Thursday, November 4, 2010

SOTD: None, and Why Perfume?

Yesterday (yes, I'm backdating again) was busy. If I'd had to choose a perfume, I wouldn't be surprised at my failure to wear any. But I'm doing the one-week scent challenge, so there was no choice involved.  And for most of the day, the chosen bottle of Osmanthe Yunnan was less than two feet away from me, on the same table as my work computer. I thought, several times, about spraying some on. I felt the lack of perfume as a bad thing. But I still didn't apply any.

When I apply perfume, I generally do it as part of a few leisurely steps, though the steps vary. I may brush my hair first, or put on a clean shirt and clean fluffy socks, or a scarf. The common element is that these actions are about me - about tending and caring for me, most often my physical self. I didn't have time to pause for any leisurely steps, and I'm guessing that's why I didn't put on perfume.

That ties into some thoughts about why I love perfume. I think that for me, perfume is about finding a way to treat myself as a person who's worth tending, and decorating, when I have trouble doing so it in other ways.

Here's where I go on a very long tangent.

In my childhood, my family didn't socialize. My parents barely tolerated one another, and never entertained at home. Their brushes with the rest of the world - Dad at work, Mom with her League cronies - were all but invisible to me. I had so few interactions with adults not in the family that until I was perhaps eight or ten years old, I couldn't order my own food in a fast-food restaurant, because I couldn't bring myself to speak to a stranger.

In grade school, I was the quiet kid, good-naturedly tolerated by the others. I remember a teacher once asking me about my lack of friends, and I remember my puzzlement at the idea that I needed any. To me, adults were people who had outgrown the childish need for warm relationships. And I was smart, smarter than the average child, so it seemed logical that I should aspire early to a proper adult level of isolation. Sometimes I played with the kids in the neighborhood, but the idea of kids from school traveling to and entering our home? Inconceivable. Mom and Dad, both dealing with their own demons, didn't seem to notice my lack of friends.

Toward the end of grade school, I was befriended, much to my own surprise. My friend was that rare girl who is not only pretty and popular, but genuinely kind. She may have seen the quiet kid as a project to fix. But she had charm, and my prickly pride never thought to analyze her motives. Around that time, the school gave everyone assigned seats at lunch, so that I was unable to hide in my usual corners. With my new friend nearby to pull me into conversation, I started to enter the world as a social being. Chinks formed in my isolationist policy.

Then we moved.

And I was the new kid. The still socially inept kid. The kid in polyester when the new town had gone to natural fibers. The kid who carried a lunchbox, probably just once, but once is enough, when the other kids had gone to paper bags. And it was sixth grade; remember what sixth grade was like? And so my role was chosen for me. I suspect that there's something about puberty that gives kids a need to express pack hatred, and the pack chose me as their primary target.

My dysfunctional social philosophy had a role in getting me into this fix, but it might also be entitled to the credit for getting me out of it alive and with with some semblance of self-worth. I was still smart - no one was ever going to convince me that I wasn't, or that smart wasn't important. And I still didn't think I needed friends. My parents were isolated from the world, and they were happy, right? Wrong, but I didn't know enough to see that at the time. Without other examples of adult behavior to refer to, I didn't even realize that they didn't like each other.

So I didn't need to be told to just wait it out, that it would get better. I knew that I would someday reach adulthood and, like all sensible adults, I would shut the door every day after work and be alone in my own home, with a whole lot of books. (And I wouldn't be foolish enough to get married.) I waited through two and a half years of daily communication that I was contemptible, offensive, and, of course, ugly.

And then the educational assembly line rolled me into high school. With a larger pool of candidates, the pack found new people to hate and I was once again tolerated as the quiet kid. I started to emerge again, very slowly, and talk to a few people. By late in my senior year, a teacher once had to tell me to shut up. I was delighted, and I think perhaps he was, too.

But I learned more than I wanted to while I was waiting things out. A very persistent part of my mind still thinks that I'm ugly, still fears that my very presence is an annoyance, and is still much more comfortable being smart than being social. As I said in my Bvlgari Black review, I like being the one with the extra knowledge, and perfume is a realm of self-adornment where that's true. I can combine the old comfort of being smart with the new, and ever so risky, adventure of dealing with other human beings.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Great post - thank you for sharing this aspect of your life with us. Perhaps we all are eventually faced with overcoming our parents, mean people and isolation. I'm still working on some of that myself.

    Whatever the journey was for you - and it sounds difficult - I like what you have become.

