When I returned home, things got even stranger. A friend called to ask where she should take her mother for dinner. I didn't know what to say. People who could describe the last three dishes I'd made for them in loving detail invited me to a potluck, and I brought nothing but wine. I felt light, giddy, disoriented—and worried. I'd been feeding my friends for such a long time that I wasn't sure what would happen, who we would be, if I stopped. So I offered them what I had on hand: perfume. One by one, they came and sniffed. Some of them surprised me—the three women in my life least likely to ever own a pair of heels turned out to have secret perfume lives of their own. They went through my samples with an expert relish. A few surprised themselves. My friend Joy prided herself on her strength and frugality. She'd lived in a yurt for two years, rode her bike instead of driving, and grew a huge vegetable garden. A secret sensualist, she'd always let me cook for her—I was her excuse to eat something besides lentils and kale. But perfume? She sniffed gingerly, experimentally, just to please me. Then a few months later she called. She was pregnant, nauseous, and craving the scent of roses. Could I help? Yes, I said, happily. Oh, yes. I could.

"That's all very nice," I can hear the diet people saying, "but did it work?" Meaning, did I lose the weight? Do I have a lifetime plan? Am I a slender, sweet-smelling, perfume-diet success?

Well, yes and no. I lost some weight in that first heady year of scented distraction. But mostly, I surprised myself so thoroughly that it felt as if anything might happen next. I might, for example, become a person who goes to the gym on a regular basis. (And I did.) I might get married in a big wedding after 11 years of stalling. (And I did.) I might do a lot of things. Finding a lifetime eating plan might be one of them. I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, there is still a lot to smell. The tetchy sadness of most diets is the way they make the world shrink. Half the grocery store, three-quarters of the menu, all of the bar; whole neighborhoods and ways of life vanish, and what remains is parceled out in careful, fussed-over portions. But the perfume diet made my world expand. I'd always been a person who stopped to crush a basil leaf or bend toward a lily, but now everything seems worth inhaling, naming, describing to myself: the green humidity of the warming air on my morning walks, the mix of honey, peaches, and kerosene rising from the overripe mangoes at the Mexican market, even the oddly comforting stale-corn-chip smell of my dog (who is overdue for a bath). The world rushes toward me, and I taste it all without ever opening my mouth. Sometimes it is so beautiful, I have to lie down on the floor.

Revel in the World Around You


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