Saving Tricky

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Apr 152011
 

Gustav. One of two that hit me that year.

“I grip the painted cement floor with the eight wheels on my feet, sweating, breathing hard, eyes forward and struggling to see a way past the skaters ahead of me. I’m new; I have much to prove. Suddenly a body makes contact with my left side, a body that feels more like a car in its solidity and force and speed, and I don’t feel pain, but embarrassment for being thus caught, so completely blindsided. I’m new; I’ve forgotten to look behind me. She’s gotten me just going into the first turn, so her hit is assisted by centrifugal force – I’m flung entirely off my feet. I land hard just on the edge of the track, my own hip bone drives against my soft flesh, and then I roll, twice, across the floor and out of bounds. My elbow and knee pads clatter. When I stop rolling, I haul myself off the floor and hustle back onto the track, before the pain in my hip catches up with me. The entire pack is now ahead of me; I’ve lost any ground I had gained. My hip begins to hum and my right leg won’t move as quickly as the other. The girl who hit me looks back, weaving side to side, ready for my belabored approach. She outweighs me by at least fifty pounds, has been playing this game for a year longer than I have. She smiles wickedly, and in this smile I see hunger – the pure pleasure of hitting bitches – and I see respect – the pleasure of discovering that a new skater can take it.

When I get home and peel off my sweaty tights, I see the beginnings of my first real roller derby bruise, which I name The Hurricane – appropriate enough, as I’m living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I could also have named it after a galaxy: over the next few days, purple and blue and lavender and then yellow and green and rust swirls spread over my right flank, starting near my sharp hip bone and curling towards the rear, extending down to my thigh. I wear short shorts to the gym, and one arm of The Hurricane extends below the spandex hem while I run and lift and get stronger and leaner, so I can better defend myself, so I can, someday, be the girl imprinting the newbies with my massive hits. Burly men peek sideways at the bruise while they lift barbells. The area remains swollen and tender for weeks, during which I’m slammed back onto it multiple times. But I don’t complain. I’m in love.

I remember that practice as the day I truly became a derby player, the day I proved that I wasn’t one of the multiple girls who show up a few times in cute skirts and fishnets and then disappear, concluding that the sport is too much work and too much pain. It was the day I really became Tricky La Rouge.”

Two years later, I write these words in New York, where I’ve moved to attend graduate school. I’ve had little time for anything other than writing and reading, so I’ve spent the last seven months off skates, with the exception of a wonderful visit to my team (my former team?) down South. After months of being called my legal, given name, I walked into a bar after practice and a civilian said, “Hey Tricky, when’s your next bout?”

My next bout is never, or at least that’s how it feels at the moment. But still, I glowed, high from skating, and rattled off the details of the upcoming Red Stick bout proudly, while making it clear that I wouldn’t actually be in it. I returned to New York hungry to be Tricky again, so when my next piece of prose was due in class, I veered off my usual writing topic and introduced my fellow classmates to roller derby and to Tricky La Rouge. The response was amazing – when I asked them what they wanted more of, the answer was: everything. More derby history, more bout details, more stories about other skaters, more Tricky.

Researching that piece meant that I had to delve into derby websites and derby books I’d been avoiding for months, because really thinking about the sport had caused me pain. I could feel my identity as Tricky slipping away as my kneepads gathered dust in my closet. And if you skate, you know how important that derby-name identity is; see also Villanelle’s recent post. But then I threw myself into the essay, and while checking up on the date of the tryouts I’d purposely missed on the Gotham website, I discovered, just in time, that they were beginning their very first rec league practices the next weekend. I’ve been twice now, and that time on the track is literally saving Tricky’s life, as well as making me a better skater (already – our head coach, Surly Temple, and all her co-coaches thus far: Luna Impact, Ariel Assault, and Hela Skelter, have been amazing!).

That's right. Even Steve Martin knows Tricky now.

