Do you know how hard it is to take a selfie in roller skates?


It’s time for another derby update! I finally got my outdoor wheels and put them on … just in time for a snow/ice storm to keep me from actually skating outside. The place I ordered them from put the bearings in for me, but two of them are in kinda crooked, so they wobble,so I can’t use them till I fix that. It’s easy to do, but I didn’t order the bearing puller. Delays delays delays, and it’s all my own fault. I’m now adding a bearing puller to my Christmas wish list in case someone in my family wants to get me a cheap but very happy-making gift. Luckily, I can still use the indoor wheels to practice at home and at the rink.


Jenn and I now have friends at our regular rink, including the manager who helped me fix a slow wheel, the skate guard who used to play derby and gives us tips, and a handful of frequent skaters who just like to chat. There’s a dad who skates every Tuesday with his kid and just seems happy not to be the only adult on the floor. He tried to get me to do the Macarena with him, which was so not happening. I did, however, manage to do a little jump, even if my wheels only came about an inch off the floor. This week, there was also a mom and daughter pair who seem to be into figure skating. The daughter skated around gracefully, making grand gestures with her arms and balancing on one foot. The mom danced and bopped along at a steady pace. When I commented on how much fun she seemed to be having, she said, “I used to do this in a bathing suit, in New York, carrying a martini.” Does that not sound like a fun job?

As you can probably imagine, the rink was a little empty on the Tuesday night after Thanksgiving, so they were indulging a lot of requests. We skated backwards for the entirety of “Rock Lobster,” which is a lot longer than I realized. That was actually great for me as skating backwards is something I’m just getting the hang of. I was SLOW, but I did make it around twice before deciding my thighs had had enough. The backwards skate was when I got the most advice from strangers, though. It was a little sad that people could tell I needed advice so much. Even a little 8-year-old girl came up and started telling me what to do with my feet.

After that experience, I have spent most of the week practicing skating backwards. It’s not that hard to get started, but building up the confidence to move quickly and turn without stopping takes practice. I did find these two videos really helpful though:

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I Wanna Be a Derby Girl

Suburbia Roller Derby Suburban Brawl at ECE - 142

I am beginning a project. A very ill-advised project. I want to play roller derby.

It just looks so damn fun. The bouts I’ve watched remind me of playing on the basketball team as a kid. I never really went in for “school spirit,” but being on a team and accomplishing something with a group of friends is tons of fun to me. Plus, I feel like I’m ready for a new challenge and adventure in my life, and roller derby looks great on both counts.

It’s been a slightly rocky start. My friend Jenn and I have started skating together at a local rink, and this week, we went for a skating lesson — $5 covers the skate rental, a one-hour lesson, and the two-hour open session that follows, so we felt like we were getting a pretty great deal. Granted, we were the only adults there who weren’t accompanying children, and I was probably the worst skater in the bunch.  Well, there was this one guy who looked about as comfortable in roller skates as a cat with scotch tape on his feet. I feel guilty saying this, but that guy made me feel tons better about myself until this morning when it occurred to me that the rink might have been paying him to look bad. The only down side of the skating lesson was that the instructor was a creepy old guy who kept making awkward comments about my body while giving me instructions. I’m now looking for other places to learn skating so I don’t have to be inappropriately touched by grandpa.

I have fallen twice now — once when a girl fell in front of me, and I didn’t have time to move around her, and once when I lost my balance for no particular reason and got a nasty bruise. Falling is a little embarrassing, but I figure I better get used to it if I’m going to try derby. In fact, I even like that in derby, falling is part of the sport and not something to be embarrassed about. Ok, so the goal is to fall a lot less, but I’ll try not to worry too much when I do. Jenn, on the other hand, has not fallen at all. She talks a big game about being oh-so-clumsy, but I think she’s secretly a rockstar at everything and just doesn’t like to brag.

In addition to practice, I’ve been assembling and arsenal of information about derby rules, skating skills, and the people involved in the sport. This has been my go-to internet reading for the week.

