Autobiography: Part 5

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This Part 5 comes from VOLUME FOUR: CHAPTER FIVE
of my now lengthy work. It begins with INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING5: 1982-1988

Autobiography is a literary form by which I attempt to centre my life in a literary way, a way that embellishes and defines, describes and delineates, that has been centred at least since my late teens when this pioneering venture began. This literary effort is not the only form; it is also method and function. I bring together form, method and function in one process, one expression. I like to think there is an intellectual, a spiritual union, a conjoining, here. Poetry attempts to whittle this conjoining away, to scatter it, fragment it. Life is an immense series offragments. Perhaps my poetry, as well as some of my prose, especially my more confessional journals, even defaces my life from time to time by inscribing, describing some of my sins of omission and commission which have been many.

There are many forces that attempt to fracture whatever unity, oneness and centring there has been in my life. That is putting the function of poetry about as negatively as one can. On a more positive note, poetry does more for me than I can describe in a few words here. Since my autobiography is really poetic autobiography, I think I try to combine the positive aspects of both genres. My autobiography weaves continuities and digs holes to find air-pockets. It engages in ventilations, drillings, exposures, divergencies and plays with time and space in a multitude of ways.-Ron Price with thanks to "Poetry: The Autobiography of a Thirst," Poetry and Autobiography: Internet.

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Autobiography: Part 5

  1. 1. VOLUME FOUR: CHAPTER FIVE INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING5: 1982-1988 Autobiography is a literary form by which I attempt to centre my life in a literary way, a way that embellishes and defines, describes and delineates, that has been centred at least since my late teens when this pioneering venture began. This literary effort is not the only form; it is also method and function. I bring together form, method and function in one process, one expression. I like to think there is an intellectual, a spiritual union, a conjoining, here. Poetry attempts to whittle this conjoining away, to scatter it, fragment it. Life is an immense series offragments. Perhaps my poetry, as well as some of my prose, especially my more confessional journals, even defaces my life from time to time by inscribing, describing some of my sins of omission and commission which have been many. There are many forces that attempt to fracture whatever unity, oneness and centring there has been in my life. That is putting the 1
  2. 2. function of poetry about as negatively as one can. On a more positive note, poetry does more for me than I can describe in a few words here. Since my autobiography is really poetic autobiography, I think I try to combine the positive aspects of both genres. My autobiography weaves continuities and digs holes to find air-pockets. It engages in ventilations, drillings, exposures, divergencies and plays with time and space in a multitude of ways.- Ron Price with thanks to "Poetry: The Autobiography of a Thirst," Poetry and Autobiography: Internet. ______________________________________________________ I don't think if we had stayed in Zeehan there would have been much movement toward the Cause. One never knows, of course, but one can not help but have intimations, intuitions on the subject. To serve the Cause north of Capricorn in Australia seemed to be much more of a priority by the early 1980s, although leaving Tasmania at the time had implications for Chris and her two girls that I had no conception of at the time. After six years north of 2
  3. 3. Capricorn, Chris and Dan and I moved to Perth where we lived for eleven years. I was, by then, 55 years of age and I wanted to retire from teaching. And so I did. We then moved to Tasmania to live in George Town and here we still are as I head for the age of 59 in three months' time. In the six months before going to Zeehan I began writing poetry. I had written the occasional poem since the start of my pioneering life in 1962 but none of that poetry was kept. In Canada, in the same week I got out of the hospital in Australia, treated at last for my bi-polar disorder, my mother's brother had my grandfather's autobiography copyrighted. Four years later I got a copy of this one hundred thousand word story of his life from 1872 to 1900. I mention this here because, looking back, it would appear that something was coming together in my life that represented my mother's poetic interests, my grandfather's autobiographical interests and my father's energy and vitality. For this reason I will include something more of their story, my mother's and my 3
  4. 4. grandfather's. The following is included from essays I wrote several years ago. "Twenty-five years ago this year, in 1978, my mother passed away. All of her poetry, art, letters, selected quotations and verses from some of her favorite authors and other memorabilia has found a place between two covers, all of her work with the exception of two small booklets of her photos and a small volume of her poetry which I have kept in my own library with my collection of photos and my books of poetry. I received all of this a few weeks after my mother’s death on September 1st 1978. Requiring further organization and ordering, the material in this file has now found a suitable home that hopefully will endure for some time to come in the hands of the family I leave behind me on my passing one day. One day I hope to write a more comprehensive introduction and perhaps even annotate some of the resources in this arch-lever file in which all of her work now lies. For now, 4
  5. 5. though, these few words will at least introduce some of my Mother’s artistic endeavours and this binder will give them a more deserving place than the loose files and folders where most of her work has been since it was sent to me by my Mother's older sister, my Aunt Florence. For the most part, these artistic ‘remains’, these works, these ‘leftovers’ from my mother’s life, were from the last twenty-five years of her days: 1953-1978. It was during this time that she came in contact with the Baha’i Faith. I have tended to use 1953 as the first year of contact. She remained a Baha'i until 1963. Some of her poetry and some of the inspirational material from other writers which she gathered over the years goes back to about 1930, when she was in her mid-twenties. Most of my poetry, like my mother’s, comes from a period beginning in my late forties. I find it more than coincidental that the initial flowering of my writing and that of my mother’s came about the same time in our 5
  6. 6. lives. Even Alfred Cornfield’s writing, my mother’s father’s work, came when he was about fifty. Thus, three generations, began to seriously write at about the same time in their respective lives: Alfred Cornfield in the 1920s; Lillian Price in the 1950s and myself in the 1980s. The family feeling that has characterized English people and their culture since early modern times if not as a constant for many centuries back is, in my case, bound up with the sense of continuity, literary and personal, with these two individuals. I have a dozen drawings of my mother’s work, nine of them are in this file: six complete and three partially complete. Three are on the walls of my study here in George Town. Art was a new medium for my mother and occupied her in the 1960s and 1970s in the years after she left the Baha’i Faith, after my father died and I left home--and before her death in 1978, perhaps a fifteen year period. 6
  7. 7. I trust that, as I pray for her, for my grandfather and other family members and friends, as well as Hands of the Cause, among others, that these, the major literary progenitors in my family, will guide me, from what I hope to be their 'retreats of nearness' and help provide the leaven that leavens the world of being and “furnishes the power through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest.”"1 For years, especially after coming to Australia, I felt a degree of guilt, like a prodigal son who had never returned; repentant I continued my wandering for, in time, my mother passed away.2 The need to return to Canada was no more. I used to think, with much of modern psychology and with that popular attitude from the sixties, that guilt was unhealthy. Perhaps to those individualists for whom community has no meaning that may be true. But for anyone who lives in community, has some sense of its importance to one's life, it is obvious how much guilt can feed community's 1 Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, USA, 1956, p.161. 2 She died on September 1st even years after arriving in Australia. 7
  8. 8. roots rather than being a form of illness or anxiety. Guilt can be and is culturally creative. Like a weight it often functions to inspire, to move us to action.3 Guilt imposed by others, what has come to be called 'guilt trips,' I have never felt was productive in community, but self-imposed guilt can very well be. Again, this is a complex topic. In addition to this brief essay on my mother's poetry, her art,4 I started to write a biography of my grandfather's life but realized I had too little information on his life after 1900 when he was twenty-eight. I did have his story up to that point, some one hundred thousand words. But I had little after that date until his death in 1958. I have written only a brief outline of Alfred Cornfield's life. It is found above.5 3 John Carroll, Guilt: The Grey Eminence Behind Character, History and Culture, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1985 4 This essay can be found at the website "A Celebration of Women Writers" under Lillian Price, poet. 5 See Chapter 1 pages 43-6. 8
  9. 9. To return to the main story: One of John Ruskin’s sayings was to: “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”6 I’m not sure how plain my words are, but they certainly are not few. I become conscious of this everytime I return to my story. We had been in a remote part of Tasmania, a point of light in a beautiful wilderness. We arrived there the same year that 279 pioneers settled in 80 countries. It was the first year of the second phase(1981-1984) of the Seven Year Plan(1979- 1986). I have often felt somewhat like a travel teacher having lived in some two dozen towns during this pioneer venture. Now we would be part of a point of light in Katherine in the Northern Territory. I turned thirty-eight the day of our arrival in Katherine. Angela and Vivienne were left behind in Tasmania. They were 6 John Ruskin, “Quotations from John Ruskin,” Internet Site, October 24th 2005. 9
  10. 10. sixteen and eleven. They said it was too far away to live in the Northern Territory. Vivienne wanted to pursue her career, her friendships, her family connections and, in Angela's case, her home life with her father. This autobiography deals far less than it should on the lives of my three children. Vivienne and her mother were close friends, intimate friends who got on well together, if one measured their intimacy by how much time they spent on the telephone in our first years in Tasmania, 1999 to 2006. Vivienne was always kind to me and I always felt she was perfectly suited by temperament for nursing, a profession she had been involved with for some two decades by the time I wrote this: 1986-2006. Daniel’s main function was to make me laugh; although he got annoyed with me he never got angry. We did not argue once in all our time together: 1977-2006, although I spanked him once and kicked him in the leg in an effort to discipline him. He was also the only child who became a Baha’i. Although we did not talk a great deal, there was 10
  11. 11. between us a quiet intimacy; he was one of those quiet Aussi achievers, I always thought. Angela got a degree in Public Relations at RMIT in the early 1990s. As a child and into her young adult life, Angela had something of the heat that I had as a youth and adult. She gave me a run for my money in the ‘blow-your-cool’ department. It cost her, as it cost me, much remorse and many frustrationss in her attempts to learn to govern it. As I say, I had had a temper, too. I often thought and hoped it might become what became of the temper of Mark Twain’s daughter Suzie, namely, a wholesome salt. Twain wrote in his autobiography that Suzie’character was the stronger and healthier for the presence of the energy of that temper. It enabled her to be good with dignity; it preserved her not only from being good for vanity`s sake, but from even the appearance of goodness for vanity’s sake. I lived in hope that as I got in late adulthood and old age and as Angela entered middle adulthood we would grow closer and that the heat of our personalities would 11
