On Divination

I think I understand now why divination can be useful as a source of guidance on one’s own path.

It’s more sensational than just random chance, but less sensational than pulling moonbeams out of thin air.

Imagine for a moment you’re standing before a mirror. Do you see the whole of yourself? Probably not. You see only as much of yourself as a person standing in front of you could see. There are outward parts of the body that are just not easily visible without at least two mirrors and a lot of awkward posturing. We have to go out of our way, sometimes, to see every part of ourselves.

Consider that our minds must after some fashion be ten thousand times more complicated than our bodies. Getting at everything we know, when you really think about it, is really impossible and quite often we discover we knew things we didn’t know. This is why things like reincarnation are so difficult to prove on the strength of memories, because the person experiencing the memories will often find themselves asking how they knew certain things. But whether the mind is tuned into something supernatural or merely regurgitating something it saw in a documentary or film is unimportant for our purposes: my point is we have ways of knowing things that are difficult to grasp.

These ways of knowing are fallible, but not worthless; our minds were honed by about 800,000 years of learning to survive without claws or teeth, and a keen student of human behavior will note that our instincts continue to rule us even when we presume to be above them. It’s not merely a stub of our evolution but a part of who we are, a part of the human experience, and if we brush it off as primitive superstition without understanding the value of the insights we might gain from it, we discard a part of ourselves.

At some point, this enormous capacity for insight became too much for us, and we developed inhibitory mechanisms, both mechanical and psychological, to deal with sorting and filing all that information. The limbic system helps us on a chemical and neurological or “hardware” level. On an internal level- a “software level” if you will- we have a file system sociologists call schema that directs us to group things based on similarity and rank them in order of importance. This can be very useful, as it helps us invent solutions to problems we face. However, it can also be limiting because ruthless optimization of schema after some “ism” quite often destroys our capacity for things like empathy, creativity, and abstract reasoning. We are taught- by religion and irreligion alike- that we cannot trust the whole set of schema we would develop naturally on our own. Almost from birth, we are constantly being prescribed some manner of thought that deliberately limits our options for exploration and understanding by either denouncing the mystical or denouncing the rational. We’re channeled into a narrower band of expressions and experiences and become less than what we’re capable of being.

What every good system of divination has in common is this: it is a schema for understanding things about ourselves and our environment we didn’t realize we knew and probably wouldn’t realize we knew if we limited ourselves entirely to what we can readily observe and measure about life.  They typically rely on archetypes of a broad and universal type, a language representing all of the important aspects of relationships, choices, people, and events that we might care about. The meanings are specific enough to give us a general direction of where to look, but vague enough that broad categories fitting a wide range of possible readings are there.  But the important thing about divination is this: you will not find answers there that you didn’t already have, but it’s nice to have a tool for getting at those hard-to-reach spots of your cognition.  I believe that the true adept is canny of this secret and uses this as a tool to hack into parts of their consciousness that otherwise remain off limits or cloaked or garbed in falsehoods.

Should you bet your farm on a tarot reading, or decide whether or not to circumcise your infant son by casting bones? Of course not. That probably wouldn’t be a good idea. But if the cards tell you not to trust someone and you suddenly realize you’ve had a bad feeling about them that you had tried to ignore until now, you might want to think twice about dealing with them.  Your intuition could be wrong, but quite often you’ll find you were right.

WWI Centenary

While it’s not a huge deal here in the US, I’ve been surprised by just how much attention the WWI centenary is getting.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s good that there are people who are finding out (some for the first time) just how horrendous the First World War really was.

Also, of late more and more people who recall past lives in the war have come forward. I think on the various reincarnation boards there are maybe a dozen or so who have clear enough memories to at least place where they were and maybe 5 or 6 of us who have identified who we were back then. I know of maybe 2 or 3 Americans (one of whom now lives in the UK), 3 to 5 British (two of us now in the US) and maybe 6 to 8 Germans. I can’t recall if any French, Belgian, Turkish, Italian, Austro-Hungarian, or the various colonial troops have surfaced yet. Obviously, there will be cases that are possible cryptomnesia (and I’ve never been entirely sure about my own case), but it’s gotten much less lonely than it was when my memories broke back in late 2012.

