2015 Year in Review


Photo courtesy of Sam Matthews.

I ended it in a better state than I started it.

January: Told friends and family I was going to move to Portland, likely in the summer if not sooner. Started my intro level roller derby practices in Oak Park.

February: Started my Feminine Comique intro to stand-up comedy class. Took a sexual harasser to court. Hosted a fun Galentines Day brunch with 20+ women I like being around. Adele and I found out our apartment was being sold, so I had to find a new plan of where to live between April and July.

March: Did my stand-up class’s final show. Told my company I was moving and asked to keep my job remotely. Started the Addison Recorded podcast with Gina, a six-week project. Turned 29. Got rid of most of my belongings in preparation for the Portland move. Set a move date for July.

April: Started a video project in which I took two-second video clips of my last 100 days of living in Chicago. Visited Portland during the rainy season to make sure I wanted to live there, AND saw the Rose City Rollers play for the first time. Concluded the podcast. Started a personal email newsletter. Moved in with Christina and John, bookending my time in Chicago in the house where I began those five years.

May: Started an ASL class with Christina, who was interested in learning. Saw my first USARS bout. My brother visited Chicago for a work conference, and then came back with his whole family a couple weeks later. Did a radio interview with WGN about Shine Theory. Saw Jenny Lewis play. Went home to Ohio for Memorial Day.

June: I got to officially announce that my company was letting me keep my job, six weeks before my move date. Did two live lit shows. Threw myself literally five going away parties. Saw Best Coast play. Gave away and sold more of my stuff.

July: Spent most of 4th of July weekend with Stef, who was planning a move to Boston just weeks after my Portland move. Put most of my new remaining belongings on an Amtrak shipment with the help of the Beans. Went to a music festival with Liz. Picked my dad up from O’Hare and drove west for 2,400 miles. Bought a couch.

August: Made new friends at a coworking space. Wrote a bunch of my book. Started writing for The Billfold. Got an essay accepted for a print anthology. Hung out with Brianne in both Oregon and Washington. Saw Jenny Lewis play twice in one weekend. Went hiking a lot with Betsy, Christina, and Kiernan. Drove to Olympia to see Paul.

September: Saw Horse Feathers play with Sam. Went to Wreckers orientation so I could start skating for Portland. Wrote more of my book and had work published more frequently on HelloGiggles. Hosted the first of many girls nights with my new Portland lady friends.

October: Went to Chicago. Went to Salt Lake City. Went to Ohio. Attended three weddings in 10 days. Jeanne came up from San Francisco to stay with me for a week. On a plane between SLC and PDX, wrote an essay about the summer I worked as a hotel housekeeper. Laura came out to celebrate Halloween the Portland way.

November: Went to the Bookmark Ball with Sam. Attended a memoir writing workshop at Wordstock. Wrote a huge chunk of my book. Took a slightly-impromptu trip to Seattle to attend an investigative reporting seminar. Crashed with Evan, Blue Star donuts in hand. Got to interview the Gilmore Guys. Got walking pneumonia but didn’t figure it out for a while. Ran a Turkey Trot, kind of. Had Thanksgiving with Yeng.

December: Went to Chicago. Went to Boston. Went to Ohio. Went back to Boston. Got to interview Ann Friedman. Hung out with Eileen, Margaret, and Liz in New Bedford. Saw Death Cab for Cutie. Bought everyone on my Christmas list a book. Spent New Year’s with Stef.

Dwindling Baggage

This is what will be going in my car (giraffe not included)

This is what will be going in my car (giraffe not included)

It’s July! I hope you had a great Fourth of July weekend. I know I did, since it was full of time with friends, eating and drinking too much, and checking things off my to-do-before-moving list. That list is getting mercifully shorter, and a big item got checked off today: My nine Home Depot boxes are on a train headed to Portland right now, thanks to Alex and Becky. They packed up the boxes in their much-bigger vehicle and I followed them in my car to Union Station.

