Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Brain Hurts More Than My Thigh.

Take one, please.  Wear it proudly.
Such a whiny little blog I have.  How do you stand it, Constant Reader?  I hereby bequeath to you an official Blog-reader’s Badge of Honor just for sticking it out and making it this far with me. 

Yes.  This sport makes me whine and complain and utter the most horrific disappointments in myself to the extent that even I, as I read through my earlier posts, want to vigorously shake my own shoulders and scream “WHY ARE YOU STILL DOING THIS?” until my head snaps clean off my neck.

It’s complicated.

Yeah, so I take my personal life onto the track with me.  Who doesn’t?  That’s a huge part of derby – being able to give hits, take hits, and get back up and do it again.  It’s all about the allegory.

My problem seems to be that if I take a hit in life, I let that hit happen AGAIN on the track, whether I could have avoided it or not.  I have LITERALLY watched me do nothing to defend myself as our most powerful blocker in the league veers directly toward me and takes me out.  WHAM!  Saw that coming.  Didn’t do anything.  Just took it.  WTF?!  
Me: "Who are you?!"  Life: "I'm Batman."

Do I do that in life?  Maybe I do, more often than I’m willing to admit.  Granted, I ALWAYS get back up and keep skating – both in life AND derby, but why do I even take the hit?  Why not juke out of it, or better yet, turn it around and knock the other person down first?  Am I using derby as a means of self-punishment?  Some twisted conduit that allows my personal failures to REALLY SINK IN to the point of having actual bruises to show for them? 

The skate wheel of Karma goes round and round...
In life, I like to think that I don’t knock people down in order to make way for my own triumphs.  I’ve seen plenty of examples of people who do, and one day a really big bitch named Karma is gonna jam up behind them and royally kick their ass.  Or not.  But who cares?  It’s not how I roll.  But in derby, you are expected to knock people around – as hard as you can – to help get points for your team.

Your Team.  As in, The People Who Have Your Back. 

I’ve noticed that when I’ve just interviewed for a job, drive home thinking I totally nailed it, and go through the rest of the week just biding my time until I get that phone call that’s supposed to change my life for the better, those days or weeks that go by before I actually get that phone call (which so far has only come in the form of an email or letter stating “Thank you for interviewing with us BUT…” blah blah blah) are the best practices in my derby career.  I feel great.  I do great.  I actually get points when I jam.  I’m tough to get around, and I’m hard to knock down. 

Then I get the bad news.  I still go to practice of course, but all of a sudden, I get halfway through a drill and I’m winded.  I can’t seem to get my footwork right.  I trip and fall on nothing but air.  I get knocked flat on my face.  I even try to give myself little pep talks before practice.  Sometimes they’re positive: “You know you can do this – you’ve had great practices before.  You rock at this, girl – go get ‘em.”  Sometimes they’re not so positive:  “Derby’s all you’ve got going for yourself right now.  Get with it, or you’ll have nothing.”

Neither one seems to work very well.  Apparently, I’m so busy unconsciously assigning the role of life-beater to the other girls in the league that I can’t seem to remember how to use derby as the therapeutic outlet it’s supposed to be so well known for.  It’s NOT as if I go to practice during those “down times” in my life just to prove to myself how worthless I really am – if I wanted to do that, I’d just quit.  You know – quitters quit, and all that rot.  So where is that burned out synapse that’s supposed to connect my brain to my soul?  I know what I want to have happen at practice, so why doesn’t it?  Do I really want a good practice if I’m not feeling all that great about the other things in my life?  Do I deserve a good practice?  How do I convince myself that I’m allowed to at least have SOMETHING (just derby) rather than ALL (a great job and derby) or NOTHING (no job, no derby)?!

Wait, earlier I said something about “Team” that made my brain hurt a little bit.  I did forget to tell you, Constant Reader, that I skated in my first public bout more than a month ago, and I did surprisingly well.  My biggest concern about skating in games centers around not wanting to be the fall guy – the one who sat in the box while the other team gathers those crucial points and wins the game because of my dumb mistake.  It’s a stupid fear with not much basis, but for now while I don’t feel so much like a star player, I don’t feel much like playing among the stars, ya know?  But the scrimmage I played in wasn’t against another league – it was a home game where we split our own league into two teams and invited some other skaters to join us.  Not so much on the line if my team loses, dig?  So I played. 

