What Do I Want?

Every now and then I ask myself, what do I want with all this?

Why do I pursue it?  Why do I research these memories that come to me, effervescing into my conscious mind like the answer sphere from a Magic 8 Ball?

I guess my biggest motive- my biggest problem- is that I can’t let things go.  I can’t have a tantalizing hint, like a flash of memory from something that happened over a hundred years ago, and not try to track down the details of what I saw.  The images of battlefields, graves, and terraces of homes somewhere in England were burned into my mind and I became so obsessed with it that I had to find out if there was anything to it.

But what if I’d had the normal capacity for writing these sorts of things off as just a flight of fancy?  Wouldn’t I be happier than I am today if I hadn’t discovered the prospect that reincarnation could be a thing?

And once I’d found John, what if I hadn’t tried to integrate my experience instead of compartmentalizing it, setting it off to the side like everything else?  What if I’d never looked at Philip K. Dick and thought, “there’s a guy who knew how to make the most of a weird situation,” only to get triggered and start remembering things that weren’t in the documentaries and articles?  I’d be saved a thousand disturbing questions not only about myself and my own state, but about the broader universe and the nature of reality.

At times I wonder if my work from the end of 2012 to the current time, as I begin writing my sixth novel, will be regarded as anything but the sad signs of a mind on the verge of insanity.  The few people who have read my upcoming work say it’s my best ever, but what if this is just the last shower of sparks before I explode, or fizzle into the night sky?

Or maybe this whole thing has been a sick game that I played with myself until my imagination ran away with me.  I suppose a writer who’d had a breakthrough in understanding pathos might very well be carried away by the fates of such people as John.  But is that really all?  And can that explain, with any satisfactory clarity, why Philip K. Dick had recollections of the Western Front as well, a fact so obscure that no biography even mentions it and that he only touched on briefly in personal correspondence?

But what do I want with chasing this any further?  What could I possibly gain?  Phil never found the answer.  He wrote 8,000 pages of lengthy diatribe to try to understand what happened to him, what makes me any different?

Or am I simply taking this on as a Grail Quest?  I think the trouble with that is that, as I’ve discovered, answers do turn up even when you’re expecting perpetual mystery, and quite often it’s a very disturbing answer.  So supposing, for once, the Perfect Fool rides off in search of the Grail only to find it?  Will I die of ecstasy and ascend to an enlightened form, or will I simply go on living wondering what the fuck I got myself into by figuring this out?

But maybe I am less like Perceval and Galahad, and more like Don Quixote who, fed a steady diet of popular novels, became addicted to them and began acting out his life as a character in them.  I did spend much of my early childhood in Torrejon de Ardoz, which is very near La Mancha, after all.

But then, what kind of Quixotic personality counters its drive to prove oneself right with an equal and opposite drive to prove oneself wrong?  After all, part of what I’ve been doing in my research is looking for something to disprove me.  I certainly want to discover some fact that comfortably dissuades me of the notion that I was ever Phil (or indeed, anyone but a freaked out hipster with a weird inner life).

So what do I want by this?  I guess ultimately, I want to be absolved of the burden of recurring lives by discovering for myself that the idea is preposterous from every reasonable angle or, barring that, to know what I can expect in lives to come and how much control I really have over where I’ll go next.  I would give anything to find out that either dead is dead, or that a simple choice of Heaven or Hell lies before me because those options limit your moral responsibility to the moment of death, no further.  In lieu of that, I just want to know how- or if- I can make the most of the irritating problem of reincarnation.


Based on comments on the 1881 census that I was previously unaware of, and a query to a local Yeovil historian, I have almost certainly confirmed that John Harris lived at the end of Sherborne Road near Yeovil Pen Mill station.

I was probably him.  Nearly every significant place I remembered has matched real locations and this only drives it home for me.

