I’m trying to go back, see, to a time and a place and I reckon smell is the way to get me there. I’m told the kids are calling it “Nasalstalgia” these days.
It’s time travel.
I walk by a cafe on State Street. A trendy-bendy collage student with a Joan Jett coiffure flings open the steamy glass door. Ting, ting, ting. The scent of ground coffee and steam bubbles up in my face.
Like the misty wave of a B-movie flashback, I’m tossed again into my first day behind a coffee counter, pouring bean upon bean upon bean into bags for a local radio promotion where I landed the real life role as the bumbling, modern day, Lucy Ricardo-esque prima donna. I pour. I weigh. I spill across the floor. Every unexpected slap of coffee smoke takes me right on back.
I once heard an interview with Lynda Barry who mentioned that she kept a box of things with interesting smells to help kick-up the engine on her inspiration machine. She’d noted that scent memory is some of the strongest memory we have. It’s true, don’t you think?
The smell of gasoline in Dad’s old Chevy.
Orange slices, cinnamon and cloves simmering on the stove.
The cloying scent of rose soaps in Grandma’s powder room.
Autumn leaves burning on a drive in to town.
It catches you up and you are gone.
Scent memory. Time travel.
My collection is small, hardly anything–Old Spice aftershave, Chapstick, Bounce dryer sheets, Mr. Bubble bubble bath. Smells costs money, after all. My intention is tremendous–a memoir, this memoir, written and remembered and set upon the wind.
The first time I used my box of scents was last Thursday when I wrote more deeply and honestly than I had done in ages. Or ever. In some ways the Chapstick/Old Spice combination was something, but I found out, too, that Old Spice on it’s own isn’t the same as Old Spice mixed with sweaty, old Dad. I found out, too, that when you open Pandora’s box, you have to deal with what comes barreling out.
What are your experiences with scent memory? Have you used scent in your writing? How did it work out?