Time Flies When You’re Playing Derby

jamming vs montreal
This is me jamming, fighting to get through a wall of blockers from the Montreal Sexpos in Montreal over the weekend. Both games I played in were a hard fight to the very end. I struggled with some things, but someone on the internet thinks I have the “greatest motherfuckin’ leggings in the world,” so that counts for something. Photo by Joe Mac.

Now seems like a good moment to revive this blog, eh?

I just got home from Canada where I got to play two derby games against incredible teams with my travel team, Female Trouble. If you scroll down on the main page, you’ll see that my last post about derby was in February (!!!). As you might guess, a lot has happened since then.

Here’s the short version of the past six months: Travel team tryouts were in February, and I unexpectedly made it on to the B team (Female Trouble). My teammates and coaches have pushed and challenged me, and my skating has improved as a result. I’ve been doing my best to keep a level head and stay sane through it all, which has involved a lot of meditating, yoga, working on healthy eating habits, and taking time to connect with friends, both within the derby-verse and outside it. I’ve also been evaluating my derby goals frequently. In my first year, I always had my next assessment in my sights. I knew what I was working toward, and that helped me keep driving forward even when it was hard. Now, I’m pretty happy with where I am in the league, and I have a long wish list of skills I’d like to improve but not a big goal to aim for. I never thought of myself as a Type A person, but it turns out that without a goal, I feel pretty lost.

And then this weekend happened.

Time really does fly when you’re playing derby, and you lose track of all the changes happening — in yourself, your skills, your team, and your feelings about the sport. Since this is my first travel season, I’ve been thinking of myself as a newbie and looking to my teammates for guidance at every turn. But this weekend, I realized something has changed. I guess I realized it during the Saturday afternoon team meeting when I was told I’d be first in the jammer rotation. That’s an honor, but it’s also scary, and I wasn’t prepared for it. That night, I got lead in the opening jam, which felt pretty amazing, but we lost the game, which felt less amazing. On the bright side, my teammates worked together and stayed in it 100%, regardless of the score. Even though we lost, I walked away feeling good about our performance and how we’ve grown as a team. Underneath that, however, I was still feeling critical of my own performance because I have trouble seeing my own accomplishments. I don’t know …  Is that a normal human thing?

The next morning, I struggled to get my head together for our second game. I did trackside yoga while the All Stars played and even meditated for a few minutes, but when it was time for our game to start, I felt dizzy and disconnected. Half way through the first half I had a small panic attack that threatened to destroy the game for me until my teammate Tina reached out without judgement and reminded me to breathe. That game was tight, and we had to fight till the last minute, but we finally won by about 25 points. Once again, I was proud of my team but frustrated with myself. How much better might we have done if I’d been able to keep my head in the game? On the other hand, I distinctly remember watching Killy from Philly, Jennanigans, and Tearin Tina get lead jammer. I was so excited I was for them and so grateful they were there to help the team when I couldn’t.

As we got back on the bus, I felt more emotionally than physically tired. I wished I’d worked harder. I wished I’d been better. Being the kind of introvert who will sometimes hide in the bedroom at my own parties, I was exhausted from being around so many people for so long. The bus smelled like a pee-soaked urinal cake, and though I loved all the people there with me, I wanted nothing more than to be far, far, away from them. Or at least to fall asleep, which I couldn’t quite manage.

I did have a couple of bright moments, though, like when I remembered that we’re not taking any more bus trips any time soon. I thought about my favorite scenes from Almost Famous and A League of Their Own and reminded myself I’d just had one of THOSE experiences. I felt really lucky. I was also very proud of the moment when I decided to buy both Chinese takeout and Taco Bell at a mall food court stop because I knew I’d be hungry later.

Now that I’m home and have had some time to regain my brain, I do feel pretty good about the weekend. I’m glad I traveled with the team because it was an experience I really wanted to have, even though I knew I’d be testing the limits of my own anxiety. And as for my skating? Fuck it. I did what I was capable of at the time. Next time, I will be capable of more.

