Why Is This Still A Thing?

Why is the “get a real job in retail” talk from family still a thing? And why is it always writers and musicians who have to put up with it? I’d expect that kind of coarseness from a drunk stranger but not a family member in this day and age.

Honestly, has nothing changed in fifty fucking years?  I think I
might have heard it when I was Phil… if I was Phil.  Honestly, why can’t inflicting this attitude on people we profess to love just go to the dustbin of history, quietly and passively, like ear-boxing or birching?

To those who say this to your family members, let me tell you something about writers: all we hear when someone says that is “you’re not good enough to ever make anything more of yourself than a night stock clerk at a Wal-Mart, but I’m too chickenshit to say so to your face.”  You may not mean it, but when you say that to someone with a fragile ego it might rob them of the only chance they ever had, and if you say that to someone with an overly strong ego (like mine), you’ll only make us more militant about ignoring you and going forward with our dreams.

I have things can sell before it gets to the point where I have to work retail.  I’m in a position to take a risk. I can survive on less than $10K a year and I can make my own choices about how I pursue work. I don’t need a lecture on how low status jobs “build character” because I know from firsthand experience that’s a load of horseshit.

Most of all, lest anyone think this is all about entitlement, quite the opposite. I’ve been working hard to get myself out of working those kinds of jobs and I think I owe it to myself to try for something better now that I can.  I had a difficult time in school socially, and I had a lot of problems, but I still kept my grades up and finished with an excellent GPA.  I can say with utmost confidence that I deserve at least an entry-level professional job, because I did what I had to do to earn that.  Telling me to get a “steady job” in retail as if it were anything more than a last resort is like saying all that hard work didn’t matter.

I Might Know Soon

I might know soon how Pte. John Harris died.

The KSLI Battlefield Tours facebook group has become an invaluable resource for me, and they have been reporting troop movements and casualties on the 100 year anniversary of each date.  Sometimes they have information about the action that killed soldiers; sometimes they do not.

I really hope with all my heart that they do have some information, because if I can confirm my memories of how he died, then I’ll have settled once and for all that I was him as far as I’m concerned.  If not, it isn’t an immediate disproof but it does raise some questions.

For the record: My memory has me sitting on an earth embankment or breastworks, watching either star flares or some type of incendiary shell move down the line slowly toward me.  There were men near me, down in a trench or shell hole.  They looked frightened.  One of those star flares or shells shined brightly above me, lighting the faces of the men in the trenches like daylight.  A very brief moment later, I felt a downward rush of air push me to the ground.  I saw dirt and heard dirt and gravel raining down, then darkness. No pain and no time to process what had actually happened to me.

I have tried to interpret this, and I’ve come to the following possibilities:

1. I was killed by a small artillery shell during a night bombardment.  I have found evidence of this in the letter from a KSLI soldier at L’Epinette in June of 1915 who described intermittent use of “Jack Johnsons” (a small but powerful shell named for a heavyweight champion boxer of the time).  However, this begs the question: why didn’t anyone else die that night?  The only other record I have from that sector on 8 July 1915 is of an Irish soldier buried at Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension, the cemetery that served the dressing station at the old brewery along the Lys and across from the Town Hall, so he could have been wounded a day or two prior and died of his wounds.  The lack of casualties seems a bit odd for a direct hit to the breastworks with that many soldiers standing there watching.

2. I was killed by a bomb or grenade during a trench raid/ wiring party.  This one has some merit.  It might explain why I was the only one who died and it might explain why I was out of the trench sitting on an embankment or breastworks.  It’s possible that when the star flares went up, I froze hoping they wouldn’t see me.  In a variant of this, I have had intuitions that I had sacrificed myself to save them but I’m not sure I trust this intuition.

3. I was killed by an explosion outside the trench like I remember, but it was something I hadn’t considered that got me.  I had only vague images to interpret what happened that night in 1915; I don’t have a clear recollection.  It could be that these things I saw happening did happen, but they happened for some other reason I hadn’t considered before.

4. This incident was at Ypres and I survived; I was killed later by sniper fire.  This one also has merit.  Official records and my memories both concur that sniping was taking about five men a week.  I remember arriving in the trenches at Houplines in the Summer of 1915 to see a Mauser’s latest prey laid out on a stretcher being carried away and men who gave us grave, funeral-parlor smiles as we took our positions.  However, I have no memory of being shot, aside from a non-fatal wound that took a chunk out of the helix of my left ear (a wound corresponding with a slight deformity I have).

This last one is problematic because if it turns out I was the victim of sniper fire, it’s unfalsifiable by its very nature.  It is a strike against my intuition that the memory of that night is the memory of my death though, which makes my case somewhat harder to pin down.

