Announcing: 2020 Lexicon Big Year

Steven Poole's book

I’ve had such success with smaller daily obsessions (10 minutes of meditation in 2018, studying birds in 2018) that I’ve committing to ten minutes each and every day improving my vocabulary. But not just in an airy fairy way. Steven Poole has written a book just for me: “A Word for Every Day of the Year.” Now Steven’s words are “lost” words, no longer in use but ripe for resurrection, so by itself his book might not add much to my sense of erudition. For example, the January 1 word is “dringle” – huh? But what I’ll do is keep alert for words that I “kind of” understand but not really. I’ll use Steven’s book to kick start my faculty for noticing.

I’ll blog every few days with recent pairs of words – the weird and wonderful Steven Poole examples and my own discoveries.

Announcing: 2020 Parkrun Big Year

My Parkrun barcode

At my age, I think I have one final opportunity to become slightly faster and stronger at running. Accordingly, in 2020, I’m going to run a Parkrun every Saturday. For those unfamiliar with this, Parkrun offers an 8 AM 5-kilometre run every Saturday, in many locations worldwide. My aim is to break 30 minutes, that is, hit a speed of 6 kms/hour. Now, 6 kms/hour is slow, slow, slow, but I’ve only managed it a few times, back in 2016, and over the last couple of years my pace has been 6:30 or 6:45 or even 7:00. Faster is better!

That’s not all. I also commit to a daily exercise regime – no ifs or buts – that results in me jogging four times each week, plus doing three bike rides (just short ones for leg conditioning, I’m de-emphasizing cycling in 2020) and three gym sessions. Ten exercise stints per week means I’ll be a busy boy, but I’m convinced this will deliver a stronger me.

Many other notions swirl around in my head. I will try and lengthen my runs, back towards the 10 kilometres I ran with such regularity in 2016 and into 2017. I’ll look at doing some fun runs and might even tackle a cross country season.

Monitoring progress will be key and I’ll refine a feedback loop over the first few weeks of 2020. I’ll also consider doing some formal speed and strength training, either in a local running group or by using a Strava-compatible training app.

I find it hard to describe how exciting this seems right now, five days before New Years Day. No doubt the novelty will wear off quickly and I’ll revert to grumbling about the daily effort, but this sense of thrilling possibility is real.

Announcing: Rebellion Big Year

Extinction symbol

In the Anthropocene Era, the first geologic era featuring wholesale human impacts, we gamble with extinction. Extinction comes slowly but we can see its distant shadow clearly in 2019, and my great-grandchildren will be middle-aged in 2100, when impacts threaten to be truly dire.

When I turned 60, one of my aims was to spend at least one of my next ten years focusing heavily on some kind of activism. I consider my writing to be meaningful and moral, but direct politically oriented action, irksome though it often is, was something I knew I would have to turn to at some stage. Now, four years later, I commit to working every day of the 2020 Rebellion Big Year to turning back the tide of climate change.

How? I’ve chosen as my vehicle the movement Extinction Rebellion. Its aims align with mine: tell the truth, act now (take Australia’s emissions to zero by 2025), and appoint a binding citizens’ assembly to decide how. It is full of passionate, wonderful people sacrificing much for future generations. It is effective, insisting upon nonviolent direct action as a key strategy.

I may do other things as the year progress. Let’s see.

How do I structure this kind of Big Year? I commit to spending some time (call it a minimum of half an hour even in ferociously busy times) each and every day of 2020 doing activist work or keeping tabs on climate change science and global politics. I commit to averaging 2 hours a day on this activity. Amidst my writing projects and within a hectic family life, this will be demanding. But I commit.

As part of the Rebellion Big Year, I commit to blogging often, both to document my own progress and thoughts, and to tease out insights and implications. Given the nature of activist work, my blogs will be rather non-specific, often reflections on my own mind rather than diaries of activity. Nonetheless, I vey much look forward to an inner dialogue during a year that will seem most unfamiliar to me.

Hope is action. Inaction is no future at all. We must all rebel in some shape or form.

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.

Can we all be more creative?

Olafur Eliasson

Just as with sports stars we tend to overemphasise the gap between us and them, so too with creatives. Wow, we say, listening to Leonard Cohen. Margaret Atwood … wow! But when you listen to creatives dissect their behavior, you see method not genius. I’m not saying there is no difference between us and Martin Scorsese but when I began watching Season 2 of the stunning documentary Abstract (don’t miss it!), several gems from Danish designer/artist Olafur Eliasson stood out. Here’s one:

When I talk to kids about, can you draw a car or something, I really try to emphasise, it’s not really about the car, it’s more about you have the fantasy to actually see the car.

Wow! Maybe I feel stunted because I don’t afford myself the fantasy that I can see more. What about you? Can you have a fantasy that you can see more, hear more, learn more?