Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Inside the Olfactory Mind of a Boy Named Julian

I met Julian when I was presenting the second in a series of Smell and Tell workshops at the Ann Arbor District Library in October. He was the only child in a classroom filled with adults, but a child with a mind on fire, especially when it came to olfaction.

Smell is the invisible sense, but Julian's mind is a prism through which the invisible becomes manifest, so olfactory curriculum suits him well (at 11 years of age he is a self proclaimed foodie). Julian has a unique form of color synesthesia and is comfortable with his enriched perspective, something many synesthetes his age are not.

The tween years (11-13) are quite interesting when it comes to the way children relate to their sense of smell. Children ages 8-10 are in the imprinting stage; developing an olfactory palette of memories they will carry with them for life. Tweens are at a stage in life when they begin to self-reflect. They weigh what they are told against what the world presents to their senses. This is evident in Julian's responses, which are highly evolved for a young man his age.

Olfactory curriculum empowers children, allowing them to authenticate and validate their feelings and assessments of an aroma, banishing the inner critic (something we socialize in curriculum focused on getting the best grade or being “right” or “wrong”). This nurtures confidence and imagination; two key ingredients that enrich self expression.

1.  What does your sense of smell mean to you?
Scent means life, death and all in-between.  And difference and color. And that’s it. Survival.  Eating. On a scale of 1 to 10: 11.

2.  What are some of your strongest scent memories?
  • My mom wore the same perfume for 22 years, especially when I was a baby.  She said it was called “Samsara”. You can’t really buy it any more.* 
  • Tomato sauce is home and happiness. 
  • I love the smell of oregano.

3.  What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking &/or your environment)?
  • Chlorine smell at a pool makes me excited and deep green.
  • Our upstairs carpet is safety.  Raking leaf smell makes me happy. Autumn.
  • Moss smell on a tree makes me peaceful.
  • I like the smell of a new pack of fresh trading cards.
  • I like the smell of my Papa’s skin. It is like fresh-baked bread.
  • I like the smell of my Mom’s lotion. She says it is Velvet Tuberose from Bath & Body Works. I like the one called Twilight Woods that she also puts on too.

4.  Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?
  • I like the smell of a clean diaper the first time it comes out of a package.
  • I like the smell of a fresh, unused, clean sponge. Also the smell of laundry detergent.
  • I love smelling wood. I love the scent of burnt marshmallows.
  • I like the smell of gasoline. I know it’s bad for me.

5.  Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.
  • Fresh, mozzarella cheese.

6.  What smells do you most dislike?
  • Flatulence (the polite word for this).
  • Rotting food.
  • Rubbing alcohol. Clorox wipes.
  • Wet bathing-suit smell.
  • I hate the smell of raw or cooked fish, but I like the smell of the ocean.
  • I hate the smell of Sharpie markers. They are dark purple.

7.  What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?
  • Steamed vegetables like cauliflower.

8.  What mundane smells inspire you?

9.  What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?
  • Baby shampoo smell makes me have bath memory of when I was little.
10.  What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?
  • Laundry soap or fabric softener with Grandma.
  • Campfire smoke reminds me of Papa.

11.  What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?
  • Cardboard boxes.

12.  What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?

13.  Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you.
  • Eragon because it was so descriptive.
Glass Petal Smoke would like to thank Julian's parents for allowing him to take the Sensory Questionnaire and sit in as a student in the Sacred Scents and Aphrodisiacs "Smell and Tell" workshop. 

Children and adults benefit marvelously from multimodal curriculum designed to accommodate different perceptual learning styles. There are seven types of modalities. The learning styles are characterized as: print, aural, haptic, interactive, kinesthetic, olfactory and visual

Julian's type of synesthesia is emotionally mediated which is different from grapheme color synesthesia (feeling numbers, letters, and physical things as colors versus seeing numbers/letters as colors). You can learn about it here: Ward, Jamie (2004). Emotionally Mediated Synesthesia, Cognitive Neuropsychology, 2004, 21 (7), 761–772.

A list of famous people with synesthesia can be found on Wikipedia.

I Have Synesthesia: I'm Not a Freak,  I'm a Synesthete is the gathering place for people with synesthesia on Facebook. The link provided works when you log into the site.

Some synesthetes have interesting jobs. Jaime Smith is a sommelier with synesthesia. P.S. He associates color with smell

Samsara by Guerlain has undergone several reformulations due to over-harvesting of Mysore Sandalwood as well as IFRA regulation. Bois de Jasmin elaborates on the vintage and current formulations here.  Sephora sells Samsara by Guerlain at its online shop.

If you want to understand the power of the sense of smell read this excerpt from Diane Ackerman's book, A Natural History of the Senses

Reslicitando by Remedios Varo; painter extraordinaire.

The Stargazy pie (the fish head graphic) featured in the photo collage of Julian's not so favorite smells comes from a hilarious book called Yuck: Disgusting Things People Eat. Copyright owner is Neil Setchfield. P.S. Setchfield ate the pie and all the other yucky things he photographed for the book.

Image of steamed cauliflower and potatoes from The Scrumptious Pumpkin. Jen's righteous cauliflower recipes defy cruciferous funk. Rights revert back to the author.

Amazon toy robot, inspired by the company's signature cardboard boxes, is available via their Japanese site.

Video of "Virtual Campfire" by Ace Anderson. Can you imagine what it would feel like if there was Smell-O-Vision?

Photo of a beach in Wellfleet by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.