Back to school time is always a delight for me because of the stacks of Crayon® boxes in so many stores. I love the distinctive smell of those pieces of colored wax. I don’t know how Craola® infuses that distinctive aroma in its products, but one sniff and I’m carried back to school and to my kids’ school days.
There are moments when I am overcome with emotion and wish my kids were little again so we could all sit at the kitchen table and draw pictures or open a coloring book and create a masterpiece.
Sure, there are all kinds of “bells and whistle” Crayons now. Markers of every description. Magic Crayons that only work on special surfaces. (If they’d had those when my youngest was a toddler, it would have saved several sets of sheets. More about that later.) Multicultural Crayons, triangular Crayons, Studio Design Crayons, and so many more. I’m a purist. I like the original ones best because they’re the ones with that smell.
That Special Smell
When I said that the Crayon smell carries me back to my school days, I wasn’t joking. Smell, the most primitive of our senses, isn’t like our other senses. When you smell something, the brain is not needed to “run interference” the way it does with our other senses. What you smell creates an immediate effect that needs no translation, thought, interpretation, or anything.
Smell Is Primitive
You inhale and odor molecules float into the nose, travel back to the nasal cavity behind the bridge of the the nose, and get absorbed by the mucosa containing receptor cells. On the receptor cells, there are microscopic hairs called cilia. They wave like sea anemones, wafting the odors onto the receptor cells. About 5 million of these receptor cells fire impulses faster than you can read this to the olfactory bulb — the smell center — located in the brain.
When the olfactory bulb — the smell center — detects something, it signals your cerebral cortex and sends a message straight into your limbic system — that’s the primitive, emotional part of the brain that houses your feelings and your desires. Boom! A memory is instantly called up by the brain.
So Crayon smell gets picked up, sent to the limbic system, and triggers the memories of those good feelings of being a kid and coloring pictures.
Smell is linked to feelings, to emotions, and the link is so strong that the memory is clearer than other memories. I’ve always thought smell was like a time machine. You smell, and bam! You’re transported back to a specific moment in time, experiencing the emotions of that event. Smell calls forth a sharp, in-focus memory.
Crayons Inspired An Artist
You may know that my daughter Adina Mayo is an artist. Her first artistic efforts were drawing designs on the sheets in her bed with a purple crayon. As she explained to me, the purple flowers she drew looked better than the pink flowers on the sheets. She was about 2 1/2 years old at the time and was supposed to be taking a nap.
When she was in 5th grade, she brought me the shavings from her Crayon sharpener and spread them out on a piece of paper and asked me to tell her what I saw. I looked at the colorful fragments and said I didn’t see anything, but that all the shavings together were pretty. She nodded, looked at me, and said, “That’s because it’s art.” That very moment, I knew she had some special aesthetic sense. So the Crayon smell has special significance for me and calls up those memories so clearly.
Those school days have passed. Adina and all our other kids are grown. Adina has created a volume of work using many different media. Her art created for the Master’s Degree program she completed this summer was on display the last few weeks at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Part of her art from that project is going to be in a traveling exhibition that makes a stop in Houston next spring. She teaches art in a local high school and freelances as a graphic artist with video trailers, book covers, and also as a photographer whose work is amazing.
Scents and Sensuality by Joan Reeves
Adina still picks up a Crayon every now and then and colors, but most of her “coloring” is now done with a computer. Even with her graphic art, she always “colors outside the lines,” creating something unique every time. Here is the new book cover she just created for my last book Scents and Sensuality.
Even though this romantic comedy was published in March, I was never happy with the cover — not because it was a bad cover, but because it wasn’t the picture I wanted: a beautiful blond woman holding a perfume bottle and spraying it on the pulse point on her neck. You see the heroine in Scents and Sensuality is a perfumer, and she knows all about the Science of Smell and Sexual Attraction. (Yes, those two go hand in hand. Read the book and learn what makes a person appeal to the opposite sex!)
Finally, last week, I found the photograph and Adina did a new cover that is now “live” at most ebook sellers. What do you think about the new cover? I think it’s perfect. It depicts the passion of the book and the scent that goes along with sensuality.
Enjoy your children while they’re young. It’s a total cliché, but they really do grow up too fast.
Joan Reeves is a world-class sentimentalist who gets all misty-eyed in the Crayon aisle at Office Depot each fall. Visit Joan at her website and SlingWords, her blog.
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