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?

Cycling never caught on

Cycling Big Year

In 2017 I ran a Fitness Big Year, in which I took up cycling with a vengeance while trying to keep up some jogging and some gym. I remember that for a few short months I clocked up 110 kms every week. At my low speed, that’s nearly six hours of cycling a week. Each week was exhausting, but I was fit. I was fit, until I got injured, and then I wasn’t fit, and gradually I began missing my targets. In 2018 I kept up regular cycling as part of a Big Year, more like 40 or 50 kms a week. Then I got injured again and starting putting on weight and … it was a bit of a train wreck.

Now, as part of a refreshed exercise regime, and not part of a Big Year at all, I suddenly find myself being incredibly regular with my cycling. Three times a week without fail. The thing is, I only get out for half an hour, pumping my legs hard over only 10 kms, and, even more boring, mostly I do just one route (which includes a suspended section under a freeway as per the image above). But am I bored? Not at all. I’m loving the steady discipline. Biking is no longer a huge challenge, no longer tilted at grand tours or (heaven forbid) racing, but just a means to breathe hard and work those quads.

So after three obsessive years of Big Years that included obsessive cycling, now I’m now longer officially obsessive but am regularly (VERY regularly) getting on the bike. Something good and sweet has taken hold of me!

2018 Stillness Big Year: Take that, mindfulness!

Stillness Big Yesar

Last year, I successfully spent ten minutes each day setting up a mindfulness practice, or at least the beginning of one. Well, here’s what Marina Benjamin, in her brilliant kind-of memoir, “Insomnia,” thinks of my efforts:


I have long believed that mindfulness has its limitations. It overvalues the present moment and neglects the way the human mind wants to knit together past and future, lived experience and speculation, so creating conditions for narrative thinking or autobiographical orienteering. With its resolute and faithful focus on a single object of thought, or on doing away with thought altogether, mindfulness is about as edifying as praying to a toilet roll.

And again:


I have come to the conclusion that mindfulness is much like tidying the house. It is focused and satisfying in concentrated spurts, but it lacks a direction of travel. It seeks to keep things as they are. It leaves the world unchanged.

1,000 Big Year: The final reckoning

1,000 Big Year

My last drafting words for the year. I abandoned my 1,000 Big Year back in November. Let me now sum up what I achieved over the year, and you’ll see why I call this Big Year a failure.

The year slumped and then died because it was too ornate, insufficiently focused. As can example, its essence, its foundation, was to draft 1,000 words every day (“each and every day” as I’m wont to repeat ad nauseum). Well, you know what? I didn’t even keep track of word count, other than for a few isolated periods. Word count can be tough to enumerate, because of editing, but clearly I didn’t put the basic machinery in place.

I can tell you I worked 1,900 hours over maybe 40 active weeks, or 48 hours a week. I wasn’t slacking. But the driver for the Big Year, to get the damned book finished, was word count. And I failed.

I did try to track if I honored another commitment, to resist the devilish allures of Facebook and email before lunchtime. Probably I did that for 75% of the time. I woke up early half my days. I did some kind of daily planning and monitoring maybe half the time. Complexities, complications… none of which ensured I meet my main aim of 1,000 words on the page.

Again, as with the Freshness Big Year, I shouldn’t castigate myself too much. I made huge strides with the book. I put in place better habits. This “failed” Big Year took me a step further towards my goals. But hey, I needed to define and execute better.

2018 Roundup: The Stillness Big Year

Stillness Big Year

Ten minutes each and every day of 2018. Ten minutes with blue headphones on, listening to Andy Puddicombe with a Headspace meditation. This is one obsession that succeeded at many levels…

I did it. Achievement spurs pride.

I’ve learnt the basics of meditation. Ten minutes is puny by “proper” meditation standards, but it’s a start.

I can find peace each day, no matter the nature of the day.

Some of the specialized Headspace notions are teaching me how to better focus, concentrate, reflect, etc., etc., etc. I can’t pretend I’m a dramatically “different” person after 2018’s mini sessions, but I’m not the same as I was a year ago.

A new Andres Kabel beckons.

Freshness Big Year: The final reckoning

Freshness Big Year

My last cycle for the year. I abandoned my exercising Big Year back in November. Let me now sum up what I achieved over the year, and you’ll see why I call this Big Year a failure.

I began cycling in 2017 and, as part of a Big Year, clocked up just over 4,000 kms. This year I aimed for 2,000 kms. My final reckoning? Only 1,480 kms.

In 2016 I jogged 1,700 kms. I remember I used to castigate myself for this because it didn’t seem like enough. Well, last year I came back to 1,200 kms, and this year I aimed to match that goal. My final reckoning? I still have a couple of jogs left, but I reckon it will be only 830 kms.

Last year I visited the gym 100 times (call it twice a week), and this year I aimed for the same. My final reckoning? Only about 70 visits.

All up, I can sensibly apply the label of “failure.” Excuses abound, such as an injury, a lingering cold, but the main issue was psychological.

But can I cut myself some slack? I set some minor goals to do with diet and habit, and they worked out well. I’ve nearly eliminated platter cheese from my diet and I rarely snack in the afternoons any more. I had nearly 3 Alcohol Free Days per week over the year, and averaged two glasses of wine per day, which was the goal. All good.

And the best result of all? I kept straining to exercise, right through the year, even when it wasn’t going well and despair seemed round the corner. Let’s see how well 2019 goes, without any “Big Year stimulus.”

Freshness Big Year: Jog with headphones?

Freshness Big Year

I’ve never run with headphones. Terrified that I’m careless and clumsy as I am, let alone without any sound input from the outside world. Author Peter Sagal, in this delightfully written NYT article, “The case against running with headphones,” recalls a friend who uses headphones because he “can’t spend that much time alone in my head.” It occurs to me that one reason I might use sports earbuds is because my inner dialogue while running is all fretting about making the end distance. No amount of Headspace this year has fixed up that issue. If I distracted myself with music, would I improve?