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 ├╝berstrong, 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.

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