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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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 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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Jun 042010
 

In the derby community, we’re pretty much all familiar with the success of Shawna Cross’s Derby Girl, which was recently made into the popular film, Whip It, directed by none other than the totally fabulous Drew Barrymore. Whip It’s commercial success was modest, but it did help increase the visibility of our sport, and resulted in a fresh wave of recruits – my own league, Red Stick Roller Derby, has doubled in size since the movie, and most of these new derby girls started skating with us right after it came out.

There seems now to be a quiet trend towards publishing books about roller derby. These include books about the sport itself, aimed towards the derby fan or the derby-curious, including Down and Derby: The Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby, by Alex Cohen and Jennifer Barbee, Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from the Track, by Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan, Roller Derby: The History and All-Girl Revival of the Greatest Sport on Wheels, by Catherine Mabe and Ivanna S. Pankin, and others. This is most awesome, and I’m excited about this newest indication that the world is taking serious notice of us.

Figure A. Oh, marketing.

But even more thrillingly, roller derby is now the stuff of more published fiction. I was in Barnes and Noble the other day (we’re short on independent bookstores here in the Rouge, don’t judge me), wandering through the “Literature” section (y’know, the area with the books in it) to see what might catch my eye. And there I found Going in Circles, by Pamela Ribon. On the cover, a lady skater. It took me a moment to accept what I’d found. A book about derby, just sitting there in a major retail branch, in the most mainstream of locations, that I hadn’t heard about through some underground derby channel? Could it be? It was even TURNED OUT, its cover rather than its spine displayed to entice the casual browser like myself. (I will say that said cover is confusing – see figure A. You can see why I needed to pick the thing up to confirm its connection to derby.) I’ve yet to read the book, but it looks decent, and, more importantly, it suggests that derby fiction might be gaining a little foothold as a trendy publishing niche. And while, as an aspiring author, I’d like to think that it’s the best books, regardless of topic, that get published and reach the well-exposed shelves of retail giants, I’m clued in enough to know that publishing is a business, and, like any business, it is susceptible to trends and gimmicks.

So, I’m about to start this insanely expensive degree, and I’m thinking maybe I should cash in on this trend. Why not? I could write about what I love, and give further exposure to the sport, and have a refreshing little side project to work on when the emotionally heady memoir I plan to write at school is proving too taxing for me. Thing is, I don’t often write fiction, so I have to have an angle that will be sure to spark my imagination, while filling a gap in the existing derby literature.

you get the picture.

Yesterday my beloved trAC/DC and I were talking about these derby books, and in about eight seconds we came up with the angle: sex! What seems to be missing, glaringly missing, from derby lit is derby erotica. Imagine: skates and sweat and queer sex (and, sure, some straight sex), all done with a bit more literary flair than your average bodice-ripper. A little something for the derby community and for the rest of the world. Brilliant, I think. And we’ll keep each other motivated and on-task, so we’ll actually get these things written. And we’ll get to read and laugh at our ridiculously overblown sex scenes over glasses of bourbon. The idea is to make this a series about two best friends who skate, and their romantic adventures on and off the track. Sort of like a derby version of Sweet Valley High.

I wrote about 2,000 potential words of my potential book today and am having a great time, even though it got a little hard to concentrate because I started somewhere, let’s say, in the middle of things. As I continue, I welcome your suggestions: what would you like to see in a work of derby erotica? What sorts of fantasies have you had involving mouthguards? Got any adventures you would like us to memorialize (anonymously) in print? Email me so we can keep the comments section of LDG fairly clean. My address is TrickyLaRougeATredstickrollerderbyDOTcom (protecting myself from spam-bots here). We’re also taking suggestions on names for the eventual series.

Until next time, happy practices – and post-practice evenings – to all!

Photo Credits: amazon.com, activistgrrl

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