Tree bark cares not a whit for this pandemic
We’re not out of lockdown yet but in my mind and heart, I’m now calling myself free. Free to look forward. Free to embrace a fervent future. Free to dream big.
After a month-plus of hiding and indulging, I now gaze outward. I wake up early. I strive.
Within the swirling chaos of everyday life, my Big Decade skeleton overlaying 2020 will be two big years, the Writing Big Year launched yesterday, and the continuing, trivial-but-uplifting Lexicon Big Year.
How I wish the rest of 2020 spanned twelve months, not merely eight!
In Extinction Rebellion, we’re committed to nonviolence in a good cause. Hope these hooligans, committed to violence against lockdown, get treated more severely than I was.
In 2015 I turned 60 and promised myself a decade of different annual obsessions or challenges, calling them Big Years. I had some grandiose aims conjured out of thin air. Some of the 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Big Years have been huge successes, others have been effective but underwhelming, and some have chafed rather than inspired.
I’m demonstrably a failure at my most heartfelt aspiration, to be a “successful” writer, although nothing seems to have dimmed that aspiration. Over the last five years, then, writing has continued to chew up a huge portion of my waking hours. Naturally, I’ve tried to make writing a central thrust of those “Big Years.” The 2016 Writing Big Year, the 2017 Writing Big Year, the 2018 1,000 Big Year (i.e. 1,000 words a day), and the 2019 Author Big Year were each attempts to instil measurable writing disciplines, day in and day out, that deliver authorial productivity. All of them helped me immensely. None of them produced the miracles I hoped for. So when 2020 began, I decided to forego any form of writing or publishing or authorly “big year.”
Well, Coronavirus has turned our lives around. I’ve abandoned a Parkrun Big Year, although I’m jogging. I’ve abandoned a Rebellion Big Year, although I’m as active as lockdown permits in Extinction Rebellion. Four months into the year, what does the future look like? Well, strangely enough, the rest of 2020 and the whole of 2021 presage a lack of travel (dampening other hobbies and another big writing project) and a much “quieter” life. Guess what those conditions are fertile ground for? Writing, that’s what.
So I’m calling the rest of 2020 a Writing Big Year, the same old title for a slightly differently organized life. The nuclear history project is the urgent target and I’m going to mimic the recent lockdown existence by committing to 6 hours a day, nearly all in the morning before noon chimes, hammering out book chapters. (I’ll target another 20 hours per week on other writing projects/work.) This is boring, routine stuff and I’ll post regularly about it, just as a way of talking “motivation talk” to myself. Grand times with Pam, plus other writing work, plus activism, plus grandparenting to the max, plus regular exercise, plus some walking/hiking, plus a cultural life, plus a social/food/wine life … all these will fill out the days, but in essence the next eight months are a slogging, absorbed, wonderful tilt at finishing the “never-ending nuclear project.” This 2020 Writing Big Year … please wish me luck.
My parents were boat people. They chose Australia over U.S.A. Right now, I applaud them.
Upon turning age 60, I committed the next year, 2016, to jogging regularly, specifically 10 kms four times a week. The following year I followed the advice of several family members and friends to purchase a cheap bicycle and take up regular cycling, so 2017 was an intense twelve months of both running and riding. (I should note that I know plenty of people for whom my achievements that year were puny but what counts is my own relative effort). Injury came and in 2018 I tried a Big Year of mixing up jogging (now at more like 5 kms rather than 10) and cycling (now just short hit-outs) and gym. Last year was a physical struggle, with more injury and a loss of capability.
This year I embraced a Parkrun Big Year, based around getting faster at the organized Saturday running events, with a training regime built around jogging, short-distance cycles, and gym workouts. Progress was mixed. Then Coronavirus arrived and a couple of weeks ago, I abandoned the Parkrun Big Year. There didn’t seem to be any point.
Since then, as a result of a lack of motivational aims, and the weird state of lockdown, I’ve put on weight, slowed down, and become sporadic with exercise. I never turned into a couch potato, but I was sore, slow, and surly.
I’ve decided to put a firm foot forward. While I still can, I’m hunkering down to jogging four or five times a week, hoping to build up some speed (i.e. faster than my current pace, that of a half-dead tortoise) and distance, plus maintaining a gym routine (which, oddly enough, has been a reassuring constant during lockdown).
What has ended up being squeezed out is my bike. After three and a half years, I’m not sure that keeping cycling in my exercise mix works. I don’t have anyone to motivate me with social cycling and, frankly, I’m too busy to join groups. In theory, a mix of running and cycling works complementary sets of leg muscles to good effect. In practice, cycling on top of running leaves me sore and, perhaps, open to injury. It’s not that I dislike riding my bike, indeed I often really enjoy the experience, it’s just that I don’t, as yet, love it at the core of my being. I tell myself that when my knees and feet finally force me to quit running, that’s when I can switch over and embrace the two-wheeled life. Until then, jogging sits in my heart and I’m best devoting myself to it.
I’m not going to name a Running or Jogging Big Year for the remainder of 2020. I don’t need that motivation and any aspiration right now, during this period of losing weight and getting back into a routine, would seem downbeat. Instead, I’ll set myself Strava targets and just carve out a steady routine without overstressing any “challenge.” Maybe in 2021, I’ll tilt at a goal worthy of being named.
So for now, goodbye fair bike. I shall ride occasionally but 2021 will end up being a non-cycling year.
Empty airports until when? A good or a bad?
This year’s Rebellion Big Year has occupied a core part of my heart. Since I began a journey of obsessing about different priorities during each year from age 60, most of my preoccupations have been selfish or cultural or exploratory. In 2020, for the first time, I was going to carve out time from writing and family and self interest to put something back into the community. I chose Extinction Rebellion and it’s been a welcoming home to my aspirations to turn around humankind’s willful lack of action on global warming.
A Big Year needs structure, specifically a daily call to action, be it large or small. I chose to simply commit a minimum of an hour a day, but over time averaging out at two hours/day or more (some activist actions take a lot of time, for example getting arrested). So for four months I dutifully hunkered down each day on various activities: getting the hang of XR; helping my local XR group with its administration and meetings; reading up on global warming and climate actions and climate inaction; managing an XR Facebook group; educating myself about the science of global warming and global energy politics; and much more. At court in March and the end of April, my October 2019 arrest spent itself out, culminating in an easy “no charge” diversion. I felt empowered and, after plenty of initial nerves, at peace within the sprawling, somewhat structureless organism called Extinction Rebellion.
Covid-19 delivered a death blow to the Rebellion Big Year, because suddenly the very heart of the movement, non-violent civil disobedience on the streets, was no longer possible. And even today, it seems unlikely XR will be able to play much of a role in the post-Coronavirus world until at least the late Spring. But even before lockdown sapped my Big Year of its heartbeat, I’d realized something: activism is tough to allocate to a geeky “every day” obsession. Activism, by its nature, waxes and wanes, sometimes all-consuming, sometimes the storm to retreat from. Once you’re hooked onto an activist path, it has its own momentum and a “Big Year” framework adds little.
So, with reluctance, I have called this Big Year quits after four months and a bit. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed squaring up to my anxieties and rolling my sleeves up again in the messy world. The daily stricture of at least thinking about activism has definitely helped me. But now there seems little point, and I no longer need the crutch. I could be disappointed in myself, with dropping something partway through, but any plans on New Years Day made no allowance for the global and local impacts of this deadly virus.
I shall continue to be active within Extinction Rebellion and elsewhere, but the Rebellion Big Year is hereby cancelled.
Lockdown is a state of mind. From today I choose freedom.
In April we transformed ever more digital