I have written several essays exploring the nature of autobiography and pioneering. These essays introduce the existing five volumes of myJournal or Diary. This diary is not at this site except for the occasional paragraph spread over the more than 40 sub-sections that make up the totality of this my place on the WWW. Other essays explore the nature of journals, diaries and letters as genres that play different roles in my autobiography, my story of pioneering. Three of these essays are included below. They do not tell much of my life in terms of detail, but they give some idea of how I see the autobiographical and pioneering process and life’s experience in overview, en passant as one critic described my poetry and memoires. Readers interested in my autobiography of some 660 pages are advised to go to the bottom of the 'index page' of this website. I would like to open this section, though, with several poems which put 'the pioneers' and 'their frontiers' into a macroscopic perspective. At the same time I want to convey some of the nature of the battle’s microscopic features, its texture, tone, content, volume, style and whatever tact, wisdom and judicious judgement I brought or did-not-bring to the day-to-day operation. For all of us, there are ill-advised actions, exaggerated expectations, the absense of a rigorous discipline. We all act, we try, we win and we fail and it all happens again and again until the last syllable of our recorded lot on this Earth.
Like so many artists and poets before me and thousands of Baha'i pioneers, my life is fixed in the ordinary and it is the ordinary that I wish to transmute into the ever-living body of art. My personality, like those around me over these forty pioneering years, often begins as a cadence, a mood, a sharp or a dull note or no note at all, then it becomes, as time travels on, a fluid, a lambent or a tint in a many-coloured narrative. I can, and I have, made the whole story into an epic narrative partly out of concern that the account may refine itself out of existence having become so impersonal, so purified and reprojected from my imagination as I sit, or stand, behind or above or beyond this handiwork which is my life. For so much of it, nearly all, becomes in the end, invisible, a memory, a thought, containing intense, vivid or quite indifferent feelings and handiworks while I sit here gazing into space and wondering, pondering. -Ron Price with thanks to Marguerite Harkness, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Voices of the Text, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1990, p. 84.
Episodes, sensations, dreams,
emotions, trivial or tragic,
joyful or sad, succeed each other
neither coherently nor incoherently,
each occurs vividly for a moment
then fades away into the next
and so life is, for the most part, so.
Meaning, causation, can be
attributed in more than one way
as I select and weigh the elements
of my experience and I require
active readers, accomplices,
who will share in the shaping, creation,
of this pioneering poetic over four epochs.
And I, too, walk down the path,
open the door, encounter
for a millionth time
the reality of my experience,
forge in these quotidian days
this pioneering life and invest it
with more blessedness and merit,
more spirit than it has hitherto shown,
than I had originally envisaged1
in those halcyon days several epochs
ago when I was young and untried.
1Shoghi Effendi, July 5, 1950, in Citadel of Faith, p.87.
1 December 2002
THE PULL OF PIONEERING
I would not want anyone to be under any illusions regarding the pioneering experience, at least the experience that was mine and many others in the last half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. I would not want to see future men and women looking anxiously in towns, villages and cities, farms and rural aspects, large and small organizations for non-existent excitements and the thrill of adventure due to some mythic pioneering identity, some imaginery creation, some literary and artistic representation of pioneering that had a particular potency in the collective imagination but was false, some internal and external view of pioneering created by pioneers and travel teachers whose poetry and fiction, whose prose and story created an idealised and Romantic myth. I would want the pull of pioneering, the quest for the heart of its potential experience to be a realization that, although one detaches oneself completely from one's normal social environment, much of life can, and often does, remain the same. -Ron Price with thanks to C. Aitchison, N. MacLeod and S. Shaw, Leisure and Tourism Landscapes: Social and Cultural Geographies, Routledge, London, 2000, p.89.
It's been an adventure, mate;
you could even make it
into one of those movies
for the evening escape.
But this story is unscripted,
flawed and plausible,
only the predictable wonder
of an ordinary life,
none of the tedium of
the choiceless invulnerability
of the movie-evening-hero,
none of the glitter and gloss.
You can't edit your life
to emerge in celluloid safety
with that toothpaste-ad-smile finish,
sliding smoothly from scene to scene
with that sense of story-writ-large
across the two hour coloured show.
This one you have to make
which, like nature, is slow
and uneventful, quietly enduring.
The big story is on the inside;
the technicolour manipulation
is largely unbeknownst to all,
silent, rich, self-created
or not there at all.
2 November 2000
Famous American documentary specialist Ken Burns(The Civil War, Jazz and Basball, Lincohn) said that one needs to wait a generation before one can get a useful, an appropriate, a helpful perspective on some current issue, problem or topic. My pioneering years, 1962 to 2002, which I have been writing about in the last decade, 1992 to 2002, will need another twenty-five years before I can acquire that mature perspective that Ken Burns is talking about. I hope, therefore, that I am around to revisit those years in, say, 2027 and after, when I am in my mid-eighties. -Ron Price with thanks to "Late-Night-Live," ABC Radio National, 11 October 2002.
What will those years tell,
what story will they yield
about the times gone by
wherein my life's field
has had all its seed?
What story will I tell
when I am old and grey
and I look back from there
on these years when it was May
and summer every day?
On those years when it was cold
and winter winds did play?
Where will the Cause be then
when I look at all those years,
the Formative Age's first century,
when we went from strength to strength
inspite of all the tears.
Will crises arrest its unfoldment
and blast all hopes with tears?
For the benefits are slow to come.
This is no instant show.
All of life tells a tale
like a vapour in the desert and, oh,
how the thirsty dreams of water's flow.
Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By( p.111) writes that: "The process whereby (this Faith’s) unsuspected benefits were to be manifest…was slow, painfully slow, and was characterized….by a number of crises which at times threatened to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered."
11 October 2002
THE NEW GRAND TOUR
Travel writings, in this case the writings of an international pioneer, entail the construction and interpretation of particular myths, visions and fantasies, as well as the voicing of particular desires, demands and aspirations.1 Such writings are also concerned with the ordering of the knowledge of one's world. This poetry is concerned with my imaginative topography, my geography, the vision of travel on what one might call the Grand Tour that is International Pioneering. It focuses on the pleasure and pain of the experience of Pioneering; on the concept of Pioneering as a critical determinant in the teaching and consolidation process; on Pioneering as a form of personal adventure, education and experience; on Pioneering intertwined with work and business as its raison d'etre; on Pioneering as a form of sacrificial act in the first generation of pioneers under the aegis of the Universal House of Justice.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography 1600-1830, Manchester UP, NY, 1999, Introduction; and 2 The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Wilmette, 1969, p.153.
This Grand Tour, too,
could be compared to
the journey of life1
with its adventure,
its education and experience
through so many worlds.
This divinely propelled
and long-promised development
of the very pattern and sinews
of world order, this life process,
this rhythm, with its crises and victories,
we must come to understand.
And now, after forty years
of this pioneering venture,
in so many towns and places,
I have moved on
to new delicacies and curiosities,2
new forms of service
to this growing order.
1Conyers Middleton, Letter From Rome(1729).
2Gilbert Burnet, Some Letters(1686)
26 June 2002
THE FIRST STIRRINGS
In the old Grand Tour to the high points of classical civilization certain special sights gave order to the experience of the foreign. The Grand Tour was structured as a sequence of noteworthy places and objects. Some of the locations were accorded the status of wonders and extreme singularity. Travellers paid deference to established itineraries and suggested their own revisions of these itineraries to give the Tour its special flavour and individuality. It was important that the topography of the Tour was not so radically different from the familiar places of home for the Tour to become too difficult to understand and to assimilate. James Howell and others went so far as to suggest that one year well employed abroad on the Grand Tour "by one of mature judgement"1 was worth more than three in a university.2 The journey of the Baha'I pioneer has some interesting comparisons and contrasts. -Ron Price with thanks to 1James Howell, Instructions and Directions, London, 1650, Vol.1, p.77; and 2Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography 1600-1830, Manchester UP, NY, 1999, p.22.
