Visible Storage 001
|Jess Willa Wheaton||Mar 19|
I woke up with a start deep in the night. The word “surfactant” was glowing in my head. I didn’t know what time it was, didn’t know the deal with limbs – I just lay and knew the presence of this wide open new tab spread across my awareness: “surfactant.” Like a bright shallow desert, but surely… sprinkled with a few daubs of life? It was a little delicious, but definitely whoa. Nothing like this had ever arrived in me in this way, and whether it was dignity or disturbance would make all the difference later, if I ever chatted about it.
I was awoken in New York City not by rap or rats or persistent grow light whine or any other well-documented Foley Artist noise of western urban density, but by the arrival of… a fresh wave of silent holographic concrete poetry. By which I mean a single shimmering word in thrall with its own novel framing. But also carrying a request, lest it forget. It honestly glowed like a can of DrinkQT in that Sophie music video - who capriciously, generously, reminds from beyond the grave: let’s always do at least two things at once!
Whereas the edges of my dreams usually erode to Polaroid-colored wet jello as soon as my eyelids open, here the snail tentacles of my emotions took the reins, slowwwly. And they said: this word feels either like a cold hard product pic for a blancmange mold ‘shopped into place, or like a dropped satellite that forgot to fall all the way to the ground past your brain. Same diff. Yet, as an IDEA, I could tell it was neither door nor window. But it also wasn’t really cute enough to be alive either. It just wasn’t a very good video. It was just unblinkingly There.
I folded back the covers and slid to my feet, to softly walk this word out of our bedroom. Things were so much darker with my eyes now opened, meaning: shut against the blinding light of surfactant holding court when they were closed. As I nudged open the bedroom door, every movie scene showing a dramatic doorway’s birth ever made was playing somewhere in the world, inspiring a total maelstrom of different viewer emotions that would taste terrible mixed in one smoothie. Enough light snuck in with the door to bathe Boyd for a sec, like a quick body scan. Detected: sleeping virtuously. And: hands tucked under chin. It was a nice sight, and also unlike any of those doorway films, which are maybe actually a little tired from the process of having already been made. Plus, Boyd seemed like he was prepared to hold something by choice, unlike me. A chef kiss to that.
Out in the other half of our railroad-style apartment, wan moonlight slanted through the tops of our two windows at the end, the honorary “eyes” of our dwelling, that is, if our house was: 1) actually a house, and 2) built by children who knew how to make children’s drawings, and 3) like Jonah we could live in the body of another’s life, or at least 4) wished to inhabit Miyazaki’s Catbus, but stationary, up on blocks.
And then down by my toes, a beggar, the self-aggrandizing blue light of a modem with a lot to lose surged from our least favorite corner. The moonlight and modemlight intermixed at bellybutton height like a bashful highway James Turrell, but at least one that your person could unite with. Heretofore, the notion of the picture plane was still firmly entailed in his work. But god I wonder what that man thinks about the internet, what that man who is presently working on how sky can be maximally experienced by humans as light and space from inside a large crater thinks of an internet that struts his life’s work out in literal teaspoons, jpgs even less prayerful than pngs of Jolly Ranchers, because they’re all the same basic colors when so small.
I walked down the Turrell toward the far edge of our realm, where our windows back up to other apartments (ie: they hadn’t spun around and realized their mistake in time, back at the turn of the century, no the other last century). The darkness of Boyd’s wireless headphones dangled from a crooked outlet by the window, like a pert nightshade weed. Moon gleamed on lino, got thrown back to moon. The under-window couch spread the entire width of the apartment as backstop, sprung against two walls and curling away from the outside world and towards this presently bluish one. The couch was also like that last house standing, planted smack in the center of a subdivision cul-de-sac, filled with cereal and flat screens and clasping the myth of civility with curvaceous lawn in the front, shrinking from the vast swath of nothing out back. “Daisies of the Galaxy” is a good soundtrack here. I sat down, closed my eyes: still surfactant o’clock. Its wings were held wide like a crane’s. Before it, the whole suburban landscape diorama of my making neatly folded back into the compartment of its sign (okay, symbol) - the fake velvet cushion under my ass.
