Mar 282011

Warning: This post contains an extremely overextended metaphor. Just go with it.

I travel a lot. Not like Lady Gaga on tour a lot, but more than most people I know. I used to be the kind of girl that brought everything in my closet and bathroom on every single trip. I was a checked baggage, the bigger-the-rolling -suitcase-the-better kind of traveler. But at about the same time that airlines started charging to check bags I started playing roller derby, and suddenly had to fit my skates and gear in a carry-on along with several weeks worth of other stuff.

The first trip I took in this fashion was a three-week trip to Miami, home of my ex-husband and in-laws. I remember that I could only bring one “nice dinner” outfit, and wondered whether his mother would judge me when we went to fancy restaurants. She did. But this is the same woman who took a look at me in myderby gear and said, “I can’t believe you’re wearing that out of the house. You look ridiculous. Let me get my camera.” So, you know, fuck her.

But my best friends, Kristopher and Darrin, who both work in fashion and are basically the hottest blonde boys in the planet, didn’t notice. I mean, they noticed my gear, but they loved it, and they were psyched to hang out at Intoxiskate, throwing back whiskey and watching me clumsily take whips from strangers. (They also noticed that I didn’t have room to pack my own cocoa butter and, as a result, used a whole bottle of their Khiel’s Creme de Corps. Sorry, boys.) Sometime during that trip, I realized that I didn’t need anything that I hadn’t brought with me, except Creme de Corps. All I needed was a bikini and my roller skates and I was happy.

Flash forward to now. I am an expert packer. On average, I bring two to three more articles of clothing than I actually wear (yes, I have actually tracked this), but whatever, I’m pretty efficient. I have new packing rules. Never check a bag and never pack more than you can carry up two flights of subway stairs. Don’t bring more than three articles of clothing that you don’t wear regularly (unless you’re traveling to a climate DRASTICALLY different than your own, in which case you should refer back to your own seasonal habits).

Also, I HATE stowing things beneath the seat in front of me (I like to put my feet there), so I limit myself to one small carryon and a fannypack. Unless I need my skates, in which case, I bring my Atom backpack as well. I always know exactly what I brought and exactly where it’s at, and the results are that I never have to think about my baggage at all. Shopping? Nope, no room. Overpriced dinner at a Zagat-rated restaurant? Only if they allow denim in the dining room. I’m divorced, now, so I don’t have to worry about the mother-in-law judging me.

God, it takes me a long time to make a point, so I hope I haven’t lost you. THE POINT IS that every time you go to practice, you bring baggage. (Here’s the metaphor you’ve been waiting for.) And I don’t just mean your skates. When you go to practice, you bring a whole lot of stuff besides your gear. You bring fears, expectations, hopes, skills, you name it, you’re bringin it. The thing is that you might be bringing more than you need.

You might be bringing ideas about what someone thinks about what you’re wearing (see: my mother-in-law), and you’re definitely bringing ideas about what you think about yourself.  Is it possible that you might, in fact,  be bringing way more than you can carry? You might just be overburdening yourself, not to mention those around you.

Er, anyways. Expectations are a disaster. You set them too high and you don’t meet them and you hate yourself. You set them too low and you feel lazy. The only possible reasonable way to handle expectations is to take stock of yourself and your skills in a way that is objective and non-judgemental. In other words, if your crossovers weren’t speed skater perfect last week, guess what? They’re not going to be perfect this week, either. If you weren’t an ace jammer last week, you probably won’t be this week, either. And it might not be your actual skills that are holding you back. It might be all the extra weight of unreasonable expectations.

BEFORE, January 2009

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you not to push hard, work hard, be hard. I’m telling you that these things happen in stages, and you have to know yourself and how you work through these stages. Sounds like I’m making something complicated easy, but actually, it’s the same as knowing that if you don’t wear a hot pink mini skirt in New York in the summertime, you’re not wearing it in Miami, either. If you’re a capri-leggings-under-the-skirt-kind-of-girl because you think your thighs are flabby, just know that. You might have rock hard quads six months from now, but it’s not gonna happen in the next ten days. Let it go.

AFTER, late March 2010


Hopes are a never ending black hole. If you hope that roller derby is going to get you into shape and give you the friends and surrogate family that you always dreamed of, well, you might be right, but it’s still going to take time. Becoming a derby girl is like entering into a (hopefully long-term) relationship. If you walk into it with a whole lot of ideas about how that relationship is going to be and what it’s going to do for you, you’re gonna miss out on all the wonderful new things that it could actually show you. It’s impossible to get the most from an experience if you aren’t present for it, and you can’t be present if your head is full of heavy hopes about how things should or could be.

Really, though, the most important thing that you actually bring to practice is your skill set, and this is where you must be the most honest. Who are you? How do you learn? How strong are you? Let’s take me as an example. (I’m only really good for talking about myself, anyways.) I’m a slow learner. Painfully slow. I dropped out of high school three times (No, seriously, I did). But I also went to an ivy league school (no, seriously, I did).

