On Navigating Stuckness

I’ve loved a lot of cities, but I didn’t know what it was like to be *in love* with a city, until New York. 

Today I take my flight home (and i’m bringing the shingles back with me too). Whilst I’m not best pleased to leave, it marks another summer that I’m still here, kickin’ it and this fact feels good. After a year of falls, bike-accidents, too many punctures to count,  fires, shingles, doom-headache-facial-numbness-from-hell, treatments, steep learning curves, sleep-less nights, never-ending deadlines, constant doubt and having to rebuild my confidence to name a few – I’m feeling pretty [very] lucky. 

Time is already a tough customer, but it is torturous when you start measuring it. Becoming a new parent is a struggle (as most of my friends are now new parents! congrats, guys!). Starting a new course is a struggle. Staying with your values and staying healthy and keeping a good perspective is a struggle. But struggling is good. It is one of the only things that exercise the deep well of will and vitality within us. That help us dig into ourselves deeper, that push us to grow.

I went back to Sandy Island this vacation on different terms than previous years. And I was welcomed with so much warmth and posters everywhere that said WELCOME BACK SMIZZ! I felt like I had come home. I can’t explain the feeling.

When I think about my time at Sandy I just don’t know where to begin. It was there where I started to get the help I needed when I fell sick a few years ago now, and well, it’s always on my mind because ALL of my friends (sandy, donx, sheffo, nyc, everyone!) came together to help me through it all – and they still are. falling sick has taught me a lot about loss and resilience and the will to live and adapt. I feel broken, always. But when I start talking about the outpouring of love and support that I had received since my illness and accidents, ect, I become really weepy. Because I realized that for the first time in my life, I was truly letting love into my heart. Losing a small part of me has connected me to others in a way I had never felt. And whilst I feel broken, a sense of myself lost from feeling constantly tired and in pain, in a way, I feel as if I have gained much more.

This trip I’ve had the chance to see people I never thought I’d get to see again (or for a very long time). I got to see friends, and meet their friends, and meet their awesome boyfriends. I got to go to my first ever garage jamming session. I got to drink in brooklyn dive bars and see a record album release party! I saw a hipster version of charlie & chocolate factory store, got to see more of the sketchbook project, tried properly independently brewed coffee (still think coffee is gross), I gave up my seat on a bolt bus so 2 kid brothers could sit together and then the people on the bus all gave me an applause?! i went into the lake, felt sand between my toes, watched a new hampshire sunset. Went to my favourite chinese restaurant in  Meredith, NH with 3 great amazing people and the owners remembered not only who I was – but also what my favourite dish was! I went to my favourite thai-food place and managed to get really good Thai-iced tea. I survived 3 craz thunder-storms, including when I was on a BOAT! I made some cool new friends, and stayed up until 4am learning all about my new friends lives. I got a t-shirt with my artwork on ! And then managed to get a ride all the way from NH to Brooklyn, for free, so I could get there to NYC in time to see the US Open with another super special person who took me! I officially fell asleep on the streets of NYC whist waiting in line to get super awesome improve comedy free tickets. and I’ve drank enough delicious horchata to last until my next trip. 

I’ve done lots more, and ate a lot more food than mentioned here. But this stands out.

 I can say that i’m old enough to have a past with some regrets, but young enough to feel like I have a stake in the game for righting the course, and self-obsessed enough to have a hyper-vigilant sense of justice. I feel it. Life is a set of nested envelopes. 

“In the trade off between timeliness and timelessness, choose the latter. The zeitgeist rewards timeliness, but your soul rewards timelessness.” – Jonathan Harris

My trip reminds me that we need to work on things that will last.  I leave this here as a reminder to write the counter-point to this quote. My current belief is that after timelessness comes a second stage of timeliness: attention to quality time with people and interests you love, independent from their longevity.

As I’ve said before, I have some time left, and if I use it well, it will be more than enough.

Hopefully I will see you USA folks soon (without the gross shingles), and to my UK friends – I’m going to see you all super soon to catch up! 

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Trying to Understand Early Russian Formalism & the Smizz Life

1. ABSENTATION: A member of a family leaves the security of the home environment

Picture: It’s a few years ago. I left for America. I love America.  Except I wasn’t leaving home on my usual terms. I was feeling super run-down. I had been having nightsweats, bone pain, this insane fatigue that wouldn’t subside. The UK doctors told me it was just a “mono-style virus”, so I left for work & adventure. Except my boss in the USA was having none of me just waiting out the virus. She made me see a doctor, who made me see a haematologist oncologist, who then told me it looked bad & that I needed to go home & get it sorted ASAP.

I didn’t though. I thought that this guy is talking shit. I ran away from this statement. I suddenly felt the weight & value of time. I did a pretty amazing YOLO roadtrip visiting 3 coasts of America with friends, all with that thought in the back of my mind.

 

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In my younger days, I studied Media Studies as one of my A-Levels (& got an A, of course). We looked at a crazy Russian Literary Formalist called ladimir Yakovlevich Propp who came up with something called Morphology of the Folktale  which basically looks at breaking up fairy tales into sections and 31 functions/options of resolution and narrative. His elaborate categorisations of classifications pegs plots points: tricky, guidance, rescue, ect.

Propp claims that you can shuffle any of these into constant rearrangements. They mark a moment where an action takes us in a different direction. It’s a nice way to to look at disruptions. He says everything proceeds from us loosing our place.

 

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2.) INTERDICTION: An interdiction is addressed to the hero

We’re out of order and we’ve hardly begun. I was instructed to not stay in the USA and wait out what was happening to me. But I did.

 

3.)VIOLATION of INTERDICTION. The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale).

The villain and hero here are both myself. The villain is an illness. A feeling of ill-health. A feeling that has slowly taken over and taken everything that was me. I was just in my early 20’s. I had never been properly sick. Sure I had colds and sore-throats, and sickness bugs – but this felt different.

I was a self-absorbed young adult with gritted determination to make it in the art world.  I had learned to be different, to try harder – no matter who I left behind. I had started to get just a tiny-lil bit cock-sure of myself. Just a tiny-tiny-bit. I had just got a prestigious artist residency at Site Gallery when I got hit.

