Saturday, October 16, 2010

Princeton Vuja De

When I was in college, my father told me he wouldn't go back to college for a million dollars. At the time, I thought, "well that's dumb!" Cause college is great, right? Well, college is great, when you're in college. When you're not in college anymore, you're just not in college anymore.

There are things that happen over and over again, like heading to the bathroom to eat snacks in private, and there are thing that don't happen again. College is like getting a polio vaccine or seeing Haley's comet. It only happens once in your lifetime.

Correction: twice! About six weeks ago, I moved back to Princeton, my alma mater. At the time, it didn't seem insane. (There were good reasons, too, which I won't go into here, but one of which is the proximity to New York without the New York rent. There have also been unanticipated perks like the fact that I have yet to fill up my gas tank. The only time I didn't have to fill up my gas tank in Chicago was when I didn't have a gas tank.) But, as it turns out, the move is making me a little insane. I keep having this strange feeling I've been here before.

At the end of Thorton Wilder's Our Town, the main character, Emily, is given a chance to relive a single day from her past. (I forgot to mention, she's dead.) The other folks in the graveyard tell her to pick a slow day--a day when nothing happened. Because to pick a really amazing day, like the day you fell in love, would be psychically damaging, like looking at photographs of someone who died and then seeing them appear in front of you. Emily picks her 12th birthday, and she lasts about 90 seconds. She hears her mother's voice and has to call the whole thing off. Don't relive your 12th birthday.

Every day I walk out onto University Place, and every day I think, What in God's Name is Happening Here? I think I see my old friends. Is that Todd on his bike? Cindy on the Erg machine? The same tan flock of men's cross-country runners blows by in the morning. The word I'm looking for is déjà vu, except you can't have déjà vu at the same time every day unless you wake up every morning having forgotten yesterday. Déjà vu is a feeling of compelling familiarity in a situation that hasn't actually happened before. What I'm having is a feeling of compelling familiarity in a situation where I have a pretty good idea why it's familiar. So why's it creepy?

For one, I've never had déjà vu. I tell people this and they don't believe me, but it's true. I would kill to have déjà vu. There's also (hilariously enough) presque vu (which is the sensation of being just on the verge of recovering a latent memory--when something is on the tip of your tongue) and jamais vu, which is seeing something familiar as though it were brand new. This is the bizarre experience I often have of catching sight of my reflection in a shop window and thinking it's my mother.

I think the word I want is vuja de. But then, it turns out, vuja de already has a meaning. (WTF?) According to the Urban Dictionary, vuja de is the feeling of definitely never having been somewhere before. To me, that's lame. I have that feeling all the time and it's not worthy of having a name. I'm gonna keep using vuja de my way.

Vuja de: the feeling you relive every day that you knew you were getting into something vaguely dumb, and you went ahead and did it anyway.