Ubiquitous nervousness

I’m reading the books of Pema Chödrön, the former student of Chögyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher who fled Tibet for the West where he eventually gave up living as a monk, studied at Oxford, founded Naropa University in the US and died in 1987. I love his books for their sardonic wit and the great intelligence with which he approaches the topic of fear.

Like her teacher, Pema Chödrön is also good on fear, and in particular, its source: the experience of fundamental groundlessness. Nothing is solid, nothing lasts, all is air, and yet we live our lives trying to avoid facing the fact. It’s this avoidance that makes our lives miserable and generates the strife and suffering of the world.

In a passage in her book, Unconditional Confidence, she says that for the last 10 years of his life Chögyam Trungpa became even more focussed on fear and fearlessness, and the importance of people being instructed in dealing with the experience of groundlessness. He predicted that human beings were about to face a time in which it was crucial. In Chödrön’s view, that time has come; the time he was speaking of has arrived.

We are, she says, “slightly panicked all the time”, experiencing what Trungpa called “ubiquitous anxiety” or “ubiquitous nervousness”. It’s the hum “in the background making you nervous, making you dissatisfied”. At the same time, however, it’s easily ignored because we have a culture built on ignoring it:

“So much entertainment, so much speed, the minute you feel it you can open your cell phone, the minute you feel it you can check your email, the minute you feel it you can listen to tune 900-millionth on your ipod … “

All of these are ways of trying to “get ground under your feet”, trying to get away from the feeling of fundamental groundlessness. And it’s not limited to our phones and email …

“We need some instruction about what to do when we are squeezed, what to do when we meet our edge, what to do when there’s an habitual reaction to hide in some way or escape in some way or strike out against ourselves or others. There’s a habitual reaction to try to get comfortable, and in the process of following the habitual reaction we become more neurotic. It’s one of the big teachings of the Buddha, that everyone wants to be happy and feel security and comfort, and everybody goes about it in a way that just makes a big mess. You want to be comfortable so you scramble for ground and often what that is is blaming somebody else, striking out at somebody else, gossiping, slandering, and it gets to the point where people, in the attempt really to get some ground under their feet, to feel that they have something to hold on to, looking for security, people steal, people lie, people kill, people even torture. Generally speaking, no-one does any of these things because they want to feel worse. They do it because what they’re feeling in the pit of their stomach is such a groundless, insecure, uncomfortable, wide open, nothing-to-hold-on-to, open-ended experience that they just want to find something to hold on to, something that represents security. And one of the biggest ways to do it, along with entertainment, along with drugs and alcohol and all the other ways we try to find some pleasure, along with that what we also do is to divide the world up with our views and opinions about how things should be and how things are supposed to be and we hold tightly to those views and opinions. It’s a big way that we try to get secure, by how we interpret the world in a way that makes us feel comfortable and then it’s great actually if you can get a whole group of people to agree with you. And all together you start to attack, either in more or less polite ways, people who don’t agree with you. And it’s a big way that people start to get comfortable …”

So what is the basic instruction when you experience fundamental groundlessness? It’s to learn to stay with the uncomfortable feeling, the queasiness, the uneasiness, until it passes of its own accord. This is the first and last necessity: to not run away. Do that and the world changes.


Quotes from the audiobook, Unconditional Confidence by Pema Chödrön

The insanity now abroad


The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking. ~ Martin Heidegger

If ever there were a clear example of the tendency for human beings to let themselves be run by “the ought”, it’s on full display in the reactions to Trump’s executive order preventing entry to the US by certain groups.

Instead of simply acknowledging the feeling of helplessness and leaving it alone, human beings use the “ought” – I ought to do something, someone ought to do something, we ought to be able to do something – to try to get away from the feeling.

That’s when the ability to think goes out the window.

Thus we have people demanding denunciations from governments and other citizens as if they are the issue, rather than the original act of discrimination and its summary execution. Witness the former US ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, who is reported to have declared that the “hottest place in hell” is reserved for those “who remain neutral”. Not for Trump or anyone else in his administration the hottest place in hell. No, it’s for those who do not perform a denunciation of him publicly and to the satisfaction of the watchers and evaluators everywhere.

