Off topic ramble

I tried to write about perfume, honest, but other things got in the way.

On Saturday, we went out to have a meal with a couple of friends, chew the cud, the usual stuff. I’d been perky all day but found myself getting quieter and quieter as evening progressed. I seemed sad. There wasn’t any clear reason for this – nothing dramatic had happened earlier; I felt well; I like my friends very much. Everyone had noticed however, and I was an absence in the conversation, in spite of physically being there. Matt worked it out before I did.

Earlier, we’d briefly seen the news. I don’t know why the TV was on – we only go down to the tv room for an hour or so a day, and always after 8. Maybe we wanted to check the weather forecast (floods galore in the UK right now), and decided to do it the old-fashioned way; I can’t recall. But anyway, there we were. The news was the usual litany of despair and, though it always affects me, I’ve grown that 21st century carapace that we all wear nowadays to cope with the eerie dissonance between our own lives and what we’re so readily shown from the lives of others. The big story was the arrest of fourteen men in Barcelona for apparent terrorist plots.

It was an incidental that Matt so astutely spotted as the source of my melancholy. As the news anchor intoned over footage about the arrests, the images cut to CCTV of the 2004 Madrid bombings. We watched, without mediation, hordes of people rushing towards a stairwell leading off a train platform and what looked like two detonations occurring behind them. The figures disappeared into the flash and the smoke; it wasn’t clear whether these were amongst the 179 dead, or survivors. It looked fatal enough – whatever I mean by that – to me. The grainy footage, its absence of colour, the half-made forms running in panic, the unswerving unblinking frame except for its judder with the first explosion, vision obliterated by the blast, and then the sudden cut back to the studio…

The shock was on two levels. First, that such footage can be shown, so soon after an event now, only marginally contextualised, as though already historical document and magically impersonal: objective reportage. The second, that real deaths were here shown to the nation as a throwaway set of images on national tv. That’s all it freaking mattered. Not at all. The death of many = something to eat your supper to…

The first shock diminished relatively quickly – I’ve seen dead bodies dragged from buildings on national news broadcasts elsewhere (Spanish TV seems particularly gratuitous to my softer Anglo sensibilities), without forewarning (there’s an endearing tradition in the UK of the broadcaster normally announcing ‘Some viewers may find the following images disturbing’ before harrowing items), I’m not mawkish or squeamish, and I’m fairly savvy to the structure of news bulletins and the tabloid nature of such bulletins on commercial tv here in the UK. But I do tend to get my news on the radio a lot. Sometimes, I remember why.

The second shock lingered, and is still living with me. And it’s this that caused the silent sadness of Saturday night. Once Matt named it, I knew exactly how right he was. Aside from the the sense of wonder that comes from having a partner who knows me better than I know myself, this didn’t lift the gloom, though I could temporarily contain it. I felt freakish – a few million people will have watched that ‘incidental’ footage – how many will have felt it invade their thoughts and feelings, as it damn well should? I’m not claiming some exceptional throne for myself – Prince Embarrassment of Empathy; I’m just sayin’. Terrible, isn’t it? It made me think of this:

 

War Photograher

by Carol Ann Duffy

 

In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.

 

 

 

On the journey home, we listened to Johnny Cash, “American IV: The Man Comes Around”. It seemed fitting, especially the wonder of a song that is his delivery of ‘I Hung My Head’. Sometimes, an old man with a deep voice and so few words can capture the fragility, the pressing beauty of life, more than anything else can. Alongside the terrible pain of its loss. I’ll let Johnny do the talking, laconically at least, for me, from now on.

Why am I posting this here? I’m sorry for the downer folks, but I’m taking advantage of the fact that the warmth I get from this website means so much to me. We’re a community drawn together by the ostensibly frivolous, but what strikes me most about everyone I’ve talked to here is the sense of joy and pleasure you all find in life, and the extent to which you all feel and live and love. And my, there’s something wonderful and profound and lovely in that. That pain I’ve felt since Saturday is a tiny glimpse at a dark world; y’all make me feel like I’m living somewhere bright.