I had been wrong about living on the north side.  The historian I spoke to said that based on the way the districts were drawn and the comments on the census, it was probably the house next to the B&B (in fact, located right next door to it).  However, that does not preclude my memories of having seen the train from there; in fact I either could have seen it from John’s window in the other house, or I could have been visiting a friend across the street.

This confirms that I knew the neighborhood and that it matches my memories, a confirmation I have been waiting almost two years for.

I was probably him…  holy shit.  I was probably him.

A New Twist

Some months ago, some of you may recall that I had read over an 1881 Census page listing John and his family residing on Sherbourne Road, with a number “10” next to William Harris’ name which told me that John’s address had possibly been 10 Sherbourne Road.

A subsequent look on Google Streetview gave me the impression that the Aldi or the garage across the street from it was built across several lots including Number 10.  However, there just happens to be a dental clinic in Yeovil that lists its address as #10 Sherbourne Road, and it’s a building from the 1840s that is still standing, right next to the Aldi!

But then there’s another twist: Osborne House was a large Regency mansion owned by a brewery owner in 1871 and by 1916 it was still described as being a single family home.  The only way John could have lived there is if his mother was a servant on the property, since his father was fully-employed at the glove factory (now a sustainable living apartment complex).

However, on the census record there is no such mention of his wife having any profession.  If she had been a servant, it should have been noted there.

This means that it is unlikely that the number 10 on the census form from 1881 is the Harris family’s actual residence, or if it is, then the numbering system may have changed.  A glover, his stay-at-home wife, and a boarder renting one of the rooms could not have afforded a posh single-family home like Osborne House.  And although I gasped when I saw the place, it was more like seeing a familiar building from the neighborhood than seeing a place I grew up in, so my gut is just as against it as the facts.

This means that my initial impression, that we had lived further down Sherbourne Road at a terraced house near Yeovil Pen Mill, may be correct after all since that’s more along the lines of what William, Jane, and their boarder Mr. Thomas could have afforded together, and it fits nicely with my earliest memory, that we weren’t rich but we were living comfortably for a working class family.

I need to track down John’s actual address and confirm this once and for all, but the chase is on yet again, and what seemed like a cold lead just got hot again!

Present Life Memory/ Gender Rant

I just had a memory from my present life that was really difficult to deal with.

I remembered how I felt as a very young child, and I distinctly remember having no sense of gender whatsoever, and I was happy that way.  I certainly didn’t feel male.  I called myself a boy because that’s what I was told, but I had no sense of what it meant to be a boy at 4 or 5.  I tried hard to fit in with the other boys, but I just wasn’t into the same things they were.  In fact, their aggressiveness scared me and most often, I was the one being beat up for not being enough of a boy.

Even now, I guess I’m on the feminine side of androgynous really.  I wear exclusively women’s clothes, but combined in a rather androgynous way; I let my voice, my slowly-developing breasts and the care I put into keeping my hair in good order bump me over the line into female.  I don’t have a strong sense of gender either way; I identify female probably because that’s where I’ve got the most room for my kind of expression; it’s close enough to home that I’m happy as a woman.  I am kind of dysphoric about my male anatomy, but for the most part I’m only just on the female end of the gender continuum.

I kind of miss just being me, though, not having to choose a category.  I often wish I’d lived in a time or place where I could have been seen as a shaman or a seer, as someone who is both male and female and seeks spiritual fulfillment and enrichment through reflection and interpretation of dreams and visions.  It could have been great.

But all of that was set in motion so long ago; our notions of gender binaries might have been reinforced by modernity, but they’re distinctly Greco-Roman and deeply ingrained in Western identity.  As a man in medieval England, we already had a strong sense of binary gender and non-conformity was treated as a threat.  But in that life, I had a male body and a male brain so I guess it didn’t occur to me what it might feel like if the software didn’t match the hardware.

Same with John, and with Phil.  I can’t recall ever having to deal with this before.  I remember being pretty happy as a farm boy in Somerset.  As Phil, in what little flickers I can recall of his childhood (brief glimpses from between about ’33 and ’39), I was socially awkward but never doubted that I was completely male.

