War, Mostly…

…is tedium.

I’ve mentioned it in posts before, I think. The long hours spent in a trench were mostly just going about daily routines, trying to keep one’s mind occupied.

This film gives a pretty good impression of it:

About the only major details (besides the trench being a bit too clean, forgivable because it would take many weeks of weathering to get it looking grungy and wet enough) is the fact that there’s only one actor in this.  The trenches were much more crowded than that; we had the better part of an enormous modern army strung that front!  It was close quarters for sure.  Also, you could be guaranteed at least a small barrage most days even in a quiet sector (it certainly seemed that way at Houplines, anyhow).  But yes, a surprising amount of time was spent waiting with frazzled nerves for something to happen.

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.

Beautiful but Damned

I’ve had this emotional impression that has deep resonance for me since I was very young, but I’ve always had a great deal of trouble describing it. It’s an archetype of a situation that has appeared in lots of media, but it’s always had a powerful emotional resonance for me. Whenever I’ve seen a character in a film or TV series who does this I’m immediately in their headspace.

The scenario: I’m usually an Englishman in my prime, usually well-dressed, usually handsome and full of life. I’ve just been told that my days are numbered, either because of a fatal illness, or an imminent execution, or some other dreadful event that I have no way of stopping.

I don’t descend into panic. I become stoic and extremely sincere, with a “Well, I suppose that’s my lot” attitude. Inwardly, though, I feel something drop, almost like a gallows door opening under my heart.

And yet, revisiting that emotion was always such a bizarre guilty pleasure. It was a feeling that, while not pleasant, felt strangely right in a peculiar way. It was an indulgent, sentimental, bittersweet sort of place emotionally that seemed to come out of a very old-fashioned emotional landscape. In many ways, throughout my life I actually wanted to feel that way for real, to have that moment, to be among the beautiful and the damned so that I could have that sweet moment of poetic stoicism to show the world what I was made of, and be remembered as a portrait of pride with a silver lining long after I was gone.

In the last novel I published (good grief, it’s been over a year! I’m getting slack) I had a character who, faced with imminent annihilation, suddenly stops driving away from it, gets a pack of cigarettes out of his glove box, climbs into the back seat of his touring car, and lights the cigarette, stoically accepting his fate. Of course, it goes somewhere much more transcendent from there (it’s a moment of epiphany ultimately) but that’s the beauty of fiction.

I hadn’t really thought that re-enlisting in 1914 was the source of this, because I had always assumed that it had to have been something beyond my control, a destiny I was faced with.

Then I had a moment today. After speaking at length with my bishop about some angst over having not transcended the bounds of material existence in my last life and my general existential crisis after the death of one of our most beloved parishioners, I took his advice and got out a little (actually, I’ve had both a bishop and a nun tell me the same thing in the last 3 days so I figured it was sound advice).

After mass, I drove south on 99E until I came to the little village of Aurora, OR, which has an idyllic historic district filled with antique shops. I seem to find it easy to meditate on the past in places like those. I didn’t find anything that triggered a strong memory, but when I came across a Victorian or Edwardian portrait of a man in his late 30s or so, his posture impeccable, his chest out, his clothes immaculate, a look of stoic serenity on his features and a soft light on his skin that gave him a gentle glow, it came back to me.

I pictured myself before making the final decision, walking the scenic parts of Hereford, to parks where children played, down by the river where the college boys rowed in the pleasant late summer. But I remember thinking at the time that it was more like Gethsemane for me, because I didn’t have a sense that I really had a choice.

I believed, with all my heart, that going to war was my destiny and I was there, in that familiar emotional space, a man in his prime, beautiful but damned, taking in the thought of my own likely demise.  I was so steeped in the stoic masculinity of the Victorian era I’d been raised in, brought up on stories and rhymes of God and empire by the like of Kipling and Tennyson, that I couldn’t see how it wasn’t the destiny of an Englishman to throw himself into the line of fire for his king. I was sold hook, line, and sinker on what Wilfred Owen called “The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori.”

