Perfume as Memento Mori

Serge Lutens Borneo 1834

To wear perfume is to destroy it. When you have a bottle of beautiful perfume—especially a perfume that has since been discontinued or reformulated, as my Borneo 1834 has—it’s tempting to want to stash it away, to save it rather than wear it.

Even if it were possible to perfectly preserve a fragrance (perfumes evaporate, age, and change)—would you want to? What is it they say about a real flower being more beautiful for the fact that it will die? For me, slowly using up a beloved perfume—especially if I don’t think I’ll be able to find another bottle once it’s gone—is a kind of memento mori, a little vanitas painting I take with me throughout the day, coaxing me more firmly into the present moment.

I often think about this quote from Annie Dillard and apply it outside my writing life:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Anything you do not smell freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your perfume cabinet and find that it has evaporated and the top notes have turned.

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