Where was I even? This word had come from somewhere. We know the sun doesn’t stay and sleep in the same place where it seems to set each night, and neither does surfactant I guess. For my mind, there was no clicking away from this page. Okay. So what does it even mean?
It means… certain things will Not let you go, they’ll rattle at the gate of 3D til you let them IN to what you’re lucky to be. Until –omg you REALIZE– til you lift them back out of the bowling gutter of some article you read yesterday! Don’t even know the article! But that’s where the word was. Self was aware at the time that Self’s understanding was iffy, but Self got distracted and did not Google, and now: here we are!
I sighed at this. It was funny but so dumb. Though mostly I was impressed about whatever force’s major self-important conviction, that was now acting on me so strongly, at night. Surfactant was big on promo, hawking its homemade burned CDs on a hot corner. Maybe surfactant’s got nothing else it’d rather do. Maybe the word was a window after all.
I tapped its letters into my phone and prepared to online-learn, meaning swish data around in my mouth and spit. Most bluntly, it means “surface acting agent.” Meaning it is the official blended (family) replacement for 3 whole words; the collapse of the sports award stand podium down from 3 Dr. Seussian stairs to one mass-producible pillar. It is its own time’s equivalent of a svelte band name unburdened of vowels, because it’s from 1950. Which is the exact same time that my mom was brand new, and I already existed as a portable thought in her ovaries. The cloud was already in your mom when she was in your grandma, and that’s fact. It was then that I noticed the visible word in my mind had diffused some, and even looked less bright now - probably compared to my phone and the 14,680 cloud-synced photos it “holds.”
So good. If I keep on going, it seems like surfactant will too. When a surfactant is added to substances, their molecules become slipperier, causing them to stick to other things more than they are able to continue sticking to themselves. Like: surface tension has been flipped inside out. Like: if you opened your email and it had become all of Youtube, irrevocably. Like: King Midas in reverse, for centuries. Do you get how wild it is that my word is this word?! This word, canvassing my mind instead of staying where I presumed it lived, was a surfactant case-in-point. With surfactant added, a substance can better act out its cleaning, or de-fogging, or inking, or foaming, or lubricating, or adhering, or dispersing, or emulsifying, all upon something else. In turn, the other substances that the substances touch also become less themselves. And, in this case:
I read on, and yes surfactant is mostly a traveling salesman, but people produce their own inner surfactant too. It resides in our lungs to decrease surface tension at the air-liquid interface of our alveoli. For a moment, I think about what would happen if our insides were over-lubricated: a water slide park packed into a plastic quart container like over-sauced takeout noodles. I lift my chin and take a nice, full, conscious breath through my delicate but structurally sound lungs, I breathe in just like the Musée d’Orsay, and I picture the lining of my lungs stuffed with gleaming slick transparent grapes painted by Lisa Yuskavage, doing their crazy amazing cellular work.
Now that the word was understood, the word’s blinding objectness had gone from me almost entirely, clearly making room for SO much more. I looked out and up at the moon again. It was as far away as the word’s objectness probably was by now too. I breathed in another great big bag of perfect air for good measure, because, well, Covid. This widespread appreciation for unfettered breathing is unprecedented. It’s one of the best things we can say is unprecedented these days.
I rest my head on the wall and let the floater of surfactant finish packing. I can again imagine sleep in my future. I idly image search “Le Voyage dans la Lune” because I want to see if I feel kinship with that film’s moon, having also been nocturnally accosted by an intruder, and with it all having to do with gaining knowledge and everything (as in: to see if the rocket ship rudely sunk in to the moon’s face felt like some equivalent to the harsh arrival of surfactant in me tonight). At my bidding, up whoosh 5 rows of an illustrated moon with not enough space around it. Crowding the whole field are discs of roughed-up dough, with different granularities suggesting different paths taken to digitality, though all the dough is still from 1902. I feel so much less stressed than that man in the moon looks. In a last lullaby-driven gesture, I grab a book that most naturally opens to page 83, and it’s there that Patricia Lockwood mentions the moon as “looking, everyone rushed to say it, looking like a very thicc snack.”