Sunday, October 3, 2010
A PERFUMER’S EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA
This morning is dark, cold, and rainy. I’m up way too early, wondering why on earth I agreed to put on my academic costume and be an extra at this year’s convocation ceremony. At least it’s indoors, unlike the spring commencement ceremonies that are usually conducted in the pouring rain.
I think one of the reasons I like perfume so much is that it gives me a much-needed lift on days like today when the weather and the day’s agenda are depressing. It’s like coffee, another thing that cheers by its smell alone. No wonder Seattle is the coffee capital of the US. If only people here would discover perfume, too! But that’s another story entirely.
I’m going to gulp down a cup of good coffee, put on my superhero rain boots, and add a dab of Kilian’s Back to Black, just for good measure, then I’ll head off into the foggy gray wetness protected by a warm, friendly fragrance.
At this point, wearing another perfumer’s perfume, I can’t help wondering why I make perfume myself. Hasn’t it all been done before? Aren’t there so many thousands of wonderful fragrances out there that to make more is a ridiculous exercise in duplication, even if it’s unintentional? Has living in cold, rainy Seattle for 15 years turned me into a giant cockroach?
The above paragraphs were written a week ago, last Sunday, and I’m only now getting caught up enough with other trivial stuff to get back to the blog. It’s something I always think about, this business of creating perfumes and other things, in a world that’s already full and running over with every kind of product imaginable. I can only conclude that the reason why I do it is because something in my nature compels me to, like Kafka’s bewildered cockroach spewing out its own pungent excrement while its family quickly shoves food through the door and runs away in disgust. Fortunately I have a tolerant family. I’ve also drawn and painted, written poetry, written music and plays, and all of these things were something I felt I had to do, like children who torment their parent with labor pains until they’re born.
It’s too bad that our capitalistic society tries to beat the basic creative instinct out of people in school and make everyone focus on finding what will make the most money in the shortest amount of time. Even in academic science we are encouraged to focus on what is euphemistically termed “translational” research, research explicitly meant to produce products or treatments that can be manufactured right away and sold by the corporate world. Forget the fact that most important discoveries are made serendipitously by curious people just trying to answer some basic question about how the world works. Maybe people have been conditioned to desire mediocrity because it is comfortable, so it’s what “sells”, but it’s not something I think about when I make perfume. I don’t try to appeal to a demographic, nor do I try to appeal to the taste of the majority, whatever that is. I don’t try frantically to hit a moving target of what’s fashionable. I just do what I do and if someone likes it, great. If they don’t, so be it. At least I had fun creating.