My visitors today

Sunday 18 November 2012

Déjà vu and eyes

'A winter garden'

Memories playing tricks
Been there, seen that…

Déjà vu usually stays around for only a short time, often for less than a second. It has not happened to me for a long time, maybe even years. It has never been as clear and long-lasting as it was at a meeting that I was at recently.

Someone joined in a conversation that I was having with two people, one of whom I knew well the other of whom I have known of for ages but we had only just met face to face. A fourth person began to speak to all three of us and I stepped back from the group as he leaned over the table to say something in quite a forceful way, not a disagreement, more a reinforcement of what was being said as introducing his own opinion.

This situation is all so clear in my mind. I even thought at the time that I knew what he was going to say next, that I was just a split second ahead of him. I was so shocked by this that I think the astonishment probably showed on my face, and this is why I took the step backwards. I almost felt no part of it any more, more like an observer. I was surprised I even had time to wonder about what was happening while it was happening and to question whether it really was déjà vu or whether something else was going on. It appeared to me as I imagine it to be when people describe how they have an enhanced, nearer and clearer view of the world from taking certain drugs. The visual picture of that déjà vu is still so sharp and the sounds are so precise in my memory, just as they were as it happened.

Tricks of memory

As it was happening I had that feeling of ‘I have been in this situation before’, ‘I know what he will say next’. Then came the feeling of ‘Yes, I was right, he did say what I remember from last time’. Oddly enough, however I have absolutely no idea what the conversation was about, or of what the newcomer, or either of the other two, said. I have no idea how the conversation ended or even when the déjà vu ended. Perhaps the meeting began and I was pulled out of it, I do not know.

It is all so extremely well deleted from my conscious memory that I wonder whether something actually happen to me, like falling briefly unconscious, and that is why there is a gap in my memory. I do not know, perhaps I was just ‘vacant’ for a second but did not pass out. If I had fallen unconscious I would have been told. The next that I remember is finding a seat to sit in.

I have always loved the feeling of déjà vu

This used to happen far more often than it has in recent years, and some déjà vus, I believe, at the time that they occured, had happened more than once before. I suppose that this would be called an already seen déjà vu! The one last week was a déjà, déjà vu.

I remember how as a child and teenager I loved this experience. I never spoke to anyone about it and I suppose that I eventually read or heard something that explained enough for me to know that it was a fairly common occurrence, so I was not afraid of it.

I do not ever remember thinking that this only happened to me. I suppose that, as children do, I considered it to be normal, happening regularly to everyone. I do think that I even believed that situations really had happened before and sometimes, only during the déjà vu itself, I believe that still. This time I also thought, as it happened, that it must be true as I knew the words, although oddly, I no longer know them.

Eyes playing tricks. Or are they?

‘As children often do’… I used to believe many things to be normal but never asked about them. Déjà vu is normal,  some conditions, however, are not.

It was not normal, something I unfortunately only discovered at the age of nineteen, not to see well enough to read a book after about three in the afternoon, in poor light, at school. I was embarrassed in class because I thought it was my shyness that made me stammer and stutter and rub my eyes a lot, but that shyness was probably due to a vicious circle.

I could not read in bed, or read a script for a play in the evening at youth club. I could not read more than just a paragraph and that not without rubbing my eyes a lot. I thought this to be just how it was with everyone, especially as we had school medicals, with eyesight tests annually that I always passed with flying colours.

I remember that this was how it was from the beginning of grammar school. I now know that this is why my homework took so long if I had to use a text book and that this was not because I was stupid and therefore slow. I now know that this is why I only became really interested in really reading books when I was at art school, when I took myself off to the optician and got myself such strong glasses that I had to have them in two prescriptions, one step at a time instead of at once.

I wonder how I managed to get through school as an average pupil, pass O and A levels and get on to a degree course without this ever being noticed. It helped I expect that my degree subject was art and I drew what I thought I could see and no one questioned what was on the paper, as it was ‘artistic’ enough and my hand-eye coordination skills were quite good! I noticed the problem myself when I started to learn about textiles and weaving and I could not thread a loom. Then a whole new world opened up to me, of newspapers, books and easier learning. Learning assisted by another source – the written word.

A personal view

I wonder whether this experience has sharpened my observation skills. I believe that it has. My ability to learn through doing is still much more honed than my skill to learn through reading about it. I do find though that, as I have practiced my writing skills in recent years, my ability to understand the written word has become easier and faster.

Perhaps in believing that it was normal not to be able to read sharpened my abilities to observe the world and taught me how to look at things that I saw and how I really see them, and I learnt how to fit things together in a slightly different way in order to understand the world.

Who knows what happened? All I know is that I found it a real problem to read before I got glasses and throughout my childhood I think that this embarrassed me and made me incredibly shy and timid, in class and out.

My family could never understand why, even when I had learnt to read, I did not do it. I loved books, especially those with lovely illustrations that helped me to understand the text that I could not see very well!

I always snuggled up to my sister in bed and asked her to read my favourite Enid Blyton fairy stories to me, ones with many elves, pixies and clever owls in them. My wish not to read is still a family joke and I think that the family thought I was lazy, but it was not laziness it was because it was after three in the afternoon, the light was dim and I just could not see. I admired my sister so much that she could read so fluently, and I am very grateful to her that she always did, right until I was ten or eleven years old.

I know that it is only recently while I have managed to practice through writing, that I can understand much of what I read with just one reading. Until then anything more than the headlines in the newspaper took a few readings to make any sense to me, even when I had my now very strong glasses.


It is no wonder really that I only ever felt really comfortable and relaxed with a pencil and paintbrushes in my hands. I do not really need to see what I put on the paper as I am drawing or painting, not that clearly. I need to see what I am looking at in reality, and that I could always see well enough to interpret in my own way.

Those well-honed observation skills come in very useful in my life at home and at work!

It is not only the observation of what I see that is important and vital to my work it is the observations of what could lie underneath. The patching together and finding the reasons why a walk is hunched up, or a voice has changed in tone, or words can no longer be found. Observing what cannot be seen is all so important to a conductive upbringing too, to any upbringing especially mine when I could not really see well enough to read but did not know it for a very long time.

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