2020: A year meant for listening & learning – but are we doing it?

I’ve spent many years doing this Live Drawing gig. It’s my biggest livelihood maker. I get to draw and learn for most of my living! How cool is that? Alot of people wonder how I can listen and remember and draw – stuff that I might not actually know, hearing the content for the first time – all at the same time! So when the speaker has finished – the drawing is pretty much finished too. It’s live. There’s no space for making post-it-notes and then draw/edit later. That’s not how I do it. Because then that wouldn’t be the real essence of that talk. It would be my memory of the bits I understood the most or stood out. It wouldn’t be the actual talk. That’s not my style. I like to include all the stories and bits in it that a lot of other graphic facilitators miss out. I try to capture not what’s just being said, but the heart and context of it all.

This year, the year of Lockdown, I lost 85% of my livelihood & gigs in a New York minute ( I -luckily – picked up other work elsewhere) as conferences and workshops all stopped. And I am nervous for the future of what that work will look like. But I will adapt, I am sure.

When I was learning this craft of mine; the ability to properly listen became my superpower. Just listening. It gave up space for me to carry on making all these connections, storing it, and drawing — whilst listening to the next new stuff.

It made me realize that a lot of us aren’t ever 100% properly listening (including myself!) When was the last time really listened, without thinking about what you wanted to say next, glancing down at your phone or jumping in to offer your opinion? And when was the last time someone really listened to you? Was so attentive to what you were saying and whose response was so spot on that you felt truly understood… really heard?

We are encouraged to listen to our hearts, our inner voices and our guts, but rarely are we encouraged to listen carefully and purposefully to other people.

The year of zoom/ms teams/skype/jitsi/etc has been a wild one. Social online gatherings with physical lags – conversations staggered, frozen; the worlds most awkward pauses because we can’t see peoples body languages to see if they’re going to say something next. Online and in person, it’s all about defining yourself, shaping the narrative and staying on message.

And yet, listening can be more valuable than speaking. Wars have been fought, fortunes lost, health decreased and friendships & communities wrecked for lack of listening. It is only by listening that we engage, understand, empathize, cooperate and develop as human beings. It is fundamental to any successful relationship — personal, professional and political.

The lack of listening is causing a whole host of issues. A push of misinformation, of people following radically bad groups, of the pandemic of loneliness & mental health issues — and this was before the Covid-19 pandemic… extra not being listened to just exasperated these issues further. as does access to the technology that can exasperate it.

As a healthcare professional, and someone that works in all areas of health & the community, one thing that comes up again and again is experiences of not being listened to. It’s hard to pin-point exactly what makes a good listener – but ask any patient or member of the public about experiences with professionals – medical or otherwise – and they’re likely talk about times when they felt not listened to. the sad truth is that people have more experience being cut off, ignored and misunderstood than heard to their satisfaction.

When I was suffering from never-ending BAD headaches, a sexist neurologist told me it was (in so many words) that it’s mostly young women who suffer from chronic headaches so it’s not serious or a big issue ( was for me, obvs) and that it’s likely from a trauma, but doesn’t have to be a big trauma, just something small like… looked me up and down… and said, “something small like not fitting in.” The dude had properly judged me & thought I wouldn’t pick up on his judgements of words. Of course, in these situations where something is so vitally important – you remember everything. You’re the best listener ever. You pick up on mean bits of language like that, everything else is hightened too – like the sick coloured walls surrounding you, the very garish 60’s furniture. And you remember it. That was 5 years ago.

He told me to go to talking therapy before he’d even do any investigations or prescribe me something. At the time I was exasperated by this, as I was already feeling very much on the edge, after 18 months never ending headache. But you have to play the NHS game. You follow the rules, and TBH I would have done anything to help. If he told me to hang upside down, singing one direction songs for 5 days in a row – I would have done it.

But I was a bit skeptical. I got an appointment a few weeks later. And I spoke to this counsellor dude, who was obviously assessing me and where i’d fit best – into what programme. He asked questions and I spoke. We talked for nearly 2 hours. And at the end of it – he said he didn’t think I needed talking therapy – unlessss I wanted it – but i needed a second opinion from a diff neurologist. He told me he thought that I was incredibly strong with everything I had gone through (this nearly broke me).

It didn’t make my headache go away. But it did make me feel better, generally, in my self — in my soul. And I realized that it was because for the first time – ever? in a long time…. I felt heard and really truly listened too. I can’t actually explain what he did that made him feel like the most exceptional listener – but I think it was in his timing of the questions, his body languages and the words of his questions. The spaces? The time, maybe? I used that service once, & I still tell others to go and use it.

I discovered that listening goes beyond simply hearing what people say. It also involves paying attention to how they say it and what they do while they are saying it, in what context, and how what they say resonates within you.

A lot of listening has to do with how you respond — the degree to which you facilitate the clear expression of another person’s thoughts and, in the process, crystallize your own.

Good listeners ask good questions. I was in the Doncaster Freepress this year, and I’ve since become good friends with the journalist who wrote my piece. And I knew she was an awesome journalist because she knows that anyone can be interesting if you ask the right questions. That is, if you ask truly curious questions that don’t have the hidden agenda of fixing, saving, advising, convincing or correcting. And she does that. interrogation will get you information, but it won’t be credible or reliable.

