I am 70 years old, and post some thoughts on my diary.-Ron
MY DIARY OR JOURNAL: INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME 6
This Volume 6 of my diary or journal , and I use these two terms somewhat interchangeably, was begun on 26 July 2009 and has continued for more than four years---to 28 August 2013. This Volume 6 began in the first week in my life that I was on two old-age pensions. Writing a personal diary can be fraught with danger, laying one’s soul out for view as it were, but nevertheless, such documents provide one of the best, if not the best, way of understanding the day to day activities, the thoughts and aspirations of the diarist, whether those entries seem important, mundane or of no interest at all to a later reader. This is true whether the diarist writes on a day-to-day basis or, as I do, just periodically.
I would like to think that readers will find here in my diary or journal a fascinating first-hand account of the life of a Bahá'í in the first decade of the 21st century, a life at a veritable fulcrum-time, a hub of crucial Bahá'í experience, a life at a critical stage in the wider experience of society at a climacteric of history and a life in the form of a detailed, readable and absorbing account of the emergence of a person whom some regard as a fine writer and poet, whom others denigrate and criticise, and whom most people know little to nothing of at all.
I write of what I did, where I went, the works I read, how many hours a day I wrote and read, the many and several literary productions, indeed the thousands of specific pieces and the events in my day-to-day life that accompanied this writing--they are all described in my diary in varying degrees of detail. Some entries are long, some short but all, it is my hope, are interesting, if not to many at least to a few future readers. Many of my entries I also like to think possess a degree of sophistication and insight which may bring surprise to readers at some future and quite unanticipatable date. Such is my hope.
It became obvious to me during the period of keeping this Volume 6 that a diary or journal for me had come to take the form of my poetry. This Volume 6, then, would be the last volume of my diary, at least until some future time when I wanted to record some diaristic material in diary form and open a Volume 7.
A. FUTURE READERS AND EXECUTORS
Apart from some necessary but minor editorial changes which my future executors might want to make, I trust that this diary has entries which are true to their original form. The editors might want to add some useful footnotes which could provide explanations of some of the diary content, explanations that do not, in the process, detract from the entries themselves. The book, if this diary ever takes on such a form in the future, could be beautifully illustrated with facsimiles of photos and, indeed, a wide range of memorabilia that is now found in my files preserved for a future time: programs, manuscripts, family photographs and newspaper clippings, inter alia.
I hope some future readers thoroughly enjoy this book, if it becomes a book or these several volumes, if they become volumes. I hope, too, that such a printed text might become highly recommended for both teachers and students as a ‘must’ addition to their collection of Bahá'í, Australian and/or Canadian autobiographical history. It seems to me that this diary brings to life the personages and events surrounding the Bahá'í community from the point of view of a Bahá'í in the early evening of his life, a Canadian who had been in Australia for more than four decades, 1971 to 2013, and a pioneer in the field for more than fifty years: 1962-2013.
Much of my diary will not be accessible until after my passing from this mortal coil, but I have placed a sufficient amount of it in cyberspace to give future readers, if there be any, a taste of what is to come. I leave all the sorts of questions in relation to their publication in the hands of my executors.
B. ANALYSIS OF THESE DIARIES
Any analysis of my diaries needs to emphasize the multiplicity of self-construction, the varying textual strategies I employ and the location of the diary in the cultural frameworks within which I have lived and had my being. My diaries do not privilege amazing events over the ordinary events, and my diaries are squarely within the now highly diverse tradition of diary writing and textual production. The diary form avoids closure in the traditional sense, and it enables me to envisage my life-narratives and my lives, for there are several if not a multitude, differently from day to day and from entry to entry. My diaries map my dialectical negotiations with an intriguing history of my own self-representation. I do not present some idealized persona but, rather, a very real person and one immersed in a utopian vision that derives its impetus from Bahá'í teachings as well as the rag-and-bone shop of life, to use W.B. Yeat’s phrase, a shop which derives from many sources.
