2022: Year in Review

2022: Year in Review

One of Those Years

26 December 2022

I had a strange message from an old friend yesterday who said that “you haven’t written much this year.” It is true, I have not.

Well, that isn’t exactly true because I write everyday for my job, and I write in my journals and I write poetry and stories and make lots of notes; but I have not written a public blog for several months. Here is a rough overview of Jeff’s 2022 in Riga, Latvia in no particular order and with lots of pictures to keep you happy!

Divorce

The reason for the lack of blogs is because my life has been in a transition. This year I decided that I needed to end my marriage and go off on my own. The reasons are personal and I won’t discuss them here. It is hard enough to make this announcement, but if I am going to continue this blog, then it needs to be said, and so I have said it.

Now I am living in a flat on my own on the island of Ķīpsala just on the other side of Vanšu tilts. I have large windows that let me see the steeples of Old Town Riga, and I can see trees and nature. If I look closely, I can even see the Daugava River, and this has made me realize how important water is to my soul.

 

This means that since I have moved to Latvia in 2017, I have lived in 5 different places. Five years, pieci dzivokļi: Sēlieši (with Ansis and Monta), Ģenerāļa Radziņa krastmala, Miera iela, Terbātas iela, and now here on the island. I swear that I will never move again, but you know that I will. Something in me does not seem to be able to settle.

Living Alone

So the past 8 months have been a completely new experience for me. I haven’t lived alone since 2007, and even then I had my kids. When I lived in my home in Omaha, my father moved in, and my daughter moved in. It seems that there has always been someone. All through college I lived with my brother. Living with yourself is a challenge.

I work from home, and I don’t really have to communicate with my team very often, so I can go an entire day without speaking to anyone. But please don’t feel sorry for me or anything. I have a wonderful crew of friends here, and my weeks have been filled with innumerable joyful occasions.

Lots of people ask about Hanna the dog. She is living with Rita, but she has visited me from time to time. She still loves me and I love her and we had fun when we are together. Jacques Balsam, the cat, is living with Karu in their little student flat.

With that said, it does take some getting used to being the only one to cook, clean, do laundry, dust, vacuum, etc. I don’t think many people were meant to live completely alone, at least I know I wasn’t.

Ķīpsala Gallery

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Trip to America

I was going to write a whole series of blog post about my trip to the US of A in August and September. I worked for a language school in New York City where I taught for a couple weeks, and then spent a couple weeks in Salem, Massachusetts. I may get back to reflecting on that trip at some point, but as it is, I will leave you with some photos and captions to give you some idea.

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Halloween Party

Another highlight of my existence was my first Halloween party. I invited the people I knew, and luckily one of them knew a few Latvians who decided to join us. We had a splendid time with dancing and scary movies. I decorated the flat as best I could and made sure that everyone had a mask. I drank too much, but it was worth it, I think.

I also had a small 4th of July party. Renārs bought a little grill so I could make hamburgers on my balcony. I think it is an illegal thing to do, but we got away with it. I may tray again next summer.

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Teaching at RTU

Because I have been worried about the rising cost of living and the expenses of winter, I decided to get another job working at RTU (Riga Technical University/Rīgas Tehniskā Universitāte). I am teaching an Advanced English class for staff and faculty. We meet on Zoom twice a week, and it really is a joy. I don’t think I could go back to full-time teaching in a school with all the responsibility of planning and grading and the constant stress of hundreds of students, but having a small class a few times a week is definitely something I enjoy.

I also have a few private lessons with students. I taught a French man who worked in the Embassy, and we met online for awhile. Now I teach two Ukrainian students who are absolutely joyful and give me a whole new perspective. It is meeting people and sharing experiences that I simply cannot put a price on or describe how meaningful it has all been while living here in Riga.

Prāta Vētra: Mežaparks

Another highlight of the year was going to Mežaparks to see Prāta Vētra (Brainstorm) in concert. The new Mežaparks Great Bandstand (Lielā estrāde) is a true wonder of architectural beauty, and it won some award, so it is worth going to see just on its own. But when you combine that stage surrounded by nature with Latvia’s most popular band and a whole host of guest performers, this concert was truly incredible.

