Of Gifts and Gratitude ~ out of the bottle

red candles

When I think about perfume, I think of gifts and gratitude. It’s difficult to make outsiders understand just how deeply giving things away is woven into the perfume world. It’s built into the industry — all those testers and samples floating around. It’s even part of perfume itself — to wear it is to share it. And when I try to explain how generous perfume people are, all my fellow decanters and swappers, I find myself talking about gardeners in zucchini season.

It’s not quite the right metaphor though, because perfume generosity isn’t just about having too much of the stuff. I’ve received packages so full they made me dizzy — a bottle where there should have been a decant, a dozen samples when I expected one. But I’ve also been bowled over by a single milliliter vial with a tiny dab of some rarity carefully transferred from a bottle no bigger than a nickel because the sender thought I might love it, or because we were talking about it, or because someone just couldn’t bear for its beauty to go unknown. We give our perfume away to share the astonishment and delight and pleasure we felt the first time we smelled it. Oh, you just have to try it. Please let me send you some.

In the days when my entire collection fit easily inside a small wooden cigar box, those gifts made me both very happy and very uncomfortable. For years, I had been working very hard without much success. I was living a cramped, carefully measured kind of life and I didn’t know how to figure in that kind of largesse. I couldn’t predict it, and I couldn’t stop counting milliliters and dollars in my head. I worried about how I was going to reciprocate, and I felt guilty when I didn’t. I was sure I was breaking the rules.

But happiness is, thank goodness, a hard thing to resist. I never got over my worry, or my grateful surprise — I still blush and feel lightheaded every time I open one of those special packages — but I stopped trying to make everything come out even. I learned how to accept the gifts that came my way with a small measure of grace.

It sounds simple. It wasn’t. Because those gifts went far beyond perfume — they affected nearly every aspect of my life. My intention was to make this post a thank you note to the perfume community, but now that I’m writing it I realize I can barely begin to tell about all you’ve given me, let alone thank you enough. In fact, that’s one of the gifts: this sense I have, almost all the time now, of abundance. The feeling that there will always be more incredible things to see, hear, taste, touch and smell. The absolute certainty that there are far more brilliant, kind, funny people in the world than I’ll ever have a chance to meet.

Even so, I’m not done trying to thank you yet. Because perfume gifts and gratitude gave me what I needed to do something I’d dreamed of doing for a long time, but didn’t really believe was possible: write a book. My favorite bloggers gave me many crucial writing lessons and a chance to practice them. My fellow fans and commenters made it possible for me to imagine an audience of sympathetic readers. And becoming a perfumista gave me what every writer needs most: a story worth telling.

For the past two years I’ve been hard at work telling that story in the best, truest most entertaining way I know how. I’m done now, so I can tell you that Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure and an Unlikely Bride will be published on July 2, 2012 by Viking Press. I’ve stuffed it full of luscious smells, and all the people and places we have in common and a few things we might not. You’re in there, too. In fact, the whole book is sort of a thank you note, maybe a better one than this post. I hope you’ll like it.

 And I hope all of you receive the gifts you need in the coming New Year. Happy Holidays, everyone.

Note: top image is 19th DEC | 4th Advent [cropped] by Toni Kaarttinen at flickr; some rights reserved.

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  1. KateReed says:

    Congrats! Wow, a book?

    (I never finish anything, so that is quite an accomplishment!)

    I’d send you nethugs, but I fear I may be too infectious even just for that! :(

    • Alyssa says:

      Oh, dear! Sick in the middle of the holidays! I hope you are safely tucked away into bed and sipping on something warm. Feel better soon. (And thanks!)

    • Alyssa says:

      And should add up here: My apologies for the late responses. I just got off a plane in my hometown an hour ago!

  2. Rappleyea says:

    “In fact, that’s one of the gifts: this sense I have, almost all the time now, of abundance.”

    It’s funny isn’t it, how a package with several unexpected samples or an extra decant (thank you again and again my perfumista friends!) brings up a big bucket of abundance from our inner well. Such small things really, compared to an inheritance or winning the lottery, but I think it’s the genuine caring that comes in those packages with the perfume that engenders that feeling. Truly a gift.

