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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I remain steadfast

I remain steadfast with my focus on the present and the future.

Currently I’m having like some sort of crazy- probable cause: neck meets over-worked – 37 constant day headache that has degrees of severity from “totally ignorable to- i’m rolling on the floor” painful. It hasn’t gone away, not even once on its own. I go to sleep with it. I wake up with it. I wake up in the middle of the night with it. It reminds me that I’m broken. But despite this, the intensity that fills me in general is overwhelmingly positive.

I am humbled. Truly. I am alive. You are alive. And that’s all that really matters. I think about this, ALOT.  

Sometimes I get so frustrated and pissed off at myself because somedays/weeks my body is nothing but limitations. But really, compared to others suffering. I have it relatively easy. And I have to continuously remind myself about this. Because it’s not even about feeling run-down and shitty. It’s about how amazing people are with me concerning this. From my clinical lead tutor, fellow peers & friends, family,  to colleagues who I worked with on clinical placement (even writing a note in my report book on how my own health is more important), to the kindness and compassion showed to me from doctors and other HCP – i mean I understand me complaining about a headache sounds like the most time-wasting banal medical complaint ever (I assure you all, this feels like no normal headache). So I do appreciate the time and the compassion that I have received all round.

 I constantly feel lucky. And I have no idea how to return your kindness back. I have no idea how to show how thankful I am. The most amazing thing is, you probably don’t want or need anything back in return. That it’s just your general nature, to be so generous and kind. And that makes me even more grateful and humbled. 

I go back to New York City on Monday, and I am so freakin’ excited! I feel like I’m going back for the first time again! Nothing like a crazy 8 months dominated with study and science to make you crave the unpredictable creative chaos of NYC. The fragments of my old life. But I’m even more excited for something else. I always said one of the things I was the most scared of was my mom not finding the true-love that she deserves, I feared that she might not find happiness – This fear gave me a sadness and a powerlessness i can’t explain; that the 1 person who you love unconditionally, isn’t really happy and you can’t help them.  But luckily that fear is in the distance as my mom is getting married – to a guy who seems good (this is super rare for my mom!) And I get to see it! And she’s doing it in Las Vegas, so guys! We’re going to Vegas too! Who needs bucketlists, when the ones you love are happy?  (It’s worth noting here, that I don’t think happiness is finding a man, but rather happiness only exists when shared).

My plan this time for this trip is simple. I’m just going to take it easy and go at my own pace. (Mainly because I have to). And take pleasure in the simple things. No crazy rush. I’m going to smile and laugh with my family, see friends who I was worried I might not see again, or for a really long time, eat the freshest fruits – (Acai bowls come at me!), drink on rooftops, go to art openings, take lots of photos, draw, eat the bestest foods, drink crazy drinks, I’ll do revision work along the way, re-visit the things I love and I’ll instagram the shit outta of it all.  I’m just going to find new things and places as they find me. Like seeing New York again for the first time. 

I’d like to think that I have stopped wasting time.  It’s true in some respects, and failing in others. As David Bowie once said: Time may change me. But I can’t trace time.  The one thing that is for sure is that I still can’t help but feel the weight of times value each day.  And that awareness itself totally feels like a gift.

To New York City, & Las Vegas y’all!

 I will use my time fully, all of it.

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This one is for my mom

I do a lot of blogging about myself. And whilst I find it therapeutic and a good distraction from other written work I should be doing, I actually also hate being so self- absorbed (what a LOL!).  It’s a tough tension. However, this isn’t about me. This is a post about my mom. And my family (my bro & nan) and my home-made family of friends.

Life is a  rollercoaster of love lost and gained and changed. It also has the beautiful craziness of indeterminable timing.

My mom is one amazing lady. I’ve been at home in the Donx today. I’ve been locked away in my room working on some of my commission work for Sheff Doc/Fest. In the morning my mom woke me up, asked me where my brother was? Did he come home last night? I had no idea. I was in bed by 9:30pm. Deep sleep by 11PM. Geriatric is the new black. She called him, he was already at work – on 3 hours of sleep – hardcore bro. Relieved she disappeared. I pulled the duvet over my head. It was only 9:30am, I only had like, 9 + hours sleep. My mom came back in, and said, “now that I’ve woke you up. here’s a cup of tea. With 2 sugars, just how you like it.”

