Once, while living in Victoria, Canada I visited the British Columbia Parliament. The building had stunning architecture and dwarfed everything around it. But it wasn't the size or beauty that got my attention. It was a very distinct, prominent, almost purposeful feeling that I'd been there before. Now, if it was just a familiarity of the place, I could've easily chalked it up to anything from a previously seen photo to an article with a good description of it. But it wasn't just the building and the surroundings.
It was that moment in time.
That's the best way I can describe it. Because as frivolous and brief as a single moment may seem, in this particular case it was extraordinary. At that moment everything was familiar; the people talking to the guard for entry, the little boy running across the broad concrete area between the lawn and building, and the elderly lady holding the arm of a gentleman as they passed us. Even the climate was familiar. Cloudy, a little drizzling rain, and somewhat breezy. But also, and most uncanny, was the familiarity with my family. Of course, they were familiar, they're family, right? Well yes, but this was entirely different. At that moment in time, they seemed to belong even more than everything else.
Incidentally, that was the first and only time my family and I had been there.
You'll have to forgive my less than adequate description, but such are the characteristics of déjà vu. I'm sure you've experienced this; few people haven't. What do you think about them? Are they enjoyable or unpleasant? Probably both because another peculiar thing about déjà vu is the propensity to completely confound your senses. Few things can stoke a variety of emotions (often opposing) as déjà vu. They can be exhilarating, frustrating, enlightening, and infuriating all at the same time.
When first experiencing déjà vu, the sensation is usually a positive one. You smile at the possible false memory while your mind tries to unravel the mysteries of the when and where.
But without warning, this charming memory that had you so enamored, this beguiling little snippet of thought that you befriended, has the audacity to be elusive! And suddenly, the déjà vu’s efforts to dodge your recognition become a lot less subtle, almost overt in its determination to deceive you. Until finally, the whole experience vanishes completely, leaving a wistful trace of its former self while you wonder if it ever happened at all.
Except it did, and you know it, so you spend the next few moments burning countless brain cells trying to remember and recreate the experience to get it back. You look again at what you thought triggered the déjà vu in the first place. You glance around the environment, hoping for a tidbit of that recognition, no matter how fleeting, but you get nothing because it has vanished as mysteriously as it surfaced.
Here is where it gets frustrating because your mind is struggling with itself to establish reality. On the one hand, you absolutely know what you experienced happened before, on the other, some part of you, probably the very rationally thinking part of you, argues against it. This battle occurs in the first place because déjà vu happens under circumstances where it really does seem impossible (emphasis on seem, but I'll get into that later), right? Think about the times its happened to you; despite the familiarity, everything just seems wrong. The people, the circumstances, and the location are all just wrong. Case in point; I’ve never been to Canada before in my life. How on Earth could the déjà vu I experienced seem so real? My wife visited this area when she was a child, but suggesting I actually experienced her déjà vu is probably best left to one of my stories.
So what exactly is déjà vu? Short answer, no one really knows. Science has its own theories, but as much as I respect science, I won't bore you with them. Not knowing what déjà vu is, certainly adds to its mystique. Personally, I’m grateful for it. It’s life’s little ambiguities that help fuel a fiction author’s imagination.
Earlier, I stated that:
"déjà vu happens under circumstances where it really does seem impossible.”
But what if it wasn't.
What if, instead, it was entirely possible, and in fact, you actually did experience that moment in time before? This is what intrigues me about déjà vu. Wouldn't it be fascinating if those moments were connected to a parallel universe, as some have theorized? That somehow, another universe has synced with our own, and déjà vu occurs when you experience a moment in time while occupying both worlds? Or, maybe reincarnation exists, and déjà vu is simply a past life memory? Have you ever heard of astral projection? Perhaps, a location you've never been to before seems familiar because your conscious visited it without your physical body.
Instances of déjà vu appear to be predominately positive. In fact, research shows negative cases are rare. However, they do exist, which means there's another aspect for us writers to exploit.
I read an article where an individual reported feelings of nausea, dizziness, and confusion accompanying a déjà vu. Imagine if that were just a prelude to something much worse; something terrifying. Going back to those theories, what if something horrific was happening in that alternate universe at the place you were experiencing déjà vu? Perhaps, in this alternate universe a vehicle was barreling down the exact location you happened to be. In the case of reincarnation, what if you happened to be visiting the place where you were murdered in a previous life?
Another interesting twist would be if déjà vu had nothing to do with memory or experiences from the past, but rather a future event. Maybe, that eerily familiar moment is an event you will experience in another life or parallel universe but far in the future. In this case, déjà vu would be premonitory; similar to the movie Final Destination, only the premonition comes from being somewhere rather than a vision.
I don't have an explanation for déjà vu, and as I mentioned earlier, I really appreciate the mystery (shame on science who would attribute the occurrences to nothing more than some sort of misfiring brain activity, rendering the whole phenomenon as explainable; sheesh). No, I have better reasons for this dissertation.
Déjà vu is intriguing (and sometimes creepy?), but often waved off as a fanciful notion and disregarded shortly after experiencing it. That’s ok and perfectly normal, but fiction authors such as myself are ever vigilant for this kind of material. One reason I have this blog is to provide readers with ‘food for thought.’ It could be a few laughs yet informative, like my post For The Love Of Zombies or educational and entertaining, like The Magic of Miniatures.
Another reason for the blog is to keep track of interesting things and organize my thoughts for story ideas. That’s what I’ve done here. Déjà vu has caught my attention enough to include elements of it in a story.
But there is actually another reason for this post; a more important reason. I need your help. Research tells me that most instances of déjà vu are considered not important enough to share. Oh sure, sometimes it’s mentioned in passing but not usually in detail. I can personally attest to this since the example I gave above wasn’t revealed to anyone until I wrote this post.
But what I need is your déjà vu stories because those untold moments in time are valuable and going to waste!
You see, I have an idea for a story that uses déjà vu as a paranormal element. How can you help? Simple; share your déjà vu moments. Feel free to comment below or if it’s private (and I can promise, it’ll stay that way), drop me a note here.
Thanks in advance!