doors-- I like that attitude to letters that Dickinson describes. Her letters construct possibility. I like, too, that attitude to the past that Dickinson describes so succinctly in the above poem. There is a reverence, a sacredness, to memory, a need to let it lie in its august state, a recognition that it is a source of our 118
  • 119. identity, a need for silence while following its paths and always the possibility that it can take over your life if you let it and, of course, often you do. For, however sacred it may be, there is an enormous tangle to our days, a tangle, as Germaine Greer describes it, “of telling, not telling, leading, misleading, allowing others to know, concealing things from others, eavesdropping, collusion, being frank and honest, telling lies, half-truths, white lies, letting out some of our story now, some of it later, some of it never. “Pure autobiographies are written,” wrote Friedrich Von Schlegel, “by those fascinated by their own egos as was Rousseau; or by authors of a robust or adventuresome self-love as was Cellini; or by born historians and writers who regard their life as material for future historians and writers; or by pedantic minds who want to order their lives before they die and need a commentary on their life.” I suppose there is some of me in each of these characterizations of the autobiographer. I might add the following caveat of the famous New York Times journalist James Reston who once said: “I do not think thinking about yourself is a formula for happiness.”If he is right then I am far from discovering that formula. 119
  • 120. Let me include two poems about this autobiographical process because, it seems to me, the process is as important as the content of autobiography. It may be that for some readers, my poetry and not my letters, will be more useful to their intellectual and emotional sensibilities. There may be some, too, who will be concerned about the possibilities and the impression created by a too liberal use of the effacing pencil by editors. For this laissez-faire age and all its liberal eccentricities and effusions may not last forever. My letters, with all their editorial shortcomings, of which I willingly take my full share right at the source in various ways, constitute the nearest approach to a narrative of my life if one does not have the autobiography,any biography that is in time produced, and my poetry. HONEST AUTOBIOGRAPHY Kevin Hart, a poet who lives in Australia, says that writing poetry is about retrieving something you have lost. When you write a poem you lose that thing again, but you find it by writing about it--indirectly. This indirection involves, among other things, finding how to write about this lost person, place or thing in your life.1 One thing I find I lose frequently and have to retrieve, recreate, find again in a new, a fresh way, a way with hopefully more understanding than when I last passed by, is history, mine and all that 120
  • 121. is the worlds. I need a narrative, a chronological, base to bring out the truth of the past; I need silence to contemplate the sources of inspiration and know- ledge; I need to be able to tell a good story in my poetry for this is what will give it enduring literary worth. A good story, it seems to me, is one thats a little too complicated, twisted and circumlocuitous to be easily encapsulated in a newspaper or television story. Oliver Goldsmith once said, the most instructive of all histories, of all stories, would be each mans honest autobiography.2 That may be true but it depends on just how the story is told. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Kevin Hart, Poetica, ABC Radio National, 2:05-2:45 pm, 3 November 2001;and 2MarkS.Phillips,Reconsiderations on History and Antiquarianism: Arnaldo Momigliano and the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Britain, The Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.57, No.2, pp.297-316 Can we have a dialogue with all that is and would be? Can we enjoy a special happiness in the energy of contemplation, honoured as we are with the two most luminous lights in either world? 121
  • 122. Can we work with this structure and this Plan. travelling as we do or staying put in this one place? Two great tendencies seem to fill the mind: mystery and analysis before the ever-varying splendour and the embellishment of grace from age to age. Ron Price 3 November 2001 --------------------------------------- AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FEVER Price’s attitude to his poetry was not unlike that of Sylvia Plath’s. He saw himself as an artisan. He was an artisan with an idea. All of his poems began with an idea, a concept, a something; at worst the beginning of a poem was what Roger White called a poor connection on a telephone line. But it was a 122
  • 123. connection. Sometimes the connection was sharp and clear. He was happy to flow down whatever river the water was willing to go down, to make whatever product he could make, as long as it exhausted all his ingenuity in the process, as long as the water flowed to the sea becoming part of that great body of life. Sometimes Price’s poetry was confessional, showed the indictment of immediate experience. Some of his work was what Robert Lowell once described, in reference to the poetry written in the last year of Plath’s life, as the autobiography of a fever. Sometimes Price would disappear into his poem and become one with it. In poetry Price found his lie could defeat the process of easy summary. -Ron Price with thanks to Stanley Plumly, “What Ceremony of Words,” Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath, editor, Paul Alexander, Harper & Row, NY, 1985, pp.13-17. You were always an intruder, then, in the natural world, self-conscious, uneasy, an unreal relation to the grass, better to withdraw, you thought, and did, right out of it into oblivion.1 I’ve earned my place, especially now, after all these years; there’s a sacredness 123
