My Autobiography: Part 3

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

PRE-YOUTH DAYS--1956 to 1959

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

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

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My Autobiography: Part 3

  1. 1. VOLUME TWO: CHAPTER TWO PREAMBLE 2: PRE-YOUTH DAYS--1956 to 1959 "Confession oozes from every pore....." The story of who we are, how we come to be this thing we call ourself, the interior and exterior landscape where it all takes place, is to a significant extent created. It is created by a complex of forces. It is/must also be maintained and revised from time to time with the years and with particular circumstances. This task some call the reflexive project. I call it writing my autobiography. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Polity Press, Cambridge UK, 1991. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The suspiciousness of the historian needs to be most pronounced in that tender region of experience and sexuality, interpersonal relationships and privacy where pride, shame, or embarrassment guide the pen, inventing conquests and denying defeats, distorting feelings and, only too often, copying formulas. Few autobiographers understand all their impulses or 1
  2. 2. are conscious of their ambivalence. They often do not remotely know how much they are really saying. Confession oozes from every pore, even if one tries to conceal one's innermost desires and aversions.-Ron Price with thanks to Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria To Freud, Education of the Senses, Oxford UP, NY, 1984, pp.110-11. ___________________________________________________________ “A book is not an isolated being,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges, “it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.”1 And so is this the case here and the axis this chapter opens with goes back to 1956. In 1956 in September I entered grade seven. I was twelve years old. In 1959, in October, at the age of fifteen I joined the Baha'i Faith. These three years, the three years this chapter concerns itself with, were busy ones playing baseball in the spring and summer, hockey in the winter and football in the autumn. Between games I managed to fit in the last two years of primary school and the first year of high school. At the start of the winter season, in November of 1957, the Guardian died. It was an event, then, on the edges of my life. I recall, vaguely now, a sense of sadness and loss in the small Baha'i community of Burlington which I had so recently joined and which I had been a part of in various ways for some four years. 1 Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” The Modern World Internet Site, 2006. 2
  3. 3. Canada only had a few hundred Baha'is at the time. Shoghi Effendi died in the sixtieth year of the Canadian Baha'i historical experience and in his own sixtieth year of life. He was as old when he died as I am as I write these words. By the same year, 1957, at least according to no less an authority than the famous rock magazine Rolling Stone, the "rock 'n' roll era had begun"2 or, as some other received wisdom might have it, the first wave of rock 'n' roll ended.3 Elvis had been inducted into the Army; Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard had crossed over to the pop charts, although I did not find any of these icons an influence on my life. They were all, with Shoghi Effendi who had died on the cusp of his middle and late adulthood, largely peripheral. These singers came into my sensory emporium on transistor radios and the little blue plug-in radio I had in my bedroom. The Guardian hardly entered at all into my mental set in 1957. I had yet to buy any of his books; annual Ridvan letters had yet to become a regular part of my life. I was a young man in a little town in Canada who had just crossed over into puberty and teen age life, had just kissed a girl for the first time and was winning big-time in baseball and at school. 2 Palmer, Rolling Stone, Vol. 12. 3 Robert Miklitsch, “Rock 'N' Theory: Autobiography, Cultural Studies, and the Death of Rock, Postmodern Culture, 1999. 3
  4. 4. My first memories of life in a Baha'i community go back to this period. Until that time, the time when my parents began to engage with this small Baha’i community, the only people who ever came into our home were a few relatives, fewer friends and, for a short time in the early 1950s, groups of CCF people. CCF was a small political party in Canada. It stood for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and was a leftward leaning, socialist alternative party in Canada that both my mother and father had taken an interest in during their first years in Burlington on Seneca Street where we lived about three to four hundred yards from Lake Ontario. Both my parents went to groups outside our home, mostly churches where they sang in choirs4 and various religious groups of which Baha’i was one. It has been suggested by some writers that "autobiographies of childhood and adolescence are an autonomous subgenre."5 Early memories are more poetical than historical they say. However true this may be, I use it as a cautionary note and continue on my historical way. I return to these years as I might to a warehouse of cultural scenarios, a kind of "temporal 4 For some time my mother went to the Anglican Church(1957-8ca). Both my parents sang in a United Church(1955-6ca). These two churches were two of the main three denominations in Canada. 5 See e.g. Joy Hooton, Stories of Herself When Young: Autobiographies of Childhood by Australian Women, Oxford UP, Melbourne, 1990. 4
  5. 5. central casting."6 I passed my boyhood and youth with some irresponsibility, not as extensive as Huckleberry Finn’s and not as imaginative and mischievous as Tom Sawyer’s, or at least Mark Twain’s rendition of these nineteenth century children of the Mississippi. It often seemed that the years passed slowly back then. My studious nature helped the years to pass, unlike Mark Twain’s far less studious nature and his circumstances which forced him to leave school at the age of twelve offering him very poor opportunities for study. My opportunities, those of the first generation in the West to enjoy educational opportunities which had been extended to all classes, filled by childhood, my adolescence and my early adulthood from the age of four or five to twenty-three. Unlike Mark Twain’s life, which saw his father die when he was twelve and saw him apprenticed at the same age to a printer, my father did not die until I was twenty-one and my apprenticeship, if one can call it that, consisted of summer jobs throughout my late childhood, my teens and early twenties. My apprenticeship, too, took many forms. One of the more crucial ones consisted of laying or crouching in the murky half-light of my bedroom while my body, unbearably frightened, crushed my spirit with fear. As 6 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996, p.30. 5
  6. 6. my spirit crushed my body whose tiniest fibers cringed in apprehension about what might happen and what was happening, I waited for the argument between my parents to end. It always ended and morning always came. I could continue with much specificity, about the cringing in my bedroom as I recall the little voice of my youth but not now and perhaps hardly at all in this memoir. Suddenly, or at least it seemed suddenly looking back, at some time in the years of my late childhood, 1954 to 1956, almost overnight, I saw my dad serving a lounge-room full of people. He probably served the guests to our home when the CCF folks gathered in our small lounge-room. But I can not recall; I probably made myself scarce given the level of verbal conflict that partisan politics generates.7 We had a small lounge-room and ten people made quite an impression and filled all the spaces available. Some of the people from this period made a lasting impression on me. I'm sure, with a little historical and archival digging, I could write a small book on these earliest days in the Burlington Baha'i community, but time and circumstance have made many of the memories indistinct. 7 This anecdote is a good example of the difficulty in writing about events in one’s life, in this case, half a century ago. These memories of the CCF are vague in the extreme. 6
  7. 7. I'm not sure how edifying such a detailed account of these earliest years of association with this new world religion would be anyway. In many ways they were just ordinary people: reading, talking, eating, being friendly, being idiosyncratic, being themselves, being their social selves. I rarely met them in private. They were people in community. There is a strangeness to people in community, a touch of the bizarre. I find that even now after fifty years of being part of it. And its not just the Baha'i community. It's true of people anywhere who gather together from time to time and take on the nomenclature: community. People in community is, perhaps, the greatest drama in life. It is this drama that is the stuff of fiction, clever and entertaining writing and the best and worst of the modern novel. Had I been able to write fiction successfully I might never have written this autobiography. In that first Baha'i community where I got my start, my first experiences of people of all ages in community, there were retired people, artists, an accountant, a teacher, a businessman and several women who seemed to be housewives. I was never quite sure, then, what everyone did. And I'm often not sure even now. People have their jobs, of course, but what they actually do in their jobs and at all the other times keeps you busy figuring out, keeps you guessing. The unity of the group is what you could call a heterogeneous unity. Heterogeneity was the stuff of the unity, of the 7
  8. 8. dynamic unity, of the Baha'i community. The acids of imitation and conventionality have trouble eating such a vitality away. They can and they do, of course, because they are inevitable ingredients of any community which shares customs, a common calendar with its regular events, feasts and fasts, inter alia. One must be on guard that the acids of individualism don't achieve the same result. The question is quite a complex one and I deal with it more fully later in this work, in chapter 17. There were Baha'is back then whom I should mention. Any historians in the Canadian Baha'i community who were part of the Baha'i community in the 1950s in Ontario or who like Will van den Hoonaard, a sociologist at the University of New Brunswick, study that community now would wonder how I could write about this period and not at least mention their names. Nancy Campbell, George Spendlove, George and Hazel Cutriss, Jim Gibb, Helen Macquarie, John and Hattie Dixon, Fred and Jean Graham and others dotted the human landscape and became part and parcel of the lives of the Price family in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. By October 1959, then, joining the Baha'i Faith was like joining a family I had been a part of for several years. Each of the people I have mentioned here had their idiosyncrasies, their individual personalities, their constellation of interests, their families, their biography's but, after 8
  9. 9. nearly fifty years, I must confess that most of these details are forgotten in the mists of time. As I reflect on these first associations in the Baha’i community I can’t help but also reflect on Aristotle's concept of mimesis. "The instinct for imitation,” writes Aristotle, “is inherent in human beings from our earliest days; we differ from other animals in that we are the most imitative of creatures and learn our earliest lessons by imitation.”8 My association with the Baha’i community began when I was nine or ten and these several individuals whose homes I entered and who entered the home of my mother and father had qualities worthy of emulation. We all have a sense of a public self, and we keep refashioning ourselves according to the information we process. In one form or another, we are performers. In 1953/4 I entered a world of performers. Those in that world of performers which I entered at the age of nine were not paid for honing their craft as the characters who played the roles in Shakespeare’s plays like Hamlet. But they were all performers who were aware of their audience, as we all are, some of course more than others.9 8 Yu Shibuya, “Shakespeare on Film in Asia and Hollywood,” editor, Charles Ross, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature, March 2004. 9 Shibuya discusses this aspect of the performing self in relation to Hamlet and to our own lives in Shibuya, op.cit. 9
