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Published on February 24th, 2012 | by DerbyLife


The Vortex Of Suck

By: Merchant Of Vengeance

“OK, captains, choose your teams.”

Oh dear god. Oh no she didn’t. Our coach did NOT just utter those, the 5 worst words ever to profane the derby practice track.

But she did, and she does, so at least several times a month, the innocent women of the Denver Wreckin’ Roller Rebels are subjected to the kind medieval torture usually reserved for special types of elementary school PE hell.

Now, the stoic and staid, bad-ass Rebel, like any good derby girl, will, on the outside, appear to be just fine with this. She will joke and laugh and roll to the team that chooses her full of nonchalance; all outward signs point to an unconquerable “ain’t no thing” kind of attitude. Even if she says, “ooh, ooh, pick me!” it’s all in good fun because, well, derby girls are BAD ASS and nothing scares us. Nothing.

Except being chosen last.

Let me go ahead and translate some things here: being chosen last essentially means, to the girl chosen last, that everyone else thinks she sucks. She must then, for the rest of the practice, look every other derby girl in the eye, thinking, “you think I suck.”

Now, this could be my own charmingly neurotic mindset, and no one else minds getting chosen last.

Except probably not. Who wants to get chosen last? Who wants to think, “you think I suck?” the ENTIRE practice? Who wants to deal with being thrown back to the tortuous, pre-pubescent era of team choosing and dodgeball and rope climbing? This is derby, for god’s sake! Not some bizarre form of therapy wherein you relive the worst moments of your childhood and come out the better for it! It’s supposed to be fun!

Let me explain: team choosing may well have been popularity based in elementary school, and therefore easier to write off; popularity is faddish and fickle, and most of us learned to pay no mind to the in-crowd. But team choosing is not that way at our derby practices. Sure, the team captains are likely to choose a few of their friends—but that’s more about the bond of trust they share on the track than a popularity contest. And after one or two close friends, it is ON, and the rest of the teams are chosen by derby skill. It’s MERIT BASED, not COOL BASED. You can’t bluff or charm or use your dashing charisma to get chosen. You have to earn it.

Thus, being chosen last is a serious wake up call: your teammates do not yet believe in your derby skill. Which means they think you suck. Which might mean you suck.

Which means you are bad at something.

Which means you’re failing.

And suddenly, I’m not talking about derby anymore, not really; I’m talking about life. I’m talking about whether or not we believe in ourselves enough to try something new, or continue to participate in something really hard, something we might kind of suck at for a while, and come out on the other side.

As a culture, we’re not good at failure. We celebrate wins, victories, and accomplishments, which is good. But we don’t talk much about the inverse.

I wonder if we should.

I don’t know many people who feel really comfortable with failure. In fact, I think most people—myself included—avoid failure so stringently that we don’t try new things, because then we’re safe in not failing. If we don’t try, then we don’t really fail, because we never sucked; we simply never did it. Admit it: you sometimes let yourself stagnate—in a job, in a relationship, in your hobbies, even—because it’s a lot safer than taking a risk. Not trying is safe: you’re never “fresh meat” or a “newb” or just generally really terrible.

But not trying is obviously also lame.

You have to try on the derby track. At least, I do. I have to try harder than I’ve had to try at anything ever before, because I’m simply not naturally good at it. I have to flog my bloody guts out. I have to show up to every practice ready to give everything if I’m going to take even baby steps towards success. And a lot of the time, I skate around thinking, “God! I suck! And you—yes, you! You think I suck! I can tell!” And I get sucked into the vortex of sucking.

Sound familiar?

If not, I hate you a little bit.

If so, you’re in good company (i.e. the rest of the merely mortal human race who must earn our accomplishments by the sweat of our brows). Take comfort in the fact that most things worth having are pretty damn hard to get.

So, about sucking.

Important baseline truth: Everyone sucks sometimes at some things.

In my early derby days, someone said, “oh, don’t worry, we all were terrible at some point.” I think this is the lyingest lie that has ever been lied. I have seen—with mine own eyes—girls who have never sucked at derby, and if I didn’t love my teammates so much, I would hate them. Not everyone sucks at derby, or at least not to the great extent that I sometimes suck. However, you non-derby-sucking bitches, I have never had braces nor cavities, so in your face!

That’s how life is: I suck at derby sometimes but I rock at having good teeth. Also, put a stringed instrument in my hands and I’m pretty sure I can do something with it. Everyone is like that: they are good at some things. At other things they suck.