  • 124. here and in the grass; there’s a glory in this day, the day in which the fragrances of mercy have been wafted over all things2 and there is the in-dwelling God to counter the scorn, contempt, bitterness and cynicism that fills the space and time of so many of the spaces of modern life. Part of the entire stream, the river of life; part of a global sanctification, far from any emotional cul-de-sac, any bell jar, close to truth’s irrefutable and exciting drama, but far, far from the Inaccessible, the Unsearchable, the Incomprehensible: no man can sing that which he understandeth not.3 124
  • 125. I belong here, Sylvia, in this incredible universe. I was just getting launched when you were bowing out; you’d been trying to bow out since 1953(4) when I’d just breathed the first words and the Kingdom of God on earth had begun in all its glorious unobtrusiveness. 1 Sylvia Plath’s suicide in 1962 2 Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Carmel. 3 Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p.121. 4 Plath’s first attempt at suicide was in 1953. Ron Price 23 February 2000 I’d like to think that one day I might have some of the experience that Thomas Carlyle had back in 1866, as the very outset of a new Revelation that Carlyle had absolutely no awareness of in the England of his home. In 125
  • 126. that year, two months after the death of his wife, he was reading some of her letters from the year 1857. He said he found in those dear records a piercing radiancy of meaning. Carlyle wanted his own letters preserved as a record of his life so that his record would be as full as possible. Carlyle writes eloquently concerning the value of letters, the careful preservation of them, the authentic presentation of them and an adequate elucidation of them by future critics. In this age of speed, of the email, of the burgeoning of communication in all its forms, I hesitate to wax enthusiastic about the value of letters. Instead I simply leave them for a future generation and wait to see what those mysterious dispensations of Providence will bring. So much of life is waiting. Indeed, as one definition of faith I always liked put it: faith is the patience to wait. For a perspective on this theme of faith I conclude this chapter with a letter and a poem, one of the few poems I have written thanks to Emily Dickinson which I feel has been successful. She was a great letter-writer, a great sufferer and an enigmatic person which, in the end, I think we all are. ANGELS 126
  • 127. The unseen heroism of private suffering surpasses that to be found on any visible battlefield...the lonely soul’s unnoticed though agonized struggle with itself....the struggle for higher life within the least believer partakes of the same basic ingredients as the most heroic....The ordinary self must respond to the dull pain at the heart of its present existence. -With thanks to Benjamin Lease and Geoffrey Nash in Emily Dickinson’s Readings of Men and Books, MacMillan, London, 1990, p.69 and “The Heroic Soul and the Ordinary Self” Baha’i Studies, Vol.10, p.28 and 25, respectively. Success is counted sweetest when life has given all, even if in bits and pieces amidst its ever-present call. A nectar goes right into the marrow of the bone as if destroying cancer in the centre of one’s home. There is an outer victory; 127
  • 128. ‘tis measured every day, tho so frequently its defeat that faces us when we pray. Then there is what’s inner; few can define its charms, slowly distant strains of triumph burst free of all alarms. All those many losses on all those battlefields proceed this plumed procession, a rank of angels heals. Ron Price 29 October 1995 And so, at the end of several thousand letters, at the end of all the battles and the losses, I anticipate that there will be a rank of angels who will, as Abdul- Bahá puts it in so many different ways in His Memorials of the Faithful, be there as I am plunged into the ocean of light. And there, lapped in the 128
  • 129. waters of grace and forgiveness I shall review my days on this earthly plane which passed as swiftly as the twinkling of a star. I trust I will be able to recall that I made my mark at what was a crucial turning point of a juncture in human history the like of which never came again in the story of human civilization. Will I be able to recall, at that future time, a time beyond time in that Undiscovered Country, deeds that have ensured for me celestial blessings? Will there be regrets and remorse? Will letters continue to be written in that place? Who knows! Here is a letter, the penultimate letter to those colleagues I worked with in the teaching profession in Perth sent eighteen months after I left the classroom and at the start of my fortieth year of pioneering, written from Tasmania where I began the years of my retirement. ------------------------ 8 September 2000 G’day from Tasmania! It has been nearly a year since I wrote to you folks at the Thornlie Campus of the SEMC of Tafe but, since I have been thinking recently of the place where I spent more than ten years teaching, I felt like writing. John Bailey, 129
  • 130. now a retired Tafe teacher, writes occasionally, as do several of the Baha’is and others that Chris and I got to know in Perth. Sometimes we get a phone call and, on one occasion, a visit from a student. So we keep in touch in one way or another. Most emails and letters end, though, within the first few years after moving from a town or city. Such are the perils of living in two dozen towns over your adult life. There was, though, one chap I wrote to for a dozen years from 1980 to 1992 and we never even met. He was a poet who lived in Israel at the time and passed away in his early sixties, in 1993. It has been 18 months since teaching my last class in Human Services and 12 months since my wife, Chris, and I moved to George Town in Tasmania. Time flies! I’m glad I pulled the plug when I did at the ripe old age of fifty- five. The time was right for me. It felt right in leaving and the first 18 months have confirmed that was the right decision. Twenty-nine years in the game was enough for me. Centrelink and the several private employment providers don’t put any significant pressure on you here in northern Tasmania, a region of high unemployment. The concept of ‘mutual obligation’ has not resulted in me taking on any jobs I don’t want. I have a Web Page which is considered ‘an embryonic business’ by Centrelink; I also work for a home tutoring organization in Victoria and am the President of 130
