And then it was January. Or actually, February if you’re a (mild) hypochondriac and the imminent end of the first month of the year of PROMISE is slipping away into the ether. It’s been a potent start to my year, how has it been for you?

January is always full of wonder and also longing. The last day at the end of the month is the day my father died, and whether I know it or not, it’s creeping up on me like a cloud of smoke. Historically the mist has particularly choked, but right now, it’s enveloping me like my favourite incense (Nag Champa) from Stick, Stone & Bone on Christopher Street here in New York City. Less than a week away and I feel oddly ambivalent. Ambivalent towards my physicality, and more interested in the invisible threads percolating around me. You know, the ones running out into the world—into and from other humans—but mostly just zigzagging without even so much as a nod from me. Maybe this is what happens one decade on from losing the great love of your life, but I’m mighty interested in these new sensations. They feel affirmative. Different. Smiley. Like honey. Or treacle. Which is always rich and unctuous until you eat too much and feel sick. And it dribbles, which I love.

Talking about love, reclaiming the familiar while discovering new horizons of an intimate relationship is frankly wondrous; my dad lives on in my heart and mind. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of him in some context. Fucked up? Wish I could speak to dad. Done something brilliant? Need to tell dad! Met a man…DAD!!!!!! Need a bear hug and a looooooooooong walk? Where’s dad? Want to cook slow roasted lamb (his speciality)? Hurry dad, I’m hungry! Trying to be bold and jump into something new in my creative life? Well actually, he would just say jump. I ask for help now more than ever. Advice too. In fact, I want to know what people who I know intimately and don’t know from a bar of soap are thinking. Safe to assume they know something epic that I do not. How exciting is that? Dad, well he taught me THAT. My dad’s death has been the ultimate exposer. From facing my mortality to shattering the glass walls of control I thought I had carefully built, when everything crumbled around me with aplomb, it was a disaster. And then one day it wasn’t. And today it isn’t.

In becoming intimate with death and loved ones who have lost, I have seen unbelievable stances of beauty, of bravery, of devotion, of sparkling soul bursts, gosh so much that it makes me giddy thinking about it. Of course, I’ve seen self-destruction and bad behaviour (myself included), but I choose to remember not forget anymore and feel the light and the good. I’ll leave you and me with this passage of sheer candescence that touches me so very deeply:

“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography—to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient


source: Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient



How do you mark your progress through a book? What sort of place-holders do you use? Any? Me, I use none. Purists would cringe at my page folding, spine bending, postcard/Post-it/cinema ticket inserting-cum-bookmarking skills; the kind of techniques solely reserved for guilt-free communion with (hopefully) musty pages. Hey, at least it’s not a big fat rasher of bacon…

Corner turning in a book is symbolic, a tantalising glimpse into self, and perhaps even the future. From The Bible to Harry Potter, and even Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography, the allure of dead certainties fly towards spine-tingling moments—not just because of the added resonance the physical act of paper provocation illicits, but because it always appears so relaxed and happy to be manipulated.

Books have to be read (worse luck it takes so long a time). It is the only way of discovering what they contain. A few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed to the West. EM Forster

Going off-piste with say 650 pages, enlivens what could easily become a dry curatorial exercise. Last summer I bought a paperback from a book stall in East Hampton and read it over the next few days. And then somehow the physical book itself vanished from my life. This week, with barely enough time for writing, my mind went back to the novel I had read which has gradually acquired talisman-like status. It doesn’t really matter what the book was called, what matters is that it represented the first thing a writer, somebody else, wanted to say about the world.

And while I too am contemplating what I want to say about the world (in print, no less), I feel I’m about to enter the time of the superlative. Literally and figuratively, I’m crawling into burrows and magical wardrobes, an almost unpredictable enchantment of the realist (not me) or the heavy hand of prophecy. Because much as I may enjoy them, such sparkly tales do not stand as any old myths stood. They demand nothing from me, except digging into satisfying that infantile desire I found in my childhood books, rather than any holy books I was forced to read.

Talking about holy books, the communion I feel with each page, is akin to evoking perfumed literary enchantment. Where once scents promised a ride on a magic carpet, now they can capture the olfactory experience of manhandling your overdue tome to a disappointed friend or librarian. Which is not to say that people should always give off the odor you expect them to…or do.


There’s nothing better than rubbing a chubby baby’s tummy, and I can’t seem to resist doing the same on a buzzed head. Charlize Theron looked epic in Mad Max: Fury Road. I wanted to shave my locks right there and then. There’s something about a shorn crown and how it’s really most conducive to a good rub. You learn the shape of someone’s head, the contours of their scalp. I think that’s pretty imperative.

