Big Decade transmutes

The Big Decade blog kicked off with my sixtieth birthday, nearly eight years ago. At the time, I was consumed by the impulse to “tackle weighty challenges,” and I decided to structure my life, to the extent that life can ever be “structured,” around a decade of Big Years. Each calendar Big Year involved daily duties, obsessions, Bucket List items, disciplines, or learnings. The key word was DAILY.

The Big Year concept was never fully formed, was always a rough stab at an idea, and some of the original impelling thoughts (for example, a Big Year when I walked the long hikes of the world) never took off. But it possessed a kernel of wisdom that served me well: by attending to something daily, for all 365 days of a year, I achieved more and sizzled inside.

The blog ran full tilt for five years, 2016 to 2020, and invoked fifteen Big Years. Every year had a different version of a “writing Big Year,” stressing this or that discipline or resolve. Four of the five years focused on manically regular exercise, their titles indicating their provenance: Jogging Big Year; Fitness Big Year (adding cycling); Freshness Big Year (adding stretching and emphasizing sleep/energy); and Parkrun (adding a social element). I did a Rebellion Big Year that culminated with being trundled off to jail as part of an Extinction Rebellion street blockade. I spent a Wings Big Year researching a potential writing project centered on birdwatching. I learnt a new word every day (Lexicon Big Year), listened to an album daily (Rock Music Big Year), and meditated (Stillness Big Year).

At age 65, the urge to push a rock up a hill left me. I desired a vision to age 75 that embraced peace with myself rather than endless striving. I ran another short-lived blog around that idea, but, after two years hiatus, came back to this blog in 2023.

Now I’m recasting Big Decade. I need a public notebook in which I scribble about writing, life, and meaning, but I don’t wish to discard the central Big Year idea. Instead, I’ll feel free to write what comes to mind and heart, while also using a daily discipline (reset every January 1 for the next 365 days) to keep sticking my hands into the fire.

Specifically, for the remainder of this calendar year, I’ll run a 2023 Forethought Big Year. I work hard at my writing but, despite all best intentions, cannot seem to apply the kind of project management cycle I used to thrive under in the business world. Specifically, I’m forever overpromising and under-delivering completed book sections. I’m stuck in a cycle of a fuzzy overall plan leading to hazy weekly goals (for example), leading to drifting days. What I need is to mimic the corporate project planning method: break work up into small tasks, plan them minutely, and review them daily. I’ve been trying something like this recently and when I stick with it, this approach works in spades.

So each day for the rest of this year, I’ll set a daily goal (be it accomplishing a specific task, or writing a specified number of words, or just working X hours) and at the end of the day, I’ll honestly appraise my performance. I’ll scale this up to weekly, monthly, and book-level planning cycles. The key is the daily discipline and here, I’ve been remiss. It’s too easy, when there is no manager to pressure me for delivery, to mix and match “good” days and unproductive days.

To set the Forethought Big Year in concrete form, every day I’ll plan in some detail but will blog my day’s goal in ten words or less, followed (at dinner time) with a rating of the day’s success and broad overview (again in ten words or less).

But alongside this very geeky daily post of around 25 words, Big Decade will now contain all manner of thoughts, news, and ideas. I’ve always found blogging to be a wonderful way to journal to myself, and to this aim, I dedicate this blog. May it be of some interest to you.

Up in the depths of the night

Bedroom windowsill

On the sill of my office’s third-floor window sit three “teddies.” A Tiffany clock, a gift from an investment banker back in the dim corporate past, shows 3:12 AM. I’m up and, as usual, struggling with issues existential and mundane equally. A seismic shift in my work and life looms, as yet with only vaguely shaped. Right now, time to journal and stretch and let sleep return, dredging up existential light.

Blockage: Japan 1954

Japan nuclear energy 1954

Yesterday was one of those workdays one dreads. I’m writing up the history of Japanese nuclear energy and became horribly stuck in 1954, i.e. almost at the very beginning. Quite a lot has been written about the 50s but, I discovered, it’s all either shallow or detailed but opaque.

Japan’s enthusiasm for nuclear energy accelerated from nothing to fervor over a few frantic years. I found myself stuck, again and again, on two individuals, newspaper magnate Matsutaro Shoriki and politician (future prime minister) Yasuhiro Nakasone. Why their precipitate passion? Why their sudden confluence?

Today I’ve slowed down and dug into each of my sources. In these circumstances, I’ve learned, speed of drafting is the enemy of quality. And sure enough, a coherent picture emerges from the fog. Nothing dramatic but coherent and credible.

4:29 AM

Bathroom window photo

Up early, even earlier than my mandatory-but-often-breached normal time. Snapped this incoherent photo. Jogged, a fine sense of aloneness. Change is brewing, Andres, a major shift in my approach to life but a change no one else is likely to notice.



Thirteen weeks into the year and I’ve stuck to my guns, drafting and editing the book most days, and applying myself better than I have over the last few years; I’ve averaged nearly 4 hours/day on the core work and just over 1 hour/day on peripheral writing work, so I can say I’m happy. I am, with good heart, striving daily towards shipping a book by year’s end.

The next four months are vital. I intend to stick to this desk like a limpet.

Tough days talk to you

Calder Hall

The last week had felt like swimming in setting concrete. I’ve worked diligently but the particular slab of text I’ve worked on has refused to yield cogency or fluency. And I’ve suddenly realized why: I didn’t know how to do this particular task. Specifically (and this will mean nothing to those of you who have never done this type of writing) I’ve been trying to “describe,” in an interesting, compelling manner, a nuclear power plant. Specifically the Calder Hall plant that ran for half a century in England. I had other people’s words on the subject but those references were technical or academic. I’ve come to understand that a nuclear reactor can’t be riveting of itself, it has to be described in a certain way. And what aspects do I cover? How much detail? What if I don’t have certain information? Etc., etc.,, etc. What I thought would take me two hours has taken me a week. But—and here’s the magical ending—now I know how to do it! Hooray!

Struggle Town

Cover of Struggle Town by Choir Boys

Struggle town today, yet it’s a struggle that has traction. Today was a grandsons’ day but I piked. Missing them is horrid but Chapter 7 inches on.

Never met this Choirboys song in the day but listen: “We had this dream about a chance to go / To the city streets we’ve heard are paved with gold / And I’m walking out / I’m not looking back / I’m never going back / Back to Struggle Town (wo-oh-oh-oh oh).”

Now I prefer Struggle Town.