  • Roller Derby 101 on the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association web site. In fact, I intend to spend quite a bit of time on this site in the future.
  • Even the “about” page for the Charm City Roller Girls (my nearest league) is awesome. I’ve been to a couple of bouts, and everyone seems really cool and nice. Definitely looking forward to watching more games so I can learn!
  • Reddit/r/rollerderby: With the tag line “not just for fans of Whip It,” I’m afraid I need to do some serious studying before I try to talk to anyone. These girls know their stuff, and they seems like a dedicated bunch.
  • The WFTDA’s minimum skills requirements list is now my study material.
  • This Youtube series has a bunch of information on derby skating skills, which I will eventually need to learn.
  • I also started following a bunch of roller derby chicks on Tumblr because they post cool pictures and good information. Plus, they inspire me. For example…

Diary of a Derby Bunny
Inconsequential Musings (Calamity Jane!)
Derby Deets — Funny derby related gifs. Ok, so they’re not particularly relevant to training, but they make me feel like one of the cool kids.
Shit Derby Girls Say

So, now all I’m missing is some skates, pads, helmet, and … oh right, more practice!

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Monday Night Nonfiction: Unsolicited Advice

Glen Rubsamen: The gradual loss of all that gave life meaning and Joy (ARCO8 - Madrid)
Find meaning in what you do or else don’t do it.
Even if the meaning is just curiosity. What happens if … ?
Know that your actions change the world.
Your creations bring something into the world which was not previously there.
It’s OK to fuck up. You will miss the mark sometimes.
Good intentions count, but follow-through is better.
Have a goal in mind, or don’t.
Choose the path of integrity over the path of least resistance.
The fact that something is difficult to do does not make it worth doing.
It is easy to get lost in the noise of our age.
Do not join the meaningless chatter.
Entertaining delusions of grandeur has become a national pass time.
Opt out.
Opt fucking out.
Being important is overrated.
Be unimportant.
Take risks because they’re interesting to you.
Do it for the adventure.
Stop waiting for praise and acknowledgement.
If you don’t love what you’re doing, no one else will. And if they do, what’s that worth?
If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re doing it wrong.
If you could change the world, what would you do?
Start now.

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I Am Not My Work

Art by Benjamin Gabriel

Not too long ago, I wrote about how being a writer is meaningless. I’ve continued to think about that idea, and today I just want to share some thoughts about it.

I used to want to be a famous writer. Actually, I had a very specific goal — to have my works included in literary text books for high school and college students. I wanted my writing to be considered definitive of an era. After all, anyone can write a book, but in order to feel that I was really a good writer, I needed to be the best writer.

My entire identity and self-worth was wrapped up in this idea of being a great writer, and if you’ve any idea of what the publishing industry looks like right now, you can probably imagine how this is a problem. No one wants to publish your book? Probably because you’re worthless as a human being. That was pretty much my internal dialogue for a few years.

The prospect of earning a living as a writer was terrifying. I loved writing because it was literally my main tool for navigating the world. I trusted no one but my own writing, and I was completely wrapped up in my own inner world, which is why I had no close friends for a really long time. To turn that into a source of income made me feel too vulnerable, and I was unwilling to do any writing I didn’t really love.

At the same time, my yoga practice was starting to teach me, “You are not your job. You are not your belongings. You are not your social status.” I still struggled with the idea that I needed to be something more, something better. I needed to be great but couldn’t wrap my mind around what that meant.

Only when I started teaching yoga did that change. When I’m teaching a class, I don’t want to be famous, to prove myself, or to impress anyone. All I want is to do a good job for the people in front of me. When they visibly improve from one class to the next and say “thank you” to me at the end of the day, I have the most amazing feeling of success I’ve ever had.

I no longer feel that need to prove myself as a great writer. I write because I love it and because it’s a good tool for me. Writing is now part of my yoga, part of how I understand the world, but it’s no longer my identity.

After all these years, I realize:

I am not a writer.
I am a me.
Writing is something I do.
My writing does not define me.
I do.

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Own Your Art. Yes, Art.

This week I visited my grad school, Goucher College, as a panelist for an alumni roundtable discussion. I volunteered because I wanted to talk with my peers and see who else was writing online or self-publishing, but apparently I am one of a very small number. Instead of networking with fellow writers, I found myself in a position to share my experience of self-publishing with anyone interested (yay!) and to defend my choice to self-publish (awkward). In retrospect, there are a few points I would like to clarify but most importantly, this:

There’s more than one way to be a writer, and I’m tired of “professionals” who don’t get it. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I went to grad school with some highly accomplished writers, and was mentored by some of the top names in creative nonfiction. And I chose self-publishing anyway. Now I want to tell you why.

I see a lot of good writers struggling to get published in the traditional market — smart, passionate people who simply aren’t getting published. They are accomplished writers and reporters, and they care immensely about their work, but they can’t find an agent or publisher who thinks they can sell it.