  12. 12. produce that wholesome salt. Time will tell as it will the lives of all three children. In looking back over the long and vanished years, some thirty-two now(1974 to 2006) in which I have played the role of step-father, and slightly less in which I have been a father, it seems only natural and excuseable that I should dwell with longing affection and preference upon incidents of their childhood and adult life which made it beautiful to us, and that I should let their often understandable, often excuseable, often frustrating and annoying offences--justified or unjustified--go unsummoned, unmentioned and unreproached. Misunderstandings and difficulties arose in our family life, as they do in most families, from passionate attachments to all sorts of things, from the rubs and tensions that come to exist between souls. Being in possession of many immaturities myself, even into my sixties, I find it hard to criticize them in others, especially my own children. Ultimately, all the battle in life is within the individual. Accepting our own 12
  13. 13. imperfections and those of others is essential if we are not to allow ourselves to get too upset over the unfortunate things which occur in our relationships with others, in our jobs, our marriages, inter alia. In the end these things are essentially superficial and, for the most part, are outgrown in time. Angela left us in 1981 and moved in with her father as did Vivienne the following year. Daniel moved out in 1999 and again in 2005.7 As I came to autobiographies. The 50 or so members of these families really require a separate book. put the finishing touches on the 5th edition of this autobiography, Chris and I were on our own for the first time in our marriage. To go back to Zeehan and Katherine, though….. 7 I dwell very little on my fathering and step-fathering role and, as I point out in other places, I do not expatiate on the lives of the other members of my consanguineal or affinal families as one finds, quite naturally, in many 13
  14. 14. Daniel was three in 1981 and I had been in a second marriage for six years. In 1982 we moved to Katherine which had about 3000 people on our arrival. It went to 10,000 within a decade. We stayed for forty-four months. By the time we arrived in Katherine, the pioneering journey was twenty-years in the making. Baha'i experience now went back nearly thirty years. In my collection of unpublished essays I have written about: prayer, fasting, meditation, service on LSAs, Baha'i books, special events, community life, indeed, I have some seventy essays that explore special themes. My essays and their topics could occupy a chapter all to their own. But for now, I have integrated some of their content, content that seemed relevant to this autobiographical work, in the body of this narrative, en passant, as I journey from one town to another, one year to another, one experienc eto another. I could describe the nature of my job in Zeehan and in Katherine in great detail; I could describe how my marriage was developing 14
  15. 15. after some ten years and how my relationships to my children were coming along and perhaps I will in some further edition of this autobiography. Rage, anger and depressive feelings that had dogged my life in the sixties and seventies had, to a significant extent, disappeared by the 1980s, although I’m not sure how much of this was due to chemotherapy and how much to maturity. Chris and I still had our problems and it would be another two decades, the early years of the new millennium, before we could put paid— for the most part--to these old emotional dogs that had been barking at the edges of our life. Perhaps some of the positive developments in the new millennium were significantly due to a second medication, fluvoxamine in 2002, which added to the lithium put a control on my emotions that I had never enjoyed before. The acquisition of virtue in my life has had a strong corelation with psychopharmacology and I have always found it difficult to measure my spiritual growth. 15
  16. 16. Many men and women, often barely in control of themselves, are still indisputably careful, obsessively committed and very hardworking. Artists, labourers and office workers, people in all walks of life, exhibit paradoxes and contradictions which contribute to a certain type of personal mystique, personal complexity that is difficult to define. I had lots of company. Frank Sinatra, arguably the most successful American performing talent produced in the twentieth century, also possessed a bullying style, a personal charm and a vulnerability that shaded into one another.8 It took all of my young and middle adult life to even out, so to speak. As I came to write this autobiography I was finally levelling out. In 1982 my step-daughters stayed in Tasmania causing us, especially Chris, a range of problems. A new supervisor at the Adult Education Centre was frustrating me more than any 8 Benjamin Schwarz, “Elements of Style,” The Atlantic Monthly, July/ August 2005. This review of a book on Frank Sinatra by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, Sinatra(A.A. Knopf, 2005) contains these ideas. 16
  17. 17. relationship had since, perhaps, the latter stages of my first marriage. Dr. Spock's voice continued to be raised in child rearing circles, as it had been for nearly half a century, a voice that turned back the Victorians' harsh, "scientific" approach to raising children and told baby boomers that their children were essentially reasonable.9 I mention Dr. Spock here because by 1982 I had been involved in child rearing for eight years and been a teacher for nine. In that time I had developed a philosophy of approach which emphasized giving children lots of room to breath, to be independent, to know the limits and discuss them. I tried to avoid what came to be called an "Attention Excess Disorder." Given this name by Anne Cassidy, it was a disorder that Cassidy said was the "Malady of the 1990s."10 I did not have all the answers as a parent, far from it. Indeed, this theme could consume many pages, if I let it. It certainly consumed many an hour in my life as both a teacher, a parent and in my last years as a student: 1964-2004. 9 Thomas Maier, Dr. Spock: An American Life, Harcourt and Brace, 2004. 10 Anne Cassidy, Parents Who Think Too Much: Why We Do It, How to Stop It, Dell Island Books, 1998. 17
  18. 18. My life had many borders, boundaries, edges, limits, marking posts, turning points, critical periods in long processes. They each and all helped to establish identities: national, local, location, international. All these contributing factors to identity tended to reduce complexity, to fix what is difficult to define. Toynbee, in his discussion of these borders, frontiers, fronts or limes, says they are “the hospitable threshold of an ever open door.”11 I have said enough and will say enough about these marking points in my life in other places in this autobiography. But I would like to focus, for a time, on the limen, the frontier between the growing civilization that is contained in the seed that is the Baha’i Faith and the homelands of the potential proselytes. Toynbee says that frontier is like “a gentle tree-clad slope in which the roots preserve the soil from erosion.” Toynbee’s analysis is a rich and valueable one for the Baha’i, especially one who has been working on the slope for so many decades. That much of Toynbee’s metaphor is military, as 11 Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. 8, Galaxy Books, NY,1963(1954), p.3. 18
  19. 19. is ‘Abdul-Baha’s is entirely consistent with my human experience of life as battle, as war, in these decades since 1953 when the Kingdom of God on earth had its inception. Certainly anyone reading the collection of my letters which became more voluminous beginning in the early 1980s, as the third epoch was coming to a close in 1985/6, would get a more detailed picture of my life than the generalities I have stated in a simple summary form here; they are generalities which I hope do not trivialize. I hope they avoid the Australian tendency to treat everything lightly in the name of humour. Humour is a useful note and I have learned much much its application in life and in letters. I think one gets in letters what could be called a vox populi authenticity. I will include here some comments on the collection of my letters from these years to provide some perspective on my life from an epistolary point of view. These comments were written several years after leaving the towns north of Capricorn where my small affinal family, the family one acquires and adds to with marriage, lived from 1982 to 1987. In letters, as in life, only a small 19
  20. 20. proportion of all the things that happen can, ultimately, leave a permanent written record. Even if readers have access to a complete collection of my letters this would in no way mean that this collection would be replete with the conflicts and contradictions of everyday life, the vast assortment of my comings and goings within or without the Bahá'í community or so much that has constituted my life, my times and the experience of the many Bahá'í communities in which I lived during these four epochs. I’m sure it will seem to readers that, at times, I appear to turn my back on social questions, issues facing my religion, issues that I was faced with personally but which modern and future readers consider much more important that the little attention I paid to them in this voluminous, compendious work. My letters, my diaries, indeed, my total oeuvre is filled with gaps you could drive a train through, as they say. "There do not appear to be any letters received or sent for the following years: 68, 69, 71, 76, 77 and 79. During the sixties and seventies I had no plans of saving letters for some future literary 20
  21. 21. collection. It is natural, therefore, that there be gaps. What I did keep was partly accident, partly genuine interest. What there is for the period up to the time I lived in Katherine in 1982 is largely fortuitous. The period of homefront pioneering from 1962 to 1967 has no correspondence at all in these files. And the ten years of my earliest association with this Cause contains not a letter, although I'm sure several were written during this late childhood and adolesence. I would have liked to have kept the many letters I wrote to and received from several young people back in the years 1962 to 1966, others to my first wife and ones I received in the first five months of 1967 and still others to my Mother and received from her in the period 1971 to 1978 the year she passed away. There are literally dozens of letters from this period that were just thrown away, discarded as part of the inevitable flotsam and jetsam of life: perhaps one a month for sixteen years, perhaps two hundred letters. Similar letters to my aunt Florence, my Uncle Harold, several 21
  22. 22. friends in Canada, I think about half a dozen at the most, recipients of an annual ‘form’ letter which Judy and I sent while living on Baffin Island, and others now lost to my own memory would make a collection of, I would think at the most, some three hundred letters. A two volume work, of which I have just examined the first volume, by Martin Seymour-Smith: Poets Through Their Letters, Vol.1(Constable & Co. Ltd, London, 1969) has suggested to me a whole new perspective to my letters. It’s all a bit ‘ify’, a bit tentative, somewhat hypothetical, but of sufficient meaning and possibility to set my collection of letters in a certain ultimate perspective and context. The idea came to me when I was reading about the collected letters of Alexander Pope. According to Smith, Pope was the first poet to actually care about what happened to his letters. He seemed to have a great need for self-glorification. Self- glorification is the last thing that interests me. The glory of this Cause, unquestionably. This is the linch pin, the underpinning, the 22
