Saturday, March 21, 2009

My two cents on not having two cents

I find it humorous that this recession has created a new breed of people, a new socioeconomic crowd. One that looks pretty well-off, but is really struggling. A business woman on her way to the soup kitchen, or something.

I have yet to think of a name for this class, but I can tell you that I realized I was one of them today. I was at the farmer's market in the ferry building in San Francisco and had just bought myself a $16 raw vegan lunch of lasagna, nut/seed crackers and butternut squash hummus. Well, it was actually only $14, because as I was paying I realized that was all the cash I had left.

The raw vegan lady gave me my food anyway, but this made me remember a few things... like for instance, that I'd checked my bank account the other day and realized there was only $50 in it, all of which I had spent in the last two days. I remembered seeing this and initially being intelligent and cooking dinner with employees at the hostel I was staying at so that I could eat for free, making me feel both productive and smugly creative.

But the next night, when I met up with my aunt and took her to a flamenco show where I knew the guitarist (free), and then had a glass of Catalonian cava while chatting with a kind older gentleman guitarist (so, free again), I began to forget about my cheap side and indulged in my sophisticated airs. Therefore, the $14 raw vegan mistake.

After eating my lunch, I realized I still needed $1.50 to catch the bus to Caffe Trieste, where I was meeting someone for a new-friend date. I put my purse and laptop on the ground as I searched for bus fare. 50 cents. 75 cents. 77, 78... come on. Yes! Another quarter, $1.03. I continued digging as people grumbled at my crouched form on the ground in the way of their local organic cheese shopping. I came up with $1.48. I kid you not.

And so today I found myself walking a mile uphill in one of those annoyingly light rains – where the tiny drops flick at your eyelids but they refuse to actually come down, teasing you as to whether or not it will actually start pouring in five seconds – lugging a $1,300 Macbook and carrying an iPhone I paid $400 for, and a $200 check that I cannot deposit into my Colorado bank account from here, and therefore is a useless piece of paper with a pretty number on it.

I realized that this economic downward spiral has created a new class of people that are sort of between classes, and sitting there stuck, wondering when they will climb back up or slide on downward. It consists of people who were previously living fairly well, and who now cannot find two cents for the bus. Suits with briefcases still giving high-brow glances while stiffing the bartender his dollar tip, because they really do need it.

Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon? I'd be curious. And if you've got a name for this crowd... let me know. In the meantime, I'll be hiking up Lombard.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Café writing and the absence of time

The problem for me of trying to write on a schedule is that I write best when I have no idea what time it is. When I have no idea what time I started writing and no idea when I stopped. When I have no concept of time, when a gigantic zucchini could walk by and wave at me and I would have no idea because I'm so entranced by the flow of energy and thoughts from my head to my fingers to my keyboard that is when I write my best.

I have a 35-hour a week job, and I don't really want to do my writing in the office. I tried once, but the environment is off. I need a hot beverage, the wing-like flutter of laptop keys and conversation, ideas taking flight around me. I need the feeling of euphoric release when I write a sentence like that, something that depicts exactly what's inside of me. I can't succumb to that in my work office.

So, I have after-work hours. All right. But I have some very close female friends and I want to make time for them too, so there goes 2-3 evenings. Otherwise, I have gym time, which is also very important to me, so that I don't spiral into a lumpy depression resulting from excess weight and a lack of strength. Then, I have Amy Time, which I require and take regularly. I know that the phrase might be foreign to people in more bustling parts of this country
well, not the phrase "me time" per say, but making a point to take it might not come as easily. I read somewhere that the pace of the city you live in dictates your internal pace, the speed at which your internal clock operates, which makes sense to me, but I wish I could remember the exact phrasing and research involved.