  10. 10. “Perhaps the most crucial failing of postwar America’s obsession with family togetherness,” as Benita Eisler observes in her book Private Lives: Men and Women of the Fifties,10 “was the ease with which it concealed destructive family dynamics from the outside world.” As Children in particular were “pressed into service early as happy smiling fronts, emissaries of family normalcy, cheerful proof that ‘nothing was really wrong’ at the Joneses” (170). Moreover, in a culture that touted “a man’s home is his castle,” letting the mask of conformity slip offered little hope of outside intervention. Notes historian Jessica Weiss, “A focus on family to the exclusion of all else isolated couples, leaving spouses few outside resources when conflict erupted.” A battered wife, for instance, found that neighbors and teachers were all too willing to overlook her scars and bruises in order to preserve “the fiction of togetherness,” leaving the woman “stranded trying to make a ‘happy’ home and raise children in between the rage and beatings that she could neither prevent nor stop” (137). My mother had her brother and sister to lean on when my father irrupted in the 1950s when he was in his sixties. I don’t know to what extent she opened-up to her Bahá'í friends. The heat was on our little family of three 10 Benita Eisler, Private Lives: Men and Women of the Fifties. Danbury, CT, Franklin Watts, 1986, p. 10
  11. 11. back then; it was on both my mother and father much more than I was aware as they stoically battled on. One of the reasons I have written this autobiography is that I am coming to realize more and more what was really going on in my life: in my family, my religion and my society. I was part of an extraordinary time, the foundation decades at the beginning of Baha'i history in Canada and Baha'i history as it extended its reach especially in the 1950s. I would also like to think that this work, inspite of its length or perhaps because of it, will one day make the leap from autobiography to historical and educational resource. I think there is something epic about this narrative. What I have written may be historically unwieldy; it may wander hither and yon over two continents and two centuries, two marriages and twenty-two towns, but it portrays a story about a subject I know best-- myself. The story tends to go on and on, turning in on itself to some extent as time so often seems to stand still in the microcosm of one’s personal history and the history of one’s religion and society that is its subject matter. Time is often caught with the light, the dust and the hot air or the cloud, the clear air and the cold in the small space of a dim hot airless room, a room full of people or a dozen other settings where time in the reflective light of one’s life does not seem to move. As Tolstoi points 11
  12. 12. out in his foreward to War and Peace time and history when viewed from the perspectives of individuals form a “majestic, complex, infinitely varied and indistinct impression.”11 An individual’s experience, as opposed to a formal report, presents a different story. The artist, the autobiographer, tends to turn away from the formal report. It is as if, Tolstoi goes on, the historian and the literary artist are writing about two different subjects. That is why readers of this work will find me weaving the past and the present, different time periods, within one warp and weft, always with some corner of my eye on the future. Some readers may find this style, this approach that I take, disconcerting, discontinuous, confusing, not the tidy narrative that goes from A to B to C in simple time frames incrementally added like the Romans, annalistically, year by year. Organization theorist Gary Kreps, who teaches about narratives in organizations, says that they are "cultural storehouses for organizational intelligence."12 These narratives, whether sequential or with 11 Tolstoi in Tolstoi: The Critical Heritage, editor, A.V. Knowles, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1978, pp.124-129. 12 Gary Kreps, Communication in Organizations, Brock University Course, Internet, 2003. 12
  13. 13. interweaving-interconnected time frames as in this autobiography have several functions which I'd like to list here: * reduce uncertainty by providing organization members with pertinent information, enhancing their certainty by increasing predictability; * manage meanings by providing members with common explanations for collective sense-making; * facilitate member bonding by giving common symbolic frames of reference; * illustrate cultural themes, as every organization has unique cultural themes and a unique organizational history; * give keys to the way members in the organizational culture interpret reality, as every organization has sets of cognitive and interpretive schemes or frames; * provide informal networking and connection among organization members; * embody traces and sometimes explicit articulations of the dreams or goals of the organization. I'm not sure this autobiography will provide all these functions, but I've certainly put it on the road to doing so. If good autobiography "frees us momentarily from ambiguity," as autobiographer Jill Ker Conway says it should, and is "rooted in powerful motivations which push to one side the 13
  14. 14. conventions of modesty,"13 then I'm not so sure this narrative autobiography is that well-written. The convention of modesty has been pushed aside occasionally but not as much as many readers in this age like to see. A degree of ambiguity is inextricably bound-up with this narrative probably more than many readers would like, but this work will certainly not free readers from ambiguity as Conway says good autobiography should be. Autobiography as a discipline is created and stabilized by at least three elements: (a) constituencies: those who participate in the disciplinary community of autobiography; (b) exemplars: are related to Kuhnian paradigms which Thomas Kuhn describes as concrete puzzle-solutions. There are a core of puzzles and solutions which exist in the literature of autobiography. These discipline problems and their solutions help define the field of autobiography. They exist in a mutually constitutive relationship with a third element; namely, (c) methodologies and practices which are strategies used to explore these exemplars.14 I like to think that what I write may make readers more reflective and more decisive about working on their own inner script, the script with 13 Jill Ker Conway, editor, Autobiographies of American Women: An Anthology, Vintage Books, NY, 1992, pp.xii-xiii. 14 These elements are cited in: Janet M. Atwill, “Art and Disciplinarity,” enculturation, Vol.5, No.2, 2004. 14
  15. 15. which they construct the meaning of their own lives. Perhaps, in the process of perusing this book, readers will be able to call forth a more confident inner voice of their own. For, in many ways, the life being written about here is so ordinarily ordinary, so humanly human. This book, like the many houses I’ve lived in, brings together under one roof a simple, busy life and style with a sophisticated and highly articulated transcendental theology, philosophy and global ethic. I am not a famous person, about as far away as most people always are and always remain from celebrity status. I have achieved no special status in the Baha'i community on the appointed side of the Cause. I was often elected to LSAs, but that is quite a common part of Baha'i experience, especially during these four epochs: 1944-2021. I'm not here to overstate my case, to impress readers with what I have done. Far from it. I think what I do is to connect language to experience, mine and readers. For this is the function of every writer.15 I have often come to regard what I do in this autobiographical drama that is this work as something very similar to that of the writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. His writings were a drama as well, a drama of a sustained grappling with the meaning of his life and the 15 John Raul, "Books and Writing," ABC Radio National, 7:25-8:15 pm, 13 April 2003. 15
  16. 16. degree to which that meaning could be forged and sustained in his own writing. His positions, philosophical and intellectual, were often tailor- made justifications for his own private behaviour or, to put this idea slightly differently, his thought lined up nicely with his self-interest. He had a respect for the power of lived experience, but he was critical of any life that was based mostly on that experience.16 It is not surprising when one reads a writer like Joakim Garff who said that one can not pursue Kierkegaard historically; one can not explain his life by a mass of facts. Kierkegaard was also very difficult to read; I hope he and I part company in this aspect of our writing. I see my life in many ways as the stuff of the ordinary and for this very reason it is my hope that others who read this will come to see in their own ordinary lives their own stuff as worthy of putting into words and finding a meaning that is there but, somehow, got slipped under the surface unable to be seen. Like Thoreau I have sucked out all the marrow of life that I could find from bones that were available and which I could add to my meal as millions of others have done also or at least tried to do. 16 Vanessa Rumble, “Book Review of Alastair Hannay’s ‘Kierkegaard: A Biography,’” Journal of the History of Philosophy,Vol.41, No.1, January 2003. 16
  17. 17. I did well in school during these years and, in grade eight, won a public speaking contest for the whole of Burlington or, perhaps it was for Halton County. Perhaps it was this early success in public speaking that made me yearn, after I became a Baha'i and I read Baha'u'llah's words: "that my voice may be raised in great assemblies and from my lips may stream the flood of Thy praise." Over the years I often did speak, usually to small groups of students. The words of Thomas Mann from his Nobel prize acceptance speech in 1929 have a partial relevance to my life. "The writer and the orator are not only different, but they stand in opposition, for their work and the achievement of their effects proceed in different ways. In particular the convinced writer is instinctively repelled, from a literary standpoint, by the improvised and noncomittal character of all talk, as well as by that principle of economy which leaves many and indeed decisive gaps which must be filled by the effects of the speaker's personality.17 Mann went on in a vein not unlike the one I might voice now that I am sixty: "My disposition and my desires call for peace to spin my thread, for a steady rhythm in life and art."18 For somewhere in my fifties the desire of my heart turned from public speaking to the steady rhythms of writing to spin my head. 17 Thomas Mann's speech at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1929. 18 idem 17
  18. 18. And so it is that this chapter, dealing as it does with those first years of my activity in the Baha’i community, also deals with some of the more recent events in my life. I continue my story here but readers will find, as I go along, aspects of my life that I am dealing with now in the early years of this new millennium. The story of my in-school life and experience is a little vague now, not surprisingly after fifty years. But endings, beginnings and middles are only pauses in and between events in some ways. Memory is a complex series of stories without end. It’s as if one possesses a personal museum with each artefact embedded with memory. Each of these artefacts speaks of these memories, but each artefact is only partially renderable, writable and readable as one goes about trying in vain to define and describe the singularity that is oneself. In William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” Faulkner writes that “nothing ever happens once and is finished.” Life’s events and happenings are “like ripples on water after the pebble sinks.” Our stories, made from these pebbles and ripples, find their origin in the “constant struggle with our own heart.” We inherit this struggle and go through it “as though it had never happened before.” A writer shows these struggles “for a moment in a dramatic instant of the furious fluidity 18
