Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oraclism & counter-intuitive bullshitting

  1. I think it's pretty lame when nonfiction writers number their sentences and call it an "experimental form" or a "lyric essay" when really they're just too lazy to organize their thoughts into coherent paragraphs. But this is the kind of laziness that pays off because readers are also lazy and numbered lists are easy to read.
  2. Adjuncting is a miserable way to live. If you love teaching and you're really good at it and it's the only thing you want to do, but you can't teach at the college level reliably because there are too many other suckers competing for the same shitty jobs and administrators don't value you, they just throw a dart and hire the rat they hit, and you don't want to get a PhD, because things are likely to be worse in five years ... what do you do for work instead? I am, quite literally, asking for a friend.
  3. The title of this post refers to a couple of paragraphs I read in The Atlantic today, in reference to the Jonah Lehrer scandal. The writer, senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates, wields so many vehement, neologistic soundbites that say almost nothing, and he keeps updating the page to change his spelling and word choices! When I first clicked a link to it the title was "Jonah Lehrer's Grievous Oraclism." What is "oraclism"? It sounds like a sex act. Someone in the comments pointed out that he misspelled "grievous," among other words; now he's changed "oraclism" to "oraculism" (still not a word).  He also says "we now live in a world where counter-intuitive bullshitting is valorized." Funny, that. Do we, though? I still think consensus is valorized over dissent. You need ten times the evidence to change someone's mind; people will accept any old crap if it flatters their existing beliefs. I basically think The Atlantic sucks.
  4. I'm too despondent to exercise. I thought to myself, "I'll just skip dinner and drink wine instead," but that's how accidents happen. At least that's how they happen to me; I've got the gnarly facial scar to prove it. (Don't worry Mom, I'll eat something.) 
  5. Negative statements in poetry reviews are like horoscopes: They always seem to apply to you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Some news

Black Ocean

My second book, The Self Unstable, will be published by Black Ocean in Fall 2013. 

I'm pretty excited.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A memory

Circa 2005: Sitting on my friend Starkey's couch, feeling desperately sad and identity-gouged in the wake of the really-totally-over breakup (following the last-ditch-effort, let's-try-seeing-other-people breakup), I told him I felt shaken and insecure, no longer having someone always on my side by default; I realized I had taken for granted the value of knowing someone loved me. He said, "I love you," and I must have given him a skeptical look, because then he revised: "Well, I like you unconditionally."

One of the best things anyone's ever said to me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Amazing hiccup cure

I almost forgot to tell you this wonderful story: Last week, my friend Kate was in town visiting me, and we were walking back from dinner (with local poet-man J. Michael Martinez), and I had the hiccups. J. Mikes said, Hold your breath. But of course that didn't work. I was hiccupping and hiccupping, and I didn't have any water. (My usual cure is to drink from the opposite side of a glass.) And then Kate turned to me and said, "How about this: I'll give you five dollars if you hiccup again." Not if you don't hiccup again, but if you do. I turned and looked at her in astonishment. And my hiccups were gone.

What I've been ...

Reading: Last night I finished Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, a very good short novel about a childless married couple and their various psychological torments. It takes place over three days or so (when Sophie, the wife, is bitten by a cat) in Brooklyn in the late '60s, and in terms of the themes and circumstances reminded me of Rabbit Redux. Fox's prose is very good, and I recommend it for anyone who likes that Lish-influenced style of concision, clarity and wit as seen in writers like Joy Williams and Mary Robison. Here's a representative passage (Sophie has snuck out late at night for a drink with Charlie, her husband Otto's estranged partner):

