Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Making Scents of It

A few years back, I stole Rose’s perfume. Not literally, mind you: I just liked the scent, bought my own bottle and started spritzing. Amazingly, Rose wasn’t charmed that we were twinsies, so she immediately stopped using it. Several bottles of “Coco” later, I re-discovered, “Diorissimo”, a gorgeous floral fragrance by Christian Dior. As a teenager, I first smelled it when my fashionable friend Angèle wore it. True to form, I went out and bought some for me (assuming that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery—not that Angèle might be a tad miffed). “Diorissimo” was out of production for years—gone for good I thought, so I moved on to the Estée Lauder fragrances.

Several years after I swiped Rose’s signature scent, Ya-Jhu, having heard me say I missed my old favorite, found that they were making “Diorissimo” again, and bought some for me for my birthday. I immediately fell back in love, and “Coco” was relegated to a bathroom drawer. Not realizing the fickleness of his wife, Steve bought me a new bottle of “Coco” for Christmas, which has never been opened. My issue now: do I make Rose a peace offering of my stash of “Coco?” Or did my habit of wearing it ruin everything for her?

Love this stuff!

 Sharing this kind of thing with my mom was unthinkable—not that Joanie would have minded necessarily, but her olfactory taste was, to my mind, abysmal. Mom gravitated towards giant size bottles of “Jean Naté.” It was pungent, it was assertive, and she practically bathed in it. On special occasions, or when the Jean Naté supply ran low, Mom would take out her treasured bottle of Arpège and put a dab behind her ears (to me, an equally repugnant smell—and ten times as expensive to boot).

My grandmothers wore much simpler stuff: Nana Cunningham
"April Violets": Good enough for this beauty!
used a talcum powder called “April Violets”, and I remember Grandma Berrigan smelling mainly of Jergen’s Lotion. I know perfume has been worn by the upper class for millennia, but I marvel at the prevalence of it in our modern culture. Just ride an elevator with a bunch of women—you will likely be bowled over by many competing aromas in a small space. Men aren’t immune to the charms of strong fragrance either (Dad was an “English Leather” guy).

It starts early, as young as middle school, and doesn’t let up…though tastes become more sophisticated as we age. The drugstore bottles of “Charlie” with which I doused myself (and the “stylish” chalk-white Slicker lipstick I wore as well, which looked like I’d been swigging Maalox), have been replaced with eau de parfum that would have cost me a year of babysitting money.

So, here we are, in a sweet-smelling world, and I guess things aren’t changing anytime soon. Which brings me back to my “Coco” quandary: I refuse to waste it, and would love my daughter to re-embrace it. If she won’t, well…one of my lucky friends is in for a Christmas treat!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Musical Tastes

An early musical memory was my discovery of WABC New York, with Cousin Brucie on the radio when I was about 10. This was the heyday of groups like Three Dog Night’s “One,” The Cyrcle’s “Red Rubber Ball,” and Frankie Valli’s “See You in September.” My idol in those years was Dana MacDonald, the 20-something granddaughter of our next door neighbor in Normandy Beach, NJ. She tooled around in her own red convertible and was studying to be a nurse. Dana would hit the sand with her transistor radio, and my favorite songs would blare from her beach blanket. How cool was that? 

I then discovered classical music and was immediately smitten. My love for the classics grew exponentially, eventually embracing the works of Mahler, Bruckner, Debussy, Ravel, and Bartok. When Steve and I hit the road with our six state, year and a half children’s theatre tour, we were armed with cassettes for the (many) times we were out of radio contact. Indeed, we labeled the oft-played Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto “Theme from Tour.”

I continued on this path until 2005, when my undiagnosed bipolar disorder started to upend my life. Suddenly I was into pop music (indeed, anything that teens were into). Death Cab for Cutie, Franz Ferdinand. I not only played their songs endlessly, but I dragged my children to their concerts. My worst summer (2006) I retreated to my earbuds and my music, shutting out the world around me completely.