There, Amtrak weighed my boxes which, as I wrote before, had to come in under 500 pounds total. Mine collectively weighed 229 pounds, confirming my suspicion that I have zero concept of weight. I had at least weighed what I believed to be the heaviest one of them, by standing on Christina’s scale while holding it. It didn’t weigh even 45 pounds, and I knew almost all the others were lighter. I just didn’t realize how MUCH lighter. Provided I’d had another willing friend with a vehicle, I could have moved a LOT more stuff than I did.

The process of getting the nine boxes to the belly of Union Station was strange, but it wasn’t the logistical nightmare I’d been picturing. I worried I’d be wandering aimlessly around Union Station’s lovely atrium, staggering under the weight a single box in my arms. We went nowhere near the atrium — I’d called the week before and was told there is a loading dock. Once you clear a security check, complete with bomb-sniffing dog and armed cop, you’re directed to exactly where you need to go, where Amtrak employees help you carry your stuff. It was a lot more organized than I had expected, although the second I was assured my boxes were good to go, a million new worries immediately formed for me to chew on instead.

“I’ve just given myself a 12-day stomach ache,” I told Becky, watching the men load my belongings onto a large hand truck.

Now I can spend every moment between today and July 18 worrying that my stuff has not arrived/is in shambles/is lost and gone forever.

But hey, at least it was cheap. The total cost was $138.10, and then I opted for the $15 insurance add-on. If it doesn’t work out, maybe the insurance will allow me to replace whatever is lost or damaged.

Seven flat-rate shipping boxes (mostly books)

Seven flat-rate shipping boxes (mostly books)

On Tuesday before roller derby practice, I will be mailing my USPS boxes to myself from the post office by work. It kills me now, realizing I could have included those boxes in my Amtrak shipment, but maybe the cost would have been comparable since those boxes in particular are so heavy on their own. Once those seven USPS boxes are out of the way, all I’ll have left is what’s going in/on top of my car and what I’ll be leaving for a Salvation Army pick-up appointment.

This weekend was perfect weather, and I got to do a lot of things I wanted to do. I went to a cookout in Bridgeport to see friends and was surprised when I found myself choking up. When you start crying while hugging your friend’s mom, whom you’ve only met twice, you might just be entering a tough time. Chicagoans be warned. I was obnoxiously happy for about 90 percent of this three-day weekend, and hit with surprise pangs of sadness or realization for the other 10. This percentage wasn’t helped by how I felt when I found my mom’s glasses tucked away in a box — I’d completely forgotten I even had them, and the forgetting made me sad.

I almost can’t believe I won’t live here anymore a week from tomorrow.

I tried not to make many July plans, like I wrote earlier, but the next few days are filling up all the same. Outside of that I’m just letting myself do whatever I feel like in any given moment and not letting myself feel bad about my choices. For my last derby practice Tuesday, Becca volunteered to meet me in Lombard and get video of me skating, something I’ve wanted this whole time. I’ve been wondering about my form for the last seven months, and also I am very vain.

I said a lot of goodbyes this weekend and so many more are forthcoming. I hate that part. I can’t let myself believe anymore that I’ll see most people again in the next seven days. It was easier to think that when it was two weeks, or two months.

It makes me glad I got my farewell parties out of the way before it really was time to say goodbye.

Derby Practice: The Next Level

Like butta

Like butta

I wrapped up my 12-week intro class, Derby Lite Start Out, at the end of March. Last week, I went to my first practice at the next level. I signed up for the Tuesday night class, which is held at a roller rink in Lombard, IL. Since it’s far from my house, I stay in the suburbs after work and head there after traffic has died down. The other option was to do the verrrry early Saturday morning class in Oak Park, and so I decided to do whichever my friend Lisa was doing.

Lombard is possibly the best rink around. The Windy City Rollers just recently switched to the Lombard rink for hosting their home games, and its floor had been described to me as “buttery.” That sounded confusing (and unappetizing) but as soon as I set foot on it for the first time last week, I knew what that girl had meant. The practice space at Oak Park is fine, but it’s not a dedicated skating track — it’s a multipurpose floor, for things like playing basketball and other sports. It’s tiled, whereas Lombard’s floor is one gigantic, marble-smooth surface. It’s a huge difference, and you can go a lot faster than you mean to, as a result.

