Senseless


Yes, I am referring to myself in the title of this post, but I’m not using the traditional definition of the word.  My wife might beg to differ, but I am not foolish.  Nor am I a victim of some WRiTE CLUB sucker punch, rendering me unconscious.  And hopefully my minutes hour upon hour of contemplative thought will not proof meaningless.  Nope, in this situation I’m using a derivative literal meaning of the word…in that I lack sense.

One sense in particular that is… SMELL.  I’ve discussed it here on my blog before, but I was born without that particular ability.  Over the years I’ve come to look at my handicap as more of a super-power than anything else.  For instance, I’m impervious to skunks!  Rotting meat or dairy have no effect on me.  Human waste…nada.  Vomit, cigarettes, body odor, bad breath, road kill, stagnant water, wet dog, all zilch.  Of course having this super-power has meant some extra chores around the house, like changing all of the “shuey” diapers or cleaning up after a 24 stomach flu cuts a slimy path through our family.  

For a good many years a much younger DL pretended he could smell because he thought he wasn’t doing it right and didn’t want to be made fun of.  Even after I found out I was actually different (and confirmed by a trip to the doctor with mom), I continued to allow people to think I could smell.  You see, for a boy who did his best to avoid any kind of scrutiny, having to explain why I couldn’t do what everybody else in the world could do just wasn’t fun.  The charade ended when I was a freshman in college after one particularly disastrous date involving a compliment and the worst case of timing ever.  The evening was just getting started when I told the girl how lovely her perfume was (guys were supposed to do that…right).  Her mood suddenly changed and not long after that she brought the date to an abrupt end.  I didn’t find out until a week later that she had just passed a SBD (silent but deadly) right before I mentioned her perfume, which she wasn’t wearing.  She apparently didn’t appreciate my sense of humor…or have any sense of humor herself.  I stopped pretending to smell that day.

As writers we are told to engage our senses and have our readers do the same through our prose.  Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, and Smell.  Not having a sense of smell does place me in a slight disadvantage because it alters how I interact with the world.  I cannot tell when the weather is about to change by the scent of rain in the air.  I am not drawn to or tempted by things I cannot see, but have an aroma.  Did you know that our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other of our senses and recognition of smell is immediate? Other senses like touch and taste must travel through the body via neurons and the spinal cord before reaching the brain, whereas the olfactory response is immediate, extending directly to the brain.  The olfactory cortex is embedded within the brain’s limbic system and amygdala, where emotions are born and emotional memories stored. That’s why smells, feelings and memories become so easily and intimately entangled.  I’ve often wondered if my terrible recall was due to my lack of smell.

Disadvantage or not, whatever the sense, we all have a writer’s imagination to lean on.  Though my nose hasn’t smelled the scent of an apple pie baking in a country kitchen, being carried through the house by a warm spring breeze, my mind has.  I can recreate that experience on the page, adding delicious detail to a scene, but I have to remember not to overlook is how moods might be lifted or an especially poignant memory could be remembered as a result. 

Describing the world in which our characters exist via their senses is essential, but demonstrating how emotions are unconsciously entwined with those same perceptions is a step above.

Have any entertaining stories revolving around smell that you’d care to share?

Have a great weekend! :)

33 comments

  1. The sense of smell can be very powerful for evoking memories. But other than that, I don't use it often in my writing. I know we're supposed to evoke all the senses, but honestly, there's no reason to jam all five into a scene unless it's really called for!

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  2. OMG. Your date story is hilarious. I am exactly the opposite of you. I have an abnormally strong sense of smell. Some perfumes/colognes drive me nuts. I could smell something rotten a block away.

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  3. I can image all the reasons a young DL would pretend to be able to smell. My brain is clicking with all sorts of ideas and how interesting this would be in a character. Picture how you could highlight other senses, throw people off. Hmmm.... Although I'm thankful for the sense of smell, living with 4 males I could do without it on occasion. :D

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  4. My husband can't smell either!! I'll have to make him read this post. He'll especially get a kick out of the SBD story!

    Can you taste? That's one of the things my husband gets asked all the time. He can, of course, but it's not as strong. Like I can detect subtle spices and flavors in a meal and he can't always do that.

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  5. I can see where it would have advantages, but not being able to smell if food was bad might be a problem. Not that I'm much of a food sniffer myself.

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  6. I love that you see it as a superpower, that's pretty cool. There are certain fragrances that cheer me up like vanilla and the evening air, I don't think I'd miss them though if I couldn't smell :)

    Universal Gibberish

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  7. Wow, that's really kind of sad. The whole apple pie thing really got to me. And as a former chef, sense of smell was everything.

    Then again, that SBD story was mighty funny.

    I don't know what I would do if I couldn't smell. There's something about puppy breath, and baby skin that's too good to pass up.

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  8. Personally, I think that's quite the gift. I regularly get stuck on the bus or train next to individuals with serious B.O., but you will never be bothered! Great story about your date, btw... too bad that girl didn't have a sense of humor!!

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  9. Actually, I'm seeing a number of perks to your "diability" DL. I can't stand the smell of puke. It makes me want to puke. I think my husband realizes this, which is why he cleans up when my kids are sick (and I feel really bad about that). And I almost die when I go into stores with perfume counters by the entrances. There are some I avoid because of this.

    And if you can't smell food, then you won't crave it so much, especially since smell affects taste. Great boon for dieters. :D

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  10. I love how you are able to see that your 'lack' is really just a difference and that it -- like almost everything in life -- has both plus and minus.