My husband, who jam-reffed the game, always tries very hard not to look AT me while I’m skating, because he knows he has to be impartial.  So he looks through me and pretends I’m just another faceless skater, so that if I commit a penalty, he can send me to the box fair and square just like anyone else.  So after the game, he told me that he kept noticing this blocker on my team who was somehow keeping two or three other blockers or even the opposing jammer back, all by herself, or doing really well holding the wall against the other team, etc.  Then he’d realize, “Hey, that’s my wife!”  And I noticed it too.  From somewhere deep inside came this weird energy and wild skill that I didn’t even know was there.  And I think that energy came from being on a Team in a real game and wanting to do well for my Team – not for ME, but for MY TEAM. 

At practice, it’s kind of hard not to separate myself from whatever team I end up on during scrimmage, because we mix it up and it’s not so official-feeling, and I’m somehow trying to focus so much on improving MYSELF that I lose perspective on how to work with my teammates.  I obviously need to stop being so self-centered and “alone” out there on the track. 

...and maybe out there in Life, too.

Whoa.  Now my brain really hurts.

Like I said, it’s complicated.  And I’m not sure how or why I made it this way for myself.  Just knock off the pity party and skate, Pippi.  You’re NOT winded, you’re upset about something else and it’s sucking all your energy.  So skate, Pippi.  Skate.  Skate.  Skate.  Keep skating.  You have a Team that’s got your back.  Skate some more.  Got knocked down?  You’re fine.  Get back in there and help your Team.  Skate.  Tried jamming and can’t seem to make it out of the pack?  You’re fine.  Tell your Team who to block so you can get through.  Skate.  Keep skating.  Someone’s got your back.

Now, HIT!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do the voices in my head bother you?

“Come on, Pippi, you can do better than that!”  …to which the disparaging voice in my head replied, “No, I can’t. I really can’t.”  And then the tears welled up and the skates got shaky and every last drop of adrenaline drained straight down into the floor.

As evolved human beings, we’re supposed to have all this reptile brain stuff built into us.  Super-human feats of strength and remarkable survival instincts that get us out of the most precarious situations, where certain death would otherwise be inevitable.  So WHY is it so hard to tap into this ability when it’s not really a matter of life or death, but simply a will to succeed?

That night at practice, I was awful.  Just awful.  Was it a coincidence that an hour before, I’d just received bad news regarding a job for which I’d recently interviewed and spent weeks working my tail off trying to impress the selection committee every way I knew how? 

Nope, no coincidence there.  I was feeling pretty rejected, and was even starting to wonder if I really had any talent at all – considering that part of my post-interview application submission included posting a few writing samples, which seemed invited by the committee at the time, but were subsequently blatantly ignored.  I know this because I watched the viewer stats on that web page every single day for 21 days.  Not even a nibble.  And then I finally got the “Thank you for interviewing with us, and I wish you the best of luck” email.  

That’s what I carried with me into practice – the disappointment of three interviews for three different positions over the last several months culminating in nothing at all.  My wheels were caked with it:  Rejection.  You’re not good enough.  You have no useful skills.  They met you and didn’t like you.  You don’t fit in… ANYwhere.

We are only as strong as the voices in our heads allow us to be.  This goes for physically as well as mentally.  I know this fact as intimately as I know myself.  I can train and train until I’m red in the face, working on skills, endurance and attitude all at the same time, but when my attitude slips, everything else falls away with it.  My muscles get weak, my balance starts to falter, and in a matter of seconds I can completely “unlearn” what I just spent the last two weeks – or eight months – trying to perfect.

Conversely, when my attitude is well-adjusted and strong, the rest of my body seems to magically follow suit, and I find myself doing things on skates that I didn’t even know I knew how to do. 

