Yesterday I was surrounded by bubbles – big, bulging, shimmering, soapy bubbles with iridescent surfaces held aloft on a December breeze.
I was invited to a bubbling event (yes, I live in California…) orchestrated by a woman who was the previous inhabitant of my apartment. Rachel Smith is a student at UC Santa Cruz who received a Irwin Scholars’ grant to conduct a series of bubbling events which she collectively calls 100 Bubblers Bubbling. The grant money has been used primarily for creating wands and “bubble juice” – a commodity consumed in large amounts at an event of this nature. Rachel and her husband made and 120 gallons of bubble juice for yesterday’s gathering, and with a lot left over, there’s guaranteed to be more bubbling on the horizon.
Rachel’s ideal recipe for bubble juice consists of a lot of water, a healthy amount of Dawn dishwashing detergent, a little glycerin, and a combination of two water-soluble polymers in the form of veterinary and gynecological lubricants. Go figure. Her recommended “starter” recipe is simply 1 gallon of warm water, 1 14-ounze bottle of Ultra Dawn, and 1 tube of K-Y Jelly, mixed in a gallon jug and left to sit for a day before use.
While listening to Rachel describe her recipe, I realized that I didn’t really know what a bubble WAS, let alone why lubricants would be crucial ingredients in any bubbling liquid. I figured I’d better look into that.
The skin of bubble is made up of two layers of soap with a very thin layer of water between them. This skin surrounds a large quantity of air – the inside of the bubble. Soap bubbles are the only ones that can float freely in space; all other types of bubbles (such as the ones you see in carbonated beverages or ocean water) have to be touching liquid to exist. Because the chemical consistency of soap lowers the surface tension of water, adding it creates a more “flexible” liquid which allows the bubble to maintain its integrity in a gaseous environment.
Bubbles pop when the water in the bubble’s liquid skin evaporates, so the key to making quality bubble juice is to slow down the water’s evaporation rate. This can be done by adding a glycerin-based substance (the lubricant) which makes the liquid both thicker and stronger. While bubbles may start their brief lives in any shape, they will always become spherical. The soapy liquid naturally adopts this form to minimize its surface area while still encapsulating the same amount of air. The transformation of irregularly-shaped bubbles into spherical ones is mesmerizing to watch. It’s especially riveting when the process takes place in slow-motion – as it does when high-octane bubble juice is part of the picture. Combine morphing bubbles with the iridescence characteristic of soap, and you’ve got yourself a psychedelic feast for the senses.
I was enrapt by the bubble show, and completely torn between perfecting my own bubble-crafting and watching the spectacle of light and movement around me. I played with different wand grips. I experimented with making bubbles high over my head and down low, near the ground. I tried standing still and moving the wand around, standing still and letting the wind do to the work, and walking while waving the wand. Every configuration produced its own flavor of bubble, and no matter how the bubbles came off the wand initially, they all ended up as huge spherical orbs reflecting light in a seemingly infinite variety of rainbow oscillations.
Seeing bubbles pop is almost as fascinating as seeing them travel. When you least suspect it, they suddenly – and without provocation – disappear, leaving behind only a strand of bubble juice dribbling towards the ground.
And then there was the human sideshow. It’s been a long time since I have seen so much spontaneous smiling, or heard so much innocent giggling. Everyone there was intently focused, whether they were participating or observing, as though nothing but the moment existed, and nothing but the moment mattered.
Among the comments I heard were “this is exactly what I needed!”, “I think this is how dreams are made,” and “I feel so happy right now.” Not what I usually hear in crowds of people these days; but then again, it’s not often that I am surrounded by individuals in flow states, at one with their thoughts and actions. All it took to get them there was bubble juice, dowels, and rope – as well that unwavering obsession with beauty that so distinguishes our species.
What would happen if folks picked up bubble wands for two minutes prior to picking up automatic weapons? Would they still open fire on public spaces, or would they completely forget their intentions in a wonder-filled frenzy of bubble-making? What if Arabs and Israelis in the West Bank were forced to occupy a field together, armed only with bubble juice and wands? Would they keep arguing, or would they smile together at their power to create mystical, ephemeral orbs?