I’d arrived somewhere without being invited.  Maybe I didn’t have the right to be in that place. Maybe that didn’t make it right that I fell ill, but maybe I wasn’t purely innocent either.

 

4.)RECONNAISSANCE: The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance. The villain (often in disguise) makes an active attempt at seeking information.

 

There was no tricky. But there was deception. For months and months, and months, this illness  hid away. Making itself really hard to put a name to. To be recognised. But, it knows who I am. It knew I stayed up working until late, that I was fairly active. It fed on my inability to get rid of it.

 

8.) VILLAINY or LACK: Villain causes harm/injury

The illness took virtually nearly everything. I no longer can work all day and stay up.  It made me work less, sleep more,  which in turn made people forget about me, helped me to ruin my own reputation I had worked so hard to get. It made me bleed in places I never knew I could bleed. I have days where I literally feel like I might be dying, I catch myself looking super tired & worn-down in pain in a mirror & saying to myself: “I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok”. I’ve lost days, weeks, months of my life. I’m still  having pain which no one understands. This makes me feel alone.

 

17.) BRANDING: Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf);

I was branded. I have no scarfs or rings but emotional scars & a few physical ones. Somethings have shifted under my skin. Emotions and lymph nodes. Things pressing on things which present as neuralgia or headaches or bone aches or passing outs. Swellings around memory, swellings around my intellect and pride which hurts.

 

14.) RECEIPT OF A MAGICAL AGENT: Hero acquires use of a magical agent

Through this struggle, my whole world view changed. I gained this whole new perspective, this whole new weight of the importance of empathy. Before, I now realise, I had little empathy – towards everything. I wasn’t a dick or anything, but I didn’t or couldn’t understand others plights – because I was so blinded by myself. I just understood the system that affected others, not HOW it made them feel & how that affects them.

am more thankful. It’s just not in the way that’s immediately assumed. I am grateful for the pain, because now I understand it better. I am grateful for the struggle, because I can be of more use to those in the midst of it.

 

29.) TRANSFIGURATION: Hero is given a new appearance

I used to only work in art stuff. Now you can find me in both the art-world and in healthcare. I wanted to re-train myself to work in healthcare to both give back, and to be the person who understands because I felt (and still do) misunderstood on how the villain really affected my quality of life. The central question I now ask myself is “What’s the relationship between caring and understanding?”

 

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When I think about my life in these terms I see  all kinds of functions that I never asked for: struggle, challenge, trickery, frustration. There’s some fighting, and a lil bit of winning.  The gold-dust comes in the realisation of personal-growth and amazingly supportive friendships along the way.

The materials of my life, as memory recalls and deforms them, will always involve the villain: the stranger, the illness.

When I casually drop into conversation to people that I’m studying radiation oncology, as well as still working as an artist, and still feeling shockingly poorly, they look shocked. They think it’s a huge turn, or that art must not be working for me. But it’s not really. I sit in class, reflecting upon my own life like text. I feel like i’m still constantly shuffling together pieces of a puzzle i can’t see the edges to yet.

There is no function designated for this last part. Where the hero turns to studying healthcare & medicine alongside art to try and understand her own hurt and use it to try and help her to understand others hurt.

 

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23.) UNRECOGNIZED ARRIVAL

I could spend everyday like it was a holiday. I feel like I deserve to spend my life constantly on vacation. But you can’t. You have to return to normality. But this is hard. It’s hard to return to a familiar land, to return home, to do everything like you used to, when you no longer feel like yourself. Things have changed.

 

 

Everything is fragile.

Mid-20’s isn’t that old, but I feel like I’ve aged 2 lifetimes in the past 3 years. Maybe aging like that makes you look back a bit more. Just as you can see from my blog, my focuses in life have shifted; I’m not just looking for self-improvement in what I can change per-say, but  more to learn how to have grace in the parts of me that won’t budge, or have grace in things I can’t control right now.

One of the hardest parts of having to adapt to being a much slower, less  interesting and hardly a multi-tasker Smizz due to illness, is being observed 24/7. I used to invite people to watch my performance of trying to make it in the artworld— I’d post lots of things I’d make, constantly advertise myself – I kind of craved the attention— but I had no idea that it was going to open me up to some damaging mindsets. It now makes me feel like I need to be on top of my shit 24 hours a day, and I can’t do that anymore. Mainly because I’m either in bed (mostly), studying (secondly),  drawing, or out trying to live life (making up for 1 & 2).  I’ve been trying to learn the “It’s okay to say no to things sometimes. Because if you can’t say no, you can’t fully say yes”.

I’m no longer  living up to the persona I assigned to myself.  I feel like I’m not only letting everyone down who invested their time into me, but I’ve let it make me believe I’m letting myself down too.

So after feeling like I was going to die, and feeling really sorry for myself. After not having the mental /energy capacity to work on my own work, just enough to work on others (which has been/is amazing, and I needed it to survive- both mentally & financially). After seeing people who I admire and respect because of their vision & dignity, struggle in this world. After months and months and months of wishing I could be part of it,  I returned from this ordeal to resume work and rejoin the artworld, but  my membership had expired. I felt like the Artworld had forgotten about me. And everything I made and saw seemed like trivial bullshit—because quite a bit of it was/is (not all of it). Disingenious money grabs.  all speed was stupid.  Some things was just despicable, because it stole the dignity of everyone involved. We deserve better.

This is harsh criticism, and way super cynical, but it is how I felt at the time. These feelings have eased a lil bit, but I’ve always had a critical view on the Artworld because I’ve always been coming from a disadvantaged point anyways. And I’m a Marxist. However, noticing the bad also makes it easier to see and notice the good. Many of the things I love about the artworld are still here, and doing maybe better than some of the crappy parts of the Artworld.

 

My friends, Lesley Guy & Dale Holmes did this super cool show  at Bloc Projects in Sheffield about Pizza  a few weeks ago. It was so good I went home & ordered a Domineos.

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One of the best artists out there Gregory Sholette is trying to crowd-source this phenomenal project. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/imaginary-archive-kyiv –  Which is an Imaginary Archive – a collection of fictional and real documents from a past whose future never arrived of Ukraine. It’s such a special and important exhibition, and so necessary at this time, so if you can find the time/$ to support it, that would be amazing!