So that week had been particularly rough as far as my personal life was concerned, and I was beginning to wonder if I even had a right to order the expensive new skates I so desperately need.  (That particular issue was immediately resolved once I tried on a pair of Antik AR1s that fit my feet like a glove and allowed me to skate like the everlovin’ wind.) 

But I’d been waking up at 2, 3, and 4 am every night, wondering, “What’s to become of me?” and worrying myself into a bad stomach ache that the longer I am unemployed, the harder it will be for me to actually get hired somewhere, and looking ahead into my future as a housewife who has no excuse to do anything at all other than clean, run household errands, and emanate no professional or even mildly lucrative identity whatsoever.  Side note:  If I have to be a stereotypical housewife, I prefer Morticia Addams to June Cleaver.  But the Addams were filthy rich and lived in a mansion, so I guess I’d be more like Lily Munster.  With really expensive roller skates.

Cook your own damn dinner.  I have fabulous to do.
At the same time, Bout Day was quickly approaching.  I wasn’t skating, but I was in charge of media, advertising, advance ticket sales, and videography, so I had plenty of distractions.  I felt needed.  Useful.  Wanted.  There were even a few times I might not have come to practice because I was feeling all weepy and down, but HAD to, because the girls were expecting me to be there to give them more tickets to sell, or to take ticket money off their hands.  If I didn’t show up, that might mean fewer ticket sales for the league.  So I forced myself to go to practice, emotional rain or shine.  And that cheered me up, every time.

So when Bout Day finally came, I found myself sitting in the audience with my camera watching them play, and a strange, foreign feeling washed over me.  It felt good, it made me smile despite myself, and it wouldn’t go away.  Was it… Happy?  Yes, I think that was it.

That was when it really, truly sank in for me, sitting right there in the front row, surrounded by other non-skating derby girls who were shrieking at the team like Highland banshees.  I had allowed something completely unrelated to derby ruin my derby.  WTF?!

That night I went out and partied with the girls and smiled until my face hurt, all the while reflecting on the fact that those girls had been doing everything they could to encourage me at practice – always have – they're totally on my side.  And I was letting some curmudgeon employer who knew me for exactly one hour of my life dictate how I was going to skate at practice that day?  Once again, I implore you… WTF?!

Curmudgeon can bite me.
Not fair to them.  Not fair to me.  Curmudgeon employer doesn’t get to ruin everything in my life… he just gets to disappoint me in one particular thing, and that’s it.  I just couldn’t believe, once I’d finally seen the reality of it all, that I’d allowed the last eight months of my hard work and progress to be completely dismembered by this pesky job situation.  That self-deprecating voice in my head may bum me out at home, it may interfere with my day, it may deplete my energy all week long by waking me up in the middle of the night and cursing at me, but when I’m at practice, that voice needs to Shut. The hell.  Up.

So my new skates have been ordered, the new practice schedule is in full swing, and the many voices in my head are now instructed to gang up on that one – the curmudgeon who says I can’t, I’m not good enough, I don’t belong.  Because the Girls have voices too, and when I’m at practice, they get precedence in my brain, and nobody gets to argue with the Girls.  “Come on, Pippi, you can do better than that!”  Hellz yeah I can.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Why I'm Still Here

Wellllll drat.  Once you think you have your whole life planned out and know exactly where you want to be, or at least have a good idea where you don’t want to be, life throws a curve ball and messes everything up.

I’ve lived in Flagstaff almost all of my life, save for a few teenage years in Phoenix, and I’ve always fancied myself an adventurer.  Gotta get out of this town, I’d say to myself.  “Dragstaff,” I’d call it.  I know some people would be terribly offended at this, but you try spending your entire life in the town where you were born and pretty much grew up, and 40 years later, you’re still here.  So I set out a few years ago to go back to school and learn video production, got that internship in NYC, and started branching out beyond the Grand Canyon State, applying for jobs hither and thither, as long as they were NOT in Arizona.  

And then roller derby came to Flagstaff.

