Somethings Take Time To See

It was around the end of 2011 when my super good friend, and great artist & writer, Paul Harrison and I got together in a Cafe Nero in Doncaster (The only place to get a decent chai-tea latte in the area at the time… maybe it still is) and we talked about how we thought new media art and ‘socially engaged’ art were crucial tools to help enable critical thinking— and therefore —- more openness.  Perhaps it could help enhance a more epistemic justice. Because gosh knows there needed to be. It was a crucial time. The Tories had just gotten into power the year before and their cutting of projects, programs, funding, closing libraries and youth centres and the trippling of universities fees was happening right in front of our eyes. Lots of protests, lots of petitions to sign in the beginning. It felt important to try and provide a place where people could connect – learn – listen – without needing much more than 10 mins. But give it light, give it time, give people a space, and elevate it.

We were sick of the insular systems surrounding the artworld (& outside in a lot of institutions) – who gets to speak and from where? Who always gets a big chunk of the opportunities and the dialogue? What kinds of voices are not as-well-acknowledged and represented as they should be? We also wanted to share people’s passions- unedited. it didn’t need to be a flow funny or deep narrative that’s curated like TED talks are (which they are). it can – and should – just be words that needed to be said. No scripts. Not really a time limit (tho for our art making needed to be around 10 mins & also increase the likilhood someone would have time to listen)

We talked at ends and decided that our individual practices might not be the vehicle for it. So that’s where we decided to create F/o/r/c/e– which stands for Free. Online. Radically. Collected. Education.

The mission: A force for good! In Italian forza means strength. To give voice across to anyone, to give strength – especially to those who don’t usually get to. And we’d create art/videos that would go with these stories/ideas/thoughts/journeys/whatever the person wanted to talk about.

We created it, together. Website, got people to provide us with their loves. wrote a manifesto. found things we thought was F/O/R/C/E-y – and then after our first video I got super sick where fatigue & pain over took my life & it lasted fucking ages, so Paul did a lot of the brunt of the work.

Time went by and then I decided that this experience and the experiences I had gained – was to be in healthcare to deal with the episetmic injustices there but also be one of the people who provide deep listening and empathy with compassion of a persons experience with illness and this treatment pathway.  I went to study radiotherapy & Paul went to Tokyo to work. We had a conversation maybe 2 years ago? Maybe it was a year ago. We weren’t sure whether we should close this project that had only just felt like it had begun, and be able to maybe do something else. I wasn’t too sure myself. Part guilt, probably from not pulling my weight as much as I would have liked back in 2012 and in 2014/5. I said, let’s leave it open. Not sure the action of closing is the right way. We did default on our website domain website payments tho. So now we lost an archive of material somewhere in the web.

And F/O/R/C/E has sat here. With cool videos on our vimeo page https://vimeo.com/user15467645 – a twitter page full of incredible links – archived stuck in a set of time https://twitter.com/FORCElectures (not sure i’ll be able to re-open this account as our email is long dead).

But I realize under this year’s events – in particular (though we did start it in the upheaval of austerity Britain) – we need something like F/O/R/C/E more than ever. We need spaces away from the oppressive & recessive histories and structures that crush voices, that tell people that their thing or stories are that that ones no one wants to hear about.

We need Spaces to document these turbulent times – whether its a pandemic or a call for equity and epistemic justice.  We want to make art with a persons talk – to show that it deserves attention.

The core of most of our problems in society today, whether its care experiences in healthcare, or Brexit, or racism, or kids not paying attention in school, etc – is that people want to feel like they’re being lustened to – and feel valued. that they have your attention. So many of us feel unheard and it’s a harm. These harms come in many forms – either hermunatically or testimonially  (predominately) – and if we keep on ignoring the and changing the structures that keep alowing such harms than i feel like it will continue to get worse.

and I think F/O/R/C/E is one of those many spaces here, and to come, to help house and store and share and platform this stuff / these experiences. It reminds me a lot of how we’re taught these days, and how systems and money is used, that everything needs to be spent by the next finacial year – that courses need to be complete in x amount of months. We give up when we don’t see results after so long. We might be forgetting the joy and the revelations in the long game – and this reminds me that we can not rush things – especially when they involve listening. For listening and really hearing are timeless.

So it’s now my turn to carry most of our next engagements/work forward. I’m going to recollect all our bits together – and the content will likely be slow and steady – but that’s because deep listening takes time. I hope you’ll follow along.

I’ll leave you with Paul Harrison excellent essay post about it from 2014 on the excellent Aesthetics of Protest site:  http://aestheticsofprotest.org/force-lectures/

And I hope you’ll give our Facebook page a like if you haven’t already F/o/r/c/e

Here’s some videos we made for peoples stories/ideas/journey/thoughts/experiences

Ashley Holmes, ‘Nothing To Lose’ F/O/R/C/E from F/O/R/C/E Lectures on Vimeo.

Yvonne Yang Guang – ‘The Stingy Artist’ -F/O/R/C/E from F/O/R/C/E Lectures on Vimeo.

 

More videos here: https://vimeo.com/user15467645

(photos from my wordpress archive in  2011, ha!)

How COVID-19 might be able to help make us more aware of how illness changes how we are in the world.

I’ve been thinking about this Guardian article for a while — https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/15/weird-hell-professor-advent-calendar-covid-19-symptoms-paul-garner?CMP=fb_gu&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR10MKbX-9nheBZ-TebSVq3sTiS6hUltw8O96k6f2_onhqgNLYIytZNwomM#Echobox=1589621668 

 

We’re often led to believe that only a very small percentage of people get after-effects from viruses and the like. Such conditions like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, ME, & the triggering of other issues such as IBS or Migraines. Mono can cause post-viral fatigue which is probably the virus that has it’s after effect struggles more documented than others. it is also a trigger of Lymphoma in some cases. Many of these conditions and symptoms are caused by having a normal virus. Something happens, and the body goes into some sort of overdrive.

 

I don’t know the exact medical science — but it happens. Many of you on here will have actually experienced this — some of you the affects will have been for a few unexplainable weeks – some of you for months, even years… even life!

 

But it happens a lot more than we think, it’s just because medical healthcare have gas-lit us because they don’t know why it happens yet. Or why it happens to some, and not others. Or haven’t truly investigated it. Or because it can’t be captured by standard bio-medical blood tests. And as such, it leaves a lot of the population struggling with these “medically unexplained symptoms”. With no help. Feeling unheard. and truamatized by a system that won’t acknowledge the symptoms as real – and have to go through life as if everything is normal because there is no explanation why the symptoms of flu (or whatever virus) have continued months later.

 

Not only do you feel like you’re letting yourself down, but you feel like you’re letting everyone else around you – your team, your friends – who all deserve better – down. BUT this isn’t true. It’s just capitalism that makes us feel like this. And capitalism makes us judge others who are struggling with these artefacts of viral reactions on our cells – because we’ve been brought up with a limited language, and understanding, of illness as an experience, and its effects on the quality of life and experience of it in the body outside of biomedical metrics.

 

We see the after-effects of disease covered a lot more in cancer care. But that’s only because the treatments we use can cause all sorts of lasting issues and conditions. Despite us knowing that those treatments are harsh upon the body – we still don’t pay attention to it properly. Post-cancer (Tx) fatigue ? We get told, or say it’s normal. But we don’t know why, really — when it lasts many many months post-treatment and remission. Even for life.

 

One of the reasons why we don’t talk about illness is because we can’t ever truly think that it will happen to us, or that we will be able to handle it better than another person. Once you are long-term ill, you become fair game. You slide down an implicit social ladder. Others begin to perceive you as weak and unimportant, an object of pity and fascination.