    And thank YOU Alyssa for your beautiful writing time after time. Will your publisher bring your book out in Kindle format? If so, that’s the way I”ll buy it, but if not, I’ll make room on my bookshelf! Congratulations on your accomplishment!

    • Alyssa says:

      Absolutely, Rapp. And there was also the constant feeling of, “Oh my gosh, I never knew..that existed/something could smell like that/people could be that nice.” A whole world of beautiful things!

      And yes, the book will be out in hardcover and e-book formats for sure. Thanks for asking!

  3. odonata9 says:

    Congratulations on your book – what an amazing accomplishment!

    And you got me all misty here, talking about how generous our little community is. I went through a similar progression as you, and as many here I’m sure. When I first started reading and commenting here, I asked in a poll about where to get a sample of something – a kind reader sent me the (very hard to find/discontinued) sample, along with several other things just because. And then I started swapping on MUA and sent so many emails that I was sorry I hadn’t sent as many extras and felt I needed to reciprocate. And when buying splits, getting extra samples of other fun stuff thrown in, even a Malle! I’ve started to do the same and if I see someone asking about something I’ve got, I send it on. It is so fun getting the packages and I’m so grateful to be part of our group.

    • Alyssa says:

      I knew I’d made the turn the day that I put together a package for someone on MUA who had asked for two vintage samples. I put them in the envelope and they looked…lonely. So I added another. And then I wanted her to smell that other thing, and I couldn’t leave out that one, and then why not put that in… By the time I was done I was sort of cackling with excitement. It’s fun to give things away!

  4. Tara says:


    The perfume world is filled with interesting and generous people. It is amazing!!!

    • Alyssa says:

      It is, isn’t it? :-)

  5. springpansy says:

    Congratulations – that is soooo wonderful. I’m very excited to read it. And I agree about the generosity. I’ll never forget that first package filled with samples after I asked a simple question on the MUA fragrance board as a new member. Or the box full of goodies from another MUA friend – a box that actually brought tears to my eyes it was so generous. Or the many little packages I received over the years from fragrance friends that seemed to arrive just when I really needed a hug. I enjoyed your column today and look forward to your book!

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you for the congrats! Those little packages do seem to have a sense of timing sometimes. Even the ones I’ve ordered myself in a late night trance and then forgotten about… ;-)

  6. Zazie says:

    What a wonderful post – I found it really moving and you can certainly count me among the future readers of your book.
    I haven’t really experienced the perfume community as you and many people seem to have – but alas I suppose it says more about me than about the community! :p

    • Alyssa says:

      Zazie, it’s never too late! The Perfume Posse blog does and occasional swaparama that’s a good way to dip your toe in–it’s complete chaos, but people are so good-spirited that it all works out. I wish you perfume gifts in 2012!

  7. jirish says:

    Congratulations! I look forward to reading your book. It’s being published just a few days before my birthday on the 5th, so I’ll have to get it as a birthday present for myself. I know just what you mean about gaining the sense of abundance from this community. I really feel like I should be thanking you, and Robin, and all the other writers here and on the other perfume blogs I visit daily, for fostering that sense in me. Even if I never bought another bottle of perfume (perish the thought!), I’d still be reading the perfume blogs for that. It’s like having the voices of hundreds of Auntie Mames in my head, reminding me that life is a banquet.

    • Alyssa says:

      YES. Jirish, that is exactly what I was trying to say. And double extra bonus points for working in Auntie Mame!!

    • Alyssa says:

      And gosh, meant to say–I’m so moved that you think of the book as a possible birthday present!

  8. robini71 says:

    Oh I so love and relate to the Auntie mame reference. Just the thought of watching that movie with my mom like sharing perfume related things with her and her best friend made my soul smile on this dreary rainy day as this blog and its comments so often do. Here’s to needing a little more of what christmas and Auntie Mame and generosity truly represent.

    • Alyssa says:

      Totally agree. And must make an Auntie Mame date posthaste! :-)

    • OperaFan says:

      Aunty Mame – among my all-time favorite movies!

  9. robini71 says:

    Dear alyssa this post nearly made me cry it warmed my heart and cheered my soul. Congratulations on your book and all of the other goodness that’s come your way. Here’s hoping your publisher will see fit to offer your book in audio form so that those who are blind or other wise print disabled can share in its goodness too.

    • Alyssa says:

      I’m so pleased that you liked it. I felt that way while I was writing it, too.

      I was just talking about the need for an audio version last night with a friend of mine who has worked with multiply disabled people for a long time and is currently developing curriculum for the local School for the Blind. She mentioned that some of her students now have Kindles with a feature that provides an audio translation–cool! But I LOVE reading aloud (I used to be a theater person) so I’m hoping we can do something on that front.

      • robini71 says:

        Oh I do so hope you could record a version as I’d love to hear it. While it’s true that some are playing with Kindles their accessibility features are sadly not what they should be and as such haven’t taken the blind community by storm as of yet. Pity there’s a great potential there but its maker doesn’t seem to want to take full advantage of it. Here’s hoping you’ll appear on the Audible platform though. Even when an author isn’t as polished a reader for me it’s always fun to hear their words through their own voice.
        I’m also a collector of mini perfume bottles and bells and I must say that collectors or anyone for that matter who has a hobby seem to trend towards wondrous generosity in both tangible and intangible forms.

        • Alyssa says:

          Robin, I have limited power over what the publisher decides to do, but my contract does allow for an audio book and I’ll be crossing my fingers (and arguing when I can). A book on smells just seems like it *should* be available that way, doesn’t it?

          Totally true, what you say about collectors.

  10. samantha says:

    Beautiful post… thank you, and congratulations!! Definitely look forward to reading it!

  11. teri says:

    Alyssa, congratulations. That’s absolutely splendid and we’re all so very very proud of you.

    I’ve planned for a long time to write a book once I retire, which is getting alarmingly closer with every day. I know we don’t really HAVE to retire these days, but since my job involves extensive traveling which is beginning to become difficult at times, and I can’t really imagine I’d ever be happy going back to the 9-5 corporate life again, it looks like retirement will eventually be the wise choice.

    I’ve become a rabid E-Bayer since the advent of smart phones, because I have so much downtime in airports. I buy a wide variety of things, not just fragrances. But I have to agree with your assessment that there are no more generous people than perfume people. Book people come a close second, but I’ve been repeatedly blown away with the wonderful little goodies tucked into my E-Bay packages from the perfume sellers. They constantly go above and beyond the call.

    As an example, I had purchased a used bottle of a discontinued fragrance and when it arrived there was a second bottle in the package and a little note “I saw this at an estate sale the day I mailed this package and knew you’d like it. No extra charge. Enjoy!” Pretty amazing.

    • Alyssa says:

      Gardeners, book people, food people, knitters and crafters–they’re all pretty great, but perfume people are special. Maybe it’s because we’re championing an art that not everyone understands. It’s just wonderful to be around people who are doing something for the joy of it.

  12. JolieFleurs says:

    I was teary eyed almost from the start of your beautiful post, and when I got to the part about your book, I overlfowed!! Congratulations!

    I just pre-ordered it at Amazon….I repeat, folks, it’s available for pre-order at Amazon.

    Perfume lovers are the most amazing people ever. And if I may add my personal thanks to some generous, amazing perfumistas….Daisy, Mals, Nozknoz, Ann, Rappleya….may your generosity and kindness return to you a hundred fold. My life is immeasurably richer from having met you.

    • SuddenlyInexplicably says:

      As exciting as it is to pre-order, Amazon is not the best place to buy books if you want to support an author! They get very little money from Amazon because Amazon buys from the publisher at such a huge discount. It’s better for the author to buy from an independent book store, and even better to buy directly from the author if she offers it for sale on a web site.