But I think sucking is probably the most important thing we can do, if we’re brave enough. I think it’s where the learning happens, where our characters are truly built. And it only happens when we push ourselves, when we enter fearlessly (or fearfully, for that matter) into areas in which we aren’t naturally strong.

I heard a story once about a guy who never asked women out on dates because he was afraid of rejection (rejection is synonymous with both failing and sucking, essentially). So his therapist had him dress up in a super nice suit, and stand at the bottom of an escalator somewhere busy, and spend an hour asking every woman who got off the escalator on a date.

He didn’t get a date. But he had upwards of 400 opportunities to practice being rejected. And after the 400th time? Well, it wasn’t so bad. It helped him prepare to ask someone he knew, and was genuinely interested in, out on a date.

So maybe part of getting past sucking requires us to revel in it for a while—to swim in sucking until our fingers get pruny. Maybe derby practice is a good place to practice sucking. Because if we’re falling a lot (I do), then we’re getting up a lot after that. And if we’re taking a lot of hits (I do), then we’re getting stronger cores, or learning to dodge the hits. And if we’re missing a lot of blocks (I do), then we’re learning—slowly, slowly—to see where we need to be next time. I remember one of my first scrims in practice where I understood where I needed to be in order to stop the jammer that blew by. At the time, even having a slight mental grasp of where I should have been was a huge success! (I must have really sucked back then.)

But I think there’s more to sucking, and it has nothing to do with the derby track. When we fail, I think we’re afraid that we’ve just lost an important piece of external validation. We have a deep-seated need to be accepted, and moreover, to be praised.

Logically, this makes no sense; those I love most in the world have my heart not for what they do well, but for who they are. And my best friends will not like me more or less if I am good at derby.

In my heart, though, when I suck at something, I’m afraid of losing the respect and admiration of those around me. I’m afraid of losing the external validation we all crave. And worse: I’m afraid of losing the internal validation I can’t live without. I’m afraid of letting myself down.

Like I said, I get sucked into the Vortex of Suck, not just now and then, but more frequently than I’d like to admit. It’s a personal battle for me, the Vortex of Suck, and one with more cosmic, character building relevance than possibly anything else in my life.

Because if I’m depending on validation from the outside, then deep down, what is it that makes me not good enough for myself?

Here’s where that matters to derby: if I’m not good enough for myself, then what in the hell am I doing on the track with my teammates? Why should they believe in me?

This is what gets me out of the Vortex of Suck every time: my teammates. I need to believe in me, so that they can, too. It’s a great exchange, actually: they give me many opportunities to safely practice sucking, and in return, I learn from sucking, find it in myself to have a tough enough mental game to stay in the physical game.

Furthermore, it is often my teammates who talk me down from the ledge, who offer words and hugs and advice and help. I am grateful to be on a team where the last girl in a relay gets standing cheers. I’m grateful to be on a team where a newbie, recently completing a drill last, was taking it slow—and struggling—when one of the girls who’d already finished the drill went back out to skate with the newb, and so the rest of us did, too. I’m grateful to be on a team where we clap for good falls and I hear “good job, Merch” EVERY time I get off the track.

If I am not describing your team, then perhaps you should make a change to your practices, because, dammit, we are here on this planet to help each other. I know from my high school classroom that people only learn once they are in a safe environment, and even though derby is a competitive, extreme, bad ass sport where we have to be tough, blah blah BLAH, we are human, and support from our teammates makes us and our teams stronger. (Disclaimer: I come from the camp of people better motivated by cookies and high fives and hugs than fear of punishment. If you are not in my camp, well then…when sucked into the vortex of suck, you have my prayers and best wishes on getting out. Good luck with that.)

I was chosen last, once. It was terrible. They all thought I sucked. And I did. It’s taken me a really long time to get out of the Vortex of Suck, and if you asked me, I could give you a long and comprehensive list of what I need to do better as a skater. But since the Being Chosen Last Incident, and other Vortex of Suck experiences, I work damn hard. Whatever the derby parallel is to standing at the bottom of an escalator and asking a million people on a date, I do it.
Because, while sucking sucks, you gotta suck to rock. And that’s where I find, deep down, that I’m good enough for myself: because I’m brave enough to suck sometimes, and that has made me a better skater.

And a better person.

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