Announcing a Wings Big Year for 2019

Wings Big Year

A big success in 2018 was my Tractor Big Year. I spent an hour each and every day gradually learning how to self publish a book. Steady, unruffled learning… education with a purpose… not too much and no dramatic pressure (beyond the stress of “fitting it in,” which, quite frankly, is enjoyable)… I loved it! And it worked.

So next year I’m going to repeat the bountiful pleasure. Each and every day I’ll spend an hour learning about and musing over the big picture of the world’s birds. How many birds are there? How many bird species? Where are most of the Earth’s birds? What are the broad categories of species (I think they’re called families)? What countries have killed the most birds? How many of our bird species will survive to 2050? What are the major migration paths of birds (even more fundamentally, why do birds migrate)? In other words, can I summarise Earth’s birds in a manner that helps me write about them on an ongoing basis?

I know you’re as delighted as I am at this decision. You can look forward to a torrent of educational jewels over the months of 2019.

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.”

A Movie Big Year in 2019? Regrettably no

Movie Big Year

After Big Year experience in 2016, 2017, and 2018, perhaps I’m getting wiser. Perhaps not. Anyway, back in May, while walking the Way of Saint Francis, I resolved to make 2019 a Movie Big Year. Let me lovingly describe it to you, and tell me it doesn’t sound like the best fun of your life!

A Movie Big Year would involve watching a movie each and every day, from January 1 to December 31, no exceptions. Of course the devil is in the details, so I decided to clock my movie watching time and commit a daily average of 105 minutes, one and three quarter hours, that being the supposed average movie length. If I watched a TV series, for example, of ten 50-minute episodes, I’d watch it over about five days.

What a pleasure it would be seeking out films and series, old and new! I decided to see content from five sources: my local cinema, just round the corner; Netflix; Foxtel on Demand; Stan; and the Melbourne Film Festival (my big binge!).

Regrettably, just days before January 1, I’ve decided to defer this sweet, sweet joy. The writing I’m trying to get done in my Author Big Year, plus the demands of life, simply squeeze me too much. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the first three years of my Big Decade, trying to jam too much in leads to failure and depression.

When will the Movie Big Year take place? Soon, I pledge to myself, soon. 2020 isn’t a possibility . . . maybe 2021 can be.

Was 2018 a year of betterment or learning for you?

Author Big Year

With days to go before the shuttering of 2018 and the unfurling of 2019, do you glow with a sense of a year well spent? Do you reckon yourself more knowledgeable? Did you tackle any of your flaws, the ones you know so well? Was the nineteenth year of the 21st Century progressive or static?

I raise these questions with no arrogance or preachiness. I know I’m an outlier in desiring “progress” or “momentum” or “betterment.” I know I’m strange in dreading stasis. What’s more, my four 2018 Big Years mostly bombed out big time, so to the extent I tried to change myself over the year, the results weren’t stellar.

Today I probed my own situation. I’ll discuss the four specific Big Years in future posts, just to round off the year for my own benefit, but from a general perspective, here’s one important (to me, at least) observation: each of the four Big Years, even the ones that tanked in November, had SOME impact on me. Even if I didn’t take huge strides upwards, even if I sniffed the stench of “failure,” the very effort, the trying, the questing . . . I think I inched forward. That pleases me greatly.

Author Big Year: Exploring Europe

Author Big Year

Darwin, then Sydney, as much time as possible on narrating the beginning of nuclear power in Western Europe in the late 1940s and early-to-mid 1950s. I got in more time in the first locale, simply because there’s a granddaughter in the Sydney, but overall I made a good start. Belgium is done and I’m tidying up Norway and the Netherlands. Sweden is next, followed by Italy.

Author Big Year: We all need to dream and big

Author Big Year inspiration

Concluding Van Jackson’s “Nuke Your Darlings” blog about writing a history book… “Well, I missed yesterday’s entry,” writes Jackson (Entry 79 of 92) on April 6, 2018. “I’m an exhausted bag of bones by evening time.” On the return flight, his blog reveals that he sees life as “a collection of habits interspersed with 8-Mile moments,” that phrase denoting Eminem’s movie, especially his key soundtrack song, “Lose Yourself.” (Not your stereotypical academic, eh?)

