the end of january

THIS MONTH has been so hard. The temperature hovers around 0 degrees Celsius. Every day brings a new thaw and then a new freeze. You wake up and everything is either black and wet or white and ice. Weird energies are swirling around everything, both me and the world. The conflict in Ukraine continues, and my own inner peace is evasive. I have written 10 chapters of a new book though, 10 chapters in 17 days. The creative impulse is undaunted, but my soul, my soul is restless and unhappy. I ended ’22 full of hope and bliss, and have since dropped down to the bottom of low. It will take weeks or months to recover from this. Maybe I never will. My grandmother once told me, “Justin, this life is tough, and you have to learn to roll with the punches.” But I am getting tired of the punches and just want to roll. I will try to keep my eye out for some shred of sunlit optimism, but right now, things look bleak. Black and wet, or white and ice. Such is the end of January.

the return of dulcinea

ONE DAY, I stopped into Abbey Road Studios. McCartney was there, as usual. He likes to get in the studio before the rest of his bandmates. He was seated with Linda, and showing her the chords for a song he called, “Don’t Go Chasing Polar Bears.” It seemed odd to me that Linda was still alive and Paul looked so young, and then I realized that it was 1968 all around me. It was also kind of strange that he wouldn’t release that song for another dozen years on McCartney II. The more I looked at Linda though, the more confused I got. Because Linda suddenly looked like my mother, but just as my mother would have looked at that time. What was my mother doing with Paul McCartney in Abbey Road? I left the music studio and went back to my hotel and rode the elevator up to the fourth floor. This turned out to be the same building I had lived in as a freshman in college, Thurston Hall on F Street in Washington, DC. It was just as I had left it, filled with trash and roaming co-eds, like some kind of posh university version of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Dulcinea passed me in the hallway. She looked fine as always, with her straw-coloured hair, but she was chasing a small child, and I could see she was expecting more. “I have twins on the way,” Dulcinea said. She was wearing some kind of creamy Victorian dress, with a corset and full skirt. I felt excited and miserable seeing her all the same. “Well,” I said under my breath, “I hope you are happy now.” I found out later that Dulcinea had been having an affair with her history professor, and that her father had with great haste arrived to the university to shoot him with an old pistol. Dulcinea ran from the whole thing, and nobody knew where she had gone. Probably back to Spain. Later, I recounted the story to some friends at a café. Old Grace Slick herself was there sitting in the corner, listening to my tales of McCartney, Dulcinea, and murderous fathers, and started cackling to herself. “What’s so funny?” I asked the ancient Jefferson Airplane singer. “Life is funny,” she said. “Well, what else do you expect men like me to do,” I said, “when all of you girls are so damn beautiful.”

the wrong boat

THIS STARTED WHEN Erland and I were cycling in Norway. We were traveling around and eventually arrived to the M-Fjörd, which had on one side a long, picturesque view of the sea through rings and rings of old pines. I could even draw you a map of the place if you would ever like to go there. We traveled down a gravel road through the pine forest and arrived at what looked like a botanical garden and museum. It might have belonged to some old philanthropist at some point. The kind of place that had been gifted to the state upon his death. Within this old estate, we encountered a red crow with a broken wing that was sprawled across an ancient sun dial. It could no longer fly but it continued to struggle with its wing. Later, we went into the back building and down a set of wooden steps. This led to a dockside bar. There were a lot of young couples sitting around drinking Guinness or glasses of white wine. The place had a New England feel to it, with platters of fried clams on plates with lemon wedges. Suddenly, the whole bar began to rumble and the man at the bar, a younger fellow with dark hair, informed us that we were no longer at the museum, but were actually on a seagoing vessel bound for the east coast of the Americas. Soon we had left the harbor behind and were out on the open sea, somewhere up in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Norway. Dozens of vessels came through the sea, mostly warships bound for Russia. I was surprised the news had not informed me of this fleet bearing down on Arkhangelsk. There weren’t only American ships. There were Canadian vessels too, and I spotted a few with Scandinavian flags. I went to use the restroom in the boat bar, which was located in a ship’s cabin, and saw on the wall a faded map of Orient Point, Long Island. Was this ship really going to sail all the way to Orient? Erland came into the cabin and said, “You have to get out quick. We’ve been torpedoed. The ship is taking on water!” I looked down and saw that my ankles were already wet and I climbed the steps. We both jumped off into the sea as the boat sank. We were soon rescued by a Swedish vessel passing by, and returned safely to Europe.

thanksgiving

IT WAS THANKSGIVING, and the whole family was gathered at a palatial house in the country. It was something like an estate or old manor house, with multiple entrances, stairwells, dining halls, and many floors. The feast was arrayed on long wooden tables, protected with simple white table cloths, and the furniture in general gave one the impression that it had once belonged to a guild of medieval carpenters or perhaps really some Round Table knights. But with all of those platters coming in and out of the kitchens, with all of that racket, with all of the children climbing over and up and on top of everything, I was overcome with panic and went outside. There I lied in the grass, just for a few moments. It was cold, but not so cold that one couldn’t lie in the grass. And that’s when I saw her, with her boughs of red curly hair, cycling away in the distance. I hadn’t thought of Celeste in ages, but she was still cycling around on her white bicycle, running errands, or going places, lurking away on the periphery. Cycling away. I wondered if she had seen me lying in the grass exasperated. I wondered if she ever cared. Her back was to me, and soon her black silhouette disappeared into a hot orange sun. When I went back into the house, most of the feast had already disappeared too. It had all been eaten, and most of the guests had left. There were just hundreds of messy plates and half-drunk glasses of juice and coffee. I was all alone there in the banquet hall. At last, I found a basket full of untouched red plums in the center of a table. Then I took one of the ripe plums and ate it.