However, one thing I’m worried about is a flood of “me too” cases where people either promote their stories aggressively to the media, steal the stories of others, or make up stories whole-cloth just to sell books about themselves, which could cast some notoriety on those of us who would rather not use our claims to get attention. If I find out that someone has been claiming John as a past life for the money, then I will confront them; I would consider that the equivalent of stealing his medals and pawning them for whiskey. Even if I wasn’t him, I feel I have some duty now, knowing what he went through, to defend his honor against profiteers.

Another thing I’m worried about is that the great tragedy of the war will be obfuscated for political gain and the stories of bedraggled men who went over the top more dead than alive will be polished into a safe, glamorous image of undaunted valor. I hope the truth about the war- derogatorily called the “Blackadder version of history” by its detractors- doesn’t drown in a sea of red poppies and blockbuster movies. It was filthy, it was nasty, and there was nothing noble about it. They’re still picking tiny pieces of men John served with out of the soil near Ypres to this day, quite often no more than a shard of bone or a strip of cloth left of what was once a human being who had no clue what he was getting himself into when he enlisted.

In all, the centenary carries with it a flood of mixed emotions for me. There’s pride in the prospect of being the vessel of memories for a soldier who would otherwise be forgotten. There’s joy at finding others who have had the same harrowing experience of remembering what it was like. There’s sorrow, shame, and fear knowing that the human race, for all our pride, has not evolved beyond the savagery we expressed at Ypres and Verdun. There’s longing to go back to the battlefield and the home John left behind and finally get some closure. There’s astonishment that a century has come and gone. There are emotions that I can’t even begin to name or describe, strong and uncomfortable, and a nagging feeling that there are more memories just below the surface that will be wrenched loose over the next four years.

As to how I’m dealing with it lately, I’ve actually been kind of dealing with it in a detached way.  I simultaneously tell myself “it probably wasn’t real” while my emotions and the memories I’ve confirmed nag at me to the contrary.  The flood of emotions is kind of a dull roar, and I find I’m losing myself in day-to-day distractions more to try not to think about it;  I don’t want to seem like a downer or get any more anxious or depressed than I have to be.

There is no question that it is there, though, and nagging at me to find some outlet.

Another Memory

This memory came to me tonight while at a dive in Portland called the Kenton Club where some good local bands play. They had a weird noisecore metal band called “Power Skeleton” that opened and got everyone’s attention with songs like “Werewolf Orgasm,” then shifted gears abruptly to the prog stylings of “Gamma Repeater” who did an awesome cover of King Crimson’s song “Fallen Angel.” In between bands, though, they had punk music playing on the PA system.

The place reminded me a bit of a dive in OC that was a punk venue back in the late 70s. The place I remembered was called the “Keyhole,” or “Hole in the Wall,” or something with “Hole” in it. As I recall it had been a speakeasy back in the 30s and later became a punk venue.

I can’t find any reference to it online. Wikipedia’s list of notable California punk venues doesn’t list it. I found a “Keyhole Bar” In Mackinaw MI and a “Keyhole Club” in San Antonio TX, and a “Knothole Club” in Anaheim, CA, but none of those are punk venues and the first two of these were in places where Phil was unlikely to be.

Does anyone know of a punk venue somewhere in OC that was called “Keyhole” or “Hole in the Wall” or something similar? Any help would be appreciated. It was probably a very minor venue where obscure local bands played so anyone who lived in OC in the 70s and did the rounds in the punk scene might be able to help.

Memory Fragment

Had a brief memory fragment last night that appeared to be medieval. I was a good bit older, stumbling toward a castle latrine, my vision blurry and feeling dizzy and disoriented.

I’m a bit skeptical of this one since the walls were rather bare rather than painted as they would have been back then. Also, I doubt there would have been glazed windows in a castle latrine, and I distinctly remember there being one about 1 yard tall and about 1 foot wide with diamond lattice. That alone makes me skeptical.

If I discover a castle latrine with such a feature I’ll be pleasantly surprised. That seems to be the only thing distinctive I got out of this.

At least it wasn’t windows in a bunker (totally an inside joke)…

EDIT: the window I saw had a rounded top so this isn’t the exact one, but after a very brief search in Google images I did find a castle garderobe with glazed windows about the right size, apparently at Chepstow Castle.  This memory has been upgraded to “plausible.”

Recent Developments As A Writer

When I made the claim that I had at least a circumstantial case for having been Philip K. Dick in a previous life, I realized something very crucial: If I was him, I had nothing to show for it in the pace I was able to write stories. Between 2003 and 2012 I had only finished three novels, and only published two of them because one was an attempt to break into mainstream fiction that never went anywhere. The only novels I had actually sold had taken years to complete (Seven years for the first and two for the second). By comparison to Phil, I moved at a glacial pace.

