Long story short, I’m doing really well in my courses.
I’m actually well ahead of my classmates with this old manuscript I’m studying for one thing. I’ve built a pretty solid case for the book’s provenance but I’ve also got a strong suspicion that the book is older than the 13th century date given.
The text appears to be in a sort of Carolingian script, or some transitional script between Carolingian and Gothic. In particular the lower-case letter “d” has an upright stem which you just don’t see in a typical 13th century Gothic hand; it’s a very Carolingian feature. But since the text itself was authored in the 12th century it can’t be any older than that.
Still, thoughts of past lives lurk beneath the surface. In particular I’m trying not to dwell so much on where I was a hundred years ago this month, spending much of my time trying to keep my head low and waiting for an attack, hoping we wouldn’t be the next ones to be gassed or shelled into oblivion.
Moreover, I seem to have been happy to put fiction writing to the side for a while too. My most recent novel is something I’m still very proud of and something I promote when I can, but until I can become a success with that I have to support myself somehow and it seems academic pursuits are about the only thing I’m good for so I’ll throw myself into it wholeheartedly. With any luck, my present life will begin to resemble my previous one less and begin to look a bit more like Tolkein with respect to a respectable academic record (though I don’t think I’ll be writing anything stylistically Tolkeinesque).
Still working on the problem of what to do to support myself over my gap year. All in good time, I suppose; in the worst case I have more antiques and collectibles to my name than I can readily remember having, so I have nothing to lose emotionally by selling them off. I bought them over the course of my life and always had a good nose for a bargain, so my collection’s worth many times what I actually spent on it.
But will it be enough? That remains to be seen.
For most of my adult life, I’ve survived on poverty wages.
That’s pretty much all I could get. Most of the best-paying unskilled jobs required a personality type I just don’t have: namely that of an extroverted sales associate who can convince people to buy more junk they don’t need.
I thought I could deal with poverty though. I thought it might be better for me to be poor, that it might help me become a purer person. Instead what I found is that poverty in a culture where charity can no longer meet demands is almost impossible to keep up for very long before it destroys you and leaves you all alone with only your wits to save you.
I’ve decided that there’s no shame in allowing myself some luxury if the chance comes in this life. I don’t want to be a conspicuous consumer but I don’t want to make do with crappy homes and cars any more. I want to be able to afford something smart but not ostentatious, like a country house on 3 acres or so outside of town, a top-of-the-line Ford (they park themselves!), and a few indulgences like my own library and mini nature preserve. I want to live like medieval yeomanry, understated but not spartan and with just enough land to support me indefinitely on its resources.
But I also don’t want to lose my morals, or forget how hard I’ve had to struggle and how lost I’d be if no one at all had helped me. This is what I’m most afraid of if I begin actively trying to move up the ladder: that I’ll lose my humanity in the process. I don’t want to become a suburban pharisee, the kind that can afford to tip their pizza delivery driver but won’t (I know the type; I used to work delivery). I want to get myself a nice place but I want to do it my way and actually try being nice to people, and generous when they do something for me. It’s stinginess and arrogance I can’t stand among those who can afford to be more generous.
My values are old-fashioned. I want to believe I can have it made in life and still be generous and benevolent, like someone who never completely let go of Victorian ideas of benevolent paternalism. But I have to admit, I’ve never actively tried to succeed in life while doing something I love and staying true to my morals; that’s something I was taught I might have to compromise on. Now that I see a possible path to Cambridge or Oxford as my BA program draws to a close with 3.66 GPA and a likely endorsement from any professor who’s really worked with me, I have to start thinking about how I’m going to conduct myself when I can get better jobs based on a sterling academic record. For me after living on less than $10,000 a year for so long, a modest sum like $40,000 a year is a lot of money and I feel I could transform my life with that much income, student loans be damned.
I’m ready to give it a try. I’m much more fortunate in this life and it’s time I started living like it.
A while ago I went looking for sea shanties that I might have known or heard during the life I lived in the mid-19th century. I found a couple that sounded familiar.