That’s like the perfect mom thing. She knows when I get up to work, I have to have a cup of tea to get the day started, and read my twitter feed. She knows it makes me feel warm. She knows I have a super sweet tooth. I never knew until today that she knows that’s what I do?

My mom’s one of the most strongest, selfless and bravest people I know. She’s courageous. And she will do ANYTHING for my brother and me. She has never seen us go without, and always made sure that we ate healthy and well, even when times were extremely strained and hard. We’ve been through a lot together; her domestic violent relationships, homelessness, cancer, death of  her 1st husband, financial difficulties, and a whole lot more together. And she carries on, determined not to defeated, and still puts us first.  She supports me whatever I want to do. She has been my rock throughout art-school,  giving words of support, even though she had NO clue what I was doing. I dragged her to 100s of art galleries in NYC even though she hated pretty much every minute, but pretended not to. Then after I graduated, she let me off with ALOT of rent when I was in between jobs, or saving to go back to the USA. Then after getting sick & doing some illustration work for the NHS, I decided that actually I’m really interested in Medicine and making the patient pathway the best it can be. So i became a student again, and here my mom is. Still supporting her fully grown kid 100% in whatever i put my head to.

I can’t explain to you, just how lucky I am to have my mom in my life. I am thankful and grateful everyday. And I know I need to learn how to emulate her selflessness in my own life.

A few years ago, I was told that it looked like I had cancer. Lymphoma. I was 1000’s of miles away from home. The oncologist told me to go straight home to deal with it. I didn’t believe it, however. And I wanted to stay in America and live my life, despite feeling shitty. I was planning a roadtrip! I refused to tell my mom for weeks. My boss cried on me like 2/3 times that summer, begging me to both tell my mom and go back home for the help I needed. I did neither. I’m brutally stubborn. I wanted to do this alone, I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had to help. I needed to deal with it, and also not deal with it. Then some how my mom found out, and I had to tell her over the phone (one of the most awkward phone calls I’ve ever had to make) and I’ll never forget that conversation. I forwarded her the letter of recommendation of care/treatment from the USA dr to her. I asked her to make me an appointment to see my GP for 4 weeks later for when I arrived home. She did this. But what I  didn’t know was that she called her best friend (my god-mother) and cried on her  3 nights in a row. (I’ve never seen my mom do this, ever). My god-mom facebooked me, my brother facebooked me. All pleading for me to come home. I of course, obnoxiously declined their help – and said “i’m fine!” . I still had a pretty awesome time in USA. My mom and I have always had a really strong relationship, so I assumed she would be cool with my decision.  I had no idea that by “protecting” her, I hurt her feelings more by pushing her away & not involving her.

Since then, the phone line between Sheffield and Doncaster has been open. My mom calls me even when she’s too tired, and she always listens when I’m not making any sense. I’ve been open to her opinions, and she’s respected my decisions. I’ve been allowed to cry, and she has lovingly held back her tears until the phone call was over. Our relationship isn’t flawless, but she’s been there every painful step of the way. I’ve never loved my mom more.

Equally, my brother is just as equally amazing. He picks me up from the train station. The other day he went to work 1 hour early so he could call into the doctors to get me an appointment for that day. He is extremely generous and I know that if I ever need anything, he wouldn’t hesitate to help me.

My friends, who are also equally amazing also have to put up with a lot of my shit. My lack of patience now, how I disappear to go to sleep early, hospital/illness/pain talk – like-all-the-time. Friends who live long distances, they have to put up with moaning emails about how I feel. And read these whiney blog-posts. They paid for my medical treatments/appointments in USA. They fed me and made sure I was ok. They make me laugh. They make me truly happy. And I never thank them or show them enough gratitude.

I could go on forever about how amazing my friends and family are. But ultimately I am the lucky one who has got to spend my life learning from some of the best people I know, being completely humbled by their awesomeness, and feeling happy because they’re amazing people. They make me want to be a better person, all the time.

Remember UK friends, it’s mothering Sunday next weekend. I’m planning something BIG for my mom. I hope you do too.

Love you guys,

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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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2013: I started this year, as like last year too, unsure if I would be around to finish it.

