Art is Magic

Dear Friends,

I wanted to tell you about the Wizard of Oz themed gala I attended last weekend, how it was a gorgeous and magical experience, but I got a bit tripped up editing and thinking, “Yes but what’s the point? What am I really trying to say here?” I started telling myself that I don’t know enough about art to have any business writing about it. Forget, of course, that I am an artist, as is my sister, that I grew up in a creative household and have been practicing some form of art at all times for essentially all of my life. I don’t have a degree in it … oh wait. Yes I do. But I don’t have the right degree? In the right kind of art? Whatever. The ways I can come up with to undermine and disqualify myself are too many and nonsensical.

What I want to tell you about the gala is not a whole run down of the event like a magazine review. My intent is not to make you envious but to memorialize a certain magical experience. Okay, and maybe to brag a little bit. I got to wear a red sequin dress. We danced. There was art and champagne and free food and the most gorgeous drag queens I’ve ever seen. We got to tour the studios of resident artists, see works in progress, smell the pure joy of art supplies wafting on the air. It reminded me of when I would visit my sister when she was in art school. The combination of wet clay, oil paints, and the inevitable dust of creativity at work — it’s one of my favorite smells, and I had all but forgotten it. Even though the studios were crowded with both artists and audience, all carrying food and drinks, many perfumed for the occasion, still the dry, earthy smell of art being made got into me. I won’t soon forget it again.

And, my friends, there was a funk band — Jonathan Gilmore & The Experience. They blew my damn mind. I only stopped dancing because I had to pee, and then we got caught up talking to some friends, then stopping for a drink, then considering a last minute bid on the art auction, then being swept up by the drag show … The evening was a truly beautiful experience. I felt as though I’d been temporarily transported into a world where all the people are kind and magical, where Dorothy is a good girl flaunting a bad streak, and even the Wicked Witch is a magnificent queen who just wants to be accepted as her authentic self.

I’m as reluctant to bring this letter back to real-world topics as I was to leave the fantasy world of the gala on Saturday night. Since I failed to purchase any art at the auction (I will come prepared to do so next time), what can I bring back from that night besides a couple selfies? After the weekend, I had a bit of social hangover as I’d spent far more (and more intense) time among strangers than usual. But I keep thinking of the band leader asking us to close our eyes on the dance floor. “Art is magic,” he said. “Just close your eyes and feel it. Let’s see if we can experience a little magic here tonight.”

He was right. Art is magic. Magic is creating your life and your reality. Art is doing it your way, adding sparkles, singing a song about it as you go, living as though life is more than just a series of difficult and terrifying events. We are all too familiar with the difficult and terrifying, and I for one, needed a night of glitter and magic and art. I needed to be surrounded by the smiling faces of diverse strangers. I needed to dance in a room full of people pretending to be in an Emerald City disco. I needed candy in my champagne, a sparkly dress, men in rainbow suits and fluffy Toto costumes. I needed the stunning older woman with her grey hair whipped up on her head like a tornado. I needed the breathtaking art work of the resident artists, to be so close to its creation, and to be in the midst of the living, breathing, walking, talking, singing art of all those people. It was magical to be able to be there.

Over the years, I’ve become the kind of person who likes a lot of privacy and quiet nights at home. But for one night, what I needed was to open myself up to experience the magical flow of people and music and inspiration all in one place. I feel at once washed out from the flood of sensory experience and saturated with the residual creative energy. I need a moment to integrate it. I keep closing my eyes and feeling it again. Art is magic. Go make some.

xoxo~

Mary

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Women are Cool and Interesting – Episode 7

In this episode, Tashima Ricks shares some of her life’s journey. Tashima is cool for more reasons than I can count. What I first loved about her was how she stepped right out of her comfort zone and on to the skating rink after nearly 30 years off skates, but as I got to hear more of her story I got a glimpse of what a deeply compassionate person Tashima really is. She told me about her career as a nurse, providing health care for inmates in the correctional system, her family, her crazy adorable dog, her volunteer work … Lets just say I’m just super thankful to have met her and to have the chance to share some of her light with you. Enjoy!

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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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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

 

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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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