I'm lucky to have a job now, even if it is outside of the journalism industry.
This recession is, to put it briefly, scary. I feel the anger in people, even in Boulder. Cautiousness coming out as defensiveness. A manager at my gym recently attacked me for giving my girl friend a free pass – when they are the ones handing out free passes to attract more members – asking me hurriedly, "Is she going to join? She never returns my calls and emails! Is she going to join or not?" People are terrified, and if we're not, we can feel it in the air and it suffocates our own sense of calm.

Something that saddened me greatly was watching the folding of the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado. After 150 years, the oldest newspaper in Colorado published its final issue on Feb. 27.

"We're an odd bunch in this business. A collection of people who collect: data and facts and anecdotes and people and jokes and sketches. We are consumed by that collecting, by the act of organization and the way in which the random assembles and reassembles itself, revealing something new every time, an unturned corner, an unopened door, a story waiting."

Consumed. Yes. It is consuming, in the best way.

The above quote is from Tina Griego's goodbye column,
"This is what has called my heart." Staffers commented that writing articles for the final issue was like getting to choose the music played at your own funeral. I understand that; I felt that way when writing my own goodbye column in The Globe in North Carolina, and it was I who chose to leave it. And it's still being published. For now.

When working at The Globe, it was suggested to me to write a story on fossil hunting on Onslow Beach on the Marine base I worked on. I did some research and found a 55-year-old local woman who had an amazing, Smithsonian-worthy collection of fossils from that beach
from various ice ages. Fossil hunting became her passion, it was what she did in her free time, when her Marine husband was sent to war, and all of these relics made up a significant part of her life, and in a way they were her life. She was so protective of them. I remember taking photos of her fossils for my article and she was concerned the camera flash might hurt them, so I didn't use it, and compromised by taking them outside and using natural light to capture their beauty.

I spent most of an entire week doing research for this article, talking to fossil club presidents and curators of paleontology at museums, but it was that woman who drew me in. If someone is passionate about something and I'm writing about what they love, I feel that fire and use it as fuel for my writing, and it comes so naturally to me.

Now, I constantly look at books on writing at the Boulder Bookstore, and I am amazed at how so many of them talk about searching for the urge to write, about "becoming" a writer, about being consistent and dedicated to improving your writing, as if it were something to work on, as if it were a creaky chain to lube, a long-term errand to finally check off. The authors' advice makes sense to me but, writing runs so much more deeply for me. It's not so... man-made.

I know my fr
iend Julia would understand; she is a painter, and it's something she does for a living, but she also lives and breathes it. It isn't that she went to school to learn to paint and decided that's what she would do for money and that was all; it runs in her blood. For me, there is nothing else. Well, there is everything else, but it is all filtered through writing. This is why I consider being a writer to be the best of all possible professions, because you can be interested in anything and you get to learn about it and write about it and tell others about it and get paid for it. How could a life consist of anything better than doing that, every single day?

Now that I don't have a dedicated 40 hours a week to write and get paid for it, I make necessary adjustments. It's not about finding a specific time block in which to write; for me, it's about being able to ask myself, will I need to be conscious and alert and ready to respond to people later on tonight? Or will it be all right if, at around 7 p.m. on a Saturday, I take myself to a café and allow myself to disappear for an unspecified block of time? I can come to a café and just let myself
feel whatever is buzzing in and around me, and then I float back into reality. And I'm so lucky that I get to keep what I've created.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The meaning of my blog title

I was listening to an episode of This American Life the other day, and something said in it had the eerie effect of making me feel hollowed out. I related to it in a visceral way.

The episode is #374: Somewhere Out There, and the theme is about the odds of finding another person in this world of 6.5 billion people – a friend, a lover, a pseudo-parent – who is a true match for you, and what happens when you find that person.

