The glory of city cafes

View from Finders Keepers cafe

The myth of the writer who cuts herself off from the big smoke, who pens her masterpiece in a remote country cabin, is just that, a myth. Who in their right mind would endure isolation when you can lift your head from your pen and spy a tram wrapped in an image of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, all guns and battles? Inspiring, I call it.

Wings Big Year: Amazingly useful and empowering

Fiery blue wings

An hour a day sinking into research on some of the fundamental questions about our Earth’s birds, as preparation for my travels with and writing about those species … I’ve stuck to the schedule diligently. I have ten research days left and am currently working through Colin Tudge’s brilliant “The Secret Life of Birds: Who They Are and What They Do.” It’s perfect for me. Tudge burrows into crucial questions like how birds evolved and which bird species are more ancient.

If you do happen to be interested in something, no matter how technical or dense, may I suggest you try something similar. I’ve tried the “one hour a day, please do it even when busy” approach twice now, with different subjects involved, and have found a year’s steady, unstressed work on something can work miracles.

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.

Author Big Year: Winding down a long year

Author Big Year outcome

With 14 days to go, I can accurately round up this exhausting writing year. This Big Year actually commanded a number of daily strictures, to do with rising time, concentration focus, and organisational methods – these were honored in theory (they were at the top of my mind each and every day, but messy 2019 swamped them every now and then), but I won’t report on the detailed results (I did keep stats).

More vital were the overall writing hours per day. The Big Year demanded 6½ hours each day. How did I do? Only a bit over 5 hours a day, which represents a 20% shortfall. I also really, really wanted to focus on the nuclear book and targeted 4½ hours a day. Here I fell even more behind, clocking up only 3 daily hours.

So 2019 as a writing push, a Big Year of 6½/4½ hours each day, something that sounds routine (I mean, that’s just a morning, right?), proved to be beyond me.

I could and should call this Big Year a failure. It wasn’t and I’ll explain my reasoning in a later post, when I’ve thought it through a bit more fully. That said, I certainly can’t call 2019 a resounding success.

Indeed, since I began the Big Decade at age 60, I’ve included a massive writing push in each year: the 2016 Writing Big Year, the 2017 Writing Big Year, the 2018 1,000 [words] Big Year, and now the 2019 Author Big Year. They’ve had varying emphases and aims and methodologies, but they’ve placed writing at the center of my “let’s obsess daily” approach to living. Looking back now, all four writing Big Years have generated worthy results but none have been resounding successes, and only now can I discern why.\

Daily obsession does not work well with huge projects. It’s simply too difficult to guaranteed huge blocks of time every day. Life gets in the way. Setbacks quickly demoralise. Perhaps most significant is the realisation that big projects need a project management approach, not a simplistic daily “get up and do it” mechanism. Conclusion: I’ll not do a big-writing-project Big Year again, at least not for the next couple of years.



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.

Now I understand how birds navigate

David Barrie book

My 2019 Wings Big Year is a sheer pleasure. Every day I force myself to take time out to pursue an aspect of birding and birds that I’d not tackle otherwise. Over the last two months, I’ve been lucky to work through David Barrie’s masterful “Incredible Journeys: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Navigation.” He’s a real navigator as well as a wonderful researcher. Whilst I don’t actually understand fully the wonders of how birds navigate, I’ve got a fair handle on the topic and can probably write about it. All from one book!

I had intended to find ways to create my own maps of how my beloved Cranes pulse across the world annually. But it turns out there’s no need. The International Cranes Foundation has just issued fifteen brand new location/migration maps, one for each species.

What I will pursue over my final month and a half is the more general issue of bird migration. How many bird species migrate? How far? Why? Is it baked into their genes? Do they fly high or low? Do they fly in the night or the day? How do my Cranes fit into this panoply of migration scenarios? What impact have we humans had?

I can’t wait to get cracking. Day by day.

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.