Writer. Podcaster. Crepuscular pedestrian. Hero of our times.
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Big Issue column: Public Service Announcements

You're an adult

Remember how when you were a kid you really wanted to be an adult? Even if it was just to get revenge on your parents for Brussels sprouts and not being able to go to parties, we’ve all had at least one moment of thinking “When I’m grown up, I’m not going to do that”. Eat vegetables, pay bills, groan about the younger generation being The Absolute Worst.

Then, of course, as an adult, you don’t do all the things you swore you’d do, like eat only chocolate or never shower or just watch your favourite shows all day. You save those things for weekends. Point is, it’s a cliche, but youth is wasted on the young. You wanted to be all grown up and now that you are, you realise that being grown up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

Except it is. Sure, there are bills and the world isn’t so simple anymore and there are, well, other idiot adults to deal with, but perhaps it is time to remember, and to celebrate, the significant privileges of being an adult human.

You’re an adult. Congratulations. This is a Public Service Announcement.

You can put your hand out the window of a moving car, do those little waves up and over the wind, swerving from side to side so the wind billows up your sleeve. You can park your elbow out the window at the lights like a handsome cowboy slash cowgirl rolling into town with a mysterious way about you and nothing to lose.

You can take a drink outside and look at the stars. You can. Any time you like. Cup of tea. Something with ice in it. Just you and the drink and your own breathing, surrounded by night time.

You get to experience the lows, sure, but also the highs of adult connection. The gut-punch of sudden affection when you unexpectedly see someone you love. A hand slipping into yours when you weren’t paying attention. A night time kiss. Laughter that might never stop. Creative collaborations. Work friends. It’s kind of a miracle anybody gets along at all and yet, even as adults, complex and misshapen by our previous adventures, we manage to fit together, sometimes, in small ways, and that’s lovely. 

Doesn’t matter how old you are, if you see an owl in the wild you will gasp. Some of you will gasp quietly, some of you will just stop still and grab the forearm of the person next to you with a certain degree of urgency, but technically all these responses are part of the same emotional genre as a gasp. It’s a fact. If you don’t believe me, ask an owl. They’ve seen us all do it.

You can change another person’s day. Deliberately. With kindness. You can make someone laugh or fix someone’s problem or let someone in front of you in the queue. Apparently, scientists have studied this and one of the key ways to make someone like you is by letting them do you a favour. Being altruistic is empowering and loving and kind and really quite good for your ego. Give it a go.

You can jump in a car or a train and put a day’s worth of travel between you and whatever you’re doing right now and you don’t even need a note from a parent or guardian. Think about it. You could go anywhere. Even an hour’s travel will take you somewhere unfamiliar.

Ice cream. Whenever you want it. Shut up, it’s worth it.  

You can literally go to a machine and type in whatever thing it is in the world that you want and someone somewhere on earth will post it to your house in a parcel from yourself in the past to yourself in the future.

You can be entirely solitary. You can walk through the forest and feel your voice mute in your throat. You can float on the sea with your ears clogged and your lips salty, looking at the sky. You can sing to yourself in the shower.

You can change an animal’s whole life. Enjoy the leaping glee of a dog every day, or the late night purr of a cat, usually somewhere a bit annoying like draped across your neck and breathing into your face. They bring your blood pressure down, animals, when they’re not destroying things. 

Being an adult isn’t terrible at all. Some of it might be, but a lot of it is absolutely sublime. It’s what you make it. Go and gasp at an owl. This has been a Public Service Announcement.

This column originally appeared in The Big Issue. Go and buy one why don't you. 

Lorin Clarke
You vs The Fat Cats

Having one of those days? Is every day one of those days? Do you sometimes wonder what happened to the days that aren’t one of those ones? Did you use up the other kind when you were a kid, maybe? Or was someone else accidentally allocated yours? Some rich fat cat in a private jet cashing in easy day after easy day while you stumble to the finish line at midnight at the end of “one of those days”, passing out face-first on a pile of washing you haven’t managed to fold yet, some of which presses into your face in such a way that when you startle awake again you have a plaid cheek. The rich fat cat does not have a plaid cheek. The rich fat cat owes you.

There are, however, some things that exist, even on those days, that nobody - not the rich fat cats, not anybody - can take away from you. Here is a list of some of those things. This is a Public Service Announcement.

There have been moments in your life when you have been sitting on the beach and you have maybe had your knees up and you’ve been looking down at the sand because you have been listening to somebody else speak and also it’s super sunny so looking down is easier and you have been playing in the sand with your hands. Swishing it around into little patterns, maybe digging a bit and then smoothing it out. People’s voices sound somehow louder and also further away. There are waves in the distance and someone is yelling something about a ball, and everything you’re thinking and doing is slow and you don’t have to be anywhere. The chances of a human being born at all are tiny. The chance of you being the combination of cells you are is preposterously unlikely. How lucky are you to have had even one of those moments in your life? Ludicrously lucky. And it’s just sitting there, on your hard drive, helping to make you who you are.

If you have never done any of these things: great. A new experience awaits. Try it this summer. Preferably often.  

Waterfalls exist. So do pineapples.

That thing where you see a new side of someone you love, like your work friend singing in the local production of Little Shop of Horrors, or your brother being looked up to by the people he works with as though he isn’t just a kid in anchor pyjamas watching Disney on the couch. That feeling is strangely dislocating in that you feel slightly left out but also burn with pride. 

Sitting somewhere where your legs dangle. Preferably while eating an ice cream.

Big tough blokes quietly being nice to cats.  Will also take small dogs. Extra points for quiet talking.

People reading the same books as you on public transport are literally thinking the exact same things in the exact same order. People are kind of amazing.

There a misconception that small talk is without value because it is shallow and insincere. I nevertheless put it to you that small talk is instinctual, positive, hopeful, and based on a firm belief in the ability of people to cooperate. It’s one of those rare genres of human behaviour where, barring occasional awkwardness or cruelty, it’s difficult not to think we’re kind of cute how we can’t help talking to each other. If you’re feeling stuck: go to the shops. Don’t buy anything, just bump into people. You’ll be part of something, in a small, quite dorky way, before you know it.

The calming down of the water in downpipes after a big rainstorm is such a lovely sound. Nature, cleaning up after itself.

The lovely moments of human intimacy that are not romantic but are nevertheless small declarations of love. I remember realising somebody was a friend when she reached forward mid-sentence, pinched my arm ever so slightly, and said “ant”, flicking her hand over her shoulder. You can’t help smiling when those ones happen.

Life is full of little things that no rich fat cats can take away from you. Find yours. They’re worth holding onto. This has been a Public Service Announcement.

This column appeared in The Big Issue, which you should support whenever you can. 

Lorin Clarke
Kind of lovely

Some things are lovely. No, shoosh, they are. Despite everything. Despite what Twitter says. Despite what “studies show”. Despite “news” and the inevitable crushing disappointment brought about by people who are in what is perhaps mistakenly (a printing error?) described in the handbook as positions of “leadership”. Despite whatever sits heavily within you. Some things are kind of lovely.

Here are some of those things. This is a public service announcement. 

A packet of untouched Derwent pencils.

The moon cut clean in half.

Owls: superb. Terrifying eyes, amusing head swivelling business, some of them bark like a dog. What more could anybody ask.

Watching someone make dumplings. It’s like brain yoga.

Sliding on your socks to cut down on travel time across a room.

A well-made bed.

Blossom. For real! Blossom!

The electrifying, childish, intensely charged feeling of lying in bed and blatantly ignoring the sensible voice in your head by turning the page to the next chapter despite the time.

The smell of crayons.

Other people’s houses. Other people’s bookshelves. The things they have on their fridge.

Those nude eucalyptus trees with the bark hanging off them in big brown skirts down the bottom.

The handwriting of people you have loved.

Banksias.

Sun on your back on a cool day.

The fact that everyone in the whole world, no matter who they are, does that thing where they have to open their mouth when they absent-mindedly touch their eyelid.

Fires. Especially those ones in big tin buckets outside at parties.

The older woman in the post office the other day getting help with her phone from a teenager. He felt useful, she felt that a genius had uncovered a secret to the universe. 

The expression “sleepy head”.

Community markets. There is something so openly hopeful about people sitting behind stalls at a community market. Whether it’s a farmer’s market, a church market, or a local swap meet, it’s kind of the best of society. Walk around, you’ll see keen morning faces behind tables of things people have chosen to present to the world, smiling shyly, or knitting furiously, chatting to the person in the next stall selling honey candles, or pretending not to care as you pass them by. I have a friend who can’t go to marketsbecause she’s too empathetic and she buys all the things from the people who don’t have people buying from them. Comes home from the market with a plastic doll with no pants on, a weird new type of vegetable peeler, and a painting by an old man who runs an almond farm. Point is, markets are lovely. Go to a market. Real communities live there.

