Monthly Archives: October 2009

Unexpected item in bagging area

self-checkout-stationOver the weekend, while purchasing materials to make the most ambitiously awkward Halloween costume ever, even the self-checkout machine took pause when crushed velvet and metallic fringe came across the scanner. (I swear a “casting couch” costume seemed like a good idea for a Hollywood-themed party.)

“Unexpected item in bagging area,” a non-soothing, non-James Earl Jones voice barked at me in robotic fashion. “Unexpected item in bagging area.”

My heart leapt, as it often does when technology comes out of nowhere and judges me in public. Loudly.

“Unexpected item in bagging area.”

Soon enough, the non-cashier came over to be my cashier and fix whatever always happens to make self checkout a group effort, and I was on my way — unexpected items in hand.

I used to be the kind of person who thought an outside, all-knowing, unemotional narrator/DJ would come in handy — to play laugh tracks and mood music and somehow clue me in when the plot was thickening in my life, unbeknownst to my coffee-sipping, naively-smiling character.

“Unexpected nail in the road/douchebag on the phone/bad idea in Mo’s area.”

But 26 years into my current sitcom, I’m also trying to remind myself of that irreplaceable feeling you get when you realize you’ve just made a friend, landed a dream job or fallen in love with a person or place that was not part of the plan, and it was only made possible because you let yourself be open to the unexpected.

Yes, those moments are few and far between and unfortunately sandwiched in with long periods of questioning and second-guessing, but aren’t they worth it? I’m trying to remind myself of that right now, while the latest episodes aren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy or laughable and certain.

James Earl Jones might have a dreamy voice, but I’m going to take my chances with the crushed velvet.

Hurts so good

When it comes to roller derby, a lot of skaters love to make public the photograph of them landing an epic hit or stylishly escaping the pack to gain lead jammer status — the moment in the bout when their derby name didn’t seem like a mistake, but more like a rightfully-earned badge. Nevertheless, I have always been in love with this image of “Tsu Legit 2 Quit” that was taken near the end of my debut as a Derby Devil just over two years ago. For a brief period, I considered making it my holiday postcard to send to friends and family, but then I realized I’ve never been the type to send holiday postcards to friends and family. I know… I’m working on it.

Tomorrow will be the last time I skate with my team in the Hostess City, and, for a while, the last time I’ll be doing derby until I put my roots and quads down for graduate school. My impression of and love for the sport has come a long way since being dared to go through boot camp by a coworker at the newspaper: (See “Rolling with the punches” here.)

I remember thinking the ladies I encountered that summer seemed larger than life — the Jems, She-Ras and yes, even Ursellas of underground athletics. But now that I’ve gotten to sweat alongside them and learn their off-skates stories, the best thing I’ve come to find out is that they’re not superheroes… anymore than I am. Yes, I respect them. Admire them. Consider them powerful. But like me, they had a time when they couldn’t stand on their skates, take a hit or even think about lifting a leg up to do a crossover. And, they still have their moments when just coming to practice is the only energy they can muster that day. The one thing that we do all have in common is that we are the kind of women who made it a choice to rise (and fall) to the occasion. We showed up, and we keep coming back. That, to me, is derby.

Now that the sport is past its revival stage and hundreds of teams exist in cities large and small across the country and globe, it’s been interesting to see how even the skaters have changed their view of what derby should look like. Some women have started skating using their real names instead of their personas in a bout. While I’ll always have a place in my heart (and cell phone) for monikers like Pin Up Aggression, Mt. Killajamma and Felony Melanie, it is a nice thought to realize that “derby” is something we’ve always had in us, just as we were, before the fishnets and fake eyelashes. The thrill of the sport is in knowing what you went through to be able to skate in a pack, score a point or whip a teammate to the front while blocking an offender and dodging a hit in one breath. It’s less about being a badass.

Since my first impression of roller derby went to print in 2007, I’m no longer in kelly green rental skates, thinking of registering the name Punky Bruisestar or wearing someone else’s oversized helmet at practice. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is my feeling that “there’s something to be said about a sport that finds a hard-earned bruise beautiful and recognizes there’s more at risk when you’re afraid to fall.”

Who knew that being knocked down could lead to such building up? Thank you, ladies. It’s been so much more than just a pleasure.

Swimming lessons


Anyone who has ever seen my pearly whites (read: limbs, not molars) knows the sun and I are distant cousins — the kind who generally only see each other on holidays. But in July, after weeks in a Winnebago with no shower and long days spent digging clams at low tide, my respite and rebirth was found at a secret swimming hole called Spectacle Pond.

Before my daily trips to this gift from the universe, I hadn’t really given myself the time to go swimming — except for those two weeks in college when I decided I would try doing laps in the water instead of on a treadmill or track. I quickly discovered that neither really suited me. Taking a rusted truck deep into a patch of Massachusetts woods to strip down for an unregimented dip, however, felt like finding a missing puzzle piece.

Spectacle Pond

Upon my return home from the Cape, I vowed I would continue to make trips to the water. With a beach just a short drive down the road, I figured it was an easy pact to keep with myself. But it didn’t take long to settle into a routine of worrying about my finances, applying to grad school and doing what I could to start my semi-career as a freelance writer. So quickly, so easily, I forgot how cathartic and cleansing it is to lose yourself in a swim — until last night.

After getting a tight braid from the GRE yesterday afternoon and rolling with the Devils at derby practice that night, a friend suggested a midnight swim in the ocean. It’s not often that I find myself thankful for the weather that we get in the South, but diving into that warm Atlantic water was a sweet reminder of what we have. Taking hits from the waves was like getting a slap on the back of the head from Mother Nature, screaming in her best southern accent, “This is why you’re breathing, honey. This is life.”

Often, I’m the first one to strike a defensive pose when someone makes a comment about size, but wading in that abyss and feeling like a small speck in the whole scheme of things felt really nice. It was like being part of a giant wishing well of sorts — only instead of holding dreams and coins, the salty taste and feel of the ocean represented all the days, frustrations and disappointments that other people like me just needed to wash off as well to remember why they’re alive. Maybe that’s a stretch or nauseating thought for some, but to each her own. I’m relishing that I’ve found my way back to the water, and I didn’t even have to pay for a membership.

To where boom bands are playing


“You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place: The Waiting Place.”

When I was given an obligatory copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation present in high school, I have to admit I only read the title and tried not to make it obvious I was looking for money inside the card that accompanied it instead.

As the 18-year-old recipient of that bound fortune cookie, I never anticipated not succeeding or losing my way or traveling “for miles across weirdish wild space” in search of signs and answers.

But now here I am nearly a decade later, just as Theodor predicted, wandering inside “The Waiting Place.”

Since leaving my job as a newspaper reporter three months ago, I have worked as a clam digger on Cape Cod and traveled to the left coast for a necessary adventure with a very dear friend. In a month, I’ll be flying to Bangladesh to visit my brother and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. It all sounds so exciting when it’s jammed into a couple of sentences, but the truth is that I’m having a difficult time learning how to navigate and embrace the days in between the destinations; the days in between the answers.

When you no longer have the security and convenience of a job title or relationship status or home base to make your introductions and get your bearings, it’s very easy to only want to return to the places you’ve been. And so I’m back to this blog… but I’m here with the hope of reflecting just enough to move forward.

My mountain is waiting.