Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brief Interviews with Attractive Men, Part 1

This is the first in a series of interviews I'll be posting with men about their experiences with unwanted sexual attention and advances. I was curious if the experience of an attractive man is anything like that of a woman, and how men approach these situations.

My first respondent, below, asked that his answers be kept anonymous.

How often are you the recipient of unwanted sexual advances?

Generally, only when I'm in a gay bar or at a gay event. It doesn't happen every time I go out, but it happens often enough that my boyfriend and I are wary of it when we do go out.

What do you do when someone you’re not interested in (sexually) is interested in you (sexually)? How do you deflect the attention, if you do?

My first defense is to pretend it isn't happening, since a lot of initial flirtation is innuendo. If that doesn't work, I pointedly don't respond. If those two things don't work, I generally find an excuse to leave the conversation or even the place. I once attended a gay networking event with a friend and we were just chatting with each other. A guy came over and said, "My friend thinks you're cute. Come over and say hi." I said I was flattered but not interested. The guy continued to repeat, over and over, "C'mon! Just come say hi" for--no joke--fifteen minutes, using various strategies to encourage me, even after I told him I had a boyfriend and even, finally, just a stern "No." He finally said, "Look, I'm going to walk over there and sit down. You can just follow me." I couldn't believe it! Even when I am straightforward, it doesn't seem to deter people. I had another guy chat with me in a bar when I had just moved to a new city and my partner still lived elsewhere. I explained to him my situation, but that I was looking for friends. After a twenty minute conversation, he looked me in the eye and said, "You WILL be my boyfriend." It was very surreal and uncomfortable.

Have you ever experienced anything you’d describe as harassment?

I worked at a booth at a Pride event one fall. I went to the bathroom and was on my way back when two young guys--around 19--approached me from the other direction. They were staring at me and I tried not to make eye contact with them. As soon as they passed me, the one closest to me grabbed my dick. I couldn't believe it! I was horrified. Is that supposed to be flattering? I've also had guys (try to) unbutton my shirts, and one very awkward encounter when a person I thought was a friend came to visit me, only to discover he'd been plotting to get me to spend the night with him in his hotel room while he was in town. I've had strangers come up to me and ask me if I'm a bottom--no other conversation involved. Once this happened while I was walking my dog in my apartment complex! I'd say most of the attention I receive from men is received as a form of harassment. I rarely have guys strike up conversations with me, and I NEVER get asked out on dates. Ever. Men regard me as an object and they are wholly uninterested in anything below the surface.

What is your advice for a woman who finds herself the recipient of unwanted sexual attention or advances?

I wish I knew. I could use some advice myself. If I was bolder, I would tell a lot more people to fuck off. I can't imagine what it must be like for women since the pool of potential assholes is so much bigger.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More stupid literary jokes

Q: What's Emily Dickinson's favorite reindeer?
A: Dasher!

Q: What's her favorite dwarf?
A: Bashful?

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Jane Eyre.
Jane who?
Jane Eyre!
I know you're here, what's your last name!

And anti-jokes (maybe these are all anti-jokes):

Q: Why did Jane Eyre cross the road?
A: I don't know, I haven't read it.

Q: What did Emily Dickinson say to the hot dog vendor?
A: Do you have any Tofu Pups?

Truly tasteless literary jokes:

Q: Why did Sylvia Plath kill herself?
A: To get to the other side.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Introduction to Linguistics

The first thing you need to know about linguistics is that there are a few competing schools of thought. Generative linguistics is the dominant school of thought in the U.S. (though not Europe), or was, at least, 10 years ago when I was in college. Generative linguistics is a theory espoused by Noam Chomsky. It's hard for me to explain without using pejorative terms so I'll defer to Wikipedia:
Chomsky's approach is characterized by the use of transformational grammar – a theory that has changed greatly since it was first promulgated by Chomsky in his 1957 book Syntactic Structures – and by the assertion of a strong linguistic nativism (and therefore an assertion that some set of fundamental characteristics of all human languages must be the same).
With "nativism" comes the idea that there is a specific "module" in the brain devoted to language, which all humans have (and which other animals do not). (See Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which argues that the human brain is "hard-wired" for language.)