I’m sat here, eating a Twizzler that was given to me by my USA friends who I met in London yesterday. How lucky am I with all those values in that sentence? I can travel, I have friends, I have friends who think of me, I’m eating one of my favourite USA Candies!

I started this year, as like last year too, unsure if I would be around to finish it. But here I am, still surprised at the reluctance and strength of the human body and mind,  and at modern medicine. Life naturally changes, it often discriminately changes too, but sometimes in the most beautiful ways.

Here’s some of my 2013 changes, lessons, and awesomeness:

This time last year I was perfecting my personal statement to apply to university to study Radiotherapy & Oncology. I started my new course this year, which 4 months into, I STILL ABSOLUTELY love.  Being super healthy and indifferent before all this stuff happened to me, I had NO idea I was actually interested in medicine – as I had no contact with it, really. And Oncology mostly.  We know from the kind of art I like to make, that in order to understand something I have to be part of it, or try to make the change I want to see from my personal experience (I.E. power struggles).

On my better days, I feel connected to something very big… I like to think my experience happened to me to point me in this direction, ignited a fire of curiosity within me. Hell ,I still have no idea how i even got accepted onto the program with my arts-no-science background – my ambition is to help innovate Radiation Oncology in the future. I’m here now because I needed to understand what’s happening, and also make sure the patient pathway is  always full of the best care and compassion and empathy. Protein make-up of tumors and immunology have really caught my imagination this semester too. To be part of some great changing research in the future would be dope. All of this is extremely important to me. Because, the scary truth is that many of us in the cancer world — both doctors, HCP and patients — are  kind of winging it here, just hoping that the cure  & the disease doesn’t kill us along the way.

My course is a different kind of pace than studying art was, a different way of thinking (as you’d expect, but really!), and still being a freelance Artist makes juggling both jobs hard  – but everything good takes time and it feels worth it.  And i’m so damn lucky to be here, studying this, being part of it and still maintaining my art career!

Another thing is that for all the pain and uncertainty I’ve experienced, I’ve received 10 times that in the love and generosity and devotion from friends, family and even random strangers! I have been constantly over-whelmed by the goodness of people within my life. That’s why this year, I feel like I’ve waned towards childhood fantasies – christmas makes me more excited, i love dinosaurs more & onsies, even more than I did when I was a kid! It’s a great “grey-area “to be in because I’m discovering the wonder of mystery again, the possibility of things unseen — and mostly – the joy of savoring the moment before it’s gone.

When you think you’re dying  (and surprisingly don’t ) eating Twizzler’s at 12:18am doesn’t faze you. This year  I’ve ticked more stuff of the good ol’ bucketlist. But strangely most things that got ticked off – was only possible because others made it possible!

One of my favourite artists, role-models – and over-all-inspirational-good-guy William Powhida made me my own piece of art! (6 months on, I’m still awe-struck & completely made up with this) Bucketlist TICK! , My mom bought me a gorgeous cookbook this christmas so I can tick off [Learn to cook], A friend who is an amazing woodsmith showed me how to carve wood- basically, I’ve sort of worked for a start-up this year (but I could expand on this), soon I’ll be able to bike a part of the tour-De-France as they’re opening up a route via Sheffield! Friends and I megabus-ed to Paris to see it at Christmas,  I swung on a trapeze, splashed in the ocean and lakes, saw breath-taking sunsets and sunrises around the world, rode horseback across a desert, did another USA roadtrip with my friends and all I seemed to eat was pretzel bites and jalapeño cheese & chips for lunch, because, what the hell. I went to the movies a billion-times. I threw coins into fountains and made wishes. Made lots of new friends, learnt a bit of Italian (That I’ve kind of forgotten), learnt that my French is absolutely terrible, and that I’m definitely an “arty type” rather than a “sciencey type”. And I opened my skeptical heart to love again.

I’ve learnt that I’m crappy at a lot of stuff (like saying medical words, gawd it’s hard, and getting up early), but my friends are phenomenal at being there for me and helping me go about the business of living. We all need miracles. There’s nothing like reality to make you trust in the impossible. These miracles are also your mom and your  brother and your grandmother and all your funny, spirited, kind friends. These miracles are every tender moment of your life, which disappears with every tick of the clock, and, I have no doubt, every fantastic adventure you have yet to come. The miracles are part of all of us, at every age, still willing to give, still willing to hope…

And so here’s my hope. I wish and hope that all my friends and family are surrounded by the people and things that they love. That 2014 is full of beautiful, amazing, simple and complex adventures and ideas and happiness and health for you. I hope that these experiences keep helping me to be a better person, a better friend,  a better health-care-professional, a better artist, just generally better.

