True Grit

 Posted by at 1:29 pm  1 Response »
Apr 272011

What “type” of women play roller derby? Well, if you play then you know. All types. But there always seems to be some sort of intangible bond that makes us feel closer just knowing we share the sport. It isn’t broken down by “type”. For example, this weekend I walked into a ladies room at a bar in Las Vegas and saw a girl washing her hands. I recognized her jacket immediately as an American Apparel track jacket, so I creepily shimmied behind her to check it out. It was a derby team jacket! Ha! I wanted to ask her about it because I couldn’t read the logo from the perverted angle I’d adopted. I was wearing a fancy dress and had a pretty good buzz, but not enough of a buzz to fawn over a derby girl jacket and ask questions. But still. I thought about it. It didn’t seem unreasonable.

I opt to leave in my eyebrow piercing and cover it with tape. It's all about the pirate look.

In my “real life” (there is no such thing) I am many other things besides a skater. Usually throughout the year I work as a baker. But I do not feel bonded in any way to other bakers, even if we have shared the same bakery and same recipes. I am a cyclist. There is a certain sort of code among cyclists to watch out for the bike lane, smile at each other, use hand signals… whatever, but it doesn’t feel tingly and warm. When I see a woman in the bathroom wearing the same padded butt pants that I have, I don’t find it to be a conversation starter. I also work as a commercial fisherman. Meeting other fishermen is usually pretty unspecial, because almost all of them are men (though meeting my husband was pretty special). Meeting other women fishermen? I feel the same privileged sort of bond that I do with derby girls, like I can ask for a favor or if they know so and so… there are not a whole lot of us. Kind of like derby girls in the athletic world… tons of basketball/soccer/volleyball players, but derby is smaller. It’s more intimate.

When I meet women fishermen at random I always want to know what they do and who they work for. I have no interest whatsoever in hearing some dude recount his best seasons, but it’s different for women. We put up with a lot of shit. And we don’t make things sound harder than they were, we are honest with each other (males tend to inflate the sense of danger). There are a handful or so ladies I have in my life who I have met fishing, after sharing a few stories we became friends for life! Some were born into fishing and introduced to it by their fathers, some married into fishing and kept at it with their husbands, and some like me just happened upon it and stayed for more (I say it’s because I love it, but it’s probably because I’m crazy – just like roller derby!).

It’s rough trying to get a job on a boat when you are a girl who doesn’t have any dock cred. Just about anybody will hire a 22 year old male who can’t tell his ass from his ear hole,  but ladies have really got to pound the pavement. As  a sad result I used to take any job that I could get and have ended up grossly underpaid, overworked and verbally abused. I have walked a boatyard asking strange men for jobs while they looked me up and down asking if I even knew what a salmon looked like. Once I overheard my skipper bragging to a crane operator that I was the best deck hand he’d ever had, that’s why he hired women “because they work harder to prove a point”. I had one particularly ignorant young guy tell me he wouldn’t work with a girl on deck, because “you know, we have to pee on deck and that could be weird”. He meant it would be weird for him. What about me? I’m the one who has to pull my damn pants down!

Gratuitous King Salmon shot!

Well, it’s getting to be that time of year. I’ve got some extra special ladies stashed around the country and soon we will all be together in Alaska! Griping about one thing or another, poking fun at our testosterone pumped male counterparts, cringing at specialty porno stashes (I have seen things… wow), and sharing drinks at the end of the season. If only I could get those girls to put some skates on!

Holly is an elementary school teacher in her "real life". She always brings themed decorations for the boats in her fleet to liven up the season!

Joy has been fishing for over 40 years. She likes to collect the eyeballs that pop out of fish on deck and save them for martinis. I am totally serious.











Derby is something I love and it is something that drives me insane. The work and the time that goes into it makes me feel crazy for staying. But we are passionate, dedicated, and I have made some amazing friends I couldn’t have met anywhere else. Fishing offers me freedom, but I have to go without seeing or talking to my husband for weeks on end. I have literally worked for 34+ hours without sleeping, eating only what I could get in my mouth standing on deck between sets. That’s what we have in common. We endure. When the going gets tough, the tough grab a power bar and say “this is what I fucking came here for!”.

Fish scale crusted face, this was the beginning of the longest, hardest day of fishing I have ever had. Look how happy I am!





