A Lingering Memory

Wisdom is nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life.

~ Hermann Hesse ~

As I walked into my study this morning, I detected the lingering scent of patchouli incense—evidence of my efforts, yesterday and many days before, to return to a time and place I never experienced. The closest I came to immersion in such a place at that long-gone time must have been in my last year or two of high school or my early college years, when I returned home to spend time with friends who were a few years older than I. And there was once, during a seasonal break from college, when I worked during the summer in San Antonio, that I drove back to Austin. A friend there introduced me to the bong and the effects of its illegal contents. It was a one-time experience, as I had to drive back to San Antonio and I think he moved on to school in Chicago. I suspect patchouli was the aroma of choice when he and his girlfriend, who had a child in Chicago, filled their apartment with odors reminiscent of a hippie head shop.

Patchouli has a somewhat conflicted past. It is an aroma either loved or loathed, it seems, with little room for olfactory concession The smell of patchouli has long been associated with hippie head shops, though it finds its way into high society from time to time. An online article promoting an August, 2019 evening seminar entitled Smell & Tell: The Aromatic Allure of Patchouli offered by the Ann Arbor District Library says this about patchouli: “Patchouli is not all hippie stank. Jackie O’s signature fragrance was patchouli. Aristotle Onassis gave her a bottle of Lovely Patchouli 55 by Krigler on the same day he put a 40-karat diamond engagement ring on her finger, and it became her signature fragrance.” For me, the allure of patchouli is neither its association with head shops nor Jacki O’s attachment to the smell; it is an odd combination of how the scent is suggestive of both the two distinct social strata, refined in my youth to fit my personal illusions and delusions and flights of fancy.

At any rate, I sensed the scent of patchouli as I neared my study. That hint of odor was enough to prompt me to light another cone of the stuff, turning my little study into a den of memory-laden fantasy. So, here I am, pretending to be younger. Pretending that I have my whole life ahead of me. Pretending that I live in a time and place that never were, nor ever will be. Often, that is what writing is about for me. It’s like reading a good book, but instead of the author taking me to places and times I find exciting or intriguing or chilling, it’s my own imagination doing the work. And it can be more realistic than translating someone else’s words into visions that fit nicely into one’s brain. I suspect no reader has ever had the same experience in reading the words of a novelist or short-story writer as that writer had when writing those words. “Suspect” is a weak, wishy-washy word; if I were writing this (and I am), I would replace “suspect” with “seriously doubt, almost to the point of certainty.”  There. That more closely represents my thoughts on the matter.

We do not remember days, we remember moments.

~ Cesare Pavese ~

Until this morning, though, I had never associated Jackie O with the scent of patchouli. I wonder what Lovely Patchouli 55 by Krigler  smells like? I doubt I’ll ever know, given that I’ve never been seduced by a woman wearing the stuff and it’s bloody unlikely I will pay the $455 for a 50 ml (about 1.7 ounces) bottle, offered online by Krigler. I suspect the aroma of my massive supplies of patchouli incense (I bought a box of four 10-cone packs for $9.90) is close enough that I just could not justify the additional $445.10. Although, the descriptive language, on the Krigler website, used in an attempt to describe the scent and the allure of the stuff is powerful: “Magnetically stimulating with an artistic embellishment of bewitching patchouli rising above a strong amber base. Offering the provocative warmth of leather and bergamot.” Until moments ago, I did not recognize the word ‘bergamot.’ Mother Google explained to me that bergamot is also known as citrus bergamia, or bergamot organge. It’s a citrusy smell. Hmmm. I do not detect a distinct citrusy smell in my patchouli; perhaps it’s because of my perpetually stuffy nose.


It took me 742 words to describe my experience entering my study this morning. I sense my verbosity is being fed with an unrestricted menu of letters, syllables, words, sentences, and paragraphs. Obviously, I need to go on a diet; no more than fifteen words per sentence, a maximum of three sentences per paragraph, and no more than one hundred words per topic. I would commit to following that dietary advice, except that I’d probably die of digestive asphyxiation (also known, more commonly, as starvation). So, what’s the point of trying? Absurd. Just give it up, John. Get used to the idea that you’re trying to emulate writers who can produced thousand-word sentences and million-word epics. Hah! I do not even proofread my blog posts (quite evident, I’m sure, to anyone who reads this drivel). C’est la vie.


A stadium with a capacity of 38,000, for which 42,000 tickets were sold. The current death toll from Indonesia’s Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy earlier today stands at 131, dwarfing the Hillsoborough disaster in England in 1989, when 92 Liverpool spectactors were crushed to death. The Hillsborough tragedy was one of the triggers for what was then called the Crowd Management Seminar (by what is now the International Association of Venue Managers). Several years later, when I successfully promoted the idea of a magazine called Crowd Management, the Hillsborough tragedy—along with deaths and injuries at rock concerts, sporting events, etc.—served as justification for the publication. Unfortunately, the board of the association refused to let the magazine continue after one year because it did not meet the board’s financial expectations. That still rankles me. Ach! It’s hard to believe 131 people can die as a result of sports-fueled madness. But it happened. And it continues to happen over time because people allow their fervor over sports to take over their human decency.


Stories inside my head are bubbling and brewing and they are aching to escape the confines of my skull. But my fingers and my attention span are refusing to accommodate them, instead suggesting brief blurbs about what’s on my mind at any given moment. That is intolerable. I must give myself an ultimatum; either perform or keep away from the keyboard.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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