Last night saw a literary showdown of epic proportions.
At Write Club, no one is under the delusion that all the speakers are equally worthy. It’s a literary competition with winners and losers, just like life, dammit. Two writer/performers go head-to-head on opposing topics, and one combatant is declared the winner by audience applause. The winner gets to take home the Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory, as well as designate a portion of the proceeds to his/her favorite charity, while the loser must dwell in the Cathedral of Eternal Shame. This is Literature as Blood Sport.
It’s always a helluva fun time, and for those of you living in LA, Atlanta, Athens, Toronto or San Francisco, I urge you to go out and see it. Have a drink and wear a cup. It ain’t the Kiddie Pool.
Last night I competed at the birthplace of Write Club, The Hideout in Chicago. My opponent was none other than the daddy of Write Club itself, the charismatic yet loathable Ian Belknap. We argued our sides of the eternal debate of “Solid vs. Liquid”. After having won the rock-paper-scissors preliminary, I chose to go second. In arguing for “Solid”, Ian spent much of his time deriding Aquaman as the most pathetic of all superheroes. A classic gambit, to belittle the opposing side before bringing out your unassailable persuasive arguments. Only problem: his arguments were very assailable.
Which I did — assail them, that is — and walked home with bloody knuckles and the impressive piece of hardware above, as well as a small piece of the world’s adulation. Below is a quick recording of my victorious defense of the notion of “Liquid”, as well as the text of the argument. I hope you’ll agree with the audience that this is what you would necessarily call an irrefutable argument.
IN DEFENSE OF LIQUID
Think back, to the beginning of our planet. The Big Bang is old news, and our little ball of gas has cooled and condensed. For hundreds of millions of years there’s nothing to see but churning waves of a chemical sea, methane and hydrogen raining and evaporating, over and over. A primordial soup. A liquid planet. And from that funky primordial pho, shaken and stirred and shot through with lightning, emerges life.
Amino acids are cooked up first, then proteins and single-cell organisms. Then worms, jellyfish, snails as big as your head, ravaging massive sea beasties sleek as balloon animals with razor sharp teeth. Armored fish, bi-curious amphibians, blah blah animals, and ultimately Kurt Vonnegut.
For this alone, let honest rational people agree: liquids rule it over solids, for without liquids there would be no proteins, no milkshakes, no protein milkshakes. And no Kurt Vonnegut.
Like Capital-L “Life”, every one of our own biographies is written in liquid. First, two parents had to get together which, depending on the circumstances and no offense, might have needed some liquid to get started. A couple Long Island ice teas, a hot tub, the liquid sounds of the Reverend Al Green. Then, after some friction and energy spent, half a little you erupts from your father, swimming like a maniac, seeking in its damp new world the other half of you. Then a lucky zygote luxuriates for nine wet months of squishy cell division.
In liquid we form a spinal column, lose our gills and vestigial tails – (some of us) – sprout arms and legs, gain wiggly fingers, maybe endure some Mozart if the parents are trying to bake a perfect child.
What are humans anyway, but ambulatory punchbowls? In the final tally, we are 98% liquid. Plasma, bile, blood, sweat and, tears, spit and polish, piss and vinegar, the milk of human kindness.
Solids in the human body? Tumors. Kidney stones. Blood clots. Constipation. Nothing but trouble.
We have liquids to thank for that greatest of all civilization’s gifts, the dive. Not only the high dive, but the Hideout and places like it. Miraculous fermented and distilled liquids bring people together to raise a glass to what’s ahead and what’s been lost, to sing and cry, to write manifestos and plot revolutions. Kings and tyrants build their castles out of solid rock, but the tide of history washes them away, with the help of beer and vodka.
In physics, liquid rests expansively in the state of matter between gas and solid. It flows between, making sure that something is always present. This mediation isn’t wishy-washy or expedient, it is essential. In human affairs, liquid is diplomacy, compromise, politics. It flows between the rock solid conservatism of John Birch and the Tea Party, and the gaseous “whatever” of libertarians and anarchists.
So to keep your sanity among those who, at the bar, will gaseously insist someone else should pay the tab, and those who solidly demand YOU pay it – stay liquid. I’m telling you, you must shun solids, disdain solids, eschew solids. You must also CHEW solids, 20 times at least, or you’ll choke and I’ll say I told you so.
“Go with the flow”. Does Solid ever flow? Sure: landslides. Earthquakes. A fluid solid is lava, burning and destroying, while a solid liquid is a glacier, which destroys at a much more elegant pace and also gives a home to baby penguins.
In his novel Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut describes an invention developed by the military, to help soldiers and jeeps on the move. To get rid of mud, scientists devised a new way for water molecules to rearrange, to freeze into a new kind of ice with a melting point of 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The invention was a small bluish crystal called Ice-Nine. When dropped onto a muddy patch of land, Ice-nine would cause its water to instantly freeze. Then the water in the surrounding marsh froze. Then the streams and rivers that fed that marsh froze, and on and on until Ice-nine solidified the entire planet. As Vonnegut described it, “There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The Earth was locked up tight.”
So you see, deprived of its essential liquids, the earth seizes up, like it’s been on an all-cheese diet.
In the end, our solid bodies do not last. The soul pours out to join a sea of other souls, while the solid body returns to dust. Nirvana is an ocean of distilled life, another child of our primordial soup, a stream of liquid sprayed across the cruel face of Time itself, an impudent eternal spit-take.
As for me, when I get old, give me a traveler of coffee and push me out on an ice floe. If I’m dead, or if ice floes have become extinct, float me on a Viking ship ablaze off Montrose Harbor. When my soul is gone, let my solid, mortal remains return to the liquid. Let me be devoured by ravenous sea beasties for all time, and let whatever small part of me is inedible float through the wide waters of the world, buffeted by echoes of the waves of the ancient ocean.