Archive for June, 2013

Writing Prompt: Taste and Memory

Friday, June 28th, 2013

taste and memory“…mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory–this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself…

And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before church-time), when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of real or of lime-flower tea. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the interval, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the forms of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

–Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Swann’s Way

Yesterday while I was making dinner, I picked up a slim, crisp French green bean and bit into it. Immediately I was back on the factory floor of Green Giant where I worked two summers while I was in college. I could feel the soaring ceiling above, the ever-damp concrete floor below my feet, hear the whirring of the conveyor belt with mounds of freshly harvested green beans rolling along at fifty stations. I was in my overalls, wearing my high school green and white oxfords (which was a surprise, I’d forgotten about those). I was full of wonder and promise about college, thinking about the prank I pulled painting one-and only one-of the stools purple. All from a single taste of a green bean. Not that my time at Green Giant ranks up there with my fondest memories, though I admit a hazy glow permeated my flash of remembrance, probably because a) it was thirty-odd years ago and I was young and b) it was thirty-odd years ago and I don’t have to work there now. It’s undeniable, even without the many scientific studies on the subject, that a taste can sometimes flood us not only with sensation, but with memory and emotion. One bite into a Ciao Bella Key Lime Frozen Yogurt Sandwich, and life always seems better. Taste is linked to the most primitive parts of our brain, say the scientists, which means, when you think about it, that taste is linked to survival and instinct, things we must remember in order to live. But here’s the catch: You can’t make it happen (although Ciao Bella does a pretty good job). I’ve bitten into fresh green beans before without remembering Green Giant. And the next time I bite into a fresh green bean I will probably think about my factory time, but I doubt it will be that breath-taking immediate immersion into something that felt more than mere memory, even if just for a moment. And who knew that particular memory would float up, rather than, say, my grandmother’s bean salad at the lake? So this means that when this kind of taste-memory trigger happens, it is precious, and should become its own memory. Have your character bite slowly, lusciously, and with full detail of every sensation into something terrifically wonderful or horrifically bad. Does the taste-memory connection cause an action? Does the bite make someone fall in love, want to become a chef, go off canned tuna forever, understand the unity of all things, seal in the memory of a summer’s day, laugh, cry, or both?



Monday, June 10th, 2013

Prompt: Watch this short, hilarious video:

If you have any trouble this link, type: Norwegian cheesedoodles in youtube’s search window. Bet you never used those two words side by side before!

Now write about BLISS. Quiet bliss, big noisy bliss, your bliss, your character’s bliss, any bliss at all.