In short, I made a tremendous error in understanding my own free will, and I did it because I wanted to believe I had no choice.  I was falling into an indulgent, self-serving motivation for self-sacrifice.  I was thinking, “Lord, not as I will, but as you will” but in truth, it was exactly as I willed. I had every opportunity to walk away and have a peaceful (if impoverished and boring) life as a retired soldier.  I had a choice.

And now that I know where that emotion comes from- now that I’ve remembered how I turned a stroll in the park into a prayer in Gethsemane 102 years ago almost to the date, I’m left with a strangely desolate feeling about the whole thing.

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.

Once Again, Still Fighting

It occurred to me part of the reason I’ve been so vexed despite finally finding work, getting better off financially than I’ve been in years, and generally crawling back to what could be termed “stable poverty” after so much near-destitution.

I’m still fighting against things I can’t fix. I don’t know how long it’s been but I’ve been fighting for so long. That’s why my death in 1915 was so hard, and why I’m always so anxious no matter what happens. I’m always resisting inwardly, always asking if there’s another way when I’ve got a good thing going, always struggling with nothing to gain, and whenever there’s an effort- however futile- to move forward or make some change, I’ll dive right in because the thing I fear the most is helplessness. When I died in 1915, there was nothing I could do, but that didn’t sink in. When I found I could sort of poke into material reality and keep an ever-so-tenuous grasp on this phenomenal world, I did just that. I held on with all my might. I fought and struggled because fighting and struggling was all I could to to keep from facing the fact that there was nothing left to do and Dear Old Jack, who was always afraid that life would pass him by, was finished.

So here I am with an easy path laid before me, and I’m frustrated. I want something to fight for, something to struggle for, and in lieu of that I keep expecting a disaster that might never come. I’ve been told that I’ve scared off my roommate’s friends because they thought I had the makings of a paranoid prepper and although I’m not knuckling down for an epic fight with the government, I do kind of like the idea of provisioning and being ready for the worst that can happen because it gives me something to do. Give me a trench to dig and I’ll have ad-hoc relief for a while, feeling like I’m doing something for the artillery barrage I’m expecting any minute. Fighting and digging and doing some small thing was never the worst part of the war; it was always the lull in between, the long stretches of tense quiet. It didn’t matter if those efforts came to nothing; it became a habit to struggle as much and as often as possible.

So here’s my reality: I have a stable membership with a good church, I have a job starting soon which while in no way cushy will at least provide adequately for my needs, I have a fiance whom I may soon have the money to marry, and I have enough money to go out and enjoy some of the lively cultural scene in Portland I’ve been missing out on.

But waiting for things to come to bear? Waiting to get my schedule in hand? It’s too much to deal with. And I know better than to say “things will be better once I have some certainty” because they never are. I’ll keep finding things to be uncertain about and worry about and keep looking for futile ways to feel like I’m putting up a good fight against dangers, real or imagined.

I can’t help but think, this is exactly what Christ and Buddha were warning us about. This is what binds souls to the cycle of reincarnation. This is what keeps us from becoming whole, enlightened beings. We cling to things we scarcely understand and fight against things that aren’t really there. And we do it so naturally! We have this diabolical wiring that keeps us from being happy unless we’ve always got something to strive for.  It’s the Archonic impulse, the one that always has to have its hands busy building something, literally or figuratively. The Light Yoke isn’t easy because we are, at our basest, driven to strive for things that can never be.

And so I must return to meditation, return to a mindfulness of what my true motivations really are and how I can let go of the misery I bring upon myself to no good end. Ultimately, we are both the savior and the saved; the salvator salvandus. This is the heart of Gnostic soteriology, that one must be saved from one’s lower nature by a divine spark that, aware of its true nature, may reconnect with the greater part of the godhead; it is religion in the purest sense, from the Latin religio, reconnection. But as with most flavors of soteriology, there is one caveat: it must be accepted willingly and graciously and we must live according to its precepts or we will go nowhere. The lower nature must be starved and the higher nature must be nourished. The salamander who purifies itself through the alchemical process of calcinatio is often represented with the motto nutrisco et extinguo.