"We've always been friends, haven't we?" he asked, ignoring her denial. "There's always been something between us, hasn't there? Don't look so scared. Oh, God ... Otto, Ruth, this country with its death rays and frozen peas ... I'm not so different from Otto. I want the past, too. I hate planes and cars and rocket ships. But I don't dare ... I don't dare. Don't you see? This war! Bobby is already sixteen. He can he drafted in a few years. Look at the mess!" 
"Sometimes I'm glad we don't have a child," she said. 
He didn't seem to have heard her. He slid out from beneath the table and went to the bar, returning with two more bottles of beer. 
"I had two miscarriages," she said. 
"I know you did," he said, sounding cranky. 
"I've got a uterus like a pinball machine, apparently." 
"Why didn't you ever adopt a child?" 
"We put it off and put it off and now -- we're such a settled childless couple." 
"It doesn't matter," he said. "They are hostages to fortune. I love them and they suffocate me. And it's a business, like everything else is these days, the having children business, the radical business, the culture business, the collapse of old values business, the militant business ... every aberration becomes a style, a business. There's even a failure business." 
"Then there's the committed, self-sacrificing lawyer business," she said. 
"I wanted only to be like Mr. Jarndyce, really. That is the kind of lawyer I wanted to be," Charlie said, rubbing his scalp furiously at a certain spot as though someone were hammering away from the inside. "You know ... of Bleak House. There is that scene when Esther Summerson is weeping in the coach, and old Jarndyce whips out a plum cake and a pie from his cloak and offers her both of them, and when she refuses, my God, he simply flings them both out the window and says 'Floored again!' What style!" He began to laugh, shouted "And flung them out the window!" and collapsed in the corner of the booth, choking a little and waving at the bartender, who was staring at them worriedly.  
"I think I've got rabies," she said.  
"Have a plum pie," he replied, snickering. 
"You're the one who doesn't care about anything," she said. "Oh, stop that stupid giggling!" 
"I care about everything," he said. "In my desperate fashion. It's desperation that keeps me going. Let's go wake up Otto. I want to tell him about Jarndyce." And he began to laugh again. Then he wiped his face with the back of his hand and looked at her intently. "Are you desperate?"

John just bought The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard and I'd like to dig into that next.

Listening to: The Smiths, obviously. I want to write a cento from Morrissey lyrics. Thinking a lot about this line especially: "I've seen this happen in other people's lives and now it's happening in mine."

Eating: Carnitas tacos with slaw, pickled onions and guacamole. This recipe is excellent.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


I learned two good words today:

quean: noun: 1. An impudent or badly behaved girl or woman.2. A prostitute.

congeries: noun: A disorderly collection; a jumble.

The first, via @everyword (do you know that Belly song by the way?). How have I never heard this word? Rather, how have I never seen it? (I may have heard it and assumed I was hearing its homonym.) See Jonathan Swift:
Should I the Queen of Love refuse,
Because she rose from stinking Ooze?
To him that looks behind the Scene,
Satira's but some pocky Quean.
The second, via Marjorie Perloff's response to Matvei Yankelvich in the LARB:
Matvei Yankelevich understands this situation very well but, I think, mistakes my essay’s intended audience, as well as some of its terminology. From his own perspective, as publisher on the downtown New York poetry scene, where a congeries of young experimental poets are producing a great variety of texts — visual poetry, performance texts, serial poems, documentary — that can’t be pigeonholed, he objects to what he takes to be the binary opposition between Conservatism and Conceptualism in my essay. 
"A congeries." What are some other words that sound plural but are actually singular? I know "peas" or "pease" was originally a mass noun (as in "pease porridge in the pot"), and the singular "pea" is a back-formation. Incidentally, "congeries" sounds like a kind of porridge (see "congee"). Either that or a congress of monkeys.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My favorite song

There's a certain appeal to being able to say you have a favorite song; it's like having a signature drink. When asked my favorite anything, I'm always tempted to subcategorize. It's very hard to narrow down my favorite food, but I can name my favorite egg preparation (poached) or my favorite fruit (can I, though? I think it's nectarines, but what about cherries, and what about Champagne mangoes?). Favorite movie is tough, but I know my favorite Woody Allen movie (Manhattan). My favorite They Might Be Giants song is probably "Ana Ng." My favorite karaoke song is "Father Figure" (though "Wanted Dead or Alive" is good too). But my favorite song, full stop? It requires a certain decisiveness. Today, driving back from the grocery store, I decided that -- today, at least -- my favorite song is "There Is a Light that Never Goes Out." Earlier this year I learned that poetry goddesses Sommer Browning, Ana Bozicevic, and Cindy King all have the same favorite song, "Carolyn's Fingers" by Cocteau Twins. They say you only need 23 people in a room before the odds that two people there share a birthday shrinks to 1 in 2. Do any of my reader share my rapturous love for this song?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are rape jokes ever funny?