  19. 19. which is human life.”19 He focuses a light on it and stops it “long enough for people to be able to see it.” Here is some of my furious fluidity as i cast a skeptical eye on my own interpretations of my life, my society and my religion. The memories of my first girlfriend, Karen, are not so vague. In retrospect, looking back from 2009 to 1956, she was either more skeptical about my affections, more fickle than I would have liked her to be or simply more impressed with someone else in the world of romance- marketing. I remember life's first series of kisses in an autumn evening in 1956 outside her basement window and the second series of kisses across the road from her home somewhere in the wooden framework of a house that was just being constructed. We never kissed again after that evening. She went on to others in the great romance and mating game of life. I did not have a second episode of 'necking,' as it was called then, until late August 1962 with a girl whose name is now lost to me. Then there was a third episode of these potentially rising and unruly passions with a lady named Kit in early 1965. And that about covers my romantic activity before I reached adulthood at 21. That is a story I could 19 William Faulkner, “Quotable Faulkner,” Southeast Missouri State University Website, 2006. 19
  20. 20. write in much finer detail and I would, if this was a novel or a Mills and Boon plot, but I don't think such a description would enhance this autobiographical account except for those with highly romantic proclivities and reading tastes. In many ways this kind of romantic activity is pretty ordinary, pretty common. Some individuals have more of it oand some less. Sometimes the accounts of this romantic-erotic experience stands out as refreshingly different; but its dominant characteristic is its ubiquity, its commonality, its very pervasiveness in our age. This very ubiquity of romance and its absence is the experience of billions of people especially as the mores and folkways, the ties of tradition, were breaking up in Western society theroughout the twentieth century. As a literary artist I seek the exception, not the common. Given the repetitive aspects of life and how so much of our experience is common, the exceptional in my life will be found in the way I convey my story, not so much in the story itself. Such is my aim, my hope. In the post-war years, the post-war years of both WWI and WW2, traditional values got hit hard. Parents neglected to tell their children the rules of the game that they had been playing and, if they did, children began to stop listening. These were children who grew up and were increasingly cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family 20
  21. 21. doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society's values. This is how the great essayinst Joan Didion analyses the post-war years of 1946 to 1967. The kids were less in rebellion against society, she argues, than simply ignorant of it.20 During these pre-youth years,21 as in the years of my childhood, I did things that now I prefer to draw "a veil over." I gave way to those impulses that the historian Peter Gay refers to in his several volume analysis of 19th century bourgeoisie society.22 sometimes the result was productive; sometimes it was a source of shame or embarrassment—even now to relate it. There were and are unsavoury aspects of my life, as there are for most lives, that one can describe in detail; there are sins of omission and commission that prevent one from ever qualifying for the queue of saints. Some biographers and autobiographers seem to be obsessed by the contemplation of their hind parts and the hind parts and the protuberances of those they are writing about,23 as John Morley 20 Joan Didion(1934- ) makes this remark in the context of her emphasis on the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos after WW2. The overriding theme in her work is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work 21 Years after childhood(0-12) and before youth(15 to 30) are the 'pre- youth' years 13 and 14. 22 Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, Volumes 1- 5: 1984-1998. 23 John Morley in "When the Saints Come Marching In: The Art of Baha'i Biography," S. Edward Morrison, Dialogue, Vol.1 No.1, (winter 1986), p.32. 21
  22. 22. described what sometimes seems a nasty business, the telling of the truth. Were it not for Baha'u'llah's general advice to limit confession, to limit some of the aspects of my innermost desires and aversions, passions and prejudices, warts, ugly toad-like and venomous qualities, would ooze from every pore, as Gay describes the process. I can easily identify with Carole Slade’s description of St. Teresa of Avila, one of the very few women to describe their life textually before the twentieth century: “in her frequent tone of anguish, I sense a great deal of perplexity over the operations of her soul, particularly a weak memory, inability to control her mental activity, and unidentifiable desires and griefs.”24 Without going into a detailed analysis of the application of this quotation to my own life I might add that, in my case, I had to deal with many quite identifiable desires and griefs. But, like Teresa, I found my emotions as difficult to control as my mind. Baha'u'llah stresses, "not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed." Often what we can and do say is not timely or suited to the ears of the hearers. Walter Lippman, the famous early twentieth century American journalist, said solemnly that his biographers would have to 24 Carole Slade, St. Teresa of Avila: Author of a Heroic Life, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995, p.1. 22
  23. 23. become detectives if they wanted to find out much about his life. He was not going to tell it all. I certainly don't tell it all but, unlike Lippman, I give biographers, should there ever be any, a good headstart. The expressions of my concupiscible and irascible appetites get some airing in these chapters and much more so in my journal. My occasional acts of irascibility and concupiscibility get described in this narrative aspect of my memoir when their descriptions are timely. Even some of my major and minor crimes can be found in these pages even though they may not be suited to the ears of the readers, even though readers may, as a consequence, find me wanting and falling from any pedestal they have inadvertently put me on and even though they may not be, as Roger White once wrote, "so epically egregious/as to embarrass the seraphim ruefully yawning/at their mention."25 If, at the end of the narrative, some thirty chapters, readers feel they want to know more about the insides of my life, I would advise they contact my son or my wife. My wife tends to call a spade a spade and my son will, in all likelihood, live to well into the twenty-first century; and then there are my two step-daughters and a multitude of former students and Baha’is I have known in many places. So it is that there should be 25 Roger White, "Lines From a Battlefield," Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, 1979, p.111. "Nor will my shame, as once I thought,/topple the cities, arrest the sun's climb." 23
  24. 24. someone around for several decades to come who has known me intimately. Both my wife and my son are open and kindly people who would gladly reveal much more about me than I do here. Over a cup of tea they can tell of things that only those who live in close proximity to those they love can tell. And they will, inevitably, have perspectives on my life that I can not possibly have in the rich mosaic that makes up who it is that we are. My journal, too, as I often say in this memoir, has revelations that can not be found here in this work and can’t be read until my passing—if they can ever be read then.26 If I had been an autobiographical poet at any time up until the end of the 18th century, I would have kept myself subordinate to my subject matter in a much fuller sense than I have done here. What I do here would have been seen, then, as self-indulgent and of no value to any audience.27 In the last two hundred years, though, the confessional strain in autobiographical writing has become a dominant one. I am interested in capturing the essence of a life drawing to some extent on this confessional strain, but not by writing intimately about a concatenation of sins, failings and faults. The rounded character, the full personality, that I describe in these pages, does not require that I confess all my sins which 26 This will depend on what my executors want to do with the body of my writings, their various literary appendages and confessional revelations. 27 Edward Byrne, op.cit. 24
  25. 25. from time to time bowed my back by their burden and gave me a great sense of heedlessness, a sense that for a time seemed to destroy me. I sometimes needed to erect personality recreations sometimes it seemed on a daily basis just to survive. Some of one's sins were, at the time of their enactment, sources of great pleasure. They were things I wanted and we are all tempted by my many and varied wants. This rounded personality, this character which I have referred to is something which in some ways I do not create here. As Saul Bellow said in his Nobel lecture in 1976, writers find their characters, they represent them. And as he went on to say, these characters are difficult to define in the midst of the interpretations, admonitions, forewarnings and descriptions of himself by the self-appointed prophets, priests, judges and prefabricators of our time. The terrible things we have lived through also make it difficult. The function of art, the function of this autobiography, is to penetrate through this jungle with the aid of one’s persistent intuitions and art’s magical powers. Sex, the erotic, the feminine, has been for me a major problem in the delineation of my character, my personality, my experience. They have got me into many difficulties and led to many regrets and much remorse, perhaps as far back as the age of four, nearly sixty years ago. My 25
  26. 26. attraction to the female, if not purely erotic, was awakened and inspired by two four or five year old girls, Marney Groves and Jill Smith both of whom lived down the street and both of whom attracted my desire and interest with a strength I can recall even today nearly all these years later. I don’t think it would be accurate to say I was, with the Canadian poet Irving Layton, a horny pre-adolescent, although this phrase would certainly describe my state by the age of 12.28 My sexuality had an impulsive aspect; my appetite was, from time to time, apparently insatiable and required containing; I was in the grip of sensual conflicts and forces that life released, that required checking, that required resolution. Films like Tom Jones (1963) and Darling (1966) depicted perfectly normal people going about their lives and fornicating without either suffering agonies of guilt or being run over by a steamroller. The freeing-up of sexuality from the restraints of tradition and religion was, arguably, greater than for any generation since the days of Ancient Rome. My clamorous appetites, my religious restraints, exposed me to tensions that were difficult, sometimes impossible, to control. With that lack of control came risks. Had the Baha'i Faith not come into my life in the years after puberty, who knows what would have 28 Joanne Lewis, “Irving’s Women: A Feminist Critique of the Love Poems of Irving Layton,” Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol.13, No.2, 1988. 26
