Interesting Coincidence

In my current life, I was born in Oklahoma City.

That’s where Rev. James Pike was born, 71 years earlier.

For those who don’t know, Bishop Pike was a very controversial Episcopal clergyman.  He and Philip K. Dick were good friends.  Bishop Pike died in the Judean Desert on a religious quest while woefully unprepared for travel in those conditions.  In fact, the preparations were made so poorly that many people questioned the conditions under which he died.

In truth, it may have been something akin to Jerusalem Syndrome that drove him to take on the Judean Desert in a 2WD rental car with little more than a Coca-Cola to stay hydrated and a gas station map to find his way.

When Phil had his unusual experiences in early 1974, one of the theories he had was that Rev. Pike was trying to contact him the same way Runciter tried to contact his employees in “Ubik.”

Still I wonder, if I’m here, where is he?

Pilgrimage

I was just watching this documentary about medieval pilgrimages when I realized something: I wanted to do something like this while I was in the UK (I believe this was in 2004).

I had it all thought out.  I couldn’t afford to travel to the abbey at Iona (a site I had some ancestral connections with) because it involved almost certainly renting a car at some point.  I then decided that I might be able to make the 100+ mile hike while on spring break.

I already had a coat I knew was cozy enough even in -10 F weather.  I bought a backpack, a good LED flashlight, a multi-tool, and a vacuum-sealed camping meal (though I was only able to afford one and decided it would be better to just buy durable goods from Tesco on my way out).  I had intended to take the bus to Glasgow and then walk all the way from Glasgow to Oban, then take the ferry to Iona.  I was going to do it because I knew it would be hard, and because I knew it would be a tremendous experience of endurance that I would feel accomplished after completing.

Thinking about it now, that was very much the sort of travel plans a medieval pilgrim would make.  It was only the prospect of hiking over 100 miles through Scotland in mid-spring that made me realize I was in over my head (there’s a reason pilgrims tended to travel when the weather was nice).

Maybe it’s just a coincidence brought about by circumstance though.  It seems funny to consider but I can’t nail it down.

Incidentally, when I scrubbed my travel plans I went ahead and ate the vacuum-sealed meal.  It was marked “chicken and dumplings,” but the “dumplings” had very little in the way of flavor, seemed to be made mostly of flour and water, and were still hard and dry in the middle.  It didn’t bring back any memories but the feeling that I’d had something similar once, while simultaneously unable to think of a single instance when I had.  It turns out the “dumplings” were basically hardtack and the consistency of this stew was very much like the swill improvised at the Western Front, less the dirt.

Another Memory

I had another flash of memory from Phil’s life.  That’s the first I’ve had in maybe a year.

We were at someone’s house.  It was a really nice place, a brand new Ranch-style home in an upscale suburb.  Definitely not my house.

There was an early 60s car (by this time a few years old) with a small red and white “canned ham” style trailer attached.  Seems Isa was there, maybe 3 or 4 years old at the time.

I think the people who owned the house were friends or family of Nancy’s.  I didn’t like them.

“So Phil, you’re a writer?  How’s that working out?” one guy in a thick sweater asked me.

“It’s going well,” I lied.  My life was a mess and it was about to become a complete disaster.  Also, I was jonesing and starting to believe that they had brought me there just to humiliate me.  I wanted to leave so bad but I held my composure together just long enough.

I’m not sure how or if I could confirm this one.  I did briefly attempt to contact Isa Dick-Hackett about some other memories from 1964-72 via a listed address, but I was unsuccessful, and didn’t want to become a nuisance by digging up unlisted contact info.

New Discovery

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission once again proves their worth.

I now know who was responsible for the inscription on John’s headstone.  Documents recently added to John’s page on the CWGC website show that the next of kin contacted for the personalized inscription was one A. Harris who lived at 4 Cecil Street, Yeovil.

Most likely, this was John’s brother Albert.  The house still exists but of course, Albert is long since dead.

The fact that it wasn’t Margaret Harris of Hereford suggests to me that Margaret was married to a different John Harris, and my memories of being single seem vindicated by this discovery.

At least I can rest easy that I probably didn’t leave behind a widow, but I feel bad for poor Albert.  I don’t know if he’s the one, but I think at least one of John’s brothers lived into the 1970s.  I wonder if he grew old and died in Yeovil, and I wonder if he ever thought about me as the years wore on.  Maybe he still had letters and photographs from me.

