Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty

Category: Writing

Reading Billy Letford’s blog entry about roof poetry made me think of the well-known phrase about practicing random kindnesses and senseless acts of beauty. I Googled it and found out from Wikipedia that, “The phrase… may have been coined by peace activist Anne Herbert. Herbert says she wrote it on a place mat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983.”I like the vagueness of this. Did she leave the place mat in the Sausalito restaurant as a senseless act of beauty, I wonder?  And how did her phrase find its way from the place mat into popular culture? Leaving a poem under a roof slate seems to me to be both a random kindness and a senseless act of beauty, especially as it appears that Billy hadn’t thought of keeping a record of the poems he left. He just let them go, to be found or not found, appreciated or not appreciated.


Sometime last year I came home and noticed that my friend Straggleweed had built Stragglehenge on the shore outside my house. I don’t think he ever mentioned it to me or asked for acknowledgement, but every time I see it, I feel a rush of gratitude and elation. It’s a beautiful thing.

I’ve always tended towards the view that ‘art’ and ‘being an artist’ is about far more than words published or a sculpture in a gallery or any kind of publicly acknowledged record.  

I think that art is everywhere and can be almost anything, that there are endless possibilities for art, and that even if the artist is the only person who ever notices or appreciates it, it’s still art, dammit!  Of course, it might be comforting to have this notion if you’re someone who’s never had their words published or had their sculpture in a gallery or made any kind of publicly acknowledged record, but I like to think that it’s more than a consolation for the artistically unsuccessful. I reckon that random acts of art help to keep us alive. 

About twenty years ago I had a postcard stuck to my bedroom wall showing a photo of a man leaping down a flight of stone steps wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘I am the best artist!’ He looked as if he was bounding forth into the world to create art, and I loved the exuberance and arrogance and optimism of it. I lost the postcard somewhere along the way, but still when I think of it I want to bound forth into the world and create art. Who knows? I might even finish my novel one of these days…

Tat Usher

Tat grew up in Aberdeenshire, St Andrews and London, had a horrible time at school, spent a year trying to sell people dodgy paintings in Australia, studied Philosophy at Aberdeen University and has drifted aimlessly around the country ever since. Writing has always been a bit of a neurotic obsession. When she's not writing or sending ridiculously long letters and emails to people she barely knows, she works as an adult literacy teacher. She has tried forgetting about writing and getting on with ‘real life', but it never quite works. She loves teaching but loves writing more. Last year Tat did an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, and is still trying to come to terms with the fact that it's all over. Her plan for this year is to finish her novel, ‘Goatman'. Receiving a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award has given her a huge boost in that direction.