It may well be that the blog entry’s excerpt from the battalion’s war diary states nothing more than “one man dead” along with the standard blurb from “Soldiers Died in the Great War” that I’ve encountered so often.  That entry proved that John was killed in action, and the position of his grave confirmed that he was a front-line casualty, but that’s nothing I didn’t already know and the mystery would remain for now.

Why Do I Not Have This Book?

I was just reading through Anne R. Dick’s “The Search For Philip K. Dick” on Google books and I’m only a few pages in, but it’s full of so much information about the kind of person Phil was that it’s helping me see just how eerily similar we are in character.

Some discoveries I’ve made so far:

*Phil enjoyed Paul Robeson and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and enjoyed Fischer-Dieskau’s renditions of Schubert’s songs.  This is also true of me and was so before the idea of past lives ever crossed my mind.  Many other works of music that I already loved before I had past life memories come up as I read through.

*Phil had an encyclopedic knowledge of cars and apparently liked French cars, as he bought a Peugeot.  His knowledge of cars shows in his writing.  In this life, this is also true of me.  I know loads of information about cars and I own a French car myself, a lovely 1956 Citroen.

*He is described as being a good skim reader who could synthesize an understanding on a subject by scanning briefly through a few books on the topic.  He became very knowledgeable about a wide variety of topics this way; however, he had glaring areas of ignorance as well because he didn’t read in depth. This is something I have as well, this is why I’ve become quite good at research and why I seldom get less than an “A” on essays even though I really don’t feel like I’m doing that much work and I often seem paradoxically ignorant about something I can converse intelligently about for at least a little while.

*He smoked cigars.  This is not something I currently do (I don’t smoke tobacco because I’m on HRT) but in my WWI life I remember being very fond of them at a time when cigarettes were more in vogue.

There were numerous other nuances there that hinted at someone who was not the same person, but similar in many ways.  It’s all circumstantial because these are traits many people have, but there are many more similarities that I had suspected but had no firsthand source for up until now.  We’re definitely cast in a similar archetype.

I’m going to have to have a copy of this on my bookshelf.  It will be about as important to understanding Phil’s life and answering questions I might have as “Magnificent But Not War” was for understanding the Second Battle of Ypres.  Anne did a stunning job describing him and while it’s hard to read some of these things, I think she was pretty accurate about the kind of person Phil was.

An Update

Saturday night, my fiance spent the evening watching YouTube videos on my new couch (a graduation gift from my mother) when my Internet went out.  When we finally got in touch with my roommate just this afternoon, we discovered that he had done a security update and out MAC addresses were accidentally wiped (our router has MAC address filtering so our neighbors don’t max out our bandwidth).

Also, since my trip I’ve fallen into a particularly uncomfortable state.  I feel agitated, uneasy, and entirely uncertain about the future.

Things seem good on the surface; the US, a country I had tried to flee for political reasons in two successive lifetimes, has finally embraced same-sex marriage, upheld its first real attempt at health care reform in decades in the courts, is taking a long hard look at race relations for the first time in decades, and is gradually beginning to draw down on the destructive and costly unwinnable war on drugs (marijuana will be legal in my current home state in less than 24 hours and it’s already legal across the river in Washington, where cozy neighborhood shops on main street now sell the stuff).  Also, transgender visibility from figures like Caitlyn Jenner gives me hope that one day it won’t matter what I was assigned at birth and I won’t have to worry how many people have connected the dots and know that I was born male.

In my personal life, I’ve graduated, I’m well on my way to graduate school, and my home is getting cleaner and more livable as I finally have time to focus on the domestic space and to stop living out of boxes like I have for the last 4 years.  By the end of July, I should have yet another novel ready for publication (my goal is for a debut at that annual convention in Seattle this year).

But I don’t feel happy, satisfied, or at ease.  There is a pervasive sense of impermanence, of something being “off.”  I’m still dealing with severe employment-related anxiety that brings me panic attacks every time I start looking for jobs.  I’m still unsure of how I’m going to go about learning Latin ahead of grad school (not necessary but it helps immensely).  I’m still not sure I’m where I need or want to be in life.

Then there are the external factors.  Driving through some of the more rural parts of my own state was an eye-opener.  Confederate flags are springing up next to billboards condemning homosexuality, non-Christian religions, and the federal government, and if it’s getting like that in Oregon, I can only imagine that large parts of South Carolina- where I grew up and got firsthand exposure to the culture from age 4 to age 23- are starting to look a bit like a Klan rally 24/7.  Churches are going up in flames all over the South (several this week, including a number of confirmed arsons), and the Confederate Flag is quickly becoming a go-to symbol not simply of Southern identity politics, but of militant far-right culture warriors riled up by recent events.