Apr 272011

As a beauty queen, no one ever told me it was ok to stop smiling; it kind of goes against everything you’re taught. In fact, they said, “DON’T STOP SMILING” and I smiled bigger. My face was 75% teeth and lips. It was never ok to get angry, to feel like the world was going to implode if you didn’t open your mouth and scream.

In high school, I was a beauty queen. I was captain of the cheerleading squad, president of the science club, track star, and a model student. Everything I tried – I WAS GOOD AT. Everything. I was hyper-involved in my school and my community. My mom was hyper-involved with me, so she had a hand in everything I did.

When I graduated and went to college, I was obviously going to be a winner at everything and get trophies for awesomeness in whatever I did. Well no one tells you when you’re the star of a tiny town that you won’t be the star of anything when you leave. That’s why people don’t leave, I think. That’s why I’m back, I guess- nine years, a drop-out (and subsequent trip back to college), a baby, an abusive ex, and a derby-name later.

Hi. I’m Coma Splice, blocker for the Cenla Derby Dames. I’m not the best skater on my team. I’m not the best blocker on my team. But you know, nine years after “The Fall,” I’m ok with that. I’m the best skater and blocker I can be right now and every day I’m working to be the best at being my derby alter-ego. I’m also an English teacher at my old high school and the mother of a mischievous 5 year old girl. I’m multi-faceted and am just now learning how to deal with that. I’ve always been one thing, at one time or another. In high school, I was the All American. After that, I was the College Girl. After I dropped out the first time, I met my ex, got pregnant, and became The Mom.

After I had Emma, it was hard to reconcile motherhood with every other part of my life. Growing up on the proverbial buckle of the bible belt, you’re like… pre-engineered to have this southern thing driving you. I don’t know if anyone else from the south feels that way, but to me, there’s this weight of propriety that we all are supposed to subscribe to and honestly, derby is and was my answer to that.

My mother always told me, “Once you have a child, a mother gives up every other part of her life in service to God and to that child,” which is probably why I never wanted kids. Once I had Emma, though, I had no problem with that. I gave up everything I was, at the time, and dedicated my soul to her. To make a long story short, my dad had to move me out of my home while Emma’s dad was at work. It was a horrible situation and after trying to keep my dysfunctional family together for so long, I decided it was better to raise her alone as opposed to raising her to think it was ok for a man to treat her the way her dad treated me.

So I left. I ran. I got my shit together. I went back to school. I graduated with a degree in English. I got a grown-up job. And with my first big-girl paycheck, I bought a pair of skates. I went to my first derby practice that day and never looked back. I knew I wouldn’t. Derby represented everything I’d been needing as an adult. After high school, there’s really no legitimate way to be aggressive and competitive as a woman.

I mean, really. I’m not the type to go bargain shopping for designer purses. And that’s not knocking the women who are fucking FABULOUS at that. There’s just no way I could tell the difference between a Coach bag or Louis Vitton (see?? I can’t even spell it right!). Derby was my chance to excel at something again and to BE everything I couldn’t be at work or with my family. My mother hates the fact that I’m on a derby team. Every change I’ve made in my life, she’s blamed on derby to some degree. She told me the other day, “You’re so different than who you used to be. This derby thing has just…. changed you!” And really, the only thing derby has changed about me is the fact that it’s given me the balls to do what I want.

I have gauges. I dye my hair. I take time away from my child to feel like a HUMAN, to be multi-faceted and whole and incomplete at the same time. I cultivate relationships and write and play music and just fucking LIVE. And Emma is a witness to most of this because the most important thing I learned from my mother and from derby is that every girl should grow up knowing you don’t HAVE to be perfect; you don’t have to smile all of the time. And that sometimes, it’s ok to open your mouth and just fucking scream.

Apr 202011

No, really. How far would you go for roller derby? Would you drive 30 minutes to and from every practice? An hour? An hour and a half? With leagues seemingly popping up all over the place, it seems no one should have to drive too far to get to derby, but depending on where you live, you very well may have to.

Very soon I will be moving back to California for my husband to go to school. I will be leaving my league for a new one. I’m not committed to anyone yet, but I’ve got my eye on Bay Area Derby. Between their practice location and the neighborhoods we are looking at to position my husband close to school I could be driving about 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic to and from practices. That sucks. Big time. But it’s what I’m going to have to do.

