Blackpool

This is a hard thing to post about because it’s so abstract, but there has been a weird tickle of nostalgia at the back of my mind for the British seaside resort culture of the early 20th century for most of my life which came into focus somewhat after I discovered a previous life in England during that period, but has yet to yield any useful memories.

Early as I can remember, whenever I heard British music hall music or band organs playing, whenever I saw turn-of-the-century carnivals in movies, I found myself picturing brief flickers of a place like this, with lots of big bright lightbulbs and a festive atmosphere, arcades that were hot, humid, and stuffy, and a general feeling that this was a place I knew. I even had dreams about it growing up, usually very confused dreams that were only slightly clearer than my confused flashes of memory. Whenever I heard songs like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” by the Beatles, the hair stood up on the back of my neck.

In 2004, I traveled to Brighton, hoping to find this place. Strangely, in the photo I took of myself on the pleasure pier at Brighton, I look about 38 even though I was only 19 at the time! Some of you have probably seen that photo… I don’t like posting pictures of myself in public posts though. I imagine if I look at all like John Harris, then he was showing through in that photo. When I saw that same pleasure pier in the movie “Oh What A Lovely War!” I nearly shat myself. The trouble with Brighton is, like a lot of the old seaside resort towns, it’s fallen into something of a decline since the Edwardian era and a lot of the really flash pleasure palaces of days long past are simply not there any more. Also, I was disappointed to find beaches of rather uncomfortable stones where I felt more “right” about beaches of smooth sand, like the ones at Blackpool.

The same can be said of Blackpool; It’s just not what it used to be. But I saw this video some time ago and I feel strongly that this was a place I knew well, albeit through the haze of a few pints and the fragrant smoke from cigars and pipes:

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Back to Class

Tomorrow, I start the final term of my senior year.

I have never, in all the lifetimes I can remember, been this close to achieving even a 4-year degree, and it took me more like 12 years to do it because that same old restlessness is still with me that I had back when I was Phil.

I very nearly had to leave university permanently in 2008 after some very painful experiences that I’d rather not talk about, and I lived as a dropout for a while which was profoundly unpleasant because I had no degree and no credentials for a better job than no-status labor for minimum wage.

I’m not stopping at a BA either.  I’m going for a Master’s though I’ve got that annoying gap year to reckon with.  I’m sure I’ll figure out something.

I Wasn’t A Cathar But…

So far as I can tell, William Longespee was not a Cathar.  There is aboslutely nothing in his biography that would point to anything but a devout Catholic.

Nonetheless, I think I may have crossed paths with this sect in that particular life and that I might have been on friendlier terms with them than most Catholics at the time, owing to a peculiar quirk of history.

Not only was I lieutenant of Gascony for a while- and therefore active in a region of France where the Cathar faith was well-established- but there is evidence that I was involved in a politically-expedient alliance with them.

It turns out that Raymond of Toulouse- a noble from Languedoc who was at odds with the Pope for his relative tolerance of the Cathars- was an ally of King John during his excommunication and his campaigns in Flanders and northern France (the same campaign as the Battle of Bouvines).

Here’s where it gets interesting: Simon de Montfort the Elder was a major figure in the Albigensian Crusade and was involved in the Siege of Toulouse against Count Raymond.  Raymond de Toulouse died in 1222.  In 1225, I was beaten back from a failed campaign to re-take the English king Henry III’s possessions in Gascony (and died shortly thereafter).  Some time after this, Simon de Montfort the younger (son of the above) briefly overthrew King Henry III.  In both cases I served causes opposed to the house of De Montfort and it makes me wonder how the Cathars might have fared had my campaign in Gascony been successful.  Or perhaps I might have been roped into a crusade against them just as easily?  I tended to choose sides carefully and I switched sides more than a few times during that life.

For now I have the relief of knowing that so far as I can tell, my hands were clean of Cathar blood.  I was at worst indifferent and at best, secretly allied with them.  That’s one less thing to regret.

Intriguing!

In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the title character gives the following soliloquy:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

But while watching a documentary about Gnosticism in the Renaissance, I found the following quote from Pico della Mirandola from his “Oration on the Dignity of Man” (emphasis mine):

I have read in the records of the Arabians, reverend Fathers, that Abdala the Saracen, when questioned as to what on this stage of the world, as it were, could be seen most worthy of wonder, replied: “There is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man.” In agreement with this opinion is the saying of Hermes Trismegistus: “A great miracle, Asclepius, is man.” But when I weighed the reason for these maxims, the many grounds for the excellence of human nature reported by many men failed to satisfy me — that man is the intermediary between creatures, the intimate of the gods, the king of the lower beings, by the acuteness of his senses, by the discernment of his reason, and by the light of his intelligence the interpreter of nature, the interval between fixed eternity and fleeting time, and (as the Persians say), the bond, nay, rather, the marriage song of the world, on David’s testimony but little lower than the angels.

