Hey! Look! Now. Look. Look around you. Are people talking? Is there sky? What else is there? Move outside your own head, outside your own life. Forget the other stuff. The foreground stuff. Breathe it out of the muscles in your body. Let go of it. It’ll keep. Find something diverting. Be diverted. Cherish this luxury afforded by the human imagination: we can shift perspectives, consciously, if we try. So concentrate, now. Find the little things in your life that have nothing to do with you, but to which you are connected. Find the lovely things, the surprising things, the remarkable things. This is a Public Service Announcement.
Find water. Somewhere in your vicinity there will be water. Through a wall, in a drinking tap over by the park bench. In a puddle. In the sea. We all know how important water is for human survival but also: go and stare at the sea and feel your pulse slow down. Read a book in the bath when you’re stressed. Stand in the shower when you’re sick. Squirt a kid with a hose on a hot day. Water has a transformative effect on humans that science can’t quite explain. If science can’t explain something, it’s either completely crazy or it’s kind of magical. Pour yourself a crazy, magical glass of water and cherish it for a change.
Find friends. Not your friends. Other people who are friends. Find them on the train or in a cafe. Find them gossiping together at work or laughing together on the phone. Friendships are really just accidents of circumstance. How excellent, then, that they are everywhere, working away all the time, getting stronger or petering out or reminiscing on what they once used to be.
Friends sliding down each other in fits of giggles are great friendships to witness, although friends absent-mindedly handing each other coffees while they talk about Pete from the Main Office are also excellent. New friendships are lovely to be near - full of questions and the gleeful discovery of mutual enjoyment - but old friendships are a true privilege to witness too. Other people’s friendships are refreshing and rewarding to get a snapshot of, if you know where to stand and how not to look like a total creep while standing there.
Find someone to be kind to. Pay for someone’s coffee without them knowing it. A little secret act of generosity with no reward except the feeling of knowing somebody else might be surprised out of themselves, if only for a moment.
Find something hot to pair with something cold. Ice cream and apple pie. A frozen flannelette on a hot summer’s day. A hot shower after a swim.
Find a David Attenborough documentary.
Find a stone. Hold it in the palm of your hand. Study it. It’s basically a history lesson. A borrowed piece of the planet. Throw it high in the air and away.
Find fresh air.
Find a path. Walk down it. Paths are nice.
Find an animal. Walk away from people for a bit. A magpie, a dog, a cat with one eye judging you from high up on a corrugated iron fence or something. Animals operate at a difference pace, motivated by different stimuli. They approach the world differently. Hanging out with them can slow you down, make you smile, or freak you out. Either way it’s a circuit breaker.
Find your favourite crowd. Maybe you stood in it once. Maybe you watched it. Maybe you were a kid and there was a Christmas party, adults laughing while you fell asleep on someone’s lap. Or you were at a gig and the music blew your mind. Were you at the footy? Maybe you stood in a choir, singing, feeling the music blend together and the lights in your eyes. A good crowd is a warm and wonderful thing, in which you can be you, but also part of them.
Find an old person. Find out who they love. What they used to do. What they do now.. What they’re proud of. What they regret. Listen to the words they use, watch their manners. See how the small wrinkles on their face hint at what their smile might look like before it fits together on their face.
So find the details in the background. The things that to do not belong to you, but surround you. Let other people and other things lift you up and away. This has been a Public Service Announcement.
This column appeared at some stage in living memory in The Big Issue. Buy the magazine whenever you can. It makes a huge difference to the vendors.