I believe as a nation, The UK, we are in a grave position because we have a leader and a government cabinet – picked only for their deficiencies – who can’t or refuse to listen. They are making the same mistakes over and over and over again, making problems even worse. There’s no more excuses. Their inability to listening is deafening. We’ve just got one of the worst deals in modern history with our biggest trade partnering block – all under the disguise of Brexit – a scapegoat by a government who has undercut millions of working class and lower middle class people and told them it’s the EU or immigration. NOT choices by a government that does not or simply chooses not to listen or understand.

How you listen can work like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you’re barely listening to someone because you think that person is boring or not worth your time, you could actually make it so. Moreover, listening to other people makes it more likely other people will listen to you. 

Listening is a skill. And as with any skill, it degrades if you don’t do it enough. It’s something I had to learn to do well for my live-drawing, and something I will worry about not doing as much of it for the future. Some people may have stronger natural ability while others may have to work harder, but each of us can become a better listener with practice. The more people you listen to, the more aspects of humanity you will recognize, and the better your instincts will be. Listening well can help you understand other people’s attitudes and motivations, which is essential in building cooperative and productive relationships, as well as discerning which relationships you’d be better off avoiding. When you experience what good listening is too, you know how to ensure you can try and make other people feel like that too. It’s something I am forever striving to do in all of practices – art, health, teaching, life and beyond.

We are, each of us, the sum of what we attend to in life. The soothing voice of a parent, the sound of the ocean or rain, the guidance of a mentor, the admonishment of a supervisor, the rallying call of a leader and the taunts of a rival ultimately form and shape us. And to listen poorly, selectively or not at all limits your understanding of the world, and can do significant harm like it is doing now.

Let’s start to demand to be really listened to by those in power, or the very least – bin the current government for one that is human, and listened. Let’s start really truly listening. Not hi-jacking, not waiting for our turn to speak. But be present with those around us. 2020 is a lesson in what not listening to people ends up doing.

Holding space.

This date – the 24th May – in more normal times – seems to be the day of amazing things as Facebook memories reminds me today.

6 years ago I started my proper rehabilitation from the first wave of being super sick and not having any energy outside of going to work & doing the odd social thing. I managed 1.5 miles terrible run with shingles!!! It took weeks to build it up to just over 1 mile.

This year I got to do that half marathon. 2014 me would have been like WHHAAARRRT? NO WAY. NOT POSSIBLE. She’d never have believed it, esp given I was barely running when fully 100% healthy (?) . It also reminds me that – now after nearly 11 weeks of not being able to exercise outside of my house due to shielding and my poorly leg (injury from the half marathon). Now my leg has healed (i think?) & shielding is nearly over (lol, we also think) — it’s time to start back at it, and i think i might be back at those fitness levels of 2014. It’s going to be hard. I’ll have to do it late in the evening to avoid seeing people. but this reminds me that it can be done. And to persevere.

I started selling a print of my drawings of Sheffield 5 years ago today. That raised over £1000 for Doncaster Detection Cancer Care charity. Wild!

I got to see the amazing Andrew Mchanon In the Wilderness at the first-ever gig I went to alone, in Manx – 3 years ago. That was incredible.

And this date seems to be iconic in our PHD studio community. From doing a field trip to stoke on trent – which was so much fun (3 years ago). to celebrating spring/summer together 2 years ago now. It was a glorious day. Bright blue clear skies. A bit of wind that blew across our faces as we sat and drank lemonade with raspberries and mint, or passion fruit juice with a shot of grenadine for sunsets. All i remember is bright colours and laughter as we got to test out Antons cool artwork – Mollie! A cool-street-version of may pole dancing. It was hilarious and incredibly spectacular.

I share all this because I don’t want to keep writing depressing truths of an incompetent government (it’s like a weird compulsion i have to keep sharing it).

But i share this as a reminder that we still have each other, of the things we’ve been so lucky to get to do in the past.

That there are brighter days in the hazy, bad days. There seems to be such strength in the thinking of all the days we spent, orchestrating adventures and how the lights that used to blind us will somehow guide us through these nights. Cars now just parked outside the house, how we’re staring down the roof and the walls. The balcony, the hills, the pain. The years of hope, the months of rain.

When I thought my life was going to end (and honestly, it really felt like this), i felt like I had wasted my time before that. worrying about stuff that didn’t really matter, not paying enough attention to the beauty and immediacy around me. So much i wanted to see, people i needed to thank, things i wanted to change, kids i wanted to see grow up. all these lives i wanted and had to live.

I am so frickin’ glad I did that. That I got to see so many places. Listened more deeply, was a basic bitch and went out of my way to watch and see properly so many incredible sunsets and sunrises. I knew I had to notice it all, create times to bring people together, to seeing things i loved, to try new things i had no idea i liked and bank it all. in photos, in over the top facebook posts, in endless external drives of data, most of all – some how ingrain those memories and feelings in my head. I felt like it would be for a time i wouldn’t be able to physically be able to do it anymore. I knew that I could not waste a minute of my life.

But! i had no idea i would be banking it for something like now.  

What I can say, from experience is that once we’re safely outside of it all (tho that will take years). we’ll be able to see that we (hopefully) will have survived it after all, using each other. and that is so powerful. Holding space.

The epic train ride ahead: Toronto > Vancouver.

