Now This Is Strange…

I had a brief memory flash of serving in India during colonial times.

Now, I know for a fact that Jack (the life I lost in WWI) had served most of the Edwardian era in Secunderabad.  However, the flash I had was of going into arid hills with a band of soldiers to hunt bandits.

According to a quick scan of search results on Google, hunting bandits in arid hills sounds more like the 19th century.

I am pretty sure that I was a soldier in my mid-19th century life, but could I have been in India during that time as well?  That would be two lives, back-to-back, as a British soldier serving in India.  I’d had a strong feeling that I had been to India in that life before, but after I discovered Jack’s tour of duty in Secunderabad I had nixed that.  I hadn’t considered that I’d been there in two subsequent lives.

That would explain why the flowery trappings of British Victorian orientalism seem so stuck in my head, in some deep place that I can’t quite see.  Two lifetimes of that is enough to make a deep impression.  Every time I saw some fragment of that cultural phenomenon while I was in England in this life, it gave me weird feelings.  The Royal Pavilion at Brighton was downright eerie in that respect, with its orientalist whimsy bordering on madness, stylized banana leaves all around in places where they were really not needed.  In some part of my mind, I see flashes of dark, smoke-filled rooms with dim lanterns and brightly-colored fabrics all around.  I smell a hit of exotic spice.  But this isn’t a place I’ve been necessarily; it’s a cultural construct of a place I thought India might be all those ages ago and it’s still there, in my mind, a dated and ego-dystonic construct born of Imperialist naivete.

I wish I could remember something more, something concrete that I could track down and confirm once and for all.  What did I do as a soldier in that earlier life, and what went wrong that saw me drummed out and turning to the seafaring life?

Thinking of doing a past life regression again soon.  It seems that earlier life has come through pretty clearly in regressions and dreams, so it’s probably not very deep in my subconscious.  Exactly why this life in particular would be so close to the surface is anybody’s guess.

So Just Who Was I?

While not being the author Philip K. Dick is a great relief, it leaves a gaping hole in my 20th century experience.

Who was I?  Where was I?

I think I’ve mentioned here that I have had competing notions that I had been British in my subsequent life.  I feel strangely warm and familiar when I think of England in the 1930s but I have no specific memories.  I enjoy the work of Dame Vera Lynn and Sir Edward Elgar and I adore 1930s British car designs.  One of my dream cars is the Alvis Speed 25.

I also feel strongly like I might have had something to do with aviation.  My best books have a lot of golden age aviation themes, and pilots and engineers have complimented my understanding of how aircraft are designed and flown.  Some of my favorite computer games involve flight simulations and I notice I’ve actually got a knack for them.  One of the first jobs I wanted in this life was to be a fighter pilot (I was only 2 or 3 at the time) and I still love going to aviation museums and air shows, especially when they bring out the old war birds from WWII.  But all of this could be from my background as an air force brat which pretty much sealed my love of aviation from a very early age.

I had briefly considered that I was Nevil Shute, but that would cut into my life as John and the home he grew up in is nothing like the home I remember; John’s childhood home, on the other hand, is a perfect match.

But it’s all very circumspect and there’s just nothing solid.  I’m left wondering if there’s anything to it.  Maybe I really did just cease to be for most of the 20th century?

A Lonely Road

Last night my fiance and I were sitting together listening to music from the first half of the 20th century (music hall, Swing, Foxtrot, and ballads from about 1900 to 1950).

At one point I played a slow foxtrot song from 1939- a year I still have strong feelings for (I would have been about 10 at the time, and deep into science fiction magazines and pulp adventure novels). I asked him how he felt when he heard it and he responded that he felt nothing.

I then played a song from 1929, hoping an earlier piece might resonate more with him. He replied that while he enjoyed the song, it wasn’t any specific feeling and that the only music that had specific feelings for him was the music he grew up with (mostly early 70s prog and 90s alternative).  For him, the music of the first half of the 20th century is a rare import from a distant past, an exotic acquired taste; for me, it’s a rare shred of something I once had.

It just reminded me of how weird I was. Every time growing up I heard a music hall piece from Edwardian times and wondered “When was this made? It sounds so familiar, why?” or every time I saw that same bare upstairs room with a single bed, a table, a record player, and a bare lightbulb when I heard music from the 1940s, I was experiencing something not everyone goes through and I feel like such a weirdo.