Perfume next week. It’s a promise.

65 Comments

  1. Sometimes I think it’s important that people see this stuff in order not to become inured to it; and I hope no-one ever does. We’re fed too many images of violence as porn- Saw 12 and Hostel 4. I can only hope that this type of footage engenders the sort of reaction you had in most viewers.

    Having written that I do find it a bit depressing that there is always some grainy video camera around to blandly cover the last few minutes of someone’s life, to be endlessly replayed on the six o’clock news with only the vague clucking of the anchorpersons marking the passing..

    Sooo, I drove a smart car- they’re here now. They’re cute as a button. I want one.

    • after “sooo” should have read “abrupt change from a gloomy subject” (I had bracketed n HTML quotes that caused it to disappear)

      • The new Fiat cinquecento has just arrived here, and man am I craving a piece of la dolce vita in that… Have you seen it? Design genius…

        • Yes, I have seen that and I deeply hope that they bring it to the US, but I don’t know if the country has forgotten the last ignominious FIATs that were sold here. They apparently do not salt roads in Europe as they do here and FIATs were absolutely notorious for dissolving into rust in s few years.

          • We have salt here too and the same issue with other Fiats – fortunately, this one is supposed to be oh so different… Hurrah!

    • Too right we need to respond viscerally – though, like you, I have some concern for the future given the Grand Guignol torture porn that has proliferated recently…:-?

      • I find it interesting that at least here in the states there has been a backlash that’s been filled my Hollywood: have you noticed all of the new movies that have come out at PG-13? I think they were finding those hard-R splatter-pornos were getting to be a hard sell…

  2. you bring up an interesting point, and one i have to deal with sadly often – i’m a page designer at a midsize newspaper. we often have the conversation on what is newsworthy and what is crass or unfeeling.

    i remember a front page i did after the virginia tech shootings – you probably didn’t hear of it in the u.k., but this guy with known mental problems videotaped himself holding a gun and talking about killing people, then mailed the tape to a tv network and commenced to killing students and faculty. i ran a large still shot from the tape of him holding the gun, and the paper got several letters about it, saying it was sensationalistic.

    although i understand such comments, in this case, i felt the picture really did say a thousand words, and said more about this kid’s mental state than any story could. it also told of the danger of letting mental illness go unchecked; it questioned whether enough was done to help him, or if anyone could’ve foreseen the killings; and it spoke of the frightening student violence that has been in the news since the columbine school shootings.

    so while i think there’s some necessity to showing violent imagery, i have to say that, imo, televised violence is much more unreal to viewers than still photos – oddly, since it’s actually more “real” – but the chaotic actions can read almost like a horror movie, while photos put you face-to-face with the humanity and suffering of the victims. and i also wonder if tv stations have as many in-depth conversations about what violent images to show as print newspapers do – i may be wrong about this, but tv seems so much more ratings-driven, and they seem to show imagery, and run sensationalistic stories, that newspapers would not.

    anyway, i’m sorry i’m writing such a long comment, but i do hope you start feeling better – just remember if there are people who continue to be saddened or disgusted by such violence, then maybe the global community can head towards a place where that doesn’t happen anymore. (that’s what it’s like in my star-trek-utopia-land anyway!)

        • aka Akratakon, Klingon missionary

          Agsplatch Kreetl Yatagan snark.

          (In translation: Actually, my dear, wouldn’t you know, we actually delight in a spritz or two of Yatagan).