 

When you get sick – and it’s lasting effects leads way past the understanding of the disease, or past the immedate life-threatening part — Something happens to our temporal existence. Our futures fold in on themselves. It has certainly exposed itself to me, contrary to both the laws of nature and of human nature. We are not meant to be able to see into our future. We are propelled into our future, thrown into our projects with no premonition, no peeking. Our life stories are meant to unravel as we go along, at a rate of one second per second. No slower, and certainly no faster. but living in illness uncertainty gives you a glimpse of this – and it seems that people who have never been uncumbered with this kind of uncertainity, unknowing in their own body and the world around them can’t extend to understand it.

 

As such, the way we deal with – specifically – long term illness/feelings of sickness/dealing with chronic conditions – all reek of misunderstanding and lack of patience.

Illness changes everything. It changes not only internal organs, but our relationships to the body… my relationship to others, their relation to me, to my body…

In short, illness changes how one is in the world. Moreover, the world of the ill person changes; it transforms into a different landscape, filled with obstacles. Distances increase. It becomes uncanny. The world of the sick belongs to a different universe from that of the healthy, and the interaction between them is clunky, difficult, abrasive.

 

This Guardian article is written by a man, a professor of infectious diseases, so he is even more confused by this lagging – this viral aftermath of symptoms post COVID-19 on himself. He can’t rely upon his body – he doesn’t know what these flare ups are or mean — his body, once trusted – is tripping him up.

 

As I’ve said before, post-viral symptoms are not that unusual — but we’ve treated illness, and the unknown in medicine so poorly – that he is confused too. A man who understands the body in detail feels that his experience with illness without disease present – is confusing. And that’s how many of us have been feeling for years and year — especially women who are much more likely to be treated as being hysterical or somatic than their male counterpartners within healthcare.

 

Perhaps one of very limited sliver linings of having an novel virus wipe across a massive population of people is that we might begin to be able to collect enough data that can help us with understanding the after-effects of illness on our body. And what it means to live with symptoms whilst no bio-medically diagnosable thing such as having an active disease present & how this can make the experience of healthcare – and societally – more empathetic and compassionate.

 

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Tokyo makes you a person who waits (photo essay)

Tokyo – a metropolis of dreams. It exists in a haze of past and future, quiet and super busy, organised and chaotic. The super-mega-troprolis is home to more than 35 million people: The biggest city in the history of the world. Put that into context for the UK. We have an overall population of 66.8 million. Which would be half of the UK population is living in Tokyo metropolitan area.
Despite a huge population, and what you see on TV – it never feels insanely busy except at the world famous touristy spots or the super-peak time on the subway/train. Outside of this – it often feels like it exists *just* for you.
Warrens of streets and alleyways – one leading onto another, never ending, but at the same time you are hoping that it doesn’t end either. Each area has a creative and beautiful type of lampost/light shade. The city exists in layers. Like a complex photoshop file. There’s basements with basements, shops with lifts that takes you to secret bars, there’s the odd door way that leads you to something you would have never guessed. Streets lead into shopping centres, shopping centres lead into arcades, arcades turn into parks, parks turn into temples, temples into houses, house into garages, garages into the best ramen you’ve ever had.
You could just walk one street in the centre of Tokyo of half a mile for half a day and you’d likely never find everything there, or expect to find the stuff that you do.

There’s a store for everything. If you can’t find it in Tokyo, then it doesn’t exist.

Here I can get the amazing Hawaiian drinks we drank for super cheap in Maui but are basically unavailable anywhere else on any mainlands. I can find any stationary available anywhere in the world here, but so much I can’t ever find in the UK. There’s shops dedicated to just the soul beauty of the pencil or a place that only sells lucky cats. There’s stores dedicated to the selling of things you need to make your own temple, small tiny spaces covered floor to wall & even ceiling with any kind of electrical lead/wire/bits & bobs you can imagine. Anything you want – Portuguese tarts, New Zealand s’more cookies, British pub food, worlds best burger, worlds best ramen, worlds best chocolate – Tokyo has got your back. And this is even before we get to the stuff that really matters – places dedicated to making paper, places securing 1000s years of tradition and passing it on, the way that everyone cares for the city – you could drop your sandwich on the floor in the middle of the street & it looks so clean you’d probably pick it back up and continue to eat it.
I don’t think I have ever seen a pothole in any of the roads of Tokyo. I’m not sure I can say that for anywhere else I have visited.
It’s in Tokyo that I realise that I am a person who waits. There’s a lot of queuing. More lining up than here at home in the UK. Lining up for ramen, lining up for the train, queuing up for a shop. Every few minutes, the noren curtain hanging in front of a door would twitch, discharging bodies into the Tokyo dusk, and we would steadily shuffle forward.
I am not really a person who usually likes to wait for things (thus my clutch onto Amazon Prime despite knowing how unethical it is). At home, if a friend suggests a meal at one of those tremendously cool restaurants that doesn’t take reservations, I’ll agree only if we eat geriatrically early or owlishly late. I politely reject any brunch plans that involve putting our names on a list and then hovering on the sidewalk for two hours.
It’s impatience, I suppose, but also a sort of brutal rationality: On one hand, there’s the value of my time, and on the other, there’s the value of whatever’s at the end of the line. The latter never really seemed worth that much of the former.
Public space is scaled so much better—old, human-sized spaces that also control flow and speed,” Dixon notes. In Japanese cities, people are accustomed to walking everywhere, and public transportation trumps car culture; in Tokyo, half of all trips are made on rail or bus, and a quarter on foot. Drivers are used to sharing the road and yielding to pedestrians and cyclists.
But here we were, H, R & me at that moment, 14th,15th & 16th in line waiting for a highly rated Ramen place – down a nondescript alley, just around d the corner from a super expensive department store in Shinjinku. Surrounded front and back by locals, part of a neat queue that snaked out the small restaurant’s entrance to the curb, where it broke for the tarmac only to pick up again around the corner onto a busier street. Every few minutes, the noren curtain hanging in front of the door would twitch, discharging bodies into the Tokyo late morning rain, and we would steadily shuffle forward.
We were there to eat 1 of the best Tokyo Style Shoyu Ramen, the specialty of the tiny restaurant after walking in the rain through Shinjuku Gyoen. The place is presided by a few wiry ramen masters who are all rocking a blond, boy-band coif, who dances around behind the counter, boiling and draining and plating their food with the percussive flamboyance of a flair bartender. Shoyu is a type of ramen made with chicken stock and shoyu is mixed with dashi to produce the unique Tokyo style Ramen. Tokyo Ramen is usually served with Chashu, Kamaboko, half an Egg, and is topped with chopped leek and preserved bamboo shoots.
Once it was our turn at the door, we make our orders on an old machine that’s all in Japanese and has pictures of Ramen but you can’t see really what type of meat. Being tourists, but eager to YOLO and not look foolish – we all select whatever R is ordering because he knows his food-stuff. We leave the door and wait until 3 seats become free and our order gets made fresh.

Queuing is a big deal in Japan, a physical exercise of the principles of discipline and etiquette that are drilled into every schoolchild and reinforced for every adult.