  • 131. the George Town School for Seniors. The total time per month, in recent months, on all of these ‘exercises’ together is about two to three hours. Of course, in addition to the above, I must apply for 3 jobs/fortnight and that takes, roughly, two hours a week of various forms of paper-schuffling. It is a pleasing change from the mountains of marking and endless talking and listening. When I left the classroom in early April last year I was really emotionally worn-out, in ‘emotional labour,’ I think was the term I came across on a Four Corners program about Call Centres I saw a few weeks ago. It was not just a fatigue with teaching but, it would appear in retrospect, a fatigue with a range of other social obligations I was involved with in Perth. Wall-to-wall talking and listening. Now, after 18 months, I have just enough social contact to satisfy my needs for sociability and enough time in solitude to cater to that other side of me. I have a weekly radio program on the local community radio station which I run for the Baha’is of Launceston; and there are activities in the Baha’i community in Tasmania to keep me in touch with humanity and prevent me from becoming the total hermit which part of my personality seems to need at the moment. I write lots of poetry and prose, read lots of books, walk 45 minutes every day and argue more 131
  • 132. with my wife, who has been going through meno- pause and giving me the biggest challenge of my early time of retirement. George Town is a town of about 8000 people. I look out my lounge room window (the whole wall is window) and can see the Tamar River, the Bass Strait and the Asbestos Mtns(soon to be renamed). Winter temperatures go down to zero to five at the low end and ten to fifteen in the day. Things are warming up now in the early days of spring, but won’t get to the high temperatures of Perth, perhaps thirty degrees once or twice during the whole summer. We are half an hour from Launceston and other critical points on the Tamar River where my wife’s family lives. My family, consisting now only of cousins and their children in Canada, might as well be on another planet. One perfunctory letter a year is the only contact left now. Moving many thousands of miles from home, after thirty years, tends to limit intimacy in most cases. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, only to a point, I guess. I do not miss teaching, although I enjoyed it immensely for most of the time I was in Perth. I get my kicks from writing and reading, a lot of little things, and the slower pace of life. I think one needs to get some 132
  • 133. intellectual/psychological/emotional sub- stitute for whatever one gets from the teaching profession, if one is not to hanker after it when it’s gone. Of course, we are all different and must work out our own game plan, so to speak. I have been thinking of Thornlie Tafe, where I spent ten pretty intense years, in the last week or so when I’ve been out for my walks in the bush near my home here in George Town, and so I decided to write. If any of you feel like writing do so; I’d love to hear from you. But I know you are all busy and getting in gear for the last term of another year. After living in so many towns since I left my home town in 1962, I find the places I have lived in become a little like chapters in a book, slices of memory. Time moves us all on, whether peripatetic creatures like myself or more sedentary types who live and die in the same city. I have happy memories of Thornlie from 1989 to 1999; one leaves a little of oneself wherever one dwells. And so I write this letter. I wish you all well in your own careers and in your personal lives. May you all be survivors and, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, if you can’t find much 133
  • 134. happiness perhaps you can settle for measures of pleasure that you can tease out of existence. I will enclose 3 or 4 poems to that end. Cheers! Ron Price encl.: poems(4) I will not include those poems here, but I will quote the prolific letter writer Anais Nin who said that the living moment is caught and in catching this moment, by accumulation and by accretion, a personality emerges in all its ambivalences, contradictions and paradoxes--in its most living form. Some of me the reader will find here in this chapter. If readers want any more of the personas they have found here, they are advised to go to my collections of letters. And there they will find the dispersed and isolated facts of my life and some of continuitys threads. But there is much in my life that is not in my letters. My childhood, adolescence and, indeed, much of my adulthood is just not there, for there are no letters for long periods of my life. Readers are best advised to go to films of the period, the print & electronic media and books from the last half of the twentieth century. These letters and my life provide only a small window. Although much of the electronic media is bubble and froth, light and noise and, although its mindlessness may be 134