This1 was more than novelty,
more than some temporary
attachment, more than some
easily satisfied appetite,
more than some giddiness
which runs quickly
over things and soon exhausts
the world's variety,
with its ceaseless avidity.2
This was more than
that Grand Tour,
more than some
This was the first stirrings
of a spiritual revolution
at the hands of a little,
as yet unnoticed ,
band of pioneers,
which will culminate
in a Golden Age
and the permanent
establishment of His Order.3
1 International Pioneering
2Edmund Burke, Enquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful(1757)
3Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, 1965, Wilmette, p.27.
26 June 2002
TAKING US PART OF THE WAY
Generations are often best defined in social and cultural terms as much as by dates of birth and are held together by a sense of community deriving from common experience. The generation of the 1940s in North America, at least that part of the forties that I identify with, had no memory of WWII, say, those born after 1941/2. They certainly had no memory of the events before the war. Then there is that particular part of the generation of the forties that had no memory of the first Seven Year Plan, 1937-1944, that launched 'Abdu'l-Baha's Divine Plan after those long hiatus years, 1917-1937. They, too, were born in or after 1941. This generation, that came of age in the early to mid-1960s, had to come to terms with the great emphasis on pioneering that engaged the small Baha'i community throughout the ninth(1953-1963) and early years of the tenth(1963-86) stages of history. This generation was part of North America's second fifty year record of services(1944-1994) rendered by its members. They were the generation that built Baha'i communities after the initial pioneers had gone in during the years 1919-1959. They did an immense job or teaching, pioneering and consolidation.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 April 2002.
Some say a generation is
twenty, some say twenty-five
and still others thirty years.
Some call them baby-boomers
and, in this Cause, they worked
in the Nine Year Plan
and many of the Plans thereafter,
taking it here, there and everywhere,
moving it out, moving it on,
across oceans and continents,
but the job was too big for
It would need many generations
to build a World Order
to take the place
of the political systems
on this earth.
Like the generation of the twenties
that broke more turf,
or the generation of the sixties
that took us out of obscurity,
the generation of the forties
took us part of the way down
the long and tortuous road.
4 April 2002
The international pioneering experience often results, for pioneers, in a rediscovery and revaluation of their homeland. Obviously, this is not a new experience or one confined to Baha'is. The pilgrimage to Europe, what was once called the Grand Tour for perhaps two centuries, provided Russians, Americans, British and many other nationalities with a device for self-definition. So much of Canada is, like Russia, a "vast and terrible" country, as one Russian writer once described his homeland. "One must look on her from afar,"1 he wrote. In pioneering to Australia, I have certainly had this opportunity of looking on Canada from afar. The confrontation with a distant country, in my case Australia, gives to the writing of this pioneer something of its specific weight and dignity and perhaps, more importantly, at a time when the Baha'i Faith has been emerging from an obscurity that had enshrouded its history for a century and a half. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Kireevsky in Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, George Steiner, Penguin Books, 1967(1959), p.37.
You move faster to that new potency:
when you embody in yourself
another land and make it home.
There may be some obscuring
idiosyncrasies and uncertainties
of taste as this vanishing frontier
becomes, so quickly, one world.
For, indeed, there is an immensity
that has emerged, it seems,
since the Guardian died,
a new wilderness
of defined and infinite space
and a more precise time-line
going back and back and back.1
And I utter "Here am I. Here am I"
which Thy chosen ones have uttered
in this immensity
and I gaze on Thy beauty
and observe what is in Thy Book.2
1 One month before the Guardian died the Russians sent up Sputnik(4/10/57) and in the last forty-five years science and astrophysics has given infinite space and time an immensely defined delineation and description.
2Baha'u'llah, "Long Obligatory Prayer."
28 March 2002
Arthur Schlesinger, in his 1942 Presidential address to the American Historical Association, spoke about the qualities of the American citizen which were useful in times of crisis. There were several qualities which had specific relevance to the ongoing nature of the pioneering experience as expressed in the Baha'i community in its teaching Plans which had just begun a few years before in 1937. The "locomotive tendencies" of the American, developed during the early history of the country took American pioneers around the world to the various goals; "the pursuit of happiness," Schlesinger wrote, "was transformed into the happiness of pursuit"; pioneer farmers of the 17th and 18th centuries possessed an optimism which continued in the American character in the 20th century and was essential to the Baha'i pioneers, both on the homefront and overseas; there was a courage, a creative energy, a resourcefulness and a profound conviction that nothing in the world was beyond their power to accomplish--in the national character and, as the first century of the Formative Age of the Baha'i Faith evolved, these qualities were invaluable to the Baha'i teaching effort.-Ron Price with thanks to Arthur Schlesinger, 1942 Address to the American Historical Association.
There's a fever that stays in the blood
to keep the locomotive going,
the wanderlust wandering,
if only in one's head
when you can't wander any more.
It's like a perpetual motion,
moving from fireside to fireside
and, then, heating your room
by what the fire is which thou
didst kindle in Thy land.1
Earth can never cloud its splendour
nor water quench its flame1
but, watch out, along the road,
stoney, long, tortuous,
your own flame may go out.
1Baha'u'llah, Baha'i Prayers, USA, 1985, p.52.
14 March 2002
BEGINNING AND ENDING IN THOUGHT
For Baha'is in the West, and certainly for this Baha'i, the challenge of the physical environment, which Arnold Toynbee describes for over forty pages in his A Study of History1, has been replaced in recent generations by the challenge of the psychological environment. From the start of my pioneering venture in mid-1962, the challenge for me has been mental, inner, psychological, spiritual. Even Arctic and semi-desert environments, with temperatures exceeding + and - 45 degrees C, respectively, did not present any special challenge to me due to the advances of modern technology which made the physical experience quite comfortable. But on my inside, my emotions and thoughts were challenged as much as any of my predecessors were challenged due to the physical environment. -Ron Price with thanks to Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol.2, Oxford UP, 1962, pp. 31-73.
You won't find much that is
glassily impermeable here,
perhaps a little pedestrian
here and there and a little
of that bland diction
of American suburbia.
You won't find sentences
that have forgotten their
beginnings before careering
to their ends or poems
that defy explication.
You will find all that
we think about when
we start thinking,1
for my work, my life,
my struggle, my mental tests2
begin and end in thought.
1Famous poet John Ashberry says his poetry is about "all that we think about when we stop thinking." His poetry, he writes, begins and ends outside thought. The Australian, "Higher Education," 29/11/00.
2Mental tests inevitably sweep over His loved ones in the West. Shoghi Effendi, Letters to NZ and Australia, p.1.------Ron Price 7 March 2002
The pattern in so many fields of knowledge is the story of an explosion in the last two hundred years and especially the last hundred. In my lifetime, 1944 to the present, astronomy and astrophysics, to choose one example, have allowed man to map the universe to an extent undreamt of in the past. In my pioneering years, 1962 to 2002, there has been a particularly impressive expansion of knowledge due to the race into space beginning in the early sixties, international communications systems, Intelsat, beginning in 1969, the Mars and Venus probes, indeed, the list is long. But by the 1990s millions could read books and magazines or enjoy programs in the electronic media about the solar system and universe with an absolutely incredible examination of sizes, shapes, processes and contents of our immense world and its extension into infinite space.
For me, this vast universe, is my landscape as much as the place where I live and the many places where I've lived. I try to make connections with a very wide 'landscape,' a very wide memory base where ideas are as central as physical space. Of course, the place where I live has an intimacy that comes from daily association. But the awe and wonder associated with the landscape of our Milky Way and the stars, more numerous than all the grains of sand on the beaches, has a different intimacy.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 27 Feb. 2002.
Listening to poets talk about
their identification with landscape,
with place, with the land, the water,
makes me reflect on the sources
of my poetic identity.
My landscape is my life
and what I think
as much as where I am
and where I've been
and it takes me into
the great universe of space.
And now, I organize
all that I am,
all that I have been,
all that I've thought
and read and done
into one multifaceted,
fascinating and mysteriously
I seem to need to do this:
to immerse myself
in timelessness, pastness,
the infinite, the chaos,
to give birth to that dancing star.
