Monday, January 9, 2012

A rambling post, beginning with perfume and moving on to a vessel of the devil

A few friends have mentioned that they miss the perfume posts here. I'm glad to know that people have enjoyed my perfume writing, but I'm afraid I won't be returning to it anytime soon. (I will, however, go on writing about interesting projects that touch on the subject of perfume, such as this and this.) For the record, I still love perfume. I still wear it and buy it, although I do a lot less buying lately. There was a time when I could afford to be both a bibliophile and a perfume freak. Now the budget only allows one expensive addiction, and between books and perfume there’s really no contest. My days of dropping $100 for a little bottle of scent are over.

That sounds a little sad. It isn't. Life changes (mine sure has), and flowing with the changes is part of the pleasure of living. Being poorer doesn't bother me, and it’s not really the reason I’ve stopped blogging about perfume. I’ve still got a large collection worth writing about, and I could always swap samples if I wanted to review new things. The truth is that I just don’t want to think about perfume anymore. I still thoroughly enjoy the stuff, but my cerebral engagement with it has almost disappeared. I now love perfume in the instinctive, easily satisfied way that I did as a kid, when I first started raiding the pretty bottles on my mother’s dresser: Spritz. Happiness. Done.

The perfume obsession is not the only fancy that has fallen away over the past couple of years. I used to love to cook and collect recipes, but these days scrambling an egg constitutes a major culinary effort. My cookbooks all have a thick coating of dust and I happily subsist on yogurt and almonds for weeks at a time. I was a pretty serious amateur herbalist for years, with a large collection of exotic herbs, homemade tinctures and the like. Since my divorce, I have – with frightening ease, it seems to me – forgotten most everything I used to know about damiana and he shou wu. A couple of months ago, I finally just said the hell with it and put all my herbs and the attendant paraphernalia in the trash. Birding has also gone by the wayside. I used to maintain a half dozen bird feeders year-round, monitoring the visitors and keeping a journal about their comings and goings. I still feed the hummingbirds, but the rest are on their own and it’s rare for me to spend any time observing the avian population in my yard.

I’ve been getting rid of material things, too. Keepsakes, clothes, furniture -- all kinds of items I acquired and kept for reasons I can't now fathom are leaving my life, one carload or garbage bin at a time. I aim to keep paring away until my house is empty of everything I don’t need or genuinely cherish. Unloading my too-large house is probably not an option anytime soon, but I plan to sell it the second I can get a decent price. In the future, home is going to be someplace small, and I hope to spend plenty of time far away from it.

The idea of a wandering, unencumbered life has always appealed to me. Most of my childhood fantasies revolved around achieving — alone — some exalted state of freedom or knowledge. In my dreams I found secret passages to magical places, befriended spirits in the woods, became a bird or a wild horse. Some remnant of those dreams still lurks in me. It fuels my desire to write, and it keeps my mind turning on certain myths and stories – especially, for more than a year now, the story of Mary of Egypt.

Everything about Mary’s life, particularly Sophronius’s version of it, fascinates me. Strip away the expressly Christian trappings (please), and the life of Mary of Egypt is a myth about the dualities that define human existence – body and spirit, feminine and masculine. It’s also a story about death and loss, and the struggle to find some meaning to life as death approaches. But apart from all those grand themes, it’s a tale about a remarkable woman who pursued the life she desired, first as a "vessel of the devil,” and then as a desert hermit. I admire her, and I feel a certain sisterhood. Lately, my 22-year marriage seems more and more like Mary’s long career as a harlot: a false life from which I’ve been delivered. I won’t be following her path as an ascetic. I’m a pleasure-loving animal to the marrow of my bones and that will never change.  But to walk, as Mary did,  out into the unknown, abandoning myself to the mere possibility of  wisdom, seems like a good way to pass the time until I finally rest on the riverbank.

Saint Mary of Egypt, José de Ribera, 1691


brian said...

Strange. I've been going through a similar process, unburdening myself of various things I thought at one time, for a long time, I couldn't do without. Some of this has been from watching hoarders--seeing myself in the woman, say, who has over sixty pots and pans but hasn't cooked a meal, nor been able to find any of these pots and pans, for thirty years. My house isn't anywhere near this, but I've always had a bit of a wandering streak myself, and all these things I collect tether me in a way I'm no longer comfortable with. And perfume, well, I'm not sure how I feel about it at this point. I still love it but I think in many ways I want to restore it more to a pre verbal state of affairs. I love your voice.

