A Music Big Year . . . When?

I’ve begun reading 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, by renowned music critic and biographer Jon Savage. It deals with my formative period – I was 11 in 66 – and rock music, the love of my life. Savage writes early on:

It was a time of enormous ambition and serious engagement. Music was no longer commenting on life but had become indivisible from life. It had become the focus not just of youth consumerism but a way of seeing, the prism through which the world was interpreted. ‘This isn’t it for me’: that simple, defiant cry, delivered by John Lennon, the most famous young person on the planet, echoed throughout 1966. Success wasn’t the be-all and end-all; it was possible to conceive of an alternative future, to believe that things could be different, that people could be free.

But I’ve been away from home nearly two months and took no music with me. What, no music at all? Something is wrong, very wrong. I am planning a Rock Music Big Year, listening to many, many new-music albums, but the plan isn’t for action until quite a few years down the road. Should this big year be sooner?

Pretend . . . or do a Big Year

Let’s pretend we can scale the Matterhorn. Let’s pretend we can swim the English Channel. Let’s pretend we’re at Everest Base Camp. Let’s pretend we’re Euan McGregor crisscrossing the world on a motorbike. Hey, let’s imagine we’re running through Death Valley.

Now let’s not. Let’s not pretend. We’re just human and ordinary and ourselves. But we can aspire to be a little better at something meaningful to us. And . . . why not do it daily for a full year?

That’s a Big Year.

How to get fitter: Race or a Big Year?

A marathon! Maybe it’s always been on my bucket list. Set a training schedule and bingo, the fear and lure of the race will surely compel me to get out there week after week, month after month . . .

We all have friends, younger or older, doing exactly that, and it seems to work. How we admire them! But for me, the big impossible dream of a race is just that, a dream. I love to run but the time and effort and risks of a crazy quest might well derail me. So I’ll try this Big Year instead . . . modest but obsessive.

The mind: A jogger’s most implacable foe

Consider this tale. Yesterday I ran like the wind, to use a cliche I can’t resist. Today the weather is identical, nothing has affected my preparation, I’m no more tired, so I set out expecting more of the same. Three kilometers in, a thought surfaces and won’t go away: “This is crap, I can’t go on, why can’t I rest?”

That’s the mind for you. One day it’s on fire, the next it’s a pathetic piece of slime.

What to do? Clearly athletes can ignore their “negative thoughts” but can you or I? And if you use your mind to conquer your mind, won’t your mind rebel in turn?

For me, there never is a ready solution. I battle on. And of course this so-called jogging dilemma is one we face every day in every kind of situation. We are our minds and our minds are our best friends and worst enemies.

The mind: A jogger’s best friend

There comes a point in every jog. At the start, midway, or towards the end, I need to halt. What keeps me going?

Clearly it’s my mind. I talk to myself. I refuse to let the body have its way.

None of this is a surprise. We human beings are creatures with free will and willpower. (I know some philosophers dispute the existence of free will but I don’t credit them.

So celebrate your mind and feed its resolve. Test it.

Duhigg’s habit loop: Cue, routine, reward

What is a habit, beyond the dictionary kind of definition? According to Duhigg, it’s a loop of cue, routine, and reward, a loop that if repeated ossifies into “a powerful sense of anticipation and craving.” The brain automates. By understanding this loop, Duhigg insists, “you can fiddle with the gears.” Early on in the book, he specifically mentions two areas of habit close to my heart:

This explains why it’s so hard to create exercise habits, for instance, or change what we eat. Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch, rather than running, or snacking whenever we pass a doughnut box, those patterns always remain inside our heads. By the same rule, though, if we learn to create new neurological routines that overpower those behaviors—if we take control of the habit loop—we can force those bad tendencies into the background . . .

Over the decades, I’ve exercised reasonably regularly, but never, repeat, never habitually. Will my Jogging Big Year instil a genuine habit? I’m hopeful.

Why writers’ critique groups disappoint

I’ve tried quite a few critique groups. You know, a bunch of folks who present written pieces for commentary. They vary in format and style and frequency, but typically grumpy old me finds them wanting and leaves. Why?

I can think of many reasons why I or any writer might find a particular critique group unsuitable. A personality clash with a group member is one possibility. A critique group mightn’t be well managed, with individuals grandstanding or lacerating. A group might meet too often or not often enough. The.culture could be poisonous.

But the issue I’ve personally encountered most is a simple technical one. For me it’s important that all the writers in the group are roughly “of the same standard.” Yes, I know that defining writing “quality” is subjective, but the issue to me is how I feel the group stands in relation to my own perception of how well I write.

Specifically, I usually exit a writing group because I find too many members are “not good enough,” a judgement that damns those who don’t write much and whose pages are, in my opinion, even more amateurish than mine.

So that’s why I’m so enamoured with the Inner City Writers Group. All of us are equals. All of us are producing real manuscripts. All of us will one day be rich and famous. Well . . .