Don't Believe the Truth, Part 2

A day late and a dollar short. Actually, many, many dollars short. I’ve been traveling and couldn’t quite squeeze the post in on time. The youngest and I took a long weekend and flew down to Orlando. As a testament to my relative health and well-being, we hit four different theme parks in three days (five if you count the two sides of Universal as separate parks), and also hit Disney Downtown for dinner and a movie (Angry Birds: don’t bother). A brief assessment:

Legoland: An awful, horrid place where customer service went to die. I managed to shield the boy from most of it, but it sparked me to boycott: I will buy Lego products no more, forever.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade & Daigon Alley are outstanding in every way.

SeaWorld: Was the least anticipated stop on the trip, but an unexpected treat. The boy and I both loved it- even after getting soaked in cold salt water by killer whales.

The Magic Kingdom: We made a last second decision to head over for the late afternoon/night after SeaWorld. It was a rather bland time as we were both knackered. The light parade and fireworks, however, were a nice exclamation point to a remarkable three days.

 Despite the grueling itinerary, eating (relatively) poor food, and driving (a smidge) too fast in our shiny convertible rental, we managed to make it through unscathed. Not too shabby for a man with stage-four cancer and a second grader. 

When we left off last week (or was it the week before?), Stroud had just been removed from the Design Studio, I had just resigned in protest, our first child had just been born, and I was enjoying what proved to be some of the happiest days of my life.

Things were indeed great- it was just D, the little guy, and I. We played, we took naps, we ate, we rocked in the rocking chair, we walked around the city, and we slept through the nights (for the most part). That blissful period lasted for a few months. We both love what we do, so it’s tough to say that we enjoyed being away from our work, but it was nice to take an extended break. Neither of us come from money, however, and we eventually had to return to work- both for love of what we do, and to keep food on the table.

D slipped back into her job and picked up where she left off. Of course, it probably wasn’t easy to do after giving birth and having the new baby in day care, but she handled everything with grace and made it look easy. I, however, didn’t have a job to return to. I work in a niche field: not exactly architecture, not really planning, and not quite landscape architecture. The urban designer has to find a way to squeeze in. I had no job and no prospect for finding a job with a traditional employer. The Design Studio was really the only place in Chattanooga for urban designers to find work- and I had just quit them.

One of the last projects I worked on at the old Design Studio was the Downtown Plan- a massive and tortuous effort that resulted in a very good product. In addition to being one of the formative projects in my career, this was also how I met Jim Kennedy*. We hired Jim as a consultant to help us through the process. He was great- consummate professional, masterful communicator, and renaissance thinker. Jim and I hit it off and worked well together. During the process, he and I flirted a bit over me jumping ship and joining him in the consulting world, but it wasn’t very serious, and nothing came of it at the time. Shortly afterwards came the firings, resignations, and births I’ve already outlined.

So there we were in the summer of 2005, Stroud and I unemployed, and our friend Kennedy the lone principal in his firm (but with the formidable assistance of Ms. Puckett). The three of us had a couple of chats about joining forces, and things seemed to be headed in that general direction. When Jim mentioned that Ann Coulter might join us, however, things took off. Shortly thereafter, the four of us made it official and joined forces to create Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing & Watson (link). I was clearly out of my depth in comparison to the others. Beyond being green, I was also quite naïve as it relates to a great many things (which actually continues to be the case today). They managed to deal with that and look past my flaws as we put the firm together.

Nice haircut, sheesh.
Our angle was that through our broad and diverse skill set we would be able to provide clients with a full range of services from the initial visioning exercises through to actual project implementation. Some potential clients bought in to the concept- others choose to go with specialists. For the clients that we won, we did some  really  good  work. For several years we managed to keep the lights on and our families fed. Another Watson (no relation), joined us along the way and added that many more arrows to our quiver. In practice, however, our diverse skill sets meant that we often ended up working off in our separate areas of expertise. After a half dozen years, Stroud was eyeing Maine more frequently, I was off in my design / development phase, Ann was rocking the strategic planning scene, and Mr. K got an offer to return to academia. We decided to call it a day, had a big group hug, and finished that chapter of our professional lives. It was a good run, but it was also a good time for each of us to move on. It’s impossible to overstate the impact those three people had on me in those years.

While our skills sets were the least alike, I probably learned the most from Kennedy during the KCRW days. Observing him in his daily dealings with clients, while facilitating discussions, or just talking on the phone, provided invaluable lessons on how to be a professional. My ability to go on and make a living as a consultant and provide for my family is a direct result of watching Jim operate. I am forever grateful.