When, at last, we are waved over to a pair of seats, we watch these amazing chefs – ramen masters – prepare our dishes and they ask if we want a bib. I’m the only one who obliges but. I’m glad for it as we are all bent hungrily over our bowls, slurping the soup everywhere. Like a child & their favourite dish. Every part of me feels warmed up, and extra alive – electrified. I put my hands gently around and over the bowl. Feel the warmth and heat from the ramen. As we slurp down delicious food, we are semi-eavesdropping on the still-waiting people pressed into the narrow space behind us. “This guy is supposed to be the real deal,” an American man says to his wife.
If there’s one thing that you learn about the Japanese as a people is that they are incredibly dedicated, humble, serious, and deeply respectful, and honour driven. While it may seem like “just a noodle shop”, there’s an unspoken code of conduct that every local knows but for us as foreigners may not be as intuitive or obvious.
Consider this, most of these “rules” show that the culture is deeply rooted in the idea that as a customer, it is an honour to be able to eat the food a ramen master since we’re not able to make it ourselves and therefore respect is part of the tribute that you pay. This is craft that most chefs spend a lifetime to perfect and usually without any thought of seeking fame or fortune.
Take a second to let that sink in. This is very different from other cultures right?
I’m not a super plan-ahead kind of traveler, but Tokyo is a plan-ahead kind of city. So if you don’t book ahead, you have to queue up for hours before.
People line up, without apparent impatience, not only at ramen restaurants and store cash registers, but to board subway trains, nab a taxi at a stand, and enter elevators. After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake—an event so tectonically powerful that it shifted the entire main island of Japan eight feet eastward and spat up a towering tsunami that ravaged the country’s northeast—the world watched in awe as millions of affected Japanese refrained almost entirely from looting, and instead waited in calm, orderly lines to receive supplies, sometimes for 12 hours or more. Next to that, how can my aversion to a queue mean anything at all?
One night R, H and I walked miles from Shibuya through it’s cool neighbourhood Shimokitazawa – it’s style is more hip and grungy than the polished global cool of Shibuya and it’s super quirky cutisy vibes of Haraujuku.
We walked up purple neon hills, seeing the city sky line happen below us, alongside train tracks and through dark tunnels. As always, Tokyo is always eerily quite, but it’s safe. We walked past Japanese baseball stores, off the beaten track pizza places, cool bars, record stores, and more weird shops. We walked until we got to a hood called Ebisu. Where I think had the best burger – and certainly the most delicious Japanese fried chicken.
We walked across all of central Tokyo neighbourhoods. I achieved my goal of seeing the place – with my own eyes.
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But it took us time and Tokyo makes you a person who waits.

In the dim light of sunrise, we get up super early – an hour before to get train tickets for Mount Fuji. The time we wanted was already sold out.
We lined up for all kinds of foods and drinks and much more in between.

At the end of all those waits was, invariably, magnificence: The most jewel-like sashimi. The lightest pork cutlets. The richest, deepest, most exquisite ramen broth I’ve ever had.

There’s a phrase in Japanese for places like this⎯gyouretsu no dekiru mise: “restaurants that have very long lines.” The lines are often self-fulfilling prophecies: The wait isn’t part of the cost, as I’d always considered it; to a Japanese person, it’s part of the value. When presented with two vendors selling effectively identical products, the Japanese choose whichever one has the longer line in front of it. Making it through a long line is a praiseworthy feat of endurance, and long queues for one thing or another are always in the news.
As I committed myself ever more deeply to my new practice of patience, I wish I was shooting on film. I was missing my 40-year-old camera , which has no LCD screen with instant preview—instead I had opted to try and do moving film this time. Except it drained my battery and I had forgotten my plug adaptor. So Just like 35mm, each frame became precious, which means you need to make it worth it. You need to wait for the shot.
That’s what I was doing when the strangest, most wondrous, most ineffably Tokyo part of my time there happened. I was sitting on the stone parapet of a bridge over a canal in Nakameguro, a crushingly lovely neighborhood on Tokyo’s southwest side, waiting for the sunset colours to hit through. It was almost surreally pink.
I would be leaving Tokyo the next day, and I was on my last charged battery.
Tokyo is a magical place. I knew this going in, as I’d been before and was now hooked on it, looking for my next high. Every great city is magical, a unique alchemy of climate and culture, of the past and the future. But in Tokyo I found a magic of extremes. It’s a fast, crowded, chaotic place, surging and staccato—until it’s not. You’ll turn a corner onto a side street, or the minute hand on your watch will tick over the hour, and suddenly all that urgent density falls away. The city is a pattern of movement and stillness, sounds and silences.
What I found, as I let myself relax into being a person who waits, is that even if you’re standing near roaring traffic—or in a subway station during the crush of rush hour, or in the riot of a department store—inside the act of waiting, there’s a form of quiet. As my days in Tokyo passed by, I felt myself undergo an almost physical change: In the scurrying chaos of a dense megacity, my restlessness retreated, my breath slowed. I could feel something else emerging inside me, a blanket unrolling over a rumpled bed, a calmness that was neither contentment nor boredom.

Patience was its own emotion.

3,500 miles, 14 states, 2 provinces, lessons learnt: We are not built to do big things alone, we are built to do them together

Today’s been my last full day in NYC, and in America. And I’m a bit sad about it.

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This nearly month trip has been a blast and an inspiration. It’s been a frank reminder that our time is too valuable to let a moment go to waste. We need steal as much life as we can out of each day. And I certainly feel like we have done this every single day for 28 days.

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This is mainly due to my ride-or-die-hommie – Colleen – the driver, who drove over 3,5000 miles around north America (Thanks so much Colleen!). Think driving miss daisy meets velema and louise. we visited 14 USA states and 2 provinces in Canada! I visited 6 whole new places/cities – making my knowledge of certain states that I had already ticked off before – even better! With Pittsburg being one of my favourite new cities to have visited. Must be that steel connection. I love understated, post industrial, arty cities *cough*-sheffield-*cough*

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We drove through the most glorious sunsets, that hung around for an hour in all their pinky, orange and purple gloriness. In the end it was like we were actually chasing the sunsets. The more south and west we went, the longer they hung around, felt like you could touch them and looked like paintings in photos.

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We hardly arrived anywhere on time between each destination, (thanks google maps when we were planning for the lies!) but it just goes to show that it’s the journey that matters, and it was never about the destination anyways (especially given that our destination would be back where we had started). In the wrong turns and google suggested adventures, we discovered uncharted areas, and ghost towns of rich-pasts, farm lands, mountains, kangaroo, gems, moon-views, world wonders, the brightest stars and the clearest skies! endless waffle houses and many a gas-station toilet.

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We saw dinosaurs, ate at 120 year old functioning ice-cream parlours, farms of various sizes including the massive production of milk for the North of the USA. We chased waterfalls, and slept in places that felt like we could be in a horror movie — or places that only a protagonist would be staying in to run away from something in their past. (this was emily’s house BTW – deep in a rainforest in Georgia — she said we wouldn’t find it – and boy-was she right!)

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We got some incredible emily warning ceramics, and colleen booked an AirBnB that looked like it was decorated in 1920’s (& i swear down it could have been haunted, i had to sleep with the light on- C still thinks i’m being dramatic about it- but those who saw my insta-story will know the truth).

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I learnt that Colleen sleep walks and talks (don’t worry, she mostly did this in motels/hotels). We nearly picked up a hitchhiker (he invited himself along and we had to politely decline saying the car was too full of pottery for him to have a seat & we were heading to dinasour world next) He quickly disappeared once he thought that *we* were the weirdos. And I also learnt that Colleen is very opinionated about things including road-side eateries. I want her to start a podcast or youtube channel where people just give her a subject and she’ll rift about how scandal-less or waste of time/money it is, or how amazing it is.

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I learn about a dude called Mr Rodgers and how to be kind to ourselves and others through his teachings (& colleen’s pure love for him). and all things from Pittsburgh.

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My french is still LA-TERRIBLE, c’est very bad. (the only time i sound proper yorkshire is when i speak another language). I was constipated for 3/4 of the whole time here (HA). And i ripped my stitches out of my mouth by accident eating SI Broccli! HA!

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Time Zones confused us often. Did you know Tennessee & Kentucky & Chicago is central zone but parts of Indiana and Ohio is not?! very confusing. Tax across the USA is wild. Chicago was the most expensive. We’ve tried lots of foods, from 10am ice-cream in Columbus, Ohio, to mexican breakfasts in Chicago, to Wah Wah gas station food, the biggest slices of pizza in philly (& the worst greek salad haha), to sweet potato pancakes in the south, chicken & waffles, pirogies of all types, hot dogs, my fav tacos and “water and leaf” soups, oatmeal shakes, piles and piles of freshly prepared dumplings, my fav Chinese- PHU-GEES in NH and beyond. I keep ordering far too much food and don’t learn.