The original issue is pushed aside for something in which we feel no impotency: parades of self-righteousness.

It’s one example of the insanity now abroad.


I want I don’t want I can I cannot I be I not be


There’s a feeling or experience that is rarely discussed, even identified, and yet it’s running human beings. Much of the distress, agitation and busyness of the world arises from this one thought. Shakespeare saw it and put it at the centre of his profoundest work – “To be or not to be”. Mostly, it goes underground. That’s why I was excited to read a re-creation of it in a book of so-called Zen questions and answers.

In this example, the person asking the question feels helpless and frustrated about a situation involving his mother, but it could be any situation. The “answer” will apply. See if you recognise it in your own life. I particularly like the “forcing a way through the logjam with ought”. That’s very good …

I am in a complete impasse with my mother. She demands all the time that I be there to help her; but when I try to do anything she complains and says that she is better off with the nurse. How can I use this in practice?

… I sympathise with you in your feeling of impotence in the face of what does seem an impossible situation. So often we are caught up with the feeling that we ought to do something, and that feeling is always accompanied by the feeling that we ought to be able to do something.

Would it help at all if you were to allow the feeling, ‘I ought to do something’ to come up, and simply be aware of it without the feeling of being identified with it? There is a great difference between the feeling of ought and the feeling ‘I’ ought. The feeling of ought dominates our lives: there ought to be a solution to all my problems; there ought to be a way of living better; there ought to be a way of dealing with the world’s suffering, and so on. Unfortunately, because we can imagine an ideal situation, we believe that ideal situation ought to be ours. To stay with the feeling of ought without seeking for a way to realise the ought, is very uncomfortable, but it is a way through.

‘Ought’ may well come out of our contradictory nature, and this can be expressed as: ‘I want to do something and I do not want to do it; I can do it, I can’t do it.’ We try to force a way through the logjam with ‘ought’, and get frustrated and humiliated by the failure to do so. This feeling of ought, and consequent frustration it brings, may well be at the root of our need to find a ‘spiritual’ way … Basically we are all, all the time, on the horns of the dilemma, but some are more adept at pretending that they are not.”

~ From What More Do You Want? by Albert Low

Image: Cat and Bird, 1928, Paul Klee


I am you


“When I don’t know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, I am you.” (The Ramayana)

There was a terrible event here in Melbourne last week. A 26-year-old man, after allegedly stabbing and almost fatally wounding his brother, drove a stolen car into the city in the middle of a busy Friday lunchtime, turned into the pedestrian mall in the centre of the city, and drove at 70 km/hour for several blocks mowing down whoever was in his path. Five people died including a 10-year-old girl and a 3-month-old baby. The mother and younger sister of the girl are critically injured, as well as many others.

Amid the blame and anger expressed by people being the ordinary way of being human, a man from my sangha posted the following thoughts of Facebook. His response is the one which most people are unwilling to make, and is the path to the end of sorrow: to see yourself as the perpetrator and the perpetrator as yourself. And once one makes that move, the ultimate truth may hove into view: to see that you are the perpetrator and the perpetrator is you.

Following my friend’s thoughts is a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“As I sit in stillness this morning, I sense my weary heart. I feel the pain and the suffering for what has happened in Melbourne yesterday. I see myself as friends and families for the injured victims and for the deceased victims. I also see myself as the man who caused such a tragic chaotic incident. I see a beautiful little boy with a charming smile in him. I see all the nice things that he has done during his childhood. Just as similar and no different to my own children. So what has gone wrong I wonder.

My immediate reaction is anger. And anger can lead to hate. But I know that hate never resolves hate. Hate escalates hate. Only understanding and love has the power to embrace hate and transform hate. Our society is becoming problematic everyday because of fear, anger, confusion and hate but with the right understanding we can all transform this …

So how do we cultivate love in our society? In schools, in families, in workplaces and every part of our lives. It’s all up to the individual to take action. How we want our community to turn out all depends on us. We can all make a difference. Happy parents can change the world.”

“Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
‘debt of blood’ to my people
dying slowly in a forced labour camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace


To be beautiful

Working Title/Artist: From the Faraway, Nearby Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1938 photography by Malcolm Varon 1984 transparency #5AD scanned and retouched by film and media (jn) 12_13_04

Last year, I joined a sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and it’s so good to be a part of it. I can talk about Thay to my heart’s content and listen to others talking about him. Here is a passage which a sangha member shared. I consider it a wonderful gift, and in turn I offer it to you …

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.”


Text: Thich Nhat Hanh

Image: From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937, Georgia O’Keeffe

Surrender and freedom

Georgia O'Keeffe Pelvis IV 1944 oil on canvas 36 1/16 x 40 3/8 " (91.5 x 102.5cm) Georgia O’Keeffe Museum © 1987, Private Collection

2016 was one of the best years of my life. This time last year I was struggling with an area of life that hadn’t been working for a long time. For years, I kept doing the same thing over and over again in this area, unable to see any other course of action and convinced that if I just tried harder or better, it would eventually work. Finally, in December 2015 I was left with nowhere else to go and I took the first steps to accepting the situation AS IT WAS.

In January 2016, the new reality had begun and though the situation was hard and unfamiliar and still NOT THE WAY IT SHOULD BE, I could see it was indeed something new in an area in which the new had died decades before. I suddenly had new problems, and new problems meant movement. So that encouraged me.

Then in March, at Easter, I had a big breakthrough. The situation was better, but come the Easter weekend, I was feeling sad and disempowered and was ruminating on old sorrows. Again, I did something different. I’d been reading and listening to Thich Nhat Hanh and I took his advice about dealing with sorrow and other strong emotions. Rather than trying to get away from it as I might have done previously, I allowed myself to experience it. I didn’t analyse it or interpret it or make up some story about myself as a result of it; I just let it be.

Two days went past, and then on the third day, Easter Sunday, something happened. Suddenly, I saw something about my view of the world and myself that I had had since I was  a child, and over the course of some hours the insight deepened. The stone had rolled away from the tomb!

From that day on, my life has gotten better and better. I have a new freedom and a love and respect for myself that continues to grow every day, and in the nine months since then I’ve experienced successes I previously thought impossible.

Looking back now, I see the genesis was that new move, that move that had been foreign to me for perhaps my whole life, the thing called acceptance or surrender. In her blog, Celia Hales refers to a Buddhist master describing it as “being willing to have it so” which is a very good way of putting it.

The second big thing I discovered in 2016 is what Paulo Coelho referred to in the post I published the other day: “nothing is irreplaceable.” I’ve often lived my life as if the option in front of me were the only option and I had to “put up with” whatever was on offer. In 2016, I discovered this is not the case, that there are always other options, they’re usually right there in front of me or just round the next corner, and they’re a much better fit for me.

At first glance it looks like this discovery is counter to my discovery of acceptance or surrender. But in ways I cannot explain or don’t want to explain, they go together. The freedom to choose, to say “no”, arises from surrender; surrender gives rise to freedom.

I’ve got more to discover about surrender and I’m excited.


Image: I saw this painting in the flesh today. Very powerful!  Pelvis IV 1944 by Georgia O’Keeffe

Hot milk goodness #4


There’s another ancient topic in Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, maybe the only topic there ever is: families, or as Sofia, the stalled anthropologist, whose full name is Sofia Irina Papastergiadis, puts it: kinship structures.

“F=Father. M=Mother. SS=Same sex. OS=Opposite sex. I have no G (Siblings) or C (Children) or H (Husband), nor do I have a Godparent (who we classify as fictive kin because godparents can make up their responsibilities and duties).”

But maybe it’s all fictive kin. As she says on meeting her Greek father (named Christos, what else) for the first time in 11 years, each of us plays parts not denoted by our sign, sons being husbands to mothers, daughters being mothers to mothers, and so on.

“I have no plan B to replace my father because I am not sure that I want a husband who is like a father, though I can see this is part of the mix in kinship structures. A wife can be a mother to her husband and a son can be a husband or a mother to his mother and a daughter can be a sister or a mother to her mother who can be a father and a mother to her daughter, which is probably why we are all lurking in each other’s sign. It’s my bad luck that my father never showed up for me, but I had not changed my surname to Booth, even though it was tempting to have a name that people could spell. He had given me his name and I had not given it away. I had found something to do with it. The name of my father had placed me in a bigger world of names that cannot be easily said or spelt.”