Stranger still, I have a weird feeling that my fiance might have been my first wife, Jeanette Marlin, back in 1948 (an old photo of him without his beard looks bizarrely similar to a photo of her from high school). But if he was, he has no memories. For him, the slate seems to be wiped clean, though he does give me the benefit of the doubt.

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 Identification In Doubt

I’m starting to question my identification of Count William since it seems rather flimsy when I look at it.

First, a lot of my few medieval memories were misinterpreted or strung together from disparate fragments to form narratives that have inevitably proven dead ends; I think trying to string them all together into a coherent story was a mistake.

Second, my ID of William Longespee becomes really questionable when I consider that I did note that I was wearing 14th century clothes in that memory of the church with dark columns.  That memory was previously linked to Salisbury Cathedral, where I found Count William’s tomb and linked his life to a few things I remembered, places I traveled to, coincidences with John’s life, and coincidences with my first novel.  However, I was never certain about such a tentative identification in the first place and when I revisit certain details, it seems even more doubtful.

Obviously, 14th century clothes, and the colors I remember wearing (black and red) would cast doubt on Longespee, who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries and whose colors were blue and gold, but I had initially written these details off because I had been working heavily with 14th century imagery in a recent novel at the time.  Now I’m starting to reconsider these memories and the prospect of having been a 14th century yeoman of minor status (liveried but not titled), rather than a 13th century earl.

Also, it bears mentioning that a number of churches and cathedrals in England have columns of Purbeck Marble and admittedly, it could just as easily be Westminster Abbey or even some church that is no longer standing.

That being said, if I was wrong about the ID, it would leave a mountain of weird coincidences involving Count William up in the air; also, it would leave my ID of Roland in question, since I had not known that Roland was Henry’s court jester nor had I correctly identified him at first (I had variously identified him as my father and as a fellow knight previously).

At any rate, the memories I have aren’t easy to sort out because this is an era I had studied… if only tentatively.  I did pay more attention to objects and places than what every William Fitz Henry and Henry Fitz William was doing in 1190-something so these aren’t people I was necessarily aware of.  Still, I could have confabulated the whole thing easily and just gotten confirmations by all the darts of possibility I threw out.  The memories are also dim, fragmentary, and of an era so remote from our time that even someone who had lived continuously for 850 years might have a difficult time zeroing in on specifics.

My memories of John and Phil’s lives carry more weight because they’re more complete, involved little or no guessing, and were easier to confirm.  John’s life was easy enough to trace that I made several very decisive place matches, and in Phil’s case I was actually able to speak to someone who knew him and found proof that he’d had flashes of WWI before American involvement.  I have a pretty good circumstantial case for those lives.  But anything before 1877, I have to admit, I’m completely stumped and might never be able to nail down at this point.

Dream

Last night, I had a dream that was largely nonsensical, but there was one element that stands out.

In the dream, my fiance said the word “army” with a heavy Somerset accent (maybe he was trying to talk like a pirate?).  Just hearing the word “army” said that way triggered something undoubtedly past-life related within me and soured my mood.  It left me feeling unpleasant even after I had woken up.

What else?  I seem to remember there was also a moment going to one of those small, mid-century grocery stores with tall glass fronts that were still common in my childhood (but seem to be vanishing now that everything’s gone to big-box retail).  The usual colorful kiddie rides and candy vending machines were out front.  I wonder if that means anything?  It was a lot like the Piggly-Wiggly in Goose Creek, SC that we would shop at if we were down that way when I was young.

Beyond that, the dream made no sense whatsoever and I’m still in a hazy, dreamlike state (probably because I took something for anxiety right before bed…  I hate what those pills do to me though so I rarely take them).

That Makes Sense…

Last night, I had some memories that suggest that I may not have been a fox in Japan after all.

The memories were in Japan, but they challenge the idea of having been a wild animal.  Most notably, I remembered things in color (I have memories from another time that were in blues and yellows that were more convincing).  

Second, there was a care-worn old woman (my grandmother perhaps?) bathing me, rubbing something in my hair and saying “Yosh, yosh, yosh,” (in this case, roughly “there there”).  I had brief flickers of toys or children’s books or something brightly colored.

But there was also the memory of the back door of the temple, where I remember being among foxes.  Was I a foundling?  Was I a child, then a fox or vice versa?  Or was I a pet fox, kept by an eccentric old woman and treated like a child (the way so many ennobled pets become convinced that they’re people)?