    • We heard of Virginia Tech and then some – American news is British news most of the time – there’s been a big media debate here about over-coverage of the caucuses in the Brit media this past month…

      Oh, and I agree with the power and impact of an arresting image – the poem above is ostensibly about Don McCullin, whose photography of Biafra, Vietnam, the impact of HIV in Africa etc are profound indeed. But then, I grew up in a pre-internet age; I wonder if the youtube / myspace generation do read images in the same ways people my age and older do… (I sound like an old fart)

      Loved your comment…

  3. Living in Iowa, the caucuses for the presidential party nominees are important. We hated the months of cold calls and polls from everyone under the sun. But we were filled with such HOPE for the future…which is no small thing in this world. The caucuses were a blast, and there were parties afterward. Seriously, Iowa is very special that one day every four years. And then, so quickly, the mudslinging began. Now, all that political hope, the excitement for the future, gets dimmed by the common, expected thing.

    I know what you mean–the caucuses and political races aren’t at the level of your story. But I feel your story.

    Today–after a long last night at the bar, drowning in pessimism–I sprayed on A la Nuit. Eternal springtime. Eternal joy. It gives perspective.

  4. When I worked in news more regularly, it was very, very hard to listen to a lot of that thing for hours on end, and I had to. I remember during the Waco thing, I had the tough shell on,just doing my job, but somewhere in the middle of that, it sunk in that children were burning alive in there, and I just wept. 9/11 was horrible to have to sit through, and we did sit through it for hours, the same images over and over again.

    No life ending should be a news bite or “if it bleeds, it leads” headline. Those stories have to be covered, but there should be a sense of decency and respect for the human person and that we keep them cloaked in their dignity in death. Failing to do that diminishes our humanity.

  5. Your post cuts to the human heart of what it is to live in these times. It’s all the more affecting because it comes out of what is usually a pleasantly scented escape for me. Thank you.

  6. Ah Lee, I feel for you. I was just sitting here wrapped in my own little cloak of misery over a very small event. My daughter came across a large dog that had been run over in the road on her way home from her boyfriend’s house about an hour ago. It’s the middle of the night here, Animal Control’s closed, the Emergency Vet doesn’t pick up, dog won’t fit in her car and no-one available with a truck. She was just beside herself and didn’t know what to do till she noticed that the injured dog’s companion (a smaller dog) kept going to a house down the way a bit, she walked down there and knocked on the door. The guy said it wasn’t his dog but he would put her in his garage for the night and take her to the vet in the morning in his truck. Now she’s home, but worried he was just saying all that to impress a pretty girl.

    Anyway, the point of this long, drawn-out comment is that I suppose in a way it’s good that we are so affected by events of this sort, from the large scale you were describing down to a single injured animal. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where we no longer cared, even though it’s painful.

    • I used to work on a small campaigning newspaper, calling for nonviolent solutions to problems of oppression, inequality and prejudice. The whole editorial team recognised the danger of what we called ‘psychic numbing’ and we were activists, not just hacks using the news as a sellable commodity. I remember that we arranged a series of what were called ‘despair and empowerment’ workshops to help us deal with the problem. On the first session, I tapped into the despair and there I stayed. Needless to say, I never achieved empowerment and didn’t complete the course. It had something to do with the scale and globality of suffering and the seeming futility of all efforts to stop it.

      It took me a long time to realise that the small-scale, local and daily struggle that each of us engages in is what really matters. It IS the person who stops their car to try and help an injured animal! It is my battle with my neighbour who is seriously neglecting her 3 pet cats. It is the woman now diagnosed with brain tumours, but training to run the London Marathon as probably the last significant act of her life (see http://www.justgiving.com/emilymacaulay).

      All songs in a minor key.

      • You’re right Jayne. Small good deeds do make an impact. I just wish larger organisations would sometimes have the mentality of Gail’s daughter, or so many other of you wonderful folks who read and comment here…:x

    • And Gail, you’re right. When people stop being affected, civilisation is dead.

  7. Lee, I love you!

    Sometimes I’m not able to watch the news – the thought that people do this to each other, all of this that you see on the news, starting with the rudeness of politicians towards one another throught terrorism, genocied and all the rest, is too much to bear. And the thought that some people actually enjoy watching this, enjoy congregating around some accident … words fail me.

