When I think about perfume, I think of gifts and gratitude. It’s difficult to make outsiders understand just how deeply giving things away is woven into the perfume world. It’s built into the industry — all those testers and samples floating around. It’s even part of perfume itself — to wear it is to share it. And when I try to explain how generous perfume people are, all my fellow decanters and swappers, I find myself talking about gardeners in zucchini season.
It’s not quite the right metaphor though, because perfume generosity isn’t just about having too much of the stuff. I’ve received packages so full they made me dizzy — a bottle where there should have been a decant, a dozen samples when I expected one. But I’ve also been bowled over by a single milliliter vial with a tiny dab of some rarity carefully transferred from a bottle no bigger than a nickel because the sender thought I might love it, or because we were talking about it, or because someone just couldn’t bear for its beauty to go unknown. We give our perfume away to share the astonishment and delight and pleasure we felt the first time we smelled it. Oh, you just have to try it. Please let me send you some.
In the days when my entire collection fit easily inside a small wooden cigar box, those gifts made me both very happy and very uncomfortable. For years, I had been working very hard without much success. I was living a cramped, carefully measured kind of life and I didn’t know how to figure in that kind of largesse. I couldn’t predict it, and I couldn’t stop counting milliliters and dollars in my head. I worried about how I was going to reciprocate, and I felt guilty when I didn’t. I was sure I was breaking the rules.
But happiness is, thank goodness, a hard thing to resist. I never got over my worry, or my grateful surprise — I still blush and feel lightheaded every time I open one of those special packages — but I stopped trying to make everything come out even. I learned how to accept the gifts that came my way with a small measure of grace.
It sounds simple. It wasn’t. Because those gifts went far beyond perfume — they affected nearly every aspect of my life. My intention was to make this post a thank you note to the perfume community, but now that I’m writing it I realize I can barely begin to tell about all you’ve given me, let alone thank you enough. In fact, that’s one of the gifts: this sense I have, almost all the time now, of abundance. The feeling that there will always be more incredible things to see, hear, taste, touch and smell. The absolute certainty that there are far more brilliant, kind, funny people in the world than I’ll ever have a chance to meet.
Even so, I’m not done trying to thank you yet. Because perfume gifts and gratitude gave me what I needed to do something I’d dreamed of doing for a long time, but didn’t really believe was possible: write a book. My favorite bloggers gave me many crucial writing lessons and a chance to practice them. My fellow fans and commenters made it possible for me to imagine an audience of sympathetic readers. And becoming a perfumista gave me what every writer needs most: a story worth telling.
For the past two years I’ve been hard at work telling that story in the best, truest most entertaining way I know how. I’m done now, so I can tell you that Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure and an Unlikely Bride will be published on July 2, 2012 by Viking Press. I’ve stuffed it full of luscious smells, and all the people and places we have in common and a few things we might not. You’re in there, too. In fact, the whole book is sort of a thank you note, maybe a better one than this post. I hope you’ll like it.
And I hope all of you receive the gifts you need in the coming New Year. Happy Holidays, everyone.