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Thursday, January 20, 2011

My own experience

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Philip K. Dick experienced mystical visitations throughout his life, beginning in early childhood, although his visions of March 1974 are the best known.

Critics have often wondered why I so easily accepted Phil's experience as valid. Most have put it down to our relationship as husband and wife, assuming that we fell into a folie a deux, a madness shared by two people who reinforced each other's delusions. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I had my own mystical experiences long before I ever met Philip K. Dick.

For the first time, I am writing about those visions in a book-length memoir titled My Life On the Edge of Reality. This book will include anecdotes about my husband that are not included in my memoir Philip K. Dick: Remembering Firebright.

Here's the beginning of it:

Chapter One, Beginning

I’m approaching that age when my memories of early childhood are more clear than my memory of where I set down my coffee cup. Some people tell me that they remember nothing before their junior year in high school, and that astounds me because I remember my infancy. For example, I remember lying in my crib with mittens on my hands. Mom explained that I was seven months old when my older brother, who was in Kindergarten, brought home the chicken pox virus, and she put the mittens on my hands to prevent me from scratching the blisters and getting scars.

I also remember the first time that I walked. Mom said that I was eight months old when I crept on hands and knees across the living-room carpet to the front window and pulled myself up by holding onto the window ledge. I remember looking outside at our lawn, the sidewalk, the street and the Jacksons’ house. The Jacksons had beautiful flower gardens, and Mrs. Jackson showed me how to open the “mouth” of a snapdragon blossom. We always called it the Jacksons’ house, even after they sold it to a young couple with a little girl who was three years younger than I was – she was four years old and I was seven.

From a very early age, I got daily advice from an invisible companion who stood slightly behind my right shoulder and spoke to me. Nobody else could see Michael, and I never told anybody about him. He was my guardian angel. Michael used to tell me, for example, that it was almost six o’clock, so Daddy would be coming home soon. Since I didn’t know how to tell time, I depended upon him to tell time for me. I hopped down from Daddy’s favorite chair, where I had been sitting, so he could sit down and rest as soon as he came in the door. Michael also told me that the monsters could not see me if I hid under the covers when I went to bed.

Chapter Two, Monsters

It is no coincidence that I love to watch horror movies. I have no use for slasher flicks, which depend upon blood and gore to shock the audience. I go for the psychological dramas like Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. Give me a story in which people fight against their own inner evil – Jekyll and Hyde, for example. The idea of being killed by a monster scares me less than half as much as the idea of becoming a monster, myself.

Sometimes when I look into a mirror, I see my face begin to change, somewhat like the Wolf Man. I hate mirrors and avoid looking at them. Occasionally when I have stayed in someone else’s house and had to get up in the night, I have been startled by what I thought was a burglar, only to discover that it was my own reflection in a mirror.

I watch horror movies as an adult in order to dispel the fear that haunted my childhood years.

The little orange stucco tract house on the corner of Westwood and Ocean in Culver City, California, was home to a menagerie of monsters. I remember the cockroaches that used to swarm out of the storm drain at night, but I was not afraid of them. The creaking and groaning of the pine-paneled walls terrified me. My older and smarter brother Steve later told me that we had an infestation of roof rats, but Mom never told me about the rats because she didn’t want to frighten me. I would have been less afraid if I had known about the rats, instead of being left to imagine all sorts of goblins inside the walls of my bedroom. Mom was always lying or withholding information, with the excuse that she did not want to frighten me. For example, I wanted to know how the speakers on our hi-fi worked, so I asked her if they were electrical. Mom said no, to avoid scaring me, even though she knew that they were electrical.

What frightened me the most was that my two brothers and two cousins, all of whom were boys and older than I was, used to turn on the TV and start watching a monster movie. One by one, they would leave the room, until I was sitting there all by myself, watching Godzilla or the Wasp Woman, or some other horror feature. I stayed glued to the chair, unable to leave until I saw the monster die. If I didn’t see the monster die on the television screen, it would remain alive in my mind. The one that frightened me the most was the Mummy. To this day, when I choose a sleeping bag, I never get a mummy bag.

One early morning I woke up to see a Martian metal robot on my bedroom floor. That is what Steve’s silver nylon sleeping bag looked like in the dim light of pre-dawn. Worse, Rick’s brown cotton mummy bag was also there beside the killer robot, two monsters lying where my brothers had tossed them when they came home from a camping trip. I stayed as still as possible, not daring to move lest I draw the attention of the mummy and the killer robot, until the morning light finally burst in and they became ordinary sleeping bags again.

I’m sure that my near-sightedness and the dim light had a great deal to do with what I saw that morning. My imagination did the rest.

In 1961 Mom took us to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History to see the King Tut exhibit. Egypt had released very few actual King Tut artifacts, but they did display a real mummy in a glass case, and I remember seeing one of Tut’s golden sandals. In spite of the monster movies, that exhibit did not frighten me. I wasn’t afraid of real, tangible things. I was afraid of the things that go bump in the night.

I know now that the specters that I see in the dark are symptoms of astigmatism, a condition in which the shape of the eyeball is flattened, so light will bounce around inside the eye and cause the person to see points of light in the darkness after turning off the lights. I used to talk about “brown clouds”, in an attempt to describe what I saw. It was like looking at a pot of boiling soup. And the high-pitched tones that I used to hear inside my ears were symptoms of tinnitus, a condition affecting the inner ear that can be caused by infection or by excess ear wax or fluid drainage.

Chapter Three, Death and near-death

I can explain most of the strange experiences of my childhood by referring to my poor eyesight, plus the roof rats.

However, I can offer no mundane explanation for Michael’s presence. He told me that Great Grandma was in Heaven. Mom’s paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Evans, died of colon cancer in 1958, when I was four years old. She was in her seventies. Mom told me that Grandma’s tumor was benign, so as not to frighten me. Gee, thanks, Mom! Not! Mom seemed to think that it was more important to avoid scaring me than it was for me to know my family’s true history, medical and otherwise.

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I'm holding a pre-sale of signed copies of this book. If you are interested, please email me at tuffy777@gmail.com

Thank you so much!

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