To be Fresh Meat

Nosker's Country Fresh MeatPhoto by timlewisnm on Flickr
You think you wanna play roller derby. You’ve heard about it for years. Your friends have said you’d be great at it. They don’t know anything about it, but they think you’re the type of person who should play roller derby, and you think they’re right. You watch Whip It with your best friend and decide to try out together. You spend $150 on skates and it feels like a big deal because you would never spend that kind of money on a pair of shoes. You spend $80 on pads. You learn to shape a mouthguard. You think about buying fancy leggings. You go to a few open skates and feel self-conscious about everything, and you make an embarrassing noise every time you fall. The avoidance of making this noise will become your first motivator for becoming a better skater.

You try out. You join the league. You feel like this means something, but you still don’t call yourself a derby girl because you’re aware of a vast gap in ability between yourself and the people who tell you what to do at practice. You keep doing your best. You watch them closely. You try to pick the best skaters and mimic them. You learn to look where you want to go instead of at your feet. You fall a little less often.

You take your assessment, which you mostly expect to fail, so you’re not too disappointed when you do indeed fail. For a month, you obsessively work on plow stops and endurance. You retake your assessment and fail. This time it’s disappointing. You try to pick yourself up right away and get back to practice. You’ve spent four months on this, and you really thought you’d be better at it by now. You try to push yourself harder, but it’s hot outside, and you feel tired all the time. For a week or so, you obsess about whether you’re eating correctly. You never seem able to drink enough water. You take a couple days off, but when you go back to practice, people are really nice to you, and everyone has something helpful to say.

The drills start to make sense. You start to apply the things you’ve been practicing. You read your assessment feedback again and again. You think hard about core strength. You put the next assessment on your calendar. You set your financial goals for the coming month based on the cost of new skates. You would still never spend more than $100 on shoes, but now you want a $350 pair of skates. You believe you have a sincere, justifiable need for shiny booty shorts, and you discover a new purpose for those torn up stockings haunting your sock drawer.

There are days when you go to practice because you want to get better, and there are days when you go because you’ve become an exercise addict and you need the endorphin rush. Still, there are days when you go because nothing else seems to be going right. You put on your skates, and nothing else in the world matters. No one on the track knows about the dishes you left in the sink or the bullshit you left at work, and they don’t care. You don’t know if you’ll pass your next assessment, so you try to let go of any expectations about it and just practice.

And you practice and you practice and you practice and you practice.

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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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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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Why Do Derby Today (my reminders)

Attack Dog Three Kids

I’m pretty sure my fellow freshies will understand when I say I identify a little too much with these toddlers.

Roller derby is not easy. As I was reminded at practice this week, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” In fact, if it were easy, I would have done it ages ago, gotten bored with it and quit by now. In the past week or two, I’ve had moments of wondering whether derby is for me or if I’ll ever get good at it. A pulled muscle in my hip and one very discouraging practice had me thinking I’d never be good enough to scrimmage, let alone get on a team. But a couple days later I had a good practice, learned some things, felt a little stronger, and connected with league mates I hadn’t talked with before.

I love the way our practices are set up so the new girls get to drill with the vets and learn skills from them. Skaters at every level are eager to share what they know and to give a word of encouragement whenever it’s needed. Still, there are days when you come home and just want to cry because (a) something hurts, and/or (b) you just don’t think you’ll ever get there.

Especially when you’re in pain, it’s easy to forget all the good stuff, so I’ve started a running file on my phone called “Why Do Derby Today.” This is where I keep track of the reasons I love derby so I won’t forget them when I have a hard day. Here’s the list so far:

  1. Derby makes me feel really strong.
  2. Facing challenges helps me get braver.
  3. All the awesome friends.
  4. Be an example of what’s possible for other women.
  5. Do it for the sense of accomplishment.
  6. Eat what you want, and never feel bad about it.
  7. Seeing how far I’ve come already, I wonder how much further I could go.
  8. My league mates are awesome and always willing to help me learn and improve.
  9. Hitting drills are fun and not as scary as I thought.

So, next time I’m afraid I totally suck and will never get it right, hopefully this little list will remind me why it’s worthwhile to keep trying. With a little encouragement from my friends I’ll keep showing up, doing what I can, and hopefully growing a little bit at a time. And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even get to skate in a bout.

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