The sort of people who legitimately feel this is worth fighting, killing, and dying for (and aren’t just posing in militant gear on Facebook to look tough) are fortunately a small minority, and they become isolated more and more every day as the tenor of their extreme rhetoric pushes away more and more reasonable people.  But do not underestimate the damage that a mentally-unhinged and well-funded group of even a few thousand militants can do; if the difficulty of controlling ISIS is any indication, a similarly-structured “Crusade” by rabid fundamentalists toting AR-15s in the backs of their pickup trucks could quickly take over large parts of the country and make life difficult for people in other parts of the country.

I do not anticipate that any of the groups who seek the overthrow of the federal government and establish strict Calvinist religious law a la Cromwell will succeed, but what I do anticipate is a bloody struggle as a small but well-armed minority that feels threatened and disenfranchised begins to lash out with increasing ferocity.  I also anticipate losing friends to violence, especially a number of openly gay friends I have in places like Texas and Oklahoma where moods are souring by the minute.

I just hope that I can live to enjoy the progress we’ve made without seeing the coming madness at my doorstep.  .

Finally, Photos!

Sorry I’m late with this, but I finally have some photos of my trip.

Sea cliffs near Point Reyes.

Sea cliffs near Point Reyes.  

I never found any cliffs exactly like the ones I remember being shipwrecked off of, but enough of Marin and Sonoma county had similar cliffs that I’m fairly sure it was somewhere in that stretch of ocean.

A Deer in Point Reyes Station.

A Deer in Point Reyes Station.

The wildlife was abundant and not terribly shy either.

St. Columba's Episcopal Church

St. Columba’s Episcopal Church

I have yet to confirm if Phil attended services here, but there was something incredibly familiar about the place.  It resembled a place I thought I had seen in my present life’s childhood but could never place.

The house in Point Reyes Station.

The house in Point Reyes Station.

I had absolutely no trouble finding this house without glancing at a map, tucked away though it was.  The road to it wasn’t even visible from the bend in the road but I knew exactly where to turn!  Everything is so overgrown now, I barely recognized it, though from this angle it looked the most familiar.  That door nearest the camera is where I remember that Easter photo with one of the girls being taken though sadly I’ve yet to confirm that memory.

The house in Santa Venetia.

The house in Santa Venetia.

I was reluctant to even take this photo, let alone post it, since the place was so tucked away and because my fiance’s inclusion of the car mirror makes it look WAY too voyeuristic.  Once again, I was able to navigate my way to this house with very little difficulty and without using a map.

The Marin County Civic Center

The Marin County Civic Center

This building was the source of one of my few confirmed memories, though to this day I’m on the fence as to whether or not someone besides myself or Phil would see a Roman building in these space-age shapes.

Rasputin Music, formerly University Music

Rasputin Music, formerly University Music

This was the music store Phil worked at.  In a loft that now contains Latin and classical music, I confirmed with a store employee that there were (until very recently) listening booths like the ones I remember!  With that confirmation, I bought a couple of Phil’s old favorites that I still enjoy (Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony) for old time’s sake.

Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

This view down Sir Francis Drake Blvd. headed back toward Point Reyes Station from Inverness was one of the few views that struck me as being intensely familiar.

In all, the trip brought few confirmations but it did give me some good circumstantial evidence that I might have been Phil.  Despite having only glanced briefly at maps a few weeks before the trip, I had no trouble navigating Marin County as if I had lived there and that has to count for something.

As for settling the question definitively, I can’t.  I could easily keep trying to contact people I knew to try to mine for confirmations but I don’t want to intrude.  I went through their lives like a tornado once and they buried the man I was a long time ago… it’s not like me to be a revenant and disturb their peace once again.  Still, I can’t help but hope that someone I knew- a friend or even better, one of my children- will see this blog one day and get back to me.

By the way, a friend who knows about my memories sent me a link to this review of the Wachowski’s “Sense 8″ and I was really tickled by this passage (emphasis mine):

Such frank, brave representations of fluid states of sexuality and monogamy are hard to discuss in fiction, as they often are in society, without overtones of exploitation or tokenism. Sense8’s central premise of empathy-based shared consciousness normalises these ways of being, and in the process it legitimises them.

This is why Sense8 feels like the kind of thing Philip K. Dick might have written, had he lived to see this bold new era, with its growing acceptance of the fluid nature of identity, gender, sexuality and self. His books are sometimes criticised for their misogyny, both intentional and unintended. But at heart, Dick believed in empathy as the highest of the human virtues. A show exploring the notion that we share more than divides us, no matter what barriers or labels we choose or are born with, would have appealed to him.

If they only knew!  My writing does indeed have a queer sensibility these days!

Today’s Events

Today had a very different feeling. I didn’t have any new memories but things started having more emotional reactions and I even confirmed at least one memory.

I woke up early (due to allergies) to a misty morning with scores of different kinds of birds singing.  After breakfast, we drove down to Santa Venetia.

The first emotional trigger was actually in Fairfax, on the way to San Rafael. A police car got behind me- one of those Dodge Chargers that are styled so much like the muscle cars they used back in Phil’s time- and seeing that car in my rearview while songs from the late 60s played on the car stereo almost gave me a panic attack.

