Month: March 2015

Smells Like …?


Alright, not Teen Spirit although Nirvana might have been onto something.

Olfaction and petrichor?  How can two seemingly bland words mean so much?

While writing yesterday, I found myself struggling with finding the right words to convey how something smelled. Of all the senses, I seem to find the most difficulty in this descriptive arena and I’m not sure why. It’s not for lack of having a sense of smell; it’s just my difficulty in describing it. A scene in my story takes place late morning in a diner. A small town diner to be exact, where the dining space is limited, sounds reverberate throughout the rooms, and smells permeate your being the moment you walk in.

So what does breakfast smell like? To me, it usually smells like eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and coffee. Sometimes there is a hint of maple or fresh fruit. Other times it smells like chorizo, warm tortillas and beans. When summer arrives, it often smells like a mixture of all of the above in addition to campfire and pine scents. Breakfast is a beginning, a huge “hello world” to start the day. It could also be the end of a day, say Denny’s at one in the morning. Maybe that is my dilemma. My scene takes place late morning. Breakfast at this time of day in my story serves two purposes: my character is simply hungry and needs to be seen. Maybe the smells don’t really matter here or maybe there is an association with the smells of breakfast that fits my plot.  Damn, I might have solved my own problem.

Smell association? I could run with that. Hotdogs smell like baseball. Hot buttered popcorn smells like the movie theater. Turkey and stuffing smell like a well-deserved after dinner nap. Patchouli smells like the seventies, although I hear it’s making a comeback. And then there is rain.

Of all the smells that stimulate my senses, next to breakfast, my favorite is the smell of rain. Having spent the majority of my life in the Southwest, rains were not as common as they are now. We would get a rain during the monsoon season that was usually preceded by a smell of dust or dirt in the air. Of course the ominous purplish brown sky moving slowly in our direction was a hint of things to come. The smell always hit us first and remained during the first few hours of rain. I loved those rains. Now living in a rural area in the Northeast, we get rain year round. I haven’t figured out winter rains yet but spring, summer, and fall all have very distinct smells associated with each.

Maybe it’s the novelty of year round rain that I find myself using it in my stories. Rain is more than a smell here. It is a time of year, a sense of peacefulness and beginnings, or a reminder of nature’s strength. It’s about both solitude and love. It’s about springs first planting and fall’s last leaves blanketing the forest floor. My favorite rain by far is summer rain accompanied by a lightning storm. We have a covered porch off the back of our house that faces the woods and I can sit out there for hours taking in a summer rain. This rain to me is intimate. It’s about both humility and power. It’s about amazing light shows and musical sounds that tickle your senses. It’s about the dampness that caresses  your skin or the way an evening coffee just tastes different. And when it’s all over, just as it began, it’s all about the smell.

By the way, olfaction is the sense of smell and petrichor is the scent of air after a rain.  Yeah… my thoughts exactly.

If I could sum up my feelings of a summer rain storm in a song it would be this one.  Go ahead, take my hand, close your eyes, turn up the volume and listen. Tell me if you smell the rain.




If We Were Having Coffee #3



If we were having coffee, I would offer you a Kona blend in a confident manner that might suggest I actually know what a Kona blend even is.  I could offer you a Breakfast Blend just to get rid of it. I inadvertently missed the green “decaf” marker on the side of the box and not surprisingly, the box has lasted almost two weeks although I have been having a late night decaf coffee now and then.  OK, I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t sneak you the decaf.  That would just be selfish and cruel. Actually, I’m a bit wired after having two cups. I’ll take the decaf.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you the last four weeks have been a bit of a downer for me. I had a death in the family and for some self-torturous reason; I have subjected myself to news overload.  I continually bounced around stations absorbing enough news that should have made me an expert on current events but all it did was confuse the hell out of me and make me wonder if I was living in two different countries or there was some parallel universe where these events might be legitimately interpreted differently. Regardless, they are just different degrees of negative interpretation.  Enough of that.

