Mar 042011
 

Something about being in a creative writing program has made my dreams about 48 times more vivid, lately. This is excellent, because it makes me think that even on those days when I don’t have time to write, because of reading and meetings and work and whatever else (ironic, I know), my brain is still taking the raw material of my days and thoughts and bending and shaping it into stories and images. If only the actual writing could happen during my sleep…

The actual brain that the dream came out of.

The other night, I dreamed I was in a vast, dark space, a retro roller rink, but about ten times the size of your usual neon-spray-painted, musty-smelling den. The distant periphery of the place was punctuated with multicolored lights, the ceiling was hundreds of feet up, and – most thrillingly – the place had a wood floor. There was a bout going on, some distance away from me; I think I was visiting my former team, Red Stick Roller Derby, like I did this past January. I couldn’t join in because I’d been away at school. But I wasn’t part of the crowd, either, so I had no access to the long, cloth-covered tables selling beer. I was in some strange limbo; couldn’t even see the jammer line. A nightmare, I know.

I stretched up on tiptoes, trying to get a better look at the action, and when I did, a former teammate – I think it was Turbo Tyke – waved at me from the front of the pack, which was standing on the line, waiting for some official time out to wrap up. And then, suddenly, I was up on toestops, in full gear. I still couldn’t see the game that well, and I still wasn’t on the roster, but there was all that beautiful, black space out there, that broad expanse of floor. I toe-stop-ran out into that space, away from the bout and the thundering crowd, and suddenly I could do all kinds of shit that I’ve never known how to do. I was spinning and leaping like some cross between a Central Park jam skater and Nancy Kerrigan. Those colored lights sped past me far faster than my fastest 25-in-5, and I could skate backward just as fast as forward. And there was all that space and time out there, in which to get better. The bout would go on without me, but I could come back to it whenever I wanted.

It’s just a dream, I know, and here I’m taking my hazy, unconscious impressions and trying to give them the narrative color that will give you that sensation of sailing through the dark, of landing perfectly everytime on that forgiving, wonderfully not-too-sticky wood floor. Of waking up in my bed, feet convinced they have just been freed of the weight of those Riedell 265’s.

When I first started skating, I would twitch in my bed, jamming though pack after pack of dream skaters, trying to work out the mechanics of the thing. Now I just dream about that space and time, and those waiting teammates.

Photo Credits: Author’s Own.

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Feb 242011
 

Me, making my way around the track as the RSRD jammer least likely to actually score any points

So.  This past weekend (Sunday, Februrary 19th, 2011 for those who are keeping track) I played in my first match against an opposing team.

It wasn’t a bout, exactly.  It was a scrimmage.  We were in front of families and a few close friends, skating in our normal practice space rather than on the intimidating floors of the Baton Rouge River Center.  But we were skating together, as a team, against girls from another city.  And as anyone who’s bouted before can tell you, being up against a real opponent makes a difference.  For the first time, I was skating against girls who wouldn’t tell me how to improve, wouldn’t pat me on the back after I survived an especially hard hit.  I was up against people who wanted to get their jammer past me at all costs – people who wouldn’t know the difference between me and any other girl in a purple uniform.  They wouldn’t know that I was new, wouldn’t know how hard I’d been working in practice or how much I’d overcome to be on the floor that day.  They would know only that I was their opponent, an obstacle to be eliminated.

I’m not used to being an obstacle.  I’m one of those “how can I help you” people – the girl who always wants to know what else she can do, how she can facilitate and instigate and accomplish.  If I ever stood in someone’s way, in the everyday world, I’d probably have a heart attack.  Or cry.

Originally, I was going to spend this entire post telling you about the process of becoming an obstacle – explaining how I found my footing in the midst of a game and learned to stand in the way of my opponents and their goals – WITHOUT feeling guilty about it.  I was going to tell you about our 117-76 win, about my unsuccessful jams, and about the way I made peace with those jams and realized that, in the process of failing to become a better jammer, I’d accidentally succeeded in becoming a better blocker.  A solid blocker.  I was going to say “aw shucks, isn’t derby grand?”

But that post-bout feeling subsides.  Obstacles cease being positives, and the desire to score more points returns.  I know that we here at LDG are fond of enlisting derby as a metaphor for all the great challenges we face in life.  But there are times when the answers I find on the track just aren’t applicable to the situations that bombard my everyday world.  Sometimes they aren’t even applicable to the situations I face within my own team.