 

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I really, really, really want to see William Powhida’s phenomenal “overculture” show at the most AMAZING gallery Postmasters NY, that just opened this week. Powhida’s practice is about helping us see how fucked up things are and to inspire us to strive to a world of justice, supporting (art) world which encourages criticality and  risks.  it’s basically the (art)world we all really want, yet too scared to bite the hand that feeds us.  I keep putting (art) like this, because the artworld is just a microscopism of the ‘real’ fucked up world. Every problem within the artworld is a problem within non-art-related society. Mainly because it’s the same shitty force that drives both: greed and value in the banal, and unethical under-valued/under-paid labour in order to make $$. When in actuality, there’s significant power in our dark-matter-ness if we realize it, together.

 

My focus  and definition on “progress” made it easy  for me to forget that you can turn around from traveling in a wrong direction, and return to the place where things last felt right. You can go back. Now I feel like I’m starting from the beginning with my personal art practice, and it felt like a failure. But I’m slowly accepting that sometimes going back is sometimes progress.

A few painful years has taught me 1 of the important lessons about life: you only become bulletproof when you refuse to disguise your injuries. The wounds are a gift: You learn how to accept help, and better yet, how to better give it. This in turn is another reason why I’m studying again, to emulate the best care & understanding I kind of know that the patient needs. Remember: if you need help. Ask for it. We can’t do it all alone. All the time.

Life is now somehow more precious and less. I’m now back to my humble beginnings: To share what you know.

So that’s part of what I’ve been quietly doing/working on with F/O/R/C/E, a collaboration with Paul Harrison and a few others – >  forcelectures.org

Don’t wait for a life disaster to be the thing that spurs you into action. Everything is fragile and you are more resilient than you think.

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Smizz’s Top 10 Movies of 2013

This year has been hard, like REALLY hard to pick out good top 10 worthy movies. I’m not sure what’s happening out there – but this year has seen a whole-lot of a bunch of  films that were just kind of “Meh”- They were enjoyable, but did it give me any food for thought, or awe inspiring writing or cinematic technique or emotion to deal with afterwards, did they play with genre  or make you think about how far we’ve come or where to go as a human race? Nope. Not many did. Maybe I just didn’t see the ‘right’ movies, but I’m hoping that 2014 will bring some great ones! However, here’s some that did stick with me.

 

1.) Stories We Tell

A documentary that I’ve only just seen, to sneak in high at number 1, this subtle, heartbreaking documentary masquerades as a straightforward family memoir about Polley’s long-dead mother. However, “Stories We Tell” gradually becomes something else, an inquiry into the nature of memory and reality, a love letter to Polley’s English-born dad (who narrates the film), a puzzle box with unanswerable questions about how we become who we are at its center. Polley’s touching documentary wallows in greatness both in cinema and emotion.

 

2.) 12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen has created another masterpiece. Unsettling and formally rigorous, Steve McQueen’s fact-based tale of a free black man sold into slavery in the 1850s puts America’s darkest secrets on screen for the first time. 12 Years A Slave is so good it makes “The Butler” look extremely poorly made. It’s dark and raw, it exposes everything, without sugarcoating it. Beautifully shot and edited, the film features moments of tension, heartbreak.

It’s noteworthy that a British director has become one of the few filmmakers to delve deeply into this subject, and the combination of John Ridley’s powerful script and McQueen’s directorial skills has inspired exceptional performances from the entire cast. Their dramatization of Northup’s experiences is both riveting and uncomfortable to watch, as the film depicts the perverse nature of a society that permitted such a barbaric system. Hopefully it will reach a large US audience, who will learn how a privileged Southern elite cruelly exploited their fellow humans in order to acquire greater wealth for themselves. Masterful.

 

3.) Philomena 

As someone whose heritage lies in Ireland, and whose grandparent was raised by nuns and spent years and year working as an advocate for the rights of adopted people and survivors of Irish Magdalene Laundries, I’m always prepared to be either underwhelmed or angry at the film industry’s ineptitude with subjects like this (and lots of other subjects to be honest!). Steve Coogan deserves utmost respect for producing and writing this film (and let’s face it, needed this from his poor movie based on Alan Partridge earlier this year). His script is excellent, consistently witty and engaging on the surface whilst spinning many more layers beneath the surface which became unconsciously stirring. Faultless acting, always engaging. A gentle, funny, heartbreaking and unforgettable film – no matter how far from its “true story” it might be.

 

4.) HER

Theodore Twombly  is letter writer #612 for the company “Beautifulhandwrittenletters.com.” He essentially spends his days crafting poetic, poignant, and personalized communications for other people’s relationships. You can’t find a more dynamic and compelling story about the human connection and where we’re headed as a society. Johansson’s Samantha is sexy, open-hearted, sympathetic, witty and loving – — and guess what,  she’s also the operating system on Theo’s computer, in Spike Jonze alternately wistful and whimsical near-future rom-com, a lovely and slightly troubling vision of utopia. This is probably the best of Jonze’s career so far, and maybe deserves higher praise and wider distribution that it’s currently getting. (Also, whoa, that moustache).

 

5.) The Place Beyond The Pines

This is a strange movie. A movie of a story of trashy criminals and dirty cops evolving into one about fathers and sons and life.   A life is not just about your life but those you affect and those you leave behind for years to come. he film went for editing and filming styles to echo the characters’ situations and actions. You can guess what that would look like when Gosling is racing through the forest on his motorcycle. But as we approach the more expansive ending, there are some beautiful shots of the trees lining Schenectady’s countryside roads. That works particularly well with Cooper giving a remarkable performance of Avery constantly coming to grips with his life.

It could have been tightened up a bit, but “The Place Beyond the Pines” isn’t telling a quick story. It’s telling the story of multiple lives, of death, family, love, honour and obedience. Employing overall themes of revenge, ambition, and what it means to be a father, and a son.

