Feb 222011
 

It’s really easy to write a private confessional one late night on your macbook, but making it public takes a lot of deep breaths. Breathing deeply, here’s my story, in case it’s any good to anyone:

Some girls join roller derby to become someone else, to get their flipside moments on the track; but my story is quite different.

I remember being thirteen or fourteen or so and riding beside my sweet, misguided dad in his fire red pickup truck, listening to him talk to me about my future.

“Are you really sure you want to seriously pursue a career in basketball? Can you hang in with this sport for another ten years?”

“Of course, dad. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

“But. I’m not sure as your father that encouraging you to play ball is the responsible thing to do. There are certain things you’ll be exposed to.”

Things? Like?”

“Lesbians.”

Really.

Now, I didn’t have a lot of these conversations growing up; but I did have my fair share of nightmares about being gay or people talking shit about my swag. I’d say the topic mainly existed as a terrifying shadow I refused to acknowledge. If it came up, my line was always, “I’m NOT gaaaaaaay.”

I went to my all-girls Catholic high school, did well, earned the respect and friendship of a whole lot of people, and thought, privately, that if I ever considered “letting myself be gay,” I’d lose it all. My family and friends’ affection. My reputation as a good kid. My place in heaven. Sure, I had no interest in boys. Not even a little. But I told myself it was because I was busy being a basketball player. I made it through high school without my first kiss. Because I was busy.

Well, I did pursue a career in basketball, until I didn’t. I played a year at Tulane and then quit, a failed, but respectable straight, ready for the next thing. I dated a boy a few months later til I quit that and joined a sorority til I quit that.

Since those lady things had failed, I needed something to convince everyone that I was straight.

Enter roller derby. Derby girls were pretty AND athletic, their sexuality, I thought, never questioned. I mean, they played in fishnets. I had been playing my sport for years in shorts to my shins, my hair slicked back to stay out of my face, worn as unattractively as possible. There’s no makeup, smiling, or blowing kisses to the crowd in basketball. Here was my chance to express a certain untapped femininity through my natural draw toward athletics.

A few weeks in, I realized that I hadn’t bought any fishnets; and I wasn’t wearing makeup like I thought I might. I had no interest in the dudesy refs.

Slowly, painfully, each day an ounce of self hatred leaving my body, a girl and I fell for each other. I wondered how this could have happened. I had survived all those basketball gays unscathed and unattracted. They were dykes. I was better than that. And then, just like that, I fell in love with a girl and into a pit of emo turmoil. The further I got into the relationship, the larger my secret life became. I’d one day have to reveal it to my loved ones, and I was sure they’d disown me and talk shit about their lez former friend.

But this isn’t a coming out story. Yes, I came out, and everybody still loves me. It got pretty emo and shitty in parts, but I haven’t lost anyone. I’m closer to my mom, and, though my dad died a few years ago, I know that his love for me is more unconditional now than ever.

The point is, derby helped me shed my defensive skin. While some girls become their alter egos or use the sport to escape from their realities, I really needed it for the opposite reasons. I needed to know it was okay for me to let go of the straightlaced alter ego I had presented myself as for years and truly face up to my self, the one I had been hiding all along. I needed to let go of that hold I had on myself and thaw the freeze that I had cultivated for so long, unable to love, explore, or look real hard at my questions. I found a sport and a girl who let me do that. I found myself.

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Apr 292010
 

Dolly Rocket of Charm City Roller Girls doing some amazing pivoting. (photo credit: www.fracturemag.com)

So last week’s post was all about the jammer, who often gets the most attention anyway so I move on. This week I’m going to tell you more about the Pivot.
Now I’ve said multiple times but for those who are behind, the pivot is the lady with the helmet cover (panty) with a single stripe down the middle. I also discussed the privilege that pivots have of being eligible to become a jammer if for some reason the current jammer cannot swing it.
But this isn’t the only thing that differentiates the pivot from the rest of the blockers in the pack.
Often you’ll hear of derby girls referring to the pivot as the last line of defense but only after being around for a few months do you truly get the understanding of what the purpose of this position is (or at least it took me a while to truly grasp the understanding). Luckily for you though, I’m here to impart my knowledge.
Okay, the pivot is pretty much like the captain away from the bench. The pivot calls out the plays and helps to control the speed of the pack ALONG WITH being the last line of defense against a jammer who has just busted through the pack. But being a pivot is not just about having the mouth guard that’s easiest to talk around. It’s about being able to take in the situation and call what play needs to be done right there on the track.
From what I’ve seen with my own team, the captain, Sigga Please, and co-captain, Zarathrustya, do tend to play pivot a lot not only for their abilities to scream at their blockers but for this insane skill we derby girls like to call panty chasing. First they put their hips square in front of those jammers and try to

In the photo Zara is squaring her hips in front of jammer Rock Bottom and even though Sigga does not have the pivot panties on, she is getting the pack to slow down and force Zara out of the zone of engagement. (photo credit: Skunk Rolla, RSRD)

keep them in the zone of engagement. If for some reason this fails, they haul ass and swing their hips around in front of the jammer and slow her down. The hardest part about this is that most of the time, pivots are at the front of the pack. This is their rightful place, so when they take off to engage in some good old fashioned panty chasing, the pack is busy doing other things; and the pivot ends up out of play and has to let the jammer by.
Another two fellow Red Stick Roller Derby ladies who make amazing pivots are Sour Patch Kid and Rock Bottom. Whenever they are pivots, I know what is going on with the pack and where I should be. My team was playing against Magnolia Roller Vixens and they have this badass blocker named Kamdemic and she and I were out for blood from each other. At one point we both completely passed the pack up and just kept hitting each other. I still remember the sound of Rock Bottom screaming “MADIE LET HER GO, FALL BACK! SLOW DOWN!”

