Dear loved ones,
I started the year alone. In Latvia I had got used to thoroughly enjoying my own company. I had a wonderful life, outside and inside my own tiny flat. It was WARM. I couldn’t get over not having to carry wood up five flights of stairs and not making fires first thing in a freezing room (-18 degrees outside). I realised what a MASSIVE difference it makes to live in a comfortable house. And hence the first seeds of something new…choosing a life…
So, yes, a wonderful life. I was working various jobs all of which I loved: I was a psychotherapist, a Montessori English teacher, I was working in the TV studios as a voice over for a Russian mafia series, I was playing trumpet in a big band (learning to improvise) and a wind orchestra, I did stand-up comedy in Riga Cats with people who were becoming good friends, I played pádel (indoor tennis/squash) and I was doing ‘Therapy of Writing’ with different groups that I had formed myself and were being surprisingly very well accepted by people and even institutes (such as The College of Art (gone the days of being a model, I was now helping students discover for themselves what art might be). Life was good.
And yet, and yet, and yet…I felt my roots taking hold. Did I really want to be in a country where it was becoming clearer and clearer that I wouldn’t ever speak the language even vaguely well? Did I want to always be an outsider? Did I want to live within streets filled with the trauma of ex-communism, keeping everyone’s mouths firmly shut and eyes averted? It was heavy. This is my life. Did I really want to be here? Even though I LOVED the pagan culture, the summer solstice, having wonderful friends, people who I truly love, beautiful unspoilt nature and seascapes, my soul was starting to uproot. I knew it when someone stole my bike and I felt only relief (bikes are big things to take through airports).
I had a cancer scare (which was only a scare) and it was HARD to navigate a medical system not speaking Latvian or Russian. It was hard to understand how to get to the doctors’ doors, let alone what the doctors were actually saying. It was weird to be with another thought-system of medicine and a different level of technology. It was scary to be honest. And I was totally alone. I had help from my friend Jana who helped me book appointments in a system that I simply couldn’t get to grips with.
One the most scary visit, I had cycled through the snow, crying, I was locking a borrowed bike up by a sign and on its post—in Riga, Latvia, 1652 miles from Manchester, UK—was a sticker of a beefeater hat with the union jack and in the middle: a heart. There and then I decided I was going home. I already had a ticket for spring. I simply didn’t use the return.
Which I’m really glad about because a couple of weeks later the Ukrainian war broke out. Which triggered my friends, who went through psychological terror, having remembered the last time tanks rolled into Riga. The whole atmosphere in Riga was tense. There was a violent fight in the comedy club (not because of our humour) but about Russians. Almost half (42%) of the population of Riga is Russian. Many of the Russian Latvians were humans ‘exports’ in a political move to populate Latvia with the Russian culture, but when the iron curtain fell and the political Russia was forced to retreat to present day borders, these Russians in Latvia were abandoned. These people who had moved their lives for the USSR were left to fend for themselves; which they did with arrogance, continuing a worn-out power that in reality they didn’t have anymore. Latvians didn’t help the situation much either, being in collective PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) they simply continued being servile. All this is changing due to the war, the Russians are starting to speak Latvian to Latvians. The divide between the Russian Latvians and Latvians appears in some places to be softening, and many who came from Russia are now identifying as Latvian Russians (putting Latvia first). But even so, I found I was continuously surrounded by cultures warring that I didn’t really understand.
And suddenly I was ‘home’. In safety. In convention. In fear of not loading the dishwasher correctly. It is not the first time I have crash landed at my parents, but this is the first time I have not expected to leave. Hotel California. I came back for me, and I came back to be close to my parents. They are adorable, they are good fun, they are loving. I didn’t want to miss that. I didn’t want to be far away if they needed me. I wanted to enjoy them while I still can.
But one thing is thinking it and the other thing is doing it. The first months were rocky. We all did really well. It was not easy. I was disrupting their home environment. For a while my dad didn’t feel like he was in his own home. I was exhausted from trying to bring in my boundaries, to fit in, to comply with how a table is set, what time is dinner, how to be. Mum was worried and trying desperately to ‘make everything right’. And we all held. Miraculously.
I had a break-though. When I felt attacked (up until then I had been ‘swallowing it’) I listened in. I ‘read the room’. Instead of closing down, I stayed open. Normally it would be a comment from my father. I would read what he was actually needing, which wasn’t to attack me, but was often a need for recognition, assurance, praise. And, heroically (I am very proud of myself) instead of closing down or attacking, I would give him what he seemed to be needing, ‘Wow, Dad, that sounds like you did really well.’ Etc. It was an effort at first. I felt like I was drowning. I was doing all this for survival. But, without fail, the energy each time would soften. Would change. Lighten. (Reality is a tricky thing: the energy was softening, or I was softening…we were softening?)
Over time I stopped feeling attacked – actually it was far more than that: for the first time in my adult life I felt supported by my dad. I don’t know if I’m making this up, but I feel that he felt how nice it is to be supported when he wasn’t in his best place…and he started doing it for me. There was a watershed moment, after about 3 months, where I heard him say to a friend that he LIKES me being in the house. It was massive. I can’t tell you how healing it is. And now 9 months in, the time it takes to gestate a baby, my relationship with my parents couldn’t be better. I cannot believe I’m writing this. Decades of psychological struggle in this regard, are over. I simply love being with them. They are the best roomies. We have dinner at the same time (I’ve converted and now don’t like it if it passes 7pm 🙂 and we chat and laugh. I just overheard dad on the phone say to his cousin, ‘It’s like we have a party every night.’ We have even had boozed up singing nights and dancing. What is wonderful is that we are comfortable with each other now so that we can laugh at each other, make fun of each other, say things that in the past could have created World War III yet now create more love.