For the record, I hate driving. It is important to me (if I must own a vehicle) to own a car that I can sleep in comfortably. So I drive a minivan. The gas bill is devastating (but road trips are soooo nice). How far would it have to be for me to decide it isn’t worth it? Would I get my own separate “commuter apartment” away from my husband to be closer to roller derby? Will I sleep in my car? Would I (gasp!) trade in my luxury sleeper car for a sensible commuter? Would I demand that he commute to school so that I don’t have to commute to practice? I won’t know until I’ve been doing it for awhile. It all seems a little ridiculous. Moving is already a pain in the ass and logistically, this will be a nightmare. But I am so focused on where and how I am going to skate that I am probably neglecting the bigger issues.

Is this the part where roller derby starts to put strain on my relationship? If it takes me 90 minutes to get to and from a 90 minute practice, will I start to be a flake? It’s making me a little anxious.

Me and my happy home team, The Cog Blockers. Awesome photo by Kim Lincoln.

Perhaps the anxiety about commuting is a disguise for something else. Perhaps I am insecure about going to a new place with new people and asking them to accept and like me. The Bellingham Roller Betties was my introduction to roller derby. Usually I feel it’s more “dysfunctional” than “family” but after 2 years I have sort of found my place in the league. I’ve become comfortable with my committee role and I know how meetings are going to begin and end. Switching leagues is like changing elementary schools. I’m not going to have any friends!!

I do realize this isn’t the first time a girl has moved to a new league. I just want it to be easy. Would someone please make this easy for me? While I’m working in Alaska this summer find me a nice apartment walking distance to the practice location of a competitive derby league and cycling distance from Cal Maritime? Thanks.


Mar 292011

A quick word from Vill: Hey guys!  Please welcome our newest contributor, NomNom De Plume, to the LDG screen.  We loved her comments on Moxie Horror Picture Show so much that we asked her to join the team.  Check out her bio, read her brilliant musings, and give her a loud derby welcome!

I’ve been feeling a lot of fear lately- but I think it’s a good fear.  It’s the same kind that I would get while preparing for a flight lesson. Well, almost the same kind. Get this- if I didn’t listen to The The’s ‘This is the day’ in its entirety while on the way to my local airport; I would be convinced that unspeakable tragedy would befall me in the not-so-friendly skies. Generally, I would try to weasel myself out of flying a plane almost every time I was scheduled to do it, using every possible excuse: I was unprepared. Hungover. Sore. Coming down with something.  You could say I was superstitious, but truthfully- I was self-doubting, hesitant, over-thinking at every turn and well, a little chicken to boot.  All it would take was one skip in the CD, or one missed gear while shifting, and yeah- I would mentally psyche myself to fail, then plan my excuses to guarantee ground school for the day (translate: bookwork boredom).

My flight instructor Pete- a retired aircraft carrier fighter pilot- must have seen this little routine one too many times, for he would chuckle at my lameness before telling me to go pre-flight the Cessna 172 for our lesson. About halfway through my very intense, very scrutinous (is that a word?) pre-flight (Me: that bolt looks a little loose…maybe I should fill out a squawk sheet and have the mechanics take a look, could take awhile), Pete would saunter over to me, shake off my concerns after making quite the show of ‘scrutinously’ lending a second pair of eyes to my own, and inevitably state, “Ok- let’s go!”

Caution: Aviatrix in Command!

And we would, and I would learn something new each and every time. Sometimes I would glean little known things about aviation (‘See that lake? You can tell which direction the wind is coming from by the ripples. That corn field? Bad place to land in an emergency- they just plowed it, see?”), but always, always- I would discover something pretty great about myself. But I was still afraid.

One rainy day, while participating in a heated session of ‘hangar talk’ (Hangar talk can pretty much be equated to pilots sharing tales of close calls, accomplishments, tall tales- any aviation speak to pass the time until it’s clear enough to fly again), I blurted out the unblurtable- “I’m so scared each and every time I walk up to a plane that I’m about to fly!”

It got really quiet, and I remember hearing very clean, uninterrupted, staccato punctuations of raindrops hitting the metal of the hangar we were all huddled in. It seemed to last an eternity. That is, until one of the pilots spoke up.

