The Noose

I have a recurrent, nagging feeling that I died by hanging but I can’t for the life of me remember when.

I had initially thought my mid-19th century life had ended in a noose but I haven’t found a capital punishment case from 1870-1877 that sounds even remotely familiar to me when I read the case studies.

It could have been one of the lives before that one, but it also could have been one of the lives I lived in the 20th century. Maybe it happened more than once; it’s a common way to go.

Mostly, what I feel is how it felt to be left waiting to die. I knew that feeling in 1915 as well, like the heart has physically fallen into the stomach as if it had fallen through a trap door. It’s different from depression; depression is when you feel like you’re falling emotionally. This was feeling like I’ve already fallen and could go no lower, a sort of cold comfort and sense of finality that crushes unrealized dreams under its weight. To wait for your day to die over a period of time begins to warp the mind. I remember going numb, somehow willing myself to embrace this bleak feeling, even managing to smile, but in a coarse and soulless sort of way that was more for the benefit of those around me.

But that’s all I remember: nothing but feelings. It’s lurking there, somewhere deep. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been executed by hanging and I think I’ve got something really dark buried in my past.

A Brief Epilogue To A Strange Period In My Life

A few days ago, someone got back to me and said that they actually had a creamer made by Kathy Demuelle that was kind of similar to the description of the stoneware coffee mug I thought I remembered.

But once again, I am left somewhat frustrated; unless this creamer was part of a set, it probably has little to do with my memory which I was quite sure was of a coffee mug (I even mention coffee rings on a page of the Exegesis, which I’ve yet to find).

Once again, it’s an ambiguous result that is close enough to what I thought I’d remembered to make me scratch my head, but not enough to convince me that I was him.  And I suppose for some time to come I’ll be discovering things that seem almost like confirmations, but not quite.  I don’t anticipate ever finding something on the level of what I’ve got with John.

My Muse Is Alive

Far from drying up from the idea that I probably wasn’t a famous author in a previous life, my muse seems to be perfectly resilient to the idea.

Also, I find that just the very idea I was Phil actually proved a bit of a “magic feather” to get me to up my game as a writer; the fact that I’ve exceeded him in quality and more than doubled the speed at which I release new works has turned me into an up and coming writer with a lot to hope for.

On the down side, I feel that I’ve had nothing to shield me from the pain of realization that I can’t explain away John’s life so easily and that these horrible memories of the Western Front are very likely real.  Of late, I find that I’ve been able to dust off some WWI-related projects of mine that I simply hadn’t felt like finishing before, because I need some way to deal constructively with these feelings or they’ll destroy me.

One of these books is a sequel to the first fantasy novel I wrote, that includes a subplot about WWI.  I finished the draft in early 2014 but my publisher didn’t like it, I didn’t like it either after they pointed out that all my doubts about it had been well-founded, and I’ve since done some very major edits to try to salvage the story.

The other book is a re-boot of an old project of mine dating back to 2010.  The original was a well-written but kind of boring realistic fiction about a neurotic 20-year-old with serious questions about their sexuality and gender identity and a slightly odd way of looking at the world.  It’s highly biographical, though I fictionalized a lot of details and added a subplot with the protagonist becoming an innocent suspect in a murder investigation to make it into a more coherent story.  it had previously existed in two versions, one written as a NaNoWriMo project and one written for a publisher who later bailed on me when the subject of money came up.

I’m re-working it somewhat to not only make it a little truer to what actually happened to me in 2005 in London, but to tie in with a slightly fictionalized version of my memories from the war.  Already I’m finding that little things from the story I already had begin to stand out in sharp relief when juxtaposed with my prior life as a doomed Tommy.  Things that made little sense- like the impossible restlessness of the protagonist- suddenly make perfect sense.  All these little details I culled from real events create an organic whole as the story begins to take on a more solid structure and fleshes itself out.

