Roller Skating Sideways Through Blood

"Roller Skating Sideways Through Blood." 4/6/13. Acrylics and pen on stretched canvas. 12x16".
“Roller Skating Sideways Through Blood.” 4/6/13. Acrylics and pen on stretched canvas. 12×16″.

In 2011, when I was inpatient at Hazelden, I noticed something about myself: whenever we got a new patient, I’d behave just a little more “outrageously.” Like – the things that came out of my mouth were a little more shocking, absurd, or over the top. I very much had a need to let new people know that I was a character. And I realized that it wasn’t a new behavior; the settings varied, but I had been acting this way all my life.

That realization really upset me and I resolved to change immediately. I didn’t need anything else on my (already) long list of shit don’t like about myself. Some people responded well to those antics, but I’m sure there were plenty more that were thoroughly annoyed. Granted, treatment is the kind of intimate environment where – so long as you’re not totally shut down – people will learn to spot your bullshit and see through to “the real you” pretty quickly (whether they want to or not) and that meant the only real consequence of my acting out was to be initially disliked. [I remember deciding at one point that four to five days (for someone to come around and not hate me) was the standard rule]. Still, I didn’t wanna stomach that feeling for any days if I didn’t have to.

Once I’m comfortable somewhere, I can conduct myself more consciously; I can elect to play the clown or choose to be more authentic. But when I’m the new kid, I’m really shy, quiet, and usually lie silently as I absorb the dynamic. But I move fast. That “new-kid phase” is usually only twelve to twenty-four hours. After all, I’m pretty desperate for attention, pretty much all the time [as sad (and uncomfortable to admit) as that is].

About twenty-one hours after my arrival at Tranquil Shores, we’re taken to an arcade for our “community event.” In the van afterward, riding back, I asked about some of the past community events.

“We went to the roller rink, but probably for the last time. Debbie fell and cracked her head. There was blood everywhere, and kids, and…”

Holy shit! What a fantastic image! I pictured little kids slipping around a roller rink as a pool of blood spread across the floor. I couldn’t contain myself and shared my delight with my new peers. Everyone laughed and someone joked, “Nobody let this kid near any scissors.” I responded with mock indignation, “HEYjust ‘cause I like to roller skate sideways through blood – doesn’t make me a cutter.” That really cracked everyone up. I was pretty pleased with myself. (More so than was warranted but…)

Either way, I quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to take four or five days for these people to not hate me. I felt accepted, by both the clients and staff, almost immediately. And while there were certainly moments when I tested that acceptance (and consequently felt like a misfit or an outcast again) really, it only increased as my stay went on [the exact reverse of every past experience]. To this day, I’ve never felt more accepted or appreciated anywhere than I have at Tranquil Shores. And though that had very little to do with my dumb jokes, that moment in the van was when I first started to feel it.

Fast-forward eight months or so: I’m at Indie Market, feeling very not pleased with myself. The “skating sideways through blood” thing came to mind and I wanted to recapture the feeling of that day. I picked up my brush and started to paint, but it wasn’t going well. Nothing was looking as it had in my head and I was beginning to feel frustrated (to an absolutely irrational degree). But I was trying so hard to not be that way. I wanted so badly to be better and stronger than that. Instead of giving up entirely, I moved colors, distorted shapes, and started writing about art and my frustration with the commercial end. I had become incredibly prolific but nobody was buying my work; I felt like a factory, spewing shit no one cared about. And I had spent a bunch of money on frames, thinking they’d help “legitimize” my work in the eyes of strangers at Indie Market (and increase sales) but no one was buying anything. I was burnt out and annoyed with myself for posting every new piece of art on Facebook. It’d be one thing to shamelessly promote a product no one was interested in – it was worse that the product was (essentially) me.

needed to sell my art it because someone told me I had “what it takes” to be an artist and I had allowed myself to believe them. I was afraid of letting them down and even more terrified that I was letting myself down – terrified of being wrong, of not having what it takes. In hindsight, it was all insane. I had only moved out of Tranquil Shores five or six weeks prior – and I had only started painting and drawing a few months before that. To have sold anything in that timeframe was fucking remarkable.

The last sentence (“It’s better than Cymbalta”): I don’t know if I really believed it as the letters formed on the canvas but – as soon as they had – I know that I did. That’s when I started to feel better. And – as if the universe was offering a direct rebuttal to all my negative thinking – within a few weeks I had sold eight paintings – including this one.

I’d say that, every so often, someone really ought to kick the shit out of me but I already do such a great job of it myself. But in my better moments, I do have gratitude. I do see how lucky I’ve been. How blessed I am. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I feel it and it’s real.


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