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.

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.

Tonight’s Dinner

Now and then, I like to have a nice meal with my fiance.

Tonight was a special one.  Steak and ale pie, lentil soup, and blood orange shandy.

Having backed off the vegetarian diet for the time being I’m trying to vary my diet as much as possible and I’ve been drawing a lot of inspiration from historic and Old World diets.  Since shandy and steak and ale pie aren’t the healthiest things, the lentil soup was a nice compromise to round it out with something wholesome.

Very satisfied with how this worked out.  OK, I kind of cheated by getting the pies and the soup pre-made, but they were the good gourmet stuff from Trader Joe’s.  For the shandy I decided to go with Czechvar (also known as Budvar or “the real Budweiser” but for copyright reasons they call it Czechvar here) and blood orange soda because fizzy lemonade wasn’t as easy to find as I’d hoped.

Also, I finished ad-hoc edits on one of the books I’m writing my past life experiences into.  It was an older manuscript I had that described my time in London, but I added past life material and I have to say, a lot of the stuff I did in London just makes more sense now.

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.

Warm Reception and Synchronicity

As word about my latest novel gets around, the reception gets warmer and warmer.

Everyone involved in the promotion process has been helping spread the word, as have a lot of my friends.  One review has been posted to Goodreads so far, and it’s a five star review.  An online writing circle I’m involved in even named it book of the month for March. Also, I’ve had a number of follows on social media over this.

I don’t think I’ve gotten this much interest in a book since 2010 with the first book I published, and that was pre-transition.  This book is the first thing I’ve published that could finally eclipse my earlier work.

But will it be my big mainstream breakout success?  Probably not.  It might cement my reputation in the niche genre I write in, maybe, but I’m a long way from becoming the next overnight success story.  Still, if I can become a big fish in a small pond, it can only be a step in the right direction (if my previous life’s work is any indication).

On the other hand, it has gotten some very small amount of mainstream attention, and the premise and cover art alone are attractive to readers.  That’s a powerful asset since I suspect my last couple of books lacked that same appeal.  It’s possible this could be a sleeper for a while, then find its second wind as more readers discover it.

By the way, there have been some strange synchronicities going on of late, most of them involving Philip K. Dick.  One of them I can’t explain in detail because it would require telling about my book, but it involved Godric of Finchale in which the word “Valis” appeared in a review for a book about St. Godric.  The other was last night, when I was trying to find a link to the ad bumpers from the beginnings of the chapters in “Ubik” and the first result in my search was a passage from the Bible about Jesus praying at Gethsemane.  I can’t help but think about my last I Ching reading, something about an ablution being made but a sacrifice being yet to come (meaning loosely that preparations had been made but the final important undertaking is not yet fulfilled).  In light of the Gethsemane verses, the imagery of sacrifice and ablution becomes just a bit ominous.

Also, a friend recently had clocks around her house stop working, and I was reminded somewhat of the poltergeist activity after Bishop Pike’s son committed suicide, but I was assured that they weren’t all showing the same time when they froze.  Still, even my fiance had to admit that the synchronicities were starting to get creepy.

No pink beams of light, xenoglossy, or hidden messages in Beatles songs yet though.  I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt that I could be reading too much into this.  On the other hand, part of me worries that by trying to get back to my previous life’s work, I may have inadvertently triggered something really big that I have no way of stopping now that it’s been set in motion.  Time will tell.

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.

Well…

It seems not only has my writing gotten a small but noticeable spike in interest with fans of my previous life’s work, but it’s also attracted the attention of someone I knew in that life.

I should be glad I suppose, and to some measure I am.  But I’m also terrified because the fact that I think I might have been Phil isn’t exactly a well-guarded secret, and the fact that my writing isn’t- nor can it ever be- quite the same as I have another 30 years of living as a completely different person behind it now.  I have to tread very lightly or I’ll risk immense ridicule.  I find that keeping my public persona divorced from my past life claims was a very good decision but I worry that it won’t be enough.

Nonetheless, I take some solace in knowing I can still write things that my previous life’s fans enjoy.  Even if they don’t know it’s me, if I can make them happy then I’ve done what I set out to do.

I’m entering new and uncharted territory here.  There is nothing in my experience- in past lives or in my current one- to prepare me for the extreme positive and negative possibilities that present themselves.

At least I’ve still got the I Ching.  That hasn’t changed, nor will it change in another thousand years I imagine.  I do my readings with three silver half-dollars from the 40s and 50s (two “Walking Liberty” type and one “Ben Franklin” type) and it seems to bring me some direction and stability through that link to an earlier time, even if I’m just tapping into the answers I already knew and engaging in superstitious sympathetic magic.

I’m due for another reading on my current condition tonight, I think.