Much of my life, all of our lives, remains invisible and these diaries make some of it visible for what that visibility is worth. Diaries and journals are texts, that is, verbal constructs of events, personal experiences, and social contexts. They permit a reading that traces myself as an individual constructing my identity in historical, social, cultural and gendered place.
The diaries of private persons like myself are also a form of autobiographical writing that has been overshadowed by dominant traditions emphasizing the extraordinary and universal. The explication of a particular Canadian’s life adds another narrative to life stories and autobiographical collections wherever and whenever they are anthologized. Since an individual's language is always language permeated by the voices of others, one person's life provides a window into the lives of other people, the socio-cultural field of a particular historical period and arenas for the contestation of meaning. Various scholars have argued for a multiplicity of people’s autobiographical texts as a crucial way to reframe issues of agency and ideological interpellation as these scholars and others go about trying to understand the past.
Life stories are a staple of a country’s and a society’s history and they help capture the complex and inconsistent, transitional and concrete as well as the often perplexing lives of people everywhere. Furthermore, the life-story, the life-narrative, provides opportunities to explore the webs of social relationships that are essential to people's lives.
C. ROLE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF A DIARY
In contrast to the common heroic metanarratives of white masculinist literature, my diaries speak to a different sense of engagement and collaboration with man and society wherein I prioritize my social interactions not my remarkable conquests and achievements. Reading my diaries is potentially significant in several ways. They offer readers the chance to explore a new primary document in the genre of Canadian or Australian Bahá'í’s private travel narratives. They can enhance the understanding of Canadian Bahá'í history especially related to the individual and community life of its international pioneers. They can add another individual profile to the overall social history of Bahá'í experience. Baha’i autobiography in its many forms—including pioneer-travel narratives and life stories in their diaristic presentations—is essential for defining the relationship of national identity formation and autobiographical narrative. They become part of archives and documentary collections and a basis for theorizing about pioneering and community life.
I trust my writing reflects a Bahá'í with an avocation for writing, for analysis of his community and society and an individual who consumed much of his life with learning and the cultural achievements of the mind, with various forms of pleasure and with the improvement of his character or his self-development. My life-story can be read as one account in the larger international phenomena of pioneers from the 1960s to the early 21st century. My accounts depict gender and class construction through leisure and community life; issues of leisure, health, social engagement, quality of life, and citizenship; transformations in one person’s individual and community experience; and the making of the modern Bahá'í community of the 21st-century in Australia. Thus my private diaries offer an intriguing record for publication that, hopefully, will spark the future interest of scholars and readers interested in pioneer-travel memoirs.
In our age, over the four epochs that this diary is concerned with, the years 1944 to the present time in the first century of what the international Baha’i community calls its Formative Age, people could use videos, home movies, photography and more recently digital photographs, cassette-tape, indeed, a cornucopia of electronic media to tell the story of their lives. I utilize some of these media and future editors and biographers, should any arise, will find a wealth of material available from these forms of diarizing. For many, who are not essentially print-oriented but are more visual and auditory in their preferred learning modes, such forms of diarizing are more useful than the traditional print forms. But whatever forms a future generation or generations find useful, I wish them well as they dig-up and read over the diaristic, memoiristic, stuff I have left behind.
D. THE EPIC IN AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND DIARY
I remember reading how both Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon, two of my favourite historians, acquired their initial conceptualization for what became their life’s magnum opus, their epic: A Study of History in the case of Toynbee, and The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the case of Gibbon. More than fifteen years ago now, in 1997, I began to think of writing an epic poem and so fashioned some ten pages as a beginning. My total poetic output since as far back as August 1980 I had begun, by September 2000, to envisage in terms of an epic. The sheer size of my epic work makes a comparison and contrast with the poetic opus of Ezra Pound a useful one.
Unlike the poet Ezra Pound’s epic poem Cantos which had its embryo as a prospective work as early as 1904, but did not find any concrete and published form until 1917, my poetry by 2000 had come to be defined as epic, firstly in retrospect as I gradually came to see my individual poetic pieces as part of one immense epic opus; and secondly in prospect by the inclusion as the years went by of all future prose-poetic efforts.
