Log in

No account? Create an account
LJ Idol Week 10: L'Heure Bleue
There is no death in the Void.
I don't find it necessary to recount a biographical explanation of Why I Became Interested in Perfume (they all go about the same way - I had an idea of what perfume is like, but one time, in my youth, I smelled a bottle of something that surprised me in a way that I had never been surprised before). (That or younger people going through a fin de siècle phase tend to get into serious fragrance by way of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, a franchise that pairs descriptions like "This is the perfume of the humanist and inventor, electric with caprice: clove, mastic, and spikenard..." with fragrances that range from a swampy, poorly-worked-out mess to something truly interesting). Later I moved on to making special trips to the Sephora upstate with the determination of a Hollywood archaeologist; or going to the perfume counter at the mall and trying the rather romantic advice to ask for "something that is like nothing else." (My recommendation, by the way, was "Look, you have to tell me if you're trying to find a present for your girlfriend, or your mother, or?" from a woman gesturing impatiently to the tray of Justin Bieber's "Someday".)

But that's not the most compelling part of the story, at least not to me.

I don't know if this common among people, or common among people with my particular collection of neuroses, but I need art as the vector through which I feel. (For example: I don't cry naturally, as a man, or as the consequence of a cold and violent upbringing which is my life's work to recover from, or whatever, and whenever I start to feel as if I might be a complete sociopath - I currently work in healthcare and if you're stoic by nature that's a question you'll be asking yourself a lot - I watch the Valse triste short from the animated film, Allegro non troppo. Without fail, it makes me cry. It's childish, but somehow, this is fitting.)

The consequence of this is that throughout my life I've always had the dangerous compulsion to ask more of art than it could provide, and after scouring an art form for the most intense experience and finding nothing that could truly satisfy me, I become interested in creating that kind of art myself, and then somehow, all of a sudden, lose all interest in the entire medium. There's very little in the arts that I can truly enjoy. I spent many years involved in cinema, working in the film industry to some capacity and writing film reviews and cinematography under a pseudonym - and also, many years reading articles on things like "The Top Ten Most Beautiful Films" or searching forums for "saddest movies" or sometimes "the most disturbing" - and now, I can't sit through a picture more than once or twice a year, if that. I used to say every once in a while that I'd cycle through all the arts until I moved onto the sciences, and then onto religion, and then on to pure math; and once I got tired of pure math I'd become a drug addict if I didn't kill myself.

Essentially, what I wanted was to feel like a human being. At the same time, I can compare it to something religious in nature. I can't draw the line in a way that's clear to me, but the feeling I looked for in the cinema is the same feeling I got when I go out into the woods in the summer when it rains.

It is not always summer, and it does not always rain.

This is completely the opposite of the common impression of perfume - for the wealthy and shallow - but the earthiness of scent appealed to me. Of all the senses, smell is the most primitive and least understood. (We have no idea how smell works, only a few competing theories which seem to get it mostly right.) Once the scent is cultivated, you achieve a certain animal sense of space. The same suburban street you've been on a thousand times will change daily, and even by the hour. As a person who was raised in the hills, I have a memory of going to New York City to see a band and sensing all of a sudden that the air smelled real and right, realizing later that I was a few blocks off from Central Park.

In the aesthetic sense, my interest in perfumes waxed and waned. As I'm wont to do, I became fascinated by the idea of intensely sorrowful scents. This isn't some special pathology of mine - if you ask someone who cares about the art what the saddest fragrances are, they'll know exactly what you mean. L'heure bleue ("the blue hour") is mentioned a lot (and smells exactly like what it says on the tin) [blue musk]. L’Air du desert marocain smells like the later parts of The Little Prince [dry amber and resin]. Gris Clair smells like the darkest parts of early morning in a place of fog and wet clay [iris]. Apres l’Ondee I only smelled once and I’ll never forget it. I had such a strong image of a rain shower in spring, early morning, tears … I could even see the light of a sun shower in my mind, one on this very specific time and season and day. This sounds like a metaphor, but it isn’t, it’s the true ability of this fragrance to tap into something unspoken and paint a picture in an abstract way. [This perfume is so well-composed I can't pick out any contributing notes - which is what they call the individual scents, such as vanilla, or rose, that make up the formula - and have to resort to general terms like "floral" and "green."]

