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2013-01-27 23:04:34 (UTC)

The Telephone and the Letter: A Celebration


The two essays which follow are exploratory pieces of writing and not final drafts in any way; in some ways they are just thoughts made somewhat sequential or orderly. I send them to friends and associations from time to time when it seems appropriate. Hopefully my assessment of appropriateness is correct, at least for the most part—for one cannot get one’s hunches, one’s intuitions, always accurately drawn. My use of the telephone and the letter/email is discussed here.

They are both art forms in their own way, although the first is rarely considered in the wide classification of art forms. In 2013 I celebrate 60 years of utilizing the telephone and 50 years of the letter to communicate, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so.-Ron Price, George Town, Tasmania
Essay #1:

(first written in June 2005 for the internet & revised many times)

One of the most famous poets in western civilization, W.H. Auden, worked behind doors marked Private far past, as he writes in one of his poems, "pine-rooms" where "telephones ring/Inviting trouble." He was, while writing, he said, in a room where his "double sits." In the end he became one of the literary dramatis personae of the twentieth century in spite of his conscious efforts not to become so. I like what Auden tries to do. I feel he is a kindred poet whose aims and sense of craft are similar, in many ways, to my own. We certainly share similar attitudes to telephones.

I have become, as you might imagine, on the whole, disinclined to use the telephone and most of the people whom I write to now are people I never see, never talk to on the telephone and, in fact, have little desire to visit them. The reasons I am disinclined to use the telephone, I think, are many. Human motivation, our reasons for doing things, although often simple enough, are also and often, as the great historian Edward Gibbon once noted, hidden in “the awkward and tangled reality of the past below the surface of things.” So it was, he suggested, that we gaze at history and not try to scrutinize it too much to unveil the hidden or even the not-so-hidden springs of action.

Many of the jobs I have had since my first one in 1961, if I discount a range of common but idiosyncratic ways of making money in my childhood and teens, I was on the phone for hours in a day. That was not true of all my jobs, not true in, say: the tin mine, the classrooms, several of those office/clerical jobs, that taxi, my youth worker work, the editor role, the mine, mill and factory where the phone virtually did not exist significantly in my day-to-day routine. But it was true of many of the other jobs I have had--for I have been a bit peripatetic, a wanderer in the paths of employment, always seeking something better: more money, different people, new or better relationships with women, with community and/or with myself in la longue duree, as some French call it, with life. Jobs were for many years a key index to my personal sense of worth.

Due to my having used the telephone so much at work and in my personal life over so many years I felt, by 1999 when I retired from full-time employment, like retiring from the telephone. The telephone has been central to my life, as I look back over it, in retrospective contemplation, in the half century 1949 to 1999. Then in the years 1999 to 2005 I pulled the plug from my relationships by sensible and insensible degrees: from full-time, part-time, casual and even most volunteer employment. In the years 1999 to 2001, for it took two years, I stopped applying for full-time jobs as required by Centrelink. By 2003 I had finished my last part-time job. I also left the world of volunteer activity in May of 2005. It has now been nearly three years where and when, except for work in one international organization, the Baha’i Faith, I am free at last. As Martin Luther King once said: “Free at last, free at last, thank God-Almighty, I’m free at last.”

At the age of 63 and 1/2 I am self-employed, an independent scholar, a writer-poet, a retired teacher-lecturer. At the moment, after expenses, I’m in the red. But not to worry. My house is paid for; I’m on a pension which pays the bills. Late-adulthood and old age beckon with their joys and sorrows, their slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I remember at the end of my first year of university, which ended in early May of 1964, I had a peculiar relationship with the telephone and its booming industry. I had a job checking telephone poles for internal decay. That was but one of my many relationships with the telephone. The job only lasted for about two months. I have had a range of jobs which brought me into contact with this now pervasive modern tool of our world, but I will not dwell on these jobs or my activity with telephones or this brief essay would lead to prolixity.

In the introduction to a collection of The Letters of Lewis Carroll:Volume 1: 1837-1885 the editor M.N. Cohen gave a definition of man: "a person who writes letters." While that may have been true of Carroll, who has 98,721 letters in his letter registry, the definition would not be very useful today, or even in the nineteenth century for that matter, for the millions of men and women for whom letter writing is and/or was a non-event.

