How’s Your Sniffer?

Everyone I know has their nose in their peanut butter jar. A recent study has shown people who have Alzheimer’s or later develop the disease couldn’t smell peanut butter while plugging their right nostril and sniffing with their left. (There are exceptions: if you have nose polyps, Parkinson’s Disease, or have had head trauma you won’t be able to smell the peanut butter either.)

I knew Parkinson’s would be an exception. When I was a child, my father never could smell anything. Bad milk in the frig? Dad would start pouring and Mom would grab the glass before he brought it to his mouth.

Scared skunk in the back yard? Mom ran to close the windows as Dad unknowingly opened them. I wonder now – – was this an early sign that in Dad’s later life he’d suffer from Parkinson’s? Did Michael J. Fox have a poor sniffer when he was young, too?

I inherited my mom’s sniffer, occasionally to unfortunate consequences. As a person who suffers from migraines which can be set off by scented chemicals, the overpowering smells of perfume, hairspray and cologne and have been known to make me change seats in church, movie theaters and actually leave places if the mixing of aromas are too strong. When Dad moved out to California after my mother passed away, it was the last of his Old Spice days for the poor man.

Supposedly, we choose our mate on the basis of scent. Diane Ackerman, in Natural History of the Senses, says, “Each person has an odor as distinctive as a finger print.” And: “We smell always and with every breath.”

In our writing, the sense of smell is easy to overlook. Although we may not naturally include this sensory image within our first draft, we need to remember to include moments of them within our rewrites.

Here’s an example of using the sense of smell to bring a setting alive. This paragraph is from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

“The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell–as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Look through a writing project of yours. Is there a natural place one or more scents could be woven within the manuscript?

2. Go back to your past. It could be a long-ago classroom, childhood room, or a favorite place. Meditate so that YOU ARE THERE. Include as many specific scents as you can.

3. Create a poem based on the scents of a setting of your choice.

4. Go ahead. You know you want to do it. Go smell that peanut butter with your left nostril. But don’t get freaked out if you can’t smell it. You may have a cold, allergies or some other issue at work. If you can smell it, eat some and then use all of your senses to describe the experience.

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2 Responses to “How’s Your Sniffer?”

  1. Joanne Says:

    I love this piece, Liz. And, yes, I did go sniff the PB jar as soon as I finished reading. The sense of smell if sooo important. Some scents are inseparable from the memories they trigger.

  2. lizbooks Says:

    Thanks, Joanne. And thinking about peanut butter, I’m getting hungry for it. You know how great it goes with chocolate!

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