A Kōan: The Bear and the Monk

A monk finds a bear in his room.

The bear will leave sometimes, but it always comes back.

The monk tries not feeding it, but the bear still comes.

The monk tries banging on bells and drums to make the bear go away, but the bear still comes.

The monk tries feeding the bear, hoping to appease it, but this makes the bear come more often and it becomes aggressive toward the monk.

Finally, the monk decides that he will sit quietly and not allow the bear to interrupt his prayers when it comes, though he will not encourage it to stay.

At first it is difficult and patience is required, but in time he comes to not mind the bear so much, and it comes less often.

In time, perhaps, the bear will leave, but the monk no longer cares.  He finds joy not in spite of the bear, nor because of the bear, but outside of the bear’s presence entirely.

Back from Seattle

Wow… what a weekend!

I sold a lot of books, though not the ones I intended to sell. It seems that when you’re an obscure author in an environment hungry for new talent and you write a sequel to your first book that made mediocre sales as a one-shot, it actually attracts a fair bit of interest in your earlier work.  I ended up selling quite a few copies of the first book I published (arguably the best sales we’ve had of that title since its debut 4 years ago).  I actually sold several copies of the first novel I wrote (the one I started when I was just 19 and took 5 years to write, published years later) even though this particular book has always been a tough sell.

More importantly, it feels strangely familiar and comfortable to be a slightly freaked-out SFF writer. I can kind of start to believe I might have been Phil a little more wholeheartedly when I realize how much in my element I am in that role.  That being said, it’s not proof of anything.  I also have to be mindful of not letting the similar shortcomings I still have in this life turn me into a carbon copy of my former self (I feel sorry for anyone who lives in imitation of him because he was deeply flawed in many respects).

Also, I find I’m attracting other creative types, including musicians and artists who are also making a mark on our enclave.  There’s no telling how we’ll be remembered, but it seems a lot of writers, artists, and composers knew each other and fed off each other creatively (much like many 20th Century American sci-fi authors or 19th Century English romantics often knew each other).  Maybe some of us will go on to leave a permanent mark on the culture, or maybe we’re just masturbating our egos, but it’s nice to have a set to belong to.  The convention I went to had really good music (performed by a musician friend of mine) and excellent writing panels.

By and by, things are getting more interesting as I find a literary voice and a platform that suits me, and my confidence is really surging.

Let’s see where I am in 5 years and if I can keep this trajectory up.  Maybe I’ll snag a Hugo by then, knock on wood.

Dreams

I meant to mention this earlier.  Although I have not had any flashes of what might be past life memories for a good while now, I have been having vivid dreams lately that seem to have a theme of watching hundreds of years of entropy unfold before me.

In the dream I had a couple days ago, I was in a pretty little cottage.  The place was old, and looked like somewhere in Northern Europe.  It had terra-cotta tiled floors of varying shades of brown and a pitched A-frame roof like an Alpine chalet, and the ceiling came down to floor level and was plastered and white-washed.  I lay in a simple bed, looking out the window.  The tiles below the window were intricately patterned.  The scenery beyond the window was beautiful, and I felt I knew it, with a green field and wooded hills beyond.  I felt tears in my eyes.  Then I saw roads and ditches cut through it, and before long I was looking at a highway; I felt I had just watched several hundred years pass and and the tears of joy turned to tears of sorrow.

In the other dream, which I think was actually in the early morning hours yesterday, I found myself looking at the ruins of an old brick church.  One could still see the insets in the brick work where the rafters would have gone, and although I didn’t actually see how it looked when it was new, I felt I knew this place when it was an active church.

I don’t know what to make of these dreams.  The way the windows looked in that cottage may have been from an ad I saw for a cute little cottage for sale in East Coker (for more money than I’ll ever have), and the general feeling of the dreams is understandable given the ravages of time on places I knew in past lives I’m more certain about.  I don’t think they’re real places so much as speculating on how I might feel when confronted with places I knew in past lives.  Still, I awoke from those dreams- especially the one about the cottage- feeling rather sad and incredibly old, as if I really had watched hundreds of years pass before my eyes.

I suppose in a way, I have.

Leaving Friday

I’ll be leaving Friday for Seattle.

This will only be the second time I’ll have been present for the initial release of one of my books; my first book was released in Pittsburgh in 2010 but I was unable to make it.  The book I am releasing this coming weekend is the sequel to that book.

I did make it to the initial release of my second book in San Jose in 2013, but that one did poorly compared to my first book and the release was not handled very well, to put it nicely.  Also, it cost twice as much as my first book because it was twice as long, and it was actually the first book I wrote (delayed many years in the publication process) so it was well below what I was actually capable of and got poor reviews.

This one should be different.  This is a book I finished just under a year ago, it’s short like the first book and costs about the same, and it’s a sequel to my most popular work to date.  I have high hopes for this one as the book that establishes me as a presence in my genre and if not this one, I have two more lined up right behind it.

I can’t describe how alive I feel.  That’s the word for it.  It’s been a real roller coaster ride of bad reviews, discouraging sales, and all the usual problems a fairly inexperienced writer will often fall prey to.  I’m finally at a point in my life where I can put out the kind of quantity and quality needed to establish myself and for once, I have hope.

I’ll be rooming with friends from the UK too, which just makes it that much more awesome.  If I can keep writing good stuff on a consistent basis, this might become a regular thing since these guys come to this particular convention every year.

Also, I bought my train ticket in advance and I have to say, this should be a pretty enjoyable travel experience.  Union Station in Portland is a gorgeous old building built in the 1890s, and when I walked in one of the first things I saw in the lobby was a baggage cart that must have been 60 years old, still in common use.  There was no line at the massive antique oak counter, and the clerk who sold me my ticket was quick and courteous.  I’ll definitely post about how my trip actually went since I’ll be bringing my laptop with me (something that would be too much aggravation on an airline flight).