Still, it wasn't exactly the same, and desperately, I kept seeking rain. I had a collection of artificial fragrance chemicals, essential oils, and extracts of herbs, resins, and flowers in my basement (and got almost nowhere with this complex and frustrating art). I bought perfume samples and aftermarket decants by the millimeter, searching. And every once in a while I found something I simply liked to wear, and managed a full-sized bottle.

The mania subsided like it always does, but the simple cultural pressure of fragrance as an accessory remained. Instead of leaving me disappointed, my passion and my fascination was able to simply relax. It had been lowered to the realms of the everyday ("the everyday" or "day-to-day life" being treated sometimes as something like a damaging property in my heritage language, Russian), but it was a sustainable love, in an acceptable frame. Sometimes I hardly think about it, and other times I want to smell something that'll surprise me again, like the first time. Maybe it had something to do with its nature, and maybe it had something to do with growing maturity on my part that happened to temporally coincide with my latest obsession. But fragrance was the first art that I was able to truly enjoy. Some time after that, I started reading again, and drawing and painting for the sheer pleasure of the craft, which I hadn't done in almost ten years. Something workmanlike came over me.

I think I ought to leave you now with Luca Turin again, who's done some of the best and most famous pieces of perfume journalism in the world (or at least my personal favorites):

During the writing of this guide, both authors felt at regular intervals a need to recalibrate their olfactory apparatus to obtain both a reliable zero (Creed’s Love in White will do fine) and a full-scale quality reading. The latter can be achieved using almost any one of the old Guerlains, but I find Vol de Nuit is best for calibration purposes because it embodies pure excellence in raw materials and, to me, little else, thereby ensuring that my judgment is not clouded by emotional associations. In truth, VdN (Night Flight), released two years after its namesake—Saint-Exupéry’s superb 1931 novel about mail flights to South America—is by Guerlain standards a somewhat shapeless perfume, lacking a legible structure. But it gives me the pleasure, the tickle of anticipation, the feeling of unobstructed space and pinpoint clarity I get when I settle into my seat at an orchestral concert and hear the players practicing. Almost all other fragrances, when compared with VdN, sound like they’re being played through the sort of radio people hold up to their ear not to miss the ballgame. God bless Guerlain for still doing this stuff.

Turin, Luca; Tania Sanchez. Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (p. 357). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

And if that doesn't make you want to try some on, nothing will.

Poem to a Young Friar
There is no death in the Void.
wasted on you, your slender body
your fearful body, full of death
binding you as it does to this vale of tears.
God lay me down as you do
pleasurelessly, and in deep hate.

the void God left is not to be distinguished from God
in the absence of a lover court your sorrow,
in search of comfort pursue pain.

Week 9 - Trolley Problem
There is no death in the Void.
They say hair is medicine, but the problem is
my long hair makes me look as beautiful as a girl.

I have cold eyes
and an arrogant face,
so for the most part men don't bother me.
Even when they make that mistake.
And I don't bother
shaving my facial hair every day either.
Still, with my long hair down
and my headphones on my neck
and my coat and scarf
it's hard to see my chin, my neck.

One night I took the public bus out far from my university and got mixed around. I ended up at a bus stop in parking lot with three homeless men.

One of them said, "Babe! Babe! Do you have any money?"
and I gave him five dollars.
"Here," I said, in my lowest voice, but my voice cracked.

"Babe," asked the first one, "Do you have a cigarette?"
I slowly shook my head.
He looked me in the eyes.
"I'm a veteran," he said, "I'm down and out."

"I'm sorry," I said softly, and meant it. I know what it's like to be hungry,
to be cold.

It's not always good
to be mistaken for a woman, unsmiling.
"Here comes the limousine, princess," said the second one. He went on awkwardly about plush seats and carpets, or some such
but I just looked at him.
He fell silent.

The bus pulled up and I got on,
the first one decided to follow me into the back
and his friends caged him in in the corner.
"Babe," he said.

