Traction at last

Drift Cafe

In theory it’s simple to work wherever and whenever, and depending on the type of writing I’m at, usually I’m effective. This week Pam is hiking the long Cape to Cape Trail in Western Australia. I pulled out (laziness? unfitness? new priorities?) and am living by myself in Margaret River. The situation is work-idyllic: zero distractions, wonderful Drift Cafe, fine accommodation. But the first four days proved to be only a half-successful effort. There was the moving from one place to another, there was something I ate, etc., etc. There was also, I now realize, the wrench of moving from a wonderful birding vacation to work mode.

No matter. Day five of seven, and I’m wired and on, on, on. A pile of research notes, the Ulysses writing app on the iPad, a pen, coffee (of course) in Drift. Yes!

I can look at flowers

Flower

Birds are my conduit to nature. I think many city geeks, brought up with no natural connection with the real world, appreciate such a conduit. I rarely view plants as anything more than “pretty” or ”wow,” but on the recent eleven-day tour around southwest WA, I noticed this flower. I noticed it. I photographed it. I think my mental health perked up.

Birthday

Big Years are back

Turning 67 today, I’ve decided to pivot again with my blogs.

I like to blog as a transparent conversation with myself. I keep a journal but it’s an info dump, unfocused and all-encompassing. A blog has underlying purpose, something that is (hopefully) designed to enhance the way one lives.

Two years ago, I reevaluated the blog I’d run for five years, called Big Decade. The Big Decade blog, as it was conceived on my 60th birthday, was designed to challenge me by harnessing my natural obsessiveness. Under the Big Decade logic, each calendar year I would choose a daily challenge or activity, and commit to tackling it for each of the 365 days of the year. I tackled writing, tough hikes, jogging, meditating, music listening, learning about self-publishing, etc., etc. Big Decade worked well for five years, until … until it didn’t. Suddenly I was tired of push, push, push. I was older.

So, two years ago, I began to blog on a new site, called cryptically Slow Glow to 70. The idea was to calm the f___ down, to be steady and calm, to glow rather than burn.

Slow Glow to 70 worked well for two years and then … and then it didn’t. I need an extra push (a health scare helped, I can tell you!). So I’m going back to complete the full ten years of Big Decade.

This time the annual challenges of Big Decade will less physical, more cognitive or emotional or (dare I say it) spiritual. But the new Big Years won’t be any less onerous for being cerebral rather than body-punishing. They’ll be tough. And I can hardly wait.

Tomorrow … my first new Big Year. (As I did back on my 60th birthday, I’ll run the first Big Year for over a year, from my birthday to the end of the next calendar year.)

Regret! Lament!

Lament

Just kidding. I’m not actually weeping but hey, the thought occurs to me that I might have taken a wrong turn. Nearly four months ago, I pulled the pin on what had been intended as a ten-year project. My Big Decade, running from age 60 to 70, was meant to stock each calendar year with varied but precise daily challenges, various Big Years. But I ran out of steam and I was repeating myself and … well, maybe the original idea was a crock? So I cancelled the enterprise halfway through.

Now, a while later, I reckon I’ve lost something. Without obsessive daily pressure on my obsessive psyche, I’ve gone backwards in certain areas. I’ve lost fitness and am drinking a tad too much and my weight balloons – is this due to the pandemic or lack of a fitness/wellbeing Big Year? I’ve dropped all the little daily tasks that previous years had witnessed – am I now set in my ways? Some of the original romantic ideas behind the Big Decade – do a Tough Hikes Big Year, Andres, or why not a Global Birding Big Year? – are now just youthful memories, and isn’t that a damned shame?

Should I set off again? Should I harness my innate desire for daily structure, for structured challenges? I don’t know and I’m blessed if I perceive how to even contemplate this maverick notion.

The End of My Big Decade

My Big Half Decade

Five years ago, on my 60th birthday, I had a brainwave and launched a Big Decade, with the intention of running different Big Years for ten years. Each Big Year would impose a daily, obsessive requirement or activity, for 365 days. I saw my Big Decade as one way to inject energy into my 60s.

I decided yesterday, on my 65th birthday, to call it quits after five years. It has been half a Big Decade and that’s the end of it.

