Over the course of these 41 years, I’ve tried my hand at any number of hobbies, crafts, and disciplines. A short list might include music lessons (voice, drum and piano), artistic endeavors (watercolor, acrylic and oil painting, ceramics, glass-blowing, glass beading, jewelry design, writing), physical fitness (swimming, capoeira, running, mountain biking, gymnastics, and weight lifting) and a slew of other random undertakings (community theater, podcasting, animation, photography, videography, origami, dog training, blogging).
This is not meant to impress. This is to give you some idea of the number of things I have quit, not the number of things I have mastered. The general pattern is this: 1. Find something interesting. 2. Do it. 3. Discover a certain level of talent for said thing. 4. Reach point where natural talent must be supplemented by will and determination. 5. Quit. This has happened so often and with such frequency that since childhood, I’ve heard a version of this criticism: “You’re smart/talented/capable, but you don’t have the passion/drive/commitment to make the most of it.” It’s the whole 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration thing. Perspiration has never really been my thing.
In spite of this potentially disheartening list of failures, I have realized that there is at least one thing that I have remained committed to for many, many years: Quad Roller Skating. (Insert record scratch here.)
Imagine a younger version of me, say 12-13 years old. I’m attending a High School run by an evangelical, apocalyptic religion. We aren’t allowed to dance or listen to the radio and girls are prohibited from wearing open toed shoes because, according to my Vice Principal, seeing girls’ toes makes boys think of making babies. The one entertainment that we are allowed, strangely, is roller skating. No secular music, of course, and no blue jeans, because those two things are like the wick and the lighter to teenage rebellion; instead we skate to Hooked on Classics.
There we are, my classmates and I, skating around to disco versions of Edvard Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Without hyperbole, I can tell you that this was the most freedom that I experienced in Junior High and High School. There was a disco ball for Christ’s sake! The music we were listening to had a beat! For a closeted kid like me, this was the closest thing to a gay bar that I had ever experienced.
I was, I would say, a solid B skater. I could skate forward really well, and I could do cross-overs around the turn, and that was better than most of my classmates, but I could not skate backwards. Kenechi could. David could. Emmanuel could. And that meant that Arleen and Shelley and Grace wanted to skate with them and not with me. I remember watching with a deep and abiding envy as they floated across the hardwood floors so freely, so beautifully. I tried to figure out how to skate backwards but after a couple of falls, I became embarrassed and gave up. I reconciled myself to a life of forward skating and quit trying. This continued for a good long while.
Despite the passage of years, rollerskating continued to nag at my consciousness. In college, my friend Charles had a pair that sped him around campus like a sort of superhero. I have an image of him seared in my mind: a rainy spring day in Oberlin Ohio. Charles skating along a sidewalk, undeterred by the wet, his wheels lifting a wake of water into the air behind him.
When rollerblades came out, I bought a pair and spent a few weeks skating tentatively around downtown Albuquerque. I gave this up too, again because I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be and the perfectionist that lived inside of my head could not abide looking foolish and inexpert.
Cut to my 36th year. The information superhighway had exploded into existence (Thanks Mr. Gore!) and through the miracle of YouTube, I discovered HotSteppingGranny. Go ahead. Watch some of her videos here, here, here and here. I’ll help you gather your thoughts after she blows your mind.
So yeah, I found HSG and was INSPIRED. I decided that my 37th birthday party was going to be a rollerskating twin party. I ordered a pair of skates. I spent hours in our kitchen, laptop on the counter, watching and re-watching; attempting to imitate HSG’s burn-the-house-down moves. I made hand-drawn invitations -- Wonder Twin Powers: Roller Skate! I selected the music. This was going to be my time to shine!
The party was great, but to my consternation, I was still a B-level skater. I still wasn’t comfortable skating backwards and my inner perfectionist prevented me from trying out my super-fly dance moves. Still and all, I had an absolute blast. The freedom that I had found so compelling during my awkward pubescence was just as powerful and intoxicating as ever. I had a silly grin plastered on my face from start to finish. This was the moment that I realized that I roller skating was a true passion for me; one of the happiest places on earth.
Since that moment, I’ve never been too far from my skates. When we decided to give away most of our belongings and head out on The Endless Road Trip, one of the few things that I decided to bring along were my skates. I’ve skated in rinks all over the country, from Portland’s magnificent Oaks Park to Santa Fe’s tiny, alien-themed Rockin’ Roller Event Arena; from Interskate 91 in Hadley, MA to Lakeshore Roller World in Stevensville, MI (the same rink that started it all). I’ve finally mastered the art of backward skating and, at 41, consider myself an A -- well A-, anyway -- skater. I’m still not as good as HSG, but I can hold my own in almost any company. And in the process, I’ve learned some important lessons.
