Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nosy Interview: John Balsley

John in the Light Echoes from the V838 Mon, © NASA

John and I first met on the internet in 1999, when it was harder and weirder to meet someone online. He deserves some kind of special designation on the nosy blog (Patron Nose? Nosy Hero?) because this summer he sent the most generous, amazing learning tool I could have received--a kit of notes! I dreamed of such a box set when first starting this blog, and having these tiny vials in my apartment has been such an enormous treat. Visit John's professional website, and then come back here to leave suggestions for the nosy knighthood ceremony in the comments.

What do you smell like? 
These days I smell like a kid -- the outdoorsy life in Wyoming leaves remnants of campfire, charcoal briquettes, bicycle grease, and mud on my clothes. Sunday, my laundry basket is a pastiche of whatever adventures I've gotten into during the week: "oh yeah, Tuesday I pet that wet dog while wearing this shirt."

My hands tell a more immediate story -- the floofy natural hand-soap my landlady buys, or permanent marker from creating a puzzle for the kids I work with. The mildly decaying, pleather steering wheel in my ancient Hyundai remains on my fingers, a smoldering plastic-cum-french-fry tableau. Some nights, it's John Varvatos cologne, which invariably devolves into beer and Parliaments. Or more dog. I don't even like dogs, but it feels right when you're out West.

What do you like to smell?
Sometimes my memory fails me; perhaps a misspent youth smoking away synapses is to blame for forgetting who was there, what song it was, the non-punchline part of the joke. But smell can transport me instantly to visceral memory, smashed together with other times that share the same odors, a family reunion of similar recollections, even if in truth they haven't much in common. A whiff of cloves takes me to a dozen Greek Easters; gasoline in the hot sun recalls countless trips in my first car. Nostalgia, that false emotion, nonetheless seems important when triggered by smell, and the details I mix in my mind may be as incomplete as ever, but it feels more real, correct. Chlorine will always bring to mind holding Jack, then an infant, in a rooftop pool in downtown Chicago, grinning at each other as we bob around its perimeter, and just as quickly I'm a pre-teen at Sunset Beach in Claysville, Pennsylvania, almost feeling the sandpapery diving board under my feet as I try not to chicken out.

It always starts positive, these remembered smells, and even if the delicious clove-infused ham Yiayia prepared was tempered by obvious tension between my father and the Republican contingent of the family, or the teenage, windows-down freedom of the '87 Chevy Sprint ultimately ended as a broken down heap on Route 19 (still stinking of gasoline), I still like those smells, those triggers. I've lived a lot of places, and sometimes smelling things links DC and Milan, Chicago and Seattle, Wyoming and Claysville, New York and Pittsburgh. A family reunion of the Diaspora of memory.

22 comments:

themonstersflashlight said...

This is so good-- the writing structure, the memories, the smells, the combination of it all. High five, John Balsley!

Anonymous said...

many thanks for the comment! And to Elizabeth, of course, who remains awesome even thirteen years later. -John

Anonymous said...

Terrific interview! John, as one of my musician peers, I never realized you had such a talent for writing as well. Consider a side-career as an underground musical journalist?

-MR. OWL
http://soundcloud.com/mr-owl-1

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