eXhilaration is on the steep part of the learning curve



My series of ingredient-inspired poems is nearing the end of its (first?) run through the English alphabet, and I’m skipping X. This letter is conspicuously rare in the nomenclature of botanical ingredients, and more likely to appear at the ends of words (eg, styrax, beeswax), but seems abundant in brand names of synthetic aromachemicals (eg, Ambroxan, Cetalox, Exaltolide, Galaxolide…). I’d be curious to learn about any psychological factors behind that, as has been analyzed in the naming of pharmaceutical products.

It’s week 8 of “soft quarantine” in my area on the East Coast, and the consensus among my coworkers is that we collectively “hit a wall” around last week. No momentum; stalled. One of our experts in human behavior posited that it’s because we’ve finally cycled through the first 3 of 5 Kubler-Ross stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) and we’re reluctantly realizing that our “new reality” has shifted from an acute to a chronic situation. I thought these deconstructions were spot on, so loudly reverberant with my own mental state that I do believe our metronomes are more in sync with others’ than not.

In a parallel universe, where C19 did not exist, my other half and I would be gallivanting around Italy this week and next, on a much-anticipated trip that he had researched and planned. Now, that’s just a statement of fact that’s neither here nor there.


I’ve been learning some more techniques on the ukulele—various basic fingerpicking patterns—and each new thing brought a wave of exhilaration, the unadulterated joy of discovery. The potential of a de novo self that’s good at the thing. Like riding a bicycle for the first time: still wobbly, but going!

This undeniable thrill is found at the steep part of the learning curve, right at the beginning, when accelerating from zero to anything. That delta is far larger—and thus instantly gratifying, flooding the brain with endorphins—than the incremental gains that you’ll achieve with practice, practice, practice. (Those bring a different, deeper kind of satisfaction.)

The same was true when I first started learning to make perfume last year.

And when I took a wire weaving class—and later when I learned to make a Viking knit on my own with instructions I found online.

Viking knit
Viking knit


I’m very sure

This never happened to me before

—Paul McCartney, “This Never Happened Before” (2005)

↑Every time.


A few perfumes have been able to recreate a feeling of exhilaration, though it may have had more to do with my own mindset and impressionability at those times than with the fragrances themselves.

Gucci Nobile

This was a random gift I got when I was a teenager who loved perfume but was pretty undiscerning about it. I doused myself in generous sprays of it and in those opening moments of bright, fresh, greenness matching the juice’s color, I felt on top of the world. The days were sunny, my friends were near, and I faced a future of infinite possibility…

More recently, I tried to see if the nostalgia still held up, and was shocked at the extortionate price tags of this discontinued favorite (~USD$400 for a 60-mL bottle). I was able to buy a mini splash of it at a relatively reasonable price. The verdict? I don’t think the same effect can be had without the burst of aerosolized droplets from a spray. It’s still got a bright opening, somewhat herbal (probably the rosemary, lavender, and tarragon), which quickly turns into green mossiness that settles into a reassuring, clean, soft soapiness. Like aftershave.

The perfume equivalent of a beloved old photograph—faded, with some crinkles around the edges.

The Body Shop Amorito

In a word: chocolate. Yet refreshing (I’m guessing because of the jasmine part of the heart note, though I didn’t know about it then). Probably the most carefree span of time I would experience as an adult, visiting Japan for the first time, staying with a wonderful Japanese family who became lifelong friends. It was summertime, and I spritzed a lot of this novelty—fortunately, the children loved it.

I suppose Amorito also signified my branching out into new perfume concepts. A few years later, I would delve into the genre again with a chocolate shampoo by philosophy®.

Juliette Has a Gun Mad Madame and Le Labo Ylang 49

I’m including these here because they were olfactorily exhilarating the first time I smelled them. Both are essentially rose-patchouli modern chypres, with a characteristic, thirst-quenching juiciness that I adore. The effect is reproducible if I don’t wear them too often.

If I had to make an association with something of personal significance, it would probably be the early days of my perfume journey, toward the beginning of last year. Buying discovery kits and sniffing my way to perfume self-knowledge. If there’s anything more to it than that, it will be known only in retrospect. Like many formative influences…






3 thoughts on “eXhilaration is on the steep part of the learning curve

    1. Thank you—more of a dilettante in reality (getting past the initial steep part of the learning curve is another story altogether!) I hope you get the chance to try out perfume making soon, when things start opening or at least shipping again.

      Liked by 1 person

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