 

6.) Short Term 12

20-something supervising staff member of a foster care facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend. Contrary to its title, the effects that Short Term 12 leaves you with are anything but short term. In what has become one of the most personal films of 2013, it’s extremely hard to write a review for them.  Destin Daniel Cretton creates a film which the characters render the deepest and darkest corners of your heart, while never being melodramatic. It’s  a real gem, that totally caught me off guard.

 

7.) Before Midnight

Years ago, before doing education through #hashtags was a thing on Twitter, in my 3rd year of Art School we used to host E-Crits. Each week one of us in class would host a crit on MSN (yes, MSN and this was even after MSN was a thing) – this was an E-Crit. Like an online reading/seminar group. Extra credit of course. I did something on space, architecture and skateboarding and revolutionary potential based on an essay by Henri Lefebrve.  My friend Jamie made us watch Before Sunrise which was in 10 minute clips on YouTube at the time and we was to discuss that. I’m not sure what we really discussed. However if it has been Before Midnight, I’m sure the e-crit would have been lively full of studious observations of amazing character development and dialogue.

Before Midnight is the 3rd sequel part to Before Sunrise, and Before Sunset, and comes in 9 years later! This film is easily the best film of the franchise so far. Packing an emotional and euphoric punch like third-installments like Toy Story 3 do , films that have a close-nit relation to their predecessors but saving all the masterful speeches and epiphanies for the viewer to indulge in their finales. The film doesn’t take any cheap shots with every scene constructed from real emotion and feeling incredibly authentic and genuine. There are long takes for the viewer to be present whether it’s in an airport conversation between Jesse and Hank or at a lunch with in the beautiful valleys of Greece or even in a hotel room where a man and a woman share intimacy like older lovers typically do.

The film is breathtakingly accurate and precise in capturing the love and relationship of couples, it will and should be studied by film schools and writers for years to come.  Everything’s better with maturity.

 

8.) Spectacular Now

From the writers of 500 Days of Summer (one of my favourite movies!), which we all know wasn’t just your average love story, comes a seemingly average love story in The Spectacular Now. But it isn’t very average, and that’s the beauty of it.  It’s a heartfelt story that distills all of the beauty, tenderness, and apocalyptic bleakness of youth into a 95 minute love story that portrays teenagers in the most honest way since the films of John Hughes.

Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber make this a surprising tone piece, one that is more concerned with the loquacious behaviour of teens rather than the raunchy behaviour. The film showed how one’s addiction to the bottle can compromise their life.  Much of the film operates on deep, character emotion, so attaching an ending that neatly packages things up would’ve been a complete contradiction to the film’s focus.

This is an important movie for teenagers, and a well deserved kudos to actually making something that is full of substance and never trivialises real life.

 

9.) We’re The Millers

I know what you’re thinking, how on earth did this get into ANY top 10 list of the year? Are you serious Smizz? Well, perhaps it was how off guard this movie caught me with how good I thought it was! I went to the movies expecting some shit, but I wanted to see some empty-leave you feeling a bit better-shit anyways. But what I got was not only the feel good factor I was hoping for but much more!

It’s not a gold mine of comedy by any means, but it did the job it told us it would do: Make us laugh and give us a fun ride. They really brought together a dysfunctional family and did it in a way that allowed for some suspension of disbelief. A lot of comedies nowadays have those hit or miss scenes where you either laugh, or you just can’t suspend your disbelief. We’re The Millers is pretty much a compilation of those kinds of scenes that hit just the right tone to pull it off as funny, clever and it just kinda grows on you.  Ultimately, a solid comedy and that’s worth noting!

 

10.) This Is The End

Although ‘This is the end’ does not have the greatest storyline in the history of film, it is a very inventive movie in its own way. It was at times self-indulgent, absolutely bizare, and even lazy. There’s still something about this movie if it appeals to your sense of humor. I wouldn’t say the plot is non-existent, but it certainly isn’t developed enough to pay much attention to it. The movie is rather a collection of gags with typical American humor, which is exactly what you would expect from anything created by the duo Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg. This is the End’ contains a fair amount of satire on the posh world of show-business and it’s enjoyable seeing all the actors and actresses not taking themselves too seriously and playing themselves as sometime extremely unlikable characters.

 

The Living Cube by Till Könneker

The Living Cube by Till Könneker

I moved into a apartment studio without storage room. So i made a minimalistic cube design with a shelf for my vinyl collection, my TV, Clothes and Shoes. On the cube is a guest bed and inside the cube is a lot of storage space. Remo fromwww.holzlaborbern.ch transferred my sketches very beautifully. My friend and Photographer Rob Lewis made this great photos. Info via Behance

Dude. This would be a DREAM come true if i could have one of these in my tiny-ass-bedroom at home. I think THIS IS THE FUTURE. New Bucketlist Item – I WANT 2 MAKE MY OWN 1 OF THESE!

Faith & Doubt (Happy Chinese New Year, Y’all)

I like that Chinese New Year is celebrated in Feb. It gives us a reason and a chance to reflect on what we were hoping to do with the new year at the beginning of January.

Since I’ve been sick, I tell myself that i should never do all the bad things I do again. I should be a better person. I shouldn’t swear, or never drink another can of coke. I try to be the most clean-living person you could hope to meet. But life goes on. Things change, intentions get lost, you say another swear word & order a coke with your take-out food.

I had the MRI scan of my head on Thursday. I’m not a claustrophobic person, but it does feel really tight in there. It makes it almost hard to breathe. I was fine until they administered some contrast medium dye & I was instantly sick as a dog. I don’t think I’ve puked infront of people since I was 5. I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself & embarrassed.  I had what they call a ‘mild’ reaction – something that only effects 1-5% of patients. What odds? Whilst in the machine, trying my best to stay completely still, breathe & not feel trapped or sick. I got thinking about Survivorship and our odds.

I tried for a while to live everyday  like it was my last. Whilst it was fun, and I did some wild things, kept saying “the drinks are on me!”, & i bought my mom ALOT of stuff for christmas, what I ended up with was a pretty shoddy bank balance of being waaaaayyy back in the negative over-draft. It wasn’t ideal.  When you live with this nagging small thought in the back of your mind that you might be dying, you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your life on permanent vacation. And the reality is, you can’t. You must return to real life. Return to your family, friends, and colleagues.

