When I read these days, I’m especially alert to the nuances of word use, and how writers use words to paint vivid pictures. One of the major differences that sets the work of best-selling authors apart is their use of all sensory modalities in descriptive passages. Three of my role models in this respect are Sue Grafton, Rosamund Pilchner, and Anais Nin. Reading some of their descriptions simply gives me goosebumps. I know I’ll never write exactly as they do, because each has her own personal voice. Rather than imitating others, we must each strive to develop our own unique voice as powerfully as they have done.
With that in mind, and also perhaps the inspiration of having recently worked through the lessons on 42 Days of Writing Passionately with Julie Jordan Scott, I pondered memories of my own youth and experimented with writing with all my senses:
My heart still returns to the northern New Mexican mountains where I grew up, and as it does, my mind drifts to sensations more than specific events. I remember . . .
A gentle breeze wafting vanilla scent of sun-warmed pine trees, whispering through the boughs and kissing my bare shoulders with heart-melting warmth.
My dark brunette hair, hot to the touch from brilliant sunshine.
Hardened pine sap nuggets, warmed slowly inside my cheek until it's soft enough to chew into a waxy wad tasting like essence of earth itself and leaving my mouth feeling industrial strength clean. But beware of slightly soft stuff -- its turpentine taste lingers into the next day.
Scaling the side of a cliff, scrambling for each foothold, hands clinging tightly to gritty, flesh-shredding lava rock, focusing too intently to think about getting down again.
Heart-stopping terror of bikes racing down hills, miles from home and parents, feet off the pedals, daring each other not to crash -- long before helmets and pads were ever invented, or cell phones for summoning help.
New-fallen snow, dazzling diamonds sharply contrast with green-black pine and fir boughs.
Careening in head-first esses down steep snowy curves with ice crystal spray stinging my cheeks. Our breath rose in white clouds while we panted our way back up the slopes, red-mittened hands frozen in place on icy ropes as we pulled our sleds up the slope to try again. Then we’d retreat to a toasty warm kitchen to sip mugs of cocoa that fragrantly steamed our glasses with each sip.
Marshmallows roasted to gooey perfection inside crisp brown shells.
Soft, fuzzy whiteness of early spring Pasque flowers, blooming on the rusty needle-strewn forest floor, renewing the hope of summer soon to come.
Heady fragrance of pinon pine smoke, old as Earth herself, evoking wispy pueblo ghost spirits with each breath.
The balm of yellow corn tortillas and longhorn cheese soothing the fire on my tongue set aflame with burning red chili. Softly creamy tortilla, cheese and chili in sharp contrast with crisp, pungent onion and crunchy cooling lettuce, all in one soul satisfying stack of enchilada, topped by oozy fried egg, with icy sherbet for shock. Hot enchilada, icy sherbet, endorphin rush . . . it feels so good to hurt so bad.
Those mountains shaped my life and my abiding love for the woods. Alone in the woods, I was my own best self, free from all expectations, pressures and competition. I knew even then that the forest had healing powers. The memories from those mountains pull me back to being my own best self, and remind me to keep them in my soul.
Rosamund Pilchner I’m not, but maybe someday I’ll come closer. Meanwhile, what sensations do you remember from your early years? How have they affected your later life?
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal