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.

Slinking towards the end of a Big Year

White fox slinking

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.

Day 343

Finders Keepers cafe

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.

Day 340

A page

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.

Hail the routine

Finders Keepers cafe

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.

Author Big Year: Assessment as of Day 330

Day 330

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.

First para

James Sallis

James Sallis when teaching writing: “I urge students to have something on that first page, first paragraph that has the sense of the writer leaning forward and saying: ‘I have something important to tell you.'” (Photo and quote from Jonathan Bond’s fine Phoenix New Times article.)

Day 318: writing amidst personal rebellion

Finders Keepers cafe

I’m writing this today but in relation to last Friday. For two weeks, for better or worse, my Author Big Year disciplines have been set aside. Deciding to be arrested and then being arrested …. well, those steps have turned my writing life upside down, at least for a (hopefully) short period. I’ve been writing heaps but all on Extinction Rebellion and acting towards climate change action, and all that writing has been for my private use (no one needs to hear banal tales of nervousness and then tense mayhem). I’ve also continued on with the daily Wings Big Year activities, the simple one of educating myself about birds and their migrations and natures. Beyond that, I’ve continued to review for Read Listen Watch and I’ve managed a post or two of interesting history on Nuclear Power History. But as far as progressing the nuclear book (or, perhaps as importantly, moving with Gentle and Tusk), it’s been a tough period.

Since Friday I’ve come up for joyous times in Darwin but as ever, I’ve been selfish and holed up in local cafes to continue thinking and reading. Today I’ve made a move back into the history of Germany’s start of nuclear power in the second half of the 1950s. It’s felt powerful, as powerful in some ways as being handcuffed and shoved into a police van. More power to the writing, eh!

Days 300 to 304

Spring Rebellion

Only 4-5 hours of daily work lately but I find it impossible to castigate myself. I’m moving into the realm of civil disobedience, in a most scared and crabwise fashion, and there’s plenty else going on around us. I hope to settle into a better routine, focused on the big nuclear book (not the other strands of work I’ve taken on) by the start of next week.