The Year of Zinc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You will never regret offering dignity to others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nearly another year older: 29 things to do by next year.

Tomorrow, I turn another year older into my late 20’s.  Slowly, slowly edging ever more closer to 30. It’s crazy because I still feel 21 in my head. I still get I.D’d for booze at bars and if I’m really trying it on, I still get Teen cinema tickets at the local Odeon. 

But my life is that of an 18 year olds. I still rent, I don’t even own a wok (this is going to change), no kids,   no pension. I’m still a student, albeit I prefer researcher  now (PhD). Getting really sick in my 20’s kind of funked things up a bit. I lost time for making and meeting people and things. I lost money, and I spent a whole-lot of it when I got it — YOLOing or trying to find cures for my fatigue.

By societies standards, I’m not a success. But in my own standards (and I think this is what matters) I’m relatively happy with where I am right now.  I mean, I am alive. I get to travel, I get to do what I love every day. I get to try and make a difference. And my life is sweeter than it ever was before, because the stakes are higher. I feel time is like an old friend who helps me to see things with much more clarity. I have incredible friends & family who are there for me, every-step-of-the-way.    

As I missed New Years being sick, and as I enter the year of Copper on the periodic table: I feel like I aim to see things differently: 

glass: more sea, less broken 

music: more live, less elevator

dreams: more lucid, less fever

flies: more dragon, less horse

fires: more camp, less brush

roads: more country, less service

slides: more water, less land

light: more moon, less brake

letters: more love, less demand

sins: more carnal, less original.

Here’s 29 things I am going to do this year

1.) stare at the stars with the people I love.

When I fell sick, my first night of wide-eyed clarity was spent  staring at the milky-way on the ballfield on an island in New Hampshire. USA, thinking about all the things I haven’t done & might never get to do. Now when I look at the night sky. it shifts me back to that feeling, being part of the universe, but also grounds me. I feel the weight of time. It’s beautiful, and technically we’re just staring at the past. What better thing to share with people you love? Time travel.

2.)  make my own ice-cream

When I stayed with Tizzy & Tara in Washington DC in 2011, we drunkly came home & I really wanted some ice-cream. All they had was Lavendar and honey. I thought it would be gross – but I was SO wrong.  chomped it all and felt guilty. I’ve never been able to find this ice-cream, ever again, since. I will re-create it this year.

3.) go to the coast of italy and draw the towns from the sea.

4.) design my own typeface/font.

5.) straddle the International Date Line

6.) tell my mom I love her

7.) Play the piano 

8.) run

because who knows when you might not be able to

9.) go surfing

10.) write & perform a song

11.) grow some vegetables

easy vegetables to grow, like.

12.) get a real christmas tree at christmas

13.) go to Japan

this will be a testament, Japan’s been on the bucket list for years

14.) learn to cook more new dishes than i  have ever done before

15.) do something I’m afraid of doing

16.) ride my bike more

17.) live in a world that loves all people

we should all aim for this

18.) budget

lol

19.) have fun without technology  

20.) take nothing for granted 

21.) try and stop feeling like i’m running out of time

22.) take more 35mm film photos

23.) do more for charities and help people more

24.) People

The most important aspect of out lives are perhaps the people around us. My goal is to stay in touch with family and old friends, and to constantly strengthen the bridges built over time.

25.) finally update my damn website

26.) see more sunrises and sunsets

27.) remember that what matters most is how well you walk through the fire

28.) pay my bills & debts on time

lol

29.) laugh at the odds 

**(+ bonus which doesn’t need to be said but: 30.) Enjoy my PhD)**

Happy New Year friends

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1 year older, Casting Lines.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m getting old. I found my 10th grey hair today (yes I’m counting) But I’m still here. I’m still alive.  And it amazes me. But there’s a lot I don’t know. And there’s a lot I’m still learning. I’ll be Nickel on the periodic table. Nickel is a silvery white metal that takes on a high polish. It is hard, malleable, ductile, somewhat ferromagnetic, and a fair conductor of heat and electricity. Ni-64 is used for the production of Cu-64 which is used in radioimmunotherapy. Ni-61 can be used for the production of the PET radioisotope Cu-61. Which puts me in good company.

But turning a different number has less significance than having your first child or losing a family member. Those are real Life milestones.

