The Black Narcissus is primarily a perfume blog. This is because I completely live through my senses and am totally obsessed with how everything smells in every waking moment of my life and the fact that perfume affords me a huge amount of pleasure – an olfactory soundtrack, a bottled library of memories. Not that I am especially obsessed with the past, I don’t think: I live in the present : there were no halcyon days for me; all times have been multifaceted, light and dark, beautiful and terrible; yes, some periods have been lighter overall, more carefree and others more difficult and depressing, but despite the ups and downs, if I were to die tomorrow I would feel fulfilled. Ultimately I love life, and like all the other pleasures that mark the flow of time; music, photography, film, remembered experiences, perfume is an incredibly potent medium that encapsulates so much sometimes that it can be heartrending.
At the same time, it can feel incredibly shallow and boring. There is so much inane crap on the market, piled high with truly embarrassing, illiterate PR copy that is unreadable and often risible (when you find yourself exposed to too much of the overdesigned spiel from perfume companies, big and small, in their syntactic quagmire of hopeless hyperbole, where sentences don’t make sense, and the desperation to cover up the lacks within the perfume itself with all the ridiculous, towering excesses of inappropriately chosen words and often quite aesthetically abominable images sometimes create a dull, miserable abyss in the mind and soul of the thinking person; between the baffling and audacious claims and the quite often pathetically trite, mundane reality you are smelling on the back of your hand, it can all leave you more than alittle skeptical). Therefore, although sometimes I feel that I may have squandered my opportunities in not trying to become the number one prima donna of the perfume writing world (“I coulda been a contender ” : : after all, I won the Jasmine Literary Prize, have been in Japan Vogue five times and have a book that is sold in bookshops all around the world) – by not trying to jump onto the bandwagon more and ‘building up my brand’ or being a representative of the niche houses’ or trying to excitedly flog the latest foul flanker that is launched in the department stores or be the first person to get a scoop – imagine every day waking up and thinking you have to rush to your computer to bullshit your way through yet another ‘release’ that doesn’t excite you – I just wouldn’t be able to do it. It would be brain death for me. I want to do something more meaningful, more beautiful: I don’t want ugly adverts popping up on the screen and ruining the aesthetics of everything I have created, even if I could make money from doing so. I just can’t be bothered. My integrity is more important.
Which brings me to the main topic of this non-post. How I am supposed to keep writing about perfume when the world is falling apart? Of course I don’t have to write about perfume. I know that. And anyone who tunes in to this spontaneously hyperindulgent space will know that there are a lot of different things discussed on here, from the culture of Japan, to art and film, and especially current events and politics – because I simply would not be able to exist in the world ignoring what is going on around me (and inside of me). I could not merely ‘allude’ to the ‘difficult times we are living in’ or whatever and then plunge into the latest dire Dior nonetheless: it just wouldn’t feel right. Likewise the last two weeks I have attempted a tightrope between trying to discuss the utterly appalling war in Ukraine and days out in Kamakura, or the pleasures of a rose perfume on the wrist, or else the amusing horrors of python-like aubergines, or just devolving into maniacal tirades against Putin using ‘bad language’ (which I personally love and use whenever I feel like it as I feel it sometimes has more gumption and force that just newspaper formal politeness; sometimes you need to get real, like the billboards throughout Ukraine written in big looming red letters as a warning to the illegal invaders: JUST FUCK OFF RUSSIA).
Anyway, the point is that I am not entirely sure how to proceed. Do I just keep writing things randomly as they come to mind? Should I be waiting for that next holy grail perfume to arrive and then spend days, weeks, months, perfecting a flawless review, rather than the way I do write, usually, which is to jump off from the futon and just frantically type and find photos and then press publish? To be honest, the gap between the awful reality of the world right now and the poochy pamperings replete on here sometimes feels too guilt-inducing to enter into and I sometimes just can’t do it – I was just reading about the terrible ramifications for the global food supply now that the ‘breadbasket of the world’ in Ukraine and Russia is in chaotic upheaval and how it is going to potentially lead to starvation in many countries, not to mention the rapid rises in fuel costs, the economic devastation, the millions of refugees, the death and profound sadness and grief it is inflicting on so many……and all because ONE MAN HAS A GRIEVANCE AND A GRUDGE THAT HE WANTS TO AVENGE ON THE ENTIRE EARTH NO MATTER WHAT THE CONSEQUENCES. It is mind-shatteringly astonishing the way that one bad player can affect so much, and that he has chosen this precise time, just as we are emerging battered and bruised from the pandemic, to unleash this new hell. And so how am I meant to write anything other than about this, when all topics seem so petty in comparison? Does one just shut down a perfume blog and any other creative endeavour because one sinister fuckhead’s grotesquely horrendous actions have imperiled all of our safety and mental serenity? Or do you just plough on anyway in praise of mimosas and aldehydes and gardenias? Because you just need to offset all the evil?
