Letters: On Celebrating the Small Stuff

Dear Friends,

Here is a thing I made!

I’m not going to make a PDF copy of it because you can make your own. I don’t see the use in you having a list of my big wins. But I do see a use in me having it.

I don’t want to be a downer, but life is hard. Maybe you’ve noticed. Even when life is good it can be hard, and I have to be honest: I have a really good life. I have a lot of good people. I have a safe place to sleep, enough food to eat, and something left to share with my friends and enjoy for myself. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, all my boxes are consistently checked, so what could I possibly have to complain about? I won’t burden you with my list because as much as I might want to tell you everything that’s wrong with my life right now, the point here is to lift both our spirits, not dig in to the gloom. I’ve been talking with my team at work about celebrating our victories, and I realized I didn’t know quite how to model that authentically, so I thought I’d give it a try.

This little zine had its inception during scrimmage practice last week. After the first couple jams, I still couldn’t shake off my work week funk. I wasn’t doing badly, but as I returned to the bench after jamming, I was beating myself up for not getting lead. I felt mentally and emotionally tired, and it’s surprisingly hard to make a great physical effort when your brain is much. The face of my friend Prima came to mind. We were fresh meat together years ago, and when we played in our first scrimmages, she would say one positive thing she had done after every jam. I decided to try it …

Oh right! As soon as the other jammer got out, I made a successful star pass that allowed my teammate to get out as jammer and force the call off. And I immediately switched to playing defense and wasn’t too winded to block. Oh, and we had that sweet drawback …

With my focus shifted, I reaffirmed my intention to be as fully present with the game as I could, and riding the wave of positive reinforcement, started looking for little victories on the track for both myself and my teammates. My night took a turn from there and became full of wins. Obviously I needed to keep the joy going when I got home and had a little creative energy to burn, and that’s why I made my little Post-it note zine.

Learning to give myself credit is hard because there’s always this voice in the back of my head that’s like, “So what? You met your basic adult responsibilities. Some of them. Have you seen your desk lately? And you know so-and-so hates you now, right? Because of that thing you said when you were trying to be funny. It totally wasn’t funny. You’re kinda terrible.” That voice is brutal. My therapist tells me our inner critics are often trying to help us or protect us from perceived threats, and I guess this one is no exception. In a weird way, this relentlessly critical voice thinks it’s helping me. It keeps insisting that I get up and keep working even when it’s hard because life is probably always going to be hard in one way or another, and my choices are to keep going or give up on my dreams. On the other hand, what’s the point of living your dreams if every time you achieve one, some mean inner voice takes all the joy out of it?

I admit, my dreams are modest. I want to play roller derby to the best of my ability among friends who value and support one another. I want to run a sustainable business that empowers good people to do good things and makes a positive impact in our industry. I want to be a source of goodness in the lives of the people I love. I really wish I could save the world, but I don’t think that’s a one-woman job, so I’m just trying to do my part. I don’t expect to be the best at anything, mostly because I don’t want the pressure that comes with it. Life is hard enough when we are just meeting our most basic responsibilities. This idea of life as a competitive sport in which we are all vying for the most money, likes, followers, accomplishments, or whatever it is people are counting as currency these days … well it’s bullshit, and it’s no fun. I am opting out of that game.

I will probably not be asking folks to make zines in our next team meeting, but I will start a new practice in my journal of writing down my big and small wins each day. Because sometimes everything is hard. Sometimes your mom gets sick, people don’t pay you on time, and poor communication turns your whole world into a mirror maze, and sometimes even (or especially) in the midst of all that chaos, I just need to remember that I am doing ok. Day to day, moment to moment, one decision at a time, I am doing the best I can, and I trust that you are, too.

So that’s where I’m at this week. I hope you’re doing well. I hope you have some personal victories to celebrate this week.

Sincerely,

Mary

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I’ll have to retire that joke.

I was thinking about writing a novel about roller derby using The Lord of the Flies for a structural model because I had made the half-joke more than once that the derby community is sometimes like an all female LotF. I decided to listen to the audio book and take copious notes to understand what made it tick. But it turns out that Lord of the Flies is far too simplistic to do justice to an organization as complex and powerful as a roller derby league. Maybe it’s because LotF is about a bunch of little boys stranded on a desert island and hoping daddy will save them whereas roller derby is an island of women who reach out to one another and give each other shelter in a sea that offers them no rescue. Either way, someone has decided to make a new LotF movie with an all female cast, since re-casting things with women is kindof a trend right now. That’s cool, I guess. A bunch of people are predictably mad about it, but so what? People can be mad about anything, and some things just aren’t worth the energy. It turns out, after re-experiencing the novel as an adult, I find the original to be … unoriginal? Look, I guess Golding was the first to do what he did, so it was original then, but the story isn’t actually that great. It’s annoying, honestly? Like, I am a grown ass lady, listening to 12-year-old boys argue their ego shit for pages upon pages while everyone is needlessly mean to the one boy with a goddamned brain, who also happens to be a clear stand-in for the women who are otherwise missing. Furthermore, Golding’s boys live in an ego/fear-based society. That is, their conflicts are primarily ego driven, and their decisions are rooted in fear. That kind of society is more or less what the majority of modern Western society is already doing, and it’s not working out so well for us. On the other hand, roller derby as a community is pretty different. It’s connection/overcoming-oriented. People don’t just play roller derby. They join a community and they overcome fears and other limitations to achieve something on both a personal and a communal level. Or maybe that’s just me. That’s more interesting to me than the old model of schoolboys on an island, so I guess it’s not an exact match. I’ll have to retire that joke.

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Women are Cool and Interesting: Episode 3

In this episode, I interview Sasha “Kim Deal With It” Morrigan. I know Sasha from roller derby where she is well-known and loved personality. I cannot quite tell you how happy this conversation made me. To be honest, there’s more than one moment where I probably sound like a bit of a dolt, but Sasha is just lovely. We talk about roller derby, diversity in our community, and Sasha’s personal experience of gender transition. Sasha tells me about her best friend, the roots of her derby name, who she’d love to know better — Shoutout to the lucky person who is Sasha’s friend crush! I hope she’s listening. ;p

If you want to learn more about what it means to be transgender and resources for trans people, Sasha recommends the National Center for Transgender Equality. Their web site includes lots of great information about health care, legal and social issues, and the personal experiences of trans people.

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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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