Well, my Brainport is not working right now, and I’m pretty bummed. Sometimes I wonder if I have some sort of special technological curse, but I’m probably not really that special. I have absolutely no idea what is going on with my device. I used it on Tuesday night, and when I went to use it on Wednesday, it wouldn’t start up. I still keep trying it from time to time, just in case, but the miracle has yet to occur. I suspect I’m going to have to send it back to Wisconsin on Monday, which will put me out of commission for a while. It’s hard to have it taken away… which does make me think of what happens at the end of the year… but it doesn’t help to dwell.
Since I can’t do anything with the device for the time being and I’m going to miss the Nutcracker (just want to point out real quick here that the Boulder Philharmonic is set on their no refund policy, even in exceptional circumstances, so I’ll aim either for a performance either in January or early April if anyone wants to get in on that) I thought I’d take a minute to tell you about something else I’ve been trying to do, inspired by the Brainport, although not directly related.
Although most people would have no reason to know it, the car accident actually affected all of my senses. Losing my vision has the most obvious impact to others, but I’m aware of the other ones. In the accident, I completely lost my sense of smell. I’m not sure why exactly. I had absolutely no feeling in my face for a while, and maybe those nerves were messed up too. I had a surgery where they separated much of my flesh and tissue from the bones and the nerves had to recover from that. I don’t know. Anyway, for whatever reason, I had absolutely no sense of smell. A couple times during physical therapy, they pulled out a set of jars with various smells and they would ask me to identify them, but I just kept telling them I had no idea. I’m not sure they fully believed me, because they kept trying different ones. It definitely impacted my sense of taste. I could still sort of taste things, but most things did not taste good and it was a depleted flavor. Savory things tasted better than sweet ones, but I still had to work hard to find a taste. But what surprised me most about the loss of smell was the uncertainty it left behind. Humans probably identify vision and hearing as the senses they use the most, followed closely by touch. But other than perfumiers and chefs, people probably generally regard smell and taste as nice, but not really necessary. I think, however, that smell is constantly detecting, processing, and delivering information in the background that we then integrate usually without fully noticing it. After my accident, I was struggling to figure out information about the world, and I felt the loss of smell acutely.
Over the years, I’ve regained my sense of smell. I think it’s back to normal, but I might have just adjusted to what I got back… I don’t know. And that’s where the uncertainty remains. I do not trust my nose. I know I rely on it for information, but I don’t do so willingly. It’s the poor kid in the back of the room, raising his hand, shouting out the answer, while I look everywhere else for information. I have a hard time identifying smells or even being certain if they are there.
But when I first learned about the Brainport almost a year ago, it got me thinking about ways to more fully experience the environment, and I started to think that maybe I should work on developing my sense of smell. More recently, a project at work inspired me to reorganize my spices, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Up to now, I put the spices I use more frequently in the front and then buried everything else in the back. As a result, I only use the same four spices. But I could also put the jars into larger tubs, organized according to the kind of spices that often go together. In this system, every time I go for the cayenne, I also grab the cumin and turmeric and vindaloo mixture; maybe I’ll use more of those neglected spices if I’ve already pulled them out. I was thinking about how to label them… but then I started to wonder if I could identify them by smell. I don’t trust my sense of smell, so I was skeptical, but I started sticking my nose in there.
I can’t figure them all out immediately. The mangled basil plant that somehow keeps holding on in my window doesn’t smell like the dried basil in my cabinet. The rosemary that I brought in before the latest freezes smells more like the dried rosemary from the grocery store, but it’s still not quite the same. I have a tarragon plant that never got big enough for me to pull anything off, and since I’m determined to put it on some pasta eventually, I’ve got it sitting next to the basil, but every time I smell it, I worry that it’s not going to be strong enough to notice anything. The lemon verbena I dried smells absolutely like lemon. Most recently, in something I never would have dared to do in the past– because it seems like something a smell/taste confident person would do- I threw together rosemary, mustard, and cherries. Next, I want to stick a beet in my carrot soup and put a dollop of goat cheese on top. I get nervous about cooking for others, because I don’t trust my sense of taste either. But I like finding a little bit of confidence to take some risks. So who knows? Maybe I’m making some progress… or else the people around me are going to have to learn to be honest that they weren’t a big fan of my culinary contributions. I suppose the lack of a Brainport for the next however long will leave me more time for the herbs and spices.