1,000 Big Year: Let me admit that I’m vanquished

This photo could only have been snapped if I rose late, at sunrise. With heavy heart, I surrender: Melbourne’s winter has, this winter, roundly defeated me. And when I write “with heavy heart,” I lie: I’m treasuring every moment of sleeping or dozing after the alarm has blared.

The 1,000 Big Year makes 2018 simple: rise early, work the morning (6 hours), shun Facebook/emails, plan/monitor, and, as a consequence, churn out 1,000 words a day. Simple 2018 might be, but right now this Big Year is a flop. I’m trying hard to compensate – aiming for six hours uninterrupted – but life’s vicissitudes ensure most days are a failure (sometimes a glorious failure, sometimes not).

What next? Will sunny Spring turn me round? If not, what next?

A break from crime fiction: The Ann Tyler interview

On an extended break from mainstream and literary fiction,  immersing in murder mysteries, I nevertheless had to soak in a wonderful Louise France interview-article in last Saturday’s The Weekend Australian Magazine (originally in The Times), a most rare chat with 76-year-old Anne Tyler, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of 22 books that have sold ten million copies and delighted readers of all reading proclivities. No author could be further from the crime fiction currently filling my head but I just could not resist. I can heartily recommend every paragraph of this intriguing glimpse into Tyler’s life and personality, but of course one of its fascinations for me is this:

Each novel begins with a one-page outline. It is then written, section by section, in longhand with a Pilot P-500 black gel pen. She revises again and again until she types it onto her computer and then writes it out again in longhand. At a final stage she reads the text out loud into a recorder, all the better to hear what doesn’t sound right and make changes.

Oh, and better still . . . Anne Tyler’s 23rd – “Clock Dance” – was published a week ago!

Stillness Big Year: Daily time away from life’s distractions

Ten minutes every day wearing headphones, ten minutes with Andy Puddicombe, the guy behind Headspace . . . any effect? Well, it’s hard to tell. My expectations have always been low, for I treasure my busy mind and am not especially seeking blissed-out mindfulness. And some days Andy’s specific words or teachings make little impression, though I always find a blessed sense of relief in “leaving the world behind.”

The thing is, there is the general “zone out” effect of Headspace, a break that makes sense. But Andy also teaches a number of techniques targeting many different purposes, some of which you can glean from the names of modules: Restlessness, Happiness, Creativity, End of Day, Finding Focus, and so on. And I have to say some of these techniques are slowly but surely having an impact on my wider living.

One ten-day module, for example, is called Appreciation, and all it really teaches you is to sink into brief meditation and ask yourself: “What do you appreciate most in your life right now?” I can’t say the ten days of asking that question generated many profound answers, but now I can summon up that general feeling of appreciation, and, lo and behold, at odd times of the day I find myself smiling as I note something wonderful that I’d otherwise have rushed through unwittingly. I am, in a nutshell, more “appreciative.” That’s a plus, surely.

Freshness Big Year: The winter slog

Three and a half weeks back from vacation and the magic of the Big Year concept has again made itself known to me. Running or cycling down the hill on any of the grey, cold days since then, I was one grizzly old man. But the Big Year dictates I do something every day and sets weekly and annual targets that brook no disobedience. So I’ve swaddled myself in warm clothes and driven those legs through winter’s worst.

And when I examine the results over nearly a month, I’m amazed, for my negative self-talk has been inaccurate. Gym? Three times a week, as prescribed. Cycling? 50 kms each week like clockword. Jogging? The first full week only recorded 20 kms out of the weekly 30-km goal, for I was only able to make myself do short runs, but I’ve hit target ever since.

Absent the Big Year discipline, I’m certain I’d have been a couch potato venturing outside occasionally. Best of all, in the words of R.E.M., “and I feel fine.”


1,000 Big Year: The boulder that halted me

You’re drafting a history and come across a seminal moment, in this case the first real electricity-producing power reactor. it’s a tale told and retold and retold and retold, and you possess copious notes and alternative story versions, so you can just rattle out your own version, right? Wrong.

Before and after a big vacation, I had come to a screaming halt in writing up Shippingport, the “first” power reactor in 1957. I couldn’t understand why the words refused to flow. It took a long time – too long a time, no doubt – to realise much of my Shippingport material is a crafted myth. I’m not saying this myth is a lie, just that much of the “real data” is hidden and the storytelling is opaque and designed for effect.

One cold sunny day, the reality hit me: Andres, go back and find out what original historical documents underpin all the Shippingport stories. Dig. Break all the events apart. Figure out what really happened and why. In three words: restart from scratch.

Now all that is behind me. Today I’m writing up Shippingport. My story might not prove to be all that different from its predecessors but it will vary in ways important to me. Call me a happy chappy!


Chaos versus slavery

The unregimented life is chaos. Regimentation is slavery. Which of these two opposites should prevail in one’s life?

The past fortnight has seen me struggle with my core 1,000 Big Year and its writing regimen. I haven’t posted because my inner dialogue dried up while I tried to resume discipline after a dream holiday. I have, however, been thinking (a la Rodin’s man) at some more fundamental level than is usual. Nor have I been slack – I just haven’t held as much certainty.

Although I could have berated myself for “failing” aspects of this Big Year – consistently waking up early is a good example – my Big Years have propped me up. They’re daily beacons and the easier ones have maintained my self confidence. Minor big year alternations are underway and I’m almost back on track. I grin.