The Man In The High Castle

I’m about halfway through this one and I’ve been generally impressed by it.  It’s a dizzying, fast-paced story full of twists and turns and a plot that takes you places you hadn’t thought to go.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that one of the main characters is a very credibly-written antique dealer.

What I haven’t found so far is anything that confirms any of my memories.

I’m starting to feel like there’s a certain je ne sais quoi in the story that carried over into my current life’s style, but I have serious doubts about my ability to judge that objectively.

There were moments when I saw a bit of John coming through (like in his use of the anglicism “barmy” and a Victorian literary sensibility that seems to poke through here and there), and moments where a characters’ actions were described in an eerily similar way to how I would describe them, but nothing really jumps out as an “aha!” moment; just a whole lot of je ne sais quoi.

The day I can write something like this in my current life is the day I can really say I’ve surpassed the level of mere competence.

Next up on my reading list once I finish this one is “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridtch.”  I look forward to reading that one.

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AW HELL NO!!! (Writers Beware)

I went to apply for Amtrak’s writer’s residencies, but since they require you to submit a sample of your work I decided to read the fine print because I like to know what kind of rights I’m agreeing to when I submit my writing somewhere.

I came across this clause in the contract that was a deal-breaker for me (emphasis mine):

Applicant understands and agrees that Sponsor has wide access to ideas, stories and other literary, artistic and creative materials submitted to it from outside sources or developed by its own employees and agents (together, “Sponsor Creative”); and, such Sponsor Creative may be competitive with, similar to (or even identical to) the writing sample/answers to questions created and submitted by Applicants; and, Sponsor shall have no liability to Applicant or any third party in respect to or in connection with the development, use, sale and/or commercial exploitation of all or any portion of Sponsor Creative by Sponsor and/or its designees and licensees, all of which liability, if any, Applicant hereby expressly and irrevocably waives, releases and discharges.

Let me translate the Legalese here so nobody falls into the trap of thinking this is just boiler plate: what they’re saying is basically “Hey, we get a lot of stuff from our creative team, so if we copy your submission word for word and don’t give you credit, you have to sign a waiver saying you agree that it’s our copy writers’ work and not yours.”

That’s the catch. Amtrak’s residencies for writers will go to 24 schmucks and the thousands of writers who are submitting their work run the risk of giving them tens of thousands of dollars of free advertising copy.

I saw that and immediately closed the tab with my application without submitting it. I will NOT agree to terms like these under any circumstances, ever.

Spread the word.  This needs to get out.

File That Under “Maybe”

I hadn’t really expected to come across anything I’d be struck by in this documentary about Genghis Khan.  

I usually don’t get much of a tingle of the familiar from anything to do with Asian history.  It just isn’t something I feel drawn to for the most part.  So when I started getting that feeling watching this, I was a bit astonished.

Let me be clear: I do not think for a moment that I was Genghis Khan; he was a contemporary of William Longespee so that’s ruled out.  But something about his life and times, the places he lived, the way he lived, the look and sound of it, gave me shivers of familiarity.  I was also struck by some small but inconclusive similarities between my first novel and his life story, as if I had been familiar with his biography.  However, nothing stands out as an “Aha!” moment and it’s entirely possible I could have simply remembered something from a documentary when I was writing my work.

I have a strong sense that I lived in Mongolia some time in the 12th or 13th century, either right before or right after the time of Genghis Khan, but definitely not as Genghis Khan or, I presume, anyone who rode with him.

Memory Fragment

There was a gas station (I believe it was an Esso station) along a 4-lane highway somewhere in the mountains north of Berkeley. This was probably between 1958 and 1962, possibly the later date since I seem to remember buying Laura some rock candy. They had a candy bar there that had a blue and white label, but I don’t remember what it was.  The place had little more than a single rack of candy bars, a coke machine, some cigarettes and lighters, and some road atlases.

There are still gas stations like this here in Oregon, one of the few places in the world where attendants still pump gas for you, and they were a lot more common earlier in my current life, but so many of them were bulldozed in the 90s to make way for the combination gas station and curb market that became the most common format today.