      • JolieFleurs says:

        That is good to know, thank you! Hopefully Alyssa will let us know if she sets up a website? I will certainly be buying a few extra copies!

        Sadly, there are no more indie bookstores around me.

      • Alyssa says:

        You are not the first person who’s told me this. I’m going to do a little research and find out what the deal is for my particular contract. I’ll come back and comment when I know.

        • SuddenlyInexplicably says:

          Ha, ha, I think I might be the first person–I go by another name on Facebook!

          • Alyssa says:

            Ha! Well I’m glad you raised the issue. It was good for me to figure out what’s what on my end.

      • Alyssa says:

        OK. I just got a very long email on the topic of Amazon and all that. It may be different for other authors, but in my particular case: a) ordering from Amazon is just fine and b) I can’t sell my own books. (Which is good, because I’d rather you all go out and support the bookstores. Yay bookstores!)

        If you prefer not to pre-order from Amazon, you can try the site Indiebound. I just went over there for the first time and it’s very cool. It doesn’t have a button allowing you to directly pre-order, but the book is up on the site and your can link to it, put it on a list or find an indie bookstore that will sell it to you online.

        And JolieFleurs, I will have my own site eventually. Until then, you’re welcome to follow me on Twitter or stop by my Facebook page (it’s public) if you do the social media thing. (I didn’t until about six months ago, so I understand not everyone does.)

        Thank you so much for asking and caring about this issue!

    • Alyssa says:

      Hooray! And thank you *so much* for the pre-order. They give the publisher the idea that there’s an audience for the book, which can be very helpful to authors!

      • JolieFleurs says:

        I was hoping that would be the case. Pre-buzz is a good thing, I think!

        • Alyssa says:

          It’s hugely important. Especially for a unknown first-timer like me. That’s part of why the build-up starts so far in advance. Thank you again!

    • Cruella says:

      It looks like only the hard cover is available for Pre-sale, I just hopped over to Amazon to Pre-order the Kindle version but none was available. I will need to find another way to remember to buy the book! I’m very excited to read it!

      • Alyssa says:

        Well, thank you for trying! If you’re looking for a way to remember, I think the Indiebound site allows you to keep a wishlist on site (as does Amazon). The e-book should come out with or very shortly after the hard back.

    • nozknoz says:

      JolieFleurs, I feel the same about your wonderful generosity of perfume and spirit!

  13. helenviolette says:

    Lovely post and so true! And huge congrats on your book- that must feel incredible. I will look for it in July :)

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you so much HelenViolette! (I do love your handle.)

  14. lenika says:

    Congratulations and thank you for this post!
    (And thank you wonderful perfumistas for you generosity).

  15. Alyssa, I was just speaking with a Paris-based American novelist to prepare a panel discussion at the American library, and telling her that beyond their topic, the perfume blogs have been both writing generators and community generators. As you point out, a lot of it is due to the sharing that is an essential part of perfume — if only because we share it with the air, and other noses!
    Congratulations on the book. We haven’t met in the real world yet, but it seems we might cross paths on the shelves.

  16. armellide says:

    A book about perfume swapping? Magnificent idea!

    • Alyssa says:

      That is a magnificent idea! My book is not quite about that–more of a story about my trip down the rabbit hole and how it changed my life. But maybe someone else–you?–will write a swapper book.

  17. Anita Monroe says:

    What a lovely post. I’ll pre-order the book at my local bookseller’s – McClure’s Books in Clemson, SC. I was out shopping today and a lady asked the saleslady for a fragrance that I own but am allergic to. i’m going to send it to her. Also, as we were looking at the items still left on the shelves, I suggested to her that she might like “L” by Lolita Lempicka. She decided to try it . What fun!.
    I hope to be a more active in this community in the new year.
    Happy holidays to all. I feel so grateful for all the tips for good things that have come from NST.

    • Alyssa says:

      That’s marvelous, you initiated her on the spot! Thank you so much for ordering from you local bookstore. I look forward to seeing you around the online perfume world!