  23. 23. contextual ethos for keeping these letters. Any glory I attain will be as a result of my association with, my commitment to, my involvement with, this emerging world religion. These are the days in which the Lesser Peace is taking shape. It may have been taking shape as far back as 1917 when my mother was just entering her teens, my father had just become an adult and my grandfather was just forty-five. I don't think any of them, indeed, very few people on the planet, have seen or now see, the major process of our time since the first world war in terms of peace. It is in the horrors, the blood and gore that peace is slowly emerging on this planet.12 It is turning out to be a process that is taking its time for those of us who are living through these years of the fourth epoch. My letters go back to 1967 with a commentary extending back to the Ten Year Crusade. These are the collected letters of an international pioneer and, given the probable disinclination of most Baha’is to write, let alone keep, letters in 12 23
  24. 24. these years in the dark heart of an Age of Transition, it is coming to be more and more my view, especially after examining this book by Seymour-Smith, that caring about the future publication of these letters is not an inappropriate spiritual, lifetime, goal, among other goals.13 Interesting collections of letters, poetry, indeed any effort to tell the story of a pioneer experience will probably be more the exception than the rule. Overseas pioneers have probably tended to be more men of action, people who did things and took no thought of writing about them, than men of contemplation who wrote, thought and saw action in terms of the via contemplativa. We shall see in the generations and epochs ahead how accurate this prediction becomes. These days of the third and fourth epochs, the first half century of the elective institutionalisation of that awesome power, are very much formative ones. Unlike the poet Pope, I have no desire to 13 With the arrival of the email in the 1990s, the letter form has been given a new lease on life both wintin and outside the Baha'i community. My comments here about the paucity of letter writing, therefore, may not be accurate. 24
  25. 25. create a favourable impression of myself for the sake of a future audience. Rather I want to create an honest portrait for that future audience, especially if it is the only portrait conveyed, in this case, through letters by an overseas pioneer. I am not driven by vanity; I am driven by a compelling force, a vision of the future, that is enthralling and captivating, that has inspired me in my work and in this work, that is as compelling as the vision the onlookers acquired as they listened to 'Abdu'l-Baha describe the future of Haifa when He was laying the foundation for the Shrine of the Bab in the first years of the twentieth century.14 I am especially conscious of how these early years of the tenth stage of history have laid a foundation for the institutional and social development of the Baha'i community all over the planet, in spite of the apparent and very real social instability and incoherence much of the time. Much, if not most, of this foundation is not much more evident than what those onlookers could forsee in their minds' eyes, but vision creates reality. It also inspires the heart and the mind. 14 Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha'u'llah, George Ronald, Oxford, 1992, pp.223-230. 25
  26. 26. Literature, of which autobiography is but one genre, does not simply reflect life, it validates and creates life,15 or so it is the argument of Miguel de Unamuno. As an autobiographer I can not write anything I fancy. I must narrate it for narration is the most profound way of living. We have a primordial need to tell stories, our story. It is a trade mark that God has imprinted on us. In film sometimes the director, drawing on a particular script, portrays just a few years of a character’s life and viewers are left to judge the whole by the part. Richard Attenborough, for example, decided to stick with screenwriter Nicholson's portrayal of only a few short years in the life of C.S.Lewis. This work deals with the whole of life. All assessment of evidence, and beside narration the rest is assessment--must be the work of the intellect, of the reasoning 15 Costita Bradatman, “God Is Dreaming You: Narrative as Imatatio Dei in Miguel de Unamuno, Janus Head, Winter, 2004. 26
  27. 27. faculty. The autobiographer attempts, as far as possible, to work on the assumption that whatever happened is capable of rational explanation and that evidence is the product of an act discoverable by reason. And yet we all know that this is not quite true; that we act, react and reflect from motives which have little to do with reason and much to do with other influences like intuition, the senses, tradition, circumstances over which we have no control such as ill-health, a quarrel with people not involved in our immediate life, whim and lack of thought, inter alia. In the many years, perhaps as many as fifty by the time I left teaching in 1999, I got personally and familiarly acquainted with all the different types of human nature that are to be found in fiction, biography, or history. This familiarity came from experience and from reading, but the struggle with human diversity did not end there. At 55 it was possible that I might still have half my life to live, that there would be many an interpersonal challenge ahead and some of these challenges I would lose. Experience is no guarantee of success. 27
  28. 28. I am reminded how a certain instability and incoherence was characteristic of the Greek city state in its embryonic phase, in its own heroic and formative ages. Until the last two or three years, since perhaps 1992, I have had no conscious thoughts of portrait creation. I am not sure, at this early stage of the process, I am even aware of just how this affects what I write in my letters. I shall leave commenting on this connection for a future time. There is a seriousness that is often not present in my letters because of a desire to be humorous, to play it light. I try not to appear too academic, too serious, too religious. My aim is to please, endear, foster closeness and, ultimately, bring my correspondent close to the Cause when that is seen as possible. There are, too, although moreso after 1982 when the number of my collected letters increases markedly, aspects of depressive-reactions, an element of despair at the ‘discouragingly meagre’ response to the Cause. The expectations, fostered by teaching successes in the 1960s and 1970s, became too high. Disappointment was just about inevitable. Emily Dickinson has a helpful take on disappointment which I am 28
  29. 29. slowly learning to apply in life--at least on certain occasions-for sadness is as much a part of life as the air we breath. It is simply an inevitability: "I always try to think in any disappointment," writes Emily Dickinson, "that had I been gratified, it had been sadder still, and I weave from such suppositions, at times, considerable consolation; consolation upside down as I am pleased to call it."16 I will insert here some of my introduction to volume 8 of my personal correspondence, a volume begun in August/September 2003. It illustrates something of the general context of my letters: "This volume was begun at the start of my 42nd year of pioneering, just before the mid-point in the Five Year Plan(2001-2006). At the time, I had been collecting letters for 36 years. This volume may take me to the 40th year of letter collecting. Time will tell. Barry Ahearn, a professor of English at Tulane University and the editor 16 Shirley Sharon-Zisser, “To See -- Comparatively: Emily Dickinson's Use of Simile,” Internet Site,1996. 29
  30. 30. of the letters between Zukofsky and Williams, says that a poet’s correspondence is the raw material of biography: the poet’s firsthand perceptions, unguarded, unpolished, and uncensored. “It’s a way of recovering the warts-and-all humanity of these individuals, because they are writing things about themselves which they might not otherwise,” says Ahearn, who also edited a selection of letters between Pound and Zukofsky, published by New Directions in 1987, and Pound/Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E.E. Cummings, University of Michigan Press, 1996.17 In the letters between some writers, there is often a persistent and passionate debate around some issue. The 450 letters written between 1953 and 1985 that are collected in The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, edited by Albert Gelpi, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, and Robert J. Bertholf, curator of the Poetry/Rare Books Collection at SUNY Buffalo are an example 17 Kevin Larimer, "First-Class Mail: A Poet’s Letters," Poets & Writers Magazine 30
  31. 31. of such a debate. “It’s a huge argument,” Gelpi says. “It brings the correspondence to a remarkable personal as well as literary climax because these two poets, who were so close, who thought of themselves as anima and animus to each other, as brother and sister, suddenly found themselves having to recognize that there are actually fundamental disagreements about what poetry is and how the imagination works and how poetry functions in society.” Thusfar, the eight volumes of personal correspondence and many other volumes on special topics, to particular institutions and individuals, there is very little of what you might call sustained debate. There is often disagreement, but it is usually dealt with in one or two letters at most. Disagreement is rarely if ever sustained. This is not to say that there are not areas in which my correspondents and I disagreed, but for the most part the areas which were critical were simply not discussed. Whereas Levertov and Duncan wrote one or two letters a month for thirty years, the longest correspondents thusfar in my life have been Roger White at 31
  32. 32. 12 years and John Bailey at, perhaps, 8. Roger and I wrote some five or six times a year while John and I write once a month." But to return to the main story....Only one person joined the Faith while we were in the north, an Aboriginal tribal elder named Larry Ahlin. We got much advertising in the local paper in Katherine and I was able to write a column of 800 words each week for some one hundred and fifty weeks. We used to drive to Darwin occasionally to help in the teaching work and while we were on the west coast we became part of the teaching drive in Bidyadanga near Broom. All other teaching work in remote towns was periferal, part of my job and there were only rare visits to: Carnarvon, Broom and Derby, Arnhem Land, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. The simultaneous unfoldings of past, present and future that are alway a part of my time consciousness; the chains of ideas, half formed thoughts and sensations, some of which enthralled and some of which were scattered to the wind as soon as they mformed in the mind, create a sort of quasi-system flow; the narrative act that 32
  33. 33. combines engagement and resistance in what might be called a periodic and frequent therapeutic remapping of the mind's landscape,18 all this went on in all these towns. Were I to recount these events that took place in my mind in these places, were I able to remember any of them, this account would lead to prolixity. For each place had its Baha'i history; each place was involved in the new processes of the Six Year Plan: 1986-1992; each place had its geography and its people. The events of the world continued on in their dizzying speed as did my own life, my family, my job and my own spiritual battles. It was here too that I began a series of essays on the Baha'i buildings then being constructed around the planet. The essays were never published but, with the essay writing I had done in the 1970s on Baha'i themes a foundation was laid for my writing in the 1990s. This brief summary of our experience in Katherine would be pertinent here. I wrote it while living in Tasmania just after 18 idem 33