      • Beloved-
        We are of one mind, and one soul.
        So beautiful, so painful, so perverse…
        And then, there’s love- and acceptance. And acknowledgement of travail.

    • Indeed. And sometimes it’s hard enough to remember your voice, let alone know what to do with it…

  8. Ah, Lee. Such a strong, and exquisitely permeable soul. And I wouldn’t wish it otherwise, but suffer along with you.

    I wrestle with the “shouldn’t-see-it-so-real images”. For me, the TV has brought Vietnam body counts at early childhood dinners; Bangladesh; the bloody deaths of John, Martin, Bobby (my beautiful/melancholy song for the week-Abraham, Martin and John- noting that Monday wasn’t just a day off:
    ;
    people holding hands while jumping from the burning Twin Towers. And on and on. And none of it ever really leaves me.

    What I don’t know at all is whether it was better (or easier to escape and deny) the reality of other wars and atrocities when the images were still or censored or audio-only or titrated more. What worries most is that while I am crying now, that today’s kids will not.

    In the royal sense, we are here. You (and, of course, dear Patty and March) bring daily instruction, laughs, and earthly pleasures. In appreciation, may we offer tender spiritual solice today?

    • True enough, darling.

      DH is obsessed with information- it is his passion, his paranoia, and his livelihood-
      But I feel the overkill, and the non-stop, at home, at work, in the world….

      What would we do, without the sweet balance our friends provide ?
      I cherish you.

    • Of course you can my lovely. But I’m okay really. My life is rich and lovely. But I’m both glad, and despairing that I feel it, if that makes any sense…

      And I love that song, particularly the Marvin Gaye version…

    • you know, i do think we have good reason to hope for the younger generation. i’m not the best authority, since i don’t really know anyone that age, but i read all kinds of stories about different people at my newspaper, and they seem to be very driven toward activism — green technology and environmentalism, decrying the war in iraq, etc. they just go about their activism in entirely different ways than, say, the 60s generation.

      for example, young voters seem to be turning out in record numbers for this presidential election, but they are involved through the internet, or through rallies set by “flash-mob” text messages, or campaign drives through interactive blogs. in other words, they’re using technology in new ways as activism. so i believe they might be more involved than my slacker generation!

  9. Dearest Lee,

    I know so well that moment when something pierces the carapace and goes all the way to the heart. The panic, the welling up, the shocked awareness as fresh air hits the wound, and then the melancholy, like a dream we can’t shake, or maybe don’t want to, because then we go back to numbness, the dull acceptance of news like endless blows raining down, like thick smog we have no choice but to breathe.

    I did my graduate work on trauma and testimony, and read an ungodly amount about torture and how it works, physically and politically. You only have to know a tiny bit about that world before you realize that when something hits the news — like the Abu Ghraib stories — we are seeing only the razor tip of the iceberg. Its just too much to take in, really, even for those who make their living working against such things, and fighting against the silences that surround them. The stories about “terror” are the same — we see the moment of violence, and then live in fear of all we don’t–can’t–know or understand. Witnessing is hard work.

    But it does make me feel all the more keenly the way that those who survive claim life, in spite of everything.

    Forgive this long post.

    • I love lengthy comments, of course – no apology necessary. Survivors – I tell you, lessons to learn; lessons to constantly learn. I once taught a Somali kid – former boy soldier – who had shrapnel in his limbs. In spite of the trauma, the terrors he’d seen and done, his joy for life and learning was unending. Remarkable.

  10. How capable of creating such unimaginable horror some of us are and yet I wonder does the possibility of joy and love still exist in those same souls. My brother had a job when he was in the army during Vietnam. He was stationed away from the actual war but had to develop photos from the war. He was such a gentle soul and was never the same person after that experience.

    I saw something the other day that made me crazy. A young couple bringing their 3 month (a guess) old into a movie so full of violence that no one should see it. There is so much I just will never understand.