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My Sandy Island adventures got me chasing sunrises, i drank too much and kept Lea up chatting absolute bollocks. It made me fully miss sandy summers. I got to see my crew from over the years including Dave B, and Kate, and Julia. Vanda and I reminisced about our Sydney adventures. and Dani and the crew and I went Northern Lights hunting! It feels so weird and good to have a base there. A place that feels like a home. Like a good Smizz Horcrux. I feel like bits of my soul is in NYC and sandy Island. Who knew New Hampshire would ever be a smizz place?

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I’ve spent a good month being glad for life, surrounded by people who I love, doing what I love, & meeting more new super awesome people. I’ve been shown many true and generous acts of kindness this year – here in the USA and back at home. And I’m completely humbled and for ever grateful for these. Thanks just doesn’t seem to come even close to how i want to say Thank you! to EVERYONE!

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one morning this summer before my trip here – with my mouth in stitches, and appointment sheets for the next abdominal surgery, I burst into tears over breakfast, convinced that this illness had drained me of my creative & living/Smizz abilities. Even in that dark moment, though, I knew that my co-workers & friends wouldn’t let me fail. And it isn’t just picking up the baton when I drop it; they’ve (you’ve) motivated and encouraged me through periods of lucidity to art/live the best I could. I’m so damn lucky.

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I feel that I have a little more understanding of what it means to fall over and feel that you have to get up, no matter what you have to leave behind in the process. This is an easy realization to come to because I’m pretty lucky that I have you -all- the amazing people in my life, who have supported me & helped me to live. Whatever i’ve lost, you make it feel like i’m nearly whole. All I have is that you should appreciate what you’ve got.

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I tend to do these trips when I’m sort of running away from what’s been happening to me. It hurts. But I’ve thought long & hard about what I want out of life. And i want to be here for at least another 5 years.

Today I got to see Alex 1 last time, and the way he talks about leadership & connecting always inspires me and i feel it in the pitt of my stomach. (i can’t wait for his future book). As he says, doctors check for pulses but he checks his people. And that’s what i love about him, and something i’m trying to aim for too. My USA trips are always inspiring me to be better, to commit to my work, to give back to my community. I have some time, and if I use it well. It will be more than enough.

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through all this stuff, I feel like I’ve grown up a second time. I’m broken; But I am alive. I’m coming home to  fix some more gnarly health stuff, but i’m re-charged to finish my PHD, start my new work contracts using arts based research methods in public health and doing research into social detriments and getting rid of these health inequalities as much as we can through ensuring access is made for the people who need these services. and restructing injustice things within policy and beyond. I’m looking forward to really starting to lay the bones down for “REAL “- a business adventure with Helen doing social-justice through creative practice. and lots of stuff in between.

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i’m constantly looking forward to sunsets and bike rides and tacos and getting dirt on my boots and feeling grass between my toes and feeling the calm breeze sweep my face as i drive with the windows down. these are the small, forgettable pieces of life that i think contain all the magic, all the billion little tiny disco ball reflections and retractions of the love and light in this world.

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This life is teaching me that there are golden moments, and the darkness cannot touch them. I’m learning the art of discovering those moments, the ones hiding in hard moments and challenging days. but man.. is it worth it.

Wish me luck! and see y’all later!

Shame, Gratitude, (health) Care & Resilience: Working in Art & in Research

Shame. It’s a shameful thing.  To feel ashamed. It makes you feels weak. It feels like you’re kind of worthless. The other day, my GP shamed me. He told me that I just “need to suck it up & live with it”. (it being bad-ass headaches/migraines/face/shoulder pain) I’m not sure he meant to, but he did. I wasn’t even there for that. He tried to quickly move on – but it hung in the air & it is now burnt into my mind ever since. I keep replaying the moment inside my head of all the things I *wished* I had said in response to him. To call him out. But I stumbled over my words and I itched my head as I usually do when I feel socially inept and at a loss of words as all of the emotion came over me at once.

This moment, which I had gone for antibiotics for a chest infection (which i got!),  all came down to him reading some clinic notes that the physio had written. She had said that I take (over the counter) codeine about twice a month  for a 5-year chronic headache & INTENSE neck/face pain, but only when its pain scale 8+ & it’s grinding me down. And it’s true.   The neurologist prescribed me stuff for it 3 years ago – but the GP refused to keep on prescribing it. we tailored the drugs off – and now I just live in pain. I get it. I understand why he doesn’t want me on these drugs. It’s chronic pain, it’s probs a bit psychosomatic – but i do have shit wrong with me that would actually give me chronic headaches like hypercalcemia that gets so high sometimes I have to be hospitalized.  And also like, migraines are a real thing! But he doesn’t see that. And again, I do  it get the “no drugs thing”. That’s why I have adapted my own coping systems. I know stress makes it worse, Physio helps my neck & shoulder & gives me really good relief for a decent amount of time, and I know I need to sleep-in at weekends to give my body *Something* to building itself back up. I know the GP won’t give me shit for it – so I take the odd over the counter pain relief? So what!?  If he wants control over the stuff I am taking – then he should offer the support. But he doesn’t – so, I guess that’s structural iatrogenesis for you.

I have to take the pain relief when the pain grinds me down so much that I feel COMPLETELY worthless – like the pain makes all my left side of face feel numb and sometimes I can’t actually get language out. It’s embarrassing. My job is about communication – and sometimes i just can’t communicate properly with people cuz the headache/face numbness is so bad i loose my ability to grasp the correct word – or know how to spell it? It’s a weird sensation. It’s like having the worlds slowest seizure. But it goes on FOR DAYS. WEEKS. Even months if it’s SUPER bad like it was back in the radiotherapy training days.  It literally makes me feel like I want to kill myself – because anything is better than not feeling like you’re alive. I joke about this with friends at work. They laugh but pull me up on it. “You’re not serious though, are you?” they say. I just laugh and & say “i don’t know” because honestly on those days, i just – don’t know.  We get back to typing on our laptops and pretend we’ve not really exchanged this odd truth because it doesn’t sit well with who i am.  When the pain is manageable – i’m like the chillest, generally happiest person you’ve met that day.

The GP – a dude who I really respect & admire – made me feel like *proper* shit by shaming me like that (again esp when I didn’t bring it up!). I carry the shame around with me all the time. It weighs me down, and the dirty secret of mine.  I don’t need to hear to suck it up from someone who is supposed to at least be pretending to help.  So I was like, what’s even the point, right?  And It’s not the 1st time he’s shamed me. I can’t blame him directly tho. Healthcare is historically built upon shaming women (Especially) .

I’ve been making my medical shames into comics (this 1 isn’t finished yet). Maybe one day, i’ll give them to my GP.

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So what’s this shame gotta do with everything else? Well, this is the thing. I know that shame is the opposite of art.

When you live inside of your shame, everything you see is inadequate and embarrassing. The pain you can’t seem to get rid of.  A lifetime of traveling and having adventures and not being tethered to long-term commitments looks empty and pathetic and foolish, through the lens of shame. You haven’t found a partner. Your face is aging. Your body will only grow weaker. Your mind is less elastic. Your time is running out. Shame turns every emotion into the manifestation of some personality flaw, every casual choice into a giant mistake, every small blunder into a moral failure. Shame means that you’re damned and you’ve accomplished nothing and it’s all downhill from here.

Working in art and academia/research kind of makes it super easy to fall into shame. The way these worlds work – defaultly – can make you feel pretty inadequate at times. I mean, anyone who has received the raft of reviewer #2 will know what I mean.

