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.


  1. this is brilliant. just thought you should know.

  2. Wow! I happened upon your writing while searching for the meaning of broken glass in my life, as i keep breaking glass.
    Thank you for sharing..

  3. please tell us more why did you brake up , why did he move away.. I am going through a difficult break up
    I like how you explain things

  4. I am more curious why your relationship ended and if you're still in love with him. Cause I am and I am lost. I don't know what to do. I'm in pain.

  5. I don't know how I chanced upon this writing, but I couldn't tear myself away... I would like to read more.

  6. Just happened upon this blog looking for a meaning to Anton Chekhov's broken glass quote and have found myself looking for a deeper meaning to my own life. I've been truly moved by your story and the accidents/coincidences that shape our lives. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Same like previous comments. This writing surely great. You just make my day. Thanks for sharing.