26 February 2002.
"Man's will for adventure is real and true," writes Ortega y Gasset. "There are men who decide not to be satisfied with reality;" they feel that sense of adventure in their bones. They want to alter the course of things. They are, he says, heroes. Heroes are those who will to be themselves. They do not follow custom or tradition; they do not follow the way of the majority. There is present in such a life a sense of the tragic. Sorrow and the tragic spring from the hero's refusal to give up the ideal part., the imagined role that he has chosen." Most, if not all, Baha'i international pioneers over these several epochs certainly experience this sense of adventure. If they did not possess it they would not have become pioneers. They are not satisfied with the reality of their society. Virtually everywhere I have lived I have been the lone Baha'i in my environment. There has unquestionably been isolation and loneliness. I have a role and an ideal which make me alone and by myself in vast and spacious regions. This role and this ideal also functions to integrate me, as far as possible, into my environment, social and otherwise. Often, then, there have been far too many people in my social space. One learns, as Shakespeare once wrote, to be alone in a crowd and to people your solitude. -Ron Price with thanks to Ortega y Gasset in Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, Viking Press, 1968, pp.605-6.
Yes, Ortega, there's been adventure
from the word go
and the passengers that lodge now
that wily subterranean inn--
tell so many stories:
sad shame tells how it partly wraps
my soul, repugnant to my probity.
'Tis an elemental veil I keep from
infesting eyes. It has a tint divine.1
I allow it few words in my story-line.
seems to be more dominant
now in that inn-down-below,
as the years go on
it becomes more of the flow.
Then there is the wind
that blows at nights
when I go in.
'Tis quite incorporeal
in its tunes.
It blows around my inn
through my Junes and noons
ventilating my thought
with fresh suns and moons.
1Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems, Number 1412.....Ron Price 10 February 2002
SUMMON UP REMEMBRANCE
The great writer, the literary genius, Keats argued,1 refused to be preoccupied with self-expression and his own personality. Such a writer deals, I believe, with philosophic ideas, as a matter of inspection, his own philosophic experience. Such a writer can still present, express, his experience as he feels it with all its contradictions and ambiguities. There is reason in his work and there is the anti-rational. There is the whole range of human consciousness or, at least, the range he has been priviledged to experience. It is offered to the reader at a certain intensity, with a certain heightened awareness of unity.2 While I would hesitate to make any claim to literary genius, I like to think that the above description of a writer is one that is appropriate to my experience in the last two decades: 1982-2002. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Stoughton and Hodder, London, 1995, p.98; and 2 Lawrence Hyde, The Prospects of Humanism. 1931.
In the quiet and unquiet recesses
of my mind's natural eye
I shape and reshape these days,
unforced workings of my spirit,
in sessions of sweet silent thought
where I summon up remembrance
of all these years: the first half century
of what he called the Kingdom of God
on earth.1 when and where we spread
the seeds of this new Faith to every corner
of the globe. And now I see
so many precious friends,
hid in death's dateless night,2
now providing pure leaven
to manifest the wonders of heaven.
11953-2003: Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by,p.351.
2Shakespeare, Sonnets, Number 30.
23 January 2002
THE SONGS I WAS SINGING
Poetry, song and autobiography have been interlinked for millennia. In my pioneering life, beginning in 1962, the music and words of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, the culture of the sixties and my own autobiography come together in an interesting cross-fertilization. Bob Mason's unpublished PhD Thesis on 'The Dialogue Between the Beatles and Bob Dylan'1 illumined, for me, this triangle of relationships. To take but one of many possible examples, the very month I decided to pioneer among the Eskimo, October 1965, The Beatles' hit "Nowhere Man" was released, said Mason. Most of their songs were about their coming to terms with autobiographical issues, about changing society, about drugs(after 1965) and about a dialogue between these megastars. Paul McArtney said, in a song he wrote in the 1990s, that the members of his group, The Beatles, always came back to the songs they had been singing because these songs told them, and everyone else who was interested, where they were at. This is quintessentially true of my own poetry: they tell of where I was at. When I reread them I orient myself and my life. -Ron Price with thanks to 1"Arts Today," ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 16 January 2002.
I was finally knowing
where I was going to
and feeling as if I could
finally see some light
at the end of the tunnel,
thinking for myself:
none of this bourgeoisie
normality for me,
going where noone
had gone before----1
at least from my corner,
doing what noone expected,
nothing to do with drugs,
helping to change the world
in a way none else could see,2
on my own, breaking the umbilical chord,
no more of the family Christmas and Easter
and endless birthday scenes for me,
no more of the 'daddy,' 'mommy'
and all the old friends for me:
this was my own response to existence.
This was a starting new
and working out my way of being
my take on the world and its load.
I was not a 'Nowhere Man.'
I was 'doing what I wanted to do,'
thinking what I wanted to think,3
or so I thought.
1Going to live among the Eskimo, away from family and friends, had an absurdity to it in 1965 in the conservative climate I grew up in in southern Ontario.
2Outside the small circle of Baha'is I knew then. 3See the George Harrison song: Do What You Want To Do. Ron Price....16 Jan. 2002
There is a monotony, a repetition, to life, to nature, as the poet Guillaume Apollinaire once wrote. It is part of what might be called "the unpleasant aspects of life."1 It needs to be given the clothing of meaning, purpose, activity for the inner and outer man. Part of this clothing is the plotting, the description, the characterization, the analysis, of the epoch. This is partly the function of art, partly religion. This is the purpose of the creative and performing arts and the efforts of individual pioneers in their several fields. No matter how beautiful and extensive the clothing of the vision, for the Baha'i artist it is, in some ways, a burden, since it is not in sync with others, with the wider society--not yet. It is accompanied by an inner turmoil and a degree of fragmentation of being, a fragmentation bordering on utter existential confusion at times.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Baha'u'llah, Tablets, Haifa, 1978, p.175; and 2Anne Atkinson, "The Dilemma of the Artist," The Creative Circle, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1989, p.67.
You go from weariness to desire
and back and forth again
and you stand alone for years
on a path no one else has gone,
or so it often seems,
as you enter into the abyss
of yourself with that reckless
courage, you find a depth
of identity and understanding,
part of the cultivation of your soul.
And there is an aching, an angst,
that takes you deeper,
plays with light and shadow,
turmoil and resolution,
but mostly you know of
a spiritual longing to create,
a sense of being 'called up.'
20 January 2002
COSMIC AND COMMUNAL ARCHTYPES
From about 1600 to 1800 the journeyman, the tradesman, the young gentleman on what was then called the grand tour--to Rome and the places of classical civilization--many of the pioneers in the United States and many of the convicts sent to Australia, one and all they could be seen as the precursors of the pioneer and the travel teacher in the Baha'i community in the twentieth century. In these same centuries, 1600 to 1800, mobility was a necessity for the poor of both sexes; even the well-to-do liked to get their children out of the house, preferably into another house. The result was a movement of young people in their late teens and early twenties, a movement involving a search for a home away from home: pubs, cafes, lodging houses and godly households. This movement was continued by the generations of Baha'i youth pioneers in their teens and twenties and adults in the several epochs of the Formative Age I have been associated with, in the second, third, forth and fifth epochs. -Ron Price with thanks to John Gillis, A World of Their Own Making: A History of Myth and Ritual in Family Life,Oxford UP, NY, 1996, p.32.
We became part of that spiritual journey,1
again, but this time showing a person
and a special kind of person,
yes, sustaining an image,
but representing a reality, too.
Particularites and generalities
both important for the portrait
this time, not just instances
of constant, universal principles.
No simple epitaphs for this age,
no patriachal order to tie down
all the loose ends, this time
a childhood home and nostalgia,
many homes lived in over a lifetime,
then and now, religion and community
providing the safest storage for all
that was held dear,
and slowly developing cosmic
and communal archtypes
to reassure us in our vulnerabilities.
1the way life was seen, as a spiritual journey, from 1600 to 1800. See ibid.,p.31.