I wish he had heard my deep voice,
and it is deep, if it doesn't crack.
I contemplate the odds.
Dangerous to be a woman:
there's no arguing about that.
And equally so, especially if it's gone on for a while,
to let a man know that he's mistaken you for a woman
when you're built like a woman aside from your woman's face and can't defend yourself. I was supposed to be a girl, probably. Something went wrong. Some male vitality crept into me, made me rough, made me wicked. And I'm past the age where it's at all appealing
to look like a dancing boy. I should cut
my long hair,
I thought to myself just then. Someday. Maybe tomorrow. Before I leave my room again.

"Babe," said the man.

I tucked my chin desperately to my chest and looked at him, which is a mistake. When a girl looks like that it's seductive. I have dark wide eyes.

"She's not your babe," said the second one, who seems to respect me just now. "That's not her name. She can be whoever she wants to be."

The first one fell silent for a while.

"Are you an Alaskan native, I mean, like an Indian?" asks the second one to the first one, trying to make conversation. The first one is looking at me. "Hey! Are you Indian?"

"He's half Eskimo," says the third one, and.put his cane across the row.

"What are you doing?" asked the second one.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" asked the third one. "Trying to keep him from bothering her."

"Hey, beautiful woman," said the first one, who has at least abandoned 'babe.'

"She doesn't want to talk to you!" the second complained.

"Where are you from?"

"Russia," I say, quietly.

"Where are you from?" he repeats. He has trouble understanding me.

Being Russian might not be a good idea, and I'm Tatar anyway besides.

"Ukraine," I tried.

"Italy? Serbia? Spain?"

I don't know what to say.

The "limousine" pulls into the transfer station and mercifully, they get out.

The first one stands up and holds his hand out to me. I don't know why.

"I will let you shake my hand," I say, quietly, and grasp his hand,
his bare, warm hand. He holds on to mine tight.

If you're a woman,
it's better to be a good woman.

"That's enough. Go now, after your friends," I say. "You're hurting me."

He stops in the hall and turns around to look at me,

"I'm forty-four years old."

It's younger than my father, but only just. I don't tell him that.

"Go, go, before the bus runs off," I say,

The other two haul him off.

"I'm sorry about him," says the second one.

"It's okay." I know he doesn't get attention from women much.

"Good night, beautiful woman!" says the second one,
with relish.
Somehow I've enlivened his spirit, just by looking at me. I've felt that before,
for women and men.

The bus pulls away. Outside, snow falls.I feel sorry for everyone on earth, sometimes.

I touch my temple to the cold window. I almost can't feel the glass
through my long, long hair.

LJ Idol Week 8: no comment
It involved a lot of money, a lot of engineering, some early forays into interstellar travel, and a longer story than the one I'm preparing to tell here, but what with one thing or another, Jacob Moose fell through a hole in time.
Read more...Collapse )

LJ Idol Week 7: where I'm from
There is no death in the Void.

I heard a story once - apocryphal - that the Taino people who made contact with Columbus were unable to see the ships on the horizon for some time. They saw them as light, or a sea swell, or birds. Finally an elder went and stood on the shore and gazed in the direction of the anomaly for some time until he was able to make them out clearly. Something to do with neurology, with the brain trying to make sense of information.

I grew up on a mountain - in the mountain wetlands - but it was an old mountain, part of one of the oldest ranges in the world. It was worn low. They were hills, and I didn't understand they were hills until I saw the Alaska Range. But that took me some time - from the Troth Yeddha ridge I couldn't distinguish the white mountains from clouds.

Instead what I noticed was the extraordinary calmness of the land. It occurred to me very quickly, having come from the stormy hills and the damp bogs, that the air was dry and there was no wind. The evergreens keep all the snow that ever lands on them because the boughs don't shake at all. Are they weighed down by snow, or are the trees here unusually thin? I won't know until spring.

Birds don't sing when it gets too cold, and it was cold when I arrived, close to -40. It wasn't until a week later that I started noticing birdsong, and it took even longer to sort out the clicks, gurgles, and croaks into things recognizable as birds. I had never seen a raven before. Where I grew up, the settlers destroyed them all as soon as they arrived on this land. There are one or two every year, according to censuses of the environment, but I had never been lucky enough to spot one. I had been eager to see a raven, and for some days I had been paying close attention to the sky and trees.