When I was younger, I was worried I was going to be behind. I was always in hurry to do everything. Most people get a foundation degree before art school. I managed to convince art schools I didn’t need one. Then I mixed my masters with my undergraduate degree & completed them at the same time – it made me one of the youngest people in the UK with an art BA & MA at the time (First class, too). I went to summer camp as soon as I was allowed to apply for a J1 work visa. I went to NYC as soon as I was allowed to rent a hotel room alone (and worked 2 jobs to pay for it). Now I’m so behind my peers. And I want to slow down time. I sometimes wish maybe I should have taken my time & not rushed things. Smelled the roses, as they say. But There’s never enough time.  And now I’m in a place where I feel like I’m living on extra time I wasn’t expecting — which is pretty sweet. 

When I look at my photos of 2015 I think of the juxtaposition of beautiful scenery with private pain. Emerging from this exacting year, I am grateful (but still pissed off & frustrated with having pain) for the suffering because of how much it has taught me – and continues to do so, and how it made me even more compassionate to others. The kind of tumult I’m in is both a physical and an internal one, and it doesn’t detract from my gratitude that I am able to live a life involving new places, meet new people, laugh with friends, care for people in need, learn new stuff, see delightful sights and eat beautiful meals (most of which are cooked by my mom). It’s taught me that it’s always possible to find wonder in the world despite things being tough, because the world is full of wonderful things and people. These fleeting moments of awe, strung together with acts of kindness, kept me afloat.

I can’t help but feel severely indebted to everyone who’s helped me along my journey, especially in my search for a resolution. For all those people who ‘took a chance’ on me. For everyone who has replied to my late emails or who’ve reached out to me. For all my friends who’ve been right beside me, whether it be when I’m having a good time or when I’m tucked into my bed, drenched in my own cold sweat .

Who knows what 2016 will bring, but as my last day as 27 winds to a close I have learnt more, dug deeper, and thinking of my next year ahead. I want to take the an opportunity to redefine many things as well as to recapture certain values and certain things that are potentially important for me and for people in general…The importance of giving back is starting to be theme for me. I want to be generous to the people who have helped me out. I want to make sure not to ‘ghost’ on people either. In order to be credible, you must be authentic and true. I’m starting to write my proposal for my PhD in creative practices as a means of moving health research evidence and interventions into everyday practice. I’ve already applied for 2 of my first radiotherapy posts (probs. won’t get interview, like). Moderation in everything. Don’t be an asshole and don’t be a pushover. Change is the only constant in Life. It moves forward regardless of how hard you resist. Be kind. Be empathetic. Take care of your parents. Cultivate relationships with those that matter, those that genuinely care about you. Embrace them with your whole heart.

My birthday’s tomorrow, but help me celebrate since I’ll be spending the whole weekend revising. Donate time/things/currency to Yorkshire Cancer Research , Doncaster Cancer Detection Trust and/or another cause that’s close to your heart! Feeling blessed and lucky to have such great friends and family.

As for Birthday plans after my exam on Monday: Heading straight to laser quest, drinks, movies & some good ol’ pho in Sheffield. It’s going to be a birthday week.

2015: thanks for giving me what I needed and teaching me what I didn’t understand. You were challenging & profound.

Constantly Lucky: 26 years

It’s my birthday in about 48 hours. I used to hate getting older because, well, I always thought i’d have my life way more ‘together’ by now. Like, I thought that maybe I would have met someone special. Maybe I’d have what my mom calls a “proper job” (by that, she means oppressed, clock your card-in, have to leave the house to do it, ect – the working class way). Maybe i’d have a proper house, I don’t think i’d ever buy (still don’t) but renting – like realll nice. But life interrupts, and actually those thoughts were never my real desires anyway. They were implanted into my head by what is deemed as acceptable by a capitalist society.

But now I just feel constantly lucky. Lucky that I’m making it to 27 & my multiple of jobs means that I’m always working and meeting with inspirational people. I kind of hate the wrinkles near my eyes (crows feet?) but now I sort of love them. They’re a welcomed reminder than i’m alive, I am living, and living with fun – with a smile & laughter.