Such was the way I came increasingly to see my epic opus, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in quite specific and overt degrees of understanding and clarity from 1997 to 2000. This concept of my work as epic began, then, in 1997, after seventeen years (1980-1997) of writing and recording my poetic output and five years(1992-1997) of an intense poetic production. At that point, in 1997, at the very outset of a new paradigm of learning and growth in the culture of the Bahá'í community, this epic covered a pioneering life of 35 years, a Baha’i life of 38 years and an additional 5 years when my association with the Baha’i Faith began while it was seen more as a Movement in the public eye than a world religion. That was back in the 1950s.
In December 1999 I forwarded my 38th booklet of poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library: one for each year of my pioneering venture, 1962-1999. I entitled that booklet Epic. I continued to send my poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library until 30 December 2000. Part of some desire for a connective tissue pervaded the poetry and prose of this international pioneer transforming, in the process, the animate and inanimate features of my distant and changing pioneer posts into a kindred space whose affective kernel or centre was Mt. Carmel, the Hill of God, the Terraces and the Arc which had just been completed.
This lengthening work evinces a pride, indeed, a veneration for the historical and cultural past of this new Faith. Part of my confidence and hope, indeed, most of it, for the future derives from this past. There is a practical use to the local association I give expression to in this work. It is, or so I like to think, a means of putting the youth and the adults in this new Cause in touch with the great citizens and noble deeds of the past, inspiring them with a direct personal interest in their heritage. Along the way, I hope I am helping to create memorials and monuments with an international ethos, with a resolution that is indispensable in performing the duties of a type of global citizen of the future.
I trust this work serves, too, as a dedication, a natural piety, by which the present becomes spiritually linked with the past. This last point is, of course, an extension of that English poet William Wordsworth’s near proverbial expression of desire for continuity in his own life— "The Child is father of the Man; / And I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each by natural piety" (1: 226). It is an extension of Wordsworth's idea into the sphere of nationhood and internationalism. At least that is part of the way I envisage this work.
If this new Cause is to grow and mature in an integrated, organic, and humanistic manner, it must affirm the continuity between the present, the past, and the future. Countries that eschew militarism and imperialism need to venerate their cultural and national achievements, if they are to maintain and foster the identity and independence of their citizens and with this an international spirit must inevitably sink deep into the recesses of the human heart and mind—for it is a question of survival. This work is just a small part, one man's life experience, in making this transition in my time to this essentially international ethic.
This transition and its journey to the future is one that I have come to love like a mistress, as W.B. Yeats says was the feeling that the poet William Blake had for times that had not yet come, which mixed their breath with his breath and shook their hair about him. The Baha’i Faith inspires a vision of the future that enkindles the imagination. The German mystic and theologian Jacob Boehme said that imagination is/was the first emanation of the divinity. Blake cried out for a mythology and created his own. I do not have to do this since I have been provided with a mythology. It is a mythology within the metaphorical nature of Baha’i history, although I must interpret this mythology, this history, and give it a personal context.
As I say I had begun to see all of my poetry somewhat like Pound’s Cantos which draws on a massive body of print or Analects, a word which means literary gleanings. The Cantos, the longest poem in modern history, over eight hundred pages and, in its current and published form, written from 1922 to 1962, is a great mass of literary gleanings. So is this true of the great mass of my poetry. The conceptualization of my poetry as epic, though, came long after its beginnings, beginnings as far back as 1980 or possibly 1962 at the very start of my pioneering life. The view, the concept of my work as epic began, as I say above, as a partly retrospective exercise and partly a prospective one.
The epic journey that was and is at the base of my poetic opus is not only a personal one of more than fifty years in the realms of belief, it is also the journey of this new System, the World Order of Baha’u’llah which had its origins as far back as the 1840s and, if one includes the two precursors of this System, the historian can find the origins of this System as far back as the middle of the eighteenth century when many of the revolutions and forces that are at the beginning of modern history find their source: the American and French revolutions, the industrial and agricultural revolutions and the revolution in the arts and sciences.