Keep being awesome yo. Friends, thanks for the support. Here’s to more learning, more drawing, more motivation and healthy happy thoughts for 2014! 🙂

Happy (early-UK) Thanksgiving, Friends this is for you.

As my American friends will know, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving a week early here in the UK. But never the less. HAPPY UK THANKSGIVING FRIENDS.

Today I am grateful (& everyday, of course). My thoughts on suffering, empathy, and community responsibility have been completely re-shaped and shifted over the course of the journey of illness. New convictions will reveal themselves as life gives me opportunities to feel them, I’m sure.

And now I state it all the time, but it’s because I hardly said it before. I’m truly blessed & thankful for my amazing & supportive family: My mom, Bro & Nan! And for all my wonderful, ever-courageous & kind & giving friends, new & old! I can only do what I do because of y’all. And I owe you all so much more!

Thanks for being awesome. 🙂

Love & Light & survivorship & belief.

Smizz!

The Promise That I Made To Myself: To Never Waste More Time (3 months on)

I made myself a promise over 3 months ago. That if my time on the earth is cut short, I want to make sure that I use my time properly, and use every single bit of it. But the reality of this in itself is that it’s actually quite difficult.

A few months ago, I got told that I could have Lymphoma (big LOL) – impossible right? So after living life like a vagabond on the road and swimming in the Pacific ocean, and eating so much good food that it was unreal, I came home to see if I really did have this disease. However, things aren’t that simple. My Doctors don’t like American Doctors telling them how to do their job so it seems. They think they’re all about getting money from Patients and that I can wait for these tests, wait until things get really bad essentially.

I found a GP I feel like I like and can trust (which is rare for me!) – I don’t know why, he won’t let me talk about my symptoms. He keeps telling me to “Just ignore it and continue with life as normal” Like I haven’t? I think on some sort of subconscious level, this is why I like this dude as my doctor. He really just says what he thinks. I think this is because he’s Italian or something.

Anyways, he ordered some more bloodtests and something COMPLETELY different came up. Something I had NO IDEA WAS WRONG WITH ME. I’m pretty sure it’s completely separate from my other symptoms (or at least kind of hope?).  Again the Italian was cool and very collected about it. Asked me a bunch of crazy questions (including whether i’m body building, mega LOL – you just need to take 1 look at me to know that that ain’t happening!) and then said he was sending me for an ultrasound scan and more bloodtests and to ‘not freak out’ (He think’s i’m a hypacondriact thanks to the US doctor recommendation, or at least someone who wakes up in the morning, every morning – even when i was healthy – thinking everything was cancer – this is simply not true as until this year I hadn’t even gone to the doctors in 15 years!) I came home and googled it straight away what these elevated results could mean, because that’s what i do! I’m educated enough to be able to refine, and edit the answers and not jump to any rash dramatic answers.

But I soon discovered that unlike the bone ache, night-sweat, fatigue, lumps, nosebleed combo – which can be almost anything from TB, to flu, to Mono, to Lymphoma. These elevated bloodtests only mean 3 things in a woman. And that’s it. All 3 options sound pretty gnarly too. The best opinion is that I’m going to be infertile & look forward to a future of shitty health problems including heart-attacks and so forth. Or 2 different types of cancer/tumours  – which aren’t Lymphoma. FML.  Bone ache is going to have to wait, apparently.

Meanwhile, last week i watched Hurricane Sandy flood peoples lives, and terrorise huge communities.  I was honestly scared for my East Coast friends who have now become family.

I tell you all of this because the difference between life and death is remarkably small. And it’s not until you face it directly that you realize your own mortality. Us humans are the only animal where we think of the future, as a motivation and as a result makes us quite optimistic.  We usually think about the future as though it will occur for us with absolute certainty, and that makes it hard to imagine death as a motivation for living. The C-card came up for me, in many different ways unexpectedly, or something random like a storm could literally make a tree fall on top of you, which is forcing me to contemplate my personal drive for existence.

