My mind finally smells summer.
I’ve been away from Indiana for the past two summers and away from Wabash during the summertime since I moved away ten years ago. Having spent the majority of my childhood outside, I’ve been unknowingly pining for the familiar olfactory triggers, which I still can’t define well: aromatic greens of unknown classification, warming as though being slowly cooked, lawn mower engine fuel, chlorine and very cold water, heat radiating from the cement below my bicycle tires, sometimes fresh asphalt but most often cracked sidewalks and gravel-sprinkled roads.
Though some of these seem like multi-sensory experiences – not to mention fairly common around the world – I’m really only talking about my nose. I can smell all those things. The same summer climate can be found on about 60% of the Earth’s land mass at some point in the year, but it is only in this town that the sun seems to electrify the atoms and molecules in such a way – for me.
Bias steals my reason when I believe this town could actually be that much different than the rest of the world. Everyone most likely has a sweet spot for their birthplaces, maybe less sweet than bitter for some, and memories are fantastically linked to senses and, in my case, inspiration.
I’m not a weird uber-fan of sweeping my grandmother’s back porch, but doing so the other day washed warming nostalgia overhead and allowed me to tap into the feelings I once had as a youngster, feelings I remember viscerally that I can now decode and translate with this older mind.
It was in the public library downtown that I grew to love plowing through books. Though my reading comprehension these days is borderline frightening, the visuals I concocted for the stories of Roald Dahl are still sharp in my mind. The movies were all sad efforts after my daily mental capades through Matilda’s home and Charlie’s new factory.
It was a means of wasting time while my parents worked at the office, but I used to pluck away at a typewriter and create five sentence short stories about personified animals with morals and cool names. Taylor Swan was my ideal girl name, now a nausea inducer. I still have these hilarious attempts at literature in a folder somewhere, along with the memory that I dreamt of being the youngest published author in the world. I had no burning story to tell, but the thought of purging my thoughts to achieve such a landmark was satisfying for my eight year-old self.
Cue to me, ten years later, finally figuring out I did have stories to tell.
The Reappearing Interest
And I have to admit that while living in Wabash I was, at best, ambivalent about being here, even though my daily outdoor activities were fascinating and my friends quirky and long-lasting.
We moved cities with the intent of snatching those opportunities from which I’d be out of reach in the rural north. In turn, I believe my senses were dulled, though they did become my flypaper for artistic inspiration later in life.
My grandma used to say, “All roads lead to Wabash” – her version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. I sometimes find my path back “home” completely mind-boggling, which looks something like Indianapolis – Italy – Misc. USA – RTW Cruise Journey – Europe – Africa – Asia – Indianapolis – South Pacific – Asia, again…and so on until all trips are accounted for, with the caboose being good ol’ Wabash County.
As far from “as the crow flies” as you can make a round-trip, I’d say…unless that crow is very drunk. And never a plausible concept when the bubble of the small town seemed to draw impermeable borders.
And now I’m peddling through town on sidewalks that haven’t been updated since my mom was with bun in oven. The people who see me cycling seem to know me, and I don’t remember names, only encounters at fairs, churchs, and community theater performances. There are no strangers. Cliche, schmeeche – I’m having serious déjà vu.
Fresh from a recent trip that reminded me how much I love the clean slates and stranger-filled surroundings of travel, I’m feeling stumped.
Where are the lingering conversations I can’t comprehend? Where are the strangers, and why do I want them around?
The ensemble of the town rarely seems to change, and so stays static my relationships with everyone. Feelings remain regardless of time, which seems to affect bodies rather than minds. There’s little flexibility available for reinvention, as history is chiseled in stone. Aging doesn’t guarantee anything.
My brother’s advice upon starting my new school in Indianapolis was simple, and it stuck.
No one knows you here. You can reinvent yourself, if you want.
That sounds like a movie line. Maybe I’m getting confused. Disregard the wording and assume the same sentiment was relayed to me ten years ago upon the first days of my new schooling experience.
With a move [I couldn't conceptualize] an hour and a half south of childhood, reinvention became possible. And even though I’ve never felt unlike myself in a true, lingering sense, I did seize the opportunity to portray myself in a different light. Mannerisms, humor, interests – they all stayed, but I altered my air to put up with less than I used to allow. No longer did I slink away from moments of embarrassment or shame from the likes of the neighbor boys or the burly girls of bully stock. I didn’t want to feel self-conscious about being the person I wanted to be, nor did I have the desire to exhibit any characteristic not indigenous to my being. Hence, no fake-itude.
And now I return, having flexed as a personality but not having evolved alongside Wabash. I wonder if I’m recognizable. Even though this renewed interest has brought me back in touch with the town of 11,000 of my upbringing, I’m unsure as to whether I see myself or a different person in the reflection of my memories.
Walking above Charley Creek, I wonder if it’s purely time that strips me of my visceral connection or the fact that the person is not the same (just plus ten years).
When Does a Person Become?
When have I been most happy in my life? Would memories of the most fulfilling or satisfying moments be those which define my life’s interests or purpose? Are we who we were coming from the womb and then slowly compromised as we evolved into civilization? Are we really who we are after a life-changing experience or a test that morphs us into a person we never thought we’d become? Was I more me in the 80s, playing in my backyard treehouse, or now – now that I ask these questions and still come out of the wringer being the way that I presently am?
These are the sort of questions that arise amidst the dormant and knowing air particles of my grandmother’s house. Surrounding by the grooviest domicile on the block, I question the point I’ve reached in my being and wonder if the same mushroom cap hairstyle who used to watch TV in the nook on the left is still present and solid.
Being alone (with cat) in a house that holds my history, in a town that crafted my humor and habits, in a state that isolated my focus on personalities, I am grappling with concepts to identify what place and time have to say about my being. What person would I have become had I not moved? And if that hour and a half move was all I attempted, what person would I then be had travel been stripped from my pastimes?
When home seems to nurture a specific development of the self, how does travel – with its anonymity, chance for reinvention, trying challenges to the first installation of values – affect the development of our purest form?
Post-world travels, I tend to side with the tried-and-tested theory of being; being put through the wringer, slapped around, and pushed to a near breaking point will result in a person, fibers and nothing else. But are these challenges distractions from the primary meditation that would facilitate that pure knowledge? The answer to that question would restructure the entirety of our social make-up.
What Do You Think?
This is a post I’ve been writing since the commencement of my summer seclusion project and seemingly one of the main products I hoped to reap from the experience. I write for an unknown public audience, and in doing so, I’m inviting the collective “you” to think what you want. While this post could seem like a journal entry or simply a moment of deep, personal musing, I want these concepts to be chewed on by all. I don’t write these ideas to be an exhibitionist but to stimulate a discussion on the art of travel.
Please leave your feedback on whatever was of interest to you. If you’d rather have your comment invisible to the public eye, leave a message on my contact form. Video comments are extremely encouraged.
Thanks for reading.