There is an element of restlessness in the human psyche that will not leave us in peace and incessantly asks for more, to see and have and understand, more and more and yet more. ‘Abdu'l-Bahá stresses not the unease or frustration of this restlessness. These bases of restlessness, He says, so often are basically unhealthy. But a sense of urgency and eagerness in alliance with the inner life, the soul, is restlessness of a different order. It is a spiritual restlessness that urges us toward transcendence, toward a desire for and an appreciation of that ‘undiscovered country'. Táhirih was "restless and could not be still"(See: ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, Wilmette, 1975(1928), pp.190-203). There are a host of others in this same book with the same quality. We meet such souls all over the Baha’i world as we travel from place to place: always on the go, can’t sit still. When you recognize them, at first, on the telephone, you often think ‘not them again!’ Then there are the quiet ones, another sector of that slowly evolving revolutionary force that has been moving out of obscurity in recent decades. It takes all kinds, all types, to build a new world. For that is what people in community is about, among other things, at this climacteric of history. Some people are social, love telephones and love talking. Some don’t. To each their own and to each, too, at different times in their lives, different needs and wants.

My wife has always been the type of person who has had, as they say, too many irons in the fire to write often—at least that is how I might put it and do put it quite often over the years. She has preferred the telephone as a means of communication to letters. But, she has always had more of a respect for punctuation and spelling than I have had, even though she is essentially a non-letter writer. Indeed, she has more of a respect for many things in life than I, for I was always a “this will do” person in so many areas. Almost always, even in difficult times, she was able to rise to the occasion, to find the energy and enthusiasm to converse and get on with life. This was a quality I did not possess; I was much more of a fair-weather creature and difficult times wore me down quickly. I am frequently amazed at peoples’ stamina and stick-to-it-iveness. This attitude is also part of the Baha’i teachings, part of that “preferring the other chap to yourself.” It is not always manifest, of course, but it comes into play for each of us in different ways.

Henry Miller, the first writer to use the “F” word in the 20th century in his novels and get away with it, said that in his old age the telephone and the doorbell were his phobias. D.H. Lawrence, another successful 20th century novelist, used to hide in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Miller used to say “Tell them I’m not home.” I don’t feel quite as strongly as that but, then, I am far from the celebrity world they came to inhabit. ‘Phobia’ is a bit strong a term for my attitude to telephones, but certainly the tendency is there to avoid social contact through these means. The need for strong friendships and a high need for interpersonal interaction which I once had, even into my forties, has gone. I need some social contact, but not much. My big desire is to be at it constantly, at writing that is, every day. The thinking process is a drawing together, a drawing out, but on paper not in the oral-verbal sense. The world of importance for me now is there at my finger tips in the world of paper and words, enmeshed in the print I am reading and writing, the experiences I am having and the imagination that comes my way. It comes tingling off my fingers, at least much of the time, onto the page.

My attitude to my poetry is not unlike that of that famous poet Sylvia Plath. She saw herself as an artisan. She was an artisan with an idea. All of her poems began with an idea, a concept. Her ending was bleak back when I was completing high school in 1963. Writing, like most things and however successful one may be from time to time, is no guarantee of anything, nor are many other things in life. Heraclitus built a whole philosophy on this view back in pre-Socratic days. At worst the beginning of a poem has been for me, what Roger White called a poor connection on a telephone line. I often have the feeling, now, in the first seconds when I talk to someone on the phone, even someone I know well, that I have no idea who it is, so immersed am I often in the writing. I remember reading an account by one of the children of Charles Dickens and how they would often go into Dickens’ study. Dickens would look at them. The child would say something and Dickens would look right at and through the child as if he did not even see them at all. This is how I recall reading this account of his life over a decade ago now. I’m not in his league, but there is definitely an immersion process I find when writing. I please myself mostly in my writing; I publish literally millions of words on the internet. Fame and wealth will elude me and, for the most part, the problems and successes, the words of encomium and opprobrium that are the experience of the famous and rich writers like Dickens, among many others, remain far distant from my experience.

After a weekend recently involving 20 hours of socializing, I was engaged in a 90 minute telephone call on Sunday evening and then, on Monday, in a 90 minute conversation with a friend. Although neither of these experiences were unpleasant, I felt as if they were part of the slow sucking of my life forces. I handle as much as three or four hours of the social, but 20 in a two or three days period is something I now avoid if at all possible. The psyche has lost its social flavour and the pleasures that used to come from hour after hour of listening and talking.

