Saturday, 13 August 2016

Smell and memory

I saw my gyno this week for a yearly check-up and he told me I had lost 10 kilograms since my last appointment. That’s equivalent to 22 pounds for my US readers.
It surprised me, not the amount, but I thought it was over two years. It’s not unsurprising for me to lose that amount in that time period. I’ve been gaining and losing the same 20 kg my whole life. I had been a chubby kid. That weight was probably gained over the year before. But now I walk every day and I am careful with what I eat.
But what got me thinking was scent. I bought some plain soap this week and the first time I used it… wham. I was back in time. I was fourteen and my mother was very ill with cancer. I got packed off to the farm to live with my aunt and uncle. I had nothing to do. I didn’t walk as much as I did in the city. And I was worried about my mum and no one made much of an effort to tell me how she was. I had to go to the local high school and it didn’t offer my subjects. I found the whole experience pretty bad. So I ate and I got fat again.
The farmhouse had a shower on the back veranda and that was the one you used if you were super dirty before you were allowed inside. My uncle always used it, and I did on the days when I had been riding horses or feeding pigs or whatever.
I couldn’t have told you what the farm soap smelt like if you asked me all these years later, but the second I smelt it, I knew. And the new soap I bought smelled exactly the same. I was, for a moment, that sad fat teen.
Given it’s such a strong trigger for an emotional response I have noticed that it’s rare to read it. Writers always describe what they see, less often what they touch and rarely what they smell. Maybe we should do more of that?
Don’t forget to describe all the senses when you’re writing.