I know that age is arbitrary. I’ve read that your 30s are when things start to work. Your 20s are supposed to be outgrowing our 21st century prolonged puberty.  But it’s all relative, really. Hitting those ‘milestones’ are all just part something. Part luck, part shit bad-luck, part working hard, part partying hard, part kindness, part optimism, part time.

When I fell sick, I quickly realized that I had quite a lot of my priorities mixed up. My artist-ego was getting inflated, and you know, i was starting to get recognised across continents, getting a few good-profile residencies, getting paid to do what I do. I spent months and months away from home, never calling, never seeing my home-friends or family. I wasn’t mean, or nasty, or unkind – but I wasn’t very thoughtful of others. I distinctively remember my 20 year old self not understanding why a depressed friend couldn’t join us because she felt tired. Now I understand why others can not understand fatigue in me. If you’ve never experienced chronic fatigue & pain, you won’t really “get-it”, unless you’re truly empathetic/compassionate. Which I certainly wasn’t 5 years ago. That’s not really how I wanted to live my life, being self-obsessed, that wasn’t the person I wanted to be.

Then when I fell sick, in the beginning it was nothing. Then time went on & it got worse. And worse. Until it made me feel helpless. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t believe it.

Life’s big decisions which were mine to make felt no more. My whole-life was tipped upside down. I was no-longer the worker-beaver I was- the persona I had so publicly built for myself crumbled – also publicly.  Still The Smizz of All Trades, just slow, really slow. No reply from emails for days… weeks. I just wanted to sleep. I had pain so deep. Nightsweats that made me feel like I had wet the bed, blood from anywhere. Everything we take for granted everyday, like holding a conversation, running up the stairs, having a shower took insane effort. I’ve lost days, weeks, even months of my life.

Despite my neglect of my friends & family whilst I  pursued my need for art-fame, when I fell ill – they caught me mid-fall & are still here, holding me up. Roadtrips where I was throwing up, or too weak to do anything – they stayed with me. Money I needed to cover my USA medical bills – they banded together and paid it for me. Christmas dinners, Thanksgivings – they do it because they know it makes me really happy.  Great drawing opportunities. Friends across the world donated time, money, connections, rides. Strangers sent mail. On the days I feel insanely shit, they mail and post super nice things on Facebook and Twitter. They keep me going. We always make a laugh about it. I owe them so much.

One thing I think about and often talk about when with friends is life and death. When I first got told that it looked like I had a lymphoid malignancy – all I did on my indenial roadtrip across the USA was research the odds, every McDonalds, Motel, Starbucks free-wifi connection – I’d update my status about some amazing thing we were doing & bookmark a page of research on lymphomas. That research and statistics still sits with me. I think about it with my patients. I feel a heavy weight that’s unexplainable in my chest when someone is dealt a devastating hand of event(s), when I’m writing my assignments, when I read peoples blogs. I don’t think about them every day anymore, which makes me feel like maybe time is a healer after-all.

Whilst feeling not the best, this year- my 26th year – I got to spend the year learning new things, all about the human-body, I see life on the edges every day. I got to meet many inspirational people, I got to do a few weeks in NYC, reconnecting with old friends, and returning to work at Doc/Fest. I saw my mom get married,  saw the sun set above the clouds and the clearest night sky in the world. I visited Denmark for the first time, and spent time working on some really cool projects with really cool people. Now I’m planning a trip to Thailand, Japan and Bali (Not all together).

Through these experiences, I realized how debilitating it all can be, and how rarely we take the time to understand pain in others. That was my main motivation to going to study Radiotherapy & Oncology. But this lesson is still being learnt. The experience is humbling and, more than anything, made me much more aware of – and empathetic to – the hurt that we ignore.

This, in particular, is my motivation going into my 27th year. My resolution is to take more time recognizing the pain in others and offering solace whenever possible. I aim to keep the dialogue open with all of you, whether online or in-person.

I am not sure about all that will come next.  I’m hoping my 27th year will be one of closure from this illness. But what I do know is that I’ve stopped wasting time (most of the time). I can’t help but feel the weight of its value each day. That awareness itself feels like a gift. I vowed that if I ever got through this that I would eat better, play harder, work smarter and love more. Never again would the significance of a moment pass me by.

