May 152010

(This was written for myself after my first full bout as a skater.  It means a lot to me.)

I have bruises. Substantial bruises. Bruises of some substance. They are located on both my right and my left upper arms. The right arm is by far the most artistically done, bruises seemingly watercolored on my arm with deep blues, greens, a bit of stipled red, violet. Dotted on like a series of swirling islands covering nearly my entire upper arm from shoulder to elbow. The left arm may be less magnificent overall, but what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for in location and creativity. A brilliant purple and green bruises is located on the underside of the arm and curls around the outside. It’s shaped as if someone had tightened a rope around my flesh and tightened it. I cannot fail to mention the massive, unholy yellow bruise on the ball of my shoulder.

I show off my bruises. They have a life of their own, while they are with me. They are an ice breaker, so I can talk about how I got them with people I don’t know. My coworkers look at me differently, not necessarily because I am bruised (often women are bruised), but because I grin and I am proud that I am bruised. I know It’s not common for a woman to show off her bruises-usually, they are kept hidden, a dirty secret, considered ugly. Not mine. I earned mine and I am proud. I have a pride about me as I marvel at how my body reacts to stimulus, blooming with color and pain. Nothing in my life could have prepared me for loving my bruises or loving the pain they bring. I am a roller derby girl. Sometimes, when I am feeling saucy, I refer to myself as a roller derby queen, which is a completely unearned title, since I am a new derby girl. I am only 5 months in and it has been a rollicking ride. I thought it would be something I would just do-roller derby, I mean-like a softball league or a sand volleyball team. You know, you just show up for games and the random practice. I thought I could compartmentalize it into my life to fulfill my exercise need and my companionship need. Sweating my ass off? Check. Female bonding about non-work, non-family stuff? Double check. It didn’t happen that way. It didn’t play out like that at all. This shit infiltrated my life.

The women on this team literally force you out of complacency and involve you. When there are bout production issues and we need to go get another cooler of ice for the away team’s water cooler, you bet your ass they are pushing some girl out the door to go get it. Feeling like you should quit during the 45 minutes of intense endurance skating? There’s a senior skater there singling you out to work harder. Need tickets sold? Need to find a team sponsor? Sell ads for the bout program? These things have to be done because we are not owned nor are we coached by an Other, an outsider- male or female. We are always reminded that if we want to roller derby, we have to do it: participate, help, create, donate or step up and fucking lead! Normally, I reject being pushed. You push me and I push back. The other Derbies (an affectionate term for roller derby girls) pushed me to challenge myself-to take myself to task and be responsible for being happy and proud of who I am on the team. They urged me from a place of female support and sisterly love that, I am saddened to say, has been absent all my life. They encouraged the individual, unique, square-peg part of me that doesn’t fit into any of the round-hole roles of that I play-wife, mother, coworker. And I push back, mirroring this fantastic support and love for my derby family. My derby family and I, we’ll all be having a great time, whether at practice, an afterparty, a bout, fundraiser, or jersey making party and we’ll look each at the others-the student, the hairdresser, engineer, phlebotomist, the mom, grandma, 18 year old, the 40 year old, the lawyer, the waitress the accountant-and we’ll wonder, with a pang, “What if I hadn’t found this?” What if I hadn’t seen these girls at the Whip It premiere? What if I hadn’t met that girl skating on the levy in her hot pants and fishnets, or come across the Red Stick Roller Derby website? Who would I be today? Clearly not me. Certainly not the wonderful me that I am now.

These women, they are helping me to become a version of myself that is galvanized; a more concentrated, incited version of myself that I wasn’t sure existed. I have chosen to be this galvanized version of Kayla Aylward who has transformed into the balls-out blocker Ms. Kittie Fantastik. I choose everyday when I put on my skates and pads. When I go one hundred percent during endurance-not ninty, one hundred percent!-even though my legs are trembling with exhaustion. I choose to be the me that is Ms. Kittie when I religiously check our team forum to be up on what I need to do for derby. I choose to be myself. The best version of myself. When I put myself out there to practice hitting and blocking and especially jamming, even though I am reasonably sure I will look like an idiot and fall and generally be terrible. On faith I do these things, so that I can continue to grow and revolutionize myself.

At the bout this past Saturday, (my first, by the way)I got my beautiful sleeves of bruises. I probably got them from being hit by Rock Bottom, or Heidi Volatile or especially Tricky La Rouge, not from me hitting them. I’m ok with that. My bruises are an outward sign that I’m in the game, taking the hits and giving ‘em when I get a chance. I’m not coasting, I’m not compartmentalizing, I am working my ass off for something that I don’t even know what the end product will be-if there will even be one. There are few things in my life that I have simply approached on faith. Derby is my most unexpected experience with faith. Faith is that thing you can’t see, but you know it’s there, you just know. That’s what I see when I see my bruises and grin. Faith. Faith that from now on, I will always be in the game, mixing it up.