  • 135. having a negative affect on western civilization, there is much there that can supplement rather than supplant the civilization of the book and fill in a picture of society and life that my letters, no matter how comprehensive and exhausting, simply can not describe. In the foreword to a collection of the letters of poet Robert Frost, Louis Untermeyer wrote that Frosts letters provided a portrait of a man and his mind and a gradually unfolding and ungarded autobiography. The same could be said of the collection of my own letters and the thousands of pages found therein. There are vivid pictures of character and personality and glimpses into life, art and the meaning of the Baháí experience over several epochs found in these letters. But whether a future reader can find me in my art, my letters, is questionable. Freud did not think it was possible and an able novelist like Henry James challenged his future biographers to find him in his art, his novels and his letters and in his many moods. How important it is to be able to find and isolate, explore and connect, a person and his community in these epochs is a question that will or will not have significance in the decades and centuries to come.br> As epoch followed epoch, first the third epoch, then the fourth and finally the fifth, as this autobiography finally found its form, western culture 135
  • 136. became increasingly complex, although there were strong currents of conformity, perhaps as there always had been and as there always would be for the social animal who was man. I like to think, although it is difficult for me to measure, that there was a gradual evolution in my personal letter writing style, evidence of a search for delicacies of feeling and the intricacies and subtleties of human beings in community. This was true of the letters of Henry James, wrote Leon Edel, the biographer of Henry James. I find it difficult to discern the quality of my own letters but, as the outward battle of life, a battle that I had been engaged with at least since the start of my pioneering experience in 1962, lost its fire and its heat as the millennium turned its corner, as I went on new medications for my bipolar disorder and as I did not have to deal with the pressures of job and community life, my interior world felt vivified and redeemed. The former enthusiastic temper of espousal that I poured into people and relationships sometimes with that “rapturousness of life” that James writes about and sometimes with all sorts of other emotional stuff, I came to pour its juices and energies into the intellectual side of life by the year 2000.1 11 I am going to insert here an extensive footnote that describes the backdrop to my years 2002-2009 when letter writing took on a new dimension and the intellectual replaced the social. By 2002, as I entered my fifty-ninth year, I was able to experience in my daily habit of work a contentment, an inborn religious placidity, which owing to the manic-depression and its several treatment regimes in previous years and decades, had never been able to 136
  • 137. Some biographers and autobiographers regard a judicious selection of letters as the most useful and succinct aid to their task that there is. Im not sure if that is the case, although it may be true for some people. Benjamin Franklin, fully express itself. I combined with this contentment, paradoxically, a divine discontent, a mobile sensibility, a restlessness. The result was a quiet, habitual, a systematic industry, a sensuousness, an exceptional susceptibility to the flash of thought "upon that inward eye"2 within the bliss that was my solitude.(2 Wordsworth, "Daffodils") After six to ten hours of the expression of this literary, this intellectual, sensibility, an exhaustion set in, usually at night, after midnight. That winter of my discontent which had been so frequent in the decades of my life was “now made glorious summer,” was now turned into a summery contentedness—but not all the time. The regime of medication that began in 2001 and yet another in May 2007 for my bipolar disorder combined with the obsession that was my writing to produce the following set of symptoms: .....a new pattern of behaviour that had become apparent after fourteen months on this new medication package(5/07 to 7/08) contained the following details which I will list as follows: (a)alternating periods of fatigue, shortage of breath and sleepiness on the one hand; and energy and enthusiasm on the other—often within a few minutes making any sustained work/activity beyond one to two hours difficult to maintain; (b) staying awake to very late hours, say, 2 or 3 a.m., or sleeping and getting up virtually all night and then sleeping from, say, 5 or 6 a.m. to 10 or 11 a.m. with an hour or two of sleep in the day all within a context of short bursts of reading and writing each day adding up to an 8 hour total of literary work per 24 hour period—and short bursts of other activities(domestic, social and, personal) adding up to another 8 hours, (c) a certain excessiveness/speed in speech patterns, a lack of moderation, a lack of control and an overly, overtly emotional state and over-the-topness, so to speak, which is more problematic when I am in those social situations I have described above, social situations of more than two to four hours of interaction; (d) a speeding in situations that do not require speeding like: 137
  • 138. for example, lived much more than he had time to write the story that he was perpetually telling. This is not to say that he did not accomplish much of his mission in life without using persistent, practical prose as his primary tool. As he once said: “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and washing dishes, making a cup of coffee, and other domestic and daily activities just in normal everyday settings; (e)quick alterations in energy levels, for example, hyperactive in the morning, and completely fatigued by midday; and (f) OCD, obsessive-compulsive behaviour: straightening & squaring bits of paper, magazines & newspapers on tables and desks and other forms of tidiness much more than in previous years(although my psychiatrist does not see this as OCD behaviour); (g) urinating on average every 80 minutes(again, my psychiatrist says this is normal for my medical condition after 27 years