  27. 27. befallen me in my young adulthood. Hugh Trevor-Roper, famous British historian, once wrote that "History is not merely what happened: it is what happened in the context of what might have happened."29 And I can apply this aphorism to what I write in this narrative account at so many junctures. Even my most innocuous encounters, for example, with the feminine, the erotic, the sensual, contained the seeds of potential trouble. By my early twenties, on graduation at 23, my quest for a suitable marriage partner was linked to a sensual wakening which I had by then controlled, for the most part successfully, for a decade, perhaps mostly be placing sport, study and religion at the centre of my life. Conscious of an erotic energy that inhabited me and an emotional-sensual ambience that I generated, the conflict between my impulses and defences was sometimes acute and gave me many uneasy moments. I could say as I entered the marital bed for the first time in August 1967 that, although I technically had not engaged in intercourse I had enjoyed much excited premarital play in the urgency of courtship and its new opportunities. 29 Hugh Trevor-Roper, "History and Imagination," in History and Imagination: Essays in Honour of Hugh Trevor-Roper, ed. H. Lloyd- Jones, et al, London, 1981, pp.356-369. 27
  28. 28. Mark Twain’s experience of women, expressed in his own autobiography, has been very close to mine. “A thoroughly beautiful woman and a thoroughly homely woman are creations which I love to gaze upon and which I cannot tire of gazing upon, for each is perfect in her own line.”30 Except for a small handful of women, this has been true and, although women have furnished many a delight, they have also supplied many a frustration, for the most part, unbeknownst I’m sure to friends, fellow students and colleagues. As far as my adolescence and very early adulthood, though, with the French writer Andre Gide, I could say that "I lived until the age of 23, completely virgin and utterly depraved; crazed to such a point that I eventually came to seek everywhere some bit of flesh on which to press my lips."31 I experienced some of that craze but little of that flesh. Although I was able to resist the onrush of instinctual urges, it was not without an occasional lapse. The concupiscible appetite and the irascible one have yet to be conquered. This autobiographer was inspired in some way and for some reason and of inevitably by the value of his past. He was reinforced in his inspiration as this oeuvre developed; he found perspectives on the present that contributed to the solution of problems; he gained understandings 30 Mark Twain, Autobiography, editor, Charles Neider, 1959. 31 André Gide in Lawrence Biemiller's Index of Quotations, Internet, January 22, 2004. 28
  29. 29. peculiar to where he stood at the moment of writing. Some philosophers call this process 'presentism' and it has an enormous impact on the autobiographical process.32 Another way of expressing this idea is that I began this autobiography with a system of postulates, largely unorganized and not thought out, not examined in any sort of detail. They defined my initial direction, provided my initial starting point. As my work developed, the limits I started with, the view I took of the course of events in my life and in the life of my religion and society, even the direction and purpose of what I was attempting to write evolved and changed; the categories of the very construction altered significantly in the process of writing. The notion of cause, for example, which I began with in quite simplistic terms, I gradually began to see as an "unresolvable categorical distinction" as the modern political philosopher Michael Oakeshott puts it. I'm not sure I see such theorizing about cause as "pretentious muddle", but it is difficult to see the events of one's life with the scientific rigour, the definitiveness, the definiteness, that some seem inclined to do. Often only the flimsiest partition distinguishes one event from another. The events of my life possess none of the solid and absolute character they 32 Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Baltimore, 1978, p.41. 29
  30. 30. once possessed, none of the stark and monolithic definition I once viewed them with. They have become peculiarly tentative, multiform historical identities, intricate, partially cohering, partially intelligible, modest constructs held together, as Oakeshott suggests "not by mortar but by their roughly interlocking shapes."33 For readers, it is my hope, as it was of Benjamin Franklin, that what I write, “every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of voice will be so perfectly well turned and well placed,” as to be pleasing, even if readers are not interested in the subject.34 I would like, too, as the Austrian novelist Elias Canetti phrased it, that my autobiography contain on every page something no one has ever heard of. I think it quite possible that this work does. But sad to say many readers probably don’t want to know of it and most people will never read these pages in the first place. Whatever gems are here will remain hidden from the eyes of most men, nearly all men. Factual or historical truth does have a specific urgency, at least for me, that pure fiction cannot, does not, provide. Discussing "The New Biography," Virginia Woolf wrote that truth "stimulates the mind and endows the mind with a curious susceptibility in the direction of truth. No fiction, however artful or highly coloured, can stimulate the mind to 33 Michael Oakeshott, On History, in T.W. Smith, op.cit., p.604. 34 Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1868(written 1771-1790), Chapter 8. 30
  31. 31. the same extent.35 To Woolf, the most difficult artistic problem of the biographical novel is that invented facts and verifiable facts may destroy each other when combined, the verifiable facts discrediting the imagined ones and the imagined ones making the verifiable seem dull or incoherent.36 The new fiction biographer solves this problem by creating a context in which the two sorts of facts are indistinguishable, serving both the stimulative function of the truth and the symbolic and evocative functions of fiction. Fact and fiction must be seamless, or at least simultaneous. The means to this end are myriad. But in autobiography, this autobiography, I do not invent facts. I may exaggerate them or understate them; I may leave them out or include too many, but I do not create them ex nihilo. It seems that even the smallest details of my life, when allowed to roll around in my head, often for decades, began to form wholes, aesthetically satisfying, intellectually provocative, yet still tied to the historical reality from which the details came. Until they did, I was not able to make of this autobiography something satisfying to my taste. Of course, it was necessary to select, to focus upon limited bits, aspects of the detail. My desire to illustrate the conflicts in my life, to improvise the selection and 35 Virginia Woolf, "The New Biography," in Collected Essays, Vol. 1-4, Harcourt, NY, 1967, V.4, p. 229. 36 ibid., p.225. 31
  32. 32. order the facts in my life as a composer does in musical creativity, alternating between the factual purity or facticity of private art and a certain intoxication of public art, determined which facts I selected, which I expanded and polished, which I distorted and which I seemed to create ex nihilo. This autobiography is, then, selective; in fact most of what I have written, thought or done in my life is not here. It can't be here; there is simply too much to tell and everyone would either go to sleep or push me out the door if I started to tell it all in its repetitive and massive detail. But I still manage to paint the broad picture, the grand canvas. I don't write the story in reverential tones nor do I provide every sordid detail for the curiosity and prurient, or not-so-prurient, interest of my readers. Like the famous spy-writer John Le Carre who became tired of the teaching profession, I did not seriously get into this autobiographical work until I got out of teaching. He got out at 29 and I got out at 55. Like Le Carre, too, I do at least two to three hours of creative writing a day and another five involved in intellectual processes that keep my brain on edge so that my secret clock keeps ticking and my restlessness can find an outlet.37 I'm not so confident, though, that my work will take me into fields of fame, as Carre's work did. But, then, he found fame embarrassing, 37 John Le Carre, ABC TV, 2:50-3:45 pm, 13 April 2003. 32
  33. 33. something he clearly did not enjoy. In all likelihood I will never know what the experience of fame is like except in some microcosm, microcosms I allude to occasionally in this lengthy work. There are writers, argues American writer Raymond Chandler(1888- 1959), “who simply cannot take themselves seriously enough.” They possess, he says, a reticence which prevents them from exploiting their own personality. This reticence is, he goes on, “really an inverted form of egotism.”38 Perhaps. Perhaps, too, the difficulty people have in writing their autobiography is due to the fact that it is the closest one can get to living one’s life over again. For many that is a singularly unattractive notion. The words of Edward Gibbon are also germane here: “history is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”39 Many feel, as they approach the end of their days, if not well before, that pattern and meaning elude them. This was how the historian H.A.L. Fisher saw things and he tells us so in the introduction to his two volume work on the history of Europe published in 1935. A new field of history known as the new historicism with a history and development of only a quarter of a century(1982-2008) provides some 38 Raymond Chandler in “Famous Quotations on Autobiography,” EntWagon.com 39 This quotation is found often throughout the Gibbon literature. 33
  34. 34. useful perspectives in this autobiographical search. While not wanting to go into detail, not wanting to provide anything approaching a comprehensive study of this new field in the social science that is history, I would like to make some general remarks that are relevant to this narrative and to this new approach to history. This new historicism eschews the use of the term 'man'; interest lies not in the abstract universal but in the particular, in contingent cases, the selves fashioned and acting according to the generative rules, contexts and conflicts of a given culture. These selves, conditioned by the expectations of their class, gender, religion, race and national identity, are constantly effecting changes in the course of history. That is to say, individuals may be conditioned by circumstances, but they have just as much to do with the making of the circumstances. This tautological proposition leads Stephen Greenblatt, one of this school’s major proponents, to assert the new historicism's insistence on the pervasiveness of agency. New historicists stress the idea that everywhere you look in history, there are people, selves or individual agents. They are doing things that affect the course of history.40 New historicists stress things, events, activities as they were experienced by people; they stress anecdotes, particularities and stories that might 40 Patrick Brantlinger, "Rethinking Culture,” Surfaces, Vol.2, No.4, 1992. 34
  35. 35. make readers stumble and pause on the threshold of history. I feel I am participating in a small way in an indirect and what for the most part seems like a glacially slow shift in collective understanding, but when viewed over the entirety of my life and all its epochs must be seen as an epochal shift. Greenblatt said the same thing in a book called Practicing the New Historicism. This autobiography certainly shares in the new historicist view of things, at least in some basic, seminal ways. The best framework for interpreting a life, these writers and critics argue, is the framework of an historical context and the best way to understand and interpret the problems and perspectives of an individual or society is through cultural-historical problems. When I was thirteen, in 1957, just before he died, Shoghi Effendi wrote about the "morally and spiritually bankrupt society, now hovering on the brink of self-destruction"41 that I inhabited as a citizen in North America. I was then in my last three months of primary school. My adolescence was just beginning. Without the moral centre that this new Faith provided in the following years, the years of my adolescence, 1957 to 1963, little did I realize at the time, I often wonder what would have become of me. In some ways I was a solid, steady and reliable youth. 41 Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha'is of the World: 1950-1957, Wilmette, 1958, p.120. 35