The smell

Frequently in a conversation, someone says something which appears to be perfectly straightforward but which nevertheless smells. Then I read this again and identify the smell …

Existential analysis, therefore, constantly has the character of doing violence (gewaltsamkeit) whether to the claims of the everyday interpretation, or to its complacency and its tranquillised obviousness.

~ Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)


Hot milk goodness #3


One of the things Hot Milk by Deborah Levy is concerned with is what it means to be a woman, or a man for that matter. As many individuals and schools of thought have realised, the more one looks into the question the more one sees there is nothing there. There is no inherent meaning in the concept “woman” just as there is no inherent meaning in any other concept or thing, and Levy puts the case with great lightness and wit in the scene in which Sofia is speculating on what she might buy from the market if she were an adult woman with all the accoutrements …

“I picked up an aerosol of air freshener that had been designed in the shape of a curvaceous woman. She was wearing a polka-dot apron that did not disguise her massive belly and heavy breasts. Her eyelashes were long and curled, her lips tiny and puckered. The instructions for how to use her were translated into Italian, Greek, German, Danish and a language I did not recognise, but she was ‘Extremely Flammable’ in every language.

There were instructions in English, too. Shake her well. Point her towards the centre of the room and spray. The scale of her belly and breasts were not unlike early fertility goddesses found in Greece around 6000BC, except they did not wear polka-dot aprons. Did they suffer from hypochondria? Hysteria? Were they bold? Lame? Too full of the milk of human kindness?

I bought the air freshener for four euro because it was a kind of artefact translated into many languages, and also because it was clearly an interpretation of a woman (breasts belly apron eyelashes) and I had become confused by the sign for servicios in public places. I could not figure out why one sign was male and the other female. The most common stick-figure sign was not particularly male or female. Did I need this aerosol to make things clearer to me? What kind of clarity was I after?

I had conquered Juan who was Zeus the thunderer as far as I was concerned, but the signs were all mixed up because his job in the injury hut was to tend the wounded with his tube of ointment. He was maternal, brotherly, he was like a sister, perhaps paternal, he had become my lover. Are we all lurking in each other’s sign? Do I and the woman on the air freshener belong to the same sign? …

It wasn’t clarity I was after. I wanted things to be less clear …”


Image: Man taking pic of the installation Narcissism: Dazzle Room by Shigeki Matsuyama

Hot milk goodness #2


Today’s instalment from Hot Milk by Deborah Levy concerns Sofia and her mother, Rose, driving to a local market. They have come to the baked out, rocky coast of Spain to consult the famous doctor/quack, Dr Gómez, about Rose’s paralysis of the feet. In characteristically perverse style, Rose is suddenly able to drive a car, whereas 25-year-old Sofia is revealed to have failed her driving test four times.

Feet and hands are especially important in the symbolic history of women, and books like Women Who Run With the Wolves contain many of the stories such as “The Red Shoes” and “The Handless Maiden”, each of them spelling out the ubiquity and consequences of women’s learned helplessness.

In my own life, I think of the thing I was forbidden to do as a child and teenager, and that was to express anger. My mother would shut it down before the words “How dare you?” were out of her mouth. Looking back now I can see she was terrified of her own rage being awakened. Instead it expressed itself in migraine headaches and the nightly near-severing of her fingers on the newly sharpened knife over the detested task of the evening meal.

“I looked down at my mother’s foot on the brake. Her toes moved off and then landed on it with delicacy and confidence. ‘I can imagine you walking the entire length of the beach,’ I said.

In reply she started to sing the words to a hymn: ‘And did those feet in ancient time/ Walk upon England’s mountains green.’

If only. My mother’s feet are mostly on strike, but I’m not sure what she is negotiating for or what the deal breaker would be. Her feet are an English size nine. Her jaw is large. Our ancestors developed a protruding jaw because they were constantly fighting. Grievance is very strenuous. My mother needs her jaw to see off anyone who will separate her from her stash of resentment.”