on lithium); (h) a nightly dream pattern that is more extensive than ever before in my life leaving me with a dense-and-heavy, somewhat disoriented, feeling on waking; and (i) perhaps most importantly, a feeling of emotional and psychological weariness as well as a tedium vitae from the long and many scars left from years of battling with BPD; and an alternating quiet tranquillity at other times in the day, a tranquillity very useful to the act of writing. As I reread the above statement with its nine symptoms, I think to myself that this description is a little ‘over-the-top’ as they say in Australia, but the list is, nevertheless, accurate. The statement seems a little over the top because I am not used to placing all of the symptoms in one paragraph. Some of the above traits, patterns or symptoms, of course, are problems everyone has in different degrees. Some of these symptoms are not even deserving of emphasis; not even pathological nor a sign of disability, nor do they require treatment. But they are: (1) the present constellation of symptoms of my bipolar disorder and (2) a cause of concern in some ways more to my wife who has to live with me than they are to me. Being the battler that she is and my personal carer in more ways than one, she grumbles and grouses more than usual as a result of my eccentricities and, perhaps in part, as a result of hers. I’m often not sure. This is the worse side-affect of my behaviour on her, but over time she has come to 138
  • 139. rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing about. understand my behaviour more and more. The significant others in one’s life are an important source of relevant feedback and since I have been on this new medication my wife has informed me on many occasions of: (a) an increase in OCD behaviour, (b) an increase in speeding and an intensity of various types of what she calls frenetic activity/passivity and (c) an eccentricity, an over-the-topness or inappropriateness of verbal responses in social situations. For these reasons, due to my wife’s sensitizing me to my abnormalities and eccentricities, I summarize my symptoms here. I will return to this theme later in this autobiography and provide more of this ongoing story, this description of my present and recent physical, mental and emotional states as well as my symptoms on this new medication regime, a regime I began in the first week of April 2007 and settled into with both medications in mid-May 2007. For the above reasons it is my view that holding down a full or part-time job would be unwise and it has been unwise since I was 55 in 1999. My psychiatrist supports me in this view as does my GP each of whom are happy to provide testimonials in support of my decision not to: (a) apply for jobs any more and (b) serve on any volunteer bodies requiring extensive/long periods of social interaction. Being on the Disability Services Pension does not require me to work and this has been the case since May 2001 when I was 57. I should reiterate, though, that my psychiatrist does not regard the symptoms (c) to (i) above as problems of a serious or even minor nature, insofar as the excesses of my BPD are concerned. During the three years 2005 to 2008 I brought most of my volunteer work/activity to an end due to the presence of the range of symptoms I have outlined above. Social and community responsibilities, situations and activities that go too long, as I indicated above, are emotionally exhausting 139
  • 140. It seems to me quite impossible to write all of life, certainly all of mine, into the shape and form of a series of letters, no matter how numerous. The electronic age has made our communications more audible and therefore, in some ways, more ephemeral and so I must confess to some skepticism and I have no desire to take part in them any more. I always avoid, if at all possible, what would once have been my community and social commitments. In 12 months I will go on the Australian Old Age Pension and the issue of employment FT, PT or casual/volunteer work will not exist. As I say above, I have now been on this new medication package for more than one year (5/07-7/08). The last half-hour consultation with my psychiatrist was on 30/11/07. He outlined an option to my then 150 mg. of effexor/day; namely, to reduce the medication from 150 mg. to 75 mg. + 37.5 mg.(2 tablets). The next option/reduction, he advised, would be to one 75 mg. when I desired to do so. He suggested that we could then review the case at my next visit. We decided this option of a reduction in the effexor levels in two stages was necessary due to my excessive sleepiness. The other symptoms I outlined at the last visit to my psychiatrist were not considered problems to deal with insofar as medication alterations were concerned. Three weeks after that consultation on 30/11/07, I decided to reduce the effexor levels from 150 mg. to 112 and ½ mg. I remained on this reduced effexor level for nearly five months, that is from 24/12/07 to 12/5/08. Since: (a) I was still sleepy too much of the time and (b) I felt the need to regularize/routinize my nighttime sleeping patterns, on 12 May 2008 I reduced the effexor level to 75 mg. per day. I will report the results of this medication shift in the weeks and months ahead as changes in my behavioural patterns and life-routines become apparent: after nearly three months(12/5/08 to 30/7/08), though, I am (a) getting five to eight hours of sleep per 24 hour period and (b) my wife says “I am clearer—in my eyes,” by which she means there is greater clarity and less sleepiness in my physical/facial expression. Having just enough medication to allow me to feel stable and then to occasionally tweak the meds a little as needed is something I will look into at the next visit to my psychiatrist. 140