In contrast, functional linguistics posits that language evolved to serve a function (e.g., humans need ways to describe objects, so they invented nouns; they need ways to describe actions, so they invented verbs). Cognitive linguistics is similar and bases the study of language on the concepts that underlie its forms. Both functional and cognitive linguists reject the idea of an autonomous language module in the mind.

Below I'll outline some of the major subdisciplines of linguistics. Caveats: 1) I studied functional/cognitive linguistics and think generative linguistics is dumb. 2) Much of this may have changed in the past decade; I haven't kept up with the field.

LING 101

The first things you learn in an introductory linguistics course are basic phonology and morphology.

Phonology is the study of phonemes, which are the fundamental units of the phonetic alphabet, the smallest units of sound that can be used to distinguish meaning. These do not correspond perfectly to the regular alphabet – for example, a hard C and a hard K are not two different phonemes, but a soft C (AKA an unvoiced S) and a hard K are. Generally in LING 101 (actually it was LING 200 at Rice) you learn the international phonetic alphabet and how to represent English words with it. You also learn about minimal pairs, which are used to help identify phonemes in a language. For example, "lass" and "lash" constitute a minimal pair, because the only difference is the final sound, indicating that an unvoiced S and the SH sound (a voiceless palato-alveolar fricative) are understood by English speakers to be distinct sounds, and can therefore be used to distinguish between two different words. In contrast, an aspirated p and an unaspirated p (aspiration is the little puff of air you emit from your mouth if you make the p sound at the beginning of a word) are in free variation, meaning that whether you aspirate the p at the end of "nap" or not, it still means "nap."

Morphology is the study of morphemes, the smallest units of meaning in a language. These are the chunks that we build words with. Some words are morphemes (e.g., dog.) Affixes are also morphemes. The word "nondogs" contains three morphemes, non-, dog, and –s.


Phonetics is the study of the physical sounds of speech, and in my memory it involved making recordings of speech and analyzing the wave forms in a lab. Dullsville.

Historical (Diachronic) vs. Synchronic Linguistics

Diachronic linguistics is the study of languages across time (for example, how has English changed since the Norman invasion or the Great Vowel Shift?). Synchronic linguistics looks at the properties of language in a given time slice, generally the present.

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive

Y'all know what this is. Linguistics aims to describe language in use, not prescribe rules to govern language.


The study of the way sentences are built (also known as grammar). One of the most basic ways to describe a language syntactically is by word order. English is an SVO language (subject-verb-object), e.g., "Sally walks the dog." Most languages in the world are SOV or SVO. Some languages put the verb first; very few languages put the object first.


The study of meaning in language. Semantics involves sitting around picking apart the differences between, say, "scurry" and "scamper." I find this shit endlessly interesting and almost went to Berkeley for grad school to study this further, so when people complain that a conversation is devolving into "quibbling over semantics," I take offense. Semantics isn't boring!


The study of social effects on language, including regional and class differences (in phonetics, syntax, etc.) and slang.

Other subfields include pragmatics, etymology, conversation analysis, anthropological linguistics, neurolinguistics, computational linguistics, corpus linguistics, language acquisition, etc.

What did you study in college? How would you describe it in 500 words?

*This post was commissioned by Christen Enos.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Things that happened this weekend

  • I learned an excellent medical term, mal de debarquement -- basically, land sickness. My friend Walt recently experienced it following a cruise. Dibs on this title for a poetry book. (I love French terms for illness, e.g., grand mal and petite mal, which can fairly be translated as "big bad" and "little bad.")
  • I packed up about 2/3 of my perfume collection. I'm going to try to wear samples over the next few weeks so I have fewer to transport.
  • I ate a hot dog and a slider-sized cheeseburger, both sans le bun of course. The last time I consumed either foodstuff was probably 2004. (As an update to this post, I'm becoming inured to the taste/texture of meat.)
  • Coming soon, by request: an Introduction to Linguistics post. 'Twill probably be half-assed and out of date. (I'll accept crowdsourced corrections.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jane Eyre Jokes

Q: How did Jane Eyre get the chicken across the road?
A: Reader, she carried him.

Q: How did Jane Eyre get the chicken across the river?
A: Reader, she ferried him.

Q: What did she do with the chicken when he died?
A: Reader, she buried him. (Alternate answer: Reader, she marinated him.)