I don’t know. That is why I am asking the question. All feedback/ comments very much appreciated. My own thinking is that probably, some balance is required, that while what is in the news naturally dominates our brains as it is affects us all, not just emotionally, but literally – (the whole world order is changing rapidly before our eyes! Don’t you sometimes just find your mind wandering or daydreaming for a moment and then remember? That heart-sinking feeling when you realize that everything has changed seemingly overnight and that we are still in the middle of it and have no idea what is going to happen next or what it is going to lead to? ……) – but still, we do, all of us, concurrently also have our own lives to lead; our complex, contradictory lives, with all the layers, problems, issues, joys and loves that entails; from the politer, more protected outer strata seen by others in our daily social interactions, to our most troubling fears and secrets; phobias; traumas; but also just the pleasing and absorbing and even wonderful daily minutiae of our lives – many of which are enormously pleasurable, just like watering the geraniums on the balcony. Is it wrong to actively feel positivity in such things, or is it in fact essential for the preservation of our sanity? I have never studied ‘mindfulness’, much as I believe it is important and very helpful to a lot of people (even if it occasionally carries with it an overprescribed whiff of commercial bandwagon) – because I ( perhaps erroneously )believe that I have been mindful the entire time to begin with. If there is one thing I know I have been doing throughout my life, it is in noticing, and feeling. And relating all of that, and connecting. The expression, and the catharsis. Which is precisely why I love writing about perfume on here; how it infuses our daily experience with an added dimension : augmenting the intricate web of experiences that make a life.
76 responses to “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT”
PLEASE KEEP POSTING! Whatever you want to write ~ whatever that might be ~ I want to read it. Even those of us obsessed with perfume are also aware of, worried, and angry about: covid, Ukraine war, knee replacement surgery. I want to read what you have to say about pop culture, see the intriguing art that you post with your writing, … ALL OF IT.
Thank you. I feel like I am just vomiting nonsense out into the ether sometimes
(And are you in knee hell? I hope not. It’s such a tedious setback).
knee aches ~ not hell ~ not yet …
In one of your articles (when?), you mentioned you and D wanting to come to Honolulu. Please do! And LET ME KNOW!
Neil, What you wrote is the same way I feel. That being said, it is a beautiful piece of prose. If I were you, I would just keep writing whatever is inside of you at the moment on any given day. The beauty of your writing is that one can tell how sincere and passionate your words are, whether writing about perfume, COVID, personal experiences, Japan, or anything else that is on your mind. Your words in this post today were perfection, especially for the scary times we are now living. I hope you keep on doing what you do best and that is speak from the heart. Thank you so much for this post. I have been fixated on this Russian war against Ukraine since it started and yet I have not heard any of my friends, acquaintances, or co-workers even mention it. Maybe it’s too painful for them to talk about it, or perhaps they are terrified, or it could also be that lots of people live in their own little world exclusively.
THANK YOU FILOMENA.
And thank you for bringing out the elephant in the room: why the hell AREN’T people talking about this in the work place? It is fascinating that it is the same, then, where you are in America as I am in Japan. Sometimes it makes me feel very isolated as though I were a fringe nut or something, but I have to trust my instincts. I know you said the same thing about the pandemic as well. Maybe we need these spaces like this one here just to interact with other people who are open to the world and not just log-like insensate lumps of lard.
Exactly Neil, we do need these spaces and your continued posts. Thanks again for writing this.
I’m really glad I did actually – I wasn’t expecting such a response AT ALL. I just woke up and felt like laying it all on the line. Sometimes just pure raw honesty really connects people.