It’s all just bumps along the road. Make sure you’re living life the way that is important to you. Don’t wait to be asked for help; you’re already being beckoned.

On the 9th, my actual birthday, I will be taking a flight to Lisbon, Portugal. I’ll watch the sunset, and toast to time & feeling really alive. Constantly lucky, y’all.

Growing Up A Second Time

It was my good friends birthday yesterday. She turned only 19 years old. Still a baby. Although 19 was only 6/7 years ago for me, it seems so much longer. Being in your mid-20′s isn’t that old, but I feel like I’ve aged 2 lifetimes in the past 3+ years, I feel like I’m ageing in dog years. Maybe ageing like that makes you look back a bit more.

As I was out with my young course friends, I thought about what I’ve done so far in and with my life. And what getting older kind of feels like.

Philosopher Alain De Botton tweeted today that ” ‘Growing up’ in many ways a long process of learning to put up with stuff. Eventually, even the idea of dying.”

I came from an incredibly poor family, mostly it was just my mom, my bro, and me with my nan popping in often.    As a result I didn’t have many things considered as “cool” growing up. My clothes were cheap, and shabby. I was a bit weird, I loved hip-hop and animation as a 8 year old. I had this incredible imagination. And I was kinda fat. This made me such an easy target to be bullied every-single-day up to high school. I tried my very best to be “cool” and “likeable”, but we didn’t have the money and when I did save up to get some “cool things”, the clothes looked weird on me. It looked insincere & wrong.  Luckily, time and age taught me to slowly accept myself and follow what I like. And the strangest thing was, the more I accepted myself, the less grief I got from my fellow bully students. In fact, almost the opposite happened. I got more respected, and more known once I had accepted myself. Funny thing that, self-acceptance.

After my GCSE’s, we were made homeless (for too many reasons) for 6 months. We lived with my nan for a few months, until her landlord knew she was over exceeding her limit of people in the house. And then we went from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation, all whilst I was trying to study for my AS levels. We finally busted the system and got enough points to get a council house. Crazy point: being homeless doesn’t give you enough points on the system to be eligible for a council house. Or it didn’t in 2004/5. How fucked up is that?  I remember at the time being incredibly embarrassed about this. I didn’t tell a soul for months. But it just reinforced my love for Marxism and social justice. I was voted, by the whole of Doncaster by kids, to be a Youth Councillor for the Donx Youth.

I lasted about 8 months (and resigned) when I realised we didn’t really do that much except organize fun pizza parties.

I met Ed Miliband, he was the new MP the North Doncaster then. My friend & I had gone to complain about UCAS taking our money and then not processing our applications making our application late, and after the deadline – potentially affecting our uni offers (It didn’t). I stated it was because we’re working class, and the system was against us (Marxist in me). Of course, it was just a person not doing their job correctly, some clerical error. I can’t remember what he said he’d do. But I do wonder how many 16/17 year olds go to see their MP these days? You guys really should if you have an issue!

Ed asked, since he was new to the area, if I could organize for him to come to our school. I was pretty stoked with this & ended up doing a lil work with Ed. I had no idea back then that he could be the potential prime minister of 2016! (Hopefully, eh?!) – People, strangers, you meet will always surprise you. Everyone has a story.

I then was head-girl of the school in 6th form, and then also got excluded (for political reasons) as Head-Girl. I was also embarrassed about this. But as time has gone on, I realized just how kind of awesome it was. And it’s just another crazy story I get to tell. This taught me that the system, if it really wants to, will make sure you’re screwed over if you try and disrupt corrupted power.

As soon as I turned 15 my mom made me get a job. I didn’t even want one.  And earnt a measily £2.50 per hour of my life. I knew my time was worth more than watching kids throw plastic balls at each other and fish dirty nappies out of the ball-pool. But as I got older, I realised why my mom made me do it. 1.) to instil a sense of labour and work and pride in earning your own way. 2) to learn how to interact with people you may never interact with outside of that environment. I swapped the wacky warehouse for scraping chicken fat off trays at ASDA in the rotisserie for 2 years every weekend & some more, but for £8.50 an hour. Not too shabby for a 16/17/18 year old. I saved all my money from this job, & EMA and took my mom to NYC for her birthday. It’s one of the best trips I’ve ever had.

