As I worked in the glass studio today, I found myself referring back, again and again, to this index card I’d written on during my shorthand lessons this week.
Mom used a steno pad, not index cards, for most of her writing. So her shorthand would not have appeared on a 3 x 5 card. This was just one of the things that have been bugging me about making card-shaped glass objects. But today as I began making multiple iterations of the card, it started making more sense. It began feeling like I am documenting different stages or dimensions of her mind and memory. This happened organically, during the 4-hour session of making without over-thinking. Here’s roughly how it progressed:
Object #1 – off-white glass index card with “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — Let it go” in shorthand notation
I needed to make this object first because it anchors the whole project right now. It’s the thing my mother says the most, has continued to say the most, for at least the last six months of my visits. It’s her looping, one of the ways she processes her world. And as I’ve probably explained elsewhere, the shorthand is my way of representing her way of occupying a kind of secret language, a reality apart from mine. By learning a little shorthand I am accessing one of her rhetorical worlds. So I made that object first.
I used opaque French Vanilla Opal sheet glass (3mm) as the base layer for this and all other objects today because the hue reminds me of old index cards. It also has the sallowness I associate with the pages of Mom’s old steno pads. I also chose this glass because of its reactive potential: the French Vanilla Opal may react with silver and with copper–such as the copper wire I used for the shorthand notation. I was curious to see what the glass would do.
I also wanted to include an object that captured one of Mom’s old stories–she loved an audience (perhaps she still does), and although she doesn’t tell stories anymore, it felt important to document or preserve that version of her self-expression. I rummaged through my box of typed-copper memories (the ones I made for an earlier glass project a few years ago) and chose three to include in my next objects.
Object #2 – blue-lined glass index card with “That time I caught Bob with his secretary”
Object #3 – neon orange lined index card with “The player piano at Uncle Egbert’s house”
Object #4 – glass index card with reactive metals and “Watch your sister.”
Making the fourth object, I realized I needed a nonlinear, visible reaction to mark how this memory (which I typed before the pandemic began, before Mom entered memory care and became permanently distanced from her sister) is about a relationship that has gotten corroded, painfully, and yet is also still alive and beautiful and has the capacity for unexpected and maybe unknown transformations yet to come. So I added a layer of silver leaf, covered in clear glass, beneath the copper object.
With four objects on the shelf, I found it easier to decide what needed to happen next, and next. And the growing collection of cards also showed me that I am, actually, assembling a kind of index, a system for accessing a personal, shared history. One of the cards has no words or notations at all; it is all reaction: silver against amber glass. It’s a record of, what?, of metamorphosis? Or maybe it’s just a record of reaction itself.
It makes sense to me now that using a vintage index card filing box is the appropriate form of storage and display–it’s not just a conceit; it’s functional and intuitively correct.
The 3 X 5 card is part of my shared occupational history with my mother, a shared legacy of bureaucratization, of many years (too many) as office workers. It’s also part of an elaborate tradition of attempting to keep our memories organized, our knowledge preserved.
I look at Vincent Placcius’s De arte excerpendi and see an exquisite optimism of retrieval and display. I imagine myself a cabinetmaker, deciding how many categories of knowledge or narrative I would need to accommodate, or the recipient of the cabinet, imagining how to align and cross-reference the drawers and notecards (I already know I would need colored ribbons along with the chains). And I see, too, my mother’s dishwasher in her old apartment, with its sorting system of plastic Easter eggs and newspapers and greeting cards and colored string. A delimited space for objects holding meaning.