Friday, June 15, 2012

Simon Van Booy's "The Reappearance of Strawberries"

In "The Reappearance of Strawberries" a dying man inhales the scent of strawberries and thinks of a woman he loved. This--the inhalation of that ruddy sweet scent of strawberries set in a bowl by his bedside--is the pivot point for the entire story. Gently, haltingly, the man inhales and the story unfolds, the memory inextricably linked to this specific sensory detail.

This link between smell and memory, and perhaps more significantly, emotion, is a powerful storytelling device. Smells trigger memory and the emotions attached to that memory can come flooding back with just one breath. When we're standing in one point in time and suddenly, with just a slight change in the notes of the air we breathe, we're standing in another, the feelings we've experienced in the past becoming real again in our present, the rhythm of one story infringing--or perhaps complementing and enriching--the thread of another.

For me, there's a certain scent associated with October and the night before Hallowe'en. It's this sharp  crisp air edged against this soft, yellowy light of late day. It feels like things are going to happen--and it can be late June or early Spring and it's always the same--I'll step outside and if I catch that edge, I'm eight years old again peeking out from behind curtains, lights turned off inside to sway trick-or-treaters, watching kids in cat ears and pumpkin outfits travel in multi-coloured clumps across the pavement. 

When moments like that happen--when a story from the past collides with my present, I always wonder why and grapple with whether it's supposed to mean something. We can emerge singed from difficult relationships and weeks, maybe even months later when we think we're whole again, something--a song, the smell of wet pavement, the play of light against a thick leaf in the garden--will drive that story into our present, offering it up again as some sort of trick. 

This collision of memory with the lives we wake up to each day is a purposeful method for telling a story. We can try to make meaning, or find it--the friction between our parallel lives is constantly urging us to consider and then reconsider where we are and what we've come to know. There is rarely that fulfilling release that comes in the form of epiphany or meaningful realization--nothing as easy or sweet as that and I've learned not to expect it. But I think it's something better, the real sense that something has to be lived and perhaps formed into narrative--even if just to ourselves, and in that offering up of a fragment of memory, we are being urged to simply live through it, let it be. Allow it to come, let it go, and see what can be made of it--if anything at all.

"Light effect" by John Ward