Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fools Like Me.

Dear reader:

I've been working on a new book lately, and it's been interesting to think about what it means to have the power to destroy someone else's life. In my current work-in-progress, one of my characters has a significant advantage over the other, and has all the necessary information and evidence to put an end to the other, rather permanently. Some would even argue, in the context of the situation, that she should.

So I've been thinking a lot about love, and about trust, and about vulnerability. Because I feel like it must take either great trust or great stupidity to put yourself in that position. Some people would probably call it idiocy or naivety, but to me, it seems like something else.

Are you sure you've got the right number?
Is it me you wanna talk to tonight?
Everyone in town's got your number.
Everbody's got you pegged right.
Is that why you got in touch with me?
Oh I guess you must be, running out of fools.

It's a vulnerability and that, in itself, when the person is completely aware of what they're doing, of the kind of power they're handing the other person, requires a kind of faith. It's a form of trust. And to give someone everything they would ever need to turn your world upside and leave you with nothing more than the wasted, smoking ashy ruins of what you had before has to require a special kind of belief in that other person, a willingness to believe they won't simply nuke you from orbit just because they can.

Marni and I talk about this a lot, both in terms of our work and in terms of our lives. We debate whether it is worth it to take that chance. We both tend to be big-hearted people who are quick to embrace newcomers and make a home for them in our lives, in our hearts. We've both been pretty deeply screwed over in the past as a consequence.

One could presume that, as writers and therefore necessarily also students of human nature, we'd both be a little more cynical. Both personal experience and media would tend to teach us that this is, frankly, a stupid way to live a life. That we could be the kind of cool, level-headed, disaffected heroines we tend to like if we could just take a step back and see people for who they are, not for whom we hope they will be.

You left me there without a warning.
Your goodbye was even colder than ice.
Didn't bother you I was crying.
Now you wanna break my heart twice?
Is that why you got in touch with me?
Oh I guess you must be, running out of fools.

Instead, I think we are true romantics. We both, regardless of previous pain, are willing to remain open to the possibility of love, friendship, kinship, and closeness with new people as they come along. We both believe that it is simply better to take that risk than be closed off to any possibility whatsoever.

Sure, we can mentally play just about storyline all the way through to the end, arranging and rearranging the pieces of a person's life and their relationships like so many chess pieces on board.  You put enough pieces in play, and you can see what the ending will look like -- take you opponent's queen off the board and they're vulnerable, move a knight to intercept an unwanted encounter and shore up your player's current position, leaving them better off than before.

But just because you can see a potential ending coming doesn't mean you can avoid it. It doesn't even mean you shouldn't try playing out the line just to see, even if it reads very clearly, right there in your crisp new edition of Modern Relationship Opens, "slight advantage to opponent."  Sometimes the point of playing is the pain; sometimes that is how a person has to learn and grow.

You got back to my name in your little black book.
Tell you what – I bet you forgot how I even look.
Yes you did.

People are not like a national park.  You can't pack in and pack out of someone's life, changing little, doing no harm on your way.  Your life ends up scattered with the debris of someone else's passing regardless of their intent.  Nobody comes into your life and manages to avoid stepping on the moth; time is linear, and when they step on those details in your lives, it's like stepping on the butterfly -- it changes your future inexorable, permanently, and forever.

To quote the ever popular John Greene, "You don't get to decide whether or not you get hurt in this life. But you do get to decide who hurts you."

If I have to choose between being trusting and taking a little pain in exchange, I'll do it. I'd rather have the good things you get in exchange than nothing at all.

So go ahead with all your sweet talking,
go ahead for all the good it can do.
Have yourself a dime for the talking,
then I'm gonna hang right up on you,
'cause this time, you're not getting through to me.
Oh I guess you must be, running out of fools,
even fools like me.
~ “Fools Like Me,” Neko Case

Monday, April 21, 2014

You better listen to the radio…

A Review of Viktoria Minya Hedonist

Dear Reader:

While I am here in Africa, I have a surprising amount of time on my hands. First, this is the longest vacation (roughly two weeks) I think I've taken since at least 2009. Second, my lovely host Ashley has to work some of the time I am here. While eventually I will figure out my way around enough to go out on my own a little, today was only day three of my adventures, so I stuck close to home.

