“In the middle of [writing] a novel, a kind of magical thinking takes over. To clarify, the middle of the novel may not happen in the actual geographical center of the novel. By middle of the novel I mean whatever page you are on when you stop being part of your household and your family and your partner and children and food shopping and dog feeding and reading the post—I mean when there is nothing in the world except your book, and even as your wife tells you she’s sleeping with your brother her face is a gigantic semicolon, her arms are parentheses and you are wondering whether rummage is a better verb than rifle. The middle of the novel is a state of mind. Strange things happen in it.”
— Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind
I’ve always loved Zadie Smith’s description of how it feels to be in the middle of a big writing project. In the section I’ve quoted from, she goes on to describe the magical thinking that accompanies this state of mind. The way everything in the world seems relevant to what you’re working on and everything you see, hear and read becomes another lesson or hint about what you need to write next. It’s the ecstasy of writing–the flow, the madness.
The middle of the new book is where I want to be for the rest of this summer, possibly longer. I’m not there yet, but the car’s all loaded up and I’ve put a hold on my mail and I don’t care if the lawn dies. Let’s go.
Image: The unexpectedly sexy gutter of Thomas Jefferson’s Bible via a post on restoring the same from the blog of The National Museum of American History.
Coming to My Senses is going to London! (And so am I!)
When my friend Persolaise heard I was coming to London he kindly offered to help set up a small event. If you are in the area we’d love to see you. I’ll read a bit, we’ll chat and we’ll smell lots of gorgeous rare things. It’s free to attend but seating is limited (and whoa, we’re already half full!) so please reserve your spot here on eventbrite.
Persolaise is an award-winning perfume writer and I happen to know there will be lots of very interesting people in the audience–perfumistas, writers, artists. It should be quite a party. And it’s at a venerable pub (founded in 1745!) called Dirty Dicks. Which makes me giggle because I am American and have never completely grown up.
As those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook already know, I’ve recorded the first chapter and several short excerpts from Coming to My Senses. You can find them all right here on my Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/alyssaharad
They are free to share, stream and download, and I’ll be putting a couple more up soon. I hope you enjoy them!
P.S. I am still dizzy from my three days in D.C. and will be back to describe some of that soon. Happy Ph.D’s who left the academy! Scholarly discussions of civet and smelling salts! A fancy performance hall at a beautiful museum filled with women doused in vintage perfume!
(Note:I am looking for some volunteers on Saturday to act as human scent strips so we can really get a feel for the vintage perfumes I’ll be bringing. If you’ll be there and are willing to extend a wrist or the back of your hand to strangers, send me a message by email (alyssa at alyssaharad dot com) or you can contact me via Twitter or Facebook. ETA: Or leave a comment! The comments work again! Yay!)
Thursday, 2/20, 4-6 pm (Reception: 6-7 pm) Roundtable on #altac/#postac: Rethinking the Humanities PhD Job Search Rome 771, George Washington University Dept. of English, 801 22nd Street, NW
I’ll be talking about my path from English Ph.D. to author along with a group of other very smart and interesting people with humanities Ph.D’s who are working outside of academia, some of whom have thought about the current structure of the academy a lot more than I have. The roundtable is designed to be a conversation and all are welcome no matter what your current relationship to the academy.
Friday, February 21, 11-1pm: Perfumed Letters Roundtable George Washington University, Marvin Center—Room 301, 800 21st Street, NW
Why do so many writers I know love perfume? How have writers used scent in their work? I’ll be talking about the intersections between literature and perfume with a poet and several scholars. Everyone on the panel is knowledgable about a different time period, but we all have a strong interest in gender, scent, history and power among other things. All participants have been encouraged to bring along a scent to share. This should be a lot of fun.
I’ll be reading from Coming to My Senses and telling a few stories about women, art and perfume and what they’ve had to do with each other over the years. In particular, I’ll be talking about the groundbreaking perfumer Germaine Cellier, a charismatic but mysterious figure whose perfumes speak volumes about her sense of what was possible for women. I’ll also discuss artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s collaboration with the Jacqueline Cochran Corporation to create an early celebrity perfume very different from most of the ones we have today. I will be bringing vintage perfumes to smell (see my call for volunteers above) and some raw materials as well.
I will also be chatting with my friend, Professor Holly Dugan, whose fascinating book The Ephemeral History of Perfume traces the language, customs and culture around scent in early modern England by focusing on the fragrances of incense, rose, sassafras, rosemary, ambergris, and jasmine. Professor Dugan will be part of the Perfumed Letters Roundtable on Friday as well, and is the person responsible for making all of these events possible. Thank you, Holly!
Coming to My Senses and The Ephemeral History of Perfume will be available for sale and signing at the event.
The bio on Angeliska Polacheck ‘s website says she is a “WRITER, AMBIANCEUSE, WITCH, SOOTHSAYER, SILVERSMITH, OCEAN-HARPIST, ANTIQUE DEALER,” and “SPECTACLE-MAKER.” She is also Sister Temperance, Tarot card reader extraordinaire. (I’m still working up my courage to schedule a reading.) We connected online–Angeliska is also a perfume fan–and I had been wanting to meet her in person for quite some time, so when she posted an invitation on FB to her birthday party/exhibit (Angeliska can never be or do just one thing at a time) I couldn’t pass it up. It was fate.