Sugar and Spice, Who Ya Calling "Nice?"

[Prequel: How I chose my first fragrance]

I’d be afraid to work with Mandy Aftel on a custom perfume lest she decide I’m precisely suited with an eau de “Piss and Vinegar.” Yet somehow when I get into the marketplace I end up with sugar and spice every time. Twice, anyway.

I figure as a maturing woman I’m allowed a wardrobe of fragrances, especially considering that my first, Versace Crystal Noir, is widely considered too intense for daytime. To find lighter choices, I mashed up one online retailer’s list of summer fragrances with OsMoz’s oriental spicies, woodies, and florals. I ended up with maybe fifteen names. Three stores carried one each, a pain because I don’t think it’s worth the extra shower if I can’t compare arms per trip. The fourth, a quality department store, expected me to ask a young Tim Gunn-type to take them out of mirrored corrals. My mall’s Perfumania, on the other hand, wasn’t intimidating, a wonder cabinet lined with hundreds of smelly jewels from low- (Britney Spears) to high-class (Chanel).

I showed the sharp Persian saleswoman my printouts and she pulled some out, one at a time as if they were diamond rings, shaking each as if it were a Snapple. I rejected two or three based on paper spurts, but offered my arms for L by Lolita Lempicka and Thierry Mugler Angel. The first hit me with a lemon and vanilla mist but faded to a pleasant light sugar with musk. Angel was a wild experience: it started like the worst cheap aftershave, set back almost immediately to a supersonic crème brulee with other notes I couldn’t identify. “Ignore the start, this will last for two or three days,” she said.

I continued to run errands as my body developed them. When Short Stack got into the car she said, “Yum! Some people smell so delicious.” She didn’t have a preference, but said the Angel included “that leaf you made me and Lola eat from the garden.” (Turned out to mean basil). After dinner, Marshall refused to vote. “Whatever you pick I’ll just associate it with you and I’m sure I’ll like it as much as I like the other one.” As with Crystal Noir, I couldn’t stop sniffing that elbow for the middle hours of the scent’s life. The Lolita arm was sweet, fading to something insipid. Certainly not me.

By morning Angel had turned to brown sugar and patchouli, though less composty than the patchoulis I recall on hippies at school. Vanilla and musk remained on my clothes. I would be jazzed to own a Mugler at last; their perfumer is the brain behind the limited edition coffret that accompanied the movie of Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume,” my favorite crossover trashy novel. So, SOLD.

Why do I keep going for things that smell like cake? I am so not sweet. Perhaps “cloying” describes me? (I do wish to be liked.) Does the metaphor have to fit, or am I being a fragrance newbie? Is it because men’s most sexual scent association is with Cinnabon, which is classified oriental spicy? (Am I a man? I sure smell like a girl now).

Keep your nose tuned: I’ll start shopping for a third after this Visa bill is paid.

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Here’s the official description of Thierry Mugler Angel:
  • top notes of fruits, dewberry, helonial, and honey
  • middle notes of chocolate, caramel, and coumarin [the active ingredient in coumadin!]
  • base notes of vanilla and patchouli.

And of Versace Crystal Noir:
  • top note, “headspace” of gardenia [not the flower, but the air scented by the flower – a magical and suspicious description]
  • middle notes of peony and orange blossom
  • base notes of amber, musk and sandalwood.

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My First BlogHer Conference

This was my first BlogHer conference. I was able to attend only because I won a ticket through Snickollet and my time is, temporarily, my own. I don’t fit in as a Mommyblogger and I’m sure mine was one of the smallest and least-connected blogs represented there. My goal was to have fun, make some new connections, and smell the campfire of this movement and its people to figure out if blogging is deep and engaged enough to suck up more time in the future.