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Thinking Too Hard About Cinderella

cinderella-sleep

As a feminist, I might be having stronger feelings than one should have about the new Cinderella movie. Y’all know I’m grumpy about Disney princess stories and the whole “be polite and pretty, and a rich boy will rescue you” narrative, but I think I like this movie, and I’m a little upset about it. I’d forgotten how much I loved Gus the mouse, and tonight I remembered and felt like a kid again. I wonder if it’s necessary to justify my love of Cinderella in the face of my feminism, and my general policy is that I explain myself to no one, but as I’m sitting at home after the movie and a couple drinks, I’m frankly perplexed at the intensity of my feelings.

My instinct going into the movie was to tear it apart. I hoped Disney would give the story a modern twist and make Cinderella something other than a passive victim, but I was a little shocked at how strictly they stuck to the old school helpless girl trope. We know how much kids idolize their favorite characters, and we know what they see in their entertainment shapes what they believe is possible for themselves. Right now, there’s a wonderful trend of increasingly complex and diverse female characters in all forms of entertainment. And yet this film plays both Cinderella and her Prince as flat and dumb as can be. WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING THE CHILDREN? Right?

But maybe this movie isn’t for kids. Maybe it’s a tribute to a classic. Maybe it’s so outdated as a story that Disney has decided to bronze it with all the glitter and schmaltz the costume department could muster. The whole thing is a bon-bon — meant only to be sweet and colorful and not to replace your daily bread. The thing I loved about the movie was not its depth but the memory of Gus the mouse and how I wanted a little mouse friend more than any of the dresses or even the prince. I had a little stuffed Gus doll that I got from a Happy Meal. It was the only Happy Meal toy I ever wanted, and I LOVED IT.

gus

Am I just excusing Cinderella because it’s old and makes me feel nostalgic? Um, maybe a little. It had other problems. For one thing, the cast was vastly white.

So look, this is a fairy tale. No one ever said it had to take place in a particular society or century, and the costume department took liberal advantage of that fact, dressing each character to match their personality more than any unified aesthetic. Interestingly, the men’s outfits were largely identical and almost all involved white yoga pants. Still, in a society where all centuries of fashion happen at once and girls wear dresses literally made of candy wrappers, we still only get white people. Only one named character was played by a black actor, and I only saw other people of color occasionally in the background, like during the royal ball scene — foreign princesses visiting in hopes of marrying the prince. In this century, having a cast this overwhelmingly white seems more than a bit obtuse.

I wonder if there’s a way to make Cinderella more interesting. Can you plump up the hero a bit? Can you give her flaws other than gullibility and frailty? Can you reinvent her without telling an entirely different story? And will the audience accept it? I think it would be hard to do but worth trying. Diversifying the cast on the other hand wouldn’t be so hard. You can absolutely tell this classic story without making everyone white. If they’d represented half as many ethnicities as they had fashion eras, it would’ve been lovely.

At the end of the day, I went to see the movie with friends, and we had a good time making snarky comments, but we also all basked in pure girly nostalgia — because who didn’t want to play dress-up in the step sisters’ closet? For a little while we forgot that we were grownup ladies with jobs and complicated lives. We looked at dresses, ate candy, and hated the evil step mother together — just old school girl shit. It was simple and it was satisfying — even the part where we tore it to shreds just like the step sisters fighting over a dress.

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Hello, I would like to derby please.

aaaaaah

When I started playing derby, I would not have been brave enough to visit a practice with the #3 ranked league in the world, but last week, that’s just what I did. I was supposed to join Bay Area Derby Girls (BAD) for a skills practice on Tuesday, but travel complications resulted in me missing that. Having flown across the country with skate bag in tow, I wasn’t willing to fly home without using my gear, and that left me one option: Scrimmage with a bunch of skaters who are 100% capable of kicking my ass.

Let me tell you — I was terrified. I got dropped off at a warehouse in Oakland a little after dark. I saw some women who I guessed were skaters going into the building and called out for them to wait up so I wouldn’t have to wait outside to be buzzed in. Inside, although the space was completely new to me, the atmosphere felt right. Couches lined the outer apex of the track, and a couple of well loved Persian-style rugs provided a place to sit down and gear up. The usual derby conversations were happening — who’s here, who’s not, and the eternal question: What’s that smell?

