Out And About

As the punishing heat of the El Nino summer dissipates into a mild early autumn, I’ve been trying to make good on my promise to myself to get out more.

Today I rode a bus down Barbur Blvd. in Portland down to a world food market near the Barbur Transit Center.  I’m going to have to go back because they had a lot of the necessary exotic ingredients I might need to recreate some of the recipes in the Forme of Cury (a 14th Century cookbook full of delicious recipes).

I met a Londoner there… how I love meeting Britons anywhere in the world!  There’s always an instant rapport when we get talking about the comforts of home.  He gave me some good tips on places to check out including a chippy up North Portland and a British food store and tea room down in Lake Oswego called Lady Di’s.

So, grinning ear to ear, I hopped on the bus and went the opposite way, back through City Center and down Sandy.

The stretch of Sandy Blvd. I was on is a rather unusual place.  There’s a lot of mid-century architecture; it must have been heavily developed from about 1930 to 1970.  There are novelty buildings shaped like jugs of rum and persian Palaces (and there used to be a now-infamous chicken place which is now an unassuming rib joint), there are art deco theaters and offices, and there’s a jet age Pepsi bottling plant.

Among (and sometimes inside) these relics of the mid-century, sprouting almost cthonically like the wilted flowers of yesteryear bearing fruits of chintz, are numerous vintage shops selling pretty much every item of everyday life from the last 100 years or so.  They cater not only to collectors, but to hipsters who appropriate items for re-use as decor and to old souls who actually use these items the way they were intended (and there are many in this city).

I was looking for things that jog memories, as I often do, or things that might have some sentimental value related to past lives.  I was also looking for a suitable Edwardian tin to become the basis for a sort of portable shrine to John I’ve been wanting to put together for a while now.

As “Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny played on the PA, a friendly clerk in a pretty black Chinese dress asked if there was anything she could help me find.

Thinking quick, I gave her a perfectly plausible story about a thrice-great uncle who had died in the war and an unwise great aunt who had thrown out his belongings, which is utter bullshit.  I then told her that I wanted to create a simulacrum of the sort of thing he might have kept in his dresser had he survived the war as a sort of shrine in his memory, which is entirely true.

She replied that she did get Edwardian tins in every now and then and I left my contact info just in case.

I wandered a bit more, going into a couple more stores, mostly lost in my own thoughts as I picked through the detritus of eras I vaguely remember, lost in the inscrutable mess of past life memories and present life ruminations.

I wonder sometimes if the bits and pieces of John Harris’ life weren’t sold off in shops like this.  Photographs without context bundled into bins and sold piecemeal, letters from the front, his old phonograph un-played since the summer of 1914, memorial placards distributed among his friends and family back home, all of them behind glass and priced to sell.  It’s a desolate thought, but these are exactly the sort of items from other people’s lives I kept seeing.

All the while I kept feeling the strangest yearning to be a straw hat-wearing dandy.  I pictured myself in those days as a handsome man with a straight back and a trim figure, enjoying all the things a young Victorian or Edwardian dandy might enjoy, and I cringed to think of myself, bloated and craven and hovering between male and female.  For a while I thought “what the hell happened to me?” and questioned if I should have transitioned at all.

But then I realized that these weren’t my aspirations at all, they were John’s.  In every one of them I was dreaming of a time that doesn’t exist any more.  And when I thought of forswearing my gender-bending ways and becoming an anachronistic dandy in the 21st century, it began to feel silly and wrong; that just isn’t me at all.

At times I feel that fragments of my earlier selves compete with who I am now, and have to be reminded that the past is gone.  Maybe vintage shops aren’t the best place for someone like me after all.

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.

Mt. Hood

Ever since I moved to the suburbs west of Portland in the summer of 2011, there has always been one sight that stood out for me the most.  On a clear day, you can see Mt. Hood from very near where I live.

That mountain, for some reason, always felt almost like a guardian angel.  When I was working a very unrewarding job walking 6 miles a day and putting in about 45 hours a week (all told, about 10 hours of activity a day with few breaks), that mountain was there when the weather was clear to remind me that I had come here to be near beautiful sights like that.  And strangely, the smoke from wild fires at the mountain’s base wafted my way late one hazy afternoon in the summer of 2011. I suddenly had a strange sense of Deja Vu that I long suspected was the start of my awareness of past lives.  It was as if the smell of burning wood on an evening when the air was just so that called to mind my childhood, then a string of vaguely sensed past lives.  Perhaps once, many long ages ago, I may have lived in the mountain’s shadow but sadly, I don’t remember.