I pledged to live my life as fully as possible 3 months ago, as though I had nothing to lose. It was easy when I was on the road, in a different country because I had lots of dollars, and it really wasn’t real-life, I consciously tried to fight against the status quo, that was the point of the roadtrip.

It’s so easy to get stuck in the waiting place, putting things off until later, even when those things are vitally important to making your dreams come true. But the truth is that, in order to make progress, you need to physically and mentally fight against the momentum of ordinary events.

It’s the fight that matters. You have to remember to go against your instinct, to confront the ordinary!

This is, of course,  extremely mentally and physically taxing. I’ve been feeling the fight very slowly fade since I’ve been back: work, money and cold weather whilst feeling poorly really makes it so much easier to fall back into meaningless routine. And I DON’T WANT to once again become a cog in the machine called quo. So I keep writing blog posts like this to remind me, and you, that we should live the best life we can.

Despite saying I can feel the fight beginning to fade, I’m sure it’s just because it’s not as exciting as a 18 state roadtrip. But in keeping to my promise, and getting to what is the meat and bones important: since I’ve been back, I have re-connected with ALL of my friends, even friends I haven’t seen in 6 years!! I try and buy my mom a surprise every few weeks, I keep cooking for her so she knows I’m thinking of her. Everything is YOLO. I love the wind in my hair on my bike, I love that I now notice how beautiful the leaves look on the trees. I try to actively get up earlier so I can do more with my day.

Doing something remarkable with your life is tough work, and it helps to remember one simple, motivating fact: in a blink, you could be gone. To paraphrase Steve Jobs: remembering that you are going to die is the best way you can avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You really have nothing to lose.

I sometimes feel like I’m being tested through this journey to remind myself and to help me get to what I wanna do. I feel like I’ve grown up for a second time. Fight. Live your dreams and aspirations now. Be who you want to be.

Here’s to being and becoming!

And just as a quick tip, please everyone – Prostate & Ovarian cancers are silent killers because you don’t have any symptoms until it’s spread. Please have regular check ups, and also see your doctor if you think things with your body aren’t right. Sometimes, you really have to be your own health advocate. This is something I would have never ever thought about until I was at least 30 ha!

What Happens in Memphis, stays in Memphis (& New Orleans) Roadtrip continued

 

SUNDAY Memphis (continued)

We get to Memphis. And we already know that it’s PARTY TIME because we change CD and this CD has 2pac -Changes & Sean Paul – Get Busy on it. ( a song that basically captures my life when I was 15 and when i had a crush on my Jamaican Biology teacher at the time so i listened to a lot of dancehall music) So you know it’s ON.

 

[THE NEXT PART OF THE STORY HERE WILL BE A SEPARATE POST WHEN WE ALL RETURN HOME]

 

We check into an Econolodge – for mega cheap bucks. It comes with 2 double beds, which look soooooo good after sleeping in a car onto of each other for over 11 hours. The first thing we do is fight for a SHOWER! oh the simple pleasures that life offers us. Katka asks about beer. She is beside herself at the prospect that not only can she smoke in the hotel, she can swim AND smoke AND drink a beer at the same time. Her vacation is made.

 

We leave the hotel, feeling so fresh and so clean, clean. Grab a great sausage hot dog from a real Memphis BBQ in the park with a music and craft festival going on just off Beale Street. Katka can’t believe that she can buy 1.5 pints of booze IN the Street for only $5, and take it into another bar, or just drink it on the street. She announces that this is her favourite place ever. We go into a soul bar, and have an amazing time dancing listening to a great jazz-soul live band. I buy an ice-cream and catch a cab home around 12:30 am. Leaving the others to party. They come back around

2pm. Josh literally passes out on the floor, Rado brings full huge glasses of beers and puts them onto of the TV.

 

Monday – Memphis – New Orleans

 

We stay in bed until 9. I get up. The others don’t move. I upload photo’s on Facebook – keeping to my job. It’s nearly 11 – check out time and I decide to wake the others up. We ask for a later check-out time. And bounce. We get amazing super awesome cheap italian food for under $7. And everything is great in the world. The others announce that they can’t remember anything from 12:30 onwards and wonder where they got these wrist bands from. They blame not drinking for 3 days on their ability to get smashed on $40 worth of beer between them.

