22 October 2016

making faces :: making scents

right. attempt number two at this post. i literally had this completely finished last night when blogger decided to eat all my work. hopefully it's not so contemptuous of my time tonight.

first of all, you can thank dom for the title of this post, because i was about to call it "making smells" until he convinced me that that had some unpleasant connotations. of course, the world of scent isn't necessarily connected to the world of cosmetics, which is normally what "making faces" posts are about, but since they're often conflated in terms of marketing, i'm just going to moosh them together under this heading.

i find that talking about perfume is a lot like talking about wine: i rather enjoy doing it, but after about three sentences, i know i'm out of my depth. basically, everything that comes out after that is along the line of "i like spices" and nothing more. it actually took me a long time to figure out not just what i liked in a scent, but what worked on my skin. i think that's true for all of us- ladies and gents- who are drawn to fragrance; it seems like we should just instinctively know what works, but that's not the case. many's the time when i've spritzed myself with something that smelled fetching, only to spend the next two hours wondering how to get it off me.

the first perfume i ever bought for myself was christian dior's poison. i was about fourteen and the effect was ridiculous. such a heavy, voluptuous scent needed to be worn by someone older and more experienced with the world than i was. this was all the more true because the perfume didn't blend with my own scent, but rather just sat there, being itself. that's not what should happen.

one of the reasons why it's so hard to talk about perfume is because something that really works on you is a matter of chemistry: perfume oil, captured in a solution of alcohol in water, is spritzed over your skin. immediately, it starts to bond with the oils that are in your skin naturally, and this changes it. it keeps changing over hours and the way it changes on me will be completely different than the way it changes on you. which means that, even if it smells the same on us to begin with, it'll likely get farther apart as time wears on. such is the nature of chemistry.

[side note :: the dilution of the perfume oil in an alcohol solution isn't something that's done because the parfumeur is greedy. pure perfume oils are heavy, think, prone to staining, irritating to the skin, and strong enough to knock you out if you put a little too much on. the alcohol solution makes the oil lighter, and allows it to vaporise and land on you in a lovely mist. even products advertised as "perfume oils" aren't pure oils, with the exception of some that are used for things like aromatherapy. and in case you've ever wondered, but not googled, here is a convenient chart to help explain the difference between perfume, cologne, eau de parfum, etc. it's all about concentration.]

when i hit high school, it was when the body shop was starting to appear in halifax. all my friends were wearing tea rose, but when i tried it on me, it just seemed to disappear. i absolutely loved the scent, but my skin swallowed it. so instead, i picked up a bottle of their rose musk perfume. it was a rose of a different colour, with a sexy, musky and woody base under a rich floral overcoat. that was my scent for years, but it was sadly discontinued in the mid nineties. unlike my back-up favourites from the body shop, japanese musk and juba, rose musk has never returned. [hangs head in a moment of silent regret.]

in more recent years, i've expanded beyond perfume oils, to different brands of perfume. that's made me engage with more complex scents, but it's also made me aware of how scent can go terribly wrong. there's nothing i can do about my mistakes, but i thought that, while i might not be able to tell you what perfumes to buy, i could at least share some of the things i've learned.

1. know what you're getting into. don't be satisfied with just spritzing something on your skin, or, even worse, on a piece of paper and deciding it's perfect. wear that bugger and make it prove its worth. for many people, perfume will be the most expensive personal care/ cosmetic purchase you make, so it should damn well make you feel [and smell] incredible.

i will often spray on a perfume on multiple visits to a store before deciding to purchase, and i recommend others do the same. furthermore, samples are your friends. don't be afraid to ask for them. any retailer who refuses to give you a sample isn't interested in your business anyway. [associates at sephora will make a sample from the tester bottle if they don't have samples on hand, which is a fantastic idea and something that other retailers should pick up on.]

2. follow the clues. a few months ago, i ordered a perfume called gin from commodity. i thought it would be a good match, because it featured bergamot as a top note, and bergamot is also the predominant top note in guerlain's shalimar, one of my favourite scents of all time. instead, gin made me smell like i drunk a few litres of kool-aid and peed myself. but it smells fresh and invigorating on dom. what the hell?

well, i can explain what the hell. clearly, bergamot is not a "make or break" ingredient in perfumes with me. but, once you look through the various notes in perfumes that you know work on you, you can probably find a common element. for me, it's saffron. it's not a scent that dominates in too many fragrances, but when it is fairly high in the mix, there's a very good chance that i'll be able to wear it well.

one of the only perfumes i've encountered that advertises its saffron-ness is safran troublant, by l'artisan parfumeur. but i've also noticed that tom ford makes use of it a lot, especially in his exclusive collection [goodbye money, i will miss you!]. tuscan leather and white suede are two of my very favourites and, along with their musky, smoky spines, they have saffron woven in.