Maggie Emm said...

This really strikes a chord with me too, having left things behind I never thought I would. To think of oneself as one thing is a trap I think, and to give oneself the freedom to change and metamorphose and evolve is a sign that we are truly human.
I came for the perfume and stayed for the poems and writing - thanks!

Ankica said...

Wow. Breathtaking and such a liberating post. Hopefully you will let us how is it going... :)

I decided 2 things for my self:

a) not to worry about future because I have no idea what will happen and I am sure better things will happen if I don't worry. At the moment I am unemployed and I can't even afford to work on my perfumes, but I can do other things related to my little art work...

b) free myself from milion of little desires which are bringing me nowhere and focus on 2 things which I truly want/need: perfume making and work on my health. This also means not allow people to expect things from me which I can't give...

Ankica said...

p.s. As much as I love reading perfume stuff, your selection of poems is unique and preciousss to me that I am glad that you decided to stick with this theme.

ScentScelf said...

In retrospect, I have gone through a few moltings. But your musing here, overlaid with our mutual exploration of perfume, made me nod my head with a sense of fresh approach.

Life changes indeed. What is interesting about me looking upon my perfume writing from this suspended state I've put myself in is that I thought I anticipated change, and by delving into thinking about perfume, I had something that would carry into whatever came next. I had had a sense that changes were about to come -- indeed, large changes DID come -- and also thought I planned ahead enough that the writing would be not about perfume so much as thinking.

Turns out that at the moment it feels as if it is not so much that the writing carried forward into what was next, but rather carried *me* forward.

I still like perfume, still feel like an explorer in that world (though now practiced in the ways of exploring, with lots of maps, yet still not surprised by shifts in terrain or unexpected landscapes), but really needed to step away from being sucked into the topic-ness of it, and secure the one thing (the interest) in a separate zone from the other thing (the thinking, the writing). I think I'm about there -- ironically, of three little essay ideas on scraps of paper near my screen, one is for a musing over why I don't feel propelled to write about perfume much -- and why, when I do, I no longer push to protect the space/time to do it.

Also, I too have a new economic reality. I don't think of it much, though, as it fits quite comfortably with my aesthetic. The only time I feel it as "pain" is when what I know is a "good deal" has to pass by untouched, because good deal or not, if the money isn't in the coffer, it's a No Deal. Again, I am glad I don't feel whiney about this, because if I did, it would be a big old Comfortable Middle Class Person problem. I have shelter. Me and mine are healthy. I can feed my pets as well as my people. I still get the occasionally nicely. Sometimes it is perfume.

Like a previous commenter, I enjoy finding you here with your poetry. Interestingly, that's why I started hanging out in the first place. It must have been poking around in perfume writings that brought me here -- maybe even linking on a comment from somewhere else? -- but it was the sense of an entity with a curiosity and an appreciation handing me poetry and a visual that kept me coming back.

Of course, this means that at this point, I'll come back for whatever you are serving up. And if you happen to serve it up elsewhere, I trust that you'll point us in that direction. Because these paths are such treasures.

Anonymous said...

You're coming into your Sagittarian-ness. *nod nod*

dissed said...

Life changes constantly. We don't much notice the small changes . . . the big changes can turn us upside down. At some point in time, we turn and embrace the change.

BitterGrace said...

Many thanks for all the kind and very thoughtful comments, everybody.

Brian, "tethered" is the perfect word for my feeling about the collected stuff in my own life. I'm glad you like the writing. Means a lot to me to hear that you do.

Maggie Emm, what a lovely blog you have! I'm so glad you commented and prompted me to have a look. I'll be back.

Ankica, you're an inspiration. I hope you keep following those true desires. I know good things will happen for you. And please keep sharing poems with me. :-)

SS, there are so many parallels in our lives. We should discuss them over a drink sometime soon.

Anon, you nod like an old friend -- perhaps you also know the joys of coming into Sadge-ness. Or maybe you've been there all along :-)

dissed, so true. And, if we stay honest, it's a mutual embrace.