Forget the Week, Remember the Lessons.

What a week. The world was out to get me (or at least test me severely). It was taxing beyond a normal “bad week”. I struggle to recall another week where so many problems of relative magnitude popped up in such a variety of places, and were posed by such a variety people. Don’t fret, I’m not going to bore you with the details. I suppose it's enough to say that of my problems in life right now, cancer feels like the least of them. My crotchety-old-man side comes through pretty prominently this week, I’ll try to return to my normal light-hearted self very shortly. 

I tried to distill one single lesson from the variety of challenges of the week. I was unsuccessful. I did, however, have a tangential moment of insight: Businesses- don’t worry about innovation, don’t worry about slick marketing, don’t even worry about doing great work. If you are a business that will actually do what you say you will do, you will rule the world.

While last week was spent dealing with a number of serious issues, I also dealt with some petty ones. This a tale from the petty end of the spectrum. I was in need of a caterer on short notice. I came up with a list of caterers, some well known, some less so, but all presumably comfortable with the concept of preparing food in exchange for money. I contacted six of these local businesses. A grand total of two of them responded. One of them said they would love to talk about the job, and then went silent. The second one went so far as to ask me a few questions and promise a quote before going incommunicado. I was more confused than disappointed- in the consultant world, the toughest part of our job is clawing, digging and fighting to find potential clients. The idea that there are businesses that ignore potential clients who show up at the doorstep with cash in hand is baffling. (I won’t comment on the courtesy of a reply- even a simple “thanks but no thanks”.)

When it became apparent that things weren’t working out, I turned to Facebook friends to get some recommendations, and they came through brilliantly. I got a number of contacts, and from that pool I picked another four. I picked the wrong four. I was “0-for” in that round. Clearly, I’m snakebit on the caterer side. I’ve now come to realize that the Facebook plea was my fatal mistake. By putting my business out on Front Street, I ran afoul of the Chafing Dish Mafia. I’ve been blacklisted- that’s the only logical excuse. For the rest of my life in this town I’m cut off from bad interpretations of pimento cheese, sliders of all kinds, and canapé’s held together by little knotted bamboo skewers. I’ve put my family and myself in grave danger by exposing the underworld, but don't worry friends, even if they manage to get me, the truth will out.

They didn't give me an offer so
I couldn't refuse it even if wanted. 

Meanwhile, the majority of my workweek was spent dealing with people (and things) whose purpose is to make life difficult for me. In and of itself that’s just life, but when folks operate in false and unethical ways that’s another story. When people I deal with do unethical things or break my trust, that’s a far bigger problem for me than messing something up or doing a poor job. When that line is crossed, I don’t waste my energy trying to get them back- I simply put them on the list and remove them from my life to the greatest extent possible. Thankfully, my list is very, very short, but unfortunately, it grew this week. A lot of you work with me, and some of you might be taken to believe that I’m writing about you. Know this- unless you know in your heart that you’ve been deliberately deceitful or untruthful in your dealings with me, I’m not talking about you. So please, no hate mail (on second thought, feel free- I love to get mail). 

Fortunately for me, during the height of the shitstorm I was with my clients and friends in Iowa. That’s a place and a project very close to my heart and I’m always in a great mood when I’m out there. Without the mitigating impact of the Iowans, my head would have likely fallen off and exploded. 

Thursday night I resolved not to let myself get dragged down to the level these folks are operating on- I haven’t done it at any time in my career, and I’m not doing it now. Despite the relative importance and magnitude of the problems of the week- it wasn’t very difficult to put them into proper perspective. As I was drifting into deep sleep Thursday night, I felt like a lion in repose, surveying the savanna, while these problems and problem-makers were the insignificant little gnats flitting about. (Overdramatic I know, and maybe it wasn’t about problem people as gnats, maybe it was about my luxurious mane surviving 15 months of chemo.)

With my head on straight, Friday ended up being a great day. The problems of the week had not magically vanished, and people continued to test, but none of it got to me. As I wound down the day at the home office, the one and only Ethan Collier dropped by to say hey and sign some paperwork. After talking business, he brought up last week’s post. He pointed out that in my writing about the relationship between a father and his children, I neglected to account for the role of another- our Heavenly Father. We chatted about that for a bit, then he borrowed my bible and read a passage he felt would be meaningful for me (and it was). Serendipitous that the high point of the week would involve a man that’s the antithesis of the people who had me down earlier in the week. That was a special moment and a perfect end to an imperfect week.