Generally the goal or aim of this work, and the way my narrative imagination is engaged in this epic, is to attempt to connect this long and complex history to my own life and the lives of my contemporaries, as far as possible. I have sought and found a narrative voice that contains uncertainty, ambiguity and incompleteness among shifting fields of reference mixed with certainties of heart and spirit. Since this poetry and this narrative is inspired by so much that is, and has been, part of the human condition, this epic it could be said has at its centre Life Itself and the most natural and universal of human activities, the act of creating narratives.
When we die all that remains is our story or such is one way of putting the notion "all that we have in the end." I have called this poetic work an epic because it deals with events, as all epics do, that are or will be significant to the entire society. It contains what Charles Handy, philosopher, business man and writer, calls the golden seed: a belief that what I am doing is important, probably unique, to the history and development of this System. This poetry, this epic, has to do with heroism and deeds in battle of contemporary and historical significance and manifestation. My work and my life, the belief System I have been associated with for over half a century, involves a great journey, not only my own across two continents, but that of this Cause I have been identified with as it has expanded across the planet in my lifetime, in the second century of Baha’i history.
The epic convention of the active intervention of God and holy souls from another world; and the convention of an epic tale, told in verse, a verse that is not a frill or an ornament, but is essential to the story, is found here. I think there is an amplitude in this poetry that simple information lacks; there is also an engine of action that is found in the inner life as much, if not more, than in the external story. In some ways, this is the most significant aspect of my work, at least from my point of view. Indeed, if I am to make my mark at this crucial point of history, it will be largely in the form of this epic literary work which tells of fifty-one years of pioneering:1962-2013. But more importantly, the part I play, the mark I leave, is as an individual thread in the warp and weft that is the fabric and texture of the Baha’i community in its role as a society-building power.
The World Order lying enshrined in the teachings of Baha’u’llah that is “slowly and imperceptibly rising amid the welter and chaos of present-day civilization,” is becoming an increasingly familiar participant in the life of society and this epic is but one of the multitude of manifestations of that participation. My own life, my own epic, within this larger Baha’i epic, had its embryonic phase in the first stage of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan, 1937-1944, the first of three phases leading to the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 as the last year of my teen age life was about to begin and as, most importantly, the fulfilment of the prophecy of Daniel regarding “that blissful consummation” when “the Divine Light shall flood the world from the East to the West.”
E. VIRGINIA WOOLF AND ME
What began in 1984 as an episodic diary and in 1986 as a narrative of pioneering experience covering twenty-five years has become an account covering fifty-one years: 1962-2013. I would like to add to this introduction to Volume 6 of this diary by returning to the writer I referred to at the start of my introduction to Volume 5. I will make a few remarks on diary keeping gleaned from studies of the diary of Virginia Woolf. They throw some light on my own work and what I am aiming to accomplish. The whole mass of Woolf’s autobiographical-diaristic writings was a deliberately fragmented ongoing project that she worked on until her suicide at the age of 58. I was just beginning to find a direction in my own autobiographical, diaristic, memoiristic, work at that age of 58 in 2002.
Her work is a rich archive of self-exploration and self-disclosure and often of bafflement that Woolf collected and preserved even though she had no intention of publishing it all, either during her lifetime or in the future. I had the same attitude to publishing when I began this work but, as it progressed, it seemed to warrant some form of publication. And publish I did in part at least in that cornucopia of genres: the Internet.
Woolf’s unpublished and, in some cases at the time, unpublishable writings are often as interesting as the work whose appearance in the public place she supervised attentively—her novels. And a great many of her unpublished writings, especially her diary, some of her notebooks and her various formal experiments in memoir writing, are integral parts of an autobiography that could not integrate all of its parts. She was always writing and her work in toto represents her life. Her total oeuvre could be seen as an autobiography that her social and familial training inhibited her from shaping into a final form.