Racing up to form a wall with teammates Schexorcist and Summer Squasher

Our league, like every league, has its disagreements.  We always bump through them together, but that doesn’t make them any less painful when they’re happening.  Right now we’re in the midst of a debate about shifting our long-standing practice time by an hour or two.  I won’t bore you with the details.  The point is, we’re putting some changes to a vote, and we’re discovering that even seemingly small alterations have far-reaching consequences.  While setting an earlier time might help some skaters with babysitters, early next-day work hours, and late-night study sessions, it would also potentially prevent other skaters from making the required number of practices each month – forcing them out of bouts and eventually off of the team.

When the question was originally put to a vote, I voted for the earlier time.  Because it suited me best, and I was voting for my own interests alone.  When it came to light that other skaters would be severely affected by the change, I wondered whether I’d made the wrong choice, whether I was a selfish bitch for going with my own interests.  I wavered and began to wonder if I should change my vote.  And then I wavered again, wondering whether there were others who would be equally affected by the later time, whose feelings I might not be taking into consideration.  I sat in front of my computer, staring at the debate on our skater forum, and froze.

My entire life I’ve been caught between the desire to perform for others and the need to perform for myself.  When I was on the track on Sunday, I thought I’d found the answer.  Something inside of me had snapped, and I had suddenly forgotten about trying to do what I thought I was supposed to do and had instead done what I knew I could do.  I had gone from being the waffling girl, the one who asks everyone’s opinion before she makes decisions, to being the blocker who thrusts herself firmly in other people’s paths.  I hadn’t worried, even for a second, wether my moves were the right ones.  I simply made them, automatically and definitively.  But now, post-bout, I was right back in my pre-derby headspace – fearing that following my own instincts and acting in my own interest was only going to hurt other people.    I was an obstacle, and I was certain that I ought to move out of the way.

Ultimately, I assume that we’ll reach some sort of compromise – one that will hopefully put everyone on an equal footing.  But in the meantime, I’ve had to realize that derby doesn’t give me all the answers.  Or maybe what it gives me are answers in the form of questions, like Zen Proverbs or something.  When I started skating, I was counting on derby to make me more assertive and less cerebral.  I wanted it to take me out of my head and teach me to assert myself as a person with needs and wants and boundaries.  But maybe wanting to euthanize my old identity isn’t the answer.  Maybe sometimes the girl who weighs people’s feelings, who waffles and is slow to make decisions – maybe sometimes she’s in the right.  Or at least not totally in the wrong.  And maybe neither one of us is the strong one.  Maybe the strength is in balancing two identities, knowing which to inhabit at the appropriate times, being able to shift between the two at will.

Maybe all the people who’ve been trying to convince me just to stand up for myself were reading me all wrong.  Maybe sometimes other people’s interests are my own, and the line between selfless and selfish is thinner than it seems.

Either way, I think I’m going to make a damn good blocker.

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Feb 232011
 

geared upSo, I’m new here.

Well, I’m new all around. But I’d really like to start making my mark in the wonderful world of derby. Or rather, I’d like the wonderful world of derby to start making a mark on me.

But let’s be honest for a second here. Derby has already started making a mark on me. In fact, it did the first time I saw a derby bout. Enough of a mark that I decided that derby was something I needed to get into, regardless of the fact that I was out of shape and that I’m a socially awkward and shy person. So I did. And I’m never going to look back.

I must admit, roller derby is not something I ever thought I’d be interested in. It’s certainly not something I ever thought I’d be involved with. After all, I’m not exactly the type of girl that would ever be seen in fishnets or hot pants. I don’t really do the “girly” thing, and I admit my first (incorrect) impression of derby was that it was a sport for girly girls. Yet here I am, two bouts in, anxiously awaiting the next time I strap on my skates, counting the seconds until I can leave my heart out on the flat track.

I’ve been involved with sports my whole life but I can honestly say that roller derby is the most physically and mentally demanding sport I’ve ever done. And there has not been a single second that I’ve regretted joining the league. The rewards I reap make it completely worth all the pain. Plus, because of this sport, I’ve been introduced to the most wonderful group of people I could have ever hoped to meet. These girls feel like family to me. No, scratch that, they ARE family.