3. perfume is transgender. one of the most frustrating things about looking for a good perfume for me was that so many of them soon turned into a limp cloud of stale flowers or slightly rancid fruit. then, i discovered that was because a lot of fragrances made for women- even high end ones- were just too sweet on me. there were a few that i quite liked [kenzo amour and flower, guerlain insolence], but even then, they tended not to last more than a few hours on me.

then at some point, i just started trying on men's perfumes [yes, they're still perfumes if boys wear them]. suddenly, a door opened. i've shocked experience fragrance salespeople who've tried to convince me that what i mean is that i just like spicy or woody scents. that's not it. it's just that, about seven times out of ten, a men's scent works better on me than a woman's. and, once i've spritzed one of each on my arms, the salesperson always agrees, with a shocked face.

i'm glad to see that perfume manufacturers are starting to offer more and more unisex scents, but the fact is that most of them are unisex anyway. the aforementioned tuscan leather is the sort of scent that makes people jump when they smell it, because it's so dark and heavy. but when i put it on [assuming i don't overdo it], the reaction with my particular skin tames it a little.

if you look at the notes in men's and women's perfumes, you'll quickly notice that it's the exact same ones used in both. they're just arranged differently. aramis, a men's scent headed by bergamot, works just as well on me as the much more feminine shalimar. [it has a distinctive oak moss note, which is another ingredient that tends to sit well on me.]

4. feel free to change your wardrobe. one of the reasons i absolutely loved rose musk back in the day was because it was something that no one else seemed to wear. [probably why it was discontinued.] after playing around with a few, my signature has become guerlain mitsouko. [oak moss again!] but that doesn't mean that i wear it every single day. some people do have a "one and only" fragrance, which is fine, but i find that, at different times of year, there are different things that just feel right. in spring, lighter, greener scents work really well [i love l'artisan parfumeur coeur de vetiver sacre and fou d'absinthe, both of which i picked up in a gift set of men's fragrances]. in summer, i adore the playful, zesty notes of tom ford neroli portofino, or, for feeling sexy on a sultry summer night, frederic malle carnal flower. [dom's reaction the first time i wore this was "i can smell the carnal."] autumn is when i bust out the tuscan leather and aramis, because they feel so at home with the scent of leaves and smoke that permeate the air. and in winter, i have a special place in my heart of the armani privĂ© unisex perfume bois d'encens. [mr. armani apparently designed it to evoke the memories of attending church with his mother in italy as a child, and boy, did he succeed. it really does smell like aged wooden pews and sacral incense. and it totally smells better on me, dom.]

i'm sharing and linking those, so that you can see that there's quite a variety i shuffle through during the year. you can certainly see where some of them are linked [saffron, oak moss, and, weirdly enough, raspberry all crop up a lot], while others [neroli portofino] are outliers that just happen to work. nevertheless, despite all the scents i like to rotate, i'm willing to bet that if people close to me were to catch a whiff of mitsouko, they'd check to see if i were nearby. and that would work for you too. you don't have to wear your favourite every day for it to be your signature. there may be whole seasons when your preferred perfume seems out of place. [much though i adore it, tuscan leather is the olfactory equivalent of a heavy blanket in summer heat.] play around with things. maybe there's a scent you like better when it rains, or when you're in the city/ country.

so that's about everything that i've learned on the subject of perfume. it's not much, but i figure it might be a little helpful. feel free to share your own personal adventures in smell. 

