In the last week, I’ve separately extolled the physical and existential benefits of daily exercise. But it’s not for everyone:
- It chews up time and takes you away from resentful loved ones.
- For an obsessive person like me, adding an obsessive impost can tip you into anxiety, down a slippery slope.
- I can feel pressured by a daily demand. Stress can harm.
- If you’ve chosen an inappropriate Big Year focus and daily target, a sense of hopelessness, of anomie, can bare its teeth
It’s not true that yesterday, the 194th in 2016, was the actual first Big Year day . . . but in one sense it is. Among the 194 days there have been many good and effective working days legitimately judged “successful,” and there were pivotal periods, back in February and April particularly, that redeemed the very big year concept. But I’ve struggled all year to find a way of expressing and measuring what a “writing big year” looks like.
Initially “big year” meant “finish the millstone book,” broken up into week-by-week targets, but if some days got a tick, many didn’t, and not always because I was dumb or slack. It’s demotivating to push at a daily goal that is not precise enough. Jogging 4 times a week, 10 kms each outing, is so easily measurable that it it creates its own momentum. “Complete Chapter 4 by Week 3” is measurable, true, but what if that quickly seems unachievable, what do you do? What do you do? What do you do?
I’ve found a solution. I still have week-on-week, indeed day-on-day completion targets but the brunt of the challenge focuses equally on “how to work.” Put simply, every day for the rest of this year (when in town), I give myself a tick if I do four things:
- Rise early, on time. No ifs or buts.
- Don’t touch the world: no email, Internet, newspapers, phone calls, chores, meetings, shopping . . . nada. In my cave I am.
- Set big but hopefully achievable tasks and pour energy at them.
- At noon I down pen and turn off computer.
Most days target additional afternoon and even night work but if these times get swamped by real life, it’s the morning that counts. If I fail to complete the set tasks, I recalibrate; as long as I’ve worked flat out, the tick remains. The rest of the world, even the Jogging Big Year, must be jammed into the PM portion of each day.
Day One worked and worked beautifully. Peace. Let’s repeat today, okay?
A couple of days ago I asked whether this big year is a boon or a peril from the physical point of view. But who cares about the physical, really? Rather, does obsessing about running make a difference to a life’s meaning?
- I keep asking myself if anxious insistence on regularity does instill a habit. After all, that’s a worthwhile objective: who wouldn’t want to just be fitter and healthier as a matter of routine? Shouldn’t exercise be as easy as daily teeth brushing? Well, it’s too early to tell for sure but yes, slowly, day by day, the more I insist on regularity, the easier it is to stick with it, even in the midst of life.
- And I’m feeling a gentle surge of pride in myself. We try to reassure ourselves that we’re worthwhile because the comforts of life abound, but often, after the hard work of our 30s and 40s, we surrender the idea that we can still strive for something. In 2016 so far, I’ve worked hard and “done good” and I’m chuffed.
- Perhaps the most important insight I had last week – suddenly, while on the track – was this: running means something to me. Why? That’s not clear to me, but the insight said this: jogging is meaningful to me and I’m giving it space every day and that enriches my life. Wow!
So if there’s something you know is meaningful to you, be it large or small, are you giving it enough weight in your life? Wouldn’t a big year help?
First things first . . . I’ve nearly drafted my entire Chapter 2, but that word “nearly” means “not nearly at all.” To tame the unruly slag heap of research material, I’ve taken to scripting plot points that move around a bit in time (we’re in the late 40s and early 50s). Scripting software is available – Scrivener is one fine choice – but feels too much tailored for fiction not nonfiction, so I’ve resorted to pen and scraps of paper. I now have all but four of my plot points drafted but what I’ve got is marred by jarring continuity and mistaken duplications. Some of it flows and works, but some is a mess.
So I’m slowing down again and writing out plot points on old-fashioned cardboard index cards. Shuffle . . . shuffle . . . shuffle. Primitive, eh?