Seems like the land behind the station sloped downward on a grassy slope. The road curved to the left somewhat heading toward some mountains.

It looked kind of similar to an area I passed through in 2011 while moving to Oregon but not exactly the same.  That area was way north and east of Berkeley, round about Susanville.  I have no idea where this actually was but my gut tells me it was close to the town of Weed, CA.  

If it was Weed, then the mountain peak in the distance was probably Mt. Shasta, it was probably summer time because there was little or no snow visible, and it may have been either Hwy 97 or Route 99W (which has now been obliterated from that area by the freeway).  A search for historic photos of the area hasn’t turned up what I’m looking for but the roads and the views from 97 through Weed look promising.  That’s fairly remarkable in that I’ve only ever seen that area from the freeway and not from the town itself.

The Frustrating Thing About Phil’s Memories

In this life, I often remember the car someone owns.  I still remember the little VW Squareback our neighbors in Torrejon, Spain drove back in the 80s when my father was stationed there (I must have been 2 or 3), not to mention the SEAT 133 we had, the Fiero one of my father’s friends had around 1988 (he only visited our place once), and the Ford Aerostar my best friend’s parents had when I was 5.

So the fact that I would remember cars from Phil’s life is not surprising.  The trouble is, Phil found these facts important enough to write down so I’m kind of hoisted by my own petard here: if I remember something about a car, chances are Phil thought it was already noteworthy.

I haven’t found a reference to Kathy Demuelle’s Nova… yet.  That being said, I haven’t read “A Scanner Darkly” yet, and that’s the one novel based on that particular time (currently reading “Man in the High Castle” which, like “Voices from the Street” apparently also mentions the Studebaker).

There is something else about Kathy’s car that I didn’t mention.  I am a bit confused as to whether it was a second-generation Nova or a third generation Nova.  I had initially thought it was a third-generation Nova because it had a sloping back; however, when I saw the sloping back my impression was not of a Nova but of a Ford Capri or possibly a Toyota Corolla.  I then ruled out a Capri and the Toyota because my second thought was that this was not an import (the Capri was actually a German Ford), and I seem to recall Kathy’s car having a front more like the second-generation Nova.  When I asked the person who knew Phil in the mid-70s about the little red two-door, I did mention explicitly that it was a car of American manufacture, definitely not a VW or a Toyota.

However, I now know from a mention in VALIS that Phil may have owned a Capri II Ghia later in life (ca. 1978) which I might have confused with the earlier memory of Kathy’s Nova (ca. 1972).  The Capri is the car I believe came with a Blaupunkt stereo that was upgraded to a high-end Pioneer tape deck.  My research confirms that Blaupunkt stereos were OEM equipment for the Capri and suggests (but does not confirm) that Pioneer did make high-end tape decks for this car.  But any proof that Phil actually owned this car or evidence that he upgraded his tape deck has eluded me.

Another car I haven’t found in Phil’s writing (yet) is what I believe to be a 1929 Chevrolet (with this exact color combination) parked outside the house in D.C. where Phil and his mother lived in the mid-30s.  I’m guessing Chevy because it had the solid wheels like the car pictured, and not spoked wheels like the nearly-identical Fords of the era.  But if it was a car significant to his life, chances are I’ll find that in his writing too.

Phil even had many of the same dream cars that I do.  In “Time out of Joint” there’s apparently a mention of the Tucker (a car I’ve wanted since childhood), and in “Ubik” there’s a 1939 LaSalle (a car I’ve wanted since high school).  Phil seems to have liked cars that were distinctive and thoughtfully designed, a trait that has certainly carried over into my current life: I must confess that I am that strangest of all breeds, an American who owns a Citroen (which might blow my cover if not for the fact that I know of an astonishing number of these cars in Portland).

It’s a bit frustrating because I’ve found a thread where I’m a little too similar to Phil to really prove anything to anyone but myself.  For me, it’s a pretty good hint that I’m the same person because I know what I’ve read and what I haven’t, but for anyone else, it actually weakens my claim substantially because I “could have read that in a book.”

