One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for June 2018

This Is Not Normal

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Back in November 2016, John Oliver hosted an episode of Last Week Tonight focusing on the election of Donald Trump. Towards the end of the episode, John Oliver gave his viewers some apt advice: with the relative chaos of the election, people would learn to adopt that chaos as being the “status quo”. Oliver advised her viewers, whether it be written on a sticky note or tattooed in an awkward place, to remind himself constantly that

This is not normal.

In the past year and a half, this country has seen a revolving door policy when it comes to White House staff (and several other positions still remain unfilled). Our leadership has demonstrated a love of totalitarian leadership, an obsession with public image and random social media declarations, and an overall contempt for the office and institutions that have been paramount in this country, and many (like me) have to remind ourselves that…

This is not normal.

My heart often breaks when I’m dealing with my mother and her struggles with government bureaucracy. Multiple phone calls which lead to frustrating missed connections. Dealing with Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP benefits being lost and miraculously regained. I try to remain stoic when my mom half-says, half-sobs, “I think they’re really trying to kill me,” and I try to remember that “No one should ever have to hear this from their parent” and that …

This is not normal.

Fighting off what one friend calls the “brain weasels of depression” and working through issues of self-esteem because I’m one of those 20% of people in intergenerational households as well as part of the “sandwich generation” of caregivers (Since I don’t have children, I don’t quite qualify). Wanting to be more available to my friends and colleagues but unable due to time and personal commitments. Lightly resenting well-intentioned people who believe that I am “being strong” and that what I’m doing is “noble”, but also aware that those people would, behind closed doors, mock this video while defending a television personality’s overt racism, and realizing…

This is not normal

Like many others, I’ve had to take stock of my relationships. I’ve had to let go of friends who feel that I’m not “doing enough” professionally – or in my efforts to care for Mom. Dealing with people who not only support the toxic, dysfunctional results of our government but who will easily and comfortably fall into the familiar footfalls of fascism. Having – and accepting – the uneasy feeling that many of my female friends – and some friends of color – will never feel totally safe or comfortable around me. Not because I’m not “one of them”, but because too many of “them” have done wrong. And part of me wants to complain:

This is not normal!

Accepting that the time for civility is over – so often, I’ve been one of the “if only we can get them to empathize” and realizing…that’s privilege. The other side would rather be cruel and cowardly from behind the keyboard rather than face the reality of our current political climate. Mourning the fact that there no longer the safety of seemingly “neutral” ground, and that current times call for the courage and willingness to face social and political malevolence head on and declare…

This is not normal.

Realizing that much of my life includes finding the energy to resist drifting into apathy…to stay active. To use my anger and frustration as fuel for moving forward. Pushing myself forward, giving myself time and self-care and staying compassionate towards others. Supporting and letting friends support me while removing toxic relationships. Staying optimistic yet realistic about what may happen in the future. Grateful for my current relationships while wishing they could be deeper, more connected. Mourning a past sense of connectedness and feeling like some wounds are too deep to ever heal. And realizing…

This is not normal…but it’s becoming normal.

And I don’t want this to ever become normal. 


Written by gordondym

June 19, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Living the Linux Laptop Lifestyle Revisited

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When I wrote about my Linux-powered laptop awhile ago, things were going well, tech-wise. My refurbished Windows 10 laptop was a powerhouse, allowing me to blog and write, as well as keep up with my freelance work. (Writing includes my recent essay in The Joy of Joe: Memories of America’s Fighting Man from Today’s Grown-Up Kids). With my formerly-Ubuntu-now-Linux Lite-powered Panasonic Toughbook providing a great backup machine, it seemed like I was unstoppable. But then, something happened…

My Windows 10 laptop started overheating. It also become extremely slow, often grinding to a near halt when browsing or using software. After performing the necessary virus and malware checks, I discovered that much of the hardware in my HP laptop (including the motherboard) was nearly ten years old. Of course, I should have known better – I bought it refurbished three years ago, and In addition, my Panasonic Toughbook was  a Pentium-M machine that, even upgraded to 1.5 GB RAM (which is all you can upgrade it), was a bit slow. It was a tough decision, but I made a very critical decision…img_20161016_080249630

I needed a new laptop for freelance work, and my HP laptop was going to be converted into a Linux box.