“If you walk up to a plane and DON’T feel scared shitless as pilot-in-command, then you need to walk away and never get in another cockpit again!”

I don’t know if you could call that advice, but the old man who said it to me was WWII Ace Jimmy Johnson’s wingman. I figured he knew what he was talking about, and his words stayed in my head enough to overcome all that superstition, self-doubt, hesitancy, etc., and I obtained my FAA-approved Single-engine land Airman’s certificate.

Jump to a decade later and well, here I am. The air-racing stunt pilot career never got off the ground. I’ve instead relegated myself into a corporate, hourly-waged routine. It has good health benefits, pays the bills, but most importantly- it’s providing me with the day to day stability I require in order to start something just as scary and rewarding as flying has been for me.

You guessed it- I’m Nomnom De Plume, the latest roller derby player in training.

I’ve been feeling a lot of fear lately, but I think it’s a good kind. I’ve felt this once before, but I have to tell you something- Being in absolute control of one’s own destiny (and life), while being 3,000 feet above the ground in a tin can that’s smaller than a Mazda Miata, and was built while Nixon was still in office? That’s much less intimidating than balancing on quads, executing plow stops and preparing for 25 in 5, amongst other things skate related.

Prequel finished, let’s get into the sexy side of scary- Roller Derby, you had me at ‘Talk Derby to me’.


Mar 122011

Last year’s Wild West Showdown was my first a lot of things. I’d only been on my league for 5 months and our home season hadn’t started yet. Actually, not only had I never played a bout, I hadn’t even seen one. So it was Rocky Mountain vs. Bellingham Roller Betties that popped my derby-watching cherry. I can’t say it wasn’t pretty because there were some truly inspiring moves, but it was a major kill. You know… Rocky Mountain kind of, um, rocks, but Bellingham is my team. Despite all the top shelf derby going on in the main pavilion, I spent most of my time on the challenge bout track. I had never been in a bout or skated with ladies outside my own league, so I was pretty stoked by all the encouragement and support demonstrated by perfect strangers. My first day, I believe I had already managed to get into 5 scrimmages when my coach gently reminded me that watching great derby would benefit me, as well.

Blunt Force Trauma

Anyway. Here I am, in Bremerton one year later, a little less fresh and rostered on the travel team (Bellingham Roller Betties’ Blunt Force Trauma). We have some big goals. It mostly involves a lot of winning. So Friday night we kicked off the weekend with a game against Santa Cruz. First bout of the wild west weekend! I lived in Santa Cruz for several years before moving to Washington. It was difficult for me not to ask things like “What’s your real name? Did you work at The Bagelry? You look familiar from somewhere..”, but the pivot line is not really the place to figure out if your opponent dated your ex-girlfriend or if her crack head boyfriend stole your bike. So I left all that alone. It was a great game and I’m pleased to report we won (by a single point). I really can’t give an awesome account of what happened. Skating, talking on the bench and riding the emotional roller coaster of a close game does not lend itself to accurate, unbiased reporting. Hopefully experience will give me greater track vision in the future, and if not I can settle for watching the bout footage. Santa Cruz got what seemed like the majority of lead jammer status, but we made up for it with grand slams aplenty and concise pack work. We are a physical and defensive team, but could have widened the point spread with some better offense. You know, “help your jammer!!!”. Good times.

Saturday we got to skate against Sacred City Roller Girls from Sacramento, currently ranked #8 in the western region. Those girls are tight, and don’t do anything by accident!  I didn’t skate much in that game. I’m the girl who gets pulled when there are skaters in the box and we seldom started a jam with a full pack. Penalties, penalties, penalties! In probably one of the most physical games we have played, we came within 20 points of them in the last 10 minutes but unraveled from there. We lost the game, but I think it was noted that Bellingham is a worthy adversary. Next time, Sacto, next time!

Overall I can say I’m leaving WWS just as inspired and eager as I did last year. The more I play the more I see what I need to improve on, and the more I watch the more my head is filled with fancy footwork and smart plays. I’m proud of my team this weekend and I look forward to the rigorous practices we have in our future. Our next big bad Blunt Force adventure will be the Dust Devil in Tuscon come April. Did I mention we plan on doing a lot of winning? I know some familiar teams are on the slate for that tournament, and many teams from outside our region. Hooray for Blunt Force Trauma! We are finally an actual travel team and we are going places!