Apr 282010

So this week, I wanted to talk about distraction. And then here comes Heidi Volatile with her post on the same subject, and Tank Goodness, according to her comment on said article, waiting in the wings with another post about the challenges of maintaining focus when non-derby life is a mess. We’ve all  sort of showed up to the party in the same dress here, but I guess I should find it heartening that we, as teammates, are on the same wavelength.

But back to distraction, right. Let’s go ahead.

Last weekend, RSRD played Auburn, Alabama’s Burn City Rollers. Now, this is a team that I really, REALLY wanted to beat. They were my first opponents ever, when they hosted us for their first home bout ever, in the Spring of 2009. RSRD was a scrappy team then; our intense, derby-passionate coach Elton put me on the roster with only five weeks’ experience, and even then we only brought eight girls. Still, we won – my wife, Moxie Balboa, even got a grand slam on her first jam ever. I, however, fell during my intro lap (oh, how it still makes me wince), and felt generally useless. But I had fun, and the Auburn girls were SO incredibly nice – our gifts bags contained all sorts of sweet, handmade things in our team colors (red and black), and the after party was full of warm derby love.

My glorious wife, vs. BCR's Babe E. Quakes. Look at that FACE!

The second time we played Auburn came about six months later, when they came to us. As we had predicted, they were considerably more ferocious this time around, with stand-out performances by Cho Cold (an incredibly fast jammer), Babe E. Quakes (another very solid jammer, a hot blonde with a scary death stare), and G Love (oh god, the pain). The mood was, well, different. The sweet girls we’d seen at their debut bout brought considerably more attitude, and someone called me a c*nt on the track. Now, of course, I understand that things get intense out there, and I actually don’t mind that the epithet was hurled at me, but it allowed me  to drum up a feeling of rivalry towards Auburn. Because, really, I like hitting a bitch as much as the next bitch, but I have to kind of psych myself into it sometimes. That second  game against Burn City was close and dramatic, and although we ended up winning, I think a lot of us wanted to be sure to really give it to them the next time around.

I was thinking of something like this...

Last week I was given the perfect opportunity: a bout against a team I felt especially passionate about beating during a time of emotional, post-breakup fallout. I wanted to HIT. SOME. BITCHES. But when I got out there, my previous mental intensity just didn’t translate into results. For one thing, we had such an all-star roster that we had the luxury of really specializing positions. I discovered the morning of that I would only be jamming. I hadn’t really prepared for this, although if I’d really been thinking about the game in an intelligent manner, I would have predicted just that.

I think I had been so focused on what I wanted out of the game that I had failed to think about what my team really needed from me. And what they needed were some points. Unfortunately, at least in the first half, I failed to deliver them. The stats have yet to come out, but I think I jammed 3-4 times in that first half, for a total of maybe 5 points. I’m positive that I got zero points in my first two jams, and I got so frustrated that I punched the bench. Hard. I could feel all of my mental static and emotional bullshit welling up and threatening to drown me, and I know that my baggage was slowing my feet and blinding me to holes that I should have been able to pushthrough.

In the second half, I managed to do a little better, and at one point, earned much-needed applause with a quick evasion of what could have been a devastating hit by Cuban Crush Her, the last blocker in that pass. Finally, I was playing some derby, and even enjoying it. The game was a nailbiter. and we won by only seven points. My happiness at our victory was tempered by the fact that I felt I should have contributed more points to that lead. As soon as the bout was over, I did my best to celebrate our win, to focus on the success of my teammates and try not to dwell too much on my own performance. But I’m still left with this question: what happened to me in the first half, and how did I manage to fix it, to some degree, in the second?

I think the answer lies in the scope of my focus. In the days prior to the game, I was thinking of myself as an individual, focusing on those big hits I was going to land and how good it was going to feel to just devastate some people with my surplus of energy and frustration. I should have been more focused on my place within RSRD, should have logically analyzed our various strengths and seen that it would be my job (along with our other jammers) to use speed and grace to put those points on the board. Another mistake I made was thinking that once the game began, I would be sharp and focused and unaffected by the sadness I’ve been feeling. When I felt it chasing me down out there, it was like another blocker had jumped onto the track with Burn City. And I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t speeding right past her.

At halftime, I looked around the locker room and got my head together – I saw the faces of my teammates and I wanted to do what they needed me to do. So, in the second half, I was thinking more about making them proud and less about having a cathartic athletic experience, and I was better able to focus on the details that would translate into results. It also helped that they kept putting me back out there despite my poor performance in the first half. Their faith really bolstered my own. In the coming weeks, I hope to work hard in practice and continue to honor that faith.