Or maybe we were estranged and I had gone to Hereford to get away, and the brief, impersonal epitaph “He did his duty” was a backhanded gesture (as in “At least he did his duty, the drunken old sod!”).  But I’d rather not believe it.  I’d rather believe Albert was proud and loved me, and the stoicism of the inscription was just a bit of stiff upper lip.  No one wants to believe they died alone and unloved, anyhow…

Sadly I don’t know.  I remember nothing about my relationship with him.  The only members of the family I clearly recall my feelings about were my mother and father and they were both dead by 1891.

Wish I could remember more.  I wish I knew what the family thought of me, or whether they kept any shred of my existence.  It would be sad if all I ever found were a few official documents, to be remembered forever only in the cold embrace of British bureaucracy.  I had favorite songs, favorite foods, I laughed, I cried, I had a face, I had dreams and loves and opinions and emotions… and aside from a few fragmented memories of the person I was, there’s nothing of that.  It’s all just type-written pages to show I was there.

I just want to see something, anything, that shows more than what the official records are interested in.  I want to see what I looked like, or the letters I wrote, or someone’s recollection of me.  Without that, John Harris is well and truly dead, buried, and forgotten.

Well Then…

A friend who has actually read my previous life’s work just told me, of my most recent novel, that “the similarity was beyond artistic imitation” and that he was really surprised.  He described parts of the book having the “a great deal of the taste and smell of Ubik.”

That’s it then, I’m back.  I’ll be down in San Jose in January, releasing a book that I could have easily written in 1966.  A new name, a new body, a slightly different genre but the soul is still there.  Deep down, something has survived.

A Couple of Things

This photo, of a hop warehouse in Poperinghe, gave me shivers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poperinge#mediaviewer/File:Hopmuseum_Poperinge_1.jpg

Not so with photos of Toc H (also in Pop).  I felt I might have given the place a passing look but it didn’t really resonate the same way.

Also, I found a regimental diary for the 2nd KSLI online, finally, and… I’m going to have to wait until I can burn roughly $5 on something I don’t need for classes.  Damn.  Still, I think this one only contains troop movements and the like.  The log I’m really looking for- the one likely to tell what actually happened to John the night he died (and I’m almost certain it was at night)- may not exist any more, or maybe it will surface as Europe continues to mark the Centenary of WWI until 2018.

This really is a remarkable time to find myself alive.  It’s an age where I can finally start putting the pieces together in such a way that now, pretty much everything from 1877 to the present fits a tight narrative that flows neatly with no gaps of more than 15 years between documentable lives.  I can look back in time now and watch myself evolve in a multimedia slide show of the highs and lows of the Twentieth Century and see how I rode them, all the way.

A Strange Mood

Today I got back a short paper I wrote for my history class comparing the 1964 film “Becket” (based on the tragic friendship of Henry II and Thomas Becket) with the historical sources (though I also slipped in a few of my own memories by way of offhanded critique, i.e. ‘I don’t think x would have happened this way’).  The professor called it “insightful.”

Then it was off to the library to do some research for a medieval art history paper, which I’d been putting off until today.  When I got to the library, I discovered that the special collections were holding an open house!

First I turned (ever so delicately) through the pages of a 1632 edition of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogues, which was pretty awesome, but the real treat for me was bound in an unassuming modern leather binding decorated with acorns tooled into the leather.

It turned out to be a 15th century Book of Hours.  I thumbed through the pages, some written in a different hand, the capital letters ornately accented with gold and vermilion.  Then the librarian on staff pointed out that they had placed bookmarks where the illuminated illustrations were.  For such a small book, they were so delicately detailed and lovingly finished.

I almost cried as I held it.  The feeling of the vellum between my fingers, the faint smell of an age-old manuscript, the traces of pencil lines and each stroke of the quill so well-preserved… it brought up such a feeling in me, a profound sense of nostalgia that left my head swimming for some hours afterward.  I felt literally lightheaded, depersonalized, dazed, stunned.  The sense that I knew the world this little book came from was powerful and difficult to ignore.

I feel I’ve returned to normal somewhat, but I still don’t feel altogether the same.  I still feel some strange emotions after handling this book.  It just wasn’t the same as seeing an old medieval book behind glass or a digital scan; it was like holding a piece of a lost world that part of me still remembers and in all honesty, still loves, for good or ill.