I went to study Fine Art at university, I’m not sure how I came to decide to go to university as I’m the first person & so far the only person who has gone to uni in my whole family. It’s something that was never discussed. I just came home one day & was like, oh I’ve applied to university! Like I’d just subscribed to a mailing list. I remember feeling very casual about it. I even thought that once I got to university, that I wouldn’t be smart enough, get home-sick and drop out.

But I was pretty wrong. I ended up bulking up my time an extra year & getting a BA & a MA.  I didn’t really return home for longer than 3 weeks for 4+ years.

My first uni year I applied to do Camp America. I ended up  being placed on an island in the middle of a beautiful, clear water lake surrounded by mountains and trees in New Hampshire. Once I arrived to USA, I stayed in an industrial part of New Jersey for a night, I had to catch another bus at 5:30am to take me to port authority bus station, NYC, where I had to catch a greyhound bus to Boston, switch to another bus in Boston to a Fullers Gas station in Meredith, NH. (a lonely, virtually empty – and closed gas station when I got there) Where a complete stranger from the camp was to meet me, alone. I felt like I was some tame, none-drug induced version of Jack Karoac’s On The Road at age 18/19. The age my friend just turned.

I had a decent enough time at the camp, but I felt like an outsider in a very -family orientated family camp, enriched in family tradition – where everyone had been brought up together. I counted the days down to when I could leave and be back in NYC. The strangest thing was, once I got to NYC for a whole week. I felt incredibly lonely. I hadn’t realized that I had accustomed myself to Sandy Island life and friends. That’s the thing about time, it punishes you later for wishing away your time.

I decided to do live my fantasy of “On The Road” I had about $500 in my pocket from my camp summer job and a flight home from LA. I was still in NYC. So I took a bus to DC (I didn’t have any sort of game plan, don’t ask how I was planning to get to LA?!) but ended up meeting some people around my age who were going cross country in  a van and camping. They asked if I wanted to join them so I decided to tag along. We did > DC > West Virgina and went Wild Rapid Boating > Virgina > Tennessee > Alabama > New Orleans — where my identity was stolen and I  was fruaded and had no $$ in my bank account. At this point I had about $150 to last me. I cried. I had no idea what to do. But  thing is, things work out. I was with good people. My mom wired me $80 >> we moved onto Texas, survived a mild hurricane >> Hitch-hiked over the border to Mexico, got really drunk and had to beg my way back into the USA >> New Mexico – saw some crazy bats > Went to Monument Valley and stayed on Native American land. I’ve never seen skies so clear. I slept outside on the ground in my sleeping bag instead of the tent – not even thinking about scorpions and crazy spiders and snakes that could have been hanging around – to sleep under the milkyway >> Went to Zion – hiked angels trek, and through rivers, went to Grand Canyon and we partied so hard we got asked to leave. >> We went to Vegas where I fake-ID’d my way into clubs, and bought nothing because well I had no money. But my new travel buddies help to pay for my liquor. We did a limo and ate at this super cool sushi place just off the strip. My first ever sushi experience> We drove to LA where we drank in a dive bar just near downtown LA, under a bridge. I felt like I was in some indie movie. This was the last night I saw my travel buddies. They were carrying on to San Francisco. I had my plane to catch.

That was the last time I saw them. I’ve seen a few of them since and we’re all still friends on Facebook. But this taught me to talk to strangers, take calculated risks, some times not having plans works out way better than having a rigid plan.

I once lived in this hip-apartment in Williamsburg one summer, that over looked the NYC skyline with a bunch of cool people doing internships for MTV, Saturday Night Live and The Onion – all on their daddy’s $$$ funds. I was funding my own dream. One of the dudes is an upcoming comedian on the West Coast and was in that Oscar winning Ben Affleck movie.

We were a mixed group of kids, with high energy, big dreams. Wide-Eyed in NYC. I ended up working for some of the most amazing and awesome people who changed my life in a then Chelsea Gallery. I remember how hot a NYC summer is… Coldplay Vida viva song was hot shit too. That album & Chris Brown Forever always takes me back.  I asked M, the gallery boss, what her story was, how did she and her husband open the gallery. She spoke about communist Poland, trips to Chicago that made her fall in love with NYC, a burning love for art & art-history, selling shoes, joining rich upperside ladies visiting studios and collections, borrowing money & opening their first gallery that’s still going strong 28/29 years later.

