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Blogapalooz-Hour: Laughing at the Darkness

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Next Door Chicago 01
Since I have spent the last four days writing up my notes from Cyber Security Chicago, I missed our monthly call for Blogapalooz-hour, where we have one hour to write on a specific topic. This month’s challenge is….

Write about and describe your sense of humor. (How has it evolved over your lifetime? Is it mainstream? Who and what do you find funny? Who and what do you NOT find funny?)

My sense of humor is….dark. Very dark and absurd.

Naming everything that’s made me laugh could fill several blog posts….from Blazing Saddles (which I conned my father into taking me to see when I was ten) to Monty Python, from the Kids in the Hall (who I actually saw tape their show…and blogged about. Twice.) to the Smothers Brothers and Steve Martin (my friend Bob and I listened to Martin’s Wild & Crazy Guy album repeatedly) and of course, the Marx Brothers (because let’s face it, everyone needs a bit of anarchy and attitude in their comedy)

Comedy helped me to handle life’s various difficulties. My childhood was….well, it was rough. (I was the stereotypical “fat kid”, and of course, I acted out every obnoxious stereotype). I always loved anarchic, smart-ass humor (earning the nickname “Groucho” one year at summer camp) and my jokes often reflected that. When I entered the chemical dependency and (later) nonprofit fields as a professional career, I discovered that a dark sense of humor helped me deal with tough situations. (When you’re working with homeless clients in St. Louis, you need to have an edge).

That time my blog review made the door of Second City. Seriously.

That time my blog review made the door of Second City. Seriously.

It also helped that humor also helped me become more creative. For a while, I was partners in running a Comedy Community with my friend Mark Kilmer. When he passed away, well…I found the irony in missing Mark’s passing rather absurd. In the aftermath of a painful breakup, I was able to find solace writing for a Python-themed website. And the results are….the results. Even my personal blog (which is liberally quoted in this post) showed a willingness to see the lighter side of things…

…which is good, because my mood can get dark very quickly. My humor has actually moved into a more positive direction. Not so much in terms of vulgarity or nastiness (so it’s not like I’m more Red Skelton than Andrew Dice Clay), but I no longer need to “one-up” people through wisecracking. It’s less the idea of “punching down” than “punching the right target” and gaining a sorely needed perspective. Watching Scott Thompson’s monologues as Buddy Cole in the Kids in the Hall helped me work through my own attitudes about the LGBTQIA community. The Smothers Brothers and Steve Martin allowed me to see how certain forms of art had their own “rules”…which I could tweak.

And Monty Python and the Marx Brothers….taught me that some institutions deserve to be brought down.

Me and Terry Jones, Lakeside Theater, roughly 2009

Me and Terry Jones, Lakeside Theater, roughly 2009

Having a strong sense of humor has helped me in recent times since I’m attempting to care for my ailing mother and maintain consistent freelance work. It’s never easy, and often stressful (with some discouraging me from working to stay at home full time and those who believe I’m getting a “free ride”), and often leads me to wonder if I’m contracting “compassion fatigue”. But having a sense of humor – and exercising it – helps me keep a well-needed sense of perspective (as well as, quite frequently, a grasp on sanity).

Most of my efforts tend to focus on Twitter and Facebook, because…well, I don’t get out much, so social media helps me fill in the gaps. At times, I have to find my life incredibly absurd: wanting to have a heart-to-heart with a friend, but we’re on completely different schedules; finding myself feeling like an adolescent even though those years are behind me…and I have to crack a grin. Not only because I see how absurd it is, but to stay in the darkness would truly be futile.

But as the graphic/quote from Next Door Chicago above states, when I lose the ability to laugh, I lose my ability to think and retain perspective. And right now….that’s something that is sorely needed in my life.

If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or join the conversation via our Facebook page. If you want to contact me privately, you can e-mail me via my personal website.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

October 27, 2017 at 5:00 am

“Fear Makes Companions Of Us All”

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When this month’s Blogapalooz-hour challenge arrived in my email box, I was particularly intrigued by the opportunity to write about a past Blogapalooz-Hour, topic…and once I decided on a topic, the above Doctor Who clip popped in my head. (The above citation is a riff from the classic series episode An Unearthly Child). Writing about this in a (rather) timely manner, my chosen Blogapalooz-Hour topic comes from February 2015:

“Write about fear, or lack thereof, and the role it has played in any aspect of your life.”

