Oprah, vaseline, déjà vu–and writing

May 14, 2008 § 7 Comments

I’m just wondering–has it ever happened to you that you’ve been in the throes of writing and something you’re typing that very second pops up on the television screen or in a conversation peripheral to you? Like some kind of writing-deja-vu. (Even though a psychologist-friend recently debunked the idea of deja vu…what a buzz kill.) Recently I was working on an article and happened to turn on the TV for background noise, when suddenly the very thing I was writing reverberated in the voice of (who else, right?) Oprah. Now, maybe this isn’t so coincidental, considering it was Oprah, and on any given day she could be talking about everything from post-Holocaust literature to the wrinkle-fighting wonders of Vaseline. But that day she gave voice almost simultaneously to a thought I was having on the page. And I’ve had other experiences like this–just yesterday, in fact, when a librarian leaned over my shoulder and remarked, “That’s funny, someone else was just in here looking up that old article.” (That old article, in fact, covered a plane crash that happened thirty years ago, killing my grandfather and uncles.) I drilled her with questions: Who was it? A man or woman? Young or middle-aged? She couldn’t tell me much, just that it was recent-enough to feel uncanny–two people in search of the same story. (A story that meant profound horror for my family. What possible meaning did it hold for someone else, three decades later?) “You don’t forget something like that,” she said. And I imagine you don’t, in a small library in a small town. But when I’m writing, everything starts to feel uncanny, which makes me wonder if it really is–or if it’s something else… Some enigmatic aspect of the writing process itself. Joan Connor speaks to this question best in her essay, “On Writing and Telepathy,” which you can read here: http://al.gcsu.edu/connor11.htm.

At any rate, it’s fun to think about, not unlike the pleasure in swapping ghost stories. So, you got any?

– Rachael

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§ 7 Responses to Oprah, vaseline, déjà vu–and writing

  • Lorri says:

    I was making some notes on my oh-so-undomestic self and was on the subject of ironing (or not ironing, as the case more accurately is)when I decided to do a search online. This was a few years ago, before I knew that google was a verb and when the idea of ALL THIS INFORMATION AT MY FINGERTIPS still made me giddy with excitement. I found a poem about ironing, a review of an ironing robot called Dressman (loved the fact it was a guy!), and then a strange reference to something called Extreme Ironing, a sport that combined “danger and excitement with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.” I thought it might be a hoax but it was certainly interesting (how did they keep the shirt from getting wrinkled while they climbed down from the mountain peak?) and so I copied the information into my file.

    The next morning, while I was looking through the Parade supplement in the Sunday paper, I turned the page and there it was: “Think You’re Good At Ironing?” the title read. “Look, in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s someone . . . ironing?” What are the chances? I asked my husband, and then spent some time musing on coincidence and the collective consciousness. Was the universe telling me to write this piece or to forget it? Did anyone care?

    I’m a little further down the writing path now, and I don’t spend much time wondering what the universe wants. Sooner or later you learn that the world will not beat a path to your door, that you lay the path painstakingly, word by phrase by sentence. You write what you passionately want to write and you work at it until you’re able to make other people, even if just a few, want to read it.

    This happened three years ago (I just pulled out the Parade story to find out!) and today is the first day since then that I’ve opened my word file (which I named, oh-so-literally, Ironing). I guess the extreme ironing angle took the steam out of my story.

  • Jenn says:

    This happens to me all the time, to the point that I’ve started to think two things about it. One, when I’m writing about a certain topic or idea, I suddenly become more sensitive to its mention in media. (I’m sure that camels are mentioned nearly daily in the New York Times. ) Two, maybe I write about things that are too common. (There was this essay on Britney Spears…)

  • Grover says:

    I think what we’re talking about is called “synchronicity.” Carl Jung came up with the idea and thought it had something to do with the collective unconscious. I think the story goes that he was doing therapy with some woman who was telling him about her irrational fear of or multiple dreams about scarabs when there was a loud crack at the window and it turned out that a scarab beetle, something not usually found in Jung’s part of the world, had smacked into the window just when they were talking about it.

    Anyway, the Police took the idea and ran with it, exploring it in musical form with an entire album, appropriately named Synchronicity. Sting can be seen on the cover reading Jung’s book.

  • John says:

    This is why I don’t write with the television on.

    In all seriousness, though, I think Grover is on to something when he mentions the phenomenon known as synchronicity. A lot like deja vu in its ability to writhe free from us at any moment, it also has the ability to pop up unaware. I’ve had a few such moments. For example, once I was writing a story for my collection when I started remembering some events from my childhood that I literally had forgotten about for who knows how long. I wrote them down, started really thinking about them. Then, later that day, I was on the phone with my mom. Out of the blue she said, “You probably don’t remember this, but . . . ” Yep, you guessed it, she hit on this same memory. It’s strange to have that happen. For awhile, I thought maybe my mom had put some sort of spyware on my PC.

  • Jenn says:

    The idea of a mother having spyware like that is terrifying.

  • wordwytch says:

    It was just after 9/11 and I was in Germantown, Pa., looking for my ancestors’ homeplace.
    My research showed that it was on the corner of Logan and Wister streets.
    Down the narrow streets, I went by a white Quaker schoolhouse beside a tidy cemetery with ancient stone markers.
    The neighborhood started to look more residential with some two-story brownstone duplexes and a girl jumping rope on the front porch.
    In some places half of the duplex had been torn down leaving only a tall skinny part with rough edges showing on one side.
    On past storefronts, kids were selling pit bull puppies. I walked until I was nearly exhausted but came upon a deli just as it was turning noon.
    Two Arab men were jabbering in their native tongue behind the counter as I told them I wanted Special No. 1.
    The place was empty and I took my choice of booths, my back turned toward the men.
    Waiting for my lunch, I noticed at my left was a black curtain surrounding a group of booths. One had feet peeking from underneath. One set was a woman’s, you could tell.

    More jabbering and laughing and some singing from behind the counter till they called my number and I got up for my food.
    A couple quickly parted the black curtain, the woman with her head down, her face covered with a black burka.
    I ate my gyro and getting increasingly nervous as more men came through the back door.
    It was a terrorists’ nest, I was sure, paranoia left over from the recent massacre getting the best of me.
    I walked out leisurely, my heart secretly pounding, strolled to the corner, relieved, and checked the street marker.
    I was on the corner of Logan and Wister.
    Sometimes we end up in places we never intended to go.
    Unexpected explorations yield secrets of their own.

  • Oronte Churm says:

    I spoke recently to my 92-year old stepmother, who lives in Florida. She said that she sat on a bench in a store, and the man next to her said that he was from a little town she probably never heard of–and named my town. She said I lived there, and he said he had lived on Main Street–my street. She said I lived on the 200 block (she’s mistaken), and he said he had lived on the 500 block–my block.

    She never got his name, and he passes into the world.

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