Monday, April 29, 2013
Yesterday, my derby league participated in a "Running of the Bulls" event 18 months in the making(!) to raise money for Amos House, an organization dedicated to helping the homeless. Runners would create teams or register individually and run through the streets of downtown Providence, and our job was to wear horned helmets and skates, and chase them down and tag them with red paint- If you got red paint on you, you had been effectively "Gored for Good." It was a super great time and raised like $110,000 or something close to that. Part of what made it really fun was that everyone got to customize their helmet! Folks did some really creative stuff with their helmets, notables including a "Beach Bull" with a beach ball helmet cover and snorkel, a "Bull's Eye" covered in targets and darts, some covered in fur of different lengths and colors, flowers, fringe, googly eyes, sparkles, decoupage, creative paint jobs, even bird's nests! I did mine in rhinestones! It took a few separate trips to the craft store (a big thank you to my fiance, whose helmet was already finished) and several hot glue burns, but it got done!
|Photo by Patsy "Welts" Coderre|
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
The Boston Marathon has special significance for my family. My parents are both fixtures in the running community, my dad as a coach for collegiate track and field, my mom as a former Olympic hopeful and current masters' level competitor. Mom placed fourth in the Boston Marathon when she was in college, and a BAA print hung in our hallway when I was a kid. My sister and I understood the significance of the event from an early age. It's a dream for people all over the world, not just Boston. My first reaction upon hearing about the bombing was anger. Whomever perpetrated this terrible act had desecrated something that was really special for so many people. No one runs a marathon on a whim one day. The level of dedication required to even qualify for the event comes from a drive deep within. Some people run to find themselves, others run for causes like cancer or autism, and some run because it was something they were born to do.
While waiting for emails and Facebook updates that would account for the people I knew were in Boston, including a dozen or so people from my parents' running club that were participating in the race, I thought back to the 1972 Munich Olympics, where 11 Israeli athletes were killed by a terrorist group. International athletic competition is supposed to be about friendship, international relations, and celebrating the human spirit through incredible physical accomplishments. It is a hallowed place where violence isn't allowed; a church of tears and sweat.
And so I understand the furor of everyone who is either directly affected or following the story unfolding in various media. It's natural for us to want to take up arms like a swarm of avenging angels and vanquish the evil in the world. Of course I feel this way. Nobody wants to stand helplessly by. We all feel the need to DO something. We feel the need to own a part of the tragedy ourselves, even if everyone we knew in Boston was okay, even if we ourselves were hundreds of miles away. We all want to get those evildoers.
And so with the best of intentions, we spread information as fast as we could receive it. The immediacy of Twitter feeds and news blogs meant that facts weren't checked and stories were disseminated without discrimination. I swear I've heard five different versions of the shootout so far today. Several young men were misidentified as suspects, including a young Brown student who went missing from my neighborhood a few weeks ago. Over the past few days, Internet vigilantes demanded investigation into any photo that pictured a man holding a backpack. The story has become a cloud of panic, anger, and needless hurt, all fueled by our collective unwillingness to be helpless. Our warrior spirits are restless, and they want blood.
But here's the thing; unless Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is standing right in front of you, there's not much impact that our warrior spirits can actually have. Why ride off into battle against a foe we can't even see? Could we not instead try to be healers? Enact the good that we believe in and care for the people that are still alive? We can have much more significant effect on this terrible situation if we listen instead of shout, find out where we can do good, and go there rather than into the fray on our chargers, waving our swords into a cloud of smoke. Do one of the community runs. Show solidarity. Comfort people who are having a hard time. Donate money. Do whatever you have to do to banish helplessness and chase away the nightmares. Be a healer, and help.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
What makes this easier is community. People who are engaged in group fitness activities have an easier time of reaching their goals than people who go it alone. At the MMA gym and in derby, one is surrounded by people who can support, encourage, and teach. In turn and in time, a fighter or derby player will be in a position to do the same, both for newbies and more seasoned teammates.
I pour a lot of my time and energy into sports. It's my social network, and it satisfies my need for achievement in ways that are quantifiable. I delight in looking up my stats after each game- My progress as a skater is encapsulated in a series of spreadsheets over the course of several years. For now, I still hold the record for the most laps completed in five minutes. MMA affords a whole new set of skills to master. Each class finds me making a conscious decision and effort to control the little things: Hands up, chin down, change levels, keep a good base, posture... It's a long list. I don't always succeed, but I'm getting a little bit deadlier every day. Though I may be confident of that, it's nice to have people around to confirm it, and to remind me of the things I still need to fix.