    It's also interesting the cosmic synchronicity -- I was just reading a story about how astronauts crave Tabasco sauce. It seems they lose their sense of smell after a time in zero-G.
    ( http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/23/147294191/why-astronauts-crave-tabasco-sauce )

    So you've got something in common with astronauts, DL! How cool is that?!?!

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  11. I'm immune to skunk smell, but ya, I can smell the rest of that nasty crap you mentioned. Including SBD's, and seriously, that is the funniest thing in the world. Gosh if I were her, I would've just told you to roll the window down and then say something about how comfortable I am around you, and had a good laugh. Man, she really didn't have a sense of humor... which is far worse than not having a sense of smell. :)

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  12. Hahahaha! I would give anything to have been a fly on the wall when you made that comment...and flies don't mind stinky smells either. Can you taste anything? Because doesn't taste come from smelling? Like when I hold my nose when I swallow foul tasting medicine. And me? I DO smell things. I'm like a canary and can smell most things other's can't. Thank heavens I like the way my man smells
    otherwise...:(

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  13. When I was a smoker, I had almost no sense of smell. Now that it's been a few years since I quit, it's coming back.

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  14. I am in a similar place to Dianne, DL, I don't think about using the sense of smell in my writing either. My own sense of smell is pretty keen, particularly strong colognes, etc, and especially cigarette smoke - I can smell it across an entire auditorium.
    Karen

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  15. LOL. Your date story was awesome. I have a similar one though with my hubby. You ready?

    My hubby is completely deaf in his left ear. This comes in handy when he wants to pretend he didn't hear whatever I just said, or the baby is crying :) But, on our very first date, I had no idea he couldn't hear out of that ear.

    We went on a double date, and I happened to be sitting on his left (the deaf side) in the theater. The girl from the other couple was sitting on his other side.

    It was an awful movie. All of us were making fun of it while it was going on, and we were the only ones in the theater, so we didn't have to worry about anyone telling us to be quiet. So, I kept making witty remarks to my date, but, HE KEPT IGNORING ME whenever I said anything. Instead, he would talk to the girl on the right.

    So, I got the hint, and figured he really didn't like me. I got so annoyed, that I eventually put my feet up on the chair in front of me to pretend indifference.

    Little did I know, that that little gesture really impressed him, because he thought I was so cool and relaxed on a date. so he decided to ask me out again, where I found out about his deafness.

    Now we're married, so it has a happy ending :) Whew! Sorry for the long comment!

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  16. Something I take sooo for granted. Never thought much about intentionally incorporating it in my writing, but realize that (like taking it for granted) I do.

    I second what Matt said about smoking. I was amazed at the things I could smell and taste after quitting.

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  17. "SBD" <-----Too funny!!!!

    How interesting, DL... I've never known any one like this. But so great that you've turned this "weakness" around into a strength with your writing... I use smell in writing a lot, and I would feel at a loss without it!

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  18. My grandmother had no sense of smell either. Of course my grandfather used it to his advantage to smoke without her knowledge. I can see advantages and disadvantages of not being able to smell so I'm not sure whether I envy your inability to smell SBDs or pity your not being able to smell rain.

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  19. How interesting! I'd never thought of smell as a sense you could be born without, but I guess it makes sense. (No pun intended, lol)

    Your date story is hilarious, though I'm sure it wasn't at the time!

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  20. My sister couldn't say esses when she was little. She once said, I mell moke. We still say that in the family if we smell smoke.

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  21. HA, what a story!! Doesn't this mean all of your other senses are heightened, EVEN your super spidey senses? :D

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  22. Scent is very powerful...for good or bad, LOL!

    In fact, strong odors figure prominently in my YA Dystopian.

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  23. That sounds like a mighty fine superpower to have at times. I recently found out my neighbor can't smell - but it was the result of an accident and apparently the smeller in his brain got broken. And yep, he's changed a LOT of diapers.

    None of my SBD stories are as funny as yours!

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  24. I had to laugh when you told us the story about your date. How funny! I've never heard of someone without a sense of smell but it could be really cool. Somedays I wish I didn't smell either. ;)

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  25. that is a funny date story :) I hope you can taste!

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  26. Yikes! That date proves timing really is everything!

    This makes me wonder how your sense of taste is - I thought the 2 senses were linked...

    I'm not very good at including all of the senses in my writing - I have to go back and add in sensory details in later drafts :)

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  27. It'd be pretty tough to top that story of yours. (You're better off without her; who needs someone without a sense of humor??) There are times it'd be an asset not to be able to smell ... like dirty diaper time, and stomach flu time ... but does it affect your ability to enjoy eating? Smell and taste seem to be so closely entwined. Not being able to taste good food would ... stink. (Sorry.)

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  28. I don't have any amusing stories revolving around smell that I can think of right now, but this made me think you could have a cool protag who is missing their sense of smell and do some neat things with it!

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

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  29. Strange. I can see how a lack of smell could be a mixed blessing. And its interesting you would need to "remember" to put those emotions surrounding the sense into your character's. Hopefully it is no different than referencing any other experience an author has not had; rather like researching a beautiful city that you've never visited.

    ........dhole

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  30. Sometimes I wish I couldn't smell. Certain smells trigger bad migraines, your super power would come in handy.

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  31. I don't have a strong sense of smell but I do have one. I can't imagine not smelling anything. Can you taste the apple pie, even if you can't smell it?

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  32. A woman at work surprised me with her lack of sense smell when I asked her about my cologne. She swears it heightens her sense of taste and loves chocolate. Wild

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