On Worldviews, I: My Glass Jar

I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes.

—Will Freeman, About a Boy

In About a Boy, the main character, Will, measures his days in units.

  • Taking a bath: 1 unit.
  • Watching Countdown: 1 unit.
  • Exercising (aka playing pool): 3 units.
  • Having his hair carefully disheveled: 4 units.

And so on.

Similarly, I measure my life in parts. Or, more fittingly, moments.

I compartmentalize. I sense and view in fragments. Not that I’m unable to step back and see an entire canvas, but over the years, I’ve become analytical in how I approach things, peering through a microscope at bits of my past to understand how they fit in the precious glass jar that holds my life. And even though my universe floats freely inside this jar—and I feel part of an airy, beautiful, haphazard world where I drift rhythmically—I am very precise in measuring and documenting my life.

I record my life as a wave on a graph, composed of dots signifying moments in time. Given the nature of a wave, the low moments sink to the troughs, while the others—the peaksrest on the crests.

My manuscript about the warehouse rave scene in the nineties was not what I hoped it’d be—and how could it have been with my unripe thoughts and all? A flat, linear story it was. Still, when I wrote it, I managed to pluck moments from the deepest crevices of my memory. The memories shapeshifted into scribbles in my notebook, and then—gasping for air—found their way into my Word document, immortalized. Although the book failed as a whole, particular moments ascend above the dry, soulless narrative. They pierce through the pages, as if the wave on my graph rises in the physical space in front of me.

A screenwriting professor once told me: “Enter the scene late, and exit the scene early.” I’ve taken his advice over the past decade, but to a fault. Because rarely do I know how to start a story, and almost never do I craft an ending. Instead, I am preoccupied with random, stand-alone moments that fill a script, each with their own climaxes.

I chase moments of my past, disregarding my life’s timeline. I scoop the elusive with my bare hands, tossing captured pieces into my glass jar:

  • An inaugural night of raving at the Homebase warehouse on Hegenberger Road in Oakland in May 1997.
  • An evening at the Full Moon Party on the sands of Haad Rin Nok, Thailand, with my brother and sister-in-law in August 2004.
  • A hot afternoon on Ile Ste-Hélène in Montreal, dancing under a massive Calder sculpture that resembled a futuristic antennae, in July 2006.
  • A reunion of my old-school crew at a night of drum & bass in Potrero Hill in January 2007.

And so on.

These are disjointed moments that float in my jar—dots placed randomly on a graph. And as the wave materializes, I keep a tally of how many times I’ve reached the zenith, whatever that is. Perhaps that’s what my book was really about: my obsession with capturing a split second, and my appreciation for encounters—inexplicable, accidental, magical—that come and go in what feels like a single blink.

This is how I love to write.

No beginning. No end.

And this is also how I view my life.

As moments, independent of anything else, that I collect like butterflies.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

7 thoughts on “On Worldviews, I: My Glass Jar

  1. All I can say is WOW. I stumbled across your review on yelp’s Dirtybird in the Park, loved your review, clicked on your link to read other reviews you have written, and ended up here. You are an incredibly beautiful and talented writer. I loved this post, and as it was my first, I cannot wait to read more! Oh how the intricate waves of life flow into one another!

    1. Oh, this is such a kind note. Thank you for perusing my Yelp reviews and visiting my blog! If you were reading about Dirty Bird, you must be local (in SF or the Bay Area), then? I’ve got several posts brewing about that whole scene…not sure yet what they’ll be about. Please come back and say hello again; I promise I’ll have something new written 😉


  2. You are in the middle of life…how can you possibly know the end?

    People used to ask me if I thought that my marriage would last (weird question that begs another story) and I would say that I wouldn’t know until it was over, or until one of us died. He did, and it was over.

    Pffft…as simple as that: the end becomes clear when it’s over.

    Unless you are writing fiction, then you can make it up.

    1. I like your thoughts here (and what you were saying on Twitter yesterday). As time passes, I am less interested in reading pieces that come to conclusions, in that sort of “what I learned” kind of way. I do this when I discover something about myself, but I seem to keep changing month to month in terms of what I want and need, so the conversation never really ends.

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