  18. I loved reading this Alyssa, and I am so excited for your book!(!!!) I think of all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know through perfume as beautiful and totally unique gems, and you are definitely one of them.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you so much, Carrie! I can’t imagine my twitter stream without you. It’s been so much fun getting to know you a bit over there.

  19. guerlaingirl says:

    I’m so delighted for you Alyssa! Your post about gratitude is very moving. You’re so right — the sense of abundance that fragrance and fragrant people bring to me!!!

  20. Angela says:

    What a nice post to read after a long, tiring day at work. Perfume and perfume lovers do indeed give in spades in a hundred ways. Can’t wait to see your book! Why do they torture us with the wait? Don’t they know we want to read it now?

    • Alyssa says:

      You are very nice to say so, Angela, thank you! I’m sure I’ll be saying the same thing about your book one of these days (soon!).

  21. maggiecat says:

    Your lovely post makes me most anxious to read your book! (Especially since I’ve recently been an “unlikely bride” myself.) Good luck on this new part of your life journey!

    • Alyssa says:

      Well congratulations to *you* on getting married and surviving the process–in style, I have no doubt. Would love to hear more about the “unlikely” part!

  22. Omega says:

    Awesome! Congrats! I will definitely be checking this out:D.

  23. bookgirl says:

    This post definitely resonated with me, and so beautifully conveyed, too! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am so very grateful for the generosity of fellow perfume lovers who have indulged me with samples and their glittering perfume knowledge (you know who you are, and I haven’t forgotten about you!). I love being part of this community here at NST. Thanks for making me feel so welcome! I look forward to learning and sharing more with you all in the year to come. Happy Holidays, everyone!

    Thanks for such a lovely post, Alyssa.

    • Alyssa says:

      So glad you’re having a similar experience to mine! Happy Holidays to you, too.

  24. Cruella says:

    Alyssa, you couldn’t have better described the feeling I have for our little community. Just today I received a lovely thank you email from someone who received a box of goodies from me. Her email was like a gift to me, so beautifully worded, the fragrances described in enormous depth and appreciation. Congrats to you on your book, I have just now tried to preorder the Kindle version with no success, but will try to remember to check Amazon for that version’s availability. In any case, I will get your book and read it, can’t wait!

    • Alyssa says:

      You are very sweet for someone named Cruella! (Do you have one of those fabulous black and white coats? :-) ) I know exactly what you mean about that email. I think I love hearing what people think about perfume as much or more than the perfume itself.

      I answered your e-book question in your comment above!

  25. PinoiPerfumista says:

    Congratulations to you Alyssa! I look forward to reading your book soon!

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you, so much!

  26. Erin says:

    Just joining in the chorus of congratulations, A. I’m really look forward to reading it and am proud of your great accomplishment! I’ll be buying the hardcover, as I’m a Luddite.

    • Alyssa says:

      Ha! You and me both, Erin, But you will be well rewarded for it this time around–the cover is gorgeous and one of our fellow perfumistas (I think you know Francesca?) happened to work on the interiors and she made them stunning and so perfect for the content and feel of the book.

  27. Olfacta says:

    Congratulations! I can’t wait to read the book!

    I too have been overwhelmed by the generosity of this community. My life has been much more interesting because of all of you. Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays, everybody!

    • Alyssa says:

      Happy Holidays to you, too, Olfacta!

  28. smellifluous says:

    Thank you for this moving post. The perfume community is, indeed, incredible. I feel so lucky to be a part of it and really appreciate how beautifully you articulated its wonders.

    Happy hols to you and congrats on your book!

    • Alyssa says:

      I’m glad you feel that way, too. Happy holidays to you.

  29. victoriaf says:

    Alyssa, oh, I am so behind on my reading, but I wanted to say that I love this post. It is so touching, and it reflects my own wonderful experience in the perfume community.

    I look forward to reading your book, which I know will be engaging, warm and multifaceted. Just like you!

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you so much, V. You make me blush!

  30. sariah says:

    Yay! I can’t wait to read it.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thanks, Sariah!

  31. OhLily says:

    How exciting…congratulations!