When I got there, I was terribly behind. Like whoa. Like all-these-kids-went-to-prep-school-and-I-can-roll-joints-like-a-mofo-which-gets-me-nowhere behind. I could barely string together two sentences. I had to go to a writing tutor twice a week just to pass. But I graduated magna cum laude with honors from my department. I caught up, and then I got ahead. It may have taken me years, but that’s how I work.

Derby is the same for me. I’m behind every single skater that came in at the same time as I did. I’m on the B-team while skaters six months newer make All Stars. I think people expect me to be pissed off about it, or frustrated. But, you know what? I’m not. And it’s not because I’m an underachiever, or I don’t want to get better. It’s just that I know myself. And if I’m going to be a successful player, knowing myself is exactly how I’m going to get there. I know that I will be on the B-team for this season and probably next. And I will love it and get the most of it. I will learn slowly and in my own time.

I will have to unlearn and relearn while other girls just do it. That’s okay with me, and I refuse to waste time hating myself because I’m not perfect. I know exactly what I have to bring to the track. Flexibility, drive, stamina and no previous roller skating experience or athletic skills. That’s what I’m working with. That’s what I’m packing. It’s not the most enviable baggage, but it’s what I’ve got. It’s really important to me to always be taking stock of myself so that I know where everything is and, for the most part, how to use it.

Mar 242011

So I got this Facebook message from a friend the other day inquiring about coming to practice . . . she wants to come to practice, but she doesn’t want to join the team. Wha? She wants a work out. She wants a place to relieve some aggression and “hit some bitches,” but, she says, she doesn’t want to “compete.” At first I was annoyed. We’re not running a health spa. Roller derby ain’t no Jazzercise class.

Then, I thought, “I’m being a hypocrite.” I’m always complaining to my co-captain, the glorious Turbo Tyke, that I hate bouting. I love practice, I roll in it like a dog in road kill, I thrive on pad stink and PowerAde, but I hate to bout. Well . . . I guess I don’t hate to bout per se . . . I just hate the waiting, the nerves, the anticipation of bouting. I fret and walk around aimlessly. I sit in the locker room, staring at the corner, and have a kind of stress-induced deafness. I look like a stroke victim drooling on myself. I feel like Eminem in “Lose Yourself”, about to throw up. Not a good feeling. But would I give it up? Absolutely NOT. Why not? Because the “after bout” feeling is incredible. Even if we lose, or, as I like to think of it, “almost winning”, it’s still awesome to relive game play with the team and commiserate and laugh about whatever crazy shit went down on the track.

Honestly, I owe it to my team to get my ass out there. Why should they invest in me and not get a return? Why do they train with me at practice if I’m not going to take what they give to me and use it? That’s just about the most selfish thing a player can do: use the team to work out, to build muscle, to enjoy some camaraderie, but help them win? Nah.

I see a lot of skaters who are the first to volunteer during drills at practice, but when it comes down to crunch time they whisper, “But I don’t like to jam . . .”

Whadda mean I have to jam?!

when we’re down to 9 players. Hey, I understand that. Before the first whistle I’m hoping for a natural disaster. But no matter if you’re lightening quick or a last resort, it’s ‘too bad, so sad’ if you’re asked to jam and you don’t want to. Sorry you were given skills you’re afraid to use, but you owe it to your teammates to do it if it’ll benefit the group. It’s the “greatest good for the greatest number” derby philosophy. I’d rather hide in my closet on bout day pretending I’d never stumbled into this sport, but after the first whistle blows and the adrenaline sets in, I’m Charlie-Sheen-crazy about getting through that pack. It’s Warlock time. I don’t want to let my team down and want to stab myself in the heart if I don’t get lead jammer.

True, sometimes my morale flags a little. I get blasé about derby or think, “Gee, if I wasn’t at practice all the time I’d know why the hell people are so enthralled about “Glee” . . .” Not a good thing for a captain to admit, but I’m sure it happens to us all. Sometimes I think, “Maybe this is my last season . . . I don’t know if I can do this anymore”, but then we have an unexpected win, or I help to run a great practice, or some complete stranger yells “GO, MOXIE!” during a bout, and I’m back in it. But what about those people who don’t bounce back? What about those people who are never in it to begin with? Can you be a half-assed player?

Can you imagine, someone comes to practice twice a week, does strength-training, helps raise money for the team, and won’t commit during a bout? Ask yourself, am I that girl? Am I the one taking not giving? Am I slacking during endurance? Skipping out on drills? Is there really a place for the half-assed? No. I’m not saying you have to be the superstar, the intimidating blocker, the roadrunner jammer, but if you’re not trying to be, then what are you? Why are you here? You’re just getting in the way of the other skaters, and they’re going to pass you by, and then eventually pass you over. To paraphrase the sage Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (the old good one, not the new good one): “Derby yes or derby no. Derby “guess so” – SQUISH – just like grape.”