Just as with sports stars we tend to overemphasise the gap between us and them, so too with creatives. Wow, we say, listening to Leonard Cohen. Margaret Atwood … wow! But when you listen to creatives dissect their behavior, you see method not genius. I’m not saying there is no difference between us and Martin Scorsese but when I began watching Season 2 of the stunning documentary Abstract (don’t miss it!), several gems from Danish designer/artist Olafur Eliasson stood out. Here’s one:
When I talk to kids about, can you draw a car or something, I really try to emphasise, it’s not really about the car, it’s more about you have the fantasy to actually see the car.
Wow! Maybe I feel stunted because I don’t afford myself the fantasy that I can see more. What about you? Can you have a fantasy that you can see more, hear more, learn more?
Recuperative, inspirational, taxing vacation over, a wet Melbourne day of buffeting winds greets me. I get where I belong.
My memories of a month traversing Japan thirty-four years ago are hazy but I recall a Kyoto temple where a field of sand was raked daily in a Zen style. I remember a sense of peace. Yesterday I asked a walking tour guide about such a place and he showed me a Google image of Ryoan-ji Temple about an hour from where we were staying. It matched my recollection.
So today we caught a bus to check it out. It proved to be a highlight of our fortnight in Japan.
I tried an experiment at the karensansui (dry landscape) sand-and-rock garden. Last year I ran a Headspace Big Year, diligently using the app to do ten minutes of meditation-lite each and every day. The habit didn’t stick long in 2019 but at least I can sink into some level of quietness, so I set my iPhone timer to fifteen minutes and sat next to a shaped tree facing the white sand, an expanse that stretched beyond its physical dimensions, or so it seemed to me. In spite of the clamour of tourists as around, I succeeded in resting my mind on the images needed.
I had a couple of purposes in mind. One was to finally agree with myself on two Big Years for 2020. Mind in a rare unruffled state, I did just that. 2020 will be selfish and unselfish. Each day I’ll run a race or train towards a race (we’re not talking athleticism here, I’m as slow as can be), call it the Racing Big Year. Each day I’ll work on something for Extinction Rebellion; call it the Activism Big Year.
My 2019 Wings Big Year is a sheer pleasure. Every day I force myself to take time out to pursue an aspect of birding and birds that I’d not tackle otherwise. Over the last two months, I’ve been lucky to work through David Barrie’s masterful “Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation.” He’s a real navigator as well as a wonderful researcher. Whilst I don’t actually understand fully the wonders of how birds navigate, I’ve got a fair handle on the topic and can probably write about it. All from one book!
I had intended to find ways to create my own maps of how my beloved Cranes pulse across the world annually. But it turns out there’s no need. The International Cranes Foundation has just issued fifteen brand new location/migration maps, one for each species.
What I will pursue over my final month and a half is the more general issue of bird migration. How many bird species migrate? How far? Why? Is it baked into their genes? Do they fly high or low? Do they fly in the night or the day? How do my Cranes fit into this panoply of migration scenarios? What impact have we humans had?
I can’t wait to get cracking. Day by day.
This Author Big Year – a massive effort daily, with rules and strictures – is nearing its December 31, 2019, conclusion. Maybe after the event I’ll say it was worthwhile but right now I can’t pretend that. Perhaps it was badly designed. Too big? Too exhaustive? No matter what the cause, all I know is that I’m slinking, not striding, towards year’s end.
Leaving the late spring of Melbourne tomorrow for the encroaching winter of western Japan. Some hiking, some laziness. This fortnight will screw up my Author Big Year daily averages, but guess what? I couldn’t care less! A break will be a salve.
Quietens the raging beast, steady work does. I’m taking great care with a book’s chapter, making sure all the technical bits are clean. Soon I’ll be able to do the permissioning (make sure I can reproduce copyrighted quotes, etc.) and photos (where on earth do I get them from?). I could do this kind of work for hours. Hey, I just did.
In 2017, I ran a Rock Music Big Year, in which I listened to an album every day. Every day. The idea was to rekindle the passion for music I’d had for four decades since my early teens. Did that big year work? In a sense, yes: I felt an enormous surge of “rock music luurv” over the year. But in a sense, no: I listen these days but only sporadically.
Well, the other day, I took my grandson on a long train trip and then a walk, through rain, to a lovely café called Coffee Head. We had our usual, a bit to eat plus coffee. When I stood up to place him in his pusher, I glanced at the poster on the wall and was flabbergasted. It’s a gig poster, for Guided By Voices, one of my faves, at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. I don’t know the year – Googling suggests it could have been last year or as long ago as 1995. But the point is this … I experienced a surge of melancholy. Why isn’t that rushing joy, the pleasure of songs and guitars and mayhem, still in my head? Is it old age? Have I lost my soul?
Now I ponder: should I have another go? Should I really push the envelope and commit to an avalanche of new and old music every day, all around me? Can old passions be rekindled?
After a week of solitary desk and café work, sometimes highly productive, sometimes meandering, I’m beginning to gain perspective and strength. A routine of routine work delivers routine results, it seems to me. What I can now see is that over the last few months, taking on new, exciting projects has dumped on my shoulders a ton of preparatory “get to know the subject” research that I’m only now clearing. More to the point, some of the research/reading on these new frontiers is done and dusted, some of it can take its own sweet time to be explored, and some of it isn’t all that pertinent in any case. Suddenly I’m shedding tasks and getting back onto an even keel.
I need to work on the nuclear book (see my Nuclear Power History blog and note how sparse it’s been lately, a state I’ll correct this upcoming week). Beyond that, I need to promote the mystery novels and pick at more work on them. I need to do ongoing research into and preparation for my 15 Cranes project (see my 15 Cranes blog). I need to steadily review for my Read Listen Watch review site. I need to prepare my Extinction Rebellion arrest case. Of all these tasks, the first should take nearly three quarters of my time; lately, that’s been only a quarter or sometimes less.
The more I can just work in quiet, with anticipated interruptions, with a steady heart, the better off I’ll be. Bring on the routine.
Here I am, mortal and confused. Working so hard but blurry of focus. I don’t need you to tell me this is not a recipe for success.
But what of my 2019 Author Big Year? It’s actually 13 months because I launched it on December 1 of last year, and as of today, it’s been sitting in the middle of my brain each and every day of 330 days. That’s five-sixths of my “year” done. Have I delivered what I promised, which was 6½ hours of writing (4½ hours of which was meant to be “focused” on the big reactor book)? My daily record shows 5¾ hours at desk or in café or in transit, which isn’t too bad, but the “focused” writing has only been 3 hours a day. In other words, the Author Big Year is doing its job, motivating commitment, but not necessarily on the right projects. I’m not surprised – I’ve launched a number of “nifty new projects” and they’ve jostled for space in my head and heart.
Over the remaining sixth of my Author Big Year, I can’t claw back the undelivered portion of my initial commitment. But I can do better. Tomorrow I start doing better. Tomorrow I’m better.