Stunning Discovery

scan to about 28:50 in and take a look at that recruiting poster.

It is a vivid, colorful variant of the famous “Lord Kitchener” poster.  One detail I’ve remembered about the day I decided to re-enlist was the poster being in more than just black, white, and red like the usual version.  It had a full-color portrait.

The one in the documentary is closer to the commonly-seen one.  However, it does have an interesting detail: it specifically calls for ex-soldiers up to 45 years of age!  This tells me a little bit more about why I made the fateful decision that would bring an otherwise-unremarkable past life to an early and violent end.

Just on a whim though, I did another search for variants of this poster after I found this documentary.  I did not expect to find this full-color variant which is without a doubt the poster I saw that day in September 1914.

One of the things that always bothered me was that poster.  I had remembered it in full color but an initial search failed to turn up any such poster.  It was always the classic one that has been reproduced innumerable times.  This was one of the details that had always cast a shadow of doubt over the first memories to break in late 2012.

Every time I think I can’t confirm anything else, a new detail like this pops up.

Incidentally, I’ve been reflecting a great deal on exactly why I made the decision back then.  What I remembered was that Lord Kitchener reminded me of my father, and that I probably felt like I ought to do this.  A sense of what might be termed filial piety, I suppose, but in a uniquely British context.  I have little doubt that my father (who, according to what I’ve read in the official records, outlived me by about four years) wanted me to enlist and that it was out of a near-religious respect for him that I was initially moved.

On the other hand, I remember my “Gethsemane moment” too.  I remember wrestling with the idea and ultimately subscribing to the myth that I was destined to put everything on the line and either become a sacrifice or a gentleman by the end of it all.  This does not exclude the above but was probably an exacerbating factor.

Another factor I seem to remember was not having much of a civilian life to begin with.  I remember taking diction classes to learn to speak in a posh dialect and getting nowhere with it, though I had my eye on jobs waiting on the well-to-do as a means of learning the ins and outs of high society from an accessible spot.  It didn’t work out; after a while I began to miss the security and structure the army gave me.  Once again, this is not to the exclusion of either of the above but adds fuel to the fire.

There had to have been some reluctance, though.  War was declared in July, and I could have re-enlisted earlier in the summer.  Instead, I waited until the big recruitment drives at the end of the Summer.  I had a memory of being in love with a woman named Anne and although it can’t be confirmed, it is rather interesting that after the war, my brother Albert probably married a woman whose middle name was Anne, if the grave in Yeovil is indeed my Albert.  I don’t believe I was Albert myself because the poster was definitely in Hereford when I saw it.  I very likely left her without a sweetheart and that couldn’t have been an easy decision for me, since I remember us being head-over-heels for each other.

Nonetheless, I have a feeling that by the time I traveled to Nuneaton (which I have since learned, at the time, was a staging area for the Regular Army of which I was a part), I was completely sold.  I had fewer reasons to stay in Hereford than to march off to the front.

Fewer reasons, perhaps.  But I did have a choice and I still carry a burden for that.  I made the wrong choice, and now, 101 years after that life ended, I’m still dealing with the fallout from that, trying to make sense of where it all went wrong.

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.

101 Years Gone…

Today, I took communion on the 101st anniversary of the end of the life I once lived as John William “Jack” Harris.

The service wasn’t for him really; it was a practice mass to get me ready for this coming Sunday, when I’ll be serving at the altar for the first time in our church.

All the same, I was very grateful to have some way to spend that day other than ruminating.  And I’m happy to say that I’ve really begun to properly heal.

It’s strange really.  That was more than a century ago, but I carried that hurt deep within me in some inaccessible place for so long.  And now, a little less than four years after it all came back to me, I’m starting to finally recover.

My psyche is almost as “normal” and “well-adjusted” as it’s been in hundreds of years.  I’m not subject to wild ups and downs any more.  I still get anxious and depressed but I don’t get white-hot rage any more, and my derealized states, like I had in this life and my last one, have become less and less common.  I still get panic attacks every now and then, but I haven’t really had one since my job situation stabilized nor do I really expect to, unless I have a major trigger.

I’m finally getting on alright.  I suppose it’s never too late to heal a very old wound.

I still have one last act on this journey.  I still want to travel to Europe and see the places I saw during the war as they are today.  I want to put the cold hard fact that it was over a century ago and subjective experience of actually being there together at last.  I want to attend the Last Post at Ypres in particular.

When I do finally go back to Europe to put that business behind me, I might end this blog, or I might keep it.  I suspect I will remember other lives in time, or confirm other details, so it wouldn’t make sense to delete it or shut it down completely. It will be a turning point in the life of this blog, though, and it will be an ending of sorts.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to chronicle my journey into Gnostic priesthood here or if I’m going to start another blog.  I suppose I’ll give it some thought.  It is, after all, a continuation of the path I’ve been on.