  • 141. regarding the future of my letters or, indeed, the future of the vast majority of letters that have been written in this new age of the print and electronic media that has emerged in the first century of the Formative Age.(1921- 2021). At the same time, I am forced to admit that I have just lived through one of the most enriching periods in the history of the Baháí Faith and who Altering the brain and its chemistry through medication, alters so many things about one’s life that in some basic ways one becomes a different person much more so since the brain is the central data processing unit in the body. This ongoing story has been, is and will be partly about that different person I have become as a result of my BPD and the medication changes. I hope the above account is as much use to others as it has been to me in writing it over these several editions and their many drafts in the last few years. It will be necessary, of course, to make alterations to the above document in the months and years ahead to: (a) include new information and new perspectives on my past experience, (b) add to the document as changes to my life occur that are related to my BPD, (c) maintain as comprehensive and succinct a story as possible; and, finally (d) to bring those to whom I write this account up-to-date on this story. There are now 100s of people at some 90 BPD, D, mental health, general health and other internet sites for whom and to whom I write this account or part of it. Most of the correspondence that ensues from this posting takes place, as I said above, only at the internet sites. There are, as well, a very small handful of personal friends and relations to whom I have sent this story for a range of personal purposes. Some in this latter group want to know this story. I feel it necessary, for various reasons, to inform others so that they have a better understanding of my present situation and past condition. But whatever the reason for my utilizing/writing this account, its contents have become of value to many others who suffer from this disorder, similar disorders or, indeed, have other problems of the human condition that possess a traumatic or quasi-traumatic quality. I have written a more extensive, a longitudinal, account of my BPD over 66 years and this account is found in one of the final sections of this memoir. 141
  • 142. knows, who can measure and define, the nature and extent of ones achievements? We, into whose hands, as Shoghi Effendi once wrote, so precious a heritage has been entrusted have helped in our own small ways to advance the Cause toward its high destiny in this the greatest drama in the worlds spiritual history. And the humble letter may just endure. For this Cause is, indeed, one constructed around the letter, a veritable treasure-house of correspondence, in words that I opened this posting at the BARL. No other religion, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani notes, has placed so subtle and significant a value on this method of exchange. And so I live in hope that the life I have lived and expressed as it is in the letters I have written, becomes of some use to the Bahai community. The boundaries within which I write I have set out in these letters. The energies out of which I write find their source in my religion; my experience in late middle age and the early years of late adulthood enables these energies to express themselves in this literary craft. The passion to write or erotic passion seems to come unbidden although there are often specific stimuli to arouse the energies in both of these domains. The structures within which the poetic and the literary flashes that fall onto the paper are defined and described are, I hope, intellectually 142
  • 143. interesting. I have worked over the years to make them more distinctive. But I know from my many years as a teacher that appreciation of distinctiveness is entirely in the mind of the beholder, the reader. The political action of ordinary people in relation to the transformation of the cultural and political landscape of Europe since the Reformation in 1517 has become a serious object of historical study. This historical study is recent. In the years since I have been pioneering, that is since 1962, ordinary people have come to occupy a much more central place in history’s story. Such study naturally takes issue with previous scholarly interpretations relying as they did on elite-centred accounts of the big changes of the last five hundred years. This emphasis on ordinary people explicitly undermines these elite-centered accounts of both the Reformation and the consolidation of the peculiarly European system of states. It also brings into question the explanation of other developments and changes in western society in the last five centuries. In a far more constructive sense, however, these more recent studies of the role of ordinary human beings have broken the exclusive claims of rulers and the ruling class to political and cultural sovereignty. The ordinary citizen, by boldly entering political arenas that had been legally 143
  • 144. closed to them, helped to shape the cultural and political landscape of modern Europe. In the last forty years this fact has been at last recognized. I mention the ordinary man, in closing this section on letters, because underpinning this autobiography is the view that ordinary people doing ordinary things within the context of the Bahaí community can and do play an important part in contemporary history, unbeknownst to the majority of humankind. Letter-writing is just part of this ordinariness; indeed, ordinariness is enshrined in the published collections of letters. This ordinariness makes for what is for most people tedious reading. Contemporary readers avoid collections of letters. This essay does not try to resurrect the letter from its insignificant place in the lives of pioneers around the world. That would require a much greater force than this simple essay. But, it seems to me, I have provided a context for the 5000 letters, emails and postings on the internet. The letters that I have written, it is my considered opinion, will remain in the dust-bin of history unread by the great majority of humankind. Given the burgeoning quantity of print human beings are and will be faced with in their lives I think that conclusion I have come to here is a reasonable one. Time, of course, will tell. 144
