A Partial Map of December

- On my way to the pool I take a detour down a residential street. I peer through windows as I pass; I see a man bent over a guitar, a woman bent over a baby. Later, on the walk home, I notice how I have two shadows, how it looks like the fainter shadow is chasing the stronger shadow along a low wall on Aston street. - I go to a gig. I'm too short to see the band so instead I watch their shadows moving on the ceiling. I'm with a friend who's very tall. He can (presumably) see the band, but later on we go to get fresh bottles of beer, and then linger outside in the hallway, where it is impossible to see but much easier to listen.

- One afternoon, as I am recovering from a winter cold, I listen to the rain. I write this:

The front room was glowing yellow, because of the strange, smoggy light that the sun was managing to give off from behind its protective layer of golden clouds. It was raining, quite hard, but in the way it rains when you know it will only rain for a minute, or a few minutes, maybe ten - a summer shower, it had the sound of a summer shower, and people walking past were bent against the falling rain with the same surprised faces you see in summertime - women in skirts who left the house on the tricky promise of a blue sky. On the horizon, above the low roof of the shed across the street, the sky was bright. We went to the window to observe; the rain was actually hail, stones bouncing forcefully off the bins and the garden path. Sometimes when it really hails here the stones fall through the chimneys and bounce out into the house, melting, covered in soot. But soon the hail turned again to rain. The light went darker; the clouds were ablaze now with sunset-yellow, pinkish, purplish, almost bruised in their centers, but light on the edges, like a depiction of heavenly clouds in a Renaissance painting.

Then I take a long nap.

- I fall asleep sitting up at my desk, engulfed in sheepskin, reading something. When I wake up it's black outside, but, surprisingly, I have no crick in my neck.

- Because my usual pool is shut over the Christmas period I have to go further afield. I cycle to Summertown one evening; on the ride home I have the city more or less to myself. I pass the blackened lawns, the buildings shrouded in scaffolding and mesh. I make myself remember this - the blackened lawns, the buildings shrouded in scaffolding and mesh - all the way home, even when I stop at Tesco, just before it shuts, to pick up lettuce leaves and avocado.

- Later that week I try a pool off the Cowley Road, across from the police station. I cycle there late in the evening again, the road wide and empty. I insert a pound coin into a locker, stash my shoes, my coat. There is almost no one else around - a woman, a man, and me. The water is cloudy and green; I imagine that it feels a little thicker than I'm used to, smells vaguely medical - iodine, disinfectant, the smell of waiting and worrying. There is a library nearby and so the sign outside says "Swimming Pool Library". I wonder if anyone else finds it funny, if maybe it's a private joke in Oxford, the Hollinghurst reference in Temple Cowley. I wonder if I'm being undeservedly pretentious: I've never actually read the book. Does just knowing about its existence - even knowing, loosely, what it's about - qualify me to share the joke, or do I need some deeper understanding?

When I roll my head to breathe, I can half hear the Christmas songs, playing through speakers in the big room.

- I'm obsessively but irrationally repulsed by the Christmas shoppers, their laden-down shuffle, their vulgar worship of Things. I don't want Things, I tell myself, I'm already mired in Things. I spend what maybe adds up to an hour every day looking for Things, Things which are always obscured by other Things. But then again I want a new dress, new shoes, this, that. I only don't want these things when I don't think of them: and when I don't think of them I feel free and am not sure what to put in this new space.

- I can't remember, or maybe I never knew, which state Yellowstone National Park is in. I look it up. Then I look up the distance between where I grew up and there: about 1200 miles. Then I look up the distance between where I am now and there: "We could not calculate directions".

- I wonder about the veracity of this, from Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad: "I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all." And regardless of its truth, the important question is this: do I want it to be true?

- "I don't know why I do what I do. If I did know, I probably wouldn't feel the need to do it." - Paul Auster.