And, yes. I did find a caterer.


My Worst Fear

So I’m still trying to ride the wave from my last scan. For those who missed it, the tumor has continued to shrink. The flip side of that coin, however, is that my liver numbers are up. On the whole though, this is a good thing and I’m engaged in life to the fullest extent I can be. 

For as good as that news is, I’ve been having some weird vibes. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some daydream flashbacks and experienced phantom smells that remind me of specific bad days I had in Houston at MDACC. I’m not sure why or how, these things happen, it’s just kind of creepy when they do. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often, and it’s no big deal. Never a dull moment my friends. 

One of the benefits of the cancer diagnosis and the process of squaring up to my mortality is that I’ve been able to clearly see and honestly accept truths I otherwise might have skirted. As it relates to this post, it may surprise you to know that Father’s Day is a melancholy, if not downright sad time for me. Actually- I’ll be brutally honest- the day brings abject terror. One might suspect that the reason for this is my own failed relationship with my father. (I’m not going back in on that one, but if you want the story, you can find it here.) He’s not to blame for this one however. This one is down to me and (one of) my (many) imperfections.

Before we go any farther, I’m completely aware that I’m not the only dad that loves his kids. I’m not the only guy whose identity is wrapped up in fatherhood. But hey, this is not a competition. I’m not asserting that fatherhood means more to me than other dads, or anything like that. I’m not trying to be preachy about being a dad, or suggest that I somehow have insights that other don’t- I’m just sharing some thoughts, so just follow me if you will. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I have a hard time conceiving of myself outside of my role as a father. This is one of the more meaningful things that I’ve come to recognize about myself over the past year. The fact that I am a dad makes me what I am- and this is not a mere platitude. I’m a designer, I’m a cook, I’m a consultant, I’m a traveler, I’m a cancer patient- but when I think about who I AM, the answer is dad. 

Here then is the rub- despite the fact that I’m completely invested in this role, I feel like I’ll ultimately be a failure at what matters most to me. My concern is centered in how things that happen now will affect my kids in the future, and about how humans are hardwired. I’ve forgotten the numbers, but we’ve all heard them- it takes X number of positive experiences to cancel out just one negative. When I look back upon my experiences with my biological father, the specific negative memories are far more numerous than the good ones. I suspect, however, that in reality things were much more balanced than I recall. Every time I screw up now, I’m mortified to think that a particular negative incident is what they will remember of me. Even if I live a few more years, by the time they’re in their twenties, they will have lived more than half their life without me. They will have only their childhood memories of me. Will months and (hopefully years) of happy memories be trumped by single, boneheaded, negative comments? I don’t have years to continue to build our relationships. I can’t tilt the scales as they become adults. I won’t have a chance to influence the narrative. Does the nature of how humans process negative experiences doom my kids to remembering the worst of me? 

On a daily basis, I do a good job of trying to create memories for the boys (if I do say so myself). I’ve tried to play as active a role in their lives as is possible (and healthy). Above all, I recognized very early on that my time and undivided attention are the very best gifts I could ever give them. When I’ve done wrong I ask for forgiveness and do my best to make up for whatever I’ve done. Despite my best efforts and intents, however, it may all be for naught. Negative words and experiences are like bullets that can’t be put back into the barrel. Those marks are on the ledger- no matter how stacked the other side is. The thought that these marks carry more weight, and may ultimately influence how the boys remember me, stirs a deep and gut-twisting grief that’s commensurate with my identity as dad.

We’re not capable of perfection. My boys, however, are a perfect gift from God. Do they not then deserve perfection from me? If my self-image, my focus, my raison d’être is grounded in my identity as father, what is my life worth if I don’t deliver in that regard? No matter how hard I try, I’m nowhere near as good a father as they deserve. 

The wonderful thing about kids is that they are resilient, and have a way of seeing through to the truth. I can only hope that when the boys remember the specific times that I’ve been a shitty dad that they will feel a mitigating comfort derived from all of the great (but perhaps less memorable) times we’ve had together. Who knows how that will work- and I guess that’s why this day puts me on edge so much.