My grandmother used to have a book of elephant jokes, which were apparently big in the '60s. Maybe I'll write a book of Jane Eyre jokes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ralph Waldo, do shut up

Tyler Cowen writes, "Emerson did not care for Jane Austen," quoting his notebooks:
I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched & narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer in both the stories I have read, “Persuasion”, and “Pride & Prejudice”, is marriageableness; all that interests any character introduced is still this one, has he or she money to marry with, & conditions conforming? ‘Tis “the nympholepsy of a fond despair”, say rather, of an English boarding-house. Suicide is more respectable.
But "marriageableness" was the "one problem" for women in English society. Marrying well was the only way to attain a modicum of power. To my mind her stories are about women of agency maneuvering within this very limiting environment to the best of their ability (see also Gone with the Wind).

In Google Reader, Matt Walker commented, "his statement actually sounds pretty feminist, no?" Eh, no. This is the same line of thinking that leads men to trash books by women not on the grounds that they are written by women but because the content is silly and womanly (to quote V.S. Naipual, "feminine tosh"). Oh, if only women would stick to writing about important man issues, we'd have no problem with them dabbling in the finer arts.

Anyway, where's the wit in Emerson? Unless he was joking about that whole transparent eyeball thing.

By the way, I've never read Austen, but feel compelled to defend her against nitwit arguments anyway.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What happens to a dream deferred?

My Yahoo email account, which I keep around as a spam filter, was recently upgraded, and somehow an email from August 2003 was recovered and showed up in my drafts folder. Here's what it said:
I had a kissing dream last night--I was kissing Tom Hanks! I don't know if it was directly him or if he was playing someone else. I was in his car, which was a Buick or something, and we had just gotten haircuts so there were all these little snips of hair stuck to the upholstery on the seats, mingling together, and he pointed at it and said it was a sign that we were sexually compatible.

I also dreamt I had to trek across the country largely on foot to meet my family at this Mexican restaurant in El Paso called The Riviera.

Are you really bored by other people's dreams?
That last question was part of the email, but feel free to answer it. (There are no rhetorical questions, just rhetorical answers.) I sure am. Bored, that is.

P.S. I'm sure many of you have noticed that I went ahead and got on the Google+, though I haven't posted or shared anything yet. Why is it I find Facebook and Google+ boring but continue to enjoy Twitter and blogs? It's not immediately apparent to me. But a few things seem to be true:
  • Though Google+ is ostensibly more private, I feel more freedom to say whatever I want on Twitter, because I assume few people are actually paying attention. I assume my blabbing will largely get lost in the noise.
  • I associate Twitter with jokes and chatter and Facebook et al. with signaling and self-promotion. Of course you can use Twitter for self-promotion too, but I don't follow people who use it that way. Maybe I feel more freedom to follow only who I want to on Twitter?
  • I do like that strangers can follow you on Google+: that's one of the reasons I prefer blogging/microblogging to Facebook. When I'm online, I don't only want to talk to my friends.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bastille Day Special

My illustrious publishers are offering an awesome special right now. Here's the scoop:
Bastille Day Special Offer: To honor the 2 most important things to ever happen to FRANCE, independence in 1789 and publication of THE FRENCH EXIT by Elisa Gabbert in 2010, for the next 24 hours Birds, LLC is giving away any Birds book of your choice FREE with a purchase of THE FRENCH EXIT! Storm it now! Let us know what free book you'd like by sending an email to The Birds love you.
Go go go!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Three good books

A little while back I had the pleasure and honor of judging Grub Street's poetry book award (a prize for non-first books published by poets living outside of New England). The winners have been notified, so I finally get to tell you who won. Below are the blurbs I wrote for the winner, Frances McCue, and the two finalists. I really loved these books and I hope you'll go out and read them.