And so I accept my failures, but I will not allow them to become me. It is not in fighting against an adversary but in nourishing a savior that one is saved from the need to always struggle.

Sweet sommer spring that breatheth life and growing,
In weedes as into hearbs and flowers,
And sees of service divers sorts in sowing,
Some haply seeming and some being yours,
Raine on your hearbs and flowers that truely serve,
And let your weeds lack dew and duely starve.

The Future

I have a hard time picturing much of a future.


I envy my friends who seem able to see a way out, who can picture a time when life goes back to normal.


I can’t.

I can’t picture myself living past 40, either.  I try to imagine the future and all I see are dead ends, or the inevitable tragedy brought on by a handful of powerful people with no restraint.

There will be another world war, or perhaps another civil war, I keep thinking.  Once again I’ll spend months in a dirty hole waiting to die.  Once again I’ll come back to places I once knew and haunt them like a revenant.  That is, if there’s a world to come back to next time.  With nuclear weapons in the equation, I kind of doubt it.

Generally, I live in a constant state of anguish because I honestly have come to the conclusion that the world has learned nothing in the last century.  And as before- as ever- it will be us innocents who suffer the worst.

I only wish the whole world could experience what I did.  I wish they could remember what it was like to be doomed through no fault of their own, then snap out of their backward ways and live for peace like I did.

But I would starve living on these wishes, and there is no action to fix the problem.

Despair.  I know such profound despair.


Philip K. Dick Is Dead

The thing that no one ever tells you about making a famous past life claim is that when you mention it in public, it’s bound to overshadow any other past life claims you might have.

I began this blog as a journal of my recollection and recovery from a life on the Western Front in 1915 that came to a very violent end.  At the time I didn’t even realize I had memories of a life after that (in fact I had assumed that I simply “slept” for the better part of 69 years before coming back in mid-1984).

Dealing with one past life became an excercise in making sense of it in the context of several other lives that came to light.  Phil just happened to be one of them.  But the more I learned about Phil, the more I became convinced that if I dug deeper into his life I’d find the key to everything.  And just like everything else past life related, I duly recorded it here in as much detail as I could think to record, hoping to turn this into an extension of my past life’s exegesis.

I no longer think the key is there.  All I can gather is that if I was him, my experiences in 1974 either never really happened (since I have no memory of them) or I was too ambitious in my interpretation of what they meant.  I also learned just how deeply flawed I was as a person in that life, and still am in this life.  I grant you, there’s still a lot of good there.  I just wasn’t the prophet people made me out to be.

Dealing with all this has been frustrating and exhausting.  Nobody I knew would ever believe me, so I’m having to come to terms with the fact that any apology I could make now for not being the husband and father I wanted to be would be too little too late and I’d inevitably get treated like a psycho for even bringing it up.

I also proved that I’m a better writer than I was.  My attempt to knock out something like I wrote back in ’63 or ’64, a trippy sci-fi novel about 60k words long, took longer to complete (9 months from the first page of the first draft to publication) but it was also much more refined than what I was churning out back then.  It also had a much more British flavor (flavour?) that made it feel more like Neville Shute.  My friend who is open-minded about my experience but remains skeptical about reincarnation says I’m selling myself short to compare my work to Phil’s and I’m inclined to agree.

Furthermore, for what it’s worth, I feel closer to my WWI life than I do to Phil.  I can talk about Phil more easily in the third person than I can with Jack.  I remember more of Jack’s life and I remembered it sooner.  I feel more at home in England than I do on the West Coast of the US (though I do like it here on the West Coast).  I feel closer in every respect to Jack and I feel the loss of that life much more in the long run even if I did feel some sense of loss for my life as Phil.  And I still cry for Jack’s mother.  I was born having cried all I’m ever going to cry for Phil’s mother (not to seem cold; I simply made peace with that in my last life).

That’s why I kept this blog up and why I intend to keep updating here until I can at least say my goodbyes to Jack, and possibly to England.  But I’ve already put Phil to rest.  I already said my goodbyes to that life last summer.