    Lee, make a point to change the course. Counteract those thoughts and visuals with beauty. Peruse a beautiful art book or two, watch a stupidly funny movie or one that you know the happy ending by heart. Spray a scent that always makes you smile at it’s joyful light-bringing beauty. For me, AG Madragore, PdN Eau Exotique, Nanadebary Green.

    My virtual arms are open wide. Just lean into the hug.

    • Thanks Anne. I’ll tell you a secret – years of dealing with bouts of depression teaches you when to back away. Though sometimes I feel I shouldn’t. I’m looking forward to that hug though…

  11. (((((Lee))))) I know how you feel and I very much appreciate this post. I’m always relieved when people don’t take deaths like that as mere background noise for dinner. I lived in a war zone for a while as a child where we had blackout paper on the windows to minimize the chance of being bombed and my nanny’s husband lost an arm in that conflict. My father and best friend both died in car wrecks that were both briefly, impersonally reported on TV – I understand that, of course, but I never, ever take the tragic events on TV news casually and I always think of the families and friends that have been affected. I think it was Stalin who said that one death is a tragedy, a million a statistic. It rips my heart up that multiple deaths become statistics like that. I wept off and on for days when we first invaded Iraq (took many happy trips there w/ my father as a child) and CNN had pictures of the bombs falling like fireworks as background footage. I actually desperately wanted them to show what was happening on the ground as those bombs fell. Maybe Erin K is right and print pictures are more effective. I don’t know. I just never want tragedies to become simple background noise. Off to find a comfort scent.

    • I hope your comfort scent helped Elle. It’s a privilege to know people like you, even if at the moment it’s virtually…

  12. Thank you for writing your heart. Newspapers & TV at once create distance from tragedy & bring it right home into your lap. Whether or not one has lived through an event of that type personally, I think we all suffer from a bit of emotional overload from decades of in your face global tragedy via the news. I find it reassuring when absorbing one of those items rocks me beyond complacency into emotion. Brava for you, for being open to that & for sharing it here. And brava for Pefume Posse for being a blog about a nonessential luxury item that has room for a reality break. And while I’m at it, brava for my reader cohorts for getting it & responding in kind.

    • The readers – you amongst them – make this experience so worthwhile for me.

  13. Lee, sometimes we need the darkness to remind us to enjoy the sunshine when we have it. But only sometimes, and only for a little while. Here’s sending you a virtual hug, and wishing you a return to the light.

  14. As I myself have been priviliged to experience recently – this community is good for a hell of a lot more than just perfume.

    Im glad you shared what was on your mind with us, Lee. So often I think we’re expected to just keep taking it and taking it and continue on with our lives as if nothing is wrong. We can only distance ourselves from reality for so long before we need to go scream into a pillow. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re honored to be your pillow.

    As a Pisces, I constantly struggle with attention and ignorance. Its my nature to feel everything deeply however I also know that energy flows where attention goes so I can’t become accustomed to thinking about Negativity for too long otherwise I get caught up in it and its difficult to get out of the trench. But then comes the guilt of being ignorant. Needless to say, I haven’t quite figured out the science that is perfect for me, yet. But Im always searching for the answers…

  15. Lee,

    Thank god for your visceral honesty. That you express your anguish so beautifully both makes me a little jealous of such a gift, while touching me deeply nontheless. I am always amazed by people who are able to turn their most inchoate emotions into eloquent language, as I am often reduced simply to utter incoherence and fidgeting by my despair at the state of things. I’m an introvert at heart, and it is hard for me to talk about things that really hurt. Another reason I love the fragrance blog world is that so many of its most vocal subscribers have DH’s–or DP’s. Without mine, my constant internalization would eat me alive–and just like yours, he always recognizes it in me and manages to draw me out. So thank you, Lee, for being such an extrovert with your emotions, it helps us all.