The Bled, by Frances McCue

An uncultivated wasteland; the hinterland behind a fertile populated area – the “bled” in which these poems take place is Marrakesh, where Frances McCue found great happiness and suffered crippling loss. While living in Morocco, the poet’s husband died unexpectedly, and The Bled is a brief and beautiful collection of elegiac love poems born of the event, poems about a mother and daughter suddenly missing their third: “‘If I had to pick one of you,’ my daughter says, / ‘I’d pick you.’ And that’s good, I guess, / because I’m the one she has left.” The Bled is moving and tragic, yes, but doesn’t rely on automatic pathos to impress – it is also wonderful poetry. McCue’s voice is sure and devoid of clich├ęs, her language deft, exact, and lovely, as when she describes the bled: “One could see the frozen, scalded acre, / flashed with heat and cold, the brick-chunked / rocks on the cusp of sand, the not-so-far Sahara. // We live here.” And the difficulty of reconciling memory with death: “Hands, your hands were your hands. / And the cheeks, they were your cheeks. / Still now, they are not. I press your hands, / wipe your cheek, set your skin in my palm. / It would rot away, it would not keep.” And the desire to follow, to have been the one (“Today, I go to the cemetery / and lie upon the grave. / When I tip my head back / it was as if I tipped your head back”), the complete identification with the dead (“Since your face is looking at the sky, / your eyes filming in, losing their sheen, / I don’t see. I don’t see”). McCue’s The Bled joins Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Tess Gallagher's Moon Crossing Bridge among fierce, gorgeous books about marriage and grief.

Skin, Inc., by Thomas Sayers Ellis

Someone is writing overtly and well about race in America, and it is Thomas Sayers Ellis. Though at turns rightfully angry and angering, Skin, Inc. is also very funny, very wise, and very restrained. By including bits of rejection notes, whether real, amalgamated or fictionalized, that deem the author’s work too political, or fault it for “explicitly addressing the subject of writing” and “the politics of the writing scene,” Ellis reminds us poetry is not a kind of decoration we apply to content, but the very shape of what we have to say. Ellis’s poetry is his subject, and for a black man (as for a woman), all politics are identity politics. These poems make one aware of how much is wasted in a typical line of poetry – each of Ellis’s lines is taut and torqued with meaning, meaning driven by sound and inseparable from sound: “I no longer write / white writing // yet white writing / won’t stop writing me.” See also “The Obama Hour”: “Finally, one of us is properly / positioned to run. By ‘us’ I mean Black, / by ‘positioned’ I mean White / and by ‘run’ I mean Race and its varied speeds of darkness…” For once, “relevance” in poetry doesn’t feel sanctimonious, it just feels like listening to someone who knows more of the story than you, and you want to hear him tell it. Skin, Inc. is poetry with a purpose and a point of view and all the music you could ask for: “Many of the images melt / while others appear to rumor, ghetto-fashion, into one another … I like it when range finder, breathing plastic / and messy rainbows collide.”

Ghost Fargo, by Paula Cisewski

In Paula Cisewski’s Fargo, every night is karaoke night and the past (a saltwater sea? a beet field?) is always in our midst, just beneath the surface like a pentimento showing through. The speaker of these wry poems is both searching for something and trying to escape, and though the ghost of an absent brother haunts their space, the poems eschew any melodrama (“Let’s not / train our grief to resemble a parlor trick”); what moves Ghost Fargo forward is not sadness but a kind of restless, melancholy wit with an endearingly awkward self-awareness, like a young woman starting to realize she’s attractive. Cisewski’s poetry is quick-moving and full of surprise, seeming always to learn what it wants to say at the same time as the reader: “No one admits when they’re dead. / It’s like hide and seek – / Like backwards hide and seek // Everybody’s ‘it.’ Nobody has to search / to keep discovering and / discovering what.” I delighted in the logic of the quirky, questioning mind behind this book:
Do I want to
illuminate the past

in a town that still calls
itself Fargo? What does

“illuminate the past” mean?
That an evergreen

triples for me? A flashlight?
If it means “memory,” we

might be screwed,
because memory is like

being enclosed in parentheses
wherein even the illuminated

trees are fake. Look, I’ve invented
a forest from one tree

and no one believes me. As if I speak
in imaginary trees! Dead trees!
In fact Paula Cisewski is easy to like and easy to believe.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Recent acquisitions

New sniffs! I acquired all of the below through swaps, as I'm on strict self-enforced lockdown when it comes to perfume purchases. I feel guilty enough for buying two new dresses in the past week.

Chinatown: The Bond No. 9 line is mostly overwhelming and overpriced, but there are a few among them I really like, notably Broadway Nite (which is almost unwearably loud but fabulous as art), Saks Fifth Avenue for Her and this one. Chinatown is categorized as a chypre but what I get is fruity patchouli gourmand, one of my favorite genres (see Belle en Rykiel, A*Men Pure Malt, L de Lolita Lempicka, etc.). I'm always surprised how well patchouli works in the heat. This has a peach fuzz quality to it, and unlike, say, Angel, feels somehow cool and refined as opposed to trashy and over the top, like you could actually wear it to work without irony. Plus, the volume level is perfect.