On the beach with my iPod-- a low point

Emerging from my madness, I found solace in new age music (George Winston, David Lanz, Liz Story). Their songs were a psychic band-aid for my mental wounds, soothing, non-challenging. Over the ensuing years, and especially as several of my children became musicians, my world re-expanded to jazz, to show tunes, to the ‘new” classical music of Adams and Ades and even my son Sheridan.

Today, my musical world is vast. I love the electronic music Evan listens to. I could listen to Rose’s original music forever. Indie? Blues? Jazz? I am so there. And so, as I sit on the beach, with the earbuds that no longer make me cringe, I look forward to the shuffle of tunes. Keith Jarrett? Sonny Rollins? Yo Yo Ma? Whatever is next in the lineup, I am ready to enjoy.

Next month, Sher, Ya-Jhu and several musical friends will present a series of concerts at the beach titled “Celtic to Classical,” embracing a host of musical styles. I look forward to sitting in the audience and applauding an Irish jig, a Sephardic Jewish suite, a Beethoven symphony.

What will music sound like in the decades to come? Who knows? But a CD of music sent into space on the Voyager included gamelan music from Java, aboriginal songs from Australia, Mozart, Louis Armstrong and Stravinsky. Clearly we believe that we can reach out to our alien brothers and sisters through music. What a gift. What a joy.

Hello, universe. Are you there? I know you are! Sing with us!

Monday, July 17, 2017


Catholics are used to being accountable. As a young child, I weekly stood in line for the confessional, where I told the priest my litany of minor sins (I disobeyed my parents; I fought with my sisters). Poor bored Father! The other day I saw a picture on Facebook of a sign from a church confessional booth in Ireland, stating that there was “only one priest for one hour of confession today, so please confess sins quickly and concisely, and don’t go into why you did it.” Yep! Accountability + brevity = win for all.

I am used to being accountable in certain areas of my life. Raising responsible, decent kids? Keeping our house tidy (or, at least, keeping it from falling down)? Checking off my various tasks as spiritual formation director? I can do all of that! But it gets muddy when I have no  clear goals. I want to be a writer. OK, great! Soooo…write! And then, what? Sell my writing!! But if I do not hold myself accountable, I do not write—or, if I write, I do not submit.

Accountability Time!

I have just discovered something amazing called the “Self Journal." It is an attractive and compact book where you fill in your goals for a 13 week period. Each goal is then broken down into weekly, daily, then hourly, nuggets. It is surprisingly difficult to deconstruct my lofty ambitions—which is probably why they have remained unrealized. If on Day #1 I hope to identify ten publications accepting submissions, there is the yawning space to fill with these publications! The perfectionist buried deep within the slob in me abhors a vacuum, so I feel compelled to investigate and notate submittable places. Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow I vow to actually submit to these online opportunities. The procrastinator in me has excuses at the ready: hey, it’s Monday! I have other stuff to do! I need to…dust the bric-a-brac! But I am driven to fill in the blanks, at least for today.

I know, I know, "Poets and Writers"! I should send out my work!

So, as I begin my much-loved annual time at the Delaware shore, may I hold myself accountable. Like the little girl kneeling in the confessional booth, may I own my mistakes and missteps. But then, may I go further. May I also own my successes, my “wins.” After all, both columns appear on the tote sheet of life. I think that may be what the Catholic confessional of my childhood lacked. I believe, with all my heart, that God celebrates our wins, to the point where our losses are both forgiven and forgotten.

Tomorrow I mark Day #2 of my Self Journal. Much as I’d love to erase the unrealistic and grandiose ambitions of Day #1, I have written them in indelible ink. I will leave them as written. And maybe, by Day #52, or Day #102, I will make some progress towards my goals. And if not, I hope I enjoy the journey anyway.

I may not be an accountant, but it seems to me those numbers add up just fine.