  34. 34. retiring. Narratives help us interpret and make explicit our own social behaviour and that of others. They help embed real and imagined scenarios within what is my current context of talk. They serve as a fundamental resource for what Erving Goffman calls "laminating experience,"19 an experience that is coated with thought, thought that is nicely distributed over the time frame involved---in this case Katherine in the Northern Territory. "Twenty years ago now, in July 1982, Chris and Dan and I arrived in Katherine. Some 150 essays appeared in the newspapers of a small town in the Northern Territory in the next three years. Many of my essays were about popular culture. Looking back it would seem that whatever intellectual gifts I have been endowed with were first in evidence in these published writings, these essays, in what was then and still now a remote part of Australia. None of this material had been transferred to this website. I had, ten years 19 David Herman, "Framed Narratives and Social Cognition," Cognitive Approaches to Literature Session: Modern Language Association Convention, NT, 2002. 34
  35. 35. before these essays first appeared, been a lecturer in a college of advanced education, but the gift of writing was not really substantiated until the essays started to appear in the Katherine Advertiser in 1983. My little family, at least littler was it now than it had been since my first wife and I made up a nuclear family of two back in 1973, arrived in Katherine on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passing of Shoghi Effendi in November 1957 and the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Greatest Holy Leaf in July 1932. This event was commemorated at five International Conferences and by the publication of a book comprising texts about her and some hundred of her own letters. I did not get a copy of this book until later in the year. The Universal House of Justice moved to its permanent Seat in November, four months after our arrival in Katherine. It was a busy year, a year not without its significances. In April 1983 the fifth International Convention elected the Universal House of Justice. By then we had fully settled into Katherine and I in a job 35
  36. 36. that brought me in touch with a great cross-section of the town's people. It was during these first months that Chris acquired some illness that, in different forms, seemed to plague her for the next two decades with dizziness, nausea, headaches, backaches and earaches and make her life a test from which she has yet to recover. The "stuff" of daily existence only rarely assumed a ludicrous absurdity as Chris tried to cope with her daily tasks. Housekeeping only became a pointless ritual when she bottomed out emotionally. Nearly always Chris approached her domestic work with a sense of duty, thoroughness and meaning. Failing to understand what these duties had to do with real life was an attitude I often experienced but, as the years went on, I was trained to see these household activities as important to the commonweal. There was, too, the intermittent navigation through tension and conflict. Partly due to the elevation of sensuality and sexual gratification to unrealistic heights; partly due to ill-health; partly due to the problems and pressures of job; partly due to the tensions 36
  37. 37. of raising one child and having two in far-off Tasmania; parlty due to the continuing lack of response to a Cause we hoped to propagate among our contemporaries. Published autobiographies should contain some elements of the confidential, of the private, if they are to contain the detailed record of people's lives, if they are to be the trusted repositories of the intimate feelings and the intense encounters of their authors. “Time, which puts an end to human pleasures and sorrows”, said Samuel Johnson, “has likewise concluded the labours of this Rambler.”20 It would be three decades, in 1784, before Johnson’s labours were concluded and my own, in the field of writing, had just begun. A meticulous researcher can find articles in former college magazines in Ballarat and Launceston at their Colleges of Advanced Education, in newspapers in Tasmania and in Baha’i magazines and archives in the period up to 1984. But, in the main, 20 Bertrand Bronson, editor, Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, Poems, Selected Prose, third edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, NY, 1952, pp.164-168. 37
  38. 38. even up to this date, most of my published works are in this collection of essays. For those who find my poetry not to their liking, or who find my autobiography in its many forms not to their taste, they may find here manageable chunks of interest. Here is autobiography in another form. In the years before the Lesser Peace it was difficult to get direct Baha’i ideas into the print media; few in Australia had been successful, although when I came to Perth I met two or three individuals who were more successful than I, or at least successful in different ways.21 Indirection was often the only way in most situations in both the print and electronic media. In addition, several Baha'i academics had published their work in academic journals, but I have not acquired any list of their efforts. 21 Keith McDonald, Mike Day and Drewfus and Chelinay Gates, as well as the Baha’i Office of Public Information for Western Australia, in the years I have lived in Perth: 1987 to 1996, have contributed in no small way to the proclamation of the Baha’i Faith in the print and electronic media. They would merit a story unto themselves. 38
  39. 39. “The distinctions between living, writing and reading were beginning to become blurred” says Tony Tanner in his analysis of the life of Henry James and the Art of Fiction”.22 James saturated himself with, immersed himself in, his own writing. These essays represent the beginning of this process which ten years later was well advanced in my poetic efforts, but was kept from the extremes that James and other writers expressed in their lives. A job, a family and a community kept me from total immersion. There is none of the sacrificial vicariousness found in James’ writing, the heroic proportions found in the erudite performances of some of the great writers of history, none of the immense energies applied to the effort to write as they were in the case of Xavier Herbert. Most of my writing in the decade after these essays appeared was in the form of poetry and this poetry was mostly a font of pleasure with a great weariness at the edges. Perhaps this weariness was experienced as it was for millions and as Susan Sontag put it, due to the openness of the world and history, 22 Tony Tanner, Henry James and the Art of Fiction, University of Georgia Press, London, 1995, p.29. 39
  40. 40. hypersaturated awareness, the provisionality of our assertions and the constant need to discard warn-out meanings for fresh ones.23 Readers may experience a certain weariness, too, as they go from chapter to chapter in this work conferring an elemental order, a simulacrum of coherence, on what is often random, often jumbled, often puzzling in life. In the course of this story boundaries between present and past, living and dead and animate and inanimate, fade and dissolve, and the reader is left uneasily pondering the fragility of rational categories of experience. With my many years of peripatetic experience, occupation and enterprise behind me, a most varied mix, I liked to think the sheer diversity of my labours would serve a useful purpose for the making of a successful writer both now and in the years ahead. Some of my essays deal with why I write and I will not reiterate these reasons here, but I should refer to the articles about Harold Ross, Shiva Naipaul, Brian Matthews and Norman Podhoretz 23 Susan Sontag, A Susan Sontag Reader, Chaucer Press Ltd., Suffolk, 1982. 40
  41. 41. since they contain some useful perspectives which I have integrated unknowingly into my own writing. I have not sent these articles to the BWCL. They are in my home collection. I would also like to refer to James Olney, one of the great analysts of autobiography, who said autobiography can “advance our understanding of the question ‘how shall I live?’”24 If these essays contribute in some small part to answering this question I shall be amply rewarded. And if this I cannot do, I hope at least that I can give the reader a little pleasure." I do strive to help readers answer the question "how shall I live?" And I strive on many fronts. I probe beneath conventional surfaces and I hope readers find this probing useful. "Analysis will, in time," said the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, "enable synthesis to become your habit of mind."25 I may not have found total synthesis in this work, but I am on the road. If Wright is also correct in another of his aphorisms, namely, that "an idea is salvation by imagination," then there is much salvation here. 24 James Olney, Metaphor of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography, Princeton UP, 1972, p.xi. 25 Frank Lloyd Wright, "Wikiquote." 41
  42. 42. In the early 1980s I began to write short biographical sketches of various Baha'is which I hoped to include in a Baha'i history eventually. When I moved to Tasmania and wrote a series of over thirty instalments on Baha’i history in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997 some of these biographical sketches were included. Here is a brief summary of my efforts to write biographies of Baha’is.26 A SHORT ESSAY ON WRITING BIOGRAPHIES OF BAHA'IS Autobiography is the unrivalled vehicle for telling the truth about other people. -Oscar Wilde in The Oxford Book of Quotations, John Gross, OUP, 1983. 26 When I wrote a series of over 30 instalments on "The History of the Baha'i Faith in the Northern Territory: 1947-1997," during the years 2000 to 2003 some biography also appeared. The magazine in which these instalments appeared was called The Northern Light. 42
  43. 43. As he worked at the Decline and Fall Gibbon became convinced that the true character of men was so complex and elusive that it could be only tentatively described. Character was something ultimately unfathomable and, however much one attempts to explain it, one will fall short. If a contemporary, therefore, cannot unravel the complexities of a character, what hope would there be for a historian? Gibbon became increasingly reticent about judging character and motivation. Gibbon presents history as preeminently a construction, a literary work with aesthetic, rather than systematic, order and coherence. -David P. Jordan, Gibbon and His Roman Empire, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1971, p.5. This is an anthology of existences. Lives of a few lines or of a few pages, adventures gathered together in a handful of words. Such is the contraction of things said in these texts that one does not know whether the intensity which traverses them is due more to the 43
  44. 44. vividness of the words or to the violence of the facts which jostle about in them. Singular lives, through I know not what accidents, strange poems: that is what I wanted to gather together in a sort of herbarium. -Werner Sollors, editor, Source Unknown, Oxford University Press, 1989, p.155. ______________________________________________________ Some time in 1981, as accurately as I can estimate after the evolution of a quarter century of Baha'i experience, I began to write the history of the Tasmanian Baha’i community. It was the first such exercise as far I know and my own first flight into writing a history of a Baha'i community. I had been in the pioneer field by then for nearly twenty years. I wrote several pages and sent it to the then Regional Teaching Committee before leaving Tasmania in July of 1982. At about the same time or perhaps a few months before, I began to write poetry. The first poem I have in my collection was written in August 1980. On 23 July 1982 I arrived in Katherine and began to 44
  45. 45. collect materials for a history of another section of Australia: the Northern Territory and outback Australia. I also continued writing poetry. In the next twenty years I wrote more than two dozen biographies of a few paragraphs to a few pages each. I also collected biographical information and made it into a narrative history of the Northern Territory. It appeared in the Baha’i Council newsletter in 33 instalments. In 2002 I sent my entire archive of material to the Baha'i Council of the NT. As I have expressed the view before, I don't feel I have had much success in writing the biographies of Baha'is. I did write those many short pieces and for the instalments that appeared in the NT I obtained each person’s agreement to each of the pieces I wrote on their lives. It is a sensitive exercise this business of writing about others. It was one of the motivations for me to turn to autobiography. Then, I could only offend myself. I would not puzzle and perplex others by what I wrote about them. 45