Kyiv is 1300 km (800 miles) from Berlin. Everyone here in Germany talks about the war; about the refugees (2.3 million people are fleeing, more than 800.000 have arrived in Germany); about Russia; about the unspeakable: a nuclear war! But then over 80 years ago, a very different Germany started something very similar and WAR is still a very present spectre here! There is shock, anger, fright, as well as complete and utter incredulity: what the hell went wrong?
Honestly, I still don’t think I can quite believe it is real. It is completely and utterly shocking and I never thought that it would happen. Just so terrible! I stupidly thought 2022 was going to be a new leaf, that we were turning a corner. But now this.
How are your nerves at this time?
Thank you for sharing. I feel for you and my intuition said you need to love yourself more. I feel you need Angelica, cypress, anise and sandalwood essential oils. They may help you. That’s just from my intuition. Take care and love yourself more. You are awesome.
And so are you for writing this. And these essences…….feel right. Sandalwood is not a natural choice for me, but sometimes I do crave it.
Mmm. I will get back to you (I have been putting whole star anise in my night rooibos tea).
Angelica I have never come across. How do you use it?
Angelica archangelica essential oil from the root of the plant. If you love anise perhaps you will love it too. It is warm, pungent and a little bit sweet (bitter sweet?). I love to just sniff it from the bottle or a few drops with a diffuser. It is photo toxic so has to be mindful if use on the face. Have a happy day!
I feel this too and struggle with it. I’m glad that you and others have been showing solidarity in your writings but also slivers of beauty that we all need in dire times.
Have you seen the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows? This term in the book (not on the blog) is sort of like that feeling, though not quite:
kinchy (adj.) Feeling guilty that you care about your own petty concerns more deeply than faraway cataclysms – that a family spat hurts more than a civil war, that a three-day fever hits you harder than climate change.
This is brilliant.
You don’t have a link, do you? Thanks for replying.
I LOVE the people on here!
The link to the blog is https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/, although many words are only in the book. It’s been very comforting to know simply that I’m not alone in some strange emotions – I think you’ll find many other relatable terms in there! I’m glad you love the people you have attracted to the space you’ve created, for all of us to be our messy selves.
Neil, I just want to say in probably a very inarticulate way, that I have truly enjoy reading all that you have written. I’m on the other side of the world from you and yet your words have brought me along into another place that I will probably never have the chance to visit. I have laughed and cried at times reading your thought & experiences. Please write what your heart feels, good or bad. My daily world is rather small and now it feel stark, cold, like the world is dimming. Reading your blog is alway enjoyable but if you decide tomorrow to stop I would completely understand, given our current circumstances. Thank you so much for the stories, pictures, Burning Bush escapades, vacations to exotic locales, treasure hunts through dusty second hand store. I have enjoyed it all and so thank you. Whatever you decide I wish you and the charming Duncan the very best life.
How amazing to read. I am really glad I just thought fuck it and wrote this totally honest piece this morning. I have no intention of stopping writing – I just needed to take a breather and get some advice.
Very sorry that you say your world is ‘dimming’ : I absolutely hate the idea of that, even if with some health troubles I have of my own and the inevitable unpleasantnesses of ageing I can certainly understand what some of that feels like.
You couldn’t have given me a better impetus to keep ranting away about a whole of nothing.
Again, thank you and may your world become brighter and bigger again! x
I sympathize, and I have similar pangs. But really, Neil, you write about life itself — perfume is the medium through which you channel your insights. It is your prism. Nothing trivial about that.
O Herbaceous: thanks so much x
Beautifully written. Thank you for expressing, so insightfully, what we are experiencing in these times. Recently retiring from nursing, the Covid situation impacted enormously on working life. You realise your arms are not long enough to wrap around everyone. Not even long enough to wrap around yourself at times. You bring us your thoughts here and it is welcome relief. During Covid, and again with these current atrocities, I felt, and still feel, shallow for expressing my chosen subjects to upload here on my ‘blog’ site. However, what we write does not go against our thoughts and feelings that exist in our inherent compassionate and humanitarian nature. So back to your words here. You speak for many. Once again…Thank you.
