– SotDs, sensibilities and virtual soapboxes

That ‘life’ – even the virtual ‘lives’ we lead online, can prove stranger than anything an aspiring fiction writer can cook up, was brought home yesterday evening, when I had my own daily dose of an oversized WTF moment.

Another perfume blogger posted a polemic/satirical rant about the proliferation of what he saw as utterly pointless SotD (Scent of the Day) posts and tweets on Facebook perfume groups and Twitter feeds. To this gentleman, such posts/tweets were not only deathly uninteresting in and of themselves, he frankly didn’t give a flying what anyone else was wearing. He saw these posts – often accompanied by links to a Fragrantica page on said SotD, or an image found elsewhere – as nothing more nor less than desperate cries for attention happily perpetuated by other members, who could then ‘like’ the post, start engaging the poster, and then start – or not – a conversation about it.

Dear readers, the horror! The very idea!

I would have liked nothing more than to link to the blog post in question, but alas, the blogger then proceeded to effectively shoot himself in his metaphorical mouth by deleting the post. I’ll be getting back to that.

The ensuing debate that raged across two Facebook perfume communities (and probably elsewhere) I know of is still ongoing as I type.

What really rallied my inner Doña Quixota was not just the blithe obliviousness to the role of engagement in social media (which is quite heinous enough) but a total and what I thought an arrogant disregard for one of the founding principles in human interaction.

If you don’t want a conversation, don’t start talking!

Unless, of course, you’re trying to convince yourself of the validity of your own opinions, in which case – go for it! I explain my interpretations of Schopenhauer to my cats several times a day, and so far, they still disagree, unappreciative wretches that they are.

Once upon a time – and it was only last summer – I posted two heavily shared posts on the role of social media on Planet Perfume. It explained something about how we’re conversing or communicating our shared passion for The Ephemeral Art, how those conversations are evolving between the customers of perfumers and houses, and how, if you think about it, we’re very poorly equipped as a species to even have these conversations to begin with, dealing as they do with an art form that bypasses all our neocortical verbal abilities and heads like a Cruise missile straight for our amygdalas which hold our non-verbal, most emotional memories.

This is why – bear with a little arrogance on my part here – not everyone who buys perfume and/or is an active member of a fragrance community/group is a perfume blogger.

It’s bloody hard to write about.

If you could see yours truly mid-review, you’d see a barefaced, disheveled slob in leopard print PJs wearing a cloud of said review, sniffing a wrist and/or a strip of Arches watercolor paper, pacing back and forth between the teapot and the laptop, thumbing a thesaurus, chewing on pencils, blasting (and singing along with) vintage punk records and suspect over the hill metal baritones while muttering sotto voce, tearing at hair, pulling faces and displaying an impressive command of blatantly offensive swear words in several languages. All of it performed in front of the most terrifying space of all – a blank Word page. Now you know!

The Rule of Engagement

In social media, there is a term called the rule of engagement. It boils down to something like this:

If a given online community is set to a value of 100%, then 90% of it will enjoy the show, so to say, but only rarely be driven to participate. Ten percent of them will engage – that is to say, participate in any ongoing conversation, comment on a blog or put up a Facebook status, respond to a tweet and so forth. One percent of that total – this holds true everywhere – will quite independently of everyone else feel compelled to create original content for whatever reasons and always or frequently participate in one form or another.

I see this again and again – on Facebook, on Twitter, the very comments I’m privileged to receive and conversations I initiate on this blog by readers I feel privileged to write for, concerning an art form we all feel so passionate about. And if all you as a reader and perfume aficionado are capable of contributing is your SotD with a Fragrantica link, then that’s perfectly acceptable to me. Trust me, I have more than enough words and opinions for at least five thousand people.

The Facebook Freakfumista Show

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, whether we choose to participate or not, Facebook and social media are revolutionizing our very lives and the way we interact with each other every day.


Because all of them give us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to reinvent and redefine ourselves every single day – and every single moment, if we choose. Whether we post LOLcats, memes, links or simply what we had for dinner, we’re all of us reinventing our own lives and how we choose to represent them – every day.

Not only that – we’re driven by nothing more nor less than our need for being acknowledged, being seen, being told – in an increasingly fragmented, crowded, anonymous life – that we as individuals have some validation in the footprints we leave on the planet.

Personally, I will go to my grave stating that perfume – that ridiculous, expensive, aspirational, superfluous art – has made everything in my life possible.

