I’ve lost a bit over a fortnight of work while obsessing about the new Whole Foods Plant Based diet. I’ll now sink back into improving the draft about early British reactors with scientist-jokey names/acronyms like Gleep and Bepo. Around that time in the mid- to late-40s, other reactor names included Zeep, CP-2, Zoe, and X-10.
I feel a sense of relief. Looking back, I’ve been worried about health, diet, the whole shebang, for months now. Now I get back to doing what I love, the work.
Grandparenting in Darwin (what greater pleasure could there be?), I aimed to work full days on eight of my twelve days, amounting to around sixty hours. I came with material from three earlier chapters.
After nine days, my records indicate that I’ve never managed to do a full day, but have managed to be selfish enough to work each and every day, five hours on average. If I keep at it, I’ll come to 90% of my target. Mostly I’ve worked at this same spot at Lucky Bat, looking out at a blue sky.
And the quality of the work (always an issue)? Not bad at all. One chapter moves slower than hoped, another was whipped into shape gratifyingly quickly, and the third task just needs a day toward the end of my Darwin stay. Overall, at least on the work front, I can feel pleased with myself. And I don’t often say that.
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…
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?
Call it a mental health day, judge it as a waste of time, but today I’m reading, reading, reading. The photo: a glorious eyeful on a birding afternoon in Western Australia. PS – it’s still a day of my Publication Big Year, right?
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.
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.
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.