Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Whiff of a Revelation

Fact: I have a terrible sense of smell.

I have to physically SEE a cat poop in a littler box in order to know that the box needs cleaning. I pull fresh laundry out of the dryer and think "mmm! This is warm!" because my hands are fine at picking up on sensory detail but heaven help my nose. What does our family laundry detergent smell like? No clue! How is my shampoo scented? Ha!

Probable cause of photo: The cameraman farted. Maybe. How would I know?

Maybe it has something to do with a childhood history of nosebleeds. Maybe I spent too much time swimming in chlorinated swimming pools as a tot. I don't know. But something seems to be deeply, permanently wrong with my sniffer.

Or IS there??????

Of late, I am starting to think that the problem is not so much my nose, but my brain. It seems that my nose is actually quite capable but my brain has decided that smell is the proverbial red-headed step-child of the "sense" children. It ignores it at all cost, much happier to lavish attention on other senses, like hearing and touch. (Or, to be frank, to ignore all five and instead devote itself to abstract thought. My brain is a crappy parent in this metaphor.) It will drum up a sensation of smell for me occasionally, like when I'm eating something and my sense of taste is begging for some scent cues to work with, but perhaps this lack of a sense of smell explains why I'm not a picky eater. I like almost everything (what's not to like if you can't smell what's wrong with it?). Or it could be why with the few foods I don't like (mushrooms and overcooked pastry), the issue tends to be one based on texture rather than flavor.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the brain has, among its capacities, the ability to rule out various stimuli as "irrelevant" in favor of others that it wants to focus on. It's the reason why we generally don't walk around, constantly aware of the fact that we're wearing clothes. Touch of that particular sort has already faded to background programming. With hearing, there's a phenomenon known as the "cocktail party effect" that the brain uses when we're in a crowd. Generally, we won't hear a conversation that's going on halfway across the room, or at least we don't think we hear it. Magically, our ears perk up the second someone says our name or something that interests us, even if they're far away, and then off we go to find out what they were saying about The Hunger Games.

Fact: If you are talking about The Hunger Games at a party, I will hear you.

So on the whole, my brain seems to have decided that my nose is hopelessly irrelevant. How do I know this? Well, because I am in the late stages of a cold right now and the world has never smelled more vibrant.

When this cold commenced, I experienced no loss of (perceived) ability. Maybe once or twice, when I was much MORE cognizant of the fact that I was drowning in a deluge of my own mucus (look, if you're grossed out, this is your own fault for reading this. You knew by now this post was about the sense of smell), the thought would also strike me, "wow. I can smell NOTHING." But these were fleeting moments.

Now, I am almost well. Frequently, my nose is clear, and you know what? THERE IS A WHOLE WORLD OF SMELLS OUT THERE!!!! The cat is pungent! The rain is laced with mowed hay and ripe blackberries! The breeze is salty and oceanic! Hours after dinner, the house still smelled like stew! And... good heavens, the cat litter really does need changing.

Guys, the world is magical.

My brain had been deprived of the background information it would usually ignore. But apparently, it's got serious FOMO, because once I got a hint of my sense of smell back, it came screaming out the gates all "whadImiss? WhadImiss???? TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME!!!!"

A week from now, I will doubtless be back to full health. And with it, my brain's elitism will oust olfaction from its list of primary concerns. But until then, everything's coming up roses for Emily.

Okay, so ... this had nothing to do with books.

Whatever, I'm out.