Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Write Club is a monthly, literary bloodsport in which contenders face off against each other with 7-minute essays on competing topics. Below was my combatant essay based on the prompt “KISS,” facing off against “TELL.” This essay was performed on February 20, 2018, at The Hideout in Chicago, and was defeated in its bout.
Let’s start with the inadequacy of language.
“In the beginning, there was Atom.” It’s no “once upon a time” but it suffices for any story that chooses to start back that far. “In the beginning, there was Adam,” and right away it gets tricky. Because some of you heard me say “Adam,” A-D-A-M. Captain Figleaf, Patriarchus Prime. He who cavorts amongst the sybaritic lushness of Eden, coming up with names for flora and fauna, whose only available romantic interest may have been Eve but let’s be honest here, he’d have been at least a little thirsty for Steve. That Adam.
However. Some of you heard me say “Atom,” A-T-O-M. The invisible building blocks of everything we can and cannot sense in the universe, flying forth at impossible speeds from the violence of the Big Bang, filled with even smaller particles and the spaces between them. The base of our basics and the heart of our matter. That atom.
You may have already forgotten which one, Adam or atom, that you thought of first. You may be convincing yourself it was one and not the other, concerned what each might say about you, and now you have something to share with your therapist tomorrow night. I know which one I wrote on these pages in front of me and I know which one I said. I don’t need to know which way your personal perception centers tilted but I do need you to understand something. What happened here is that I began to tell you an origin story, I began to tell you the origin story, and your literacy, ever so briefly, failed you.
Listen, I’m aware that this stage in the middle of this event is a bold place to make this proclamation — but the written word is more of a luxury item than a necessity in terms of our communications array. It is. It is the detail work on the car that was built by speech, which is the body that was built on the chassis and wheels of our non-verbal cues, and paramount among those non-verbal cues is the kiss. Where language is clumsy the kiss is elegant; where language is over-complicated the kiss is efficient, where language is engineering schematics the kiss is flight, all feathers and bones and ballroom dances with the thermal gusts of the air. Language is insecure of itself, winding and unwinding with each revision, unwilling to ever in its heart name itself as final. But the kiss is a king. The kiss knows so deeply that it is a king that it sent a man named Prince to be its prophet.
In human history the kiss emerges as enigma, seeming to lack a logical foundation of inspiration. It is intuitive to some cultures and anathema to others, it can be found among various species of animal and it does not mean the same thing to any of them. It is a curious thing to have occurred, this act, this brief joining of beak or bony cartilage or soft, sensitive meats. It is also, one might posit, a wholly natural thing to have happened.
Let’s go back to that beginning I began with. Let’s go back to the atoms that might have become Adam, and let’s consider for a moment the infinite number of universes where physics maintains an isolationist policy, where mass and energy stay forever in their own lanes. Protons insisting they have other plans, neutrons that refuse to nucleus. Then let’s respect for a moment how ours was not one of these, that instead it decided it would be more interesting to create bonds between things. Perhaps for the first few eons, it failed to figure out how this could happen. It operated on a methodology of collision, like a toddler with tiny racecars, forcing components together with such speed and ferocity that the only result was destruction. Until one day, quite by accident or quite by something that might seem like accident, the universe attempted a relative tenderness. Two particles brushing past each other and then slowing down, looking back over their shoulders for a moment, starting to circle around each other, giving each other coy looks and asking innocuous questions loaded with subtext before one of them invites the other up for a nightcap, and obviously this is allegorical but stick with me. Atoms becoming molecules becoming compounds becoming everything else, starting with what language can only attempt to describe as a kiss.
For us, then, consider that the kiss is the vestigial tail of these experiments, a behavior left over in our subconscious, which over time we learned how to sculpt into an action as complex as any physical or chemical reaction. The kiss is a complete lexicon of its own; we interpret layers of meaning in its placement, its pressure, its duration. We understand when the kiss is overture, when it is symphony, when it is coda. We know when it’s perfect, when it’s awkward, when it is flat-out wrong. We kiss to say hello, to say goodbye, to show respect, to tell our idiot brothers when they break our heart. There are epics in the moment before and the moment after, the swell of potential and tension in the distance between two faces, released in the refrain, spoken or unspoken, that for the love of God will you just shut up and kiss them.
Nobody, but nobody, has ever shouted at a screen “Stop kissing! Tell them more about yourself.”
The kiss is so rendered so versatile because underneath it are the histories of two individuals, in that moment attempting to forge a possible new history between them. Two atoms transfer energy through their contact, but two Adams may transfer narrative, are transferring every decision and experience that led to this moment of attraction, and our narratives are the most potent subatomic particles we possess. The kiss is an expression not only of the origin story, but of the fundamental impossibility, that in the midst of unmeasurable chaos stories have somehow been allowed to exist at all.
I’m going to end with this: One night, in a fit of insomnia, I found myself staring at the ceiling and determining what sounds Skeletor — everybody here knows Skeletor, right — I determined the sounds Skeletor shouldn’t have been able to say out loud because he didn’t have lips, all the bilabial plosives and fricatives. I imagined how frustrated he must have felt before he figured out whatever dark magic allowed him to be understood by his colorful cadre of henchmen. It hadn’t occurred to me at that time that Skeletor was unable to kiss.
And I wonder now if that’s what made him evil.