One of the acts tells the story of an American man, Eric Hayot (who speaks no Chinese), who falls for a Chinese woman, Yuanyuan Di (who speaks no English), loses contact with her and then tracks her down years later by searching the whole of China with only her name and her previous place of employment to go by. Eric says:

“That desperation of needing to find the person… just this sense that you have to find this person, it’s kind of overwhelming. I’m teaching Proust this week and so there’s this moment in Proust where Swann is falling in love with this woman and the way that he realizes he’s falling in love with her is he goes to this party that he’s supposed to meet her at, and she’s already gone. And then he drives his carriage through Paris and is going in and out of all of these restaurants and stuff, and you know, it’s all about how the act of looking for her causes him, in some sense, not only to recognize that he’s in love with her, but also actually to kind of really fall in love with her.” (16:30 into the podcast; listen to him say it, with the background music. Beautiful.)

I heard that and immediately thought about the car accident that changed my life.


The title of this blog is Light on Broken Glass for two reasons. It refers most directly to a quote about writing:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
– Anton Chekhov

It's about showing, not telling.

In a journal entry I once wrote about the end of a 2.5 year relationship, I never mentioned once how I was feeling. I never said, "I felt sad," or something cliché like, "My heart is breaking." In fact, I may have even gone too far, because I didn't mention the break-up at all, only the way I tried to piece myself back together by acquiring my first piece of art for my new solitary living space.

An older man at the store on Pearl St. helped me pick out a frame. I had never had anything framed before in my life, and at first he kept asking, "Which would you prefer?" and I tried to appear like I knew what I was doing, but my mind can't access its files on complementary colors right now and eventually I looked at him and said, "Well... what would you pick?" and it came out in this overflowing sort of way, and we were kneeling on the floor together and my eyes poured, "please" and he understood and we understood and he picked something beautiful, black with speckled gold to match the burgundy colors in the painting, and my studio will be beautiful and this is what I need. I need this beauty.

Three sentences. I wrote them in this way, following this rhythm, for a reason. At the time, it was all I could do to just keep flowing with things, to get through and around them, and I wanted to reflect that in my writing. This often comes naturally to me, thank goodness, and I'm happy to have been influenced by some amazing teachers and writers.

The other reason my blog is entitled as such is due to the car accident.


Ian – the man I later needed to replace with a painting – and I were driving on I-70W just after midnight on June 15, 2007, headed for what we thought would soon be our new home, San Francisco. He was going about 90mph (the speed limit was 75mph), hoping to get to a hostel in Boulder where we could rest up before continuing our drive. I was in the passenger seat sleeping. He glanced at a map and began to veer toward the median – he hit a reflector pole in the middle of the road, and as a reaction to the impact, over-corrected the steering wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes. This caused my car to spin around in circles on the highway and flip over three times before coming to a stop, thankfully right-side up. I woke up mid-flip, screaming.

A UPS man pulled over, called 911 for us and told me not to move because I was having severe neck pain. While waiting for the police, he reminded us to choose UPS over FedEx (I'm not even joking), then the firemen came and put me on some sort of wooden board (it's a little fuzzy, it could have been something else) and carried me onto a helicopter, where they stuck me with an IV and sticker things to monitor my vitals, and flew me to an ER in Aurora. We had crashed in Limon, which is an incredibly small rural town in Colorado, and so they wanted me at a better-equipped hospital. Ian was driven to a hospital in the area we crashed in, as he had a minor cut on his arm – his hospital was equivalent in size to a living room.

They did MRI's, cat scans, X-rays, I have no idea, I was in shock. My legs wouldn't stop shaking. They asked me if I was cold. I don't think I understood the question. What I do remember is that they did this thing called a "contrast study" in which they told me that they were going to inject a fluid in me that would make my body warm, then they went away. I thought that sounded very nice, until it happened and the MRI machine started whirring and it felt like someone had lit my entire body on fire from the inside. It was the only time I cried.

Ian, being 85 miles away at a different hospital, hitchhiked with a guy driving a tractor trailer at around 4 a.m., then caught a cab from a gas station in the middle of nowhere to my hospital. After being separated immediately after a fairly traumatic accident, seeing him walking down the hospital hallway in my woozy and terrified state made him appear to me as my knight in shining armor – or, twisted metal, as it were. The idea of being torn apart, of wanting to be together, of searching and reuniting, made us recognize our love again and kept us together for the next 10 months.