Home made cubbies.

Shoes lined up in a row.

Spices cooking.

Weaving your hand through the air out the car door on a hot day.

Amusing text message exchanges. Sometimes the best work you do all week can be some really excellent texting. 

The smell inside an Italian restaurant. 

New pyjamas.

Old-fashioned names in inked cursive in the front of old books.

The rickety-yikes of walking across a suspension bridge and having to trust that other humans have done this right. They’ve never met you, but they’ve got your life in their hands.

Fruit design. Almost all of them are brilliant, with the exception of a couple of the melons and, arguably, the slightly risky avant-garde design of the passionfruit. Imagine you’re a designer and you’re told to come up with a new fruit and you come up with the kiwifruit or the watermelon, though. Imagine how pleased you’d be with yourself. One is a furry brown thing with a symmetrically perfect exploding green sunshine of taste inside it and the other is a big tough ball of turtle-skin green full of mouth-melting pink fuzz that you can cut into pieces so that you hold the skin and don’t get it everywhere. Hopefully they were designed in different years so that they didn’t both have to be up for Fruit Design of the Year in the same year, or it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Also you know what? The word marmalade is a lovely word and also it means marmalade. Sometimes life is cruel and unfair but then, just when you’d almost forgotten about it, there’s marmalade.

You can do it. Sniff some crayons. Admire your fruit. This has been a Public Service Announcement.

An edited version of this column appears in The Big Issue. Buy The Big Issue next time you see someone selling it. It makes a difference in a real actual human way.

Lorin Clarke
Be Prepared

Did you know that organised people have first aid kits in their glove boxes just in case? Smart, hey? You never know when someone might need CPR or a bandaid or one of those little vials of saline solution. It’s always good to be prepared.

Sometimes though, if you’re feeling below par, it’s not because you need a bandaid.

Here, then, is a first aid kit for non-medical misadventure and malady. Like most first aid kits it will probably stay in your boot and save nobody, but it’s important to have it there just so you know. 

If you ever do have to pull over in an emergency, the fact that you have carried these small antidotes around with you may help provide you with some degree of emotional immunity. It may not. You may need to crack open a chocolate bar or something instead. Still, it can’t hurt. You never know when you might need small, helpful facts about the universe to put things in perspective. This is a Public Service Announcement.

The untouched top of a new jar of peanut butter or vegemite - smooth and evenly poured, sometimes with a little dollop on the top - is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold and I don’t care what anybody thinks. 

Writing on a napkin with a biro is lovely. The letters carve a soft engraving and if the napkin is good enough quality, something about it makes your handwriting better.

Sometimes you’re amazing at really small things and it feels like you should get a round of applause or have someone from a professional organisation give you some kind of official credit for it. We have a really tricky gate at our house that has to be closed in a particular way. I don’t like to boast, but sometimes I can do it first time. It involves getting a good run up, perfect aim, and a flourish on the follow-through. Several times, on a perfect close, I have looked around to see if anybody noticed, resisting the urge to raise my arms in victory. If there were a spotter from the Difficult Gate Shutting League in my neighbourhood on those occasions, I just know I would get accreditation for sure. Lifetime membership of the DGSL, no doubt. You’re amazing at a small thing. Give yourself a round of applause next time.

Tree roots are excellent. They do not care for our shenanigans. Up through the earth, splitting our best-laid concrete and asphalt, like slow motion earth quakes, a metaphor for the quiet strength of nature. Plus they hold up trees! Plus have you ever stood on one in bare feet? Watch a child standing on a tree root and see if they can stop from standing on top and then slipping the arches of their feet down over the root repeatedly, their concave slipping over the convex like a jigsaw. An instinct of rhythm and touch. A theatrical stage and a foot massage at the same time.

Listening sharpens the mind. Listening to nature, to conversation, to spoken word performance, to music. Amazing that you can get your information through sounds that your brain decodes for your imagination. No wonder you sometimes feel tired.  

How good is it when the moon is amazing and you can’t even photograph it because when you try with your phone camera the glorious miracle that is the moon looks like it could be a dirty street light or something and there’s nobody you can tell and you just have to look at the moon and think “it’s just me and you, kid, and you’re blowing my mind” and you know that lots of people, all around the world, are looking at the same moon and you know their lives are full of different things and some of them are sad things and some of them are happy things and some of them are old faces peering up and some of them are young faces peering up and you might one day meet some of those faces, in fact they might even change your life forever, but it’s statistically unlikely that you will ever know even the smallest percentage of them, and if you ever do, you’ll never know. But maybe your phone camera is better than mine.

Always remember to replenish your emotional first aid kit when you can. Look at the moon. Shut the gate like a legend. Stand on a tree root with your shoes off. This has been a Public Service Announcement.  

This is an edited version of a regular column for the heroic magazine and social enterprise The Big Issue. Buy a copy next time you see one.  Maybe buy two.

Lorin Clarke
Neatly folded knitwear

This is a public service announcement. The following useful reminders are to be deployed liberally and, where necessary, repeatedly. Best enjoyed with food, or without. Standing, sitting, lying, or doing that weird thing that happens in a beanbag. A cup of tea is, as is the case in life generally, recommended but by no means compulsory. Cake optional.

Let us begin. Here are some things to remember at all times. Pay close attention.

There is a certain type of turtle, already an excellent animal by any measure, that is able, when required, to breathe through its bottom.

There is nothing bad about bare footprints in the sand. They feel good. They look good. They get washed away by a body of water that is powered by the moon.

The average age of a first time novelist is just under forty years old. Just because you might feel a hundred and ten sometimes doesn’t mean you can’t try something for the first time.

Sunsets exist. Everywhere.

Not only that, but due to the way the earth curves and light travels, when you’re looking at the sun sinking into the horizon, it’s actually already gone. It’s a fact and a pretty picture and a trick all at the same time.

Sometimes, someone might leave the house, and you’re alone, and you’re pottering about, and you go and touch the kettle and it’s warm and something about that makes the silence feel less silent because it feels like the now absent person saying a quiet hello from the half-an-hour-ago past. Or something. Or maybe it doesn’t and that’s just me but either way you’re probably about to make a cup of tea, so that’t an excellent development.

Babies laugh in their sleep. With virtually no life experience, some deep human instinct finds delight and bursts with it through the thick sleep of unconsciousness.

Somebody thought of the name for cinnamon. Who was that? Did it sound right immediately? Or is it just that after a lifetime of associating the word ‘cinnamon’ with the taste and smell of cinnamon, it feels dusty and sweet and subtle and comforting? Would it work if it were called ‘yarp’?

You know what’s an amazing feat of engineering? The human ear. No kidding. Have a look at a diagram of the human ear. It has a little bouncy garage door type thing and a drum and a filter and a drainage system. Superb work in the planning and development stages on that particular project.

There are some species of bird that travel across the globe at the same time each year, as a group, beaten to a pulp by the elements, risking their lives, and the main thing that enables them to do this is that they can sleep with one eye open and only use half their brain at a time. It is arguable that humans deploy similar skills when watching reality television or secretly live tweeting a staff meeting but these birds shut down parts of their brains quite purposefully in order to cross the earth while half asleep. What a bunch of legends.

Neatly folded knitwear in colour-sorted rows: retail perfection. 

While we’re at it: seeing someone you are getting to know but don’t yet know terribly well deploying their organisational and creative capacity to deal with a new season is incredibly revealing of a person’s character. Are you, for instance, a one-umbrella type of person? Was it expensive? Do you keep the umbrella sleeve in a special compartment in your bag or is it too big for a sleeve? Do you carry a cloth for wiping it down? Or… does your umbrella policy involve attempting to remember whether you own an umbrella, finding one you don’t remember buying (misshapen and unbound) and swearing at the broken little wire skeleton bits that fling out like drunk mosquitos and slap you until you find another one in a bar and walk it home at four in the morning? Do you scarf or do you never scarf? When it’s raining and there is no cover, do you do the flattened rain run or are you too good for that? A new season reveals a lot. Pay close attention.

These are important considerations. Hold them close. This has been a public service announcement.

An edited version of this column appears regularly in The Big Issue, which is excellent and which you should all buy immediately.

Lorin Clarke
Desire Lines

Is everything totally working out for you? Do you fist pump the sky like a one-gloved aerobics instructor in an 80s fitness video when you rise to greet the day each morning?

No? Oh.

Huh. Seems unusual. Unless… Maybe, instead of life being like the cheesy, slightly stressful smiley opening number of a musical, life is sometimes the lame moment-of-crisis solo that the most boring character has to do near a stairwell in Act Two while the sets are being rotated. Nobody likes that solo. Everybody wants the comic relief to come on and do a duet, right?

Not as into musicals or 80s music videos as I am? Fair enough.