One of the things I brought with me was a hard drive full of music for Ashley to keep. In point of fact, I brought what probably represents about eighty-five percent of my entire music collection. If you know me, you already realize this is a lot of music (close to 70,000 songs). I brought a second drive in my bag, copied the files, and the former is staying with Ashley, leaving her comfortably soundtracked for the next few years while she is in Kigali on her fellowship. Given that the only radio we can really get is the Armed Forces Network, Ashley was desperately in need of this particular gift. Now my job is to meet her demands to set up playlists for her before I go. Such is the life of the traveling mixed cd specialist. FN1.

Right now, I am playing one of my personal Top Five, All-time, Desert Island albums, The Very Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions. This album has remained on my top five list since I was nineteen, so I think it's safe to say it is never going away. FN2. If I were pressed to name the rest of the top five at this very moment, it would include: The Mountain Goats All Hail West Texas (though tomorrow I might say Tallahassee or The Sunset Tree); The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs; Lana Del Rey's Born to Die; and Neko Case Middle Cyclone. FN3.

Other things I overpacked: I think I have twelve different lipsticks, which was probably two more than needed; six pairs of shoes, which I think was acceptable but others might not (honestly, I wish I'd brought a few more); and of course, perfume.

I brought mostly samples with me, reasoning that now was a perfect time to work through some of my overwhelming backlog and get to some reviews. I know, I know. Even when we are far apart, dear reader, I am always thinking of you.

Aren't you lucky?

Today, I am wearing Viktoria Minya Hedonist because it seemed strangely in keeping with my blog themes of late. Luckyscent describes Hedonist as follows:

Remember when Rossano Brazzi sang “Some Enchanted Evening,” how he fell in love across a crowded room on a tropical Island? If you’ve ever want to be that girl that stops the party, this bold debut from Victoria Minya is your next must-have. The hedonist who wears this intoxicatingly sweet floral, loaded with ripe peaches and rum extract, is unquestionable a pleasure-seeker, but she also a lady. She’s the center of attention without raising her voice. She enters and heads turn.

In this perfect orchestration, peach melds with vanilla, osmanthus, jasmine and soft tobacco in a classic example of feminine flirtation, a beguiling expression of skin that wants to be touched. In presentation as well, the fragrance captivates. The handmade wooden box opens to reveal a beautifully crafted bottle filled with hundreds of Bohemian crystals that sparkle in the champagne colored liquid. Strikingly sensuous, wearing this will make you feel gorgeous, confident, and undeniably enchanting.

Notes: Rum, bergamot, peach, osmanthus absolute, jasmine absolute, orange flower absolute, tobacco, vanilla, cedarwood, vetiver

Tobacco, rum, vanilla, and osmanthus all run high in the opening. I get no bergamot, which I would definitely notice because it's one of those notes that rarely works for me. The peach is there, but not in a ripe fruit way. On me it's more like a flowering peach tree before the fruit begins to form.

In the dry down, I start to get more of a fruity peach element. I also get plenty of vetiver and some cedarwood, giving Hedonist a dry clean base that reminds me of the smell of a new suede jacket. It has that sort of texture to it, soft and smooth under your skin. This base still resides under the sweet top, though, which is neither entirely foodie or floral on me, but a sort of melded sugary scent. Later I get a tobacco that is more like raw news leaves than aged sweet ones, which adds an interesting dynamic to the middle. The end becomes gently sweet on me, more floral than food now, and resides close enough that I can only smell it when I press my nose to my skin, but that's after a full day's wear.

A lot of reviews of Hedonist commented on the complexity of this fragrance and I have to agree. There's a lot to be had in Hedonist, and it changes again and again as it wears. It's pretty, it's interesting, and it's a challenging scent. You have to be willing to engage and reengage to truly experience it. It's one of those I'd recommend a newer nose get a sample of, try, and then set aside for six months or a year to try again.