Wazamba: I just reviewed this one. It's basically incense with a gummi bear note. What's not to like?!

Cuir Mauresque: Whenever someone I know is in the market for perfume, I suggest they check out the Serge Lutens line, because almost everybody falls in love with one or another of them, and they're actually a pretty good value for niche. I, however, have never truly fallen in love with one. I like almost all of them, and would happily wear them if I came into a bottle (as I just did), but none of them really make me swoon. This one is a nicely done leather with soft spices -- like many Lutenses, better dabbed than sprayed. I love leathers and I'm happy to have it in the collection, though it doesn't hold a candle to Calice Becker's Cuir de Lancome.

Putain des Palaces: If you like conceptual poetry, you'll love conceptual perfumery! The name means Hotel Hooker and by a different name it really wouldn't smell as sweet, because you sort of have to get the joke to appreciate it. It's a brash, sweet, creamy, somewhat cheap-smelling floral accord layered on top of a skanky base -- supposedly leather, but what I get of it is almost entirely musk, the naughty type of musk found in Muscs Koublai Kahn. Thinly veiled ho, get it? Amusing and pleasant if you like filthy musk, which I do.

Vamp a NY: I've wanted to try this all-natural tuberose perfume by Olivia Giacobetti (author of the delicious Phikosykos) for a long time, and got a large sample in one of the above swaps. Unfortunately, the slight bubblegum facet of tuberose absolute is played up to the hilt here. It had me hallucinating that pink powder that gets on your fingers when you unwrap a piece of gum. More pleasant in the drydown, but this is one of the few tuberose compositions I've tried that didn't work for me, at least on the first test.

Magical Moon: I like the Hanae Mori line for what it is, mainstream stuff that veers young and sweet but done well. This one opens very complicated and peppery (as in capsicum!), then smears out to a rosy incense-wood-patchouli thing, reminiscent of Secret Obsession. It's really rather strange, with hints of bug spray and Flintstones vitamins, but basically in a good way. Better weird than boring, always.

Friday, July 8, 2011

How they talk in Alabama

The hashtag #butyouuglythough is trending right now on Twitter. I don't know which is trashier, the double conjunction, the missing verb or the sentiment. Oh Twitter! Anyway, it reminds me of a funny story. When we were in Alabama, John and I drove out to see these crazy river lilies with Mathias and Julia (our soon-to-be near-neighbors), which trip turned into rather a debacle involving multiple wrong turns and a flat tire (no matter: enjoyment of adversity is a sign of genius). On the way back, we stopped at a gas station to buy rehydrating beverages and junk food, and after purchasing two packs of wacky-flavored Starburst and an enormous bottle of water, I went outside and stood in the heat swallowing big lugs of the latter. Meanwhile some local yokel pulls up to get some gas and I wander out of the way. We then proceed to have this bizarre interaction:
Him [slowly]: It took you a while to move outta the way.
Me [slowly]: Sorry.
Him: I thought I was gonna run you over.
Me [shrugging]: I feel OK.
Him [after a pause]: You sexy though.
Isn't that pretty much the best way to end an uncomfortable conversation? Like say you have to deliver some bad news, e.g., "The rent is going up by $50 a month" or "Dude, you left chunks all over the dishes," adding "You sexy though!" provides closure and softens the blow. Let's bring it into circulation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why publish? A response to Mike Meginnis

Last week, Mike Meginnis of Uncanny Valley blogged about a recent happening that I missed while traveling: Fugue Magazine published an issue with footnotes inserted into all the writers' pieces. The footnotes were not written by the authors, but by Michael Martone, and the writers weren't asked for approval or otherwise informed this would be happening. It was presumably meant to be taken as a playful surprise; instead, at least some of the authors were pretty pissed. Mike links to a post by Sean Lovelace on HTML Giant covering the same topic, as well as a letter to the editors of Fugue by Lia Purpura, expressing her disappointment/dismay/outrage/etc.

Mike Meginnis is a writer and video game nerd with unconventional, unpopular opinions and I rarely disagree with him, when I know what he's talking about. But I find myself disagreeing with Mike's take on this issue, or at least quibbling with it. First, let me say that I have an irrational bias against Fugue because they once rejected a batch of poems so fast it was hard to believe they hadn't sent the rejection before the poems actually arrived.

