I Lost Myself

A luminous yellow wax candle lit with a single wick flame.

Beloved reader,

I’ve rewritten this post dozens of times. I hate every version of it, and yet I can’t move on until I’ve put something out there. And so I’m challenging myself to write and publish some version of it while frying up a pan of midnight eggs (it’s bulking season, baby!).

Due to circumstances that ought to have been entirely foreseen — namely, taking a remote job very ill-suited to my nature and moving to a soul-dead suburb — the kind with “Township” in the postal address because there is no town to speak of, no center of life and activity, just endless strip malls and highways and hideous hellish McMansions and approximately three apartment buildings with rent equivalent to a not-insignificant quantity of orthodontal work — I lost myself entirely.

I crowded myself out. The histrionic side of me is tempted to say that arguably, on some level, I died.

Somewhere, a year of my life disappeared, into drab, unscented, largely unwritten days. I melted into the walls of the suburban box I lived in, worked in, slept in, scrubbed the interminable yellow grime out of my sink in. I became the walls, the highway, the orthodontic work.

A pile of golden yellow and white popped popcorn kernels, soaked in butter.

And so a month ago I quit that job to go sweep floors and scoop popcorn at a movie theater.

There’s a certain crowd of people — maybe most people I’ve surrounded myself with — that would view my leaving my full-time, remote, “career” position to go pour endless fountain drinks incomprehensible madness.

And yet.

Over the past month I’ve felt myself awakening. I get up in the morning and I go somewhere. I talk to people. I help make their day better. I help make their nights magic.

I reread Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning recently and felt like I was really getting something out of it for the first time. Something my cynical, exhausted, career-oriented past self simply couldn’t parse.

I’ve watched this year’s Eurovision entries. Even the God-awful ones. Last year — was there even a last year, or a me within it? — I was so glazed I forgot about Eurovision until it was over. Hell, I listened to so little music Spotify didn’t deign to recognize me with a Wrapped.

Today I went to a greenhouse café and smelled the flowers.

Euphorbia, one of them was called. It smelled remarkably like heliotrope, like almond and playdough, amaretto and doughy-sweet sunshine and honey.

Just one letter away from euphoria. Which, hey, is the name of Loreen’s 2012 song that won Eurovision, and hey, she won again last year.

Things are connecting. Things are connected.

There was music this past year, and sunshine too, and I was fool enough to pass it by.

Is anyone here?

I drew away from this blog because I was empty, because I’d been faking it for too long, and because the state of blogging was beginning to seriously piss me off.

I mean, is anyone reading this? Is the Internet nothing but a wasteland expanse of AI-written articles for AI-read corpora?

Is this fodder? Am I? Are there people still in the mix?

Sometimes I consider the philosophical implications of our obsession with AI that can create.

A woman's face with heavy makeup mounted on a black robot arm.

The innate assumption I see in AI-generated content is that we — humanity, which is to say, the audience — hunger endlessly to consume. Our drives cannot be satiated by what humans alone can produce — or maybe they can, but couldn’t AI do a good-enough job, faster, cheaper?

The story goes that humans are endlessly hungry. We eat yesterday’s morning paper for breakfast. We want information, more and more of it, an overflowing billabong of sights and sounds. We need to consume. It’s only natural that AI step in to create for us.

What I don’t see as much is commercial proof of the opposite truth: just as humans long to consume, we long to create.

Why is it that I can’t turn a corner without seeing some cutesy reference to AI creation, yet no one is building models for AI consumption? Perhaps the building of corpora to feed them counts in some way as consumption, much the same way as a random string of numbers might have been considered some prototypical form of AI creation decades ago.

But no one is striving to make AI that consumes in the same meaningful way we wish to see AI create. There’s no AI audience. No AI thinker, commenter, analyst, friend.

Trust me: this blog gets its fair share of AI-generated spam comments, and it’s crushing how repetitive and dull they are.

I’ve only just gotten my very first one recently that seems to draw on the source material at all, albeit in an odd, fundamentally-misunderstood, a-human-didn’t-write-this manner:

A fascinating piece of spam. Something truly intelligent is going on here to produce this delectably complex utter gibberish. A mythical creature that combines the qualities of a horse and a scent indeed. New website tagline?

There’s endless AI creating stuff that’s good enough for people to consume out there, but no convincing AI consumers comforting me in the endless empty suburban box of the modern Internet, eh?