As purple as the prose of the scent description is, I will agree with Luckyscent on at least one point – it is definitely a presentation of skin that wants to be touched. This is a pretty sexy perfume. Hedonist, as presented, is decidedly feminine. I doubt there are a lot of men who want to smell this starkly sweet because Americans just don't think of sugary as being particularly male. That said, on the right man, it might be completely beautiful. This is, once again, one of those times when I want to wait until David falls asleep and test things on him unawares. FN4.

Since I'm using a wand sample I can't give you a good sense of sillage, but I'd bet it would be on the higher side. In terms of longevity, it was still hanging around close to the skin almost twelve hours in, so that's a big plus if you want to wear something for the whole day. When I woke up, a good eighteen hours after application, there was still a tiny hint of it on my skin. That's some seriously high quality perfume.

Hedonist is available in a 45ml for a whooping $210. Now let's be frank: that is steep. That is By Kilian levels of steep. There is very little I am going to pony up for at that price point, and this would not be at the top of my list (again, see By Kilian or some of Ayala Moriel's more expensive parfum). That said, it's a complicated lovely scent and if you find it to be your Holy Grail of some category or another, it might be worth shelling out the big bucks for this one. My recommendation is to try a sample to make sure you love it before you buy.

Want more? Try:
~ a review from The Non-Blonde
~ a review from Kafkaesque
~ a review from The Candy Perfume Boy
~ a review from Perfume Shrine
~ a review from Epiphany
~ a review from Ca Fleure Bon

Some of my friends sit around every evening
and they worry about the times ahead,
while everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
and the promise of an early bed.
You either shut up or get cut out
they don't wanna hear about it –
so many inches on the reel to reel.
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
trying to anesthetize the way that you feel.

~ “Radio,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions
FN1. I would like to also note, as a tiny ego stroke to myself, that Ashley carted the mixed CDs I have made her over the years all the way to Africa! Yep. That's right. My mix cds are not to be trifled with. FN2. Breese, if you're reading this, I will thank you again for your excellent taste in music. I doubt any other single person has added as substantively to my musical preferences as you have. And yes, Talking Heads' Sand in the Vaseline would have been my sixth choice, and often makes the top five even to this day. <grin>
FN3. For those of you long time readers who cannot believe that Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, Ani DiFranco, or any other number of women (Lucinda Williams, Brandi Carlile, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, The Pretenders, Joan Jett, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, I really could go on and on) have all been bumped from this list – sorry. These are the albums that I can't imagine living without right now. It is entirely like I will wake up feeling differently tomorrow. The truth is, Elvis Costello is probably the artist I have been most loyal to over the years. It's just a fact. That Very Best Of album never fails to make the list.
FN4. For the record, I have never done this, but I always want to. The fact that he wears a lot of sandalwood makes me always want to try super sweet scents like this on him when he's not looking.

As Is.

You can't hide behind social graces,
so don't try to be all touchy-feely.
'Cause you lied to my face of all places,
but I got no problem with that really.

There is something profoundly heartbreaking about people who don't know what they want. I remember being like that in my youth when I was lost and scared and desperate to be loved, but sometimes I think that's just part of growing up. We're all scared and weak and vulnerable and afraid as kids.

Then we grow up and get to know ourselves and our own minds, and we break our bodies and our things and one another and we learn from all that. We learn to know when we really want something and when we're just being selfish. We learn, in other words, how to be build the life we want through our own choices, with all their attendant consequences.

What bugs me, is you believe what you're saying,
and what bothers me is you don't know how you feel.
And what scares me is while you're telling me stories,
you actually believe that they are real.

As an adult, I usually know what I want. I may not always be right that I'll like it when I get it, but there's no part of me that doesn't just fundamentally recognize when I am intent on getting my way or accomplishing something.

There's very little I have tried to do in my life that I haven't been able to accomplish despite significant, multi-layered, ongoing obstacles. Maybe that's why I've never had much of a problem with all this. When I decided to to college, I wasn't willing to settle for the Big U down the street, and a lot of people told me that going far away from home to a small, expensive liberal arts school was beyond my reach. It took two years of research and applications, two schools and five years with time of during my second year because I ran out of money, but I did it. The same was true for law school, particularly the school I wanted. Jobs, relationships, personal goals like the year I decided to watch all of the AFI top 100 films of the twentieth century – I always just sort of push through whatever is in my way – lack of time, lack of money, personal fears.

