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.
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.