Image: Deborah Levy

Hot milk goodness #1


Hot Milk by Deborah Levy continues to be exhilarating. I’m going to share some over the next day or two. Here’s a section from the scene called “Boldness” in which Sofia finally takes action after Dr Gómez observes she lacks strength as a young woman. She needs “more purpose, less apathy” and he prescribes stealing a fish from the market to make her bolder, “It need not be the biggest fish, but it must not be the smallest either.”

Often, I think I need to steal a fish too …

“The first fish to snare my attention from the point of view of a thief was a monkfish with a monster face, mouth gaping open to reveal its two rows of sharp little teeth. I lightly poked my finger into its mouth and discovered a world that was totally unknown to me, like Columbus discovering the Bahamas. The cashier, a fierce woman in a yellow rubber apron, shouted in Spanish not to touch the fish. Already I had made myself visible, when the point of a thief is to slip unseen into the night and not into the mouth of a fish … I considered the whiskery langoustines … they were the professors of the ocean but they did not make me feel bolder. A huge tuna lay on a bed of ice … It was the most precious jewel in the market, the emerald of the sea. My hand reached towards it, but I couldn’t follow it through. A tuna was too ambitious, not so much bold as reckless.

… I looked away and that’s when I saw my fish. It was looking straight at me and its eyes were furious. It was a plump dorado in a rage. I knew it was destined to be mine.

… To steal the dorado, I had to conquer my fear of being found out and shamed … Very slowly, I moved closer to the dorado, and with my left hand I touched the price tag on the langoustines to distract the cashier from my right hand, which was sliding the grumpy dorado into my basket.

As far as I could make out, this was the model that most politicians had adopted to run their democracies and dictatorships. If the reality of the right hand is being messed up with the left hand, it would be true to say that reality is not a stable commodity …”


Image: Man with sailfish

My tiny house of language




Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die of boredom in conversations and one of my dearest wishes is to wake up one day free to open my mouth and let any old thing fall out. Of course, I am free, though I appear not to know it, or as my Landmark buddies understand, knowing makes no difference anyway. To anything. Least of all to knowing oneself as free to say … what? What is it I haven’t yet said or haven’t been courageous enough to say?

There are many times I want to tell someone they’re a fool. Lately, it’s been parents. As a non-parent, listening to what parents say about their children is often alarming and I want to tell them do you realise the misery you’re storing up for yourself and your child.

But it’s not really about being free to tell someone they’re a fool. It’s about being free not to go through the old conversational motions, free to say something stupid, eccentric or seemingly off topic, like answering a question that will arise next week or last week, and in turn, to be said to.

Like my trainer giving me instructions last week. “Do one more here,” he said, “and then I’ll meet you in the bushes over there”, gesturing to a quieter corner of the gym. I was enchanted. If I didn’t already love him, his remark would have done it.

And like Dr Gómez in a new novel I’m reading called Hot Milk by Deborah Levy which is full of the kind of conversations I dream of. Dr Gómez is the specialist Sofia and her intermittently paralysed mother consult in a town on the Spanish coast. Here’s a taste.

I regarded Gómez as my research assistant. I have been on the case all my life and he is just starting. There are no clear boundaries between victory and defeat when it comes to my mother’s symptoms. As soon as he makes a diagnosis, she will grow another one to confound him. He seems to know this. Yesterday he told her to recite her latest ailment to the body of a dead insect, perhaps to a fly, because they are easy to swat. He suggested she surrender to this strange action and listen carefully to the monotony of the way it buzzes before it dies. It is likely, he said, that she will discover that the buzzing sound, often so irritating to the human ear, resembles the timbre and pitch of Russian folk music.


More than three wise men


The Big Issue is a weekly magazine sold by people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. Part of the cover price goes to the vendor so they can take steps to getting a home and making a fresh start in life. It’s sold in capital cities in Australia and also in other countries like the UK.

Each year they have a special edition featuring Christmas wishes from vendors across Australia. Here are some from this year’s edition.

I am hoping to meet our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and ask him what he plans to do about the homeless and mentally ill in 2017. Both these areas are underfunded. This year I got to see Prince in concert before he died, in Sydney. Merry Christmas to everyone, even my exes. From your loving vendor.

Daniel K, CBD & North Adelaide

I want to say thanks to my customers for supporting me. I am pursuing visits with my daughter. She is almost nine. She is very good at running. I want to find a two-bedroom house so that my daughter can come and visit, because at the moment I am in a rooming house so she is not allowed to come there. There is nothing available at the moment.