I remember every single piece of art in that summer show and if I even really think about it – how much each piece of art was being sold for. I’ve never been so upset about leaving a job (even though it was so short), some people, a place before that. But one of my distinctive memories is my last day there, i walked out of the gallery, turned left walked down to 9th ave, kind of holding tears back looking up at a clear blue hot sky. I walked to the first working pay-phone I could  find to call home to my mom to say how i was so happy that i had this amazing opportunity, but how sad I was to leave.  I thought that I’d probably never see the Postmasters crew again, I thought I’d get forgotten about because that’s how my life was/is… Important people just fleeting between moments.

Luckily, I get to go and see them every year and this makes my heart  so happy.

I left NYC and worked in a bookies (betting shop), trying to gain back the money I spent on my NYC wild adventure. I learnt how to bet, how to calculate all different bets like round robins and how to really bet on horses. That a favourite horse is statistically 33% to come in at a meeting, if you’re willing to chase your money around. I learnt how to follow soccer and do football bets. A great way to make money if it accumulates!  I saved enough money to take an amtrak train ride across USA the same summer with my good friend shivvers.

She made me a rule. I couldn’t talk about art the whole journey. I suspect that’s all I was bothered about back then. We stayed in the Bellagio Hotel in Vegas courtesy of her dad. Shivvers wouldn’t even let me open the mini-bar so we created our own from mini’s from the vegas giftshops. We had a cab driver who had some sort of turrets and cursed death on every driver he drove past. I learnt that it takes about 3 whole days to take a train from LA to Chicago, and that you should pack spare clothes and not just check them all in. There was a guy who was giving strangers Tattoos on the train (certainly not us). We sat on the train, making up our own before sunrise stories up for all the strangers. 2008 was a good year. I keep telling the kids on my course that 20 was one of the best years of my life.

I taught spanish kids english in Hastings for what I think was the Spanish Mafia. They paid me about £400 a week in fresh £50 notes, cash. I’d take it to the bank and every time panic that they might question me. They never did but I was sure they thought it was dodgy money.  These Spanish kids were clever, and spoke many languages. They learnt quick. I remember my favourite and most promising student failing her exam. She was the only one out of all 16 kids I taught, but I felt a sense of  responsibility & guilt for it. That I was the reason why she failed. Perhaps it was nerves. Perhaps it was my teaching. perhaps we were both complacent. I often wonder what they’re up to now and how their English is.

I went to Chicago and worked on social art projects, and at the university of Chicago. I saw proper Labour Activist movements, I worked with real poor communities. I wrote things for great art magazines. I lived with people who worked at the MCA and Hyde Park Contemporary Art Center. I saw Obama’s house, I saw the Home Alone house, I had my first ever real Thanksgiving, and lived through the coldest weather I have EVER EVER walked through (about -20). These experiences woke something up in me, I went back to standing true to what I loved doing. Drawing and comedy and truths.

I wanted nothing more than a 1st class degree in art, but I couldn’t figure what I was missing to push my grade in to the first category. When I decided to go back to what I love, not worrying too much about the marking criteria, I finally graduated at the last hurdle with that hard worked for first class degree. Another lesson to be learnt. Sometimes you need to stick to your guns and your integrity. Don’t just do something to please others or because you think it will sell. People can see if it’s not true. And remember not everything that glitters is gold.

I have since never had to use my degree. No one has ever asked to see it, except when I went back to study. i do remember my art lecturer sending me an email telling me what I got. my heart was practically in my mouth, I opened the email using Boltbus free slow wifi on a bus from NYC to Boston (On my way to work back at camp some 3 years later from my first experience). I was stoked. I just wanted to tell the world! But I was travelling alone, so I did the next best thing. I wrote an email to my mom, a few select friends, to M at Postmasters and to a past lecturer michael corris who I looked up to in many different ways.

The first year after graduating with an art degree can be pretty hard. They never really tell you that, you assume it will be hard but you’re hopeful that it won’t. I graduated in the thick of the new recession. people were loosing their jobs left, right and center. Companies were being acquired or forced into bankruptcy. I got lucky and worked part time in a bookstore with another group of amazing people. Nothing prepares you for the doubt that you feel about following what you love when you consistently get rejected. But with rejections come some lessons. Lessons turned into opportunities and more opportunities and more lessons to learn from.

