Personal Posts

Je Reviens: The Power of Scent

JeReviens1Many, many, many, many, many, many (okay, I'll stop now), years ago in college, my favorite perfume was Je Reviens.  This was a perfume that stopped men in their tracks, causing them to ask me why I smelled so good.  I clearly recall one instance of this when I sat studying in the EMU Fishbowl.*  A frat boy sitting two booths away yelled over to ask the name of the perfume that was distracting him. There was just something about this scent–and maybe the way it reacted to my skin–that enticed people, including me.  

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure my sister Alice, who was an airline stewardess for TWA back in the days when they were still called stewardesses and TWA still existed, must have brought me bottles of Je Reviens from Paris. I quit wearing perfume for a long time and forgot about Je Reviens. But flash forward a gazillion years, to last summer, when the hub and I were in Paris on our way home from Pezenas.  I decided to try to find a bottle of Je Reviens to take home.  The glitzy–and intimidating–perfume store on the Champs Elysees, which sells every perfume known to man, didn't have it.  And the bored ladies who worked there hadn't heard of it.  I asked everywhere I found a place they sold perfume–at a cute little store at the base of the Sacre-Coeur Cathedral in Montmarte, at a shop in Montparnasse, where we stayed.  But nobody seemed to have heard of it.  (I'm certain my terrible French pronunciation had nothing to do with it.)

Upon my return home, it finally occurred to me to ask my friend Angela about the perfume.  She is a perfume writer, you see (as well as being a wonderful mystery writer).  She immediately told me she had some vintage Je Reviens she'd found in an antique shop and she would decant some for me. (See photo.)  She also explained that the perfume had gone through several incarnations recently and was still available, albeit in a watered-down, drugstore version.  I carried my sample home with reverence and stuck it in my bathroom cabinet to use for special occasions.

I am wearing it today.  I'm not going anywhere special–I'm not going anywhere at all.  I sprayed it on to cheer myself up after the WORST allergy attack that anybody has endured, ever, happened to me yesterday.  And it has done the job.   It brought back all kinds of pleasant memories, as noted above, and it has also made me ponder the power of scent in writing.

Firstly, smells transport us to other times and places.  A whiff of a hawthorne bush, and I'm a little kid again, at my Aunt Betty's house in Hillsborough, California.  The smell of corndogs and I'm at the Rose Festival Fun Center carnival that assembles itself every year along the waterfront here in town.  (They call it CityFair now to try to jazz it up.) The aroma of sage transports me to New Mexico. Inhaling Je Reviens brought back all the memories I wrote about above.  And these are rich veins, people, rich veins.  You could do worse than to line up some smells to use as prompts.  Take a whiff and start writing.

And second, smells can be just as evocative in our writing.  Adding aroma to your descriptions helps to bring it alive–and yet it is probably the least taken-advantage-of sense.  In my just-submitted novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, my agent challenged me to do a better job of evoking the smell of the protagonist's macaron shop.  Erp.  Here's what I came up with: 

And there was no other word for the smell of it but heavenly—that faint whiff of sugar, like cotton candy at the fair, or an ice cream cone on a hot summer day, the aroma that called to mind the best day of your childhood, or maybe your whole life.

Not holding myself up as the paragon of descriptive writing here, but rather illustrating how I equated smell with emotion rather than try to evoke it exactly. Because, how do you describe smells, other than to use the noun of what they come from–rose, for instance, or grass?  I think that's why writers shy away from using smell in their descriptions.  But I urge you to try.

So, yeah, 700-some words later and I've written a blog post, all inspired by my perfume.  The power of scent, indeed.

*The EMU at the University of Oregon was the scene of the famous food fight in the movie Animal House, and also one of my favorite scenes of all time, when John Belushi says, "I'm a zit."  Just to balance the sweetness of this post, here's the clip:


How do you use smell in your writing?

