The Year Ahead of Bromine: Blurring of time and re-focusing

I’ve made it to another cycle around the sun. No small feat after this past year, and now starting the new year with blood tests showing loads of abnormalities. For as long as I can remember, even before i started having ill-health… I’ve always felt like I wasn’t going to live that long. Ask any of my friends from high school, they’ll tell you I didn’t think I’d make it to 25. Not from illness, but just this nagging feeling that I didn’t have as long as others, more likely by an accident. I am from an area where people live 25 years less than in richer areas. And we had a significant amount of kids killed or die throughout high school. Maybe this had sunk into my subconscious.

Then that fateful diagnosis 10 years ago, almost seemed like my fears WERE now justified. Just as I had predicted. That night after the visit to the Mass Hospital oncology clinic – I went back to my cabin, at summer camp, out in New Hampshire on an island.

I googled everything I could on this tentative diagnosis I was just given – and after 100’s of pages from Google of some gnarly odds- I shut my laptop lid and walked outside onto the ball field. It was around midnight, eerily quiet – even for that time. And I looked up at the sky, like I had done 100s of times before. This night was clear and bright and entirely powdered with stars. And there, I felt a physical weight of time. The worlds biggest sense of awe. Suddenly, I could really, truly, see the stars!

It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how -potentially- little life, I had left. My sense of youthful eternity was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death. This kind of feeling stays with you. I laid down on the ballfield feeling the cool summer ground and lush grass behind my body and the weight of time upon me, starting up into light that was from the past, shining down upon. And i realized I had entered a new liminal space/state: inbetweenness.

Back then, I just felt like I wouldn’t make it to  25, but that came and went, onto 26, 27, 28… Now i’m at the age of Bromine.

Oliver Sacks said that for him, “Elements and birthdays have been intertwined for me since boyhood, when I learned about atomic numbers.”

Ever since I read his book, Gratitude, i realized how entwined we are with the elements that make every single living thing or part of the worlds we live in. this way of seeing a birthday milestone, 10 years from life did change,  makes so much sense.

Perhaps the fact that when you’re 1 (or born?), that age on the periodic table is Hydrogen. The lightest element and yet the most abundant chemical substance in the universe, constituting roughly 75% of all normal matter.  The element that helps to make water – the very thing most of our bodies are made of, and what every living thing needs to survive, makes the point. Life and at its true lightest. 

I have somehow lived through Arsenic (1 of the years of lock-down covid). But what can Bromine teach me?

Well, I have only just learned about Bromine in real life- as a councillor, how fitting? When trying to get rid of a knocked-down building’s rubble, they said some of the floor tiles were coated in Bromine & wasn’t sure whether we’d need a specialist to come and dispose of the chemically laced material. At the time I thought that this was weird, given people had been walking, dancing and creating lives ontop of that floor for years and years.

Bromine is the 3rd lightest element in the halogens group. Its properties are between those of chlorine and iodine. An element, not much like myself, that defies definition in many way by being inbetween 2 more well known elements.

What is interesting about elemental bromine, esp for the year ahead, is that it’s very reactive and thus does not occur as a native element in nature but it occurs in colourless soluble crystalline mineral salts, analogous to table salt. In fact, bromine is so reactive that  it has to form bonds in pairs—never in single atoms. 

When I place this in the context of the UK, what it tells me is that working together, in the every day, at the fundamentals, is the way in which we can make a difference. A difference that is desperately needed right now. Collectivity, collaboration, team work, co-operatives. Whatever word works for you, in order to change the status quo of anything, we must bond and join together to use our energies in the best way to different and radical states. Every default state needs energy to fight to move the mark. But it’s exhausting doing it alone. Become more bromine, & get more (re)active, together. There’s more power in numbers! 

At room temperature and pressure, it is one of the few liquid elements. The only one that can sustain the same pressure & stay a liquid at room temp is mercury. This says to me, I need to keep my cool – and be my true authentic self in stressful situations.

Bromide can’t be sourced from the earths crust. Some plants actively accumulate bromine. First of all, they are beans — lentils, peas, haricots, and also seaweed. Its the high solubility of the bromide ion that causes its accumulation in the oceans.  I will take this characteristic forward into 2023 – to soak up as much as I can, in terms of learning and taking in the natural lands and spaces around me. Esp as I try and grow into more of a regenerative thinker. This feels even more potent as one of the economic drivers of Bromide is for argriculture.

Bromine is the 10th most abundant element in sea water. I love that when I go surfing, it is here where this element can be sourced.  The ocean, in its immensity and unseen depths, seem to harbor hidden meaning that the Bromine year will help me to explore more. The end of last year after I got sick from the water, I haven’t been back out, but I miss surfing. So this year will be to do more of that. When I surf, I love how the sun drops into the ocean, its beams casting a wide band of light on the water. The reflected shards glimmer through vapor in the far distances, producing an irresistible illusion of endlessness.

Despite us finding out bromine is toxic – post using it for things like fire retardants & in swimming pools and sedation in medicine. It got discovered that now it appears that bromine is an essential trace element in humans. And is still a key player in small doses for innovating pharmacutical drugs. There is, again, this strange mirror there of balances and yin-yangs, and connectedness. Things can be good and bad at the same time. The Bromine year is a reminder for me to think, and re-think, and to not put things too much against each other.

And lastly, the most Smizz thing about Bromine is that it is used to do 35mm film photography development immulsion. The compound is a prime ingredient of light sensitive constituent; and a semi-conductor. It captures time, memories, moments… light. Life. Conducted into structural colours – that is, colours that result from surface textures that refract, rather than contain, pigment.

Last year I vowed to take more 35mm film photos, AND get them developed. I want to continue that habit on, and get better. Last year quite a few of my film photos came out unfocused and blurry. I kept rushing to take the shot, and would snap and walk/move at the same time. You really can’t do that with film. But What a metaphor for me?! For this year – I need to be more focused and patient. Wait for the shot. Stand still and take a moment to know exactly I’m looking at, to take IN the moment. A moments rest.

This reminds me of Gerhard Richter’s Silicate body of paintings. Large oil-on-canvas pieces, of blurrs. Or glitches? What is a blur? It’s a corruption of an image, an assault upon its clarity, one that turns transparent lenses into opaque shower curtains, gauzy veils.

the blur serves as a perfect general metaphor for memory, its degradation, for the corrosion wrought by time. “I blur to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant,” Richter explains about his work.

It is both more focus and blurring and capturing of life, light, and memory and reflection for me that Bromine will bring.

Over the last few months and years, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.

Despite being really run down for 2+ months, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

On the morning of my birthday, a friend & colleague replied a message about time. How fitting? Time is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”.

For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception. We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching – as my old art teacher used to love to teach us – Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. But using Bromine, we can capture it in different ways.

Taking the lead from Bromine, I’ll keep looking up at the sky of spilled glitter. And take a role of protection (resting & advocating for myself and others), to focus and connect, to surf and be at the ocean more, and seek it as a reminder to join forces TOGETHER. Bond together like atoms, and collectively we can change the status quo.


Published by smizz

Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

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