Glass Has Memory

My palms were sweaty. I was cautiously spinning the metal turntable with my left, holding the blowtorch in my right, trying to align the flame with the tiny nick I’d made in the side of the wine bottle. I could barely see the mark, wasn’t even sure whether I was aiming for a stray bit of dust instead. I asked the professor if I could get the glass cutter and make a better mark.

She said, “No, because glass has memory. It knows where you made the first mark. It wants to crack there. If you want a clean cut, you can’t mark it twice.”

She wrapped her hand around my right wrist, helping me hold the torch steady as the bottle made a full rotation, popping the top half from the bottom.

It was my first night in Intro to Glass and Glassblowing. After 20-some years I was back in night school, compelled to get out of my head and into my heart and hands.

My heart was heavy. I’d moved to California to begin a new chapter, then discovered my mother in Texas had dementia. Some part of me was ruminating about what-ifs and what-thens night and day.

I’d come to glass partly because of the way it takes you into the present moment. Everything sharp or on fire.

But already I was learning it was more than that. Glass is about right now, yes, but it’s also about what happened before.

Wave file of a crack in glass.
(Source: abstraktgeneriert CC-0 on Openverse)

This is a wave file of glass in trauma. The sound of glass cracking.

We may not always see the fracture starting in a piece of glass, but once it’s there, it’s there for good. And once you find the fracture, it gives you clues into what made it and how and when.

My mentor called this Memory. And so it is. And this is how I began experiencing glass as an exploration of memory-making. Creating things in glass that hold memories, studying glass itself and how it remembers, looking at analogs in body and mind–how our tissues hold trauma.

This was nearly four years ago. My mother’s mind and body hold memories differently than before, and I continue to learn what I can from her and from glass.