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This is that moment that will live forever in my brain. Kamdemic and I going at it while rock yells at me to let her go. (Photo credit: Cajun Eject Her)

That’s how a pivot works, you should always be able to hear her mouth, she should always be barking commands at you, and you should always be trying to keep her in the zone of engagement as she tries to nail the jammer. After writing this I’ll never be able to get this out of my head.

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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.

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I Trust in Derby

 Posted by at 11:31 am  2 Responses »
Apr 262010
 

Grrrrrr!

As much as I love derby (and I really do) I always dread going to practice. All day long I’m totally psyched about getting back into my skates, and then it hits me out of nowhere, that feeling of terror. My hands start to sweat and shake, my neck and back get tense, I can hardly breathe, and I feel like I’m gonna puke. I worry that I won’t be able to leave the outside world off the track. I get that feeling about an hour before every practice. Usually it’s because I’ve had a rough day and I’m in a crappy mood, I’m stressed, sleep-deprived, and/or just plain exhausted. I could think of a thousand excuses not to go to practice on any given night, but I don’t. I trust in derby and the good feeling I know it will bring. I drag my ass to practice.

I’m not, nor may ever be one of those girls that can block out all of her negative emotions as she crosses the threshold onto the track. I just put on a smile, tell everyone “hello,” and put on my skates and my gear. When I get all my gear on, I feel bound and constricted and hot. My skates feel like they weigh a ton.  I think, “How the hell am I gonna get through this?” Once again, I trust in derby. I drag my ass onto the track.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I start to feel good again, psyched again. It happens though. It happens every time. Roller derby is cathartic. It lets you, or rather, makes you get rid of all the bad thoughts that you dragged with you into practice, and replaces them with nothing but full-on derby love. Being allowed to be aggressive is great. It’s something we don’t get in the real world. Case in point: When that jerk cuts you off in traffic almost causing a ten-car pile-up and then has the nerve to flip YOU off, what do you do? If you’re gonna avoid going to jail, then you either do nothing or, at most, yell at said jerk and return the bird. Either way, not very satisfying.  At derby, when some chick tries to pass you up, knock you down, hold you back, or cut you off, what do you do then? You drop that bitch. And it feels soooo good.

Smile if you love derby!

Before I know it, practice is over and I’m suddenly sad. I wish I could stay and feel like this forever. I know the real world is waiting for me right outside those doors, and I don’t want to go back there. I stretch and chat with the girls, pack up all of my gear, and hang around until they start turning all the lights off on us. As we’re all leaving the parking lot and driving away in the dark, I worry that one day I’ll get injured or I’ll lose this great feeling and not be able to get it back. I worry, but then I trust. I trust in derby and the good feeling I know it will always bring. Battered and bruised, high on derby love and endorphins, and smiling ear-to-ear, I drag my ass back home. Rinse and repeat.

Photo Credits: Turbo Tyke, Cajun Eject-Her

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Apr 182010
 
Yeah, I’m going to write another entry about me not drinking.  Because it’s kind of a big deal for me.  I mean, I used to drink, ALOT, and that was a big deal for me.  I doubt many people know just how big of a deal it was, but those in the recovery business say that you’re always the last one to know.  So, maybe everyone knew but me.

I planned my nights around drinking.  I chose which friends I was gonna hang with based on the bars they frequented.  And while my budget didn’t consider grocery money, it did include a healthy entertainment fund, which was really just a fancy name for “My Drinking Money”.

So, when I STOPPED drinking, it really was a BIG DEAL.  If your drinking career has never brought you there, what I’m about to say will probably sound completely absurd.  When you are forced to give up drinking, or drugs, or fill-in-the-blank, it’s a pretty traumatic experience.  It’s something that I’d venture to say, most of us alcoholics and addicts actually grieve over.  Shock, Anger, Acceptance.  It happens—ironically, all things which would have six months ago, been perfectly logical reasons for me to drink.  But eventually, the realization sets in that this passionate love affair is really just suicide, on the installment plan.  And when you finally do sober up, there’s this hole inside of you—probably what prompted most of my drinking anyway, but trying to fill it up with booze, only succeed in accelerating the erosion of my very soul.  Ain’t it funny how that shit works, you know, when your solution becomes your problem??

But eventually, the fog begins to lift and suddenly you’re looking at the world with a clear set of eyes.  And I’d love to say that it’s magical.  But it’s not.  It’s the same old world that I’ve been looking at all my life.  As Tom Petty says, “Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks”.  Sometimes I can really appreciate that my sobriety is a second chance that alot of people never get, and sometimes I have days where I’d give anything in the world to not be sober—I’m just trying to keep it real.  Those days are getting fewer and farther between, and for THAT I’m eternally grateful.

And I’m really lucky to have something that I can pour myself into.  I’ve been a part of Red Stick, on and off, for over two years.  But, if I had to guess, I think most of my girls would probably say that I’m a different skater this time around.  My head is clear, and I’m focused, and I’m faster, and I don’t puss out at practice anymore because I’m really too hungover to be of any use to anybody.  And I actually give a shit about something.  I want to be there, and if you ask me for 100%, I’ll give you a 110%, and I don’t mind doing it.  Because you guys deserve it, and because it helps me stay clean.  Really!  When 52 people are counting on you to be there, a 110%, you better fucking be there.  And I CAN’T be there (or anywhere else for that matter, not 110%) if I’m fucked up.

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