Going accidentally faster can only help me at this point, because in level two, almost everyone is faster than me. My days of speeding past my teammates are done — the level I’m in now is stacked with former derby players. They may not want to play the sport on a league team anymore, but they still want to skate, and this level is their place to do it. And now, it’s my place in which to get lapped.

We did speed trials on day one, which I was really excited about. I hadn’t done one since my pathetic 20 laps in five minutes back in January, before I knew how to do crossovers. Because there are about twice as many women in this level as there were in my intro class, we couldn’t all skate for five minutes and get timed. Instead, we were timed, two at a time, skating three laps. I felt pretty confident in my time, but was disappointed to see it in hard numbers, listed next to the new teammates’ times, once we were done.

I did my laps in 54 seconds, or at 18 seconds a lap. Most of the former derby girls had done theirs in well under 50 seconds. At the rate I skated, it would take me a sad eight minutes to get in 27 laps. To get 27 laps in five, I’ll need to shave my time down to 11 seconds per lap.

To get from 18 to 11, I’ve got some work to do. We don’t do another speed trial until 11 weeks from now, at the end of this level, on July 7. The good news is, friends and family are allowed to come see us skate that day. If you want to hitch a ride to Lombard with me, I’ll thank you forever for shooting some video of me going.

The class I’m in now is different from level one in almost every possible way. I know how to do the basics now, but I still struggle with my T-stops and turning around (gracefully). In level one, I felt like I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted to. Now, I’m struggling to keep up. I can’t complain — I wanted to feel more challenged, and that’s exactly what I’m getting.

I don’t think I mentioned this before, but after every class, we do some stretches to cool down. We sit on the floor, still in our gear, and basically do yoga in skates. Every single week, I start stretching feeling disappointed I have to stop skating, and not really wanting to waste time stretching. And every week, by the end of our stretches, I am so comfortable lying on the floor that I don’t want to get up. After my first level two class, I lingered longer than usual, closing my eyes, laying on smooth, cool butter.

I was starving after that class, having worked harder than I’d expected. A craving for Arby’s struck me out of nowhere, and I was suddenly a woman obsessed. Luckily, I was in the suburbs, and I suspected the odds were pretty good there was one between me and the interstate drive home. I looked on my phone, and there was an Arby’s less than a mile away. Being able to sense the presence of mozzarella sticks is a pretty underrated superpower, in my book.

How Twitter Bridges Gaps Between Cities

I’ve written before about how much I love Twitter as a freelance writer, but it’s also served me very well so far as someone moving from one city to another. After my initial Portland foray last fall, I began following lots of news outlets, writers, and local businesses out there. I keep most of them tucked away in a list simply called “Portland Folks” but I check in on it with enough regularity to feel pretty well versed on what’s happening there. I feel much more informed about Portland than I did about Chicago when I moved here in 2010.

It’s also helped me network from afar. Shortly after I started following Portland accounts, I also started seeking out roller derby ones. That’s when I realized there’s a handful of women who:

  • are freelance writers
  • play roller derby
  • live in Portland

I nearly fell over. What are the odds? One might worry that this means Portland metro area may be over-saturated with smart lady writers who love roller derby but I don’t think of it like that. I see it instead as further indication that someone like me will be very happy somewhere like there. I had been following a couple of these women for a while, and was interested in their books. Both about roller derby, but each is very different — and both are still different enough from the book I’ve been working on.

I bought Frisky Sour’s first, a how-to guide for those starting out in derby. Her book got me to reluctantly try washing my gear in the top rack of my dishwasher! (It really does work — you just have to make sure your velcro is all sealed up.) And while I was aware of it, I didn’t actually buy Roller Girl, the new graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson, until I heard my hero Stephen Thompson plug it on my favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. I recognized her name and the book title right away, and tweeted at her. She responded, at first, with:

But THEN, this made my day, when she replied to me separately:

I fully intend to transfer to their derby program the minute I move, and I can’t wait. I told her I’d even seen the Heartless Heathers play when I was in Portland last weekend!

