Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Olfactory Musings: A Scents Memory Piece

June 25th, 2015

One year ago today, I posted a question to my Facebook page…


Many of my friends generously posted their responses. Memorable scents accompanied by touching, lovely, sad, angry, and beautiful stories. I pieced together a story of my own experiences crafted from their words. I tried to include every single one to create this bit of nose prose. I know, I missed Mossman Action Figure, cabin, and eucalyptus! Here is a visual representation of the scents I received. The large bulbs are the ones mentioned repeatedly.


This whole thing became a bit more precious than I usually like to go but, such is the way with memories and nostalgia. And, like with most art exercises, there is always room for improvement… particularly in my pronunciations of Malacca and waft … but I’d love for you to take a listen! Light a favorite candle or hold something fragrant under your nose,

What I hope to happen, even more than you hearing my story, is for us to share a reflective olfactory moment.

Play it in the background while you are working, don’t even pay attention, and maybe a word will jump out. Perhaps you will smell it, or at least think of a time you had with a Mossman Action Figure (boom, got it) or mulch.

In doing research for some other art and olfaction ideas, I ran across this olfactory artist, Brian Goeltzenleuchter! He is part of a similar (unrelated) project here: Olfactory Memoirs. I recently got to meet up with Brian in San Diego and it was a goshdamned treat. Can’t wait to see/smell more of his work.

If you’re interested in the words, here is V1 of the Script. This first iteration of the performance was for a really cool comedy festival in Chicago, A Jangleheart Circus, and for the show “One Item” in particular.


At the beginning of piece, pass out jars of lavender, boxes of crayons, an old book, Old Spice deodorant, Market Spice tea, rubber bands, etc. Audience is asked to sniff the jars throughout the show.


I think of life’s timeline in places because it’s easier to remember landmarks than dates. Brains never remember it all quite right. Except for smell. Scent is immediate, hardly anything to decipher. Scent is shit, it’s puppy paws, it’s mom and fresh tortillas. Like pinto beans in a pressure cooker, memories cook fast. The olfactory system swirls with the limbic system, clinging to the amygdala. Making close to indelible connections with memory. Blasts of old cologne (Malibu Musk, Cool Water, Electric Youth) like hippocampal stains, takes us there. Takes me back. A place I can barely remember, yet all of a sudden I am there.

So for a moment, lets concentrate on that sense that transcends space and time and places you in memory, not just reverie but exactly. I will speak to you in smells. I didn’t create an odorama or craft you each a perfume, but I did take words from my friends and a few olfactory aids. From a casual survey on Facebook, “hey friends, question for you. what is a smell/scent (good or bad) that you have a specific memory or memories linked to”?  I took my friends words and put them into a story about where I’ve called home. A nose prose using these suggested scents to build a story that includes yours. I hope it titillates your nosebuds, conjures memories and places you someplace else for even a second.

Out of an old suitcase, I pull out a handmade sign that reads “MANKATO, MN” and prop it against the open lid.

MANKATO, MN: I trampled through lilies of the valley to build fleeting lilac forts with cabbage patch dolls. Wet dog and rain wet grass, set on a palette of soybean factory. I’m from southern MN. With winters so cold the air smells like ozone. But Summertime’s new asphalt and honeysuckle thunderstorms were hot. Air conditioners and mowers drone through the humidity. Rain on hot gravel is different than rain on hot tar or grass. Summer camp’s emotional fireworks while listening to fresh water lap over lake algae. Loves Skin so soft to keep away the bugs. Summer days are Coppertone, coconut sunscreen and fried doughnuts. A boat motor with diesel gas for sailing in WI.

There was making hay bale furniture with my cousin above cow manure after painting mildew portraits on a concrete wall in Grandma’s basement. Ponds cold cream kept her from cracking. That house is a place that no longer exists because we had to sell the farm. Pig shit. I will never sneak through what felt like the inside of a giant old piano again, to discover dead cats and renovated school buses. Because we all need bacon! Its delicious.  Here’s an oxy moron. Outhouse air freshener. Plenty of bugspray. I never knew the smell of crop dusting pesticides but I did know grandpa’s pipe tobacco.

