The Silver Jar

"My own business bores me to death; I prefer other people's" – Oscar Wilde

Our Smelling Memories

Many forms of creative writing are drawn from the authors memories. Past experiences provide the perfect platform from which to create a powerful narrative. When somebody draws inspiration from a real-life event or situation in their writing it adds an extra layer to their story. It adds value that they were there, they know exactly how that moment felt, they were there to experience it. For example, my work Sand Stencils is drawn from my own Summer Camp experience.

There are many forms of memory recall. The most prominent form today is unquestionably the visual – we are always triggering memories through looking through photographs or rereading old diary entries. However there is a quote which will always stay with me, it’s from Alex Garland’s The Beach. (This is such a fantastic book; many over look it as a trashy novel,but it is deeply philosophical – challenging both political structures and moral boundaries. I highly recommend it, and not just for those who are travellers).

“I don’t keep a travel diary. I did keep a travel diary once and it was a big mistake. All I remember of that trip is what I bothered to write down. Everything else slipped away, as though my mind felt jilted by my reliance on pen and paper. For exactly the same reason I don’t travel with a camera. My holiday becomes the snapshots and anything I forget to record is lost.” – Richard, The Beach.

Now I wouldn’t go as far as Richard does , I will certainly be taking my camera on all my future holidays, but I can see in perfect entirety, the absolute truth in what he is relaying. The capacity of our memory becomes clouded by those moments we make most prominent through an easy recall such as photographs. Here the memory does become the snapshot, it is transformed into a still. The moments before and after the memory aren’t as clear as that one moment itself.

I have experienced, as have many others that I have spoken to, that smell is by far the strongest memory trigger. Catch a smell that you recognise and it will stir up an entirely different memory – you are transported back through time to reveal a more personal and sensory memory. You experience the exact emotions that you did in the exact moment in the past.

A woman came into work a few weeks ago, wearing the perfume that my mum used to wear when I was younger and I was automatically taken back to a time when my mum was the safest person in the world. Similarly the smell of a certain brand of suncream I smelt on the beach a few months ago reminded me of my childhood holidays to the South of France, staying in a caravan in a family campsite; hanging out by the pool, taking part in daily activities, going to the parc du jour every afternoon. Young, unspoiled fun. The smell of Versace Gold perfume reminds me of Las Vegas, the glitz and glamour, the grandeur and the awe.

Most recently, which prompted me to write this post, my boyfriend had just shaved and moisturised his face with an aloe vera cream we bought to help our sunburn whilst travelling in Vietnam. As I hugged him, I felt like I had been transported back to South East Asia. I remembered all the emotions I experienced there, I felt how free and independent I did, and it was liberating, if only for a moment.

I wish we could catch the smells of great memories. There are so many that are never relived, and so many great stories which are missed because of it.


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This entry was posted on August 16, 2012 by in Inspiration, Literature and tagged , , , , , .

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