Thankfully, since I had enough of a freelance income, I did some shopping for a new laptop. Although my ideal laptop (an Acer) was not available, my second choice – an HP that was much slimmer, had a larger hard drive and was more current. (Although I considered sticking exclusively to Linux, much of my software is Windows-based, and past experience with clients favors a Windows environment). My Toughbook would still keep Linux Lite 3.6, but would be officially “retired” and put in storage. Although I considered making the old HP laptop a dual boot, I decided against it.

You have to know what you’re doing to dual boot Windows 10 and Linux, and I was – and am – strictly amateur when it comes to Linux. c-now-linux-01

But then came the critical decision – what Linux distro to load onto the old HP laptop? I really love Linux Lite’s usability, and that many of the software packages were easily downloadable. (When it comes to laptops, I just want to set it and forget it). Linux Mint looked really good, and I was hearing great things about Manjaro Linux. For a few moments, I even considered using LXLE, but realized that I already had my heart set on a distro, and that the others would only be follow-ups.

However, I did what anyone considering adopting Linux would do: watch a ton of YouTube videos (including my now favorite Linux-centric YouTube channel, Switched to Linux) and test-drove various distros except Manjaro. (Manjaro is based on a different flavor of Linux, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with the learning curve. However, I intended to play with it on the soon-to-be-Linux-powered-HP8530P-Elitebook once I had another installed. Think of it has test-driving a Porsche while owning a Mustang).

So moving full steam ahead, I installed Linux Lite 3.8, and it worked near-beautifully. I say “near” because there were a few adjustments to make – the WiFi indicator was blinking, the battery wasn’t charging, and there were some display glitches. But one major glitch was that the software indicated that it hadn’t been updated in two days (right after I did a full install)…yet, when I attempted to update it, Linux Lite informed me that the software was up-to-date.

However, what I hadn’t realized was that I had installed version 3.8 a few days before the latest version – Linux Lite 4.0 – was formally released. So last night, I did what any enterprising person would do in this situation: install and modify the latest version. And it works beautifully….except for the battery. (However, I had problems with the battery leading up to the installation, and I cannot blame Linux. I will probably, at some point, need to purchase a new battery).

c-now-linux-02But I know that right now, you’re probably thinking, “Gordon, why are you so fixated on Linux?” Part of my fascination with Linux – and open source software in general – is the idea that it’s based on community needs, and that it is (in theory) easy to modify towards a particular function. One of the things I love about installing Linux on hardware is that it not only extends the usability of technology, but allows it to perform at a higher level. (As much as I would love to think that the Toughbook could remain my backup, even during its prime with Windows XP it would never be considered “lightning fast”). Rather than recycling or junking an old unit, it now becomes extremely usable and valuable, even if it’s just for “basic” use.

But Linux – and open source software – really emphasize the importance of digital excellence: that software, hardware, and digital tools allow us greater access into the larger world. Despite its recent repeal, it is still important that people understand the implications of net neutrality and contact their legislators. But more importantly, it’s important to remember that technology serves people, and not vice versa. Open source software allows individuals and communities an opportunity to grow, learn, and access resources and information.

But more importantly, it allows communities to gather, helps individuals to develop skills, and provides great resources for those seeking low-cost technology.

If you would like to learn more about Linux or open source technology, please check out Free Geek Chicago. They provide training and sell Linux-driven hardware.

If you have comments, please join the conversation either via the comments below or our Facebook page. If you wish to email me privately, please use this contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 13, 2018 at 12:50 pm

Anthony Bourdain and Male Depression

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Note: This week’s post focuses on issues around mental health, depression, and suicide, and may be unsettling for more sensitive readers. Comments on this post and on our Facebook page will be moderated and inappropriate comments will be removed

Anthony Bourdain

I should know. I have firsthand experience. But more on that later…

According to American Psychological Association statistics, men are four times more likely succeed at suicide than women. Nine percent of men have incidents of depression and anxiety daily. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men can experience a variety of symptoms, including anger, irritability, or aggressiveness; feeling sad, “empty,” flat, or hopeless; not being able to concentrate or remember details; feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much; thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts, and withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated. Anthony Bourdain was in the middle of filming Parts Unknown, and he had what would be considered a grueling schedule.