I became a perfume blogger for one reason – to become a better writer, since that’s my bottom line in self definition. I exceeded beyond my wildest expectations.

As I evolved from those distant beginnings not even three years ago, I also joined perfume groups on Facebook, was invited to join in those online conversations, became known and accepted into that elite one percent. I observed what people were talking about and how they talked, commented on SotD posts, was pointed in several directions I’ve never known otherwise. I posted my own navel-gazing SotD posts, and sometimes, sparked conversations as I did. They were – and still are – a revelation.

While I may be a resident freakfumista and post-punk midlife misanthrope in my own all-too-real life, to find a kind of community and acceptance in the online world of social media has changed my life forever – for real. I have one real life true-blue friend in my immediate vicinity and a sister in faraway Copenhagen. That’s all, two argumentative Schrödinger cats notwithstanding.

But I also have standing invitations, true-blue and exceedingly real friendships and instant community – and another kind of family? – on three continents, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and those endlessly boring, irrelevant SotD posts.

I’ve learned details about lives and personalities I would otherwise never know from finding out what people choose to waft, wear and adore. I’ve shared in their lives, their loves, their woes and their joys, celebrated their successes and cheered them up when they were down. I’ve met people, found readers, I’ve connected, I’ve had long, involved Skype conversations. I’ve fallen in love and certainly laughter with not a few of them in a way that feels less like fake, superficial acquaintances and more like family in the best sense of the word, and to a writer in BFE nowhere who has not much at all, that has meant and still means more than you know.

So those silly, volatile, vociferous Facebook groups and Twitter conversations – the endless revolving virtual happy hour across time zones of SotDs and discussion and dissent, where fellow freakfumistas just like me argue, laugh, post bad jokes and share ourselves, our lives and our preoccupations are far more important than they appear on the surface. For one thing, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your obsession and have a place to share it.

For another, you may have far more in common with your fellow freakfumistas than just perfume, and isn’t common ground where all true friendships often begin in real life?

The Towering Ivory Soapbox

Any kind of creative expression – regardless of the medium you choose – is in itself a kind of narcissism – or solipsism. If it’s just an exercise in preventing your head from exploding, you might choose to stick with the decidedly old-school method of a pen and a notebook. Alas and alack, so very many of us don’t stop there. We begin to believe our own brand of blarney. We begin to think we have an opinion and what-the-hey, why not commit that ultimate exercise in vanity…put it out there?

Publish a blog post, put the link up on Facebook and elsewhere, tweet it and tell the world, tell the world that you exist?

It’s a free world, we have freedom of speech and freedom of opinion, and the online world has plenty of room enough for everyone. Say whatever you please. Stand by what you say.

So long as you’re aware that nothing – not even in the blogosphere – exists in a vacuum, and whatever you do say can and often does find a level – or an audience. You may get a reaction to your words and your opinions, if not always the reaction you would choose. But blogging is itself a social medium, and by choosing to blog, you are also opening yourself up to criticism, dissent and discussion. How you decide to deal with it says very much about the courage of your convictions and very much more about your social media credibility.

I think it’s a crying shame that particular blogger deleted the post – as if he didn’t get the reaction he was hoping for, so he then chose to erase it. I would have respected it very much more if he hadn’t, and had the determination to stand by what he wrote.

Dissent, discussion and even the occasional satire is a many-splendored thing. All too often though, it backfires on the writer. Not because of the mode of expression he chose, but because the writer didn’t have the necessary writing skills to make his intentions crystal clear – or perhaps the motivation or resolve to explain them properly, and if that’s true, then he might have chosen a better angle for a better reception.

Yet, there it is. We live in a social world. We redefine ourselves within that context every single day of our lives, with LOLcats, memes, links, tweets and status updates and SotDs.

Some of us haul out the virtual soapbox and preach to an unseen choir, but in a social world, it isn’t up to us to decide what happens once we do, or even if we might topple from our ivory soapbox towers.

Only that our SotSolipsism might have consequences we could never have foreseen.

Image: via The Globe And Mail

43 thoughts on “SotSolipsism

  1. I too wish the origin of this particular tempest in an Earl Grey teapot had not removed his post. It smacks of lack of conviction at best and being a blog version of a troll at worst. When I write I always feel I get the first word in my article and so I leave the last word to the commenters; good bad or indifferent I stand by what I write and let those who choose to read my words have their say. I think you feel the same which is why I know this post doesn’t have a shelf life of the author’s lack of conviction.