But how do you slip back into the ordinary world, and your ordinary routine and being your ordinary self when you don’t feel like yourself? When you still feel gruelling poorly with probably only half of the energy you used to have?

I know quite a few people going through some tough things at the moment. All different kinds of tough. From family related, to money related. This is for you guys, to the people who are flagging, those whose energy is slowly decreasing in their personal fight. To those who feel like they’re loosing ground on something, or not responding, or struggling to face something. You’re amazing. What ever you’re going through, whatever it is – it can’t take away your spirituality, your intelligence, your friends or family. It can’t take away your love. Belief & Survivorship is everything.

 

How do you get through these crisis when you feel like you’re missing something, or feeling powerless? I, of course and unfortunately, don’t have the answer to that but I do know that you have to let others help you out, because it really does help. It’s others belief in me, and my want/need to believe in something better for myself and others that motivates me to keep on working. Since being sick, I’ve lost some of my independence  I moved back home to be looked after, I needed to be driven home from having needles stuck in my eyes at the hospital, I need my friends to casually bring up how I am doing so I can get off my chest whatever crazy things have been happening. Their support and belief has gone so far.

What you learn in survivorship is that you learn something new, a perspective almost. There’s this Chinese proverb – which says something like sometimes you need to burn down your house to be able to see the sky. It’s hard. And who knows if I will live, or if my friends problems will resolve themselves – but it gives us an excuse to have another chance at something. I want to work for something more than just myself.

I love riding my bike. One of my love/hate things about Sheffield is that it’s built on 7 hills. Big hills. One day when I was riding down a hill on the outskirts of the city, an unexpected bend came up in the road , a sharp unknowing dangerous turn turned into an open landscape, where trees lined up, and all these hills with the crazy chaotic awesome city behind me and peak ranges stretching to the horizon popped up. I realize now that this is my metaphor for how  life is.

The same bike, I’ve been hit by a car on twice. The second time it happened, i was stunned and found it difficult to get back up off my ass. That’s the point. We’re always getting knocked off our track. You don’t just overcome the odds once and that’s it… Things just keep, you know, happening.

A time to reflect, to gather your belief, get rid of any doubts is a good time. That’s why consciously  celebrating the New Year is a great idea. A month on from my last post about being better? I’ve began ALL of what I said I would do – with 2 exceptions that need to be solved. I’ve not been getting up early nor going to bed early. And I’ve been casually wasting time – like as if it wasn’t precious enough.

Well here it is, again, a reminder to myself. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME SMIZZ. WORK HARDER. BE NICER. BE BETTER. – How to do this? I think organzing my time better would be a big help.

Dear friends, you’re a survivor – be proud. Don’t let doubt cloud your vision or challenge. See you on the mountain side. 🙂 HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEARS Y’ALL!

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Trying To Be Mensch…

I probably should be watching the SuperBowl right now. But tonight, I’m tackling something different, something which seems necessary. Although you know me, I do love a bit of Beyonce!

In my new(ish) quest to try and live life, and live it with purpose with the weight of time baring judgement on me! I have decide that I need to learn the artform being Mensch. A mensch literally translates into “a person” in Yiddish, but figuratively it means something much deeper. A mensch is a person with whom you would be happy to befriend and associate with, because you feel genuine in a mensch’s presence, according to Wikipedia.

It has nothing to do with looks, with wealth, with success or with intellect (which is a relief for me really),  a Mensch is someone who simply makes others feel good when they are around them. I have quite a few friends that achieve this effortlessly, but not all of them would necessarily fall into the ‘Mensch’ category specifically. Not because they’re not good, or saint-like (quite the contrary – if they put up with the Smizz, then they gotta be close to being saints – lets be honest ha!). But more because they’re just socially fluet and happy people.

In theory, we are all decent people. Or that’s how we all start off at least. I’m thinking about “If I live, who do I intend to be?” and this is what I’ve come up with.

For most of my “making a living”, I listen to others. I listen to their ideas, problems, stories, and try and communicate that into visual bite-sizes. I listen to every-single-word they say. Now, you probably think in real life- we listen to every single word our friends and family say. We don’t. When I live-draw, I’m super tired and my head feels super clogged up after drawing for 8 hours of people’s talks. It literally is difficult to string a sentence together after 8 hours of scribing. That’s because i’ve listened to everything, and banked every single word, and it’s context. It made me realize that most of us, just listen to probably about 70% of what our closest friends say. And I don’t think that’s enough.

When I’m hurting, I just want to be heard. Listening is an artform we have seemed to have lost. But by listening, a mensch would make you feel worthy and cared for. A mensch would listen to what you need and what you feel. And I want to be that person. I’m not saying I don’t listen to you now. I do. I just want to be a better,  more empathetic, listener. I want to be a more compassionate listener. Because, now, I finally understand the necessity for someone to feel genuinely listened to.

Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddishdefines mensch this way: *(http://blog.guykawasaki.com/)

Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.

And these are some of the ways to become Mensch.

  1. Help without the expectation of return.
  2. Help many people.
  3. Do the right thing the right way.
  4. Pay back society.

 

They’re all things we know already. Almost religious, bible-like. I’m not religious. But I’m learning to believe. Believe in things, people, believe in other peoples things. Because, really – That’s all we have.to believe in ourselves and others.

So here I am. I’m like Smizz, here’s an excerise:  it’s the end of your life. What three things do you want people to remember you for?
1.
2.
3.

I’m gonna throw this question out on Twitter too.

people are amazing

Yesterday I had the pleasure of drawing another cool thing for 1 small part of the NHS. The NHS Commissioning Board, the bit where Citizens who work within NHS stuff, or the voluntary sector, and innovators get together and share their ideas on how to make the NHS the best it can be, and how to move forward the work they are currently doing. How GP’s can work better and effectively with their communities, relieving pressures like A&E admissions and so forth.

I always love doing my day job of drawing other peoples plans, ideas, criticisms, or solutions. I’ve heard  so many amazing stories by drawing it for them, from the editor of W.I.R.E.D Magazine, AMAZING individuals who did a TED talk, people who work at Google and YouTube (Technically Google now), BBC, Guardian and so on. Folks at Channel 4 co-production producers (Embarrassing Bodies live, Big Fish ect) own some of my work. I love that. I go away and think, I’ve just drawn something I had NO idea about until right now. And I love it.

