Where wonder reigns and hope exists

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Where wonder reigns and hope exists…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love Is Love Is Love: Working To Make Things Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living and giving kindness is the best revenge. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It takes more than biology to be a mom.

Today is mothers day in the UK. I know it’s actually quite a tough time out there for all the people who, sadly,  no longer have their moms in their lives, and all those people who have difficult relationships with their moms currently.

I know the latter feeling, but on fathers day instead. When I was younger, I’d get kind of jealous of people who had these amazing and supportive relationships with their fathers. For me, the first 14 years of my life – my relationship with my father was an extremely strained one. He either wasn’t there at all and when he was, he was a complete dick. He was abusive and an alcoholic. He made my mom, bro and i homeless when I was 15. And I always felt like it was my fault that he didn’t love me.  When I was 19, he tried to make up for his errors, he got in touch after 4 years of disappearing – and I decided to give him a chance, because that’s the buddhist way – but you maybe able to forgive but you can’t forget. Or you can forget but you can’t forgive. I’m not sure which catogry I put myself in.  He’s better than he was before, but maybe that’s because we don’t see each other, but he still has his drinking and his mean side which comes out when he only ever calls me when he’s drunk. Now I’m older, I realized I didn’t need him anyways.

I tell you all this because anyone can be a mother or a father – but it takes more than biology to be a mom or dad.  Whilst I never really had a ‘dad’, I had many people in my life that stepped up and became like a father-role model in my life, and did more than my real father ever did. Although, it takes time for me to trust any man in my life now.

But my mom was both my mom & dad. She was there for everything. She was my rock. She taught me how to fix lights and plugs. She taught me how to cook. She was the person at parents evening, she was the one who saw me off to prom, she gave me boy advise, and bought me my first alcohol underage (working class doncaster parenting). She was the one who would ground me. She was the one who worked 2 jobs to pay the rent. She was the one who has supported my decisions through not 1 but 2 degrees. She’s the one who has moved me between 100’s of university housing, she’s the one who tells me to follow my heart, and never ever tells me to do something because that’s what societally expected of me. Like saving up for flights rather than houses. She’s brought me up to believe in who I am, to never change, to feel safe in trying new things & taking chances because even if I fail she will be there to catch me when I fall and loose everything. And I know this because she was there when I lost everything. When I fell really poorly.

Getting sick was really shit. I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t even watch bbc iplayer.  This though, just made our relationship stronger. She’s been with me every step of the way. She let me off with rent, she tries to cook my favourite dishes to get me to come back home on weekends. She understood why I needed to go into healthcare. She told me to apply for the PhD instead of encouraging a radiotherapy job – because she knows deep down that actually that would probably make me more happy. Getting to combine both of my loves: art and healthcare. Now i feel blessed and grateful for every single extra day that we get together. I never take for granted the time we get alotted, and i know that if i could follow her in her kindness, giving, and work-ethic – i would become a better person.

But the crazy thing is, they say it takes a village to raise a child. And it does. We may only ever have one ‘mom’, but we actually have a lot of moms in our lives. These are the people , our friends, who live 1000’s of miles away who happen to be someone elses mom – but they’re the next person you tell your good news to: like getting your degree, or getting an interview. They’re your friends who when you’re going through a tough time offer to do your washing, or shopping. They’re your friends who pick you up at the hospital. Who send you texts/tweets to see how you’re doing. They’re the professional friends who help you apply for the things you need/want, and take a chance on you, see something in you, and put their neck on the line to help you. Who forgive you when you do something stupid. Who offer their home to you. All of these, asking for nothing in return.

Because that’s what moms do. They give selflessly, make time, not doing something for themselves but for you instead – and they want or ask for nothing in return. So in a way, our good friends are also some of the best moms in our lives.

I’m the person who I am today, because my mom has taught me to be kind, be gentle, be true to yourself. When I felt like I might be dying, all I could think of was my mom. I thought you know, I’ve had this amazing life. And my mom made sure it could be the best it could be despite the horrific poverty and domestic violence we found ourselves in.  We now both know, intrinistictly that nothing is certain, everything is up in the air, and our time is limited – so we never take anything for granted and we both encourage each other to YOLO. regularly.

