Sometimes Life Gets Real

Urban Brother, Washington Square, New York City, November 2018

Voices down the hallway issue commands, offer assurances, and resonate with anxiety. Machines swish, beep dissonant tones, and cast digital glows across the room in greens, blues, and oranges. The smell is clean and antiseptic, and yet not pleasant. Wires dangle. Nurses pad softly past, their pace sometimes urgent, always moving; doors slamming down the corridor.

It’s not the first time I’ve written an article from a hospital. Over the years, I’ve had occasion to be pounding the keys for an approaching deadline while waiting for news about a loved one, awaiting births and, sometimes, awaiting deaths. The noise and constant interruption are only made worse by the routinely horrible internet connections.

It’s been rare, if ever, that I have mentioned the location from which I’m writing. I might be writing an article about a fun event in Knoxville while sitting in a hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, or Mobile, Alabama. The location of my computer isn’t part of the story. I rarely mention the real life I sometimes work around, or through, while sending stories from hotel rooms, hospital lobbies, or relatives’ homes across a wide range of states and, occasionally, countries.

Urban Brother, Stonewall Inn, East Village, New York City, November 2018

This website was never intended to be about me, though I often detail events through a personal lens. I’ve broken that rule a few times: in September 2012, when my mother died  and in November 2017, when my father died. In both cases, I had to take some days off simply to deal with the details of death, as well as the grief, and I felt a need to explain why the column was missing. Otherwise, I’ve written through family difficulties, illnesses, and the ordinary hard times that impact us all.

While not a confessional blog, the focus on amazing and fun events and good news in the city can give a false impression. My job has to be one of the best in the universe, but I would hate to be just one more person on social media who appears to always be at the fun event and to somehow be immune to life’s difficulties. No one’s life is perfect. We all struggle.

From the glow of Urban Brother’s hospital room inside the University of Tennessee Medical Center Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, I’m writing these words, while I anxiously watch those digital glows for any sign of potential danger or encouragement. I cheer every elevation in blood oxygen levels. I try to telepathically force his heart rate to slow. I ask unanswerable questions of nurses and doctors.

Urban Woman, Knoxville, April 2013

He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late August. As his radiation and chemo wore him down, he moved from his condo to ours. He’s had multiple visits to the emergency room and three hospital stays. Just as he seemed poised to successfully finish the course, he suffered a lesion in the esophagus, resulting in a massive and dangerous infection, which required emergency surgery late Sunday night. The status of his cancer will be evaluated later, but for now we hope he recovers from the trauma of the surgery. It is uncertain.

For our family, this has come on the backdrop of another family member’s struggle. Urban Woman suffered an anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, more commonly called an “eye stroke,” this past spring. She had multiple events, losing virtually all of her vision in one eye and a significant amount in the other. Numerous doctor visits and multiple trips to Vanderbilt Eye Institute ensued. She can no longer drive, and you may see her downtown walking around with her shiny new white cane. It’s mostly to help with her greatly diminished depth perception, and to warn people around her that she may not see them coming.

Urban Brother and Urban Boy, Rossini Festival, Knoxville, April 2019

So, why share (or overshare) so much personal information after a decade of mostly avoiding doing so? First, because I am not currently able to maintain my normal output. Those of you who read regularly have probably already noticed this. I’m missing events and I’m missing publication days. I’m off my game, and that will continue for a while until my life becomes more manageable. I’ll still write and publish some days, but at times it just won’t be possible. It may get worse before it gets better. This is one of those times I just can’t power through it.

Second, I think it’s important to say directly that, while I may have the greatest job in the world writing this love letter to our city, real life hits me just like it hits you. The pretend social media world in which everyone’s life consists of great vacations, cute kids, and photogenic kittens isn’t real. We all hope for good times but we all have tough times. Behind every shiny profile pic is someone who struggles, hurts, and sometimes has a hard time moving forward. We need to remember that and take care of ourselves and of each other. Thank you for your patience while I take care of some of the people I love.


