another lifetime ago.

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I thought I had already said goodbye to Derrick.

When I found out last week that he had died, I realized I was wrong. And this was harder than I thought it would be.

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I hadn’t seen Derrick since … my wedding, maybe, almost 17 years ago? I have a more definite memory of my last contact with him, although I don’t recall the date. It was a message on AOL, and he asked about a mutual friend; immediately after I answered, he was gone. After a couple more attempts to get him to respond — and a few more passing weeks — I understood that I wouldn’t hear from him again.

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I was mostly OK with that. That Derrick wasn’t the Derrick I worked with at The Post, or the one who had been one of my best friends when I returned to Athens. I was largely insulated from that Derrick, although I know that wasn’t the case for everyone.

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And in that respect, I’m lucky: the memories I have of the real Derrick — the one I knew in Athens, the one in these pics — I get to keep for the rest of my life. I remember meeting him, in R.J.’s office, not long after I returned to school following my Army-sponsored field trip to Germany; I think we were both a bit dubious of each other, but it was quickly clear to me that Derrick, who was editor of The Post that year, was the real deal: smart, talented and driven. I figured out something else a little later on: Derrick’s prickly exterior wasn’t as prickly as it appeared to be. If you were willing to weather a bit of abuse — and maybe give a little back — you were in.

derrick me tight

And I was. For the three years I was in Athens following my return from the Army, Derrick was one of the best friends I had. And like everyone else, I learned a lot from him too, even though I was the old guy coming back to Athens and The Post when I finished with the Army. He was so smart about journalism and about running a staff of kids who were just figuring out how to make a newspaper work. He could be intimidating — even to me, a little bit — but without fail, he’d stop and help anyone on staff figure out a writing question, a difficult source, a bit of political juggling. He wanted to be better, and he wanted that for everyone who worked for him.

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We are the sum of our experiences and the people we share them with. I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t had that time with Derrick. I owe him. For all the time at The Post. For all the pitchers of Lowenbrau Dark at The Union. In the pink house. Above Campus Sundry. All over Court Street. For Ren and Stimpy:

For Ween:

And for that goddamned awful song he insisted we play at every single staff party so we could pogo around someone’s living room (and if anyone remembers what song that was, let me know?).

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This is the Derrick I knew. This is the Derrick I’ll remember when we attend his memorial service in Mentor-On-The-Lake this afternoon.

This time it’s for real. Goodbye, my friend.

yogaversary.

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Two years ago Sunday, I walked down the hill in Grandview Park on Mount Washington, accompanied by some pretty significant misgivings, for my first yoga class. In spite of my nerves, that morning was close to perfect: sunny and warm, but not at all uncomfortable.

Two years later — on Sunday morning — I walked down same hill under a stack of gray, drizzling clouds, and headed for the bandstand, which would shelter us from the rain that was starting to strengthen. And feeling none of the apprehension I had in 2014.

***

I’ve written before about what I felt before that first class, and how it translated to a mental block I had constructed for myself over the last year. I wrapped up the workshop weekend feeling confident that I was going to work through that block — the one about doing shoulder stand — but at that point, I hadn’t done it yet.

Here’s what happened since: I did it. With a lot of help.

One of my teachers, Holly, definitely read the part of the wrap-up post where I said I needed to have a stronger core; in the very next class I had with her, she hammered us with core work — and then stood over my mat while explaining that that’s probably what I should expect when I wrote about needed more core work. I’m almost positive that I could hear her smirking while she spoke … but I don’t know for sure because I had too much sweat dripping in my eyes.

Starting the Saturday after Chrissy Carter was in town, my other teacher, Ashley, started a three-week series of classes built to prep her Saturday Morning Yoga Party students for … wait for it … shoulder stand.

The coincidence is incredible, right?

This involved a more core work, plus extra time opening shoulders so we’d have a strong platform to build from. On the second Saturday, Ashley hauled out the chairs — backless versions of the basic metal folding chairs we all know — for prep work for the Week Three climax. Part of this was using the chairs to help us into halasana, a pretty common jumping-off point for shoulder stand.

chrissy chairAnd that’s when it changed. Ashley was sitting right next to me, ready to help swing my legs all the way over my head; as I started, I said, out loud, “I don’t think I’ll be able to do this” … as I tucked my legs into my chest and then straightened them out to the seat of the chair behind my head.

I could have done shoulder stand right then, but I was so surprised at myself and the strength I didn’t know I had that I sort of forgot what I was doing.

But I didn’t forget the following Saturday.  when Ashley brought out the chairs again, I did what Chrissy demonstrated in her workshop. I even felt like I could have held it for a while.

The fear was gone, replaced by the strength I needed to really do the pose for the first time. Another thing had vanished, as well: the voice in my head that tries to convince me that I can’t do the thing I’m trying to do. There were two best parts about this process of the last month: the first is being able to set aside that voice — even if only for a little while — and doing what I wanted to do.