I do not have to face the various degrees of trauma, the varying severity of calamities and the diverse social entanglements that have been part of the long march in my life from six to fifty six: ill-health, student pressures, marital tensions, employment problems, perplexities in my sex life, frustrations in Baha’i community life, worries in my affinal and consanguineal families, worries in raising children and in financial matters, among a list as long as your proverbial arm. Most of these problematic aspects of life have now been removed from my shoulders by the mysterious dispensations of fate and time, circumstance, planning and, I like to think, a Watchful Providence. In their place of these complexities of life I have been given the joys of creative writing. There is still a creative tension that comes from living, from the inevitable conversations and social activity, from what seems unavoidable anxieties of daily life and a residue of bi-polar problems. But, I really feel I have no reason to complain. Of course, like others, I do complain on occasion as does my wife. One of the many reasons for being married which I have always liked—a sharing of solitude—also allows for a sharing of the complaints against, and along the final turns in the road of, life.
Essay #2:


The information and details in my resume, a resume I no longer use in the job-hunting world, should help anyone wanting to know something about my professional background, my writing and my life. This resume might be useful for the few who want to assess my suitability for some advertised/unadvertised employment position which, I must emphasize again, I never apply for anymore. I stopped applying for full-time jobs six years ago in 2001 and part-time ones four years ago in 2003. I also left the world of volunteer activity, except for work in one international organization, a world religion, the Baha’i Faith, two years ago in May 2005. Pension age of 65, which I will be in eighteen months time, sees me self-employed as a writer-poet. I gradually came to this role in the years by degrees after I left full-time employment in 1999, nearly nine years ago this month.

Not being occupied with earning a living and giving myself to 50, 60 or sometimes 70 and 80 hours a week in a job---and many other hours devoted to community activity in many of its forms marked a turning point for me. I could devote my time, at last, to a much more extensive involvement in writing. Writing is for most of its votaries a solitary and hopefully stimulating leisure-time-parttime-fulltime pursuit. In my case in these early years of my late adulthood, writing is full-time about 60 hours a week.1 I have replaced paid employment and activity with people in community with a form of work which is also a form of leisure, namely, writing and reading.

Inevitably the style of one's writing and what one reads is a reflection of the person, their experience and their philosophy. For many years I set out this experience in an attachment which followed this introduction.2 If, as Carl Jung writes, we are what we do; and if, as Abdu’l-Baha writes, we are what we think, then some of what I was and am can be found in that attachment. That document may seem over-the-top as they say these days since it goes on for nearly 30 pages, but more than forty years in the professional and non-professional job-world produces a great pile of stuff. This attachment was the last resume I used when I was in the job hunting game in 2003. I sometimes make it available, when appropriate; I occasionally update it, of course, to include many of the writing projects I have taken on during these first years of my retirement from full-time, part-time, casual and volunteer activity. I up-date it for the internet which is virtually the only place it as a purpose any more. I place segments of it, as suited to the situation, to the site, to the person, and hope it ultimately attracts—along with other writings—the recipient to a Cause that has dominated my life since at least the early 1960s.

The resume has always been the piece of writing, the statement, the document, the entry ticket which, over the years, has opened up the possibilities of another adventure, another pioneering move to another town, another state or country, another location, work in another organization, another portion of my life. I'm sure that will also be the case in the years of my late adulthood(60-80) and old age(80 ) should, for some reason, movement from place to place be necessary or desired again. For one never knows in this world of change, just ask Heraclitus. Look him and his ideas up in the Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. But, at the moment, such movement seems unlikely as I go through these early years of late adulthood and head into the last stages of my life. In the quiet comfort of my study, with my wife’s lovely garden at my window and the most fruitful lemon tree at centre-stage to remind me of the bitter-sweet aspects of life, moving, indeed going, anywhere is the last thing on my mind.

In the last four years, age 60 to 64, then, which are the first of my late adulthood as developmental psychologists call the years from 60 to 80, and in what are these years of early retirement(1999 to 2008), I have been able to write to a much greater extent than I had been able in my early and middle adulthood(1964 to 2004) when student, job, family and the demands of various aspects of community life kept my nose to the grindstone as they say colloquially. And now, with the unloading of much of the volunteer work I had had for years and which I also took on from 1999-2005, with my last child having left home in 2005 and a more settled home environment than I’ve ever had, the years of late adulthood(age 60 to 80) beckon bright with promise. My resume reflects this shift in my activity-base and it is available on request should this brief essay tempt you.