Point is: things are probably going to be okay. Or mostly okay. Most of the time. Here is a list of things are mostly okay. This is a public service announcement.

Frost on the grass in the morning is pretty good. Somehow, it makes the grass look sharper.

Watching a kid unwrap a present is pretty hilair.

Talking to someone while you both unpack a dishwasher is one of those things that can happen between complete strangers or intimate partners and the shared industry of it feels, subliminally, so productive, so mutually generous, that sometimes you feel a bit sorry when you have to go back to talking without it.

Sometimes the little moments of seeing someone in another car and sharing a slight smile, or an eyeroll in sympathy on public transport, or even a knowing nod over a child’s head to its besieged parents is a significant enough glimpse into the possibility of human social cohesion that it lifts you for a moment and takes you outside of yourself.

Performing little acts of tiny kindness is a rewarding thing to do. Like being the person in the shop who says “I think this person was next” while gesturing at a customer so white hot with rage at having been overlooked as to be almost exploding. Tiny act. Really changed that person’s morning.

Dragon breath on a cold morning. One of nature’s best special effects.

The thing where you know someone well enough to be able to taste whatever they’re having in a restaurant? Should not be taken for granted.

Looking at something for the first time - maybe when you’re travelling, maybe on a bush walk, maybe approaching the crest of the dunes on the beach and taking in the sunset over the sea - and feeling compelled, even though you are alone, to say some version of “wow” under your breath - that’s a lovely, private, human instinct.

Sometimes, things have real names but you don’t know what the real names are because people came up with better ones. For instance, the proper name for a person who helps children cross the road at school is probably something like “traffic safety officer” but we all know they’re called “lollypop ladies” or “lollypop men” and we like them more, don’t we, because of their names? Also, those luminous cones they put on the ground to warn people about roadworks are called “safety cones” but they’re really witches’ hats. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. We named them after a fake thing from a fairytale because we are all twelve, deep down.

Sometimes you walk somewhere and there are paths - paved ones - but, despite that, people have decided there’s a quicker way and so there’s a narrow little footpath carving a wiggly shortcut across the grass from one spot to another. A lot of people had to decide to go the exact same way for that happen. Apparently they’re called desire lines. How lovely is that?

There’s something lovely about nostalgia. Looking at the last of the autumn leaves. Remembering how you felt when you were ten years younger. Hearing the jingle from an ad when you were a kid. That affectionate, gentle, almost-sadness about the things that made you who you are.

Ever seen a dog on the beach? Enthusiasm, unbridled.

For some reason, pictures of bicycles are comforting. Not actual bicycles, but look at signs with pictures of bicycles on them. They’re so inviting and lovely and wholesome and they make you think things are maybe not as bad as they seem. But maybe this last one is just me.

Whatever. All of these things are quite okay. A life with even just a few of these things in it contains some degree of excellence. Well done. This has been a public service announcement.

An edited version of this column appeared in The Big Issue. Please support The Big Issue and their vendors. They're an excellent collection of humans.

Lorin Clarke
Dream slowly

Here’s a question that isn’t as important as the Internet seems to think it is: have you “leveraged” your “personal brand” using “key words” to “optimise” your CV and “fast track” your “dream career”? 

No? 

Neiths. 

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ambition, of course. Nothing wrong with achieving things and being proud of them. Nothing wrong with a CV. Or words. All words, though, it could be argued, are key words. Except, I put it to you, the word “optimise”. 

Also, dreaming is lovely. Fantasising about, say, playing the oboe in the Royal Philharmonic - picturing yourself up there, lips pursed, back straight, mastering a difficult section of something composed by Handel centuries ago, as the concert hall lights reflect off the spectacles and bald heads of your rapt audience and you feel the music surge through you - is not a sensation that should be “fast tracked”. What gets you there is practice. And dreaming. Slowly.

So, then, this is a public service announcement. Dream slowly. Get some stuff wrong. Have a crack. Here’s a skill for your CV: time taker. Take your time.

Take your time to remember. Imagine a memory thief is coming to steal all your memories. Pick three to keep. Go! Now!

Take your time to do nothing. Ten minutes. Five, if you must. Lie down. No headphones. No trying desperately to be zen. No “clearing your mind and thinking of yourself in a forest telling yourself you’re at peace”. Just like there, breathing, mind doing whatever it likes. Marooned on a couch or a bed with nowhere to look but up.  

Take your time to notice the way you read signs inside your head. Like how “keep clear” when written on a road is always “CLEAR KEEP”. Or how the “if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you” on the back of a large truck always reads itself in an arms-crossed, school teacher voice similar to “if you don’t want to listen, we can stay right through recess”. Or how the bus you’re driving behind says “Warning: bus stopping constantly” and you can’t help but think it’s a judgement. “Ugh. This bus is stopping constantly”. Signs: your brain makes them more than just words.

Take your time to wonder about the really important stuff. Like what emotions do animals feel? I have a friend who thinks sheep sometimes get embarrassed. Once you’ve thought that about sheep, it’s hard not to feel a genuine empathy for them.

Also, isn’t it interesting how when humans achieve something, it makes us seem both bold and humble? Like when you see marathon runners in the Olympics and you realise they’re pushing the bounds of human physical limitation and it’s incredible that someone can run that far and that fast, but also: woah, these people are vomiting and wobbling and excreting and look like they haven’t eaten since 1974. They’re both awe-inspiring and pitiful at the same time. And sometimes you walk past a building site and see the machinery digging holes and the workers squinting up at the crane thing lowering cement panels onto each other like oversized jigsaw pieces and you think “wow, how clever, humans used to have to do that with shovels” but also “Really? This is still all we’ve got? It’s clumsy and inexact and takes forever and it seems like aliens might laugh at us for it”. 

There is a strong chance, though, that aliens haven’t thought of tea bags or egg whisks or rollercoasters or how to sing in a round. 

Take your time to notice how animals and children often bring out the best in people in public. Getting down on one’s knees in front of a dog tied up outside a supermarket is in some people’s DNA. “Are you a good boy? Oh yes you are!” is a phrase that, when you say it with conviction, brings your own blood pressure down. Similarly, if you carry a toddler over your shoulder in the queue at the post office and then turn around quickly, chances are you will catch at least one grown adult bent double, silently mouthing “There you are!” behind peekaboo saloon door hands. The stereotype that it is always women doing this is incorrect, by the way. In my experience, queue-peekabooers hail from a range of backgrounds and are united in one thing only: deploying coming timing and, often, a range of amusing props, to entertain a person whose main facial expression is the bemused stare. 

Don’t fast track your dreams. Don’t optimise anything. Take your time. Marvel at an egg whisk. Console a sheep. This has been a public service announcement. 

An edited version of this column appeared in The Big Issue. Please support Big Issue vendors and the work of this excellent institution. 

Lorin Clarke
Triumph and Disaster

It was Rudyard Kipling who suggested in his poem “If” that we should treat triumph and disaster “just the same”. Treat them, he said, as though they’re both imposters. Rudyard was a racist old coot but his old-fashioned poem makes a few solid points. On one reading of this bit, for example, he’s urging you to deny yourself the emotional rewards of success and bottle up the depths of your despair in the face of disaster. Well, we’ve all watched enough Hollywood movies to know that’s a terrible idea. But there is another way to interpret what Kipling is saying. Maybe the point is that you should enjoy your success without allowing it to define you, to shake you out of yourself and become such a crucial part of your identity that when it fades you feel a little of yourself fade. That you should not let the experience of disaster shift you too far from who you are in yourself. The flip side of this is that while success and failure are extremes, the matter in between triumph and disaster is small. So if we absorb the small, normal, everyday stuff into who we are; when triumph and disaster come along, we’ll have a map reference that says YOU ARE HERE like on those signs at the zoo. Do you think? Does anybody understand what I just said? Look, this might make sense later. This is what studying poetry is like. Just go with it. Absorb the small things. The blissfully normal. Remark upon the unremarkable. This is a public service announcement. 

Did you know that the two simple, perfect acts of elevating your feet and walking on grass in bare feet both create actual physiological reactions in your body that make you feel better?

While we’re down this way, isn’t the expression “put your feet up” lovely? Particularly, “Have a cup of tea, put your feet up”. There’s something so old time homey about it, something so ridiculously simple, that it almost convinces you that you already are putting your feet up. Extra points if it’s said to you by an older Australian and the last word of the phrase is “darl”. 

Hot air balloons in the morning sky are just ludicrously joyful to behold. They look like something out of a Dr Seuss book, or something Roald Dahl dreamed up. Silent lollies, floating through a fairy floss sky.

Fairy floss. There’s a noun other countries are missing out on. Fairy floss. Other countries call it cotton candy! How embarrassed must they be? Fairy floss. Simple yet evocative. Whoever thought of that should have a national holiday in their honour.