Yesterday was about the people though. I think I met (and in some cases – re-met ) some of the most nicest & smartest people, ever. I can’t really explain how sort of inspired I am by their actions and stories. How we all know that there is something urgent and something at stake here. And these people’s purposes, their motivation, is about making sure that in years to come – the NHS is still ours. I heard so many cool and great ,and even touching, things that CCG’s across England are doing. How doctors (GPs) are mega passionate about really getting to know their communities. What a wonderful job to have or a great thing to be a part of? These people, every single one – from the ‘citizens’, to the organizers, and nhs workers, to the doctors, ect ect – are trying to make something work, with genuine passion. (One speakers sentiment was that usually you don’t know that you’re in the midst of  GREAT HISTORICAL CHANGE when you’re in it, until you reflect years later). I went home and googled my local CCG Doncaster  (Good ol’ Donxx) and saw that we have an awesome and lively twitter account (@doncasterccg). And I felt that, and hope that, my Doncaster CCG is (or becoming) one of the innovators of the new system change. I hope they’ll represent and do our local population proud and well.  Although, I am hoping that soon I won’t be living in Doncaster, but whatever.

It got me thinking about the paths we take. This journey that I accidentally stumbled upon has reignited my hunger for social change/justice again (not that it ever went away, it’s just gone  a tinnnny-bit dormant publiclywhilst I’ve been fighting my mystery illness shizzle). I don’t really know where to start, but I believe my new collaborative project with Paul Harrison called F/O/R/C/E lectures (Free. Online. Radically. Collected. Education.) http://forcelectures.org/ is going to be the start of something BIG.

The tragic passing of Aaron Swarts (http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/01/aaron-swartz/)  – an acquaintance through a project I worked on in 2009 – but I saw him as a friend in the Facebook friendship sort of way because he was such a nice person    – has only made my commitment to our freedom for free education and healthcare even more  potent.

Guys, PEOPLE ARE AMAZING. There are so many people out there who are thinking of us. In a good way. (Some that are thinking of us to exploit us – but that’s another story) BUT the people who are doing great things are trying to stop those who are trying to exploit us. Don’t you wanna be a part of it? I wanna live in a better world, where inequalities are resolved, rather than ignored or taken as an almost given. I want those less able, or most vulnerable  or someone who might need some support for the first time in their life have someone to help them out. And the people I met yesterday represented LOADS of people across the UK trying, fighting, working extra unpaid hours, for us. Thank you, guys. If I ever see my hot GP again, which I’m sort of hoping I don’t. I totally just want to tell him what an awesome job he’s doing & how thankful I am for genuine, caring people who are taking care of stuff for us.

People are amazing. Yeah!positivity

Smizz’s Top 10 movies of 2012

It’s that time again where I try and judge what’s the best movies that came out and why. However, I apologise in advance that there are some of my guilty pleasures in here which probably would never make an official top 20 list, never mind a whole top 10!  And there is no mention of the Hobbit, or Skyfall  or Dark Knight – blah, blah, blah. You can catch those reviews else where. But never the less. I hope you enjoy & treat yourself to some of these movies, if you haven’t seen then!

 

10) PREMIUM RUSH

In pure style, I’ll start of with a biased Smizz guilty pleasure choice. Premium Rush, featuring the ever sexy Joseph Gordon-Levitt (probably why it fits in to my top 10) who is a sexy, fixed gear bike riding courier in NYC. EVERYTHING smizz LOVES. Bikes, Joe & NYC!

An action movie about biking through the streets of Manhattan is certainly an interesting idea, and may seem a bit silly, but writer and director David Koepp manages to create a fun and exhilarating film around this premise. Premium Rush is the type of movie that gets better as it goes on, expanding on its characters and creating riveting and never tiresome chase scenes. Premium Rush never takes itself too seriously, and neither should you. It’s fun, adrenaline pushed, basic at times – but it’s nostalgic directing style seems to hit it, amazing research and detail about bikes and most of all representational of riding life in the bike-lane. No breaks!

 

9) LOOPER

Uh-oh, another Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie. Stick with me, guys. Looper’s director Rian Johnson has removed  doubts and given me hope that sci-fi in Hollywood can be more than just empty spectacle. Looper is all about dealing with the implications of time-travel, although it is very much a film about the past. The film is all about the past, how it affects the present and the future and how it drives people with the majority of the film building characters and establishing plot.

Looper is a film that goes to extraordinary lengths to leave every base covered in its quest to avoid plot holes and inconsistencies and in my mind it deals with the problems associated with time travel very well. The writing and direction are superb but another strength are the acting performances. Details from  the future cities contiuing to be expanded upwards and outwards but they themselves are filled with tent cities in which a large vagrant class live are current, and believable.  Life is cheap and hard in this world in which the have’s and have not’s are much more separated than today.

There is enough in the film to make to world feel as though it is our near future and the technology on display feels as though it is a few logical steps along the road. It is well designed and acted and features a wonderfully multifaceted and intelligent story which rewards patience and concentration with a fantastic ending.

 

8) FRANKENWEENIE

There was a time when Tim Burton was systematically churning out great, original, quirky movies that endeared him to the general public and earned him a large amount of die-hard followers who hung on to every last idiosyncratic trademark. But recently, we all sigh at the same crap-kola Burton has been bringing out recently – which are adaptions of books and so forth – not his original ideas.

However, I was relieved to see Frankenweenie and thought YEAH Tim’s back on form! While the movie does not really develop its characters deeply and sometimes drops certain plot lines we would have liked to see more of, it makes up for it tenfold with the thing that Tim Burton has more of than anybody else: imagination. So many moments in this movie are truly original, clever and, best of all, funny. “Frankenweenie” is a giant tribute to old horror flicks, set against a sweet story of a kid and his dog.

 

7) ARGO

We already know that Ben Affleck is better as a director than an actor. He tells a story uniquely with his own cinematic art and style. In Argo, this is a new challenge for him. Making a large and historical drama thriller. Argo is based on a declassified true story about Tony Mendez rescuing six US diplomats from Iran.

