So you’ve toughed out a half year, done the hard yards, put in the two hours a day every day, knuckled down . . . yadda yadda cliché . . . but legs are leaden and your other obsession, the more important one, the one that counts, the writing one . . . that one intrudes. Your jogging habit isn’t quite the habit you crowed about, is it? Isn’t it time to forget the nonsense? Remember the advice about taking it easy on yourself?
Personally I’ve no advice to myself other than this: out into grey, lovely Melbourne . . . a Currawong lilts low and high . . . a Coot scampers away.
1,001 kms, to be precise. To celebrate hitting four figures, I ran faster. I didn’t set out to but for once felt buoyant and at the halfway point was running an incredible 5:54 mins/km pace. I pushed up the final hill and found I’d done it in 5:59. My fastest this year and only the second time I’ve bested 6:00.
Another issue has helped to punch a hole in the hull of Chapter 2 (to use a metaphor that already seems tired). I’m telling the story of inventing and building reactors over 75 years. Chapter 2, covering the first 10 or so years, is nearly done. But over the top of the “X built this, Y invented that” tale, I need to overlay the big issues integral to nuclear power: safety, radiation doses, economics, and radioactive waste. I thought I’d be able to “slip in” these issues from the 1960s, since in the early days they received less attention.
Now I’m sure that won’t work. From the very start of my book, the reader needs to receive a basic education on, for example, how to measure radiation and how dangerous it is. Can I slip this into my Chapter 2 with a couple of artful paragraphs? Or (pursuing this one educational topic) should I take a bit more trouble, perhaps even employing a quick additional chapter, to survey early, pre-WWII radiation knowledge? If I don’t do it now, in Chapter 2, I’m just deferring the issue.
In the last week, I’ve separately extolled the physical and existential benefits of daily exercise. But it’s not for everyone:
- It chews up time and takes you away from resentful loved ones.
- For an obsessive person like me, adding an obsessive impost can tip you into anxiety, down a slippery slope.
- I can feel pressured by a daily demand. Stress can harm.
- If you’ve chosen an inappropriate Big Year focus and daily target, a sense of hopelessness, of anomie, can bare its teeth
It’s not true that yesterday, the 194th in 2016, was the actual first Big Year day . . . but in one sense it is. Among the 194 days there have been many good and effective working days legitimately judged “successful,” and there were pivotal periods, back in February and April particularly, that redeemed the very big year concept. But I’ve struggled all year to find a way of expressing and measuring what a “writing big year” looks like.
Initially “big year” meant “finish the millstone book,” broken up into week-by-week targets, but if some days got a tick, many didn’t, and not always because I was dumb or slack. It’s demotivating to push at a daily goal that is not precise enough. Jogging 4 times a week, 10 kms each outing, is so easily measurable that it it creates its own momentum. “Complete Chapter 4 by Week 3” is measurable, true, but what if that quickly seems unachievable, what do you do? What do you do? What do you do?
I’ve found a solution. I still have week-on-week, indeed day-on-day completion targets but the brunt of the challenge focuses equally on “how to work.” Put simply, every day for the rest of this year (when in town), I give myself a tick if I do four things:
- Rise early, on time. No ifs or buts.
- Don’t touch the world: no email, Internet, newspapers, phone calls, chores, meetings, shopping . . . nada. In my cave I am.
- Set big but hopefully achievable tasks and pour energy at them.
- At noon I down pen and turn off computer.
Most days target additional afternoon and even night work but if these times get swamped by real life, it’s the morning that counts. If I fail to complete the set tasks, I recalibrate; as long as I’ve worked flat out, the tick remains. The rest of the world, even the Jogging Big Year, must be jammed into the PM portion of each day.
Day One worked and worked beautifully. Peace. Let’s repeat today, okay?
A couple of days ago I asked whether this big year is a boon or a peril from the physical point of view. But who cares about the physical, really? Rather, does obsessing about running make a difference to a life’s meaning?
- I keep asking myself if anxious insistence on regularity does instill a habit. After all, that’s a worthwhile objective: who wouldn’t want to just be fitter and healthier as a matter of routine? Shouldn’t exercise be as easy as daily teeth brushing? Well, it’s too early to tell for sure but yes, slowly, day by day, the more I insist on regularity, the easier it is to stick with it, even in the midst of life.
- And I’m feeling a gentle surge of pride in myself. We try to reassure ourselves that we’re worthwhile because the comforts of life abound, but often, after the hard work of our 30s and 40s, we surrender the idea that we can still strive for something. In 2016 so far, I’ve worked hard and “done good” and I’m chuffed.
- Perhaps the most important insight I had last week – suddenly, while on the track – was this: running means something to me. Why? That’s not clear to me, but the insight said this: jogging is meaningful to me and I’m giving it space every day and that enriches my life. Wow!
So if there’s something you know is meaningful to you, be it large or small, are you giving it enough weight in your life? Wouldn’t a big year help?
First things first . . . I’ve nearly drafted my entire Chapter 2, but that word “nearly” means “not nearly at all.” To tame the unruly slag heap of research material, I’ve taken to scripting plot points that move around a bit in time (we’re in the late 40s and early 50s). Scripting software is available – Scrivener is one fine choice – but feels too much tailored for fiction not nonfiction, so I’ve resorted to pen and scraps of paper. I now have all but four of my plot points drafted but what I’ve got is marred by jarring continuity and mistaken duplications. Some of it flows and works, but some is a mess.
So I’m slowing down again and writing out plot points on old-fashioned cardboard index cards. Shuffle . . . shuffle . . . shuffle. Primitive, eh?
Six months in, am I positive or negative about my every-day-activity 1,600-km obsession? Let’s talk physical first:
- Without a doubt my fitness has improved; it would be surprising if such a ramp-up of activity didn’t show up in stronger muscles and enhanced cardiovascular performance. I like this uplift. Run times, though still slow, are maybe 5% faster. The times when I gasp like a dying fish are less frequent.
- In spite of much whinging, and anxiety about “breaking down,” here I am, still upright and mobile.
- Finally, accustoming the body to very regular work seems to pay dividends for general health: no colds, ditto stomach disorders, good energy levels . . . all round “healthiness.”
Would I have gained these benefits by just “resolving to run more,” instead of hammering daily, daily, daily? The jury is out on that question.
And what about more general existential questions? Does a Jogging Big Year make a difference? More on that another day . . .
It’s just after mid year (EOFY I would have labeled it in a former life) and one Big Year – that of the jogging obsession – is, I reckon, swimming with head above water.
But the other, far more crucial Big Year – the writing one – has hit an underwater shoal. In truth, it was a flawed, if deliberately over-ambitious aspiration for 2016. Imagine the fear in confronting the primary work target for one’s year! I’ve taken the overwhelming step of turning one Big Year into two Big Years. Now to ensuring delivery . . .
I only have three weeks until an extended hiking trip, so reassessment is vital. If I knew how to shift existential purpose with a casual pen, well, I would. But it’s difficult. And so it should be. The work begins . . .