  1. darrell cox says

    sir, yes i have noticed what you said about your posts being a little lacking lately. but, GOSH DARN IT! that is your brother! i am crying as i send you this text, but it is all good. man you had well damn better take care of your brother. i only WISH that i still had mine. i lost one of my brothers on august 23 of this year and if you only knew how much i wish i had gone to see him, which i had not in over a year or so i guess. and he lived in this VERY SAME CITY! they found him dead in his apartment building. so please, this city and its new buildings, announcements, changes or whatever are still gonna be here for you to report on, and i know we all appreciate and enjoy your keeping us up on all that is going on sir, but some things and situations are just so more important than those. prayers for you and strength to cope with whatever may happen. i am just trying to get my point across in the best way i know how. VISIT YOUR BROTHER WHENEVER YOU CAN! dont worry about us. best of wishes and prayers to you sir!

  2. Family is always first…
    Sending healing thoughts to you and your family.
    Please do not worry about us, we will be ok if you take sometime off.

    • Bill Walker says

      God bless you by restoring your health. As a Knoxville exile in Virginia, I enjoy and need your columns. Don’t try to work until you feel like it, but rest assured we will applaud your return in good health.

  3. God bless, Urban Guy. Know there are many who care and hope for the best for you and yours.

  4. Lisa Shirey says

    Thank you for sharing. You nailed it by reminding us that reality strikes all of our lives at one point or another: none of us are immune. My hope and prayer for you and your loved ones is that you find comfort, peace and healing through this difficult time.

    Your fine words will once again flow when the most important things in your life are mended. Blessings to you all.

  5. You’re the best. Write when you can, do what you must, live your life as you need to!

  6. So heartbreaking to hear about the personal struggles, but know that we’re here for you if needed.

  7. My mind and heart are thinking of you and your brother and your wonderful wife. Blessings to all of you.

  8. Jennifer macisaac says

    Thank you for all that you do, taking the needed time to care for your family and yourself is what is right for now. Take care.

  9. Joyce Richman says

    Very sorry for your hardships, Alan. I wish all the best for you & your family. Every so often I remember that life is normal until it’s not.

  10. Bonny Naugher says

    Praying for you and your family, for strength and courage during these tough times.

  11. Sending good thoughts your way. Best wishes from a regular reader.

  12. I don’t often comment on your blog but am a regular reader. I just want to say I’m so sorry to hear of these struggles and I’m glad you are taking the time you need to be with your family. During difficult times I find great comfort in Rumi’s poem The Guest House. Keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

  13. Don DeVore says

    Knoxville is here for you, Alan. I’m here for you.

  14. We love you, Alan, and the important work you do for our city, which includes caretaking those you love. Healing prayers for you and your family.

  15. So sorry to hear about urban brother and urban wife. I have met both of them and will keep them, and you in my thoughts as y’all continue your journeys.
    Peace and love to you!

  16. Prayers are lifted up for you and your family.


    I am so sorry. Family first…best wishes that it will all work out to a positive conclusion.

  18. Lisa Starbuck says

    Thanks for sharing the bad with the good. It’s a reminder that we all should appreciate the good times more and live in the moment as much as possible. Sending good thoughts to you and your family.

  19. You remind us to see what is real, what is important in life and that we need to take care of each other. Thank you for all the times you brighten our lives with your attitude toward life and your love of our city.

  20. Devoted reader says

    God be with you and your family at this hard time. I love your blog and hope you will take whatever time you need to spend time with your family. Hoping for the best for your loved ones.

  21. My love and ongoing prayers for you and your family. I think of you all every day.

  22. Charla King says

    Take good care. Your column has helped us so much since we moved here. It’s been a beacon. We love you and will be praying for you and your family.

  23. Sending positive vibes to you, Urban Brother, and Urban Woman.

  24. Wishing you and your family the best. Thank you for sharing. Sending you hugs and prayers. Life is precious.

  25. Godspeed….

  26. Sherry Heater says

    Praying for you and your family. If there is anything you or they need, just post, any of us will be glad to help.