What’s also saving my life is those requests for more derby info from the non-derby friends I’ve made here at school (you can read one of these kickass people here). I do get frustrated occasionally, like when I invite people to come to a Gotham bout with me, and then they get excited because they think they’ll be seeing me skate, even though I’ve told them I’m not on a league (way to rub it in, People!). Or when people I know to be smart and awesome ask about derby and accompany their words with that horrible elbow-scissoring gesture that we’ve all seen from dudes in trucker hats countless times. But I’ve managed to pass some of my passion on to them, and I’m excited about dispelling any lingering confusion (especially since it indicates that my writing might have been unclear – what do you mean “how do you get points?!” Argh!). So what I thought had pulled me away is slowly reeling me back, and in the case of those rec league practices, in a concrete manner. I’m beginning to actually think (rather than desperately mumble to myself and others) that I will return to the track for real, and that I won’t have to give up my non-derby life to do it. I’m finding a way to be Tricky again, in his new life, even though it’ll take some time.

Photo Credits: wunderground.com; writer’s own.

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Feb 212011
 

This is me, feeling like I'm having an out-of-body experience.

“In the world of roller derby, our next reader, Sarah Perry, is known as Tricky La Rouge. Tonight, instead of kicking your ass, she’s decided to be nice and read to you.”

So went my introduction last Thursday, February 17, when I read my writing publicly for the first time. I’m in my first year in the graduate writing program at Columbia University, focusing on creative nonfiction and working on a book (more details to come later). I moved to New York this past August, leaving my beloved team, Red Stick Roller Derby, behind in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Ohh, New York!” you might say. “Are you skating?” you ask, your breath perhaps catching as the amazingly kickass NYC league, Gotham Girls Roller Derby, comes to mind.

Sadly, no, I’m not currently skating. Transfer tryouts were in November, and after months of hemming and hawing, I concluded that school is just too important (and too damn expensive) to risk neglecting my writing because I got sucked into Derbyland. (For the moment, we’ll put aside the very real question of whether I would have made it onto such a high-level team to begin with). Life is about balance, sure, but on the other side of the equation, I didn’t want to convince those girls to take a chance on me and then shirk in my training because I was pulling all-nighters. It’s Gotham, for chrissakes. You can’t screw around.

What I am doing, every week or two, is getting drunk and yammering on about derby to anyone who will listen. I try not to do this, honestly – try to keep my love on the downlow, like when you’ve recently broken up with someone and you don’t want to burden your friends with your sloppy heartbreak. But I’ve found that writers are really interested in derby – it probably has something to do with all the time we have to spend sitting on our asses, muscles atrophying, frustration multiplying with no aggressive outlet. During a break in the reading last week, a fellow Columbia writer-friend came up to me and said that I had done a good job, but then said, “What was the deal with that intro?”

I’d hit the free wine pretty hard the second I got off stage, but somehow my brain made an insightful leap, and it occurred to me that she’d thought the derby thing was made up, which, I admit, would sound pretty cheesy. “Well, it’s true!” I said.

Ah, PBR. Neatly sitting at the intersection of my two universes.

My friend immediately brightened up and said, “Oh, then – that’s pretty awesome,” or something to that effect; the Cabernet and the subsequent $2 PBR’s have dropped a bit of a haze on the evening (not everything is expensive in NYC). She proceeded to tell me that she’d skateboarded a lot as a kid, and missed it. I was about to launch a nerdy conversation about helmets and wheels (I’ve been meaning to get those Kryptos or similar skateboarding wheels for outside), when another reader took the podium.

I miss derby so hard that discovering this girl was a skateboarder in her adolescence made me feel immediately more bonded to her. I miss derby so hard that I know when every Red Stick fundraiser or public appearance is, and no matter how tedious the event, I wish I was there. I miss derby so hard that when I see a Columbia undergraduate athlete chick hobbling along with one foot in a stabilization boot, I’m so jealous that she even has an opportunity to get injured in a sport, I could just about kick it out from under her.

You get the idea. For the record, I’m planning to go back – I’ll drag my nervous self to tryouts this year or next, when school settles down a bit, but I admit I’m worried that life will take over and divert me from the track. But all those drunken conversations would suggest otherwise. I had stopped writing for LiveDerbyGirls because I wasn’t officially skating any more, but it’s clear I still have things to say. Many of you out there might be in the same boat – laid up with a stubborn injury, tending to a newborn, launching a new career or tackling school as well. So this column will explore some of the issues that those of us on hiatus still obsess over, as well as bring you little nuggets of derby lore and suggestions for working those ripped fishnets back into your wardrobe and whatever else I dig up that seems interesting to current skaters, former skaters, future skaters, and even our cherished fans.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Picture Credits: Writer’s own, taken by MacSweeney’s contributor Casey Plett; BillyBrew.com.

