Ghosts of Knausgaard

Part 1

In Amsterdam I start to feel tired, but I can’t sleep. I solve the problem by getting a “sausage roll,” which is basically a croissant with a sausage in it. Despite the fatigue the layover goes fast, and suddenly I find myself boarding the flight to Bergen. I have no idea how long this flight takes. I imagine no more than an hour. There’s a child in front of me essentially screaming, and I can’t figure out which language he’s speaking. It sounds like Italian but could also be Romanian. In my addled state it might even be Dravidian.

The plane is small and I have a row to myself. I had a coffee in the Amsterdam airport, and I swore to myself I wouldn’t have any coffee to ward off jet lag, but now it seems like the only solution. Black tea just wasn’t cutting it. And it does work a bit. I also took some 5-HTP, which I at least partially credit for my better mental health as of late. 5-HTP apparently helps with your seratonin levels. And seratonin makes you feel good.

A guy gets up and goes to the bathroom just as we’re about to start taxiing. The flight attendant is not stoked. I’m not stoked either, because he’s flouting the rules. Should I get another coffee on this flight? That might push me into the realm of insanity. Better to stick with black tea.

Soon the plane has taken off and we’re cruising over some kind of sea. It’s supposed to be an hour and 26 minute flight. It’s just occured to me I don’t know which apartment to buzz when I finally get to my destination in Bergen. Maybe it’s not an apartment at all but a house? Ideally I get to the apartment/house, take a short nap, get up and walk around the city a bit, watch the Ajax Chelsea game tonight at nine, then wake up tomorrow at 7:30am, right on schedule. In the Amsterdam airport I did indeed book the train to Oslo. Which means after four nights in Bergen I’m going to Oslo. And from there probably on to Sweden. It’s all a bit unclear at this point, and I’m fine with that. I like to keep my options open. Ideally I wouldn’t even book a train to Oslo, but the longer you wait the more expensive things get. So I took the plunge.

What will Bergen be like? Apparently it’s a lot like Poulsbo, the small city near where I grew up. I imagine it’s a bit more striking though. Just a touch. When I think of Poulsbo I think of car dealerships and maybe a decent bakery or two. When I think of Bergen I think of fjordland majesty. But places almost always lose their mystique once you get to them. Or rather, the real version isn’t the fantasy you dreamed up in your head. Better to have no expectations.

At this point I haven’t slept in probably 20 hours.

Part 2

Bergen so far reminds me a lot of BC. A mix of Victoria and British Columbia, with everyone speaking a different language and the buildings a bit more European. I even see shades of Port Angeles.

My AirBnb host is Panamanian, which means we’ve been speaking Spanish the whole time. Her English is pretty good, but my Spanish is better. I took the light rail into Bergen from the airport, whicn cost about four dollars and comes every five minutes. It leaves right from the airport. It couldn’t be easier. Then when I got to my AirBnb I expired the space a bit, but the only thing I really wanted to do was lie on the bed and talk to people on WhatsApp and watch YouTube videos. Is it possible this trip was a huge mistake? I feel like it was, but at the same time have this deep-seated feeling that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, like I’m supposed to be making this mistake. Either way that’s the attitude I want to have with everything. No mistakes. Sort of a Bob Ross mentality.

It’s 4:45pm and it’s almost dark in Bergen. After getting settled in the Airbnb I forced myself to hit the town. To go in search of Knausgaard. First stop, the place he talks nonstop about in Book 5: Cafe Opera.

It’s amazing to go to a place in real life that existed so intricately in your head. I thought Cafe Opera was two floors. I thought it was always bustling. I thought it was kind of huge.