 

I go to do laundry. It takes us literally 4 attempts at finding coin operate laundrettes. Clearly everyone seems to own their own washer or pays the dry cleaners to do it for them. We end up in the back end of Memphis, at the most ghetto laundoromat that i have ever seen. out of 50 washing machines only 5 of them don’t have a ‘out of order’ sticker on. The place is run by the nicest woman though, who knows all the tricks to get the machines working, including bumming a door shut in a weird way to make the washing machine start. That in itself was worth the trip.

 

We take this time to clean the car and buy some much needed febreeze to cover the smell we have gained from sleeping and eating in the car. We meet up with the others who went to the Rock and Roll museum, clearly my priorities are not in order.

 

We drive the 6 hours to NEW ORLEANS. Rado notices that the light at the back of the car isn’t turning off. We tell him to leave it. but it also turns out that Rado has a tiny bit of OCD in him. He constantly changes the air-conditioning by the smallest amounts – ‘to make it just right’. We have to pack the trunk of the car in order of bags. My suitcase always goes first. And he has to park the car in the same place if we drive to the same location.

 

So Rado ends up breaking the light to the point that it falls out of the roof. It takes him another hour to fix it and put it back to normal.  The drive is a breeze. We all chat and learn about people we don’t really know. Our drunkeness and unspoken about event has brought us more closer together. We stop off at a gas station on the way down because of course Rado and Kafka are hungry. This gas station is like the cheapest i’ve ever been to.  They go wild at how cheap it is for 3 mini burgers, fries and huge large coke for $4. Shaggy and myself decide not to indulge (plus the burger meat looked a bit like cat food) and wait it out for a big meal in New Orleans. I do however get a 59cent ice cream! 59cents!

 

We get to New Orleans around 11pm, and Smizz’s amazing price line reservations comes up again. Pelham Hotel looked like the BOMB. It was classy, boutique like, the rooms were beautiful and part of a great looking building and only 2 blocks away from the french quarter. When I check in we go to the room to find wood shavings and paint buckets on the floor. it takes me a while to gage the situation. at first i was like, oh well. there’s wood on the floor and was going to ignore it. But then I spotted the paint buckets and thought better of it (i’m notorious for avoiding anything where i have to complain to someone about something). So i went downstairs, they apologised and gave us an even bigger room. SCORE.

 

We then dumped our stuff,  and of course get straight onto the free wifi like tramps on chips. We then decide at 11:30ish to search for the great food we had talked about for 6 hours down. Steak, shrimp, gumbo. Yeah. But of course New Orleans at night at midnight closes down and is only open for partying. It’s not New York City. So we ended up get $5 bowls of decent but not amazing Jambalaya just on Bourbon Street with fountain cokes. We are living the LIFE. We walk the street after the UK Kebab Shop eating style experience but with Cajan food. Josh buys a touristy t-shirt about drinking. The Slovakians buy more pencils (their souvenir of choice for every place we visit). and we head back to the hotel for an early-ish (1.30am) night.

 

In the morning – we have NO IDEA what time it is as our room has no windows. It’s pitch black and drunken Rado had unplugged everything the night before, except setting the alarm which he had set to go off – mega loud. So an alarm goes off. No one except Rado knows where the alarm is ( orin fact that we had an alarm!). He stands on Shag who was sleeping on the floor, and turns it off. We all go back to sleep for 15 minutes. When the alarm goes off again! Ok, so we go back to sleep only to get House-keeping knocking at door almost another 15 minutes later. We tell her to go away! and then we go back to sleep only to get the room phone ringing? We’re like., daymn. New Orleans wants us TO GET THE FUCK UP!

After the phone rings again, we decide it’s time to start the day!  Josh and Shag go to the War Museum, whilst Rado, Katka and myself decide to dedicate our day to Touristing it up!

 

I take many photo’s trying to capture the beautiful architecture. Rado complains that he’s hungry. I have to convince him not to eat at Subway. We end up at an Oyster Bar, where people are wearing bow ties and get seated on a balcony that overlooks the street. I get the best GUMBO EVER. TICK. We have a really great time. We then go on the search for pencils for Rado’s collection. We buy Galato ice-creams, walk along Missippi river, Farmers Market, Go on the Paddle boat, more shops, Go to the Louie Armstrong Park and get drinks. At this point I’m pooped and head back to Hotel to sleep off my tiredness for the night.