Whatever the case, if I was a human child I must have died at a very young age some time in the 1920s, which is sad to think about.  It’s curious to think how different the story plays out if I wasn’t a fox; a generous lifetime for a small, wild animal is a tragically short life for a human being.

But which was I?  I’m really at a loss.

My One Gripe About the Story of Buddha

I admit, there is one gripe I have about the story of Buddha.

As much as they may have been a distraction and an obstacle to his goals, once he had married and had a child, wouldn’t Siddhartha be morally obligated to be there for them?  Also, calling your child “ball and chain” and then leaving them in the night is not the behavior of a wise or compassionate person.

Granted, I know that part of the story has him essentially locked in a sort of velvet prison, free to do anything so long as he is protected from pain, need, and suffering by his doting family.  And I imagine part of the point of the story is that he was literally not allowed to leave on his own, so a “jail break” of sorts makes sense.  But why take it out on the child?  Why call them “ball and chain,” of all things?  That’s not the child’s fault and I think it should be considered a negative example of how to frame your thoughts when involved in a similar situation.

I suppose a cynic would be able to use that to bolster their case that the whole story is somehow unwholesome to cling to and rife with human failings.  But in all likelihood, it’s the fault of the scribes and scholars who recorded these stories, not a gross failing of the subject of their story nor of the ideas attributed to him.  And one of the more generous traits of Buddhism is its broad acceptance of allegory and its injunction to take only what you know to be wise from the texts.  Dharma is not what is written, but what you learn from what is written, and negative examples of conduct are just as valid as positive ones provided you have the basic wisdom to know which is which.

I would add that I feel that the idea of leaving one’s family to become an ascetic is generally not a practice to be encouraged.  One who marries and has a child has expressed one commitment explicitly in their marriage vows, and one commitment implicitly in the act of conception.  I remember wanting to become a monk toward the end of my life as William Longespee, but the abbot at Ile de Re (I believe Claude was his name) wouldn’t have it; I had promised Ela to return, after all.

Also, one of my greatest regrets if I was Phil was the way I went through wives and proved to be anything but a model father for three children.  My memories of them are vague and have not been confirmed, but in truth I feel bad for them and I wish I could remember more about them, or that I could tell them that if I was their father I’m incredibly sorry for putting all of them through bitter divorces and leaving them without a father.

Keep your promises and do not neglect those who need you.  Treat your commitments seriously unless they do more harm than good.  This I firmly believe.

The Term “New Age”

I generally do not consider myself a “new ager,” and I don’t think the term is at all descriptive or helpful.

In particular, I think the labeling of reincarnation- an idea that has been the rule rather than the exception across many cultures for a very long time- as “new age” is both ignorant and inaccurate.

The phrase “New Age” means generally nothing by denotation, and the word ‘new’ is deceptive because most of the ideas described as “new age” are actually thousands of years old.  The term describes a very vaguely-defined series of ideas that are loosely connected and often strung together in a badly mishandled and profoundly commercialized way.

Generally, to me the term “New Age” conjures up images of John Tesh albums, yuppies with big hoop earrings and too much hair spray going to private astrologers, and motivational speakers who appropriate sacred rituals and transcendental ideas to sell books to empty-hearted suits who can’t commit to a serious spiritual path.  In case you haven’t guessed, this is exactly what a 90s child was taught to see in the alleged New Age movement, and there was certainly a lot of that going on during the height of the “Pax Americana” from 1980 to 2000.

Furthermore, I think the whole idea that there is a “New Age movement” is generally overlooking the dynamic that religion took in the later half of the 20th century.  The social upheavals of the 1960s created a market for religious texts from Eastern and esoteric traditions, and it led to the mass commodification of any religion someone could make a buck off of by the 1980s.  But, as with all things, with commodification came the introduction of badly-produced translations, ersatz traditions invented entirely by motivational speakers, slick infomercial preachers who are openly obsessed with material prosperity, and misappropriations in great abundance.  And anyone who claims that this has not happened to their religion in equal measure is either lying or not paying attention; remember that I grew up in the charismatic Megachurches of the Pax Americana which were laced with the Christian equivalent of all this mess.  It was not a satanic plot to overthrow the “true church,” but the inevitable consequence of religion and capitalism merging into one indiscernible entity.