That’s why I’m troubled about what to do about all these posts on my blog about Phil that seem to be getting so many views that it’s really overshadowing my whole intention behind starting this blog in the first place.  “I want to know” and “The Mysterious Jeanette Marlin” seem especially popular.  On the one hand I’m not monetized on this blog (and never will be), so I have nothing to gain by keeping them up.  On the other hand, I feel like if I delete them it will seem as if I haven’t got the courage to stand by my claims.  I do.  I consider it pretty likely I was him.  I just don’t want them to overshadow what this blog was about in the first place.

The war really hurt, it tore a deep psychic gash in my being that has lasted for more than a century across several lifetimes.  Phil was only one part of that story.  Now I want to finish that story by going back to the beginning of that disturbance and making peace with what happened in France all those years ago.  And I invite the reader to join me moving forward with that rather than dwelling on posts about a life that I no longer feel needs any attention.

I Didn’t Need That

The street I live on takes on a strange feeling in the evening, especially when it’s damp and cold.  Some details about it seem to remind me of Armentieres but I can’t put a finger on what it is exactly.  Most of the time I can ignore it but it’s always there at the back of my mind.

The last thing I needed, then, was for some random asshole to set off a large fire cracker not far from me while I was walking to the store.

That was more than three hours ago; my hands only just stopped shaking.  Just when I thought I was over being spooked by things like this, I got a painful reminder that part of my mind is still there.

Hopefully Christmas won’t be ruined for me.  My mood has taken a nosedive.

Major Breakthrough

A few days ago, I got in touch with someone who had family in the second battalion KSLI during the Second Battle of Ypres.  He turned out to be one of the most helpful contacts I’ve ever made!  He sent me some documents related to John’s life (more census forms, army records, pay stubs, etc.) and what they revealed to me has actually yielded a bumper crop of confirmations.

First, one thing that always bothered me is that a Yeovil historian I worked with had told me that John’s father died in 1891.  Not only did I remember living at home with immediate family in my earliest memories, but I also had no memory of the death of John’s father; I only remembered his mother’s death.  Naturally this glaring omission from my memory had always bothered me.

I now have proof in the form of army pay stubs and census records that William Harris, John’s father, was alive and living on Foley Street in Hereford until some time between 1915 and 1918.

I also have proof now, from a 1911 census record, that John went by “Jack,” but I don’t consider that a “major” confirmation because it’s a common nickname.  I think I like it better though; Jack Harris sounds like a Somerset lad through and through whereas John Harris sounds a bit stuffy.

The army pay stubs rendered another clue: nowhere on any of them is the beneficiary listed as one Margaret Harris.  The John Harris that married Margaret in Leominster in 1911 must have been a different John; I feel vindicated because I had no memory whatsoever of her.

Finally, the biggest and most exciting confirmation of all is that I did indeed travel to India.  While I didn’t remember being in the army before the war, I did have brief flashes of India that I’d always wondered about.  I had assumed that they were either suggestion or from the life before.

It turns out I enlisted in the KSLI in 1902, and stayed active until 1910 and in reserve until the early part of 1914.  Not only was I probably at Secunderabad, but it’s also possible that I traveled to Egypt on the way to India (via the Suez canal) and probably made port somewhere like Alexandria for a time.  This is rather fascinating because in my most recent published book, a character recalls his early career taking him to Egypt.  It also explains why I don’t have many memories of Hereford from that period!

However, the service records were not very auspicious, to say the least.  They attest to a bored soldier between wars who had plenty of time to get into trouble.  In eight years, I never made it past private and had good conduct badges revoked and pay docked on several occasions.

I now think that what happened in September 1914 was that I re-enlisted hoping to prove myself in a war; perhaps I felt that I had disappointed my father by not working my way up to NCO, and I wanted him to see me succeed while he was still alive.  I had missed out on the Boer War; India in the Edwardian era was pretty cushy (the word “Cushy” actually comes from Hindi).  The poster of Lord Kitchener may have reminded me of a father who was still alive but in ill health and spurred me on to try my fortunes in war.  Maybe it was a bad idea, but I think I understand my motives quite a lot better now.

The epitaph “He did his duty” means so much more now.  It’s a final footnote to a life spent trying to prove myself.