Fear has always been a driving force in my life. I could blame it on my Eastern European heritage, or some aspect of my childhood…but much of my past has seen many decisions – most of them bad – driven by some form of fear.  Hidden beneath layers of adolescent bravado, flavored by a lack of self-esteem, much of my early life was spent doing things in order to avoid being vulnerable. Never dating or socializing much in high school because let’s face it, people wouldn’t like me if they knew who I really was.  And I saw myself as….well, a mouthy fat guy).

(My former classmates remember me as being quiet, but gregarious. So much for that perception.)

Post-college, fear led me to apply – and promptly quit – from a for-profit graduate school in psychology. (Coming soon to the blog, “I Survived A Year At a Diploma Mill”). But it was starting in graduate school, working as a field researcher for the Harvard School of Public Health, I started to work through my fear. (At the time, some neighborhoods had more of a rough reputation than others). Even when I lived in St. Louis and worked tobacco prevention, although I gained confidence, there was still a slight hint of fear in my decisions. Nothing major or life-threatening, but enough that made me cautious….

And that’s part of the power of fear. Fear can hold someone back, but I often find myself using fear as a way of making sure I take a quick inventory. Check my motives. Do everything to make sure that I’m making a good decision….and fear has also allowed me to connect with people. Sharing my fears with trustedCNow - Skyline friends and finding that we share many fears in common. It was an ironic discovery that helped me gain greater confidence personally and professionally: the realization that fear makes companions of us all.

Although I’ve gotten more courageous in recent times, I have found that fear has made itself a semi-constant companion in my life. Making the decision to move in and care for Mom reacquainted me with some fear, but on a regular basis, I have semi-realistic fears. Fear that I will never acquire enough freelance work to move forward. Fear that I will live in isolation, and become an “elder orphan“. Fear that my friends will never know how I feel about them. Fear that my life has hit a plateau and that I have nothing more to offer. And like many Americans, fear that our country is falling apart.

Handling some of the everyday fears has become easier: putting in the effort to bolster my freelance career, reaching out to others (I still owe someone whom I offered to “adopt” as a sibling), and I’m sure that many of my friends will reach out for the tell-me-how-you-really-feel-Gordon talk. (And yes, I’ll even have the conversa30378605441_efbe153edd_mtion via phone, Skype, or e-mail). And when it comes to having nothing to offer…

Currently, we’re in the midst of a very contentious political time. Many of my female friends, friends of color, and LGBTQIA friends feel positively threatened…and I can offer my support, my empathy, and my (shared) fear about this country. I am not afraid to call out the alt-right/white supremacist/whatever-you-want-to-call-it working against this country, nor am I afraid of losing relationships. (And before those few of you make the “both-sides-are-deplorable” argument, let me remind you that any side that physically assaults people of color, proclaims that “Jews will not replace us”, and runs over peaceful protestors with their automobiles have automatically lost the right – and the privilege – to the moral high ground). Our Chicago community – and communities around the country – have become more inclusive and diverse. That’s never going to change, and we need to start working together to transcend our fear.

Because although fear makes companions of us all…it also strengthens us into allies against a greater evil.  I’m only sorry that those ties are coming at such a high cost.

Please feel free to make your comments below, join the conversation on our Facebook page, or e-mail me privately.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

August 30, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Why I Would Hang With the LEVERAGE Crew

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After writing about detoxing from Facebook, a fun excursion into one of my favorite shows is in order. This week’s Blogapalooz-hour topic is….

“What fictional character (or characters) would you most like to spend time with and what would you do together?”

Of course, my mind instantly went to Leverage, the socially conscious program about a group of thieves and con artists who take on the rich, powerful, and corrupt. (I’ve written about this show for both Chicago Now and my personal blog). As someone dedicated to social justice, I really enjoy the show (having binged upon it via Ion Television), and also feel that right now…it’s due for a revival.

(I’m also working on a novel that’s very Leverage-esque…but more on that when it’s released).

Part of the reason to hang with the Leverage crew…is that they do wrong to do right. Yes, they’re criminals, but they’re also taking on the powers that be. As a man who wishes for the energy of his youth to catch up with his idealism….it’s a very appealing notion. Plus, the Leverage crew was a family by choice rather than family by chance: there was a shared idealism that stretched from the first episode The Nigerian Job to the finale The Last Goodbye Job Having friends who share ideals is….empowering.


One cool thing would be the ability to work with Nathan Ford (played by Timothy Hutton)….or possibly not. He and I share very similar mindsets – obsessive, manipulative, and determined. (The only thing we don’t share is a drinking problem). Of course, I would probably want to pick his brain about handling tough situations like negotiating social services….or wooing a crush.