I just got my head above water again (the last few years were tough ones for healthcare workers) and was looking forward to reconnecting with your writing, so I just want to say this: don’t write if it stresses you, but your writing de-stresses others. You treat perfume as beauty and metaphor, and with an utter madman threatening the planet, we need beauty and metaphor to remind us why resisting madmen is worthwhile.
SO fantastic to hear from you again – completely unexpected. I had either forgotten or didn’t know you were a health care worker : my god…… I can’t even begin to imagine what you must have felt, witnessed and experienced.
Hats off to you dear jasmine, and congratulations for still being alive.
Thank you very much indeed for what you say here : it means a great deal to me.
You may as well give up eating as give up your writing.
Writing is your gift, to everyone, and writing about perfume is a part of you..
Putin shouldn’t kill off that too.
Thankyou for saying so !
In 2016 (the year Trump was elected) I was in hospital. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. I kept thinking I was going to die. Waves of physical illness kept passing over me, accompanied by a sort of overwhelming horror and despair. But what I also remember was that out of the window I could see trees and fields, and it was early autumn and the trees would look beautiful in the autumn light. And other times, when I walked about the hospital corridors, I would see the most ordinary things — a little alleyway with builder’s rubbish in it or the tiny, banal gardens around the hospital — and these things, sometimes, would seem transcendentally beautiful. I had these insights stronger just then than at any other time of my life.
What I want to say is that beauty is important. It’s not some slicked-over, shallow face we paint over horror. It is part of how we fight back. It is consoling — and by ‘consoling’, again I don’t mean something shallow or trivial, I mean that beauty reaches down deep into us and heals us and tells us we are not alone.
We are meant I think to take a cue from the beauty of nature. Trees and flowers will not give up blossoming because of Putin. They will continue being joyful — even in Kiev. Putin, in as far as he thinks of us at all, wants us to be bereft and despairing, but we won’t be. We will continue making pictures and films and writing poems and perfume blogs and making music. Because we know that beauty is important and heals us. And, I think, that my experience in hospital shows that when sometimes when you’re at your lowest that beauty shines brightest and you can see it most clearly.
After Trump was elected I thought that perhaps there wouldn’t be another spring, that somehow he would make it winter for ever like the White Witch. But he couldn’t and spring came.
So please, please continue giving us beauty. It’s important. And who cares how stupid the PR stuff is? — honestly, you’re so far beyond that.
This is wonderful to read. Thank you. In hospital I had a similar experience actually.
Re the PR stuff etc, what I mean is that if you worked with all the claptrap day in day out, eventually it would be like drowning and n garbage : I find banality / meaninglessness extraordinarily desolate
Of course you’re right. And it would grate on me too if I had to deal with it. (Actually it drove me nuts when I had to deal with it.) A lot of PR people seem oblivious to the fact that sentences are supposed to mean something. From the point of view of your readers, you are untouched by their banality — or else you spin gold out of their banal straw — something like that.
That’s a nice way of thinking about it, arigato.
In fact, being an outlier, I don’t actually get that many perfumes to be honest, nothing compared to the Big Blogs. Through Vogue I have had access to a lot of things, but too often the chasm between fantasy and reality is just too wide and I can’t even write about perfumes that are deeply boring or unoriginal.
Please keep doing what you are doing, balance is precisely the thing you have achieved instinctively. I understand why you would ask the question, but you KNOW what we want to read and that is why we keep reading. There is no need to justify an indulgent perfume review, ‘today I am writing about Jasmine, not war’ is plenty. At the same time, excluding all of your other thoughts, feelings, experiences and opinions would be weird and disconnected (and actually impossible) I can’t think of anything that would be less authentically you.
‘today I am writing about jasmine, not war’ will have to be an actual post – I love that title.
I know you know what I mean though here, and how soul-numbing PR etc can be – DEEPLY, horribly: it can take me to a place of total emptiness, but not in the zen way – in the polluted, toxic way where nothing has any meaning and your soul feels extinguished. Therefore, I DO have to rise above it and just write things my way, even if that means putting posts that are ridiculously emotional. My extreme extroversion/introversion is an odd combo.