From this nadir blooms resurgence. “These final chapters are flowing,” he writes on Apr 11. In Wellington, he decides to climax the book with the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, scrambling at the last moment to wrap that into his narrative and analysis. How bold! Each April day now delivers draft slabs even while the North Korea situation explodes with rumor and news that leave him “mentally and emotionally exhausted.” In late April, jettisoning all his other mandatory commitments, “I wrote like a man possessed this weekend – more than 3,000 words [wow!].” On Apr 25, getting set to conclude drafting, he diverts to blog how he organises his day, 31 planned time segments from 5 AM to 9 PM – I know, he sounds over prescriptive, but guess what: I’m like that!

Apr 27: “700 words closer to finishing today but still not quite there.” And then we’re there, Entry 92 on April 30:

First draft complete!… It’s bittersweet, but now that I have a full draft in hand, I intend for this to be my final Nuke Your Darlings entry. As of now I have 93,000 words, which is more than the limit I agreed to in the publishing contract. I just need to pare it down as I revise. I skimmed through most of the chapters today and really like what I’ve produced. I’m kind of amazed that I did this. Hopefully readers will enjoy the final product!… These daily entries have also helped me reflect on how I write… The biggest surprise benefit of this diary is how it’s seemingly affected others.”

Well, I’m one off those affected. To hold a dream in the face of an uncaring universe is tough but wonderful.


Author Big Year: More lightning bolts to the soul from Nuke Your Darlings

Author Big Year Van Jackson On the Brink

“This weekend was crazy busy, again,” blogs Van Jackson on drafting his terrific history. It’s March 19, eight months ago! “71,000 words… The good news is that I’ll definitely have my 80,000 words by the June 1 deadline.” A TV interview the next day leaves him in “fast-brain mode on steroids,” and puzzling about Trump means he has “trouble defending my writing time today.” I fall in love with Van Jackson when, on March 22, he says “The Great Gatsby” taught him to “transform myself through discipline and routine.” (Isn’t that what my Big Decade is?) The next day, John Bolton (“Deep breath,” Jackson tells himself) is annointed by Trump as his National Security Adviser. A week later in the thick of a conference, he is stunned to hear Kim Jong Un has visited China: “… quite possibly my most unproductive day yet.” At the start of April, “cramped, dehydrated, jet lagged, and exhausted” at a San Francisco conference, he blogs, to my amazement, about what advice he gives to students thinking about doing a PhD!

A complete change of tack the next day, when with a friend:

What made us so close was our unconventional approach to the job, and to life. We both have a strange conviction that you can sort of create your own reality. Not so much in a Trumpian “fake news” sense, but in a Gatsby-ian sense. We’ve both gone about it in our own ways, but it’s what brought us to work on strategy in the first place. Both of us are prone to try big, hairy, audacious things, and both of us pay virtually no attention to the odds stacked against us when we do.

Today I’ve only covered a couple of weeks in the Van Jackson saga. Why am I spending so much time on it when I should be writing my own book? Because so few writers talk to me as me right now, doing what I’m doing, and this guy does. That para above moves me grandly because, like Jackson, I believe a decade and a half of work on the nuclear book is not wasted and will blossom.

I can take no more emotion right now.

Author Big Year: 5 days in Darwin

Author Big Year

Darwin has a greater number of fine cafes than its reputation suggests, but that doesn’t mean it’s a boon for a writer who prefers to work in a cafe. I used to cycle to Luck Bat cafe in Nightcliff but now it closes at 2 PM and often my best out-of-town drafting stretches take place mid afternoon. So I’ve relocated to Laneway cafe in Parap, 12 kms by bike (which took a full sweaty hour this morning because I had to frequently prop and navigate). A lovely place but I’m just not used to being sweaty, sweaty, and sweaty (though I shouldn’t complain, I’ve been whinging about Melbourne’s cold for months, you know how old people whinge). So yesterday saw some good work but not enough, and today has seen a most slow start. I’ll do a push right now. Bring yourself some pride, Andres.