But enough. I’ve already stepped away and cooked and eaten my eggs. I’ve done my bicep curls. (It’s left arm day.)

This sort of irrelevant rambling is why I’ve had to rewrite this post — my I’m-so-back post — so many times. So much for something brief, huh?

All this is to say I’m so back.

Well, maybe. At least for this post.

I’ve learned I need to be making things — to be building a great big cohesive something of my own — or else I go absolutely insane.

A bouquet of purple wisteria flowers, white flowers like roses or jasmine, and green sprigs and leaves.

Euphorbia… together ’til the end of time…

Whether this blog is still the best, most relevant something I could be making remains to be seen. I’m feeling it all out: reconnecting to blogging, to perfume, to my body and nose, to my sketches of fragrances and endless collages and drafts.

I’m not really sure whether this blog — this consumerist niche I convinced myself I could write in, entirely at the mercy of Google’s winds, and find satisfaction, audience, perhaps even income — is the right thing for me to be making anymore. Writing this post now as a test, I feel that I’m pretending, that I’m chasing something that maybe isn’t there any longer.

Maybe the pile of fifty posts I had planned, the stubs of reviews and unused collages, are a test for the Essentialist in me. Maybe the right thing is to retire from this world that doesn’t feel quite right, in search of better creation. All of a sudden I’m not at all the person who built The Scentaur. I don’t remember where I keep my files, why I do what I do.

A green computer circuit with gray additional components, branded Raspberry Pi.

I also just don’t really trust the impermanence and fickle corporate winds of the Internet anymore. This isn’t what the anarcho-cyberpunks had hoped a free information web would be. It’s an addiction machine clogged with constantly-innovating new types of trash. Do I really want my words — my writing — my time — my self — to be a part of that?

Or maybe it’s an opportunity to push through and accomplish new, exciting things in a tarnished space, to complete a set of reviews, completely document my collection. Only time shall tell.

Writing as I am now, I don’t know that I’m feeling it. The greatest aesthetic satisfaction for me in this blog has always been a visual one — in the development of this theme, in my typesetting, in the creation of collages.

And so, in an aesthetic sense, I’m longing to finish this collection of posts by publishing reviews of all the other fragrance samples in my collection — some fifty posts or so. Before doing that, it all feels unfinished. But I think the problem has been pushing myself to finish it. The trouble all started when the blog became something to finish.

I dunno, I’m tired of writing like I’m playing darts in the dark, trying to write for clicks or check boxes rather than for a true feeling of curiosity or delight. I’ve been sitting on half a dozen reviews for six months now — hell, on a fantastically commercializable listicle of every Taylor Swift era as a perfume — but I’m just not feeling it.

A large dark green barrel cactus in a black plastic pot. An ephemeral light pink flower blooms on a long stalk.

Maybe if someone just wants a list of the Taylor Swift era perfumes I’ll drop it in the comments for you to enjoy.

But then there’s the fear — what if this is all I’ve ever have? What if the only consistent writing habit I can possibly maintain is in churning out words by the thousand on commercially bottled smells? What if I give this up and I just never write again? What if, instead of having something that feels vaguely strange and forced, I’m left having nothing at all?

And so I lope along, part of me still hoping for this blog to soar to some momentary algorithmic height when enough poor bastards Googling what colone do girls like stumble upon this website to make it worth monetizing.

It’s funny — it was almost there at the moment it all suddenly caved in and I couldn’t remember why to write anymore. Art is a fickle and perilous mistress.

And you? Are you out there, you, my human, my reader? How are you? Where are you?

Are you here?

5 thoughts on “I Lost Myself

  1. Sophie, I for one have missed seeing your posts show up on my WP feed, and am still here – we real, live, human, blogging perfumistae still exist! I totally understand how living somewhere depressing can suck the life out of a person, as I’ve done it before… though my job at the time was stimulating enough, though stressful, to at least occupy most of my time and energy. I hope you can move closer to a city again if that is where you thrive. If that’s not feasible, it’s important to have creative projects as you alluded to.
    As for AI, it seems there’s still more hype than application at this point. I don’t think I’d love blogging if I felt it had to be done for monetization or obligation to write about every perfume that I try. It remains a good outlet for me because I write only when I have something to say or if the itch to write is strong.
    I hope you find joy in writing again, or in something else – I know some people have moved on to IG or something other than perfume altogether. No matter what it is, there will be times when inspiration or motivation is lacking, but that’s just part of the cycle and it will come back. Bon courage!