  27. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family as you fight life’s battles.

  28. Thank you for reminding us, time is precious, each day we have the choice to make our time count.

  29. Laura Barroso says

    Take care of yourself and your family, these are the most important things right now. We readers can wait.

  30. Hang in there my friend. Family comes first. I wish you well.

  31. Lisa Hood Skinner says

    Alan, I’m grateful I got to talk with your brother quite a bit as my husband Steve & I took this spring’s Urban Hike with yall…and stuck WITH yall..the whole way from Market Square, across the Gay Street bridge, down Sevier Avenue and to the waterfront past the brewery…then back across the bridge into downtown. Your tour commentary was on point, (and I’ve read you for years), but getting to know you both a little more makes your column today even more real. We ARE all real people and not always the shiny happy personas that we “put out there.” Family first. Take care of family business, and your faithful readers will be there for you when you can return to a more manageable schedule. (So glad you moved in across the street from us and only have to deal with one-level living now, given Urban Wife’s new challenge). BEST to you all.

  32. Taking care of family is always first. I am so sorry for your recent setbacks. Taking a step back from your normal pace is a wise decision. You and your family are in the thoughts and prayers of so many. Godspeed my friend.

  33. I hope you and your family feel all the love reaching out and surrounding you! Thank you for sharing and let us walk with you!

  34. NicoleTheVol says

    Thank you so much for sharing with your readers. Everyone needs to take time to themselves, especially in situations like this. Family always comes first. I wish you and your family all of the best and you are in my prayers.

  35. Sending good thoughts to your brother and you and the rest of your family.

  36. Tom Geisler says

    Dear Friend Allen, You stated that “you were off your game”, I beg to differ. What you are doing right now is your game for this window of time. You are definitely “on your game”, everyone understands and is on your sidelines cheering for you and your family. Tom

  37. Larry Lewis says

    Family first, indeed, KUG. And thank your for being my long-distance TN connection. Hoping for the best outcomes to your family challenges.

  38. Alan Cheatham says

    Alan, thanks for sharing with your online family. I pray for recovery for Urban Brother and Urban Woman. Peace to the entire family.

  39. Will keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers.

  40. Thank you so much for what you’ve done over the years to love our city and for being raw, vulnerable and human about your current struggles. My prayers are with you and your family as you weather this storm.

  41. Ken and I are so sorry to hear of your family’s troubles. As everyone before me has said, family is first. We appreciate you sharing with us and reminding us of how precious time with our families is. Each day we have as healthy people is truly a blessing. Your wife and brother are fortunate to have you to care for them. You have done so much for this city and have personally helped us both. Please know that you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. Take care and God Bless….Brenda and Ken

  42. Oren Drew Yarbroug says

    You’re such a caring person and you are a huge gift to this city. Anyone who reads this blog for even the shortest amount of time can see how much you care for your family. Through your blog, Knoxville has not just gotten to learn about the latest goings-on in retail, architecture, and the arts; we have gotten to know the entire Urban Family as well. I am thankful you shared your struggle with all of us so we can be given the opportunity to do our best to make this time less stressful on you and the Urban Family, however possible.

  43. Lifting up you and your family during this difficult time. You positively impact more people than you’ll ever realize through your work online- connecting people to the city they love so much…and really, so many people you’ll never get to meet in real life, but who consider you part of their extended online family. We’re ALL sending positive vibes your way, my good fellow.

  44. Praying for you and your family Alan .

  45. Thank you for your words…. about life in Knoxville and the words that mirror our own everyday lives. Bless you and your family.

  46. Thank you for sharing, Alan, life isn’t always easy. I am sorry to hear about your brother and wife. Understanding and positive thoughts sent your way!