When I entered the skating rink as fresh meat back in October, I was completely terrified. I’m not really good with social situations or engaging new people in conversation. Typically, I’m the kind of person that hides in a corner and fades into the background. Thankfully I was welcomed almost immediately. I was even invited out for post-practice drinks. I’ve never felt so accepted before. And I’ve never felt so sure that I made the right decision than I did after that first practice. Sure, it hurt. And I didn’t know if I’d be physically up to the challenge since I’d be mostly sedentary for ten years. But I knew I wanted to be a part of this. I wasn’t going to give up. I decided the first night that there was nothing I wanted more than to be a member of Red Stick Roller Derby. Now, just a few months later, here I am. And I couldn’t be more proud of myself.

lead jammer

There have been a few moments in my life that I have considered the proudest I’ve ever felt. Now I believe the proudest moment of my life so far is the first time I skated up to the jammer line in my very first bout. I get that feeling of pride every time I skate up to the jammer line. That’s a feeling I want to hold on to.

Becoming a member of the derby team was like a dream come true, even though it was a dream I never knew I had. Derby is the best thing I’ve ever done with my life, hands down. Thanks to derby I finally feel like I really belong somewhere. Even though it’s not easy (I’ve suffered a few minor injuries so far), it’s worth it. No matter how difficult it gets, I’ll never let myself give up. Because I am a derby girl. And nothing is going to stop me from being a derby girl.

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Feb 162011
 

You can learn a lot about Derby Girls by looking at the pageviews for LDG.

Know what derby is NOT? It is NOT the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants...

Sometime Monday morning, TrAC/DC’s post about the Dark Side of Derby received so many hits that our servers went down and we had to call our Trusty Web Advisor (aka my Derby Widow) to get things up and running again.  In the entire history of the blog, no other post has received that level of attention.  The only one that even begins to come close (but not THAT close) is my first post on the blog – a post detailing the ways that derby really and truly may have been the thing that saved my life.

What this tells us, sociologically, is that derbies view their sport simultaneously as a force of creation and destruction.  It builds us up even as it tears us down.  It supports us, even as it sucks us dry.  It’s the good, the bad, and the in between.

And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.  Derby isn’t perfect?  So what?  Neither am I.  That’s why derby feels like home to me – because I’m fucking sick of perfection.

As TrAC says in her post, we derbies are fiercely protective of our sport.  I’m no exception to that rule, and when I first started playing nothing brought out the defensive side of me more than the mean-spirited jokes about how derby was just a giant cat-fight, a place for women to take out their exclusively feminine aggression on each other.  ”It’s not LIKE THAT!” I kept wanting to scream.  ”We’re friends!  We’re good to each other!  We help each other out!”  As an ardent feminist, I couldn’t stand watching people use my sport as fodder for their misogynist mythology.  The argument that female sports are breeding grounds for “lady drama” is one of the primary weapons in the arsenal of those who suggest that girls are Strictly Emotional Creatures who couldn’t use logic to save their lives.  I didn’t want any part of that argument.  Derby wasn’t about fitting the script – it was about busting negative stereotypes.  It was about being a DIFFERENT kind of woman.

I believed that in order to prove we were worthwhile, we also had to prove that we were perfect.  I was asking derby to participate in the same fucked-up script I’d been acting out my entire life – the script that tells you you have to put on a nice outfit for company, that tells you that your kids and your lover and your parents and your dog and your fish are all more important than you are, and that it’s your job to keep them happy.  I wanted my team to be all things to me at all times: family and lover, friend and mentor.  I wanted them to redeem me, to prove that a woman really could be everything – and that she could look hot in her jersey while doing it.

But the thing is, we aren’t perfect.  And the people who expect us to be are just assholes.  We fight sometimes.  We backstab and nitpick.  We form cliques and break confidences.  We mess up. But I hope — with every ounce of my scarred and fragile derby heart, I hope  that we don’t turn away from each other in those moments.  I hope that we don’t give up.  Because the moment we give up on each other is the moment we give in to the worst of the myths about women.  If we overthrow our derbies because they don’t fulfill our ideals, we’re setting them up for failure.  Expecting women to be perfect – to be everything and never fall short – is not a feminist act.  (For those of you unconcerned with the feminism, I’ll put it a different way: it is not a productive act.)  In fact, it’s actively harmful.  Because no one can fulfill your dreams for you.  And if you ask them to, your disappointment is inevitable.

