The Reason We’ve Already Met

One of the best icebreaker questions is the one about choosing a superpower. Personally, I am Team Control Things With My Mind. Having ESP, or telekinesis, or the ability to speak to ghosts-those are some quality characteristics to have if you want to stand out at the next Justice League meeting. There is one mystical phenomenon, though, that’s so common everyone experiences it at one time or another: déjà vu. Translated from French, déjà vu means “already seen”, and people who experience it are overwhelmed with a sense of already having done something concurrently while doing that actual very same something. The sensation gives a bit of a rush that comes from feeling that you are in the past and the present at the same time. Déjà vu also causes anyone having déjà vu to announce “HA HA YOU GUYS OMG I AM TOTALLY HAVING DÉJÀ VU RIGHT NOW” to everyone in the general vu-cinity.

I, too, experience déjà vu, but not the sexy paranormal kind. For instance: every Labor Day weekend, I have dinner with a couple of out-of-town friends. Owing to circumstances and location, we always have dinner in the same restaurant, which oddly enough is a sports bar at a Marriott. It’s not that we’re really passionate about buffalo wings and giant nacho platters, it’s just what works. (OK FINE I LOVE NACHOS ARE YOU HAPPY) We’ve been meeting there every Labor Day for a few years now, and this year, as our meal was winding down and we were getting our check, I complimented our waitperson on her very pretty nail polish color. My compliment led to a very involved, ten minute avalanche conversation about why she’d painted her nails-she was going on vacation and she’d gotten her hair done for her trip too and she was going to a big Caribbean resort and she was afraid to scuba dive but the pool would be soooo fun and did we think she should parasail? This was followed by a detailed report on her bathing suit inventory.

Dazed as I was from the lighting quick speed at which our relationship had gone from distant but polite to besties who tell each other everything, I started to have that very strong “I have definitely lived through this before” feeling. I gloated for a minute, congratulating myself on being a super-spiritual empath who is open to vibes from dimensions that humans cannot even comprehend, and then I remembered: in that very same restaurant, a year to the day before, I had complimented our (different) waitperson on her very attractive (but different) nail polish color, a compliment that led to very involved, ten minute avalanche conversation about how her baby was just learning to walk and she was going to have to fire her babysitter and it’s so very difficult to decide when to have another baby but she thought she was ready but her husband didn’t think he was ready and WHAT THE HELL. I didn’t know that admiring someone’s manicure could inspire such catharsis. Can I please have some non-absurd déjà vu? Where’s my past life as Elizabeth I at?

Putting things on repeat happens in my reading life too. I’ve definitely picked up a book and gotten through the first chapter before figuring out that the reason it’s so familiar is that I’ve already read it. (Picture me slamming the book shut, tossing it over my shoulder, and grabbing the next one on the pile. Except since I’m practically married to my Kindle that doesn’t happen, but there is zero dramatic tension in poking a screen to download another book.) The other book déjà vu that’s all déjà too is reading a book that reminds me of another completely-unrelated-yet-completely-similar book, something that happened to me recently as I was reading a book about another one of my favorite icebreaker superpowers, reincarnation.

Casual Friday

Me inventing Casual Friday when I was Elizabeth I

The Forgetting Time The Forgetting Time is documentary producer Sharon Guskin’s debut novel. It’s an intriguing book that explores the question of reincarnation and past lives, specifically the phenomena of children speaking languages, reporting experiences, or describing places about which they could have had knowledge. Jerome Anderson, an academic who has made the study of such instances his career, meets Janie Zimmerman, a desperate mother who is at her wit’s end trying to manage the odd behaviors and intense phobias of her only child, four-year-old Noah. Hoping to parlay Noah’s case into a book that will justify his life’s work, Dr. Anderson works to unravel the mystery of Noah’s struggles. By turns suspenseful and emotionally raw, The Forgetting Time is made all the more interesting by Guskin’s inclusion of case studies from real-life researcher Dr. Jim Tucker’s work documenting children reporting past life memories. I enjoyed this book, but while I was reading it memories of another book kept popping up in my thoughts over and over, a book that I’d actually never read….

Audrey Rose Hahahaha just kidding. I was flinging some dramatic exposition there. I have, in fact, read Audrey Rose, the 1975 horror novel by Frank De Felitta. The book was inspired by De Felitta’s young son, who was so precocious that it was suggested that perhaps he was manifesting talents from a previous life. (Ok really? That is some extreme competitive parenting. “My Bobby is terribly smart but he’s not gifted. He’s reincarnated. We have him with a tutor that specializes in using past lives to get better standardized test scores because just ‘paranormal’ on your resume won’t get you into Harvard anymore. And of course, he goes to Mommy and Me once a week.”) In order to read Audrey Rose, I had to steal it from my dad’s Forbidden Grown-Up Book Stack, a stash of paperbacks that he thought he kept well hidden. I was attracted to the lurid cover, a depiction of a girl walking out of a grave through flames AND YET HER DRESS WAS NOT ON FIRE WHAT POWERFUL ADULT MAGIC WAS THIS? Audrey Rose introduces the Templeton family; they are super happy, except for the part where youngest daughter Ivy is tormented by nightmares of dying a violent death in a car accident. When the father of a child who died in a car accident shows up to share his theory that Ivy is actually his dead daughter, the regression hypnosis for Ivy starts, because the 70s. Spoiler alert: It does not go well.