I have to say that finally confronting all these complex feelings about gender as an adult is one of the most daunting things I’ve done, in any of the lives I can remember.  I’d say this is better than the Western Front, but statistically speaking only slightly less dangerous and it’s nowhere near as good as a straight, cisgender man’s life in the mid-20th century.

But there’s a silver lining here: Phil was an early ally of the LGBT community.  He didn’t just have gay friends, he was very close with Bishop James Pike, an early proponent of religious tolerance of the LGBT community.  He was sincere in his “live and let live” beliefs and nobody has a credible case that he wasn’t.

That means if I was him, in some small way, I helped create a world where someone like me had a fighting chance.  That’s a really wonderful feeling.  It means that even if I can’t save the world, I can do something small on the side of compassion to make my next life easier.  I guess you could call it karma, or merely a selfless investment in the future.  Maybe one day I’ll really admire what I fought for in this life too.

The Hero’s Journey

I’ve just realized something: I’m too slavish to the “Hero’s Journey” formula.

That isn’t the case with my writing in this life (nor, really, in the previous one).

My first (written) novel had many of the elements, but its protagonist was hapless and ultimately fails in his objectives, and in the sequel he is reduced to a supporting character, while the apparent protagonist has his hero’s journey interrupted by the revelation that the journey isn’t what it seems by another protagonist with even more control over the situation.  The antagonist isn’t even defeated until the Denouement (with only the false antagonist meeting a dramatic end at the story’s climax).  Then when everything seems resolved, something else weird happens.

In my second book (first one I published), the characters sort of have events happen to them.  They’re ordinary characters running from a brutal dictator (then later, the fragments of his imploded regime) and pretty much relying on unusual amounts of dumb luck, good timing, and instinct to stay alive.  The protagonist and the antagonist never meet; their only contact is through functionaries and is very hands-off.  The sequel employs somewhat more of a hero’s journey but even that is somewhat stood on its end by a rather jarring change of pace toward the end.

So, as one who has changed up and at times even ignored the tropes of the Hero’s Journey while still writing compelling action stories, I should be capable of living my life the same way, right?

Except I find that often, I try to live that Hero’s Journey by hoping that one day, my “specialness” will overcome something tremendous and I will save the world just by showing up.  And when I look at not only this life but the lives I’ve led before, nearly everything I’ve ever done was part of some bid to be a hero.

For Longespee, it was training myself to be the best warrior and statesman I could be so that I could defeat any adversary; I ended up being a henchman to a real villain for a good portion of my life in spite of myself.

For John, it was running into the line of fire as soon as the call to adventure sounded; I never got past the Second Threshold.

And for Phil, if I was indeed him, I tried to save many a damsel in distress, never once thinking about the hole I was digging for myself by taking on others’ problems while ignoring my own; that hole was about six feet deep.

That’s to say nothing of the numerous other lives I lived, the ones remembered in fragments that tell of someone always on the move, dynamic, making full use of Second Chances but ultimately, not someone who changed the world all that much.  It seems in just about every one of them I was intensely purposeful, but my impact on the world fell far short of what I had intended.

So what am I doing now?  Longing to be the Chosen One who can save the world because I have insight that others don’t.  I’m still at it, aren’t I?  More than eight hundred years of this and I haven’t learned a single damned thing about actually living!

I am an idiot and always have been.

(Also, if any members of the US intelligence community are concerned about the possible jihadist website I found by accident while failing to find a cute graphic to link to for the phrase “chosen one,” I’m not a terrorist.  Please don’t drone me!)

Memory Fragment

I think I just had a memory from John’s life, from his childhood, of seeing the girls in the village around a maypole.  They had garlands on their heads and the colors of the ribbons they had around the pole were much brighter than I had expected of the era: bold, almost neon pinks, a vivid chartreuse and a sky blue that is about the only color I could imagine existing back then.  These were about the hues one would expect on ribbons from a modern-day easter basket.

