Fragrance seems so frivolous, doesn’t it? That’s what I used to think when I started burrowing deep into scent, spending money like a drunken sailor on shore leave (no offense to sailors). But is it that frivolous? Mention you write for a perfume blog to 100 people, and 99 of them will look at you like you just burned down the barn and are claiming self-defense. In other words, crazy. Who the hell spends time writing about perfume, much less thinking about it beyond – mmm, he/she smells good? We are not even gonna talk about the number of samples I have and do put on in a day testin’ things out.
There was a time when bathing frequency was not optimum for prolonged close contact or stoked ardor between potentially consenting adults. Unless you were lucky enough to fall in love with someone whose petal(s) bloomed from the smell of rancid sweat and unwashed privates, fragrance was a way to at least touch up the surface to get close enough to try and charm him/her into some naked mambo action. See? Not frivolous at all! We would have died out as a species without it. Maybe Clint Caveman grabbed some wild lavender and smeared it all over him after he found out that “club to the head” thing wasn’t always reliable. I’ve wound up uncomfortably close to people not all that, um, fresh, and a little rankness is great if you were a participant in getting there, but it is decidedly not a smell most likely to bring me in closer. Probably not the only reason for scent, but it’s a practical one.
Today? We shower every day, we live in mostly spotless homes and mostly spotless neighborhoods with car fresheners emitting Pine-Lite© on us as we drive to work. The smell of clean is what we’ve been aiming for since the industrial revolution, at least in America, as a sign we are not poor. My parents needed us to smell clean, it showed that even though we lived on a farm, we weren’t trashy or dirty. I’m not sure that love ‘o clean is internationally the norm – pretty sure it is no.
Is fragrance frivolous, or does it serve some other purpose? We don’t really need it to warn us of danger, unless a guy reeking of Axe approaching us on our 6 is a danger we should be warned of – and I’d argue if you’re under the age of 25, it sure is.
Scent is, well, a sense. One of the five if you’re not inclined to add intuition, ESP, whatever else is out there beyond what we know, as the sixth.
Taste is easy and practical. When you say something tastes sour or sweet, everyone has a frame of reference. We need our taste to survive. Well, not really. I have a friend who has no sense of smell and hence no sense of taste (these things are tied together physically but not exactly in other ways!). You can’t taste anything if you can’t smell it. He would inhale jalapenos that had hot smoke rising from them and never break a sweat. Envy from me is all I could feel. Hot food tastes amazing, but with my pita Ayurvedic classification (heated blood, body, sense, all going in max overdrive most of the time, until I exhaust myself and spin down like a little top!), it makes me sick. I get physically ill in about a bite because my system rejects hot-spicy food.
Sight is such a rich sense, and it’s practical as well. We have a frame of reference. Say yellow to anyone over the age of 3, they have a picture in their head of yellow or some shade of it. Describe a shape you see by name? Easy. We can give directions. All framed by the common language of that sense.
Touch is soooo easy. The language of touch is pretty much nonnegotiable. Degrees may be involved, but if someone says it was soft, you swiftly form an opinion because you know what soft feels like immediately, as well as rough and hard, spongy, furry, prickly.
Hearing has a lot of latitude, but it is also primarily functional. We use it to communicate, and as our world gets busier, we have less time/inclination to sit outside and listen to the sounds of the wind, trees rustling at night, silence. I think those are great, worthwhile endeavors, and some of my most profound happy moments have been spent doing nothing but listening to the world spin around me. Unfortunately, those sounds we hear have turned into backdrops to all that communicating.
What makes smell more frivolous, if it is? It’s not. Smell is the most serious of our senses because it is the filing system for our life. Stored under so much of what we know about ourselves are the associated smells of it. Think I’m wrong? What did your first love smell like? If you can’t recall it right this second, it doesn’t matter. As soon as you smell it, you will remember, and you’ll remember the feeling, the age, the giddiness and sadness and hope and the wonder that this person loved you and you loved them – the feelings and emotions that have been filed under that smell, the scent of that one person who at one time meant so much and was the object of all those new feelings. Listen, for me, that’s the smell of pot and snow. Don’t ask.
Smell is intangible, but is the sense that has the most direct connection to our hearts, our souls, our memories and eventually the core of who we are. It is all of those things – feelings, thoughts, memories – that make us up. It is our inspiration, the wellspring of hope, of feeling that tethers us to what it means to be human in the life we have lived.
Now describe a smell you love – no cheating by saying it smelled good, great, lovely, or some other meaningless description – describe it. Maybe it’s apple pie baking in the oven or the smell of Coppertone suntan lotion because that scent is just pure youthful happy memories of summertime at the beach with a family that loved you. Go ahead, I’ll wait here for you to finish.
Hey, you can’t take forever on this task. Five more minutes. Here’s some research to read that isn’t quite so lyrical or interesting while you’re thinking and drawing a big, fat blank – limbic system, blah, blah, blah.
How did you do? There is no language of smell. To talk about smell, you have to talk about every other sense in some way or another AND throw in memories, feelings desire, yearning, fear, hope, love. When you draw on memory, you see your past, your soul, all the things that formed you into who you are. Some of that is deeply uncomfortable, some of that will make your heart break all over again, and some of it is joyous.
It is going through those emotions with smell that you will find the parts of you that were left behind, bound up in pain or rejection or disappointment or beliefs that you couldn’t do a thing or weren’t a certain kind of person. Embracing a journey through scent will expand your heart in ways that you cannot now imagine, unlocking pieces of you that you believed were gone.
Scent is the path to your soul.
Frivolous? Only as frivolous as breath is.
So what does writing about scent mean? I’ve been pondering that question for a while and exploring it, without any conclusions, except that it has changed me in a profound way. I’m driven to find out exactly how.
The process of exploration requires me to give a shout-out to a couple of people/sites that have been a tremendous help in starting to figure that out.
First, The Merry Inksters. This is a lovely, new group of people who write for millions of different reasons – writing a book, do copy editing, bloggers, write just to get things out. They do challenges and coaching and encouragement on a private Facebook group. Mostly it’s my daily nag to go and write something, to think about writing, what I want to say before the deadline to say it hits! It has always been easy for me to just wait for a deadline and then write what I need to write – not always great writing, but I can say what I need to say. I write for my regular job, I write for the blog, I write for my business. What I haven’t been writing for is the joy of it. Writing has always been a joy until, well, it wasn’t, it was something I did on a deadline, with a gun to my head as the timer tick-tocked. This group has helped me move past that in a really safe, warm environment that is full of people that get it, led by a professional writer and professional editor, who are as warm and supportive as anyone could possibly desire.
The other tool is 750words.com. They do a monthly challenge to write every day of the month. If you don’t, nobody comes out and takes your puppy away, though you do wind up on the wall of shame, which really doesn’t matter if you’ve stopped writing every day. I thought about signing up as Hemingway on one account, just so he could be on the Wall of Shame every day. I go there during the day, usually in the morning, and just pound out 750 words of the crap that’s in my head. Some days it is complete and utter crap, just flotsam and jetsam that is running through my brain that means almost nothing or something, but if I write it down, even in fragments, I close the circuit, I can let it go and create White Space to live without that constant static. 750 words is free, The Merry Inksters are doing a June launch promo where it is free during June, but then it will cost some small amount per month.
So for you guys that comment here or write your own fragrance blogs or do reviews on Basenotes of MUA or other places, has trying to describe scent changed you? And how? Then read Ari’s post that will be showing up later this week about Who Gets to Talk about Fragrance to make your blood boil.