6 January 2002
THE ETERNAL PIONEER
Tim Flannery's book The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and its Peoples(2001) takes the famous frontier thesis of American historian Frederick Jackson Turner and gives it an unimaginably wide perspective. If a new brand of pioneer arrived in America by the mid-1890s, the Baha'i teachers from Europe and the Middle East sent by 'Abdu'l-Baha, then this pioneer was in fact part of a tradition, an evolutionary work in process, going back 65-million years with its contingencies, its causal factors, its drastic upheavals, its transitional phases, its patterns that repeat--all amidst a single recurrent theme: the frontier and the pioneer. Although the human pioneer did not arrive in this eternal frontier until about 13000 years ago, "the essence of the frontier experience lies in the extent of the resources," says Flannery. Resources are what makes the frontier experience. For Baha'i pioneers at the end of this long evolutionary line, the extent to which their "inner life and private character" mirrors forth this new Revelation, is the extent to which these pioneers possess the new soil of boundless resources. -Ron Price with thanks to David Quammen's Review, New York Times, 20 May 2001.
Thousands of years
of boundless resources
at the frontier, for the pioneer;
and now, in these latter days,
these early days of the Kingdom,
its first half century,1
a new boundless treasury,
a festal board,
a living water which murmurs
with the melody of His remembrance
and sweet-savours, a perfume,
is it His love?
forever and ever?
11953-2003: the first half century of the Kingdom of God on earth
1 September 2001
Some writers talk about their 'exile' from their country of birth. I find myself drawn to the term 'pioneer' or more specifically 'international pioneer' to express my relationship with my country of origin as well as the country I now live in, my country of adoption. Sometimes a writer can better serve his homeland, or at least its literature, by leaving that land. This was true of D.H. Lawrence. Sometimes a Baha'i can better serve his Faith by going to another country rather than staying at home. I think this has been true of me. I often wonder if all this poetry would have been written at all if I had never left Canada back in my twenties in 1971. Within me, now, with the passing of so many years, are many personalities, some at peace with each other, others arguing for dominance and creating a climate of inconsistency, conflict and tension. These personalities make up the person who I am, the person who I have become, the pioneer who left Canada over thirty years ago and who, it appears, will one day lay his bones in the soil of the Antipodes. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Burgess, Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D.H. Lawrence, Heinemann, London, 1985, p.xi.
These years have seen a raging dialectic,
a war of worlds, between the male and female.
Yes, there has been peace;
all is not screaming and plate-smashing.
Marital dissension was there at the start.
I had always taken the side of my other,
like Lawrence, and slowly learned
of the simple, sensuous and passionate
that was my father--
his rough and brutal simplicity.
And here I am again, living it all over.
How strange and pitful this world,
leading me, like humanity itself,
from its calvary to its ultimate resurrection.1
1 Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p.129.
4 October 2001
AN EMPTYING OUT
"The most prevalent neurotic pattern," writes distinguished humanistic and existential psychologist Rollo May, "involves going out too far, dispersing oneself in participation and identity with others until one's own being is emptied."1 This is one way of expressing the 'emptying of my own being' by the middle and late 1990s after years of classroom teaching and years of serving on an LSA as secretary or chairman, after years of frustrations living with a wife who had not been well and living with my own health problems associated with a residual bi-polar tendency and whatever energy depletions were part and parcel of a writing regimen that produced several thousand poems. To use some of May's vocabulary: my soul felt stale; I felt a great weariness; I felt fed up; my sense of passion and commitment flagged. Such is a brief analysis of the years immediately before my retirement, say,1995-1999. "Being can withstand an exhaustive analysis of its experience,"2 wrote the philosopher Gabriel Marcel. This is a start to the analysis. -Ron Price with thanks to Rollo May, The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology, W.W. Norton and Co, NY, 1983, p.20; and ibid., p. 96.
They were down years,
running out, running flat,
thin on the ground,
little left to give,
worn out, worn down,
wanting out, had enough,
planning an exit, a retreat,
dry bones, them bones,
them dry bones,
sense of community thin:
...and still the talking went on
and the listening, class after class,
hour after hour, still the meetings
during this famine of the soul
and its miasmal ooze
from which I tried
to inch my necessary way.1
Gradually, long leagues from senility,
with youth's anguish left far far behind,
a rich, a blissful, golden stretch
where I could relish peace of mind.2
1 Roger White, The Language of There, p.34.
2ibid.,p.14. These were my years of retirement, July 1999 and after, for the most part. For, no matter how peaceful, there is always the occasional angst.
11 November 2001
A PRIMORDIAL PERSPECTIVE ON PIONEERING
The call of Abraham and of his subsequent pilgrimage has become part of the primordial journey of the Jewish people.. "It is part, too, of that theophany, that appearance of God to man, that has been sedimented in narrative" writes George McLean and has become part of that biblical "primordium around which a people" has been shaped.1 This primordium, Peachey says, needs interpretation and application in the changing circumstances of time and place, our time and place. And that is what I am doing here.
Having embraced a new theophany and become a part of a new Faith community which claims descent from this original Abrahamic experience, I am in possession of a new tradition, now only a century and a half old, which possesses a richness of detail that was scarcely perceptible in that primordium, but which has been enacted again in the life of Baha'u'llah. This new narrative, not unlike Abraham's, is of immense value to the international pioneer in the Baha'i community.
Contemporary religious practitioners usually have little direct engagement with that seminal Abrahamic-primordium of about 2000 BC. Tradition and its institutional configurations overshadow this ancient narrative rather than be animated by it. But, for me, in the Baha'i community, Abraham's story has found eshatological and apocalyptic significance in what you might call a contemporary rerun. In this globalizing, individualizing, pluralising world, a prophet, a manifestation of God, has been forced, not called, out of his country, taking his kindred with him on the journey. I find in my life and in 'pioneering over four epochs,' that the narrative of Baha'u'llah's exile, his journey-narrative, is one I can shape as I become more familiar with it and it shapes me.
"Learning the existing story, its language and its logic," says Peachey, "enables individuals to understand their own experience in the terms of that story." They can also use that story as a foundation for their own new and expanded experience."2 Learning the story is like learning a language. Learning and becoming a part of a religious tradition is also like learning a language. Learning this language is essential if one is to function within that religion's parameters. The story of Abraham is the beginning, the first chapter, of the Israelite narrative; the story of Baha'u'llah is the end, the last chapter, of this same narrative extended into our time, our age.
From the father, the first patriarch, the birth, of the Hebrew people about 4000 years ago right up to today in the person of Baha'u'llah, this pattern of leaving one's country and going to another land is, in some ways, the basic myth, model, metaphor, for the international pioneer. The Baha'i pioneer goes and makes his home "to develop the society God calls"3 Baha'u'llah's followers to build. "I will make of you a great nation,"4 God says to His people in The Bible. The pioneer is also in the same position, only he is at the beginning of a global, a planetary, system, a world Order, that he is helping to establish. This is the core of the pioneer's service to humanity. God will train both the pioneer and the Baha'is, it would appear, following the metaphor right back to Abraham, in a series of sacred-historical events different from, but similar in other ways to, the great literary-metaphorical history that is the Bible. Abraham's leap of faith is ours, too, as we walk into history.
Baha'u'llah's exile over forty years took place only once, as did Abraham's journey, but each inaugurated the history of a divine-human relationship which will go on unfolding for centuries, millennia to come. Just as Abraham had little comprehension of the nature of his call or of his destiny at the beginning, so,too, are we in a similar position, although we do have some glimmering of the future given to us in the Baha'i writings. At the very start of the building of this World Order of Baha'u'llah, it is difficult to fathom the process, the reality, the meaning. The narrative takes unexpected turns; uncertainty enters in from time to time. Faith is at our core as it was for Abraham.
But history, for the Jewish people, and for the Baha'is, is seen as an extended course of instruction filled with lessons and tests by which God seeks to educate us for our redemptive work. In this narrative is found the meaning and purpose of our lives. To help establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Just as Abraham went from his country, kindred and father's house so does the international pioneer, launched on a mission to other people, to all people, wherever he goes. The journey has gone on in our own time in the life of Baha'u'llah. That great journey of the Abrahamic peoples is the paradigmatic, the metaphorical, vehicle, that the pioneer takes on board as he becomes a part of a wondrous tradition that weaves its way through the holy scriptures of four of the world's religions. For the pioneer's story is the story he will find there in that holy writ. Therein will he find his life's meaning and purpose.