  2. I still cannot get my mind around the fact that American high schools are such a mine field that for anyone to emerge psychologically unscathed from them is a miracle.
    I know kids everywhere are mean but I didn't find my school years this bad. The last two years before high school weren't very good (for some reason I cannot still comprehend, I ended being called out by classmates for knowing what I want). This all changed i high-school and I had my little group I spent time with and we all, how to put it, tolerated each other rather well. :)
    Anyway, what I wanted to say is, being smart doesn't exclude you from being beautiful (and besides that is more a state of mind than actual looks) but people in my mind seem more jealous and prone to scathy comments when you are both. :)
    And friends find you whether you want them to or not. That's why they are friends. :)

  3. Wow, your post brought back a lot of memories. I was smart and isolated too. I remember volunteering in the library at recess to avoid the playground. Highschool was better but I still have a personality that prefers to have only a handful of good friends. More than that makes me feel overwhelmed. I think I would score high on an Asberger test.

    I have enjoyed meeting fellow perfume lovers through blogging though :)

  4. Hey, Josephine! I'm trying to do more of that sharing thing with my writing, though it doesn't so much come naturally. (Which, come to think of it, probably circles right around to the isolation thing, huh?) Thanks for the reassuring and positive response. :)

  5. Yo, Ines!

    Yep, I've long been of the opinion that American schools are deeply dysfunctional, at least socially. Many Americans still consider bullying/taunting behavior in school not only acceptable, but almost valuable, in the sense that, "They'll have to be able to get along in the real world when they're adults."

    Of course, in the real world many adult Americans have a large and ever-growing bag of legal tools to fight sexual, religious, all sorts of harassment, and we still leave kids, the least socially capable members of society, with little to no recourse or guidance.

    In theory, that's changing with the panic about the school shootings of the last decade or so, but the actions taken seem to not-infrequently make things worse for the bullied. (Slashdot's Voices From The Hellmouth series makes that pretty clear.)

    Anyway. Rant rant rant.

    Yep, I am learning to appreciate friendship, now that I'm deep into adulthood, and to glance, occasionally, at the possibility that I'm not altogether ugly. It's a process. :)

  6. Greetings, kj! Yep, in school it was anything to avoid large groups. I used to illegally eat my lunch outside in the no-eating, no-littering courtyard in junior high, a big deal for an obsessive rule-follower like me. I can't really remember what the cafeteria looked like - if I didn't bring my lunch, it was usually Andy Capp Hot Fries and lemonade from the fairly-privately-located vending machines.

    (Mmmm, Andy Capp Hot Fries.... and they really go well with lemonade. I'm not actually complaining about the dietary strategies.)

  7. Your post touched me deeply.I was brought up to "turn the other cheek, pray for your enemies" and I tried, I really did.
    I was picked on in a merciless way in grade school and beat up.I loved the school library and dreaded walking home and playing outside was always a gamble as the neighborhood kids were mean too. I had my dog Chico and my kitties Jade and Baby and my books.My mother was lost within herself after my dad left her and didn't get over it for a decade, I fought and lost many battles on my own and could never turn to her, it was lonely and sad for me.I knew she loved me but could not see my anguish for what it was, she just figured it was "kids being kids" "Pray for them"
    In Jr. High was not much better,still got jumped, still walked around in fear.
    Finally in HS I was so hardened I started standing up for myself and finally felt more free even if I was still afraid.
    But those horrible times made me the person I am for better or worse. I am strong because of it but also tender towards the underdog. I have four daughters now and have been through hell and high water , defending and being their champion in certain situations.
    I strive to teach and show them that it's a cruel, strange world but there is still beauty and love to be found, if we search for it and then cherish it.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  8. Moving post, which makes you realise how much a person's childhood has the potential to influence the adult they become. I didn't notice the tension between my own parents till I was about 9 or 10, so it also reminds you that there are different kinds of "smart", and that emotional intelligence may be acquired long after an aptitude for maths and spelling.

    I was occasionally bullied at school for speaking with an English accent (perceived as "post colonialist" in Northern Ireland at the time), but luckily had enough good friends to counterbalance the people who taunted me.

    Am glad you came "out of your shell" when you were older - as evidenced by your avatar of a fully fledged chicken! - so that we have the pleasure of your cyber company today!

  9. Hey, Tamara! I've never been the "pray for your enemies" type. Maybe the "try your best not to imagine them being it by a bus" type. :) It sounds like your experience was worse than mine - mine only got ugly in junior high, and aside from a threat or two, was mostly just taunting and insults. I'm glad that your kids have someone to stand up for them.

  10. Howdy Vanessa! Yes, emotional intelligence was definitely not one of my areas of mastery, though in some ways maybe that's just as well. :)

    Cyber socializing! Yep, to a fair extent I credit the Internet for becoming something of a social being - the Internet and roleplaying games, of all things.