 Sometimes the universe does that thing where you learn a new fact or a new word or meet a new person and then that fact/word/person turns up three times over the next two weeks and it feels like serendipity tipping its hat to you in a bar. 

Serendipity is a word. I mean really.

The sound of a bell bird, clear and sharp, in the Australian bush - go and find it if you haven’t heard it recently. It is calibrated to slow down the pulse of the human adult.

To really bolster your experience of the joys of the everyday, try and hang out with someone new to your language. A child, say, or a visitor. Listen to the way they speak but also see the way you speak reflected in them. Feel your perspective shift just slightly.

Stand in a second hand bookshop and breathe in the smell. Notice how quiet it is in a second hand bookshop. So much more quiet than in bookshops selling new books. Why is that? Are they more densely packed? Are we more reverent around older books? Are the words better?

Bookshops are great when you know what book you want, but here’s an idea for a trip to a second hand bookshop or a library: don’t plan at all. Go freeform. Leave with whatever tickles your fancy. Although do be careful. I know someone who fell asleep reading poetry in a second hand bookshop with his back against the poetry and philosophy section. He had to be woken by someone who needed a Paul Satre book for her uni class.

Look, feel all you want to feel about triumph and disaster. When it comes to the bits in between, though, enjoy them while they’re not triumphant or disasterous. Those two imposters sound like hard work to me.

An edited version of this column appeared in The Big Issue. Please support The Big Issue and their vendors. They're an excellent collection of humans.

Lorin Clarke
Yikes

Remember when it was the start of the year? Remember how things felt new? Well, welcome to winter. Welcome to never feeling like you’re quite on top of things. Welcome to yikes.

Yikes, it’s bin night. Yikes, that huge payment is due. Yikes, no day off in sight. No long, languid evenings in the slowly setting sun. No time left! Where did all the time go?

For centuries, people have been running out of time. For decades, people have sprinted out in their socks to put their bins out as a rubbish truck turns the corner out of the street and the bin juice runs down their pyjama leg into the kind of puddle it is impossible to see at 6:30am.

To prioritise these moments in the narrative of human existence, though, is an injustice to the good things. For there are good things. Here are some good things. This is a Public Service Announcement.

Treehouses are nice.

New socks are lovely.

How amazing is it that water is reflective? Imagine how dull life would be if lakes didn’t show you the upside down world.

Notice when a piece of music unfolds something in you. And how, in that moment of recognition, somebody is communicating something to you. How do humans know how to do that to each other? Good on us!

The dark silence in the country at night. Nothing like it.

How great is it when incongruous food tastes delicious? Salted caramel: what weirdo thought that would be a good idea?

The tingleingle of a teaspoon on china from another room. Delightful.

Sometimes, when you’re doing something, there might be a little moment where you catch yourself feeling like someone you love, and it feels like a secret between the both of you. Like for just a moment you got help being you. 

Similarly, maybe you see someone in the distance and you think for a moment that it’s someone you love. Whether that person you love is overseas, long gone, or just across town, it’s significant that your mind subconsciously managed to sort through all the people it saw and borrowed from one of them to give you what you wanted. A sad little trick, sometimes, but a way of reminding you that the people you love are a part of who you are.

Reading a book that gets you so involved that the feeling is very close to having something you urgently want to tell someone. There’s nothing like that feeling. 

Having your lap chosen by an animal: is there any greater achievement?

Everybody has somebody in their life who has been their best teacher. Have you been somebody’s best teacher? Have you thanked your best teacher? Was it someone who taught you in grade three? Or was it your mate Dave who taught you how to light a fire so that it actually starts every time? Thank a teacher. It’s a good way to be in the world. 

Pomegranate: the best named fruit? I put it to you that yes. Someone really thought about the pomegranate. It might not be the most practical fruit but it’s basically an apple with lots of cupboards in it full of perfect pink tears, so it feels like maybe it knows its own strength.

Sometimes being up high is cool. Like, maybe you get to take the dude who’s fixing the air conditioning onto the roof at work and you see everything from up a bit higher and you have to try and concentrate on what he’s saying because you’re actually trying super hard to figure out what that bit down there is and why you’ve never seen it before.

And lastly, here’s to tiny luxuries that are hardly worth mentioning. Like when you go somewhere for a coffee and you get a little square of chocolate slice on the saucer. You didn’t ask for the slice, you didn’t pay extra for the slice, you didn’t know you wanted the slice. The coffee, though, has now become a decadent treat. Expensive hand soap in wooden bathrooms in cafes. Better still: hand moisturiser! Sewing kits in your hotel bathroom! The glee one experiences at such joys will hopefully never diminish. Not with age, nor riches. Congratulations on being basically royalty. Well done you.

Enjoy it. It’s all there for the taking. This has been a Public Service Announcement. 

Lorin Clarke
Adjust your scale

Everything is great! This toothpaste is great! That phone company is great! People in advertisements are great! People on social media are Super Great! Being great is great. If you’re not great, maybe you need to get great. Get fit, get smart, get pretty, get real. Buy this, read that, watch this. Work at being great! Strive! Harder!

On the other hand, that could all be rubbish. It could be that everything is not great, and I don’t want to worry anyone but that’s probably okay. Without the terrible, the sad, the inane, the frustrating and the plain old depressing, nothing would be to scale. Without first dipping, what would it mean to soar? There are, it is always good to remember, little things that persist, despite everything, as a reminder that loveliness abounds.

Adjust your scale. Find the littlest things first. This is a public service announcement.

Find your favourite photo. Hold it in your mind. It’s yours.

Everything the worst? Have a shower. Wash your hair. Things might still be the worst but at least now you have clean hair.

Have a drink with mint in it. Seriously. How good is mint!

Remember the urgent, confusing, fraught, retrospectively excellent business of having a crush on someone you don’t know super well yet. 

If you have that feeling right now and you wish it would go away, remember this: movies steal your mind for hours and put it to work imagining. So do podcasts. And plays. So does exercise. And dancing. Fill your restless mind and know that one day you will feel transformed.

Google “puppies snoring”.

Think of a friend whose face watches yours while you speak, who listens, who uses your name in a way that feels like a compliment. 

There are more friends like that in the world. You might not have met them yet, but you will.

Recall your favourite teacup.

Consider the fact that humans have made the arrangement of flowers an art. That there is something universally uplifting about a bunch of outdoors in your lounge room.

Turn up the music. 

Listen to the conversation next to you. Feel the edge of someone’s life rub up against yours. 

Remember the feeling of cutting a piece of paper with scissors? Cut, slide, cut, slide. Now think of this: someone invented scissors! Before that, this simplicity did not exist.

Find a way to be generous. Not necessarily financially. Conversationally maybe. Ask questions. Be curious.  

Think of your favourite song lyrics.

Think of sand. 

Think of the smell of a sharpened pencil.

The feeling of being a kid, somewhere, upside down.

Think of someone laughing in their sleep.

Think of an orchestra. All the separate parts, working together. Think of the pauses.

Think of silhouettes. How pretty they are, how clear but inexact. How a silhouette of a pile of rubbish looks like the Taj Mahal. 

Find your favourite pen and a piece of blank paper. Give yourself three minutes with good light and maybe a cup of something with steam coming off it. Watch the ink flow from the pen onto the page. Congrats on being from the same species that came up with that.

Listen to Mozart’s clarinet concerto.

Consider the cartwheel.

Wonder at the majesty that is the shell. 

Parcels in the mail are usually excellent, even if they’re the contemporary equivalent of a nice package in the mail from someone you love, i.e. a nice package in the mail from yourself containing something you ordered on the internet six weeks ago and had forgotten about.

Snicker. What a word. The word snicker exists! Amazing.

When something happens and you urgently need to tell someone: who gets the message? Send that person a message now. For no reason.

Beanies are pretty excellent.

Ducks are nice.

Afternoon mist is okay.

Staring out a window for a bit can be useful. Windows are good like that. Doesn’t matter if what you’re looking at is ugly or boring. Just look. Let the universe spin on like a hard drive while your cursor blinks away for a bit doing nothing. Having a bit of a blink is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

Also, never forget: toast. I mean really. Sometimes humans make mistakes, but then there’s toast.

So maybe you’re not so great. Maybe the universe owes you a break. That’s okay. Your time will come. Send yourself some mail from the internet. Turn up the music. Find the small and adjust the scale. This has been a public service announcement.  

This article is from a fortnightly column in The Big Issue. Support The Big Issue and look out for the next Public Service Announcement there.

Lorin Clarke
Sleep the sleep of the gleeful

“Ooof”, says someone, throwing themselves down on a couch, “I’ve had it”. It’s a beautifully simple expression, “I’ve had it”, because it’s so vague and yet so thorough. It does not invite or even accept argument.  I’ve had it with this day. Had it with work. Had it with the traffic. Had it with the world. I’ve had it with you. Had it with him. Had it with all this.