I also see a lot of books published that are good but not necessarily better than those struggling writers. I see book stores filled with boring books. Often, they contain no big ideas but are just clever in a forgettable way.

I occasionally see extraordinarily good books in traditional publishing and equally good work from independent writers. I’m not saying no one in traditional publishing is doing a good job, but I’m saying getting published by Random House or Penguin or anyone else doesn’t make you a good writer. Just like choosing self-publishing doesn’t make you a bad writer.

Some of us have heard enough times that what we want to do will never sell, and we don’t want to waste our time trying to fit a mold that doesn’t suit us. When I decided to self-publish my manuscript, I wasn’t thinking about book sales (I assumed I would have very few), but I wanted to put this work out in the world because I was proud of it. I didn’t want to dedicate the next two years to getting the damned thing published, though, so I did it myself.

My feelings about traditional publishing are strikingly similar to my feelings about kids: “Not right now, thanks.” Right now, my honest-to-goodness most important work is teaching yoga and writing about what I believe in on my blog. Maybe in 10 years I will have done something interesting enough to write a book about and people will want to read that. At that point, I would consider selling that book to a publisher, but I’d also seriously consider publishing it myself. If I play my cards right, I could have a pretty sweet audience and not need the support of a publisher, so that’s my long-term plan. Alternatively, if I do build that kind of audience, a publisher might find it worthwhile to help me print an excellent book for them, so I’ll cross that bridge if I ever get to it.

Reality is that I don’t have a huge audience because I’m just starting out and still finding my way. I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of, and I’m damn sure it doesn’t make me any less intelligent or less capable a writer than my peers. I’m aware of some things I’m doing well and some things I need to improve. Every time I take those steps to improve, I see the benefit in terms of increased audience and class attendance, and I find that extremely satisfying. I don’t know for sure where I’ll be in terms of my writing and my audience in 10 years, but I’m very much looking forward to finding out.

The other two panelists on Saturday were highly accomplished men, one being a New York Times bestselling author, and the other being the author of several highly praised books. They were both also in their 50s while I’m 30, so the gap in our accomplishments may look like a lot, but I feel certain that I’m on track to be their equal or better. Although I have chosen the self-publishing route, I am not less of a serious writer than anyone else at Goucher. I have however chosen to work from the ground up rather than to “aim high and work your way down” as folks kept suggesting on Saturday night. Aim high, to this crowd, seems to mean getting an occasional pittance from a large print publication and spending months writing draft after draft of a book proposal. That is the writer’s life we were all told to expect. We’ve all heard about the boatloads of rejections received by our favorite authors. So, I guess if you don’t have a scrapbook of rejection letters or a room wallpapered with them you’re somehow cheating. Maybe it’s not fair that everyone else has to jump through all the hoops while I’ve simply chosen not to play that game.

One person who seemed compelled to defend me whether he agreed with me or not compared self-publishing to being in a garage band while pursuing traditional publishing is more like playing big arenas. I guess it’s worth mentioning that I don’t go to big arena concerts very often (they’re usually overpriced and not as fun as I’m hoping), and I do love a good small town punk show or free concert in the park. Anyway, there’s no right or wrong about it, but it’s my preference to start where I am, writing for myself, self-publishing my work, honing my voice, and building my audience a little bit at a time.

The choice to self-publish or not has nothing to do with legitimacy and everything to do with your goals as a writer. What are you trying to accomplish? What do you feel driven to write? Who do you want to reach? How do you want to be remembered? Right now, my entire focus is on doing work that I can be proud of. Some of that work is poetry, essays, blog posts, and even my current attempt at fiction. But I’m also really proud of the yoga classes I teach, the volunteer work I do, and the podcast I run. The decision to self-publish was part of a larger decision to take control of my work, my life, and my own creativity. Self-publishing is part of my intentional and yes even methodical process of building the life I want. It is not for everyone, but right now, it’s definitely right for me.

Finally, there’s one specific comment I want to address. One of the panelists announced on Saturday, “No one in this room is an artist,” just as I finished explaining that self-publishing is all about owning your art. His point was that writers do not produce great work in total solitude. We need editors. We need beta readers. We need designers. We need publicists. This is all true, and it applies to traditional and self-published authors alike. However, if you do not write like an artist … well, now you know why I’m not reading your books.

You go find your audience and I’ll go find mine. In 500 years if anyone remembers either of us, it’ll be a miracle. Meanwhile, I plan on enjoying what I came here to do.

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