Wednesday Within: This Will Save Me

Crazy-breath-mask-923023-lI am a woman of great passions.  Some of them, like writing and reading, have lasted a lifetime. Others, like gardening or knitting, wax and wane.  And still others (Jazzercise, anyone?) have their brief moment in the sun with me and then I lose interest.

And then there are the things I find that I'm certain will save me.  Things like an eating or exercise plan. Or some kind of meditation.  A different kind of prayer.  A new book that has all the answers!  If only I follow the directions exactly, I will be a new person.  

The problem is, I'm not at all good at following directions.

I've been through all kinds of food plans, the most recent being the Paleo diet my daughter is forever trying to foist on me (love you, sweetie).  France made me ditch that one (no bread allowed on Paleo). To be fair, I do lean towards eating this way, I just hate following externally-imposed rules.   I could go on and on about how I was certain that making home-made sauerkraut and consuming raw milk kefir would be the answer to all my problems, or how running three times a week was just the ticket, or how attending church would remake me.

Okay, so that last one actually has worked pretty well.  But turns out there's only a few kinds of sauerkraut I like the taste of, raw milk is illegal in Oregon, and running is really, really hard on my knees.  And yet, the momentary obessions continue.

Do you do this? Please tell me you do this.

But, just because I'm in a revelatory mood, here are my latest obsessions: the ukelele, bone broth and breathing.  I've not made much progress with the uke yet, though my friend Kate has leant me one and I am entranced with these videos.  NEED LINKS.  Apparently, ukeleles are a thing. And part of that thing is gathering together and playing and I really like that idea.

Bone broth you can probably live without, though I'm convinced it is going to save my afore-mentioned knee problems which are really lower back problems caused by one leg being shorter than the other.  I make it in the slow cooker with bones, amazingly enough, and vegies and let it simmer for 24 hours.  I'll spare you more on that.  But read this link if you are interested.

But we do need to talk about breathing.

Because it is something we all should be paying attention to.  I'm quite sure it impacts our writing, because it impacts everything.  Think how amazing–we don't have to stop and ponder how to breathe, it just happens.  But along the way we get into some bad breathing habits.  I tend to be a breath catcher.  I lightly hold my breath in my throat and my stomach, and I do this when I'm writing. I've looked at it a lot, trying to figure out where this habit arose, and I think it has to do with excitement.  You know how you catch your breath when something exciting happens?  Like that.  And I get excited when I'm writing, so this habit has resulted.  (It's not just when I'm writing, either, I find myself doing it all the time.)

I've read estimates saying that most of us use only 10% of our full breathing capacity.  Yet, because it is our breath, and we do it unconsciously most of the time, we don't think much about it.  But imagine how you would feel if you were only eating 10% of the food you need?  Or getting 10% of the sleep you require?  Yeah, not so good.

The easiest way to breath better is simply to take full, deep breaths whenever you find yourself catching your breath or chest breathing (a good, deep breath goes all the way into your belly).  You can also commit to taking 20 deep breaths three times a day if that suits you.  It's so simple, really–yet since breathing is at the basis of all our life, you'll find results such as increased energy, more ability to focus, and a tuned-up metabolism.

Ask the Google for more information.  A good place to start is here.

What is "saving" you these days?

Image by hypertypos.

And a quick addition: My friend Kevin Johns interviewed me for a podcast and it just went live! Listen here, and read my review of his book here.

Wednesday Within: Integrity

Dandylion-yellow-wind-11215-lHere's a little secret about me: if I announce I'm going to do something, at some point I am sure to rebel against myself and not do it.  Does anybody else have that?  What is that about?  You would think at this advanced age, I'd have figured it out and stopped doing it.

So all this is by way of saying that last week I didn't get around to writing a personal post.  (My idea around all this being that once a week I could give myself latitude to write about something beyond writing.) Well, come to think of it, I was on an airplane on the way home from Pasadena.  And it was so, so windy in Portland that the pilot made the stewardesses attendants sit down 45 minutes early and then the plane bumped and shook so much on the descent that everyone cheered when we landed, and so of course, after that I needed wine.  And after the wine, I was sleepy.  So there was no personal post. Which is different than just not doing it, though the result was the same.