On those occasions when I start things and don't end up finishing them, I usually find that if I go back and really examine my choices and decisions, I see that I simply didn't want the thing enough to dedicate myself to having it. I wasn't willing to put in the time or money or energy, wasn't willing to prioritize whatever I had to in order to get what I wanted. Whether I know it at the time, that's a choice. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better at calculating whether or not I really want something enough to pursue it. If not, I just don't bother.

Just give up, and admit that you're an asshole.
You would be in some good company.
And I think you'll find that your friends would forgive you,
but maybe I'm just speaking for me.

So I'm always confused by people who don't know their own minds, people who are self-deluding, people who can't look at their own choices and see the potential outcomes and then factor that into the choices they're making. How does a person do that? How do they not calculate the loss into their gain: opportunity costs, potential pain for them or someone else, economic hardship, loss of relationships? How do they wake up and lie to themselves and the people around them about what they want, about why they're unhappy, about what its going to cost them to do what they need to do to have the life they want?

I always know what I want, even when I determine the costs are too high to make pursuing them worthwhile. If I can't be honest with myself, I'll never be capable of being honest with anyone else. If you can't have what you want, you should at least be willing to admit to yourself why you can't have it, what it is that is stopping you, what you're unwilling to sacrifice to have it. And if you're not going to try, really try, then I often think it's better to accept that than engage in a lackluster, half-assed pursuit. You waste your own time, energy, and money as well as that of everyone else involved.

'Cause when I look around
I think, “This? This is good enough.”
And I try to love whatever life brings.
'Cause when I look up, I just miss all the good stuff.
And when I look down, I just trip over things.

I'm not saying you should be afraid to challenge yourself or try new things, things that scare you. But I think if you're going to, then you have to really make a go of it. You can't decide you're going to give it your thirty-seven percent. No one ever accomplished anything that way. Even if you have to limit the amount of time you put into something, at least be committed to it when you're doing it.

Once you know you want something, and you've determined it's worth the other risks or costs involved, don't be afraid to give anything your all: all your time, your energy, your heart, your love. Even if you can only give it that one hundred percent commitment for an hour a day, that one full hour of effort will get you further than ten times as much time spent only being partially committed.

I'm writing about this, about this kind of committing to getting what you want for a couple of reasons. One is that I'm working on pitching while I'm here on vacation, and also trying to finish but a couple of projects that have been sitting around, wanting attention. Pitching is terrifying, but basically a necessity to the next step in my writing career, and something I have been avoiding because no one loves rejection. But you know what? As you've probably picked up from my latest updates, I am determined to stop being afraid of my own life. Instead, I am embracing the motto of the British Special Air Force: "Those who risk, win."

It is hard, being in a country where information is controlled and we're mourning a genocide while everything is bursting with life simultaneously, not to think a lot  about honesty and living life to the fullest, about what it means to see the real beyond the fake veneer, about the ways we all have to recognize that what people say is not the whole story, and how important it is to be honest with ourselves. I also keep being reminded that sometimes life just goes on in spite of everything, that sometimes there's just too much pregnant possibility in the world for anything to stop it -- not fear, not oppression, not death.

I will be like this flower, braving
the razor wire in pursuit of life.
Everyone needs to be more honest with themselves, me included - about what they want, about what's stopping them from being happy or what they want to achieve. Then they have to be willing to fix, and really commit to fixing it, to trying to change, to making things happen. Change may be scary, but it's better than the north death of a thousand paper cuts.

Embrace the Aido Annie of it all: “With you, it's all or nothing.” FN1. I say, why not all or nothing? If it isn't worth all of you, it probably wasn't worth it in the first place. And if you're not trying because you're afraid? Well, to quote Mrs. Landingham from The West Wing, “God, Jeb. Then I don't even wanna know you.”

And I've got no illusions about you.
Guess what? I never did.
When I said, “I'll take it,”
I meant as is.

~ “As Is,” Ani DiFranco

FN1. Though, hilariously, "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No," is strangely more appropriate for me.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Big Time Sensuality.

Updates from Rwanda, Part 2

Dear reader:

Maramutse! Good morning!

Kigali smells amazing.

