So Long, Ursula

I’m sorry to say that beloved SF author (and fellow Portlander) Ursula K. LeGuin has died.

I did not know her in this life. If I was Phil I did know her but it was a fraught friendship of which I remember nothing.

And yet in this life, I owe her a great deal more. A preeminent voice in american SF, she raised the bar for women in the genre. Pick nits all you want about whether I’m a “real” woman (I get that nonsense all the time), but I’m real enough that the world, by and large, sees me as one, treats me as one, and addresses me as one. I’m real enough to see how the SF genre isn’t always very friendly to female authors, and often presents women as dated stereotypes, mere accessories to male characters, or as flat, superficial representations. Ursula was one of the writers that helped make it easier for writers to present well-developed women in their work.

One of her criticisms of Phil was that his female characters weren’t well developed, and this was a fair and accurate criticism. In my current work I have something to work from, some experience, some insight, that has helped but if it wasn’t for authors like Ursula, I would be under pressure to cater to the male gaze. Special interest factions like the Sad/Sick Puppies are still trying to turn back the clock, but they never will. What’s done is done. Thank you, Ursula. Today I remember your feminism with joy and gratitude.

I should also add, her book “The Lathe of Heaven” was a major influence on my latest novel (the one I finished in October and hope to release by April). In her honor, here is a 1980 film adaptation.

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.

My Experience with Ecclesia Gnostica

I attended service at a local Gnostic Church today. I think I’m going to become a regular.

I have never heard a priest or minister of any denomination perform the Eucharist with such energy or conviction! The congregation was small- there were seven of us counting the priest and his lay server- but the people were interesting, erudite, friendly, and engaging and there was a vibe similar to what one would have expected of the earliest churches in ancient Rome. It’s in a small home chapel in an unassuming house just off of NE 60th, a part of town not known for much in the way of touristy stuff.

Best of all, I can be myself and all that implies, and all of the experiences I have had to date are regarded as valuable and worthy of sharing and even an asset to the community.  I can talk openly about John and everything his life taught me about the essence of our condition and that is such a relief!

Also, they need qualified priests and servers and that’s kind of an ambition of mine. I really do feel like I’ve found a home here.

A Moment of Contemplation

Unsure of how to deal with the 100th anniversary of the end of a very troubled past life, I decided to just go to whatever spot I could find in Portland that people go to contemplate.  I went to The National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother or, as it’s popularly known, The Grotto.

I’m a bit of an outsider to Christianity these days, admittedly, but as I walked the Stations of the Cross I was struck by the presentation.  At one bend in the trail, a bronze marked “Christ Falls the Second Time” was punctuated dramatically by a huge fallen fir tree behind it.  The trail wound up a small hill where, at its crest, was the crucifixion.  From there it wound downhill, and at the end of these stations was a white marble statue of the risen Jesus, his arms held wide, perched on a rocky outcropping.

Beyond that, there was a saint statue praying next to a small waterfall and across from it, a statue of Christ bearing his cross and pointing.  Following his pointing finger, I saw the Grotto itself.

It was a rock-cut arch about thirty feet high in the side of a bluff that was about 100 feet high.  Inside the arch a white marble statue of the pieta- Mary holding the fallen Christ- stood over an altar strewn with flowers.  A stone platform with stairs led up to it, and flanked it with large shelves filled with votives.  I was touched to see just how many votives there were, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many were lit by the faithful and how many were lit by sad souls like me, wanderers who come for the atmosphere.

I didn’t light one this time, but I sat there a while, watching as the faithful came, lit their candles, and knelt at the altar, crossing themselves.  The whole scene was so much like places I dimly remembered, from long-ago lives when I too was Catholic.

To the side was an elegant Italian-style chapel.  I walked in and sat inside for a while more.  I was touched to see the walls decorated and colorful, not at all the sober gray stone and plaster that seems to be the hallmark of so many churches nowadays.  I sat there a while, taking it in.

I began to hear worrying cracking sounds that sounded as if they were coming from the masonry around the windows and though I realized it was unlikely that the place was going to collapse, it was ruining my concentration.

I didn’t get a chance to go up to the upper levels; I had already spent my money on lunch for the day and there was no stairway that I could see.  Also, I’d be lying if I said the heat wasn’t an issue today.

Still, I’ll be back.  I’ll be back often.  I can’t say I left any less melancholy, but I felt that I was at least a little more at peace with it by being in a place of contemplation for a while.  I have no plans whatsoever to convert to Catholicism but The Grotto has a good reputation for not aggressively pushing a belief system.  It’s a place of holy silence and in my troubled state, I can certainly appreciate that.

Chess

An incredible moment happened between myself, my fiance, and a friend of ours at a little tea shop deep in the suburbs of Portland (in an area that smelled of nutmeg and wildflowers).  My fiance and I each had a round of chess with this friend of ours, and something about the way we played against each other was electrifying.

I had the strangest feeling that we had all played together during the reign of King John, though just who my fiance and our friend might have been, I don’t really know.  We each seemed to know each other’s strategies before even beginning, with my fiance and I playing as if we had played this guy before.  I’ve played chess before in this life (it’s probably been about a decade), but it was never once this exciting or interesting.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, and I haven’t said anything to my fiance, but I do know that as Count William I was fond of games like chess, backgammon, and apparently card games if some sources are to be believed (though there’s little evidence of playing cards before the 14th century so I’d like to know what primary source this came from!).  It was generally a popular pastime in those days so it’s not surprising.

Still, it really feels like something of those long-gone days came back today. I have never had a chess match like this one and I hope it’s the start of many more.

Memory Fragment/ Day Out

While trying unsuccessfully to sleep last night, I had another flash of memory from John’s life, probably around the Summer of 1915.

I was looking out of the trench at some barbed wire stakes very near my position.  Atop one of them was a deer skull that had been placed there, the top part of the stake through a hole in its base (probably a hole that had been made there, since the foramen magnum of a deer is to the back if I know my anatomy).  It turned slowly back and forth in the breeze.  I think it was put there by a German soldier to let us know they’d gotten very near our line during the previous night.  It brought to mind the conversations we used to have, each side taunting across No Man’s Land that we were on our way sooner or later.

Sleep found me and the memory faded without elaboration.  Among my dreams involved a port city with large ships coming in that looked a bit like a Lovecraft-ized version of Astoria, Oregon (complete with boat ramps of massive cyclopean masonry) and a group that was restoring an ancient Pueblo in the Southwest for practical ritual use.

For lunch, we met up with someone new to the area and tried out a burrito place together.  I’d hand-picked this one because they had a vegetarian menu and while not strict about my diet (it’s hard to avoid dairy, eggs, and meat extracts without paying a premium), I’ve started cutting out any sort of solid meat lately.  The burrito was good and the portions were impressively large.

Later on, my fiance and I went to a Peter Max exhibition at Pioneer Place.  The first person we came across there was the artist himself, though he seemed absorbed and preoccupied so we didn’t think to bother him.  I sat briefly on the sofa in the gallery, and some woman complimented me on my eyes (they’re roughly the same color they would have been if I’m correct about my most recent life).  Then we got up, looked around briefly, and headed home where I promptly collapsed from exhaustion and had weird dreams about browsing YouTube for clips of 1940s Disney films with Dinah Shore (such as “Make Mine Music,” “Fun and Fancy Free,” and “Melody Time”).

In all, I kept busy which I guess is good since it kept me from thinking too much about that weird flicker of trench life and the vague sense of menace that deer skull blowing in the wind left me with.