What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


This morning, while browsing through items in one of the obscure online groups I belong to, I happened upon one of those all-too-common articles that misuse statistics to make a point, or just plain misunderstand the data. The article was about the high percentage of American workers who feel overworked, a point with which I cannot disagree. What I did find strange was the author’s assertion that people who work early in the morning feel less overworked than those who work later in the day and that “productivity is very much (sic) in the early morning and decreases as the day passes”. It’s the wagging finger of the old Puritan “early to bed and early to rise” philosophy still bumping around in its chains, haunting the business community.

When I looked at the graphic that purportedly supported this assertion, what I saw was a first-grade textbook drawing of a stylized songbird and owl, downloaded from some stock graphics site, asserting that “early birds” feel less overworked than “night owls”.  Now this I believe, if we are to assume that the terms refer to those who like to wake up early in the morning versus those who like to sleep in, and that both groups have to report to work early in the morning. Surprise, surprise! Having to be at work early in the morning is not good for you if you're not an early riser by nature!

As a “night owl”, I feel extremely stressed if I have to be anywhere before 10:30 AM. I’m fine with working until 10:30 at night, or later. If I had to be at work early on a regular basis, I’m sure that it would lead to feelings of being overworked, even if I put in the same number of hours as I would when starting later, or even if I worked less. A couple of weeks ago I had to be at an 8:00 AM meeting. At this time of day the 20-minute commute from my house to the university stretches to well over an hour even if there is no rain or other perturbation in the traffic flow. This meant that I had to leave my house before 7:00 AM to make it to the meeting on time. To do so, I needed to get up before 6:00 AM in order to have my morning ritual of drinking good coffee, reading my e-mail and skimming through the news, showering, getting dressed, and waking up enough to drive safely. Forget running, or inspecting my orchids, or testing a perfume, or writing, or anything else that I like to do in the morning while slowly waking up.
At this time of year in Seattle, it's dark until 8:30 AM, later if there are heavy clouds and rain. There’s something perverse about having to get out of bed before it even starts to get light. There’s something sadistic about making little kids wait for the school bus at some ungodly early hour of the morning, standing in the cold and the dark and the rain, yanked out of bed by a society that doesn’t want them to lie and dream, for fear they should have original ideas, or sit and think, for fear they should question the values of the society in which they live.

There’s a reason why owls are symbolic of wisdom. They keep their own hours and make no apologies for it.

There are times when I complain about the academic life, but that morning, driving in first gear in the pitch dark on clogged streets and a clogged freeway, I was feeling infinitely thankful that I don’t have a job that requires me to report to a workplace early in the morning. I tend to forget that most everyone in Seattle who has a job is on the road between 5 AM and 8AM, scrambling to get there on time. I also forget that those same people are all on the road between 3PM and 6PM, scrambling to get back home so that they can unwind from the stress of their commutes by watching some mindless TV show and going to bed early so they can get up and do it all over again the next day. That morning on the road I vowed never to feel discontented with my job again. I was happy to spend last night grading the last dozen or so term papers and submitting my fall quarter grades online around midnight. That’s how we “night owls” like to work! We would all be healthier and happier if we could set our own work hours rather than being shoved into the “early birds” box and told that we would be happier if we would just conform and climb into the torture device with everyone else.

[Bird-owl stylized graphic handed off like a relay baton from whatever anonymous source it originally came from; bird at sunrise, school bus, traffic jam, and modern statue of Athena with owl all adapted from Wikimedia]


  1. Ellen,
    I totally understand what you are talking about. Later is always better for me. Even getting ready to teach at 3:00 pm can be a major undertaking. In the mornings I have my own grooming and exercise to deal with, animal care, house and studio cleaning, e-mails, dog walking, post office and at least a couple hours at the piano. When I'm done teaching in the evening there is dinner to prepare and finally after nine I have some time for the things I really want to do, my little creative projects. I'm truly thankful that I don't have to commute and very happy that can chose to be a night owl or an early bird and still manage to get some sleep. Gail

    1. Gail, I think having time to wake up in a calm fashion and "settle in" in the morning is really important. I also tend to work on my favorite creative projects late in the evening and night.

  2. I can't stand Americans' hatin' on the owls! I'm a lark in a family of owls, and the entire culture is geared to me, not them. So unfair! But even I don't like getting up in the dark and living strictly by the clock, so I think our culture has really "geared" itself to machines/robots, of which we have been hopelessly enamored for over a century now....

  3. Marla, I agree that the issue is as much "living by the clock" as it is over-valuing work done early in the day. The whole US school system and economy is geared toward making people into assembly-line robots who have to adhere to a rigid schedule dictated by their "masters", who are often anonymous corporations with no human face and no one to take responsibility for anything.

    I suspect that to some degree even the human beings who hide behind the masks of the "masters" have bought into the whole robotic social scheme, becoming highly paid robotic drones intent only on amassing as much money as possible.

  4. Totally agree with you about misunderstanding the data.
    I've been a night owl since childhood, but luckily can function in early a.m. without much mental stress (and without much sleep!). Have to admit the functioning without sleep thing is getting harder with each passing year, and is, of course, highly unhealthy.
    Best shift I ever worked was noon to 8pm -- time to loll, or do stuff, in the morning and still early enough in the evening to go out for dinner or a movie.
    The people I feel sorry for, whether early birds or night owls, are those who have to work rotating shifts, especially in the insane circumstance of having to rotate backwards (nights, afternoons, days). Here in Canada there was a worker who won a compensation case for shift-induced health issues because of the backwards rotation.
    I also do not understand those professions (eg. nurses) who chose to work 12 hour shifts in order to have more days off per week. Twelve hours is too much! Whatever happened to the struggle for the 8 hour day?

    -- Lindaloo