Smells Like Teen Spirit (And The Ocean)

This morning, I used one of those little sample bottles of shampoo because I was all out of my regular shampoo, and as soon as it started to lather, I knew where the bottle was from. The hotel where my family’s stayed over Labor Day for most of the last twenty years in Cape May, New Jersey.

The shampoo smells a little salty, like proximity to the ocean has seeped through the plastic, and for a moment this morning, I was standing in a shower stall with crappy water pressure and lukewarm water, at best, with a sign that said PLEASE RINSE THE SAND OFF YOUR FEET OUTSIDE. They have common bathrooms there too, two or three per hallway, so inevitably someone rattles the door knob while you’re in there, like they can’t hear the shower running or the door’s shut for no reason.

A little tiny bottle of shampoo transported me away this morning.

Smell is so powerful. It’s also one of the senses that I’m always refining and reminding myself to use as a writer (I don’t have a powerful sense of smell, which I think is part of this.) Smell is evocative, closely associated with memory and taste, and clearly can fill in the other gaps too–because of the smell of the shampoo this morning, I could see that whole bathroom, could hear the door knob rattling, could smell the ocean and the sunscreen running off my skin in milky rivulets.

Don’t forget smell, my fellow writers. Always work in the smell.

She didn’t smell like home. She smelled like fire and sweat and blood. The smell of sabotage and war and magic.

-The Spy with the Red Balloon.

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