I came across this song, called “Rio Grande,” which really caught my attention as soon as I heard it. In this case, the “Rio Grande” they’re referring to is one in South America which oddly enough I might have stopped at. The song itself sounds really familiar but I’m wondering if there wasn’t another set of lyrics to this same tune since I seem to remember the lyrics being about another port:
Here’s another one called “Haul Away Joe” that’s pretty well known, though I think I first heard it at a very young age and it always gave me a weird feeling:
I’m pretty sure I crossed the Atlantic on a masted vessel, incidentally. I believe the paddle steamer was one bound for British Columbia I boarded in San Francisco. But it’s all intuition really, I don’t have anything more than that. I really hope there’s something left on the California coast that’s familiar enough to bring me more memories.
I’ve been thinking about this life more often as my trip to California gets nearer. It’s funny, I thought I’d be thinking more of my life as Phil but I already know so much about that life; what about this nameless sailor who shipwrecked off the Marin Headlands 100 years earlier? I’ve been able to trace locations and rough dates but I know nothing of the person I was, only vague recollections of being a troubled soul and possibly on the run from the law.
Perhaps I didn’t know myself back then either. A man on the run wears a thousand faces, none of them his own.
Two paths now lay before me: one of spending my life following my passions and one of sad “almosts.”
If nothing stops me from graduating this summer, I’ll be well on my way to a rewarding career as a historienne or archivist or something of that nature. I’ll be using the research skills I carved out while trying to track down past lives scattered across hundreds or even thousands of years to actually do practical, paying work.
But I know perfectly well that I have liabilities that could count against me, not least of which is just being who I am.
This is the first life I’ve ever come close to completing any sort of university degree that I am readily aware of. Not having it in hand leaves me uneasy, anxious, and fearful that my worst qualities will come through and sabotage me once again just like they have so many times across so many lives. I guess knowing my weaknesses is a mixed blessing if there ever was one because if I was blithely ignorant of them (as I have been in the past) I wasn’t always caught by them, but knowing what they are brings them to the forefront and now I have to actively control them or they will destroy me.
I deserve a break after so long. I deserve a chance at a good life and I really hope I can stick this out just a little while longer.
I don’t seem to have fallen as hard into a mood about my latest memories as I have in the past. It seems that my research has provided some relief after all.
Just today, I made some really impressive discoveries about the provenance of a medieval manuscript in the collections of the Multnomah County library. I had been trying to pinpoint the workshop that made it but that lead turned cold; however, I’m finding many other pieces of valuable information about the book’s provenance that will no doubt be of interest to the library and to the professor teaching the class.
The whole experience has been rewarding and engrossing for me and I find that the ghosts of 1915 don’t have the same hold on me they once did. Perhaps medieval scholarship is only ad-hoc relief but it’s relief nonetheless.
It’s official, I’m 100% back there now, almost like I was in the months following the first memories. The “past life mood” is here and it’ll probably stay here for a while yet. I’m not skipping WWI-related songs on my mp3 player any more, I’m feeling that strange dissonance between the present and past, between living and dead. Again I’m keenly aware of the passage of time, of the bits and pieces left from all those years ago, noticing the dates on buildings and the like.
It’s a very bittersweet feeling, when I’m like this, to walk out on a sunny day. The warmth of sunlight tells me unambiguously that I’m alive but every color and sound seems exaggerated. It’s been almost two years since I’ve felt it this strong.
The most terrifying thing when I’m like this though, is that John’s life feels more real than this one. This feels like a strange sort of fever dream; now and then I wonder if I’m still there on the battlefield, delirious and bleeding out slowly while my mind treats me to a final light show. But then I test reality and it’s as resilient as ever.
Such a strange feeling. I hope this doesn’t become permanent.
I remembered something about my last moments as John and now I really want to know if this happened.
I believe I may have sacrificed myself to draw fire away from the others in the wiring party.
I guess it worked; I was the only front-line casualty that night. There was an Irish soldier who died at the clearing station (based on cemetery records) but this may have been unrelated.
Still, it raises some serious questions. I wasn’t cited for anything… was I hoping to be cited? Did I think they’d give me a Victoria Cross or something? Did I misjudge the situation and sacrifice myself needlessly? Was I just being too chivalrous for my own good? And is this memory at all accurate?
Still trying to sort out my emotions this morning after remembering that last night. This is a development I wasn’t expecting; I always figure I died trying to save myself but I never did understand why I was out in the open in the memory of my final moments; any sense of my motives was always strangely absent and I just figured I was too stunned to get down.
