Something Good #4: Candles and a Crossword
It had been a long and shitty week.
I was going on nearly a year without having entered a cinema, a restaurant, or even a friend’s home. The big movie project I had been working on for the better part of a decade had just been pushed back until the fall, due to the uncertainties and complications of filming during a plague.
With nowhere to go and nothing to do, I felt listless and unmotivated and anxious.
I felt compelled to force-boot some sort of transcendental experience.
But how to effect a profound change in mindset when you’ve been trapped between the same four walls for going on 12 months?
Could my answer be found in a… scented candle?
I had burned them before—the fancy kind, the I-don’t-want-to-tell-you-how-much-they-cost kind—and found their effects to be surprisingly transporting.
As my cire-melier (sorry), Eve recommended I purchase a candle from Maison Louis Marie, an L.A.-by-way-of-France-and-Belgium brand. I chose their Bois de Balincourt No.04 candle mostly because the description mentioned sandalwood, a scent that always brings back an incense-clogged period of my wayward teen years.
I took the candle down to the basement, where I sat in the floor, attempted to be “in the moment,” and called Eve.
Mark: Ok, I’m smelling it. I haven’t lit it yet.
Eve Thomas: Oh, you haven’t?
M: I wanted to go through the whole process with you, my candle shaman. I’m trying to categorize what I’m smelling here, before it’s lit. But I don’t really have a vocabulary for smell.
E: I’ll read the description. “Surrounded by an ancient mysterious forest, Balincourt is the name of our family home where we took long walks on a magical trail called ‘Lover’s Lane.’ This romantic scent is a sandalwood fragrance with a dominant cedarwood and sandalwood accord that's supplemented by a spicy cinnamon nutmeg complex with an earthy vetiver note.” It’s quite sweet, right?
M: It’s smelling really nice, now that I’m lighting it. I do find that with candles I’ve tried before, they can smell a little soapy before you burn them. A little bathroom-y. But once you actually start burning them, it’s quite different. It’s definitely evoking something in me. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s a happy feeling.
E: It does smell very fashionable, very clean. Like you would want someone to smell like this at a party.
M: It does remind me of parties.
E: It’s like someone wearing a nice light cologne, but they used some basic soap under that. A nice smell, like they layered their actual nice perfume over a soapy clean body.
M: It reminds me of being in places with other people. I think that’s what’s kind of nice about it. It’s summoning nice memories.
E: It’s almost like a mix of different people’s perfumes, as if you were kissing a few different people goodbye or hello at a party. And their scents all just kind of hung in the air.
M: Smell is kind of like the underrated sense, right? It’s the one we don’t cater to nearly as much. And when we do, it’s usually like, oh, it helps you taste. Either we forget about it or we dismiss it or we consider it sort of trivial.
E: Yeah, it’s considered frivolous. An extra or a fancy thing, something that you shouldn’t concern yourself with. But one of the most interesting things is that when you consider that we’re spending all our time online, smell really is the missing sense from our current existence. What we smell all day, especially as we work from home, is never really talked about.
What’s the joke—that you’re not working from home, but that you live at your work now? You’re turning your kitchen table into your office and then back into your kitchen table. I do think one of the reasons people are embracing candles is that they help your brain shift into different states when you really can’t control anything else. I’ve been burning a candle first thing in the morning, before starting work. Then I have a work candle, a smell for the day. It kind of softens the idea of going right onto the computer, into the day’s video calls.
M: You know what else I think is important about this candle moment is that all of our lighting sucks now. We’ve moved to these energy efficient, good-for-the-environment LED light bulbs, and I’m glad for the world that we are, but the quality of the light, it’s just awful. Maybe I’m just especially photosensitive, but I feel like we’re surrounded by bad fluorescent light all the time now. That may be one reason people are so into candles now. There’s so little good light anymore.
E: It doesn’t feel organic. Working from home, where you’re just like, suddenly I need this to be dinner light, or do I need this to be work light? My laptop screen is suddenly a light fixture in my room? That was never the plan!
When I’m in a meeting from four till five and the sun is setting, everything around me just turns dark and slowly I can see my reflection on my own screen—that can’t be good for my brain.
M: You can’t alter your physical surroundings in very dramatic ways, especially if you’re stuck at home all day, but if you light a candle you can change them on some level. And it really is transporting. I remember when I was a teenager in my bedroom—well, what could I change about my room? I could put up Christmas lights and burn some sandalwood incense. And that was enough to take me away.
E: That’s one of the things too, that we can’t leave our homes, at least not for long. Around Christmas, a lot of people who couldn’t have a fireplace or get to a cottage or even have a tree wanted forest scents or fireplace scents. That was the number one thing, kind of as a replacement for what they actually wanted, but still nice on its own.
M: A Diptyque Feu de Bois and a YouTube fireplace and we’re good to go.
E: I hope we’ll have Smell-O-Vision one day, because we’re missing so much without scent. Like in online dating, there’s no pheromones, and then you meet in person and it doesn’t work out. So much of our daily interactions are missing a huge part of how our brain functions.
M: If you look at any other mammals, scent is way more important than sight.
E: It’s a weird, ridiculous thing that we’ve done where basically that because you can create a record of it, a sense like sight is the most important thing. It’s like we elevated sight so much, post-photography, that not only do we not think smell is that important, we don’t consider it at all, unless it’s bad.
I inhaled deeply of my Bois de Balincourt candle, its scent already permeating my small basement room. Frankly, sitting on a concrete floor is probably not the ideal setting for this type of sensory experience, and the candle was maybe a little too perfumed for my sensitive nostrils, but it did create a quiet little bubble of fragrant solitude on a cold winter night.
I since have felt much better.
To further soothe your soul, I’d like to present you with Wick’d Game, an original crossword puzzle created by myself and some very clever assistive software, on what should be a familiar theme.
Warning: making crosswords is actually very hard and I had to put some ridiculous words into this one that nobody will ever guess. You will see indications in the clues when it’s OK to Google the answer.
The first person to return a completed crossword, promising on the honour system that they only Googled the appropriate answers, will receive a Lovely Prize. Feel free to print it and fill out by hand, or use a PDF editor (probably annoying to do, but who has a printer these days?)
Answers in next week’s issue!
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