Not Sure What To Make of This

On the one hand, I still haven’t completely given up on the prospect of having been Philip K. Dick in my last life.  The semblances in personality are pretty uncanny, as I’ve prattled on at length about over the last two and a half years.

Lately though, I’ve been getting flashes of another life in England that I believe may have ended some time between 1940 and 1955.  Very brief ones, and only two so far, both featuring a beautiful woman.  I believe I was a man of some means, refined, passionate, and suave, but died in my prime.

This is problematic because this is an awful lot like one of the characters from my most recently published book.  I’m reluctant to believe anything that too closely resembles the suave, dapper, debonair mid-century British aerospace engineer I conceived in my book, who was born in 1901 and has a vision in 1946 that reveals that he will die in 1957 (a bit longer than the life I keep seeing, but only by about 14 years).  On the other hand, the character was so convincingly written that I may well have been drawing from a deeper well of personal experience.

Maybe it’s nothing.  The woman I saw looked a little too much like some fantasy from a Hollywood movie, wearing this sleek 40s high fashion dress and coming out of the fog as I listened to Jussi Bjorling’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot, a song that could very well have been the soundtrack of a Hollywood movie.

None of this has the feel of verisimilitude I got when I tried on Phil as a past life identity.  It feels like the creation of my own romantic mind, and not the sad, painfully ordinary and constantly fearful man I saw myself as, peering fearfully through blinds at unmarked cop cars in the early 70s.  There was nothing romantic about being Phil as I remembered it, and anything that smacks of more romance than the life of an impoverished writer- the only reality I’ve known in my present adult life- seems both presumptuous and wishful thinking.

About the only reason I have to give this latest flash of the 20th century the benefit of the doubt is because I hadn’t actually been trying to dig up past life memories lately.  I felt like I was trying too hard and I had walked away from it.  This flash was spontaneous and unexpected.  Still, something about it doesn’t pass the smell test.

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From An Old Journal

On the subject of music from the first half of the 20th century, I found an old journal entry dated January 31, 2009 that in hindsight tells me I really did remember more than I knew:

I sometimes listen to big band, swing, and lounge jazz from the pre-1955 era when I have a strange, detached sort of melancholy going on. In a way I guess it’s sort of invoking ghosts of the past. The authentic recordings sound like they’re being played from the end of a long, empty hall and it kind of feels like listening to spirits… not in a creepy way, but in a sort of soft “opening of the worlds” kind of way.

I’m not sure I can ever describe it accurately. It’s not music I listen to specifically just for the sake of the music like I do with more recent artists, or with the classics. It’s music that carries a strange sort of essence with it; not the essence of 1940’s NCO clubs and air raid shelters like Hollywood would have it so much, but the essence of a dark room in some big city apartment building with the neighbor’s record player on a little too loud. Maybe there’s a war on somewhere or maybe it’s just another day… the smell of an extinguished cigarette, the creak of an old wooden floor, the sound of a lone motorcycle on the street below but not much else, and somewhere on the street the dim glow of a neon sign half a block away.

My mind is full of vignettes like this from different times and places, and while I’ve no idea how they got there, it’s always the same things that switch them back on. Maybe it’s just an author’s imagination hard at work.

I think it was one such mood and listening to a short playlist of old big band and jazz recordings that got me to start writing [my second novel], oddly enough.

You know, in hindsight this was all just brewing beneath the surface and I was clueless.  That room I saw, I’m fairly sure, is my room in an old warehouse in Berkeley in the late 40s where I lived with gay beat poets.  I could picture it so clearly in my mind and still can.  This pretty much proves (to me at least) that my second novel- which was a gay-themed romance in a dieselpunk setting- was somehow born of my past life experiences as a young Bohemian in Berkeley.  I remembered those days fondly in my previous life and now I think they may have steered my writing well into this life.

Music From 1948-1960

A few songs from the period of 1948-1960 (the years spanning Phil’s marriage to Jeanette and his marriage to Kleo as well as the earliest years of his marriage to Anne) stand out for me.

One night while listening to songs from 1948, one song stood out for me.  It’s called “A Tree In The Meadow,” sung by Margaret Whiting.  Now I can’t think of what little I remember about Jeanette without thinking of this song, though I don’t know if that’s a recent impression or an old one.

I first heard the song “26 Miles” by the Four Preps, a hit from 1958, some time in the late 90s, but it didn’t really stand out to me until one day in 2007.  I was in Boulder City, NV, a town full of mid-century West Coast urban architecture much like downtown Berkeley, so I was already starting to feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  I walked into an antique store, surrounded by mid-century artifacts, and this song started playing.  It has since remained a part of my consciousness for the last 7 years.  I still get shivers when I hear it.  It isn’t the sort of song I would have liked terribly much, but one I know I heard everywhere and often in those days.

Gogi Grant’s version of “The Wayward Wind” (1956) was a song I first heard on a cassette that my father got second-hand from my grandparents in the late 90s, in a box of odds and ends they didn’t want any more.  Not sure why this one stands out for me but it’s one of the few songs on that tape that made any sort of impression.

“My Prayer” by The Platters (also from 1956) is a song I probably heard on Oldies 102.5 in Charleston, SC as a child.  It stands out for me as a song I knew even if it wasn’t a favorite; however, this is complicated by the fact that it’s actually a song that goes back to 1939 in its lyrical version (Vera Lynn did a lovely rendition but I probably knew Glenn Miller’s version).  This could very well be a childhood memory from Phil’s life.

The most recent of these on my list is The Theme From “A Summer Place” by the Percy Faith Orchestra, released in 1960.  Another song I know from the oldies radio station, and one I’m not sure about how well I knew it back then.  It does make me think of the Marin Headlands around Point Reyes, though, with its saccharine imagery of chiseled coastlines and Pacific sunsets.  It certainly was many people’s idea of the perfect “summer place.”

Memory Fragment

I’ve actually had this memory for years, come to think of it.  I had always written it off as poetic imagination, but in hindsight this could be something from my previous life.

I’ve always pictured a specific room whenever I’ve listened to Big Band music from the 30s and 40s.  The music wafts in, perhaps half-heard from another room or another apartment altogether.  It was a rather dingy apartment building with a very spartan layout.  My room had very little of anything in it.  The floors were wood and creaked when you walked on them.  The window was about 2′ off the ground, and about 3′ wide by 4′ tall.  It opened out onto a street or alleyway, and we were 2-5 floors up.

This could be a place I lived in my previous life, though where exactly, I’m not sure.  I don’t know of any apartments I may have lived in back in the 30s or 40s (it was always houses until the 70s), and I have never found anything to suggest these memories are related, so it could be a fluke.

Just Heard From My Father

While I can’t give away who it was because it might give a clue to my identity, my father recently told me that I’m related to a rather famous sea captain during the Gold Rush days.

I don’t think I was him, for a number of reasons, but I did have a thought on what might have motivated me in that life before John to hop a ship around the horn:  I may have been headed for San Francisco to make my fortune.  My initial theory that I had fled England to avoid persecution after a Chartist rally may have been somewhat off-base.

If I’m correct about my previous life, I lived in the Bay Area about a hundred years later too, and I tried to move there in this life but was priced out of the market before I could consider (that’s why I moved to Portland instead).

It’s looking more and more like a trip to the San Francisco Bay is in the cards if I have the time and money this year.