The other best part? If you guessed it was getting shoulder stand, you’re incorrect. The other best part is that my two teachers took it upon themselves to help me get there. I’ve mentioned this before: this is my yoga family. For some reason, the universe took me up to Mount Washington for that first outdoor class two years ago. It also took me up that long flight of stairs to BYS the following August. That’s where I was supposed to be; these are the people — all the teachers and all the people I practice with — I am supposed to accompany as we all walk this path together.

This is home.

***

After we wrapped up Sunday’s class under the bandstand, I told Ashley and Kristi that I wanted a picture with the two of them, to commemorate my second anniversary.

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As is often the case with these people, I got more; I wasn’t the only one celebrating an anniversary. As the director at BYS, Kristi was one of the first to offer outdoor classes in Pittsburgh, now a pretty common thing here through the summer. Ashley walked into her first class at BYS ten years ago this week. And Ashley’s mom, Dee, started with an outdoor class a few years before I did.

So I got a photo with four yogis, and four anniversaries. And I got a final bit of wisdom from Kristi:

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Always take the jumping pic. Always. See?

Happy anniversary, yoga family. And thank you, so much.

water slinging.

I have a perfectly good reason to show up on Western Avenue at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Just like some of you guys will have a perfectly good reason run down Western Avenue a few hours later.

Yep. Mrs. Crappy and I are working the Pittsburgh Marathon water station on Western Avenue — the one sponsored by the Humane Society — again on Sunday morning.

If you’re running on Sunday, find us. We’ll be on your right, probably in front of the First Niagara Bank as usual. And to make things even easier…

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From a year ago. Pic by @pantster.

… I’ll be wearing the same stupid bright red Ohio State bucket hat that I always wear.

So as you approach Mile Six, find the guy in the red hat. If you’ve done this before, you already know the line:

Hugs. High fives. And the best water on the course.

Find us on Sunday morning, boys and girls. We want to cheer for you.

dagger.

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It took a last-second three-pointer for Villanova to get past the Tar Heels and win college basketball’s 2015-16 national championship.

AJ didn’t need any last second histrionics to win the Eleventh Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Bocktown). And he didn’t actually need anything in particular to happen in Monday’s championship game; he had already built an insurmountable lead. He was the only one in this year’s AUCNFFC who correctly picked the championship game participants, and by then, it didn’t matter that he picked UNC as the champ; his lead was already too much for anyone else to overcome.

And for that, AJ truly deserves his One Shining Moment (and his $50 Bocktown gift card, which I’ll pick up soon):

As for the rest of us? First — thank you so much for playing. And this year’s tournament seemed to be especially trying (although I seem to complain about it every season), so there’s no shame in a rough performance. You’ve got eleven months to study, boys and girls, and we’ll see you back here next March.

showtime.

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That’s Chrissy.

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If you need proof that I was there, check out the guy in the blue bandana.

And this is the pose — a variation of it, anyway — that caused me to freak out a bit while trying to decide whether to attend Chrissy’s workshop this weekend.

Here’s your spoiler alert: I am so happy I did.

My yoga workshop weekend, Day Two:

I knew going in that I didn’t have the core strength to hold a full version of shoulder stand on my own. But that’s not really what I wanted to accomplish anyway. In a class about a year ago, we did some inversion kind of stuff at the wall; I remember leaving that class feeling that inversions were something attainable. But in the time since, I lost that confidence and enthusiasm, and more importantly, I lost a sense of how inversions felt. In my regular classes we occasionally do a block-supported thing kind of similar to shoulder stand, but my legs feel like I’m treading water in a swimming pool. Without feeling the weight, I didn’t have a feel for how the pose should work. I wanted to recover that, and I wanted to remove the barriers I had constructed in my head.

As we packed up to head home after Saturday’s second session, I spoke with Chrissy a bit about being excited and nervous about the shoulder stand class. That was the right thing to do; she made a point of checking on me as she got us warmed up and explained out our options for the pose. They included doing shoulder stand from a chair — that’s the demonstration above — which I am (now, after the fact) dying to try.

I opted to approach from bridge pose — one I’m comfortable with — set up on the wall. That was a great way to do it; I could still feel how the full pose plays with gravity — the weight in my shoulders and upper arms, and the strength I’ll need in my core to hold my legs in place — while in the relative security of the modified pose.

And that was the successful end of our two-hour trip. Listening to someone talk in detail about how the pose works removed the mystery behind it; getting my legs in the air gave me back my sense of how the pose should feel. I still need to do the core work, and I will. I’m excited to keep trying, because of the workshop.

And that’s the point, right? For me, this wasn’t just about the pose (although I would be lying if I tried to tell you that eventually getting to shoulder stand isn’t a thing for me), it’s about understanding the pieces of shoulder stand and then getting back a sense of how the pose feel. Mysteries dispelled, fears dissipated.

And the best thing: taking a step outside of my comfort zone and — with the support of my teachers and friends — trusting that it would work.

It did. It was amazing. And I’m grateful that I had the chance.