At the start of my derby experience, I was still not even sure that I’d be here long enough to make it to Rollercon, the biggest derby “gathering of the tribes” in the country, which happened to take place last week – and yes, I still found myself Here long enough to make it over There.  Also, I was getting a little burned out on the whole derby scene – not the girls, but the plateau I’d seemed to reach in my skating abilities.  So I kept making it to every practice and leaving feeling like I hadn’t really pushed myself to do anything new for about the last two months before Rollercon.  At one point I even contemplated skipping Rollercon – I was that disillusioned with it all.

So I kept at it, and I love going to practice anyway, because that’s when I get to hang with the coolest chicks I’ve ever known, but it was becoming very clear to me that derby was slowly easing its way out of my heart, and I wasn’t sure why. 

So I went to Rollercon, discovered some amazing classes, and started watching the professional bouts, which excited and inspired me beyond all previous disenchantment.  Then I saw Her.

Tall.  Graceful.  Confident.  There She hovered over the jammer line, a halfway grin smeared across her face as the whistle blew.  And She was off.

Meet my new long-distance Sensei. 
I'm sure She won't mind if I stalk her from afar...
This girl looked chock-full of power and spitfire from the very beginning, but I had NO IDEA that she would be able to do the kind of crazy stuff on skates that I witnessed her do that day.  Tall girls like me often feel gawky and clunky – both on skates and off.  I think a lot of it has to do with how we felt growing up, towering over everyone else in our class – even most of the boys.  Anyway, this derby girl, known as V-Diva, uses her height to her advantage, and gallops around on her skates as if they are nothing more than light-weighted running shoes.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  She NEVER failed to get lead jammer each and every time I saw her jam, and she RARELY got sent to the box.  Only if a ref was simply too overwhelmed with her, I decided.

This chick isn’t exactly your tall, skinny type, either.  She is large-framed and stacked with muscle – someone you wouldn’t want to piss off in a dark alley – and she carries herself high as a Manhattan skyscraper, with a foundation just as grounded.  I was completely in awe. 

Turns out, not only does she skate for the Philly Roller Girls, V-Diva is also a member of Team USA.  So when Roller Derby makes it to the Olympics eight years from now, I expect to see Her on my television, in all Her glory.

So I came back from Rollercon with a renewed energy for the sport, fully inspired by this amazing tall jammer, and really when it comes down to it, I had let myself get spoiled.  I think I was expecting to just somehow be automatically laden with new skills and improvements – kind of like how it seems with some of my league mates.  You know, some of these chicks can just do stuff.  Even if it’s brand new to them, they see it, they do it.  So that should work for me too, right?  Then why won't my team captain just wave her magic wand and bestow these gifts upon me, too?

No way.  These chicks that I'm expecting myself to mirror are naturally athletic.  Me?  Nnnotsomuch.  I gotta work my butt off for every single thing, and keep working at it until I “get it”.  Like turnaround toe-stops, for instance.  I’d do it at practice until I “got it”, then the next day, I’d lose it.  So I’d keep doing it until I got it again, then two days later, I’d lose it.  Then just the other day, I JUST DID IT.  No working up to it, no trying it at a slow speed or worrying about breaking my ankles… I.  Just.  Did it.  At full speed.  FINALLY! 

So that’s what it takes for me.  Work.  Hard work.  Sometimes even tedious work, to get my body to do exactly what what I want it to do.  And don’t get me wrong, ALL of these girls work extremely hard even though some of them are natural athletes.  They work on perfecting those inside jumps, or making that perfect sweet-spot hit, or keeping that killer wall impenetrable to any jammer short of Suzy Hotrod.  Me, I gotta work on every detail from the ground up, and there ain’t no breaks.  So once I finally remembered all this about myself, I decided I was willing to work for it, and got back in the game.

To those of you who are derby girl parents, friends, lovers, spectators, and even all you naysayers and critics out there who just can’t fathom how so many girls (and boys) can become so obsessed with an underground, violent, ruthless sport like roller derby, here’s my attempt to ‘splain some of it.  I’m going to focus on us girls – there are plenty of men’s derby teams and they are our brothers in action and we love them dearly, but the bond among us womenfolk is überstrong, and most of us have never before in our entire girlish lives encountered a community of women with such diverse, unique, and fascinating personalities, and we all actually get along better than ANY group of women we’ve ever known. 