    1. Coming from you, Mark – that is a compliment of no small stature! Thank you! But just like you, I stand by my convictions as well as my posts – or I might as well not even bother to speak up! 😉

  2. I’m not really participating much in the perfume community lately (although I hope that changes soon) so I completely missed this.
    But I generally feel no one has a right to criticize the behaviour of other, unless, of course, it’s not hurting somebody which wasn’t the case here.
    I agree with your post, I find my life is richer in many different ways because I decided to participate in the perfume community. 🙂

  3. Very well said, Tarleisio. I’m one of those oddballs who doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account (for the same reason I don’t keep ice cream in the house…to minimize the damage I’d do to myself by the sweet indulgences it offers and that I would surely abuse in no time flat), but I can see the beautiful and thrilling ways it has allowed people to interface with the world. And I can’t imagine why anyone would take offense at those SotD posts! I used to really enjoy looking at the SOtD thread at Basenotes and seeing all of the images that people used to accompany those brief posts. I thought of them as daily affirmations – a way of anointing the day, being present in it, appreciating it.

  4. Now THAT my dear, is a bloody marvelous piece of writing. Go girl. I second you all the way. (It has all opened a whole new dimension in my life and it´s awesome fun.
    Plus it´s always good to know that I am not alone in my madness!!) I don´t know of this posting and deletion you mention, but there are always people with their heads stuck up where the sun don´t shine. Worrieth not. Should I send you some cookies??

    Val CQ xxx
    (Sandinista playing in the background here)

    1. Sandinista! You’re my kind of gal! 🙂 I’m not worried in the slightest! Because I have the best-smelling virtual family of friends on Planet Earth – and with cookies, too! 🙂

      1. Well, Portia, I do believe my heart just flew right out of my chest! If you do, I’ll happily drop everything to be there with you! xo

  5. I really really loved reading this. You put in to (eloquent) words how I feel about the Social Perfume World. I have never in my life felt so connected to a large community sharing the same passion as I do. I adore my morning reads on FB Fragrance Friends and all the blogs I subscribe to in my Email. My husband can read about the state of affairs in the New York Times, and I am blissfully happy bouncing from reviews to Fragrantica, to discussions, to comments, all about my favorite subject! Thank you!!

  6. Exactly! Thank you for this post. The ideas I was trying to put forth, but not able to express as eloquently. If you post it, we will discuss it. Maybe favourably, maybe not, but everyone can join in and give their impressions and opinions. At the end of the day, that’s what we are here for, why we read the blogs and join the groups. To connect with those who share the same, strange an delightful obsession with scent.

    1. And that, Kathleen, is the sum and total of it all in a nutshell, isn’t it? That we share who we are, connect with like-minded people and discover new horizons? Oh. Yes. One thing more. Stand by our opinions in the face of dissent…;)

  7. Sheila,

    What a wonderful post! As always you have been erudite and wise and just nailed it. Your post is what I.have been saying in my head all day but you’ve taken the effort and written it so much better than I could have. And all with the needed grace and dignity. Bravo and thank you for cutting through all the grey and telling some much needed truths.


  8. As I said elsewhere, it’s not hurting me, and I learn more about people when they share their perfumes with me. It tells me about who they are, what they love, how they feel. And isn’t that what life is all about?!?

    One of the best things about the internet, is that it’s “infinite.” There’s room for everyone at the table. You can find a place where there are those who love what you love.

  9. I was surprised when that blogger finally emerged from his lurk status in said private FB group to tell everyone how his post was a tongue-in-cheek op-ed (aren’t all blog posts op-eds?) that had been misunderstood. I read his article and thought it was a whiney case of biting the hand that feeds you. Who cares what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own group, however mundane and “boring” it may seem.

    The fact that he then removed his post and wrote a follow up painting a portrait of himself as a “risk-taker” who was stirring controversy (about what, SOTD’s, for crying out loud) cemented his cowardice to stand behind his work and take the heat. Not only that, he then left said FB group and slammed the door. Where’s the risk in that? Seems petulant and spoiled, a veritable Veruca Salt who needs some come uppance.

    Thanks Willie Wonka we love your fantastical factory and delectable delights!

