A Relationship with the Senses

Photo by Vie Studio on Pexls.com

Tonight, my mind is void of words. Like static from a 1960’s television set reverberating a faint hum from one ear to the other. The house is quiet but for the air conditioner and an occasional delivery truck sweeping through the alley. I move my head side to side, up and down to relax my neck muscles. Crack, scrape, crack. My throat is dry, and an ice pick pierces my left ear deep, chipping away at my brain as it crumbles.

This isn’t always the case. Usually when I sit down to write, my body feels as if it is guest of honor at the party and I’m the only guest, not having to converse with anyone but myself. The feast is all mine. My best writing materializes when my heart is on the table. Laid out fresh and vulnerable. Like the day I learned a child had drowned in my neighborhood. Pink balloons floating upward into the heavens sent a chill through my core. Writing would soothe my heartache for this child I never knew.

Anger and hurt move me to write, my heart pulsating, crying out to escape its cavity. Occasions worthy of my anger, like the shifty way my employer sought to impale me right through the gut, compel me to write like hell, words spewing across the paper like a bitch. Beyond words, it’s my therapy. 

Rarely does love motivate me to write unless I’m overcome with adoration for my kids or my dog, or people who have left this world. I don’t write about romantic love because it doesn’t exist. Not for this writer. Although, certain songs or smells remind me of past lovers. The Grateful Dead propels me into a scene with my ex every time, but it’s too much trouble to write about him. And an old boyfriend from high school, who I was madly in love with, calls on all my senses to respond, mostly the scent of woods, extra spicy, hot and peppery. I don’t write about him either because the memory inflicts a fresh wound burning from the inside out.  

My senses stir memories of childhood. Like creaking of a screen door or the smell of dirt and sun in a child’s hair. Back in my old yellow bedroom, I’m roused from sleep on a Saturday morning by the swooshing of the washing machine or the lawn mower whirring through crackling, dry grass. I roll out of bed, sinking my feet into yellow shag carpet lit by shadows through faded yellow curtains. 

Once I wrote about a sound that emanates from an object of taste, barely audible, but enticing to one little shih tzu. I called it “The Sound of Cheese:” 

“Lazy girl coiled up on a pillow, all white fur and fluff. Peeking out through round, dark eyes, she awakens from a dream by the sound of cheese. She knows it’s cheese because it always sounds the same. The refrigerator door squeaks open, and the next sound against the quiet is the rustling of a small plastic baggie at once opened to reveal the cheese—any cheese—cheddar, provolone, Monterey jack. She knows once she stands to stretch, and listens closely for the cheese, her cuteness will be rewarded with the tiniest sliver, a sample to savor.”

Smells are often a catalyst for my writing, taking me back to places where I long to return. Citrus and olive trees waft through campus air as I scurry to class at the university. Stories flow freely from that time in my life, having no legitimate worries or responsibilities other than planning for the weekend. 

When feeling nostalgic, my writing takes off with the smell of old book pages, my mother’s wedding gown folded gently inside her cedar chest, the baby blue nightgown my son toddled around in, climbing into kitchen cabinets, lighting up my world.

I’m inspired by warm sun settling onto my skin in Spring, or orange-frosted cinnamon rolls just out of the oven in Fall, hot to the touch at first, then cooling slightly to savor the tangy citrus on swirling, puffy dough. On a good writing day, the slightest breeze tickles the hair on my arms like a butterfly teasing me, pretending to land there, hovering just above my skin.

One summer, I wrote from a balcony overlooking the ocean feeling alone but content:

“The ocean expands widely to other lands, waves rushing to meet the shore and sand. I hear the sounds of life…a steady hum of the surf rake, a jet flying high above the clouds, an occasional squawk from a seagull, and later, people…shuffling, skating or biking along the boardwalk, faintly chattering, a baby crying, music playing just for a brief moment. I smell fresh, salty air. I feel its moisture, a slight breeze cooling my skin, and I’m relaxed in the moment.”

Writing fills my senses, and my senses inspire writing, in a relationship that will never betray. 

Author: Leslie J. Cox

Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing to guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

4 thoughts on “A Relationship with the Senses”

  1. Amazing post
    Beautifully articulated. Your writing style is captivating and draws the reader in with each word. I noticed you mentioned being inspired by different senses, but do you have a go-to prompt or exercise for when you’re struggling to find inspiration?


  2. Thank you for your kind words, Anne. My senses do inspire me to write, but so many other things throughout my day do as well–my grandkids, my dog, my tortoise, the clouds, a song… I don’t do well with prompts unless I’m in a workshop. But I do take a lot of notes when I feel inspired, and then, when I’m ready to write, I have ideas to get me started. What inspires you to write?


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