The first blast of a furnace. Heated up dust so cozy it cheers for the Vikings with dad next to the fireplace. He was never an old spice guy, he uses some other shaving cream in a mug with a brush. Its now fall, fresh cut grass and musky sweet cornfields have given way to dorm rooms and cafeteria food the concession stand is selling popcorn, wood is burning, and there is a brand new box of crayons. How confident do you feel? Pencil lead or pen ink? Definitely Dr Pepper Lip Smackers. As we get up for our chocolate milk, pencil shavings drop like sawdust on the fresh floorwax.

Lets get to the preteen, pre-deodorant times. Cotton shirts washed in tide sparking a clean libido. A dash of Polo, Juba Oil from the body shop… some Jergens. I hear that’s a thing. Incense to cover cigarette smoke. Sniffing out identities in closets and the chapel of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. So many White Shoulders. I took a French Class the year John died from the meningitis outbreak. I remembered watching him skate, the ice rinks and hockey gear.

Lets move on.

Out of an old suitcase, I pull out a handmade sign that reads “NEW YORK FUCKING CITY” and prop it against the open lid.

NEW YORK CITY: The subway body odor of 9 million strangers. Urine. White Castle. Hot trash like a red rubber dodgeball. The beginnings of my stale bar experiences spilling onto the sidewalks. Fresh bread from the Italian bakery, would become toasts at the liquor store. 5am stumbling under bridges. A man from Spain by way of Nantucket, condoms because I am afraid of disposable diapers. It was a circus composed of the sweaty unwashed suits from a gypsy punk marching band and it was awesome. I ate delicious lotus flower cakes while barking, “do you like comedy?”  There is one stench that I hope to never smell again, the burnt electrics of the weeks following Sept 11th. The haze of fear and unheard protests to a war in Iraq over burnt ass oil. A ceiling of drywall painted blue to remind me of Peru.

Out of an old suitcase, I pull out a handmade sign that reads “SEATTLE” and prop it against the open lid.

SEATTLE: A decade of urban stimulation and I needed nature. So I moved to Seattle. Intoxicating rosemary landscapes. The coffee. The breeze was ocean scented and laced with evergreen. I worked at the Pike Place Market lavender shop, The fish guys tossed salmon past leather belts to mingle with piroshkys, peppermint essential oil, creosote and Lazlo’s booze. With a moldy beard dripping with Vino Verite. He pulled cards from his jacket from a girlfriend in the middle of the country and told me how he ran here from Hungary. Market Spice tea shared with Phan who made me origami Snowflakes, took me to Starbucks on my birthday. We’d meet for buffet lunches and he told me about Vietnam.

Moving on.

Out of an old suitcase, I pull out a handmade sign that reads “CHICAGO” and prop it against the open lid.

CHICAGO: We drank campfire in a glass, Laphroiag in the mountains of North Carolina and I was hooked. Seemed too luxurious but hopeful and rich like mulch.  So I came to Chicago where I lived with husband future. He is nostalgic like a Panini Sticker with a heart as big, beautiful and complicated as Wyoming. His mother hates Asiago cheese. There is magic incorporated into hospital visits. And conversely, medical tape in theatre productions. But for all the luck and success for some reason I can’t shake the mothballs where I thought my life would be. I let familiar smells and distant identities form a circle. The mist of early morning Midwestern summer felt heavy defeated, back home in a tail between legs sort of way. Uncle Fun & Blommers Chocolate a welcome waft on my way to the burn of a backstage power saw but I haven’t really seen Idaho, Horthorpe Hall or Malacca. I didn’t even get to Ocean City Maryland! I let the economy throw me. A Gorse flower blossom surrounded by photosynthetic thorns, I don’t want to be that dependent on my thorns. I’m not done for god sakes, I just got scared of being old, of making a commitment. The inland water spray of lakeshore drive is not the enemy. But a lake has very different conversations than an ocean.

Out of an old suitcase, I pull out a handmade sign that reads “LOS ANGELES” and prop it against the open lid.

So together we’ll head west again, to desert sage and yellow jasmine. To meet back up with old NYC and their new super elastic bubble plastic lives. Crystal Ball tell me about whale watching, and this year’s Christmas Calamari, reminiscing about the Jersey Shore and sharing a violet candy. Maybe I’ll go vegan, cucumber melon, or live in an apartment building with a boxwood topiary. I’ll soak in chlorine, get a real tan and a real fake Christmas tree.

Smell ya later.