Oh sure, there’s plenty of derby drama, personality clashes, misunderstandings, and the usual strife that is inevitable among any clustered tribe of homo sapiens, but more often than not, we work through it, and we become better women for it.  I don’t mean better people in general; we become better women. 

There are a lot of blogs and derby articles out there that state over and over how roller derby primarily attracts the “Type A” personality in women – the boisterous, go-getter, outspoken types who are the “tough girls” and the “mean bitches” who will knock you down if you look at them wrong, but as my team captain once insightfully pointed out, all you have to do is look around to realize that this assumption is dead wrong.  There are ALL types of women in roller derby, and we each join for reasons that are as unique as our own favorite fishnets and knee socks.  There are literally hundreds of reasons to join roller derby, and only a few of them have to do with wanting to be a kick-ass athlete.  

If you’re really wondering why your derby girl seems to be in this for good despite your misgivings, personal jealousies, or concerns for her safety, sit down and ask her.  You might need an hour or so for the reply.  Just shut up, smile, be patient, and listen carefully.  If, after she pours her heart out about why she’s in this particular sport, you are still feeling like she doesn’t spend enough time with you, or is using derby to try to avoid something else in her life, or whatever it is you’ve made up in your head, then you weren't really listening.  Ask her to explain it again, and this time, really, truly HEAR HER.  Once you truly understand, you'll be encouraging her to go to practice, rather than complaining or holding your breath all the time, worried that she's going to get hurt.  You'll know that the only way she can truly get hurt is if roller derby simply goes away.

I still haven’t decided that I’m ready to bout yet, but I’m working up to it.  What I really needed was that mental recharge.  Now, EVERYTHING is derby.  You know how when you’ve just fallen in love with someone, every song that comes on the radio seems to be precisely about you and your new lover?  Yep.  There went Pippi one night, driving home after practice, and wouldn’t ya know it, the most amazingly perfect song came on to describe exactly how I feel about roller derby.  So of course I’m blubbering along, singing horribly with my voice breaking up, emotional hiccups with every stanza:  “My heart’s-a-like an o-pen book… (hic!) …for the whoooole world to read….(hic! *sniffle*)…” 

Yeah, Vince Neil, sing it up, you closet derby girl.  You know us so well. 

So here I find myself on a whole new adventure, right here in my hometown, and for once in my life, I'm Home, Sweet Home.

Close enough, Vince.  Close enough.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Well, it's aBOUT time!

June 30th, 2012, 4 pm:  Our first home bout of the season.  In fact, our first home bout… EVER.  A remarkably high profile, epic event for the High Altitude Roller Derby League.  Nerves were skyrocketing weeks before our debut, and whether you were skating in the bout or not, you could sometimes cut the tension in the air with a dull, bloodied knife.

This would be the big bang or the big chill, depending on how the entire town will perceive us during and after the bout.  Flagstaff may be a growing city, but it’s definitely still a community, and word travels fast of events and people and things that happen here.  Everybody knows somebody who knows someone else in this town, and that pretty much connects everybody to everyone.  

And with 50-some-odd derby girls, plus refs and NSOs and VIPs and sponsors and photographers and merchants – all of them deeply involved in our up-and-coming league in one way or another, not to mention the girls’ own families, spouses, significant others, friends, peers, and co-workers who have had to put up with our incessant derby talk and insane practice schedules and sprains and bruises and broken hearts and sometimes even broken bones, well, that’s a lot of local pressure to finally live up to all the BLOOD, SWEAT, and TEARS that are the basic chemical makeup of a derby girl. 
THAT's what I'm talking about.

No, not the band...
Then, of course, there’s the opposing team from Dirty Verde Roller Derby and their guest skaters from the Havasu Hit Girls, whom those of us who have had the privilege of getting to know cannot help but instantly adore, and the camaraderie between the leagues that roller derby is so famous for becomes unmistakable.