When the Shadow Sees The Sun

Back in February of this year, many personal issues were coming to a head and I was hurting…hard.  It was a combination of things: trying to balance caregiving for Mom with the needs of freelance work, an impending milestone birthday,  a complicated emotional situation in my personal life, and an overall feeling of despair led me to shut myself off from others. Emotionally, I was taking the fastest elevator towards the bottom I could find. In fact, well…I learned quickly that yes, Virginia, compassion fatigue is a thing.

And the thing is…I don’t suffer from clinical depression. I tend to have reactive depression (or to cite the DSM-5, “Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood”) – in other words, something has to happen to bring on the depression. Thirteen years ago, it was the death of a favorite aunt (from ovarian cancer) and a casual friend (from a motorcycle accident). Five years ago, it was the suicide of my colleague Vincent which led to a brutal self-assessment (as well as an essay for the When the Shadow Sees the Sun benefit anthology). Although I might have a naturally dour disposition, this time…something had to change. I was starting to approach that point of no return…and quite honestly, it scared me.

I turned away from friends. Although tempted to lash out at people (especially a budding friendship), I engaged my usual defense mechanism: burying myself in work. It didn’t help. Family members were…not available, and I had no wish to burden them. I turned off social media and began to consider what would happen if I wasn’t around…and didn’t like what I was thinking. But slowly my mind started turning…in doing “research”, I came across this page about suicide. Then this article from The Mighty. 

Feeling slightly stronger, I availed myself of services from the Chicago Department of Public Health’s mental health clinics.

Recovery has been…slow, but I started reconnecting with the world. Writing fiction helped me channel some of the feelings around that complicated emotional situation. Meeting up with some friends on my birthday helped; assisting another move from one apartment to another (within the same building) also helped. Joining a newish friend for lunch also helped, and I’m planning to (hopefully) join another for a post-performance gathering. It was that feeling of community and knowing that others wanted me around despite my troubled mood., that helped assuage the aching loneliness that comes with depression of all types. (And, much like Anthony Bourdain, very few people suspected how I felt…of course, I honestly didn’t think people noticed that I was gone).


What also helped was, of all things, running a panel on sword and sorcery at Windy City Pulp and Paper. (You can read more about that – and my C2E2 Doctor Who panel – via my personal blog). Being able to relate how Robert E. Howard and I shared many traits – caregiving for a sick parent, being relatively isolated and communicating mostly through words – placed my experiences into a powerful perspective, with one critical difference.

Robert E. Howard lived in a small town with very few resources in the 1930s. However, I had people who were willing – and able – to engage with me.

In the aftermath of Anthony Bourdain’s death, many people are offering platitudes and encouraging those who are suicidal to reach out. From personal experience…it’s not easy. But for those who – like me – have often wondered why someone didn’t “reach out” to me, there’s a better thing I can do…

Take the initiative. Because many men (like me) are still socialized to be “strong” and stoic, not discussing those darker emotions. One of the hardest aspects of handling Anthony Bourdain’s passing is that there will never be closure or an “a-ha” moment that speaks to his motivations. For men dealing with depression, criticisms that “only weak people consider killing themselves” or “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” can frequently act as fuel, motivating them further down the spiral.

Even Anthony Bourdain, as social as he was, still could not fight off certain demons or (presumably) that lack of belonging. The best thing you can do for someone who’s reaching out and including them before it’s too late.

It helped me. And it helps you avoid the inevitable feeling of “coulda/woulda/shoulda” when it finally happens.

Written by gordondym

June 10, 2018 at 8:09 pm

Roseanne, Samantha Bee, and Free Speech

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Like many of you, I have been following news about Roseanne and Samantha Bee getting in trouble for making comments on Twitter. One made flat-out racist comments; the other used a questionable word. The result has been a lively, passionate discussion about free speech on Twitter. (As well as a correlating number of flat-out troll reactions). But I can bring a unique perspective: I have watched both women on television. I have seen Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, as well as most of the episodes of the Roseanne revamp, and their Twitter activities – in one case, gracefully, in another, sadly – reflects the tone and tenor of their work.

Let’s look at Samantha Bee’s infamous use of the “C-word” – let’s be honest: she’s used it on her show before and it’s been appropriately bleeped out. Remove it from this (or any other context), and she manages to make a serious point. (To be even more specific: how Ivanka could celebrate her being a mother when her father’s policies are encouraging the separation of children from their families at the border). Could she have made the same point without using that word? Of course. But Samantha Bee was exercising her right to free speech…and she is embracing the consequences.