I’m posting this now as I’m not sure when I will have time before I leave on my WIFI free journey across Canada via train.

Via Rails # 1, The Canadian operates from Toronto to Vancouver. The train stops in Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Jasper, with several departures in each week. The 4466 km journey takes 83 hours. The Canadian travels throughout the night. The journey aboard “The Canadian” is considered one of the worlds most spectacular train trips. Breathtaking scenery displays every minute of the way between Toronto and the Pacific Coast.

I’ve been pretty excited and quite nervous for this part of the trip. Partly because of the pressure I have added to myself to try and get a good half-a-PHD 1st draft out ready for 3rd year in October (Massive GULP). And the pure boredom I am worried I might experience. But this is good. I rarely sit with my thoughts. mostly because I am scared of them. My mind wanders to my pain, to how long is left, failures, my lack of ability to hone my successes and use them usefully. Whether or not i am making any marks along the way.

But despite such morbid thoughts, repressing them doesn’t do me any good either. They eventually come out in depressing conversations at midnight over Facebook messenger or rants in emails to friends who casually asked how everything going. If I really think about it, I hardly ever allow myself just time to be BORED. to do, like, nothing.

We live such heavy lives full of constant stimuli, from never ending choices on Netflix, and a constant flow of tweets, 24 hour news rolls, people replying work emails at all hours of the night. It’s hard not to be able to have proper protected quiet time, that’s not connected. Part of this is my own fault. I LOVE being connected. Even if i don’t actively post anything. If I can connect to a free wifi connection, I will. I constantly check emails, which is the worst as I forget I’ve READ the email until it comes back to me like a dream a few days later that I never replied it! Then you end up reading emails which you can’t stop thinking about as it’s about work or something else.

Doing nothing is often boring, and boredom is often crazy-making. In a 2014 study, published in the journal Science, researchers reported that many people preferred self-administering electric shocks to doing nothing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald thought boredom was necessary for writing: “You’ve got to go by or past or through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges.” The poet Mary Ruefle speaks of “the vital necessity of wasting time, of loafing and doing nothing.” Two recent studies lend scholarly weight to such claims: People who have been bored demonstrate increased creativity, and are better at associative thinking than those who have just been relaxing.

Here we should celebrate our delight in tedium. Boredom seems to result in creativity only when given the right conditions. Yet at the same time, creative thinking is what makes boredom tolerable: A factory employee dreams up home redecorations on the assembly line, a salmon fisherwoman plans the evening menu while hauling nets, a medical salesperson decides in a meeting to start raising bees.
So what turns doing nothing into creative fuel? the best way to really use boredom is to allow our bored minds to wander freely and to pay close attention to where they go, like watching a Ouija board supply answers under our own fingertips.

one man’s cesspool of distractions is another man’s muse. Sometimes boredom serves as empty ground on which to build new ideas, while other times it acts as a guide to our true desires. You have to wait and see; above all, boredom is the master of the long con.

Research, like the path I am taking to it, is all about delayed gratification. And I think putting myself in the line of adventure, and beauty, whilst being trapped on a moving cart through the Canadian Landscape, being unconnected to the internet world, is the perfect way to be bored.

I have with me a bunch of change of clothes, some soda, Huel, Water, crisps, fresh fruit, sweetish fish and M&Ms, hummus, and carrots. My laptop with a spotify playlist I’ve created and downloaded. My laptop holds only 3 movies: Home Alone 1, 2 and 50/50. I have my 11,000 + already written garbage to start me off and I have 4 plastic folders rammed with essays and articles on information design. I have 5 hours of audio of discussions on patient leaflet designs and experiences. A book all about making a house. And a book all about pain. and endless downloaded PDF research papers across a diverse series of information.

And I hope that this should be enough.

The train makes multiple stops, and spends long periods of time in specific stops such as 3 hours in Jasper! So I am looking forward to that.

As always, I’m living on bonus time. Here I have some time, and if I use it well, it will be more than enough.

To adventure, to making time, to boredom, to hope, to friendships and love, to taking risks, and to life and living — but most of all, here’s to being and *feeling* alive.

gifts and choices

In my procrastination of trying to write up my methods section for RF2 (my next PhD barrier) I came across Jeff Bezos’s commencement speech from 2010. (Not super sure how I reached  it in my click-a-thon).

But I found it to be incredibly important.

After my life got shook up when I fell sick, I had to change how I worked, how I lived to move around shitty symptoms that really brought me down. It made me question everything I was, and who I am, and where I was going.  It hit me when I was on my way up in the intermediate art-world, and brought me tumbling back down to the ground, really hard – really unprepared for this new world – injured in so many different ways. Every time I looked at myself and my life, it was like looking at a mirror that had been cracked a bunch of times. I’m still not over it all.

At times, I feel more broken than I ever was, but I feel at different times and in different areas I have gained so much more. One area is in personal growth. Whilst I’m still trying and learning to be a better person (and sometimes failing,) I realized that I WANTED to REALLY be a better person. I had no idea how I was being supported years before I fell sick, and even still to this day, where I felt incredibly stupid for taking it all for granted.

Some days I literally feel like I’m dying, and with this came a fear of what would be my “legacy” (this is such a loaded and over-the-top word). But what do I want to leave behind? What do I want my work to be? We spend so much of our time at work, doing work – of all kinds – that it makes sense that we should try and enjoy and make the world a better place than what we found it in.  This doesn’t have to be a grandios project – we know it often only has to be the smallest thing that can make the greatest of differences. Listening.  Offering to help someone out.  Introducing yourself.  Donating to charity. To giving someone a helping hand up. The list is endless.