1Paul Peachey, "The Call of Abraham," in Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change, Series 1, Vol.7., George McLean, editor.
25 July 2001
copyright: Marco Abrar
SOME THOUGHTS ON AUTOBIOGRAPHY: TELLING ONE'S STORY
There are endless ways of telling one’s story. For this reason poets and writers like Roger White and Bernard Shaw, to choose but two, may be wrong to think that the passive nature of their lives disqualifies them from even attempting to write their autobiography. Roger used to say that he did not think it was possible for a biographer to make anything at all interesting out of his life. I think time will prove him wrong. He, like Shaw, thought his life was in his writing, or as he once put it, quoting Rabindranath Tagore: "the poem not the poet."
If one does write autobiography, as I do, one can not tell one’s whole story no matter how one tells it. While one tells one’s story, as Montaigne said, one’s story makes oneself and there is so much tedium, chouder and trivia in life which one simply must edit out, out of pure necessity. If you put it all in you’d have a mountain of garbage that even the most assiduous reader could not plough through it. You take, you make, form as you write and it is fascinating to watch. It feels to me a little like sculpting or painting must feel to the artists in these fields. This form-making, form-giving, is part of the magic of writing autobiography. As William Spengemann emphasizes, autobiography is synonymous with symbolic action. Writing is symbolic action. The implications of this idea revolutionize the experience of writing autobiography. One sees the whole exercise in metaphorical terms. While not possessing the freedom of the novel or the facticity of writing history, autobiography does contain enough freedom and enough truth to make it the best of both worlds. But there must be something to say, some basic facticity. If the autobiography is to be readable, be of value to future readers, it must partake of the heroic. This theme is discussed in more detail in various places. (Peter Kahn, "Talk at Kingdom Conference in Milwaukee," July 1, 2001: Geoffrey Nash, "The Heroic Soul and the ordinary Self," Baha'i Studies, Vol.10, pp.23-31.)
"Autobiographers", Brian Finney notes in his introductory words to The Inner I: British Literary Autobiography in the Twentieth Century(1985, p.21), "appear to have as many different conceptions of what constitutes the truth about themselves as readers have different expectations of them." If parts of our nature are unknowable, if our degree of confessionalism is in our own hands, if others see us quite differently than we see ourselves, there is going to be only a certain aspect of the truth and only a certain degree of it that opens up for the autobiographer. Even if autobiographies are lies, as Shaw said; if they are not to be trusted unless they reveal something disgraceful, as Orwell hypothesized; if they reveal our mendacity as Freud emphasized; if they focus on our personal myths as Jung would have put it--they at least pursue the human, the personal, story from within. They are each one person's attempt to get at who he is, what he is, the inner person and the external reality with perhaps something useful for readers to help them on their journey through the atoms and galaxies of existence.
Even if autobiography is a caricature of sorts, it cannot deny the tyrannical power of basic facts, however interpretive or subjective. There is an inevitable and, to some extent, naive trusting in memory. There is also an inevitable biographical and autobiographical urge and surge in life and literature. It's not for everyone of course. Most people I have known or met have no interest in writing their autobiography. That particular surge or urge is just not present as they travel their paths. But that is true of any of life's andeavours beyond the mundane, the everyday stuff, which we all must engage in just to get through the day. We all select a range of active interests for our earthly days. The struggle between the heroic soul and the ordinary self gives victory to the ordinary self and the sense of the heroic is never developed. The meaning of the journey never moves beyond casual understandings, dull exteriors, the hegemony of materialism, the complacent commands of existence. The pain at the heart of life is denied; the protective chrysalis of the ordinary is never shattered. We get weighed down by our ordinariness. But the heroic is nothing less than the struggle for higher life and all Baha'is struggle for that life. Its basic ingredients are heroic. These ingredients run through the lives of millions of Baha'is and a few make it to the world of autobiography.
There is both historical veracity and artistic creativity in autobiography. The self-portraiture, the process of writing, transmutes one’s life into a verbal artifact. It is difficult to reveal one’s private self to the world; some aspects of that self are better left unrevealed and an ambivalence regarding the revelation of some of that inner life is, it would seem to me, unavoidable. Evasion, euphistic language and diversionary tactics are all part of a process of saying what one wants to say and not saying it all. For indeed, "not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed." Was that the Imam Ali whom Baha'u'llah quoted here?
George Orwell talks about a certain amount of exaggeration in the process of selection and narration and a type of meaning that emerges by the way one retrospectively chooses to order events. In the process of his own analysis Orwell attempts to come to grips with his buried and not-so-buried motives for writing his autobiography. Subjective self-discovery and the capacity for objective reportage are related; factuality and self-awareness seem to walk hand-in-hand. The reader, too, can often correct the unperceived distortions of the writer when the autobiography embraces fully this subjective element. The reader and writer become more intimate through this style, this tone, of writing. That seems only logical, inevitable. One can come close to someone one has never met in well-written autobiography. Closeness is no easy trick in this dark heart of an age. Autobiography, like poetry, can bring hearts together. When all is said and done, when the heat of life's action cools with age, people often feel closeness to another human being has eluded them. There is a chill. In autobiography an intimacy can be achieved as we help each other in our endless quest for understanding, meaning and depth in whatever we are trying to achieve in life.
Memory is notoriously unreliable; it is like a minefield; it is also the great artist, as Andre Marois once put it. Some see memory as a pandering to the ego; some point out that being told by others what happened is not the same as one’s own account. All one really has is memory, although the accounts of others about the same event can not be totally ignored even if one would want to for whatever reason. However unreliable and problematical memory is, it is autobiography's main tool, its chief instrument of creation.
"There have been episodes in my life" says A.E. Coppard "which not even the prospect of an eternity in hellfire would induce me to reveal."(ibid.,p.46) But even then it is very difficult for the writer to hide his true nature. I see all of my own effort as quite a transparent, honest exercise, an exercise which is conscious of a good degree of probing, conscious of style, language and form. I am conscious that my own life has nothing of the great adventures and incredible stories that are at the heart of many autobiographies. Hopefully it has an interesting yarn at its centre and material that will be useful to the Baha’i community as it unfolds its contribution to the globe in the decades ahead. I hope, in aiming to achieve something useful, that I have not poured out a pile of dirty laundry, that I have at least kept the pile tactfully small. Vanity is as common as air and I trust this ubiquitous folly is at least kept to a minimum in the process of all my navel-gazing. The desire to give the reader pleasure and contribute something original and probing lies in the matrix of my motivations to write. But I certainly do not tell it all. Much depends, it seems to me, on seeing the meaning of one's days. The search we all make is ultimately for God, the God within, for meaning. This inner journey needs to be told much more than the outer adventure. But it seems difficult to tell for most of us.
Moliere said that what he tried to do was correct men by amusing them. I would like to be able to achieve this, but I am not conscious of much success. I hope I get better at this style of writing, at what might be called comic autobiography. For in my nearly thirty years of work as a teacher and forty as a pioneer to amuse while I taught was a delightful, unific experience. It really brings everyone together. At this stage of my life-writing, an autobiography seemed to be something I could do, something I would enjoy doing from among the options one has available in life, something for which there was a place in the burgeoning Baha’i literature of the 1990s and would probably be a place in the decades to come-when and if it got published.
I trust, too, that my writing is not characterized by that romantic flavour that Frank Harris writes with in his My Life and Loves published in England in the 1920s in all its 1100 odd pages. There is romance in my life: a sexual aesthetic, a sensitivity to the beauty of the feminine, of nature and of the intellect; but I trust that my account is not removed from the real world. I think I have included it as simply part of my experience and not over-emphasized it in my narrative. It is just a part of the intentional and unintentional revelations that add complexity and fascination to my text. The theatrical, the dramaturgical, is present in my work, but hopefully not unduely so. The mock-heroic, the lofty sentiments, the literary and thematic exaggerations and postures, which seem impossible to avoid, I hope are not overly done, stretched too far with too much religiosity as George Moore tended to do in his Hail and Farewell.(1911)
"The truth is", J.D. Bereford tells us, "that my single pleasure is in the continual retelling of the story of my own intellectual and spiritual life."(ibid.,p.68) Beresford’s creative energy goes into interpretations of what is going on and that is the case with me as far as I am able. Frankly, I do not have that singleness of pleasure that Bereford seems to get from telling his story: hence my use of analysis. This autobiography has occupied a good deal of my time since the mid-1980s, but it is only one part of a multifaceted life. It is clearly not ‘my single pleasure.’ So is this true of the pioneering spirit, the work as a Baha'i; however much, however dominating a passion it is and was, there is so much else in life to attend to, that must be attended to, that indirectly affects this dominating pioneering passion. Life is a whole and all the pieces must be given their necessary attention or the task of the pioneer suffers.
