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.

derrick me

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.

nerves.

first yoga

I took that shot as I awaited the start of my very first real yoga class.

I was nervous. Nervous enough that I almost didn’t get seated in the grass. Nervous enough that I almost left.

I had been through a couple of demonstration classes at Venture Outdoors Fest two weeks before; I did those with a friend, and I enjoyed them enough that I talked myself into following up with a studio. I met a woman who owned a studio in Bellevue, just a few minutes from my house at the festival, and geography made that choice a natural one. But I also picked up a flier for a summer-long series of classes — at Grandview Park on Mount Washington and in the little park at South Side Works — and those sounded interesting too.

They were interesting enough, in fact, that that’s where I headed for my first yoga class.

And I was fine with that decision. Until I got there.

I parked and walked up the crest of a hill in the park, the one you have to walk over to really get a look at the stunning view of Pittsburgh over there on the other side of the Mon.

I should have noticed the downtown skyline; what I noticed instead was all of the athletic-looking people — mostly women, and all at least 20 years younger than me — walking over the hill with me.

“I do not belong here,” I thought as I slowed my pace up the hill to a shuffle. “I am too old to start this. And I should just go home.”

I froze on the top of the hill, seconds away from turning around, chucking my brand new mat in the back of my car and heading to Carson Street to find a breakfast suitable for a fat old guy.

What kept me from leaving? I met the guy who was signing people in for the class, an instructor at BYS who appeared to be about my age and then seeing two friends who had already unrolled their mats and were waiting for the class to begin.

Seeing friends there was good. Seeing someone there who reminded me of, well, me — and a yoga teacher, no less — was even better. I was still nervous. But I stayed.

It’s been nearly two years since that class. There were more that summer, and more after than in the studio. Yoga — both in the broad sense and specifically with my teachers and my friends at what has become, without question, my studio — is now a pretty important part of my life.

And, oddly, as I approach this weekend, I’m feeling a little bit like I did when I walked up to that first class on June 1, 2014.

I’m signed up for three workshops with a visiting teacher on Saturday and Sunday. And I’m nervous about it.

The situation is a little different this time. Before that first class, I really had no idea what we would be doing. But I know pretty much exactly what’s coming in two of the three sessions, and one of those — Sunday’s shoulderstand workshop — is massively intimidating.

I know how this is going to go — we’ll break down poses into their component pieces, and I’ll be ready to do them or not — and this isn’t the same kind of doubt I felt two years ago. Part of what I’m feeling is excitement. But for the first time in a long time, I’m also feeling a little anxious about going to the studio as well.

No, I’m not going to turn around before I get to the top of the stairs at BYS. I’m not going to skip out on the workshop for a breakfast at Piper’s. Even if I’m feeling like a new guy again.

reminder.

I wasn’t very nice today.

It’s safe to say I’m feeling some pressure. At work. At home. Most days I handle it OK. Today, I had to walk away. Took a walk around the block. Took a drive — windows down, music loud — at lunchtime. Both things helped, but now, hours later, I still haven’t fully unclenched.

Some of this stuff I can’t control. It’s part of being a grownup — which I am, in a sort of technical sense — and I can and will do my best to deal with those things.

There are other things I can do that will help. Shutting down earlier in the evening. Walking away from my desk once in a while (and not walking back to the cafeteria to buy crap out of the vending machines). Running.

And, perhaps most importantly, slowing down mentally. Remembering my place in the world. Making sure the pressure I’m feeling isn’t being created somewhere in the back of my brain.

I don’t remember which one of my friends posted this on Facebook a while back, but I owe him or her a beer. I hadn’t read Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata — or even thought about it — since some English class nearly 30 years ago. I’m posting it here in hopes that I don’t forget it again:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

That’s worth remembering. Every day.

under pressure.

relax

I need to take some lessons from my cat.

