During 2017, on eight occasions, a song bloomed in my headphones that made my heart soar. I wrote about them as “Magical Aural Moments.” For your delectation . . .
- Kelley Stoltz – “I’m Here for Now”
- Arcade Fire – “Put Your Money on Me”
- The Mountain Goats – “Rain in Soho”
- Methyl Ethyl – “Ubu”
- My Friend The Chocolate Cake – “The Prince”
- Slowdive – “Star Rolling”
- Laura Marling – “Soothing”
- Robyn Hitchcock – “Raymond and the Wires”
The 2016 Jogging Big Year segued into the 2017 Fitness Big Year. I took up riding bikes but hoped to keep running. But how does one define fitness? At the start of this year, I recall asking everyone what fitness means and how I would know whether I was making any progress.
Here I am a year later and fitness remains a slippery concept. It’s “relative,” I’m told, or “it depends on your aims,” or “if you improve, you’re fitter.” You can’t hop into a “fitness MRI” that gives you a “fitness score.”
Partway through 2017, I gave up worrying about the issue. Keeping up the cycling, jogging, and gym visits was stress enough. But over the second half of the year, I caught myself grinning and saying to myself, “I’m better, I feel better.” Through trial and error, I’ve ended up with a weekly slate of nine outings (three gym, three bike, three footpath) that seems to suit me. Certainly my cycling has gotten faster (it’s still slow), certainly I’m stronger (and less inclined to pull muscles) in the gymnasium, and if jogging hasn’t seen any real lift, at least I am still doing it. For a couple of months, I held my weight down to what I think is optimal, and I’m not far above that now. Perhaps most telling, hamstring and other niggles have abated and I recover faster from killer runs or longer rides.
This sensation of being “fitter” remains intangible but it’s real. I count the 2017 Fitenss Big Year as a success.
My parents liked to listen to Acker Bilk, a silken clarinettist. Acker Bilk was familiar to them. At best they found my music bemusing or bewildering. That’s our default, sticking to what sounds comfortable.
One of my aims for my 123 new albums this year was to stress test my boundaries, reach out into new music genres. Did I succeed? Not really. Over 70 of the albums were in that amorphous indie/alternative genre I call home. Sixteen were more straight-out rock, eleven were pop, nine were folk-rock. One of the highlights of the listening year were some wonderful electronic albums, but I only listened to six of them in the end. Prog rock also fascinated but there were just five of those. I’ve never enjoyed country music and that showed: only two listens. And jazz-rock, a genre I once flirted with, came up with only one representative.
So no, despite a desire to branch out, mostly I heard what I always hear.
One of my favourite bands of all time is Fischer-Z. In 2017 they put out their first band release in three decades. It crunches with energy, the lyrics are undiminished, I rate it at 9/10. As required, I listen to Building Bridges three times. Has it been on rotation in my playlists since?
No! It leaves me cold. The band hasn’t changed but I have. I want the NEW. Please, please, please, assault my ears with the pulse of the next generation, not us pensioners.
Of my 123 albums over the year, only 31, a quarter of them, were put out by young or younger or youngish people. What a travesty!
Family aside, 2017’s core was the Writing Big Year, which I defined on January 1 as full morning concentration (with various regulations and processes) and, far more important, finishing a draft of the book. Well, the Big Year concept – daily service to an obsession – doesn’t work for a project that carries any uncertainty at all, let alone the bottomless unknowns of my book attempt.
Within weeks the completion goal revealed itself as make-believe. After a series of rewrites of the Writing Big Year, I changed tack a little (note that I was working very hard and most productively) and then more, and in the middle of the year switched to exercising first thing in my mornings, before realizing that was stupid, etc., etc., etc. I paid lip service to the Writing Big Year until late in the year, and then abandoned all hope.
Look, the initial goal was aspirational, motivating enough that 2017 was a terrific writing year for me. My friends and family wouldn’t agree, but I’m making fine progress. It’s just that it would have been better to align the work with the “do it daily” discipline.
2018 will learn from 2017.
I’ve walked to the edge of this cliff a few times in 2017. I could have jumped: abandoned the book, given up the writing fantasy, retired.
What’s your precipice?
This Big Year has morphed a bit over the year. The emerging experience with adding cycling to the jogging habit has led my to a weekly regimen: cycle 3 times for 90 kms, jog 3 times for 30 kms, do my gym routine 3 times. Nine activities a week, which means a couple of days a week I double up. This cycle, still rather new to me, seems to zing!
But I like to overlay annual targets, so I aimed (after a couple of edits) for 4,000 kms of cycling, 1,000 kms of jogging, and 100 gym sessions. An annual goal is, I’ve found, a wonderful motivator. And it allows you to occasionally “catch up” if life really assails your routines.
Well, right now I’m caught in a vice. With 12 days to go (with five of them in Darwin, in that swelter that makes longer jogs impossible and where I can’t cycle or go to the gym), I need 57 more cycling kms (doable), and 70 more cycling kms (needing almost daily running, which is hard on me), and 4 gym visits (difficult to fit in). And I ask myself: does it matter if I end up with 990 jogging kilometers? One part of me answers: of course it’s not important, what counts is regularity, the weekly targets. Another part of me, the dangerous one, demurs: of course you need 4,000/1,000/100, Andres, achieve it no matter what!