Frankly,too, when I finished the first draft of my autobiography in 1993 it seemed quite uninspiring, somewhat flat. This experience was one of the reasons I turned to writing autobiographical poetry. For some writers their creative effort goes into discussing others since others are part of their corporate, their collective, their individual, identity. This helps to take away that flatness and the focus on the self. I do not do this well, at least not yet. Perhaps I got too discouraged by some of my earlier experiences with short biographies that I wrote about people in the Northern Territory and in Western Australia over a period of seven or eight years during my seventeen years in the north and west of Australia: 1982-1999.
Alan Sillitoe says a writer makes art when he trys to make truth believeable. Given a certain shapelessness and plotlessness to life, for most of us, even with a career and a family, the autobiographer strives to give form to an episodic enigma, to create the artistic illusion of conclusiveness, beginning and middle. Finney suggests this form is best defined in inner terms. For the main problem in autobiography is how to deal with yourself: in not too high-flying and smug terms on the one hand, and not too humble and self-effacing terms on the other. Comedy is one way out of the dilemma, as it is in life. Understanding, wit and verbal skill is another way to hit some solid ground that is winning, genuine and communicates effectively.
Freud argues that the spheres of sexuality and obscenity offer the amplest occasions for obtaining comic pleasure. I don’t think I have achieved much comic pleasure in my writing either drawing on these themes, tools, features of life, or indeed, on a range of other tools. Perhaps when and if I produce a third major version1 of my autobiography I can find the necessary humor to obtain the comic pleasure that Freud alludes to. I have always found that, as Rilke says, "sex is difficult." For me, sex is symbolic, again with Rilke, of the "difficult things with which we have been charged." "Almost everything serious," he goes on, "is difficult, and everything is serious." Generally I have found the senses and all the glory that is knowing, to be "a stimulant at the tired spots in life."2
I’m sure I could deal with this feature of my life with more artistry and more detail. Perhaps one day I may find both the desire, the opportunity and the skill in their appropriate measures.
Finney states that the history of autobiography is "the history of self-awareness".(ibid.,p.117). The breakup in the Roman empire led to St. Augustine and a more changeable, less static conception of self-statement. The Renaissance led to a concentration in autobiography on the private self, even a creation of a self, especially through an examination of one’s formative, one’s earliest years. This has been especially true in the last two centuries where autobiographers drew their very breath from the past and the mysterious origins of their lives. Beside the insights gained, the imaginative experiences which come from memories and the process of private excavation help the writer make their story interesting, a difficulty inherent in the genre itself. I'm sure this is one reason why many, if not most, pioneers, never write their story. It simply appears to them uninteresting. Indeed, in a world of sensory stimulation, continuous entertainment and panem et circenses3 writing an autobiography that will hold the reader, many readers, is a high challenge. I’m not so sure I have achieved or can achieve this goal. I take refuge in my poetry as an inevitable coterie. I also take refuge in the posthumous publication of my autobiography. Its interest and relevance may, just may, increase with time.
Childhood is important" wrote Jung late in life "because this is the time when, terrifying or encouraging, those far-seeing dreams and images appear before the soul of the child, shaping his whole destiny" and he reaches back even into the life of his ancestors.(ibid.,p.127) Autobiographers begin in the magic circle of their childhood, reaching out into the world in ever widening circles as they breathe their own life into things in the act of observing themselves and their environment. This I have done in my poetry and in my Life Story but not in the narrative of Pioneering Over Four Epochs which does not really begin until that magic circle begins to enlarge. Sometimes, as I am only too conscious, the light of nostalgia is falsifying, sometimes illuminating, but always it tells something of the observing self and its adult preoccupations. One lives the early years, everything, over again.
Infantile amnesia, or what one author called the sweet darkness of one’s earliest years, is the time when the formative events and influences occur. I have no memories before the age of four. Freud argues that affectionate and hostile images of the father are born here and persist all one’s life.(ibid.,p.140) This is an aspect of my life, these earliest memories, that I could develop one day in my own story. It is here that the dominating parent is born, the excessively pietistic influence, indeed much that is both positive and negative in life. And one can learn a great deal by examining the etiology of these influences. One can, as D.H. Lawrence suggests, shed some of one’s sicknesses by such retrospection or, as Clive James once put it, one can get out of the prison of one’s childhood. Both Freud and Jung argued, though, that we gain only a partial understanding of our early life and indeed of life itself. There is an inevitable incompleteness, blindness. There are countless subsidiary happenings that don’t get in to our story due to the genre’s pressure to create shape and meaning. There are bony and bare portions at the perifery of my autobiography outside a core that gives shape and form to my work.
George Bernard Shaw admitted to this bony bareness when he wrote that his "story has no plot." He felt that this particular problem of a certain thinness in the individual's account of life will never be solved."(ibid.,p.164) On the one hand, as Mark Twain noted and as I pointed out above, one can fill one's story with so much detail as to drown the reader in irrelevant minutae. How to get the balance, do it with style and entertain at the same time, is a skill that most do not possess. Autobiography, if it finds a place in writing, becomes then, for most human beings, a tedious outline of events, a monument to defeat or an expression of acceptance of defeat.
There are better things to do with one's time than write a boring story. So it is that most people never write their life-story. Sometimes it is simply an oversimplification of the complexities of personality and of life that defeats the incipient intentions of possible practitioners of autobiography. Any therapeutic possibilities get nullified, neutered, in a welter of feelings of inadequacy, of the sense of the inability to write, to put the story down on paper. "What value could such a story be?" goes the inner dialogue. The wholeness of personality, the realization of its totality and fullness, Jung argues, is impossible to attain in life and even more impossible to write about. To write about the story of one's failure, then, is not something the pioneer would want to admit and certainly not tell others about. Wholeness of self is only an ideal to strive for, to live for, while traversing this mortal coil, the litany might continue.
The process is much more complex than this simple construct surrounding wholeness. There are strong emotions like shame and guilt which human beings, at least some, collect along life's way. The novelist Chrles Dickens felt their pangs all his life. My poetry tries to deal with this complexity; these emotions. I don't think my narrative autobiography has dealt with this particular tangle of problems and complexities at all well. My poetry deals with them more effectively. That is why I turned to poetry.
Much of modern autobiography, including some of my own, has grown out of religious introspection, the soul’s struggle with despair and the experience of joy. Protestantism made the individual responsible for his own spiritual development and this resulted in an inner conflict and search for wholeness amidst psychological aridity, neurosis, depression and endless analysis as well as the joys and pleasures of life--for 400 years before the twentieth century. In the twentieth century ‘religious’ became ‘psychological’, at least for millions. Perhaps, as Jung states, "the spiritual adventure of our time is the exposure of human consciousness to the undefinable and indefinable."(ibid.,p.208) An autobiography like my own is the account of that exposure to an 'undefinable and indefinable' Source. The theme of our inability to sing of an Essence "which the wisdom of the wise and the learning of the learned" cannot comprehend is at the heart of the Revelation of Baha'u'llah. Indeed, it often appears to me to be His dominant theme. It is certainly mine from time to time.