At such times, the things we have not had (“up to here”, is usually the measurement) should be called to the front of the mind. They’re scant, they’re often just glimpses, but they’re crucial. The small treasures. The real highlights. Let us know praise those. This is a public service announcement. 

Consider that smell when you come home and someone else is cooking and you say “oh wow! Something smells amazing!” and the person says “it’s onion and garlic”. How great is onion and garlic!?

Consider the slow, cautious work of scientists changing the world. Inventing life-saving technology, developing new medicines, preventing diseases. Incredibly gradually, not using magic, not with ideology, but with boring old science. Consider the manatee - those kind of dopey-looking floaty chubby sea creatures. You know what happened the other day? They were taken off the endangered list. In the 1970s there were only a few hundred left. Now? Over 6,000. Still not enough - they’re still a threatened species - but people, who do a lot of terrible things, have also done this. They worked hard and were smart and they prevented a whole species of sea dude from becoming extinct. 

Consider how many dramatic metaphors are set in the kitchen. The metaphor of the pressure cooker. The melting pot. The slow burn. A recipe for disaster. Maybe stay out of the kitchen. It’s scary in there.

Consider the number of times you’ve become friends with someone not because of their values or their history but because of something you both found funny. This speaks well of everybody involved.

Consider the smiley gasp of finding an old photo you had completely forgotten. The way you murmur to yourself alone in a room.

Consider marmalade.

Consider the life-affirming sense of perspective provided by public spaces.  I know. Bear with me. It doesn’t always happen. Most of the time, public spaces are the definition of The Absolute Worst. There is something, though, usually, in an airport or a hospital or even a Centrelink office to gently remind you that there is human generosity of spirit in the world. People holding the lift for each other with a resigned smile. Someone helping two people whose map is sideways. In the children’s hospital recently, there was a man in a suit with a straight back and pointy shoes rushing to catch a lift. He was clutching a large stuffed meerkat. With their straight backs, big eyes and anxious expressions, he and the meerkat seemed related. He patted it absently in the lift but caught himself doing it and stopped. One floor up, a kid with a prosthetic leg got in. “I really like your meerkat” he said after a minute. “Thank you”, said the man. “You’re welcome”, said the kid. “Nice eyes”. Public spaces can be okay.

Consider plasticine. Dig your fingers into it in your mind. How great is that stuff!

Consider how liberating it is sometimes to be lonely in a new place. Like when you’re in a room that isn’t your own, in a town that isn’t your own, and the cars swish by in the wet night and the shadows make shapes on the ceiling and nobody really knows you and yet you are still you, possibly even more you than usual. And maybe you feel wobbly, or sad, but the only person who can move you away from that is you. So: in the morning, clean slate. You can be any version of yourself you like. You can go anywhere. Do anything. Starting, may I suggest, with a bookshop.

Consider how, of all the types of clean we fetishise, the best combination of clean is unarguably: sheets + pyjamas + hair. Sleep the sleep of the gleeful.

Consider the fact that in order to be someone’s friend, or to gain someone’s trust, psychologists say the best thing to do is to let that person do you a favour. There’s something so fragile and hopeful about that.

So maybe you’ve had it. That’s okay. Just pause for a moment and consider. This has been a public service announcement.

An edited version of this column appears each fortnight in The Big Issue. Please support them whenever you can. 

Lorin Clarke
Decision time

Studies show that making a decision is really hard, but that the best bit of making a decision is having made a decision. It doesn’t even matter if it’s the wrong decision most of the time. So long as you’ve made it, so long as you’ve stopped second-guessing yourself, you’re in business. You’re decisive. You’re in charge. You’re you.

Decisions need to be made. So here. Make some. This is a public service announcement.

Decide which is better: rain on what surface? Tent? Roof? Rain jacket? Car?

Decide: do birds think “OMG I’M FLYING! WEEEE!” or do they, like humans, who have managed to stand up on two feet and propel themselves into cities and aeroplanes and up mountains and through the sea, think life can be dull and they haven’t achieved anything and why is their nest always a mess?

Decide: why is the moon sometimes surprising?

Decide: if the only people left in the world were the people in your train carriage or your work or your gym class or within a hundred metres of where you are right now: who is your most likely saviour? Is it the quiet, watchful girl by the door? Is it the efficient-looking middle-aged woman in the glasses? Is it you? 

A woman was walking just ahead of me on the footpath the other day. She was heavily pregnant, wearing a floppy sun hat, and carrying a towel. She was saying into her phone calmly but authoritatively that “we need to stress that the release of this report emphasises the economic imperatives of societies paying for housing for the more vulnerable members of our society”. The towel appeared to be a Dora the Explorer towel. On her wrist was one of those stickers off an apple. The next day, a huge report was released about how it costs governments less to pay for accommodation for the homeless and vulnerable. Decide: what was her favourite book as a child? Is it more likely that she collected insects or rode her bike until someone called her inside for dinner? When she gets really tired, what does she watch on TV?

Decide: bare feet on which surface: sand or grass?

Decide: why is confetti? See if you can answer in a way that doesn’t make humans seem really weird.

Decide: if you could win a basquillion dollars on my made-up gameshow called “Battle of the Super Specific Task Heroes” what crack team would you assemble? Who would be the person you would send to find the best, most amazing thing at a bargain price at a garage sale? Who would you send to pack a small car boot for a huge holiday? Who can fix things with a toothpick, a needle, and the elastic from some old undies? What about you? Really good dishes stacker? Calmer-downer of small children? Cat-whisperer? Recasting the people in your life according to a different hierarchy is a crucial reminder that people are awesome - never underestimate a car-boot hero! Never forget when you have a garage sale genius in your life! Celebrate the stacker!

Decide: what’s your favourite sky?

Decide: if the opening ceremony of the Olympics were designed by a person who was selected by international ballot, and you were selected, what theme would you pick?

Decide: what’s your favourite weekend sound?

And finally… I walked past two blokes giggling and cleaning out the boot of a battered old early 80s model car in a suburban street the other day and they yanked out the following and dumped it on the footpath: a giant roll of wrapping paper, a fishing line, a box of records, a few books, and a car battery. I overheard these fragments of conversation: 

“Remember this though!?”
“Dude. Is that tuna?”
“… some kind of casserole dish”
“This is what I told you!”
“Oooh! Bowie!”

Decide: brothers, housemates, boyfriends, mates?

Decide: cleaning the car out for a camping trip, a music festival or because they’re selling it?

Decide: when they drive the car, when it falls silent, are they thinking of things to say or is it -out-the-window-staringly lovely?

Maybe some of these decisions don’t matter so much in the scheme of things, but they are decisions. Make them. Make others. Decide your way to emotional fulfilment! Or don’t. It’s your decision. This has been a public service announcement.

This first appeared in The Big Issue, which is excellent and which you can buy in most cities and support in other ways here

Lorin Clarke
Wake up and smell the autumn

It’s autumn now. There’s no escaping it. You know what’s next, don’t you? That’s right. Winter is coming. Autumn is so beautiful, such a gently paced, gorgeously pitched collage of all that is lovely about the world. It’s also the perfect season for sad and complicated things. For break-ups and breakdowns. For staring out the window and enjoying a quiet melancholy. For sneezing into your elbow by accident on public transport because you’re not quite prepared for that time of year yet. Seeped in a kind of sad nostalgia, autumn looks lovely, but is almost lost. That morning chill (forecasting winter) dissolves in the sunlight (hungover from summer), bringing to mind the transience of this moment right here. Right now. 

This, then, is a public service announcement. The above conditions can be deftly manipulated into a thoroughly enjoyable study of all of the things that make up the world around you. Put your study specs on. Have a look around.

Study birds in flight. Do they realise they fold over like slow-mo bed sheets? Do they realise how well they read the mood of the evening, dancing to the beat of a dwindling day? Is there one bird calling the shots or it a matter of feeling the choreography and not overthinking things?

Study the falling of dusk. Finished with the slow fades of summer, autumn takes the day and breathes darkness onto it like condensation on a window. 

Watch the little orange squares of light that are other people’s lounge rooms ping onto the black canvass.

Smell the air for smoke and other people’s dinner and wet ground and tree bark.

Notice the top third. Not the ground. Not the people you walk past or the signs designed to grab your attention. Notice the tops of the tallest trees. The telephone wires snaking through the streets. The tops of people’s houses. That’s where the history hides. 

Contemplate the word brainstorm.

Study the perfect simplicity of the hot chocolate.

Study the lovely incongruities borne of the human pretence at formality, like the man in the queue for a coffee in the middle of the city the other day wearing a suit and bouncing a tennis ball lightly against the bottom of the outside wall like a kid at recess, all the other eyes in the queue going down, up, down, up.