(Yes, Leverage was rather goofy like that. Part of the fun would be having those warm-and-offbeat moments in between aspects of the job. And yes, I would be risking arrest and jail…but it would be in a fictional realm. Not the real world with real consequences).

leverage05On the other hand, a better tutor for handling people would be Sophie Devereaux, the team’s resident grifter (played by Gina Bellman). She also hasn’t let that define her…in fact, for awhile, she took time off to “find herself”, as the old cliche goes. But she has a kind of nurturing quality, as well as a strong sense of self. Yes, she has an on-again off-again thing with Nathan, but there’s something about her being so down-to-earth yet acknowledging her ability to influence people that would make her a potentially great ally. Of course, I probably would not necessarily trust her….but that’s just part of the territory.

Of course, part of the fun would be watching the bickering between Alec Hardison, the hacker (played by Aldis Hodge) and Elliot Spenser, the hitter/retrieval specialist (played by eliot-and-hardisonChristian Kane). Much of their banter reminds me of my youth: reading Monk and Ham bicker in old Doc Savage pulps or listening to my mother’s old Smothers Brothers albums. It’s an almost classic push-and-pull: Hardison’s laid back technological savvy against Eliot’s culinary skills and physical dexterity. Ironically, this is the pair that I would probably hang out with most…in fact, several of my friends and I engage in Leverage-style banter that ends up with one of them yelling “Dammit Hardison!”

(Plus, I think it would be cool to see how Hardison reacts to my nickname for Eliot: Punchy McKickface)

c760e6cc1c2cc01c3966dc7007f91001Finally, there’s Parker, the thief (played by Beth Riesgraf), and to be honest….I’m not sure how I would relate to her. After all, she’s a bit socially awkward (like me), she sees the world in a different way…

Ok, I’ve found the reason. I need people who are different than I am. Not just in the demographic sense, but in their experiences. One of Leverage‘s main strengths wasn’t in the elaborate nature of their plots (although let’s be honest….they were smartly written).

Leverage‘s key strength is its emphasis on people and personalities over tropes and gimmicks.

As I write this, our President called for a ban on transgendered individuals in the military. Friends on Twitter were sharing information, organizations to support, and other information. In short, we were becoming a Leverage-style crew focused on helping people through this crisis.

I think the other main strength of Leverage has been its focus on “normal” people. In a media climate where the paranormal (superheroes and other larger-than-life characters) serve as escapist fare, Leverage provides a nice punitive quality: not only does the antagonist lose – they experience severe consequences.

Is it possible to hang with a fictional crew of criminals? Not really…but the ultimate strength of Leverage is the idea that communities aren’t just large collections of people….just a small group with a common goal.

And I can live that daily.

Questions? Comments? Please feel free to leave them below, or join us on our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading!




Written by gordondym

July 26, 2017 at 10:00 pm

One Decision With A Big Impact

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One of the benefits of being a Chicago Now blogger is participating in Blogapalooz-Hour, where various bloggers write on the same topic. However, tonight’s topic hits a little too close to home. Earlier, we were asked to

“Write about a decision you made that changed the course of your life for better or worse.”

Of course, I’m living in the midst of one of my biggest decisions….back in February, my mother had to be hospitalized for a foot infection. So I bounced back and forth from my old apartment on the southwest side to my Mom’s place in Beverly. Granted, it was hectic, and filled with conflict (I had another dry period as a freelancer), but otherwise, I somehow managed to stay relatively sane. However, when I learned that would need physical and occupational therapy, I realized that my lease would end in late March, and that I would need to make some serious changes. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I made it nonetheless.

I decided to move out of my apartment, put my things in storage, and move into Mom’s place on a temporary basis. Comics Code

It wasn’t easy….after all, I was dealing with my own work/finance issues (so much that I ended up running a small crowdfunding campaign) and some of my other plans…well, it felt like a step backward. After all, what person my age would want to move back with their parent? (My father passed away ten years ago, so he would not be a factor).  What if Mom came home, and I couldn’t deal with it? Would anyone feel differently about me once they learned that I was going to take care of Mom?

(It didn’t help that many of my colleagues encouraged me to receive training to be a caretaker for my mother. Although I was open, research seemed to indicate that this would not be doable…and quite honestly, both Mom and I agree that she needs more qualified, experienced people).

As a freelance marketing consultant, that meant much of my work search had to be set aside. After all, packing and getting ready for a move (besides managing the several smaller freelance projects I already had) provided plenty of stress. As my best friend put it, I had the “Stress Trifecta” of parental health issues, work issues and moving issues. Thankfully, I had enough from crowdfunding to rent a truck and storage bin for my things…and friends who came out and helped me move.

