Monday, December 12, 2011

Clowns are dicks, and other lessons from the first ever Roller Derby World Cup.

     I have a big vocabulary. You could say I suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism, the love and use of very long words, the more arcane the better. I know all sorts of ten dollar words for ten cent situations. But as I sit down to relate my World Cup experience, I'm at a bit of a loss. I may have to rely on clichés and stolen aphorisms.
     I found out I had been accepted as an NSO back in August, and the World Cup seemed very far away. I was busy talking league formation and planning scrimmages with my home teams; I had the chance to work with my beloved Authority Figures again; there was a most excellent trip to Portland to work Stats for the West Regionals with Sir Adorable, my (newest) island derby husband, where I learned to watch the game in a whole new way; and I managed to do some regular work/life/bill-paying somewhere in there. Time alternately crawled and sprinted by.
     I realized that a trip to Toronto would be expensive and that I needed to do some fundraising. I figured maybe make some swag to sell at a scrimmage, put out a donation jar, and see what came my way. Well, the local rollergirls had different ideas! One team put on a full skateathon fundraiser in my name, taking pledges and skating their hearts out for two solid hours. They managed to raise almost my entire budget! Another team held a fantastic open scrimmage that attracted the best skaters on the island, and handed over all the donations they had made at the door. This meant that I barely had any out-of-pocket expenses, and as I met officials who had traveled on their own dime, without help or even much recognition from their home leagues, I felt so lucky, so loved, so part of something special. This feeling was to be the meme for the entire trip.
     Friday: Driven to the ferry by arguably the best woman I've met in derby (and that is saying a lot), I head to Vancouver to spend the day with arguably the best-looking ref I know (this is only the beginning of my wanton objectification of refs.) Calm down Primary, you know you're still #1. After some good food and watching a late-night derby practice, it's go time.
     Saturday to Wednesday: The flight is a breeze, and people's eyes light up when I tell them I'm headed home for roller derby. The cashier at Lush wants to call in sick and come with me. A day of shopping with mumsy, then I am on lockdown at my bestie's house, bonding with her two boys that I hadn't yet met. Smothered in cuteness and nourished with the love only your oldest friends can give, I'm ready for the big city. Wednesday is spent with my mother-out-law buying books, visiting Kensington market and savouring the sing-song West-Indian accents I miss so much.      
     Thursday: Jam is on. Officials' meeting is at 1:30. I meet my on-skate ref Aussie roommate in the hotel lobby at 11 and we head upstairs to discuss the merits of Vegemite and Marmite. The hotel is swarming with derbies and their gear, while not-entirely displeased businessmen sidle past. When we arrive at the venue and find the officials' room, right away I see some familiar faces and a bunch of new ones. Aaaah, my tribe. I am impressed with the head ref's opening words, as he manages to convey the importance of being professional while using the expression "fuck ton" more than once. I do love a good dose of dichotomy. Then it's time to dash back to the hotel to pick up aforementioned derby husband who has just arrived. We make it back just in time for him to work his first bout, and the tournament has officially begun.
     My crew, Team Elsinore (most Canadian name by far!) has a round of "hello I'm _______, working _________ position" and gets ready for two bouts this evening, Argentina v Ireland and Brazil v Sweden, back to back. It's baptism by fire, par for the course in derby. Our crew head is a marvel of calm organization, and I'm amazed at how quickly we find our rhythm, it's all "got it!" and "thank you!" as round and round the skaters fly. This is the stuff NSO dreams are made of. Pinch me....
     Back at the hotel we meet our fourth roommate, have a collective squee over the fact that THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, and hit the hay.
     Friday: Quick brekkie at the hotel, today is going to be busy. Ireland v England; Canada v Sweden; Argentina v England; Sweden v Argentina. By the second bout we have had a chance to work with each of the three ref crews. All of them are amazing, but we have definitely got serious mojo with the Miss Fitts, I think we're falling in love. The fact that the head ref looks like a young alabaster-skinned Meryl Streep has nothing to do with it (told you, wanton.) The day is a blur of whistles, good food scarfed too quickly to taste it, bonding moments between jams, smiles wider than the Euphrates, and cacophonous cheers from the fans. We don't get to the hotel until almost 11, where we fall upon our beds like life rafts in a raging sea.