 

6 pm comes around sharp. We get ready, get great burgers & Jambalya for the nights antics ahead! We go to a bar playing country music first. i have no idea who decided that. But perhaps it was the fact that there was a mechanical bull inside which sealed the deal!  The crew can’t believe that it only costs $6.50 for 3 beers! Kafka LOVES it. I buy a Hurricane, as i need to tick it off my bucket list. I pay $10 for the biggest strongest cocktail, ever. The drinks keep coming, I keep on drinking the hurricane, a crazy woman with shots comes around. She has rado, he asks how much, she says it’s THREE. He thinks she says it’s FREE. So he does a bunch of shots where she holds test tubes of alcohol in her mouth and pores it into your mouth. He think’s this is super amazing and demands Katka to have some shots from the woman. He then demands Shag to do it, when Shag announces that he’s not paying. Rado is like “Oh no Josh! They are FREE!” We go, no Rado – they’re $3 dollars EACH. He is beside himself. We laugh at his miss fortune. The woman waits around to get paid. She comes back around after we’ve had a few more drinks – i of course am still on the big HURRICANE of a drink!  She tells Shag he must do it because it would make a great photo. I agree. So he does it, he then demands that I do it. It’s one of the most awkward moments of my summer. I’m really not sexy in any-way at all when it comes to stuff like that. I’m like a repressed Brit, you know? I realise that i possibly could have a cavity on my back lower tooth when we do the shot. I paid the woman to find out whether I have cavities or not, thankfully I only seem to have a potential 1. Next up is Josh who manages to get them from the breasts of the woman instead of her mouth. Shag is totally jealous. faux pas player. The shot woman asks to see the photos, she admires that they’re in black and white and says it looks ‘classy’, which isn’t exactly what i would describe them as. She gives me her Facebook and asks me to tagg her in them?! She obviously love black and white photographs.

 

After many beers, $3 body shots and a visit to the dodgy bathrooms later, we bounce and end up dancing on the street. Some how I end up with a drink called ‘Jester’ and I tell Josh he needs to buy a ‘Hand grenade” cocktail. He comes back with some green cherries. I tell him that it’s not a Hand Grenade, we all try them and they’re officially DISGUSTING. We manage to eat them between us. He goes off to try and get the real deal, but comes back with more Cherries. We can’t give them away, and it seems wasteful to waste them so we eat more digesting vodka drenched green cherries.  (Yeah, illuminous green).

 

We end up in a rock bar, Shag is so drunk he dances. The Slovakians pick up another Slovakian. We dance to Journey, and other cliched songs. We shot-gun beers in the street, Josh buys more pizza, Shag runs off to bed, The Slovakians go into a service station style deli for fried chicken. Katka says it’s the best chicken she’s ever had. We stumble back to the hotel. Shag has already passed out. Katka plays Brenda Lee’s christmas album, so Josh tries to cancel it out by playing Notorious BIG. It’s a surreal moment. Katka accepts defeat and Josh tries to call his mom via Skype, drunk. I shower, because I’m a responsible tipsy drunk and all 3 of us try sleeping in the same bed. Katka leaves White Flag by Dido on repeat on a low level on her tablet. We wake up in the morning to Dido, White Flag – still playing.

 

We pick up the car from the valet (because we’re just that classy with out black and white shot photos). And start the journey onwards to Austin TX. We have a long 9 hour drive across LA and Texas.

 

 

Making the most of my time: The Roadtrip Begins

My friend sent me this awesome quote ina  great email yesterday:

“We shall never have more time.  We have, and have always had, all the time there is.
No object is served in waiting until next week or even until tomorrow.
Keep going..Concentrate on something useful.”   -Arnold Bennett-

As recently, I can’t get out of my head just the potential of the idea that I have less time in this life than what I bargained for. With everyday I feel more tired, or every stabbing pain in my abdomen or everytime I feel the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck & under my arms.  Although I am 100% sure I will be OK, as well, everyone keeps saying i will be OK in the end (including tarot card readers, and dodgy healers), it’s just about the ‘journey’ – or something like that. But I definately want to take quality over quantity. Any day, any time! It’s almost selfish, but I don’t care.

And that’s why it was imperative for me to do the roadtrip instead of going home a few weeks earlier like recommended.