Even before now, I’d “met” some Portland folks on Twitter and through Instagram. I even met met one guy, when Stacey and Shane and I went to the Portland Beer and Wine Fest. One of the organizers had messaged me on Twitter and told me to introduce myself at the event’s info booth, so I did. He’s a writer too, but also a radio host and active member of the Portland craft beer scene, so we had a lot to talk about.

It’s awesome that I’m slowly making connections in a new city I’m not actually living in yet, and it makes the whole thing feel a lot less daunting than it did five years ago when I moved to Chicago.

Cross On Over

The rink at Orbit Skate Center

The rink at Orbit Skate Center

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about learning how to do crossovers, kind of. I was able to wrap my brain around putting one skate in front of the other, but I was still unable to convince myself to pick up that opposite foot and plant it next to the crossing one. It just really takes a lot to trick yourself into believing crossing your feet while moving in roller skates is a good thing to do. I practiced again at Start Out last Saturday, but still couldn’t pull them off. That was a good class though, because we learned how to do plough stops and skate backwards, both of which came easier to me than I thought they would.

But I was still disappointed about my crossovers. I wanted to nail them, and get faster, like I was told I would once I learned them. Lucky for me, there was Steve.

Steve teaches a speed skating class several times a week at Orbit Skate Center, the rink I went to after work on New Years Eve. I’ve known about this class for a long time now, after a woman named Sherry at Derby Lite let me know she goes sometimes. However, the times the class is offered are from 8-10 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, or Saturday mornings at 7:30. Since the rink is by my office, it would mean staying in the ‘burbs for several hours on a weeknight before class, or getting up hella early to drive there on a day when I wouldn’t normally have to. Still, I wanted to go, so this past Monday I packed my skates and my laptop and took them to the office. I hung out at a coffee shop and got some writing done before going to the rink.

There was a birthday party going on when I showed up a little early, so I changed in the locker room and put my laptop, bag, and coat into a small locker. I carted my suitcase containing my skates and parked myself at a cafeteria table. As the place cleared out, a guy came up to me and asked if I was there for the speed class. I said I was, and we introduced ourselves. Steve is 32 and has been skating since he was 9 — not speed skating the whole time, but he’s been coaching people in it for the last 10 years.

When I walked onto the rink in gym shoes, I was one of four adults: Me, Steve, a woman maybe a few years older than me, and a man older than Steve. The rest were a handful of children. I felt a little disappointed, because the last time I’d skated at Orbit, that afternoon New Years Eve, I’d struggled to dodge kids and felt anxious about knocking into them. I shrugged it off. We ran some laps, did some stretches, and then laced up.

Immediately it became clear to me that those kids all skated much faster than me, by far. And they were all doing crossovers, without a second thought to how terrifying each one was to me as an observer.

We did some drills as a group, and Steve simultaneously took it easy on me while also improving my form and giving me instruction with each attempt. He was a good teacher and didn’t seem lazily annoyed with me the way my coach at WCR had (justifiably) been. He guessed immediately I was starting out in roller derby and that I didn’t quite have the hang of crossovers yet.

After class, he offered to stay to help me and one of the kids, one-on-one. He had me skate on one foot for as long as I could while he did a drill with the boy, and after the boy left, he asked me if I wanted to give crossovers a try. It was past 10 p.m. by then and I had a 30-minute drive home, but the answer was still yes, of course.

We made a lap, and when I still faltered, he took a new approach. He had me stand mid-rink, on a foot-tall green, painted line that stretched from end to end of the floor. He had me walk sideways along the line, putting my right foot across the left, over and over. My feet got used to the motion after a sideways pass across the rink like that, and then we skated another lap.

I crossed my right foot over my left and stepped into it all the way, just like I had on the line — only I was moving in a circle, fast. The move made me go faster. I lifted my arms in celebration, and nearly fell over. I crossed over again and again, skating faster than I could quite handle and feeling invincible. I thanked Steve.

While on a break at some point, the boy who stayed late, who was maybe 11 or 12, told me I seemed afraid to fall. He encouraged me to do so. I laughed, but I knew what he meant. I’m sure he’s right. I’ve fallen slightly a handful of times, but I still haven’t had my first actual, full-speed, feet-out-from-under-me FALL fall. I guess it shows. The other speed skaters all wore helmets and wrist guards, but I was alone in my knee/elbow pads and mouth guard. I must have looked silly, but as Steve said, I’m ready to fall. I’m prepared for it. Just not in my mind.