I took my British friend Lara as a birthday present and we met a mutual Latvian friend, Madara. We staked out our place about halfway up from the stage. The open-air arena was completely full of people, and I think it was over 40,000 in total. As with all Latvian events, there were not even close to enough concession stands, and getting drinks was completely impossible, but we enjoyed the concert immensely.

All the Latvians around us knew every word to every song, and so we sang along as best we could and jumped and danced. It was a night of complete joy. Getting there and back was quite a pain, but I won’t go into that now.

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Turning 50

I turned 50 this year in March. I guess that is some kind of milestone. I had a quiet “party” spent in a hotel in Old Town. Karu turned 18 this year, and so we let them use our flat to have a big birthday bash, as long as they promised to clean it up.

As far as reflecting goes, I guess there is something meaningful about these “round birthdays” as Latvians call them. To me, it just sounds different. When you tell someone you are 50, I think it invokes some “oldness” and people just kind of assume you are old. The nice thing is that lots of people tell me that I don’t look 50, and when I tell them that I have a grandkid, they just don’t believe it. I think that I will go through a “crypt keeper” phase of life where I age all at once quickly and it won’t be pretty, but I am just grateful for the good genes that have been passed down to me. My mom never had any wrinkles on her face, and people never believed my dad was as old as he was.

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The Year of Cribbage and Pool

As I said, I have a good circle of friends here, and I have little traditions that we have started. Hal, a guy from Virginia who married Ieva, a mutual Latvian friend, moved here last year in November, and since we have become quite close. He is a lover of games, and I taught him to play cribbage. We meet every other week or so at a bar, have a few beers and enjoy a good conversation while he beats me at my own game.

I also taught Karu to play, and despite their dislike for math, we enjoy playing now and then while having snacks and talking about life in general.

Renārs and I play pool. He is also much better than I am, and beats me pretty easily, but for some reason, he still enjoys playing. We have great conversations as we are both seeking something in this world, and I have learned very much from him.

I just remembered that I also went skiing for the first time this year with Renārs. We tried both cross country and downhill, and I am not suited for either. At one point, I fell so many times that I thought I might have ruined my back surgery, but I think I am okay.

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Landon

Another highlight of the year was that I finally had a friend come all the way to Latvia to visit. Landon McCormick, former teacher friend from Westside High School, who now teaches in Korea with his wife and daughter, was traveling through Europe and decided to give Riga a try.

We had a fantastic week together because he decided to come during the Solstice, and I was able to wrangle him up a traditional Līgo celebration at my cousin’s house in the countryside. He experienced the folk costumes, the making of flower and oak crowns, the fire, and the sunset. He was completely overwhelmed by the natural beauty of this country, and to see it again through his eyes reminded me again of what I am doing here.

He, Lara and I drove to Rundale Palace where we wandered through the halls and garden. It was a great trip, and it was so nice to have a friend here to share everything with.

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Other notable moments:

  • I judged the annual chili contest. I am no longer the reigning Chili Champion of Riga. Thanks to Covid, though, I got to keep my crown for 3 years. Next year I may compete and win again. Who knows.
  • Lara and I went to the Kartupeli svetku (potato festival) at the Agenskalns market. It left a lot to be desired, but there were some potatoes.
  • My bike was stolen. Some needy soul cut my chain and stole my bike right from our parking lot here on Ķīpsala. Six other bikes were chained next to it, but the are all safe. This was a week after I had paid to have it all serviced and fixed up for Spring. I went down to bring it up to my flat for the winter, but it was gone. One less key to carry.
  • I had the Grasmanis family come over to my flat for Thanksgiving where I made a turkey breast roulade. It was quite delicious and we had a wonderful feast with lots of dishes to clean. They gave me a housewarming gift of a set of crystal wine glasses, so if you want to stop by for a toast, I am ready! They also gave me a giant jar of pickled peppers, so if you need some peppers, I am your pepper king.
  • Our Riga Book Club is still going strong. A book a month and a joyful group of friends and colleagues is something I always look forward to.
  • I went to a few work parties this year. One was a grueling canoe trip. Another was a grueling bicycle ride. All of these strenuous physical activities are followed by a night of drinking copious amounts of alcohol. You really start to feel your age when you try keeping up with 30-year olds!
  • I did a Drink & Draw where I got to draw live nudes. That was a very cool experience.
  • I unboxed a big pile of journals that I brought with me to Latvia. I wanted to go on a writer’s journey and explore my writing from the past. I have been transcribing the journals into a giant Google doc that is 300 pages long and still growing. I have uncovered plenty of gems from my past along with some nice poems and a few story bits. I am not sure if it is valuable, but the exercise has been meditative and reflective.
  • The ugly Soviet Monument at Uzvaras parks came down. Ever since I moved here, I have literally thought about a way to destroy it. Now it is really gone. I could see it from my balcony, and now it is just a beautiful emptiness.
  • I joined a little Latvian singing group where we sing songs in Latvian and try to learn something along the way. So far they haven’t asked me to leave, so that is a good sign.