The other day, it was the sight of Mt. Hood that pulled me out of some of the darkest depression I’ve experienced in many years.  I saw it there, peeking over a shopping center, jutting into the clear blue sky, and I remembered why I came here, and why suicide would only bring regret.  I realized that if I killed myself, I might remember that mountain one day and spend the rest of my next life trying to find it, the way I wandered the English countryside like a restless ghost in the early 2000s looking for a village I didn’t know was even there.  Then I thought of all the good things I still had- my fiance, my cat, the few friends I’ve made and the favorite spots I’ve already found here and there- and realized that I really am lucky to be here.  Even if I’m very hurt about how my mother has reacted to my gender transition, I can’t forget how lucky I am just to be here, living a hard but not unhappy life as a writer with the first signs of an actual career to look forward to (four novels published or due for publication before age 30).  Seeing Mt. Hood really brought me back to reality and gave me my second wind.

That mountain is so much more than a mountain to me; it’s a sign post, it’s a promise that I finally made it to the West Coast and that no one can take that from me while there’s breath in my lungs.  It’s so large and so far away, but so near, knowable, and familiar.  I know every contour of its Western face now, and how it turns gorgeous shades of orange. pink, and red in the evening sun, or purple in the morning, or shades of white, black, and blue the rest of the day.

Most days, the overcast sky hides the mountain from view but every time the clouds roll away, I am happy to see its snow-capped peak again.

Pics from the Coast Trip

I finally got around to uploading these!

First I have pics of the WWI-era French postcard I found.  This thing is a museum piece!

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Next I have a couple pics of the coast itself.  I spent most of the time ruminating, driving, or talking with my fiance so there are only two pics of any note:

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The Pacific coast is…

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…Beautiful.

My First Experience with “Past Life Travel”

I did something yesterday I had never done, but had been planning to do for a very long time: I rented a car and drove to the Pacific coast with the sole purpose of jogging past-life memories and possibly getting a feel for being “on the ground” with the knowledge that the deja vu I had felt the first time I was there was from a real place.

I was not prepared for the reminders of other past lives besides my most recent one; I was reminded more at times of my life as a Tommy than my life in California in the 60s.

My fiance and I took the long way out of the Portland area, through the suburbs on the west side of the hills and before long found ourselves in an idyllic area of rolling hills and hop farms along a stretch called Cornelius Pass Road.  It looked an awful lot like the hop farms outside the city of Hereford, and it’s strange to think I live so close to hop country in this life too.

We took Highway 30 across the beautiful forested slopes of the Coastal Range to Astoria, where we stopped for a short time.  The first place there we visited was an antique store.  There, I noticed a large number of post cards and photos from the Victorian and Edwardian eras very close to a framed photo of a man who appeared to be in a WWI-era US Navy officer’s uniform, so I gave it a look.  Sure enough, there was a WWI-era post card of French army life.  I got it for $2- practically stole it really.  It’s an elaborate fold-out piece in beautiful color with many pieces that looks absolutely excellent for its age; it would have gone for ten times as much on eBay.  It got me wondering just how much cheap WWI ephemera I’ve been missing while looking for other items like cap badges and war diaries.

Also in Astoria is the Doughboy monument, which I did not know about until I saw it mentioned on a tourist map at a sub shop where we had lunch.

Further on, as we hit Highway 101, we changed to the playlist of songs from my previous life.  The mood became more thoughtful as an intense feeling of familiarity came over me and even though I had never driven that road myself in this lifetime, something felt right about it.

We drove all the way down to Lincoln City before I decided to go ahead and look for beach access, but Lincoln City’s beaches have very little parking unless you’re a casino customer.  We decided to back-track somewhat until we found a nice area for beach access.  We finally found it after a drive down a stretch called Sandlake Road.

I walked along the beach for a short time with my fiance.  I used to go to the beach a lot in my previous life and the Pacific Coast has been reassuringly unchanged with its many nooks that are still unspoiled by development and overcrowding.

As the day faded, we headed back, trying to get to Highway 26 as quickly as possible, but I missed my turn for Highway 53.  Somehow, I ended up on 53 anyway (a look at the map tells me I missed the right turn in that town where the road cut 90 degrees).  I noticed the road becoming narrower and with sharper curves; I could no longer carve along at 55 like I could on the 101 and after a while of even moderate speeds my fiance began to complain of motion sickness.  Then the wildlife showed up; several deer, a raccoon, and three mice all in the space of a few minutes of each other.  Luckily, I slowed down enough that they were able to get out of my way.

I ended up at the 26, a bit stunned at having gotten there without knowing how, and we continued our drive home with medieval metal (like Corvus Corax and In Extremo) playing on my .mp3 player through the car’s stereo.

The whole experience was ultimately a positive one, and although I didn’t have any earth-shattering revelations, I feel better for having seen for myself that I can still go back to places like these, that there really are places that haven’t changed much since I was there in an entirely different life.

By the way, I did not take many photos.  I’ll post what little I have along with a pic of that post card when I get a chance.