  47. I do love your blog, don’t comment often but appreciate all you do. Have hardships myself, and agree it’s so rarely portrayed on social media. All of us thank you for your candor and wish you and yours healing.

  48. charis kraski says

    So much gratitude for all you do for the people who live and love in this city. Take good care of you and your loved ones. Life is life, life is hard, Life is beautiful.

  49. Sharon Neill says

    I haven’t had the pleasure of getting to know your personally, but your brother means the world to me and he is SO incredibly blessed to have you and your family there for love and support. Your updates have been so helpful and informative on his condition and I can’t thank you enough for those. Your writing is such a gift, but I’m sure all of your readers understand that family comes first! You’re right where you need to be. Sending prayers for you and your family as you continue to be there for Mark.

  50. Alan, I’m happy you chose to share this publicly. When you told me of Mark’s diagnosis at the Start Up Day event, my heart broke for him, and for you. Having thus far survived my own bout of esophageal cancer in late 2015, I had an idea of the road to be traveled, which is less a road than an unpredictable, tumultuous footpath, with many unknown and frightening possibilities at each curve. I missed many events as well, and my wife lost many days of work at her school. It was a twilight period, where the future was hard to see, let alone imagine, and often the imagined was very bleak. You, and many others, helped me and my wife navigate our journey along this path. You, and perhaps 10-12 others, saw me during my recovery period, and brought hope and support to us. This made a difference, I firmly believe. Let me know if I can be of service to you and yours during this period in your life. Your community is there for Mark, Karen, and you. Much love, and appreciation, for all you do.

  51. Praying for all of you. This life is full of struggles, heartache, joy, excitement and uncertainty. Praying for God to give you peace and strength as you love and care for Your wife and your brother. May God use you to share love with others and let them know they are not alone.

  52. Zach Millwood says

    Alan, you and Mark have all my love. Few are so lucky at to have a devoted family member with them while they struggle, and Mark is among the luckiest. Thank you for taking care of our friend and for abiding with him. ❤️

  53. Mavis Weaver says

    Alan, my sinMavis Weaver(Bill Foster’s Mom)

  54. Sue Groves says

    Thanks for being so open about your family’s trials right now. This allows us, your readers and friends, to reach out to support you, your brother and your wife during this challenging time.

  55. Thank you for sharing your truths, for taking care of loved ones and loving our city. ♡♡♡

  56. Anne Wallace says

    Alan, I am so sorry to hear about the difficulties that you and your family are facing. You all will be in my prayers for healing and wholeness.

  57. Heidi Knapp says

    Take care of you, friend. News is infinite, family, sadly, is not. I know this all too well, my mom died today. In any event, Knoxville will still be there when you return to the fourth estate.

  58. Thinking of you my friend! ❤️

  59. Mitchell Greene says

    A billion wishes for the best outcomes. There is a gracefulness about going through these things you seem to have mastered, and I am taking notes. Thanks for the information as always.

  60. Kevin Rice says

    Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and true love you have for your family as you go through some incredibly tough times. I’m praying for you and your family’s comfort and healing during this time.

  61. Elaine Peterson says

    Take care of yourself, Urban Guy. Sending positive vibes to you and your loved ones.

  62. Thank you for everything you do. Please take care. Prayers and healing thoughts for you and your loved ones.

  63. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this aspect of life.

  64. Praying for you and your family through these difficult times.

  65. Peggy Klein says

    Thank you for updating us on your own life, Alan. It is good for us to know that you have roadblocks like everyone else, and hopefully it will be good for you to see how many people love and appreciate you and all you do for us. Take care of your brother, Karen and yourself. Please let Paul and I know how we can help.

  66. Alan, I am so sorry to read this. You and yours will be in my thoughts as you power through these rough times.

  67. Howell Doka says

    Sending all the healing and good vibes I can your way. Take care of yourself and family first. See you out and about soon.

  68. Kathy Holt says

    Please watch Weed the People now showing on Netflix. Your brother could benefit from this alternative treatment. Hugs.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.