The Cost of Vacation, Part 3: Perfume and Makeup

katy perry finger

This week, I’ll be sharing various expenditures related to my recent travels to both The Billfold Live and the JoCo Cruise, and how I feel about them.

So I need to tell you a little bit about what goes on during the JoCo Cruise.

There are performances—this year we got to see Jean Grae, Rhea Butcher, and Hari Kondabolu, among others—and there are “shadow performances,” where the cruise attendees put on their own shows and events. There are official panels, like John Scalzi’s writing track, and there are shadow panels. It’s like a convention, a summer camp, a music and comedy festival, and a college semester all held together by whatever puts the slush into a frozen mudslide.

It was also different this year, at least for me.

I was talking with a friend about the idea that, as the cruise gets bigger every year, it stops feeling like a shared experience and starts feeling more like a vacation that you take on your own. We’ve long passed the point where you could hope to learn everyone’s names or even eat dinner with everyone you know. With more than 800 attendees on board, our big group, where everyone is and will always be welcome, also began separating itself into clusters and sets.

So I didn’t spend a lot of time “with the group” this year. I spent it with a smaller crowd. I also found myself less interested in the panels and educational events, even though I went to most of them because I was curious to hear what John Scalzi and Patrick Rothfuss and everyone else would say. The panels were pitched at the “how to get started” level, which is where a lot of us are and which is where I was the first time I signed up for the cruise. But I’m four years beyond that, now. I’m started. I need different kinds of panels and ideas.

This wasn’t to say that I didn’t learn anything this year. I learned a lot about my own work and how I can improve it, which is another of the top three reasons I get on this boat, but I made most of these discoveries through conversations or by taking an hour to get away from everyone and pace the upper decks, letting everything I had absorbed put itself together. (There was literally a moment where I said, aloud and to myself, “Oh, of course.” Eureka.)

This is all leading up to why I paid $39.95 for a bottle of Katy Perry’s Killer Queen perfume and $31.95 for a palette of Do The Bright Thing makeup, I promise.

You probably know that part of my cruise outfit grid included this vintage princess dress that I got at a thrift store for $15. Well. I put it on and studied myself and thought my face has become older without me realizing. When I was a little kid, I wanted to grow up to look like Lesley Ann Warren in Clue; when I was older I decided it was much better to model myself after Madeline Kahn; now here I was, in a froofy pink dress, headed straight towards Eileen Brennan.

So I went onto the cruise ship promenade and bought myself a bottle of perfume and a palette of makeup. Aside from a CoverGirl tinted lip balm (#2, Cute) and shading my eyebrows to match my hair, I haven’t worn full makeup in years. I thought that the fresh-faced look would make me look fresher. Now it just looked like there were all these colors around my eyes that didn’t belong there.

The Do The Bright Thing makeup worked, in that it gave me that “healthy glow” and diminished the dark circles (which I probably could have diminished on my own with more sleep and fewer boozes, but I was in a hurry). It was a $31.95 well spent, and I probably tricked myself into buying higher-quality cosmetics than I might have bought for myself at the Rite Aid.

But why did I spend another $39.95 on Katy Perry-themed perfume?

For the first few days of the cruise, I was circling in a chum of “Maybe I have outgrown this, maybe my face has outgrown my dress, maybe I need a different kind of creative space, maybe this is the last year I get to do this which would be the saddest thing ever because this place is my home and nobody wants to leave their home even if it’s the next part of the journey.”

One of my favorite, secret cruise traditions is to go into the perfume shop on the promenade and test a different kind of perfume before each ship dinner. (I was crushed to learn that I didn’t actually like the scent of Chanel No. 5.) So there I was, my brain whipping itself around like a daiquiri in a blender, and I said to myself “it would be so hilarious if I tried Katy Perry’s perfume.” I mean, just for laughs, right?

Except I loved it. I put it on and it was like Katy Perry herself descended on wires from the ceiling and tapped me with her scepter: “You do not know much about my music, except for a few songs that you don’t realize are mine and the one time I got kicked off Sesame Street, but you do know the song “Killer Queen,” which I did not actually cover even though that would have made sense, and you also really like the way this perfume smells against your skin, and I think you should buy it.”

(For a better explanation: the top notes include plum, which is what I wear as my everyday Bath and Body Works scent, and the bottom notes include liquid praline. It’s like it was made just for me.)

It took me two more days to work up the nerve to buy Katy Perry’s Killer Queen. I mean, I was pretty sure I was going to do it, but I was also well aware of my own hesitations, which were: 1) the cost, and 2) whether or not I wanted to do something completely frivolous.

Turns out that the best cure for brain chum is to do something completely frivolous.

Why do we buy things when we are feeling sad, or pensive, or thoughtful, or stuck in a brain loop about our own abilities? Because we want to treat ourselves, maybe. Because we want to be worth more than our current opinion of ourselves. Because sometimes a new idea, even if it is just a whiff of liquid praline, frees us from the place where we are stuck.

Or because our stateroom housekeeper left us a note on our pillow informing us that the perfume shop was having a one-hour-only sale that evening at 6 p.m.

I got to the perfumerie late, because our dinner seating didn’t end until nearly 8. I grabbed my bottle and the makeup kit and took them to the counter and said “I was at dinner, but it’s still okay to get the sale, right?”

The clerk smiled and said “no,” which felt like it went everything I knew about customer service on a cruise ship, but I bought the perfume anyway.

And everything was pretty much wonderful, after that.

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