Life’s balance. I’ve also been reading a number of blogs that have compassion based themes reminding me of why there is hope. There are kind, unselfish people out there and that is uplifting. I don’t see much of that though on sensationalized news stories.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you I’ve been writing seriously now for almost a year. I had a short story published and shared it with my aunt and with my uncle who just passed away. They both enjoyed it and encouraged me to keep writing.  Prior to his passing, my uncle even commented to my mother that he enjoyed it. My mother didn’t even know I was writing. She is a writer, an English major, and has had numerous papers and poems published.  My uncle’s passing reminded me how quickly someone can be taken from us so for her birthday a week and a half ago, I sent her a print copy of the collection of short stories I was published in. I autographed it, thanking her for making me read as a child. She read it, sent me an email telling me how proud she was, encouraged me to continue writing, and more importantly, told me it made her cry.  Approval.  She also took on an editing job last week for a sci-fi novel. Her first since she retired years ago.

If we were having coffee, I would suggest that all the events of the last four weeks are having an effect on a short story I am writing. Writing triggers. It’s somewhat of a dark story about a man who has made a decision to kill someone. I had the story completely outlined and short of giving you a synopsis (which I am lousy at) I can feel weeks of grief, music, negativity overload, compassion, and family love taking my story in a different direction.  Maybe.  Another thousand words will tell.  Maybe I will have my mom edit it.

Would you like another cup of coffee? I need one, decaf just doesn’t cut it.

Back to writing…

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”  – Robert Frost

Music Association – Into The Mystic

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Music is genuinely a part of my soul. Like reading or writing, music can raise my blood pressure, bring me to laughter, or bring me to tears. Most people I have discussed this with hold the same relationship with music. Whether it’s the lyrics or the musical arrangement itself, it resonates with us. We have workout playlists, mellow playlists, rainy day playlists, and so on. I would imagine the lists are as complex as human emotion.

For me personally, a particular song, or sometimes an entire album or artist, often has some association with it: a person, a place, an event, a mood, an object, or a particular time in my life. Sometimes that connection is stronger depending upon the magnitude of what I am associating it with.  For example, there is a Creed song titled Arms Wide Open. My association, and an easy one, was my anxiety of becoming a father for the first time. AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock? My Gibson SG. Fleetwood Mac’s Silver Spring takes me back to an airport where I said goodbye to a girl I was dating so she could return home to an ex-boyfriend who had pleaded for one more chance. Iron Maiden’s Wasted Years: long story, lol. Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters: my wife. I could go on and on with this.

I haven’t posted for a few weeks because I had a death in the family. My uncle passed away in February and his death hit me harder than most.  I wrote a tribute to him HERE because I needed to write but then spent the next few weeks trying to comfort others all while sitting over 2000 miles away. His service was last weekend and most everyone in my family made it to Arizona with the exception of me and few other relatives and friends. I couldn’t go for a number of reasons and it was tearing me up.  Throughout the weekend, I got texts and updates from numerous family members including pictures: the funeral service cars being led by a group of motorcycles, the bikers lining the walkway with American Flags they’d had folded up on their bikes, two young Marines folding a flag, and then pics of family members and friends. They made me a part of it despite their own grief. That was last weekend. I had cried the morning my mother texted me he had passed and I cried when my sister sent me the pictures of the Marines folding the flag but other than that, I have been a bit numb and not really dealing with this.  That was until last night.

Thursday, my uncle’s fiancé texted me asking me about the town I live in and if it was in what’s called the Southern Tier, in NY. I replied yes. She had friended me on Facebook and I noticed she had gone to college at a University that is located about 15 miles from me. I was going to mention it to her earlier but felt it wasn’t the time because she was obviously grieving. It turns out she is from this area and was born about 25 miles from where I presently live and grew up in neighboring towns. Her mother and two of her kids were born in the same town I live in now. The same town my wife was born in and my reason for now living in NY. And it hit me, what are the odds that a boy and his uncle, who both grew up in a small mining town in Arizona along the Mexican border would find their soul mates from the same small rural county in New York? Crazy.

So back to last night. People have been continually posting things on my Uncle’s Facebook page.  I’ve read most of them but somehow missed two posts.  One of them was re-posted by my uncle’s fiancé, thanking the man who had posted it. It was a tribute he had done for my Uncle with photographs of his time in Vietnam along with an old CCR song playing in the background.  Last night I decided to watch it again and started to get emotional. When it ended, I noticed the same guy had done one more so I watched it and completely lost it.  I don’t think I have cried like that in years.  Maybe I needed it.

So… Fortunate Son and Into The Mystic now have a face, a time, a place, and so much more.

Meet my uncle – Charlie Sotelo:


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