  • 145. Id like to offer the following light note on a type of email I have received in abundance in the last two decades. I have entitled this brief essay: A SUB- GENRE OF EMAILS and it was sent to the many people who wrote to me by email as the twentieth century came to a close. I hope you enjoy this little piece of gentle satire, analysis and comment. It will serve as a more detailed response to your many emails over recent months. Now that I am not teaching sociology and the several social sciences, as I had been doing for so many years; now that I am not having my mind kept busy by a hundred students a week, other things come into the gap: like responding to emails. Funwisdein, the editor mentioned in the following paragraph, in the end, rejected my contribution to his book, but encouraged me to try for his next collection so impressed was he with the quality of the short essay which follows. I trust you enjoy it, too, even if it is a little longer than my normal missives. And, if you dont enjoy it, I hope you at least tolerate its presence. For we must all, in and out of the world of emails, increasingly learn to tolerate each others eccentricities, thus making the world an easier place to live in. 145
  • 146. WEE-WISDOMS AND FUNNIES: A SUB-GENRE OF THE EMAIL INDUSTRY Ron Price, Wee-Wisdoms and Funnies: A Sub-Genre of the Email Industry, Human Communication in the Twenty-First Century, editor, Harry Funwisdum, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 45-63. The following is a digest of Prices twenty-one pages that did not make it into Funwisdums new book. Price is a prolific writer and, although he is neither famous nor rich, he churns out some provocative stuff from his word-factory on the Tamar River, at Port Dalrymple, in northern Tasmania. Receiving so many funnies and words-of-wisdom as I do week after week from a small coterie of people, I thought I would try to respond more befittingly than I normally do with my perfunctory and usually brief set of phrases and sentences, if indeed I respond at all. What you find below is a more reflective piece that sets all these wisdoms and funnies I receive from you--and others--in some perspective, a perspective that derives in large measure from my years as a teacher/lecturer and from some forty years now 146
  • 147. of imbibing funnies and wisdoms from a multitude of sources. Indeed, it is probably these years as a teacher that have resulted in my habit, engrained after all these years, of responding to any and all incoming mail/email. I enjoyed teaching but, as the years approached thirty-in-the-game, I got tired of much of what was involved in the process. Some of the emails and letters I receive now are somewhat like pieces of work I used to have to mark. Like making comments on the work of students, I think it important to respond to such emails and letters with courtesy and with honesty. This is not always easy for courtesy and honesty do not sit easily together, especially if the content of the received material is neither funny nor edifying, as is the case with so much of the material I receive. It has been ten years since the email became part of my daily life. This short think-piece is a reflection on an aspect of the email industry as well as a celebration of the many advantages of this wonderful, although not always rewarding or intellectually engaging, mechanism of technology. I think I write this for me more than I do for you, since the thrust of so much of this sub-genre of email communication does not, for the most part, require any reflection, or anything more than a minimum of reflection. I really wanted to have a think about an aspect of this industry that has engaged my attention 147
  • 148. for some of these last ten years. Quick hits, so many emails are, like jokes themselves-affections arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing, as the philosopher Emmanuel Kant once defined laughter. Perhaps, they are a sign of a mind lively and at ease, as Emma once said in Jane Austins book by the same name. These quick hits require quick responses, if any at all. Is this humour and wisdom? Or is it the trivialization of the human battle, as the literary critic Susan Langer once defined so much of the output of the electronic media factories? After ten years(1991-2002)( minus a few months of travelling to Tasmania) of receiving what I guesstimate to be some 2500 pieces of this type of email, I felt like writing this little piece on one of the aspects of the genre. I hope you dont find it too heavy, too much thinking, too long without the quick-natural-lift, message or laugh that is part of the particular sub-genre of emails I am concerned with here. In the end you may see me as too critical but, as I used to say to my students, that is the risk you take when you open your mouth or write. CARRY ON GANG 148
  • 149. I have been giving and receiving various forms of advice/wisdom for some 40 years now, 2002 back to 1962 when life began to assume a more serious aspect for me in my late teens and when school, sport, girls and entertainment found some competition from serious ideas in lifes round of activities. First as a student imbibing humour and wisdom from the several founts of knowledge and laughter I was then exposed to or that I investigated as a youth(teens and twenties); and then as a teacher/lecturer in the social sciences(including human relations, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, negotiation skills, working in teams, a list of subjects as long as your proverbial arm)I received and dispensed advice and wisdoms in a multitude of forms. I was clearly into the advice and wisdom business. It was part of the very air I breathed. I should by now be a fount of unusually perspicacious aphorisms from the wisdom literature of history, or at the very least run wisdom workshops for the lean and hungry. In addition I should have an accumulation of jokes/funnies to keep everyone laughing in perpetuity. But instead I feel a little like the marriage guidance counsellor who has been married six times. He has never been able to pull-it-off, marriage that is, but he has had a lot of experience trying. 149
