An unexpected thing about writing on roller derby
Posted on November 12, 2014
The best thing about starting this blog turned out to be something quite unexpected. For background, I began writing essays on Call the Jam back in May of 2012 for a couple of reasons — one was that I couldn’t find enough of a certain kind of writing about roller derby that I wanted to read. Another is simply that I am a writer. Writing is how I make sense of things, how I distill the essence of my relationships and experiences into meaning and tell myself the story of my life. It’s something I’d do if no one at all was listening. It’s a habit I’ve had since childhood — I am constantly penning essays in my head. Most every word that has appeared here first took the shape of words, often over days or weeks, on a blank page in my mind.
Another major reason Call the Jam came to be is that one of my number one supporters in writing and in life made me a pretty logo and site and there was just no reason not to fill it up with words. (Thanks, Burton! Everyone should be so lucky to have a friend like you.)
I also started Call the Jam because I wanted to take a risk. I’m a journalist, a published writer with a bit of earned confidence about what I do after some years at it. But I’ve seldom published anything creative or personal before I got to posting here. If you know me in real life, you know I’m a pretty good communicator, but often clam up when it comes to talking about anything personal, difficult or emotional. I had a feeling I could start to toe that line and poke at some of the jagged edges and raw bits. And that’s been the case (if you don’t get that impression, I’d just say: It’s all relative, people). I have to take a deep breath sometimes when I hit the publish button to brace myself for the feeling of vulnerability that comes with saying something about how you really feel, especially when it’s not about the pretty stuff of life.
I achieved the modest goals I had at the outset, I think. I have contributed to the ongoing conversation about derby, helped myself understand my experiences playing this crazy exciting sport, made my friend proud, and gave myself some practice at being an emotional human in a public way. What I didn’t expect was the kind of feedback I would get.
I mean, you expect a few haters, maybe…? It is the Internet after all.
But over the years, I have received comments on the site, in emails, through Facebook messages and even via face-to-face conversations from people saying that the things I wrote made them feel better about a situation they were in or gave voice to an experience they were having. One skater wrote to say that she printed out one of the posts and reads it regularly to get through the tough times. I have gotten requests for even more advice, which was incredibly flattering because I’m no expert at any of this stuff. I also received words of encouragement, support and kindness that made me feel better and less alone in the world.
In this life, I think we are all, in our way, in search of some comfort and relief from feelings of isolation, which I think is, perhaps oddly, considering this is a site about roller derby, an underlying theme of Call the Jam. (Maybe it’s an underlying theme of derby itself?) Escape from the lonely world is why I myself developed a love of literature as a child, yet I was still surprised that anything I could write might have this impact. It’s been the best thing about doing Call the Jam — finding out that I made someone, in many cases someone that I didn’t even know, feel better about who they are and what they are doing, gave them confidence to help muddle through a difficult situation or even just made them feel less alone.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this experience has transformed my life. I realized that this is a thing you can choose to do, making people feel better about who they are and less alone in the world. Not by writing a blog, though that is one thing you can do, but in all your interactions every day of your life. By choosing kindness, by choosing not to judge the small things, by recognizing that we are all on difficult journeys. I myself am not perfect in this regard, of course — I can be shitty and petty and judgemental and I’m not proud of all my words or actions, like any human being. But I’m striving to be better in ways I never thought about before. Maybe some of it is wisdom that comes with aging, but I’m pretty sure derby helped me get here.
Try paying attention to someone you might blow off on a busy street. Look them in the eye and listen. Try saying that someone dressed in an unusual or out-of-context outfit is awesome instead of weird. Trying thinking and believing it. Be more honest, with yourself and others. Be less defensive. Meet anger with compassion. Consider alternate views. Stop to help. Give compliments freely and genuinely. Be brave and don’t be afraid to be wrong. Think about how you can make others feel better in the world. I promise it will smooth some of your own jagged edges.
This may seem like it’s gone off the track of derby, and it has, but the sport and the writing about it are how I got here. Thank you for anyone who stopped to offer a kind word, or any word at all. Maybe it comes out here sounding a bit trite, but I felt like sharing these ideas that have been playing on my mind lately, thanks to all of you.
Put the thoughts into words. Put the words onto “paper.” Take a deep breath and hit publish. And thank each and every one who has stopped to listen.