You have been writing about the sublime and the ridiculous, because this is life is it not? Perfume is not a superficial subject in your hands and I do not think an obsession with scent is less than a study of making order out of chaos. You write so honestly about all your life experiences and in such a beautifully articulate way that it helps us all. Please keep writing about incense, Japan(I lived in Sasebo as a child and the experience was magical mostly because I was under ten and my view of the world was entirely unjaded), Duncan, your friends, plants, food, all of it!
You have inspired me: I definitely will!
And you know, much as Japan can be intensely irritating at times, as anywhere is, it is also profoundly addictive and impossible to leave. All the things you loved about it I still do: it’s a place you can live without fear (unless you consider the earthquakes, which could kill us any minute).
Good morning. Since you asked for our thoughts I will dare to give them.
We live in very troubled times and it is our responsibility as citizens of this world to be informed and proactive to make the world a safer place. This is a serious responsibility.
However why are people reading your blog? Buy your book? ( I did). Sit down every morning with a cup of coffee and see if you have written about a new perfume or a vintage?
Because we need a safe place to go.
A place to escape- even if for only a moment.
A few seconds to experience joy.
A brief respite before picking up the sword to fight on.
Sometimes in life we have only a few simple pleasures.
A cup of coffee, the fun in deciding which perfume to wear that day.
A cookie in the afternoon.
So this is too long – but it’s okay, no necessary , for persons such as yourself, to give others that bit of joy.
You are providing that to many.
Quite moved to read this.
Officially re-energized: THANK YOU
I think it is important to keep some degree of normalcy in our lives even when the world seems to going to hell in a handbasket. I’ve actually lived in the war zone that is Kashmir (Yes, I do make a habit of living in far flung places and exotic locales- it has been my life’s ambition!) Riots, tear gas and pepper spray grenades, lathi charges, screaming, yelling, constant sirens, ambulances, gunfire, mortar fire, random fires, and soldiers in armored vehicles constantly on patrol and on every corner- that was daily life in Kashmir. Made going to buy groceries an adventure. You get used to it, maintaining a daily routine and auxiliary interests keeps it tolerable.
While I’m glad the perfume industry has grown tremendously and there are so many new budding perfumistas, there certainly is a lot of crap being churned out. I think a lot of this is due to world culture becoming increasingly more consumeristic, always wanting something new regardless of quality. Also, with the economy being ever more stilted I think businesses are less likely to take on risks, such as new perfume compositions. Thus, we are getting stuck with megablah. That being said, we need you to sort through the dreck!
I don’t know what to say about the atrocious ad copywriting? I call it word salad. Does no one read anymore? It makes me appreciate your brilliant and intriguing writing even more.
This is YOUR blog, Mr Chapman! Of course we want to hear your opinions on everything, not just perfume. I think you and your life in Japan is as fascinating as the ongoing evolution of perfume. And of course, your prose is always a joy to read.
And it is always a joy to read your reponses and ponderings on a million different topics, from profound and religious to the horrors of Estee Lauder.
Rather you than me in terms of living in war zones : I can see how it might have been heartpounding popping out to buy bread wondering if you are going to be able to get home again, but I don’t think that would be for me.
As for perfume…. I mean the word ‘megablah’ sums it up well I think. And you hit the nail on the head with ‘always wanting something new regardless of quality’.
YES. I think it is this that is the problem for me. I am the type to get overwhelmed easily, as I am basically a totally porous, hypersensitive sponge-like creature, and if that too much is also mediocre but is also getting fantastically hyped up by some b-grader, I experience some kind of disconnect where I just want to escape.
Being on here though with such interesting and intelligent people is like an oasis: mutually beneficial I think!
It’s important. These things are all important. Especially now.
We have recently been indulging in bath salts, and have a collection to choose from each night – it’s a simple ritual but honestly it makes such a difference. I’ve just emerged from a sandalwood and patchouli scented soak in the tub. (M’s favourite is neroli, and I love the sakura – it’s not too sweet or sickly but almost tart like a slightly unripe cherry)
Anyway, I always enjoy the blog – and I know you enjoy writing it!
I LOVE it (and love bath salts – are these the Kneipe German expensive ones? I was quite intrigued by the sandalwood and patchouli one actually).
Thanks for saying this Emma. I just had to state it all openly just to show I am not some airheaded ditz who is isn’t aware of the potental tastelessness of rabbiting on about ‘beauty products’ alongside the scenes of devastation that are everywhere.