All the way, I kept second-guessing my route and finding that I was actually correct on my first guess all the way there. I would say “this is probably the wrong way” but I would find that some subconscious part of me knew the way, even though I deviated quite a lot from the route I had clicked through on Streetview. I found my way to the “Hermit House” (the place that inspired “A Scanner Darkly”) with incredible ease but didn’t stay long. We stayed longer at the Marin County Civic Center and took some pictures but vertigo got the better of me.

Didn’t get a picture of the house on Francisco Street in Berkeley, but I passed it. I had a bit of trouble finding that one but I found it without having to consult a map. There were people outside, I was busy driving, my fiance was slow with the camera, and I really didn’t want those people to see me making multiple passes in a nondescript sedan with a camera out!

From there we went to Telegraph Avenue, which I found with only moderate difficulty. We stopped at Rasputin Music (formerly University Music) where Phil was a clerk, and I asked a clerk if there had been listening booths up in the loft where they now keep the latin and classical music. I am pleased to say I have confirmed this memory! While I was there I bought CDs of Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Leonard Bernstein conducting Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. I almost bought a 4 LP set of Bernstein conducting Fidelio but sadly I have no turntable yet.

After lunch at the Caffe Meditteraneum my fiance and I decided to head back the long way via the Golden Gate Bridge, which gave me the only major wrong turn I’ve had since I got to the Bay (turning eastward on Hwy 24).

Let me tell you, the freeways leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge are a mess! Save your sanity and don’t bother! I didn’t have to check the map once all day but dealing with cars weaving in and out of lanes in bumper-to-bumper traffic probably aged me about ten years.

After all that, it was a relief to head back to Point Reyes Station. We took a drive out to Drake’s Beach and had a nice romantic walk to cool down after dealing with the crowds in the Bay Area. I’ve come to feel very relaxed and happy here in Marin County and I think I’ll be back.

All things considered, I still don’t know if I was Phil and I guess I never will. I know the area a little too well to brush it off completely, but none of my confirmations have been really stunning..

One thing that did emerge is that I am undoubtedly a better writer. Seeing this place from the ground brings to mind a descriptive richness that one needs to really convey the look of the place; Phil simply didn’t have that. If I was him then I have it better all around and I’m happy with who I am and what I have now.

Pics of the trip to come when things settle down a bit, probably Monday or Tuesday. Tomorrow we’ve scrapped our plans to go to Muir Woods due to the crowds (we stopped by today but didn’t go in because there was nowhere to park). Instead, we will be going back to the gorgeous seaside here in Point Reyes, this time exploring the Tomales Bay National Seashore. Then it’s back to Eureka for the night before dragging ourselves back to Portland, thoroughly exhausted but strangely satisfied.

Point Reyes Station

Today my fiance and I drove down from Eureka along highway 101 and then highway 1 to Point Reyes Station.

Our first attraction along the way was Avenue of the Giants, which was well worth the extra time to drive down and see (I’ve wanted to see giant sequoias in California since I was just a kid).

Despite clicking through it on Street View multiple times, I missed the turn-off for Highway 1 initially.  That on its own didn’t mean much but that becomes more relevant later.

We stopped briefly in Mendocino, which is kind of nice but not really my kind of place (too expensive for one thing).

The day’s only major trigger had nothing to do with Phil; it was when I saw the sea cliffs in Sonoma and Marin County.  I feel increasingly confident that the regression where I saw a side-wheeled paddles steamer capsized in the waters off these cliffs was a legitimate memory.

About 11 miles from our B&B, I completely blew my prediction that our destination was only 5 miles away, and as far as specific memories and feelings the place doesn’t really give me any.  After going to several places where I know Phil would have known (including the Point Reyes Lighthouse) I feel doubtful that I was him.

However, there is one detail that leaves me with nagging questions: unlike the turn-off for highway 1, I have had no wrong turns whatsoever in this entire town.  I even knew short cuts back to the B&B.  I knew how to get to the lighthouse (despite not even clicking through that route on Streetview), and I knew how to get to the grocery store (I even knew that the grocery store parking lot had a back entrance).  I made every turn without hesitation as if I knew the place like the back of my hand.

It’s weird because I don’t get the typical “past life feeling” in this place, and yet I seem to know streets I’ve never even clicked through as if I’ve been here.

I’m actually pretty perplexed by this development.  I thought it’d be all feeling and almost no sense of direction but it’s quite the opposite; it’s almost no feeling but the layout of the town is all there.

Tomorrow is the real test.  I’m going to see if I can drive to the Hermit House in San Rafael and the house on Francisco Street in Berkeley without using a map.  I still don’t feel as if I’ve been here before but maybe something will trigger in Berkeley at least.