Craig, Carlton

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the nice people of Melbourne for buying the magazine. People have been very helpful and I love to have a laugh with them on their way home. I am going to be saying goodbye to my customers next year as I may be starting a new job or moving to Queensland.

Darryl, Geelong

I wish all my customers all the best for the New Year. I am hoping to be able to sell at a new location. My cat is called Prince and he’s 16 years old. I’ll be getting him a special Christmas dinner for Christmas. The best thing that has happened this year was the Western Bulldogs winning the flag! Go the Bulldogs.

Jeff S, Melbourne

I love my customers and I wish them a happy festive season. Thanks for all the chats and smiles. Thanks for supporting our magazine!

Willy, St Kilda

I would like to thank all my customers for their support over the year. It has been hard, but you all make me very happy just seeing all my customers have a good Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Gordon, Moonee Ponds

I would like to save up to buy my daughter a car, because she had a car accident and has a two-year-old girl and she needs one. I’d like to spend more time with my family next year. Thanks to all my customers.

Ross, Melbourne

As I study for my music certificate, I pause and wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas!

Devo, Myer Bridge

One of my biggest achievements of 2016 was getting my P-plates, which has made getting around easier. I also got a dog, his name is Doug. He is good company and well trained. By the end of the year I will have a full licence. The Occupational Therapy Services helped me get my licence, and they put a story about me on their Facebook page. I’m the first bilateral person to drive without any attachment. Merry Christmas to all!

Rob N, Elizabeth Quay & Cloisters

After years of unpaid work experience, I decided that it was time to show the world that my ability to participate in my community has value – so I started selling The Big Issue. Now people can see my abilities and my disabilities are like everyone else’s. I’m a valuable part of the community and for the first time I earn my own money. In 2017 I hope to save enough money to see WWE when they come to WA. The biggest issue I faced this year was depression, but working at The Big Issue is helping to change that because I am learning to overcome my feelings of isolation.

Dylan G, Falcon shops, Mandurah

What a year it has been; up and down, but I keep trying because I love my job! My customers have been awesome, and when Eliza [my partner] works with me they always make her feel welcome and that puts a smile on her face. To all my customers and friends that have made me happy, thank you. Merry Christmas and a safe New Year.

Glenn F, Elizabeth & Foveaux Sts

Sometimes I have great days on the pitch selling The Big Issue. Mags fly out and there’s the smile of another nice customer. Sometimes there are bad days. I’ve sold zero mags, even though all these people are passing by. But like the song, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stone”. One day while I was selling a woman came up to me and handed me $50. She said, “I found this on the footpath where I live and I wanted someone else to have it.” I thanked her and she walked off. Unbelievable. If the woman who gave me the $50 note reads this, thank you, that was beautiful. Isn’t the world so much better when we care for each other?

Darrell, Ashfield

I would like to sell more magazines next year. The best thing that happened this year was getting my sleep apnoea machine.

Craig J, Darlinghurst

The best thing that happened this year was walking the City2Surf, and the biggest challenge was saving up to buy a car. I remember the day I found out that Santa wasn’t real. That was a big surprise!

Charles, Pitt St

Thanks so much to all the people who bought the magazine from me, especially my regulars – some have stuck with me for years. Of course the money is important, but a chat, a laugh and a connection with another human being on a regular basis is really therapeutic. Thanks.

Drew, Central Station & Summer Hill



“A load of hot, unschooled certainty”

Very funny article in today’s Guardian by Victoria Coren Mitchell about the palmy days of 2013 and mansplaining, the way men talk generally, what really matters and kindness. Also contains the line that should be tacked above the entrance to Twitter, in fact, any conversation anywhere – “It isn’t about the person they’re talking to – it’s about themselves.

“It made me feel sentimental to see ‘mansplaining’ in the news again. Did you read the story? Actually, there have been two: the first was that Unionen, Sweden’s largest trade union, has launched a mansplaining hotline for women to phone if they’ve been a victim of male condescension.

Oh, with what shivers of nostalgia this took me back. Back, back, back to the salad days of, ooh, 2013 it must have been, when I first heard the term.

