Worry less, practice more.

After a rough practice, I felt pretty rattled and decided to do a bit of skate maintenance to settle down.

After a rough practice, I felt pretty rattled and decided to do a bit of skate maintenance to settle down.

I fell at practice last night and scared myself more than I hurt myself. I needed to get back on wheels tonight* and not let that fall defeat me, so me and my anxiety went to the skating rink with Jennanigans and her daughter.

The cool thing about skating with the Little One (we need to give her a derby name!) is she distracts me from myself. I’ll skate backwards in front of her slowly, pretending to guide her when really, I’m using her as a focal point so I will stop obsessing about the fact that “omg I’m going backwards!” After a few laps like that, I started to feel pretty good, but still struggled with transitions. Going backwards? Not so bad. Getting backwards? Scary, apparently.

One of the lame parts of open skate is self-consciousness (also known as just another form of fear). At derby practice, everyone is working on themselves and you know they’re not judging you. People fall so often during practice that no one even looks twice unless they think you might be seriously hurt. But at open skate, derby girls tend to stick out, and it’s a whole different atmosphere. The thought of a fall like last night’s during open skate made me too nervous to practice transitions on the track with kids.

I spent some time on more familiar skills including one-footed weaving. The weaving was where I got in trouble. Certain rink regulars love to give advice, and I haven’t minded it in the past, but tonight it was just a distraction. I really wanted to focus on my own work, but here I was trying to ignore this guy who wanted me to use my lifted leg as a rudder. He tried to quiz me on how boats work and actually asked, “Have you seen a boat?” I had to tell him, “Are we having a physics lesson now? I just wanna skate. I don’t wanna talk about it. I learn things by doing them.” What I wanted to tell him was I am from the motherfucking Gulf of Mexico. I have seen boats, my knee is not a rudder, and pumping your leg out to the side like you’re working an invisible thigh master is not going to make you go faster.

All the distractions eventually frustrated me enough that I gave up and went to work on the thing I was feeling afraid of. I went in the center of the rink and skated back and forth for around 30 minutes turning around over and over again. I figured out which one was my “bad side” and kept turning that way until it felt as good as my other side. I practiced until it didn’t feel scary, and then I did it some more just for good measure. It was not glamorous or interesting to watch I’m sure, but it felt pretty great.

Some days (like yesterday), I don’t even know why I want to play roller derby. I don’t care about being a star athlete. I’ve never even viewed myself as very athletic. I love the community, but that alone isn’t a good enough reason for me to push myself like this. Yet I am addicted to derby. It’s not just the endorphins from a good workout but the exhilaration of having dome something I was once afraid to do.

Chances are, the next time I put on skates I’ll still feel a little intimidated by my first couple transitions. Just like I used to be scared of crossing over. But crossovers kept getting easier until they became natural, and transitions will be the same. It’s funny to me that I can predict: This is going to get easier. I know it will because I’m practicing. That actually makes me feel powerful in a really simple and practical way. I have the ability to get better because I choose to practice.

*It’s 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, but I’m still calling it Tuesday because I haven’t gone to sleep yet. So sue me.

Whenever you go away, I get homesick.

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Whenever you go away, I get homesick.
There are telling little mistakes in my handwriting.
I’m not here.
I try to be alone with the birds.
I take a bath, go outside, and think about how the air feels.
And the sun.
I seek sensations instead of memories.
Memory is never the delight it promises to be.
Crunching dry leaves in my fingers, I feel like I belong on earth,
but catching myself, I become self-conscious.
I make a weird kind of sense
in your context.
Even with the bullshit.
The things couples hide:
the expert fights,
the surgical strikes that make a late-night wasteland of our kitchen
when the pilots are drunk and grieving.
I know that kitchen — I know
what I will be feeling when we stand close together or far apart.
I’m comfortable with my rage and my fear.
I have always been afraid of the same things,
and one of them is love.

Why I Don’t Want Your Compliment

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I look different than I used to. People comment on it. It’s weird.

People I barely know say I’ve been “slimming down” and ask if I’ve been working out. Um. I teach yoga for a living and skate 3-6 hours a week (way less than many of my league mates). I’ve had a general increase in activity in the past few months because business is good and derby is great, but I don’t feel inclined to explain this to people. The subtext of their intended compliment is, “Although we’re practically strangers, I’ve noticed some changes in your body because I consider it my job and/or right to critique the bodies of others, and I want you to know that I approve/disapprove/have concerns.” In other words, it’s presumptuous as fuck.

I try not to give weight-based compliments because human beings are beautiful by definition and attaching a person’s worth to their weight is shitty. But I will say stuff like, “Wow, you look amazing!” Or I might even say, “You look like you’ve been taking good care of yourself,” which I hear some people take to mean “you look fat,” but I actually mean it literally. I try to praise any positive changes in a person, and maybe it’s equally presumptuous of me. But everyone likes getting compliments, so if someone seems like they’re happy, less stressed out, or really following their passion in life — or if they’re just really well dressed and rocking it, I like to tell them.