Concentrate on tiny, contemporary moments of levity and absurdism, like when a bloke rides a bike past you and you realise he is carrying a mattress under one arm like he might just bed down anywhere.

Enjoy, for a moment, the curious, blind, hungry enthusiasm of a dog in a new bit of park.

Concentrate on the mental leaps of logic your brain performs for you on a daily basis, like when you’re out walking and you see someone emerge from a side street but you know, from the way they’re holding their body, from their pace, from the way they twist sideways slightly, that a child or a small dog is also about to emerge from behind them.

Concentrate on the out-of-season things. The suburban swimming pool on a cold morning, steam rising up from the blue. Bare feet, but with a jumper. Sea spray on your face in the rain.

Regard, for a moment, the mutual generosity of spirit in the giving and receiving of nicknames. 

Enjoy the persistence of contextually surprising book reading. Someone reading a book while walking for ten points. Reading a book in a bar for five. At a sports match for twenty.  

Contemplate the paddle steamer, lazily cartwheeling through thick water while people on deck drink cask wine and look at the sunset. 

Remember the last time you gasped at human ability. The circus? A documentary about the building of a railway? Yesterday at work?

Listen. For what? Who knows! The life-affirming eavesdropping that is overhearing a snippet of conversation between friends, maybe. The kind of singing that happens when you walk past a stranger and they don’t think you can hear. A familiar tune made tinny in someone else’s headphones.

Keep an eye out for leaves. Crunchy ones. Sunset leaves. Skeletons. Leaves that are maps of rivers and the leaves that have pimples and bends.

Enjoy your autumn. It’s not difficult to do. Maybe you have a cold and too much work to do and maybe it’s not summer and it’s not winter and maybe you’re not on a paddle steamer in years gone by. But you’re here! Well done! Enjoy it. This has been a public service announcement.

A version of this article was published in The Big Issue. Please support The Big Issue. They're tops.

Lorin Clarke
The Good Things

You missed a call. Your bills are due. Your car needs petrol. You’re out of milk. You have 1,537 unread emails. You must activate your account. Forget your password? You have 6% battery. Session timed out. 

Nope. None of that. Not here. Not now. This is where we enjoy some of the good things life has to offer. Finding the good things a little hard to get a handle on? Let’s look really closely. This is a public service announcement.

Think of the perfect peach.

Think of the platypus.

Think of the simple joy of using a nice sharp pencil on soft, thick paper.

Think of the word ‘cardigan’.

Think of the first thing you knew you were good at.

Think about the octopus. Ever seen the instant an octopus changes colour and shape on a whim? Almost defies belief. It’s a familiar feeling, in a way, the involuntary rush of colour and movement experienced by humans when seasick, embarrassed or drunk, but this huge creature does this deliberately, as a survival party trick. Watch a video of it, seriously, it’s amazing.

How great is popcorn!? Hard little useless yellow things that turn themselves inside out and become flavour-absorbent fluff clouds? What kind of world do we live in?

A moon path on the sea at night makes you want to remember it forever.

That thing where someone says “hang on, let me look into that for you, that doesn’t sound right” and you realise that you have found a person inside a bank/insurance company/healthcare provider/government agency who might actually be able to help you and you want to ask for their personal phone number/birthday/favourite album and buy them flowers and send them love letters and stuff? That rarely happens but it’s good to remember: those people exist! They’re there! Like easter eggs, hiding, waiting for you to discover them when you least expect it.

That thing where you stay at someone’s house and they put out a folded towel for you.

Trees literally eat the bad stuff in the environment and turn it into good stuff. If it were a children’s story, it would be written by Lewis Carroll or Dr Seuss.

Right now, somewhere, maybe not far from you, somebody is teaching somebody something for the first time. Recently, a woman in a local cafe was teaching a bloke how to make a coffee and all the people around them started shifting slightly away to give them space. There is something so intimate, so intrinsically generous and touching about the act of teaching another human a brand new skill - all the more impressive when the teacher is responsive, sensitive, thoughtful, encouraging. Sometimes, although this sentence doesn’t quite sound right, watching a YouTube How To video will make you feel better about humanity.

Witness the glory of toddler dancing. It’s all in the knees.

When the traffic is heavy in the opposite direction and you, my friend, are free as a bird? Lovely. 

Sitting in a car while it rains outside and you and you and your mate are still talking even though you parked the car at least ten minutes ago and the windows are starting to fog up and one of you is running a finger through the fog while making a point about something and you should probably go inside but instead you are watching your mate’s finger drawing in the condensation and listening and thinking, and the moment for going inside hasn’t quite arrived yet? These are the little moments a good life is made of.

Pavlova. With a spoon. 

Brand new, awesome, knock-em dead haircut.

And lastly, an important report from this desk: last Wednesday, a man stood in the butterfly house at the zoo, arms wide, face lifted to the sky, grinning like an idiot while two unspeakably beautiful butterflies balanced on his thick nose and stubbly chin and giggling passers-by took photos of him. Everybody - adults, children, people who didn’t speak each other’s languages - laughed together for about half an hour. The man was wearing one of those bus company name tags with Spiros written on it. Spiros, who probably spends most of his time inside a bus, drove some people to the zoo last Wednesday and found himself centre stage, giggling at some butterflies that were dancing on his face. Excellent.

Everything isn’t always terrible. Plus apparently the octopus has an incredible memory and holds grudges for years. Feel better? You’re welcome. This has been a public service announcement.

A version of this column appeared in The Big Issue. The Big Issue is entirely excellent. Support them here.

Lorin Clarke
Focus!

Quick! Check Snapchat. Check Instagram. Check Twitter. Hashtag omg. Check Facebook. Check fake news. Check hot take on fake news. Check think piece on hot take on fake news. Check real news. Check heartbeat. Check pulse. Check breath. Is breath going in and then out? Check again.

Slow it down. 

In. 

And then out. 

Now focus on something else. Just for a few minutes. This is a public service announcement.

Focus on ants. Little organised regiments of determination, scurrying about figuring out the logistics of how to tow a giant crumb twice their size back to the nest, with no regard to whether they look like an idiot, and completely oblivious as to whether you’re feeling good or bad or otherwise.

Focus on tunnels. How amazing are tunnels! Some of them go underwater!

Focus on those people who do tai chi in the park. Slow-mo ninjas in daggy tracksuits surrounded by people hurrying to work or limping home from the night before. Borrow some of their stillness. They’re sending it out into the world.

Focus on the fact that we sleep. Maybe not well, maybe not always, but how fascinating that humans can’t survive without this weird thing where their conscious mind shuts down and their subconscious mind plays around in the empty house until they feel better. 

Focus on the word bunkum.

Focus on intergenerational friendships. Like the grandmother in the street near my place just yesterday who was saying “well of course this was about the time my marriage was breaking down so I suppose we have that to thank for something after all” and was blinking up at her grandson, unsure he’d even heard her - this tall, long-haired teenager half-way up a ladder helping her clip the top of the vine. He grabbed a chunk of vine in his gloved hand and handed it down to her. “Well Nan, I didn’t know Grandpa, but I do love your jumpers, so it seems like a fair trade to me. Did you want these right back to the edge here?” and whatever it is he’s said, whatever the context, her small smile at her feet before she continues “yes right back, thanks dear” is enough to conclude he said just the right thing in just the right way.

Focus on baked goods.

Focus on brolgas.

Focus on the perfect mathematics of two people holding hands.

Focus on the astonishing things the human body is capable of: backflips, childbirth, waiting in a queue for a toilet at a music festival, and marathons.

Focus on ancient woodwork, lovely old stained glass, hand-lain bricks and stones. Notice how thick and warped and cool old glass windows are with their little pock marks and imperfections. Notice the texture of the stones. Notice how the buildings around you were made by people - silenced, perhaps, by time - but whose handiwork towers above and around us and whose lives contributed to yours, right now, and wonder: did they ever think of you? Did they ever wonder who would live and work and play around and through and under the structures they were building? In a small, indirect way, is the building a form of communication from them to you?

Focus on expressions old people use. Like “worse things happen at sea” or “you’re looking very smart today” or, in a moment of unbearable fury, “oh, fiddlesticks”. Usually quite formal, often confounding, may they never disappear. 

Focus on small gestures of generosity, like when the woman slipped two dollars into my parking metre at the zoo when I was bent over double trying to find some change under the front seat while an explosion of five-year olds chimed “you forgot the money” over and over for what felt like an hour. Thank you, hero. You will not be forgotten.

Focus on the times you thought you’d be late but you got all the green lights and a man in a four wheel drive miraculously waved you through a gap in the traffic and the apology you practiced faded away as you approached.

Focus on fresh mint.

Focus on a strawberry. The architecture of it. The smell. The colour. The little green hat on the top. 

It’s all around you, this stuff. It’s not in the news. It’s not taking a photo of itself at a party. Nevertheless, it is deserving of your attention. Take a few moments and observe. And remember: worse things happen at sea. This has been a public service announcement.