The integration of all the genres of my writing into one coherent autobiographical whole is certainly a challenge. Sometimes I feel I am making headway and sometimes I feel the task is too great. Woolf, the English writer entre des guerres, learned to be attentive to the movements of her own mind to cope with the bipolar tendencies in her life as I, too, have to learn and be attentive to these movements suffering as I also do from the same, or perhaps a different form of, bipolar disorder. Through self-reflection she found a language for the ebb and flow of thought, fantasy, feeling, and memory, for the shifts of light and dark. In her writing she preserved, recreated, and altered her perceptions, attitudes and significances of the dead, altering in the process her internal relationship with their invisible presences. "I will go backwards and forwards," so she remarked in her diary, a comment on both her imaginative and writerly practice. I found this description in Katherine Dalsimer's book Virginia Woolf: Becoming a Writer somewhat similar to my own.
I began to experience, for the most part insensibly, by the time I began the second twenty-five years of diary keeping(2010-2035), a certain relief, not from dejection as Tennyson and Coleridge found, but from depression and exhaustion, what I have called a tedium vitae. Like Tennyson and Coleridge I found my relief in people outside of myself, in the person of dead friends who never truly died but continued on in my memory and spirit. Tennyson would read letters from a dead friend and I would say prayers of intercession to a range of people from Hands of the Cause to, as I say, dozens of souls whose names I would recite, mantra-like.
Coleridge was dejected because he had lost his health, youthful joy, and creativity. I did not feel the loss of these things, in fact, my creativity was perhaps greater than ever. But I felt tired of the social domain, tired of much of life. It was not really depression, for I had known depression only too well. It was a fatigue of the spirit, a distaste for life in varying degrees, a peaceful, restful withdrawal into quietness. It was not unlike the experience of Henry Adams and his sense of isolation and a certain disillusionment. My mind and heart combined, as Adams did during the years of the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í Faith, force with elevation and this combination gave my life, paradoxically, a new sense of both romance and tragedy. But all was not force and all was not elevation. More on this later as this introduction develops a life of its own.
F. GEORGE ORWELL AND ME
George Orwell’s diaries provide another exemplar for my own. My diaries are virtually the opposite to Orwell’s. His diaries are not confessional. In his diaries he very seldom records his emotions, impressions, moods, or feelings; hardly ever his ideas, judgments, and opinions. What he jots down is strictly and dryly factual: events happening in the outside world—or in his own little vegetable garden; his goat Muriel’s slight diarrhoea may have been caused by eating wet grass; Churchill is returning to Cabinet; fighting reported in Manchukuo; rhubarb growing well; someone reported shot in Moscow; the pansies and red saxifrage are coming into flower; rat population in Britain is estimated at 4–5 million; among the hop-pickers, rhyming slang is not extinct, thus for instance, a dig in the grave means a shave; and at the end of July 1940, as the menace of a German invasion becomes very real, “constantly, as I walk down the street, I find myself looking up at the windows to see which of them would make good machine-gun nests.”
To some extent, both Orwell’s and my diaries could carry as their epigraph his endearing words from his 1946 essay: “Why I Write”:
“I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world-view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue…to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.” In my case I acquired the world-view I now possess in my teenage life in the 1950s and 1960s, and it has broadened, but not altered in the last 50 years: 1963-2013.
G. CONCLUDING WORDS
And so it is that, as my second 25 years of keeping a diary goes through their opening years, 2009 to 2013, and as I begin at the same time my life on two old-age pensions, I bring this introduction to Volume 6 of my diary up-to-date. I encourage readers to go to my poetry and essays, my letters and emails, my Internet posts and interaction with others in cyberspace for any material that has a diaristic or journalistic orientation, and much of it is as diaristic, as journalistic, as this diary or journal.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I have continued making diary entries is that a daily diary is not strictly an autobiography or memoir. It is an antidote to hindsight. It seals the present moment and preserves it from perspective. My poetry also achieves this function. It provides perspective and also wraps the present moment in the cotton-wool of language.
22/4/’10 to 28/8/’13.