Cycle? Read this?

To you, the perennial non-cyclist, does cycling seem imbued with romanticism, the allure of effort, speed, ascent, ground covered, the world all around? It does to me. David Coventry’s The Invisible Mile fictionalises Australia’s participation (with one New Zealander) in the 1928 Tour de France. Our book group Novel Men struggled somewhat with the feverish eloquence of the author, but the novel sure does convey the risks and sacrifices of long-distance cycle touring!


Foer’s Eating Animals made a huge impression on me and now, after a decade, he’s back with a “big” novel a la Franzen, etc. I have a “big novel” in me also (doesn’t everybody), the hard part is getting to it (and doesn’t everybody say that?). 2019 is tentatively the Writing Big Year when I hunker down to draft it. In the meantime, I’ll buy Here I Am and swoon. (By the way, Alex Shepard’s GQ article is way neat.)

York work

Here I be. Home during daylight hours for half of Thursday and all of Friday and Saturday. The plan: speed-draft Chapter 5, based on plot cards. I don’t think I can do it. I think I can do it. I don’t believe I can. I believe I can.

Word and Ulysses

Like many people, I’ve been tied to Microsoft Word for decades. In the past I tried various alternatives but none worked well enough. Word is comprehensive, robust (though for many years it wasn’t, I used to save documents often to avoid losing them) and quite easy to use. But now I work across hardware enemies – a Windows desktop and Apple phone/tablet – and Word began to irritate me. Syncing with Microsoft’s OneDrive was so, so slow, and the iPad version of Word was okay but only just okay.

Ali Dawes introduced me to Ulysses. What a revelation! I’ve now switched to doing all my drafting on the iPad (and occasionally the iPhone!), eventually porting my words back onto the desktop’s Word (a bit clunky but okay). What do I like about Ulysses?

  • It’s a typing program with a really clean interface that encourages wordsmithing. (It has many more features, such a markup language, which I’m slowly absorbing.)
  • It syncs, using iCloud, really fast and seamlessly.
  • The way Ulysses organises folders and documents (they’re called sheets) is very logical yet flexible.
  • Everything about it is modern, cool and useful.

That first feature, the way it encourages me to write just like a pen does, is the one that sways me. I can’t recommend Ulysses highly enough.

Beware of mosquitoes and frogs

Oh, I love this. Artist Dolan Geiman (check out his amazing website), interviewed in Danielle Krysa’s Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas.

Q: When do you get your best ideas?
A: Usually when I’m just waking up. I think it’s because the brain is in a state of rest and has no real outside distractions. It’s easier to pull the ideas out of the swamp when the mosquitoes and frogs aren’t jumping around.

One of Dolan’s works is shown, with his permission.

How to get fitter: Resolve or a Big Year?

So you’d dearly love to get fitter? Or you’ve always dreamed of designing a boat? What about embroidering regularly?

Why not just resolve to do X or Y? A smidgen of willpower will suffice, surely. Make it a New Year’s Resolution or wake up one morning and “go for it.” Easy?

I’m sure many people can shift course and put time into something they treasure. But I’ve always found it tough. I’m one of the few folks I know who did, for many years, set New Year’s Resolutions, but success rarely came. So now I’m trying the Big Year concept, that of daily obsessiveness. Will it work?

What is a Big Year?

Besides the fun of doing Big Years, I feel a need to derive real benefit, be it enjoyment or understanding (perhaps they’re the same thing), from the actual concept. So let me, for my own benefit, restate what a Big Year is, or may be.
A Big Year is a calendar year spent obsessing on something, anything, amidst real life. It is a structured exercise with five characteristics:

  • Everyday, or nearly every day, focus over a long period of 365 days. I picture commencing at dawn on January 1 and concluding at dusk on December 31. (Quite what “everyday” means remains up for grabs. For my Jogging Big Year, I ruled off travelling periods, though in practice I’ve jogged when I could on the road. Also, I’ve noticed that what really excites me is the notion of insisting on activity each and every day; this was not part of the original idea.)
  • Finite duration. No matter how tough or irksome the Big Year is, I know the end will come. I picture a huge sigh of relief on New Year’s Eve.
  • Demanding but not impossible. Setting the bar is what makes the Year thrilling. Too low and the challenge is ho-hum, too high means you can lose heart when you slip up. I picture gritting my teeth, maybe even complaining, but enjoying confidence deep down in my chest
  • Demonstrably measurable. A vague challenge quickly withers. Being able to tell others what the goal is, and whether I’m on track, seems important to me. I picture an app that anyone can consult; indeed for my jogging Big Year, the app Strava is all I need.
  • Complex. Planning is needed months before January 1, every half year, every quarter, every month, every week, yes, even every day, to ensure I can fit this into daily life. I picture a corporate project plan.

So there it is. What I need to do, not now but before too long, is to pare the above description down to something much more pithy.