On the other hand, I have sent out a newsletter every other week for 5 years now.  And this blog post is one of over 1,000 written across a 7+ year time span.   So I guess I am able to commit to a few things along the way.  And all this makes me think about integrity, which is not at all what I thought I would write about when I started this post, but here we are.


Years ago a friend of mine who I've since lost touch with, was going to come visit me here in Portland. I was so looking forward to his visit–I was volunteering at a writing festival and he was going to volunteer with me.  A fellow writer, he and I had enjoyed long phone conversations in which we critiqued each other's work and talked about the difficulties of getting to the page with our busy lives. I'd spent time with him at his home in Texas and I was really looking forward to him coming here. And then he and I had a conversation about integrity–personal integrity–and I said some high and mighty words about how important it is, particularly in regards to writing.  And a few days later he called me and said those words had really affected him and in order to hold to his integrity he was going to stay home and write.

I was really disappointed he didn't visit, and yet I had to applaud his decision to hold tight to his word and say home and write, because he was following his vow to finish his book.  (Which I don't think he ever did, by the way, but that's another story.)  And pondering his commitment to integrity also brings up a couple of my favorite stories of not having integrity.

Or Lack Thereof

A few years ago, I was connected with a potential ghost-writing client.  This woman owned a high-rise apartment in one of the biggest and most expensive cities in the world, as well as a home in a well-known luxury resort area.  Yet every time we talked, she told me she couldn't afford my rates and tried to talk my fees down.  But what really rankled was this: she had a huge online presence based on her supposedly deeply spiritual persona.  Her tweets talked about love and peace and serenity.  On the phone, she was anything but serene and peaceful. Every other word was a harsh swear word, or a complaint about somebody or something.  The gap between her public image and her private demeanor was startling.  I declined to work with her. (Her book did eventually come out, and I heard through the grapevine that it did not do well.  I always wondered if her lack of authenticity had something to do with that.)

And, in yet another example, last year a speaker came through our church.  (We have a fairly large congregation, so we get a lot of New Age types eager to speak to us.)  This woman was a dynamite speaker, who told of how she healed herself from addictions through her intense spiritual practices. After her talk, she sold her book in the lobby, and my husband and I were pressed into service to help her.  Now, I don't know about you but I like to think that deeply spiritual people are also kind and patient. But she was not.  She was cranky and rude when I didn't immediately grasp how to feed information into the Square register, and short and brusque the rest of the time.  She never once thanked us for your help or even deigned to smile.  Again, her public and personal personas were at odds with each other in a most jarring way.

And I think of these stories whenever I do something that is not within my own sense of integrity. Along with independence and a commitment to my family, integrity is one of my highest values.  So it is interesting to look at where I hold to it and where I fall down. I like to think that my public and private persona are one and the same, though I am likely much goofier with the people who know me well.  But the place I fail the most often is being in integrity to myself, and I would bet that I'm not alone in this. I'll minister to family, do things for friends, and finish my client work before I even open the file for my current WIP.   I'll swear up and down I'm done with sugar, and a few hours later, I'm eating a candybar leftover from Halloween.  I'd be willing to bet that maybe you do that, too.  

For my money personal integrity is a difficult virtue to uphold, perhaps the most difficult . But if I don't practice it, as in if I say I'm going to write and then don't, I feel it.  I'm disappointed in myself because I've let myself down.  And if I can't be in integrity to myself, how can I expect myself to offer it to anyone else?  In a post a couple of weeks ago–and I'm not linking to it because I can't even remember which one it was–I made mention of integrity and it seemed to me that's what resonated with people.  So it is good to write about it and talk about it with all of you and I hope that you'll leave your thoughts about how integrity arises or doesn't arise in your own life. 

Photo by Henkster.  (I'm not really sure what a Dandelion has to do with integrity, but for some reason it seemed appropriate.  Make of it what you will.)