I have no such community for art. It's all my own doing, honestly. Perhaps still having a preconceived notion of what my career was supposed to look like by now has made me slowly withdraw from the illustration world. Lord knows it's nothing like what I had hoped. I worry that my friends will think my work is backsliding, or stale, or at worst, stupid. Sometimes it's hard to stay motivated to keep working on my projects because the only people who ever see them are the submissions editors, art directors and artist reps whose response has mainly been, "Thanks, but no thanks." (This of course excludes my soon-to-be wife, who is supportive beyond measure!)
Some days I go to the gym and get submitted in every round of grappling.
Some nights I go to derby practice and don't score a single point.
These things are hard, but I accept them as part of the journey. Mistakes and missteps have immediate consequences, but I don't tend to internalize. Instead, I try to learn. Why, then, is it so hard to see rejection in the art world as anything but a giant wall of "NO, GIVE UP"? Is it because rather than having teammates to bolster my sense of purpose, I've chosen to make art in a vacuum? I see you all out there. Your work is fantastic! You are all doing wonderful things, and bless you for sharing them. If art was a sport, I'd want you all on my team. And so I suppose that's what I'm missing right now; I'm a team player without a team.
If any of you out there want to do art exchanges, get together for figure drawing, give each other feedback and critiques, hit me up! I want to cheer you on, and I want to make stuff with you.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
It stands to reason, then, that something to which you devote so much time, effort, and love can let you down. I used to joke that derby breaks my heart on average about once every two months. A few years later I stopped joking about it and acknowledged the truth in it. In July, it will be nine years since I first laced up a pair of quad skates. I've broken up with my home league at least once, and seriously considered it several more times. Staying with my league for so long sometimes makes me feel immortal- But only the sad side of it, watching people come and go, watching the same mistakes made over and over, and having difficulty adjusting to all the changes. Is our league better or worse than it was five years ago? Will the style of derby I'm good at become obsolete with rule changes? Which first year skaters will outclass me by the end of the season? How many more times will I be told I'm not good enough? How many injuries can I sustain before I throw in the towel? For that matter, even if I never get injured again, how many derby years do I have left?
Over time, I've come to realize that anything worth pursuing isn't going to be an upward journey the whole time, and that sometimes it's all you can do just to be going forward. Right now I'm having a bad year for my career- I'm trying to get a book published, and trying to break back into freelance illustration with very little success. Rejections come in daily, and my wonderful fiance occasionally has to listen to me cry about how no one will hire me and how I'll always be poor. The next morning, though, I get up and send out more inquiries. I draw ugly snowbanks and stoplights, just to draw something. I keep plodding forward, knowing that it can't be crappy all the time.
I want to be a great derby player. I want to crush the competition. I work hard for this. Harder some times than others, but always hard. Very few people know the extent to which I work outside of practice. Lately, my experience jamming has been dreadful. I've traditionally been a jammer, but since the middle of last season, I've fallen out of love with it. I've had much better years jamming. The next opposing blocker that says something encouraging to me after she's knocked me down might get punched, no matter how good her intentions are. That's how bad it is. But I'll still volunteer to jam, because going forward is better than folding and not going at all. Eventually I'll figure it out. Fortitude and determination are gifts, but neither is greater than the gift of being able to play.
This year, I'll keep pushing forward not because I want to be great, but because I can. It's wonderful to be able to draw and paint. Being able to tell your story through pictures is an amazing gift. So is being healthy enough to play a ridiculous game on roller skates. A lot of truly great players have been forced into retirement because of injuries or life circumstances- Those of us still playing should consider ourselves lucky that we haven't experienced that heartbreak. So maybe I won't be an all-star this year. Maybe not next year either. Maybe a newbie will break my lap record. Maybe I'll go all season without getting lead jammer. It's all possible. But I still get to spend my nights on skates, playing the game. For all your derbs out there, your journey will probably have more downs than ups. But whether you are on a meteoric rise to derby stardom or crashing and burning, always move forward- Because you can.