Shame creates these imaginary worlds inside our heads. This haunted house that I have created is forged from my shame. No one else can see it, I keep trying to describe it to them. I find ways to say, “You don’t want any part of this mess. I’m mediocre, stupid/boring, and poor. Do yourself a favour and leave me behind.” Sometimes I think it’s because I want to be left behind, though. That way, no one bears witness to what I’ve become.

I’ve gotten super lucky recently though when it has come to work, somehow. I’ve been blessed with an incredible opportunity to do a commission for Yorkshire Visual Arts Network (YVAN) – on creating a work based on snapshots of working in Yorkshire and Humberside as an artist.   And I decided I’d look at this iffy word Resilience.  It absolutely does my head-in, does that word.  It’s a new buzzword. And it gets banged around in scenarios where people are in really stressful situations: an overstretched NHS, an underfunded school, understaffed university, a over-stretched and increasing demand public sector. The reasons why people are stressed & burnt out & things are taking longer *isn’t* the underfunding – no – people just need to be *more* resilent. Here this is the placing the structural injustices onto individuals – and it turn it shames them too.

The North, traditionally and currently, gets less funding than the south. But – it’s cool because WE ARE RESILIENT.

Over the past few weeks I have been digging down deep across various areas: Sheffield, Doncaster – soon Hull and Withernsea. A bit of Huddersfield. I’ve been taking documentation, talking to people. About labour, about art, about making, about worth/value/time.

But I am left more inspired than I first thought I would be.  Every single conversation has ended up about being and providing some sort of care. I am refreshed. This wasn’t what I was expecting to find. I had chosen these specific people because I knew they were doing something special, and was responding to these structures that build shame around us all. They are responding with a resilence built around care.

Over the past few decades the individual, the self, has been at the center. But I’m finding people who are leading us toward a culture that puts relationships at the center. They ask us to measure our lives by the quality of our attachments, to see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one. They ask us to see others at their full depths, and not just as a stereotype, and to have the courage to lead with vulnerability. These  people are leading us into a new culture. Culture change happens when a small group of people find a better way to live and the rest of us should copy them.

I am excited to share this new body of work (still in the process of being made) with you – but the website will be shared with y’all soon.

All of this has made me see that we all need to discard some of this shame that we’re carrying around all the time. But even if we can’t cast off all our shame that quickly, through the lens of art, shame can become valuable.

When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it, you can see the true texture of the day and the richness of the moment, with all of its flaws. You can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it. When you face your shame with an open heart, you’re on a path to art, on a path to finding joy and misery and fear and hope in the folds of your day.

Instead of thinking what needs fixing? we need to be here instead. We can build a new kind of existence, one that feels small and flawed and honest, but each day we can accumulate a kind of treasure that doesn’t disappear.  A reminder that you are alive. And you’re worthy and valued and seen. Chronic pain, citations, published journal articles, bad reviews and all.

Where wonder reigns and hope exists

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Where wonder reigns and hope exists…

Every day I woke up on the train with a desire to feel the Sun. Instead, the day offered gray sky with hints of a snowstorm. The peaks of mountains were hidden, the distance made blurry by snow blowing hard outside but I felt irresistibly drawn to its other glories: the purity of the wind, the promise of imminent thunder, the morning whisper of birds. Fields of Canadian Goose. I never knew why the Canadian goose was a thing, now I know that there’s 1000s out there. Flying together in frigid weather.

As we made our way through the long curvy rail-roads of the North of Ontario into the Prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the scenery reminded me of Alaska as seen on movies like Into The Wild (spoiler, Alaska is one of the 7 states that I’m missing off my 50 visited states list). Eminent mountains, frozen lakes, endless fields and many sightings of wild animals. Out here, I didn’t take many photos. I was content to simply be in the presence of this majestic landscape, treating those moments with the weightiness and value they deserve.

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In every sight, wonder. In every step, curiosity. In every feeling, awe.

Imagine a scene — you’re standing next to thousands of migrating birds in a snowstorm with endless fields as a backdrop. Swans flutter in the distance like rising snowflakes. You feel part of something big, something that you’ve seen only in National Geographic.

What would you do if you find yourself in a moment like that? It takes time to sink in. We need to listen to what these moments are telling us. Standing in the snowstorm, I experienced nature’s intense power, while at the same time, I am reminded of its sublime beauty.

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It made me think about hope, about what hope is and what it is not.

Over the past few years, chronic illness/pain has grinded  me down just enough to feel on the true brink of hopelessness, a good few times. I never really understood hopelessness, until I was there. Where you’d take being dead for being alive, at any moment, because being alive like that doesn’t even feel like being alive. It’s worse than being alive because you’re suffering.  suffering in ways that are difficult to articulate.  It’s like being stuck in between being alive and dead.  A place of purgatory. But the thing about purgatory is that whilst you feel an emptiness. You don’t realize what a dark place you’re in until you get out and you can see again. Change happens. But it can happen literally overnight. Like it did for me. Even though we’re taught change usually comes over time.

Today the train ran 5.5 hours late. I’m not sure how, but I think it’s something to do with freight trains. This meant that we had a knock on effect on how little time we had in other stops. We had a quick stop with surprise wifi in Edmonton. It was just enough time and wifi to quickly post photos i had accumulated on instagram, and a brief update for Facebook and Twitter so my mom knew I was still alive.

As I write on Facebook, a FB memory appears that stops me in my tracks. It really brings it all back. A few years ago today, I was leaving JFK airport after a YOLO road trip. It was the end of summer after gaining a life-changing diagnosis, which i had spent mostly running away from. I still remember this moment with crystal clear precision, what I was wearing, the smells, the reactions. I can play back most of that summer memories like as if on tape. I left the USA thinking I might not ever make it back. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t believe it was true.

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But friends banded together across Sandy Island, then the country… and then across the globe! sometimes I was throwing up too much or too weak to talk. But we kept going. Friends donated time, money, connections. Strangers sent mail, hundreds of photos. All in the hope to save my life or at least make me more comfortable and show support.

I told myself that if I ever get through this, that stuff would be different. There was still so much I still needed to see, so much time wasted, so much to do such as i wanna see my friends kids grow-up, and other friends grow in their confidence and careers and homes. I created a bucket list to help.

I wish I could tell you that the 5 years since have been easier. They haven’t. Even just under 3 weeks ago I was in the Emergency Room with suspected clots. Needles, needles, needles, so many needles, fevers, infections, a never-ending-headache, severe mucositis, so-much-pain, anti-nausea drugs that results in weeks of lost memories, teeth issues, corneal damage, a slate of other issues a little too graphic to write about, crazy painful out-of-nowhere leg cramps…

…all bumps along the road. But these past 5+ years have been really good to me (outside of the health stuff).

I do feel more and more slowly ‘normal’ with every year that passes, despite wanting it to come quicker, and gaining newer or older issues along the way, some weeks are really truly crippling bad – but the good out-weights the bad ones now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to my old self. But maybe that’s just as well?

Because here’s the thing,  as Mark Brown said in his lecture on hope: hope cannot be transferred like a credit card balance. The hope that we feel for someone cannot substitute for the despair and grief and anger and sadness that they feel for themselves. (I learnt this the hard way. ) So, to make hope happen we must first understand what it is and secondly understand why it might be absent. To understand its absence we must understand what depletes it, what stunts it, what pours salt upon its roots and what blights it when and if it ever flowers.”

I never would have ever believed that people would have come together for me in the way that they did in my times of need.

I realise that sometimes we need these long quiet intervals when we can drift ourselves away a little bit from the current. To gain some perspective. To see how far we’ve come, because sometimes when you’re in the dark, it’s hard to see how strong the current has been. Plus it’s always the best feeling in the world is coming back.

