What to write once you’ve done the thing.

May 10, 2014. About a month after I joined my local roller derby league, I posted the above photo on Instagram. “It’s easiest to write when you have done something worth writing about. If you’re stuck, go outside.” Looking at it now, the message still rings true, although I can’t believe it took me more than three years to notice the missing apostrophe.

I had noticed in myself a lot of circular thoughts, and a certain amount of boredom with myself, my way of thinking and living. I needed to get outside myself, outside my comfort zone, beyond my current knowledge and experience. I needed to live a little, but I had no idea how much I was about to live.

When you play roller derby, every year feels like three. Home season, travel season, and off-season are each jam-packed with a year’s worth of living. Especially off-season, which seemed to be the only time I could check in with the rest of the world, reconnect with non-derby friends, visit my family, and catch up on sleep. Maybe that’s why I feel so much older now, only a few years later. I did a lot, and I learned a lot. I intended to write about it all along the way, but living the adventure and processing in real-time left little brain space for translating my experience into readable material worthy of the effort required to post on the internet. And aside from that, my anxiety disorder was in full swing during much of that time, so to post anything that ¬†might make me feel to vulnerable didn’t seem wise. Somewhat unwittingly, I forced myself to follow my own advice above, as well as some other thoughts I kept pinned to my wall.

Slow down. Edit. You’ll know when it’s ready.

And.

There’s a lot of pressure in writing a letter on good paper.

In other words, don’t rush, and don’t be precious.

The intervening three years have been an exercise in observation of the self under extreme pressure. In the yoga world, we talk about tapas, the fire in which karma is burned, the drive that fuels our practice. For three years, roller derby became my yoga. I made it my intention to be as fully present to the experience as possible. Every hit, every lap, every victory and defeat, every after party and every heartbreak — that was my tapas. When I fell on my ass during All Star tryouts, my coach asked if I was OK, and I told him the only thing that was hurt was my ego. I dedicated that year to Kali, the goddess tattooed on my right arm, the ego killer. And boy did my ego get killed in the most spectacular ways.

I thought I might write about it all after retirement, but I’m not sure how. There’s so much. And of course, there are other people involved, people who I sometimes loved and sometimes resented, who have flaws and hearts just like my own, and it would be impossible to tell my own story without touching the pulse of a few of theirs.

So while I figure that out (assuming I will eventually figure *something* out, even if that something is that this story isn’t the one I came here to tell) I guess I’ll be reviving and reclaiming this dusty little corner of the internet. As always, I make no promises. My ¬†plan is to keep following my own advice, to allow myself the luxury of time to process and write, and to indulge in the simple joy of expression.

Oh, and not to bury the lede or anything, but there’s a podcast coming. I started talking about it on Twitter a while back, about half joking, but then I decided to do it for real. So that’ll be up eventually … when I figure it out. Again, I’m slowing things down and not trying to rush through the creative process anymore. As it turns out, it’s the process itself that interests me more than the sharing/posting/publishing part. So I’m taking my time to create it and do it well, and I’ll share when it’s ready. ūüėČ

Peace.

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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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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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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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How One Gets Called “Dirt”

how-one-gets-called-dirt.jpg

Here is a silly thing I am anxious about. My name… Miss Dirt… the one I chose, not the one I was given. I’ve been called some variation of “dirt” for the past 12 years, it’s part of who I am, and I love it. I also use that name for my blog which is just a silly digital thing I’m very attached to. However, I also decided to use the same name for derby, and I worry that it’s weird and confusing to people who don’t know me from my gaming and early blogging days. Am I just thinking too hard? Very likely.

In the event that I’m not, let me tell you where the name Miss Dirt came from so you will understand. Even if it doesn’t make you think I’m any less crazy, maybe you’ll get my brand of crazy and just, you know … not judge too harshly.

Or not. Whatever.

Once upon a time, there was a thing called Quakecon. Actually, it still exists, but it’s really different now. Quakecon was a video game convention for fans of the game Quake and really, anything Id Software made. It was held in Mesquite, TX (later in Grapevine and Dallas, and probably some other towns since I last attended). It was held in August every year, and it was free to attend. I was part of the Quakecon family for five years while I lived in Texas. I started as a general attendee, quickly saw the value of volunteering, and eventually wound up as part of the media staff, although I never felt that I accomplished much in that role.¬†Anyway, everyone at Quakecon went by their gamer handles, and everyone took a certain amount of pride in their handle. Some were funny, some were faux intimidating, and some were just weird. I chose the name dirt (always with a small “d” back then) because I thought it was funny. I liked that people couldn’t tell my gender by the name I chose, so I got treated better by the community than if I’d had a recognizably feminine name. That was 2002, and I’ve been known as “dirt” to my best friends ever since then. When I first started dating my husband, his family even called me dirt to avoid confusing me with another Mary he dated before.

Over time, the name has come to mean something to me. I like the name dirt because it’s earthy and a weird mix¬†of cocky and humble.¬†It takes a joyful combination of nerve and stupidity to¬†call yourself dirt and expect people to be cool with it. At the same time, dirt is as low as it gets without switching to less family friendly language. And yet, where would we be without dirt? Dirt, to me, is pretty much what life is made of. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust … in other words, we’re all made of dirt. I like the absurdity of the name because I think life is absurd and this helps me remember not to take anything¬†too seriously.

As for adding the word Miss to it and using capital letters, I guess you could say I felt like growing up, but not enough to give up the name. My husband and I ran gaming events together for years and, as a result, found ourselves at the center of a pretty amazing little gaming community. However, when you hang out with gamers, who are mostly male and younger than me, sometimes it’s necessary to remind them who the grownup in the room is. However, MsDirt was taken on Twitter, and I loathe the abbreviation Mrs. as well as what it stands for (let’s save that explanation for another day). So, despite being married and as grown up as I’ll ever get, I became Miss Dirt.

When I started playing derby, I thought long and hard about what to call myself. Should I pick a new name? Should I invent some new variation on the old one? Would it be weird if I kept blogging as Miss Dirt? Would it confuse people? Is the name¬†derby enough?¬†In the end, I never reached a satisfactory answer for any of that, but I decided that I really don’t want to have a new name. Some¬†skaters use their given names on the track, presumably because they like what they’re called and don’t really want to be anyone but themselves. Personally, I never really identified with my given name (Mary), but I feel like the name Dirt somehow describes the person I’ve chosen to be.

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