Ann was running RPA when I started there fresh out of graduate school and we’ve worked together in various capacities ever since. In fact, we’ve worked together more since we left KCRW than we did while we were officially partners. Our collaborations always produce outstanding work (if I may say so) and are always great fun (witness the Urban Design Challenge). Everything I know about integrating design processes of city building into the humane framework of how it impacts people, and why it matters came from Ann.

I’ve worked with Stroud my entire career- his philosophy and influence are essentially embedded in my DNA. I’m not a clone and we don’t always see things alike, but his influence is evident, undeniable, and runs deep. It doesn’t appear that I’ll get my chance to follow in his footsteps, but in a sense I’m relieved. There will ever only be one Stroud.

From a personal standpoint, it’s beyond impossible to adequately express what those three mean to me. I love each of them with everything in me. These are three very unique and special relationships that I’m fortunate to be a part of. They’re very different people, and they each connect with a different part of my personality. Before my diagnosis, they were the best friends a man could ask for- caring, considerate, and supportive. After the diagnosis, each of them has been an exceptional example of grace and love. (Of course, this will come as no surprise to any of you that know them.) This also provides an insight into why “work” has never been work for me.

I’ve spent my career doing fulfilling projects with people I love and who love me back. Who else is that lucky? I’m asked on an almost daily basis why I continue to work during my limited time left on the planet. It’s because I can’t imagine doing anything else. My work over the last year has been focused on respecting, protecting, and building upon the body of work of a friend and mentor. This is not work at all- it’s a privilege and a pleasure.

Unfortunately, I’ve kind of fumbled my way through 1,500 words trying to express my emotions for my friends. I wish I was capable of doing so in a more clear and concise way. (Perhaps they should have taught me writing instead of all those other life lessons). In any event, if you happen to see any of those three, please be sure to give them a big hug and tell them Christian loves them.

*Mr. K is also responsible for my wife and I meeting. When we arrived in Chattanooga, Jim was the head of the Chamber, which ran a program called Chattanooga Insight, and that friends is where the magic happened.



Ok, I was supposed to finish the story I started last week. Unfortunately, and despite a valiant last second effort, I couldn't do it justice. Therefore, the conclusion will come next week...assuming I can find the time that I couldn't find this week. In the meantime, how about a very short story from the Rushing house.

Last weekend our boys went to a birthday party at a skating rink (just like Looney’s of the 80’s for my Montgomery readers). After skating for a while, the kids moved on to the arcade. My youngest went on a heater and won 537 tickets playing various games. He then redeemed 500 of those tickets on a “diamond" ring from the prize wall. When he got home, he stopped, dropped to one knee and proceeded to propose to my wife (right in front of me!) We later found that this simply an elaborate scheme to earn extra screen time, but it was sweet and entertaining anyway (if not a direct challenge to my status as Head of Household). I've got to keep an eye on that one.
I sensed something was afoot and had camera phone at the ready.
Health Update: I have a rare, painful, and aggressive cancer- aside from that I'm good. Feeling good, looking good, working hard. My next scan is sometime next month. Aside from that, there's not much to update.

This week Stone Roses released their first new single in a million years- it's pretty good. While they may have patched things up, I don't believe they'll ever reach this level  or this level again (but admittedly, that's a terribly high standard).


Don't Believe the Truth

Hey ya'll, long time, no see! It's nice to be back after some time off. Since that last post, life has been...interesting. For the past six weeks or so, I've felt as good as I have since this whole thing began. Obviously, things are different- I have medicine to take, a chemo appointment every couple of weeks, and I get tired from time to time. I've somehow arrived at a point, however, where life's other issues are a bigger deal for me than the tumor. Just a couple of months ago, the tumor and my mortality were such big issues that every other problem in life was a laughable, trivial detail. Of late, cancer and death aren't the only things on my mind.

I’m in a weird place. In many ways, life was easier when we thought the end was imminent. I was mentally prepared for what was to come and felt comfortable with it all. Now that we seem to have gained some time, I’ve slipped back into a “normal” mindset. I feel so good in fact, that life's petty little things are setting me off again. (I swear I must be wearing a sign that reads “Please freakin’ argue with me”) I was above it all for a while, I let all of the trivial B.S. slide- I'm back in the trenches now though. This is good and bad. At some point in the future- this year, next year, five years from now, I’m going to have to go through that preparation process again. It was easy enough the first time, hopefully the second time ‘round will be as well. In the mean time, I’m going to try to stop sweating the small stuff.