The process of frequent moves and frequent jobs which was my pattern for forty years is not everyone's style, modus operandi or modus vivendi. Many millions of people live and die in the same town, city or state and their life's adventure takes place within that physical region, the confines of a relatively small place and, perhaps, a very few jobs in their lifetime. Physical movement is not essential to psychological and spiritual growth, nor is a long list of jobs, although some degree of inner change, some inner shifting is just about inevitable, or so it seems to me, especially in these recent decades. For many millions of people during the years 1961-2001, my years of being jobbed and applying for same, the world was my and their oyster, not so much in the manner of a tourist, although there was plenty of that, but rather in terms of working lives which came to be seen increasingly in a global context. But, in the only French quotation you will find in this essay: Plus c’est change, plus ca la meme chose. This is the balance to old Heraclitus’ philosophy. For it is based on a polar-opposite view to his. Stasis, it seems, is as much a part of life as change—probably more so.

During those years when I was looking for amusement, education and experience, some stimulating vocation and avocation, some employment security and comfort, my adventurous years of pioneering, my applying-for-job days, the forty year period 1961-2001, so much happened. I will not even attempt a cursory summary here. My resume was altered many times, of course, during the more than forty years that I used such a document. It is now, for the most part, as I indicated above, not used in these years of my retirement, except as an information, bio-data base, a vehicle for interested readers.

This document is a useful backdrop for those examining my writing, especially my poetry, although some poets regard their CV, resume, bio-data, lifeline, life-story, personal background as irrelevant to their work. I frequently use this resume at various website locations on the internet when I want to provide some introductory background on myself or engage in a dialogue for some purpose or other. I could list many new uses after forty years of only one use--to help me get a job, make more money, experience some enrichment to my life, etcetera. The use of the resume saves one from having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. I don't have to tell the story again and again in resume after resume to the point of utter tedium as I did so frequently when applying for jobs, especially in the days before the email and the internet in the late 1980s and early 1990s when my job application process was beginning to fade anyway. A few clicks of one’s personal electronic-computer system and some aspect of life’s game goes on or comes to a quick end at the other end of the electronic set of wires.

During those job-hunting years 1961-2003 I applied for some four thousand jobs, an average of two a week for each of those forty years! This is a guesstimation, of course, as accurate a guesstimation as I can calculate for this forty year period. The great bulk of the thousands of letters involved in this vast, detailed and, from time to time, quite exhausting and frustrating process, I did not keep. I did keep a small handful of perhaps half a dozen of those letters in a file in the Letters: Section VII, Sub-Section X of my autobiographical/memoir work, I have entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Given the thousands of hours over those forty years devoted to the job-hunting process; given the importance of this key to the pioneering venture that is my life; given the amount of paper produced and energy expended in the process; given the amount of writing done in the context of these various jobs and roles,3 some of the correspondence seemed to warrant a corner in the written story of my life.4

It seemed appropriate, at least it was my desire, to write this short statement fitting all those thousands of resumes, all those job applications, into a larger context: the things we do when we retire!5
1 This 60 hours involves reading, posting on the internet, developing my own website and writing in several genres. With 56 hours devoted to sleep, the other 50 hours are filled with ‘other stuff.’
2 I sometimes include my resume with this general statement of employment and its focus on the application process. But I only include the resume, as I say, with this statement when it seems appropriate, on request, or in my memoirs. I have not included it here in this posting.

3 Beginning with the summer job I had in the Canadian Peace Research Institute in 1964(or perhaps and arguably with that essay in grade eight in 1957 that won me a public speaking contest in the town of Burlington and its primary schools) I wrote an unnumbered quantity of: summaries, reports, essays, evaluations, subject notes, inter alia, in my many jobs. None of that material has been kept in any of my files and, over 40 years, it amounted to literally millions, an uncountable, number of words and a guesstimated 10,000 documents of writing.

4 The Letters section of my autobiography now occupies some 25 arch-lever files and two-ring binders and covers the period 1957 to 2007; and another 25 volumes of internet postings at: discussion sites, message boards, forums and special topic locations. I guesstimate the collection contains about 5000 letters, emails and assorted documents. This does not include, of course, those thousands of job applications and their replies, the thousands of emails and an unnumbered quantity of in-house letters of a basically trivial/non-archival nature at places where I was employed. I have kept, as I say above, about half a dozen to a dozen of the job applications and their replies, and several hundred emails.

5 Since the late 1980s, say 1988-2008, thousands of emails have been sent to me and replies have been written but, like the job application, most have been deleted from any potential archive. For the most part these deleted emails seem to have no long term value in an archive of letters. They were deleted as quickly as they came in. Of course there are other emails, nearly all of the correspondence I have sent and received since about 1990 to 1995 which would once have been in the form of letters, is now in the form of emails. They are kept in my letter-files. In August 2007 I began to keep such item only in electronic form.
That’s all folks!