I recognized a few faces of people I’d seen in WFTDA broadcasts or famous derby photos, yet I couldn’t remember their names. I tried to seem confident and to remember that these skaters are just like my league mates, but there’s one key difference: These were not my league mates. They were strangers. Very strong strangers.

A little small talk while gearing up was enough to settle my nerves for a minute, but then I set foot on the track. Unlike the dusty wood floor where we practice or the terrifyingly slick painted concrete at another local rink, the sport court at this facility felt hard and grippy, and I had no idea how to compensate for that. My stops felt jerky and clumsy. That was going to be a problem. I’m pretty sure my fear was written all over my face. Luckily, a really nice skater introduced herself, started chatting with me, and helped me remember that even if I performed terribly, these people are just fellow humans and would probably not eat me alive.

Soon, scrimmage started, and I tried to quickly learn the bench procedures of my temporary team, Berkley Resistance. I think I did it all wrong at first, but they were kind enough about clarifying. As with all scrimmages, this one went quickly, but this time I remembered a few key moments that were exciting and educational. Early on, I realized playing as though these were my own teammates wouldn’t work because BAD has a different play style than I’m used to. After a failed attempt at backwards bracing (not disastrous, but not super effective either), I let my pack know they could yell at me or push me in order to put me where I could be useful. I started asking questions when I had time and listening to the bench chat as much as possible. I plan to ask my teammates about a few specific scenarios and how I could have done better, but mostly, I keep replaying the mental reel from that night to absorb everything I experienced.

After scrimmage I was happy to join an off-skates workout, since traveling had thrown off my usual exercise schedule. I learned a lot about squat form and how to improve my core strength during this second hour. But the time flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to get going. I only stayed two hours, but I’ve been reliving them for the past several days.

After skating on Thursday night and flying home Friday, I was dying to play in our Saturday night bout back in my beloved Charm City, but snow and ice made the roads unsafe, and the game was cancelled. I didn’t even realize how much I was looking forward to the game until I felt the disappointment of cancellation. I got the news on my way to the arena and had to turn around and go back home. I stopped for groceries and fought the urge to hip check all the other shoppers.

Some of the best news out of this is that excitement about playing has now officially overshadowed the fear. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel the fear anymore, but it’ll be different.  I think skating with such a high level team and dealing with the nerves around that helped put the home season into perspective. Playing with my own team on a floor we literally built together in the city we call home is not scary at all in comparison. And in retrospect, even skating with strangers in a strange city wasn’t really anything to be scared of. It was fun, challenging, educational … all my favorite things. I don’t think I’ll ever travel without my skates again.

Thanks a million to the Bay Area Derby Girls for letting me join them for practice!

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Bed Time Yoga

I know so many people who struggle to get a restful sleep. Many of us love our busy lives but can’t manage to settle down at bed time, resulting in a sense of being “tired but not sleepy.” We desperately want to sleep, but our chattering thoughts and never-ending to-do list keep us awake. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Here’s a short and sweet yoga practice to help you relax and settle down at the end of your day!

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    Check out my sweet derby number, still written in Sharpie from last night’s scrimmage. Go Junkyard Dolls! Think Pink!

    Sukasana (aka “easy pose”) with forward bend. Sit in a simple, cross-legged position. Take a deep inhale. As you exhale, hinge forward from the hip joint, letting your chest and belly come toward your legs. Your head can rest on the bed, or the backs of your hands. If your hips and back are tight, try placing a pillow or two under your head and chest. Rest here for as long as it’s comfortable, and allow your breathing to become gentle. Then, slowly sit up on an inhale. Change the cross of your legs, putting the opposite foot in front, then perform the stretch again. You may notice some differences from one side to the other, and that’s totally normal. While your forehead is resting on a supportive surface, imagine all those racing thoughts draining right out of you. Let go of excess energy and stress.

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    I love this pose because it’s so snuggly. For bonus relaxation points, ask your bedmate to lightly press down on your hips and low back. Use as many pillows as necessary to make this comfy!