It also epitomizes a freedom and not just from the obvious products. I think it’s akin to driving with the roof down whilst throwing your arms out the side of the car (at full speed no less), or diving head first into glittering seas, but mostly, it alludes to a sense of someone with free time. It expresses far more than the immediate message. It also says something like: ‘I’m a farmer, my chickens run around freely, and the eggs were probably laid today.’ And ain’t that evocative and grand.

Running my hands through my hair is a habit of mine when I have writer’s block or any block. If you see me with crazy-rumpled static you’ll know I’m mid-something or something like: ‘You’d be out of your mind to even think about what I’m thinking.’ Would I take the plunge? Probably not. What if I have a weird head shape? What if there’s a giant mole that I don’t know about? What if Mom­­ — no, Mom is definitely going to cry. I’m kinda joking, but let’s be honest, a woman’s hair is still very much attached to her value in our culture. Her femininity, her sexiness are too often tied up in the length of her hair.

Philip Guedalla once remarked: ‘I had always assumed that cliché was a suburb in Paris, until I discovered it was a street in Oxford.’ A clear indication that to provoke an immediate response to an authoritative visual, the cliché is essential. ‘Aesthetics is for the artist, like ornithology is for the birds,’ said Ben Shahn. Doesn’t it all come down to what moves you? Or what doesn’t? The Japanese don’t have a word for art. They use a word synonymous with function, purpose and aesthetics – geijutsu. But in essence, I think what Melvin Konner wrote in his The Tangled Wing shall add breadth to these burgeoning thoughts of mine:

‘Following a chimpanzee through a forest in Tanzania a monkey watcher saw it stop bedside a waterfall. Whether it was going to be there or incidentally passing is not clear but it was a stunning sight. At first the chimpanzee seemed lost in contemplation. Then it began jumping up and down, running around, calling out, and generally expressing enough excitement to merit an explanation. Although the chimpanzee could have had no practical interest in the waterfall it obviously held an interest, a curiosity, some kind of communication. Perhaps millions of years ago, in the infancy of the human spirit, something evoked a similar response from a very similar animal. Something that made it stop in its tracks overcome by a sense of wonder.’


source: Norman Rockwell/Detail of The Connoisseur, 1962/



In one of my favorite books, The English Patient, the nurse tells how her father would take his dog’s paw in his hand and sniff, as if it was a bouquet. It revealed, he expounded, “the aromas of a garden, a field of grasses, a walk through cyclamen—a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal had taken during the day.”

I’ve been studying aromatherapy, playing with sensations, the recall of a fragrance to me that you can’t experience, or “hallucinogenic perfumery”, as Diane Ackerman called it in her opus, A Natural History of the Senses. But for myself, distant memories are less refined. Like summers on the beach in Cape Town sucking granadilla lollies tinged with sand, the pungent aroma of asphalt and sunshine, my first trip to The Bush, oh, and the proximity of the warm velvet night high on elementary things. Now that my friends is the scent I’d like to bottle into luminous bubbles.

So you know that the majority of our sense receptors are in our eyes, which makes smell even more damn magical. Sight so dominates our intellectual practices that we construct mazes so we can see what is possible, what is happening. Synaesthetes inhabit our fragile bodies, feeling shapes, smelling noises, seeing flavors, and hearing colors. It’s a subject I’ve only started delving into, and I’m absolutely enthralled. Can you imagine having colored hearing? Thinking that kisses evoke thoughts of orange sherbet, and maintaining that apples taste blue. Sensual responses that are mighty unpredictable, like when I try and convince myself that writing is like trying to paint emerald green leaves and sky-blue flowers over crossed t’s and dotted i’s.

I’ll liken these revelations to something private that seems to be disconcertingly public and ubiquitous. The world talks about smell in a way that’s insatiably consuming entertainment, the way in which it permeates our soul like a strange and striking hymn to culture.

All smells worth their salt beg to be remade and reinterpreted, to be animated and then “see what happens.” Because in our heads, we are all film directors or novelists, imagining lifetimes inside odors, telling ourselves the stories incited by the pictures they illicit.