This could be some interesting research.  I’m not sure where to find information on what colors were available to consumers in the 1880s.  I imagine to get a chartreuse that vivid back then, you’d probably have needed some kind of noxious chemicals like copper sulfate or arsenic (which may be why these colors didn’t appear in clothes). 

Then again, this isn’t the first time colors have come through with vibrant intensity.  When I recalled John’s funeral, I also recalled that the chaplain (who had on his robes for the service) had a robe trimmed in a very bright purple that looked like a recent chemical dye, not dye from the 1910s.  If I can find supporting evidence for colors like these existing before 1890, I’ll be excited because that will be the first confirmation of anything from John’s life in a long time.

An Uncomfortable Thought

I have to say, I feel a lot better since making my last post.  Even if I didn’t say who I think I might have been, I sort of put my message in a bottle so to speak and got it off my chest.

Now I can talk about some issues that I have considered, which only make sense in light of my previous life and lead me to some disturbing questions about the nature of time.

Compare William Longespee’s life with John Harris’ life.  They are similar in weird ways.  Similar, but not the same.  Karmic opposites, almost, and occurring at very analogous times in history.

Longespee lived at a time when the Middle Ages had reached their peak, when Wales had been tamed, the Barons’ Revolt had been settled, and England was a solid territory.  There was a great flourishing of literature, knowledge, and mechanical genius in his era too.  He fought in Flanders and was captured in Bouvines, France.  Then after his death, about 125 years later, it all came tumbling down with a disaster.

John lived at a time when the Modern era had reached its peak, when the British Empire had reached its zenith, and rational positivism seemed to be the pinnacle of thought and achievement.  He fought in Flanders and was killed in Houplines, France, only a short drive from Bouvines.  But his death came at a time when the Modern era showed its dark side: the cold, logical application of science and technology to warfare, and the Modern Era is on its way out.

Now consider my previous life and my current one.  Once again a writer, once again living under an increasingly intrusive military-industrial police state where the imaginations of the paranoid are matched or exceeded by the machinations of the powerful.  Once again, reckoning with a feeling of being surrounded by the past, perhaps even immersed in it.  Once again writing, struggling, barely making ends meet out on the West Coast.  Damn me… I might be tempted to think, if I were less resistant to such ideas, that this was not a past life but that my current life is an illusion.

I often wonder if this idea of past lives isn’t just a silly pretext to validate our ideas of linear time.  On the other hand, if it is just a pretext, then this is really 1974 and 1974 was really the First Century…  and I really don’t want to think about that because it makes my head hurt.

Except there’s the sailor, Clyde or Clive or whatever my name was in that life.  That one seems to support the more linear notion of past lives, as does the unassuming vixen who lived in the hills above Takasaki, Japan.  And if these lives are more than just phantoms, they don’t fit with the seeming tendency of lives to cluster or pair into similarities.  At least, not yet.  Maybe I’ll discover lives that harmonize with those in weird ways too.

Perhaps the similarities between lives have more to do with my tendencies, my karmic baggage if you will.  That’s something described frequently among those who have looked into reincarnation.  The Buddhist explanation, so far as I can tell, is that our sense of self is precisely the sum total of those tendencies and attachments which kind of makes sense; it might explain why John unconsciously wanted to fight in Flanders like Longespee, and I spent a year and a half roaming England looking for John’s home.  You could easily argue we were actively looking to repeat our past lives, but unaware of our motives.

In all, the life I may have lived previously has some disturbing implications.  Granted, my memories are of a very ordinary life as a very anxious man. I have no memory of the unusual experiences I reported back then, but the thoughts I wrote down about those experiences come wafting back at me, nagging at me, daring me to ask if my current presumptions are correct.

By the way, check this out.  The building I take some of my art history classes in was built in 1915 (the year John died), and cut into the stonework is this motif.  If you’ve figured out who I might have been in my previous life, you just might shit yourself:


Probably a coincidence.  Probably…