The emotions I’ve been facing during these projects are raw, but they’re real and they’re such a relief to bring to the surface after months of burying them in distractions.  Now, it’s time to “open a vein and bleed,” as the old writing cliche goes.

So Much It Hurts…

I think I must have invested a lot in a life as Phil in no small part because it gave me some respite from feelings that I’ve never really resolved.

The fact is, I miss England so much it hurts.  I can ignore it for a while; when I thought I was Phil I ignored it for a very long time.  But with sincere doubts that I was him now taking hold, I am left with that same painful longing to go back.

It really hit full force last night, when I stumbled on an episode of the BBC show “Escape to the Country.”  They had an episodes in Shropshire and Somerset and by the end, I was in tears seeing these beautiful cottages and thinking of how it could have been if I’d stayed at home until I was too old to serve.  I’m sure there was a need for leather workers, hop pickers, and farm hands and I probably could have made enough money doing civilian work to buy a cottage somewhere in the West Country.

I’ve waited more than ten years to get back to England after living there for a year and a half in my current life, always feeling a strange sense of deja vu that I never fully understood until years later; Now that I know why I wanted so bad to stay there, I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever have another chance to go back even to visit.

As for living there, it’s almost impossible now, as expensive as it is and as difficult as it is for a US citizen to get a leave-to-enter permit in the UK (you pretty much have to either get an employer willing to sponsor you, or you have to marry a British citizen and neither is really an option for me).

I’m seriously thinking of applying to Oxford and Cambridge, but I’m still torn about how I’d negotiate the move, how I’d bring my fiance with me, and how I’d pay for it all.

I didn’t need this.  I should have kept telling myself I was the reincarnation of Philip K. Dick, that I was continuing my past life’s work, and that I belonged on the West Coast, even when I knew I couldn’t back that up.  Without that, I’m just a homesick Brit.

So Where Was I? (Rambling)

The next question that arises from whether or not I was Phil is an obvious one: Where was I between 1915 and 1984?

I’ve been thinking aloud about it, and I thought I’d bring some of that process here, so apologies in advance for the rambling.

I think I was too eager to call it solved with Phil because he seemed to fit all the criteria I was looking for: he seemed in every way to be the next logical step between the person I was in 1915 and the person I am now: Somewhat more neurotic, more masculine than I am but with a much larger feminine side than John, a hipster novelist and the same taste in a lot of things including music, cars, and literature, kind of similar appearance, but not exactly like me.  I don’t think I can ever be entirely sure I wasn’t him, for the exact same reasons that biased me toward that conclusion in the first place.

If I wasn’t him, then what circumstances led to me becoming so much like Phil in some very uncanny ways?  Perhaps Phil was also the reincarnation of a WWI soldier; some things I found out about him in my research suggest he could have been (he had flashes of the war in 1974 which he attributed to Valis, and he was the son of a WWI veteran).  It could simply be that this is what becomes of us Edwardian romantics when dropped into a postwar world; we get neurotic because this world is so disrupted after two world wars. Disruption is a common theme in Phil’s writing and it feels just as sound and natural in my hands.

I can’t find any reliable memories for anything between 1915 and 1984; I think I may have had some brief non-human lives and I’ve even tentatively placed one in Takasaki, Japan around 1920 but those are impossible to confirm decisively.

I do, however, have one vision that I was never able to properly account for: the way John Harris’ grave would have looked some time between about 1950 and 1984.  I know this was the right grave because it was at the end of a single row (rather than a back-to-back row), right next to a large hardwood tree, near a fence with angled bricks at the top.  I went through scores of photos of cemeteries to make sure I had the right one, but I only found one match.  The discovery of the only plot matching that description at Ferme Buterne confirmed that I was killed in France rather than Belgium or elsewhere, and that I was a British soldier.  It also confirmed- along with an entry in “soldiers died in the great war,” that I was a front line casualty. The grave belonged to a man whose life story revealed exact events and localities that matched many details of my memories.