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Apr 092010
 

There comes a time in every derby girl’s career when she has to weigh the value of continuing to skate against some major life opportunity. Maybe she gets pregnant, and after she has the baby (could be her first, could be her third), she wonders if her body can take the beating anymore, what with sleepless nights and even more hectic days. Or she gets married, and isn’t sure if her new partnership can absorb the nights of tequila shots and leg wrestling that, for some, are a major component of derby. Or she gets a promotion, or she doesn’t get it, and wonders if that Monday morning black eye or the phantom Sharpie numbers on her arm are part of the reason.

fresh meat

delicious.

In my case, this moment has come with my acceptance to graduate school. My predicament will be familiar to many of you: there you were, floating around in your twenties, no idea what to do with your life, when along she came: roller derby. Oh, she scooped you right up, she took you so quickly, you hardly saw what was happening. At first you were just looking for something to fill the time, something that would keep you from getting fat and that would allow you to meet new people. But as you transformed from unstable fresh meat to bruise-thirsty roster skater, roller derby wedged itself right next to your heart, became just another of your vital organs.

you want this.

delicious.

Meanwhile, though, since roller derby doesn’t literally pay (yet), you still had this looming what-a-I-doing-with-my-life thing going on. Sure, you were hittin’ bitches, and getting better and better at it, but there were other, perhaps latent, dreams left in you. And you started feeling like it was time to get a move on those.

For me, it was my devotion to roller derby that finally got me off my ass and made me apply to graduate school in creative writing – something I had been wanting to do for years. Previously, I’d let the deadline slip by me each year, but now I felt some pressure: if I didn’t pursue this thing, derby might take over entirely, might not leave room for another big dream. That wouldn’t be the worst thing, of course, and I feel a special envy for Trish and Ivanna, for Krissy

Krissy Krash

Krissy on the right. Here's one chick who shouldn't waste her time with non-derby things.

Krash, for all those women who make a living running derby-related businesses and thus can devote nearly 100% of their time to the sport. But this dream of being a writer, and of pursuing that in an academic setting, had been in me a long time, and I had to respect that.

So, I applied to graduate programs. And then, of course, in the months between applying and hearing back from them, I got so involved in derby that eventually I hoped I wouldn’t get in anywhere. Really, I did. And when I thought about the possibility of getting accepted, I started writing deferral letters in my head. (Just one my year with my girls, please!) How could I leave now? This year is a very exciting time for my league, Red Stick Roller Derby: like many, we doubled in size after Whip It, which came out just before our second full season began. We’re also beginning our application to the WFTDA apprenticeship program. We’re even thinking we might need to start holding…wait for it…tryouts, rather than taking whoever can stand on a pair of skates (I’m glad to be grandfathered in).

But I got into a program – three, in fact. That first acceptance call, I admit, brought with it a lot of emotional confusion. But since then, I’ve realized that no matter how much I love my team, I can’t pass up the opportunity to attend an excellent graduate program in New York City (which one remains to be determined – more on that later). I will have to leave my girls, but, if I can help it, I’m not going to leave derby. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. How important is roller derby, really, or how important should it be compared to focused attention on what could end up being one’s career? I’ve concluded that even though graduate school would be a whole lot easier if I didn’t have to attend practice, league meetings, and fundraisers, it would leave me feeling cheap, like I’d abandoned something I loved just because 99% of society thought I had to. I’ve decided to approach derby like a second career, so of course moving to New York makes sense in this regard, too: Gotham Girls Roller Derby didn’t become 2008 national champions by accident. The training I could get by skating with them would parallel the training I’ll be getting at whichever top-rated writing program I enroll in. Of course, whether or not I can get good enough to make a transfer onto GRRD is another question entirely. Stay posted.

Photo Credits: gourmetagain.com, smir_king’s flickr page, derbynewsnetwork

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