Chapter 4e

It's so easy to just ramble on about how hard life is when I go off on these little mental excursions. I know I do it all the time. I start to think about my day, how the mail ran late or how my milk went bad or whatever and then I follow with asking why the universe singles me out and picks on me like some cosmic bully.

Today I'll try to stick to the point. Earlier I had the strongest sense of déjà vu. It was an otherwise normal day. I was spending some time with my special lady friend, getting lunch, normal day kind of stuff, went home, walked in, it hit me. I've had this sense of "already seen" before, as I'm sure most people have, but is there ever a time that seems special? One that really stands out? I honestly can't tell, it's always so obscure and disorienting that maybe every time seems like the strangest. The alternative could be that it really does get weirder every time. I don't know, I just know that today is going to stick with me. Nothing even happened, empty home, just me, no movement, just an overlapping memory.

I like to learn new things once in a while so I decided to learn about this. The answer to the question of déjà vu, like the answer to so many other questions, just isn't there. Some people seem to say there's a link between mental illness but there doesn't seem to be any proof. Some shrinks say it's because you had a similar memory and actually are remembering something further back than the present. There might be a link with sleep deprivation or some drugs but nobody's too confident. Science be damned, some people say it's caused by reincarnation, when you've already lived your life at least once before or possibly some prophetic glimpse of the future.

It seems most likely to be just a brain fart brought on by remembering the same thing day after day. Similar, I guess, to when you say a word, over and over and over, until it (over and over) starts to (over over over over over over over) lose meaning (over). I looked that up, too. It's called semantic satiation. I guess that's a real thing.

When I was ten I had a good bout of déjà vu. Not sure why I remember it now, it doesn't seem special in retrospect, but maybe similar. I remember walking into the basement of the home I would be moving into. As I walked down the stairs I knew it, I had seen this, done this, spoke whatever words I was about to speak. I don't know if I spoke, don't remember if there was anybody even there to speak to, or what I would have said. I don't know if that sharp memory I've etched in my mind looks anything like what I actually saw. Time is change, you know? My question marks are falling flat. If I stand them back up, will my words get too excited to ask anything! I think so.

I do remember other parts of that time, I was old enough by then to have a pretty good memory, but a quarter of a century can scratch any memory until it's unrecognizable. Was that one special? I know it fascinated me but why wouldn't it? Anybody who has experienced that sensation remembers it well.

What seemed more interesting to me while I was researching than the causes, though, was really just the examples of similar experiences, all given similiarly French names. "Déjà vu" translates to "already seen." Other phenomena were presque vu (almost seen), jamais vu (never seen) and the relatively pointless extension of déjà entendu (already heard). I don't even know where I heard (hah!) that last one but the others were interesting because I knew them but never knew anybody had decided to give a name to them.

Jamais vu is probably more like the semantic satiation I mentioned earlier. It's when you see something totally common to you and your life and completely disaocciate from it. It's when you walk into a familiar room and feel like it's the first time you've been there, like something intrinsic to that location has changed and, despite what appearances say, it's not the same place. Maybe that's the kind of sensation the more senile among us feel as they start to lose track of what makes any given face unique from any other.

Then again, I remember seeing my great grandmother around the same time of my younger déjà vu experience. I think I remembered pieces of her, same vague memory of having been in her presence, from as young as three years old, but by the time I was ten it had been more than half a decade when I saw her. She recognized me then as if I hadn't changed and I learned to recognize her as more than a concept. The last time I saw her was several years ago. She has died since then but lived a long life.

I went with my mother that time, too. Her grand-daughter, one generation closer that I was. The older woman didn't recognize her. I tried to tell her who it was, the grand-daughter she'd known her whole life, but she didn't get it. When I said her name the response would be something like, "I know, but who's this?" But she recognized me right away. I've seen her since then but at least ten years had passed and probably close to another ten since the memory as I recount it now. Still, even though she'd lost her husband and her mind, she recognized me. Even though she told us about how she interacts with the people in the TV and how she doesn't like them because they're rude and she has to be modest in her own house now lest one of them catch hold of it, as she would say. She recognized the people on TV, she knew the name of the alligator that lived in her basement with her dead husband, and she knew pretty quickly who I was. I wonder what that says about me?

Presque vu seemed interesting, too. Whereas déjà is already and jamains is simply the opposite, presque is something unique. It's to have almost seen. It's that moment when you know you're on the brink of epiphany but you just haven't quite got it. It's just out of reach. It's when you're about to know something but you can't put the pieces together. Personally, I wonder if anybody has ever had that feeling then actually had an epiphany. I don't think so, I think it's some trick our brain plays on us, some darwinian move to keep us motivated even when actual motivation is in short supply. If you're actually having an epiphany, you don't need that sensation. Then again, it never ceases to fool me, so maybe so. I'll be happy to report on it if I ever have an epiphany.

If I can remember long enough, I think I'll make that my new year's resolution: have an epiphany. If I get it maybe next year I'll aim for two.