It was pretty obvious what it meant, though somebody (probably a man) told me anyway: mansplaining is when a male explains something to a female in unnecessary detail, often a female who understands it better than he does. I was familiar with the phenomenon, of course. Every woman has had simple things explained to her at interminable length by a man. That’s just basic social interaction.

Of course it’s annoying; nobody likes to be treated like a fool. Of course it’s boring; nobody likes to be lectured. But still, how wistfully I remember the luxury of being troubled by that sort of thing, in the long-lost idyll of 2013.

Do you remember what troubled you back then? On the world stage, I mean. You may have struggled – may still struggle – with all sorts of private worries: a medical trauma, a row at work, a harrowing debt. The way your wife runs out of the room giggling when her phone bleeps late at night. That weird recurrent dream you have about a marrow festival.

But the things we worried about generally, in 2013 … my word, I spent serious time worrying about whether the 500-year-old remains of Richard III should be buried in York or Leicester! Those were the bloody days.

Have we really got time and space, now, to kvetch about whether men talk to women in a patronising way? With all the other wars that threaten to wage?

The truth is, I don’t think mansplaining is even sexist. I don’t think men reserve a patronising tone for women alone. It’s just how they talk.

In the original essay Men Explain Things To Me (which, although not actually coining the zeitgeisty word, is credited with being the core identifier of the tendency), author Rebecca Solnit writes about a man who lectured her on the subject of one of her own published books.

Because he employed the sort of painstaking, long-winded detail that Solnit herself would only use if giving instructions to an idiot, she assumed the man thought she was an idiot. But the point that I think has been missed by Solnit – and by all the women who have written and talked about mansplaining ever since – is: men also talk this way to each other. It’s not that they don’t defer to women. It’s that they don’t defer to anyone.

Men simply love explaining things. That is what men want to do in conversation: make jokes and explain things. Your average man would be happy to tell Gareth Southgate how to manage the England football team, or the head of MI6 how to deal with Isis, or Stephen Hawking what he reckons about black holes.

It isn’t about the person they’re talking to – it’s about themselves. If anything, the inclination could be seen as a compliment. They offer their nuggets of wisdom as gifts, like a cat offers a half-eaten bird.

That doesn’t mean there is no danger in the mansplaining tendency. Many of the world’s problems can probably be traced to the way men take this approach into government, filling the atmosphere with a load of hot, unschooled certainty. I suspect we’d be better off if we all reached consensus by respecting others’ opinions and experience.

But socially no harm is meant by it. Men would be terribly sad if they were told they must never explain anything again. They get so much pleasure from being expansive, from chewing over their thoughts, sharing a bit of half-remembered fact or quote, airing a little aperçu that occurred to them when driving along the M6. And sometimes it is properly informative or enjoyable.

That is Christmas, for most men: sipping a tasty drink, reaching for the nutcrackers and settling in for a good long disquisition on why it rains or what’s wrong with modern television or whither North Korea.

And, if you ask me, the biggest problem facing our western world at the moment is the decline of kindness. As huge differences of opinion batter against each other, we forget to be gentle and careful with each other’s dreams, respectful of each other’s self-worth.

It means a lot to your poor old dad, uncle, colleague, husband or friend to offer his advice and insights. Sitting there, mug or glass clutched eagerly in hand, looking forward to holding forth … how much do you really want to see him quiet and disappointed, confronting his own limitations? How much do you want to shout: “Nobody gives a shit, Granddad! You pompous old bore! Let’s talk about me!”? How much are you actually reduced if you let him feel listened to?

At the start of this column, I said there had been two recent stories about mansplaining. The first was that the 600,000-strong Unionen has launched a mansplaining hotline.

And the second, which followed soon after, is that the majority of calls to the hotline have been from men: anxious, self-doubting men, asking exactly what mansplaining is and how to avoid doing it.

Beware of throwing your ire at the wrong target. It’s so easy to get angry about things. Too easy. We get distracted from what’s actually important, dissipating our energy with the wrong fights.

Women don’t want to be silenced by men. But I don’t think the answer is for us to silence them in return.”

~ By Victoria Coren Mitchell, The Guardian, 27 November 2016