An edited version of this column appeared in The Big Issue. Please support them. They're tops.

Lorin Clarke
Things That Are Not Unpleasant

Hello! Nice to meet you. What team are you on? Are you with us? Or them? Are you right or wrong? Did you vote for the idiots or the other idiots? Who tells you what to think? What do you prefer: post-fact or fake? Don’t care? Care too much? Wish it wasn’t like this? Wish it was just you, sitting on a pier, looking at the sea with a slight breeze in your hair and an ice cream, thinking about Things That are Not Unpleasant?

This is a Public Service Announcement. We can’t organise the pier. Or the ice cream. But here are some Things That Are Not Unpleasant. 

A hot meal on a cold night after a big day is not unpleasant.

Standing outside on a dark, quiet, clear night, with a view of the stars is not unpleasant.

It is not unpleasant to stand, or sit, with your eyes closed, while live music, played by real people with fast fingers and focused minds, rises through your chest as though your body is playing along without you knowing how.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, making a new friend is lovely.

Mozart’s clarinet concerto isn’t awful.

Pelicans exist.

A really good stretch is not just pleasant; it can completely transform an afternoon.

It is not unpleasant to witness a thing - a certain type of bird or a YouTube video or a man on a bicycle singing opera or a well-told joke at work - and to know, immediately, the exact person you are going to tell about it, and to realise that your anticipation of their response is making you smile.

There are always, however things might seem, smart people quietly working hard to make things better. 

You know what’s not unpleasant? Real, fun mail.

It’s not unpleasant when you see something out of the corner of your eye and realise it is a tiny aeroplane, high up in the sky, cutting through the blue from somewhere to somewhere else and you realise that right at that second, while you are doing whatever it is you’re doing - putting out the washing, buying a sandwich, stressing about a bill or a letter or a text or an argument - there are hundreds of strangers in that tiny little aeroplane sitting together while they wait to be somewhere else. And you hadn’t been thinking about them but now you are, and tomorrow who knows where they’ll be?

Bubbly water with ice blocks in it is really just water plus some science, but it feels kind of posh and sparkly.

It’s not unpleasant when you’re in a crowded place - an office or public transport or something - and you realise a loved one has privately surprised you with something. They’ve snuck some chocolate in your bag, or written a note or texted you something amazing… and you find yourself instinctively looking up, as though such a momentous occurrence cannot possibly be invisible to everybody else.

Seawater is pleasant. For toes. For sinuses. For looking at while having a cup of tea.

It’s not unpleasant to be in a country town on a day when the volunteer firefighters get a call-out. To witness the cars pulling in one-by-one, someone slipping quickly out of each of them, this one eating a piece of toast, that one in paint-covered clothes, everyone interrupted, swiftly clambering into their uniforms in a truck that is gone now, quickly and efficiently, down the road and in the direction of whatever is the matter. Wait a minute and the next few will arrive, do the same, take the next truck out, hopefully to return with just a false alarm and an update from Dave about the progress on the decking.

An evening walk is rarely unpleasant. A nice little bridge into the night time.

So maybe you’re on the wrong team. Maybe you’re a terrible person. Maybe everybody is shouting at each other and the sound is white noise. You might as well tune it out then. Go for an evening walk. Have a glass of science. Send somebody something lovely in the mail. This has been a public service announcement.

This column originally appeared in The Big Issue

Lorin Clarke
Celebrate the small things

It’s happening already isn’t it. The year is underway. Things are due. There’s money to be paid. Chores to be done. There are people expecting things. Self-improvement projects are already teetering off the rails. And as for the world: oof. Bad news, nasty people, nothing you can do about any of it. 

Depressed yet? Don’t be. Celebrate the small things. Specifically, celebrate these specific small things:

Celebrate honey. A thing that is made by actual armies of actual bees, loyal to a bona fide queen, fighting to the death to organise the stuff into neat little hexagonal compartments… and you get to eat it on your toast. 

Celebrate clean sheets and cool drinks.

Celebrate cinnamon.

Celebrate accidental naps.

Celebrate the call of the kookaburra. Really! What a completely ludicrous thing to take for granted.

In fact, you know what? Celebrate the grand, expansive theatre of the natural world. What might we have if we didn’t have storms? It really doesn’t bear thinking about. The history of art, of literature, of religion, of cinema, would all fade to beige in the absence of the creative influence of a real rip snorter of a storm. Not to mention the unbearable dramatic tension of a cool change. And the best performers in the world: the lyrebird and the peacock. They put Meryl Streep to shame. Celebrate the backdrop of the sunset. The scale of the mountain. The special effect of mist.

Celebrate idiosyncratic friendships. The ones you can’t quite explain.

Celebrate parks.

Celebrate how great your feet feel after a few hours on the beach.

Celebrate the privilege of watching another human being just absolutely excellent at something. Playing music, skateboarding, drawing, cutting up celery into tiny thin translucent slices incredibly quickly while also holding a conversation, packing a very full car boot with unfathomable precision, glass blowing, origami, sorting something out on the phone.

Celebrate the instinct, regardless of physical ability or actual desire, to roll down a steep grassy hill or dive until a body of still blue water.

Celebrate a clean workspace. 

Celebrate the celebrity status of the ladybird in children’s books. So many beetles in the world. How did they do it?

Celebrate the word discombobulated.

Celebrate beans.

Celebrate trees growing sideways towards the sun, or tiny plants growing in inhospitable places.

Celebrate your favourite jumper.

Celebrate the gorgeous little accidents of technology that deliver imperfect but realistic memories, like the blur of a nephew sprinting before a glowing bonfire. Not a visible human feature, but what better depiction of an evening? Or the moment when everyone thinks you’re taking a picture but actually, turns out it’s a video, so there will always be a record of your mum and your grandma and your uncle Steve grinning their white teeth at you in a frozen but convivial huddle, one of them asking “did you take it yet?” while someone off camera cracks a joke and uncle Steve says something about dying waiting for you to take the picture and being discovered here centuries later by anthropologists.

Celebrate the smell of the earth after rain. Tarmac. Grass. Dirt. Even cow dung. Doesn’t matter. 100% improvement after rain.

Celebrate serendipitous shadows. A winking face on a passing bus. A person behind you on the walk home making it suddenly seem as though you are wearing an elaborate hat. The elegant version of yourself that appears on the path in front of you when the shadows are long and lanky and you seem like maybe you might be someone else after all.

Celebrate eucalyptus. The most patriotic smell on earth.

Celebrate the weird little performances of manners that humans perform. The handshake. How odd. To briefly hold the hand of someone whose name you are learning. Or, in the olden days, the brief removal of one’s hat.

Celebrate the outlines of leaf skeletons in concrete that was set decades ago.

Celebrate shared glances and moments of stillness and kind offers and toasted sandwiches and watermelon and the way the evening light softens the day around you and makes you feel nostalgic for things that haven’t happened yet.

In this day and age, of course, it is important to constantly update this list. Be vigilant. Celebrate whenever possible, with reckless abandon if circumstances allow (in silent solitude if required). Repeat where necessary. This has been a public service announcement. You’re welcome.

This column was written for The Big Issue. Support The Big Issue. They're the good guys.

Lorin Clarke
New Years Public Service Announcement

A new leaf! A new year! A new diary! Woot! How exciting. We can reinvent ourselves! 

Except, unfortunately, it’s usually only two weeks into the new year before most of us are sneak-watching terrible television, eating leftover Christmas chocolates we found in a suitcase we still haven’t properly unpacked, and failing to put the bins out. 

Look. You’re going to hear a lot of self-improvement mumbo jumbo from people at the start of 2017. But not here. Oh no. This is a public service announcement. The following is going to happen in 2017 whether you like it or not. Get your expectation levels out of those clouds. This, right here, is reality.

At some stage in 2017 you are going to hear, but not be able to see, a mosquito. Probably in your bedroom. At best this means less sleep. At worst it means you will be eaten alive while slapping yourself in your own face.

An inanimate object in 2017 is going to make you shout, mutter or think “oh come ON!” and there’s nothing you can do about it.

An idiot, in 2017, will try and make you feel like an idiot. This is what idiots do. Which idiot will do this to you? When? For how long? There really is no way of telling. Brace yourself.

There is no way 2017 will not contain Eddie McGuire. Sorry. Deal with it.

Someone will, over the next twelve months, use your name excessively despite having just learned it. For example, “if I can just stop you there, Samantha” or “I appreciate your concern Samantha”, or “Can I suggest you pop over to our website Samantha?” while you attempt through gritted teeth to explain for the basmillionth time that your power has gone out/phone isn’t working/car has exploded/face has melted off etc.

Chances are that at some point you will accidentally inhale that bus exhaust that smells kind of like banana.