Also, I still don’t know what kind of ordinance took me down. I’m pretty sure it was a hand-thrown bomb but wouldn’t being right next to the others (they were in a trench or shell hole right in front of me) actually draw fire toward them? Wouldn’t they have been wounded unnecessarily by what I did? And if so, does that mean I acted in a moment of incredibly bad judgment?
It’s time I opened up about something that’s been bothering me for some time now.
As I might have mentioned, I made the decision go vegetarian a few months back. And yes, part of that certainly was a consideration for the prospect of Karma and for the suffering of living creatures. Also, I have valid concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the meat supply that I think everyone should take note of, regardless of your belief in reincarnation.
But there was more to it than that. A large part of it simply comes from the profoundly mixed feelings I get about meat now owing to the memories I have from the Western front. When a human body is dismembered to a certain extent, it just becomes scraps of meat and it becomes indistinguishable from the bully beef you’re eating. Also, human flesh when it burns often smells eerily like a pork roast, and one’s initial reaction is to salivate, then recoil with horror when you realize what that smell actually is. I often find now that I get an initial hunger reaction from the smell or sight of meat, followed by a strong disgust reaction.
Moreover, recently as I was considering re-evaluating my status as a vegetarian, I had a really horrendous memory.
I was with my company, somewhere in Flanders. We had been briefly separated from our company and were taken in by a local Flemish family at their small farmhouse. They served us a stew with bits of meat in it. I ate some, as did a number of the others with us, but one or two of the men refused, saying it was probably human flesh because no one could get meat with the war going on.
My stomach turns and my eyes burn with tears just writing about this. It took a hundred years and two lifetimes to finally bring this out into the open. And I could have been forgiven for holding onto it… so many of the survivors certainly did. I feel like it’s weighing me down to keep hiding this though.
I don’t know if this is a real memory or verifiable in any way, but something about it resonates with a sickening feel of plausibility. Whatever the case, I’m probably not going back to eating meat any time soon.
I’m thoroughly absorbed in my work for spring term, and I’m really enjoying working with medieval manuscripts.
However, I find that the unexpected sense of head-swimming nostalgia I got the first time I held a medieval book in my hands just doesn’t come to me now. Even after holding the same Book of Hours again a couple weeks ago, I didn’t feel it any more.
On one of the forums I post on someone mentioned how these triggers hit us when we least expect it, but then they’re gone and we can’t go back and retrieve that feeling at will. It was a slightly unsettling feeling, but not negative at all. It wasn’t like the downright-eerie feeling I get when something reminds me of Phil’s life, or the profoundly sad or fearful feelings from John’s life. It was similar in some indescribable character but the overall impression I got was that none of the lives I lived in medieval times were regrettable.
Maybe it’s just the fact that it was so long ago that I’ve made peace with anything bad that happened back then; I’m inclined to believe that’s so. While “nasty, brutish and short” is an over-simplification, life in medieval Europe often fit at least one of those descriptors depending on where you were and what you did for a living. Perhaps, if I can make peace with the countless bad ends I must have come to in those times, then I’ll make peace with the bad end I came to in France in 1915.
What I have been getting out of this, however, is a growing sense that I was a monk in at least one life. No memories yet, sadly, but the special collections at Portland State and the County Library just down the street from campus are such comfortable places for me, in silence and surrounded by ancient books. I am now almost completely sure that I spent several lives reading and copying texts like these.
Maybe I’ll stumble onto a trigger that brings it all to light. Until then, I’m thoroughly absorbed in my work and quite happy that way.
As I may have mentioned before, I am very much in love with a wonderful man and I have no intention of breaking things off, for any reason.
That being said, life is unpredictable and often cruel. I know that one day, he may be taken away from me and I will suffer greatly.
That day, I’m seriously thinking I ought to renounce the world and turn to a life as an ascetic. It is for his sake alone that I have decided not to since I do not wish to hurt him by leaving him abruptly and because for good or ill, I’m attached to him and I know it. Without him, I have no reason not to join whatever contemplative order will have me as I am.
I’m in no hurry to turn to the life of an ascetic but after some years of consideration, I think it would be right for me. I feel strongly that I have led a monastic life before and that it was a life I found comfortable. In this world of buying and selling, of competition, of rank and privilege and idle pursuits, I wither. Here in Oregon there are some very inclusive Buddhist monasteries that I think might offer the kind of environment where someone like me could flourish.
I regret that I live in an age when nobody gives patronage to hermits or hermitage would be my first choice, in that instance.