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.
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.
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!
This 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.
2014 has been a year of massive learning.
This year, I have witnessed friends experiencing all kinds of painful stuff. Divorces, abuses, rejections and failures have been plentiful.
But I’ve also seen and experienced some wonderful stuff. This year I saw a transgender friend coming to terms with her real self. I saw her being herself and feeling beautiful for possibly the first time. I saw a friend choose to exit a toxic relationship. I saw another friend ask for help even though he hates needing help. I saw people come to yoga class who have been at war with their bodies for decades. I saw them make peace.
And as for me? Man, I fucked up a lot. It’s pretty much my greatest talent. But I also kept trying and had some little successes of my own. I did some things I didn’t think I could do, like getting on to a derby team — did I tell you I’m a Junkyard Doll now? Hell yeah. And I’ve started accepting help from my friends in the form of teaching home yoga classes (think tupperware parties for the soul), and while that might not sound like much, asking friends to host classes for me a year ago would have paralyzed me with fear. My motto for the year was, “see the fear and let it go,” and I repeated it to myself almost constantly for my first six months of roller derby.
On a personal level, I’d say this year was extremely challenging but also rewarding … although sometimes I had to look extra hard to find the happy part.
On a grander scale, it was still a dark year. Terrible things happened in the world. I have felt pretty much gutted and useless about the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and far too many more young men who didn’t deserve to die. It’s so clear to me that racism is alive in our world, yet I can’t fathom a way to transfer that knowledge to the people who most need to get it. All the shouting doesn’t seem to help, so I work on compassion. I think compassion is what makes people realize others are human, so that’s what I try to practice and teach.
I’ve been trying to keep a positive attitude about the future of the world, and I’m tempted to write a really airy, upbeat conclusion to this blog post, but it wouldn’t ring true. I want to say that despite all the pain and suffering people are going through, we are becoming more aware. We are being forced to face each other’s suffering and experience the excruciating awakening of compassion. But you know … people are still dying. Specifically, young black men in America. But people all over the world are suffering. Every day we are confronted with it, and the only thing that can stop it is when we recognize others’ suffering, see that they are human, and care enough to help them by changing ourselves and the world. Not enough people are doing that.
So here’s the bad news: This year I learned that humans really suck. We do evil things to each other, largely out of ignorance but also out of hate and fear. All of us do it sometimes, but some people seem to live on that level, and they can be really fucking evil, especially in groups.
And here’s the good news: We don’t have to suck. We could just admit it, you know? Like, “Hey, I kinda suck. I’m human. Will you please love me anyway?” And suddenly … we suck less. And we kinda know deep down that we’re good people who are doing our best. And then — here’s the important part — we have to actually try to be better. We have to leave the shitty relationship or start being kinder to each other. We have to forgive others. We have to look honestly at ourselves and our behaviors. And we have to be brave enough to open our damn mouths and speak when we see injustice. But if we do that … then we’re not totally useless.