So there’s pressure all around – to do well as a team, to keep our sportsmanship squeaky clean, and for each and every skater to live up to her highest potential, and let it all hang out on bout day.  Sooner than we could say “Our girls hit H.A.R.D.,” the day was here, and our venue, the Sport Stop at the Flagstaff Athletic Club, was open for preparation.  Volunteers started filing in to set up for tickets, merchandising, rink rope & tape, team and penalty box seating, the sections for DJs, announcers, and scorekeepers, and a million folding chairs for the audience.  Everything came together, and at 3:30 pm, the front doors opened. 

What commenced was probably the most energized, electrifying, thrilling sports event that Flagstaff has seen in a long time.  The teams battled it out real horrorshow as the scores projected onto the wall duked it out.  First HARD was in the lead, then DVRD caught up and surpassed, then HARD snatched the score back in their favor, and it went on like this for the entire bout.  ALL of our jammers were amazing – particularly our very own Lusty Reigns, who gathered 25 points in one jam, and Gogo Liz who burned up the track like wildfire.  I witnessed hits and blocks and pileups like I’ve never seen before, and the audience caught on quick to the rules of the game.  When a home team jammer took the lead, the roar was deafening.  Our blockers kept the opposing jammers from running away with the score by playing some AMAZING defense, while at the same time creating perfect opportunities for our jammers to breeze through.  Team captain Wendy O. Killems kept the team inspired, positive, and focused, and bench coach Pantychryst was downright psychic in her decisions about who to put where, and who should jam next.  "Well-oiled machine" to describe our team that day is an understatement of epic proportion.

I couldn’t help but step back a few times and take it all in, and each and every time I looked around, I never failed to get all blubbery.  This was IT!  This was our debut, and they LOVE US!  And we were killing it out there!

During the 2nd half of the bout, the audience was out of control with excitement, and when Gogo Liz took the jammer line and blasted off through the pack, the chant of the day was “Go-GO!  Go-GO!  Go-GO!”  I managed to glimpse Gogo’s expression while this was happening – this is the kind of moment an athlete lives for; it’s what you fantasize about before falling asleep at night, dream about in your wildest dreams, and hope to one day experience.  And here it was for Gogo – her moment in history (one of many, I predict), and I’ve never seen her smile quite like that before.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, Gogo’s usual smile can light up a room, but THIS smile left fairy dust trailing behind her around the entire rink.  She simply sparkled.

By the end of the bout, the final score was 120 HARD, 154 DVRD – and anyone who knows a typical roller derby bout will say that that is pretty darn close, especially considering that it’s possible to earn 25 points or more in one 2-minute jam.  EVERYONE was ecstatic – both teams, the audience, the announcers, the sponsors, the vendors… you couldn’t find one person in the entire venue who wasn’t grinning from ear to ear, having just experienced the craziest fun in the last hour and a half that this town may have ever seen.  Both teams slammed together in a huge cluster of big, tight bear hugs, every single girl just beside herself with joy.  This is what all the hard work is for – THIS very moment, when you realize you have come to LIFE; you’re more AWAKE than you’ve ever felt, and you crumple into each other’s arms in ecstasy, revelation, and exhaustion. 

So yeah, I would say that we put on a good show.  The social networking sites completely exploded with good vibes, positive reactions, and people even asking about season tickets – something we haven’t even had a chance to think about yet.  We have arrived, and the town ate us up like cotton candy.  I can’t wait to see where we go from here.  And as for me, personally, as a skater who opted out of this bout, I will be looking forward to the time when I feel ready to join the ranks.  I’m already fantasizing about the trail of fairy dust I’ll be leaving behind when the audience chants my name.  That may be a while from now, but that’s my new goal; why not aim high?  I am truly inspired to be an athlete now – like never before in my life.  Thank you for this, girls, from the bottom of my heart.  I love you ALL!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Suzy Notrod" - or - "Backdraft: Burn them. Burn them ALL."