Several sponsors have dropped out from her show. Samantha Bee has apologized for her statement in public (and on Twitter) multiple times. But at a time when criticizing the current Presidential administration is openly avoided (especially by the mainstream media) and key issues are often ignored or dismissed, turning Samantha Bee into a scapegoat seems hardly appropriate or worthwhile. (And an irrelevant side note: Samantha Bee once guest-starred on an episode of Law & Order that featured a television personality, inappropriate behavior, and prescription drugs. You should be able to catch it on Ion Television Wednesday mornings).

But when we discuss Roseanne’s tweet, in which she claims that an African-American leader is the result of interspecies breeding (to put it mildly)…there’s no way you can separate what she said from any larger point. (In other words, Roseanne’s tweet was merely posted as a mild insult in itself). And Roseanne’s post-tweet behavior – quitting Twitter, then blaming it on Ambien (resulting in the drug company disavowing racism as a side effect) and doubling down on her sense of outrage and wish to have her show uncanceled isn’t just immature…it’s part of her overall pattern of avoiding responsibility.0530-ctm-roseannecanceled-duthiers-1579923-640x360

I should know – I grew up during the first iteration of her sitcom.

I rarely, if ever, watched it – after all, many people in my family were like the Conners, and that’s not a compliment. (When her series finale was on the air, I ignored it in favor of the Doctor Who TV Movie, and then the Chicago Bulls playoff after that. I do not regret my choices). Whether it was fighting with producer Matt Williams, her short-lived marriage to Tom Arnold, or even her claims to a less-than-pleasant past, Roseanne has tended to engage in a similar pattern of behavior:

  • Make outrageous statements and claims, leading to public criticism
  • Provide a weak-willed apology that provides some rationalization/justification for her behavior, and
  • Continue to portray herself as the victim without any willingness to make positive change

And that’s before some of her more recent history of making outrageous claims, including calling a former Presidential candidate the “c-word”.

First, there’s an appropriate way to apologize, which writer John Scalzi outlines in his blog. But more importantly, this has implications for how issues of “free speech” are changing. After all, when we have a President making outrageous claims on Twitter and a media climate that focuses more on that than actual policy issues, does the First Amendment still hold sway?Flip_Flop_Social_Media_Icons_by_EffBomb

Yes, it does, because freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from consequences.
For example, I can honestly state that after watching Samantha Bee and Roseanne’s new show…Samantha Bee takes huge chances when examining key political issues from a woman-centric perspective. However, having seen most of Roseanne’s reboot  I can honestly say that Roseanne’s show is a poorly-written, pandering pile of garbage that only serves as self-created fan fiction to assuage a fragile ego.

Seriously – plots have taken sudden twists (for example, Becky lies about her age in order to sell an egg for money…but turns out to be infertile. Two episodes have ended with variations on “you’re weird, but we love you anyway.”) One episode even suggested that living in a disaster area is a good thing because FEMA money would save them. (Let’s also include tone-deafness, especially amidst reports that Puerto Rico’s death toll has been sorely underestimated). But the pilot episode, where Roseanne’s sister calls her out on bullying and Roseanne’s response is “…Because I know what’s best for everybody”) sets the tone. In short, the Roseanne revival serves as a last-ditch effort for an aging star to maintain relevancy rather than find a new outlet.

Having said all that, I fully expect there to be criticism either in the comments below or via our Facebook page. Some will even “troll” me via my Twitter account with all the usual right-wing catchphrases to indicate how much lesser I am than they are…but that’s the power of the First Amendment: the President can’t call for a television show to be canceled (as he has with Samantha Bee) or provide “state-sanctioned” approval (like Roseanne). And even I have been trolled on Twitter by a PR agency who objected to a claim that buying Twitter followers was a “false tactic”.  But that’s the truth of free speech on social media – responses are immediate, and there are frequent consequences. It takes courage and dignity to face those consequences professionally.

Roseanne has publicly stated that she has felt “thrown under a bus”. But the great thing about free speech is that we can see that she did it to herself. And she’s reluctant to face the consequences.

But Samantha Bee? Handling it like a professional.

Written by gordondym

June 4, 2018 at 10:40 am