Bezos’s speech really resonated with me, and I think some of his words are good markers. Especially when the road is rough, and rocky, and risky and dark.  So I hope these bits I’ve chopped up here – help you.

In 1986, Jeff Bezos graduated from Princeton with a degree in computer science. In 1994, he founded Amazon.com. He was literally selling books from his garage. In 2010, he went back to Princeton to address the graduating class about the difference between gifts and choices — a profound reflection on reconciling being smart with being kind, an illusory choice many “successful” people feel like they have to make.

Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?

Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

Time & Vunerability

I have written a lot over the years, and especially in 2016, about fear and sickness, and the force for good that can come from being dealt a hand of crappy cards.

Over the past year and a bit, my right foot has been hurting. I put it down to standing on my tip-toes on clinical placement (too small to move patients- should really get the step out! – so my own fault), creating a planta facisa like thing. I had an injection which stopped the pain for like 2-3 months. I was happy. Glad it was just a normal thing, and nothing complex like I usually seem to rock up with at the doctors.

And then it started to seep slowly back. Every morning when I got out of bed, I could barely walk for the first few minutes. I ignored it. I was no longer on clinical practice, for months, and yet it was getting worse. But never mind, I was in America. I was sure it would go away soon. I never even really looked at my foot though, as I thought all I needed was another injection when I got back home to the UK.

Then when I was kayaking across the pacific ocean in Hawaii – my bad kayaking skills got Gemma and I hit by a massive surf wave as we nearly arrived at the shore of the beach. I don’t know what I hit my foot on, but when I did I got this soaring pain. I limped out of the kayak, holding my breath to try and take the edge off.  Days later when my foot felt no better, I inspected my foot – and noticed a medium sized mass in the center of my soul and up to my ankle . I thought about googling it – but I was in america… what good would that do? So I shrugged it off. And thought it was probably Kayaking swelling. I continued to limp across the West Coast and from Gatwick to home, and beyond.

My GP – always a believer in not doing something without proof said he’d rather not do anything until he knew what was wrong, referred me for a scan of my foot. It took a month for the letter with my appointment time on  – which was the night before my flight back to Boston/NYC for a week.  I went, had the scan and the radiographer told me there and then that there was something on it that I had to go back to the doctor straight away because “that’s what doctors do”. I was like, “is it a tear?” He was like – “maybe – or maybe fibromatosis.” I sat up and looked at the screen and instantly could see the deep shadow on my foot – that radiological training, yo. Since I was flying the next day, I decided to do what I do best – just ignore this pathology and go on as normal. The radiographer told me it was necessary to see the doctor asap, and that I shouldn’t go running at all. I arrived back home a week + later to an appointment to see a specialist.

I left, and of course, googled Fibromatosis and looked at scans of feet to compare what I had seen. I have come to the conclusion that it’s not much to worry about in the great scheme of things, but elements of concern remain never the less – like if it is this – how will I ever be pain free in my foot again?  And now every morning when I get up, is a reminder of this pathology existing in my foot as it hurts to walk.

I am forced to look upon myself, once again, with a harsh and urgent clarity.

In 2012 I was forced to become essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light and what i had most regretted were my silences.  Of what had I ever been afraid of, and opportunities not taken?

I’m aware now that my visions of a future have been honed by the lessons of my limitations – such as the never ending fatigue & headache. But I think it’s really important to give an honest and vulnerable account of what it’s like to deal with our hardships, if we are indeed going to share them.

There was a BBC article recently saying being on social-media can make you sad – because a lot of people, often,  portray a life of sunshine and rainbows, myself included. Sharing celebrations but not their failures. Showing an easier path, perhaps. Or shining glory in the face of adversity, leaving you the viewer – feeling less of a person because in the same adversity you crumbled, whilst they stand up shining and strong. When in reality, both parties struggled and both are victorious in being able to work through the challenge at hand. It’s just curated in a different way. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t share our celebrations – but isn’t it much richer when we know the losses and insights gained & gathered in that process? It’s often a 2 -way journey too. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without help.

I feel like I have been open  throughout the years of my experiences. But I do often not share my feelings fully. I often don’t really tell people what ‘s going on, or what I’m going through, or weird things that’s happening to my body because — well, you know the other person probably won’t know how to react, or when there’s no proper finishing line it’s hard, or you’re not really looking for sympathy.   But often when I do take a leap and share what’s happening, there’s a huge sense of relief. Like, almost that my pain has been validated because another person knows about it – so it therefore is way more real than it just existing in my body or in my situation.

Through time, I am slowly learning to live beyond fear by living through it, and in the process learning to turn the fury at my own limitations into some more creative energy.  Living a self-conscious life under the pressure of time is enough to leave a mark upon alot of my life’s decisions and actions.  And it doesn’t matter whether my death comes next week or in 30 years from now; this consciousness gives my life another breadth. It helps shape everything: from the ways I want to love, to my politics, to my work to the depth of my appreciation of living.