21 October 2016

so the world hates me

i just spent over an hour- nay, over two hours- writing a lovely blog post. it was such a good blog post, you wouldn't believe it. it was the best blog post. and now it's gone. like it never existed.

fuck you, blogger. fuck you right in the ear.

because now, i've wasted two hours. now, i realise that i could have been doing something fun, or productive or basically anything other than what i've been doing, because what i've been doing essentially no longer exists.

and my butt hurts, because i've been sitting in this chair too long.

when i first moved to montreal, the movers i hired lost one thing: the box with all my writing in it. everything i wrote before i was twenty-four is gone. i still think about that a lot. it still haunts me, because it's like i found out my liver had never existed. it's supposed to be there.

and i know it was just a blog post. it wasn't going to change the world. it wasn't going to be the blog post that rocketed me to fame and fortune, but i miss it. something else took it from me. i was being careful to save as i wrote, because we've all had that blow up in our faces. but somehow, it just ceased to exist. so, for the last couple of hours, i might has well not have existed. i might as well have been taken by aliens, which would have at least made for a more interesting story than "i was writing a blog post and it disappeared".

the worst part is that this little, meaningless blog post is the only chance i've had to write anything for myself in days. i've been desperate to write, but things keep getting in the way and i don't. this was my time, blogger, and you ruined it.

so i'm leaving you with this whiny testimony just to let you know that i exist. and i've existed for the last two hours, even though no one can ever prove that.

someday i'll die and be reunited with my blog post and everything else i've lost, in the ether, for eternity. or not.

17 October 2016

mental health mondays :: vote with your crazy [u.s. edition]

since i did a post on this subject for last year's canadian election, i figured it was only fair, given the amount of blog space i've dedicated to our neighbours to the south, to do a version for the imminent united states election. after all, with issues like the economy and foreign engagements getting buried in an avalanche of hacked emails and pussy, there's pretty much zero chance that either presidential candidate will ever mention mental health.

but that's ok, because it's not really the president who's going to decide these things, but the congress. so while you might want to fire some questions at hillary or the donald over social media [and you might even get a response], this post is intended more for candidates running for senate or congress, the ones who are more likely to come knocking at your door or ringing at your phone in order to win your vote in three weeks time. there may be lots of things that it would take to win your vote [even if you're decided on the presidential race, you can always split your vote down-ballot], but if mental health is important to you for any reason, i highly suggest approaching them with some tough questions on what they'll do to solve what could rightly be called a crisis.

but first of all, let's look at what the parties have to say on an official basis. i was happily surprised to find out that both parties actually do address the need for improved mental health care in their platforms. that was not the case in my country, where only one of five parties had anything to say on the subject at all. so bravo to both democrats and republicans right off for recognising that the issue deserves their attention.

democrats :: they are committed to attaining comprehensive basic coverage in many areas, including mental health, expanding on the existing platform of the affordable health care act. they particularly support the expansion of community healthcare centres, and promise to double the federal funding given to them. that sounds great, but the promise is actually to double funding over the next ten years, during which time there will be one more federal election, four congressional elections and an entire cycle of senate elections [meaning every seat will be up for grabs at least once]. it's hard to make promises over that period of time in america without some pretty serious bipartisan work. they also commit to greatly expanding access to care for substance abuse of all sorts, to veterans and to children. they intend to pursue a "zero suicide" commitment promoted by the department of health and human services. with regard to gun control policies, and pretty much the only time that you hear mental health mentioned in the american media is when there's a mass shooting, their position is that there "is insufficient research on effective gun prevention policies" and they support giving the centres for disease control and prevention resources to allow them to further research gun control as a public health issue.

republicans :: they strongly support a system of block grants [a sum of money transferred to state or local jurisdictions] in order to deal with their particular problems. block grants are given with only very general parameters, and give considerable leeway to the receiver to make decisions on how this is to be spent. their position is that federal mandates are wasteful, and that allowing decisions to be made at a state level will allow for more innovation. they oppose the use of federal funds in psychiatric screening programs for young people in school [especially where it concerns sexual education]. they make a strong commitment to fighting substance abuse, including abuse of prescription opioids, and propose measures such as  limiting medicaid patients to getting prescriptions at one pharmacy so that they cannot double-dip, and to protect doctors from legal action if they refuse to provide prescriptions for drugs with known addiction potential. in order to combat prescription drug addiction, particularly among veterans, the party recommends exploring a broader range of options for treatment, "including faith-based programs".

so now that you know the party positions [psst- those links go to the entire platform document for both parties, so you can actually read their positions on everything], here are a few questions i'd recommend asking anyone who tries to convince you're their best option for government:

