Published on April 2nd, 2013 | by Jam Slanders0
Ask Jam Slanders: Disappointment in Derbyland
Greetings, folks, I’m Jam Slanders and I’m here to tell you what to do with your life. I consult with a broad range of skaters, liquors, and knowledgeable media sources (“Always bet on black!”—Wesley Snipes, Passenger 57) to bring you the answers to all of your derby-related questions. I’m here to answer your questions about psychological, interpersonal, and social issues related to playing derby, training, and other fun stuff (just not how you can get rid of that itchy rash you picked up at your last afterparty). You can reach me at email@example.com.
All questions you pose will be completely anonymous, so feel free to come up with your own fun pseudonym or we’ll make one for you.
I have a tough question to ask. There’s a skater who taught me a lot when I first started derby, but lately, I have realized I really don’t respect her. I don’t want to get into details, but I’ve realized she’s kind of a douche. I used to imagine her up on this pedestal, but now I have a hard time listening to anything she says. What do I do?
–Disappointed in Derbyland
Oh, how our idols fall–like when America found out that the marriage of our pinnacle of womanhood and brilliance, Kim Kardashian, was a sham!
Truly, though, it’s a shame when our derby idols don’t live up to our dreams. Last season I was thrilled to get the opportunity to play one of the top teams in the game, a team I had cheered on in major tournaments as a regional rep. I had long admired their style of play and in particular a skater who reflected my derby aspirations, given our similar build. I was disappointed to find that this skater I’d adored (along with the majority of her team) was, in fact, cuntastic, both on and off the track. And, she really wasn’t much of an opponent. Fie! I’d raved to other people about this bitch?
Having met plenty of unpleasant people in derby, why did this particular skater stick in my craw? A lot of it has to do with identification. When we idolize someone, we not only admire them, we want to be like them. We look up to them and see slivers of ourselves, and we try to emulate them for self-improvement. When they end up sucking, we are doubly hurt: not only is someone we liked an asshat, but—wait! does that make me a wannabe asshat? Am I guilty of asshattery by association? We are not only upset by the person, but what our admiration of the person says about ourselves. The disappointment we feel in the other person is compounded by our own self-doubt.
The solution is to reframe your experience with this person. Sure, that person sucked, but it was motivating and you may have learned something. Mentally separate that part of the experience from the source itself and appreciate it. Before you go idol-hunting again, ask yourself what you expect out of this person. Can you admire their derby skills independent of their personality/foibles, or are you looking for the whole ham? You should only invest in what you’re willing to risk losing.
I’ve been working with this rookie for a while now. When she started, she was really talented and seemed hardworking. I reached out and she seemed responsive. It was really exciting to be helping a rookie grow! I remember the skaters who helped me when I started, and wanted to pay it forward.
But after a while, I realized she’s not getting any better, and she doesn’t even seem to want to. I still give her advice, but she doesn’t seem to take it. She kind of sucks, honestly. I’m heartbroken. What do I do?
–Kind of Heartbroken
Once upon a time I had some sea monkeys. I put them in water and watched them, day after day after day. I kept the bowl clean and followed all the directions for their care and tried to train them. The ad had this happy sea monkey family and bragged about how you could train them. I tried signals, splashing, food rewards, anything I could think of to get them to follow directions. No matter how many hours I spent with that bowl, however, those fucking sea monkeys never listened.
The key here is that, like the sea monkeys, your protégée failed. Not you.
If you’re deeply bothered or upset by this situation, I can only assume that you have never worked as a teacher. Those of us with experience in educating the masses learn rather quickly that life isn’t a Disney movie. You toil, you sweat, you churn, you fret, and for some of those little shits, it does not matter. Some students are going to suck and never get better, no matter how much effort you put in to helping them. Worse, some students are going to truly have potential, and they are still going to flounder or quit. If you don’t keep some distance, you’ll get sucked down the emotional drain of internalizing their failures.
Indeed, failure is an inevitability in derby: some skaters quit and others’ skills flatline. The art of mentoring is all about being supportive, but it’s also about accepting what you can and cannot do for another person. It’s accepting that sometimes you will invest a lot of time and sweat and heart and that person will still not succeed. And it’s learning when to cut your losses and chalk that one up in the fail column. Just like sea monkeys, sometimes you have to flush those failures down the toilet and move on.
Stay friendly with your protégée and continue to support her/him, but respect your own time and emotions and distance yourself. You have a right to be disappointed and to give yourself some space to recover. If they continue to ask for help, be friendly, but refer them to a coach, captain, or other league resource. In the end, it’s up to them if they’re going to sink or swim or forever float.