After speaking to his son while watching a movie one night, Mendez had a creative yet genius idea. He and the escaped hostages would pretend to be the film crew of a new sci-fi movie called “Argo”. With the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Arkin), this fake crew made their story quite credible.

What’s impressive is it can balance its various tones decently without being a mess. Outside the storytelling is a solid craft. The film looks credibly retro. They obviously wanted to make everything look the same to the real life story. Argo is simply a classic. No matter how ridiculous the premise sounds, it’s still undeniably smart and spectacular.

 

 

6.) PITCH-PERFECT

2012 has seen a lack of great, funny movies. Sure there’s been 21 Jump Street (which was a surprise hit with me) but a serious lack of decent comedies. Take Bring It On, Glee (not in the icky cheesy way, but because there’s singing involved, the good kind), Mean Girls, and add some quick-witted, sharp-tongued dialogue and commentary, and you have the funniest of movies.

At first I was leery: a movie about A Cappella singing groups; I thought at best, it would be a teen flick. But, I was unbelievably surprised. Every kind of humour is covered here, and done to absolute perfection. You will be adopting many, many of the lines into your daily lexicon. If you liked Bridesmaids, i think you’ll dig this!

 

 

5) DETACHMENT

Detachment technically is a movie from 2011, but didn’t get a release in the UK until 2012. Its one of those films that leave you sitting in silence for a while when the credits roll much like excellent Dramas like “Requiem for a dream” or “Downloading Nancy”.

On the surface “Detachment” deals with the crumbling American education system through the eyes of substitute teacher Henry Barthes (played by Adrian Brody) who starts a new assignment in a new school with new teachers, in a new class with new pupils like he is obviously used to.

The beginning shows him trying to get into this new class around the bullies threatening him and other pupils, making it hard to teach anything. At first it looks like all those “good teacher turns around a bad class” movies but its not. It’s grim stuff, made more grave by the undeniable ring of truth.

The ancient Greeks tell us “we suffer our way to wisdom.” By the end of the film, you’ll hope that is true for most of these characters. Somewhere on screen, between a silent hug and the opening lines to Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher,” you will find a glimmer of hope. But you have to work for it. A powerful and disturbing (but necessary) film.

 

 

4.) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

You probably have never seen anything quite like “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. It is a film that will have you thinking about the love between a father and a daughter, about appreciating what you have in life and our ability to adapt to whatever comes at us. Quvenzhané Wallis is certain to beat Anna Paquin and Tatum O’Neal out as the youngest best actress nominee in history.

This movie is an unique vision that sweeps viewers away with energy, attitude and a full, vibrant, sense of life. Containing outstanding performances, great cinematography, and a fantastic score, the film is just so engrossing. Do yourself a favor and check it out. “When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces.”

 

 

3.) SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

Thank you, Malik Bendjelloul, for giving me the opportunity to hear this amazing story. Thank you, Camilla Skagerstrom, for showing how much stunning cinematography can add to a story about a poverty stricken man from Detroit.

I was super lucky enough to see this at Sheff Doc/Fest this year. Would I have seen it otherwisE? not so sure! Which would have been a travesty  If like me, and you didn’t know the story, I’ll give you just a little background. Rodriguez, a song writer/singer in the 70s was ‘discovered’ by a couple of white guys, in a smoke filled Detroit dive bar. (His music reminds me somewhat of Bob Dylan’s) A couple of albums were produced in the U.S.….the albums didn’t make it big….in fact, not many sold. Rodriguez went back to working his day job and that was the end of that. However, in the very isolated South Africa, Rodriguez’s music became a phenomenon compared to Elvis or the Beatles. His music was a solace for so many Africans fighting the war on Apartheid. Rodriguez didn’t know anything about the South Africa portion of his story. “Searching for Sugar Man” is a documentary made about two South Africans searching for information about a mysterious American songwriter, who had a huge impact on their lives, but no one seemed to know anything about.

This IS a real fairy tale. One you have to see to believe. One that can restore your faith in humanity, and possibly change the way you see fame and fortune. One that will remind you that you never know how far reaching your daily actions may be. Fingers crossed for an Oscar nomination for this!

 

2.) UNTOUCHABLE

Intouchables, directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, starring Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy is possibly the best French movie of the year. This is not because of a lack of worthy contenders, but truly because Intouchables is that profound. It touches on themes of presumptions, social class difference, health, and as naïve as it may sound, the universality of humanity.

Sy is a failed robber, going through the motions and playing the stereotypical jobless émigré. Cluzet is a romantic and melancholy mind trapped in a useless body. The circumstances that bring them together are too funny to spoil here, but meet they do, and an awkward relationship quickly blossoms as they bring out the best in each other.

The film’s simplicity is delightfully misleading: the script is a masterpiece of comedy writing, and however good the rest of the cast is, the central duo is magical. This is one of the most unique, beautiful and honest friendships ever committed to film. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry… a delightful celebration of everything in life that makes it worthwhile.

 

1.) PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

I was so taken aback by this movie, EVERYTHING about it, that I saw it 3 times at the movies.

The story is very simple yet complicated because of how much goes on. But the way it unfolds is beautiful and sad, sometimes all at once. While it has its funny moments, it also manages to go through dark topics as well such as homosexuality, drugs and death. Stephen Chbosky handles his story very well, never feeling like it’s being forced but rather it flowed nicely and carefully.

Directing wise, it was shot very well. The cinematography is gorgeous, especially the scenes where the camera overlooks the skyline of Pittsburgh and during intimate scenes between the characters. You could not get anyone better to direct it other than the author himself because this is his book. This is his vision so he knows exactly how it goes in his head and we can see throughout the film, just how much his vision has truly come alive. The result is both engaging and satisfying.

The musical score is done by Michael Brook who’s also responsible for Into The Wild, another favorite of mine, and he did a very good job. The soundtrack is awesome. Along with Mr. Chbosky, Alexandra Patsavas, who’s also the music supervisor for The OC, did a great job of picking out the songs and treated it as if it were a mix tape.  What makes the cast so special is the chemistry. Everyone got along so well and you can tell that they’re very comfortable with each other and you feel convinced that these people are really friends thus you actually care about the characters and what happens. It was absolutely perfect.

