Upsetting Smells

16 August 2002

Well, I had a decent enough time with my writing group people's, and Corie's new friend and suggested group member Nye seems like a very nice person. The BART ride back was Not Good: there was a very upsetting smell emanating from the person next to me. I've been telling people, sometimes I feel like a dog, because the people around me don't seem to understand about the Very Bad Smells and why they are Very Upsetting. There's a difference between unpleasant smells and upsetting smells. The unwashed body odor and excreta of people who are not mine, for example: unpleasant. Fish rotting. Unpleasant. Fresh tar. Unpleasant. The smell of the person next to me on BART: upsetting. He was unwell in the kidneys, I think, from the smell of him, and heaven only knows what else. In addition to being unwashed and so on.

And what civilized means is, unable to yowl and scrabble at the window and bury my nose in my paws and whine. That's what civilization comes down to: when you smell an upsetting smell, you have to stuff down the upset and behave as though nothing is wrong, when clearly, Something Is Very, Very Wrong, or there wouldn't be that smell. That's what civilized is.

I came home and smelled my house very thoroughly and smelled my people and where they had been in the house recently and where they slept and got out some Grape Nuts and ate a few of those because they smelled right, too. And then I sat at the computer and worked a little more on The World Builders and smelled some basil just to be reassured. I almost baked some shortcakes, but it was late enough that I really didn't want to. I just wanted the upsetting smell to go away so I wouldn't have to smell it where I slept.

It went away.

This is why I don't like werewolf stories, I think, partly that they're cliched and overdone and a bit silly, but mostly because very, very few authors satisfy me that they know about smells. I know quite well that dogs and wolves have a much stronger sense of smell than I. Most werewolf authors seem to know that, too. But the visceral hold of the smells, that seems to be hard to get across. It grabs your guts and hangs on, sometimes twisting a little, and while you can moderate your intellectual response to it, while you can control your behavior, the hindbrain is still working overtime on the smells.

Authors tend to use lots of adjectives that really describe what a human would see if they were close enough to the object the wolf is smelling. Not the same thing. And some of the smell words are just not there, and I end up trying to describe them synaesthetically just so that I can catalog them in a more meaningful way than, "same as fourth or fifth layer in rental office in Concord." Makes me glad to be a chemist's daughter, so I can think in terms of aldehydes and ketones and such, expanding the vocabulary a little there.

There were lots of ketones or ketone-cousins in the upsetting smell last night. But the BART police didn't come around and remove the guy for smelling.

That's right. No ketone cops.

Er, sorry. Aaaaanyway. Aside from working, talking to Timprov, going to the writing group meeting, and smelling bad smells...I read William Sleator's Singularity (a YA SF novel) on the train up, and then I read John Crowley's Engine Summer (a short grown-up fantasy) on the train back. Both library books, both recommended at the writers' group meeting when I had Zed and Alec list off books they liked. Both of these were noted as Zed recommendations, with a concurring voice from Alec on Engine Summer. Which I liked. I just didn't fall into it the way I did Little, Big. Maybe I wouldn't fall into Little, Big if I read it now. I don't know. It's on my reread list, though.

Plans for the day: more writing of The World Builders. Still manic. I was bouncing and writing "Book book book!" to Michelle. Then I proclaimed myself a literate chicken. I've been a grammatical owl before ("To whom, to whom?"), so I see no reason not to be a literate chicken in my current state. But La Michelle was a bit concerned. I also have -- woohoo! -- a doctor's appointment. Well, perhaps the manic doesn't extend that far. So strike the woohoo. It's a consultation with my new doctor (under our new insurance), and it should be a happy doctor visit, by which I mean nobody doing anything metallic to any of my girly bits. Any doctor visit that lacks that intrusion is a happy doctor visit. (Until it's time for me to get pregnant, of course. At that point, any doctor visit that lacks the phrase "Well, this may not be a problem, but I'd like to run some more tests" will be a happy doctor visit. And said metallic intrusions will be a given.) It looks like our weekend has social plans but not overwhelmingly many of them. Which is good: we've been oscillating between overbooked and exhaustedly anti-social.

So. Have a good Friday and all that.

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