When I say I love my team no matter the mistakes they make, I am committing a feminist act.  I am throwing dirt in the faces of anyone who ever implied that women are only worthwhile if they’re perfect, polite, and quiet – if they always get along.  I am saying that I love and care for the women in my life as they are, not as I hope for them to be.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be better.  At its core, derby is about ALWAYS striving to be better.  But in the meantime, we also have to learn to live with the Dark Side of Derby – maybe even to embrace it, and to recognize that when we give other women the space to be imperfect, we’re really just giving them the space to be themselves — and hoping we get the same space in return.

I love you all.  And no matter how my relationship with derby ends, it won’t be perfect – and for that, I am eternally grateful.

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Brain, Meet Body

 Posted by at 1:04 pm  3 Responses »
Aug 112010
 

Image courtesy of Circle City Socialites @ circlecitysocialites.com

When I was a kid, I played softball.

Briefly.  Very briefly.

To be more precise, I played exactly one game.

Things were going pretty well at first.  I’d spent most of the first inning standing in the outfield staring at bugs and thinking about how funny colors looked under the bright park lights.  No one hit anything in my general direction, and I was content being left to my own thoughts, far from the action.  But soon enough my team’s at-bat came, and I was standing in the lineup waiting for my turn to hit the ball.  The line-up wasn’t as fun as the outfield; there weren’t as many bugs, and the people around me were noisy.  But I was still mostly left to my own devices, able to stare at the sky and dream whatever dreams are available to 9-year-olds.

Then I felt someone nudging me.  “Go!” some voices whispered.  “It’s your go!”

I stepped up to the plate, raised my bat, and stared vaguely in the direction of the pitcher.  The ball was already flying towards me, and I kept my eye on it dutifully until it connected with my bat and FLEW into the air right over my head.

“RUN!” someone shouted.

“GO!” said another voice.

I didn’t.  I turned my head and looked straight up, keeping my eye on the ball.  It looked so strange against the night sky and the lights.  I wondered if it would keep flying forever, defying gravity and coming to light in thin air somewhere above our heads, like a nearby star.

And then, just as I was beginning to realize that people were yelling at me, just as I was about to put my head down and run, the ball fell from the sky and landed right above my still-staring left eye.

Various coaches and parents swarmed around to stare at my quickly swelling eyelid.  One of them – the head coach and father of the most athletic girl on our team – also took the time to ask me what, exactly, I’d been thinking just staring up at the sky like that.

I wish I’d been clever enough to answer him, to explain that thinking was the whole problem.  Even as a kid I thought too much.  About everything.  I thought about how many blades of grass covered the dirt of our playing field.  I thought about the ants crawling over the toes of my shoes.  I thought about the funny way my teacher held her hand over her mouth when she was angry, and about what would happen to me if my parents died.

Playing a sport like softball – even at the low-stakes little-girl level – required a synthesis of body and mind that I simply didn’t possess.  Even as a kid I positioned myself in the world strictly as an observer.  I hid quietly behind my long curtain of hair attempting to maintain the maximum level of invisibility, attempting to watch and record the things around me and leave them unsullied by my presence.  In order to play well – or at least without eye-swelling incident – I needed to turn my attention to myself within the world.  I needed to notice the set of my feet on the ground, the weight of the bat in my hand.  I needed to understand how my own shape and movement affected the things around me.  I needed to see myself as solid and forceful.  I needed to see myself, period.

I never quite got over that refusal to see myself as a physical force in the world.  There are countless boundaries between my mind and my body – boundaries that I’m frankly terrified to dismantle.  But last night, as we practiced for an upcoming bout, I realized how much roller derby is beginning to put a dent in that fear.

Every time I put on my skates for practice, I know that – if I’m playing right – I’ll have no choice but to recognize my own physicality.  My muscles will strain.  My back will hurt.  I’ll lose my breath in a jam.  And I know that if I stop being aware of myself – even for a second – one of my teammates will slam her body into mine and knock me down to wake me up.

Roller derby reminds me that I’m a real person.  It asks every girl on the track to know her own weaknesses – and to understand her own power.  I wonder, sometimes, if that isn’t part of the reason so many of us seem to become new women once we join a team.  Because derby teaches us that we’re real – that the nebulous mass of thoughts and feelings we call a self exists in a solid state in a solid world.  It teaches us that our presence is undeniable – that we matter, even when we try not to.

I’m glad to have been that little girl with the swollen eye who couldn’t hit a ball.  I needed to be her, for a while – needed to live inside my head and stand at the edge of the world, just watching.  But now that I’m all grown up, I need to realize that I’m more than just an observer.  Derby is helping me to understand that, one big bruise at a time.

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