Ralph Vaughan Williams

I think I’ve warmed up to Ralph Vaughan Williams lately.

As 20th century English composers go, he has his own niche.  He has the sentimentality of Elgar, but without the aristocratic bluster.  He also has some of the folk sensibility of Holst, but less elemental and mercurial.   It gives his music a gentle autochthony, like something that blossomed in an English meadow one spring morning.

It plays at something very deep within me.  In particular “The Lark Ascending” fills me with such a bittersweet homesickness that I can’t help but give it my full, undivided attention.  A friend of mine, a classsically-trained organist living in Boston, recently recorded a version of this piece.  She knows about my past life in England and understood what a piece of fundamentally English music written on the eve of WWI, during that long summer of 1914, meant to me.

Here’s a YouTube playlist of Vaughan Willliams’ work:

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.

Thinking About It…

Admittedly, I’ve agonized for a very long time about possibly going back to the UK.

And can you blame me?  The last few times I’ve left and been unable to go back it wasn’t exactly on my terms.  The thought of getting my MA at a prestigious university like Cambridge or Oxford (which I’ve visited) really made me excited.  I’ve also had a lot of trepidation about the next 10 years in my country and whether or not it will descend into total chaos.

But it seems that getting involved with this church, with an eye toward possibly getting ordained, might have answered the question for me.  It may sound dishonest for me to say that “God answered my question” because getting involved was my choice.  As a Gnostic, however, I believe that the instinct that guides us toward constructive decisions in our lives is basically our higher selves (i.e. the Indwelling Light of the Divine) taking the controls.  So in a way, if my heart takes me to explore priesthood in a Gnostic church then I suppose I did have help from a higher source.  And if that decision ends up bearing real fruit in my life, then who am I to question?

I still want to go back to England, at least to visit.  But right now I feel that a higher calling is keeping me in Portland for the time being and I no longer have any plans to relocate to the UK in the next 2 years.

For what it’s worth, Portland is a really awesome place to live right now.  This place seems to be a magnet for old souls!  I’ve often been surprised to discover just how many people here remember past lives and will talk about it openly if you get them on the subject.  You look at the people on the street and about half the people are gorgeous anachronisms of fashions from across the 20th century.  As a result, it’s become a metamodern, cosmopolitan cultural capital.  It’s like Paris during the Belle Epoque in a lot of ways.

We’ll see what happens.  Maybe I’ll decide this isn’t for me.  Maybe my romantic attachments to a past life home will draw me back against my better judgment.  I think I’m better off giving it a try though.

So Much It Hurts…

I think I must have invested a lot in a life as Phil in no small part because it gave me some respite from feelings that I’ve never really resolved.

The fact is, I miss England so much it hurts.  I can ignore it for a while; when I thought I was Phil I ignored it for a very long time.  But with sincere doubts that I was him now taking hold, I am left with that same painful longing to go back.

It really hit full force last night, when I stumbled on an episode of the BBC show “Escape to the Country.”  They had an episodes in Shropshire and Somerset and by the end, I was in tears seeing these beautiful cottages and thinking of how it could have been if I’d stayed at home until I was too old to serve.  I’m sure there was a need for leather workers, hop pickers, and farm hands and I probably could have made enough money doing civilian work to buy a cottage somewhere in the West Country.

I’ve waited more than ten years to get back to England after living there for a year and a half in my current life, always feeling a strange sense of deja vu that I never fully understood until years later; Now that I know why I wanted so bad to stay there, I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever have another chance to go back even to visit.

As for living there, it’s almost impossible now, as expensive as it is and as difficult as it is for a US citizen to get a leave-to-enter permit in the UK (you pretty much have to either get an employer willing to sponsor you, or you have to marry a British citizen and neither is really an option for me).

I’m seriously thinking of applying to Oxford and Cambridge, but I’m still torn about how I’d negotiate the move, how I’d bring my fiance with me, and how I’d pay for it all.

I didn’t need this.  I should have kept telling myself I was the reincarnation of Philip K. Dick, that I was continuing my past life’s work, and that I belonged on the West Coast, even when I knew I couldn’t back that up.  Without that, I’m just a homesick Brit.

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.

One Unsettled Question

One question that remains unsettled about my possible identification as Philip K. Dick in my most recent past life is a simple but fundamental one: Where was Dick’s Englishness?