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This morning as I sat looking up at the sky in the glass carriage, I saw uncountable stars. The wind in the valley murmurs at the approach of the sun and I find myself fixed on the single small spark of Venus as the stars silently surrender to the light. The first light of day finds my eye and we are connected.

Today, standing here with the mountains, the first light suddenly feels like the. first. light. and I breathe it in with both soul and senses. Here we can remake the world by understanding the world in all its messy, horrific, amazing glory.

A couple of years ago I was on a plane from NYC to the UK because I was dying.

Today I’m on day 3 of 4, on a train crossing the Canadian wilderness, a lil bit worse for wear (i need a shower pretty bad and i’m still harbouring all of my health issues) but I feel more alive than I have in a very long time.

( I Wrote this 3 days ago,I’m now in Seattle, WA – USA!)

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The Year of Zinc

I’ve not blogged in ages. I keep reflecting, but it’s stored in hidden word documents on my laptop – sometimes making an appearance at a conference, or on my Facebook – in the safety of friends and not just the internet-public.

But I’ve been thinking about getting to 30. Alive. I really can’t believe it.

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On the periodic table 30  is the element Zinc. Roughly one third of all metallic zinc produced today is used in a process known as galvanization. During galvanization, an object that is subject to corrosion, such as an iron nail, is given a protective coating of zinc. I like the idea that my new decade is started with the year of Zinc: an element that is most useful in trying to stop corrosion.

5 years ago, an event happened that changed my life. Some of you where there, and others have followed the progress reports. But, honestly, i think it’ll take a full ten years for me to understand the impact and outcome of that one event.

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Life in many ways is like a paint by numbers book, where you can colour, one tiny bit at a time but within invisible lines. The whole picture emerges much later. Perhaps Steve Jobs said it best:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

A decade ago, today, if you had asked me today if my life would turn out the way it has done — I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question. In many ways, life has been so much better than I ever really thought it would be!
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Getting to 30 isn’t really big news, but it’s a biggie for me, and ANY of my friends will vouch for me – I never thought I would make it to here. I thought this at high-school. I guess living in abject poverty makes you feel like this – like there’s no future. And this was even before I fell sick. But then when I did fall sick, I would look at what was happening to me and how i felt and thought for sure I wouldn’t be alive by now. At times, I actually didn’t want to live. Like, I just felt like I couldn’t live with this kind of pain – for the rest of my life – without someone understanding what this experience was doing to me with me.

So, I’m really grateful to be getting here.

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Despite this being kinda big news for me, i’m surprisingly anxious about it all too. I still feel 21 in my head. I still get I.D’d for booze at bars & M&S when buying BucksFizz, and if I’m really trying it on, I can still get Teen cinema tickets at the local Odeon.
My life is that of an 18 year olds. I moved back home, have no kids, no pension, basically a few $ in savings, the worst credit history – ever. I’m still a student, albeit I prefer researcher now (PhD). But getting really sick in my 20’s kind of funked things up a bit. I lost time for making and meeting people and things. I lost confidence, and money and I spent a whole lot of it when I got it — YOLOing or trying to find cures for my fatigue (all didn’t work BTW).
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By societies standards, I’m not a success. And I can feel it. I should have *done more* by now. People my age are consultants and own houses, and head-teachers and more. And it’s hard not to compare yourself. But in my own standards (and I think this is what matters) I’m relatively happy with where I am right now.
I mean, I am alive. I do think about that a lot.
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Confronting mortality makes you ask some fundamental questions of yourself and your relationships. It makes you a lot more honest with yourself. It forces you to say no more often, for you know the fleeting nature of life, the minuscule time we have on the planet and what matters is how we choose to spend it. And how you choose to act aswell.
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But 30 years is a long time to have witnessed change and fragility.  Over the past 5 years of ‘illness’, I realised that BEING alive and FEELING alive are 2 different things. And what I’ve learnt over 30 years is what Oprah’s words from her Golden Globes speech encapsulated:

“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you have.”

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I recently read Dr Rod Kersh’s response to Henry Marsh’s guardian article  on the treatment by the legal system and the media, of a transplant surgeon scaring in his initials into patients livers.

And it got me thinking about empathy, and dignity, and teams and Zinc. Rod is one of the most compassionate (& innovative) doctors I know.  I first met him like 5 years ago. It was my 3rd time ever at a hospital appointment. I still hadn’t learnt how to “behave” in these situations (i think i still struggle with what to say and what not to mention even now).  But I still remember our first clinic with clarity, exact words and phrases. He told me how he was going to treat/talk to me (like an equal).  And it properly threw me. I thought about it for weeks afterwards. It was a weird thing to say. But it properly made me feel like I could trust him, that I (my life) was important. This phrase was further backed up by his actions, because in trying to describe what was happening to me, i described it more in how these symptoms was really hindering my life. And he was super intrigued by this. He’s the only doctor (except the ENT doctor this week who was genuinely concerned with my massive hearing loss and my quality of life/future) who seemed to gauge what was important to me. I noticed that when people didn’t hear me out, it made me feel more desperate. (That’s not to say everyone else I see or have seen don’t care… because that’s simply not true at all, but there’s a difference in acknowledging).

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He, and a few of my HCP, inspired me to be the best healthcare professional I could be. I subconsciously learnt what was good care and what wasn’t as good as that. And now everytime I am with a patient, I remember what is important to me when I am in this system. And the differences in actions and languages. And I want to make sure people feel seen and heard. Feel like whatever they’re telling me that is bothering them in their lives, that it matters. That they matter. Despite whatever is happening. Because often people just want to be heard.

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Many forget that it’s a rare privilege to find something you care about so deeply and be able to make it part of your life. For me, I realize that it makes sense that 30 is Zinc.  I am so endlessly grateful. These years have gifted me experiences, skills, lessons, and friendships. I would not be me without them because these people: my friends, teams, colleagues, working together – have acted like Zinc. 

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They have provided me with a coating, that has helped to ease the corrosion of life (from art, to work, to learning, to sickness and more). And in doing so have taught me how to be Zinc too.

You will never regret offering dignity to others.

We rarely get into trouble because we overdo our sense of justice and fairness. Not just us, but where we work, the others we influence. Organizations and governments are nothing but people, and every day we get a chance to become better versions of ourselves.

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And yet… in the moments when we think no one is looking, when the stakes are high, we can forget. It’s worth remembering that justice and dignity aren’t only offered on behalf of others.

Offering people the chance to be treated the way we’d like to be treated benefits us too. It goes around.

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The false scarcity is this: we believe that shutting out others, keeping them out of our orbit, our country, our competitive space—that this somehow makes things more easier for us.

But today, value isn’t created by filling a slot, it’s created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs.

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The false scarcity stated as, “I don’t have enough, you can’t have any,” is more truthfully, “together, we can create something better.”

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And going forwards in setting the tone to my next decade is just that. To be Zinc: to help, share, collaborate and support. To be compassionate and empathetic.  I will do whatever it takes.

I just like to take this moment to say thank you to everyone in my life who have gotten me here too (from everything). I love y’all! Keep being awesome!

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Love Is Love Is Love: Working To Make Things Better

Around 5 years ago, my life changed in a fatal kind of way. When I was in America, I was given a diagnosis that made feel like I was looking down a barrel of a gun and made me question everything in my life. This crazy plot twist, that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Tramedy, set off a bunch of things in my life. The past 4-ish years have been personally-health-awful, but yet through this difficult time this happened:

Last night I picked up my crazy amazing big prestigious award from the Houses of Commons, like some kind of rock-star. It was surreal, and I’ll probably never get another opportunity to experience something like it. But it was such an incredible evening and I met so many amazing, talented, smart, giving and generous people who work within healthcare,  specifically within radiography and oncology care. We should be so proud to have these people – and people not acknowledged working day in and out within the NHS just like them – and in our country.

