In roller derby you have to pass a series of physical and written tests before you can scrimmage with the other players. It’s a safety thing–making sure you’re not going to injure yourself or anyone else when skating in a tight pack. At one point during the assessment test I fell. As I regained my feet, my captain said, “It’s okay if you fall. You have wheels on your feet. You’re going to fall sometimes.”
I called the corner of the rink in which we fresh meat practiced, “The Guppy Pond.” In the guppy pond I practiced crossovers, jumping, blocking, hitting, and I learned how to fall. I learned how to fall correctly, and how to get up quickly. I would steal envious glances at the ladies scrimmaging on the rink while I skated and dropped to one knee, stood up, dropped to the other, stood up, dropped to both, stood up. Over and over I skidded across the floor, my legs aching for relief, my eyes darting along with the flashes of blue and red pinnies flying around the track. I wanted to be out there so badly, to mix with the experienced girls, to play derby. But, I wasn’t ready, yet. I had more to learn before I could play the game.
So, I studied the rules and practiced the basics. I took my test and passed. And then I got onto the track. My rabid enthusiasm quickly turned to apprehension as the realization sunk in that I was out of the guppy pond. The hits would be real, and my newly acquired skills were nothing against the seasoned skaters surrounding me. Suddenly, the guppy pond didn’t seem so bad. But, it was too late. I was in with the big kids and there was no going back. So, I launched into the fray. And fell. And fell. And fell. Over and over I tried my best to get around the opposing blockers, eating floor more often than not.
But, there’s a trick to falling in derby. It’s called falling small.
Falling small is falling in a calculated way. It’s not flailing, clawing, sprawling onto the track in a miserable heap, railing against that which brought you down. It’s tucking in your knees and elbows while still descending, hitting the ground in a smooth, protected curl and regaining your feet instantly. It’s a thoughtful process, not distracted by what happened to make you fall–that doesn’t matter anymore–but rather knowing how to make that hitch in your progress cost you as little momentum as possible.
We’ve all struggled as writers. Roadblocks–either of our own design or of those forged by the system into which we seek admission–are inevitable, just like falling when you have wheels on your feet. But when those moments come, we can be ready for them. As we topple, we can look up to see the track ahead. We can see the holes in the defense, pleasant little spaces for us to try to squeeze through and attain our goals. We can tuck in, preparing for that brief moment of impact, but already poised to spring forward with renewed vigor. Sometimes we hit the ground hard, but it doesn’t matter. We’ve fallen small, and are up again and sprinting, a clearer plan in mind.
Yes, it is okay to fall.
Just make sure you do it right.