I plan on going back to Orbit for more speed skating, but I need to find a time that’s best. Monday nights would have been good, but my friend Gina and I are about to start recording six weeks’ worth of podcast episodes on Mondays. Tuesdays will have to do, unless I want to make some Saturday morning concessions.

The funny thing is, my uncle knows Steve and some of the other speed skaters at Orbit. He once designed a skin suit for Team Rainbo, the skating team that practices there. I guess the speed skating community is tight-knit, spanning states and regions. It’s a small world.

Halfway Through Start Out

My roller derby class has been going really well. I’m almost halfway through with the 12-week Derby Lite Start Out, which is kind of crazy. The toe stops on my skates are still a slight hindrance, but I am getting better at navigating the track with them. We learned how to properly do T-stops — as my uncle pointed out to me via email after my post about trying it on my own, I made a large error: The skate making the top of the ‘T’ is supposed to go behind your other skate — not in front of it. It’s so silly now to think of myself doing that — it’s no wonder I crumpled over immediately. Live and learn.

Speaking of learning, this past Saturday, our instructors taught us something I’d been waiting for ever since my Windy City Rollers skate clinic experience: How to do crossovers. This is the technique Lindsey told me would make me a much faster skater, and what would get me to my 27 in 5. As this blog post explains, being able to round the derby track 27 times in five minutes is a major milestone for any derby girl in training. Making 27 in 5 is the speed trials bench mark for WFTDA players, and now that I can (almost) do crossovers, I would love to see soon how much I improve on my initial speed trial result of 20 laps.

Crossovers are largely a battle of mind over matter — you have to convince yourself to put one skate directly in front of the other and push off from there — then lift your other stationary foot to meet the one propelling you. It’s best if you just watch (skip to the 1:10 mark):

I was able to get to the point where I was comfortable putting my right skate in front of the left, but I couldn’t quite master moving my left to follow suit. I hope I get a chance to work on that on my own at some point soon. I could already feel myself going so much faster with my partial crossover move, so that’s extremely encouraging.

I’ve been having a great time getting to know some of the other women in my class and learning with them each week. My favorite recent interaction was a moment off-track, when I took my mouthguard out of my mouth to speak. Frustrated, I turned to a teammate and asked, “Where do you put this thing when you’re not wearing it?”

Without a word, Lisa pulled down the neck of her shirt to show her mouth guard looped in a ‘U’ around her bra strap for safe keeping. Genius. I’ve been doing this ever since.

My next class is Saturday — week six of 12.

Running with the Windy City Rollers

WCRI signed up for a Windy City Rollers skate clinic a couple of weeks ago. I’d emailed to get information about it and was told a series of five clinics was wrapping up January 11, and by the time I emailed, there were only two left. I asked if I could drop in on the final one and was told I could. The clinics are intended to practice skills players would need during a tryout for the Windy City Rollers farm team, the Haymarket Rioters, and I was curious to see what tryouts looked like.

All levels of players attend clinics, and after being evaluated at a tryout, they are sorted into three different skill levels. You might start out at Level 1, basic skating skills, but if you progress quickly enough, you can transfer to Level 2, which covers blocking/hitting, rules, and derby basics. You can’t get into Level 3, however, until you’ve passed a minimum skills and written rules test. Level 3 skaters are eligible to be drafted for the Rioters. They’re scrimage-ready and will learn strategy and game-play skills.

It’s possible for a skater to move through all three levels within a single 10-week session — it’s a matter of how much you pick up and how quickly.

At the clinic’s start, a group of 12-15 of us started out doing warm-ups and stretches in gym shoes. We were sorted into four teams of three or four people and each team was assigned to an instructor. I was lucky enough to be put on a team with a girl named Lindsey, who was an extremely good sport about keeping me posted on what the hell was happening and/or about to happen the whole time. We did some endurance stuff like planks and squats, each for a minute straight. Then we ran laps and did timed suicide drills in our gym shoes. Everyone knew what drill was coming next except for me, and it became clear to me that Lindsey and all these other women had been coming to clinics for weeks in legitimate preparation for trying out for the Windy City Rollers. I was 100 percent in the way and looking like an idiot. Still, I wanted to skate. So I stayed.