It’s more than anyone could ask for and it’s an absolute rare privilege; To be recognized for trying your best to help others. I’ve never really been acknowledged before,  but I can’t help but feel heavy with gratitude to everyone who got me here, as thanked previously in many, many blog posts previously. Because this award is just representative of everyone who got me here.  There is no greater gift than being able to be part of something bigger than yourself, trying to make things better for others. And so the honour of being part of narrative alone is incredible.

Then I got home, back to the north, anxious about the U.S.A. Elections, fell asleep and awoke to Trump president-elect.

When I fell sick, I had so much angst because I felt like there was so much left to do and so much more love to give in life. I’d cry because I felt sorry for myself. And I felt ashamed even more for behaving that way, for being weak. But then on reflection I realized that the tears  flowed because they needed to. Because things were building up instead of me like a pressure cooker, and I wanted to keep moving forward.

I was crying because I wanted to live, because I was afraid of not being here.  And I was afraid of being forgotten.

So having gone through that, and 2015 UK General Election and Brexist Ref vote – I figured we need a hope-of sorts – a plan of sorts. Here’s what I’ve learnt from my few years living invisibly and wanting so bad to enjoy life again. And how Brexit, and Trump and a million refugees stuck around the world make you feel powerless and everything is lost. But

Trust me when I say this time is short & this life is both terrible & beautiful.

Resentment & anger are inevitable & sometimes are important, temporarily,  but it’s important to not take up residence in that place. I PROMISE you deserve better. Even if you voted Trump. You do deserve better.

I promise you there are people who will leave you in life, but that others will embrace you unconditionally in your brokenness.

So you go out & run fearlessly in the direction of love. You are never alone. Your tribe is out there. GO GET IT. And please keep laughing. Joy is salvation. In the darkest, lowest moments, being able to find something, anything to laugh about can save you.

We never stop. We never give up. We fight for each other and protect each other.

Living and giving kindness is the best revenge. 

The most creative challenge of our lives is learning how to approach our own inner darkness with curiosity, empathy, and friendliness.

And that’s where it’s all going to come together.

Sometimes in life, if you are very lucky, you find the grace in having it all blow up in your face.

Our jobs for the day (life): Tell the truth; Be kind & curious; Love all people with all your heart; Don’t put up with any bullshit. 

Love Is Love Is Love, we’ve had a bunch of set-back but that just means we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but lets keep working to make things better – for ourselves and for those who are voiceless, victimised, invisible or who can’t say it for themselves. There is so much more that what unites us than what divides us.

Our work isn’t done, and we need each other and others less fortunate than us, who are REALLY struggling need us. So don’t wait to be called, because you’re already being beckoned.

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learning to lean in

Words are  often a poor substitute for imagery.

One of my Doctors: “So Sarah, why do you want to work in healthcare – even though you’re an artist?”

I spoke about my own experiences & the opportunity artistic practice can offer to enhance care and services – the ability to use a different perspective to make a difference.

He turned to me expressed his heartfelt regrets and said: “Art gives you, like flying, something that other people don’t have.”

It was as if he was saying, what you lack in a functional immune system, you make up for in other unique ways.

And with this, a few days ago I found out that I passed my radiotherapy & oncology BSc Hons degree with a 92.6% First-class degree!!!

I have a fully-funded PhD scholarship offer bringing together 2 of my passions together (art & healthcare) that starts in October, and I leave for the U.S.A in 5 days times for a good couple of months. I genuinely can-not-believe it!!

Not too shabby for the working class kid with no science background or previous healthcare working experience.

I am humbled, and most of all feeling extremely privileged to have shared this crazy journey with you all. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to this day, in all kinds of ways, and for this reason this achievement feels incredibly important and special.

For a long time, I had made who I was by being a work-horse. I could totally juggle 8 things at once. I could totally stay up til 3am in the morning working on hopeful-kick-ass projects/ideas/gigs – and then get up at like 9/10am the next day — no questions about it.  My mind constantly buzzed with all the cool things we could do. I’d sleep with a notebook and jot down cool ideas in the middle of the night. If you needed something doing – I was the person! But Nothing prepares you for the day when you can’t do what you do any more.

I didn’t feel like myself. I felt broken. I loathed who I had become.

There I was, hopeless – barely there. Not feeling alive.

I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t believe it was happening to me.

I’ve spent the last couple of years searching for the Old (younger) Smizz. I’ve looked for her all over  —But there’s no going back to my old life.

I am broken. There’s no protocols or discharge instructions to guide people back to their lives.

But I am alive.

I do think about that a lot.

 

This degree course allowed me to gain some control, it gave me some much needed (if not too much) structure and helped me to try & hopefully make a difference. After all, what is the point of saving a life if the life isn’t a meaningful one?

And the friends I’ve met whilst doing it – all with their own personal stories – have helped to inspire, and alongside all my other friends, they’ve helped me to carve this new path for myself.

It highlights the fact that I’ve never actually accomplished a single meaningful thing by myself, and this is included.

The past few years has taught me that reading the fine print of your mortality is a great sifter of rubbish.

In the chase for the extraordinary we can sometimes forget to embrace the ordinary moments. It’s about embracing our vulnerabilities and learning to ask for help. We also need to invest in others without expecting returns – because that’s real love.

And it’s about realizing that your time is valuable — what you do with it, how you spend it and with whom.

 

It’s picking yourself up when life knocks you down and finding beauty in your bruises. But this might take years and years to do, it’s not an overnight fix. We are all damaged & broken & traumatized & mistake making in some way or another. But it doesn’t define who we are. So don’t be so hard on yourself. And Don’t be so hard on others.

3 years ago, I literally couldn’t get out of bed. Today marks a HUGE milestone for me. I got out of bed each placement morning (1000’s of hours of free labour) (i wasn’t happy about it lol), I ground myself down, I gritted my teeth and pushed through most of the fatigue & pain, and some how completed 3 years clinical education. Super early mornings, physical lifting, lots of moving, emotional distress, stress, deadline after deadline, many naps where ever I could find them, doritos and a 2 year long headache. And somehow I got here.

Whilst I still live in deep pain, and still haven’t learnt my fatigue limits, and I’ve lost feeling all on my left side, and a headache that often leaves me crippled to the floor. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Recovery is hard. I don’t think we give enough people credit for that part.

I Never, genuinely – hand on heart –  would have believed any of this would have been possible.

So thank you to YOU ALL.  My mom, my bro, my nan, my amazing friends – old & new, stafff, lecturers, my twitter fam, my internet friends. Anyone and everyone.
Without your advise, support, jokes, cleaning, food, tears, stories, knowledge and just being there and accepting I take 7-10 business days to return a text/email – I’m not so sure this would be the blog update it is today.

I plan on using all of my time allocated.

And I can’t believe I’m here.

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Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming

I recently received some incredible, completely surprising and insane(-ly good) news. 

As previously written on a few blog posts, I had applied for a PhD – not ever thinking I’d even get shortlisted, but I was happy with the learning process itself. Pushing myself forward, keeping my options open.

Before I fell poorly, and my life got all shook-up, I had an art practice-led-PhD proposal on my desktop for about a year. I wondered if I would ever be brave enough to submit it.  It was – at the time – something not super well researched. It was about Artwork and labour, and the dark-matter of the artworld – I was hoping to build upon my peers and artists who I greatly admire’s work – such as Gregory Sholette’s political activist artwork, like 1980’s PAD/D and his thesis on Dark Matter (which is one the best books ever on the subject IMHO); William Powhida’s  incredible practice on the Artworld power and structures; ARTWORK by Temporary Services; AREA Chicago’s work (that I was so lucky to have been an intern there in 2009 in Chicago, USA – under incredible people), Olivia Plender, Charles Avery, Tino Segal, ect ect.