  • [culled directly from my canadian post, because it's just as relevant, if not more so] patients with serious mental disorders are disproportionately poor, but often require more types of medication or higher dosages of medication than others. what will your party do to ensure that these people are able to afford their prescriptions, including meeting the needs of those who are homeless?
  • two pieces of legislation on mental health reform are currently before congress, one has passed its congressional vote and needs to be approved by the senate. the other has been introduced in the senate, but has yet to be put to a vote. do you support one or both of these bills? what can you do personally to expedite either their passage or revision? 
  • although the united states has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world, it ranks far lower than other countries in the effectiveness and accessibility of its treatment for mental health issues, including countries with far fewer financial and infrastructure resources. what evidence does your party have that their approach to these issues has been successful in the past, especially in areas where quality and access are better? [you can read a post about that subject right here.]
  • after many mass shootings, it is commonplace for the mental health of the perpetrator to be questioned. however, taken on the whole, people with mental illnesses are no more likely than others to commit violent crimes. do you and your party support changing existing laws to limit access to any firearms for those who have had mental health issues in the past? why or why not? 
  • although the numbers are not tracked, it's estimated that half the people shot by police have some history of mental illness and that mentally ill people who are shot by police are more likely to die as a result of their wounds. police and other first responders are often confronted with the mental illness in its most serious forms, and bad decisions in these situations can have tragic consequences. what will your party do to ensure that first responders of all sorts have proper and regular training on dealing with people who have mental illnesses? 
  • it's been reported that there are more people in prison with mental illnesses than there are in hospitals with the same illnesses. how does your party plan to address and correct this problem? 

honestly, these questions are going to be tricky for a lot of politicians to answer on the fly, so don't think they're disinterested just because they can't come up with talking points on the spot. ask that they get back to you, or ask for the phone number or email address of someone that you can contact with their organisation. when you do have the opportunity to speak to them, or someone authorised to speak on their behalf, make yourself a few notes on what their official party platform is. neither platform is detailed enough to address any of these questions, so if they're trying to blow you off by just spouting the party line, you can feel free to call them on it.

of course, you can and should ask whatever questions you want, but i am truly sick of having mental illness trotted out only when it's a convenient excuse for a [white] mass shooter. it is a problem and if these men and women are so convinced they can solve america's problems, this is as good a place as any for them to show that they can do it.

godspeed, my southern neighbours. make them work for your support, now and always.

13 October 2016

i know all about you

the more i watch political coverage [and, as you've probably guessed, it's a lot], the more i start to wonder about trump's supporters. a friend sent me this brilliant article yesterday, which explains a lot of the frustration and anger that comes out of the people who are supporting the man who promises to "make america great again": poor whites, college educated white men struggling to maintain their tenuous hold on the middle class, evangelical voters for whom the city is a place that embraces everything they stand against. it's a compassionate article that helps explain the position of trump voters in a way that not enough people have done. yes, many of those people, whose anger is being weaponised by this campaign, are scary as hell. but that does mean that they have no business being angry to begin with. 

but there are a lot of other things that need to be said about people who are supporting trump, because if we don't say them, we're essentially saying that most of them are too dumb to make other decisions and that they just aren't capable of doing any better. i'm going to say that i don't believe that. i think that there are ways in which every one of his supporters can and should be thinking about their decision to back this man, and i believe that all of them are capable of thinking about these things. because there are a few things that i immediately know about a person who says they're a trump supporter, and they're not pretty. 

you want things to be easy for you. sure, you might work hard, but the fact is that you believe that your problems have a simple solution, like someone could just flick a switch and everything would be better for you. that's a ridiculous point of view. yes, problems can be solved, but if you believe that just electing the right guy as president is the way to do that, you're sadly mistaken. "fixing" things for americans is a big project and it involves more than just the guy at the top. but because you don't want to think too hard or work too hard for change, you're happy to listen to someone who just promises to "make america great again" peppered with a few phrases that don't actually link to any real policies, outside of building a wall. you probably believe that accomplishing any big goals takes hard work, but on a larger scale, you just don't want to bother. donald trump is going to hit the light switch and *poof*

