“The Smell of Loss”

“The Smell of Loss”

Normally I post about fragrance on or around Fridays, in my weekly “Fragrance Friday” blog post. But this weekend’s New York Times had such a stunning, beautiful op-ed piece, The Smell of Loss, that I just had to share it.

The first time it happens is a dark winter’s afternoon, not quite a year after her death. I’m at my desk working, and there it suddenly is: sharp, glassy-green, with that faint, musky undertone that catches at the back of your throat.

I recognize it instantly: the scent that hung in our hall every time she came to supper. The perfume that clung to her coat, her scarves, detectable sometimes for hours on my babies’ hair after she’d been carrying and kissing them.

That first time, it’s a shock. Her perfume is something I’ve long forgotten (in her final months, mostly bedridden, she was beyond all that). But here it is — absolute and definite and quite overpowering.

The author, Julie Myerson, is describing the signature fragrance of her beloved, deceased mother-in-law, which she starts smelling at unexpected moments, for minutes at a time, with no apparent source such as clothing. She consults experts:

I email Jay A. Gottfried, a neuroscientist who runs the Gottfried Laboratory at Northwestern University, which investigates the links between brain activity and sensory perception.

Professor Gottfried tells me that what I describe is known in his business as “phantosmia” or “phantom smells.” The sense of smell, he says, is our most ancient, primal sense and has “intimate and direct control over emotional and behavioral states.”

You really have to read the rest of this article, it is wonderful. Enjoy! Have you ever experienced this phenomenon?

Illustration: Aidan Koch, for The New York Times

Where to Write?

Where to Write?

Day 6 of Writing 101: where do I write? and what tools do I use?

I often write in the sunroom of our house. It opens into both the dining room on one side and the family room on the other; the other two walls are mostly windows. It’s a good place to write on my laptop, as I can be among the family activities and available to answer homework questions, for instance, but it is also very peaceful and somewhat apart. It has great natural light and the view is of trees and our garden. At night, I can hear the katydids and crickets outside the window.

I use a Macbook Air laptop to do most of my writing. I love this laptop! It is very lightweight and sleek, and I love how quickly I can find quotes, photographs, other blogs, publications — anything I could want to liven up my own writing. In the days when I wrote at a typewriter, I often had writer’s block because the perfectionist in me couldn’t bear to type words onto real paper until my sentences were close to perfect, or have to scratch out phrases. You can imagine how that slowed me down! Writing onscreen has totally liberated me from that, as any awkward phrase can be made to vanish instantly with no trace that it was ever there.

There are times, though, when I like to revert to the fountain pens I used as a child (required in a school I attended — yes, it was an old-fashioned European school), or some other nice writing instrument. If I write a personal note or card, or a poem, I do like the feel of pen, ink and paper together. I don’t, however, still use the Sheaffer’s “peacock blue” ink I favored for several years. Good thing I don’t yearn after it, because it was discontinued some time ago. Apparently it still has a cult following, though: Passionate About Peacock Blue Ink.  I’d better not dwell on that, or I might start yearning.

Inspired By A Newshound

Today’s Blogging 101 assignment is to write a post inspired by another blogger’s post on which we commented earlier.Donna-Louise at her blog “Newshound to Novelist” wrote a post called Follow the Literary Brick Road, about turning 30 and wanting to publish a novel instead of continuing in the journalism where she has found success. By leaving her a comment, I hoped to encourage her to persevere. That, and a recent story on the BBC about J.K. Rowling, got me thinking about the various paths so many writers take. Continue reading