I would be lying if I did not also speak of loss. The lessons of 2016, and beyond, have provided myself with many (hard) lessons and questions.  Such as, how do I provide myself with the best physical and spiritual nourishment? How do I give voice to my quests so that others can take what they need from my experiences? How do my experiences fit into a larger tapestry of my work as a working-class woman working across multiple disciplines as an artist? And most of all, how do i fight the despair born out of my fear, and powerlessness — imposter syndrome — self doubt — my meaning(less) life — which is often my greatest internal enemy?

What I’m learning, and wanting to take forwards into 2017, is that battling despair does not mean closing my eyes to the enormity of the tasks of effecting change, nor ignoring the strength and the barbarity of the forces alighed against us.  This is important as we begin to sail uncharted and ferocious seas of many conflicts and unknowningness ahead- both politically and personally: and physically, philosophically and socially.

When I reflect through all of this, it is the concern and caring of all those in my life which have given me strength. We should share our experiences – all of them, the bad, good and ugly , (only if you want to share of course) and spread words that are meaningful to us. It is necessary to teach by living and speaking our truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. We have lived through all of this already, in silence, mostly.  But we can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learnt to speak and work when we are tired.

I want in 2017, for us to be brave, see beyond our fears – whatever they maybe – and to break our silences with kindness and compassion – for those around us, but also for ourselves. We can challenge hateful assumptions, we can begin to understand others fears, we can work together to try and bring small solutions to never-ending problems and crisis. But it will be because we became unified. Because we understand that essentially we are all fragile, and all human.

It will be a big task, because there are many silences to be broken. But I know that together we can do it.

So lets share our vulnerability, lets assess our fears and dreams, lets help each other up.

Don’t wait to be asked if you need help, because I’m already here and you’re already being beckoned.

In the depth of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.” — Albert Camus


Help Aleppo Smizz Print: Lets Be Kind Again

I’ve been watching the tragedy of Aleppo for months and months now. Slowly, and slowly getting more and more, and even more horrific. I never thought that in 2016 we would be looking at the world through fear like we are now – a world seemingly well connected, a whole history to show us how it will never pan-out well for either side. But here we are.

I read article after article about the genocide that is happening. And I feel incredibly powerless. I know we all have stuff going on in our lives – like trying to make one pay check make it to the end of the month, being sick or looking after a sick loved one, wondering if we’re going to have a job by the end of the year… etc. And these are no small-feats. But I sit and look around my room, at my mom and my dogs, I look at my Facebook messages with my bro, and i look at the christmas tree with it’s sparkling lights. I think how lucky we must be to not live in that kind of fear (or at least yet.. who knows what the future holds at the moment).

And I can’t just watch the world burn in horror without trying to do something. However my skillset is small. And my debts are massive. Since we raised around £1000 for Doncaster Detection Trust this year, I figured maybe another drawing could do the trick to help raise the money and the funding to get the help that the people of Aleppo so desperately need.

So here’s my first print. They are all limited edition of 100, signed.

A4 in size, printed in matt. On heavy 220gm paper.

They will be posted to you after christmas.

Starting donation at just £5. All money I will split equally between The White Helmets and Doctors Without Borders/MSF 

Make the £5 (or more) donation to Paypal. PLEASE ADD £1.50 to cover postage too – unless your donation is over £15. I will cover the postage costs for you for your IMMENSE generosity.



Email me if you have any issues or questions! smizz@sarahsmizz.com

Thank you for taking the time to look, and even more MASSIVE thanks to everyone who has already donated to get this print.

Lets Be Kind Again (we can be the change!)

(More prints coming soon too)




What endures, what lingers, and what gets washed away?

It’s been a whole year since the last Thanksgiving, already. I know, Thanksgiving as a Brit living England is technically not my holiday. However, I wish we had something similar in the UK. Like, I dunno, a Kindness-Day – a national holiday where everyone gets the day off & it’s a reason to take the time to be with those who matter to you, to think about  what we have & help others out – without it having to be related to some underlying pilgrim genocide, or unrelentless capitalism. But you know, a time to take in & be present for all the small things. Because the small things are the things that probably matter the most. And you guys have given me the bestest small moments this past year.

I started to pen this post in my head, slow walking home through a freezing fog through the quiet neon light of Sheffield city streets. I do like evening walks like that, just listening to christmas-jazz music.  But it’s also made me realize something about Sheffield that I love. I love how Sheffield’s meteorology is an excercise in whims and micro climates. I can see how Sheffield has become a city for rebels, artists, hackers, nerds, runners and hikers.  It often feels like we are not on the same schedule as everyone else. Time passes in a non-narrative mish-mosh of second winters, monsoons and fourth indian summers, calendar dates be damned. Ney, all this can happen in just one day! Those small things.

2016 has been insanely kind to me, especially work wise. And you were all very kind to me too. I got to draw some amazing things,  people and talks. Stories. And I graduated with multiple prizes and awards – when I didn’t think I’d even finish the course. 

My medical ‘journey’ started making me think more about how narrative helps us all be more compassionate & empowered (if you’re telling the story)… How empathy is first an act of imagination. An illness is not merely a set of signs & symptoms – it is the story in which it is told that gives us the necessary clues of what needs to be done. What kind of support this person is looking for, how it is affecting their quality of life & ultimately what tests/treatments need to be done/undertaken. The thing is, it’s often the smaller things in a healthcare pathway which makes the most personal difference.