Three things happened in 2013, though. First, I had memories that were tentatively confirmed of personal details of Phil’s life and began noticing striking similarities in personality, taste, tendencies, and even appearance between us; this was when the idea that I might be him first entered my mind. Second, I had a backlog of unfinished or back-burnered projects that had potential to apply new ideas and styles to (I’m still working through that backlog). Third, I hit upon the realization that I already had a publisher who would work with me, and I didn’t need to make it in the mainstream necessarily if I could be a big fish in a little pond, because I had gotten attention from a broader base of fiction readers than the tiny LGBT subgenre I write in.

I had the motive, means, and opportunity to really push myself to become a great writer and live up to a claim that fantastic, without using that claim in connection to furthering my career (I decided early on that using past life claims to promote my work would kill my chances of being anything but a curiosity, like Barbro Karlen).

As I got to know Phil’s life and work and began to remember things that weren’t in the books I read or the documentaries I watched, I eventually found I really had no need to try to become him in some liminal act because I came to see myself as a continuation of the same mind, prone to my own individual differences and free to do whatever I wanted with these ideas. I developed my own idiom, focusing more on questions of competing narratives of identity rather than competing narratives of reality, inspired in no small part by the traumatic effects of gender dysphoria and its social and familial fallout that I learned firsthand.

But one thing I have not managed to do is to tap into some of the other things I have, like the severe physical anxiety symptoms I’ve experienced, or traits like misophonia and hyperacusis that make life difficult for me. I don’t really fit on the autistic spectrum because I don’t have any of the core traits (e.g. I’m not obsessed with fixed interests, patterns, and numbers and I don’t have the expected communication deficiencies), but I have some sensory integration issues that remain undiagnosed because the DSM has no category for sensory integration disorder and neurologists refuse to diagnose adults with it even though they acknowledge that some of us aren’t diagnosed properly as children. It is debilitating and it makes my life much more difficult than it has to be.

I tend to make my characters rather normal for the most part; I didn’t make them as neurotic as I am because I don’t know how to do it without making them hard to relate to, or seeming like an object of pity. The truth is, like Phil, I have a difficult time being entirely stable because dealing with the demands of a noisy, fast-moving world full of hostile people is more than I can deal with most of the time. I guess part of the reason I never write characters like me because I can’t think of any way to give them reason to hope for anything in a future setting, except maybe death by indifference or possibly becoming the most functional mental defective on an offworld colony full of mental defectives (however, Phil already wrote such a story based on his own fears of this happening to him). I could really give my writing some pathos if I could figure out how to do it without burdening the reader with a story too depressing to finish, but I get cold feet or feel like I’m going nowhere every time I try.

I have all the tools to write like the legend whose memories I claim while still being authentic, individual, and genuine; I just need to learn to use all of them. I feel like I’m learning but I still need to figure out how to confront some of the most uncomfortable parts of my experience in my writing before I can really say I feel like I’ve done my very best.

Finished.

I got my second wind and managed to bang out the remaining portion of the book. Total word count according to OpenOffice is 62,392 words, or 141 pages of single-spaced, 12pt Times New Roman text.

I’ll be sending it off to a few readers I trust to look over for basic spelling/grammar and input on the story. For tonight though, I’m calling it and spending the rest of the night doing nothing in particular and feeling good about it for once.

I’ve officially finished as many novels in 2013 and 2014 as I finished between 2003 and 2012.

Almost Done

I’ve nearly finished my sixth novel.

I’m over 60K words now, probably going to have about 62K total in this first draft. It’s been coming in fits and starts of late since I’ve been battling severe emotional exhaustion and depression/anxiety that won’t go away. Over the last few days I’ve managed to scrounge enough energy and motivation that I think I can just manage to finish the book by the end of this weekend.

Considering I actually started writing this book back in March based very loosely on concepts I’ve been kicking around since the later half of 2012, and it’ll be the second novel I’ll have finished this year, that’s pretty damned good. I’ve more than earned a break; a project like this used to take me about two years to complete. I can only hope that working at such a grueling pace will produce something of good quality that my readers will actually enjoy.

I’ll probably be taking the rest of my summer to get out a little, or at least get some cleaning done around the apartment.