My Big Decade: The first 4 years

Big Decade years

I’ve been on this Earth a bit over 64 years. Four years ago, I launched a Big Decade of goal-oriented daily obsession. I’ve run 11 Big Years since. Were they worthwhile?

As discussed a few days ago, my four grandiose writing-related Big Years packed a punch but were not unqualified successes. In contrast, as trumpeted yesterday, the three very different Big Years that targeted my body rather than my mind succeeded brilliantly.

At age 60, I envisaged some nutty cultural blitzes. “Read a book every day, Andres,” I promised, for example. Well, I’ve only tried one such Big Year, listening to a rock music every day over 2017. Although that habit hasn’t maintained much momentum, the Big Year was a hoot and hugely enriching. That said, I can’t see myself trying any other cultural extravaganzas for the next couple of year at least.

Something I did not imagine in 2015 was the idea of doing some interesting study each day, but I’ve tried the concept twice in recent years, with satisfying results. In 2018, my Tractor Big Year saw me committed to researching, each and every day, the vista of self publishing. Two mystery novels in late 2018 and early this year were the heart-warming result. And this year my Wings Big Year, covering the generalities of birds, has given my knowledge a fillip it wouldn’t otherwise have had. I don’t think 2020 will see any such “new knowledge” Big Year, but surely I’ll try something else in future years.

Weirdly, my 2018 Stillness Year, which involved only ten minutes a day of Headspace-app-based meditation, was a spectacular triumph. Who would have thought allocating so little daily time would add so much? Enriching my days with tiny stabs at something new will probably be a feature of the next six years.

Overall, the Big Decade idea rocks! I’ve worked harder, stayed healthier, learnt more, and added variety. Bring on the next six years, I say.

I need an exercise-related Big Year!

My exercise history

In each of the first three Big Years since I turned 60, I employed something to do with exercise. I then decided this year to drop exercise from my daily obsessions. Now I reckon I should add physical effort onto the 2020 roster. Why?

You can see from the handwritten chart that my 2016 Jogging Big Year saw a massive increase in running kilometers, from around 1,000 kms to 1,700 kms. I’ve never been as fit and trim and physically energised as towards the end of 2016. With the 2017 Fitness Big Year, I added cycling (a move that was probably a good idea, though it hasn’t panned out as anticipated), and notched up 4,000 kms on the bike while winding back jogging to 1,000 kms again. I still felt fit. The 2018 Freshness Big Year was a more holistic concept. Although it did some good, my legs broke down twice and both my jogging and cycling diminished (although they never ceased). I put on some weight.

There is no exercise-related Big Year this year. I’ve succeeded and failed again on the weight front, and I’ve reduced my distance horizons to 5 kms on foot and 10 kms on the bike (that’s puny!). I’ll end up with a more consistent year than last year but no improvement.

What has become clear is how central physical movement and effort are to my overall energy, emotions, and sense of well-being. I’m now thinking of a renewed vigorous push in 2020. I’ll announce on that front in a few days.

Can we all be more creative?

Olafur Eliasson

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?

Try again with rock music?

Guiced By Voices gig poster

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?

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.

Insomnia

Insomnia

Marina Benjamin, of Insomnia fame, spoke, in a bookshop reading a while back, of the “grandiosity and pomposity” of insomnia. In the insomniac night, ideas you haven’t consciously thought for a long time “float up.”

My redrafting time away from home was exemplary, restorative at the same time as productive, and joyful in some very fundamental way. But for some reason the sound sleep of my Melbourne autumn switched to a European summer of wakefulness. Is that a bad?

One night I rose at 1:10 AM, impossibly agitated. In our cramped AirBnb room, I lay on the carpet and went through some of my regular first-thing-in-the-morning stretches. Floor. Dark. Surfacing, here’s what came to me: “save the world.” Saving the world was a motto when younger. More recently, I’ve told myself that the traditional expression of such a grand notion, that is, activism/politicking, is just too onerous to enable enough writing, and that in any event, my writing contains its own world-saving tinge, in some small way.

All true. All true. But that night my over-amped, thrashed-out mind delivered that instruction: “Save the world.” Now, I know what that means. But I’m afraid to reveal its shape because it is monstrously over-ambitious and disruptive for this ageing, unsuccessful writer.

Is it time to consider a physical Big Year?

Nijmegen Brug

All this year, I’ve crowed about exercise discipline that gives me energy and a sense of peace, fuelled, I’ve been certain, by physical big years (daily must-do activities) over 2015-2017. In other words, daily obsession led, so I thought, to an ingrained daily exercise habit. Well, here in Europe, it’s all fallen apart. I’ve found myself hesitant to get out early in the dark in strange towns, something I’ve never found to be an issue over decades of jogging. I’m managing to get out every two or three days, rolling over a basic minimum 5 kms, enjoying each jog, but the daily rigour has vanished. Is it because I’m now 64? Does each year older mean it’s harder to get out? Should I do another Big Year of some kind of bodily obsession over 2020?

Create something worthy?

A way forward

Quite some time back, I went to a bookshop reading by Marina Benjamin, author of the remarkable “Insomnia.” Quoting Miles Davis on how he “plays what’s not there,” that is, invented new forms of music, Benjamin observed that writers find the idea of writing what’s not there (that is, inventing new fields and forms of writing) as “very seductive.” My immediate excited thought was: can I frame my nearly-dead Cranes book as a new way of writing about birds and birding? One reason this notion is “seductive” to me is that I now know (and this has taken me years to realise) that the normal books about birds are not ones in which I can shine. I’m neither a good birder, nor a naturalist, nor a travel writer.

But if I reframe the project and the book, can I create something worthy? Can I save the world?

Out of that bookshop brain niggle came my 15 Cranes in the Anthropocene idea. More on that later.