The plan, for now: I have some time, and if I use it well, it will be more than enough. I want to do everything this trip, that I’ve used excuses for normally – like money, fear, failure, time, ect.  I’m going to immerse myself in the Pacific Ocean – which I haven’t done in over 2 years. I’m going to watch the sunrise and sunset in many different time-zones on different types of rocks and landscapes, I’m gonna make hobo-dinners (sANDY iSLANd thing), try food I normally wouldn’t, and write, draw and take photos along the way.

I want to gamble in Vegas, roll around in some beach sand, feel the infinite power of the universe from the skys up above in the desert lands of the south west. I want to eat some proper shrimp from New Orleans, even though I hate seafood, and dance on the streets.

As my friend Alex said the other day, I’m going to tick things off my bucket-list I didn’t even know were on my bucket-list.Image

So the ROADTRIP – — – IT STARTS NOW!

FIRST UP —- PHILLY & DC – DAY 1. Friday. Get this bitches.

Smizz’s top 10 movies of 2010 PART 1 (10-6)

Yes, there is indeed still a week or 2 left in 2010 – of which  a movie of a high calibre could be released. However, in the UK, we get movies released behind our USA contemporaries… from as little as 1 week to a gapping 1 year gap! I’m a movie fanatic. I’ve seen pretty much everything (with the exception of real crap like Twilight – or ‘twishite’ as I like to call it). I have one of those Cineworld ‘unlimited’ cards – only £13.50 ($20.00) a month for unlimited free movies at the movie theatre. Bargin! Even when I was in America I would still attempt to see at least 1 movie a week or 3 movies a week after I finished working and started traveling. So… wasting no more time… drum-roll please!

We will start with number 10 on the Smizz movie chart.

10 – Winter’s Bone

Admittedly, this movie is probably not for everyone.  Based on the novel, Winter’s Bone is a neo-noir stark, harrowingly poetic depiction of a young girls life who is searching for her missing dad.  She learns that her father, who cooks methamphetamine, had been arrested and put up their house and land for bail bond. If he doesn’t show up for court, they will lose their house, and she must find him.   The cinematography of the film is breath-taking and gripping, and superbly well acted! A real thriller, forget those trashy horrors such as SAW. (yes, even if it is in 3D. )

9 – The Kids Are Alright

A cracking work from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as feuding lesbian moms, and a bespoke part for Mark Ruffalo (who is super hot, ya digg?!) as the oblivious sperm donor who comes back into their lives. Director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko has made a spectacular breakthrough with this plum comedy of eye-rolling dysfunctionality.

8 – Inception

So, I put Inception at a 8  because it is kind of over-hyped at the moment. Regardless – Love it or loathe it – and rival sections of the geekosphere did both – there was nothing to match Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending dreamscapes for giddying spectacle and scale this summer. Quite a ride and much needed philosophical mind tipping to fill the void of no Matrix-film-philosophy for a while. (see my big write up on it earlier this month).

7- Despicable Me

I’m not even going to mention how cool the Parrell Williams produced soundtrack was, but this is a CLASSIC for the kids and the grown-ups. The machine behind “Despicable Me” takes the wacky bits from old school cartoons and applies 21st century animation technology to produce a hip and well articulated masterpiece.  The humor is rich, with winks at classic cinema like “Taxi Driver”, “Apollo XIII”, and others. The Bank of Evil is staffed by former Lehman brothers execs, and recurring motifs and jokes create a comic continuity that is sustained through the credits.

6- Wallstreet 2: Money Never Sleeps

I would suspect that this certainly wouldn’t even reach anyones top 25 movies of 2010, never mind no. 6 of the year! BUT. I really enjoyed it to the point that i actually saw it TWICE!  Maybe it’s my age? I saw WallStreet 1 after I saw 2. But felt that the critics were all just showing their age bias.  we’re treated to a vintage Stone history lesson — the stock market meltdown and Fed intervention as seen through the eyes of the conspiracy buff who served up “J.F.K.” Lovely performances surround the leads — LaBeouf and Michael Douglas, back as Gordon Gekko. Terrific moments of regret play out. Let’s not forget what really seduces the Smizz… New York City play’s a fantastic character in the beautiful cinematography of Wallstreet. ‘If you stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about you.’