Six months in, am I positive or negative about my every-day-activity 1,600-km obsession? Let’s talk physical first:
- Without a doubt my fitness has improved; it would be surprising if such a ramp-up of activity didn’t show up in stronger muscles and enhanced cardiovascular performance. I like this uplift. Run times, though still slow, are maybe 5% faster. The times when I gasp like a dying fish are less frequent.
- In spite of much whinging, and anxiety about “breaking down,” here I am, still upright and mobile.
- Finally, accustoming the body to very regular work seems to pay dividends for general health: no colds, ditto stomach disorders, good energy levels . . . all round “healthiness.”
Would I have gained these benefits by just “resolving to run more,” instead of hammering daily, daily, daily? The jury is out on that question.
And what about more general existential questions? Does a Jogging Big Year make a difference? More on that another day . . .
It’s just after mid year (EOFY I would have labeled it in a former life) and one Big Year – that of the jogging obsession – is, I reckon, swimming with head above water.
But the other, far more crucial Big Year – the writing one – has hit an underwater shoal. In truth, it was a flawed, if deliberately over-ambitious aspiration for 2016. Imagine the fear in confronting the primary work target for one’s year! I’ve taken the overwhelming step of turning one Big Year into two Big Years. Now to ensuring delivery . . .
I only have three weeks until an extended hiking trip, so reassessment is vital. If I knew how to shift existential purpose with a casual pen, well, I would. But it’s difficult. And so it should be. The work begins . . .
I’ve been trying not to think much about my aim to conduct a Cranes Big Year, twelve calendar months during which I seek, see, photograph and write about all the crane species of the world across every continent. This is a very different “big year” to jogging more, or writing more productively, or devoting time to activism. The “cranes” notion is an unbidden one, coming from deep inside. In some sense, the cranes have spoken to me.
Well, a sixty-year-old needs to schedule the more physical years earlier rather than later, so I’ve been avoiding cranes. But take a look at this photo of brolgas at the Western Treatment Plant! David Adam, a member of Victorian Birders, has captured a familial scene I’ve never witnessed. As soon as I saw this shot, I knew the Cranes Big Year must be bumped up in the queue. David, thanks!
You run four times a week, every week. It’s familiar, right? So you can decide on any given day whether to run slower or faster, right? Well, it doesn’t work that way.
Sunday’s jog was like punching through molasses, horrid and slow from the beginning. The next day seemed no different but when Strava gave me the first kilometer split, I realized I was travelling fast, very fast for me. Off I went. This morning, running early after a rainy night, I felt just as good as two days ago, and anticipated a similarly sweet Strava call, but no, I was slow again. A different slow – hey, I felt fine – but slow indeed. The three days’ average paces (minutes/km) were 6:21, 6:11 and 6:22. We’re talking a difference of 300 meters!
So . . . if you’re an athlete, I guess you can fine tune fast or slow days. For the bulk of us thudding around the streets, running remains a mystery. The best you can do, it seems to me, is to take the slow days with the fast.
Lit Hub, the interesting website for readers, has decided to do for recent books what Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic does for films, i.e. aggregate and average public reviews. It surveys a wide range of publications, and whenever a new book gains enough critical mass for three or more reviews, Book Marks pronounces an A/B/C average rating and sums up critical responses. The Book Marks website is vibrant and attractive, and there is some benefit to being able to quickly ascertain a book’s reception. But I’m not partial to Rotten T and doubt if I’ll use this site. Just as a parcel of Amazon reviews can be superficially worth examining, but always ends up as confusing because you just don’t know where the reviewers are coming from, I believe in following individuals, critics with consistent outlooks and standards.
A few years down the track, I intend to do a Reading Big Year, reading some three or four books a week for all fifty-two weeks of the year. Should I review them all? The idea is most attractive, if scary.
There are so many ways to organize a day, especially if you’re willing to rise before everyone else. Distractions abound. I decided to try a different way of structuring time. As soon as I’m up in the morning, I will write uninterrupted until noon. I call this the AM Brick Wall, a barrier cutting everything else off. No newspaper, no email, no Facebook, no SMS. Let’s see how this idea fares.