Essay “Memories In Sense” by Gray Newlin …
April 5th, 2012
Memories In Sense
Smell is undeniably an amazing sense. There’s a way that smells get inside you and affect your emotions just like some people go into rooms painted a certain color and it truly affects how they’re feeling. Different smells affect people differently. Some people may think smells are rancid while others enjoy them. And some smells may remind you of certain good memories for a period of time and then completely different memories at a different period of time.
I have a smell that for me has represented several things in my life: Nagchompa, a form of Indian incense with a sweet but Earthy smell, like diamonds in the mud. Nagchompa incense has followed me my whole life. When I was younger I would go to my favorite cousin’s store where he made jewelry, pierced people, sold colorful hair dyes and homemade silkscreens. I did and still think it was the coolest place to be. It always smelled strongly of Nagchompa. It’s place where, even if I wasn’t there every day, it still smelled like childhood. It was the only incense I had smelled for a long time, but incense was reintroduced in my life a few year later and the smell of Nagchompa got a whole new meaning.
In high school I got my first boyfriend and he also smelled strongly of Nagchampa. Whether there is some Freudian correlation here or just mere coincidence I don’t know. Said boyfriend used to burn three sticks of incense at once with the door to his room and windows shut so that everything became saturated in a thick fog. He eventually started getting nosebleeds and had to stop. Nagchompa began a reminder of rowdy, clueless freshman years. It brought back the talented music of my peers, the taste of stolen Tilt, the smell of fresh tie dye, the burn of marijuana and the taste of hooka smoke…
But the memory changed again. At a fresh 16 years, I found myself in a distinctly pale pink basement getting ready for a band to play. Beer runs and small talk were being made. A small joint was being shared in a circle of people to my right, the familiar smell that I enjoyed in my nose but never in my lungs. House shows were my favorite place to be at this time. The memories are powerful and more detailed than anything else about high school. More people piled in the probably too small basement. The familiar house show smell began to mix: sweaty punks, spilled beer, and a hint of marijuana. Honestly, this combination of smells is more comforting to me than my mother’s womb. On top of it all, drifting in and out of focus was a hint of moldy basement, the delectable rotting odor that I can’t get enough of. Everything was setting up perfectly when I got a phone call from the love of my life. She frustratedly explained to me that we were no longer friends, and hadn’t been for a while. As this was news to me I began to cry. Then the band began to play. Someone stuck a stick of Nagchampa in the basement support beam directly above us. My best friend comforted me and the crowd began to move to the music as one, the smell of my salty tears mixing indistinguishingly with the sweat of the crammed bodies around me. The smoke from the Nagchompa visibly swirled between bodies and sank lovingly into everyone’s hair. The bitterness of the night began to smell sweet and familiar and suddenly that girl didn’t matter anymore and everything felt right again, if just for that moment. Now every time I smell Nagchompa it reminds me of that night. Though my heart was broken, it was also a spiritual awakening that it was time to move on and everything would be ok.
I think it’s very interesting that incense is used in a lot of religious ceremonies. How can a smell bring gods and demons? How can a smell make your feelings intensify? How can a smell do anything but be? All I know is that if gods can accept smells as gifts, I can too.