Recently a comedian named Daniel Tosh made a rape joke and caused a huge stir. I don't know what the joke was; I assume it wasn't funny. I didn't pay much attention. I did notice, however, some of the responses from friends in my Twitter feed, many of them along the lines of "Rape jokes are never funny." For example, Roxane Gay (her account is protected, so I hope she won't mind my sharing this) tweeted: "Rape jokes in 2012. Never funny. Bizarre that this keeps needing to be said." To be clear, I consider Roxane a friend and agree with many things she says, especially with regard to race and gender politics. Also, I'm just using this tweet as an example because I remember it; she is certainly not the only person in my world who feels this way. But I thought about this one for a while and I don't think I agree.

I assume people arrive at this conclusion (that rape jokes are never funny) because the act of rape itself is not funny. There seems to be a further idea that if you've never been raped, you can't understand how unfunny it is. This part I don't agree with. I've never been murdered, but I understand that murder is not funny. (Does Harper's understand this? I'm not sure.) I have also never been raped (though I have been sexually assaulted), but I understand that rape is a deadly serious thing.

I also understand that rape -- like murder, or suicide -- is a rich concept and a rich metaphor. I have written poems about rape. If it's not OK to joke about rape, is it OK to write poetry about rape? If jokes about rape are never funny, are poems about rape never beautiful or interesting? (These are serious questions.) I don't think any topic is really taboo -- references to despicable acts (if not those acts themselves, when they really happen in the real world) are often funny. Who hasn't laughed at a joke about 9/11 or the Holocaust? I think jokes are a natural way to process -- a way to think about -- despicable acts, and joking about them doesn't make them less despicable. It can actually help us understand them.

But, as usual, context matters. If you don't actually grasp the seriousness or complexity of rape or murder or terrorism or genocide, it is unlikely that I will find your joke about it funny. If I don't sense that you are aware of the tension between your joke and reality, if there is no tonal register indicating that you have processed that distance and that risk, your joke is probably not funny. In other words, as I tweeted earlier this morning, "Topics aren't the problem, hateful douchebags are."

But I'm open to argument. If you think rape jokes are never funny, tell me why.

UPDATE: Rob Delaney answered this question on Reddit four months ago. I like his answer. Here it is (in response to "Is there any topic that you consider to be taboo"):
Not really. Let's take rape for example. It's not funny. End of discussion. But you can do a funny joke about how people talk about rape, or you can juxtapose it against something else in a way that will evoke laughter and a "new" way of thinking in people who aren't monsters and/or rapists. So it's all about the way the joke is done. Is your motivation/volition to help or shed light in a way that will (if taken to its maximum/mega-extreme) result in LESS rape in the world? Then please, talk and joke about it.
UPDATE 2: Dan Boehl pointed me to this list of "15 Rape Jokes That Work." I'm not moved by all of them (though I'm glad that most of them are delivered and presumably written by women), but I do find #14 pretty profound. This is Sarah Silverman, quoted in the NYT
“I need more rape jokes,” she shouted nasally before letting her fans in on what she called a comedy secret, that such jokes are actually not so “edgy” after all. “Who’s going to complain about rape jokes? Rape victims?” she asked. “They barely even report rape.”
I am in awe of this joke. It is sort of objectively funny, though I didn't laugh out loud; I might have if I had seen her deliver it versus reading it online. But it fires off responses in so many parts of my brain at once. It is horrifying and uncomfortable. It's challenging. It would quite obviously have a totally different (and more frightening) effect if it came from a man. It is meta-humor and meta-culture. It doesn't matter if I "like" it or if I'm offended. It's offensive in the right way. I think it's important that jokes like this exist.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Things I remember about Jaclyn Daniel(s), the most popular girl in the 6th grade

