Why write a perfume blog? Musings on Charlie Hebdo, Human Nature and Art

Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, loosely translated into English as "Sleeping Beauty".

Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, loosely translated into English as “Sleeping Beauty”.

Let me be honest. When I say I’ve been a composer for more than twenty years, it’s not true. I started composing music in 1993 and at the end of 2008 I just stopped, though not by choice. For more than six years now I’ve tried to figure out why; I’ve tried to will the energy, the spark for my creativity, back to life, but every attempt failed. I felt numb. Perhaps I stopped making music because my father, who had early onset Alzheimer’s from age 60 was put in a nursing home that year. Seeing my father change so much, to watch him fracture apart in mind, body and eventually soul over a period of eight years was harrowing. A part of me disintegrated with him; I felt like I lost a vital organ and lost my identity, which was so bound up with being a composer. So I kept saying I was one, telling people I was a composer, but “I haven’t written much lately”. I felt like such a phony.

Even when I created a short, one minute piece a few months ago for a concert, with a couple of days notice, I still didn’t feel like a composer. I made a piece I was happy with in the space of only four hours, but I didn’t connect with the act. It didn’t spark any more desire in me to compose.

My creative attention these past six years has been diverted. My creative activities have been like a series of rivulets or creeks, branching off of the main river of composition. The water in the river has long dried up, but the creeks are still running strong, looking for somewhere for the water to flow to, with energy to spend, to provide the nourishment to help new things grow and thrive. Over these six years I haven’t written much music, but I’ve knitted, I’ve sewn, I’ve improvised in the kitchen, I fell in love with fragrance and olfactory art, and I started this blog. The thrill I felt the moment I realised there was, or could be, an art form based around the sense of smell, was not unlike the moment I decided to be a composer. A lightbulb went off! I was obsessed, and wanted to find out everything I could know.

Two days ago I got the urge to sit at the piano. It was the day after the horrible murders at Charlie Hebdo. I’d been for a walk in the rain, across the fields, no human in sight, rolling extinct volcanoes and sheep in every direction for kilometres. Then the urge to compose came. So I sat, and I worked with some chords from a piece that I wrote back in 1994, a time when writing music was easy and pleasurable. I sat for a couple of hours, bearing in mind something a composer friend of mine recently said about the concept of play: that play is vital for good mental health, and that play is an activity without any endpoint or goal in mind. I realised when my friend wrote this that I had lost my creative sense of play long ago, and that I had replaced it with mindless wanderings on the internet, and in online and real-life shops. Wanderings without much intention or meaning, and with potentially destructive and addictive outcomes: wasting precious time and mindless consumption.

As I composed for the first time in a long time, I felt my mind and frontal lobes open up. It was similar to the feelings of relaxation, calm and bliss one experiences after meditating. It felt so good, that yesterday I tried again to sit at the piano and compose. But instead of the feelings of “coming home” and contentment that I’d felt the previous day, I dealt with a constant barrage of internal self-talk, of critical and negative comments from my subconscious that tried to throw me off-balance. The most persistent comment that came to mind was “this is pointless”. The day before, I had actively sat there with the notion of “play” in mind, as a pointless activity that I was striving to achieve, and yet today, I had turned this very concept against myself, using it as a way to critique and negate my creativity. I pushed on as a kind of psychological experiment to see if I could keep going in the face of such internal negativity. I did, and for about three hours I played some chords, I hummed some notes, and I ended up with four bars of some of the most musically conservative, yet pretty music I’ve created.

Today, I open up Facebook and Twitter and I see many ugly, self-righteous comments by people I know and follow about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo, and I feel sad. Sad about the state of humanity (though it has always been this way). Sad that we hate and hurt each other so much, when we are all from the same species. Sad that we assert that we know the answers to these problems, and yet continue to perpetuate the hurt with extreme, often divisive and self-righteous declarations about “the right way” to think and be. We strive to change others and their behaviour all the time. It strikes me today that we need more tolerance, of both the little differences and big differences between us. Of different values. We need to accept what is and I think if we do some of the extremes of self-expression will soften and lessen.

With this in mind, I look back upon my time at the piano these past two days, my time spent being a composer again, and I have a new take on the “pointlessness” of it all. I see this act of creating beautiful-sounding chords as a necessity. Beauty and pleasure are required to balance out the negativity and destructiveness that goes on both around, and within us. We need more beauty, we need more pointless, pretty chords, more delicious food, more surplus hand-knitted scarves, more perplexing, confounding art that puzzles us, and more sweet-smelling perfume. We need all of this to balance out the bad stuff. We have the potential as humans to create beauty and to enjoy pleasure, and today, to me, this seems as much an essential and effective antidote to the destructive violence that has been perpetuated in Paris recently as any other action. To embrace, express and amplify the positive and good sides of humanity, including our ability to make art and enjoy it, is a powerful political act. From today forwards, I will strive to write more pointless music. I am a composer once again.

And to answer my question: why write a perfume blog? For the beauty of it.


2 thoughts on “Why write a perfume blog? Musings on Charlie Hebdo, Human Nature and Art

  1. Yes!

    Not much else to say. I’m used to the “like” button being enough, just like browsing the Internet seems to be enough. But that click, not the web click, the real click of connecting with what my wild mind really wants to do, creating just for the pleasure of it – that’s what I need, and this post gets it.


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