It turns out it’s on the ground floor, and it’s not that bustling, at least on a random Tuesday afternoon. It’s also a lot smaller than I expected. There are probably only 18 tables. The experience so far is the definition of unremarkable, except for the mozzarella red pesto toasties, which were much better than expected. It is not the places then, but the people we meet there, the experiences we have there. And so this place basically means nothing to me. It’s just a cafe in Norway. Sure, Karl Over Knausgaard, one of the most famous authors of recent years, used to come here all the time. But what did I expect? A hunched over Knausgaard in his 20s, sitting at a table in the corner, drinking a coffee and scribbling furiously in his notebook? I dare say I did. I think a little part of me expected to live an experience exactly like what he described in his book.

It’s also hard to get a feeling for anything, indeed to feel normal, when you’re so jet-lagged. I’m jet-lagged as shit. But it’s also good that I’ve slept so little, because that means it’ll be easier to get on a normal schedule tonight. Obviously I have to watch the Ajax Chelsea game tonight. Other than that I have nothing ony agenda. Tomorrow: more walking.

“I’m sooooooo tired, I haven’t slept a wink.”

Part 3

In a wild turn of events the following things have happened: 1) I’ve actually gotten on a schedule; I woke up at 7:30am this morning even though every millimeter of me wanted to go back to bed; 2) I still haven’t had coffee even though normally in these situations I go down a brief rabbit hole of coffee and despair before finally righting the ship (the day’s not over yet); 3) My Airbnb host and I have gone BACK to speaking English despite my assertion that my Spanish is far superior to her English, though to be fair I think she speaks English constantly with her husband when he’s around (which might be never because he “works at sea”). This last one I actually find a bit disconcerting. Part of me wants to strongarm her into speaking Spanish, and another part says, “Bro, does it really matter? Just be secure in your language abilities.” One thing that’s a little different from other hosts so far is between her and her uncle, who’s visiting her, someone is ALWAYS here. I’d love to have the place to myself a bit. But so far that hasn’t happened. I don’t think her uncle has left the apartment yet. He doesn’t speak English and he definitely doesn’t speak Norwegian.

Upon leaving the house I walk around and probably walk at least two miles. My feet start to hurt. My back starts to hurt. This is weakness leaving the body. During the walk I have a bit of an existential crisis. Just a tiny one. I think the whole not working thing is really getting to me, or affects me far more than I let on. I don’t need to work right now because I “came into some money” two Junes ago. So if I do work right now it would not be so much for the money but for the sense of well-being it provides, the sense of contribution, the sense of fitting in somewhere in the community. I am in a unique position right now where I’m able to sort of examine things from outside. I see people with their heads down, headed to work every morning with such purpose, and in a way it seems so contrived. And yet of course it’s not. When a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter we don’t consider it contrived. But what if all the sudden the squirrel didn’t have to gather nuts? What if they were all provided for her? Would she be stoked? Or would she become listless, roaming the streets, the parks, going from cafe to cafe, questioning the worth of it all? Would she start reading Karl Over Knausgaard?

The thing is, I started to have these sort of existential questions even when I was working. It all started probably five or so years ago. I remember when I was walking the Camino de Santiago I would often fall asleep with the Tao Te Ching playing. You see, if life is worth living, and I don’t know if that’s a question in itself worth asking, if that question even makes sense (is it kind of like saying, “Is the color red worth being red?”) then it then follows that you should do everything in your power to live well. And neuroscientists have actually broken down what it means to live well. It means doing well in the following three categories: love, work and play. It doesn’t mean focusing on this nebulous concept of “happiness.” Never focus on happiness. Happiness is bullshit. Most people widly confuse happiness with excitement. But a deep sense of peace, of contentment, which is what you should really be striving for, can’t be striven for. Instead you focus on doing well in the aforementioned three categories. At least according to this article.

So look, I’m trying not to get too deep or dramatic on you, but I think it’s good to ask these kinds of questions, at least once in your life. First you ask, “Is life worth living?” and then you either say yes or no or that question is stupid. If you decide either the first one or the third one then you ask, “OK, how do I live well?” And then you take the steps to do that.

So does that mean I need to get a job?