In no particular order:
  1. She moved to El Paso from Birmingham, Alabama.
  2. She spelled her name "Jaclyn," as opposed to "Jacqueline," which seemed extremely modern and chic.
  3. She had very light blond hair, with wispy little bangs, and she wore glasses.
  4. Her first best friend was Sara Jacobs. Later, she became best friends with Sara Shelton, who was a year younger than us. (This sounds weird, but Sara Shelton was the coolest girl in the fifth grade. She was obsessed with the color gray.) Sara Jacobs seemed bitter about this change of events for the rest of the year.
  5. Jaclyn, both Saras and I took tennis lessons at the same country club. IIRC they were all better at tennis than me.
  6. Her older sister was also very popular. She had brown hair and her name was also spelled unconventionally; I think it was "Lauran."
  7. Lauran had a boyfriend that people called "John-John," I think because he was a John II. Their song (as in, "This is our song!") was "Don't Cry" by Guns 'n' Roses. I thought that was very romantic.
  8. Once Jaclyn's mom was giving us a ride somewhere (she drove a gray minivan) and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" came on and she (Jaclyn, not her mom) got somewhat emotional.
  9. During another car ride with her mom, I remember listening to a Bryan Adams tape.
  10. She was obsessed with the movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and Christian Slater in particular.
  11. She was also obsessed with the movie Grease.
  12. Once both her parents were driving us somewhere, and we were talking about the movie Father of the Bride, and I accidentally said the word "hell" (as in "What the hell") and felt embarrassed, but they didn't seem to notice.
  13. She wore Clinique Almost Lipstick -- not in "Black Honey," but that fruit punchy shade they used to make.
  14. She had an outfit that was black with a big pink floral print on it, a shirt and matching shorts, that she'd bought at a little boutique in Ruidoso, New Mexico, which I had never shopped at.
  15. She often wore hoop earrings.
  16. The things she had packed in her lunch always seemed unusual and glamorous, like tortilla chips and Muenster cheese.
  17. She once told me that she'd thought for a long time I was Jewish.
  18. In the sixth grade, whether or not you shaved your legs was a very big deal. She was one of the first girls to start shaving her legs. Once, a group of us were eating a snack in the restaurant at the country club, and Sara S., who was sitting next to her, said "Jaclyn, you missed a spot on your leg and it's driving me crazy," and everyone laughed, probably not because it was funny but because we felt mature.
  19. Once either she or Sara S., meaning to say either "fart" or "toot," had slipped and said "foot" (rhyming with "toot") and this became a running joke that they referenced for months and months.
  20. I only went to her house once, for a birthday party. She lived in a cul de sac.
  21. Later in the year she moved to The Woodlands. After we said goodbye in the parking lot, the rest of us went to our usual tennis lesson. Sara S. cried the whole time. I cried too, and even at the time, I was surprised I was crying.
Things I don't remember about Jaclyn Daniel(s): whether or not her last name had an S at the end.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Alyssa Harad continued

So the 2001 live-tweet was a rousing success! Unless it wasn't. Guess it's not really my place to say, huh? I hope I didn't alienate too many of my followers. (No pun intended, really.) Anyway, as promised, here are some more excepts from my conversation with Alyssa Harad (stuff that didn't make it into the piece in Open Letters).

On feminism (portions in italics are me, regular text is Alyssa):

I love what you said about queer theory, because I think that’s a really good way to frame it for people who think that if you’re going to be a feminist you have to reject so much of femininity, as though that’s all sort of constructed by men, like we have no part in that. And to look at queer theory is to realize, well, there’s other ways of being a man too, so why do we have to be like straight men? 