Fragrance makes those imaginative encounters luridly visible to me. Pulses of bass like fingers on skin, a rhythm that gradually bends you to its own syncopation. I think of fragrance as a her, and she’s got me hooked for life.


source: Marcel Christ/plenty of colour




We’ve been talking a lot in the office about what it means to be a woman, what sisterhood is, why our vaginas have stories to tell, and how we can speak to the true creative enchantment that resides within us. Enchantment—it keeps on being bandied about with the same prolificacy as intoxication. And why? Well for starters, when we delve, it’s enchanting! That tingly light of the golden hour, falling under your own beautiful spell, making friends with all your senses or foreseeing magic? ENCHANTING!

This time of the year feels magical. The impending darkness, comforting not scary; the twinkling absolutely nostalgic. I feel stirrings of wanting to wear layers and layers of tactile fabric, wanting to lie by a fire for hours (ok, days) on end. Oh and socks! With apologies to the sun, prime sleeping time, otherworldly light and the implication of intimacy and camaraderie is an objective fact that’s deliciously thrilling. I’m not sure anyone puts the case more compellingly than Herman Melville, in an early passage from Moby-Dick that finds the narrator keeping warm overnight at a boarding-house on the Massachusetts coast:

To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more… the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

As I often lament on this blog, I don’t live in the midst of nature. Because if I did, I would stroke the spines of leaves, bow down to the aristocrats of the woodlands—them old oaks—and maybe even roll around in dense foliage. As Robert Browning wrote: “Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.” A period of memories and melancholy calls for candles and chestnuts, stoicism and fragility.

I feel like I’m burning bright in an oasis of calm which is comforting and terrifying all at once. The music I’m hearing is completely spellbinding and very powerful. It really affects me. Hopefully my voice will float just above it.


source: bt-images



“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer … and everything collapses. ”

― Colette

I’d make a terrible undercover cop or spy I realized last week. Over on MI6’s (the British equivalent to the CIA) website, they lure you in with the promise that they will “test your ability to maintain a simple cover story”. So I was walking in my local supermarket and I saw a dad doing a food shop with his daughter. She must have been at college because he was insisting on all manner of superfoods, and she was insisting on all manner of junk foods. They had a rhythm that I couldn’t take my eyes off, and I proceeded to follow them round the aisles mesmerized. I’m not usually one to follow in hot – or in this case slow – pursuit, nor am I unaware that 6ft human beings are conspicuous, but it was better than saying: “My name is Kayla Hannah Jacobs. I live just down the road. I sometimes wish I was a vegetarian and I’m absolutely petrified of pigeons.” As an aside, let’s hope I didn’t freak them out or seem .. creepy?

This is all to say that the faint undertone of grief that catches at the back of your throat hit me immediately, and is still lingering in a way that perfume clings to scarves, hair and skin. My dad and I used to shop together gleefully because of our mutual love for food and cooking. We would spend hours in aisles the way one can spend hours going back and forth from a work of art. I miss being in a supermarket with him so much that the juxtaposition of detectable lingering and longing is still a shock because I always forget what grief smells like.

I was surprised at the sheer fact of my dad’s absence seemed a bit too .. fresh? In the way perfume can seem when newly sprayed and not yet marinated into flesh. It’s hard not to love someone who’s always on your side isn’t it? That’s a dad, that was my dad, that was the dad I saw at the supermarket. I blush when I think about it, the gulf between what my heart and my head think, what we’re capable of imagining versus actual reality. I’d like to think my dad is with me always, but at that moment when I felt achey like I haven’t felt in a while, I thought on how great of him it would be if he decided to haunt me. Especially at Wholefoods.

A sensory experience is lonely if you’re missing the very person you want to share it with and will never be able to. I carried on walking those aisles (don’t worry, I stopped the ‘observation’ at some point) in a heightened state, yearning for emotional connection with my dad, but also laughing a bit at some memories piercing through the lump in my throat. Ooooh the brain is a seductive beast, because really I just have a simple longing to see my dad again and navigate our way around the world as we used to. As I thought on him more, the nostalgia for the days gone by when so much still lay ahead made my skin tingle so much that I needed to go home and shower off the scent accumulating – I’d call it ‘Wistfully Ravenous’, but I’m not sure it would be an olfactory blockbuster.

The by-product of the permanence of reality is ardor, and the joyful synonyms of that five letter word are numerous. Particularly: passion, zeal, fire and jazz. On a whim when I got home I read a few chapters of The Book Thief and happed upon these raw lines:

“Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.”

