Finally Rolling

Dolls Group HugThis past weekend, I realized a goal I’ve been dreaming of, working for, and yes — dreading — for a year or more. Those who have heard me talking about derby for the past year may be wondering why it took so long, but there’s a method to the madness. When I tried out for Charm City Roller Girls, passing the tryout just meant I was allowed to practice with the league. I was not yet cleared for contact (i.e. hitting/blocking), nor was I eligible to scrimmage, be drafted, or play in a bout. After months of training and several rounds of skills assessments, I became eligible for the draft and got onto the Junkyard Dolls. Getting there took eight months, a lot of patience, much ego checking, and countless hours of practice.

Finally, on January 24, 2015, I played my first roller derby game with the Junkyard Dolls.

I wanted to tell you what it’s like to play your first roller derby game, but truthfully, I remember very little. It was a blur of noise and wheels and bodies. Going into the game, I was convinced I’d forgotten everything I’ve ever known about derby. Coming out of the penalty box, I was afraid I’d do something wrong and frantically asked the people around me, “Where can I come in … behind the pack right? Behind everyone?” Yes, Dirt. Behind everyone. In theory, I know the rules. In a state of panic, not so much.

My performance was what you could expect from a newbie: not glamorous, but I showed up.

My teammates, on the other hand, were better than I could’ve asked for. They were tough. They gave me instructions. The pushed me where I needed to go. They high-fived me when I did well. They forgave me when I fucked up. In general, they rocked. The Junkyard Dolls won. By a lot.

My biggest fear going into the game was that if we lost it would be due to my personal failure. By the second half, I realized it wasn’t possible for me to be the sole cause of our failure if we did lose.

As for what made us win, that’s a more complicated story. We played against the Night Terrors, and I think of them as being a great team because they have quite a few skaters I admire. However, they also got the most new recruits during the November draft, so for the moment at least, they seem to be in a rebuilding phase. This being the first game of the 2015 season, lots of people on all the teams struggled to get enough practice hours to qualify for Saturday’s game. The Junkyard Dolls were apparently the only team whose skaters all met the requirement, therefore we were the only team with a full roster of our own players. That’s a pretty obvious advantage.

At half time, we talked about what was working and what wasn’t. Holly thanked everyone for making their practice requirements because preparation really was our greatest advantage. That moment made me realize even good teams with great skaters can’t succeed if all their players aren’t engaged, not just on game day but for the month leading up to it.

In an interview on the CCRG blog a while back, Fed mentioned that the Dolls all have a ton of heart and really leave it all on the track. I think that’s another way of expressing the same thing — the Junkyard Dolls don’t just show up and expect to be great. They keep showing up until they get great … and then they do it some more because being great for one game isn’t enough.

As for me, greatness was not on my agenda this weekend. My primary emotion during this first game was fear, and my goal was to face it. I did that. Box checked. Now I get to work on the next thing, whatever that turns out to be. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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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.

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my sketchy night

 

derbyfacesjpeg
I’m a little embarrassed because I know these are not good drawings, but I had fun trying and I’m totally doing it again.

I went to Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art school in Baltimore last night. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I moved here and haven’t done for the usual bullshit reasons. Since the Junkyard Dolls had a fundraising event there last night and since that’s my league big sister’s team, it seemed like a good opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try something fun.

I don’t technically know how to draw, but that’s OK because a lot of the people there were very good at it. I like being an amateur surrounded by experts. I like to let them teach me, and they like to teach. I was intimidated by this one girl whose art work was really fabulous, but when we had a break I mentioned that I really liked her drawings. She immediately opened up and wanted to share — “This chick lost 10 pounds when I added the background color!” She held up her drawing of Suzy Pow’s muscles, and it was basically perfection. People shared their supplies and encouraging words, and though I don’t see myself joining a competitive art league any time soon, I’ll probably go back for another round.