    • Oh, I’m British Billy – believe,me, sometimes I can be uptight with them too!

      Thanks for your kind words…

  16. Hi Lee. I actually enjoyed your post a lot and it didn’t get me down at all… just made me think… First, we are all drawn together, as you mentioned, by the enjoyment of a sensory experience, and I think those heightened 5 senses that help us enjoy fragrances and coffee tea and food and desserts, art of all kinds, are the same 5 are make us all MORE sensitive to the daily barrage that the world around us throws our way than the average joe or josephine… I live outside the country for most of the year, and actually don’t watch the news. It’s amazing, when visiting my family, how being away from it so long and then suddenly having a large dose of it (the news) literally sends a shiver down my spine. The thing is, these things ARE happening, and that’s really freaky to think about, but I wonder if we NEED to see it. It makes me ask what kinds of things we are desensitized to in life that we SHOULD NOT BE desensitized to…

    I don’t know what I’d do without my Bookmarks Toolbar with my favorite perfume blogs on it! This commnuity is like vitamins… I need some every day… Thanks Lee 🙂

    • Anthony, what an interesting point. I was just marveling at how much it seemed you all had THOUGHT about the horrors of the world. Sometimes it seems like many around me have never even spent any time taking it in & absorbing it, and to some extent I am so very jealous of those people. What a helpful thought, to think of the suffering of the world/the intense joy of perfume as related. I’ve been doing some writing for my sister, a global warming expert, lately, and I’ve been wondering what to do with my anger. Very helpful, thanks. –Ellen

      • Ellen – you know how much I love having you here. I hope you manage that justified anger.

    • I’m sure some of us avoid desensitisation somehow. But it’s a fine balance.

      We love having wise people like you here, Anthony!

  17. What a wonderfully poignant, thoughtful post. There is very little I would dare to add to it, you have captured it so well. But regarding some of the comments on violence in media, the fake kind I mean, I actually think it is a good thing. A lot of people blame violence on the media, but I think it is an expression of human nature–an ugly one, admittedly, but a part of our identity, and it is better abstract than real. It wasn’t better in the past, just because the methods of dissemination were slower. I remember this essay I read once made the point that technology doesn’t make our lives better, as far as the sum of human experience is concerned, it just gives us a proliferation of conveniences (at a price, of course).

    • Well, I reckon some aspects of technology make our lives better. And some don’t. And that I’m good at platitudes… :d

      Shame about the ugliness of us sometimes. At least perfume takes us into beauty.

  18. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Lee. The world is not all butterflies and light; it is good to stop and think about the dark side sometimes.

  19. Lee, stopping by late to wish you hugs and better days to come. I personally think this time of year brings on the darkness a bit. It certainly does for me and other folks I know…

  20. flippin internet not working properly yesterday (WHERE are those lovely IT guys when your favourite blog is down?)so apologies for the late comment. Not that I’m going to say anything profound or anything – just – thinking of you, Lee! Thank goodness most people are still sensitive to the horrors a small part of the human race seem intent on visiting on others. I’m getting a bit desensitised to teenage shootings and stabbings seeing as its a frequent occurence round my way (I live in Hackney) but I must stop. Perfume and its community is a blessed relief! I am grateful too.

    • As a former denizen of the East End (Bethnal Green), I know what you mean.

      But we’re all lovely here…:d

  21. Hi Lee. I hope you’re feeling a bit better today now the weather is good. (The rivers are all dropping round our way!)

    Sometimes it’s easy for the big world stories, the news stories, to get us down. That’s when it’s time to take a walk and see real people living normal lives. Things aren’t so bad here in the UK. Nothing’s ever perfect, but if you see people having tea in a cafe or enjoying one another’s company at the shops or on a country walk, those are what most people’s lives are more about than stabbings or burglaries or terrorist acts.

    There is gentleness and beauty and love in the world. It just doesn’t make good news, so we all have to find a bit and feel the magic for ourselves 🙂

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