It would be breathtaking not to feel so violated by my own emotions, but I must admit, a maelstrom of grief can be an acute image-maker for easing me back into my body, my skin, my mind and my heart.


source: Wolfgang Tillmans|alexquisite



What does it take to be suitably stimulated? It’s so personal, it’s entirely different for each and everyone of us. Thank G-d. Although intensifying experiences, be they artistic, literary, sexual or cultural with scent, is definitely more thrilling when you can share it with a person/people who like to open themselves up to a different level of enjoyment.

I guess I mean using life’s marinades as a way of overcoming the horizontality of the kind of consumption we’ve taken to, the flatness of everything ground down to ‘content’. Maybe it’s about context and stature, nostalgia and the future. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I’m back in New York and remembering the smell of bougainvillea on hot afternoons, the sound of the waves sliding up and down the rocky beach, the way the clouds obscured some parts of the mountains but the sunlight shone on others. If I look at postcards I brought home – I like to send pictorial dispatches once I’ve left a country – they are kind of like olfactory reminders for my imagination that I want to scratch, and then sniff. And then scratch again.

When I’m not in New York, another set of scratch ‘n’ sniff triggers happen. I look at an American flag bandana that somehow comes everywhere I go, and it’s all pizza, hot dogs, churros, garbage, sewer steam, bagels, grass, and pastrami – all in their entirety fond memories of seemingly inconsequential aromatic rumblings. But they end up being scene stealers. Of note.

I collected scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers when I was a little girl with relish. Then I moved to scratching perfume strips in magazines aggressively. Later on in life, I found out that anything that’s scratched and produces an aroma, is made by enclosing individual beads (imperceptible to the human eye) of scented oil in tiny plastic capsules which can be broken open by friction. It was wondrous to me then, and it’s wondrous to me now.

If my ramblings seem dubious, just try rubbing the seat you’re sitting on say, and tell me what kind of discerning or disrupting happens in your imagination. Get ready to start playing with your own chemical bouquets. It’s really all in the mind anyway.


source: Pinterest|Society6





You never read a poem out loud when you’re writing it?


No. That seems obscene to me. I don’t want to hear the sound of my own voice. It’s the sound of something in me, but it’s not my voice. It isn’t a literal voice – at all. But there is a murmuring.

The Paris Review, Eilleen Myles, The Art of Poetry No.99

Before you flagellate yourself for using “yeah” or “um” too much (guilty), and that’s before you flagellate yourself when you hear your own voice,  a lot of linguistic devices don’t necessarily undermine what you’re saying.

The psychology of what makes us cringe is up for the taking. Is it a shock of self-consciousness? In a 2006 paper on embarrassment, researchers wrote that in moments of disruption, “such as in illness, clumsiness, or exposure to the judgments of other people, the lived body becomes an object of our attention. In these moments, the body appears as the corporeal body. … The corporeal body can therefore be conceptualized as the body-subject turned toward itself as a body-object. Embarrassment and the “self-conscious” emotions seem to always occur within dynamics in which the lived body is momentarily reduced to the corporeal body.”

Maybe every cringe-induced playback, whether it be by phone or video should be accompanied by a transcript: these things are much more bearable that way. Second, do we dial back the hyperbole? Nah, I’m always in danger of falling immediately to the floor in the fetal position for these grand life occurrences.

The thing is, language, our ownership and understanding of it, must evolve in order for us to survive. Like the dysfunctional belief in colorblind race relations, ignoring it will not make it “go away”. Language fits that marker. For example, the word “cringe” is one of my favorites, but the actual words that make me cringe are: moist, phlegm, panties, ointment, velvet, weeping and so on. If I had to hear myself say all of those tongue twisters in quick succession played back, I’m sure I’d elicit a very visceral reaction in me (and you) —  the linguistic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

Which brings me back to hearing our own voices. To put it in more technical terms, you’re adding bone conduction to air conduction when you speak with your own voice. Bone-conducted sound is when you activate your vocal cords and vibrations are set off through your skull, eventually reaching your inner ear. The acoustics in your skull lower the frequency of those vibrations along the way, essentially adding some bass tones.

As a result, the voice we hear inside our heads is lower, richer and more dulcet because of these extra rumblings, and hearing it come from outside ourselves (on a video for example) makes it sound tinny and alien.

Parker J. Palmer — founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal — cautioned that what we hear might not always be a mellifluous serenade by our highest selves — but giving voice to the parts of ourselves we least like is essential to the process:

My life is not only about my strengths and virtues; it is also about my liabilities and my limits, my trespasses and my shadow. An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for “wholeness” is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of.


source: Rachel Cadman|I Love LA