Well, ravens are like that - I didn't see one until I was paying no attention at all. I was comfortable enough on my daily walk from my cabin to put music in and tune out, and then as a song was ending I heard a strange croak from beside me. I thought to myself, "What song could I possibly have that starts off with distorted crow noises?" I even checked my tracklist. Then in a big hurry I remembered the raven, and I looked up, and there one was, sitting on a snowpile, watching me. It made another croak, as if it expected me to respond.

Because of my Tatar blood I knew how to throat-sing since childhood, and it wasn't difficult to imitate the call of a raven. Having only heard it once I immediately understood the sound - throat-singing comes from the sounds of nature in a subarctic climate like this one: running water, the elk that you herd, and I think it must have been ravens, too. I had learned about that song long before I ever heard it. I squatted there and we cawed at each other for a few minutes. Then I crept a little closer to take a picture and the raven picked up a piece of meat in its beak (with the calm air of offended dignity) and flew off. It's good not to cross boundaries, or else you lose something.

Since then I've gotten used to their croaks, knocks, and gurgles (the gurgle was the worst - one surprised me by gurgling in a tree where I didn't immediately see it, and I thought maybe an ulcer had hemorrhaged). I learned quickly that all of the sounds I had heard from birds since coming here were ravens, and they had always been in the trees, watching me. I felt a little heartened by that. The things in the world you want to see are there if you look.

Lately I see moose tracks around Willow House every morning when I leave. It makes me happy to think that an animal of that size can pass through here while I sleep, without either of us knowing about the other. This is the way it was for all people everywhere for some time, unhurried, undisturbed... 

LJ Idol Week 6: heel turn
There is no death in the Void.
A symptom for you:
jamais vu,
or "never seen:"
in a familiar place,
among familiar things,
a thought comes down like thunder:
You were never here.
You have never done it before.

This is wrong.

So. Follow your threat like a river,
to dissociate is pagan.
Something holy walks these floors.

(Ears flat, shoulders low. Prowl the meager ridge of fear like a lynx in the snow.)

Or don't. Don't scare yourself.
You should decorate. Venial things.
You must learn to become comfortable in your home.
I need nothing.

What you write about is panic,
not God.
God is there.

Do not humiliate me,
but also, do not leave

LJ Idol Week 4: “I don't skate to where the puck is. I skate to where the puck is going to be. "
You don't fast,
you don't pray,
you are sufficiently ungrateful.
You count the days,
interpret your bowels,
in hard silence you anticipate God.

You are inclined to hymns.
You are inclined to a heart that opens like a flower.
If you don't love God,
God will hurt you,
and it will be for your own good.

You fell once
on a staircase
with a mind inclined to constance you almost prayed.


this would be the perfect time for God to show me I am not in His favor
better not attract

Week One - executive dysfunction [Topic: I need the struggle to feel alive]
There is no death in the Void.
You have a cancer in you,
and if you could put your finger on it
you could take it from yourself. Move on.

the way you fail
and you can rely on yourself to fail
in the same ways:
a constance, a religion.
God put a tiredness in you.
It isn't a gift.

your rotting, corpulent brain
your petulant body
a house of indecision.
Yes, it is something inside of you.
Yes, you do have to live like this.

made-up disease
and the pills don't work anyway
how much of this is choice

LJ Idol signup
There is no death in the Void.

Been having kind of a depressive episode so I didn't want to promise anything, but whatever, I can always quit.

LJ Idol Week 15 - Just put a bandaid on it...!

God exists - and in a roundabout way I’m paraphrasing CS Lewis in the most contemptuously flippant way possible - essentially, to set a good example. God is bound irrevocably by the laws he’s made for himself and chief among this covenant seems to be that God will not violate free will. This is why God begs us, why God begs and begs and begs, for us to ask. For us to kneel, to submit to His will, to be cleansed, to be made good. God can’t - won’t - do His work on us without permission.

Of course, that explains human evils. You have things like forest fires and cancer. But might entropy and the laws of physics have a will, an inevitably of progression that God holds sacrosanct? But what if disasters and diseases could *choose* to be good, to reason their way into living a Christian lifestyle?

Therefore, I propose to the funding committee that the best way to cure Ebolavirus is to grant it superhuman intelligence.

Read more...Collapse )