2964208212_6d0a583955_oAnd move I did….I left my apartment by the end of March, and got settled at Mom’s. I was ready to live out of a suitcase, because I was now part of the sandwich generation. (My own lack of children and partner notwithstanding)

There were delays in the meantime: a switch in facility for Mom, some other health complications…so I ended up living alone with Mom’s cat. Thankfully, it allowed me to have some serious down time to work through many of my stresses, get caught up on freelance projects, resume my search for work and continue to write. (And taking my friend’s advice, I’m definitely writing about my experiences…a lot of people are hurting right now, and at the very least, relating my own experiences might bring comfort to someone else.

Right now, there’s still a little fear. Fear that a potential employer will be turned off by this post because I’m sharing “too much information.” (If you need evidence that I can write professional copy, I have an online portfolio). Fear that some casual friends (and even potential romantic pursuits) will judge me. Fear that when Mom comes home on Friday, all the lessons I’ve learned will go oimg_20161016_080249630ut the door and I’ll have a harder time dealing with matters.

But in the end, the main impact of this decision is that I realize that fear and faith are not mutually exclusive – I can be afraid and have the faith to move forward. (Note the Doctor Who quote at the top of this post).  With so much in process, I won’t know until later what the total impact of this decision will be…but I’m proud of my decision. I’ve felt a calm and serenity that I haven’t felt for a few months. It will be tough, it will be challenging….but it won’t be boring.

If you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to leave them below or join the conversation via our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 28, 2017 at 10:00 pm

How A Chicago Guy Grew Up in St. Louis

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Every month, Chicago Now Bloggers participate in “Blogapalooz-Hour”, where we all write about a particular topic in one hour’s time, and this month’s topic is “Write about the first time you felt like you were a grown-up.” What’s particularly ironic is that I felt like a grown-up….when I moved to St. Louis and lived there for seven years. Short story – after leaving grad school, moved to Oregon because I got engaged. Planned on settling down, work in the chemical dependency field…and then the relationship ended. After finding a job in St. Louis at the urging of one of my friends, I moved to St. Louis during a very hectic December, living there until I moved back to Chicago in March 2007 because of my mother’s health.

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Written by gordondym

January 25, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Soundtrack For A Young Social Change Advocate

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The past few weeks haven’t been easy, mostly due to some personal and family issues. In fact, much of my time has been spent revisiting the music of my youth….as well as meditating on my “career” in social change.

(Oh, and this is also part of Blogapalooz-Hour, meaning that many Chicago Now bloggers will be posting their song choices.

My early adulthood was spent focusing on comics, writing, and buying records. (I’m sure that had the Sound Opinions podcast existed, it would have been on my must-hear list). So much of my current musical listening has been focused more on finding emotional comfort than, say, nostalgic reassurance. (Although one of my choices does carry a nostalgic twinge, and yes, I have written about music and social change in the past).

So for this week’s post, something a bit different – something slightly less professional, and more personal. Something which may provide insight into who I am and what songs give me further motivation, striking a chord and forcing me into further action.

The Replacements have always been one of my go-to bands for emotional support – in fact, during rough times I’ll binge listen, switching between Let It Be and Tim. But my favorite song from either album is “Unsatisfied” from Let It Be. Lyrically, there isn’t much there – only the singer’s challenge to “Look me in the eye and tell me/that I’m satisfied”. However, it’s Westerberg’s vocals, as well as the sweeping pedal steel, that gives this song a strong sense of anguish that necessitates moving forward. For me, it’s as much about daring me to move beyond my feelings of loss and desperation, meeting those feelings head-on.

Now comes the obvious nostalgic choice – one of the few memories of my father and I getting along is listening to Harry Belafonte’s Live At Carnegie Hall album. (We checked it out from the Brighton Park library, and I believe it’s the album that introduced calypso music to the States. I could be wrong). It’s an incredibly goofy song…but it’s also a great reminder that when pursuing social change, a sense of humor and self-awareness is definitely appreciated.

This was often the most listened-to song while I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree at Loyola University.  (And Husker Du was another go-to band in my youth. Although I missed one of Husker Du’s final concerts, I managed to see Bob Mould – both solo and with Sugar – twice). All I can say is…listen to the lyrics. They’re the closest that anyone else has come to articulating my own personal philosophy.

Yes, it’s a rather unusual choice (I was “alternative rock” before it was cool), but the chorus – “If there are gods above/they must be drunk/reveling in the madness, you and I” – speaks to a certain absurdity about life in general. Plus, part of driving social change means, generally, not taking myself so seriously….and wishing Roy Orbison would tell me what to do.