  46. 46. I took some comfort in reading about Edward Gibbon’s reticence in judging character and motivation. To him, people, like history, were constructions, significantly his constructions. What he did was attempt to unravel the complexities of character, however elusive they might be. He did this en passant,as he composed his history of the Decline and Fall. I do my writing about individuals en passant, as I compose my Pioneering Over Four Epochs. In a book whose name is now lost to me, Werner Sollors refers to pieces of biography as “an anthology of existences...a few lines or a few pages...gathered together in a handful of words...”27 That is certainly the simplest characterization of a process I have scarcely begun in these last twenty-five years.28 The annotation of my collection of thirty-five years of letters has yielded little fertility, as far as biography is concerned. Perhaps the best that can be said is 27 Werner Sollors, editor, Source?, Oxford University Press, 1989, p.155. 28 If I go back to my first poem, a biographical one, which I wrote in August of 1980 and the Baha’i history in 1981 and 1982, the period in question is now 25 years. 46
  47. 47. that my sense of failure to write biography has been one source of inspiration to write an autobiographical work. One's life, anyone's life, is embedded in multidimensional and multidirectional contexts. There is a plasticity to the overall process and there are dynamics of gains and losses which must be kept in mind as one attempts to analyse the life. A lot is happening when one examines a life, one's own or someone else's. Before leaving this topic of biography I would like to encourage readers to examine that history I wrote of the Baha’i experience in the NT because it contains the evidence of a new lease on life as far as biography is concerned for me. If readers are not particularly interested in the history of the Baha’i Faith in the NT: 1947-1997, it may be best that they give that as miss.29 I would also like to include here a brief essay on a topic tangentially connected with biography which I wrote in 1996 three years before retiring from my profession on the subject of people's appearance which we 29 Ron Price, A History of the Baha’i Faith in the NT: 1947-1997, Northern Lights, Baha’i Council of the NT, 2000-2002. 47
  48. 48. attach so very much importance to in our lives. We live our lives immersed in the physical and so it seems reasonable to say a few words about it. An essay by Joseph Epstein “About Face” in a collection of essays30 deserves some comment in terms of its relevance to my several attempts to write brief biographies of people I have known in life. Epstein writes about the difficulty of making assessments of people on the basis of their facial expression. My initial thought on the subject is that the relationship between physical facial features and behaviour is so complex and subjective as to be nearly useless in terms of drawing any significant corelations. One of the more famous faces was that of The Elephant Man. He had an apparently ‘beautiful’ character, one that appreciated culture and the arts and one that was highly refined. Yet his face was so repulsive that in everyday reaction it was difficult for people to even look at him. 30 John Gross, editor, The Oxford Book of Essays, Oxford UP, NY, 1991. 48
  49. 49. In my earliest years of pioneering, in the early 1960s, I used to know a Baha’i lady who always looked depressed. I always found myself uncomfortable when I had to look at her for any length of time. She was a kind and gentle hostess whenever I was in her home and I was in her home frequently. Some beautiful people on the other hand, externally attractive, have been the sort of people whose company I tried to avoid. The mystery of a person is only partially revealed in their face and gestures; there is much more than the surface textures, lines and shapes. But, as Epstein says, the revelations don’t always jump out, perhaps, seldom. They must be read subtlely, painstakingly and patiently. Like wine, faces age; but unlike wine they don’t classify with the same ease and predictability. They don't fit into easy classifications, I find, inspite of all the body language psychology that has become prevalent since the 1980s. We all have biases. I like the faces of young women; I like their freshness, smoothness, firmness of skin, often, a sheer and quiet impressive beauty, admittedly subjective. 49
  50. 50. Perhaps this preference is cultural; perhaps I am responding to more than fifty years now of print and electronic media hype in relation to the features of young women. When you get to know a man’s life, you can translate what you know into his face as a sort of parlour-game exercise. I always found the faces of several Baha'i men I came to know in Perth: Kevin Croft, Gary Olson and Ian McFarlane mirrored their various personalities to some extent. They were all likeable men and I liked their faces. Nancy Campbell, whom I did not like much when I was young, but whom I came to admire and love as I got older, remains in my mind’s eye, a quarter of a century after her passing, as a very beautiful woman. One’s own age, development and maturity are obviously critical factors in making any assessment of a person’s character based on facial feature. In my twenties the difficult people were difficult classes of students; in my thirties I became my own worst enemy; in my forties supervisors in my place of work pushed my back to the wall; in my fifties I became battle 50
  51. 51. weary from simply too many people in my life, too many students and too many Baha'i responsibilities. These are all, of course, oversimplifications but I wanted to cover the territory in a broad sweep. Whatever remarks I might make, then, about the thousands of characters and their behaviour and facial features, remarks that would embellish my characterizations, would seem to me to have little relevance except as items to satisfy the curiosity. I can't imagine writing anything here that would be unique, that would not be repeated ad nauseam in the life stories of a myriad of other people. The reality of man is his thought, not his external features. It seems to me one can measure soul, to some extent, by what people do; but ultimately one can not judge the justice or compassion of the acts of other human beings. And so, in this short essay, I will summarily dismiss the short physical descriptions I might make of those characters, those people, I have known during these three epochs of this Formative Age. Both those 51
  52. 52. who have influenced me a great deal, like Jameson Bond or Douglas Martin, or Elizabeth and Michael Rochester, and those who have had lesser or little influence, will receive little physical reference to widen my analysis. Those who have been difficult people and those whom I have liked very much receive little space here. Another edition could easily amplify this and cover the ground I have left out. Finally, it is my hope that in a future edition I will devote more attention to those whom I have known in my life. If treated with understanding and wisdom such attention, I think, would clearly embellish this text. In addition, the influence of the major women in my life: my mother, my mother's sister, my first and second wife, my two step-daughters, among a core of other women; and the major men: my grandfather, my father, my uncle and my son, among several other critical males--could be examined in fine detail, certainly more than the little attention I have given to them all thusfar. This matrix of people, at the intimate centre of my life, 52
  53. 53. offer many understandings to the mystery of my own development and should not be removed to the perifery as I have done to a large extent in the reconstruction of my life. But still, if I was asked what sort of people this great throng of intimate and not-so- intimate individuals are, I would not be able to answer. They are not this or that, they are just people. I can no more define the initimately known or the not so intimately known. I am either too near to them and I have lived too intimately with them or they are too distant to make any definitive description even with the benefit of much psychology and philosophy.31 The great cook and restauranteur Marco Pierre White, who succeeded in elevating British cookery to previously unscaled heights, on the publication of his autobiography talked about his three wives. His sentiments were in some ways the way I felt about the women in my life, the two wives I have had. White said his work with restaurants and food was like one long love affair. “I 31 Some of these sentiments I found expressed in the banquet presentation for the Nobel Prize in literature of Pearl Buck in 1938. 53
  54. 54. could never really have a woman in my life because I wasn't in love with them like I was in love with my work, with my restaurant. My wife was almost a mistress, because I was so into winning……so into creating perfection. It took so much out of me there was nothing for anybody else." And how did his wives deal with that? "Don't know," he said sulkily. "I never asked. I must not have ever thought about it."32 I certainly have thought about it. My work, my career, the energy required to do my job day after day took everything I had. I don’t think I ever did much of a job as a husband or even as a father, although I think I got better at at by the time I was fifty. The first twenty-five years resulted in one failed marriage and some serious difficulties in the first two or more decades of the second marriage. Now, as a retired man, my wife recognizes what White said as true of my relationship with her for much of our life together. 32 Laura Barton,“All Grown Up,” Guardian Unlimited, 14th August 2006. 54
  55. 55. I seem to have examined just about all the conceivable influences and given attention to a multitude of various ideas as I have attempted to explore my life. There was a veritable explosion in my writing of poetry beginning in the early 1990s after my pioneering venture passed the thirty year mark and my contact with the Baha’i Faith the forty year mark. This synthesis of my existence and my essence based as it is on frail and fallible memory, on understandings of people and phenomena that were only dimly apprehended at the time or even now, on mental constructs and a selection process whose validity is arguable at best is inevitably egotistical.33 There is a necessary assertiveness in this exercise of autobiography. The ideal autobiographer does what the ideal historian does, according to Macauley “relates no fact, he attributes no expression to his characters, that is not authenticated by sufficient testimony.” 33 Lynn Z. Bloom, "Heritages: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Autobiographies," The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature, editors: Cathy Davidson and E. Broner, Frederick Ungar Publishing co., NY, 1980, p. 293. 55
  56. 56. Rather, “by judicious selection, rejection, and arrangement, he gives to truth those attractions which have been usurped by fiction.”34 This work also draws on a heritage of love and admiration, of being cherished by people like: my mother, father, two wives and three children, among others whose influence was primary and yet others whose relation to me was secondary but charged with admiration. My mother's love, for example, although expressing a necessary maternal control and discipline and of what I have come to see as a just balance between freedom and dominance, gave me a certain self-confidence, security and strength, which with the passage of time and with maturity, allowed me to distance myself from whatever smothering effects that love might have contained. 34 Esther Wohlgemut, “Southey, Macaulay and the Idea of a Picturesque History,” Romanticism on the Net, November 2003- February 2004. 56