It made me realise  how I can never be certain of anything. We are made from our experiences – our failures & successes, our loves & dislikes, what we have witnessed; gentle creatures that get hardened by tragedy. I walk through streets, sit on the bus, in hospital waiting rooms and cafes and think about these people who surround me, I wonder what their stories are. 

Because I often find it hard to concentrate these days due to unruly fatigue, brain-fog or just general overwhelming pain on top of deadlines  – I’ve spent a crazy amount of time online & reading books trying to find a cheat to trick me into being more productive & waste less time. Ultimately – I’d like to gain more time so I don’t have to carry the guilt of not working as fast as I used to do.

But all i’ve learnt from this is that we are never-ever-satisfied. Life coaches think they’ve figured out the secret – to delete all your apps on your phone. Bullshit. Just turn it off!  #firstworldproblems. We await bigger phone screens, & watches that do the same as our phones  and complain about things that are arbitatory. I too am guilty of this. 

 But it’s all just more proof of us not enjoying our smaller things.

Robin Sloan in his book Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore writes about this idea that basically you write a book, a “Book of Life”, that represents everything you have learnt in your life. You work on drafts your entire life and it gets stored and read by a privileged few upon your death. Our lives are filled with a desire to know the universe, and to be known. To leave a dent. 

To not be forgotten (my own fear).

As time becomes more valued to me as I know how quickly it can be erased, I started thinking about “quality time”. And its role as the primary means to an end for a fulfilled life. This quality time should be with our own selves, with our interests, and with those people we connect deeply with. They each feed into each other, without one – the others become disconnected. Quality Time makes extremely clear that those smaller things become some of the most important moments in your life. Be present for them, but that’s not easy. Cultivating quality time means attempting to remove circumstances that hinder quality time, and not all of us have that luxury. 

I am learning to be wild again.  Next week I head back to the U.S.A. again!

I truly believe one of the keys to happiness is to build meaningful ways to make a living whilst working on something you wholeheartedly give a shit about — with good human beings who you give a really big shit about.

In each of our lives, things have changed, for better and for worse. Change and struggle is part of our every day. Becoming and being a parent, as many of you are, is a struggle. Starting a new course, job, moving house, starting a new relationship is all full of struggle. But it makes us better, in some small shape or form.

Being sick reminds me that whilst we might understand the surface of things, deep down there is unprecedented amounts of uncertainty that we have no idea of. All I know is that this Thanksgiving I am happy and thankful for the smaller things. The ability to hold a conversation, the ability to write a blog post, to have so many amazing friends dotted around the world that I can see  any time or throughout  the years. I get to travel. I get to try and make a difference. I get to draw and learn for my job. I get to hear your story. I get to call you my friends. And i have shelter, and warmth and food (most of the time). 

I believe that whilst our trauma’s may linger, kindness & friendship is the thing that helps us endure. 

You guys have made my year. I hope that together – we can continue to give just small pieces of everyday kindness to both loved ones, friends and strangers. 

So this Thanksgiving, I ask you: What endures, what lingers, and what gets washed away?



If you think you can’t do something, I think you can.

All my life I’ve felt like people say that I can’t really do stuff. And sometimes it’s said not in a direct way, but through specific actions.  And then I wonder, who are  these people to tell us we can’t achieve something? What’s it to them?

I never was guided to go to university until very late on in the game. I never knew about league tables, I kind of had no real concept of what university was – I knew no one in my life who had been. It was like a foreign concept. I accidentally attended 6th form as a way to avoid full-time work (I worked 2 part-time jobs during my A-Levels instead), it was here that I started to keep the university prospectus shelfs in the 6th form block up to date and in the right place for others to use and inspire. I ordered every single prospectus from across the UK. I remember to this day all the different kind of designs they came in. I’d look at pages of these dreams and hopes like a kid might look at Disney World travel brochure. My teachers encouraged me to apply.

In fact, I used to look at Virgin Atlantic travel brochures too with admiration and fascination. I remembered how I would look at my favourite brouchure regularly and feel like a sensation at wondering just how downtown Vegas and all those millions of lightbulbs would look like. I would close my eyes and will myself to figure what San Francisco would feel and look like blending these pages of travel brochures and movies . It was literally  a million miles away from my only ever been to Doncaster lived life.

I was told that it probably wouldn’t be possible to ever go there. Because, well, we’d never be able to afford it. It was deemed too ambitious – and what exactly would I even DO there?

I’ve now been to San Fran 5 times so far.

I somehow got to university to study fine art, without a foundation degree. I was the youngest in my year. I remember my interviewer at SHU asking me, “why do YOU think YOU can come to university without a foundation degree whilst everyone else has got one?” And my answer was… “Because I’m a Marxist”. I still cringe. But it did the trick. I told him in one sentence that what I lack in technical experience from a foundation degree, I make up in theory and self-sufficient ideas. Very SHU, really.

I went to work at summer camp after my first year of Uni, to work there & use the money from that job to achieve my american travel dreams that I had spent the past 10 years looking at. Here I realized that American kids are taught to believe that can achieve ANYTHING. They can be president if they so wished.  Us Brits? Don’t be ridiculous.

I have wondered about that part of our culture a lot.

Here all my friends were going to be applying for real internships next summer.