  36. 36. But the paths to personal destruction are often found with slippery slopes. The sexual appetite, which has kept me busy controlling all my life, at least thusfar, might have beaten me in my adolescence and later in my adulthood. Occasionally it did anyway even with the moral restraints of my new religion. At the age of twelve, as I entered grade seven, I could very well have been one of those in that "morally and spiritual bankrupt society," that the Guardian described from time to time in his letters of the 1950s. And sometimes I was. “Boyhood,” wrote that clever nineteenth century Catholic philosopher G.K. Chesterton, “is a most complex and incomprehensible thing. Even when one has been through it, one does not understand what it was. A man can never quite understand a boy, even when he has been the boy.”42 Frances Bacon makes an interesting observation in his Essays,43 published in the 1590s at the same time Shakespeare was writing his Sonnets. Bacon says, writing about his friends, that it is his hope that they will "draw a veil" over the "frequently unsavoury career"44 which he has struggled through. My mother writing, or perhaps it was talking, about my father a decade or so after his passing, expressed her 42 G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography, 1936, chapter 3. 43 Frances Bacon in Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon, Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart, Gollancz, 1998, p.524. 44 idem 36
  37. 37. appreciation for him. Was this love? I think it was; in the long run, now that they have both passed away and for many years, I see them as loving people, loving each other and loving me. Like the Australian playright David Williamson, I worried about my mother and, in good times, felt warm toward my father. And now, thirty-five years after his passing, I understand him, at least much more than I did in 1965 when he died. It's difficult, perhaps impossible, for sons to write about their fathers without revealing a good deal of themselves. Even though my life is unlike my father's in so many ways, mine so full of academic, of bookish life, the power of his portrait gives to me a very rich and simple link. If Jorge Louis Borges is right when he says that “to an extent, the death of the father is a natural prerequisite to attainment of Selfhood,”45 that natural prerequisite began to come into play in 1965, if not before in the last years, the late evening of his life since 1960(circa). There had been many feelings evoked by shocking, momentary family altercations caused by my father’s loss of control, his temper: shame, grief, terror, resentment and remorse. 45 See Ruth Bushi, “I do not know which of us has written this page(Borges): The confusion of proper nouns in the tale of Emmanuel Zunz,” Borges Papers: Main Page Internet, 2006. 37
  38. 38. For writers and artists whose fathers failed in their life’s ambition, whatever it may have been, there seems always to be a peculiar intensity in the levels of ambition and determination of these creative types. It was as though an artist such as Picasso, whose father was a failed painter, or William James, whose father was a failed essayist, or V.S. Naipaul, sought to compensate for his father’s failure while at the same time using his talent as a creative person as a way of killing the father off, showing his mother who was the real man in the household. My mother never alluded to my father's faults after his passing; both she and I were only too aware of them, but her attitudes and mine softened with the years. Perhaps this was due to prayer. She drew a veil over his weaknesses. The sin-covering eye, it seems to me, is an important part of the oils of both day-to-day life and of writing autobiography. I am interested in catching the ear of the reader, in making an impact, but I do not try to do it by the route of a rampant confessionalism, the spoken word of dialogue characteristic of the novel or of the thriller or of a tantalizing story-line, but through my own particular individuality and personality as it emerges in this writing and as it is placed in the context of a religion with the future in its bones, a religion which is slowly emerging as the world religion on this planet. 38
  39. 39. Like Martin Amis’s description of his famous writer-father Kingsley Amis, he places layers of incident which allow him to touch the hems of his relationship with his father without dragging them and him too strongly into some vortex of criticism. I like to think I do the same now that in my latter years I have come to understand a man who was so very important in my life—and still is. I do not want to engage in some psychoanalytic or ethnological study of myself. In the end I face the ultimate unknowability of it all even after the fragments of my past have been unearthed. Still, with my ethnologist's eye I can recall the features, the gestures, the distinctions of money and language that gave my life, my father, my town and its people their individual character. The things I knew then and that I now recall vividly would lead to prolixity if I wrote of them here and it is questionable whether they would be of interest to readers. Over the decades since my father passed away in 1965 I have gained some understanding of him; feelings about and images of him have fossilized. Some of these attitudes are now stripped of meaning and others are rich with ethos and tenderness. The fact that over the years I have experienced much inertia and nothingness since I have had to get on with my life and all its business. This is something that cannot be denied. 39
  40. 40. It is part of the ultimate truth of my ongoing relationship, not only with my father but also so much of life’s past. In the past I was often tempted to ask why my father’s explosive disorder resulting in events of such brief duration were just as suddenly replaced by an instantaneous return to normal life. These experiencs produced powerful and unshakable impressions and that is just the point. It is the momentary, violent aberration -- the brief glimpse, the sudden roar of my father’s voice, the sound of my mother's sobs--and not years of ordinariness that leaves its scar. It is this that one ponders for years afterward, striving to make the connection between the frightened child of yesterday and the quizzical, wounded adult of today. ''Different now and yet the same,'' the young Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce's ''Ulysses'' says to himself as he looks at his image in a cracked mirror. My exploration is stylistically very different from anything Joyce ever wrote, but it contains much the same sense of wonderment at the silently watching child that never really leaves me. Annie Ernaux embarks on her memoirs from the premise that 'we have no true memory of ourselves: time and experience inevitably distort our understanding of our past.46 There is some truth in this Annie. Of course, 46 Claire Messud, “A Family Apart,” New York Times, September 13, 1998, a review of Annie Ernaux, Shame, translated by Tanya Leslie, Seven Stories Press, New York, 1999. 40
  41. 41. no matter how much I avoid the confessional in this autobiography, I feel, with Goethe, that my autobiography contains "fragments of a great confession."47 Goethe's also insisted on engagement with the outside world as the way to grow and develop in contrast to Rousseau’s tortured subjectivity and his sometimes embarrassing and annoying self- disclosures. Only in the last few decades are we emerging from the romantic sense of autobiography, a tradition laid down by Rousseau and Goethe. My autobiography partakes of this old tradition and some of the new. It focuses, as does the writer Hermann Hesse, on self, the psychology of the artist, the poet and the literary man; on the passion, the seriousness and some of the vanity of life which attempts, so often, the apparently impossible. The goals and aspirations of the Baha'i community often seem to be associated with the impossible, the impossible dream.48 And so, too, does my life. Henry Kissinger tried hard to be frank, to be confessional, in his autobiography. It would appear he was far from successful in this enterprise. For on page 850, he says with a delightful tongue-in-cheek, that he tells of his “first mistake.”49 47 Goethe in Hermann Hesse, Autobiographical Writings, editor, T. Ziolkowski, Jonathan Cape, London, 1973, pp. Ix-xiii. 48 ibid., p. 248. 49 Henry Kissinger in “Famous Quotations on Autobiography,” EntWagon.com 41
  42. 42. Autobiographical poetry began to become a significant form of poetry in the 1950s, if not long before in our modern era. Fifty years later, according to David Graham and Kate Sontag, autobiographical poetry might just be the dominant form of poetry.50 Here is a personal perspective on those early days of this new form of poetry: THE NINTH STAGE OF HISTORY: DEEPEST SURGE There comes a time in the career of a great poet when he ceases to take pleasure in rhyming “mountain” with “fountain” and other corresponding banalities. Autobiographical poets seem to take little pleasure in rhyming. I certainly do not and, on the occasions I try, it rarely seems either useful or effective as a form. -Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance, New Directions Books, NY, 1910, p.50. ...Mexico City Blues contains references to events in that Beat poet Kerouac’s life and this makes autobiography one of the most important themes in the poem. The autobiography in the poem is very carefully 50 David Graham and Kate Sontag, eds., After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 2001. 42
  43. 43. developed. -James T. Jones, A Map of Mexico City Blues: Jack Kerouac as Poet, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 1992, p.33. There seemed to be an autobiographical surge back then when the Kingdom of God on Earth was getting its kick-start and the ninth stage of history was beginning, Truth, the inner man, the inner life, and over and over they looked: some found Him standing within mighty, powerful and self-subsistent—but not most. Passion for self-revelation, the Confessional Poets, a religious bent, a spontaneity, a sincerity, to put on paper what They saw, loved, hated, felt, an obsessive contemporaneity, a certain bohemian tendency, honesty, suicide, madness, a serious game for intellectuals while everyone else was watching baseball, doing some gardening, moving into their new house or flat and trying to figure out the coldwar. I don’t think many really found Him standing within themselves, but a very precious few went all around 43
  44. 44. the world to over one hundred countries because they’d heard Something inside, some Voice calling to them from their deepest and hidden selves. Ron Price 3 October 1995 And so, as I look back to my early to mid-adolescence, I find an undefined and pervasive quality which binds together the many defined elements, the multitude of focal points that drift into the present from more than forty years ago. There is a sense of an extensive and underlying whole; it operates to deepen and to raise that undefined but enveloping everyday experience that I had all those years ago. I feel it as an expansion of myself; I also feel as if so much of it all was just sound and fury signifying nothing. As Baha'u'llah puts it so eloquently, life is "like a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreams to be water but when he comes upon it he finds it to be mere illusion." But this participation in life, even then, even in the years 1956 to 1959, brings to me now forty years later, as I sit in this small Tasmanian town in mid-summer, "a peculiarly satisfying sense of unity."51 My several and varied sensibilities 51 John Dewey, Art as Experience, Capricorn Books, NY, 1974(1958), p. 195. 44
