Ten Strange Moments in the Life of Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick wrote about fifty thousand novels and short stories during his lifetime, thanks to a specially formulated motivational diet of amphetamines and a severely heightened sense of paranoia. In recent years, Hollywood has strip-mined his work to churn out films of varying quality, from slapped-together junk (PAYCHECK) to lovingly faithful adaptations (A SCANNER DARKLY) to slick blockbuster star vehicles (MINORITY REPORT). According to IMDB, two more of his novels and a short story have been adapted and are currently in various states of production. That means eight feature films since 2001 will have been based on his fiction. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume that even the most unadventurous consumer of pop culture in America has probably been exposed to the mind of Philip K. Dick in some tangential way.
Even at its most hallucinogenic, his work always maintained a touch of the autobiographical. Like many authors he wrote aspects of himself and his friends into his characters, but more importantly he took situations from his life – bizarre interactions, flashes of insight, paranoid freakouts – twisted them slightly or sometimes not at all, and came up with some of the most relentlessly insane stories of all time. This list represents some of those situations; there are many more. Anyone curious should check out a fantastic book about PKD’s life entitled I Am Alive and You Are Dead by Emmanuel Carrere.
1. His twin sister Jane died a few weeks after their birth. His name was engraved alongside hers on a headstone. A blank space was left for the date of his own death.
2. As a child, he began having the recurring dream that would haunt him throughout his life: he’s in a bookstore, frantically searching for a story entitled “The Empire Never Ended”, driven by the knowledge that it contains the secrets of the universe. He digs through a pile of magazines, but wakes up before he reaches the bottom. This happens over and over again. Fast-forward to 1974, when he’s in his forties. He begins to have a different recurring dream about a hardcover book with a blue jacket and the word Grove in the title. Convinced that the secrets of the universe are once again being dangled before his subconscious eyes, he spends his waking hours searching for the book. Finally, he comes across The Shadow of the Blooming Grove, a thick hardcover book that matches the one in his dream… but instead of the secrets of the universe, its pages contain the biography of President Warren G. Harding.
3. He once flailed around his dark bathroom, frustrated that he couldn’t find the light cord. Then he remembered the switch was on the wall. This reinforced his impression that something was out of place in his daily existence, and inspired the novel Time Out of Joint.
4. He relied on the I Ching, an ancient Chinese fortune-telling method, to plot his Hugo Award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle.
5. He became convinced that his third wife, Anne, had murdered her first husband and that he was next, so he had her committed to a mental hospital. Soon, he became convinced that he was in fact the crazy one and tried to have himself committed in her place.
6. He saw a giant robotic face in the sky, which followed him for several days. A priest told him it was Satan. This incident inspired him to become a Christian.
7. His book The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch was instantly hailed as the quintessential LSD-experience novel. He became regarded as a sort of psychedelic guru, but he hadn’t yet taken acid. When he finally tried it he found the experience terrifying and never did it again.
8. After his home was burglarized and many of his personal possessions and manuscripts stolen, he spent years formulating complex paranoid theories about the perpetrators. Eventually, he became convinced that he had done it himself, even though he had no memory of the actual incident.
9. He idolized Linda Ronstadt and sent her fan letters. One night, he was awakened by her hit song “You’re No Good” coming from the radio. Terrified, he began to scream; Linda Ronstadt was telling him he was no good, adding, at the end of the chorus, “Die, die, die.” He interpreted this as a message from anti-Christian forces from the year 70 AD.
10. He believed that a benevolent entity was communicating with him through a series of visions and dreams. He named it VALIS: Vast, Active, Living, and Intelligent System. Manifesting itself as a beam of pink light, VALIS told Phil to take his young son Christopher to the hospital because the boy’s life was in danger. This turned out to be true: the child had a hernia, and an immediate operation saved him.
Philip K. Dick died in 1982. He was buried next to his twin sister.