Ten highlights of my BlogHer 09 experience
1. The Weinermobile: Oh joy! It was even pointing straight at my head. “Beep! Beep! Beep!”
2. My mourning shawl/“supa”hero cape and new perfume rocked the house.
3. I was recognized: My quote about “what blogging has done for me” was used in the opening keynote.
4. People laughed at my special edition Widow Cards (see the next post).
5. Super humans: My widow blogger twin, Gretch, wasn’t able to attend but we had dinner on Friday night. It was the first time we’ve met IRL and she’s even better in person (I hope that's not a mean thing to say of a blogger?). At the humor lunch I had the privilege of sitting next to hilarious, whipsmart Sara. And I met a lot of people I’d like to work with in the future, especially Anissa, Jenni, Allie, Melissa and Amy. I found a ton of gals who live near me, including one who shops with my eyeglasses guru. The 20 bloggers who spoke at the Community Keynote displayed the breadth and talent of the group. And at the last moment before running to the airport, I met an acquaintance from college who’s more of a sister than I ever knew, and (ta da!) another widowed blogger, Judi.
6. Celebrities who are real: I exchanged cards or more with Black Hockey Jesus, Jenny the Bloggess, Neilochka, Jessica Gottlieb, Jessica Bern, Wendi Aarons, and Jessica Smith, among many others. All were lovely, energetic, gentle, supportive, and smart, and helped me feel welcome.
7. Serious topics: It’s easy for me to feel isolated and generalize that Mommybloggers spend their words comparing paper towels for money. But there was no shortage of people who’ve been transformed or made a difference in the world. In particular, I was moved by hearing and meeting Susan of Mothers with Cancer, a gaggle of patient bloggers including several with diabetes, and by Kelly, Kate, and Daniela, by Annie, Cristina, Pilirani, and Toyin. I was grateful to engage several experienced folks about whether “grieving blogs” deserve their own category or better indexing (I plan to blog about that soon, it’s a topic I’ve been ruminating on for a while).
8. BlogHer founders: Lisa Stone and Elisa Camahort Page, the two who I met, were genuine and responsive.
9. New knowledge: First on my list to do: use more numbered lists. And there are more other lessons and details and sharings than I can download from notes at this stage.
10. Points for good behavior: I was able to listen more than I talked. For some people, this might be easy in a group of 1300, but I will still take credit for not making a total fool of myself. And despite a back injury, I was able to stay up and around the whole time.

Five lowlights of my BlogHer 09 experience
1. I missed hearing my quote in the keynote, and the entire “newbie breakfast,” because I was in the line for registration for well over an hour.
2. Some of the sessions, particularly the one on publishing, were so unstructured as to be useless (although they all had very cute names). Many sessions took place in inappropriately small rooms, perhaps based on some hierarchy that insiders could grok. We were packed like sardines into “humor” and “men bloggers.”
3. I felt grossly unprepared and at least part of that is due to muddy communication materials, which affect the BlogHer website as a whole. I’ve written a detailed letter to the leadership explaining my observations, because I also think this lack of boundaries was one of the things that inflamed other bloggers about the visibility of event sponsors. A better designer and a harder line on some sponsor demands (such as publicizing a scholarship before the application site is live) would help. Perhaps part of this is that to some degree BlogHer is a community, not just an organization, but it’s mature enough now to better define the outlines of its brand.
4. Hearing “Mommyblogger” used over and over as if it defined the entire community.
5. Skipping the parties. This was my choice -- I had other people to see and a back injury -- but I still wish I’d had more kickback time with the warm, smart, energetic, and real bloggers who shared their experiences.

I am flush with ideas and looking forward to BlogHer ’10 (no way will I miss parties this time!).

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BlogHer Swag Without Controversy

Maybe in the end, the swag you take is equal to.... the swag... you make?


What I Gave
Here are the special edition Widow Cards (view or download the original set of 'em here) I had printed up for networking at BlogHer. The first two are the two different card "fronts" I presented; the third is the verso used on both cards. (For some reason, I couldn't get these pix into the post above.)

What I Received
There's been a lot of talk in the BlogHer community about marketing through building relationships. We're expected to "have a relationship with the brand." Well, leave it to my kid to figure out the relationships between the products themselves. Did you know Mr. Potatohead is the grandpa of the Kiwi stamper?

Last I checked, they were having a pretty good conversation with some crayons.

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Butterflies vs. Mermaids

In this blog, I'm obsessed with change. “Widow” is a transitional state for a young woman, and the title I still use even though, by the formal definition, I’m now a humdrum, presumably settled married woman.

One unsurprising but loaded image of transformation follows me everywhere: the butterfly. You can pay $8 at a local nature center to hang out in a tent full of imported ones, gorgeous as your favorite painting or poem, and have them land on you like eyelashes. At 5, my daughter knows the story well: The caterpillar builds his own refuge (from, anthropologists alert! his own secretions), where, with patience and thanks to fate, he emerges with fantastical wings and the talent of flight. He hasn’t a care in the world, and he’s beautiful: completely changed.

Ah, metamorphosis, lovely 99 cent word: you can almost hear the music rising.

Visiting a friend with a disability I note how they provide a decorative motif in her independent apartment. I presume the metaphor is freedom from the body: we’re more than our shells, we hold the hope of change. But these creatures of pure color are delicate and tragic, too lovely for our world. When my sister’s young boyfriend died, she collected dozens of butterfly objects. The butterfly seems to leave his body behind, which is also what we say when the soul leaves. Like all dead things, the butterfly is the Christ, one being born holding the promise of another, transcendent, to be fulfilled.