I guess the fact that I haven’t blogged about derby in a while is one really good reason to blog.  I’ve reached an impasse.  Or so it seems.  (Depends on whether I’ve taken the red pill or the blue pill…)

We have a bout coming up on June 30th.  The first one of our league that includes everyone in the league, depending on whether you want to sign up to play, help out as a Referee or NSO (Non-Skating Official), or volunteer to help organize and run the event.  We also have a travel team now, in addition to the upcoming bout.  Both of which, all league members were invited to sign up and be considered for.

Having only skated derby-style for about 4 months, I considered both, but settled on a new mantra:  “I’m not going to compete until I feel ready.”  Simple enough, yes?

So I’m going along with this mantra in my head, attending all practices, keeping up my enthusiasm, trying to learn something new every time I skate, and feeling very proud to be one of the original members of High Altitude Roller Derby, even if I won’t be skating in the first official league bout.  I’m happy to be here, and happy for the girls who feel ready to take on another team from another league.  You go, girls.  Thumbs way up!

Every month, we hold a league meeting at someone’s house, where people bring refreshments – usually consisting of various types of wine.  Being the adventuresome, quirky type, and since the husband, who has now joined us as a league Referee (and usually says “I never drink… vine…”), actually drove us to the meeting, I decided to partake in the vino.  It’s only the polite thing to do.

The list starts going around to sign up for the bout on June 30th.   I hold fast and true to my mantra:  “I’m not going to compete until I feel ready.”  As the list comes my way, I smile sweetly and pass it to the person next to me.  Another glass of wine, please.

The meeting lasts for a while, many things are discussed, it’s a lively conversation among my favorite people in this entire town.  I’m enjoying the company, and celebrating my contentment with… another glass of wine.  The bout is discussed with great enthusiasm, I feel a tiny pang of envy, but remember my mantra:  “I’m not going to compete until I feel ready.”  Pour another glasss…

The meeting breaks, and I see the list come around again as I’m standing next to Hubby Ref.  I shee he has written his name on the lisst – to Referee, of course.  I’m sso proud of him.  Thumbss waaay up, babe!  I take amother sip ov my newly-poured glasss of vine and schtruggle to remember zeh mantra.  Ish it… schomething like…  “I’m going to compete I feel ready”…?  Uhh… yep, I zchink that’s it.  Yeah, that sounds aboot right… I shign my name to the lissst.

"Dahling, put Zsa Zsa on ze list, vatever it's for.  Zsa Zsa doesn't like to veel left out."
Three hours and one godless headache later, I realize what I’ve done.  For the next week or so, I’m actually pretty excited and proud of myself.  Going the extra mile.  Stepping not only out of the comfort zone, but directly into the fire!  Good for me!

Then we have another league practice, and I’m feeling kinda yucky, not much energy, and I’m thinking, maybe I need to get my name taken off that list – what if this is how I feel on bout day?  That’s not fair to the other girls here who don’t EVER feel yucky or sometimes don't feel like going to practice, because it’s just me who feels that way every now and then.  (I know – but sometimes I get in these moods, you see…)

About an hour into practice, I’m still feeling yucky but found I’ve managed to get lead jammer 3 out of 4 times, so that cheers me up some.  And then something crappy happens while I’m a blocker during a jam, and I manage to trip and nearly kill the jammer for my own team.  Everything closes in on me, and all of a sudden I’m “that girl” again – the one in High School P.E. who everyone rolls their eyes at and doesn’t want on their team.  I turn my disappointment inward, and my entire night is ruined.

The issue here is that I’ve still not found that “way out” of my own self-destructive thinking.  Most girls join roller derby because that’s innately who they are.  They’re outgoing, boisterous, Type A personalities who don’t take shit from anyone and can take their aggressions out on a sport – on each other – and go have a beer afterward and feel much better about themselves, their teammates, and their lives.  A lot of these girls are health care workers, with RN and ER and EMT attached to their profiles, or law enforcement, or crime scene analysts – and you just know these chicks need something like this to keep their sanity.  Derby also attracts those girls who were always the team captains and can’t even fathom wanting to ditch P.E., and girls who are generally athletic, tough, and take no prisoners. 