Here are some of Mike's points, and my responses:

"As an editor, I expect a lot of deference when it comes to deciding how to package and present my authors' work. For instance, if I think a certain font is best for a story, and I make the story that font, I will think it is pretty stupid for the author to say, 'Dude, I am pissed about that font. Put it back in Times New Roman.' If I want a certain piece to have different margins than the others, I want to be able to do that."

This is an unusually strawmanny argument from Meginnis. There's a distinct difference between changing the font or layout of a piece and inserting new content into it (or removing content without asking, or changing the order of the content). I also think you get more leniency here with prose than poetry. I recently had an experience with an editor who wanted to right-justify half the poems in an issue. The font is usually not an element of the poem, but the margins are, and you can't just change them to mix it up visually. It would be the equivalent of an editor changing all the paragraph breaks in a story, not for semantic reasons but to better fit the layout of the page. Adding footnotes strikes me as one of the most disruptive ways you could alter a piece of prose while keeping the original text intact, up there with inserting subheads.

"It is widely accepted that editors can and will change our writing in a number of rather important ways."

True, but usually editors have the courtesy to run changes by the authors prior to publishing.

"I wouldn't publish with someone if I didn't want them to change my writing, to make it better. If it were already perfect in its little Word document, I would leave it there. I publish a piece because it is not perfect, because it needs to be improved, because I think the process of publication will improve it ... Ultimately whether Fugue was right or wrong isn't that important to me. The principle here is this: If you don't want your work changed, why do you publish with other people? If you need total control, why not self-publish?"

This is an interesting and very literal interpretation of the concept of an "editor." (In the literary world, many editors' work is 90%+ curatorial.) I sort of admire this approach to publishing, but I also think it's kind of naive. (Or, I admire it because it's naive.) Most people publish not because they want their work to be better, but because they want it to be validated by a third party and then exposed to a larger audience. This is also why most people don't self-publish: both validation and potential audience tend to be greatly reduced. Of course there are exceptions, but it's more work to find an audience when you don't have an established publicity department, and without the built-in reputation of an established press, you're fighting the biases of the many people who believe gatekeepers exist for a reason.

The Birds LLC model entails a close writer-editor relationship, and the goal of the process from both ends is to produce a better book. Working on The French Exit with Birds was a great experience, because the editors knew me and my work well, and vice versa, and I trusted them completely. But when it comes to publishing single poems, I'm more averse to heavy editing, because that mutual trust and experience usually isn't there. Like Mike, I try to be accommodating when editors make requests, but I have refused requests if I felt they didn't improve the work, and I think it's fair to insist at least upon the opportunity for refusal.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rocky Mountain Hi

Hi guys! I'm back. Did you notice I went away? I've got some news: I'm moving to Denver! This weekend I flew down to El Paso for the wedding of my best friend in junior high and high school, then drove up to Denver with my parents and found an apartment. I absolutely love it, and it's hundreds of dollars cheaper per month than our current place. YAYZ. We'll be there by the end of August. Come see us in the West?

Also, my latest perfume column is up. It's called "Materialism" because I focused on three common materials, labdanum, vetiver and galbanum. Here's an excerpt:
Describing a perfume is a lot like describing a wine – to the uninitiated outsider, the descriptions often sound like bullshit. It seems implausible at first that anyone could pick out “aldehydes,” “jasmine,” “rose,” and “musk” in what strikes you as a singular, whole scent. Similarly, it’s hard to believe a wine could taste like hay or butterscotch or cedar, until you try a wine that, due to whatever whims of earth and weather, tastes exactly as though it was barreled in a cedar chest. From that point forward you’re able to pick up hints of cedar in the occasional wine, because they’ll remind of you the first.

The same is true of perfumes. You learn to smell individual “notes” by sampling an array of perfumes that purport to contain a note – and by doing a kind of mental subtraction to strip away the rest – or by smelling perfumes that showcase that note. (For floral notes, these are known as soliflores.) Once you realize, “Oh, that’s what orange blossom (or galbanum or castoreum) smells like,” you’re able to recognize its character in complex compositions and in smaller concentrations...
Go read it! And the rest of the July issue! Go!