Joan Nestle was writing about the power of wearing red lipstick in the ‘70s, you know, like when she and her butch lover were getting kicked out of lesbian dances for giving in to the patriarchy because of how they dressed up. And now people are crossing gender lines in all kinds of ways both in terms of dressup and how they think of themselves and also physically. I think what you’re talking about is a very old kind of hard-line version of feminism that really hasn’t been relevant since 1973 or something.

Well, what’s dismaying to me, as a "real live feminist," is that irrelevant, outdated, and sometimes entirely false ideas of feminism completely rule the discourse, in the real world when I’m not just talking to my hypereducated, hyperliberal friends. I mean, my boyfriend teaches college classes and a lot of times he’ll ask them, how many of you are feminists, and usually it’s no one. In the class he’s teaching now one guy raised his hand, but none of the women, and what they always say is, “Well, you know, I believe in women’s rights but I don’t burn my bra or anything,” like that weird stereotype of feminism is still alive and well.

Yeah, that is depressing, but I find almost every political discourse has that problem among young people in the US, or just in the general populace, like we don’t have a lot of subtlety and complexity when it comes to our political discourse on any side, so it’s not just feminism, it’s just our inability to speak about ideas in general. And our love of a few dramatic images to stand in for what’s really a very complicated narrative.

I wrote an essay a long time ago for an anthology on third-wave feminism. I still don’t really know what that means, but the basic idea was that we have this tendency to talk of a political movement as having this life and history, like certain things are decided in the '70s and then we move on to ideas in the '80s and so on, but in fact all those stages have to be relived personally by each new generation of women. Some things genuinely change, so young girls today will grow up with the idea that they can participate in sports and that they can run for office and a bunch of other things that you and I didn’t grow up with, but I think the basic change of consciousness where you kind of understand that you’re part of a system, that you’re not just an individual, that your gender matters, that has to happen for every generation. But they might have a different kind of negotiation to make. And I hope that one day they won’t have any negotiation to make, maybe I’ll be wrong and the whole thing will become irrelevant, but so far, no. So it shouldn’t be really a surprise to us that for each new class of college freshman we have to explain feminism; they have to be given the chance to discover how to think for themselves. I wouldn’t have said I was a feminist as a freshman.

I wouldn’t have either. I was still operating under the illusion that, do we really need that? Do we have to come forward and say I’m a feminist? I mean, everyone I know agrees that women are just as worthwhile as humans. And it just took me a long time to realize that not everyone I know thinks that. Most people I know don’t think that. You actually do still have to be a feminist. But it’s not that I’m judging them, it’s more like a disappointment that we’re always going to be fighting that fight – just even the basic fight of what is feminism? Sometimes it’s hard to even get past that. 

Yeah, I mean I’m living in a state that just defunded all of its women’s health programs because some of them might offer abortions so all those fights are very alive right now.

General perfume chit-chat:

I was going to ask if you had a favorite mainstream house.

Some of the perfumes I consider to be – even though I may not wear them all the time – somehow I think of them as mine, my perfumes? They are mainstream, commercial perfumes, like Coco from Chanel, especially in the parfum, it’s definitely something that feels very "me" to me … and then also Black Cashmere from Donna Karan.

I just got a bottle of that! 

Did you get the pre-reform?

I think so, it’s like a black pebble? That’s pre-reform, right? Yeah, I love it!

I have more than one bottle.

It’s a little quiet for me, so when I put it on I spray it like 10 times in one spot, and then I just stick my nose right in my arm and huff.

You are probably radiating some serious clouds, because that’s got major, major radiance. Probably the reason you can’t smell it is because your nose is fried!

Actually maybe I’m anosmic to something in it! Because ... if you think it’s really voluminous, that makes me think I must be anosmic to a musk or something ... because to me it’s really quiet. [Err, I wore two sprays of this on a shirt over the weekend and could smell it for hours, so I'm not sure what I was talking about in April.]

Well I think rather than quiet, it’s dense. You know how sometimes when you pour a wine, it needs some time to breathe. I think Black Cashmere goes on kind of like a little wooden ball that’s sitting on your skin and then it starts to unfurl and get those beautiful spices and that beautiful ashy incense underneath … I love it.