Finney notes Roy Pascal’s view that the brief half-century from 1782, when Rousseau’s autobiography was published, to 1831 when Goethe’s was written, "there was a feeling of trust and confidence in the spiritual wholeness of the self. and a meaningfulness that disappears from later autobiography" in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. (ibid., p.209) This was a period(1782-1831) associated entirely with the lives of the two precursors of the Babi Revelation, Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. It was also a period in which a significant part of the population lived in poverty and despair. The style and direction of autobiography, in what might be called the romantic period, was irrelevant to the lives of these uneducated, illiterate and poverty-ridden masses. The style and direction of autobiography is still irrelevant as our civilization gets exposed to a burgeoning of content on a plethora of subjects. But in the last half-century the autobiographical cat is out of the bag and it has become the object of serious study. This new and burgeoning literature on autobiography is part of the background to my own autobiographical writing.
Modern autobiographers seek to recapture the trust and confidence in autobiography which was present in the late eighteenth century. Some are very successful. Some are not. Some, like Powys, achieve a measure of success by sheer verbal exhuberance and shapelessness in an attempt to capture the evanescent quality of life(Powys, Far Away and Long Ago, 1934). Here is how Powys puts it:
It is most important in writing the tale of one’s days not to try to give them the unity they possess for one in later life. A human story, to bear any resemblance to the truth, must advance and retreat erratically, must flicker and flutter here and there, must 1debouch at a thousand tangents.(ibid.,p.221) (i.e. 1come out of the woods)
Writing so much of what I do in poetic form I achieve this flicker and flutter here and there, the thousand tangents. But I would not want to use Powys as my only model because he derives a satisfaction from parading his neuroses, phobias and darkest fantasies, his sacred malice in the form of caricature and excess, as if he was a magician and a near mad-man. What the reader gets is the idiosyncratic outpourings of an egocentric and demented eccentric. Of the many tendencies since those peaceful years from Rousseau to Goethe, this is but one of the many subjective approaches to understanding of the self. There is some darkness, some of the mad-man in my poetry, my autobiography; but I think it is far from a parading of my neuroses, my eccentricies.
Erik Erikson says the autobiographer is concerned with the present, the past and the historical context of the times in which he lives. Some writers show a fear of narcissistic self-indulgence in writing their account and, like H.G. Wells and Arthur Koestler, spend a great deal of time on the context of their times not the content of their lives. I feel I have erred by focusing on only certain aspects of my times. This has not been out of fear, but the simple difficulty of balancing the three time frames and all that autobiography can contain. It can contain so much and, in the end, overwhelm the reader. In the end, of course, one must be selective given the burgeoning nature of contemporary life during these four epochs.
I like Koestler’s emphasis on directing one's writing to the unborn, future reader; directing the many levels of truth, the many subjectivities of one's life to a future age. This seems to be Koestler’s central drive. I think, too, that for some autobiographers, like Storm Jameson, writing is an escape into words, an escape from society, a society she did not feel at home in. This is partly true of me as I have got older. I simply got tired of it. She says, too, that noone can write the story of their life; there is an inevitable impersonality, a partial and unavoidable lack of control for the author. Perhaps that is why each autobiography is so idiosyncratic, a work of art unto itself. We are each unique, each idiosyncratic, each a child of God. My story is just one child’s account.
1The1st edition of my narrative autobiography was completed in 1993; the 2nd edition in 2000. Both are, and may remain, unpublished, at least during my lifetime. I see my poetry as the 3rd edition or a supplement to the 2nd edition and, given my poetry's evolving nature, given the fact that it gets added to frequently, this is the way things may stand when the roll is called up yonder. My present 2nd edition, to which I add items from time to time, consists of about 160 pages and eighty thousand words. My prose-poems are, I would guesstimate, about two million words.
2Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 1993(1934), pp.35-6.
3bread and circuses
Revised July 2001______________________
Sir Martin Frobisher arrived on Baffin Island in 1576 nearly four hundred years before I began my teaching career and my pioneering life at Frobisher Bay. The Baha'i experience in the eastern Arctic began in 1950 and mine in 1967. Martin Frobisher was the first non-indigenous person to contact the Eskimo, or the Inuit as they are called. The contact proved to be a disaster. My own experience also had its disasterous component. In fact my ten months on Baffin Island were singularly difficult ones for me.
At the time, 1576, Frobisher was looking for the northwest passage to India, part of the British 'push' to the north. I was looking to play my part in laying the foundations for a Baha'i community in the District of Franklin, part of 'the push' of the Baha'i community to 'the Northernmost Territories of the Western Hemisphere.'2 Frobisher went on to serve under Frances Drake in the Caribbean Sea. I went on to serve the Baha'i community of Canada overseas in Australia. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 19 June 2001 and 1 Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p.69 and 2 p.37.
A different kind of adventurer
engaged in exploration,
a drama of a different kind,
but a drama nevertheless,
the greatest in spiritual history,
up there in Frobisher Bay,
back in the sixties,
a place nobody I ever knew
went for any reason at all.
It was a tough year,
took me over the edge:
one long winter season
and I never sailed back
to that little bay
on the southeast corner
of Baffin Island.1
1Martin Frobisher went back three times: 1576, 1577 and 1578.
20 June 2001
SEVENTH COMMENT ON AUTOBIOGRAPHY
It has been over eighty years since the Tablets of the Divine Plan set in motion the pioneering process on a scale unprecedented in Baha'i history. This autobiography in all its genres and forms is but a trace of the thousands of traces that will leave their mark on the history as parts of one great, historic, pioneering enterprise.
The history of autobiography over the last two millennia reveals the thought on the part of many of the various writers that their individual lives were intimately connected with the story of humankind. I have no doubt that the history of my own life is bound up with that of the Baha'i Faith and, through this Faith, the story of humankind. Until this century little autobiography dealt with the inner life of its respective autobiographers, inside or outside the Cause. Anthony Trollope went so far as to say in his An Autobiography, written in 1875/6, that "no man ever gave a record of his inner life and no man ever will."1 Shoghi Effendi placed great emphasis on the inner life and private character and their mirroring "forth in their manifold aspects the eternal splendours revealed by Baha'u'llah."2 In the burgeoning corpus of Baha'i literature there is an increasing body of material on a wide range of subjects including the inner life and its exploration but, as yet, there is still little that is autobiographical, that is about people's personal inner life. Roger White's poetry is clearly one of several possible examples of an individual's exploration of that inner life. Here is one more exploration, one of the earliest in the field, one of many now on the Internet, one that will lead, in time, to a vast literature on autobiography and related disciplines, I am sure.
The narrative part of this autobiography allows the reader to trace my life steadily through successive years, indeed such a reader may even get a sense of a single, unified life process from an examination of this narrative which I completed in 1993 and which I have updated periodically since then making, by the year 2000, a second edition. But neither of these editions is published and may never be during my life. Readers will have to settle for the illuminations and dark patches found on this website in my essays and poetry.
There are uncorresponding periods of renewed enthusiasm after intervals of lassitude in my life; there are, too, mistakes, many mistakes, some of which I should be, and am, ashamed to set down on the page. This book is not one of confessions, although readers may find enough confessions here to give the spice that popular and contemporary autobiography provides. What a person 'confesses' in life "rests entirely with the individual."(Lights of Guidance, 1st edition, 1983, p.138) The enthusiastic, the eager, reader, will find a good deal of self-revelation in this website, something suited to my ears, if not the zealous reader eager for an intense confessionalism.
The poetry found in this booklet,* and in the nearly thirty volumes that I have sent to the Baha'i World Centre Library, provides a rich and varied examination of my inner life and private character, the nature of the Baha'i community I am a part of and the wider society in which I live. Some autobiographers present themselves as tireless workers for some cause. I have certainly been that, but I have also been so much more and so much less. Humility comes easily when I contemplate the full spectrum of my sins of omission and commission.
I have functioned within the history of the last half of the twentieth century and the institutional development of a religion that claims to be the emerging religion of humankind. My life and work has its meaning largely in terms of the expansion and consolidation of this world Faith. The acquisition of virtues, of understandings, of talents and skills are inevitably part of life's meaning and the meaning I express in my poetry. I have inserted thematic essays, memoires and reminiscences of one kind and another from time to time to broaden the base of my statement, my analysis, my trace for this seminal period of history.