However, the fact remains that I knew what my own grave looked like.  Doesn’t that seem just a bit weird?

I’ve only got five possible explanations:

1. This is an improbable number of lucky guesses that somehow turned out to be right.

2. I visited my previous self’s grave in a subsequent life.

3. I wasn’t John, but his brother Albert, which I still haven’t ruled out.

4. This was an instance of remote viewing.

5. I simply haunted the Western Front as a ghost for many years.

That last prospect is an eerie one to consider.  I’m still not sure I believe fully in ghosts.  And yet I seem to remember being able to manifest weakly in this plane of existence after death, whenever certain bubbles of potentiality showed themselves and I had the strength to push through.

I love a great British ghost story about a troubled soul that haunts the place where it died, but I don’t know if I’m ready to believe that I’ve experienced one firsthand.

The Archetype Persists

Letting go of the idea that I was Phil hasn’t changed the fact that, through both our latent similarities and through the fact that so much of my identity was subsumed by the idea that I was him, I am still very much stuck in his archetype… though in truth, a lot of the things that were true about him have been true about me all my life.

In a way, it’s just as though I am his reincarnation even though I am not.  I was already similar in some uncanny ways, but this whole business just solidified that similarity.  The idea that I was him, held in breathless enthusiasm for more than two years of my life (during which I published two novels) has left an indelible mark on my personality, my writing, and I dare say my soul.

I’m sitting here listening to Schubert’s unfinished symphony, wearing the Koss Pro4AA headphones I bought when I thought I was him (excellent headphones, by the way) and thinking about how much my self-image changed in ineffable ways from this experience.  I will never again look at myself as just a worthless queer SF writer pumping out trashy novels, but as a big fish in a little pond, writing the best work I can get published and running deep as a river with ideas, emotions, and the ability to really write about the soul in a meaningful way.  Phil’s story gave me the courage to write the sorts of things I wanted to write, to be as daring and adventurous as I cared to be, and to push the envelope where before I was simply going through the motions and holding so much back.  There’s no turning back now; whether I get recognized for my work or not, I’ve unleashed everything I could.

I suppose, if you believe in Jung’s idea that a meme is a thing that is very real in its own right, then simply absorbing the meme of his being has sort of replicated him, partly or fully, within me.  To take on the thought patterns of a dead man is to take on his identity in a very real way, and it didn’t take much effort at all for me to take on his thought patterns because I was already a prime host for them.  It’s clear, from how well I was able to deduce certain details about his life, that I’m not blowing smoke up my own ass; I really do know his mind.

Perhaps this is what Elisha was to Elijah; not so much his reincarnation as one who was similar enough- on the same wavelength if you will- and was charged to become Elijah’s replacement because he was an acceptable host for the meme, the archetype, that was everything that defined Elijah.

I am probably not the reincarnation of Philip K. Dick, but his archetype persists.

At the End of Occlusion

Letting go of thinking I was Phil seems to have removed some of the occlusion that had kept me from seeing a wider truth.

In a dream within a dream last night, I had glimpsed, ever so briefly, the actions of two gods.  One, similar to Palmer Eldritch in many ways, holds sway here and is perhaps not so much entirely evil as indifferent, childlike, mischievous, and capricious; powerful, but not worthy of allegiance.

But interceding, across the events of the Bible and history in such a thick and fast string of successions that I couldn’t zero in on any one event was a thing that breached into our world like the back of an enormous whale just barely breaching the surface of the water, a being of indescribable color and light that changed the course of history here and there and intervened on behalf of all sentient beings.  It had little power here but in the pleroma it was huge.  Our world is just a thin surface sheet that reflects the ego of a demiurge and it disrupted that surface sheet even as the reflection continued on its back, the way the sun shimmers on a whale.

It was tantalizing.  It was a fragment of something that I knew but had not seen before.  And now I want more… I want to see where it has intervened, what its intentions are, and what it has in mind for me.