Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bananas and Aftershave

Posted by Lynne

I would bury my nose in a loaf of warm banana bread, but you couldn't get me to eat a banana if I was adrift on a desert island. The savory smell of garlic and onion sauteing in a pan is delightful. But the odor that seeps out of the pores of a man who's indulged in too much via his pasta, gives me a migraine.

I'm one of those people who is easily overstimulated by my faulty functioning senses. Others claim I exaggerate what I smell, hear, and feel. I prefer to describe this condition as simply feeling things "big".

Last night, I polled my family for examples for this post. I asked, "Can you remember some of the funny things I've said to you over the years about feeling overstimulated?"

Here are just of few of the phrases they came up with.

I'm being attacked by my coat.
Dinner smells too loud.
I've got to go change out of this suit, my legs are screaming for a nightgown.
Why don't we all be alone, together?
Turn off that music, I need to ease into the morning.

You get the idea.

Lisa's post about listening to music while she writes, and the subsequent number of writers who responded that they listen to music too, got me thinking about sensory input. You can probably guess which side of the fence I sit on when it comes to writing with or without noise. When I think about which of my senses provides the best raw material for writing, I'd have to say smell.

Since I find a significant number of smells overpowering, this actually helps me to capture odors, stenches, aromas, and fragrances when I write. I've written about a doctor who is doused in so much musk, the protagonist couldn't hear his diagnosis, and an old woman who closed her eyes so she could listen to the daffodils swaying to the crescendo of her favorite concerto.

Most writers use sights and sounds with ease. According to Rebecca McClanahan, who wrote the marvelous book, Word Painting, the tougher sensory details to articulate are smell, taste, and touch. Of course the best writing is multisensory in nature. I learned about the specific link between smell and taste at an early age. When my father had a cold, he annoyed the rest of the family at every meal with his mantra. "I can't taste anything. I shouldn't even bother to eat. I just can't taste a thing."

On a daily basis, I struggle with feeling things "big". When I am bombarded with sensory input--my clothing is too tight, or my head is spinning from the din of the television-- I try to store potential descriptions in my mind to be mined for writing later.

Which senses are the bane of your existence in life, while at the same time color your writing in wonderful ways?


Melissa Amateis said...

I had to laugh at your first line because I, too, LOVE banana bread but absolutely LOATHE bananas.

I struggle witih describing smells. I mean, how can you describe how a man smells after he's been in a field all day and make it, well, kinda sexy? He stinks, plain and simple. (And I know this from growing up with two brothers and a father on the farm).

I have the McClanahan book, but haven't picked it up in years. It might be time to take a look again. :)

Therese said...

What an interesting question: daily bane but useful to writing...

I can't name a particular sense (i.e. smell, sound, etc.) but I am acutely aware of *people* when I'm out--I notice all the details of dress and hair and body composition, as well as attitude and behavior. It's not intentional, and it can be a distraction--I mean, what does it matter if the McDonald's cashier is ten pounds underweight and needs a shave and looks like his dog died that morning? He's there doing his job, I'm getting my food--life is good, right?

But when I go to write, all my observations and musings await like handy character-study files.

Finally I have an occupation that makes use of my hyper-awareness!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Yes, smells are tricky. So powerful, and yet often hard to capture just right. I strongly recommend McClanahan's book. I have found it a real treasure.

It's fun to people watch. I like not knowing who and when a person might enter my writing. Composites are fun, too. A bit like make your own Mr. Potato head.


Michelle Zink said...

I wish I was as good at noticing things like this!

I especially loved the, "I'm being attacked by my coat" reference!

I think I notice feelings more than other things. I FEEL things very deeply, and I always try to store that away in detail. I guess it comes in handy since I write YA. Everything is felt so deeply at that age, yes?

And Therese, you made me laugh about the McDonalds guy! I'm going to try and pay more attention to stuff like that.

Maybe my lack of attentiveness is yet another manifestation of what I am more and more convinced is late-onset ADD...

Bring on the Ritalin.