Memory Fragment

There was another car I saw in that same memory as Kathy’s Nova.  At first I thought seeing Kathy was the cause of the apprehension I felt in that memory, but now I recall a gold-four sedan, sort of boxy and razor-edged late 60s or early 70s car, perhaps a Plymouth Valiant like this one. That was the source of my anxiety because inside sat what I believed at the time to be an undercover policeman, possibly even an FBI agent or a State of California narcotics agent.  

I remember hurrying Kathy inside and fussing at her.  “What are you doing here?” I said.  She replied, “I came to bring your-.” I assume it was some kind of contraband since I interrupted her, hissing “He’s still here!” and pointing through the partially opened blinds at the car parked just across the street.  

Seems she was the one who talked me down.  I was freaked out because earlier I’d seen- or thought I saw- the guy in the car raise a camera with a telephoto lens at me, and I felt a cold chill of immense menace, like I’d just had a machine gun trained on me.  Kathy reassured me that if they were going to make a move they would have already, though I can’t remember why she reasoned that or if she ever used reason.  It seemed to help, or at least I was willing to believe it because someone besides me had said it with some confidence.  I believe this was only about 3 weeks before the break-in that changed everything.

Now if only I could confirm this one too.  

Present Life Memory/ Gender Rant

I just had a memory from my present life that was really difficult to deal with.

I remembered how I felt as a very young child, and I distinctly remember having no sense of gender whatsoever, and I was happy that way.  I certainly didn’t feel male.  I called myself a boy because that’s what I was told, but I had no sense of what it meant to be a boy at 4 or 5.  I tried hard to fit in with the other boys, but I just wasn’t into the same things they were.  In fact, their aggressiveness scared me and most often, I was the one being beat up for not being enough of a boy.

Even now, I guess I’m on the feminine side of androgynous really.  I wear exclusively women’s clothes, but combined in a rather androgynous way; I let my voice, my slowly-developing breasts and the care I put into keeping my hair in good order bump me over the line into female.  I don’t have a strong sense of gender either way; I identify female probably because that’s where I’ve got the most room for my kind of expression; it’s close enough to home that I’m happy as a woman.  I am kind of dysphoric about my male anatomy, but for the most part I’m only just on the female end of the gender continuum.

I kind of miss just being me, though, not having to choose a category.  I often wish I’d lived in a time or place where I could have been seen as a shaman or a seer, as someone who is both male and female and seeks spiritual fulfillment and enrichment through reflection and interpretation of dreams and visions.  It could have been great.

But all of that was set in motion so long ago; our notions of gender binaries might have been reinforced by modernity, but they’re distinctly Greco-Roman and deeply ingrained in Western identity.  As a man in medieval England, we already had a strong sense of binary gender and non-conformity was treated as a threat.  But in that life, I had a male body and a male brain so I guess it didn’t occur to me what it might feel like if the software didn’t match the hardware.

Same with John, and with Phil.  I can’t recall ever having to deal with this before.  I remember being pretty happy as a farm boy in Somerset.  As Phil, in what little flickers I can recall of his childhood (brief glimpses from between about ’33 and ’39), I was socially awkward but never doubted that I was completely male.

I have to say that finally confronting all these complex feelings about gender as an adult is one of the most daunting things I’ve done, in any of the lives I can remember.  I’d say this is better than the Western Front, but statistically speaking only slightly less dangerous and it’s nowhere near as good as a straight, cisgender man’s life in the mid-20th century.

But there’s a silver lining here: Phil was an early ally of the LGBT community.  He didn’t just have gay friends, he was very close with Bishop James Pike, an early proponent of religious tolerance of the LGBT community.  He was sincere in his “live and let live” beliefs and nobody has a credible case that he wasn’t.

That means if I was him, in some small way, I helped create a world where someone like me had a fighting chance.  That’s a really wonderful feeling.  It means that even if I can’t save the world, I can do something small on the side of compassion to make my next life easier.  I guess you could call it karma, or merely a selfless investment in the future.  Maybe one day I’ll really admire what I fought for in this life too.