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I miss the tactile in the age of the information superhighway. Twenty years ago I would spend my free time over blank canvases with mixed media to work out/through narratives and my understanding of the world around me. I may still sketch but those ideas are kept on my iPad in the Paper app. In fact, during our summer holiday in Europe I often sketched fragrance blends based on our given environment. (I’m also glad I left many of those blends as sketches, because mixing licorice, birch and coffee together sounds better than the physical result.)

Nick Offerman has a wonderful one-man show “American Ham” that features his tips for a prosperous life. Tip #5 is Get a hobby:

When you can make something with your hands, it’s not nerdy. It’s actually super-sexy. Who would you rather be attracted to? Someone who can text fast, or someone who knit the dress that she’s wearing?

The Internet allows us to share media at such rapid speed that we retain so little of what we consume. The scandal of yesterday is already replaced with a meme today that will be acquiesced by a 6-second video tomorrow. Our collective attention span requires online content to constantly evolve for fear of losing an audience to the better, brighter new thing. It it wasn’t for The Wayback Machine occasionally snapping moments in online time, how else would we keep track of all the times a company changed its visual design and user experience?

Being a hobbyist perfumer is not cheap – holy mother of pearl is it ever not cheap – but it allows me to create visceral pleasures using just a little oil and a lot of time. Even if my fragrance blends are more failures than successes, the latter smell amazing to wear. At the same time I learn from my mistakes and I’m able to create better blends.

I’ve created two fragrances, both perfumes, for friends. The results were better than I expected, and I’m able to give a gift that can’t be consumed like a listicle or animated GIF. At some point, sure, maybe I could attempt a product line of essential oil fragrances, but that pipe dream doesn’t require me to cut costs just yet.

Sometimes I like to daydream that my hobby could lead to something bigger, but then I remind myself that my knowledge of chemistry is nil and I really don’t know essential oils like a pharmacologist understands medications. This sanity check allows me to stay close to my makeshift laboratory and occasionally use friends as occasional lab rats share the fruits of my labor.

Having a hobby like perfumery allows me to find permanence in a stream of constant impermanence. A sort of intersection against technology and Buddhism, I suppose. What makes my hobby so gratifying is the moment a fragrance fills one’s senses and creates unadulterated joy. And that is simply amazing.

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I have gone through my fair share of smartphones due to my hands possessing the grip strength of a wet Slip ’N Slide. My fingers taken on a texture of a stone that was gently smoothed over time in a riverbed, so that any relaxed tension in my hand gives license for items to glide in many directions away from what is supposed to be my grip. This talent for watching objects fly out of my hands and land on the ground, in various means to an end, also extends itself to glassware. (Justin has seen my grip in action enough times to warrant all our glassware be purchased from IKEA.) Armed with this knowledge, knowing I am notorious for randomly dropping objects, you’d think I would know how to use textured materials to wrap around smooth surfaces. But that would be easy! And why should I resort to a (further) path of least resistance?

In my attempt to create a fragrance for Justin, I thought to mix Oakmoss and White Cognac EOs to replicate a whisky accord. My friend Meredith at Sweet Anthem was kind enough to let me have 20–30 drops of oakmoss and white cognac for my experiment. I was excited to return home and get to blending: I started with the oakmoss and white cognac, to which I added cinnamon leaf. Next I added Benzoin and Tolu Balsam, topped with Coffee Bean.

And then, of course, it happened.

The cinnamon leaf and oakmoss were a little too strong so, I decided to add a bit more white cognac. I reached for the dram vial of white cognac (so far, so good) and held it in my right hand as I twisted off the lid. That is when my hand and fingers decided Hey, what exactly is our purpose again? and let loose the vial. I tried to catch the vial as it flew up and out of my hand, only to watch it bounce and land inverted on an orange nylon box where I keep my packets of fragrance testing strips. What happened next was an interlude of several epithets for a good 10 minutes. I started with 20–30 drops of white cognac and ended with a good 5 in the juice. Good times.

As much as I would love to return to Meredith with an ask for additional white cognac, it falls on me to buy my own supply to let slip time and time again.

As for the juice, the fragrance is quite a gourmand treat. I am tempted to add birch tar to give the whisky accord a little smoky flavor, but I have a penchant for dark roasts and the peatiest of whiskies. I still need to figure out what would constitute the smell of kitten kisses, and fortunately for everyone involved, our feline belovedaries aren’t smooth creatures. (It doesn’t hurt any that Baldur enjoys being held from time to time.)

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Top Notes: Neroli

Middle Notes: Rosewood, Hinoki (Japanese cypress), Jasmine, Olive, Tuberose

Base Notes: Vanilla, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Muhuhu (African Sandalwood), Ylang Ylang

I held a tester strip of this blend up to Justin’s nose who immediately made two observations: it smells a) sweet and b) good. As neither one of us wear perfume, we can only guess how this would smell to a member of the female species. I intended this to be a fragrance for Justin’s mom but he confessed that she doesn’t really care about this sort of thing.

I need more girlfriends who are willing to try out my experiments.

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I made a concentration of my (successful!) vetiver blend and I didn’t want to throw away all the gorgeous vanilla absolute in the pipette. I poured a little perfumer’s alcohol into a bottle and created an unknown percentage. To that I added tuberose, jasmine absolute, Muhuhu, Hinoki, sandalwood, rosewood, and cedarwood. It smells quite sweet and lovely, honestly.

Then a friend asked me, “So what are you going to call it? ‘Potluck’?”

It occurred to me I’ve never named any of my fragrances. My vetiver blend was intended to reproduce the gorgeous smell of Fat Electrician, but my oud & tuberose and tobacco blends are my own design. I guess I should christen them in some fashion.

If I were to christen the experiment I made yesterday, it would have to be either “Sweetness & Light” or “Pink Orange Red.” As a lifelong fan of 4AD, I feel it’s my duty to name all my fragrances after songs in its discography. Okay, maybe I don’t feel every artist in 4AD since the 2000s – I do loves me some Holly Herndon – however I have a huge music library of its artists from the 1980s forward.

I return to my two blends and ask myself what should I call them? And my blend of Fat Electrician is an impostor at its core, still it deserves a name in that very same vein. So, anonymous Internet: what should I call my two previous blends?

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