by Rebecca Snow
Glass seems to be echoing its thin-blown curves in my ears and in my eyes here in Denver, little synchronicities right in time for the upcoming release of my novel, Glassmusic.
I sat next to a blind woman and her seven-year-old daughter at the bus stop a couple of weeks ago. The #6 never showed up according to schedule, so we ended up having a good forty-five minutes to talk. I mentioned the blind musician in my novel, and the woman wanted to know more. Her eyes were dark behind her sunglasses. She held a long walking stick angled across her lap to the ground. As I described the music, her daughter interrupted: “We played music with glasses in my class today!” She and her classmates had run their fingers around the rims of glasses filled with water, each glass tuned to a different note. That was a nice synchronicity. A momentary sense of purpose shivered a little through the cold metal bench.
Last Friday, a writer friend and I went to the Denver Botanic Gardens. Chihuly’s spears and globes and bird-like creatures of glass stood in the water and the grass, surrounded by intense fall colors, flowers, and mountain rock, the high-altitude sun burning all reflection to brilliance. Another synchronicity I didn’t consider until a couple of days later: glass is so beautiful, precise, and shining as both sound and sculpture, music and visual art.
My great-grandfather Matias Orheim played his glassmusic blind. He traveled throughout Norway, ministering to village communities, speaking to the youth, and performing hymns on glasses and violin. As I mention in the Author’s Note at the end of my novel, Orheim first inspired the story, and I wrote my early drafts from his blind point of view. After putting the manuscript aside for over fifteen years, however, the story became more about a character inspired by my grandmother Ingrid, Orheim’s youngest daughter. So I changed the point of view to her seeing eyes. I also changed place and character names. The people, the setting, and the plot all transformed into a fictionalized story, though I kept Ingrid’s first name the same. She has four siblings now, instead of seven. The facts strayed far from what actually happened. Even though Oskar Solheim (inspired by Matias Orheim) is still prominent in the novel, Ingrid is now the main character, growing up in his shadow. I will try to write more about her and my real grandmother another time.
In true history, Matias Orheim won the King’s Medal in Gold in 1953 for his writing, compositions, and ministry, and his music is still well-known among Norwegians. In 2007, Birger Løvlie wrote a small book about Orheim as part of a series on Norwegian church history. He was very kind to send me a copy, but I wish I could read Nynorsk (academic Norwegian, and no, I never did learn much Bokmål—regular Norwegian). There is a small museum in Orheim’s home village, Stårheim, about his life, along with a bed-and-breakfast.
Orheim’s hymns are included in church song books, and in 2010, Sogn og Fjordane Theater premiered a highly successful play about him, his music, and his family. Full-house audiences packed the seats where the play was performed across Norway, and the production went on stage again in 2012. I so wanted to travel to Norway and see it, but I wasn’t able to go. Here is a link advertising the play in Norwegian with a photo of the actors who played Orheim and his wife Maria.
Back to synchronicities, my senses and memories are still ringing with glass. In 1997, I was in a car accident resulting in mild traumatic brain injury and other long-term pain and problems. I have had other accidents as well. In 2000, when my son was two, both windows on the right side of the car shattered. Broken glass surrounded him in his carseat. Four medical personnel had to hold him down on the examination table to remove the glass from his eye. I am thankful he is okay now, but my own injuries seem to be longstanding.
I have been teaching English part-time as a community college adjunct and writing when I can at my own pace. Now, after a very long road of healing, I am transitioning to a full-time workload (though I haven’t managed to find a full-time job yet). I must be extra careful about where I live. Even as a visual person, I am highly noise sensitive. All my senses, in fact, are prone to migraine triggers, like fluorescent light and rude neighbors. I have had to move myself and my son every year or two since I left his dad in 2003, because of noise, drug smoke, or other conditions I just haven’t been able to tolerate—broken sewage pipes, failing furnaces in zero-degree weather, or a PTSD-aggravating bug infestation in the building—problems a good landlord wouldn’t refuse to solve. I had to get rid of nearly everything we owned last summer. I can’t help wondering if I have bad landlord karma—slum lord to slum lord—but at some point, karma has to change.
I’ve been renting a room while seeking higher-paid work and good housing, but I finally gave in and signed a lease for a small, somewhat iffy, apartment. My son hasn’t been living with me under the same roof for almost four months now, and my heart has fallen all the way to my toes. I share custody with his dad, and it’s time to have him with me again halftime.
When the landlord opened the 70% sound-proof window yesterday and then shut it again to prove its effectiveness, I realized peace and quiet is a craft. A flat, double-paned window is a sculpture. And the kind, helpful landlord is a work of human art, standing in the Denver sunlight, assuring me this apartment is finally the right place. He has already found me and my son a nice couch. I think I’ll buy a beautiful glass bowl to put on our coffee table, once we have one.
I just went to get clothes out of the dryer and stepped on a compact fluorescent bulb that had somehow rolled onto the basement floor. It released a little mercury, I’m sure. The owner suggested we stay out of the basement until tomorrow. One constant when I’m renting my own space with my son: no CFLs or LEDs. No ugly nauseating light. Sun, unscented candles, or incandescence—warm, glimmering glass.
Tags: Glassmusic, Guest Post, Rebecca Snow