I love the synchronicity of books existing in parallel, eventually intersecting in the hands of a passionate reader. (ME, I’M THE READER) I don’t think I can claim any kind of special psychic gifts here. It’s basic math. The more I read, the more likely it is that I’m going to get the feeling that I have been there before. It’s like putting my favorite song on repeat. No matter how many times I hear it, I am going to enjoy all over again, every time I press play.  I’ve definitely learned my lesson about complimenting someone’s manicure in a sports bar, though.

Action Items
Dr. Jim Tucker has written a book about his research into children and memories of past lives.

The Reason I’m Jealous

The hottest trend in written communication is acronyms (sorry, Oxford comma) and that suits me just fine, because I am very busy and important and cannot be spending all that time typing out whole sentences. The days of monks toiling in a medieval monastery, taking a week to illustrate just ONE letter with 10 tiny panels depicting woodland creatures piously celebrating the harvest season, are long gone. Today, your modern monks are too busy penny trading and ordering Birkenstocks online to care about meticulously illustrating some boring coffee table book. If acronyms are good enough for monks, they are good enough for me. The communication revolution is happening and I am HFI.

The gains that acronyms have afforded in the fields of Snark, Profanity, and SmartAss Responses are particularly impressive. Please observe:
Awesome AF, right? The acronym that I find myself using the most, though, is a new-ish acronym for an old phenomenon. It perfectly captures that anxious cringey feeling I get when someone starts raving about a great new band I’ve never heard of. Or great new restaurant I’ve never heard of. Or worse, a great new book I’ve never heard of. You know by now I am talking about FOMO, that ever-present Fear Of Missing Out. It’s been the human condition forever, it seems, to want to Do All The Things or to want to Have All The Things or just Be All Things To Everybody and that when we can’t have everything and be everywhere, it makes us unhappy. In our present Google times, FOMO is having a real moment, because now we can almost instantly know about missing out on a whole bunch of stuff we never even knew to want in the first place. Pre-internet, we had to settle for vaguely imagining fabulous lives we weren’t living. Now, we are one Tweet, Facebook post, or episode of HGTV’s House Hunters International away from “vague idea” to “oh that is a very specific cool thing in which I am unable to participate”. It makes me wish for simpler times, when monks weren’t fretting about which monastery had the best illustration rooms or if they were participating in the dopest harvest season.

FOMO flat swamps me when I least expect it and I was not expecting it at all when a friend of mine recently shared an amazing family story. It seems that once upon a time, my friend’s mother wrote a lovely fan letter to Daphne du Maurier. The letter was in fact so lovely that Daphne du Maurier answered it WITH A WHOLE OTHER LETTER ADDRESSED TO MY FRIEND’S MOM and that letter is now a family treasure. Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was a British author who did justice to her literary pedigree (her grandfather was both a writer and a cartoonist, and her parents were prestigious London-based actors) by publishing psychologically suspenseful novels, plays, and short stories. Du Maurier’s work explores and exploits tensions that exist between reality and perception in our most intimate relationships, finding sinister overtones and malicious intent in interpersonal power struggles. She wrote the novels Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and My Cousin Rachel, the short stories “Don’t Look Now” and “The Birds”, and in her spare time she answered at least one fan letter.

It was Du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca that immediately came to mind when I first feasted my eyes on my friend’s Family Heirloom Letter Of Du Maurierness. Rebecca opens as we meet the narrator, a restless and dissatisfied young woman traveling Europe serving as a companion to a wealthy, shallow social climber. Bound by the limited opportunities for a woman of her station (hello, British class system), she has dim prospects for anything but a life catering to the whims of people with more money than sense. Upon meeting the mysterious widower Maxim de Winter, she enters into a whirlwind courtship that results in a quick marriage and sudden ascendancy to mistress of Manderley, the de Winter English country estate and ancestral home. As a career path, it’s enviable on the surface, but IRL it pays to ask questions before you marry a widower 20 years older than you are. Questions like:
What was my husband’s dead first wife like?
Also, why is she dead?
Also, is the housekeeper at my new English country estate a manipulative beeyotch completely devoted to the memory of my husband’s dead first wife to the extent that she will try to ruin my life through gaslighting and manipulation?
Etc., etc.

Intimidated, unsure, and undermined at every turn by her lack of confidence and a possibly psychotic housekeeper, our heroine is so full of FOMO that you will read the whole book before realizing that you don’t even know her name. Nobody does. She never shares it. The book is named for the dead wife, not the live one, which makes Buzzfeed’s list of “Bad Signs You’re Too Passive In Your First Marriage/His Second Marriage”. Too afraid to assert herself and desperate to please, our narrator spends endless time wondering what it would be like to be the kind of person who could be mistress of Manderley (her own actual house, where she lives) and happily married to Maxim (her actual husband) instead of telling everyone to STFU and taking charge.

monk illustrating

Monk composing fan letter

My FOMO was real when my friend shared Daphne du Maurier’s charming and gracious reply to her charming and gracious fan. If I put myself out there to an author I admire, would I be so lucky as to be acknowledged? If Daphne du Maurier has taught me anything, it’s to speak up before your creepy housekeeper tries to push you out a window. My best case scenario is a return letter I will cherish forever. Worst case scenario is a restraining order I would cherish forever. Either way, I’m not missing out.

Action Items

Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of Rebecca is one of his best movies. It’s tense and spooky and if your jam is watching Laurence Olivier act like a jerk, then don’t miss it. This movie is Laurence Olivier at peak jerk.