Category Archives: personal achievement

Catching Up

It seems the past few months have been a race between time and me, with me struggling along in the back, trying to catch up to all of the things I need to do. This month marks a year since I joined SRG, and what I’ve learned, more than anything, is joining a roller derby league is not a trivial affair.  It’s not a drop in the bucket list, or the filler of an empty space on a college application.  Roller derby is a living, breathing monster.

And it will swallow you whole.

Once devoured by the monster, there are just two options: be spit back out, or settle down inside with thirty other ladies for a long, slow, glorious digestion. The first moment I laced up and stepped onto the track I chose digestion.  I practice for two hours, three nights a week.  At least one of those ends with someone offering to run out and grab a beer.  There are fundraisers, league meetings, committee meetings, and committee obligations.  There are gatherings, parties, and get-togethers almost every weekend.  With so many young women on the league, something is always going on.

I’m an all-or-nothing sort.  I don’t half-ass things, never have.  If I commit, I put my heart into it.  If I can’t commit, I don’t try to just squeak by with a marginal approximation, I simply don’t do it.  And that is why this blog has been such a wasteland the past few months.  I committed to roller derby, found amazing fulfillment in it, and let, well, pretty much everything else slack. There were other factors going on with my writing, ones I will not bore you with.  As many of you are writers you probably have experienced each of my extenuating circumstances, and I wouldn’t be sharing anything new, anyway. Whatever the root cause, my obsession with roller derby provided an excellent excuse for not dealing with the blinding white screen.

Sunday closes our official season–our team’s first. I started out having not skated in twenty years.  I was sedentary (save for a few short-lived spurts of “I’m going to get in shape with Billy Blanks!”).  Skating an hour during open skate exhausted me.  I geared up and pushed myself on sucky wheels and a slick floor.  I participated in my first bout, skating very upright and directionless.  Boomz from Charm City–a borrowed skater for our team–spent the entire night yelling my name and dragging me around the track from wherever I had wandered to where I was supposed to be (thanks for that, Boomz). I worked harder after that bout.  I learned to always ask myself, “Where’s their jammer, where’s my jammer, where am I?”  I learned to pick up my feet, to get in front of people and sit on them. I got faster, got winded less. I went from panting after one jam to being able to participate in almost every jam without exhaustion. I tore my PCL.  I went to physical therapy and pushed even harder once I got back on skates. I hit harder. I skated with more strategy.  I learned to crossover on the turns while skating backwards.  I jammed more to learn agility.  I hit harder.  And now I’m looking at this upcoming bout with confidence, knowing that all of those little struggles have added up to an entirely new me, both on and off the track, one that will keep growing and changing with every passing practice from here on out.

If I take what I have learned from roller derby this past year, it’s that achievements aren’t the big billboards we envision at the end of our path.  Rather, they are the small things that happen on a daily basis that add up to create an ever-shifting vision of who we see ourselves being. For a while there, I was concentrating on my billboard dream with writing. I kept slogging towards it, occasionally flinging myself forward in the hopes of making greater headway, but it never seemed to be getting closer.  Every choice I made seemed to fail, and I started to think, “Why bother?” And that’s where the disconnect began. Commercial/professional/mental progress is much trickier to track than the physical, however, and I failed to recognize how far I’d come from five years ago. The connections I’ve made with other authors–people who are great both professionally and personally–are enough alone to consider this venture a victory. Looking even closer, though, I see magazine articles; an entirely self-published novel with admittedly few, but stellar, reviews; invitations to join other writing friends on projects; and new avenues constantly appearing to help guide me through this path I’ve chosen.

Expecting the One Thing to tell me I’m doing well is like saving up all of my energy at a bout just to deliver that big hit where everyone goes, “Ooooh!” It might be cool and satisfying in the moment it happens, but in focusing on that single detail I would be overlooking the multitude of other opportunities to grow and achieve (and probably set myself up for a slew of failures in the interim).  You know that hokey saying about how it takes a village? I guess it’s true.  Except in this case, it takes a whole roller derby team to raise a writer.    

As this blog is about Hell and Wheels, about my professional and derby life, it seems only natural to treat them as mutually inclusive.  How I approach derby seems to be a success, so I’m going to approach this writing life in the same manner–one little victory at a time.

As for Sunday’s bout, well, I’ll let you know how that one turns out.  Here’s a spoiler, though, it’s gonna be a good time.

If you’re in the Wilmington DE area Sunday around six and have nothing to do, stop by the Christiana Skating Center and buy a ticket.  I’ll be in black, with the mark of the beast on my back.

(I’m not in this particular jam from our July bout, but this is SRG–purple–in our first bout against this weekends’ opponents)

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The Shadow of Avarice

For as long as I’ve been conscious of my surroundings, American culture has been one of greed. In fact, I think it safe to say that if Dante’s’ hell does exist, most of us will be stopping by the fourth level for at least a short visit. In bed last night, as my mind churned with images of this mess our country has landed in, and how we got there, my thoughts turned to Woodstock (the festival, not the little yellow bird).

Woodstock started out as a corporate venture, as most ventures do. But, as the attendance list grew, so did the ideals behind the concert. It became bigger than business suits and conference rooms, bigger than budget meetings and profit margins. It became bigger than the dollar. The weekend was shared in a spirit of love and peace, and although problems did arise, the attendees took them in gracious stride. They weathered rain, poor sanitary conditions and food shortages all because they wanted to be there, to share in the moment itself.

Fast forward to 1999. Another “Woodstock”, this time–a true echo of its origin’s nature–held at a Superfund site. Corporate sponsors lined up, hands out. Merchandise booths and food vendors descended like hungry vultures, each one charging far too much for the substandard wares they hawked. In the only mirror of the previous festival this paltry approximation could claim, food and water again ran short, as did sanitary provisions. This time, riots broke out. Fires were started. Women were raped. The Gen-X answer to the concert that changed rock and roll was a heinous, violent disaster.

When money becomes the sole motive of any purpose, no matter how innocuous or pure the original intent, a shadow falls. This darkness obscures the way, leaving us to wander in the pitch, hoping the direction in which we point is true. And that’s what has happened to our country. We’ve been staggering around in the blackness of avarice, surrounded by the material things we’ve collected, forging for ourselves a vertiginous maze of high end cars, gated communities and the all-mighty–I hate to be forced to say this word–bling.

It is a hard lesson to learn, but a necessary one, one that extends to every aspect of our lives, our hopes. For who among the downtrodden clan of struggling writers has not dreamed of a giant advance, a throng of loyal readers, book signing lines that snake around the block? Hoping for such things is fine, as is attaining them. But, it’s the method by which we go about achieving it, the intent behind our own personal Woodstocks that make the difference. At this critical point in history, where we can learn from our mistakes or doom ourselves to repeat them, we would be better off focusing on what we want out of our work on a personal level, and leave the scrabbling for material achievements to those who enjoy the shadows.