We are mysteries to ourselves

Plot cards

I’m currently redrafting a fascinating and soundly plotted, but really messy, chapter. I last tackled it a while back, quite a long time ago. I found amongst my physical “stuff” collected during the previous draft a set of 64 “mini plot cards,” terse narrative instructions set in a particular year and focusing on one or two events. In the past, I clearly went through all my notes and thought it a good idea to structure the chapter with 64 narrative waypoints. Well, it seems the existing draft doesn’t follow those plot cards at all, indeed it is structured completely differently as five big blocks of narrative storytelling. I can find no evidence I ever used the plot cards and have no memory of constructing them. Nor does there seem any point in now doing anything with them.

I decide to copy them for a soft-copy record, file them, and move on. A mystery…


Stationary bikes

I can find no exercise “rhythm.” When I was jogging 10 kms four times a week, employing different street routes, it felt like my life revolved around this wonderful and beneficial discipline. I also tried to get to the gym on the other three days, but in some ways, it never mattered if I didn’t. As long as I stuck to the jogging routine, I was happy and blooming.

Now that jogging is tough, with 3 kms an ordeal, with an overweight body huffing and puffing, with semi-regular tiny injuries always popping up, there is no discipline at all. I do manage to achieve some regularity with gym sessions, but where is the intrinsic joy in that?

But a few friends and family have suggested I add stationary bike sessions to my jogging ordeals. I’m exploring using a heart rate monitor and have found that sticking to Zone 2, around 60-70% of my maximum heart rate, while pumping the legs, is readily doable and produces something of the inner glow I used to get on longer runs. Perhaps this is the answer, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The trick is to find an immutable schedule, whereby I “just do it,” mixing puffing jogs and steady indoor cycling. When I return from Darwin, this will be a daily focus.


WA mountain

This Publication Big Year forges onwards, not as an unstoppable wave (wouldn’t that be marvelous?) but as disjointed periods of grinding attack followed by a regrouping onto new chapters. Each time I regroup, it feels like I’m ascending a path into hazy clouds. Who knows what is ahead?

Cutting the nexus

Two spheres

My thinking is convoluted at the moment but it makes sense to me. I’ve realized I struggle huge tensions between my mental/physical health and focusing on the book work. When one sphere disappoints, I blame the other sphere of attention, and my mind rolls around and around and around.

Well, today I can see a way forward. I have my work (one sphere) and my life’s energy (the other sphere). They’re both important but I don’t entangle them. They float in space, if you like, bumping rarely. I try and fit my workday into the main part of the day, and during that I don’t worry about what I’m doing to be healthy and mentally grounded. Early in the morning, I do the exercise I need (but if I miss out, for example by sleeping in, well, I wait until tomorrow), and I have flexible rules on what I can and can’t eat, and the period from late afternoon until bedtime is when I I mop up the day and look after myself.

Sounds silly? It does, even to me. But I’ll try it.

The numbers


Over the last four weeks, I took two days off a week, so had five workdays each week. I’m very much trying to make every workday just a drafting day, rather than branching off into research, reviewing, other projects, etc., but didn’t do too well, spending a day and a half each week on such fun but ultimately unproductive work. I’m currently working on two chapters and they each got around nearly two days a week. One was bureaucratic reference stocktaking, the other stunned me with how long it took to advance an incoherent draft to the next stage (still rather incoherent, I must say).

All in all, the first month or so of this Publication Big Year disappoints greatly. If I’d kept my eye on the ball more, if I’d worked with more applied energy day in and day out, I think I’d have reached my current status a fortnight ago. This cannot continue, I rage to myself.

I have taken actions, most especially stripping out most of my beloved book reading for the next period. The next fortnight is crucial.

Down to the river

Wattle Road

This will be my view plunging down toward the Yarra River tomorrow. Mostly I’ve been running on the quiet and not-so-quiet roads but this morning I ran along the lazy brown flow. Soft early sun. A balm. Daylight saving kicks in overnight, so it will be dark once more tomorrow. I’m so lucky.


Tingle tree in Walpole

I’m working but only half-days and the rest of the time, I’m just lashing out where chance and instinct take me. I watch the crazy brilliance of the German Kleo spy thriller series. I’m more than partway through the thoroughly creepy and tense series The Patient, with Steve Carell as therapist to a serial killer. Tim Goodman persuaded me to see Everything Everywhere All at Once, which is so wild in concepts and execution that no one else around me had any interest, and guess what? It’s brilliant, just what an existentialist needs in these troubled times. A cult folk-power-pop outfit, Robinson & Woltil, has a new album out, Shadow Play, and listen repeatedly to this wondrous track: “On the Way to My Appointment with Death,” another existential weepy. The Quiet Girl is a movie so plot-thin that I should hate it, but, hey, it’s brilliant and that leads me to Small Things Like These, the latest book from Irish author Claire Keegan, which should, I believe, win this year’s Booker Prize. I peer into the abyss with IPCC scientist Joëlle Gergis (her Humanity’s Moment: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope is simply brilliant) and Saving the Planet Without the Bullshit by Assaad Razzouk. What about the acerbic, hilarious new comic book by Tom Gauld, Revenge of the Librarians, eh? And a genuinely strange book combines stuff I haven’t read about for decades with the meaning of life, that is, Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions by Sabine Hossenfelder.

All of that in a whirlwind, unpremeditated rush of desk/cafe/lounge activity. That’s what you do, I reckon, when the anxiety yips come yodeling.

PS – the image is a Tingle tree in southwest Western Australia.

Return to fasting

My Fitness Pal screen

Some form of intermittent fasting is good for you. The books say it, my cardiologist grudgingly admitted it. I’m at 83 kgs in weight and should be under 80, and using something like Michael Mosley’s 5:2 fasting diet is the only way I know how to slim down. All in all, I have strong motivation to fast but haven’t done so for months. The hard part is doing it once (with the thought of doing it regularly). Having done it once, and realizing (yet again) that it’s not so tough, regular fasting becomes feasible. At least that’s my experience…

I had 264 calories for breakfast. Shortly I’ll make a dinner meal that amounts to 336 calories, a huge pile of veggies plus two eggs. 600 calories is about a quarter of a male’s daily average. That’s the basis of the 5:2 system, to do that twice in a week, and it’s worked in the past for me. Trepidation creeps in … but no, I’ll do it.

Fresh look at exercise

The Drive podcast

A friend recommended an episode of The Drive podcast run by Peter Attia, a physician obsessing about “the applied science of longevity.” I’d listened to one episode a year back and had rejected the series, simply because Attia is incredibly intense, almost too intense to be convincing. But this episode, (#217, would you believe it?) interviews a particularly distinguished exercise physiologist and researcher turns out to be exactly what interests me right now.

So … my situation is that I’ve exercised regularly (albeit never very expertly) for decades. My recent cardiac health scare, far from reassuring me, has unsettled my exercise routines, because I ask myself questions. Questions such as … with exercise seeming more onerous as one ages, is it worthwhile? Surely the longevity effects of exercise accrue with time, so after fifty years of reasonable diligence, isn’t another ten years’ worth of questionable value? Isn’t this phase of life best spent “relaxing a bit”? And so on and so on.

So this episode has, some ten minutes in, has already struck me as revelatory, as both conversationalists seem to be saying that exercise has a much higher impact than diet, something the press seems to express the opposite view on. I think I’ll spend quite some time on this podcast over the next few days, digesting and concluding.