Genius Loci and Jamais Vu

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Neil Gaiman offering a little bit of inspiration up in here.  You’d think the solitude would make the words come to me more easily.  Untrue.  My greatest distraction has always been myself.  It’s how it always was: that blank page staring so accusingly, crushing your rosy dreams with its stark truth.  

My friend recently talked to me about the jamais vu phenomenon, which is best explained in relation to deja vu.  Deja vu is the feeling that you’ve been somewhere before, even though you’ve never actually been to that particular locale in your life.  But it’s not so much that the place is familiar to you seeing as the location is still alien. Rather it’s that the emotion it evokes from you, that rises like a treacherous serpent from your chest, is familiar.  Jamais vu is the opposite, sometimes more sinister phenomenon.  It’s when a familiar place suddenly seems foreign.

I’ll admit that it has come to me amicably.  Notably, on a clear, cloudless morning on my way to The Strand bookstore.  Union Square wasn’t its usual eyesore.  The farmers’ market blanketed the earth with its early harvest.  And the city didn’t feel like home suddenly, like my old stomping ground, but rather as a place wholly unfamiliar and utterly foreign.  It was amazing.  I should explain that I was suffering a great deal of wanderlust at the time.  For me, that morning was a chance to leave while my feet were still tied to the ground.  If I could bottle that feeling to take with me and give the world just a light spritz whenever I feel too stuck in one place, then maybe I wouldn’t have the urge to travel every few months: to tie up my scarf and roam like a nomad over the packed earth.

Still.  There are times when it’s not so pleasant.  Like my mother’s whole apartment after her passing.  All of its home-like qualities vanished, and an unnerving darkness settled there instead: as bleak as the River Styx.  It was clearly and irrevocably not ours anymore, or familiar except in surface.  If it weren’t, you know, actually sharing three walls with other people’s homes I would have wanted to torch that place to the ground.  When I’m writing, in the future, and I need a genius loci or two I will have a model for one that is wholly unpleasant to the point of being evil—not in the double double toil and trouble sense necessarily, but in the twisted sense of reality gone horribly, awfully wrong.  Of the world careening off axis.  Of the familiar becoming alien to the point of incomprehensible.  Jamais vu.

I have that feeling now, slightly, sitting on the floor I actually spend the majority of time at at school.  I’m technically working, actually.  It’s Friday night around ten o’clock and I am seriously wondering why I’m still here, seeing as it’s become abundantly clear to me this evening that no one else will be showing up.  And in the quiet stillness, there is a slight sense of jamais vu.  Not for any sinister reason, merely because in my mind, except for in the very, very early mornings, this floor is always packed.  At least one of the buchlas is always screaming like a theramin, music and AV clips are always leaking out of different studios, and there’s always a bunch of stupid undergrads like me with our feet blocking the aisle, cursing ourselves blue.  To be honest, it’s a bit unnerving not to have all of that.  It sounds kind of stupid but this place has been my bedrock this semester.  While I’ve been losing my last parent and burning my childhood and leaving home, it’s been kind of constant. Unwaveringly alive.  To feel alone here is foreign.

Nothing like a little jamais vu to spice up your Friday night.

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One thought on “Genius Loci and Jamais Vu

  1. I have had this feeling many times… I think it’s because *and you’ll please pardon my metaphysical digression* The object on the other side, “where the qi travels”, if we shall go by what the ancient Chinese say, has really and truly changed and is NOT the place it was before… whole nations, towns, and people’s shift continents like the proverbial nomad above, it’s just that some arrive early, others late, If you arrive on time, deja vu… if early or late, jamais vu… like being the guest of a friend at foreign party, when you arrive and spot them in the crowd, you are at ease, if they exit early without your notice, you are disquieted… they come in groups, you’ve seen them before and shall see them again, it’s just that the timing is slightly off, like a valence electron with only six friends… something’s still missing…

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