The big demands of a Big Year

A Big Year makes unreasonable demands. In Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, Anne Truitt captured one aspect of this, when she wrote that

the knowledge that the week stretches ahead of me, full of people, just when I need the solitude that provides the mental space and physical pacing that eases my work, the feeling of being frayed by demands tangent to my purposes—all these mental rats snarled and scurried.

An unexpected reward from a Big Year: More creative urges

Nearly two-thirds of the way through my first two Big Years, I quiz myself: worthwhile or not? I’m not sure whether it’s this self enquirer or the stimulus of a certain kind of travel (I’ll write about this stimulating topic sometime soon), but weird ideas have begun popping up.

Sitting in a Lake Como cafe, at an outside seat under a white umbrella, tourists promenading before me, fat middle-aged local men behind me gassing on, leg still sore from yesterday’s fall, I read the 20th of 50 interviews in Danielle Krysa’s Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Why I’m reading this is a mystery, because it doesn’t consider writers but visual artists, and not only am I a Pictionary disaster, I’ve struggled all my life to “understand” paintings, drawings, images, etc. But then I find this piece of “unblocking” advice from illustrator Justin Richel:

Take a couple large pieces of paper and cut them down into smaller parts between 5″ × 5″ and 10″ × 10″ (12 cm × 12 cm and 25 cm × 25 cm). You should have somewhere between twenty-five and fifty small pieces of paper. Without spending too much time on content, begin making marks or drawing loosely with your preferred medium on the paper. As you complete the marks, you may need to set them aside to dry; simply move to the next piece of paper and repeat until you have moved through the entire stack. Once you have moved through the entire stack, sort the pieces into three different piles. Ones that work , ones that don’t work , and ones that need work . In no particular order, finish the ones that work by adding the final touches. Work on the ones that need work and continue by making the ones that don’t work, work, by discovering what went wrong and how it can be “saved” if possible. Continue to work on the pieces until all or most are finished. You should now have a pile of fun starts, finished pieces, and some failures to learn from.

Flash . . . could I contemplate a Sketching Big Year even though my drawing/painting talent is demonstrably zero? Why does that thought excite me like it does? If contemplated, should the notion be pursued? Is 2017 a suitable candidate?


Meditation & the Headspace app

Meditating is meant to do good in so many ways but me, I’ve adored my busy monkey mind. Who wants to quieten the buzz?

Well, for some reason (a specific reason I won’t discuss now) the notion of being more mindful has beckoned. There are no yoga or meditation or mindfulness classes nearby, so on impulse, I picked up a free app recommended by Doctor Michael Mosley, whose ideas I value. The app? Headspace, 10-minute meditation “lessons” by Andy Puddicombe.

Shouldn’t meditation be more serious? Isn’t ten minutes frivolous? Surely this is just the territory of shallow apps!

In fact Headspace works a treat with me, some two months in. The sequenced “meditations” always succeed in leaving me relaxed and strangely self-aware, beyond what my normal fizzing mind can. Puddicombe’s intellectual framework seems true enough. I’ll keep going (but it’s not going to be a Big Year, okay?).

Is diet a suitable Big Year target?

Nutrition and diet are the modern middle class’s hidden burden. We eat and drink badly and too much, and we lie about it to ourselves but especially to others. I’m genetically lucky – thin, that is – but unlucky – borderline cholesterol numbers. I’m no nutrition sinner but also no saint, and I’d love to do better. Should I do a diet big year?

No! A big year addresses what’s in our heart – the yearnings, the hidden loves, the passions and those values and ideas we don’t honour but know we must. A big year is a one-year obsession. Diet is something else. More like cleanliness or manners, it’s something to address forever in the future.

Yes, diet is tough and, yes, it’s all about habits, but it’s more “I must fix diet or I’ll die early” rather than a big year’s “let’s dream, dream for twelve months.”

Brooks Beast: The perfect shoe for a challenge

I’ve jogged in Brooks Beast shoes for a number of years. The marketing guff calls the shoe “mighty” and that it is. Every physio I’ve been to (the latest one yesterday) concurs: if you have any foot issues, nothing else will suffice. Three years ago, a shoe salesman persuaded me to try another lighter Brooks model . . . I’m sure that’s what started this latest set of foot niggles.

A geek’s advice: don’t shortchange yourself with your gear!

The lure of hiking Big Years

Does this person show happiness? I think so.

Hiking in Wales with good friends, each day I sank further and further into the sheer pleasure of extended walking, sometimes close to civilisation, sometimes quite remote. The Jogging Big Year and Writing Big Year have curtailed our walking somewhat and the thought occurred to me: shouldn’t I do a Hiking Big Year? Max out on something clearly challenging, beneficial and enjoyable?

But when? 2017 certainly isn’t a Hiking Big Year and 2018 seems so far away!

A Big Year needs the best app: Go Strava!

I used a few apps before Strava to do the obvious, recording the basics of my routine glacial running outings. My 2016 Jogging Big Year (note the word “jogging” – I don’t consider myself a runner, I’m a jogger) involves covering 1,600 kms by obsessively doing 10 kms 4 times a week. My goal doesn’t mention speed, vertical ascent, races, anything at all that a club runner might fasten upon. So in theory my app needs are minimal.

Yet from my very first hitout with Strava on my iPhone, I was a convert. Strava is beautifully laid out. It gives me split times every kilometer – I love hearing that reassuring female voice cooing “distance: 3 kilometers; time: 18 minutes 29 seconds; previous kilometer in 6 minutes 10 seconds.” It syncs rapidly and reliably. I can set monthly distance challenges. My annual kms are split up by month and day. I can compare times across my four chosen regular routes. Anyone can establish a segment that other runners can judge themselves against; I’m yet to use this but surely will.

But Strava’s greatest bestowal upon humanity is its socialisation of what in my case is a solitary activity. Runners and cyclists who have never met “follow” each other in Facebook style and receive “kudos” from others. Corny? Potentially yes, but I relish being able to observe each day how other runners (all of them, I repeat all of them, “real runners” faster than me) gobble up their kilometers on path or track. Magically, I feel part of a community. Magically, that community sustains my jogging.

And all of this is done with just the right mixture of joyfulness and commerciality. I pay to use its Premium option . . . I’d pay ten times what I do. Long live Strava.

Big year conflicts, management thereof

A month ago, desperate to finish a chapter, I skipped a gym session. Now, my Jogging Big Year is nearly all about 1,600 kms, but I’ve been insisting that on every non-jogging day I would do gym. So in my mind I’d made a decision to commit a minor Jogging Big Year breach in order to attend to the Writing Big Year.

Then, two days later, even more desperate to finish that chapter, I  did the unthinkable – I did not jog on a jogging day. For the first time this year, during a week entirely in Melbourne, I jogged not 40 but 30 kms. Major breach, major breach.

It seems to me that conflicts of this sort must arise. All you can do is steel yourself and decide between the two conflicting goals.

But here’s the good news – I rose extra early the next morning – the day we flew out – and fitted in a jog otherwise not planned. Peace of mind . . .