Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Life Series

A few years ago Attenborough's fantastic series "Life in the Undergrowth" aired on the BBC. I say a few, I was studying for my A-Levels, the end of 2005. As is my want apparently, I was grappling with a low mood, on and off, not socializing, hating the fact that I was still in school, not brave enough for college and buses and my own clothes. My days were punctured with occasional ups, now and then I spent time with my younger cousins, being off, laughing, I still enjoyed painting and drawing, and thanks to a little iPod mini, music was practically omnipresent in my life - a welcome and novel phenomenon.

One thing I remember, with a biting exactitude, is feeling crap one Wednesday in November, tidying up my room after letting it get out of hand as usual (books and paints and general 'stuff' untidied and piling up), changing my bed, showering, and getting ready to switch off for the night. After not finding my book I switched on my little square tele and heard it announced that a new nature program was coming on next.
I went to grab a cuppa. 
For the next hour I watched, mezmerized as tiny insects back-flipped over Eiffel Tower (equivalents in human scale) heights, there was equipment that captured more astonishing and fantastical footage than I knew was possible to exist, colours, textures, suddenly life seemed so much richer than I had previously suspected.

It felt good. Just as suddenly there was more than Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, those prefab blocks, plywood desks and bubbled linoleum corridors.

When people say things like "oh yeah, bit of escapism, does you good now and then", and such like, I can't help but disagree with that, in relation to programs like this. I resent the fact that they're alluded to escapes and therein lies the enjoyment, of course the spectacle is hypnotic, but the spell for me is the embrace of life, everyday life, not the flight from it. In Undergrowth Attenborough brings in your common or garden crawlies, and in most of his docs, certainly the Life series, there's always a link to our lives and the mesh of the biosphere, similarities, responsibilities. All of them wonder-inducing.

For over 7 years now programs like that have managed to elevate real malaise, change it, redirect its energy somewhere, somehow. They've always been... Restorative.

So, professor Brian Cox's  Wonders of Life this evening was a very welcome lifeline. Seemingly perfect timing. I'm dipping and semi-surfacing at a more alarming pace than is normal of late. Tomorrow, that is, today, Monday the 28th, I have an interview for a SEN Learning Support Assistant role at my old secondary school. The contract is until May 2014, with the prospect of extension pending government funding. The interview will consist of my creating and leading an activity for a class, alone, in front of a panel of staff, with a formal interview to follow.

I don't want to do it. I don't want to have to struggle to try to remember the Welsh counterpart to the appropriate English word I'm thinking about (a word which I most likely never learned as a teen in Welsh medium education at any rate), in front of a judging panel and a class of adolescents with concentration issues. I don't want to get the job and have to spend over a year living with my parents in a nothing little town.I am sorry to say it, but it's true, for a culture-starved would be creative mind, this place is, well, it seems to leach something out of me. Likewise the thought of returning to a place I have mostly negative memories of, as a defeated adult, still ashamed of my too-roomy body, still wishing I was cooler, has actually moved me to fits of tears.

After a bout of the wet stuff earlier, in the dark of my folks front room, hiding from my family, I recalled Dr. Coxy's new Wonder series beginning.  "Right" I thought, "this will surely shine a light into me".

During my time at university, when I truly couldn't muster the energy to leave my bed and wander the 50yards onto campus to be a normal functioning Fine-BAstard, I would lie on the floor, on my side, hands between thighs, and watch whatever documentaries were to be enjoyed on I-player. I like lying in a blanket cocoon on a floor, but additionally, for internet streaming purposes I had to lie right by the door because the Wi-Fi signal any further away from it was dire.
Oh I complain but it technically got me out of bed...
Both Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of the Solar System had a profound effect on my sanity and well-being as they are. I found I could in fact leave the house and go for a walk nowhere, 'cos'. I wasn't worthless. I was an ancient and shining star. I was ok.

Other times Soph and I would sit together and watch Michael Palin wandering around, wondering. And how great were they too.

I think now, that watching these wandering wonderers sort of peeled away at a latent, underlying layer of hope. I've always been a dreamer, slightly outside of life, unintentionally looking in and contemplating its nature, certainly the nature of the look as it happens.

I suppose the misguided little hopeful residue was deposited because there was some sense that if these wonderful minds could make something out of their beautiful meanderings, then, well, mightn't I?
In the very same way that reading, or taking in visual arts, or music too, gives you a sort of courage, if these misfits begot beauty from their pain and suffering, there was hope.

Isolation for suitable minds, can turn into something, with adequate tools, can generate a thing which extends outwards and reaches people. People who need reaching.

I needed reaching tonight. The constant notion of my ever backing into the past, needed a shift, or at least, an 'ok'.

Well I cried for a bit. Couldn't settle. The magic spell wasn't cast.
I eat, I threw up, I paused, I rewound, I was slow.

The professor talked about joules and the potential energy of gravity, distances, there were figures and equations and I was stumbling into them.

This really is life I thought, I sit and watch it happen, some semblance of control on my behalf is feigned by the existence of the remote control. Yet all the while, I'm not quite anywhere. Things are happening and I don't know why...

Then I started again, sat down with the lights off and really watched.

It may have taken me almost three hours to appreciate an hour long episode but I'm alive now.
It worked. WE worked.

I'm paraphrasing awfully, but he talked about the second law of Thermodynamics, and the fact that energy doesn't 'end', it just changes form. There are ordered predictable kinds, and disordered too. What I didn't realize, but which makes sense when paired with the above, is that all the energy that there is now, is all there's ever been and all that will be, it just changes. (I think... It could easily have been a 4 or 5 hour watch/replay!)

I think, possibly, death was ultimate chaos..

"By converting chemical energy into heat, living things change an ordered form of energy into a very disordered form of energy, which is released back into the universe. Every single human being can generate 6000 times more heat per kilogram than the sun."

Life is energy, and contrary to how I feel most of the time these days, I have a reserve somewhere that is occasionally tapped.
I am made of stars and I will shine. I have a heat in me and I will share my warmth.

"By converting one form of energy into another, life is able to hold on to just a tiny amount of order for itself, and in effect this is what allows us to stave off enough time before the inevitable decay of the universe." Into chaos.

I loved it.

Essentially, living things borrow order from the universe (which we are of course a part of) and export it as disorder.
We have to export more energy, disordered heat, than that which we take in that is ordered.

This is what is meant by life.

"We absorb sunlight that has its origins in the very start of time, and release it as heat, that will last for eternity..."

Well, what about that?

Do seek it out, I've naturally not done it any justice, for lucid and amazing was it, alas, flagging and cloudy am I.

After watching I felt compelled to commit some of his wonderfully ordered thoughts to my memory, potentially disorderly as you're apt to judge.

During my writey-typey notation the television continues quietly in the background like cosmic radiation. At 01.00 AM my radio-telescopic ears picked up a MadMen signal. It was season 3, Don was being asked to sign a 3 year contract with the agency, security for them, panic for him.

Who knows who or where they're going to be in 3 years?!

I watched along, back in time, in the present. I'm not fixed I know, it's more than probable that my positive thoughts for tomorrow will likely dissipate the moment the grey light touches my curtains with morning, but, as my great and beautiful friend Andy would say, things are happening, the self abides, the roller coaster continues, flow.

And if you need to know it again, once more, and always...


You are ok