Things started working out for me with making a basic living with art and drawing. And then I started feeling all funny. I experienced fatigue like I’ve never experienced in my life, I was having these drenching nightsweats, I couldn’t eat, I had nose bleeds constantly, I had pretty bad bone-pain. It felt like flu-like symptoms but without the flu. I went back to the USA where I ended up being told it looked like Lymphoma. Cancer. I was like, fuck.

My whole life view was flipped upside down. Things that I thought was important didn’t seem as important as they once did. The unimportant things felt way more important. Time felt heavy. I had to grasp, in that moment, that my life and everything I’ve known will eventually blink away in a matter of decades, if not years, if not hours, and I will cease to exist. Which is hard, because when you’re young – you feel kind of invincible. Like you can put things off, because there’s always tomorrow, next week, next year. But there’s isn’t always more time.

Things carried on as normal though. As if nothing had changed. Which can be the most annoying thing ever, because I guess I’m still hurting and I want change. I want more urgency in things. I learnt from being unwell to ask for help if I need it. We can’t do everything on our own.  I decided to learn from these experiences and use them to make a difference, so I went back to university and I am now studying Radiotherapy & Oncology.

I got hit by a car on my bike 2 weeks ago and broke & bruised my ribs. I flew over my handlebars and through air, I flipped upside down and landed on my neck.  And I realized that there’s far more probability in me dying from being hit by a car than most other things.

So, what does it feel like to be older?

From time to time something reminds you of the past. Things hurt that never hurt before. Music was definitely better 10 years ago than it is right now. You start to buy things because they wash well, and shoes because they’re much more comfortable to wear. Time goes way faster. Experiences mash together like a tie-die. Leaving only horrendous memories and those euphoria, bucket-listy, nice moments that help build who you are in this very moment. There’s nothing much else in between.

When you get older, things you thought were important when you were younger aren’t as important and those things you thought were unimportant become more urgent.

I’m left looking at my younger course friends, what life experiences are in store for their next 6/7 years on this life, and just how much different a 19 yr old mind & body feel like compared to a 26 yr old mind/body.

I ended  my friends birthday with this thought:  What if we celebrated our expected years left instead of our years already spent?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humbled By All The Amazing Birthday Wishes. My message to y’all!

Just checked my Facebook, & can-not believe all the literally 100’s of birthday wishes I’ve received! In cards, in balloons, in virtual hugs, snap-chats, texts, emails, tweets. I literally just happy-birthday’d from all over, through so many apps and devices, and real life! I’m feeling loved, & grateful to be. Thank you so much friends for your amazing wishes, and an awesome day (yesterday, today and the days ahead!).

Birthdays, just like New Years, are a great way to reflect. Looking back to the beginning – the pain, the confusion, the journey- I can see now, that I was not being set up for one of the greatest struggles of my life, thus far. I was being introduced to the greatest source of inspiration in my life. The reminders of my incredible luck and blessings have been constant, often displayed in the outreach of others (including the majority of you guys). It slowed me down & gave me a bigger sense of gratitude.

As I’ve said like a bazillion times before, but it’s worth stressing again, for the first time in my life, I experienced chronic pain and fatigue – and still am. I realized how debilitating it can be, and how rarely we take the time to understand it in others. The experience was (is) humbling and, more than anything, made me much more aware of – and empathetic to – the hurt that we ignore.

While there are milestones that mark definitive progress, the transition back to normalcy is just that: a transition. The finish line isn’t a ribbon strung across a track; it’s a long, spaghetti junction highway. I’m waiting to merge into it, in my new crazy green Hollister coat.

We’re here for each other, and every day since this began, what feels like yeaaars ago-but it’s not-but it is-but it’s not, has been a reminder of that. It’s a lesson I won’t let myself forget.

Thanks so much for the company & the mixtapes for the ride, friends. Thanks for another great birthday!

Love always! Smizz x

PS: This is my new dog, Blue! My surprise birthday present!!! He’s so sweet, gentle, funny and massive! (He’s a family gift, of course).

 

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