At last, we laced up. I felt momentarily validated after seeing that lots of women use rolling suitcases to cart their gear around — albeit theirs were mostly solid ones, and not a polka-dot canvas one made by Totes.

While skating our first warm-up laps, a girl I knew from Groupon saw me and called my name. I was so surprised and thankful to see her.

“I didn’t know you skated,” she said.

I told her I’d just started two weeks earlier. She wished me luck and we skated on.

The instructors at the clinic were helpful, but they also weren’t messing around. No one said I was wasting their time, but there were moments when part of me worried I was. The woman whose team I’d been assigned was cordial, and kindly told me to just do my best, but she was also tough. When I did knee push-ups incorrectly, she drolly corrected my poor form. When she made her way around the track with me as I tried to round turns on only my wobbly left foot, she looked at me, sighed, and said, “Okay, you’re good,” before skating off to the next person. I don’t blame her for a second — It was not her job to babysit me and teach me basic moves during the final week of training for people who’ve been working on their drills since August. I do wonder why I was allowed to just “drop in” when I was so clearly going to be in over my head — I didn’t want to put anyone’s safety in jeopardy with my cluelessness.

This skate clinic was also the first time it occurred to me that not being able to hear well might pose a problem. One detail that had always stuck with me about the movie “Whip It!” was the fact that two of the players on the team were deaf. I had assumed that the game was more visual than auditory, but there was a lot of confusing yelling going on at the clinic that now makes me think otherwise. I don’t think my hearing aids were visible because of my hair and my helmet, but I wish I’d felt comfortable bringing this up to someone at that training.

Overall, the skate clinic was an extremely humbling experience. Doing drills of different types of stops was humiliating because I didn’t know any of them, and mimicking Lindsey’s awesomeness only got me so far. Even the one part I thought I’d have a chance at succeeding in backfired: The speed trials. I was assigned to keeping count of Lindsey’s laps around the track for her. She cleared the track nearly 27 times in five minutes, and I was determined to come as close to that as I could. She began counting for me as I skated off but on the track I got lapped, again and again.

At Derby Lite, I’m a fast skater. At Windy City Rollers, I’m pretty lackadaisical.

When the instructor called 40 seconds left for us to complete our laps, I gave it everything I had and skated as fast as I could. At the end of my last lap I almost knocked someone over as I desperately lapped her on my way toward the finish line. I slowed to a stop and sat in the middle of the track with everyone else. I’d made it around 20 times.

“That last lap,” my instructor said, and I froze, thinking for sure she was going to yell at me for almost hitting the woman. “I want to see more of that.”

Lindsey told me I’d get better and that I just needed  to learn how to do crossovers. I’m still not entirely sure what those are, but I’m intrigued.

“Once you learn crossovers, you’ll skate faster than me,” she assured me.

At the very end, I opted out of doing the final exercise: Jumping in skates. I had been game for everything else, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I was sweating and sore and I’d managed to not fall hard on my ass up until this point. I stayed in the middle of the track instead, and ended up talking to two of the other instructors. They asked me how it was going.

“I was told I could just drop in!” I said with a laugh.

They politely lied and told me I was doing well, and I hoped that meant I was getting credit for basically being a good sport. I’d shown up so wholly unprepared I didn’t even bring a bottle of water. I had to take bathroom breaks and strip off my wrist guards to get water from the sink three times in two hours.

They both encouraged me to come to tryouts even if I was feeling less than ready, because I would be sorted into the best class for me (Read: Level 1). I thanked them and said I’d think about it. I want to go to the tryouts Saturday to be assessed and placed, but I also am not sure I can start the Windy City Rollers class while I’m doing Derby Lite — on top of all of the other things I do in life. I don’t know when their Level 1 class starts, but if it’s offered again in March or April, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up.