I’m not happy with butterflies, even though they provide such a perfect package for discussing our growth and change through life.

I’ve been using mermaids throughout this blog because (1) they are all over my house and (2) they represent the kind of imaginative world both my daughter and I lived in when I rediscovered parts of myself, feelings of joy, and the ability to find meaning again after Gavin died.

The little bitches also never fit in, half one thing, half another, longing to be whole but different. (Does she fit in under the sea, really, with her mammaries? Does the ocean really accommodate an entire subculture of these beings? Are there different races of mermaids? What bigger fish prey on them?)

In Andersen’s telling, the mermaid gets her wish, losing the tail and finding legs for land, but when she presses her sought-after shoes to the blessed street, the pain is excruciating. Her two feet are stumps of the tail God gave her. (I’m skipping over so many delicious analogies and interpretations to make my point. This post is too long already). In the end, she becomes a creature of neither land nor sea, but air. (I don't think anyone is satisfied by this ending, neither fairytale nor Hollywood.)

Here’s the thing. I’ve put half my life into changing some things in my life that weren’t working. Some might say ditching depression is like getting rid of a tail - - it kept me moving in one environment, but was useless in the adult world. But most of the progress I achieved was leanring to believe that I don’t need to be someone else.

I’d like to fly, or fulfill my destiny. Not yet free, I’m on the path. I’m full of hope (butterfly) and determination (mermaid).

But here I am at BlogHer, a day late, a couple parties short, unprepared, un-made-over, recovering from an injury. Yet I missed last weekend’s National Conference on Widowhood, where I would have found soul sisters galore and cried in honest happiness to see how we all are becoming.

Is it stupid that I often choose not to fit in? I was much happier at my college reunion last year (college was where I first really felt among family) than at my high school reunion last month (where I was cruelly catapulted back into adolescence, feeling a fish out of water). I deserve both comfort zone and challenge.

Which will I find at the Sheraton in Chicago? Will I fly or thunk? Sink or swim?

You know what I’ve learned? I’m the only one who’ll be able to tell, and I’m the only one whose judgment means anything.

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Dating Episode 9.0 [December 2007]:
The First & Mr. Fresh

Why is it so hard for me to write about The First? No, not because I took his name from that of the Big Bad on Buffy. Maybe because I instigated our bad breakup. Maybe because your most romantic moment is when you swear you respect and enjoy each other so much that you’ll stay friends no matter what. Maybe because last time we spoke he made it clear it was to satisfy some stupid conscience on my part, unnecessarily; and he didn’t feel too much connection. The First was my own Mr. Wonderful, a fantasy brought to life. As a lover he was generous, energetic, skilled, and enthusiastic; he was a brilliant, funny, quick and kind friend. He used to say I was “the whole package.”

I thought I’d tell this story as a switcheroo. You’d think The First was the one I married, the current, delicious Mr. Fresh.

The First was perfect for me, where I was at that exact moment. He was only “separated,” and most women on Match didn’t want that. He and his wife were still under the same roof, planning to tell the kids in a deliberate, responsible, professionally approved way. After five years of counseling, his wife announced she was throwing in the towel on a Monday. By Thursday he had an ad on Match. On Saturday we talked for an hour. On Sunday, we had a dinner at which we swapped credentials as train wrecks, matching our lack of readiness for anything serious, surprised to see in the other a similar intensity and needs that might test close enough for a few rounds of fair play. We were so vulnerable, both easy to reject. The First and I were both wounded and aching to start to heal under another’s loving eye and hands. If it’s just us, we said, no one will get hurt. Before the check came I said I would like to kiss him. “Where did you learn to kiss me?” I recoiled in a shock of new, weak delight.

That kiss took place exactly 18 months after I held Gavin’s elbow and heard his last gasp. The First had perfect timing.

Marshall’s timing sucked. After two unreturned calls, I decided that He was Just Not That Into Me. I forget sometimes that I have grown. I figure that I am still 12 years old, with the emotional maturity of a 4 year old. I must have misread our heated signals over Mexican. Yes, he traveled a lot for work, but he probably was still in his complicated international relationship and I was not a good person, particularly in my situation, to intervene.

But Marshall was patient, biding his time in the wings. When I was ready to dump The First, five torrid weeks after it had started, Marshall was ready to roll. It wasn’t simple, but it’s been an easy year and a half, and he is now the gentleman known as Mr. Fresh.

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A Real Experience with Real Widows

I was a nattering nabob of negativity when I first heard about the National Conference on Widowhood, in San Diego from July 17 to 19. A couple of my gremlins were cranky: It’s so far away. It looks like it will be a lot of old people. The website is cheesy. The host organization, Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, sounds Christian. I’m not in shape for the 5K. They have a symphony, when I’d rather grieve to the grooves of Yeah Yeah Yeahs or My Bloody Valentine. And worst of all, it didn’t seem like there would be any guys there.