But we are all multidimensional and as decent human beings are affected by it all – it presumably goes without saying – so from all these comments I realize that it is fine to proceed as usual.
This post has been quite revelatory actually!
Yes the Kneipp bath salts – worth it!
While drinking my coffee in the early morning, and after I have applied the morning perfume to my wrists, I like to see if you have written to us. Before I face the New York Times or Heather Cox Richardson’s political blog, I need to read about the indulgence of perfume and all things fragrant. I count on you, Neil to teach me about perfumes I have never heard of, places so far from my normal, and your teaching job, and more perfume stuff. Without you, I never would have discovered Meo Fusciuni Odor 93 which is now my signature scent, or so many vintage perfumes that have become beloved. I really am grateful to have you writing to us, and soothing our aching hearts.
Oh my god I am really excited you have discovered Odor 93 – have you told me about this before or not? And if not, WHY NOT?!
Actually, that was a perfect example of a perfume really coming through and saving the day. I had had an UNBELIEVABLY SHIT day – too stressful to tolerate, and was a loon. And then as you know, I came home and the scented card was filling up the room like a beacon of hope.
It’s gorgeous, right? Like a tuberose Vol De Nuit? And it gets better and better through the day, like a proper perfume should. Sultry and full of genuine mystery.
So glad you wrote this!
It’s difficult at this moment. But don’t let it poison you.
I think I am the type that can swallow the poison and then take a big emetic and vomit it out (in the form of this blog). There is some hardcore ferocity on here – bile gushes forth from my throat until it turns into water again.
Please carry on writing Neil……about anything.
I love your blog XXX
That makes me very happy to read. Really.x
In the face of war, truth, beauty, kindness, generosity are powerful answers! We are looking forward to your upcoming posts!
And I always really love reading your replies – always deeply thoughtful and encompassing.
I agree, ultimately. I was a bit, well I was going to say ‘ashamed’, almost, because of the unbridgeable void between all of this and perfume, but from reading these comments I can see that it is fine to just continue as usual, intuitively.
Thanks for the support. x
I hope you continue writing the more personal pieces. Yes, I learn a lot from your perfume reviews, but I enjoy the pieces about your life more….and of course, perfume is part of your life, too.
A few notes:
**I have benefited from the pandemic, and when I have told some people that, I sometimes get a kind of “how dare you?” response. Oh, well, a fact is a fact.
**The next few years are going to be hell. There is no question about it. Don’t get me started on the climate crisis and the mental heath crisis– as well as long covid symptoms that are going to manifest in many people. I sometimes find myself asking, “why bother?” Well, the more I bother, the more I can monetarily help those less fortunate.
**Perfume has often brought joy to people during times of crisis. Just like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies brought joy to people during the Great Depression. (I wonder what perfume Ginger wore?)
**There is a huge amount of inane crap on the market. The last time I was in NYC and visiting perfume shops and sampling, so much of it just made me angry because of the overpriced crap…but then I remember the elderly sales woman at the Van Cleef and Arpels counter in Bergdorf Goodman who was just so happy when I tried First….I imagine what she lived through and probably First was right there with her.
**Thanks for not monetizing your blog when you most certainly could. I immensely admire your integrity.
Yes. Well, I could do with more of it, but then so could most of the planet, probably.
It’s just that I honestly couldn’t bear the visual hideousness of ugly things popping up on the screen; for me, The Black Narcissus is like a continuing art installation, pretentious though that may sound – it is a diary I can delve into : I have written so much that even I am not aware of the existence of so much of it, and the aesthetics are of absolute PRIME importance to me. I won’t have it compromised!
Love this First story (I adore that perfume! Can you get away with wearing it?!!!!)
Others have said it better, but just to add my voice- I understand this feeling, acutely, and looking at it from the outside I think it’s especially important to just keep doing the thing that you do well. It’s not disrespectful, it’s not trivial- and we understand that people who write and enthuse about perfume also have whole minds and thoughts and feelings and contain multitudes. In fact, the more perfume fanatics I come across (still relatively few in real life), the more I realise that many of us have come to this obsession through some kind of trauma, and discovered that this is something that helps us control our mood, or keeps us moored to the material world in some way.