Now I grant you, Shakespeare (whom I am satisfied by the evidence was one person and not a shared pen name) was writing from within the milieu of Renaissance humanism which was directly influenced by writers like Pico della Mirandola, but the way Hamlet’s soliloquy paraphrases Pico’s talking points about the human race makes me think Shakespeare was directly familiar with this text.

I looked around briefly but I seem to be the only one who has noticed this.  If someone else has found a similar connection I’d love to read their work on the subject.

Present Life Update

Sorry for the long hiatus everyone!  After finishing a very stressful penultimate term before graduation, I spent a couple of days hardly able to get motivated to do anything, except do a bit of trifling work on an unpublished realistic novel I wrote in 2010 based on my experiences in London.

I’ve made the bold decision- since this particular novel already had facts about my experience in London that I later discovered were related to past lives- to work it into a more complex story based on a fictional account of my last several lives.  As for the original text of the story itself, it will be largely recycled.  Most of the changes I make will make it more true to what actually happened in London; for instance, in the original story I went to Paris instead of the New Forest during spring break 2005, but the New Forest story adds some much-needed substance to the novel. I can write about that honestly because I was actually there at around that time!

Maybe this blend of realistic picaresque and supernatural freakout themes- something I was trying to achieve in my previous life with “VALIS” but didn’t quite manage to pull off- will at last do what I set out to do as a writer a lifetime ago.  I can only hope.

Still, work is going slowly and I’m in rough shape emotionally because I don’t know what to expect after graduating or how I’m going to do in the last classes of my Bachelor’s program after 12 long years of struggling to finish a degree.  There were many points in my life where I almost ended up a dropout again, just like I was in my last life, and I am so glad I still have this chance to make up for missed opportunities.

I’m also hoping to get disability for my anxious disposition.  My anxiety is a lifelong condition that has made earning a living of any sort painfully difficult, and though this might change for me in 2 or 3 years now that I’ve started getting my life back together, I need time to finish sorting myself out.  Worsening my anxiety is the relative difficulty of getting benefits (people who think it’s easy have obviously never applied) and the prospect that wartime austerity budget cuts to fund our upcoming war with Iran (you know that’s what they’re planning) might make this much-needed help entirely out of my reach.

All in all, everything’s holding in stasis, prepped for either a precipitous freefall or a gentle landing after June.  I could end up reliving the past in miserable repetition or I could finally lighten my karmic load and achieve my unrealized goals of writing generation-defining novels like Kerouac and Pynchon did while earning a master’s in medieval history.  In between there are so many varying shades of success and failure that I cannot fathom what my choices will bring me.

I hope it’s good.  I deserve a break.

Cambridge

Today I went to talk to a career advisor about grad school and she threw me one hell of a curveball.

She strongly suggested I consider applying for a scholarship program to go to Cambridge. This is the first time anyone in an academic setting has told me I was Cambridge material.

I don’t know what to think. It’s a highly-competitive scholarship and I’ve honestly got nothing to lose by applying (I’ve been shooting for the moon a lot lately) but what if I actually get accepted? I’ve started to really get settled here in the Northwest US.

Don’t get me wrong, I love England immensely. I consider it a spiritual home and part of me is overjoyed at the prospect of returning to study at a prestigious university. Still, I have friends here, and I find that the Northwest is a very special place for me, like no place I’ve ever known, culturally somewhere comfortably between middle America and Northern Europe and climate-wise just right for when I’m missing the drizzly temperate English weather.

Also, it can’t be like it was last time, in 2003. I have pets. I have a nice car. I have a fiance, an actual long-term relationship with someone who loves me tremendously. I’ve tried managing the transatlantic lifestyle with all that is precious to me an ocean away and it’s more than I can bear now, at this point in my life; maybe if I was still 19 and filled with the spirit of carpe diem I could do it without hesitation, but I’ve had my reality check. If I were to relocate to the UK even temporarily, I’d have to consider taking as much of my life with me as possible and that’s a tremendous challenge.

There’s still time to think about this. There’s every chance I might not even be accepted and I’d be through agonizing over it once and for all. On the other hand, I could be set for life if I get into a school like Cambridge, and it would do my heart good to stand on English soil again, but life is complicated and offers no simple answers.

I had never given this any serious thought. I don’t know what to do or think about this.

100 Years Ago Today

The 2nd Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry – Billets in Dickebusch

The 27th Division bombarded the German trenches facing its left section between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., and later that evening the Battalion relieved the 4/R.B. in trenches 13-18 covering St. Eloi. 1 man killed and 4 wounded.

———

7466 Pte. Henry Ernest, Jones, the Son of R. and C. Jones; husband of Mrs. E. A. Jones, of 20, Park Rd., Cwmpark, Treorchy, Glam.  Born St. James, Hereford

Enlisted at Hereford into Special Reserve early September 1914 and would have been posted to 3rd K.S.L.I.  Landed in France on 18/02/15 and posted to 2/K.S.L.I.

K. in A. 09/03/15 aged 31 Buried in Voormezeele Enclosure, No. 3. (I.A.I).

Info. from 1914-15 Star Medal Roll, M.I.C., Soldiers Died & C.W.G.C.