    1. Maggie – you’re totally right. ALL blog posts are by their very nature op-eds. But the fact remains – get yourself out there, and you can’t have your perfume and wear it, too! In other words, not only did the blogger come across as spoiled and/or self-serving in his retraction post, he also didn’t have the courage to stick by his own convictions. Words have power, and should be used wisely. I’ve never retracted a post in my life as a blogger (and I’ve written some doozies!), and I never will. Because I have opinions – and I stand by them and whatever power my words might have! I can stand the heat! And I can light that stove, too! 😉

      1. I don’t think he was offended so much as bored. But isn’t perfume one distinct way we can reinvent and redefine ourselves – every single day?

  10. You stated so many of the thoughts that I had as I observed all that took place, Sheila.

    First of all, that the post was written tonge-in-cheek as he said, was not at all obvious. And that, yes, he has a right to think and write whatever he wants. But he cannot do so without preparing himself for some pushback- and all the more pushback because of the tone in which his piece was written. Instead of deleting the post, just disable comments if you want. That way we can still read the piece.

    Makes me wonder what might have happened to “War Of The Worlds” if Wells had pulled it from everywhere as a knee jerk reaction instead of calmly explaining himself?

    1. Well, for one thing James, I very much doubt it would have made quite the impression on the public mind that it did! 😉 Not to mention – it made a star of Orson Welles…
      But just as you do, I think it was misguided to delete the original post. Oh, well. Live and learn! 🙂

  11. Oh, thank you for this post!! I was surprised at how hurt I was at the blogger’s post. Especially when I read his words “banal”. Sometimes we just want to connect with those who are like-minded. Sometimes we want to share. Why is that banal?

    E.M. Forster said “Only Connect.”

    I am so glad you wrote this, S. Thank you! xoxo

    1. Connecting is never banal. It’s a huge part of what makes us human. What’s sad is that some people will always try to deny it. Don’t waste time on those! As for writing it – well, I had to do something. So I did. 🙂

  12. Are you talking about this post? (feel free to delete this link) Or was there more?

    After reading your post and then the thread in FFF I’ve got an urge to post my SOTD there for the first time. Ah… the power of the word… 😉

    1. Well, I would have, but the post was deleted. Sic transit…And no, there was no more, other than a follow up post.

      They say that the pen is mightier than the sword for a reason, don’t they! 😉

  13. Towering tour de force of a post! I didn’t clock the one that provoked it, but thanks for validating my own inconsequential diurnal status updates on FB, which I find myself increasingly drawn to posting since I have been living on my own, consequences and self-image be damned. The perfume community is as enriching as you say, and I have certainly tipped more than a few virtual friends over into corporeal ones, a project that is still ongoing. I hope to get to Denmark in due course… 😉

      1. Likewise! And do please keep these thought-provoking ‘state of the perfume nation’ posts coming. Far from being ‘doozies’ – not that I have ever clocked such a thing on TAG 🙂 – they are amongst your finest work.

      2. Thank YOU for the compliment! I have no compunctions or fear of controversy – and if no one else will say it, then say it, I certainly will, no worries. 😉

  14. Hi Tarlesio! Your whole post is the best description I’ve seen about perfume blogging as a social activity, and maybe one of the best explanations for the reasons people use social media in general. Especially here:

    “Because all of them give us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to reinvent and redefine ourselves every single day – and every single moment, if we choose. Whether we post LOLcats, memes, links or simply what we had for dinner, we’re all of us reinventing our own lives and how we choose to represent them – every day.

    Not only that – we’re driven by nothing more nor less than our need for being acknowledged, being seen, being told – in an increasingly fragmented, crowded, anonymous life – that we as individuals have some validation in the footprints we leave on the planet.”

    If the Internet is the primary form of information sharing, then blogging is essentially a way for us to further cement our existence. Knowing that someone can Google something unrelated to me (perfume reviews) and have my name come up makes me feel like I’m more important by way of being connected to something else.

    I also blog to be a better writer, and to watch my evolution in process. It seems like a lot of us are writers in other respects as well. Muse in Wooden Shoes does NaNoWriMo, for example. For both of these reasons, I think each of us is delighted to have a little corner of the Internet to call our own.

    I’ll admit that blogging as a social outlet doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I’m more comfortable writing reviews myself, but I love reading posts like yours, and I especially look forward to reading the creative types of posts that ask readers to write perfume briefs and choose between perfume houses; that kind of thing.

    The best thing about the blogging community is that every blog offers something a little different.

    1. And that, dear Joan, is precisely what makes blogging so rewarding – so many different perspectives on one ephemeral art! There’s room enough for every voice – yours, mine and anyone who wants to join the global conversation! 🙂

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