Archive for June, 2012

Roller Derby as Radical Professional Development: Part 1

When I decided to write this series (originally for another roller derby group blog that’s since disappeared), it was partially in hopes that the act of writing about a career funk might help me discern whether I’d really crawled out of it.

I started derby in the fall of 2010, normally my busiest time of the year, and this was fall of the dreaded 5Y year: the year my tenure file was due.  The bulk of the work had been done in summer, or at least I thought so. I submitted my file in July, and then my department got to work editing the materials… meaning more work would come back to me in the fall.

Even in summer before that first submission deadline, though, I was just bursting for something to shake me up. I couldn’t muster the motivation to deal with the dreadmill, but Derby hit the jackpot. It was physical, rough, kinda risky, social, and it immediately got me off the couch and out of the house a few days a week, in a city that was still a bit new to me.  I joined just as the league was starting to think about their first bout. We were up to about 25 active, non-injured, skills-tested skaters, so when the invitation came in late November to bout only an hour away, we jumped.  And so it goes with roller derby, the time sink expanded very quickly.

At some point in early November, I became aware of three shifts in my life: 1) Roller derby was taking up an increasingly larger amount of my time, and threatening to bleed into work something fierce; 2) The time of worrying that my tenure dossier would come back to me for more work had probably passed, and; 3) With all that writing and compiling and painstaking wordsmithing out of the way, I was sort of paralyzed at the office.  It wasn’t  a big concern, though; heading into the holidays meant things were relatively slow, and I was overdue for some down time.

I shrugged it off, tried to appreciate the breather, and concentrated on responding to things that came my way (thankfully my job is largely reactive). And poured my energy into derby. That first bout in mid-December had brought some stress into the league, and a second on very short notice in January only picked at the scabs. Normally cheered by January’s return to routine at the office, I found myself wanting to just skate and watch derby and sleep, even from 9-5. Looking back on the early part of that winter, I know that I was depressed. Not just the normal dark-quiet-hibernatey winter mood, but really a little bit depressed. And talking to others who have been through the tenure process, I know that it’s not an uncommon response. At the time, I told myself I was getting out of the house and getting exercise with derby practice, and yet the part of me that got up every morning and stumbled down the stairs with sore, stiff, puffy feet and ankles, always running late, still not feeling any room in my clothes after all those practices?  That part knew better.

There’s a part of me that gets too comfortable sitting in that paralysis, walled-off and a little bit numb. It seduces me, and I oblige. But the thing with derby is that you can’t help but engage;  you can’t just wilt and watch what’s happening around you, or you’ll be on the floor. And so I had to engage in derby practice, at least, even if I returned to life inside a padded (and hand-knitted) shell afterwards.

February came, then March, and everything mostly stayed the same. We scheduled a home bout – with plenty of lead time, yay!  We selected three sets of Captains/co-Captains, who drafted teams, and the league voted on a traveling team.  I hit an unexpected jackpot:  Captain, travel team, and then Captain of travel team.  My first reaction to the latter was not so pretty: What the hell did they see in me? What did they think they were getting, exactly? Had they actually seen me play roller derby?  The clash of my many visions of self made my head spin.  The ones where I’m a damn good skater, and the ones where I’m really out of shape; the ones where I’m calm and rational in the face of league cray-cray, and the ones where I’m snarky and moody and impatient and really not all that social.  But the bottom-line was, all these new responsibilities and the sheer force of all those expectations, finally (though gradually) prompted a desire to kick off some changes. I started seeing parallels between derby and work everywhere: in organizing people and events, leading projects, setting and achieving goals, being present, maintaining a thick skin, moving forward always. The idea that Snarker, who could take a fucking wrecking ball of a hit and stay upright, would let work insecurities hold her back? In. Sane. Did not compute. The ideas for writing this as a series were raw, but I was intrigued by all the parallels between the track and life in academia. And best of all, I was driven to dig in — to derby, to myself, to work, to everything.

To kick up my workouts, I added in an offskates practice with our new trainer, in addition to a new weekly team practice my co-Captain had set up.  We also added offskates work to our team practice, to accommodate those who couldn’t make the separate day.  And then I added running back in, and started signing up for races.  Before I really knew it, I was in the middle of this amazing and intense storm, calmly setting 4am alarms and feeling as proud of my sore muscles as I was of my derby bruises.

And somewhere in this time, the funk lifted. I’m not sure if the workouts prompted it, or if something in my head just shifted at the same time, but I was grateful for it. Grateful for what I’m doing — not for a person, though there are several people around who inspire me. And not only for derby, though training to be a better derby player is certainly a high-priority goal. But for me and me alone. because when I’m out on that track, I’m both terrified and thrilled to be completely present out there, exposed and threatened and playing like a fucking champion. I’m not limited by any of those visions in my head anymore; I’m Snarker Posey and you’d better watch out. I’m still working on having Snarker teach Stephanie about strategy and resilience.

It’s not derby as such that’s saving my career, or saving me; it’s that derby is one of the few things in my life that’s really prompted me to fight rather than take flight, and that feeling is pretty memorable.  Looking back over my winter roller coaster, I have to wonder whether the next time the funk strikes, I might be able to find the fight inside, through derby. And the same goes for work; whether, the next time some problem boils up that threatens to paralyze me, I’ll remember my derby stance and the force it takes to knock me down.

to try, or not to try

Well, that’s a stupid question. Of course you try. always, every day, moving forward, outside the comfort zone, on the edge of that wave. You play roller derby, after all. When the confidence is high, you ride it like a mofo, and take care of business. And when it’s not, you try to remember what it’s like to ride it, and keep moving until that feeling comes back. If nothing else, just focus on keeping your girls out of harm’s way, that’ll get the adrenaline flowing.

Q2 travel team tryouts are on the horizon, and despite a little freakout the other day, I’m surprisingly sanguine about it today. I have absolutely nothing to lose here. Once again, no expectations, so there’s no room for disappointment. Just put it all out there on the track, take pride in the effort, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, and let someone else decide whether it’s good enough — yet.