     Saturday: The roommates and I discover a gem of a greasy spoon for breakfast, where the Aussie learns that we don't put carrots on our burgers in Canada, and our salt just tastes like salt, not like chicken. Because the Aussie and I have a later start today I take him Cuban cigar-shopping and pick up some antique amber earrings for myself, some of the only time we spend anywhere other than the hotel or venue. This may have actually happened on Sunday, the days are running together in my memory. Another four bouts today: Brazil v Ireland; USA v New Zealand; Brazil v Scotland; France v Finland. The schedule says that apart from the first one we will be paired with our beloved Miss Fitts for the rest of the tournament. Yes! We are like a well-oiled machine: setup is a breeze, barely any OTOs, eagle eyes and ears missing nary a call, the refs are loud, clear and follow up with us between jams. Of course we all make some mistakes, but no one is allowed to dwell on it, upward onward forward. I have dry-erase marker on my shirt and a shit-eating grin on my face. A bite to eat and quick catnap refreshes me, I spend a few unapologetically blissful minutes surrounded by refs in various states of undress (again, Plenty?!), then it's back to the track. My new friends are starting to feel like old comrades. By this time they are well acquainted with my debilitating fear of clowns and do their best to protect me from the scary-as-shit one that is announcing. These are good people.
     Each team does a walkaround with their flag, sings their anthems, revving up the crowd. I admit to a wave of pride when New Zealand takes the floor and performs a haka. At first I put it to the kiwi blood in me, but then I realize that everyone there is experiencing the same thing: a tribal connection. We came from many latitudes and over many borders for one reason, and that is the love of derby. Many of us have grown up wondering where do we fit, when will we find our people, who will understand us? The answer is here, now, and everyone around you. Differences are accepted, awkwardness is revered. My eyes are leaking.
     Sunday: The final day has come. I am in search of a good coffee, so I drive around until I find an Italian bakery. And I mean Italian in that every item on the shelves is labelled only in Italian, a very good sign. I get an Americano so strong I need a fork to eat it, a croissant and a local paper, which has the World Cup on the front page of the Sports section. Silent swell of satisfaction with a soupçon of swagger that I am a part of this! Only two bouts today, USA v Australia, New Zealand v France. Team Elsinore wins both. In a bout with over 500 points scored, we have one OTO and it last about 12 seconds. The crowd is savvy: they know exactly when a skater has pulled off a great move, they are very forthcoming about their opinions on the ref's calls, they are doing their best to manage the penalty box and lineups with screams and pointed fingers. I reckon everyone there has known what it is to be an underdog, because every time a losing team scores, the roar goes through the floor and up to your knees.
     Our crew's last bout is over, and the second track is being shut down and turned into more spectator seats for the final. I see Primary derby husband in the crowd and sit with him awhile, awash in contagious derby fever even while I maintain my stoic official's demeanor. In the meantime, Elsinore's head guru has rigged up a projector with the game on a far wall, and all the officials bring out chairs to watch it together. Best seats in the house, no need for speakers. Even though we have all worked the same tournament, some of us are only just meeting now, all previous communication having consisted of smiles across the food table and nods of shared fatigue. Pizza arrives and is gone in under three minutes. There's nothing we can do about it, this thing is ending. I'm tired and wired all at once. I could do it all again, but I also want to go home, hug my kid, pet my dog and cat, and share this experience with those who love me best.
     After a decompression dinner of burgers and root beer (another new experience for the Aussie), we spent a grand total of seventeen minutes at the afterparty, then headed back to the hotel bar, where I unabashedly fawned over some of my derby heroes now that that I wasn't officially officiating. One last cuddle with Sir Adorable, one last squee over THIS ACTUALLY JUST HAPPENED, and then my alarm is waking me up to go. I breakfast quietly in the hotel, sharing more leaky eyes with the incredible tournament head-NSO as we discuss the overwhelming friendliness and positivity of the event. All the way home there are visions of zebra stripes dancing in my head.
     Epilogue: I am still a newbie to derby, having only just picked up my first clipboard 8 months ago. Still I have already witnessed drama, runaway egos, fractured relationships, resentment and burnout. I can't imagine what people who've been doing this for years have slogged through. At the World Cup though, I heard many refs and skaters talk about how their love of the game was being restored, they were remembering why they got involved in the first place. It was like a giant reset button had been pressed. I think it's because we knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Undoubtedly there will be more World Cups, and they will be bigger, shinier, and hopefully pillar-free. But there's a magic about being there for the first one, like when you see a great band at a divey bar and then five years later they only play arenas and they've lost that intimate feel. You were in on the secret from the beginning. As a collective, we ushered in a piece of history, and we did it with respect and unparalleled camaraderie. And shapely bums (forgive me).
     Phew, that was a long one, imagine if I'd been feeling wordy.
Plenty O out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Humble Pie