In my second year I wanted to start a gallery out of my living room, and my lecturer at the time told me that it would be too much work and I’d never do it.  I applied for an internship at MoMA – knowing fine well that i’d never in a million years get accepted, but it was a great excerise and I used my tutorial with the professor at the time to see if I could name drop him on another NY Gallery application.

I found the bestest people in my life, Postmasters. Who took a chance on a Smizz.

I was so inspired that summer after working there, that I started a bunch of iconic and life changing projects in Sheffield – Including CAKE artspace, which was a small room above a cool bar on West Street. We did so many cool projects over the 2 years we existed. Take-that my 2nd year lecturer who said I couldn’t do it.

I worked in art & political institutions across Chicago, and then mashed my BA & MA up together and graduated with my Masters in Fine art.

I graduated and I failed at getting most opportunities, but I kept on trying. In the meantime I took on jobs to make ends meet – and in these jobs – like Waterstones, I made some of my closest & giving friends. I learnt lots about bookselling and about publishing. I worked on 100’s of projects and started making a name for myself as a live-illustrator. I also used this time to re-connect with my friends and family.

I had to drown out, constantly, people telling me in so many different ways to give up – or that it’ll never happen for me. I even, at times, fell into the trap and would believe the self-doubt, I would wollow in self-pity. But i’d slowly pick myself up and dust off my trousers and start looking for opportunities again – with a lot of help and guidance from friends already in the art game.

I slowly started getting artist residencies in iconic galleries, and travelling the UK for drawing work. The working class kid from the Donx, making it as an emerging artist. Who would have ever believed it? Not me, that’s for sure. And not the people who believe you can never get work from art.

Then I fell sick. And I was rock bottom again.

All of my hardwork. Kind of disappeared over night.

People told me to just give up, because – well, who knows if I’ll ever be the same again. If I’ll ever NOT feel extremely tired. I had to let go of my old life. I refused, and it drove me down further.

And in that time I saw those gaps in the  healthcare system. I saw how people held me up when I was limping and at my lowest. I knew then that I wanted to be THAT person. I wanted to try and help lift someone else up. I wanted to help make society a more equal place. You do that through health equality and care. And I just felt, deep down that an artist could do it because I was sensitive to the system and peoples needs – having a very real patient experience myself.

And so I started looking into which area specifically I wanted to go into. And I chose upon radiotherapy & oncology for its continuity of care, my need to know more about oncology and the team working aspect.

When I applied, I had no healthcare working experience and no science A-Levels. Many universities were reluctant to say that I could *even* apply to do it because of no science – But I had a 1st class Masters. I can learn. I’ve proven this. I had more than enough (straight A’s at A Level) UCAS points.

I paid no attention and applied anyways. And i got interviews everywhere I applied. But even in the interview process I was met with reluctance. 1 university (not SHU) said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not our usual applicant – The NHS is a bit like a conveyer belt – so do you ACTUALLY think you’ll even fit in?”  This threw me, how loaded with judgement and cynicism. I answered, yes I would fit in & much more.

I got offered a place, but SHU was for me. (Cuz I’m SHU until I die, obvs).

Plagued with self-doubt throughout the radiotherapy course, I constantly told myself that I didn’t belong. I had no science background. I was terrible on placement. I had no money. I had my arty habits. I’d think in these weird ways which took me longer to get to the right answer.  I thought that maybe I’d made a miscalculation.  I was sick. I was tired. I was miserable because everytime i didn’t do something right – i’d spend the next 20 mins + doing myself down inside my head – this was a constant cycle for months at a time all day, every week day. This is not the right way to go about it.

It was like I took all the baggage of all the many years of people telling me I couldn’t do something – and built it up into a mirror that I just tormented myself. I never began to believe the hype.

I somehow I got through 2 years of crippling self-doubt. And that was thanks to my friends, and all the supportive staff & people on twitter I had in my life — who thought that I could do it.

I went for my first RT job interview in Jan this year – and they took an instant dislike to me, which is fine. The next day they called to say i never got the job – which was like, duh. I asked for some feedback and they told me that my answers were “really, really good – just TOO detailed. And that they applaud my enthusiasm but they thought I was too ambitious ( which was that my long-term career plans was to enhance patient info by using patient experience [with specific examples] – not too ambitious in my mind)”. Whilst I’m 100% people did way better than me, I felt that that kind of feedback was unhelpful. Another voice just justifying to me my worst fear: that I’d never get a job in radiotherapy because i was too different, that i’m unlikeable, that the exact reason I wanted to go into healthcare to make a difference was seen as too ambitious. That I *couldn’t do that*.


Last week I picked up the national student therapy radiography of the year award, I won a bunch of awards for my first ever RT patient info app, I got my research chosen to be shown at the annual radiotherapy conference in Jan next year 

And today I graduated with 4 prizes for: most innovative research project, highest clinical marks, highest clinical and academic marks, and highest mark in PRO 3 (2nd year) module. 

I got my full scholarship to do the craziest PhD ever – combined all of this together — to, you guessed it, try and make a difference. To be ambitious there. (Although I am now riding myself with the same self-doubt and imposter syndrome that I had during my RT degree).

And this all came from people telling me that I couldn’t do it.

So I will take a leaf from this book of lessons.