you're gullible. as much as you hear people talk about lying politicians and how they're fed up with washington, that cynicism is entirely a posture, because when someone like trump comes along, you just lap up what he says. trump lies virtually every time he opens his mouth. he's not even good at it. he claims he's never said things when there are tapes of him saying them, clear as day. he comes up with policies like building a border wall, despite the fact that most illegal immigrants in the united states arrive there on legitimate visas and then just don't leave after the visa expires. he sticks with that plan because it's a great slogan to shout ["build the wall! build the wall!"], even though the logistics of actually building such a thing have been debunked by the people who'd have to figure it out. he says that he'll stop china from manipulating their currency and fight them on unfair trade practices. but he doesn't mention that the united states, under obama, have gone to international trade arbitrators more than thirty times to protest china's unfair trade practices and that they've won every single one of those cases. he also neglects to mention that china holds more u.s. debt than any country except japan, so they go into negotiations with a huge bargaining chip- if the u.s. really wants to play hardball, china can call in their loans. that would be devastating for both economies, but in the end, it's china that has the upper hand. take that finely honed skepticism you have for washington and apply it to everything in the political sphere. 

you want to be led. there are many challenges facing us right now and you're probably scared, but let's be clear: donald trump has talked about jailing political rivals, using the attorney general to investigate a judge he doesn't like, clamping down on journalism he doesn't like and establishing a deportation force to find and remove illegal immigrants. those aren't incidental things; they're an important part of his overall platform which has focused on what he alone will do to change america. you don't hear trump talk about his team, or about who he'll work with to accomplish things. he's going to do all this himself and shut down those he doesn't like. that, my friends, is an autocrat and if you're supporting him, you are subscribing to the belief that you are better off giving power to someone who will limit freedoms and conduct the business of state based on his personal feelings, with little consultation. [you need only look at the way his campaign is being run to get a sense of how willing he is to listen to the opinions of others.] you will give up many of the freedoms you have now in order to have someone at the top doing things his way, so that you don't have to think about it. you're afraid of what happens when you try to act out that whole democracy thing. 

if you're not an outright racist or sexist, you don't have any real problem with those things. let me be clear about this: all those people who walked away from donald trump because they heard him say "pussy" are assholes. if that's the thing that suddenly made you change your mind about him, that's just pathetic. if you've supported him for one minute after he said the mexican government was sending their rapists and murderers across the border illegally, it means that you're willing to forgive racism in the interests of... making america great or something. trump has targeted syrian refugees- people driven out of their country by a civil war that can be laid largely on the doorstep of united states foreign policy. the charge that trump raped a thirteen year old [which has just been allowed to proceed in court] had been floating around for months before his lewd comments on the bus. so have all his comments on howard stern's radio show. the civil rights case over denying non-whites the right to live in his company's buildings has been widely known for years. he planted his foot on the political scene by questioning the legitimacy of america's first black president for years after the man had produced a birth certificate. everyone has flaws? sure. and we all have our own principles about which flaws are acceptable and which ones aren't. if you're supporting trump, racism and misogyny are acceptable vices for you. 

the usual reaction to this sort of criticism is to make a list of all the things hillary clinton has done wrong. to which i say: so don't vote for her. if you hate her that much, if her hawkish policy on libya, for instance, is a breaking point because of the misery it caused, that's understandable. vote for a third party. write in someone else's name. focus on electing good people to congress, which is where the legislation comes from anyway. but if you are willing to vote for trump, do so knowing what that reveals about you, and think about what the politics of fear and scapegoating are turning you into. i'm not writing this from a position of superiority. i'm not trying to be patronizing and say "you poor things, you're too ill-educated and naive to know any better". i think that any person is capable of doing better than this, it's just that so many of them aren't. 

11 October 2016

mental health mondays :: all about us

take it easy.
i've fallen desperately behind on a number of projects, which means that i'm very, very late posting this week's mhm. even worse, i don't really have much to say today, but i couldn't let things slide, because october 10th is/ was the world health organisation's "world mental health day".

the theme this year is "psychological first aid". fortunately, this is a subject on which i've already posted, so it's like i have a contribution ready to go. but that said, there are far better articles available from the who.

this week was supposed to be reserved for a specific post, which i'll be doing next week instead. last year, i did a special "vote with your crazy" post on evaluating the major political parties' stances and plans on mental health and suggesting questions for politicians who come canvassing for your votes. so next week's post is going to be "vote with your crazy :: the american version". i'm delaying it because i decided that, rather than just include the "big two", i'd look at what the libertarian and green parties had to say on the subject as well. so i have to do some homework on their platforms.

in the meantime, i wish you a peaceful mental health day... not too happy and exciting, because that can be dangerous, but not dull, depressing or disheartening. just calm, relaxing and uncomplicated, like the image above. 
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