The Building From My Dream

I knocked together a quick 3D rendering of what that building in my dream looked like, from my point of view:

gaol.png

The recessed areas between the timbers were the little bays where we were each assigned a bedding space.  The door is just visible, as are the windows.  There is also a stairway (only hinted at here) to the upper levels which I presume contained a similar sort of arrangements.  There were few walls and no bars, shackles, or restraints of any kind so if it was a jail, it was a very low-security affair.  The thought that this was a debtor’s prison seems very likely.  It might also have been tenements or even barracks (perhaps billets from my revolutionary war life, if I’m wrong about the date?).

There were a number of us in the place, it was dark so I couldn’t see much of the others but I think we were in pretty ragged shape.  The people next to me and the men entering the door in long button-up coats all wore styles suggestive of the late 17th or early 18th century.

This was so vivid in my dream  I was able to remember it well enough to make a model the next day.  I really feel strongly that this is a past life memory.

Hottest Lead In Years

On January 6, 2014 (the Feast of the Epiphany, of all days!) I made this post in which I mentioned one of my possible memories from Phil’s life:

I remember a large, short-furred dog (possibly a labrador) that either lived at or visited the house where I lived until 1972. This was not my dog but someone else’s. had previously asked the person I confirmed my earlier memories with, but she was unsure of this memory.

Last night, after sitting on it for a couple of months, I dug out my copy of “The Search For Philip K. Dick” by Anne Dick and started reading again.  I had previously put it away after reading up to the part where Phil’s marriage to Anne had disintegrated and he was living in Oakland with a worsening drug problem.

I read through his San Rafael years last night and I was astonished to discover that there was indeed a black lab that lived at the house in San Rafael!

Once again, this proves nothing.  A black lab is a very common breed… but it really got my attention and brings my earlier claims back to plausibility.

As an aside, there is no mention whatsoever of Kathy Demuelle in Anne’s book… I thought it was strange because she was one of Phil’s biggest crushes (I even remembered the car she drove, a little red Nova).  I even checked the index but she’s not there.  Very odd.

Memory Fragment

I remember a book from some time in the Middle Ages, I think it was my own book.

One particular page had the text coming down to a funnel shape, as if blooming out of a large red flower at the bottom of the page.  Up either side of the page were bean poles or tall straight saplings with green leaves over them.  The top of the page had a cloud from which a face representing the winds came.

I wish I could remember what this book was.  Such a stunning book!  If it ever even existed it’s probably long gone by now.

The Noose

I have a recurrent, nagging feeling that I died by hanging but I can’t for the life of me remember when.

I had initially thought my mid-19th century life had ended in a noose but I haven’t found a capital punishment case from 1870-1877 that sounds even remotely familiar to me when I read the case studies.

It could have been one of the lives before that one, but it also could have been one of the lives I lived in the 20th century. Maybe it happened more than once; it’s a common way to go.

Mostly, what I feel is how it felt to be left waiting to die. I knew that feeling in 1915 as well, like the heart has physically fallen into the stomach as if it had fallen through a trap door. It’s different from depression; depression is when you feel like you’re falling emotionally. This was feeling like I’ve already fallen and could go no lower, a sort of cold comfort and sense of finality that crushes unrealized dreams under its weight. To wait for your day to die over a period of time begins to warp the mind. I remember going numb, somehow willing myself to embrace this bleak feeling, even managing to smile, but in a coarse and soulless sort of way that was more for the benefit of those around me.

But that’s all I remember: nothing but feelings. It’s lurking there, somewhere deep. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been executed by hanging and I think I’ve got something really dark buried in my past.

A Brief Epilogue To A Strange Period In My Life

A few days ago, someone got back to me and said that they actually had a creamer made by Kathy Demuelle that was kind of similar to the description of the stoneware coffee mug I thought I remembered.

But once again, I am left somewhat frustrated; unless this creamer was part of a set, it probably has little to do with my memory which I was quite sure was of a coffee mug (I even mention coffee rings on a page of the Exegesis, which I’ve yet to find).

Once again, it’s an ambiguous result that is close enough to what I thought I’d remembered to make me scratch my head, but not enough to convince me that I was him.  And I suppose for some time to come I’ll be discovering things that seem almost like confirmations, but not quite.  I don’t anticipate ever finding something on the level of what I’ve got with John.

My Muse Is Alive

Far from drying up from the idea that I probably wasn’t a famous author in a previous life, my muse seems to be perfectly resilient to the idea.

Also, I find that just the very idea I was Phil actually proved a bit of a “magic feather” to get me to up my game as a writer; the fact that I’ve exceeded him in quality and more than doubled the speed at which I release new works has turned me into an up and coming writer with a lot to hope for.

On the down side, I feel that I’ve had nothing to shield me from the pain of realization that I can’t explain away John’s life so easily and that these horrible memories of the Western Front are very likely real.  Of late, I find that I’ve been able to dust off some WWI-related projects of mine that I simply hadn’t felt like finishing before, because I need some way to deal constructively with these feelings or they’ll destroy me.