But when it comes to weight/body-related commentary, I prefer to keep my mouth shut and think other people should, too. For one thing, asking about a person’s weight is both rude and pointless. 1: It’s none of your business. 2: The number means mind-blowingly little for most people. 3: If the person’s weight is a threat to their health and you’re not their doctor, they probably don’t need or want your advice.

I get it, though. Humans like to give and receive compliments. It’s an evolved social bonding system, and our egos love it. But I could really do without comments on my body from pretty much anyone ever. Because really, I’m not doing this for you.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Why Creative Nonfiction Writers are Scared of Self-Publishing

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I’ve been thinking about the place of self-publishing in the creative nonfiction (CNF) world since last summer when I participated in a round-table discussion on publishing in which my perspective as a self-published blogger was not well received. Granted, I was flustered and may not have represented my point well, but it seems that while fiction writers are embracing self-publishing a little at a time, the CNF community largely rejects it and sees any writer who pursues it as naive, vain, and delusional.

There’s a belief among CNF writers that association with a traditional publisher lends us credibility. Obviously, credibility is essential to anyone who writes nonfiction. Additionally, we believe that being accepted by the publishing establishment proves our worth as writers. I don’t know why we still believe this because I’ve seen plenty of truly awful books published the old fashioned way, but we cling to this idea like a middle schooler trying to believe in Santa Claus.

The flip side of our over-valuing of traditional publishing is that we believe self-publishing devalues our work. We believe if it were any good, an editor would have picked it up or that if the writer were not so lazy, she would have shopped it around. These are self-defeating assumptions rooted in intellectual classism, which tells us someone Up There, some overdressed academic in a sky scraper is a more qualified judge of our work than we are.

This may be vain of me, but I disagree. It’s true that writers get attached to our favorite sentences (no matter how awful they are) and everyone can use editorial help, but if we decide what’s good writing based on what’s popular, then it’s no surprise mainstream literature is going the way of pop music. Hint: Incredibly innovative and beautiful music is still being made every day, but you’re not going to hear it on your top 40 station.

Some writers will say, “aim high and work your way down,” a piece of advice I heard repeated many times at Goucher last summer. I get it. Everyone wants to publish big. Everyone wants a book deal. I want to be paid an advance and have a publisher finance my trip around the world so I can write about it, but those opportunities are increasingly rare. So you can pursue that, and that’s great because sometimes that path works out for people. But it very often doesn’t work out, and even traditionally published authors suffer from low sales numbers and awkward party conversations in which you have to explain your book to people who have never heard of it and are only pretending to be interested. So if that path looks miserable to you, pick something else.

Self-pub is equally difficult and lacking in guarantees, but it’s no less valid. Yes, there is a risk of entering a flooded market, but there’s also the possibility that your audience will find you where a publishing house wouldn’t have reached them. Maybe they wouldn’t have given your weird book a chance. Maybe “that’s not selling this year.” Maybe they just don’t think anyone cares about your story. But if you care enough about your story to write it, you should write it. And if it’s important to you to publish it, you should publish it.

If you want to be a famous writer and sell millions of books, I can’t tell you how to do that. I’m not even sure I’d want to do that if I knew how. What I do want is the ability to write what matters most to me and reach people in a meaningful way. Self-publishing gives me the opportunity to do that and the control the do it in a way that’s sustainable for me. And by sustainable, I mean it doesn’t make me hate my life. That’s goal number one.

At the end of the day, it’s up to writers to decide the future of publishing. The more we cater to “what sells,” the more mainstream literature homogenizes just like pop music. Independent musicians, film makers, and fiction writers have taken it upon themselves to do their work and publish it regardless of the nod from on high, but for some reason, the CNF community can’t do that. The only reason I can see is fear:

  • fear that you lack the credibility and validation supplied by a publishing house.
  • fear of being seen as a lesser writer by your peers.
  • fear of having to explain self-publishing to people.
  • fear that you’ll never sell enough books to make any money.
  • fear that you will publish something terrible and no one will have the heart to tell you.
  • … or that they will.
  • fear that you will negate future opportunities by marring yourself with the sin of self-publishing.

In other words, the CNF community still believes that self-publishing is not for serious writers, so I think it’s time we clear this up:

If you write and you’re serious about it, you’re a serious writer. If you write and you laugh about it, you’re a humorous writer. If you write and you’re a judgmental jerk about it, guess what that makes you. :)

write about the question until it reveals your answer

 

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Write about My Little Pony and Smurfette. Write about bath products stores. Write about having to walk down the diaper aisle to get tampons. Write about the 16-year-old stock boy who asks if you need help finding anything. What the fuck are you gonna help me find?

Write about feeling self-righteous in the checkout line. Write about “I’m not judging, but…” Write about the shit people talk about, how they try to sound like sitcoms, how everyone acts like a celebrity on Facebook.

Write about the things you can’t say out loud. Write about the things that don’t make sense. Find the cracks in your understanding and repair them. Write about that.