Why abandon what has been both meaningful and fun? Well, I’ve changed. At age 60, I sought huge challenges: a Big Year of tough hikes, a Big Year of long pilgrimages, a Big Year of daily birdwatching. Now I’d like to commit the second half of my 60s to writing and family (one delightful surprise in my life has been the arrival of five grandchildren), while still occasionally hiking, birdwatching, etc. At age 60, I promised myself a Rock Music Big Year, in which I listened daily, followed by Reading and Movie Big Years; I did the first and the other two are now part of regular life with my review blog (ReadListenWatch.com). At age 60, I wanted to dedicate a year to battling coal, the scourge of climate change, and another year devoted to the Greens. I’ve moved on from those days and now Extinction Rebellion is the go, and it’s something that can’t be obsessive, it waxes and wanes. And what has also become clear to me is that writing, especially the nuclear book, has to remain central (I have in fact run six “writing” Big Years over the last half decade), not just a daily “must do,” but embedded deep into the cracks of every day.

Let me tell you that the Big Half Decade has been marvelous and I commend to you the idea of daily obsession, focus, and grit, but this discipline hasn’t always worked as well as I’d imagined it would. If I narrate the half decade, you’ll get the picture. 2016 was Jogging (which worked brilliantly, that was the fittest I’ve ever been) and Writing (only partially successful). 2017 saw Fitness (expanding into cycling which worked well until I broke down) and Writing (once more a mixed bag) and Rock Music (wunderbar, such joy!). In 2018, I ran a Big Year called 1,000 (i.e. a thousand words a day, didn’t work), a Freshness Big Year (based around a holistic approach to fitness, a minor flop), a Big Year of learning how to self-publish books (tick!) and a Stillness Big Year (just ten minutes of meditation a day, a success that I haven’t kept up). In 2019, I retreated into myself with two writing projects, the nuclear book plus research on a new birding/climate change book; much useful work eventuated but also much dispirited flailing. I began 2020 with a Parkrun Big Year, which was halted by Covid-19, and a Big Year devoted to Extinction Rebellion (Covid also scrunched this but in any case, I discovered daily obsession is not the way to do activism). More recently, I’ve gone back to a Writing Big Year (motivating but I’m motivated not by the Big Year concept but by love of the work) and a daily habit of improving vocabulary with unusual words (fun but hardly revolutionary).

All in all, my 2015 brainwave sometimes delivered significant results but often sent me down blind alleys or even distracted me from what I should have been doing. I rue none of it but keeping it going until age 70 no longer makes sense.

So … no more. No more Big Years. No more blog. This is the final post.

Exploration of future

Lockdown sign

Will our post-Coronavirus world radically reinvent itself or will it, as someone quipped, be “just the same but with enhanced hygiene”? That’s way beyond my conscious analytical ability, but I’m doing what I always do: read and read and read. Even before the inevitable avalanche of futurism, I reach out at random: Marina Benjamin’s Garden Among Fires: A Lockdown Anthology; The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World by Roman Krznaric; Zadie Smith’s Intimations: Six Essays; and The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Levy. And after these, more and more… We must read and think.

Lexicon Big Year: August 16

Words

Aug 16: Steven Poole’s delightful word is adlubescence, something that really, truly brings pleasure or delight. As he himself says, adlubescence is a “charming word”, and charming words always refresh me.

Andres Kabel’s word of the day? Doesn’t bestial sound great? It carries a range of dictionary definitions, from a technical orientation of “relating to animals,” to “exceedingly cruel,” and even to “involving human-animal sex.” I often wonder: are humans bestial or not?

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

Big Year direction?

Signpost

Wake up. Exercise (you can’t write without running). Write and write and write as best you can. Lockdown bathes you with time freed up but lockdown blankets you with a future stripped down to mere weeks. Sometime soon you need to pause and plan, month by month, perhaps even week by week. Soon, soon.

Two lexicons

Different lexicons

How oddly rewarding it is to dip into a book of mystifying new words every day as part of my Lexicon Big Year. Steven Poole’s A Word for Every Day of the Year is superb. Imagine then my delight in reading, at the same time, this year’s Miles Franklin winner, The Yield by Tara June Winch! One of the artful narrative devices employed by the award winning author is to interleave the story with an expanding lexicon/dictionary of indigenous words, specifically over a hundred (so 30% of Poole’s word digging, but still substantive) Wiradjuri words or phrases. Words are magical.