Accept my apologies for being a Debbie Downer on what should otherwise be a happy and joyous day to be shared within the family. And, by the way, please don’t cry for us! It takes several days from the time I draft a post until it shows up for your reading pleasure (by which time I’m always over whatever mod I was in during the writing process).  Rest assured that the boys and I are doing great, enjoying the summer, doing a bit of travel, and loving on each other every day. 

"Yes Christian,  Big <3,  Noel Gallagher"

This week's listen: My Facebook friends are no doubt aware that one of my dear friends from my New Mexico days managed to get me a signed album with a personalized note from the one and only, favorite artist of mine Noel Gallagher. I've posted just about every one of his tunes already, these tracks are no doubt repeats, but they are in heavy rotation at the moment. Tune. Tune.  Tune.


From Philly With Love

So sorry for missing last week, please accept my apologies. I’ve laid out my long and distinguished list of excuses before, so I’ll spare you this time. The Rushing’s have been crazy with the travel these days – now the kids are even getting into it. The oldest and a few of his teammates are off to “The Most Advanced, Challenging & Competitive Soccer Training in The Southeast.” He left about 15 minutes ago and I miss him already. His Mom is headed for “The Most Recognized and Attended Trade Show in the Commercial Interiors Industry.” She leaves in an hour and I already miss her. That means that the youngest and I are all set for a blockbuster boy’s week. I foresee a great deal of pizza, soccer (with the Euros and Copa America in full swing), and Harry Potter in our future. Living the dream, what can I say?

Let Freedom Ring!
(Seriously... looking at you Big Government/special interest types ;)

We’re running a bit behind on the blog, so I need to catch you up on a trip I took a couple of weekends ago. I had a marvelous time with my oldest in the grand city of Philadelphia. Believe it or not, this was my first visit to Philly. My initial impressions: a) they need to pick up some trash every now and then, b) they win the award for highest volume of panhandlers and aggressive panhandlers of any city I’ve ever visited (although Albuquerque and Chattanooga aren’t far off the pace), and c) they appear to have the highest number of well scaled and proportioned urban streets of any American city I’ve visited. Garbage and beggars aside, the boy and I loved the city and had a great trip.

A great steak and a marvelous experience. That intersection
 is fantastic- home to Pat's, Geno's, and an active city park.
It's a fantastic, bustling, urban neighborhood node.

We landed in Philly around 9am on that Thursday and undertook one of my patented urban death marches. We dropped the bags off at our hotel near Rittenhouse Square, and set off into the city. First stop Washington Park, one of the five major open spaces that William Penn established in the planning of the city. From there, it was a short walk to Independence Hall and on to see the Liberty Bell. On a whim we stopped in to the see the mint (dropping dimes). We then continued North to Franklin Square and turned west into Chinatown. We stopped for one of the most outstanding, porky ramens I’ve ever had at some hole in the wall. We then forged on to City Hall and turned northwest to take in Logan Square. From there we made the long trek to the library, and Rocky’s iconic steps. Despite being a shadow of my former athletic self, and possessing a body that’s endured sixteen months of chemo, I managed a spirited run up the steps and had a little celebration at the top. Having checked Rocky off the list, we started back to the hotel, ducked in for a quick IMAX movie on the way (The National Park one), and limped the rest of the way back to the hotel. We were smart enough to take an Uber to South Philly for our dinner at Victor Café. The food was not very good, but the boy was only concerned that the restaurant was featured in a couple of the Rocky movies. We made it home by 9ish, and thus ended one of the longest days in the history of long days.

Flying High Now...

Ambiance, check. Food...hmm...uh...how about that ambiance!

Friday we had a bit of a sleep in, and then hit the fitness center for a little weight training (seriously). We took brunch at an outstanding little bistro fronting Rittenhouse Square (this was not our last meal there). We went on to meet the wonderful John Coddington at the URBN Center at Drexel for an architectural tour of Drexel and Penn. We then had lunch at an awesome little farm-to-table joint on the equally awesome Sansom Row. We bid John farewell, had a walk along the Schuylkill then went back to the hotel to freshen up. From there it was serious business- deciding where to have our first official cheesesteak. After reading numerous article and opinions, and weighing reputation against objective review, we decided to have our first steak at Pat’s. It was very good. However, after several other tastings over the course of the trip, we found that it wasn’t the best. (That honor goes to Steve’s Prince of Steaks on 16th.) After our steak we headed off for a movie- TMNT was great for the boy, but a snoozer for me. We got home and settled in to watch some basketball, but lost interest quickly as the Cavaliers seemed to wind down more quickly than we did.  

