Musings: Scars, Fragrances, and Memory

This post is a gift – as all of Michael’s work is – of friend and The BeZine colleague, Michael Watson,LCMHC. It is shared here with Michael’s permission and as a follow-up to Turning Pain into Beauty … a triumph of tattoo and poem over mastectomy, published here yesterday.

Michael Watson is a shamanic healer, psychotherapist, educator, and visual and theater artist of Native American and European descent. Michael’s blog is Dreaming the World. If you were to feed your soul on only one blog, his would be the one to choose.


dsc018971Writing about being fitted for a new brace, and reading and responding to, the comments on that post, seems to have opened a doorway on to the immediacy of the past in the present, and to meaning making in the aftermath of intense experience, particularly illness. This morning I awoke early, before there was any hint of light in the sky. I awoke into a memory. It was not a “proper” memory; rather, it was more a flood of complex, even contradictory, emotions and sensations. There have been times in my life when such an awakening would have filled me with dread, but this morning I felt curiosity.

Today features a high, slightly broken overcast with the very occasional glimpse of milky blue sky. Here, at the end of January, there is a thin covering of snow on the ground. At the feeder, the male finches are showing the beginnings of bright red plumage in preparation for their February mating season. As has been true for most of the winter, the temperature is unseasonably warm, and we face another bout of rain.

Our kitchen looks out, through the sun room, into the garden and back yard where the feeder is hung from the crab apple tree. With this as a backdrop I opened a small jar of strawberry/plum jam. Immediately the fragrance of strawberries permeated the kitchen, as though a genie had been freed from the bottle. For a moment it was June! The jam promptly went on a croissant; Also on said croissant were several slices of brie which had melted under the broiler!

These experiences, the overcast, jam, and memory, set me to wondering about the body-self’s capacity for richly nuanced experience. Later, when I sat down to read through my e-mail, there was a blog post from Jamie Dedes, who writes at the Poet By Day. Today’s post was about the transformation of disfigurement into beauty. She wrote about scars, particularly those left by mastectomy, and women who use tattoos to completely alter the look and meaning of those scars.

Suddenly there was yet another layer of complexity in my pondering. Scars, fragrances, and those unbidden, complex memories, are all traces, events and meanings written in and on the body. It is, I imagine, these traces that give shape to our experiences of our bodies and lives. Our responses to these traces reflect our personal struggles to wrestle meaning from mishaps and joys; they are also suggestive of the responses of others to our scars, and our fears and expectations of how others will react. (I have been asked several times how I imagine others will react to my new, very visible, brace.) Thus, our relationship to memory and scar becomes thickly layered and re-membered.

Above me, on the bookshelf, stand the six thick volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, a masterpiece set in motion by a memory of a Madeleine. The writing is a sort of quarrying, exposing the myriad layers and accretions of association attached to a singular, somehow pivotal, event. I wonder: is every moment, every event, pivotal, somehow a singularity of infinite mass and importance? Or do we remember more selectively, creating islands of meaning contextualized by specific moments in time, somehow giving more weight to specific events, allowing them to draw innumerable associations to themselves, thus creating constellations of great depth. Perhaps both are true.

© 2016, words and photograph, Michael Watson, All rights reserved