Finding soul

Belgrade, Serbia

I’m presently consumed by wanting.

There’s garden variety wanting that happens all the time: the new laptop because the close-to-4-year-old one I have is having trouble drawing enough juice to power processor heavy tasks. All the books in my wishlist. More money. Less body fat. To ride the Trans-Siberian Express. And so on.

Then there’s must-have-or-will-DIE kind of wanting. Utterly irrational, especially since the object of desire is completely inconsequential.

The last thing I remember wanting with that sort of ferocity, is the pair of skates in the photo above.

Brand spanking new K2 Fattys, Scott Crawford edition.

One of my friends took this photo in the old Bishan Skate Park, circa 1997 (cropped to hell so you can’t see my dorky helmet – that’s my best friend Serena in the background, trying not to laugh too hard). It was such a momentous occasion, a camera was procured to record it. And because they’re street skates, I had to do something street, so I climbed onto the railing to pose for that commemorative picture. Ha!

It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve rolled around on 8 little wheels, and I never expected to do it again. Until a week ago I had no idea aggressive inline skating still lived.

Then I walk past a shop window here in Belgrade and spot a familiar soft boot. K2s. Midtowns. At a third off the regular price.

I’ve been past the shop ten times in the last week, gazing sorrowfully at those gray boots in the window. Today I walked in and asked to try a pair.

Before you get any ideas about my flying around kerbs and railings in the old days, let me set the record straight: I was a sucky ass street skater. There’s a certain level of athleticism required to be any kind of extreme sports practitioner. I didn’t have it. I was also very clumsy. I did eventually manage a faltering soul grind on that railing, after 563 crashes, so I wasn’t entirely hopeless. But there were no X-Games prospects anywhere on my horizon.

It makes total sense – now that I’m almost 40, with level of athleticism at a negative, and no balance left – to start skating again.

But you know, standing (ok, half crouching) on skates again felt right in a way nothing else ever has.

In the past three and a bit years, I’ve had the absolute privilege to explore a range of expression full time. I don’t want for avenues of fulfillment. Photography gives me a particular path of learning about people and places and history, and different ways of considering them all. Writing gives me expression and a voice. Reading is both vital to living and one of life’s greatest luxuries. But skating?

Skating was the closest I’ve come to understanding the grace of human frailty, and absolution from the mistake of my existence.

Skating was joy.

The heart still wants, ferociously.


  1. Last year I bought a primitive editions Mike Miller skateboard with a 2Pac photo on the deck. Much to the horror of everyone around me. “You are going to die.” “You are going to die then explode and then the world will be punished for your stupidity.” But I know my limits. Fat wheels, smooth sections of concrete, flat, full body armor, ambulance on standby, paramedics, chopper fueled up and waiting and the red phone to the president on speed dial. Totally worth it.

    1. Charlene says:

      Oh my god. These new Midtowns come with softer 80mm wheels, ABEC 5 bearings so they’re good but not uber fluid, a solid cuff for the ankle (you’ve heard of that ankle). Stolid, willing and able. When I stood up and pushed off across that floor, they were totally MINE.

      Hey, your Vice Prez was here yesterday, I waited on a patch of grass by the bridge for 45 minutes until he howled by in the car and the police let everyone leave. He had EXACTLY your skating entourage!

  2. walker says:

    Keep the breeze and go ;)

    1. Charlene says:

      That’s the plan!

  3. Jean says:

    Way to go! Follow your heart! I skate (longboard) and I’m 50 in a few weeks. Love it! Makes people smile :-D It is environmentally friendly, a good workout and fun.

    1. Charlene says:

      That’s fantastic, Jean! I wish I’d never stopped. But better late than never. Thanks for dropping by. Your words are heartening.

  4. I have a pair of cheap skates gathering dust downstairs. I wouldn’t even try following you…but I too want to ride the Trans-Siberian :)

    1. Charlene says:

      Ha, Pat :) I’ve been doing more falling over than going fast, truth be told… I think this one will take a a long time!

      Omg the Trans-Siberian Express. ONE DAY.

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