4 weeks into the new Big Year. Should I sing or weep? I’m aiming for 54 hours of writing work in an average week, with 42 hours being on the nuclear book. I’ve achieved 44 hours/week overall, a shortfall of 20%. I’d give that a B+ (there was an interstate driving trip). Core book writing, however, sits at 28 hours/week, a third under the 42-hour target. Call it a C rating.
Let’s see if I can lift this week to the 54/42 numbers, eh?
June 16: Steven Poole’s forgotten/rare word for today is quop. Who can resist saying quop? First seen in a 1382 bible, used by James Joyce in “Ulysses,” it means “to wriggle, throb, or pulsate.” Poole: “An invaluable word to know at Scrabble.” Quop, quop, quop.
My word? Sounding almost the same, quip is seen in books but never, in my experience, spoken. It means “a witty remark” or, as a verb, to make such a witty remark. Quip, quip, quip.
Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.
Outside, at 11 AM, gum trees sway in wind under sun-split clouds. I woke early and enjoyed mild quiet streets, feet pounding concrete. I decided to simulate lockdown, so, after a recorded stretching session and shower, haven’t been out. Work palette: Chapter 3 editing, Israel drafting, Japan finalization, reviewing albums, daring to start a new chapter on outlier reactor designs. In the wings: catch-up research books, Bosch Season 6, a book on birds within humankind’s history. Left-field music, louder than usual. Black bitter coffee. No lunch (fasting). All is well.
Yesterday and the day before felt like I was walking ankle-deep in treacle. Slow, effortful steps. I’ve begun to write up the beginnings of Israel’s dalliance with nuclear energy while it pursued bombs. The key early period just before World War II, and then during that War, and then just after it, is shrouded in mystery. I had plenty of notes on plenty of data, probably much of the good research done on the topic, but I hadn’t realized until now that none of my core historians had managed to pin down what happened when. These eminent historians baffled the reader with prose without elucidating. It’s taken me two unenjoyable days to sort out the mosaic of information and to be clear in my own mind what happened, in all likelihood. Now I can steamroll forward. It’s 4 PM and I’m looking forward to a glass of red.
There doesn’t seem to be any way around it: the flow of my writing work over last month and this month has soared and plunged, rocketed and fizzled. No rhyme nor reason to one day compared to the next. Note that I’m talking about deskwork writing, but the same phenomenon, albeit less extreme, has taken place in my general life. Moments of raw joy. Evenings when I need a drink.
For July, I commit to finding peace at the desk. An undulating, not serrated, work performance chart.
That’s all we ask for, that we occasionally “pull back the curtain” and see something no one else has. Back in Melbourne, we’ve surrendered once more to lockdown, awaiting Covid-19 test results tomorrow after the mildest of cold symptoms in Sydney. I’m working hard, though not always at the pointiest edge. Purposefulness pervades.
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.
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.
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.
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.