  45. 45. seem to go back insensibly to these years. That which I should have done and haven't; that which I shouldn't have done and did are part of the picture in all our lives and they make up what is our unique style of life, a unique personality, a peculiar mosaic. The process is often, if not always, chaotic, puzzling and vast, booming and buzzing, silent and pervasive. It is essentially interpretive story telling drawing on an empirical base called the life one has lived. Perhaps Alan Williamson was right when he wrote that "the most interesting technical development in American poetry in the last two decades of the twentieth century would be the refinement of largely autobiographical poetry."52 There is an ironic twist in our global society, or at least the part I have lived in and it is this: that in the midst of the refining, the civilizing, the integrating process that was taking place, there was much that was disintegrating. One of the characteristics of my work is to be conscious of both these tendencies. This is part of the backdrop that makes society, as Saul Bellow said in his 1976 Nobel Prize speech, so difficult to define and describe with its private disorder and public bewilderment. 52 Alan Williamson in Edward Bryne, op.cit. 45
  46. 46. I give one of the final words in this chapter of days long gone to Rudyard Kipling who wrote: I see a store of ingots of spice and precious stones. It is these that I have gathered with the help of my dear bones.53 The following poem, written about a year after my retirement, puts the years 1958 and 1959 and perhaps as far as 1974 up to the age of 30 into yet another perspective: A REVOLUTION Arthur Marwick says “I believe that 1958 to 1959 was a point of change....and that another point of change is apparent by 1974....I would apply the term ‘cultural revolution’ to this period, a social and cultural transformation.”1 This aspiring poet, the author of over six thousand poems, became a Baha’i in October 1959 during that first point of change. In February 1959, presidential confidante, former Harvard president James B. Conant, warned, “we are in a period of real peril”; for even in the 1930s, “we were not faced … with the kind of struggle which 53 Kipling in Lennard Bickel, This Accursed Land, 197, p.200. 46
  47. 47. now characterizes our divided world.”54 At the time I joined the Bahá’í Faith there had been a sense of apocalypse-soon among both President Eisenhower’s advisers and his political opponents. Sober and cautious commentators and friends of the administration joined the chorus. Strident calls for a massive program of civil defence and the construction of thousands of bomb shelters echoed everywhere. In Canada this sense of crisis trickled into the life of fifteen year olds like myself, living as I did not far from the American border. But for the most part it was a trickle; my sensory emporium was filled to overflowing with a grade ten curriculum, a consuming passion for sport all year round and an equally consuming passion, but entirely unrequited, for girls in their teens.55 Life with my parents, my Bahá’í community, my extended family, rock and roll music, climatic exigencies-hot summers and cold winters-summer 54 Robert H. Zieger, “Uncle Sam Wants You..…to Go Shopping: A Consumer Society Responds to National Crisis, 1957–2001," Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 34, Number 1, 2004. 55 Unrequited love is love that is not openly reciprocated even though reciprocation is usually deeply desired. The beloved may not even be aware of this person's deep feelings for them. This can lead to feelings such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and rapid mood swings between depression and euphoria. I would like to think that my earliest mood swings in life were due to this unrequitted love but, on reflection, I tend to the view that my swings were due to the first manifestations of BPD. 47
  48. 48. jobs, indeed, many things kept me busy when short news reports of social problems and tensions came into my ears. In the summer of 1960, nine months after I became a Bahá’í, Democratic Senator Henry Jackson declared that the American people must face up to “the fact that we are now in a war.”56 At the time I was just finishing several weeks with the A.&W. Root Beer Company. They had wonderful root beer which I had enjoyed in liberal quantities, but I made no money and this was a cause of more concern than the threat of war, a threat which existed far, far out on the periphery of my intellectual frontier. My last year in the midget baseball league had begun and, as usual, I was on the mound much of the time. I drank in the beauty of Susan Gregory day after day, for she lived only three houses away, but it was a frustrated appreciation and rock-'n-roll was stretching my senses as well with its stimulation and sensory-erotic overdrive. This was less than three months after a U.S. District Court in New York ruled that Lady Chatterley could be shipped through the mails after years of censorship. The comedian Lenny Bruce, who was tried for obscenity in 1961 and again in March of 1962, was acquitted. They were the first 56 Remarks of Senator Henry Jackson, United States Subcommittee on National Policy Machinery, 28 June 1960-1 July 1960. 48
  49. 49. of his many arrests for obscenity.57 In addition films began to be made from a female perspective; for example, A Taste of Honey(1960), Breakfast at Tiffany’s(1961) and The L-Shaped Room(1962). By 1962 I had gone pioneering on the homefront with my parents. By 1974 I had been pioneering in the international arena with my first wife for three years. By 1974, too, this marriage was over; I’d endured what one psychiatrist called 'a mild-schizo-affective disorder', taught Eskimos, Aboriginals and trainee teachers and had entered a relationship with a Christine Armstrong(nee Sheldrick). She became my second wife in 1975 and her two daughters, Vivienne and Angela became my step- daughters. The following poem tries to summarize those sixteen years. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Arthur Marwick, The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy and the United States: c.1958-c.1974, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1998, p.801. It was a revolution all right. Those sixteen years took me across the biggest ocean in the world and from one pole to the 57 Maria Damon, “The Jewish Entertainer as Cultural Lightning Rod: The Case of Lenny Bruce,” Postmodern Culture, 1997. 49
  50. 50. other, from one marriage to another, one classroom to another, one country to another, one mental state to another, one mental hospital to another, from primary teaching to post- secondary education, from adolescence to early adulthood and further into the meaning and experience of pioneering the newest of the world’s religions over two epochs, in the dark heart of an age. Ron Price 13 October 2000 I close this chapter with a poem that comments on one famous autobiography written over 1600 years ago. It is an autobiography that throws light on my own. AN INNER CONTINUUM 50
  51. 51. In order to understand people better some human beings take a great interest in themselves. In order to portray others convincingly, some writers constantly examine themselves.1 It is this penetrating intrapersonal interest that is the source of many great novels, essays and autobiographical pieces. A good example is the Confessions of St. Augustine, written in 397 AD, just as Christianity was in the midst of capturing the soul of Roman society, after four centuries of slow and episodic growth.-Ron Price with thanks to 1 Andre Deutsche, Thomas Mann: Diaries 1918-1939, London, 1983, p.vi. That rapid and gentle fall of paganism back then when you wrote those Confessions1 , amidst smiles of contempt for the last struggles of superstition and despair, you witnessed as you told of your yearning, your wandering, your groaning, your inner life, the note of urgency, of poignancy, of tension, of unexpected emotions, of intense personal involvement with ideas, with an inner continuum, of light and shadow, of one long battle with the self, with an inner depth of infinite complexity, an inner self-portrait and its 51
  52. 52. myriad involvements where light crept back over rain-soaked landscapes and darkness often spread over the limitless room of your heart-so long ago. Ron Price 30 September 1996 1 St. Augustine wrote his book Confessions in 397 in the midst of the great conversion process to Christianity during the late Roman Empire. He was one of the first writers in history to make an attempt to discuss his inner life. I do not go quite as far as Augustine does in his confessional mode. I do not, as American essayist Logan Smith describes the elegance of autobiography, collect the ignominies of my nature and “transfix them for show each on the bright pin of a polished phrase.”58 Although much of this poem is written with St. Augustine in mind, much of this same poem is also quite applicable to the content, the process and the setting within which my autobiography was written. In the next chapter this autobiography will take readers to the point where I join the Baha'i Faith. It is an event, an occurrence, a memorable experience for which the German word is Erlebnis. At its zenith Erlebnis is "an 58 Logan P. Smith, “Quotations on Autobiography,” EntWagon.com 52
  53. 53. extraordinarily rich and powerful idea" that founds thought "in the inexhaustible meaning of experience."59 Erlebnis also connotes "something whose meaning cannot be exhausted by conceptual determination" and something which has lasting importance in the place of memory and reflection. It is an experience that is both unique and complex and, in some ways, is my sole property. It is an experience which contains an unmistakable and irreplaceable relation to the whole of my life. The web of history and of my life is spun from a series of points in time, a series of contours, which gather meaning and coherence around them and weave together my life. I come to understand myself by, as the historian Dilthey once put it, a "circuitous route."60 The vestiges of my experience I try to put into words and unpack their meaning. There is an intricate linkage of related and interlocking, interacting parts. Although this account appears linear there are a multitude of dimensions and a complex convergence and intersection of fields and systems. Not the least of these intersections and connections is the personal with the social. This was Dilthey's primary concern. I shall return to this theme later. 59 John Arthos, "To Be Alive When Something Happens: Retrieving Dilthey's Erlebnis," Janus Head, 2001. 60 Wilhelm Dilthey, Pattern and Meaning in History: Thoughts on History and Society, editor, H.P. Rickman, NY, Harper, 1962, p.71. 53
  54. 54. But for now, in the part of the autobiography that seems unavoidably linear, it is 1959 and it is early October in the heart of the autumnal beauty of Ontario Canada. VOLUME 2: CHAPTER THREE PREAMBLE 3: PRE-PIONEERING DAYS--1959 to 1962 "Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper...." Since social roles are no longer handed to us by society, as they were for most of history, we now have to choose them for ourselves. This is part of the exercise we call selecting a lifestyle. This is not a luxury of the affluent classes, nor is it about fancy jobs and consumption, although these are part of the process, for some more than others. It is essentially about behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. And the process of choosing a lifestyle with respect to these internal and external forms is quite complex and often quite unconscious. Much of our lifestyle is socially constructed. It is part and parcel of the historical, cultural and moral landscape in which we live. In the case of the Baha'i there is a powerful influence of Baha'i culture on the construction of the self. As Firuz Kazemzadeh said in the interview back in the 1960s, 99% of what we are is our culture. This autobiography is, in part, a description, of how this new religion and this culture combined over four epochs in the second century of Baha'i history to produce one, sole, individual. -Ron Price with 54