There isn’t much that any of us can do about the situation in the rest of the world, and it’s normal to have waves of panic and feel helpless about everything. But I think it’s all the more reason to carry on with what we’re doing, so that there’s something to return to when we come through.
I hadn’t really thought about it before – the fact that a lot of perfume people really are very sensitive, and yes – perhaps it is trauma, or an openness to things, a vulnerability, that draws us to need some kind of emotional protection (I definitely feel that is what perfume often gives me).
And what you say is right. Just because you write about a perfume one day doesn’t mean that all the rest of your conscience and awareness is cancelled out…I love the idea that we ‘contain multitudes’.
Walt Whitman’s phrasing really, if not his idea (I find he crops up often when I can’t find the words.) And yes- emotional protection is it. I think we (taking perfume people as a class) often feel the need to defend ourselves against charges of superficiality, because perfume to those uninvested is some kind of subset of fashion or even seduction. But we know different. *evil cackle*
The word itself is immediately noncey and poncey: if I say I write about ‘perfume’ I see immediate judgement and that I must have the intelligence of a nutcracker if I devote any of my time to such a thing.
To me, though, failing to live through such an incredibly sense as olfaction, well….if we are talking about intelligence…..
I’ve been following your blog since 2016, after stumbling upon it in search of information on Mitsouko, with Google turning up one of your blog posts as a promising result. I’ve been a silent lurker all these years, tempted to leave a comment on occasion but always thinking better of it. It seems now, however, is the time to let you know how much I appreciate this blog and your insights on basically everything.
I’m known as a bookworm, and when people ask me who my favorite writer is, I often say “So….there’s actually this guy Neil who blogs from Japan about perfume and he’s the most profound, poetic, and intellectually nimble writer I think I’ve ever read.” And I mean it. I also love James Baldwin, Joan Didion, and a slew of other celebrated (and uncelebrated) greats. But Neil Chapman is right alongside them, no the lesser because blogging is his chosen format.
A new blog post from you is a cause for joy, and I often pore through the old ones as well. They never go stale. Your thoughts are a great personal comfort to me in these cursed times, and I welcome anything you have to say about any event, perfume-related, or otherwise.
I feel you. No reason to pretend things aren’t what they are. But still, we can’t let him take our joy.
I would like you to please keep writing about whatever you want to write about. I very rarely comment but always read. Here in London the war dominates the thoughts and conversation of everyone I know.
As it should.
I still can’t believe we are actually talking about ‘the war’.
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I agree, it is incredible that we are talking about ‘the war’. Today I saw a Russian television presenter silence a veteran from his country who called for an acknowledgement of army losses, by interrupting him to say that Russia was ‘eradicating fascist scum.’ It’s incredible to think of the war as something paralyzing to onlookers and at the same time possessed of terrible velocity.
The irony of inaction in the face of catastrophe is real, a reaction that everyone must pass through because of the way such an event forces us to confront a loss of personal scale. It is an unavoidable component of an articulated response to shock. I remember in a talk on Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine a point was made to the effect that acknowledging shock, sharing testaments to its symptoms, can become a way of drawing people together, with community as a humanizing response to catastrophe that can then lead to action.
So much of our grasp of irony is conceptual, and often kept at a distance or diffused and distributed so as to develop a tolerance to shock. Your response is not that. You are living with and through the crushing irony of an atrocity that is unfolding amid all the regular banalities that conduct your life through its animal pains and pleasures. How could you not feel as if not only your language, but your life was insufficient?
You are a creative, thoughtful, and highly articulate writer with a wide audience with whom you have connected on a frequency of sensibility and even intimacy. Keep using your skill but recognize that your fatigue and frustration are part of the content that becomes something more than intent or non-intent. You’ll figure out what to do. It will be incremental, but so are the most important things you’ve ever been a part of.
Thankyou for the encouragement.
It’s strange you should be mentioning the Shock Doctrine because I knocked it off the shelf walking past upstairs the other day and wondered if I should read it again.
A) ‘… syntactic quagmire’ – marvellous
B) There’s a bit of Terry Molloy in all of us
C) Hope and beauty and appreciation and love and musings and sharing
Had to look up Terry M. I feel I am not very Dr Who.