It was actually the first thing I noticed when I hit tarmac. I stepped off the plane, took a breath, and thought, "Wow. This is new and lovely." I noticed it even before the stars.

It rained all day the day I flew in, so the entire city has that wet world smell. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, it's a smell I love. There's something about that way rain changed the world that I will never stop loving. To the eye, it washes things clean of dirt and grit so everything sparkles and seems new. But for those of us who tend to encounter the world nose first, it does something even more magical. When the rain falls, it mixes with oils on leaves, resin on bark, dried juices on fruit flesh, pollen in flowers, and it brings them to life. Like turning a television, the world goes, not from black and white exactly, but maybe a washed out pastel, to vibrant technicolor, it turns the olfactory sound of the would up to eleven.

Rain-kissed Kigali, on first blush, smells…in a word? Tropical. It is fruity and floral. Bananas and guava and passionfruit and avocado trees grow everywhere, and the scent and taste of fruit flesh straight from the yard makes for one delicious early morning snack. I haven't figured out what the floral notes are yet, but its not one of your big traditionals -- not roses, lilies, or irises, or even the magnolias and gardenias which is what I associate with the tropical wetlands of the American South. Underneath there are ripe green notes that give the air a feeling of rich, pungent….life. Full, rich possibility just seems to drip from every leaf and stem. Being here, I can see where some of the notes for Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil came from. It has a sensuality to it that is hard to ignore.

Everything seems so alive. For a country currently in mourning for the mass genocide that occurred here twenty years ago this year, a country where they are still finding the bodies of those who were massacred, it must seem cruel, sometimes, to live in a place that is teeming with life and overshadowed, at times, by death and ruin.

Ashley, the lovely woman who brought me here, and her friend Bree were surprised and amused by my love for the smell of the air. They seem to be used to it. Perhaps after a few days here, I'll stop noticing, too. I hope not. There's something about the smell of the world newly encountered that I would like to hang onto for a little while.

Now I'm off to an ex-Pat Easter Saturday brunch. For those of you wondering, I'm wearing Le Labo Iris 39.

More soon!

I can sense it:
something important
is about to happen.
It's coming up.

It takes courage to enjoy it,
the hardcore and the gentle.
Big time sensuality.

We just met 
and I know I'm a bit too intimate,
but something huge is coming up
and we're both included.

It takes courage to enjoy it,
the hardcore and the gentle.
Big time sensuality.

I don't know my future after this weekend --
and I don't want to.

It takes courage to enjoy it,
the hardcore and the gentle.
Big time sensuality.
~ "Big Time Sensuality," Bjork

Friday, April 18, 2014

These Fictional People I Have Known

Updates from Rwanda, Part 1


I'm on the plane.

The plane.

To Africa.

Okay, technically, I'm on the plane to Amsterdam, which will land and I will walk over to another gate and a few hours later get on another plane, and then I'll be on the plane to Africa. We've already passed Spokane, and they just announced: nine hours and fifteen minutes to Amsterdam.

I'm watching August: Osage County on the plane, which is about the least Africa appropriate choice on the available list of options. FN1. It is, however, perfectly Diana appropriate. Not only is it a southern-tinged interpersonal drama, which is always up my alley, on top of that, the film opened with a quote from T.S. Eliot, who may be my favorite poet. If that doesn't scream Diana, I don't know what does. Already I have laughed with the gallows affection and pain of familiarity four or five times and I'm only fifteen minutes in. Every single line is something someone in my family or our neighbors growing up could have said, and might still say, if any of them were still alive.

"At least one of my girls stayed close to home. In my day, families stayed together."

It's funny how much more real that thought becomes as you get older. None of us get another chance at any of this: to be happy, to have adventure, to love and be loved. As risk averse as I am, it's that thought driving me forward: toward change, toward danger, toward life. I don't want to look back and wonder why I waited, why I wanted, why I was afraid.

And that, dear reader, is why I am going to Africa. Because I can sit on this plane and watch this movie about these fictional people I have known all my life and see them living their pain, pain that is all too familiar, right here on this tiny screen. Or I can stay home, stay safe, and be one of them. I can live a quiet life. A well-kept, well-ordered, predictable life. A life that makes everybody happy and comfortable...but me.