Just like a darker John Hughes (compliment), it is infinite in it’s awesomeness.

“I don’t know if I will have the time to write anymore letters because I might be too busy trying to participate. So if this does end up being the last letter I just want you to know that I was in a bad place before I started high school and you helped me. Even if you didn’t know what I was talking about or know someone who has gone through it, you made me not feel alone. Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”

This much I do know: (reflection on 2012 & life in general)

Intro:

2012 has been a year of awesomeness but a huge steep learning curve for me. Things started off amazing. I got the SITE Gallery Residency, met some awesome people, and I quit Coca-Cola, I still had my bookstore job and things felt good.

But I started to feel really unusually tired, and worn down. I brushed my shoulders off & blamed the no drinking coke thing, started to drink it again to reverse the supposedly effects, and ignored what my body was trying to tell me: that something wasn’t right. I started getting incredible bone ache around my left side of my body-specifically my shoulder, and drenching night-sweats. I lost over 1.5 stones in weight (that I had somehow put on a few months previously) without even trying! I got nosebleeds regularly for no reason, had an enlarged spleen for a while, lost my appetite, lost my get-up-and-go. I kept up with work, and took any opportunity open to me, but I slowly lost my connection with a whole community of people because I couldn’t make it to their exhibition openings and such – as I felt so poorly/tired. Which sucked more than anything.

Great work:

But I carried on working, regardless. Thanks to the amazing Doc/Fest crew, I got another chance at being their resident artist – and they recommended me to draw a TEDx talk in Sheffield, which got me my new part-part time job in London that I started in November!  Drawing a TEDx talk was a dream come true, and continuing to work with Sheffield Doc/Fest is one of the best-things ever.  My role on the Gravity Lecture series at Sheffield Hallam University has grown substantially. And I feel equal to my colleagues, where my ideas are often pushed forward. Which is insanely awesome. Even gaining some teaching opportunities – which I never thought would happen unless I did a PhD.

The “Unifying diagnose”: 

I went back to America to work for the YMCA for my 3rd year in a row. That place is now like family. It was here where people were pretty concerned about my mystery illness that my UK doctor had said was just “probably a mono-style-virus”. They made me see a specialist in haematology & oncology (despite me not wanting to) who told me that “a unifying diagnosis is a lymphoid malignancy”. Yeah, pretty hardcore stuff.

In denial  I carried on ignoring all these signs. Against doctors orders, I continued to work & do our legendary roadtrip from coast to coast in a month. But things became apparent on my roadtrip, that this was probably no virus. I left it until October to go back to my GP with a cough I still have, Taychicardia, & some lumps and all the above symptoms, and 2 months later I started fainting, and getting blinding white spots in the bottom half of my vision, i flunked my field of vision test at the Opticians when my actual vision is fine, and now my immune system is completely compromised. I’ve picked up pretty much everything that’s going around. The naro-virus, I just have to look at someone with a cold and I find myself full of snot. My tongue also looks like i’m diseased and i’ve had a  numb big toe for about 6 weeks now – which i think is in part due to what i’ve been taking medication wise.  It still hasn’t been disproven that I don’t have cancer. But, at least I’m sort of being treated with something at the moment. I  have Christmas off and go back in January for more tests, treatments & hopefully a clearer view.

What it revealed & what I’m learning from it:

This illness, whether as serious as predicted or not so serious, is humbling and extremely revealing – it has forced me to survey my life- perhaps super early than i would have- with an unforgiving eye. There are some shameful, lazy, hurtful, and weak acts in there. Everything I thought was important, suddenly seemed kind of unimportant. Everything I thought was unimportant, became important. I read a book about a guy diagnosed with cancer who said “If I live, who is it that I intend to be?” I read this and found that I too had a lot of growing up to do.

Even now, I was pissed off and taken aback when I went to see my hot GP about 3 weeks ago, about the blinding spots in my vision, who then freaked out  with me for changing my appointment with a specialist because it clashed with a work commission (ironically for the NHS). I said, “But you don’t understand, this is important” (This being Money firstly, and reputation secondly, getting more work thirdly) he said and quite aggressively for a GP, “No, Sarah, I don’t think YOU understand…. You need to put yourself first sometimes.” He was right. I don’t understand. I don’t understand why I’m still not back to normal health, and I still haven’t learnt my lesson that there ARE more IMPORTANT things in life than money, or fitting into what is socially acceptable. Dare I say it, that, you know, MY life/health is important. Reader, YOUR life is especially important.

I didn’t think people even cared about me. Until this year. I’ve witness kindness and amazing generous acts. Even from strangers. A woman who I met in the airport line, scrambled against the line at the end a plane journey to give me her card, told me to keep in touch and offered to do a bone marrow drive in NYC if it turned out I needed one.

But the one thing I am exceptionally grateful and humbled by is my friends. I keep saying it, but this is because i feel like I might have taken them for granted, or not shown them my appreciation until now. Friends are supposed to be there for you in tough times. But these guys are everything and more! They are my mirror back board. I wouldn’t have done ANY health thing if it wasn’t for them telling me to get myself checked out, or the doctor needs to know about this, ect. Even when there are moments of doubt and somewhat fear, they are there.

It made me realize that I need to make more of an effort with keeping in touch or caring about the needs of others. My art or resume won’t keep me warm at night. And if all of that ended, what would I have to show for it?

So here I am, I am trying to make every obstacle an opportunity. Doing something amazing takes so much effort and risk. Trying to fight against the inertia is wicked hard and tiring but it is ultimately the fight that counts. I’m asking myself what is meat and bones important?

I’m still figuring out stuff, but i know i see more beauty now than I ever did, I take care of my body way more now even with limited energy reserves. I try and keep and document my life just incase. It helps me see if this is what I want my life to look like. I know in 2013, I’m going to give back, help others in need. I’m going to work so much harder, I’m going to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, waste less time (harder than it looks!), i’m going to be kinder, I’m going to learn new things, I’m going to try and not let anyone down. i am going to be a better person, a better friend, a better friend to world whilst remembering it is the FIGHT that COUNTS.