It is not so easy though to move cultures, and strangely reverse culture shock is, for me, the hardest. It is invisible. I should know things, but I don’t. I am in the home I was born in, and yet I don’t know how to get about. I have to ask ‘What does that mean?’ more times than is really comfortable. And yet I finally fit in. It is what I was dreaming of in Latvia. Not having to answer, ‘Where are you from?’ two or three times a week. Here, I answer it never. It is divine.
And yet, there are whole worlds to adapt to, silently and invisibly. I sometimes feel like I’m driving a huge truck that is invisible and I’m not sure where the edges are and if I’m crashing into something/someone.
As an aside, to show you my restrain and development: the other night playing in a beer keller night, a little more than tipsy in the changing room at the end, I HELD BACK from doing a contemporary dance over the sofas. Proud but also a little sad.
There are things that I love here over other places (obviously, everywhere has light, everywhere has shadow). I have been to a few poetry nights in the next village. It is very local. I sit there, the only woman surrounded by 5 or 6 men, all of whom are easily over 65 years old. It is sweet and intimate, we share our thoughts and feelings about being alive through the poems we’ve written ourselves, many of which are top notch and all spoken aloud in the same accent that I have: no one taking the piss about the way we say ‘duck’ or ‘bus’ or ‘fuck’. One guy is a transvestite, but not with feathers, with casual, comfy women’s clothes. His poetry is ‘out there’. The last poem was about gender bending and how the man (being the woman) didn’t want ‘that big thing in him’. He had to stop reading his poem for a little while to put his dentures straight (honestly!) and the man in the poem ended up being a parson and the final line ‘typical protestant stuff’, which gave me—for the first time—a quiet relief of being brought up Catholic.
I would like to say that I also love being in the brass band, but the truth is I only really like being with the people in the brass band. The music is a bit bovine and it’s a struggle to turn up. Watch this space I’ve still got hope. It’s was particularly hard after a ten-day international conference on collective trauma, where imperialism and colonialism was mentioned frequently, to suddenly be in a war remembrance concert playing ridiculously outdated sentimental war anthems—Britain will never be slaves (???)— with old, rich, comfortable people waving union jacks with faces full of pride of ‘winning’. Very, gulp, hard. I had a mini break down on the stage. I think I covered it over, but it was the most bizarre experience. I’ve been ‘there’ in workshops before, held by companions/facilitators, imploding, losing touch with the outside, suddenly floundering in the formless, but to be alone, exposed in front of an audience was something else. Fortunately this war honouring seems to be a dying tradition…I hope. Fortunately these were one-offs: the majority of concerts are more folkloric or for contests.
I’ve been swimming a lot, and I do love the English swimming culture, it is not elite, it is a regular price that anyone can afford and it is really, really friendly. I go the other side of the hills to the next village in Derbyshire, where they do speak a little differently. ‘Yerallrite?’
Side note/amused rant: people in this area of the northwest of England do not use past participle of the present perfect correctly (only people reading this as a second language will understand that sentence—ha ha.). People here say, ‘Has it broke?’ ‘Have you spoke with ‘er?’ ‘Have you fell?’ They would NOT do well in an TEFL exam (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Seems unfair somehow to those struggling through the past participle tables—drink, drank, drunk—and here everyone saying whatever they want.
I plan on living in this town where they don’t speak properly—New Mills—it is a transition town and I’m hoping to find less sensible people there to bond with. House prices were RIDICULOUS in the summer. You had 15 minutes to look around a house and say if you would buy it or not. Else it was gone. I can’t process that fast, so I’m waiting for the market to subside.
I also went back to Barcelona for an extended trip looking for a place to do a retreat for my clients. It was huge to be back in a feeling field. I have such wonderful, deeply-rooted friendships that last through distance and time, I feel such love. I even have access to a moped to whizz around on. Montse and I, who spent yet another five days of wonder together, found a video that we took 12 years ago. I’m sharing simply because it has given me so much joy.
In the middle of the trip I went to Ibiza, as a possible retreat location, but found that I was on my own retreat for one. I was shocked by hippies trapped in a window of time, of a glorious past, who were somehow caught believing they were ‘special’ and ‘enlightened’ and yet causing havoc and pain around them, ie, totally egoistic. It was a mirror for me, it scared me. I know I have been that, and I feel that then it was possibly age appropriate, but now no more. In Ibiza I felt that I let go of my personal myth stories of being a traveller, of being a hippie, of being free and responsibleless…I felt like I went through grief, a funeral of my old self.
Entering into a new age, a menopausal new being, I realise that I don’t want a new story. I don’t want to live a story, I want to live what is, here-now. Ibiza helped me to consolidate a little more the decision to come back to boring old England and to live in the rain.
Despite all this transition which is big and yet invisible, in this festive season there is nowhere else I would prefer to be. I LOVE it here. I love the Christmas lights, the Christmas trees, the house light decorations, I do love playing carols in the brass band and seeing people’s faces light up, but more than anything I feel so terribly grateful, priviledged, blessed to have recreated such a wonderful relationship with the other two in this house who are right now talking about christmas lights and warming up our soup for lunch and laughing.
And so here I am, gradually becoming English again.
Sending lots of love and Christmas Cheer,