Know what? As far as criticizing the methods of other officials, I should keep my mouth zipped. I'm really only feeding the negativity myself when I do so, and one can never know what's happening in the mind of another. So I will take my own advice (and that of my stellar derby husband) and watch my mouth. Apologies all around for the adhoc analysis. Mmmm, alliteration.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I walk the line.

A fair few developments have occurred in my NSO world lately. The most significant is undoubtedly that I have been accepted as an NSO in the first ever roller derby World Cup! To say that I'm excited is like saying that Monsanto is evil: a gross understatement. So many unknowns: how many bouts will I work? how many positions? can I write the ref cert test while I'm there? will Team NZ bring Marmite with them? This is history in the making and while I'm mostly humbled by the chance, I confess a wee slice of me is like "Check my shit OUT!" Fortunately a certain measure of hubris is allowed in derby :)

So, onto other topics. I am digging skating a lot. Already feeling more confident, I'm taking my time, learning skills slowly and with much repetition. My skates have a little wear and tear on them now, my core feels stronger than it was even last week, and I'm looking forward to skating outside while my boy rides his bike. It has also cemented the fact that I do NOT want to derby. I'll leave that to the braver (ahem, crazier) ladies of the track. When it's bout time, give me a clipboard or a timer and I'm in nirvana.

What else what else? Oh, I'm loving the new WFTDA officiating manual and Rules Central. I'm on it almost every day, I like to look up random rules and clarifications and commit them to memory, all in preparation for when I write The Test. Another confession: having been told that NO ONE passes the test the first time, up flares the pilot light in my head that declares SOMEBODY has to, just once, so why not me? What's wrong with that thinking? Well, my fatal flaw is that is  deep in my brain there is a block-headed saboteur who decides if I am not going to be the best at something, I won't do it at all. Ridiculous, yes. True, also yes. With years of practice I have somewhat muffled her caterwauling, otherwise I wouldn't be here now. I knew I wasn't going to be the best NSO in the world from day 1, but it's just too much fun to stay away. So I will study study study, write the test when I get a chance, and do MY best, which is all anyone ever does.

I have heard more than once, from more than one person, that as refs, having each others' backs is paramount during a bout. Now I understand why. If one official is seen yelling at another, even if what they are yelling is technically correct, it lowers morale and creates a fissure, a point of entry for friction and negativity. If I'm doing something wrong, do I want to know about it? Absolutely. As an NSO I shit the bed sometimes and I need to know if you can smell it. But do I want to hear about it in the middle of a bout, at lung-bursting volume, with veins popping in your forehead? Nah thanks. In fact, if that be your method of communication, the obstinate mule in me is going to shut out all further input from you, regardless of its content. If it's a fellow zebra being scolded/screamed at, the mama bear in me will stand on her hind legs and fucking dare you to attack my cubs again. And the chattering magpie in me will make it known that you are not a team player. Which is a lot of animals, and a lot of drama, all best avoided.
So let's keep cool heads shall we? Write it down, ask for a timeout, wait til the jams ends, talk it over in the change room, whatever. Learn to walk the line between sharing information that may be getting missed, and respecting that everyone has their own role and trusting them to work it. The world is not going to end when a mistake is made, but how we handle it, and each other, will spell the difference between camaraderie and divisiveness. Good sportsmanship isn't just for the athletes. Plenty O out.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Breaking my Own Glass Ceiling

SO I have a parcel notice on my desk right now, it says I can pick up my spanking new skates today. I'm so excited....and kinda terrified. I've had 2 herniated discs in the past 6 years, got me some untreatable bone spurs on my neck vertebrae, and a lifetime of conditioning to look for and find the negative potential in all situations (thanks Mom!). I've spent the last year telling myself and anyone who will listen that I won't/can't play derby, my physiotherapist won't allow it, I'm just planning to skate for the fun and fitness of it. And yet here I am, waiting for my new blue skates and dreaming of hipchecking those I love the best. I even came up with a skater name, just in case (Chub Soda, #355ml :). This is all part of the new paradigm I seem to be entering, where the things I knew for sure are suddenly in question, the things I ran from or rejected are suddenly intriguing, and the things I thought I wanted are suddenly looking like the dregs of a thrift store clearance rack. Injecting a little "why not?" into my decision-making has been freeing, if a little vertiginous.

And how does this all tie in with roller derby? Because this is a collective of people who make it safe to explore that which I fear. I've already got some outstandingly supportive friends, but it's the general attitude in derby that has helped pull me out of my crab shell. I can aim for any goal, approach any person, take on any challenge, and nobody tries to talk me out of it. I can even wear a pink mustache while I do it and no one bats an eye! So while it's still officiating that warms my blood, and I don't have a particular desire to duke it out on the track, it's enough to know that I can. That I'll be met with smiles, high fives and the kind of  approbation some people never find in their life. Maybe there are some things I know for sure....

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Making Peace with Pink

I have spent the majority of my years loathing the colour pink. At one time my disdain for the hue was so strong that even a gloriously rosy sunset left me unmoved. Pink meant girlishness, which meant weakness, which was anathema to me. You can probably guess I was not raised to equate femininity with strength. Everything has changed. Because of roller derby and my work as an official, pink to me now is powerful, womanly, playful, knowledgeable. In short, everything I aim to be in my life. And I look hella good in it!

I began the roller derby NSO (non-skating official) journey just this year, early 2011, when my friends on the local team took me out for a drink, thrust a manual in my hands and "asked" me to be their head NSO. Apparently when they needed someone who could be loud and bossy, my name came up. I like to think that they also recognized my passion for communication, continual learning and inclusion, all of which are necessary in order to be an effective head NSO. I will discuss these qualities and more in future posts, because that is the aim of this blog: to record my experiences and education in roller derby officialdom. For now, suffice to say that I am outing myself as a lover of all things pink. Except for pink jellybeans, those are just gross.