I am actually laughing out loud at my typo because I am not Dr Whoish at all. I meant the would be contender Terry Malloy. Now what would he smell like…
In my opinion you should continue. You’re helping all of us put a good face on the worst situation. I thought ok-corona virus is kind of almost over here, let’s look forward to spring, and then only 18 days ago Putin. His actions have caused so much death and destruction. Even here, the east coast of Canada, in towns so small people tend to repeat themselves just to keep a pleasant conversation going-home heat prices went through the roof. I’m not comparing our situation to what the Ukrainians are suffering. But how do I tell customers I’ve known for decades, who live really modestly, that they have to prepare to spend maybe 25% of their annual income on a minimal amount of fuel for their homes. Everyone was worried.
Your blog is a dose of art, humanity, and beauty. And even when people like me comment, instead of just reading and smiling in the privacy of a living room-you’re unfailingly kind and interested. I just think you’re a really special person and I’m so glad you share your life with us.
Thank you, and I hope you have a nice weekend,
‘Even people like me?’ – ???!
Thanks for saying in all this: you know, since posting this and receiving all these comments I have had a real injection of enthusiasm and motivation that I never could have anticipated. Sitting at a keyboard and blathering on about this or that and then putting it out into the world is quite a weird thing when you think about it, and often in truth I feel quite embarrassed and overexposed after the fact. Reading all these comments though has made me realize that it is definitely worth something.
(And re fuel prices, btw: ours have gone up quite dramatically here as well. That overbotoxed squinting fuckface has really done a number on us all).
I say write anything and everything you are feeling, as you always have done. We cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor Ukrainian people suffering under a war waged by a madman, but at the same time we still need to see the beauty that exists within our world, especially Japan. Not to mention the beauty of fragrance, which has the power to transport us to another place and time in a Proustian way.
We can’t let that vile creature steal everything from us, like I’m sure he wants to. At the same time be sure to vent, because yeah, crazy Russin madman.
Oh I will be venting, alongside you! (we never hold back and I love it).
I was just reading a fascinating article about him actually, about how truly isolated he seems to be.
THIS is the man in charge wreaking mayhem on us all and it is horrendous.
Quite possibly I imagine The Black Narcissus will give off a feeling of whiplash as we lurch from the global horror back to musings on fine fragrance, but so be it: this thread and all the comments have convinced me that it is all worthwhile in its own right. Putin is wrong (Putin is an ASSHOLE!!!!!!!), so as you say, we can’t let his ruthless, mindless, pathetic concerns get the better of us.
How is this all going to pan out? ……..
I can’t even imagine how this will pan out. I’m frightened at some of the outcomes I imagine. So I say f*ck him, and douse myself with perfume, tonight is vintage Bois des Iles, and read about The Gilded Age.
Ultimately, the sheer (for him) unexpectedly high levels of outrage from majority of the world’s populations will backfire for him, from the actual political level in terms of economic and military action etc to the great power of the internet and the minds of the people who are instinctively turning against him. In a way, wearing Bois Des Isles and immersing yourself in The Gilded Age is a small, but potent, form of rebellion when multiplied by the billions
That’s how I feel. I really long for the day I hear of his imminent downfall.
Reading your post and all the replies, and your responses, has taken some of the weight off my heart,. Our dear Neil. Your amazing readers. I’m gratified and reassured by what’s gone on here, and in the world at large, which has met the acts of a madman with suitable outrage and a strong humanitarian response to the people of Ukraine. Ric’s family on his dad’s side is Ukrainian, so it’s hit hard here. So much to say, but. So proud of the people there for fighting with such determination and courage in the face of horror and insanity.
We need The Black Narcissus more than ever. F U Putin: I’m wearing Tabac Blond extrait today and looking forward to your extinction. The sooner the bloody better.
Honestly, words do fail: I still can’t quite take it in – and how awful to have relatives connected / involved.
I understand Russia’s finding NATO in Ukraine unacceptable ( it would be like missiles being stationed in Calais), but he really didn’t ‘need’ to do this. He just wanted to.
Covid feels almost quaint now in comparison to what this could lead to.
What a lovely decade this has been so far for the world !