I’m just going to do whatever I can to get better and see how this goes. So far I love doing roller derby basics, bruised ego and all.

So continues my tradition of obnoxiously taking selfies in skate gear and hoping no around me catches me.

So continues my tradition of obnoxiously taking selfies in skate gear and hoping no around catches me at it.

Welcome to Derby Lite

Me and my helmet.

Me and my helmet.

My first class of Derby Lite was Saturday morning. I was so excited I got to the Arc in Oak Park a half hour early and suited up, well before anyone else arrived. A higher-level class was wrapping up, so I watched the more advanced skaters round the track and finish their drills.

Queen B, our class leader, reminded me that for our first class we would be starting out in gym shoes. I immediately felt silly, as I already wearing full pads/guards and looking up at her from under my brand-new royal blue Triple8 helmet. “Oh, okay,” I said, trying not to sound disappointed. Despite having my skates with me most days of the previous week, time hadn’t allowed me to make it back to the suburban rink by my office during their open skate hours to try them out. It was kind of killing me. I fumbled with the laces of them longingly and set them back in the rolling suitcase I’d repurposed the night before as my temporary gear bag. I took off my helmet and pads as well and set them aside.

Then I realized I hadn’t thought to bring gym shoes to the class — I’d worn my yellow rain boots, which currently serve as my Chicago winter boots when paired with multiple layers of socks. I’d taken the boots off at the door to avoid tracking in snow and knew wearing them on the slick rink, much less running drills in them, was out of the question. I panicked — then I remembered I’d left my gym bag in my car from a couple days earlier, and thought there was a chance my shoes were still in there. I ran to my car, and luckily, there they were. I carried them back inside and put them on.

My class mates slowly trickled in, including at least two women I remembered from Get in Gear Day. I greeted them and at 10, we were asked to come out onto the rink with our gear AND our skates — yessss. Queen B showed up how to properly strap on our helmets, our knee and elbow pads, and our wrist guards. A lot of the things we went over had been covered in Get in Gear Day, but not everyone at this class had been there for that introduction. Finally we were told to put on our skates, but asked to put in our mouth guards first.

My heart sank again. I’d been digging through my suitcase/gear bag and didn’t remember seeing my mouth guard in there. I’d also forgotten to boil it the night before like I’d been supposed to, to make it malleable and conform it to the shape of my upper teeth. I knew I wasn’t going to be allowed to skate without it. I told one of the co-instructors and she gave me a brand new mouth guard — for three dollars. I’d paid $20 online for my boil-and-bite one. This new one wasn’t fitted to me specifically, obviously, but it meant I could skate. I thanked her and rolled back onto the rink, relieved.

We did a series of drills, including a couple of new ones from Get in Gear. I noticed that when I tried to do a toe stop with my left skate, it was more difficult than it had been with my right. I think now it may have been because that’s not my dominant foot and also because we were skating clock-wise for the first-time and not counter-clockwise, the traditional skating direction. Queen B noticed when I faltered on that one and told me she’d take a look at my skates after the class ended.

At the class’s end, I brought my skates over to her to see what she thought. She told me that the skates my uncle gave me are great, but maybe a little too professional for the level I’m at — the toe stops on them are smaller, and therefore cover less surface area, and are also intended for speed skating.That makes sense, since that’s my uncle’s forte. They also present more of a hurdle because the gym floor we practice on isn’t intended for skating-only, like at traditional rinks. She said I could get different ones, but that eventually I’ll be good enough to be able to rise to the challenge the toe stops present. Part of me wants to just leave those toe stops on there so I force myself to get better, sooner.

I thanked her for her help and packed my bag to leave. I didn’t get to skate as much as I’d hoped, because the more I’m on the rink the more I love being out there, but at least I was able to tell that those skates fit me perfectly. I’m still blown away my uncle got them for me. I can’t wait until next week’s class.

Quality Testing: Derby Gear

When I was home for Christmas, my uncle gave me a pretty amazing gift: A brand new pair of derby skates, like the ones Derby Lite had for us to borrow at the one-off lesson.

New skates!

New skates!

