Saturday, December 4, 2010

Smell Memories

You may have heard before that the sense of smell is the most powerful sense to trigger memories. In writing, it's also an extremely powerful descriptor. If you read about the way something smells, more than anything else, the idea of the scent can really make you "experience" what the writer described. For some reason, the sense of smell provides such a vivid experience - it really "takes you there."

I remember a while back, I caught the scent of something (I don't even remember where, or the context, or anything) - and I couldn't place what it was...but the scent was so powerful to me that it brought me back to such a vivid, specific place. The smell was a food smell, and it took me back to the house I grew up in. I remember the beige brush strokes on the kitchen cupboard, and the dark red, cylindrical cardboard container it came in. From that I remembered what it was - those Sun-Maid raisins that came in the dark red container with the dark red lid. Isn't it interesting that the scent of something can take you to where you remember smelling it before? To me, the raisin smell is somewhat...comforting...maybe calming? (even though I don't really adore raisins - they are just OK).

I have the same thing happen to me every year when the Christmas decorations are unpacked. The smell of the wreath, the old tissue paper protecting all the breakables, the pine cones - the scents themselves - trigger memories of Christmases past and create that much more enjoyable and reflective a decorating experience.

Here's where it gets really interesting. Everyone has their own opinion about smells, of course (for instance, consider all the different kinds of perfume or cologne out there). We all consider different smells in different ways, which makes the sense of smell that much more complex. What do our preferences say about us?

The variety of perspectives on smells can get even more complicated because smells are connected to memories. Everyone has different memories, so smells can mean one thing to one person and something else to the next person. Wow. For example, even though we all prefer certain types of perfume/cologne, there are only so many out there, so think of all the different women who wear one type of perfume. One guy might hate that perfume because it reminds him of a horrible girl, with an outrageous temper, whom he dated in college. Maybe he loved that perfume when he loved that girl, but then he had no choice to but to hate the perfume when things went sour in the relationship because of how closely connected the smell was to his perception of the girl. Another guy might love the perfume because it is the most vivid memory of his mother, who passed away when he was a boy, in a tragic car accident. Wow. So smells are powerful emotional triggers, too.

Wow. Who knew that this whole smell thing could be so interesting?

Since I learned how powerful the sense of smell is in describing things and triggering memories, I've made a conscious effort to use it in writing...(and, of course, I figured I should write a blog about it as my tribute to the wonderful sense of smell! However, I didn't always think that way. For me, for many years, the sense of smell sat on the back burner. Music/sounds and visual pictures always seemed to take the forefront. Why? I wonder.

For those of you who love interesting/useless facts, here's a site I found and some fun facts about the wonderful sense of smell:

Sense of Smell Facts

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