Lexicon Big Year: June 7


June 7: Poole’s weird-sounding, weird-of-meaning word for today is accismus, from four hundred or more years ago. Accismus means “pretending to refuse something you actually really want.” I guess it’s what we label as “reverse psychology.” My mother always assumed that if you turned down something at her table, it was a statement of accismus. Ever since I read Poole’s beguiling essay on the word, I’ve been wondering if some of my life is accismus trying to reach out, for I seem to be edging towards a new orientation to important things. If only all words encouraged fresh reflection…

And my word? An exceedingly commonplace one but one that still leaps into my head unbidden every day: apocalyptic. The dictionary seems to say “describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world” or “momentous or catastrophic.” We all use it differently. I know folks who claim to employ it literally; that’s a conversation that never goes far with me. Coronavirus lockdown encourages apocalyptic reflections, however shallow, and of course I’m prone to Extinction Rebellion anxiety of the apocalyptic (and in my view, accurate) flavor. Is it overused? Do I overuse it? Yes on both counts, but I bet I continue to think apocalyptic images daily nonetheless.

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.

Writing Big Year: Not looking for blue skies or open spaces

Japanese autumn sky

For the first quarter decade after turning 60, I went looking for adventure. Not real, dangerous adventure, but robust out-in-remoteness time in wilderness. We also traveled quite a lot, especially during the grayness of Melbourne’s winter. I could always aspire, so it seemed to me, to be somewhere warmer, or somewhere amidst the vigor of exercise, while at the same time writing “as much as I could.” The dream of blue skies enticed. Now lockdown is here, albeit seeping away (at least for us lucky Australians), and, on the fifth day of winter, I face a winter fully in Melbourne, grabbing a blue sky on odd occasions. The strange thing is, I’m looking forward to three months of study captivity, productive time at desk. You see, blue skies and wilderness are distractions from purpose. In 2020, winter shall be winter and nothing but winter.

Writing Big Year: Clarity?

Blinding lights

In my corporate life, I used to excel at stumping up project plans and working to meet deadlines. The nuclear book has, however, evaded any real plans, simply because I never knew what I was doing. Never. And telling myself to “just cut through it all and bang out a plan and be done with it” never worked. Often I pretended, to myself and others, that I had a “plan” that would deliver “such and such by this-or-that date” but they were always guesses. Well, now I’m getting close to confronting the approaching dazzle and seeing a way through. The Coronavirus lockdown has been a blessing in this regard, for I’ve been able to set up piles of hard-copy stuff that makes up each of the 21 chapters, and to write up brief status reports on each chapter, and right now I’m working to a “picture” that includes lists of “next steps.” The next step will be to monitor closely how long it takes to, for example, write up Draft 1 of the chapter on radioactive waste, and then to come up with a proper Project Plan with GANTT-style deadlines. Wish me luck.

Writing Big Year: It’s Monday

Monday jottings

Strange days … lockdown unlocking but oh so slowly and a form of dread persisting … schismatic days in America … bleak Melbourne dreek (a Scottish word I recall from hiking days) … incredibly absent-minded and barely able to remember tying shoelaces … more fat than fit … selfishness ahead of grandparenting. But here’s the thing: I’m writing a chapter about lying cheating countries way back when and the words flow.

Lexicon Big Year: June 1


June 1: Steven Poole has excelled with his words over the past week or so, delighting me with gems like cognosible, hippotherapy, and smellfeast. But I’m especially taken by today’s word, alazony, which means the “inability to recognize irony when they see it.” Alazony is one of Poole’s more modern rare words and it sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s hope no-one ever casts the aspersion of alazony upon me.

Garry Disher, that renowned Australian author, donated a wondrous word to me: floordrobe. It means the pile of clothes on your bedroom floor in place of actual furniture. I won’t name those I know who once built substantive floordrobes.

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.

Clearing the mind

Clearing the mind

Some nights, at midnight, all resolve dissolves. So my Wednesday came to be a day of reading/watching: “living in Spain” memoir; immersive dystopian sci-fi; Yakuza in London; psychopath in Barcelona; Shane set in outback Australia; Scotland procedural; a city come alive; Thomas Cromwell in my head. This change of tack worked.



My best and worst days are a blur of one task to another to another … editing these pages; rummaging through reference books for background material; conjuring a draft of a new chapter or at least the beginning of it, the beginning always being the most fraught part; taking notes on another new technical history; fussing over photographs to use. Those days are the best of days because every day, progress can be seen. They’re the worst days also. At the end of a blurry day, I feel like I’m stripped bare.

Hours worthwhile

Jotted notes

Last week, even with the boom on our lockdown starting to be lowered, I stayed on song every day, and worthwhile hours resulted. I averaged close to my daily target of 7 hours on “real work,” plus my target of 2 hours on “other writing crap.” I put in 16 hours on an obscure but weighty thesis on Australia’s nuclear history (amazingly, I’ve done little work on that subject up to now). I almost got Chapter 2 into Kindle-print-ready mode. I almost completed the early history of Japan (why is it so hard)? I’ve a clear picture of next week’s work in mind. Although some of the week was grouchy work (the thesis taxed me), the reward right now is a feeling of quiet satisfaction.

Lexicon Big Year: May 22


May 22: Not easy to pronounce, Steven Poole’s rare word for today, but I love it: deipnosophist. According to him, it’s a very ancient Greek word that still finds a place in dictionaries, and it means “someone learned in the mysteries of the kitchen.” But it’s more than that. If you’re a deipnosophist, you’re a whiz-bang chef but also a “philosopher-eater,” someone who shines intellectually over a dinner party table. Dinner parties quickly bore me and I can cook but barely, but hey, I can dream of one day morphing into a deipnosophist.

What word has struck me over the last week or so? It’s distancing, that is, the verb distance and its associated noun. Until recently, we would “travel a long distance” but the verb, as in “I distance myself from him,” was rarely used. Now “social distancing” and “social distance” are lockdown commonplaces.

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.

Writing Big Year: The bliss of early starts

Early rising

I’m one of the lucky ones. Around planet Earth, so many people face an ongoing pandemic of plague-like characteristics, of indefinite duration. My lockdown lasted six and a half weeks (strictly Victoria isn’t out of the woods and restrictions remain, but my psyche rocketed out of strict isolation last Thursday). I spent a month of my lockdown half-working, vaguely anxious, forever needing to reassure myself with treats and laziness. But towards the end, something in my mind shifted and I clicked into a productive work mode that is heavenly. So … it’s dark outside. I’m back from my jog amongst a handful of cars and no other pedestrians. I approach my workspace, a welcoming sliver of light amidst the blackness of night. Inside, pen and paper and desktop await. The work awaits. Bliss hums in the air.