Posted by: Judy M. Goodman | October 20, 2009

Sensory Memory

The other day, I drove through B. K. Lounge (aka Burger King.) The route through the congested parking lot took me past double parked vehicles and through a short wooded path before viewing the needed window. As I pulled away from the cars, a strange sensation swaddled me. Though the path was clearly a paved driveway with small, square curbs, the trees rising up on both sides had transported me back more than four decades. “Riverview” flashed through my brain.

Riverview was the premier amusement park in Chicago when I was a kid. Which ride? I couldn’t say – either Shoot the Chutes or the Tunnel of Love. Yes, preteens did ride the Tunnel of Love with their fathers in those days. It was a respite from the heat and the noise. Both water rides, though the latter were less revving, cooled the riders off even before they reached the main function. (Okay, argue with me. Most people rode the Tunnel of Love to get revved.) The long (or short ) benched boats floated with equal purpose and leisure through winding canals before plunging you into darkness. Then, the Chutes sent you rollicking down a waterlogged roller coaster while the Tunnel . . . Well, you get the picture.

Needless to say, the burger and fries were an anticlimax.

That momentary time-travel was a gift. How easy it is to forget the importance of sensory memory. Recently, I’ve tended to get bogged down in the story’s present. Sensory writing realized the transient ether: the loud party sounds emanating from the next hotel room at 2am, the smell of frying chicken, the taste of gasoline in the air. The air’s touch of autumn humidity accompanied by the aroma of the first day of school had long been hibernating. The perspective of why the sight sound, taste or smell had meaning was lost in the stresses and frustrations of life and revision. Character was a function of twitches and slung-snot rather than the result of a lived life.

Take it from me, that’s a particularly dangerous place for a writer to be stuck.

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