 

But something didn’t feel right about this proposal.  Part of it was the proposal itself, and another part was probably my self-doubt, was I smart enough to do it? Could I justify my proposal?  And so I never submitted it. It didn’t matter much anyways, because the shit-hit the fan and the months proceeding this – my perspective changed after my life became obviously more temporary than I had imagined at 23/4. And I was left,  broken. My plans, my lil’ confidence I had left and my future-vision even more broken.

Art & Labour  became irrelevant to me, and with the recession and the popularity increase in socially engaged practices (yay!), my once some-what original PhD enquiry into art and labour became hot-topic. Diminishing any hopes at looking at it in the future.

I’ve never recovered from this illness experience. And I felt like I lost a part of who I was. For both better and for worse.

 

My desire to do this art & labour PhD got replaced  by my desire to change healthcare practice for the better. To make the patient pathway better.  As described many times before in these posts – my personal experiences mixed  with having this intuitive feeling about art & designs possibilities in creating a better healthcare experience and system – whether through designed medical devices (think IDEO), to architectural planning of spaces, art-therapy, using creative ways to map the patients experience or journey to generate things, to app-design and virtual reality. The possibilities are completely almost endless. It’s so exciting, but I also don’t think culturally we’ve got there to accepting it as one of our best tools (of many) to make things better.
So I re-trained, in radiotherapy & oncology to help me be part of the system to make sure I always listen to our patients and I felt that radiotherapy was this area that’s open to innovation.  And I’ve had a blast. I’m actually really good at what I do, who knew? I sometimess get 98-99-100% in my assessments, and I often get compliments & recommendations off my patients about my care, not too shabby for someone without any science background. I’ve learnt a lot about myself in this process, and built my knowledge and skill set further. And I feel such a good part of the teams I work with in the clinical setting.  But it has been ridonkulously hard. There’s no denying this. Especially whilst trying to juggle part-time work, and crappy health-issues. It’s been a battle. A healthcare course really tests you, and your resilience.
 

I felt that being an artist, I could use all my criticality skills and creative abilities to make this change. I felt that art had a place here.And i’ve flexed it out:
I made the first ever radiotherapy patient info app & won a bunch of awards.
I made the A-Z radiotherapy handbook comic
I made the faces of healthcare website of stories
I made an interactive radiation oncology revision group using twitter, storify, google docs and tumblr.
I made the first ever student-led conference dedicated to radiotherapy & oncology.
And a bunch of other things, which you can see here: http://radiotherapysmizz.tumblr.com/

 

Then I saw a call out for PhD proposals.
I was amidst in applying for radiotherapy jobs. I had been told that some of my ideas were “just too ambitious” in my first rad job interview, and then a few weeks later an informal chat with someone who previously worked in clinical-practice told me that: “I need to stay within my band, it’s not a band 5’s role to think of making things better”. Which started to give me a sinking feeling.
I’m a true believer in transformational leadership – whereby everyone – whether a porter, or service user, or volunteer, or student, or band 5 or band 8 HCP – can suggest an idea to make things better – because they’re the ones who experience the system in their way. And may see it from a different perspective – and that we all have equal responsibility: to practice safe and compassionate care. And to work together – effectively and collaboratively – to make things better. It doesn’t matter where you stand. As Judy Hopps says in Zootopia (AN AMAZING MOVIE THAT YOU HAVE TO SEE!) “Life’s a little bit messy. We all make mistakes. No matter what type of animal you are, change starts with you.”

 

So, I emailed my amazing Radiotherapy professor – Heidi Probst – and told her how I really saw creative practice/methodologies as a way to make change in healthcare. She instantly helped me out, said she’d be willing to talk through things. She pointed out her call out for breast/trunk odeama  (something that had come up with my app with a previous patient who was on an award panel – as I hadn’t included it in the side-effects – showing specifically why this needs to be researched as we’re not really taught about it in practice -i hadn’t really thought about it) and the quality of life issues associated with these patients – and we discussed how a creative way would be able to bring out these narratives – in a way that more well-known scientific qualitative methods aren’t able to do. To really make the people heard.
 

Sheffield Hallam has a unique research center called Lab4Living – it’s this super cool place that combines art & design practices to healthcare research. It’s a collaboration between art & health & wellbeing. So I saw this proposal sit right in the middle. A collaboration – and interdisciplinary investigation – with an outcome of a rich diverse narrative in many visual forms – it would be both art and health. I was advised by a bunch of academics to submit it to both departments – both art & health – because it was both, after all – and I felt that I’d do the same kind of work where ever I was based. So I did. I submitted the same proposal. Not expecting ANYTHING in return. No shortlist. Nothing. Just this increased knowledge that this massive gap in patient information and care exists for breast/trunk odema.

And honestly – for about a month – I thought of nothing more other than the plight of these people. I began to see people with trunk swelling on their posterior thorax with no advice in clinical practice. And this whole experience intensified something. Like when my eye doctor gives me option “1 or 2” when he sets my prescription, I suddenly saw option 2. It feels like it has heightened the stakes somehow -— reminding me repeatedly how precarious life is, and how every act is a contribution to a finite set of acts, that should be contributing to a bettering of the world (in whatever form that takes). Thinking constellations and not just stars.

Then I got shortlisted in 2 departments – and I panicked. I never envisioned this to happen. in-my-wildest-dreams!

So, after feeling like I was betraying both departments – I interviewed in both departments – each time feeling like I had let myself and the people who had given me this chance down. Both departments asked for 2 different kinds and types of presentations. PhD interviews are really hard to judge! I expected my chance to end there.

I don’t really know what happened in between.

There’s a quote that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, about having to let go of our planned life, to allow us to get to the life that’s waiting for us.

And when I fell sick, I let go of my planned life. And I went into radiotherapy but for a long while i just didn’t know what was waiting for me. And that has been one of the hardest parts. I now feel like maybe this is what’s been waiting for me. This beautiful combination of practices – both creative and health.

“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than 1 way.” —Marvin Minsky

After much soul-searching. And I mean, really soul searching. I decided art would be the best place to sit – for the freedom. Though this decision did not come easily.

Getting this fully-funded PhD scholarship in art feels like I’ve come home. I’ve been lost, but I’ve been found. Changed but not fully forgotten. For a few years now I have been caught up between all that was and all that could have been and be. You feel lost.  As soon as the bones mend, you forget about the fracture, but you don’t forget that experience that lead to it.

It’s a bittersweet moment because I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for Heidi’s help, and I wouldn’t even be interested in making healthcare better through creative methodologies if I never fell sick in the first place.

My great friend Magda pretty much sums  up the bittersweetness perfectly with her quote to me: “Life sometimes gives us lousy hand of cards and we play it like it was fucking aces!! that’s what we do.” Someone make this into a motivational poster.

It is at this juncture that I want to REALLY thank all the people who has made this possible – a reality- Heidi, Alex Robinson,  Jo Doughty, Laura P –  all the people in art – Becky Shaw, Kathy D, Penny M, Claire — so many, many other people  – ALL OF MY FRIENDS & my mom & nan & bro – for all of your help. For taking a chance on me, for believing I could do a PhD, for inspiring and advising, for your belief in making healthcare better. For hoping for a better future for these patient. For all the talks, for all your time, supporting me. For taking a risk.

I am endlessly grateful. I know I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for these people. I never take anything for granted and I feel like I can never repay y’all.

For everyone whose had a dream, and for all the working class kids who get told they can’t even make it to university — this is for you. We can do this.

Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.

My new chapter begins in September. And I am SO nervous.

No risk, No adventure.
To innovating healthcare by focusing on people & their experiences!

Your good friend,
Hopefully, future Dr. Smizz 😉

PS: my radiotherapy career isn’t over either.

 

 

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