I joined derby because I’m none of these things – I’ve NEVER been that way, but if there’s one thing I love about myself, it’s that I’m one helluvan adventurer, and I’ll try anything if it looks exciting, or simply because I’ve never done it before.  That has gotten me into a little bit of trouble in the past, so I’ve learned how to pick and choose those things that look dangerous and exciting but won’t cause me to pick little invisible bugs out of the carpet or think my wall heater is harboring the voices of evil spirits. 

But the other reason I joined roller derby is because I can see the OUTWARD anger in these girls.  Something pissed them off at work that day, or they’re still upset about something that happened in their childhood, or they’re just generally in a donotmesswithmetoday kind of mood, and I can see ALL of this smoldering behind their eyes when they swoop up and solidly HIT another girl out.  I can still see it in their eyes when they get knocked nearly into next week, get right the hell up, and charge back into the pack, hearts black with vengeance and pumping blood-red with self-confidence.  It’s both admirable and awe-inspiring, and I want to learn from these girls how to turn my anger into something acceptably destructive and – haha – “sporty” – rather than let all of that inner fury eat away at my insides and cause me to think and do things that only hurt myself.

My realization that I’m simply not where I want to be in this game on a mental level also made me consider that I will not, CANNOT, learn to properly hit and take hits until I stop turning on myself and letting everything that has ever upset me continue to decay into depression and self-loathing.  They say anger is depression turned outward – not for me, nope.  I turn it all right back on myself, regardless of whether I deserve it or not.  Since I can remember, every time I felt slighted, or messed with, or picked on, or bullied either at home or at school, I’d get angry and then do or say something to make things worse rather than go deal with the source, and I’ve been doing that ever since.  Damn it, THIS is why I joined derby in the first place.  To uncover that secret – to get that fire behind MY eyes that says, don’t even TRY your obnoxious on me, I will pommel you.

The secret is in the hitting.  I can do the other skill stuff pretty well by now.  I’ve even gotten lighter on my skates and can juke around and find that jammer opening and blast through it; I can skate backwards and whip my jammer through; I can positional block two girls behind me at the same time with my ass and my long legs and not give either one of them a prayer of getting past me.  But the hitting… that’s personal.  There is something holding me back, and it’s not physical, because I know how to do it, by God.  They’ve gone over it and over it at practice, and I’ve tried and tried to do exactly what they tell me, but the FIRE is not in my eyes yet.  It’s still deep down in the pit of my stomach, burning up my insides and eating up all of my oxygen, and it hasn’t broken through a window yet.  I’m looking forward to the backdraft. 
Pretend this is a silhouette of a derby girl...
So I considered all of this and decided, I really am not ready to bout yet.  Not until I can light that fire exactly where I want it.  I remembered that I’m a filmmaker – and we’re having the first bout of our league.  This is a special thing for us, a memorable event.  It should be documented.  Besides, we need a promo video to get more sponsors.  Perfect.  That’s what I’ll do for the bout.  I’ll be Suzy Filmmaker instead of Suzy Hotrod Wannabe.

Okay, back to the hitting stuff.  A couple of people have actually approached me and told me that they’ve seen my improvement and they can’t wait to see what happens when I finally unleash that mental block that keeps me from making those solid hits.  Yeah, I’m kind of looking forward to it myself.  The very fact that my eyes well up with tears when I think about it tells me that this is NOT just about getting good at a sport.  I have to – I MUST learn to hit effectively.  I will, however, give myself credit for getting up after taking a good solid hit that rocks my world (and my spinal cord) and getting on with the jam – that’s a start. 

But I don’t have that fire behind my eyes yet.  In fact, it gets a little cold inside when I get slammed down hard, and I am in the habit of blaming myself rather than remembering that this is simply the Game.  You’ll get knocked down – sometimes harder than you think is necessary.  But you get the crap back up, catch up to the pack, and start knocking around with the girls again, because it’s hit or be hit, block or be blocked, lead jam or get lapped; besides, it’s just a game we call roller derby. 

Or is it?