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