Here are some things I drew last night. In case it’s not clear, I’m not requesting a critique from the internet at large. When I look at what other people drew last night, I feel a million miles away from them, but I was happy enough with these to share them.  Also, no one is allowed to be mad at me if they don’t like the picture I drew of them. I get amnesty as a shitty artist whose only merit is that she draws with love.

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at the flea market

wpid-2014-05-10-16.09.45.jpg.jpeg Here is my paragraph for today. I went to Patterson Park in Baltimore, a city I don’t know very well, and stood at a table with some people I like and their dogs. I was feeling quiet because some days are like that, so I did a lot of listening, a little bit of dog-petting, and a lot of wondering whether to keep my sunglasses on or take them off.

They’re not even my sunglasses. I sorta stole them from my mother-in-law’s minivan. They are black with rhinestones. I love/hate them. I have another pair of sunglasses that I found in Dolores Park in San Francisco. They were just lying in the grass. I put them on because I have no regard for sanitation and a pretty good immune system. They were all wobbly. Had probably been stepped on once or twice and jostled around in someone’s backpack for months. But I liked the way they looked. I wear a lot of things that are probably ugly.

At the flea market today, I bought a dress. It’s long, red, satin with some rhinestones and embroidery. I thought it was beautiful, but I think my mom might call it trampy. It was a size eight, and the woman said it was cut tight so you couldn’t wear any panties beneath it or anything. We were standing outside, and it was humid, and I thought about sweating in that dress. I almost didn’t buy it.

I took a break from writing to try the dress on. I may never have the nerve to wear it in public, but it’s gorgeous.

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When a Fail isn’t a Fail

Roller skates at La Muette, Paris, 1955. Photo: Robert Doisneau; One of the drills we did last night looked a lot like this. I was the one in back.
Roller skates at La Muette, Paris, 1955. Photo: Robert Doisneau; One of the drills we did last night looked a lot like this. I was the one in back.

Last night, we had a skills assessment at practice, and today I’m waiting to hear how I did. I am about 90% expecting to hear that I did not pass, but a little part of me is holding out hope that maybe I did better than I thought. The thing is, almost no one passes the orange assessment on their first try. Leading up to last night, lots of teamed skaters told me and the other white stars (the nice name for fresh meat) how many times they had to take the assessment before they passed. Many tried two, three, or four times. I’ve heard it’s common to take six months for a brand new skater to be ready to start scrimmaging. That sounds like a long time, but based on the progress I’ve made so far, it wouldn’t surprise me if it takes that long. From one practice to the next, it’s slow, steady improvement. The world doesn’t change over night, and neither does my ability to do a proper plow stop.

So, why did I do the assessment if I felt certain I was going to fail? Well, mostly because I needed the practice points to make the attendance requirement for this month, but also to find out how far I’ve come and what I need to work on the most. And yes, part of me thought, “Maybe it will all click and suddenly make sense when I’m testing, and I’ll do really well.” Some things did click for me. In a slightly pressured situation, I found myself a little more agile and confident than I was two months ago. On the other hand, I realized some skills I just don’t have yet: I don’t really know how to hit, I don’t get low enough to take a hit without falling over, and I don’t have very good endurance. And that’s all stuff I’m aware of without getting my feedback yet, so I’m sure what I get back will be helpful, and then I’ll have some points to focus on before the next assessment. And the cool thing is, I’m pretty sure I can get better, so I just have to keep doing it.

As my fellow freshies are getting their responses and sharing them among our little group, I’m eager to get mine, but mostly I’m feeling really happy for us all. There was a lot of team work involved last night, and I was proud of the way we communicated with and encouraged one another. We did a good job of supporting one another while we did our own best. At one point or another, every one of us said or thought, “I can’t fucking do this,” but we did. And everyone was so damn proud of everyone else by the end of the night, it was a little ridiculous. The experience itself was worth the nerves and exhaustion, and even though I feel certain I didn’t pass, it doesn’t feel like a failure.

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