You can’t choose your passions. You can only discover them -- We spend so much time trying to be what we are not, chasing dreams that are not our own. And in the process, we learn to ignore the call of our true passions. If we do this long enough, we become insensate, unable to recognize the dreams/relationships/experiences that light up our souls. But if we find it within ourselves to stop worrying about what is respectable or worthy or culturally important and concern ourselves with what brings us freedom and joy and challenge and pride, then we have also found the doorway to a, richer, more vibrant world. Discovering a single passion makes it easier to recognize others and when we follow this trail of delicious, tantalizing breadcrumbs, we find ourselves living lives full of heat and color and light.I am continually surprised and amused that one of the greatest passions of my life is rollerskating. It may not solve the problem of childhood poverty or religious warfare; it may not have a lasting cultural significance or make the world a more civil, tolerant place, but it has revealed the liberation that comes from play and joy and passion. And frankly, in an environment that attempts to stop us, push us, and hold us down, we need more of exactly that.
It’s never too late to start becoming the person you dreamt of becoming -- When I finally mastered the art of backward skating, when other people looked at me with the same sort of admiration with which I once regarded Kenechi and David and Emmanuel, a childhood wound was healed. A part of me that had been stopped cold, pushed, and held down by perfectionism and fear of judgement, finally found freedom. That part of me -- yes, that infamous inner child -- found its way back to the fold, exiled no more.
You’ve got to start somewhere -- No matter how strong the passion, no matter how clear the drive, we cannot begin any process as an expert. There will be failure. There will be embarrassment. There will be fear. But those things present themselves not to stop you, but to guide you. If you find something that outlasts, surpasses and transcends these transient sensations; if you find something that pulls you through that darkness, then you know that you are on the path to something truly rewarding. When people approach me, asking me how I learned to skate and doubting their own abilities, this is what I say: “Every skater that you admire started off just exactly like you.”
Update 2: I sent Hot Stepping Granny, my long-distance internet-based quad-skate mentor, a link to this diary. Her beautifully articulated response follows:
I was the androgynous fat kid =D Too fat for dance, too fat for gymnastics (and I nearly lost my right leg as a young kid trying). The eternal tomboy, constantly picked on; I have never fitted in, either excelling, over-achieving or pissing others off because of my strong, but honest opinions. Then came skates. From 4, then 10 to 13 (taught little ones then), had Rebecca, then from my early 30s, when she was old enough to roll with me, on and off, I had almost 20 good years skating and please God, I should have many more.Crossposted at Highest First with a picture of a young Siddharthasays. Big teeth. Be warned.
The only time I felt totally connected was when I skated :) and it was the only thing I ever completely committed to. I endured much taunting, physical, verbal AND mental abuse because of it, but that only served to strengthen my resolve to skate more. When that inner light came on and it does when one skates, it only served to cause me more trouble as I was a vocal supporter of quad skating and very many skated in-line here. But I kept on going. Through it, I became the most unlikely of athletes and the nicest most surprising thing of all was the spiritual aspect.
The mastery of self was quite simply amazing, a feeling, which simply had to be shared. This is something that I love with a passion and something which I freely shared, as morally, I would have felt uncomfortable if I had charged to teach others. Every moment spent on skates, is a moment invested in self. Which is a truly precious thing. When those moments combine together, others can see and appreciate the dedication and determination that the skater skating has put in and they become inspired in turn. No words necessary, but the feelings, intentions and energy is shared. All it requires is to be willing. Eventually it becomes a common bond which knows no boundaries; a great leveler that does not know age, race, gender, financial restrictions or any form of prejudice. We are all struggling to keep upright and to find a true and straight path in life, but it's so much more fun on wheels, being in touch with ones' higher self AND ones' inner child at the same time :)
From a timid child, my step-son, Reiss, became the most confident, talented skater. From that central core strength, he has now become a bodybuilder of all things. From my oldest grandson, Kelsen's skating, although he hides it, he has become the most phenomenal dancer. His football and athletic ability though, he does not hide and he is well on the way to becoming a professional footballer, which is his dream. Little Kayden has not only become a talented skater in his own right, but his balance and strength is incredible. He too is an incredible dancer but also has a phenomenal memory for martial arts katas and is a bit of a daredevil on anything with wheels. He's also after the football dream. But he does meditate now and says it helps him. When he gets mad or hurt, he uses 'ohm' and incense to help make things better. So much good can come from putting skates on :)
May ALL enlightened beings find peace AND roller skating XXX
Namaste _/ ♥ _