Or I can do something different.

"This madhouse is my home."
"Think about that statement for a second."

About a month ago, I went to New Orleans with one of my best friends, frequent Feminine Things. featured player, the Kate. And something happened to me over that weekend.

Maybe it was because I am thirty-six now, and I remember my own momma when she was even younger than me, being one of the most miserable people I have ever known. FN2. Maybe it's because I know my daddy died at fifty-two, and that feels scarily closer to me now than the misty and watercolored days of youth do these days. Maybe it's because my grandmother beat it into me that she wanted me to live a life she wanted and set me on this path before she died, also far too young...

...but when you really think about it, who doesn't?

Anyway, something happened to me in New Orleans. Some part of me...unspooled. I think it's been happening for a little over a year, starting right about the time I decided to quit law for good and do whatever it took to start enjoying my life. By the time I got to my birthday in New Orleans, I think the last of whatever it was that I've been hanging onto, whatever it is that's been holding me back, just fell away.

I drank like I never have. I danced in the street. I ate good food, and lots of it. I bought all the prettiest perfumes I could find: magnolias and honeysuckles, leathers and mosses, and I have been wearing them ever since. And when the little old Irish men paraded by asking for a kiss on the cheek, I kissed them twice and took their roses and and then I took some more.

While I was there, I just…woke up. I was happy. I was alive. It's like I was under some terrible spell I hadn't even known had been cast, and something about the briny Gulf air and dark roux and sweet rum and loud music woke me up inside.

I don't wanna go back to sleep any more.

"Well, genocide always seems like such a good idea at the time."

So here I am on my first plane, which will land in Amsterdam, technically, tomorrow morning. My grandmother never got to go to Europe. My Pawpaw did, for the war, but they never went back. I don't think he ever wanted to. That's usually how these things go in a life. Men go; women stay home, or if they're lucky, like when my grandmother was when my Pawpaw got stationed in Guam, they get taken along for the ride. But they don't just go -- not by themselves, not alone, not out into that great wide unknown. Chalk it up to traditional child rearing roles or women having less personal wealth or some sort of cultural impetus that makes one think that this is the way of the world, but women don't go.

I am not going to be one of those women.

I am going to Africa, and I am going right now, right as I write you these words. I am going to see someone like me: someone brave and amazing, a woman I love and adore, who has moved to Rwanda alone, just her and the cat and the dog. And next year, with a little planning and luck, I am going to go see another woman I love in England, and with her I will finally get to go to Paris and visit Grasse, which I think is what perfume people think heaven must be like.

"Thank God we can't tell the future. We'd never get out of bed."

I am going to Africa, where the women I come from, like my grandmother, have never been. And I will laugh. And I will drink. And I will dance. And I will live for my grandmother and every woman before her and hope that she would be proud of me, even as I fail. Even when I fall. I am going to see gorillas and walk through trees and help navigate as Ashley drives us across the country.

I am going to Rwanda. I wonder if my grandmother would have liked it. Knowing her, she would have complained it wasn't enough like home. But I like to think that whatever part of her lives on in me is going to have a good time just the same. And in the end, that's the best gift you can give anyone you have loved and lost. You can take them with you and give that little part of them the chance to keep right on living with every breath you take.

"Listen to me. Die after me, alright? I don't care what else you do, where you go, how you screw up your life. Just... Survive. Please."

I may not get everything right in my life. I may die still heavily in debt. I may never be notable or accomplished in my professional life. I may never have a family. Those are all things I may not be able to control.

But if that's the way things are going to go, I say -- let it. Let me die young. Let me die penniless. Let me die alone. Only let me live first. Let me laugh and dance and sing without fear or caring about how I look to other people. Let me feel something, anything, for as long as I am able.

Then when that inevitable day comes, at least I will be able to look at it and say, to paraphrase Connie Willis:

"Death. Now that would be an awfully big adventure."

FN1. For the record, it was this, Frozen, or Philomena based on my tastes. I think I chose well.

FN2. I am only just realizing as I write you these words that she was thirty-six when she left us. That's new information for me, consciously at least. I wonder if I've been unconsciously thinking for a while.