One of the things that came out of this era, when the Megachurches were at their height of power and paranoia, is that “new age” became a slur against anything non-Christian.  If you wanted to discredit the church down the road, labeling them a “New Age Church” was an easy way to get people to come to your 4,000 seat revival.  Beyond that, everything from astrology and divination to Gnosticism and yes, even reincarnation is lumped into this category because it doesn’t jive with the “traditional” religions of the West.  It’s ironic, because entire religions (Buddhism being one of them) are called “New Age” even though Buddhism pre-dates Christianity by several centuries.  The confusion comes from instances where parts of Buddhism convenient to free market mavens have been co-opted for commercial purposes.

In all, the term “New Age” represents a dated and vague concept that has no utility in the 21st century except to describe the undesirable commercialization of transcendental and magickal beliefs and the marginalization of non-Christian ideas in 20th century America.  It’s a quaint archaism that doesn’t reflect the reality of the spiritual independence of the 21st century, a time when the free availability of sacred texts via the Internet has made the commodification of religion a less pronounced feature of the culture.

So That’s What’s The Matter With Me…

I’ve realized something. It came to light after I thought carefully about that map.

At the time I was in England, in the early 2000s, I visited at least five sites from my life as William and none from my life as John, though even if I hadn’t had past lives there I would have kicked myself for missing the gorgeous medieval town of Shrewsbury. The places I went in the West of England came close to him a few times, but it seems that John’s nature wasn’t as dominant as William’s nature at the time.

Then things went downhill. First, I ran out of money and had to come back from England after a failed bid to emigrate there ended with no job and just enough cash to get a mini cab to the airport. I had a brief period in 2007 where I did really well, then had to build back up again in income, but never got my prestige back. That was followed by some really traumatic events after moving to Oregon including almost losing my apartment several times.

It was John and that author who started coming through in me; William was my nature as a tabula rasa who never knew desperation because as nobility, he had plenty of money to gamble on his future and always knew the choices to make. I’m good with money in this life too, but John is my nature as one weakened by the harshness of a life of relative poverty. He also emerged in the scarred work of the author I was in the mid-20th century. Each of these lives is another facet of my true self and it’s starting to come into focus.

I still think my motive for enlisting when I was John was a misguided attempt to revive some scrap of William’s honor; I’m pretty sure I remembered his life while I was in Shrewsbury visiting a ruined abbey. I was bored with being a farm boy and I remember very little about that life except for childhood and the war.

Essentially, I’m one who handles successes with shrewdness, but handles failures poorly and is often let down by severe restlessness. As William, not only did I have plenty of money but plenty of things to do earning more money; I had my hands full, and when I have my hands full I do really well and begin building on my successes; it’s when I get bored that I make bad decisions and begin building on my failures until they mushroom out of control.

That is something no one has told me. They either praised my successes or berated me for my failures, but never helped me to see why I succeeded or failed without becoming judgmental and sanctimonious, or trying to pathologize everything and turn it into an illness I didn’t have, and completely missing the boat. I’m not lazy and I’m not stupid, and my problems can’t be solved with pills that make me listless and flat. I just have a weird personality that doesn’t really give me the best chances of success and I have to learn how to work with that. If someone had put it to me that way instead of treating me like a problem to be solved, maybe I’d have got it together sooner in life.

Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I had to find out the hard way. I just wish I had heard something other than either value judgments or pathologizing psychiatric jargon all my life or I might have made something of myself by now.

Maybe it’s not too late, but I’ve lost a lot of time. The crash has already happened; nearly losing everything made me feel a bit like the Cloth Hall at Ypres. I’m pushing 30 now. I’m going for broke with an MA in art history and my grades are excellent; I made 100 on my last two term papers having never studied the subject before. I’m trying to write and publish as many novels as I can in that time. But I find I’m still digging myself out of the pit blown in my life by the experiences of the last few years.

I know there’s a brave but shrewd person in there. I just wonder if they can be saved; I don’t know if I’ve ever salvaged myself like this before, in any life. I’m afraid because I struck out far from home to make a new life with my fiance on the west coast; if we can’t make that happen, we’d have to live in South Carolina where certain things about us would be frowned upon. I love the Northwest and I love the people here; I’ve never felt a stronger love for a land and its people except when I was in England. I don’t want to lose this land too; My defeats already drove me out of England for good in 2005.