The last ten days have been a mix of exhilaration (“I’m into the book, it’s coming”), despair (“so many interruptions, even if joyful ones, such a slow crawl”), self-disgust (“why can’t I settle a fully energized routine”), and self-pride (“I’m balancing the balls quite well”). This afternoon I’ll attend the Climate Strike rally in Melbourne central and that’s thrilling (if also, of course, existentially dread-inducing) because so many of my writing projects intersect at it. The morning, in the meantime, is productive. Good.
After 286 days of my Author Big Year (which is 13 months long and I’m now 9 months-plus into that), which is meant to be all about sustained daily writing focus, let me report. I’m aiming for daily writing work of 6½ hours and right now I’m tracking at 6 hours/day. Good enough, good enough (especially in a busy year of life). I’m not working enough on proper drafting but let me fix that from now on. Nothing is clear to me today but give me a week and I’ll see the way.
Plenty to do and plenty gets done but still not working properly on what I should be. I’ve been max’ing out on Finders Keepers Café, gnawing away at blogs, research, plans, self-education, reviews, and also some Europe tidy-ups. Plus, at last, some new drafting. I expect tomorrow to be a strong day.
August was spent part working, part living in four different cities/towns in Europe, specifically the Netherlands, Bruges, and Germany. The idea was to holistically redraft as much of the nuclear book as possible, based on how much has been first/second-drafted to date.
How did I do? In theory, escaping the ordinary impositions of life should have seen some 200 hours of writing work but I decided early that with all the moving from town to town, and the lure of summer, that I’d aim for 150 hours. In the event I achieved 133 hours. The first two weeks were quite a bit more productive than the second two. Would I have achieved more at home? Not necessarily. Certainly I wouldn’t have hunkered down and done such meaningful redrafting. Overall, I’m satisfied. And another intangible is a huge sense of relief and change.
But the transition back to Melbourne has left me floundering, unable to see through the dense foliage, the bark. The shock of Melbourne early spring, which is almost Melbourne winter, after European summer, is part of it. Also, working away from my desk means there’s heaps of tidying up to do back here. Today, a few days since the return, I’m still not back to square one. But I’ll get there, I’ll get there.
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.
Day 268, moving to village Cochem tomorrow for the last away-from-it-all redrafting week. Predictably, I’m panicking. Progress has been good but not good enough, and now I’m buried deep, deep, deep, in a chapter that has all the makings of a masterpiece (so says I) but teeters on the edge of chaos. From this chaos shall order emerge. But when? What happens if it takes too long? What if our return to springtime Melbourne has me still redrafting, as is likely? What should I do then? Panic.
From Nijmegen we cycled out into the Ooijpolder park area and worked on our rusty birding skills. Quite a few species although the only unusual bird (for us) was a Snipe pointed out by a grizzled fellow birder. We also took binoculars yesterday when cycling out from Bruges to the North Sea but we only saw the dozen or so garden variety of birds one sees everywhere. I get the distinct impression that Europe has terraformed its land so much, and shot so many birds, that not much is left. One is reduced to waiting at annual northern-Europe-Africa flyways for passing species.
Now that’s the kind of thing that interests me, understanding what is actually happening at very macro levels. To what extent is Europe now a bird wasteland save for those flying through? Where are the pockets of ongoing local bird species? Etc., etc.
So on this trip I’ve mostly kept to my daily requirement to do some birding-related work. Not every day (as is strictly required by the Big Year, but hey, I’m ahead on total hours) but I’m retaining some pride. Right now I’m reading up on how birds migrate, something I need to understand accurately and very broadly.
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?
Halfway through Week 3, done with Amsterdam and Nijmegen, in Bruges I’ve found the perfect bolt hole, a little bar/cafe called Huis de Cluuse. Cool French-tinged music, only occasional deadshit tourists, locals propping up the bar, Belgium’s summer sun through my window, left alone by the cool bartender/barista … of course I’m working well. It’s 4:30 PM and I’ll gun the work for another hour or so. Oh, if only every day could be spent away from everyone else’s everyday!
Do you enjoy transitions in your life? Do you feel their heft, resist them, then embrace?
At the start of this week, my last night in Amsterdam brought hours of fidgety insomnia. I couldn’t understand why, for I’d slept so well the other Amsterdam nights, as if rescued from normal pressures by escaping. I recalled Marina Benjamin, author of Insomnia, a book that has affected me greatly, talking in a book reading about turning the usual view of insomnia as a vile absence into something of a presence, a time for “interrogating and exploring.” So I did my best to just tolerate the fidgetiness and in the morning we shifted towns and I hung on and then, knowing a change was needed, in new cafe, a new town, new air, new light, new mind … I got really cracking on what I’m meant to do here. I have changed.