    • Darling Nose Prose, your comments always give me so much to think about. Thank you for your kindness and always taking the time.

      YES! I am actually moving to the big, exciting city of Chicago next month and couldn’t be more ecstatic.

      You’re right that blogging is hard when you’re forcing it. I was kind of forcing it the whole way through, obsessively trying to check off the review box for everything I’d ever smelled and come up with enough interesting stuff in between, trying to balance community and making a cool thing with being very broke and eager for internet points and, maybe someday, ad money. But right on the doorstep of that, I felt how precarious it all was, as well as how (to me personally) ethically objectionable and ugly.

      This job at the movie theater is my first proper service job (I had receptionist-type jobs as a teen, but if there’s a biz-casual dress code I feel like that’s a different thing). It’s weird the revelations it’s producing. I’ve always had this sense I’m fundamentally unhireable for this sort of job (I dunno, too weird and ugly and gross? Real adolescent stuff) and now I have one, and I’m great at it, and I love it. I want to be a server next, maybe a bartender after. I’d never realized I could *get* this sort of job, nor survive this way.

      What followed was the weird sort of complex that had me frantically writing a novel at age 11 – not because I wanted to write it but to have written it, because I frantically felt I was running out of time. In retrospect, my life’s been a series of desperate run-ups to try to launch next-to-impossible careers that I haven’t particularly wanted, I’ve just felt certain if I don’t make it by being spectacular at something really next-to-impossible to make money at I’ll simply starve, or be stuck in some empty desk environment I was instinctively horrified of – like the one I’ve suddenly noticed a year went by in.

      Blogger, novelist, poet, researcher, freelance copyeditor/translator/web dev, local politician, perfumer, dance instructor, essayist, activist, open source tech developer… the amount of “almost no one makes a living doing this, they’re doing it because they *need* to” paths I’ve desperately tried to force to a spectacular enough level that I might someday make money doing it is honestly hilarious. And all because what, I thought no one would hire me to wash dishes in a restaurant or mop floors in a cinema? (Not that I’m making Bezos money, mind. But I can buy greek yogurt.)

      I dunno. I’m pretty young and stupid, and life’s a process, isn’t it? I’m left picking up the shrinking pieces realizing I don’t actually like anything, and maybe I need to cut everything back as much as I can (I’ve always been a million-projects-at-once person) and see what happens when I just try to keep as quiet and still as possible. The ideas are bouncing off the walls as always, but I’m trying to be really selective, let things end, see what happens. Try to un-train the desperation to squeeze cash out of any creative whim. (And accept it’s okay to not go out there and use my big stupid tech degree to get some job I absolutely abhor, no matter what people may think).

      I’ve been feeling pretty deeply depressed without the blog these past months – even when it felt ridiculously contrived, there was still the sense I was building something, something that grows with time – but somehow I feel the era of the blog is over. It’s somehow been two years now, and the texture of consumerism inherent in it is increasingly grating to me personally, and I think I just left it for too long.

      I’m very undecided on the making-stuff side of perfumery. I feel like I was only just getting started, but that sort of very physical consumption (and creation-for-consumption) hobby really doesn’t gel with the climate-change-based ethical panic I’m boiled in every day. Maybe I’ll find a local hobbyist to give my supplies to.

      Thank you again for commenting and reading. I appreciate you endlessly.

      • Wow. First of all, congratulations on the move to Chicago! I’ve only visited the fun parts and enjoyed it, but I hope you will love living there. Also glad that you are enjoying your job at the movie theater. It takes a certain courage to embark on a creative (or otherwise) endeavor and push it to the extent of possibly making money from it. I always thought I wanted to write (to have written) a novel and never did, mostly because I never figured out what I really wanted to write it about! You’re probably right that the era of the blog is over, but the few folks that still stay in the space are enough to give me a sense of camaraderie, and the posts I enjoy reading most are the more personal ones – not the ones that are all about a product.
        As for perfume making, it’s not your or my tiny amounts of aroma materials that are driving climate change. It’s the industrial and corporate players that have the most impact, while making us individuals feel guilty for every bit we don’t recycle, reuse, or reduce to the max. Luckily plant materials are becoming more traceable and synthetics more biodegradable, so there is at least a path forward for sustainability – at least, I would like to believe.

  2. Hello scentaur, greetings from copenhagen. I wandered in just a few hours ago,never been here before, looking for diptyque reviews. Please don’t give up on writing, the sound of you is lovely!

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