I’d emailed him my blog post about the class because I thought he’d be interested, and he was psyched. I am still in disbelief that he got me these skates. He even outfitted them with better wheels than the default set they came with and showed me how to change them with the tool included in the box.

I tried them on that day, and they felt like they fit — at least, they felt like an appropriately-sized pair of shoes with wheels on them. I won’t know for sure until I skate in them. I had hoped to try them out this past Tuesday, during a Derby Lite event, but when I emailed to register I was told I couldn’t participate in the event until I’ve been through training. That makes sense — It was a scrimmage, kind of, and they don’t want people who don’t know what they’re doing yet on the track.

On Sunday night I placed an order online for my gear. I’d written down the sizes of what I’d borrowed for reference and got my own knee and elbow pads, a mouth guard, wrist guards, and a royal blue helmet. The box containing them came to my office in the morning on New Year’s Eve, and I opened it eagerly.

Helmet, guards, pads

Helmet, guards, pads

An hour later, the CEO and president of our company sent us home early to celebrate New Years Eve. It was noon, and I decided to spend my half-day off at the roller rink. I had checked online earlier and had been surprised to see there’s one only three miles north of my office. Cursing myself for not planning ahead and bringing the new skates to try, I decided to go anyway and at least test out the new gear.

It’s funny how roller rinks across America all smell the same. I don’t know what causes it, but it’s the same at every rink I’ve been to. I showed up around 12:30, and while the door was unlocked, the place was dark inside. I went into the bathroom to change and try on the gear — with the exception of my helmet, because my hair was in a giant, tall bun. I also felt silly putting on a helmet to skate around a giant rink completely alone. After about 15 minutes of adjusting and making sure everything fit, I walked back to the lobby. I saw then that I would no longer be skating alone. A line had formed, of twenty or so kids and teens. A New Year’s Eve skate party was starting at 1, it turned out, and no one was in school for the day.

I paid my admission and skate rental and watched the place slowly fill up. Out on the rink it was fine at first, and I skated quickly and confidently. However, more kids entered the rink every minute and I had to slow down for fear of running into them. The silver lining is that because of this, I discovered I’m really good and weaving in and out among other skaters. I just did so worrying that any second I was going to get told off for it by an employee.

I only skated about an hour, practicing holding the derby play stance I’d learned: full-on squat, butt out, back straight, hands up in prayer position, and elbows in. When I got off the track, I decided to try to T-stop, where you take one skate and place it in front of the other, forming a T, and serving as a brake. Even though I couldn’t have been skating more than 3-5 miles per hour, I absolutely crumpled to the ground the second I did it. It was the only time I fell the whole time, and I wasn’t even on the rink.

The good news is, I had my wrist guards on straight this time. That’s important too, because they’re what hit the floor first.

I am sad I didn’t get to try my new skates, but I’m packing them in my car with the hopes I will get to go back to the rink by work in the next few days. One thing I need now is a zipped gym bag to hold all this new stuff: Skates, pads, guards, helmet. The skates are pretty heavy on their own, so I’ll need something that’s durable and up to the challenge.

I keep resisting the urge to buy a custom Penny Pain shirt. It feels wrong enough that I’ve already settled on a name before starting training, and I feel like buying something with my chosen name this early would be either a bad omen, or presumptuous. Nothing will stop me from looking at all that Etsy has to offer, though.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

I never reach all of my goals for a new year, but I do alright. With all the optimism in the world, I offer my resolutions for 2015:

  1. Do as many live lit shows as I possibly can this year
  2. Complete intro roller derby class at Derby Lite
  3. Do Feminine Comique training
  4. Volunteer marketing services to at least one nonprofit
  5. Bike 500 miles by year’s end
  6. Lose final 9 lbs for a total of 30 since May 2013
  7. Re-visit ASL skills, even if just via YouTube video practice
  8. Take an intro ukulele or fiddle class at Old Town School of Folk
  9. Mull over possible tattoo idea for at least six months
  10. Have the best Chicago summer ever
  11. Travel to visit Eileen and Margaret in Massachusetts
  12. Write for DNAinfo, NewsCastic, and other sites as much as I can
  13. Make a plan for better savings
  14. Ring in 2016 from Portland, OR