Sometimes people tell me they think I’m independent. But actually this is just something my mom has taught me because she’s one of the most strongest, courageous, and incredibly giving, resourceful and resilient people I’ve ever met. And without her I would be truly lost. I love you mom, and I am forever grateful for every minute we get together and for all the sacrifices you give us.

Happy mothers day to all the amazing moms our there, whether its our real mom, or  our friends who fill in those motherly roles from time to time.

Thanks for understanding my heart. It means so much to me. Big shout out to all the work and chances you give us all.

For those who find today difficult, you’re not alone. I’m here 🙂

Much love,

Your friend, smizz x

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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,

Smizz! tumblr_mjf3us12zI1rkovepo1_1280

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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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!

Today I go to the Big Sur: A place I never thought I’d ever get to.

Today I go to the Big Sur: A place I never thought I’d ever get to. Mainly because I can’t drive – and how else would I get there. The hotels are expensive and there’s no public transport that goes close.  But I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go here, even for a few hours. Just to see it. I want to see the purple sand, I want to climb across the cliff tops. Feel real. Go to that place that Jack Kerouac writes about, that the kid in Into The Wild runs aways to.

I hope it’s as beautiful as i think it will be. And even if it’s not. I don’t care. I got there.

In less than a weeks time, my dream trip will be over. I will be on a plane going home to confirm whether I really do have Lymphoma, or hopefully something less dramatic.

And yet, here I am, I’ve never felt so alive (despite, you know, feeling yucky still). I got to spend the summer on an island in the middle of a beautiful lake in New Hampshire doing arty stuff,  spent lots of time in Boston with friends, reconnecting with old friends on the road, and make new friends along the way. I don’t think I’ve laughed as constantly as much as I have done in years. I just saw the sun set and rise above the clouds, on the beach, on the road, over the Grand Canyon, in the dessert, on the Mississippi, over skylines and rooftops and the clearest night skies in the world. I visited Napa, Santa Cruz, Monterey and soon the Big Sur for the first time, and ticked things off the bucketlist which I had no idea were on there. Ate the freshest fruits, the greatest foods. I’ve just seen 18 states in one roadtrip. I take a flight back to the East Coast tomorrow, where my friend is going to pick me up at 1am in the morning at JFK to take me back to New England to spend time with more of my friends – for just 2 nights -and see the real beginning of the foliage and drive me back to NYC to spend my last days in USA with my new-york-adopted family.

It took me a potential life-threatening “unifying diagnosis” for me to see just how loved I am. And how grateful I am just to be loved. Dear friends, I am humbled and grateful for your support and your love. I’m not a lovey-dovey type – My street-cool-edge-britishness doesn’t allow such a thing. But I know i don’t say it enough. But i love you all.

Whatever the outcome: Here’s to living life, how it should be lived – minute by minute.Happiness only exists when shared.

Gratitude Journal

A few days ago I followed a link to one of my awesome artist friend’s blogs (check it here). On this blog she wrote a list, now any regular reader of my blog will know I love a good list! On this list was a reference to an iphone/ipad app called Gratitude Journal.

Apparently with this app you write down five things you are grateful for each day in your Gratitude Journal and your life will change forever. Do this for at least one month.

I’m pretty sure life won’t change forever (i am a cynical Brit though). However, list keeping keeps me and my productivity and goals in check. The only major problem I have with this app is that – yes – it’s for people who are already RICH enough to own an iphone or ipad. Yeah. I’m guessing if you own either or both, your life is already kinda sweet! But never fear, just ‘cuz i’m so poor I can’t afford an iphone or ipad (she says typing on her sexy macbook pro) doesn’t mean I can’t change my life forever.

Plus who knows, if i really do have something horrible like lymphoma, then who knows how long i will be around for! I gotta start being (more) thankful and living the life i should live: To the max.

So here it is: http://runningsmizzlol.tumblr.com/ The new smizz gratitude journal.  <——-

 

Lets see if my life really does change, foeverrrr. (Or at least my attitude 😉 )

The rules?

  • Each day write down at least five good things
  • Add photos, rate the day, record the weather and bookmark
  • Do this everyday for a month and see your attitude change

A Valentines Day message for YOU!

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

– L.P. Jack from his Education Through Recreation, published in 1932.

Let’s not cross examine this with a Post-Fordist, neo-liberal critique, but remind us to do what we love. Let your passion be an incredible motivator.