I am conscious that "noone else is so well-qualified as myself to describe the series of my thoughts and actions," as John Stewart Mill put it in his Autobiography. (1873)3 After completing my narrative in 1993 I felt that "strategies for controlling the linear and vertical development"4 of my narrative for the remaining years of my life would take the form of (i) periodic updates, (ii) interviews, (iii) essays and (iv) poetry. Good autobiography requires exuberant self-revelation and I have tried to cater to this literary requirement for my readers by means of these four narrative thrusts. I may never know how successful I have been.
Charles Darwin confessed in his Autobiography(1887) to the loss of his "exquisite delight"5 in scenery, in the plays of Shakespeare, in the poetry of Milton, among other experiences of life, as he got older. I, too, have my sadnesses and losses. I have spoken of them primarily in my poetry and in my diary from time to time. I do not want to air them here. That is one reason I began to write poetry. I would, though, like to say how important to me were Ruhiyyih Khanum's words in the last paragraph of her revealing portrait The Priceless Pearl. She said, in concluding that intimate portrayal of Shoghi Effendi, that he "had been called by sorrow and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness."6 These words helped me cope with my desolation and my sorrow and drew me closer to a man who has been quintessential to my very spiritual survival.
I have no interest in posthumous fame of any kind, but I would like to think that I "have created works or expressed ideas whose value is independent"7 of my personal life and will, in the years ahead, play some small part in this the greatest drama in the world's spiritual history.
19 July 1998
* The above essay is a revised draft of an essay that served as the introduction to the 28th Booklet of poetry,a Booklet currently in the Baha'i World Centre Library.
1Anthony Trollope in The Genre of Autobiography in Victorian Literature, Clinton Machann, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1997, p.69.
2Shoghi Effendi, Guidance for Today and Tomorrow
3Machann, op.cit., p.161.
6Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p.451.
7Machann, op.cit., p.164.
A CAREER OVER THREE EPOCHS
I learned this evening that the famous opera star, the Australian Joan Sutherland, began her operatic career the same year I joined the Baha’i Faith, in 1959. This poem was stimulated by what I saw as some remarkable similarities between her star-studded career and my years of quiet and not-so-glamorous years as a member of the Baha’i Faith.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
Joan Sutherland launched her career
the year I launched mine: 1959.
You don’t tend to think of the years
after you commit yourself to a religion
as a career, really. But they are!
A good career takes all you’ve got,
often wears you out,
begins with little idea of where it’s all leading
and gradually takes over a big hunk of your life,
some might call it the dominating passion of your days;
it is also immensely rewarding,
full of meaning and purpose.
Joan was glamorous and popular;
audiences enjoyed her beauty, style and fun.
I had fun, too; it was an adventure
all those pioneering years.
I was often popular;
there was even some glamour
in my experience as a teacher.
But there were tragic moments,
with sadness and melancholy,
compounded of my sins,
my heedlessness, my evil doings,
fate and circumstance
and endless disinterest in the Cause.
13 December 1999
HELPING US AROUND THE WORLD
To many Americans in the 1930s and 1940s Bing Crosby was the most admired man alive; between 1944 and 1948 his movies grossed more than any other actor's in Hollywood; his radio programs ran from 1931 to 1962 and had an audience of 50 million. During these years he had 400 hit singles! When the first teaching Plan began in 1937, he won his first gold record for Sweet Leilani. This was the beginning of the "common denominator modern pop aesthetic." Bing Crosby was one of the biggest names during the first and second epochs of the Formative Age(1921-1963). He wrapped his voice around a world of music while the Baha'is were laying the foundations for an international community that, by the early 1950s, Toynbee was able to claim to be one of the two religions of Western civilization. -Ron Price with thanks to Gary Giddens, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years: 1903-1940, Little Brown, 736 pages.
Your world was cooling off
when I went pioneering in '62.
But you helped us take
this new religion around the world,
little did you know back then.
I hardly knew your world
and you hardly knew mine.
Did anyone ever tell you
about this new wind
in those first epochs
while you were singing your way
into people's hearts across the world
in an emerging global culture
while a tempest was threatening
to tear the globe apart?
30 June 2001
Phillip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus(1959) located growing up within generational struggles, not solely Oedipal. Breaking out was a source of guilt, a loss of some part of the self, a step into chaos which even the strongest could not control. To say farewell to Columbus was to sail out oneself, away from where one element of America lies, to where another is situated. For to grow up is to explore, to conquer America by confronting it and yourself. This was how you learned how to be, what to be and how and where to reach this being.
In 1959 I set out from my hometown. I had to work out my Oedipal conflict much more than the generational one Roth emphasizes. This took at least five years, perhaps more. Roth’s statement above is succinct and is an accurate statement of my own experience. I stepped into chaos many times; I felt a sense of the loss of self or identity; I sailed away to town after town, year after year. I confronted myself and society in my own way over nearly forty years and, in the process, learned about how to be, about my weaknesses and strengths. Seeing my journey like that of Columbus is an apt simile. I discovered a world and my journey is not yet over.-Ron Price with thanks to Frederick Karl, American Fiction: 1940-1980, A Comprehensive History and Critical Evaluation, Harper and Rowe, NY, 1983, p.148.
I sailed out into nearby bays and lakes,1
then to faraway islands and oceans2
and on these waters I learned a little
about being, about self, about chaos,
about one place, one piece of land, then another,
a new world, with my Spain left far behind,
with fire testing the gold, so much gold,
so much laid waste, so much waste,
such deep and rich soil, being prepared,
preparing the ground, a lifetime in different regions,
the beginning of a rain of a divine outpouring
and one day, in coming centuries and cycles,
a harvest may be gathered of luxuriant mysteries,
of lakes, seas and oceans from this single drop.3
18 January 1999
1 bays and lakes of the Great Lakes in Ontario(1962-1971)
2islands and oceans of the world: Baffin Island, Tasmania, Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Great Southern Ocean(1967-68 and 1971-1999)
3Some of this imagery is from ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, pp.6-7.
LOOK WHAT I’VE GOT HERE
Humans have reached a stage from which it is almost impossible to imagine a future. We may be shuddering our way to the end of the world. We are utterly bankrupt of vision. There is a barrenness in our imagination.-Marilyn French, Beyond Power: Women, Men and Morals, Jonathan Cape, London, 1985, p.15.
There is, however, a paralysis of the will; and it is this that must be carefully examined and resolutely dealt with. This paralysis is rooted in a deep-seated conviction of the inevitable quarrelsomeness of mankind, which has led to the reluctance to entertain the possibility of subordinating national self-interest to the requirements of world order....It is also traceable to the incapacity of largely ignorant and subjugated masses to articulate their desire for a new order in which they can live in peace....-Universal House of Justice, Peace Message, 1986.
Year after year in these earliest
decades of the tenth stage of
history I have planted seeds
like some kind of surreptitious
secret-agent man finding:
‘the time’, ‘the occasion’,
‘the opportunity’ to bring
It out, to put It on display,
to say ‘here It is’,
‘look what I’ve got here’.
There’s a paralysis, a paralytic milieux
in these years and on this earthly plain,
too much going on
and who are you but one in a million.
And you had to deepen your game
to keep yourself alive and in it , at it,
in the fight or you’d lose it.
It’d all dry up in the great deserts
and Arctic wastes, the cities, towns
and villages where the desire for a new Order
had scarcely a visible, audible presence:
dried and frozen on the beach
where neglect fostered and fertilized
its thrusting growth
amidst the anarchy of your times and days.
6 February 1999
On waking this morning I heard several historians being interviewed on the history and sociology of the twentieth century. This poem resulted from listening to their ideas. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs,7 February 1999.
He knew there would be
a hankering after something new
when civilization died
in the trenches of that War
and we’ve been putting It together
around His gemstones
of imperishable, immeasureable lustre,
a new Word for this new Age.
And we’ve been spreading out
as far as one can spread on this planet
taking the gemstones
to the furthest reaches of the world
so that they can shine like the bride’s ring
with all the joy,expectation and hope
for a new day.
The Bridegroom has come
bedecked with invisible bestowals
planting many a tree of love and friendship
in the holy gardens of paradise.
But the steed of this valley is pain.
7 February 1999
No more for now!