I started a “Perfumed Alphabet” series a few days ago, even though I knew I didn’t have ingredients for all the letters. I’m skipping D, because even though I have a small vial of davana attar in sandalwood oil, I mostly smell the sandalwood. And I don’t know enough about the smell of dahlia, datura, daisy, daffodil, or dandelion in perfume to write about them. Dill is a valid perfume ingredient, according to The Perfume Society, but my experience with it is limited to pickled foods.
I’m still trying to gather my scattered thoughts and put them down in a coherent manner, after a week of ramped-up intensity in coronavirus-related impact around the world and parsing all the adjustments we have been making—consciously or not—on a micro scale at home. The theme of the past week among coworkers has been “distraction,” in the sense that we acknowledged to each other that we were in that mental state and struggled to stay focused. My own mind’s tentacles have been reaching all over the place, trying to plug in, to connect.
Earlier, several people had written about their dilemmas as to whether or not to keep writing about perfume, and unsurprisingly the comments were basically “yes, we need the distraction to take a break from the depressing news.” I added to that by pointing out that people could distract themselves a million other ways, such as binge-watching shows, but choosing instead to keep writing allowed others to enjoy what they were doing as well. Now I feel I should clarify that I have nothing against passive entertainment as a way to escape mentally. There’s enough room—and time—for both, even. It’s just that I understand the need—the compulsion—to write, and to me that’s an obvious benefit of this method of outlet.
It’s also been heartwarming to see the number of online “live” events that have popped up exponentially. Yesterday, my best friend from childhood hosted an online music party (soirée musicale) where she and several of her musician friends in different countries took turns playing classical instruments in their homes, and anyone could tune in to watch. Despite running into some tech issues while streaming, the camaraderie between them was palpable, and I enjoyed the coziness of seeing their living spaces as well. (I’ve always been drawn, like a moth perhaps, to people’s windows from the outside. It’s the warm lighting and the partial glimpse of wall decor, inviting the imagination to paint the rest of the picture of what it might look like inside. Where is their desk? In which spot do they spend most of their time? What are they doing now? During the first week of working from home, most people who had their video function on showed their rooms and it was, to me, a bonus of web conferencing; by the second week, people had discovered the virtual backgrounds and blur background feature and it’s just not as appealing. Maybe I shouldn’t have shared that knowledge with a large group right after I learned it from someone else…!)
Right after the online soirée, my other half and I ventured out to a supermarket, where we experienced for the first time what many others have already described: the wait lines outside, standing 6 feet apart, and the active avoidance of other shoppers, including more waiting our turn at any particular section followed by grabbing the items as quickly as possible to get out of the way of the next person waiting. We both found ourselves behaving in additional peculiar ways that are not practically helpful—averting eye contact, pausing breathing, and turning away while passing others. For me, these “reflexes” were driven not by fear of catching anything, but of making others feel uncomfortable or unsafe by my proximity. The whole experience really felt bizarre, like a scene from The Twilight Zone.
Fortunately, they had toilet paper in stock.
As of now, I don’t personally know anyone who has or had COVID-19, but it’s definitely getting closer to home as more people know someone who suspects they could have contracted the virus or are having symptoms. No one will be completely unaffected by this global affliction. The sheer horror of it is just starting to hit me, much later than it has many others, after a threshold of absorbing other people’s feelings that span a wide range and can be contrary to mine at any given time. A delayed response.
It’s not just this disease itself that’s hurting people, needless to say. My cousin in Taiwan told me that her father-in-law, who has been living with metastatic lung cancer for about 2 years now, was just hospitalized again, and they could not visit. Her sweet, big-hearted, 7-year-old daughter made some watercolor paintings for him—broad strokes of colors over sheets of paper, in my biased opinion as good as many “abstract” paintings in museums—and wrote across the top of one of them in a mix of simple Chinese characters and phonetic symbols what translates into English as, “I love you grandpa. Keep going! You get well.” That just broke my heart. Having been in a similar nightmare before—and even as a grown adult then, miring in deep denial of the inevitability of cancer progression until the very end—I wanted to scream at the futility of it all. And especially at this horrible pandemic robbing the family of the ability to be together as much as possible during this agonizing time. It’s cruel. (I couldn’t believe the hospital would go to such an extreme, and asked my cousin again whether they really did not allow visitors; she clarified that they would let one person into the hospital room at a time. So, hopefully, they can make it work…)
Each day, I get up, get dressed, and put on some perfume, just as I would if I were going out. No staying in pajamas all day for me. It’s one of those little things that help maintain a mental separation between the different phases of the day. Even if I do eat ice cream straight out of the tub at some point during said day. But I’m noticing more days when I actually forget to put on perfume until several hours later.
We’re all a little distracted. (Understatement.)
This, too, shall pass. But when??????
We don’t know. What we do know is that we will be altered by the time it passes. How?
I believe the ways will be as diverse as we were before.