Now this is a rather tricky choice – my second personal favorite of this batch comes from Love’s Forever Changes, an album that is definitely worth your time. My favorite part comes in at 2:25…in which Arthur Lee, half-resigned, half-defiant, sings “This is the time in life that I am living/And I’ll face each day with a smile”, leading into a near-manifesto. It’s that sense of courage in the face of despair, that sense that time is running out but that an individual needs to make the best of it, is one of the key attitudes that drives social change. It is the realization that right here, right now, one person can make the most out of their limited time.

For many of us, music has a power to inspire, motivate, and drive personal and social change. I’m glad that, for this exercise, I was able to share some of my playlist with you.

Have any song suggestions? Questions? Please feel free to leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you wish to contact me privately, simply visit this blog’s About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

October 27, 2016 at 10:00 pm

My (Not-So) Secret Life in Tobacco Prevention

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C Now - Jeff We Can Yesterday, a new-ish colleague and I were having a conversation. You know, the good, old-fashioned get-to-know-you conversations that people tend to have. One of the topics that came up – and which surprised my new colleague – was my background in tobacco prevention.

Granted, it happened in St. Louis (rather than Chicago), but in looking back, I realize that working in tobacco prevention was not only one of the more challenging – and rewarding – jobs I ever had, but that it helped shape my approach to community organizing, mobilizing, and advocacy. (And makes a great opportunity to join my fellow Chicago Now bloggers in a Blogapalooz-hour effort)

Flash back thirteen years: I had left Salvation Army, who had taken over my contract from the Greater St. Louis Treatment Network. (It’s no longer in existence) Having worked with homeless shelters to assess residents for chemical dependency issues, I wanted to change – I wanted to work in prevention (a life-long goal), but I also wanted to work in policy.

In short, I wanted to make a greater impact.

So after six months of unemployment, I was hired by the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse in St. Louis. They knew my professional goals, and not only assigned me to various community groups….but also put me in charge of tobacco vendor education.

(Yes, there will be a lot of talk about Missouri….but it will pertain to Chicago. I promise).

So every year, in February, several centers throughout the state received a data set of tobacco vendors combining data sets for two departments. Our job was to clean up the data, visit vendors, and provide training and consultation for violators. This was part Missouri’s efforts to reduce tobacco sales to minors, or “reduce Synar rates.” This helped the state retain money, NCADA gain resources, and more importantly, make sure that kids did not get access to tobacco.

But besides that, I was also involved with several policy-oriented efforts, helping push smoke-free ordinances in many areas. For a time, I even chaired the Tobacco Free Missouri Coalition. And every moment of it was fun…and hard work. Tobacco prevention work is not for the weak of heart.

For two months, it was a thirty-minute drive to the office at 7:00 am. Fueled by caffeine, I would cull the initial data set, develop assignments for staff, and organize freebies. (In fact, I actually found some old incentives to integrate: To-Do pads, state-mandated signage, and pens. Lots of pens). By 9:00 am, when everyone else arrived ready to start their day, I was in full gear. This was on top of other tasks: working with thirteen different coalitions (ranging from north St. Louis to far, rural Missouri), other volunteer tasks, and dealing with typical office politics.

But it was also a great period in which I learned how community organizing and mobilization works on a grassroots level. When the opportunity came to work in College Hill – one of the more higher-profile neighborhoods in north St.Louis – I volunteered. There’s no better way to learn about local politics and civics than working with city alderman and mayors. I needed to get organized – much like my tax attorney father and bookkeeper mother, January through April became my busy time. Every moment I spent working felt like a new opportunity to learn. Every day, I found myself working through an immense task that brought people together…queuing Maxwell Smart…

But in time, I needed to move on….and ended up leaving to join another related position. In time, I had to leave that position to come back to Chicago. In those early months of my return, I tried to find a position related to my past tobacco prevention work…but Chicago’s success in smoke-free advocacy, plus the way public health funding is structured in Illinois, made it rather difficult…and I ended up shifting my professional focus, getting involved in Netsquared Chicago and other like-minded organizations to keep my hand in the game.

But even with Netsquared Chicago, I still retained the lessons I learned in tobacco prevention: working hard to stay organized, understanding the politics involved, and remembering that any kind of community organizing involves some common good.

It was the hardest I’ve ever worked…but it was a job that I truly loved. And which I miss.

(And yes, if the opportunity to work in tobacco prevention ever arose, I would seriously consider it)

Your thoughts? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook page. (Also, we realized tobacco and smoking can be a very touchy subject – we will moderate comments to make sure everyone has a chance to express their views. If you want to reach me directly, check out our About Me page or use this “Contact Me” form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

August 17, 2016 at 11:00 am