  57. 57. The positive sense of their own significance and abilities, my mother's, my grandfather's and my father's, among a list too long to put on paper, were conveyed in varying degrees to me as I grew into adulthood, conveyed by example, consciously and unconsciously and by the direct and indirect transmission of human values. I am sure, that in many respects, my life has been the realization of the ambitions, the hopes and desires, of my parents, my grandparents and my mother's sister, aunt Florence. By my early thirties all my parents and grandparents had died and I was not able to have that "reassuring experience" that Margaret Mead says is the "priviledge that comes to those whose parents live beyond their children's early adulthood."35 At the same time, ironically, I was beginning to live into the truth of that aphorism: “Live long enough, and you'll finally understand your parents.” Another aphorism or perhaps formula, that of the French moralist of the enlightenment Joubert, expressed a truth I was also coming 35 Margaret Mead, Blackberry Winter: My Early Years, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1972, p. 44. 57
  58. 58. to appreciate as memory increasingly refracted a past life within me, "Do not express yourself as you feel, but as you remember."36 My parents had a reverence for culture. They both played the piano, read, sang in choirs, took a serious interest in religion and politics. They were both children of working class people from the United Kingdom at the turn of the 20th century and they cast their cultural sites to books, art, intellectualized religion and music with a certain disposition against popular culture. So it was by the mid- 1950s that I began to find this milieux somewhat suffocating or stale, overly familiar and I began to get turned on by the loud "down home" humor of disc jockeys and by the ferocious theatricality, aggressive festivity, and sensuality of mass mediated working class culture in its burgeoning forms. But it was, for the most part, a moderated enthusiasm. The intensity of my enthusiasms were, for the most part in sport and school work. By my twenties they were expressed in religion and my changing jobs. 36 Roland Barthes, Incidents, University of California, 1992(e- edition). 58
  59. 59. I also had an enthusiasm for sex but was usually thwarted in its expression. By the time I came to write this work in my late fifties I had trouble applying the wisdom of Winnie the Poo, namely, that one has to learn to “bounce back and adapt to the new.”37 I did bounce into the world of writing but, clearly, some of the bounce had gone out of my system. I knew that was the case and it was for this reason that I retired to one of the backwaters of the backwater where little was expected of me socially and I could bounce where my enthusiasms took me and not where obligation dictated. Perhaps, like Winnie the Poo and Mickey Mouse, I too may go on living but not in the hearts of millions as they have done and will do, it seems, for some generations to come. My posthumous fame, if indeed I have any at all, may come to lie in quiet global pools and green nooks inhabited by frogs and birds, small animals and fish. Beyond that? 37 Marshall Fishwick, ibid. 59
  60. 60. I also had trouble applying, with the wisdom of Winnie the Poo, the very useful approach to the past of historian Thomas Babbington Macauley. “To make the past present, to bring the distant near, to place us in the society of a great man or on the eminence which overlooks the field of a mighty battle, to invest with the reality of human flesh and blood beings whom we are too much inclined to consider as personified qualities in an allegory, to call up our ancestors before us with all their peculiarities of language, manners, and garb, to show us over their houses, to seat us at their tables, to rummage their old-fashioned wardrobes, to explain the uses of their ponderous furniture, these parts of the duty which properly belongs to the historian have been appropriated by the historical novelist,” such was Macauley’s advice if the writer was to make the past live, if imagination and reason were to work together in a happy ambience, if history was to be picturesque. 60
  61. 61. I could continue developing the themes of my inheritance; I could continue expressing the pride in and understanding of the generations before me as well as the children I had cared for; I could discuss the qwhole question of national character and identity formation in some details here but, for now, these brief allusions will suffice. There have been several, perhaps a dozen people and groups in my life, whom I found tested my spirit and my capacities to the limit. Besides the people I loved dearly and were closest to me, most of whom pushed me to the edge at some time or another, two supervisors, one in Katherine and one in South Hedland, several classes of students and particular individuals in those classes and several Baha'is in various Baha'i communities I lived and worked in. For the most part, though, my relationships throughout my life have been positive ones.38 Given the intensity of these difficult 38 A separate story could examine the few negative relationships in my life and the tensions in my primary relationships. Perhaps a future edition will contain such an examination. 61
  62. 62. people and difficult relationships, I could explore their affect on my life in great detail. Again, perhaps I will do this in a future edition of this autobiography. I'll close this chapter with a brief piece on the history of the Baha'i community in Katherine where Chris and Dan and I moved in July of 1982 and stayed until March of 1986. It will give some sense of character, place and everyday life as I lived it for four years in the Northern Territory. I will also close with a succinct summary of my life in overview. "Within two years after the Leyton family left Katherine in 1980, the town had a new Baha'i Group: Ron and Chris Price. Maryanne Palliaer moved in in 1983 and Heather Dryden in 1985. Katherine was able to keep at least one Baha'i, maintain its 'isolated believer', its 'locality', status, for the rest of the first fifty year history ending in 1997 thanks to the presence of Larry Ahlin. The story of Larry 62
  63. 63. Ahlin's becoming a Baha'i has been told before.39 I will review it briefly here. Some time in 1983, while Larry was working in the Legal Aid Office, he came into the Katherine Adult Education Centre. Here we talked briefly about the history of his people and their land. At the time Larry was the spokesman for the Jawoyn people. I don't remember if we discussed the Faith at that first meeting, but over the next twelve months Larry came to our small firesides. We talked together in many places around the town and he joined the Cause in April 1984. Larry was the first Aboriginal elder in the NT to become a Baha'i and the only person to become a Baha'i during the nearly four years Chris, Dan and I lived in Katherine. This second contingent of Baha'is in Katherine went on to different places. But Larry stayed in his traditional home, a home where he could trace his ancestry as far back as 1788. Here he continued to 39 Northern Lights, Issue 40. 63
  64. 64. serve this new Faith into the second half century of Baha'i history in the NT." Rousseau's conception of confession had nothing to do with repentance and everything to do with how one worked out the conflicting tendencies intus et in cite, inside and under the skin.40 The major conflicting tendency in the nearly four years I was in Katherine had to do with how to work with someone who did not seem to like me, who made my life difficult; how to be positive and harmonious with the difficult personality. For the most part, in most towns and most situaitons, I liked those I lived and worked with. I worked this situation out by running, by getting out of the situation. I tried to work it out for two years, unsuccessfully. The second conflicting tendency was how to deal with my wife's illness which no matter what she and we did did not get better; or with the Aboriginal problem which just went on and on. These were the years 1982 to 1986. 40 Christopher Kelly, Rousseau's Exemplary Life, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1987, p.11. 64
  65. 65. Louis Zukofsky said that "we write one poem all our lives."41 I wrote several lines of this poem of a life in Katherine during its wet and dry seasons, coping with problems that never went away and enjoying, at least for a time, a year or two, being a big-wig in a little town, in a little pond, on the edge of the never-never land. The poem was part of what could be called a conversion poem as this narrative could be called a conversion narrative. Given the quiet edge to Baha'i evangelism it could be said that "conversion" is too strong a term. There has been over these forty years so little converting. Those who got converted, including myself, occupied such a small quantity of time that it would be more logical to call the narrative by another name, perhaps 'confrontational' or 'farming' or some quiet military metaphor like 'soldiering on.' 41 Louis Zukovsky in The Poetics of the New American Poetry, editors, Donald Allen and Warren Tallman, Grove Press Inc., NY, 1973, p.278. 65
  66. 66. "Autobiography is the highest and most instructive form," argues Wilhelm Dilthey, "in which the understanding of life confronts us."42 I am confronted on page after page with understanding or its absense and conversion plays such a small part of all those years from one end of the earth to the other, except for a small handful of souls. Perhaps another generation, a future generation, may call their story, their narrative, conversion. We shall see. One of the many series of letters that I wrote and received in the mid-1980s resulted from my involvement with a Baha'i magazine called Dialogue. A group of Californian believers began the magazine. All the articles were submitted for prepublication review to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States. A feeling of distrust developed between the editors and Baha'i administration in Wilmette and in Haifa. Like so many situations in life the context for this story is complex and I do not want to go 42 Wilhelm Dilthey, Pattern and Meaning In History, Harper, NY, 1961, p.85. 66
  67. 67. into a long digression here to elaborate on this particular facet of my story, my life experience. In the spring of 1988 the editors proposed that a 9-point reform package be published. It was called “A Modest Proposal." They submitted this proposal for review. The proposal pointed to the decline in conversions, argued against the continued process of review and even proposed term limits for N.S.A. members. The response of N.S.A. secretary Robert Henderson and Firuz Kazemzadeh, according to senior editor Steven Scholl, was a critical one. The story is long and tortuous and I was at the receiving end half a world away. My role in the magazine was as editor of culture and the arts. In some ways I have come to see the 1980s as the beginning of my writing career, but it was not all on a happy footing.43 I had never possessed the hereditary ache for sudden wealth nor even sexual 43 See Ron Price, Letters: Volume VI, "Dialogue: Section 6." 67
  68. 68. fulfillment, although I often wonder why this latter desire did not dominate my motivational matrix more than it did, but I did possess, perhaps as far back as my late teens, an ache that had never been discouraged by my various failures of health and circumstance. It was a quiet ache, as insidious as a seed, for a certain literary, intellectual and academic success. This impulse, this ache, was not a strong one, but it lingered on the edges of my life as if waiting for something to happen. And something did happen from time to time, an insensible add-on of rays of light that gradually grew into a sun-burst. During these forty years of pioneering I often felt a sickness to the depths of my very soul but, I think for the most part, this was just about always associated with my bi-polar disorder. My sickness of soul found its panacea in medication. I say sickness of soul because of the depths of the mental disorientation that was part of my life off and on for the forty years 1962-2002 and produced, by 1980, a nightly deathwish. I did not require a panacea of 68
  69. 69. quiescence or the more common response of indifference to the world's dilemmas. What I needed was the help of chemotherapy. I was aware of the world's, life's, imperfections and of the vast physical and social problems, but life did not therefore interest me less but more. I had the will, the desire, to live and the persistence to grapple with the globe's complexities. I did this grappling within the framework of the Baha'i teachings. This grappling increased insensibly beginning with my own turning away from the established forms of political and religious orthodoxy in my late teens and twenties. There was, too, a certain intellectual daring that forced received opinion into the new jurisdiction of a new world religion. By the 1980s this grappling had begun to take a turn to writing. Whatever emotional imbalances there were in my life due to this bi-polar tendency there was on the whole a prevailing sanity and balance. As far back as the time the Tablets of the Divine Plan were written new forces had been expressing themselves in the Canadian 69