  • 150. For some fifteen years, during this educative process, I used to give out a summary of the wisdom of the ages on several sheets of A-4 paper to the approximately one hundred students I had every term or semester. Thousands of intending students of leisure and life and I went through the material to see if we could come up with the wisest of the wise stuff, practical goodies for the market-place and the inner man/woman. For the most part I enjoyed the process. Giving and receiving advice was a buzz. Of course, it had to be done in a certain way for advice givers and jokers can be as tedious as they are valuable and entertaining. Now that I approach the evening of my life, the wisdom continues to float in, unavoidably, inevitably, perhaps to an extent I even encourage it. From emails and the internet, among other sources, material is obtained from: (i) the wisdom literature of the great historical religions; (ii) the wisdom of the philosophical traditions(outside religion); (iii) the wisdom of popular psychology and the social sciences(usually from the fields of (a) human relations, (b) interpersonal skills, (c) pop- 150
  • 151. psychology, (d) management and organizational behaviour and (e) endless funnies from known and unknown word factories. Unlike some of the other academic fields like, say, the biological and physical sciences, the social sciences(the disciplines in which the wisdom literature is now located are either old-like history, philosophy and religion-- or young like economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, human relations, etc.) are all inexact, highly subjective and infinitely more complex than the physical and biological sciences. Everybody and their dog can play at dispensing their wisdoms, with the dogs sometimes providing the best advice in the form of close friendships, at least for some people with canine proclivities. Unlike the physical and biological sciences, though, knowledge and experience is not required. Anyone can play the game. Often the untutored and apparently ignorant and those who have read nothing at all in the field, can offer humble wisdoms and funnies which excel the most learned, with or without their PhDs. So be warned: its a mine field, this advice and wisdom business. A great deal of useless stuff gets attractively packaged. Many ideas are like many attractive young women; the beauty is only skin deep, as it were. 151
  • 152. The result for many practitioners who would really like to be both wise and entertaining is the experience of a field that resembles a mud-pie, poorly constructed and not of much use to humanity, although lots of laughs are had and wisdom gets distributed liberally. The industry, the word factories, pour out their wisdoms and their humour with greater frequency with every passing day. I felt like having a little think about this sub-genre of emails at this ten year mark and this half-way point(if I live to be 98!) in what you might call my wisdom/advice-lifeline, as I, and you, continue to imbibe the endless supply of resources available from the endless supply of word factories. I hope the satire here is gentle and does not bite too hard or at all. Canadians are on the whole nice people who try to perform their operations on their patients in such a way that they leave the hospital without the suspicion they have even been operated on, but with the new glands fully installed for daily use. Like the pick-pocket and the burglar, I want to get in there and out without alerting anyone to my work. The New Testament calls it the act of: The Thief in the Night. But, again, this is a prophecy capable of many interpretations, as all prophecies are. 152
  • 153. I send this your way in response to your many emails in recent months. There are, perhaps, a dozen people now who are into this sub-genre and who send me this special type of material in the course of a normal year. This dozen sends me many delightful pieces, more it seems as the years go by, including photos to embellish the content of the wisdom and humour. I feel, after so many years of giving it out as a teacher, it is only fair that I now receive it all as graciously as mine was accepted by my students over those many years. Like my in-class jokes, some of the material I receive is funny, some not-so-funny; some is wise, some not-so-wise. But, then, you cant win them all. Both wisdom and humour are irrepressible. So, carry on gang. George Bernard Shaw used to say that I can no more write what people want than I can play the fiddle. So he wrote what he thought people needed. What people need and what they want are usually not the same. Many found George presumptuous. I hope what you find here is not in the same category as Shaws, presumptuous that is. I hope, too, that this somewhat lengthy read has been worth your while. If not, well, you now have: 153
  • 154. .....ten choices (and many more combinations of choices) regarding what to do next: (i) delete the above; (ii) print and save for pondering because its wise, clever and something quite personal from the sender; (iii) read it again now, then delete it; (iv) save the very good bits and delete the rest; (v) none of these; (vi) all of these, if that is possible; (vii) write your own think-piece on this sub-genre of emails; (viii)send me a copy of your writing on this sub-genre of emails for(a) my evaluation(1)or (b) my pleasure; (ix) dont send it to me; and/or (x) dont think about what Ive written; just dis