On another note, I try not to brag, and I am surely tempting fate and running the risk of jinxing myself, but I feel compelled to point out that I’m owning chemo. My first treatment was fifty-five (55) weeks ago, and over the course of the year the doctors have pumped me full of nasty business: gemcitabine, cisplatin, leucovorin, fluorouracil, and irinotecan that I can remember off the top of my head. I’ve also taken on a week of radiation, and the start of an immunotherapy drug trial. I’ve made my way through all of that like a champ- didn’t lose any hair that wasn’t leaving anyway, conquered the nausea, fought through the fatigue, and for the most part have not let it affect the way I want to live life. No point here, just a bit of hubris and braggadocio on a Monday morning whilst in the chair for another dose. Enough of that though, on to another story…

55 weeks and counting...
Eleven years ago to the month, Spring of 2005, D and I had been married for a couple of years and were living in our little bungalow in North Chattanooga. She was eight months pregnant with our first child, and was on maternity leave. I was working for my mentor, friend, and foil Stroud Watson at the Design Studio. The Studio was collectively taking a deep breath after having just finished two massive efforts: I had just put the wraps on the Downtown Plan, and our role in the 21st Century Waterfront project had just ended. In local politics, Ron Littlefield had just survived a run-off election with my mentor and friend Ann Coulter and was starting his controversial spell as mayor of our fair city. It should not have come as a shock that the day after he was elected, he made good on his campaign rhetoric and canned Stroud. When Stroud got the sack, I resigned. On my way out the door of the DRC, I pulled a McArthur and vowed that I shall return. (Well, maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but I was enough of an acolyte of Stroud and fanboy of the Studio that I took it hard, and committed myself to working toward bringing the Studio back to prominence in whatever way I could.)

I was a thirty-two year old man married to a woman who was thirty-two weeks pregnant- resigning should have been a tough decision, but wasn’t. Quitting my job at the expense of 33% of the family income at a time when our expenses were about to skyrocket wasn't very wise from a financial standpoint. The decision was easy, however, as it was simply the right thing to do. As a matter of principle I could not go back to work for those folks. Additionally, without Stroud’s leadership and with a clear indication that downtown was not going to be a City priority, the work itself didn’t seem very appealing. On top of all of that, I’m a sucker for dramatic, potentially self-destructive, grandstanding, principle-grounded gestures. (I wonder if I’ll ever get another shot at one of those.)

As April turned to May, I got to be by D’s side every minute of every hour of every day of the last month of her pregnancy. We painted rooms, I built a crib, we ate sweet and salty food, and we picked out hip clothes and mod accessories for our little guy. We didn’t have a care in the world (save for the persistent and terrifying question of whether or not we were capable of raising a new human being). Those were some of the happiest days of my life.

One Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before our due date, D (understandably) needed some space, so I went off to meet some friends for a cigar and a drink at Big River. I returned home in the early evening, kissed her goodnight and hit the sack. In middle of the night I woke to find D sitting up, wide awake and in a bit of a panic: “My water broke!” Whoa, go time! I grabbed the pre-packed overnight bag, ushered her to the car, and hauled ass to Women’s East. Bloc Party's Banquet provided the soundtrack for our cross-city, midnight flight.

On that day in late May I welcomed my firstborn into the world. D labored twenty hours or so before we had to go the caesarean route. I was in the delivery room for the duration, and cried for most of it.  Our little guy was long and skinny like his dad, and a stunning beauty like his mom. He was (and is) nothing short of perfect.

When things died down the next day, I went to the liquor store and picked up a bottle of Dom and a nice port. The plan was/is to cellar them and give them to him as a gift on a special date in the future. I’m not quite sure when that will be: When he turns twenty-one? When he gets engaged? When he gets married? I don’t really know, but I suspect those bottles will take on an added significance now. I hope they bring him a fraction of happiness that he brought us on that day, and every day since.

In many ways, that marked the beginning of me. I can’t conceive of myself outside of my identity as father. What I am is due to him and his brother- that's a story for another time.

My self-image is also largely tied to my professional passions, and this period also marks a beginning of that part of me- that's a story to be continued next week...

What a coincidence that my favorite band, Oasis (and leader Noel Gallagher), released Don't Believe the Truth, on the day my first son was born. These are a couple of my favorite songs off that one: Turn Up the Sun, The Meaning of Soul, Eyeball Tickler, and the one that reminds me the most of that special time with my little guy is Let There Be Love:

Come on baby blue
Shake up your tired eyes
The world is waiting for you
May all your dreaming fill the empty sky

But if it makes you happy
Keep on clapping
Just remember I'll be by your side
And if you don't let go, it's gonna pass you by