At some stage this year, a human adult will describe something as ‘impactful’. Deliberately.

Thirteen minutes into registering for tickets to something or, worse, trying to pay for some dumb thing that costs too much money, a website will stop working and you will have to go back to the beginning and re-enter absolutely everything and yet nobody will go to jail for this.

There will be, at some point in 2017, a gap between the You that you plan to be, and the You that you always end up being. It may become apparent, for instance, in one of the following circumstances:

  • a)    Grocery shopping. Planning You, who does the grocery shopping, will probably dash the hopes of Real You, who will search through your shopping bags later for any hidden treats that Planning You might have stashed away for Real You to pig out on while watching something terrible on Netflix which Previous You did not put in your wish list and which Future You will probably lie about.
  • b)    Buying home goods. Planning You sees furniture in the shop where everything matches and thinks “this will be me! I will become minimalist! I will be like that Japanese woman who sells people books about how they don’t need things or that woman who only owns a passport in a safe in Berlin and travels the world with the money she saves from not buy matching stools with names that sound like Nordic swearwords. This is it! I start minimizing today. This foldaway desk slash table will cure me of my desire to buy fifties salt and pepper shakers at garage sales and I will be free of clutter forever, a calm floating cloud in the blue sky of life.” But Future You will soon be Actual You, trying to put together a foldaway desk slash table with an alan key that you cannot find but was here literally thirty seconds ago. 
  • c)    Oh, Getting Ready for The Party You, what a lovely, hopeful, attractive if somewhat nervy sweetheart. After Party You, though, is a regretful, moody, probably hungover shell of a human being whose favourite place in the world is face first against the tiles of the shower wall. 

There, you see? This is how we should start the year. Honest. Realistic. Away with new year’s resolutions, top ten ways to shed post-Christmas pounds and the most exciting films to be released in 2017. No. You are not Future You. You are you. Go and be you for heaven’s sake. You’re actually really good at it.

I write this column for The Big Issue. They're marvellous. Support them if you can.

Lorin Clarke
Christmas Public Service Announcement

There is something you need to know: everything is going to be okay. Christmas might be your worst time of year. It might be your best time of year. It might mean nothing at all to you except more Bing Crosby than you thought you could handle and a vomitous amount of Panatone on sale in the last few weeks of December. Either way, everything feels a bit hectic at the moment.

It’s okay to feel the overwhelmitude. It’s okay to wonder why giant baubles lining the streets are necessary or why we need to hear quite so much about Good King Wenceslas. It’s okay to stand in the supermarket snapping “oh COME ON” at the tinsel. But really: everything is going to be okay. Here are some things it’s good to remember during the Christmas period. 

It’s good to remember that Christmas carols have really lovely bits in them sometimes like the phrase “deep and crisp and even” or just that bit where the kids all yell “Hey!” in Jingle Bells.

It’s good to remember that art galleries are free and quiet.

It’s good to remember that any one of the people you’re rushing past could be your next new friend, talking and laughing in a place you haven’t been yet.

There is nothing so pure as the attention focused on a busker by a child under the age of five. 

Second hand bookshops smell nice.

Ice is water that you can tinkle in a way that makes you feel a bit posh.

Cheese exists.

The word ‘lugubrious’ is lovely. A slow, beautiful sound that takes its time to describe the way sorrow expresses itself through the human face. Perfect.

Two people can play chess without speaking the same language and still know intimately how each other’s minds work.

Sometimes the clouds look like the sea.

Some people are truly awful but those people have to deal with being awful and it’s probably easier to just know that sometimes you’re accidentally rude to your family on the phone and one time you laughed at a kid who got dacked at music camp and you always wonder what happened to him.

There is no sound quite so exciting as the squealing, splashing, whistle-blowing hubbub of the Australian public swimming pool over summer.

There’s a couple, a young man and a young woman, who are probably not a couple at all but who work in a cinema near where I live – it’s dark in there of course and they wear black clothes and look completely exhausted. They have a half hour lunch together in which they sit in the sun slumped against a wall on the footpath and talk sideways at each other. They laugh lazily and chat and sometimes they sit in silence with their eyes closed. I went past them the other day and he was reading to her from a science fiction book while she listened, hunched forward drawing circles on the concrete with a twig. They probably didn’t know each other six months ago. Things like that are happening all the time.

Caterpillars turn into butterflies. FOR REAL! THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS!

In nature, paths form. That’s amazing, when you think about it, because it means a bunch of people, or wallabies, or echidnas or whatever have to go the same way without talking about it beforehand. And aren’t paths lovely and welcoming and comforting – do we think that because we’re biologically programmed to? Do wallabies think that too?

Most people are good at something. Lovely handwriting. Being nice to animals. Drying the dishes. Keeping secrets. Everyone’s better than you are at something and you’re better at something than they are. This is why society works and also why arguments start when more than one person is required to set up Ikea furniture.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, we all look up at the same moon each night.

Sometimes, and this can happen at any time, toast is the answer. That’s just a fact.

So be kind to yourself over the next little while. The metaphor of the new year will be along any minute to trick us into thinking we can turn over a new leaf and greet the future as people who won’t overschedule or run late or say the wrong thing or forget to put the bins out. Meanwhile, embrace the imperfect. Enjoy the quiet moments and revel in the fact that the tinsel will be replaced by hot crossed buns in no time.

A version of this article appeared in The Big Issue. Please support The Big Issue. They're the good guys.

Lorin Clarke
Pre-Christmas Public Service Announcement

Surprise! It’s the middle of November! That’s… horrifying. Blerg. Why are there signs up in the local shops yelling at you to order your ham in time for Christmas? Why are people talking about their holidays already? It’s not even December, jerks! 

Look, it’s probably best that we all relax. Take five. Sit down and think about the small but lovely things in this world. “But there aren’t any!” I hear you cry. Come on. Sit here. Take a few deep breaths.

It’s pretty great that nobody has yet improved upon the car indicator. A light turns on and off really quickly on one side of a car and we all know what it means. Better still, we hear the clicking inside our own heads when we see the light, even when we’re not in that actual car but streets away. Recently, some luxury cars have tried to posh-up the indicator by making it fade on and off from the inside to the outside. Nope. Tampering with perfection. The car indicator. It’s a simple idea by a thoughtful genius who may or may not still be alive to this day. Hats off to that person. We salute you.

It’s pretty great that riding a bike makes you feel seven again but when you were seven riding a bike made you feel like a grown up.

The word ‘dastardly’ is pretty great.

It’s pretty great that you can be in the biggest venue you’ve ever been to in your life, and still feel completely alone in your own head.

Watching someone you love singing to themselves when they don’t know they’re not alone? So great. 

It’s great when ugly things present beautifully, like when you’re at a petrol station off to the side of a huge highway in the middle of the night and it’s noisy and smelly and ugly and awful and the darkness is scary but the lights are depressing and you’re tired and not where you want to be, and then you stop, because you realise that it’s just been raining. The ground, shining from the rainwater, is covered in petrol rainbows, swirling and connecting like happy little fairy lakes across a dark and peaceful landscape. Kind of great!

It’s great when you read a bit in a book that feels so true that you say “yes!” out loud and then you realise that the writer has been dead for a long time and you are basically having a conversation with a person whose life never had you in it.

It’s pretty great when someone you know quite well in one context turns out to be exceptional at a life skill you never would have anticipated, like cooking, or being hilarious with children, or quietly and unpatronisingly talking to dogs. 

Foot dangling is nice. Over a jetty is best. A drink of something or a good conversation for extra points here. 

Talking while walking, especially at night, is great. Something about the anonymity of darkness, and the sound of your voice at night, and that everybody involved in the conversation is, literally and metaphorically, heading in the same direction, conspires to provide some of the best circumstances for great conversation.

It’s pretty great when you run out of things to say because you’re all looking at an open fire.

It’s pretty great when you thought you would miss your train but you made it and another person in the carriage looked at you as if to say “well done. You’re here now. Relax. You’ve earned this.”

It’s pretty great when two musicians exchange a smile and the smile is borne of the music. That basically means that music just told a little joke.

The word “earthworm” is great. A little thing like a worm, and a big thing like the earth, and they’re part of each other in a word. 

Ice cream: just great. Don’t care what kind. Whatever kind you like. Vegan, choc top, cone or cup. The little science project of trying to eat an icecream before it melts all over you is a study of significant importance for people of all ages. Do not lose focus. You’ve got this.

There you go, you see? That isn’t even all of them! Have a look around! Admittedly, sometimes you have to look pretty hard. But you’ll find one. Something tiny. Something nobody else has noticed. A lot of things are rubbish, but some things are quietly great. Keep an eye out. Especially for the ice cream.

A version of this article appeared in The Big Issue. Please support The Big Issue. They're the good guys.

Lorin Clarke