Then I heard an interview with conference organizer Michelle Neff Hernandez, and was beyond reassured: this is a serious, substantive, non-sectarian deal. Michelle is brilliant and warm, her words and attitude make it clear that my hesitations were unfounded.

(As for my other objections: I like old people quite a lot, I’m a great cheerleader when others run, I can bring my own iPod to the concert, and I am married.)

Not only would this event be energizing and nurturing for my insecure extroverted soul, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to stand (maybe even dance?) cheek to jowl with hundreds of folks who are walking the same road of grief -- all committed to renewal.

If you can make it to San Diego in time, you MUST attend. You can purchase a ticket for just Saturday, July 18, so make it a day trip. If you require further persuasion, get a load of the overview agenda for all three days or check out the complete list of exciting and diverse presenters. In particular, note that there will be presentations on subjects that are rarely addressed, like surviving after a partner's suicide, and how we can make a difference for widows in other parts of the world. The Liz Logelin foundation will announce its first grantees.

I wish my fairy godmother would show up and turn this couch into a trip to California for the weekend so I could attend for even one exciting and uniting day.

Please, make my judgmental ass jealous and go! And then tell me all about all the beautiful people you met, the stories you heard, and how recharged you feel. I'll bite my lip, but I'll be happy for you.


Dating Episode 8.0 [Fall 2007]: How I Edited Myself

Picked last for dodgeball, I was the tallest girl and the only kid outside special ed with glasses. I was lucky to always have a few close friends, but it was clear I was below average on the popular scale. I gained confidence as a talented nerd in high school. Arriving in college I blossomed among the flock, relieved to find a true home at last, city and country, hippie and punk side by side, caring deeply about Philosophy 100: Socrates to Kant.

I’d never dated much, but I had learned that my assets included a ready smile, a ridiculous sense of humor, and smarts. Fifteen years of a happy relationship were enough to build fair confidence among men. Having a child taught me I could learn things like patience and generosity even late in life, and that there is no end of love in the world. And not to be too flip, but watching my husband die made me feel a wee bit bulletproof. What’s a little rejection from a guy to me now?

At 40, I was no longer thin and strong, and I would never be the pretty one in the room. I still had trouble with grooming and lived in fear of a close girlfriend confronting my always-in-transition hairdo with “And what is going on with this?”

Was I cute? Could I compete? “It’s not me versus Gisele Bundchen. It’s me versus a divorced woman who talks to her four cats,” I’d say to explain my unrealistic level of confidence. After all, my husband didn’t want to leave. My only “issue” with men my age was that they were mortal. Yeah, that sucks, but it wasn’t really avoidable.

My first ad tested the waters: “Wiseass brainiac widow, 41, with one kid, seeks coffee and conversation.” At least it would screen out dullards and cowards.

Books, career, interests… as I started to fill out all the little checkboxes, I saw it was possible to select “brainiacs” and “boldness/assertiveness” among “turn-ons.” As I searched the database, these boxes had been checked by men who met my other criteria. There was no stopping me. I had a niche.

I relished this forum that allowed me to rewrite and edit constantly, to learn how I was perceived, and above all, to pretend all the men in my shopping cart were options. And as I describe in earlier episodes of this saga, I got hungrier and more energetic with each pass.

After many iterations, a bunch of dates, and feedback from prospects and friends, here was my last "personal branding statement:"

Smoldering smartypants
Let's talk late into the night over a nice red from my cellar... er, broom closet. About art, necessity, produce (this week, still pears!). Things we've read, things we've seen, things we've felt. Monty Python, Sophocles, the New Urbanism. How disillusioned we are with cotton and vegetarianism. How to balance responsibility and sheer joy, and whether one is useful without the other.

Brainy, silly and sarcastic, I'm committed to growth and supremely interested in having fun. No one thinks I'm boring and I am not fat [full disclosure: size 10/12: is that fat?]. My kid insists that I'm silly, although most people don't get my jokes.

I'm looking for someone to hang with who's worth getting a babysitter for. Please tell me that you read real books and aren't into smoking or drugs. You should be able to hold up your end of the conversation, tolerate my interruptions, and be willing if not able to dance.

I am fun enough to make time together worth it -- and wise enough to know time is all we have. My latest wisdom [stolen]: We all come with baggage -- the question is whether yours can be stowed neatly under the seat in front of you.

Can you believe that ad drew Mr. Wonderful?

* Read the next installment in this series! *

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