Sometimes it’s hard to put a name or a smell to it, but one can try


It’s been a demanding week, with new responsibilities and sometimes not enough information, ending with me exhausted from running on a hamster wheel carrying the added weight of feeling in each moment that I wasn’t doing as well as I should, while not quite knowing how I should do better. Fortunately, I haven’t entirely forgotten an important lesson I learned from corporate leadership development programs: distinguishing the real from the imagined. However, sometimes the distinction is not so immediately clear, and the language needed to describe the experience is not so easy to find.

Coincidentally, through some fascinating perfume reading, I came to know of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a collection of invented words by John Koenig to put a name to certain feelings that, while possibly intense, aren’t typically shared in everyday conversation. Here are a few that I’ve related to recently:



n. the state of not knowing how you really feel about something, which forces you to sift through clues hidden in your behavior, as if you were some other person—noticing a twist of acid in your voice, an obscene amount of effort put into something trifling, or an inexplicable weight on your shoulders that makes it difficult to get out of bed.

n. the feeling that no matter what you do is always somehow wrong—as if there’s some obvious way forward that everybody else can see but you, each of them leaning back in their chair and calling out helpfully, “colder, colder, colder…”


the meantime

n. the moment of realization that your quintessential future self isn’t ever going to show up, which forces the role to fall upon the understudy, the gawky kid for whom nothing is easy, who spent years mouthing their lines in the wings before being shoved into the glare of your life, which is already well into its second act.


n. the desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.
I think most of these, for me right now, are linked to work stress and some degree of burnout, compounded by awareness of the passage of time. Then there are other gems, which were coined 7-8 years ago but seem to strike at the heart of our present day—the world in 2020:


n. the sense that the future is arriving ahead of schedule, that all those years with fantastical names like ‘2013’ are bursting from their hypothetical cages into the arena of the present, furiously bucking the grip of your expectations while you lean and slip in your saddle, one hand reaching for reins, the other waving up high like a schoolkid who finally knows the answer to the question.


n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.


What of the “scenttrack” to these vague emotions? As I’d mentioned before, I have been taking a break from sampling to enjoy my old perfumes afresh—not least the tactile satisfaction of dispensing a large mist from a full-sized spray pump. For steely green armor, Jacomo Silences or Chanel N° 19. For a personal treat while juggling emails and details, L’Orchestre Parfum Rose Trombone and Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Chyprée, both well-endowed roses that I found too strong—maybe they’ll be more suitable in colder temperatures?

For uncomplicated olfactory ergonomics, my Le Labo perfumes fit like a favorite tunic (it’s not quite sweater weather yet): Ylang 49, Lys 41, and good ol’ Santal 33.

Now for making other things more uncomplicated and ergonomic…






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