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you, OhLily (and that’s such a pretty screen name).

  32. OperaFan says:

    Congratulations Alyssa! and thank YOU for this wonderful post. I couldn’t agree more. We have a wonderful community.

    • Alyssa says:

      Hooray for happy people doing what they love to do! Thank you.

  33. Tama says:

    I got a bit misty, too! It is an amazing, amazing community of diverse, interesting, and very loving people. I have nearly given up on the idea of ever being able to make things even.

    I am so looking forward to reading your book. Congratulations again, my friend!

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you, dear Tama!

  34. Aparatchick says:

    Wonderful news about your book, Alyssa!

    I, too, have been overwhelmed by the kindness, compassion, and joy that abounds in the perfume community. I’d just like to note one example: I mentioned once that I had not been able to find a bottle of the perfume I wore on my wedding day 25 years ago – it was discontinued long ago. And a very, very kind commenter here had a bottle which she sent me. I’m not the teary sort, but I cried when I opened that bottle. She hadn’t just sent me a bottle of perfume, she had sent me a beloved memory and reassurance in the kindness of human beings. Precious gifts, indeed.

    • Alyssa says:

      Oh! Now I’m misting up, too! Thanks so much for sharing that story.

  35. Kathryn says:

    How wonderful, Alyssa! Congratulations! I can’t wait to read your book.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you, Kathryn!

  36. nozknoz says:

    Alyssa, thank you for this beautiful post – I had been thinking about this very aspect of perfume loving this week. Very much looking forward to our book!

    • Alyssa says:

      So glad you liked it Noz, and–“our book”–that’s so perfect. A Merry Holiday to you.

  37. civava says:

    How nice. Congratulations on a book. I admit the perfume community is something special, something I didn’t expect to influence my life so much. All in positive way.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you, Ciava!

  38. dominika says:

    What a great post. It made me misty-eyed as well :)

    Can’t wait to read your book. Congratulations on finding such a great publisher.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you so much, Dominika. And yes, wow, I feel very lucky to be at Viking.

  39. Haunani says:

    What a beautiful post, Alyssa! I’m thrilled for you and thrilled for us. Can’t wait for the book release! :-)

    • Alyssa says:

      I love that “thrilled for us,” Haunani! I hope it will feel like “our” book.

  40. dee says:

    Alyssa, I love how perfectly you’ve captured what so many of us feel, and that’s the beautiful sense of belonging that perfumistas generate. I’ve had more than my share of packages that made me blush, and hopefully have sent a few of my own. I’ve said it elsewhere, but I’ll say it again here, and that is, I came for the perfume, I stayed for the community.

    I am also beyond thrilled about your book— I got a call a few days ago from Mandy in the marketing department (I work at BookPeople), asking me if I knew about you, to which I responded something along these lines: “ALYSSA? YOU MEANS ALYSSA FROM NOW SMELL THIS?!!!!???!! OH MY GOD YES I KNOW WHO YOU MEAN!!!” I am somewhat embarrassed to say that yes, I did shout that whole dialogue. :) …And can’t wait for the event!!!

  41. Alyssa says:

    Thank you for your kind words about the post, Dee. And OH MY GOSH YOU LOVE PERFUME AND WORK AT BOOKPEOPLE?! HOW HAVE WE NEVER MET?? I’m away visiting my folks right now, but let’s remedy this after the holidays, yes? :-)

  42. dolcesarah says:

    You’ve given me something of my own to love, it’s like a new baby or a new pet to love and cherish. I simply love what you’ve done for me, for me alone. I love you Robin!

  43. dolcesarah says:

    I meant Alyssa, I love you Alyssa. I get your names mixed up everyday.

    • Alyssa says:

      Well it all comes from Robin to begin with–she’s the reason we’re all here, so I’ll let your comment above stand for her. ;-) Thank you for the kind words!

  44. rosepotpie says:

    Wow, I got all teary eyed reading your post. Lovely. And huge congrats on the book, Alyssa- I can’t wait to read it!

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you so much, Rose.

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