  70. 70. temperament influencing both the artist, the poet and their manner of expression. In Canadian verse, as in its painting and sculpture, the pervading sanity and balance of the Canadian temperament, its obstinate antagonism to extremes, saved Canada from the grotesque excesses indulged in by some of their English and American contemporaries. Modernism, so called, came without violence to Canada.44 So was that true of may other developments in Canada. Indeed, the context within which my first serious writing was done from 1982 to 1987 were two very demanding jobs. I was literally run off my legs. The tension resulting from two of the most difficult relationships with supervisors in my life also placed demands on my nerves as did my wife's continuing ill-health. Two more towns, requiring all I had as a person: life had been rich but exhausting yet again. North of Capricorn was anything but laid- back. You'd think in a place with temperatures that were frequently 44 Charles G. D. Roberts, “Canadian Poetry in its Relation to The Poetry of England and America,” Canadian Poetry, Winter 1982. 70
  71. 71. in the forties you'd be able to have a bit of a siesta. I must have worked an average of sixty hours a week for all those years. The jobs paid well compared to being on the dole, as I had been back in 1980 or in the tin mine in 1981 to 1982. I was able to save enough to buy a house when we moved to Perth at the end of 1987. It was timely that I should own a house again in 1988 in Perth. I had owned my first house from 1973 to 1974 and again just after my fortieth birthday. Some say that maturity begins at forty. I’m not sure. If owning a house is a symbol of maturity, I was on my way. I was forty-four and middle adulthood was finally beginning to level out as we moved into Belmont Western Australia in July of 1988. But this leveling was not without yet a new set of difficulties in a community of hundreds of Baha'is. Like some novelists, like Chekov for example, I wanted to ground my life and its action in a reality that reached across time and space. This would help me counter the transience that seems to be 71
  72. 72. a dominant characteristic of life. Unlike Chekov my intention is to soften the blows of life through a belief in a afterlife and a future for humanity which is positive, indeed, wondrous.45 I like to think I have channeled my sadness, pity, compassion and empathic indignation through my literary artistry, my autobiogrpahy, in such a manner that my readers experience those same feelings that I have rising up in me. Perhaps this is too much to hope for. Hopefully, my readers will find themselves accepting their disappointments, their wants, their aliveness; understanding, their humanity, their weaknesses and incapacities. At times, it seems to me that the point of human suffering may be not so much to reduce pain as to be able to hold it tenderly. If this work has helped in only a small way toward such ends it will have achieved much. Grief and sadness turn out to be places none of us know until we reach them. But, having reached them and reached them many times, they exist in the after-ring of our memories; we come to 45 Frank Rubenfeld,“On Reading Chekov,” Website: mtndavy@earthlink.net 72
  73. 73. know their surroundings, their contexts and we know too that they will pass, that will will rise up in us and pass like the wind leaving a glimmering star, a shy perplexity and many a grey, dusky lusterless sky. For me, such sadness never ceases to be difficult. It seems to me that writing poetry has been but a natural response to life's travail and a refuge from it.46 In the 1980s I began to make plans, somewhat insensibly, somewhat obscurely but also with some specificity to bring the attention of the world and its media to the truths of this new Revelation. By 1982 I had had twenty years of some degree of success, albeit limited. I now strove, as my years north of Capricorn advanced, to be as Mark Twain once strove to be, a sort of captain of letters. I would mine the burgeoning literary ore for notes, for lectures, for research value; I would smelt it into newspaper and magazine articles; I would refine it, if I was capable, into books and publish and distribute them in the world’s 46 Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 1962(1934), p.82. 73
  74. 74. literary channels. Whereas Twain aimed to take out a large profit for himself from every stage of the process, my aim was to contribute to the profit of this Cause I had been pioneering for for some two decades. I had shared with the rest of humanity in the furor of the tempest that was sweeping the face of the earth--and had been for at least the previous sixty years--and I had been developing a set of artistic ideals to fortify me in my literary task. An energy, immense but contolled now as I reached the age of forty, I could at last keep within bounds. My nature, with its lyrical, explosive and boisterous elements, was now more restrained, a restraint which I accepted more willingly than before thanks to the insistence of my wife. VOLUME FOUR: CHAPTER SIX INTERNATIONAL PIONEERING6: 1988-1996 74
  75. 75. Pioneering is a topic frequently mentioned in the primary texts. Indeed, a significant portion of the writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi are devoted to encouraging Baha'is to pioneer or offering guidance to those who have.-Notes on Pioneering, Internet. _____________________________________________________ When I first wrote this narrative outline, the first edition, I ended the account in 1992. By that time I had lived with my wife and son in Perth for five years. I had lived in Australia for twenty-one. I had taught at four technical and further education campuses, institutions not unlike the community colleges I was used to back in Canada. Perth, Thornlie, Carine and Balga in Western Australia, the open college of Tafe in the Northern Territory and at Box Hill Tafe in Victoria. I had served on the LSA of Belmont for three years. In 1992 I began to write poetry at a rate of some six hundred poems a year and, about that time I began to tire of working as a teacher. I had been in the game since 1967. As I approached fifty, I began to feel as if I had had enough. But I continued for another 75
  76. 76. seven years, retiring in mid-1999 before going to Tasmania. In the years up to the age of sixty in Tasmania teaching one or two hours a week seemed to be about all that interested me--and this was on a casual basis with seniors, students for the most part over sixty. Talking and listening had taken their toll. Five months after our arrival in Perth in December 1987 in its Ridvan message of April 1988 the House of Justice had spoken of a new paradigm of opportunity and a silver lining brightening the horizon after the dark shadow of previous decades. Indeed, for the next eleven years in Perth, this new opportunity presented itself to me. It presented itself in the changing political climate of the globe, in the teaching opportunities in the Tafe colleges I worked in and in the body of poetry I began to write, literally thousands of poems. There were, for me, new tendencies as mentioned in that same message in April 1988. Four weeks before receiving that Ridvan message I had written a poem for the LSA of Ballarat on its 76
  77. 77. twenty-fifth anniversary. It had been ten years since our family had lived in Ballarat. I reminisced and: I spoke a few lines and exited right, the LSA held onto its light. Now 25 years in the world's darkest night. The foundation is laid for the world's grandest Fight.47 A new paradigm of opportunity did enter the world in the years 1989 to 1992 as the Berlin wall finally came down, the Cold War ended, as did communism in Eastern Europe and a new era in international relations was inaugurated. The bi-polar society I had lived with all my life became much more complex, multi-polar in some ways and a new agenda entered the global scene.48 It was the victory of capitalist market society over what was then its biggest 47 Ron Price, "Letter to the Ballarat LSA," 25 March 1988. These lines are a small part of that poem. 48 This process has now been described in a multitude of ways. See Jarie Simensen, "Democracy and Globalization: Nineteen Eighty- Nine and the 'Third Wave,'" Journal of World History, Vol.10, No.2, 1999, pp.391-411. 77
  78. 78. contender.49 Gradually, too, my own bi-polar world was becoming less frenetic and moody, but it would be another decade before all the extremities of my symptoms would be eliminated. New opportunities, too, for the Baha'is to relate their Cause to the issues of the day arose. The 'cold war' paradigm that had been the backdrop for the bi-polar political world that had characterized my entire life, had ended and a new wind, what the House characterized as "an onrushing wind" in its 1992 Ridvan message, entered human society. Perhaps it was partly this "onrushing wind" that led to the burgeoning output of poetry in that year and succeeding years. Perhaps it was the closing of several doors in my life that turned me away from various grooves down which my life might have spun without ever writing any poetry or prose of note about poetry, my life and my Faith. The "future of immense challenges and dazzling prospects" which in 1990 the House of Justice said faced the Baha'i World certainly faced me as I was 49 This process within capitalism has been variously described. I have drawn here onVolker Bornschier, "The Civilizational Project and its Discontents," Journal of World Systems Research, Vol.2, 1995, pp.165-185. 78
  79. 79. about to experience the first stirrings of another serious tedium vitae, a desire to leave teaching and frustrations in the Baha'i community. The dazzling prospects, little did I know, that were just on the horizon was a literary explosion that has not yet ended a dozen years later. Before leaving Belmont in July of 1999, I wrote a brief history of the Baha'i community there. Since so much of my time and Chris and Dan's were spent as part of this community I include this history below: THE BELMONT BAHA'I COMMUNITY: THE FIRST 20 YEARS: 1979-1999 AN INTRODUCTION TO A BRIEF HISTORY a personal perspective by Ron Price ------------------------------------------------ "As my own association with the Belmont Baha'i community moves into what looks like its last year, I thought I would attempt a 79
  80. 80. second brief history of this community in the interests of posterity. If this history, the history of the first twenty years of the Belmont Baha'i community was to be written in detail it would, and should, be dedicated to Kevin and Susheela Croft and their two children: Roshan and Carmel, who first came to Belmont in about 1979 or 1980. As far as I know, the Belmont Baha'i community begins, to all intents and purposes, at this point.50 As this brief statement goes down on paper the first twenty years of this community nears its completion. The following names could be added to what I have included below: Simon Farrant, Sara Dawe, Yvonne Denyer, Reyhanis, Beltons, Jane and Brian King, Louise Rouche, Kashanis, Goulds, and several others. By 1982, when the Belmont community moved from Group status to Assembly status, another couple had moved in: Riadh and Rose Ali and their four daughters: Runa, May, Huda 50 I have since come to discover from a Mr. Colin Wasley who used to live in Perth, the existence of a Baha'i living in Belmont as early as the 1960s. 80
  81. 81. and Suha; and shortly thereafter Gary and Cy Olsen and their three children: Matthew, Millie, Samantha. These three couples were the core founders and workers in the community until 1988 when my wife and I and our son Daniel moved in from Stirling where we had lived for six months on arrival from South Hedland. In the early nineties, about 1992, the Crofts and Olsens left Belmont, leaving the Prices and the Alis to provide the core of service. A future Baha'i historian, with an enthusiasm I do not possess, will be able to gather in the names of many others, including John and Pat Bewick and the Sharafizad family, who served for shorter lengths of time and made up what was a busy community of over 50 members by 1992. By 1999, however, sending out pioneers and a declining number of new recruits had resulted in only a dozen people meeting on regular occasions for community functions. Such a historian will also be able to document the various activities, highlights, initiatives, occasions that made up the substance of Baha'i community life and the efforts of its members 81