I’m as English as Blackpool Rock, marked “Made in England” through and through.  I get asked all the time if I’m British because I have an RP cadence to my inflection.  Those who have read my books are even more surprised when they see me at conventions in America as I write with a distinctly British voice that Phil didn’t have.  While I was living in the UK, I experimented briefly with dropping my American accent around the locals and I was able to fit in perfectly; I had planned, for a while, to lose my American accent entirely and settle in England before a lack of money and a chance for love brought me back to the States.  Truth be told, I’ve been a devoted Anglophile since childhood; I seem to have a much stronger emotional impression of England as a “home,” and my memories of my last life in England are actually clearer and more complete than my memories of Phil’s life.

Phil, on the other hand, seems to have been a much stronger Francophile than an Anglophile.  Granted, I am in the odd position of being quite fond of France myself, and in my English lives I often spent significant amounts of time in France, but his admiration of the French seemed more of a literary obsession than one driven  by past lives.

I have several theories on why I have this essential and anomalous Englishness after having had an earlier past life in the US.

The first and most obvious theory is that I’m wrong about having been Phil.  In fact, my initial impression was that I had lived multiple lives in England in the 20th century with one life as an adult in the 1960s, though no specific memories came up.  Phil’s memories were a bit of a wild card that I hadn’t been expecting, since I first turned to his works and bio as a pattern for what to do with my own experiences.

The second theory is a simple matter of activation.  Perhaps Phil never had an experience that activated that Englishness in him.  The problem is, I find it difficult to nail down any such experience in my current life, since I was an anglophile from a very young age but never actually visited the UK until 2001.  It is possible that one of the numerous films and TV shows set or produced in the UK I watched as a child may have been the trigger, but which one?  There were so many!  What I do know is that by 2005 after living in the UK for a year and a half (with a hiatus of a few months in 2004), clear and present past life memories were lurking just below the surface, influencing my decisions and tearing at my heart strings in profound ways.  However, the exact point it rose to that level is still a mystery to me.

The third theory is perhaps the most unusual and the most problematic: that this progression is evidence of non-linear time.  If I were to go by how clearly I remember things, I would rate John’s life as the most recent, followed by Phil’s, followed by Count William, followed by all the others.  But does that mean that they were out of sequence or, indeed, that these are really past lives per se?  Could some or all of them be future lives?  And if I’m Philip K. Dick’s past life, strange as it might sound, is his destiny fixed or can I choose to live his life differently if I find myself born as him?

I’m rather partial to the second theory right now.  The first theory has some problems in that it doesn’t fully account for confirmed memories and an astonishing number of preferences, beliefs, and character traits that have carried over from Phil, and the third theory is harder to falsify than the first two because I can’t know if I’m destined to be reborn in Chicago in 1928 until I actually arrive there.

I suppose this Englishness is a good thing in that it has distinguished my current life’s writing from Phil’s.  For me to sincerely “copy” his style I have to drop all of the literary idiosyncrasies of a British author and it comes off forced and contrived, so I don’t do it.  I let it roll and embrace it as a part of my unique style.  Still, it does seem strange and I wish I understood it better, since it seems to be one of the most prominent features of my being.

By Way of an Answer…

As if by way of an answer to my previous post, a major attachment that refuses to die with my previous lives just wafted to the surface.

I went downtown yesterday evening to get a prescription filled.  I normally go to a pharmacy in downtown Portland to get my hormone pills because it’s on the way home from campus.  They had the tree lit, stands selling roasted nuts, and on every corner someone singing a different Christmas carol.  Something about it really struck at me harder than usual (last year I don’t think I got this depressed) but I didn’t know why.

Then this evening, I was watching a video by a British Youtube user who mentioned Christmas crackers, and it hit me just what was behind my generalized melancholy this holiday season: I’m homesick.

It’s been a hundred years since I’ve had a Christmas in England.  My last one would have been 1914, only a short while before shipping off to France.  I’ve been back to England since but I was never there for Christmas, though one year at my university they did serve us a Christmas dinner (it just wasn’t the same though, being surrounded by strangers and eating a very institutionalized version of the traditional classics).

Some of my strongest attachments are turning a century old now.  Why can’t I just let go?  I thought I was done crying for that life.

Maybe I won’t be done for a while yet.  That’s why I can’t transcend: I still want something I lost nearly a century ago even though I go through life trying not to think about it and I’m not always aware that it’s bothering me.

I thought I was doing well at not letting the war get to me until tonight.