I’m going to put some of that on later and think about it. I think it would go with what I’m wearing actually. I’m wearing Nu so it has the incense connection.

I can’t wear that one – I have a little bit of it and I keep going back to it to try to understand what everyone else is smelling.

Oh, it doesn’t work for you?

Not as an immediate gut thing. But sometimes I change my mind.

Do you like Ormond Jayne Woman? 

I do, but I get so overwhelmed by the amount of Iso E Super in her perfumes. It was only recently that I was like, Oh there’s the hemlock that everyone gets so crazy about! And then it disappeared underneath a blanket of Iso E Super. I kept spraying so I could get the top notes again.

I think they’re sort of similar, but that would depend on you not being overwhelmed by the Iso E Super to smell it. But I think Nu is sort of like a drier version of Ormond Jayne Woman.

I think Nu is less green and more metallic. Like sweet and metallic. You know how metal can smell kind of sweet?

No, that’s new to me! Well it’s supposed to have a jasmine accord, so there may be some helional in it. I mostly smell – there’s this whole kind of category of scents that have cardamom, and I think they all smell kind of alike. Theorema is one of them. And some of them are sweeter, and some of them are more citrusy, but the cardamom note just sticks out to me really strongly.

There’s a note like that for me that I’m hypernosmic to, and I only know about it because Denise from Grain de Musc is hypernosmic to the same thing and she described it in a post and I was like, Oh that’s that thing that I keep running across! And it was in exactly the same perfumes.

What is it?

I think it’s called Karanal.

Ah yeah, it’s a woody amber.

It’s a spiky wood note, and it completely ruins like four or five Annick Goutals that I would otherwise like.

Which ones are they?

It’s in Vanille Exquise, and it’s in their jasmine, and it’s in the figgy one, Ninfeo Mio.

Oh yeah, I’m not a fan of that one. 

And it’s in Matin d’Orage.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about that one actually. I think it’s especially loud in that one. 

The other thing that it’s in is Amouage Jubilation.

And I believe it’s also in one of the Frederic Malles – Une Rose?

I haven’t smelled that in forever. I went through a huge rose phase, and then I was done. Which is one reason not to buy full bottles. That was early on, my rose phase.

My rose phase seems to keep growing and growing. It’s the one thing that I crave almost every day. 

For me lately that’s been orange blossom, which is weird because I used to hate it.

What else have you been wearing lately? Name-drop some stuff that you’ve been loving.

Continuing my orange kick, today I am wearing a very rare full-bottle purchase of Parfums d’Empire Azemour. I bought this bottle on the strength of Robin’s review on New Smell This.

I read that review. It was impressive. 

A very enthusiastic review, and as you know, Robin

Is never that enthusiastic about anything. 

I knew that it was pressing a lot of her buttons because she loves citrus and she loves oakmoss.

You know, I don’t have any full bottles from that line, but they look so beautiful! I really like that line. I’m a big fan of Wazamba – do you know that one?

I can’t wear Wazamba, but I love –

Is it the amber?

I do have a bottle of the amber [Ambre Russe] because it was one of my first loves.

I knew there was an amber in the book that I was sure was that one.

Rasputin’s armpit.

Yes! It has a sweaty note. Like you’re sweating out booze.

It has a “dull leather note,” I think that’s the same thing we’re talking about. It was March [formerly of Perfume Posse] that called it Rasputin’s armpit. She’s not a big fan of amber. But it was one of my first loves.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Live-tweeting 2001

For reasons I find difficult to articulate, even to myself, Sommer Browning (fellow Denverite, Birds LLC poet, and comrade in comedy) and I are planning to "live-tweet" Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey this Sunday night at 7 p.m. Mountain Time (9 p.m. Eastern). It's not going to be on TV or anything; we're just going to rent it and watch it and tweet about it. (It's no coincidence that "MST" stands for both Mountain Standard Time and Mystery Science Theater! Unfortunately, we're currently on Daylight Saving Time.) If you have this movie in your arsenal or can get access to it, you should join us! We'll be using the (updated) hashtag #2k1. My Twitter handle is @egabbert and Sommer's is (wait for it) @vagtalk. Also joining us will be Dan Boehl, Dan Magers and ________?

