When you were a baby, you looked at the sky and it swallowed you up. You did. It’s true. When you were sobbing and bellowing and waking the neighbours, someone took you out to look at the stars and your wailing became a small echo in a large universe and you stared at the bigness of things and your brain ate up the distance between you and everything else until you were calm and tired from it and you slept.
When you were a kid, squabbling and whining and itchy and cross, someone snapped at you to “go for a run around outside” and you did, and when dinner came you could barely hear them call from the tree you were sitting up, the world at your feet, the story in your head.
When you were an adult, you arrived in a strange city and walked through unfamiliar streets, both more aware of yourself and also of your anonymity, and you learned the rules of how to be a human in this strange new place, like a baby looking at the sky.
Changing the scenery reorients the coordinates. Shifts the focus. Lends perspective. Shame we can’t all hop on a plane and take a dip in the sea off the coast of the Maldives by way of remembering not to stress about the things we haven’t done and the bills we need to pay, but there are other ways of changing the scenery. Look around you. Make small changes. Take a trip without leaving. This is a Public Service Announcement.
The sky still does it. I don’ know care how old you are. Find the sky at night and look up from the planet your feet are balanced on. Humans have tried to make sense of that mass of gas for billions of years. Stare at it until you see a shooting star and then try and remember what a shooting star is and then go and make a cup of tea. So much better than television.
Look for a river on a map and go there. Imagine the history the river has seen. Watch how the water hurtles from up to down like it couldn’t care less about your half-yearly performance review or the fact that the neighbour seems to have stolen your recycling bin and your overdue reminder notice is in ALL CAPS.
Read a book. Books take you places for free.
Do a crazy thing. Sit up the top of a giant tube of PVC in your bathers, your childish heart pumping in your adult chest, the water tumbling violently away before you, and throw yourself full pelt down a waterslide. Go on. I dare you. Little known fact about water slides: they’re time machines. The settings are set to seven-year-old-you.
Converse with an animal. A dopey dog or a smoodgie cat. A bit of under-the-chin work should do it. No words required.
Turn up to the movies alone. Buy a choc top if you want to. Sit in the cinema by yourself and let someone tell you a story that has nothing to do with you.
Go to a library. You don’t need to read. You don’t need to talk to anybody. Wander around. Ask if you can listen to an audiobook. Look at newspaper from 1816. Watch the people studying and writing their family histories and falling asleep by the heating vents and performing that ducked and hurried walk of shame as they answer a phone call and say things like Hello yes I’m in the - sorry Mum I’m in the - yes, hang on, what do you mean Samantha’s wearing Auntie Mavis’s dress to the wedding? I thought Susan had an objection?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you’re looking at the sea and your feet are in the sand, those are two very big parts of your life that are not problems. Two very big parts of the wall in relation to which you are small.
The other thing you can do to change your scenery is, of course, to travel. You don’t have to go to the Bahamas. Find the cheapest ticket you can to get the furthest on the train. Somewhere you’ve never been before. A strange place, with walking tracks that lead who-knows-where and new parks with park benches in them that glow in the sun, and houses with windows of warm light that contain people living lives that aren’t yours.
Sometimes you need someone to take you outside.
Take yourself outside.
This has been a Public Service Announcement.
This first appeared in The Big Issue. Buy it from your vendor when you next see one. It makes a difference, and it’s a bloody good read.