Things have been … stressful … recently. Getting by as a single-income household, even temporarily, is difficult. I face new challenges at work; I welcome those, because many involve changes that are overdue, but they are difficult nonetheless.

It’s a lot of pressure.

I don’t like this. I spent much of Tuesday at my desk with my teeth clenched, trying not to flip out on my colleagues. I had to run errands in Cranberry after work, something that won’t exactly help anyone lower stress levels. And when I got home, I plopped down on the couch with a bowl of mac and cheese and three hours of The West Wing queued up on Netflix.

Sure, there are worse ways to spend an evening. And yes, I’m not ever going to argue that an evening of escape isn’t helpful once in a while.

This month two years ago, I started running. It worked. I did it consistently. I felt good, about a number of things. I was at the age where I had to start thinking about things like my health, my weight, the fact that I work a very stressful job and that my family’s history with heart problems wasn’t exactly encouraging.

Hey, look — all those things still exist, except that I’m two years older. Hm.

I’ve run sporadically this fall, but I’ve managed to turn that into a chore as well. My bed is warm and hitting the snooze button is really easy — and then I beat myself up over the fact that I’m supposed to run 10 miles with Fred on Nov. 3. Boom. More pressure.

Take a look at Miles up there. He’s 13 years old. The internet tells me that’s the human equivalent of 75. Yes, he sleeps a lot. Yes, he doesn’t need to worry about websites or mortgages. But you know what else he does? Even at his age, he plays. He runs. He kills the catnip-filled bananas and furry mice he has stashed all over the house. And then he’s got a really good reason to take a nap.

I wish I had same kind of time for napping that my cat does. It looks like it does him good, because he’s in pretty good shape for an old guy.

But the other old guy in the house does have time to do something for himself. He knows from experience that taking that time makes him feel a lot better. He knows he’ll be better off, at home and at work.’

And, judging from the weather forecast, he’s going to be running in a cold rain tomorrow morning. And he’ll feel pretty good about it too.

sunday funday.

For the first time in something like eight years, my Sundays are free.

Back in the middle of the last decade, the editors at my paper asked me to start a Sunday through Thursday work week. Having Fridays off was awesome, but it was kind of a drag on Sundays to haul myself out of the house and get up to work while everyone else was having fun. The Sunday shifts themselves weren’t bad — they were actually pretty quiet, usually — but having to work a night shift to start my week and then get back to the office first thing Monday morning? Ugh.

I missed a lot working on Sundays, mostly time with Mrs. Crappy; we always felt like we had to pack a lot in on Friday nights and Saturdays, because that was the only weekend time we had available together. Taking a pre-work nap certainly didn’t help any of the tepid efforts I’ve made to get back into some kind of regular NFL fandom (although, yes, the perpetually pathetic state of the Browns has also contributed).

And, apparently, I’ve missed a bunch of excellent television, something I’m keenly aware of when I read my Twitter feed on Sunday nights. Because of my work schedule, I’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Downton Abbey or any of the other series that regularly aired on Sunday nights. Not a single one.

(And yes, I’m aware that there are plenty of non-broadcast ways to catch up with each of those shows. But I’m far enough behind that I’m not sure I want to make the effort.)

A couple weeks ago, my schedule changed, at my suggestion. I’m actually in charge of a couple people at work, and between that responsibility and the insistence of the people in our corporate office that some Big Decisions be made at the end of the week, I felt like I was missing too much as I started my early weekends.

So. Here I am. Home on a Sunday night. The television is available, but I feel more like sitting on my kickass front porch with a beer — a Stone Imperial Russian Stout, to be specific — some music — a hippie bluegrass mix I recently assembled, to be specific — and my blog.

This is great way to spend an evening, but I’m still sort of feeling like I’m missing something. So. You guys have any suggestions? Is there one or more of these shows (or others) I should be watching? What is it about that series that makes it so good?

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I’m willing to listen, people, but make sure your reasons are pretty compelling. Because this kind of Sunday evening is pretty tough to beat.