  55. 55. thanks to Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Polity Press, Cambridge UK, 1991. ___________________________________________________________ Another powerful influence which I feel I must comment on at this early stage of this autobiography is the significance of domestic space, a significance I have come to appreciate thanks to the writings of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. He explains in his The Poetics of Space that our surroundings are psychological and metaphysical in their workings on the mind and spirit. By the time I was 15 I had come to occupy three houses with my parents, mostly in a small town. The domestic space where I lived as a child and early adolescent and the space which I now occupy as a retired man and writer are more than simply living spaces and places. They represent, as Bachelard argues, places of interaction and places of privacy where the artistic process is nurtured. The interior space and the objects within it, both spatially and aesthetically contrived, the mundane and accidental, can all become, each in their own mysterious ways, vital components in the artistic process. Bachelard wrote, "The house allows one to dream in peace … The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity to its depths".61 For me, Bachelard puts his finger on a subtle, complex and mysterious process 61 Janet McKenzie,“A Review of Mel Gooding’s Ceri Williams(Moffat:Cameron and Hollis, 2002),” in Studio International, 2003; Gaston Bachelard, 1964. 55
  56. 56. that I want to draw to the attention of readers at the outset of this autobiography. Like Matisse, who was greatly interested in and influenced by flat Islamic patterning in floor rugs, the space in the houses I lived in from 1944 to 1959 and the space in my house and study now, from 1999 to 2005, represents a rich domesticity. It stands for a life I enjoyed, a life in which I loved, lived and suffered. In its way this domestic life was luxurious, especially in the post-war western civilization of the last half century where physical luxury and comforts became pervasive to a degree unknown in any previous age of history. In the sense that the contents of these homes and this study are things which I have wanted and needed, they are a matter of feeling and spirit. They were always more useful than beautiful, more functional and practical than aesthetically pleasing, although they have always given me, in the sense of their collective nature, a pleasing form and pattern. They were and are things which are the accoutrements of a civilised life, my civilized life, my sheltered space. There was a unity to this place and space and there was a unity to the spiritual and intellectual space I came to occupy at the age of 15. 56
  57. 57. “Even when one is dealing with a collective, with a multiplicity of creating forces, unity is nevertheless illustrated through the image of a single consciousness,” so writes a student of romanticism.62 The spirit of a people, the spirit of history, a certain zeitgeist: there are many words for this unity. Everything capable of being drawn into its crystallizing form, everything with relevant meaning can be gathered together in one consciousness and subordinated to its unified accent. “Whatever does not admit to such a reduction could be seen as accidental, unessential”63 or part of a wider polarity. Now, in this house where my study exists just behind a large lemon tree standing on a cul de sac, a house built 34 years ago here in this small town, the oldest in Australia--some two hundred years old--with several thousand other inhabitants, a house built on the bank of the Tamar River in northeast Tasmania, I am surrounded by a family of one, my wife and by objects familiar, valued and often unknown to me. The paintings, indeed many objets d’art, reverberate with colour and with the imprint of my wife’s domestic and artistic taste. They speak to me of her and, to some extent, of other aspects of my life. They possess a decorative vigour and give me a sense of the fullness of good things, sweet sounds 62 M. M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, edited and translated by Caryl Emerson, Manchester, 1984, p. 82. 63 David Chandler, “One Consciousness', Historical Criticism and the Romantic Canon,” Romanticism on the Net,2002. 57
  58. 58. and even of a certain perfume of life itself. It is the perfume of familiarity and safety. Of course, this has not always been the case. For life is not always perfume, not always safe. Life has often brought to my senses poisonous vapours of different kinds: depression, fear, sadness, a frequent death wish, tension, argument, bewilderment. Now, the perfumes, the objects, reflect a contained, a pleasing, domesticity. They give to me a deeply tender feeling, a feeling of comfortableness, of ease of life; but I am detached from them in mood and taste, at least I think so. These items of domestic and physical companionship speak of a life that is so much my wife’s and mine that they reinforce our togetherness and the fact that she is mine and I belong to her, although we rarely put it this way. We share this common space each in our own way, more than thirty years down marriage’s track. It has not always been tranquil for life’s tests have often bowed my back and made me wish for death. And life’s tests have even more frequently brought discomfort, anxiety and sadness to my wife. In addition, the combination of music, garden, books and the domestic spaces in all their variety operate on another level. It is a level inhabited by harmonies and dissonances of colour and shape. The artist Vasily Kandinsky informs my view here. Music, Kandinsky once wrote, can be 58
  59. 59. used to represent reverie but it can also be something more dramatic, something engaged with one’s world intimately, symbolically. And so can other objects of this space take part in a similar drama and engagement. A complex set of signs and an original approach to a range of intellectual and artistic shapes, objects which preceded me in time or which came along in time as I did, result in creating a space that makes connections to aspects of my literary oeuvre. This space encompasses many oppositions of subject, theme and mood in its role as my immediate world of space. Albert Camus once said, speaking of my parents’ generation, that “Nobody can ask them to be optimists.”64 Having lived through two world wars, a depression, arguably the nadir of history, only to arrive at the atomic age on the eve of total destruction, they strove to put history and their lives together. They had enough optimism to become Baha’is and to raise a son with that same optimism in that space of music, gardens and books, a space that was not always perfume, not always safe. I certainly did not think of it at the time, back in the 1950s, but the socio- historical experience of my parents played a role in their lives, a role they hardly understood themselves. For our age is one which sees most 64 Albert Camus, Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1957. 59
  60. 60. personal suffering in psychological terms and circulates psycho-variables endlessly in analysing our selves and others. Another aspect of the space where I grew up and spent my years until my early twenties was the region of Canada in which I lived. It has been known as the Golden Horseshoe since 1954 coincidentally the year my mother first heard of the Baha’i Faith. Hamilton-Burlington is at the epi- centre of this horseshoe. It was and is a densely populated and industrialized region or urban agglomeration centred around the west end of Lake Ontario in southern Ontario with outer boundaries stretching to Lake Erie to the south and Georgian Bay on the north. Most of it is also part of the Windsor-Quebec City corridor. With a population of 8.1 million people as I write these words, it makes up slightly over a quarter of the population of Canada and contains approximately 75% of Ontario's population, making it one of the largest population concentrations in North America. Although it is a geographically named sub-region of Southern Ontario, Greater Golden Horseshoe is more frequently used today to describe the metropolitan regions that stretch across the area in totality. All my days until I was 23 were spent in the built-up region of this Golden Horseshoe which extended from Niagara Falls at the eastern end 60
  61. 61. of the Niagara Peninsula, wrapped around Lake Ontario west to Hamilton, anchored by Toronto on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario and continued to the east of Oshawa. The wider region spread inland in all directions away from the Lake Ontario shoreline, southwest to Brantford, west to the Kitchener-Waterloo area, north to Barrie and northeast to Peterborough. The whole region's area covers approximately 33,500 km², out of this, 7,300 km² is covered by a Greenbelt. My life contains stories of experiences in all of these centres, the major spaces in this horseshoe, but most of these experiences will not be told here—for there is just too much to tell and, as I have said and will say many times in this work, one must be selective. My final game of baseball was played in Oshawa in August 1962 just east of Toronto where the core of the Golden Horseshoe terminates. The wider region of the Golden Horseshoe spreads inland in all directions away from the Lake Ontario shoreline. This wider region goes southwest to Brantford where I worked one summer, in 1967, before marrying at the age of 23 and moving to Baffin Island. This wider region of the Golden Horseshoe also extends west to the Kitchener-Waterloo area where I used to attend Bahá'í firesides while at university in my early twenties. It also extends north to Barrie and northeast to Peterborough where I used to go 61
  62. 62. for summer holidays and to a Bahá'í summer camp on a lake called Kashabog. Such, then, are some preliminary observations at the outset of this chapter which begins when I am 15, in second year high school and just about to join the Baha’i Faith. ___________________________________________________________ My father, Fred, stood by the screen door of the lounge-room and watched the rain fall. It pelted down strongly, minute after minute, as if it would never stop. It was not unlike his life, he thought to himself, all six and a half decades of it by 1959. He seemed mesmerized by the sight: the clouds, the grey-silver light that filled the world outside the door, making it difficult to see the other side of the street and the houses and trees perhaps fifty yards away. The half-light softened his world and, for a short time, took him into another world. It was a world of nostalgia, memories, sadnesses, enigmas and a wondering where he was going to go from here. For he had always worked and worked hard as far back as he could remember, back to his first years in America and his last years in Wales. And now his working life was over. He was a retired man. He lit a cigarette, one of the thousands he had made from his Spud tobacco over many years. His mind drifted back to Iowa, to the coal mines, to the CIA, 62
  63. 63. to that pub in Wales where he located his first memories and where he went in his memory so often. His first marriage, his two sons and a daughter, his second marriage and his one son, who sat in the lounge- room in a house just off Lake Ontario and who had just started grade ten at Burlington Central High School, a kilometre or two on the west side of town. Such is the picture I have of my father in the summer and autumn months just before I became a Baha'i in early October 1959. In six years my father would be dead and I would scarcely have got to know him. Such was the normal scene between fathers and their sons back then. 1959 was the year the Barbie Doll was introduced and the Frisbee entered popular culture, Cadillac tailfins reached their zenith; Bonanza and Rod Stirling's Twilight Zone made their first appearance. The first integrated circuit was demonstrated that year and the Ski-Doo snowmobile debued. Rock and roll singers: Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper became the first martyrs to the music cause, a cause that by the time I went pioneering in 1962 was grossing under $1 billion and 40 years later was grossing 40 times that figure." The impact of the economic and popular- musical boom on youth culture was then, in the late fifties and still is in the new millennium, enormous. 63