When you want to make a positive change, whether that’s in the system or for yourself – and people say “you’ll never be able to get a job in that” or “you’ll never get accepted because you don’t have X” or “You’re just too ambitious” or “You haven’t got the right marks” or “That’s not HOW we do it,” Or “it’ll never happen cuz people won’t get it/don’t want it/people higher up won’t invest in it”

Do it anyways, try it. Test it out. It might be wrong. It might take longer than you expected. There might be loads of tears and headaches. Your relationships might be tested. But if you really believe, and you think it’s right. You’ll find a way through the bushes, or hanging across the cliffs. It might not be safe. But you’ll get there or learn something to use in the next move.

As Samuel Beckett says: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.



Taming the beast in a complex system

Last week I had my first medium-plus allergic reaction to Shellfish (I think). I didn’t even eat it, I just ate rice that had been cooked with it. The kicker is, I don’t even LIKE Shellfish.

Literally within an hour my face swelled up (not like Hitch style but pretty bad never the less) & my throat became ridiculously itchy & sore, and I became wheezy like when you have an asthma attack. Needless to say, i wasn’t best impressed with this new hyper-sensitive immune system of mine. I hadn’t been to see a doctor in literally months, and i was hoping to keep it that way. Damn.

I had to go to the urgent care center, where I was given steroids, more anti-histamines, and a GP appointment. My GP prescribed me my first EpiPen, and a referral to an immunologist.

Today I picked up my EpiPen. I’ve never seen one up close before.

My GP gave me strict instructions about how to use it, & that I can see the practice nurse to show me how, and that I should call an ambulance if i use it & that I’ll always have to carry it and anti-histamines with me for the rest of my life now “just incase”.

But what struck me was the design of it.

It’s really quite big! And I wonder how smaller people (kids etc) carry their EpiPens about if they don’t bring a backpack? Its design is a bit impractical. They’re reliable, sure. They’ll buy a patient who’s in the midst of a severe allergic reaction a few crucial minutes to make their way to the hospital.

But they’re also bulky. Their epinephrine solution isn’t particularly shelf-stable, and will easily degrade in temperatures that are too low or too high (too cold in a bag in the winter? too hot in a jeans pocket perhaps?) and its expiry date on mine is in about a years time. So not very long.

I had a quick google to see if there was other designs available. In America, there was 100s of news articles on the esculating price tag: apparently a pack of two EpiPens now lists for $608 in the USA. (I checked the cost for the NHS & it’s £23.99 for 1 single dose).

This revealed that there’s a design patent on it until 2025. One company owns the monopoly of the EpiPen. & because of this, the design flaws of it for the user, are the profit for company. If it’s too big to carry, you’re more likely to buy more (in the US anyways) to store in other places or for back-ups.

Accidental injections seem pretty common, and instructions are relatively simple, but, adrenaline is invariably used in highly stressful situations, in order to treat a severe allergic reaction. As the auto-injector was originally designed for use in the military, the users were well trained to manage in these circumstances and the user group generally consisted of healthy adult males. Nowadays the devices are given to people of all ages, and with children suffering more from anaphylaxis than any other age group, the device has to be appropriate for a wide range of user groups.

On the recent BBC Radio 4 programme Dr Boyle highlighted how having to respond to a stressful situation can affect the person administering the drug. In his trial, more than half of the intensively trained parents were unable to correctly operate the devices in an emergency.

He cited some of the common errors associated with auto-injectors: holding them the wrong way round, failing to remove the safety cap and not pressing hard enough. They also discussed how little research into the efficacy of the device has been done because studies can cause severe allergic reactions in test subjects, plus real life situations are likely to occur in public and not in clinical settings. All of these issues have resulted in little drive to improve the devices over the last 50 years, leaving key issues unaddressed. (1)

The very fact that the EpiPen has been dominant for so long makes it hard for challengers to come in with a radically different design.

So, what does all of this mean? Well… there’s a HUGE Challenge for someone to make a MASSIVE difference to 1,000’s & 1,000’s of people, but also challenging in being able to design everything that is needed into an EpiPen (engineering, plastics, drugs, function, deisgn, safety etc) that’s life-style-functional & more cost effective long-term (shelf-life etc).

It highlights that instead of trying to carve out a focused segment of healthcare or a specific specialty of design, we should be re-framing these conversations about healthcare improvement around a set of challenges.

No one person or one organization can take on the whole system, but collectively we can make significant, people-centered change happen. I wrote on my blog last night about ‘critical making‘ – If there is one element that is sorely lacking in healthcare, it’s the ability to prototype, to critically make.

It can seem like a beast of a system can healthcare: its big, complex, and delivering on one of the most complex industries. But I’m trying to keep practicing at staying awake and trying to be attentive to what is elusive, fantastic, contingent, different and barely there.


Who knew some Shellfish and an EpiPen  experience would be showing me and putting into practice that listening can tell you who you are. That paying attention can give us the change and the meaning that we so badly seek.


(1) BBC Radio 4, Inside Health, Wed 7 October 2015http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06flmg7

other readings:
Adrenaline auto-injector advice for patients, UK Gov.ukhttps://www.gov.uk/…/adrenaline-auto-injector-advice-for-pa…

Adrenaline auto-injectors, European Medicines Agencyhttp://www.ema.europa.eu/ema/index.jsp…

How Mylan tried to keep Teva from selling a generic EpiPenhttps://www.statnews.com/…/2016/08/31/mylan-teva-generic-e…/