This is my writing assignment from the third week of Jonathan Rogers’ Flannery O’Connor class. He assigned us to remember a smell, to allow that smell to bring up a memory, and then to follow that into more memories. Once we had gone as far as we could, we were to think about what was missing from those memories and write about that. What i wrote flowed from my smell-memories, but it also flowed from some other gloaning i’ve been doing lately, gloaning that rose up out of conversations about local idiom, my tendency to abstraction, and the movie Inside Out.
I Am Frances
“The first thing I remember is the smell of chocolate stickers. I don’t recall how old I was or where we lived at the time, which is both a shame and a surprise.” Thus begins my chasing of smell-memories.
I live in a moving country of my own making, shaped by the ever-shifting borders around my family. The landscape of this country is made of allusions. I walk the pages of picture books. I sail dreamlands of many authors’ making. The stars are characters and the constellations are drawn from many worlds. I have traveled far enough to touch Orion, but I have never yet returned to the well-trodden path. And already, if you’ve read the same stories, you can see inside my head and know that the words which define my homeland are not my own.
The house with the chocolate stickers is lost to me. My memories are all ordered by the house we lived in from year to year, but I recall neither the shape nor the layout nor which storybook character lived with me in that house. If the house is lost, that year is lost. There is a gap in my childhood.
When I was small I was Frances the Badger.
Frances feared the wind at night. She felt unfairness. She, too, had a little sister. She, too, was misunderstood. She, like me, was crafty and not always honest. She also sailed imaginary worlds. And, like me, she was well-loved and safe—although she, like me, felt apart. We both lived in one world while straining against its borders for another. We both ran away from home, and we both poured our hearts into imagination and song and felt justified when no-one understood. I was Frances because nobody else—not my sister, not my parents, not my friends—was me. From Frances I learned my own borders.
Where did I live when my mother made me my very own Frances-the-Badger stuffed wiggly snake? In my head, I suppose; in one story or another. That house is lost to me, too. But the dreamland I sailed is there still, and I am still discovering its borders. I still have that stuffed wiggly snake, and pastel green and orange still remind me of what it felt like to learn that I was myself and nobody else.
Books are good and pictures, too
They can tell me what is true
Trees outside and snakes and things
Are not as real as what I think.
Plinketty, plinketty, plinketty, plink.