  64. 64. Alot went on in the popular culture world in 1959 as my dad slipped into retirement and I slipped into the Baha'i Faith about as unobtrusively as can be. I talked a lot to my mother, at least that is how I remember it nearly fifty years ago. In retrospect I feel as if I had just made a beginning in my relationship with her. By the summer of 1962 I finished grade twelve and got a job putting nuts and trinkets into slot-machines for the Dundas Penny and Nickle Company. I worked for Frank Duff. I got my driver's licence that summer so I could drive Frank's truck all over a section of southern Ontario from Niagara Falls and Fort Erie to Hamilton and Toronto. Life beckoned onwards and outwards not downwards and into long conversations with parents. And now, as I write this retrospective account, I am alternatively saddened, aroused, puzzled and stimulated, but never able to fully fathom the events that make up an endless but essentially periodic and episodic remembering and rehearsing of events. These events, having been witnessed, having been lived through, I am compelled to review again and again in a plot and a script that has come down from the past. These events also possess a facticity that requires of me a fidelity to a narrative line, to a direction of events that attempts to explain an entire life but knows it is elusive, greatly changing and far from uniform. 64
  65. 65. By August of 1962 I had been a Baha'i for nearly three years, my father for two and my mother for seven. My nine year baseball career was ending, my six year hockey career had ended in March or, perhaps, April. I had ceased playing football with the boys in the powerline or out on the street after school, in the evenings and on weekends. I have told the story of these times often in my poetry and so will include some of that poetry here: 1959 A man must live in the service of a great idea. -Leon Trotsky in Intellectuals, Paul Johnson, Harper and Rowe, NY, 1993, p.177. There is no single other creature in all history like yourself. -ibid., p.291. The sonnet goes back to the twelfth century. -Ron Price, "Analysis of Literature: Poetry," Resource File in My Study, 27/10/96. I became a Baha’i 65
  66. 66. the year of Ben Hur and Charlton Heston, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Charles Mason Remey in his voluntary exile and the Frisbee. I got the highest marks in my school life that year and my dad finished his working life. The Beatles were getting their act together and I said “I believe” as naturally and simply as breathing air. Ron Price 27 October 1996 ------------------------- HELP ME DAD! 66
  67. 67. The poets achieve their status primarily by their respective abilities to experience deeply or to feel deeply rather than to write well. -Murray Krieger, The New Apologists for Poetry, Greenwood Press, Westport Conn., 1956, p.60. The function of writing is to formulate emotional intensity. -Joyce Wexler, Laura Riding’s Pursuit of Truth, Ohio UP, Athens, 1979, p.84. As I write this poem I can feel, at a distance in time, my father's presence. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 20 February 2003. How did you stand it? All those arguments and your wife in tears: it used to break my heart. And here we go again but, by God, I’m going to nip this one in the bud. I don’t have your thick skin. I just can’t stand it, wears me out, leaves me feeling ashamed, remorseful, sad, in basic doubt. 67
  68. 68. How did you feel, dad, when mother cried? Was your Welsh heart eventually worn thin by that veil of tears before you died? Did they drown your fires so you did end your life in a sea of despondency with just enough hope to give me your second chance? Help me from your New Abode. I don’t think I can win this on my own: 'tis too big a load, too long a road. Ron Price 4 December 1995 PIONEERS COMING OUT 68
  69. 69. 1 September 1962 This was the first day of my pioneering life, although I could take it back to about August 20th 1962 when I left Burlington to go to a Baha'i camp at Kashabog near Peterborough in northern Ontario. I was eighteen and I was about to start my matriculation year at high school. The world was warming up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, not that I gave it much thought, immersed as I was in a new school, a new town and nine matriculation subjects on the horizon. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 1 September 1992. When I started pioneering, wandering as I was between two worlds: one dead, the other having just been born, seeking my own identity, trying to give birth to myself, so tentative, so new, so fragile, so alone and by myself in a vast and spacious land: marginal, inferior, inadequate, mute, invisible, just-about-non-existent, 69
  70. 70. dissolving, a nobody. That’s how it was back then at the end of that Ten Year Crusade when I was 18. I felt like some quintessence of... nothingness, some empty shell, cavity, social vacuity, humanly crippled, passive, like a water colour which does not exist, at the end of a conversation, an after-thought, with a tongue half in shadow and half like a frozen bone. I passed through groups like a breeze at room temperature, unobtrusively blank, could be a missing person noone missed, modest, in the picture somewhere, difficult to say where precisely, but you can find me if you look long enough. I'm that fellow you can hardly see, right there--see? 70
  71. 71. P.S. Thirty years after the start of this pioneering venture, at the age of 48, my world had been transformed so many times. I had become a different man, a different person. The process is so very common. Psychologists call it the process of human development in the lifespan. Physiologists say the composition of your very bones is completely changed every seven years. At the anatomical, the physiological level, I was a new man, then, more than four or five times over. And psychologically, spiritually, intellectually, socially, on just about every imaginable scale I could think of, my world at forty eight was so completely different to the world I inhabited at eighteen. There were threads of continuity, of course. Historian Herbert Butterfield once wrote that "the study of the past with one eye on the present is the source of all sins and sophistries."65 Leaping back from supposed effects to supposed causes, however practical and pervasive an exercise it is, however explanatory, often does not yield true understanding. At the same time, I find there is a cumulative deposit of experience in my own life and across generations, persistent patterns of conduct, of attitude and thought, protocols and institutional practices, habits and obligations, what Abraham Lincohn referred to as the "mystic chords of memory"66 that I turn to, that we all turn to in life. There is, too, that partnership between 65 Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, London, 1931, p.31. 66 Abraham Lincohn in T.M. Smith, op.cit., p.609. 71
  72. 72. the present and the past, that rhythm and continuity, which Burke saw at the core of human experience. Within this core we find ourselves and others, adventurers responding as best we can to what is often an ordeal of consciousness, inheritors of the imaginative achivements of those who have gone before. There is in this introspective gaze something that is apparently solid; civilization certainly seems so and something resembling dream, vain and empty, resembling reality but, on closer inspection, more like illusion. Writing of this process, this transformation of our lives, is much like conducting an orchestra. Conductor Catherine Comet says one per cent of a conductor's work is done at concerts, four per cent at rehearsals and 95 per cent at home with the score.67 For me, its the same: one per cent of my work is done in writing this autobiographical narrative, four per cent in gathering notes, writing drafts and doing research and 95 per cent in living the life. To learn a score takes a conductor from one day to several months, but to learn one's life takes a life, perhaps several lifetimes. The job is never done. 67 Catherine Comet in Conductors in Conversation: Fifteen Contemporary Conductors, G.K. Hall and Co., Boston, 1991, p. 29. 72
  73. 73. General interpretations of my whole experience, like a conductor’s perception of a symphony, are often the basis of powerful judgements, of conceptions which define, which determine, the direction of the future. They are part of the basis of the kind of politics Thomas Hobbes saw as the "still centre of a whirlpool of ideas which has drawn into itself numberless currents of thought, contemporary and historic."68 This is certainly the kind of politics that is also at the centre of my Baha'i perspective: an overview, a cosmology, a weltanschaun. We clearly have lessons to learn as we describe and define where we are going. It could be said that we are in a similar position to that of Henry Adams.69 Politics, Henry Adams learned over 200 years ago, are "ineffectual" and would remain so for a very long time. Americans, he also came to learn and in light of new, undeniable realitites only badly understood, must nonetheless be ready to discard knowledge long thought to be certain. Such painful education left Henry in a place very much like our own. And we are still learning, at our peril, the problems associated with thinking we are right and the other fellow wrong.70 68 Michael Oakeshott in his introduction to Leviathan, 1947, pp.xii-xiii. 69 Henry Adams in a book whose name I do not know. 70 Paul A Bove, “Giving Thought to America: Intellect and The Education of Henry Adams,” Critical Inquiry, Vol.23, No.1, August 1996. 73
  74. 74. Conductors are involved in a process of trying to hear what they are supposed to hear, of hearing what the sounds are that are actually being produced. It is difficult to listen while the orchestra is playing. This is also true of writing. It is difficult to write the way you hear, feel, think and act. And, like any conductor, an autobiographer must accept that something will always go wrong, that the pace of things is faster now than it once was. The conductor, Charles Dutoit, says that analysis of the score, the structure, of a piece of music, is the key to memory. I think this is also true in writing an autobiography. I have analysed my life, my religion and my society ad nauseam and this is a crucial dimension of the writing experience when it comes to putting words down on paper. Between the smallest point in my past life and all the other points a rich network of memories leaves me with choices in the present as far as which steps, which path, to take in the long path of life. But the choices, at least for me, are within a narrow range of activities. To continue the analogy between composing, conducting and writing the words of John Corigliano are apt. Corigliano finds that a composer setting out to write a new piece should have “something terribly important to say” —something so important that the music will not be used as background noise, the fate of much music today. I think what I have to say is important, but I am inclined to think it will remain in the 74
  75. 75. background in the short term, if not forever. The act of composing is a difficult, frustrating process for most composers. Sometimes it is for me and sometimes it is not. With few exceptions, this is the message from these composers. Although they find the going rough, their greatest satisfaction is in the final product. There is nothing else they prefer doing, and nothing else is like the mystery of the process. But there is no mystery to inspiration. The muse sings for them and me only by dint of incessant, tedious and sometimes not so tedious work. Remaining ever alert to new ideas is also important.71 Me too! The autobiographer comes back, again and again, to his individual experiences. Like a homing pigeon, a homing beacon, life narrativizes itself. The conceptions I make of past and present events are held together by threads of meaning, are preserved by memory and lifted out of the endless stream of what has happened. They determine how I feel and what I think at any moment of my life. This power of narrative to construct, to determine, my cognitive and feeling system, the very meaning of my life and its value, derives from how I shape, group, connect and build the raw materials of my existence. This is what creates my identity. These decisions of reflective narrative construction, of how 71 Ann McCutchan, The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process, Oxford University Press, NY, 1999. 75

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