    Supported child’s pose. Sit on your knees on the bed with your knees wide and your toes coming together behind you (but not overlapping). Place a couple of pillows or folded blankets between your knees, then hinge forward so your entire upper body can rest on the support. Lay your arms alongside the pillows and turn your head to one side. After several rounds of breath, turn your head the opposite direction.

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    Take up ALL the space! If you have room, you can also extend your legs. See if you could take up an entire California king by yourself.

    Supine twist. Lying on your back, pull your knees in to the chest. Let your arms rest at your side. If you have room, bring your arms all the way out to a “T” position, with palms facing up. As you exhale, let the knees sink toward one side. Try to relax so that your legs can come all the way down on the bed. Turn your head the opposite direction to complete the spinal twist. Rest here as long as it’s comfortable, then switch sides.

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    Every time you exhale, relax and let go a little more.

    Simple restorative with systematic relaxation. The simplest restorative pose is savasana (aka corpse pose), but you can add pillows under the knees to help your lower back release and use an eye pillow if it helps you relax. Over several rounds of breath, observe if any part of your body is still holding or working. Try to breathe right into those places. Allow the breath to untie the knots, and as you exhale, let go. Allow the body to become heavy and totally effortless as you drift off to sleep. As you become relaxed, you may want to roll onto your side or whatever your normal sleeping position is.

To really help you unwind, remember to cut down on caffeine in the late afternoon, and build up an enjoyable self-care routine that helps you quiet your mind. Read a book before bed instead of looking at a screen, and finally, make sure you’re sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress.

About their mattresses, Casper says, “We’ve created a mattress with the perfect combination of support, latex and memory foam that is the perfect firmness for everyone.” But you don’t have to take their word for it — they offer a 100 day trial period. If you decide the mattress isn’t right for you, Casper will schedule pickup and donate it to local charity or recycle it. Bonus points for ingenuity: The Casper comes in a box about the size of a small cabinet and basically expands as you unpack it. Neat, right?
Sweet dreams!

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On Throwing Tantrums in Yoga Class

"drama" by Francisco Carbajal

Did I ever tell you about the time I ran out of a yoga class crying?

I was 18 or 19 probably, living in Texas, and homesick for my yoga studio. My first teacher really changed my life, and I was very attached to the way she taught. I missed yoga, though, so I was checking out studios in the area and I went to my first ever vinyasa class. First of all, there was like no meditation. We didn’t stop to feel anything or to breathe, and the teacher never talked about alignment. And the chatturangas were endless.

I had a meltdown. I wanted to scream at this teacher that she was doing it wrong. She said something about ballerina arms, and I lost my shit. I rolled up my mat and left. Another student followed me out and tried to encourage me to come back. “You’ll get the hang of it,” she said sweetly.

“It’s not me!” I said on the verge of a sob. “It’s this class. It’s horrible.” Or something like that. I was emotional and inarticulate. I left that studio without asking for my class fee back. Once in my car, I kicked myself — I could’ve used that $10, but I couldn’t go back in to ask for it.

Looking back, I’m fascinated by that experience. It was clearly a confrontation with my ego. I believed there was a right way to do yoga, and this class flew in the face of my belief, therefore I had a strong emotional reaction to it. What if I had never done yoga before and this was my first time trying it? Then it couldn’t have been wrong in my mind. I only had that reaction because of my attachment to what I believed yoga was supposed to be. My suffering was created by my attachment.

It took me a very long time to see that.

Aparigraha. Non-attachment. What if I could let go of my presuppositions about what yoga is “supposed to be” and just do my practice? What if I could allow that another person’s yoga is their own, their path is their path, their choice is their choice? What if I could accept the certainty of loss, of being wrong, of dying, and go on living anyway? What if I didn’t latch on to every shiny object that came my way? What would life feel like if my hands were open to give and receive without clutching?

Now that I’ve matured a bit (not too much), I wish I could write an apology letter to that teacher, or maybe a thank-you note for the realization she gave me quite by accident. Of course, I’m still attached to a lot of things, including my ideas about yoga. That’s just part of being human.

Photo by Francisco Carbajal

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