I’ll try to keep up to date with how the trip is going, and maybe I’ll share some photos.

For My Trans Sisters: It Gets Better!

While going through my external drive clearing out old files I don’t want/need any more, I found a suicide note I wrote back in 2012.

The note is dated August 24, but the data tags say it was created on August 22.  I don’t remember what I did on the 24th.

There’s a very telling paragraph toward the end of the letter that I wanted to share.

“Anyway, even without that nonsense, why would I want to keep living in a world where I can be killed just for who I am? I have a 1 in 5 chance of being the victim of violence as a transwoman. Add to that the inherent health risks of hormones and surgery, and the likelihood that on my income, I’m going to have to delay treatment and work myself into an even worse depression. Your average infantryman in a combat zone has a better chance of surviving 5 years than I do.”

A week or two later, I remembered what it was like to actually be an “average infantryman” in a combat zone when past life memories of the First World War broke through, and believe me sisters, there is no comparison!

That was the beginning of the end for my dread of the future. I learned how to make the most of the present because danger is everywhere, always, for everyone.  We might live many lives, but this life is unique and it’s too special to waste on fear.  Live in such a way that you could remember this life in a thousand years with pride, and take whatever joys you can because if you die joylessly, whether by suicide, in an act of war, or by forcing yourself to sublimate your will and “fit in,” you won’t be pleased with yourself the next time around.

You hear all about the dangers associated with transitioning but if you let it go to your head, you’re missing out.  The misery you face if you go forward is nothing like the misery you’re facing now.  It gets better, trust me!

I’m going to save that letter, though it no longer has any purpose except as a reminder of how short-sighted I became right before I made the leap and moved forward.  I have no regrets except not doing it sooner.

If anyone here is going through gender dysphoria and needs to talk, I will not turn you away.  I may not be able to do much more than give advice or lend an ear, but I won’t ignore you.  Comment here or send an email to longlosttommy (atsign) gmail (dot) com and I will gladly take a moment because I’ve been there.

It gets better.  Trust me.

An Uncomfortable Subject

If I was Philip K. Dick, my memories are definitely incredibly spotty.

I didn’t know, for instance, that Seattle was where he once drove his then-wife Anne for an abortion until I did some reading.  This was an event that changed his life and made him ardently pro-life, a rare position for someone as far left as Phil.

I suppose it’s all over and done and I can’t let something like that cast a shadow over the book signing I’ll be doing there next weekend, but it does make me think about my own feelings on the subject.  Since I’ve never shied away from topics involving life and death in this blog, I’ll stick my neck out and talk about this.

In my previous life and when I was younger I was very much against abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or if a woman’s life was in danger and I supported legislation to that effect.

As I grew older I no longer supported such legislation in part because I feel that the ironclad word of law cannot account for all circumstances.  Also, as one who cannot become pregnant (sadly medical technology is still too stone-age to give me a working uterus), I don’t feel I have much grounding to push for laws on what you can do with the female reproductive system.  I also feel that life and death decisions are an unfortunate but necessary part of maintaining any population of living beings (human or animal) at a healthy level, and that giving those who need an abortion the option to do so in a safe, clean, and properly licensed environment is better than forcing them to travel to unlicensed clinics to die of infection or blood loss in secrecy and silence.

That being said, if I were to be perfectly honest, on a personal level the idea of abortion makes me deeply uncomfortable, and always has.  If it were a friend or a family member and the abortion was not a medical necessity, I would probably break down in tears begging them not to abort.  I could not bring myself to help them in that case.  I would probably not feel very comfortable being friends with someone who sees abortion as a convenience and not as an extreme measure, and I would absolutely loathe a husband, father, or boyfriend who pressured or coerced his wife, daughter, or girlfriend to abort when she didn’t want to.

I’m fine with “morning after” pills, I think access to contraceptives and fact-based sex ed are essential and important, and I’m not sold on “life begins at conception.”  I’m pretty sure, in regards to reincarnation, that we don’t inhabit our new bodies until they actually have a functioning nervous system; a mass of cells with no differentiated features is hardly a “person” in any real sense.

However, I think that any simplistic moral equation is inadequate after human features can be distinguished.  Furthermore, after a fetus is viable outside the womb, it’s silly to argue as to whether or not they’re a person because at that point their personhood would become an arbitrary matter of location.  I think late term abortions really are one of the most unfortunate realities of modern life; it’s an extreme measure that may be called for in some circumstances, but something that shouldn’t be glossed over.

I will never stand in the way of your right to make a choice… but I will beg you to reconsider if there is any other way.  I feel very strongly on this and I always have, apparently across lifetimes.

File That Under “Weird,” Part 2

My cat goes nuts whenever he hears a West Country accent.

I noticed a while ago that whenever I watch clips from “Time Team”  on YouTube, he starts walking around and yowling.  At first I thought it was Tony Robinson’s voice for some reason that he was mistaking for someone else, but then I had a thought: what if it’s Phil Harding’s voice?

Phil Harding, one of the Time Team archaeologists, has a very distinct West Country accent (Wiltshire, apparently).

I played another clip of a Somerset accent, which is another West Country dialect,  and my cat went straight to the door of the room, yowling as if he expected someone to come in.

Incidentally, John probably had a  Somerset accent in his youth that he later gave up for a standard RP accent if my memories are correct.

On a hunch, I tried petting my cat and speaking to him in the best West Country accent I could manage, addressing him as “puss,” and he calmed down immediately.  He’s now curled up next to me perfectly calm.

I was overdue for some weirdness.  Not sure what to make of this; I don’t remember having a cat in that life.  PKD was a cat person but I can’t imagine John would have been, since he was a bit more rugged.  Then again, you never know.