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Christmas

I had been dreading Christmas. I thought that being alone on Christmas would be the worst thing ever. It was okay. I went to a Shamanic Practitioner on Christmas Eve, and that really set the mood. Then Ansis and Monta invited me to have Christmas day with them, so I had a nice family Christmas there. It isn’t the same as a Grinvalds’ Christmas with the yelling and the games and all that, but it was nice to be around people I love and who love me. That is always a nice feeling.

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Crossroads

With all that said, I am now living in Riga feeling as if I am floating a bit. I went on a Shamanic journey (also a topic I will write more about in a full post), and this led me to feel free. I am not sure where this freedom will take me, but it is good to know that in this life we make choices and we can decide what we want—it isn’t up to the wind to blow us around. The key is to understand what you want. What do you really want?

I had a funny little realization the other day that probably won’t make much sense, but I will explain it as best I can. I have often wondered why some people earn such huge sums of money while others earn very little. What is it in a person that they are so much more valuable than someone else? My brother Paul and I have narrowed it down to responsibility. While a CEO might not have to do a lot of “work” day to day, he or she is responsible for the company succeeding or failing, and this is a heavy burden indeed.

I was thinking about my own ability to take on responsibility. I was thinking about the pagalms (courtyards) in old Latvian buildings. Most of these have been segmented to allow for parking spaces for tenants. These parking spaces are always a bit awkward and tight. Sometimes they are at weird angles, and I sometimes have anxiety just thinking about how people get in and out of these spaces without hitting anyone or anything.

And I thought to myself, there is a person who just decides where those lines are and how many spaces there will be. It isn’t a natural occurrence. One person likely just made this decision. They hired someone to paint lines and numbers and said “this is where people shall park.”

The funny thing is that I don’t think that I would be comfortable with making even that kind of decision. I mean, I know I am no expert in parking technology, but I was thinking about how I would draw up a little map and then have to check with 3 other people to see what they thought, and still not be sure if I were allocating the space properly. Other people would just say “here it is” and if it wasn’t perfect, they would be okay with that.

What does it mean? I don’t know. It is just my new “parking lot analogy” of success. Some of us can draw those lines, while others just do what the line drawers tell us to do, and are happy doing it.

Conclusion

That is it for 2022. I am sure I left out quite a bit, and I apologize in advance. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them here. I love you all very much and am thankful for all the joy and wonder that still exists in this world.

 

Peace! 

 


Side note

I downloaded the entire series of Barney Miller, an old New York police sit-com from the 1970s. I remember watching this show with my mom, and it brought back a lot of nostalgia to just binge watch it. I am amazed at how topical the episodes are. The writers were really clever, and they would use the criminals in each show to highlight various social issues that are still very much with us today. There were several recurring appearances by a gay couple dealing with hate. Barney was especially kind to prostitutes, and really the character humanizes everyone throughout the seasons.

The character of Harris writes a book and goes to his first book signing. He didn’t have a single person come up to him, and he was completely deflated and defeated. I remember watching this and understanding his feeling, and I think it has stayed with me. As a writer who sometimes dreams of getting my novel published, I still have this fear of ending up on the “80%-off” shelf with hundreds of unsold copies in boxes in a storage unit. Agh.

Speaking of which, if anyone knows a literary agent looking for a new thriller, please let me know. This is my mission for 2023.


Here are photos of the progress of my spider plant. Some thought it would die, but here it is now. I think it is a metaphor.

 

 

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