One of these books is a sequel to the first fantasy novel I wrote, that includes a subplot about WWI.  I finished the draft in early 2014 but my publisher didn’t like it, I didn’t like it either after they pointed out that all my doubts about it had been well-founded, and I’ve since done some very major edits to try to salvage the story.

The other book is a re-boot of an old project of mine dating back to 2010.  The original was a well-written but kind of boring realistic fiction about a neurotic 20-year-old with serious questions about their sexuality and gender identity and a slightly odd way of looking at the world.  It’s highly biographical, though I fictionalized a lot of details and added a subplot with the protagonist becoming an innocent suspect in a murder investigation to make it into a more coherent story.  it had previously existed in two versions, one written as a NaNoWriMo project and one written for a publisher who later bailed on me when the subject of money came up.

I’m re-working it somewhat to not only make it a little truer to what actually happened to me in 2005 in London, but to tie in with a slightly fictionalized version of my memories from the war.  Already I’m finding that little things from the story I already had begin to stand out in sharp relief when juxtaposed with my prior life as a doomed Tommy.  Things that made little sense- like the impossible restlessness of the protagonist- suddenly make perfect sense.  All these little details I culled from real events create an organic whole as the story begins to take on a more solid structure and fleshes itself out.

The emotions I’ve been facing during these projects are raw, but they’re real and they’re such a relief to bring to the surface after months of burying them in distractions.  Now, it’s time to “open a vein and bleed,” as the old writing cliche goes.

I Might Know Soon

I might know soon how Pte. John Harris died.

The KSLI Battlefield Tours facebook group has become an invaluable resource for me, and they have been reporting troop movements and casualties on the 100 year anniversary of each date.  Sometimes they have information about the action that killed soldiers; sometimes they do not.

I really hope with all my heart that they do have some information, because if I can confirm my memories of how he died, then I’ll have settled once and for all that I was him as far as I’m concerned.  If not, it isn’t an immediate disproof but it does raise some questions.

For the record: My memory has me sitting on an earth embankment or breastworks, watching either star flares or some type of incendiary shell move down the line slowly toward me.  There were men near me, down in a trench or shell hole.  They looked frightened.  One of those star flares or shells shined brightly above me, lighting the faces of the men in the trenches like daylight.  A very brief moment later, I felt a downward rush of air push me to the ground.  I saw dirt and heard dirt and gravel raining down, then darkness. No pain and no time to process what had actually happened to me.

I have tried to interpret this, and I’ve come to the following possibilities:

1. I was killed by a small artillery shell during a night bombardment.  I have found evidence of this in the letter from a KSLI soldier at L’Epinette in June of 1915 who described intermittent use of “Jack Johnsons” (a small but powerful shell named for a heavyweight champion boxer of the time).  However, this begs the question: why didn’t anyone else die that night?  The only other record I have from that sector on 8 July 1915 is of an Irish soldier buried at Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension, the cemetery that served the dressing station at the old brewery along the Lys and across from the Town Hall, so he could have been wounded a day or two prior and died of his wounds.  The lack of casualties seems a bit odd for a direct hit to the breastworks with that many soldiers standing there watching.

2. I was killed by a bomb or grenade during a trench raid/ wiring party.  This one has some merit.  It might explain why I was the only one who died and it might explain why I was out of the trench sitting on an embankment or breastworks.  It’s possible that when the star flares went up, I froze hoping they wouldn’t see me.  In a variant of this, I have had intuitions that I had sacrificed myself to save them but I’m not sure I trust this intuition.

3. I was killed by an explosion outside the trench like I remember, but it was something I hadn’t considered that got me.  I had only vague images to interpret what happened that night in 1915; I don’t have a clear recollection.  It could be that these things I saw happening did happen, but they happened for some other reason I hadn’t considered before.

4. This incident was at Ypres and I survived; I was killed later by sniper fire.  This one also has merit.  Official records and my memories both concur that sniping was taking about five men a week.  I remember arriving in the trenches at Houplines in the Summer of 1915 to see a Mauser’s latest prey laid out on a stretcher being carried away and men who gave us grave, funeral-parlor smiles as we took our positions.  However, I have no memory of being shot, aside from a non-fatal wound that took a chunk out of the helix of my left ear (a wound corresponding with a slight deformity I have).

This last one is problematic because if it turns out I was the victim of sniper fire, it’s unfalsifiable by its very nature.  It is a strike against my intuition that the memory of that night is the memory of my death though, which makes my case somewhat harder to pin down.

It may well be that the blog entry’s excerpt from the battalion’s war diary states nothing more than “one man dead” along with the standard blurb from “Soldiers Died in the Great War” that I’ve encountered so often.  That entry proved that John was killed in action, and the position of his grave confirmed that he was a front-line casualty, but that’s nothing I didn’t already know and the mystery would remain for now.