One of the Louis Kahn stations of the cross:
Richards Medical Research Laboratories on the Penn campus.

We were up and at ‘em pretty early on Saturday. We spent some time in the weight room at the hotel- little guy wanted to test his max on the bench press. Sadly, I’m such a shadow of my former self that I could barely spot the weight. Ego bruised, we headed for the train station and took a leisurely ride out to Bryn Mawr. It’s a charming little village that’s dominated by the all girl’s college. Our reason for visiting was Louis Kahn’s Erdman dormitory on the campus. It’s a great piece, I think I liked better than Richards. You can definitely see the seeds of his Dhaka project that he would design just couple of years later. After paying homage to Kahn, we returned to the city. Next stop, the Phillies. It was Aaron Nola day at the stadium, and none other than Mr. Nola himself was handing out t-shirts when the boy walked through the turnstiles. The game was good, we ate a bunch of junk food- pretzels, Italian ice, pizza, and another cheesesteak. We stayed until the bitter end, exited the stadium (which was very nice by the way), bought a couple of cheap Rocky t-shirts from enterprising young entrepreneurs on the sub-way, and headed back downtown. As we took an early-evening stroll through Rittenhouse, we passed a group of overly relaxed, smoking teenagers. This led to a explanation of "what's that smell", and a conversation on "well, why don't they get arrested?" A teachable moment, and a conversation that lasted into the night. 

A lesser known work but a stunning piece of architecture.
Why didn't my dorm look like this? (actually, I know why.)

Sunday morning we got up and headed to…you guessed it…the Rocky steps. We both ran up, took a ton of pictures, and headed back to the hotel. After freshening up and packing, we set out for our last few hours in the city. First stop was an outstanding brunch at…you guessed it…the Parc Bistro. Full as a couple of ticks, we cruised up to the IMAX and watched the Journey to Space (this was as much about resting my legs and letting the food settle as it was about the movie). We then continued our gastronomic binge by heading to Steve’s Prince of Steaks, to grab a couple of wiz wits, and ate them at the wonderful Dillworth Park. From there, it was on to Suburban Station where we ran a most impressive gauntlet of panhandlers- both aggressive and not. In a way it was good thing, as that created yet another teachable moment, and another conversation that lasted most of the afternoon. When the train finally arrived, we took the PHL>ATL>CHA route home. Lights out at 1am brought the wonderful trip to an end. 

There's really isn't much more to say, is there?

I offer a brief health update. A scan on Friday revealed that the tumor has continued to shrink, and there is no new cancer. The percentage of shrinkage is somewhat less than the past few scans, but the tumor is smaller, so I’ll take it. My liver levels are elevated, however this might be the result of a drain exchange from earlier in the week. In any event, the levels aren't yet high enough to stop this course of chemo (which has, in the doctor's estimation, greatly exceeded expectations). He also mentioned that there are a couple of potential clinical trials floating around out there, but while this chemo is working, we're going to stick with it. All in all another good report- long may they last. 


Excuses and Links

It's looking like every week I fall another day behind- my bad. I'll try to get back to a regular, weekly schedule as soon as I can. For those of you who don't know, I've spent the last year-plus working the full-time job of starting a non-profit design studio from scratch in addition to continuing a downtown/riverfront revitalization project in Iowa, all while trying to find time to travel a bit with my wife and the boys. This, of course, set against the backdrop of my diagnosis of stage four gall-bladder cancer, the prognosis of a year to live, sixteen months of chemotherapy, some radiation, and an brief run of immunotherapy. In retrospect, that I've been able to keep the blog up at all is a minor miracle (but a fun one, of course).

This week, I'm kind of cheating. The main feature is written by someone else. Please follow this link  to read an article about the launch of the Chattanooga Design Studio. Not all of the quotes are exact, but I think Dave did a really good job of capturing the story.

As for the future, we're working to get moved in to our new space in early July. Naturally, things will be quite hectic between now and then, but I'll do my best to sneak a short post in each week. Cheers.