  82. 82. to teach and consolidate. The archives, both local and national, contain a great mass of material that any painstaking researcher can draw on to weave the tapestry of life that is and was the Belmont Baha'i community. Time spent in informal socializing and visiting and what Robert D. Putnam called “civic engagement” had been dropping since the sixties and membership records reflected this declining community involvement. Efforts to attract new members had been difficult for virtually the entire time I had been a Baha’i, with the exception of perhaps two short periods back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These years in Belmont were no exception. The Crofts, the Olsens and the Alis were all highly sociable human types with enough extrovertism in their bones and enough skills and talents to attract the multitude and over the years there were many who came to their homes but few, by 1999, actually became members. There were many reasons for the decline and disillusioment with public 82
  83. 83. life, reasons well documented in the social science literature, reasons I will not go into here.51 I have written a great deal of poetry about these days, days when my family lived in Belmont(1988-1999) and this poetry will one day serve as a resource for some enterprising historian. For now, though, this brief statement and a first draft I wrote several years ago, now in the archives of the Belmont LSA, will serve as a starting point for future initiatives, future accounts that build on these first twenty years. If the names of isolated believers in Belmont in the 1960s and 1970s are located, if they exist, the history may be given a greater longevity. It is, indeed, possible that a Baha'i lived in this geographical locality as early as the 1950s when construction work began on houses that have come to make up this suburb nearly a century later. The population of the district 51 Robert D. Putnam, “The Strange Disappearance of Civic America,” The American Prospect, No. 24, Winter 1996. By the 1990s the average American spent 40 per cent of his time watching TV. Viewing hours had grown steadily since the introduction of TV back in the late 1940s. 83
  84. 84. increased beyond the few farms that had come to be the basis for the population of Belmont in the first half of the twentieth century, perhaps as early as 1915. In recent years my history writing seems to have dried up, except insofar as poetry is concerned. Since few seem interested in writing the history of these early days, perhaps since they are days of activity in the dark heart of history's process when so much else is being done by the believers during the frenetic pace of our times, this brief 'second statement'52 will have to suffice. "I give you my tired moments" 'Abdu'l-Baha put it in the early years of this century when answering questions for the now famous Baha'i book Some Answered Questions. Writing brief sketches of the history of local communities has been a service I have contributed since 1981 in 52 I would hope that these first two 'statements' in no way determined the direction of a fuller account. Indeed, my own particular proclivities I would hope, will not prejudice future facts and orientations from developing. For example, it may be more appropriate to dedicate the exercise to Riadh and Rose Ali who served in the community for virtually the entire 20 years, or at least 18 of those years. 84
  85. 85. Tasmania; perhaps one day I will find a new lease on life and continue this history writing. In the meantime my poetry53 will continue and any historian interested in some personal accounts of these days can find them in my poetry booklets. Note: the above ‘history’ was reviewed by the LSA on 30/3/99 and it was decided that: (i) several additions should be made(I have inserted these additions, as above); (ii) the above should be filed in the LSA files with the other correspondence, but should not be considered ‘a piece of archival history’ since it is not (a) comprehensive or (b) accurate enough; and (iii) if the author would like to do more research it would be appreciated. 53 I wrote some 4000 poems from 1992 to 1998 inclusive. They are held in the BWCL. I am sure that one day writing the history of local Baha'i communities will excite the enthusiasm of more Baha'is than is now the case. When that occasion arises, when that development occurs, the above will serve as a simple starting point, at least for Belmont. 85
  86. 86. No further research work is planned, although occasionally I add a sentence or two to the text as I proceed to revise this autobiographical work. The above was filed with other correspondence and is now in the Belmont Baha’i community archive. The only other history I wrote after this particular piece was that of the history of the Cause in the Northern Territory. Of course, any history I would write is not the same as that which another Baha’i might write. My analysis, too, is inevitably different than another’s. This has been the case as far back as the first historians in the Greek and Hebraic traditions. In more modern times, say the 1830s and 1840s at the very start of this Baha’i Era, various observers of America brought their own baggage and prejudices, their own expectations and understandings to bear on the nature of American society at the time. Not everyone will see these epochs the way I do and I’m sure that one day when the works of other Baha’i writers are set down 86
  87. 87. beside my own their impressons will be a reflection of their characters and personal situations, their variously tempered and contextualized pictures of the times, pictures that resulted from their differing experiences and genetic makeups. The persona of the writer and the purpose of his travelling define so much of the resulting impression.54 These fledgling communities which I describe en passant during these forty years are somewhat like the fledgling Ameircan communities described by Alexis de toqueville in is Democracy in America. When the many and various sources are put together at some future time a detailed and colourful portrait will emerge. And this work will have played its part, however small. I am confident I have avoided the error that one George Combe described when he wrote that some writers expressed an opinion of a country on the basis of one experience or incident. The sociologist Harriet Martineau felt it was an impossibility to paint a portrait of a nation, of a national character. If she is right it is even more the case in my 54 Author Unknown, Internet Site: Toqueville, 22 August 2003. 87
  88. 88. attempt to paint the life and times, the history, of four epochs and the Baha’i community or even a part of it, within those epochs. The fourth epoch was nearly at the end of its second year, after its launch in January 1986, when we arrived in Perth and it would continue until the second year of our sojourn in Tasmania. The House of Justice had written its Peace Message in 1986 and Baha'is had taken it around the world in their efforts to promulgate its contents. I had been living in Katherine Northern Territory at the time, although by the end of March 1986 I was living in South Hedland. A Six Year Plan had also begun in 1986 and 338 pioneers had gone out and settled in 119 countries in that Plan’s first year. In the previous Seven Year Plan(1979-1986) some 3694 pioneers responded to the call for service. The fiftieth anniversary of the launching of the first Seven Year Plan in America in 1937 was observed while the teaching initiative had refocussed for Chris and I onto the Aboriginal people of northwest Australia. The Army of Life was unobtrusively widening and deepening. And I was 88
  89. 89. heading for the age of 50, the middle of middle age. Life had presented its perplexing and tormenting questions, themselves the salt of the spiritual life. After more than thirty years of pioneering some of these questions had been sorted and others, some new and some old, had not. Human passion still confronted me with its demonic potencies and the spiritual life presented its challenge, its ordeal, its struggle and its drama. It was not my intention to survey the wide stream of history, or even the wide stream of the history of my Faith; rather it was my intention to examine some of its mingling currents and deluges and regurgitations, the struggles of some of its major and minor actors within a conceptual framework, a social dynamic that implied that what I was examining was more than a brief history of the follies and misfortunes of a small sector of humankind. I liked to think that these epochs offered to me and my fellow coreligionists a rare combination of circumstances which with character and intellect could produce tremendous achievements, but they were achievements which were often very difficult to assess. Too close to them did we stand. 89
  90. 90. After thirty years, too, in so many towns and places on God's earth, a series of ordeals had stimulated my intellect by challenging it and the art of communicating ideas to other minds had become an indispensable accomplishment as well as an arduous stage in a process of literary composition. I wanted to take to literary work the way some men take to drink. For this literary work came out of life's travail as far back as the start of my pioneering venture. I had written and spoken so much to so many, trying to find the most appropriate way to place ideas in the minds of others, that by 1992 I seemed to have exhausted my energies. Perhaps what I experienced as the 1990s opened was something similar to the process that happened in the literary life of Henry James. James stored impressions to the point where he was like a saturated sponge that had to be squeezed out by the act of writing. The stored impressions were released in some peaceful setting. Such are the bases for James’ novels—and my own literary products. 90
  91. 91. Gradually, over the remaining years of the millennium, I became charged with a new and creative intellectual mission as I turned more to writing and less to the social domain. I was increasingly convinced during the last years of my teaching career and the first year or two of my retirement, that a change in the direction and the context of my personal mission in life from classrooms and meeting rooms to private study and writing was the place, the space, for my life to go. Each year of my retirement confirms this view. After forty years as a student and a teacher(1959-1999), focussing on passing exams, writing essays for teachers and other academics, working with children, adolescents and adults, entering a field of communication studies or human relations at a critical stage of its early development and teaching more subjects than you could shake a stick at--easily in excess of a hundred--it was time to move on in life as middle age was beginning to wind down(age 55 to 60) and late adulthood opening on the horizon. 91
  92. 92. Before I leave these few comments about my life as a student and teacher I would like to make a few remarks about the revolution that began in the 1980s and 1990s, in my last years of full-time teaching, in the ways in which knowledge was not only transmitted, but generated, packaged, absorbed and interrogated. Libraries began to commit an increasing proportion of their funds to electronic data-bases. Students, teachers, people in the wider community became tied by an invisible umbilical cord to their personal computers. In the 1990s people’s computers became not just word processors but gateways to a world-wide web of information and communication. To film and video were added DVDs, PCs, increasing individualized instruction and flexible delivery and, as the new millennium went through its first decade, the TV screens got bigger and the WWW contained more and more printed matter. I could say much more about the technological changes and the changes in attitudes, values and beliefs about education but, for now, this will suffice. Given the literature 92

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