Luckily, I had nothing more than severe neck strain, sprain and contusions (just bruises and some under-the-skin bleeding) on my back and shoulder and neck, mostly on the right side. It took three weeks for it to heal 95%, and it still hurt for a few months afterward, when I turned my head at a certain angle or attempted certain yoga poses.

Ian and I decided to stay in Colorado for a few weeks in Fort Collins, resting, healing and indulging in espresso ice cream and margaritas. We had a great ability to enjoy ourselves in any location, in any situation. Ian and I visited Boulder one day and decided to move in to a one-month sublet there with eight college students. Boulder was supposed to be temporary.

I began to fall slowly in love with the town, as I spent my days appreciating how my body could still move by hiking, tubing down the Boulder Creek, lying in the grass at the farmers' market and riding my new mountain bike.

I found my current apartment in an auspicious way. I had just finished interviewing for a front desk position at a legal firm just east of downtown. I was about ride my bike back to our sublet, but I noticed studio apartments two buildings away. I meandered around the apartment complex, just to see what it was like, and noticed an open door. Thinking it might be the front office and I could see if there were apartments available, I stepped inside and found myself standing inside a beautiful sunny studio with hard-wood floors, granite counter tops, a bay window and aesthetically pleasing mirror placement – and standing in front of a pleasant yet surprised shirtless guy playing the flute. His name was Dan, and I asked him where the front office was; he said it was somewhere off site, but let me look around his place. I fell for it, hard. I took Ian to see the apartments, and the woman showing us around took us somewhere else first – someplace smaller, in a basement, with carpet, but in the same complex.

"No!" I said. "You have to see the one I saw." And so Dan and I met again, for the second time that day. Again, he was shirtless and mildly embarrassed, but that is what you get for leaving your door open all the time. As I expected, Ian loved it as well.

Dan happened to be moving out in early September. And so Ian and I signed a lease – for that very same apartment, for I would have no other – a week or so later. I still live here, and although some people have wondered how I could have stayed, living with the ghosts of my relationship with Ian – they don't understand. There are no ghosts. It is filled with my energy, my spirit; this was always my place. I know Ian would agree.


Since that summer, I've gradually gotten Boulder under my skin, from my initial infatuation to a deeply-felt connection. I've made friends, strengthened relationships, gained paintings, lost lovers, and changed, massively, from the person I was just two years ago. I feel more connected to nature, to my body, and I'm putting into action the self-awareness that had been dormant for much of my early twenties. It's amazing; I wouldn't change how I got where I am today, not for a second.

The only thing I could say was missing from my life as of a few weeks ago was writing. Maybe I felt that if I incorporated that element, I would have too much of a perfect existence, and that thought can be rather terrifying. It's full of risk. It's vulnerable.

But some of the best things can come out of those cave-like places. There can be light anywhere.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Compost bin replaces considerate boyfriend

I went into my office building’s bathroom today and noticed some beautiful flowers in the compost bin. Props to whoever chose to compost them instead of throw them in the trash, but they were still good. Perhaps I say that because my definition of “good” also includes the cool way in which the petals of flowers fall off and surround my dying bouquets like a colorful moat. Then, I save them and use them to decorate the top of my toilet. Essentially, flowers are always “good” to me in some way.

Well. I didn’t understand why perfectly good flowers should just go to waste, so I picked out the best ones from the compost bin, cut them anew, placed them in fresh water and put them on my office desk.

My beauties:

What I love the most is that since I live in such an eco-friendly town (even our farmer's market, which starts up again April 3, is 100% zero-waste), I can just attribute this to sound environmental decision-making.

We could also call this situation, “Amy gets her flowers from the trash." But, let's not.