By the way, I saw this movie for the first time earlier this year, and if you've never seen it, WOW. You really should. I was culturally illiterate for too long.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Talking with Alyssa Harad, author of Coming to My Senses

The July issue of Open Letters is live, and includes a long interview with Alyssa Harad, whose new memoir, Coming to My Senses, will be officially released on July 5. Alyssa and I spoke on Skype a few months ago and she had so many fascinating things to say about her journey into perfume I could not fit them all onto one web page, so I'll be posting a few more bits from our conversation here in the coming weeks (watch this space!). In the meantime, please do read the interview to learn about Alyssa's book and get her take on the rules of perfume (hint: first rule is there are no rules), perfume as gift economy, how perfume writing is like the liner notes from a jazz LP, why it's OK to love "beautiful, useless things" and much more. Here's a brief excerpt:
I find it interesting that some people can never get past that initial suspicion, like if you say “This smells like jasmine and rose,” they say, “I don’t believe you’re really smelling that.” But some people just get it, they’ll smell something and say, Oh, that smells really green. I think it’s somewhere between a knack and just being open-minded – to realize we’re not all lying! 
I was showing a friend of mine Paestum Rose, and I started going through the whole story with her, saying, OK, this opens on a very clear, bracing resinous note, and then in 20 minutes it quiets down and gets smoky and then this beautiful dark rose opens up in the middle of it. This particular friend has a very good nose, probably better than mine, and she is overwhelmed by most commercial perfume. So she smells it at the beginning and says, “Oh, yeah, it’s like going for a walk in the woods, it’s really great.” Then we talked for a while and she smelled it again and she said, “Oh my gosh – it really does change! I thought you were making that part up!”

Ha! See? The skeptics! It’s the same thing with wine tasting, you just don’t believe it if you’ve never paid that much attention. Like, no way, no way wine can taste like cedar and hot dogs, I just don’t believe it.

I think those kinds of descriptions are very easy to parody because they sound really over the top, which is also why I’m in love with them. I love the over-the-top, drag-queen quality of these long, poetic recitations of unlikely things that somehow all fit together in these perfumes, but I think that there are a lot of people for whom that kind of language is just inherently suspicious. Either they think that the scents are going to be lacking in some way because they’re missing something, or that you’re just really pretentious. But people who think you’re being pretentious are mostly just worried about being made fun of or not understanding something. And frankly, in any area where there’s connoisseurship happening, where people are obsessed with something and they have their own vocabulary for it and they’re lavishing attention on this object that other people may or may not care about it, there’s a huge opportunity for being pretentious.

It makes me think of really esoteric indie music journalism with those subcategories and genres like shoegazing and dubstep, and nobody outside of that world knows what those things mean.

Now that you’re saying that I realize that my love of obscure language goes outside of perfume and wine and food. I used to spend a lot of time looking through my dad’s jazz LP collection, because they have these amazing liner notes, like someone had just toked up and gone to their typewriter after being at the clubs till 2 am. It was very clear that something incredibly passionate was happening even if I couldn’t understand a single word of it.
I also contributed to the Summer Reading feature, recommending three books about "youth and malice":
I love books about children bearing witness to acts of brutality, committing those acts themselves, or simply getting their first glimpse of the common cruelties of adult life. That psychological shock adds much needed darkness to the coming-of-age genre, which too often focuses on teenage sex over deeper-cut losses of innocence. In summer, especially, when light beach reading is in order and nostalgia hits a peak, young-adult adventure, fantasy, and/or romance novels are popular with everyone. Allow me to suggest these three novels as an alternative to the latest YA bestseller, each a classic or near-classic that features shrewd young characters confronting evil and heartache (in the heat of high summer, no less).
You can read more about my recs (A High Wind in Jamaica, The Member of the Wedding, and The Quick & the Dead) here.