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.
“I’m just a city boy,” I recall gasping to an experienced hiker when I embarked on a long, back-country journey with a group. It was true. For sixty years, the closest I came to genuine wildness and “real nature” was mowing the lawn (something I now abhor, lawns, that is). Then I spent a decade jutting myself into “wilderness,” sometimes on the fringes of cities, sometimes way out woop-woop. The experience hurt me, in the sense that I often felt challenged and (yes!) scared (scared as only a city boy can be scared). This period changed me deep inside, but in particular shifted my worldview towards the thinking of those who see the human race as part of our planet’s diverse ecosystems.
Now I’ve changed once more. Suddenly I no longer wish to test my physical limits. Suddenly I can make do with my memories and the surfeit of nature imagery and writing available to anyone seeking it. Suddenly I resent the time imposts of bushwalking/hiking, etc. The one aspect of my former exploration that remains thrilling is birdwatching, so that’s what I’ve enjoyed over the last two years, birding time out in nature without the need to hike and suffer.
Will I change once more? Will the classic mountain hikes (Feathertop, Mont Blanc, Snowdon) call to me? Will inter-village/town treks (Great Britain’s national trails, the byways of Italy, the new vistas of eastern Europe, the river valleys of France) once more fill up my days? We shall see, we shall see.
The last ten days or so, the first real work days of the Publication Big Year, have turned out to be nothing like what I’d planned. I’d planned to schedule some half-days off (grandparenting, a lunch, a busy housekeeping session), with the rest of the time uniformly productive, kicking off with regular early waking times. Instead I’m sleeping in a bit, work in jags of intensity, then slacken off, all of it a chaotic mix of emotions. I’m hitting my hourly targets and the work is pretty high quality (i.e. I’m making progress, as they say), but uncertainty pervades every day.
Well, today I’ve decided to take an extra half-day off to read a bit of philosophy, something I rarely do. Anthony Grayling is giving a talk this evening in Melbourne entitled “For the Good of the World.” I can’t get to it but instead I’ve snapped up a copy of the book and will sink in. The subtitle appeals: Why Our Planet’s Crises Need Global Agreement Now.
Oh, it’s worth adding that the Big Year concept is adding something. I am, notwithstanding the emotional agitation, sticking to the task, day in, day out.
The first week of the Publication Big Year has been a roller coaster. On the plus side, I have been emotionally committed to the end goal over each of the seven days, even on September 1 and 2, travel days. Over four workdays (including a rapidly disappearing today) I’ll get in about 20 hours of drafting, only two-thirds of my goal. I’ve been disciplined in the mornings, wayward after lunch. In my defence, I’ve had three club meetings (including one I hosted, requiring housecleaning and cake baking); have seen my cardiologist, therapist, and physio; and have joyously introduced myself to a new grandson.
But I am disappointed. I’m mired in one chapter and terrified of rejoining another chapter that is mostly drafted but mostly badly drafted.
Okay. Time to regroup. I’ll focus this afternoon on a new week-by-week publication plan, then on diving into the shit chapter. Then Saturday (tomorrow is a grandparenting day) … back in the full swing of a productive day.
Yesterday was the final day of a week of writing in Margaret River. What makes it stand out for me is that my seven days of deskwork occurred at the same time as Pam’s 130-kilometer Cape to Cape pack carry hike. She’s doing exactly what I used to relish, a tough physical adventure away from society, and she’s had a river crossing drama that in the past would have been part of my life’s narrative.
Why am I not hiking? When asked, I say I’m lazy or not sufficiently walk-fit (this is valid but not a sufficient excuse, I’ve hiked when tender of foot before), but the truth is, I decided writing was more important to me.
So I’ll end up having nothing to talk about on my return home, having foregone a narrative of at least moderate interest to many. Do I now have regrets? A few, mostly around questions of pride: am I not strong enough, brave enough? But at another private level, the writing week I had was as much of a struggle as the Cape to Cape would have been, and I had thrilling moments equal to any I’d have experienced on a clifftop or beach or night-black campsite.
My nuclear history book has crushed the patience of all those around me. Well over a decade on one book … you’ve got to be kidding, right? But I can tell you, it has more than crushed my patience, it has come close to devastating me, to the extent of threatening the vary basis of the meaning I ascribe to life. Luckily, family and friends have buoyed me, and my first foray into therapy has, to my surprise, rejuvenated my stock of existential meaning, at the same time that a “health scare” that was not a “health event” has widened my window of opportunity.
Hence this latest Big Year, a “Publication Big Year.” It won’t have any physical drama, nor any fascinating “bucket list” events, nor any revelatory investigations. It’s a grifting, grafting, grinding big year. I have a publication plan (which, right now, needs amending), I have as clean a slate of distractions as I can recall, and I have a honed “method” of daily work.
I’ll leave it at that for now. All this big year requires is daily work on the book (with hopefully few days off over the next fifteen months). All that I’ll blog about is the daily battle and the progress against plan.
For some reason, I’m as juiced up by this boring big year as I was over the more dramatic big years in the 2015-2020 period. What a thrill, starting tomorrow!
In theory it’s simple to work wherever and whenever, and depending on the type of writing I’m at, usually I’m effective. This week Pam is hiking the long Cape to Cape Trail in Western Australia. I pulled out (laziness? unfitness? new priorities?) and am living by myself in Margaret River. The situation is work-idyllic: zero distractions, wonderful Drift Cafe, fine accommodation. But the first four days proved to be only a half-successful effort. There was the moving from one place to another, there was something I ate, etc., etc. There was also, I now realize, the wrench of moving from a wonderful birding vacation to work mode.
No matter. Day five of seven, and I’m wired and on, on, on. A pile of research notes, the Ulysses writing app on the iPad, a pen, coffee (of course) in Drift. Yes!