When Did Millennials Stop Taking the Constitution Test?

From time to time, I am pleased to feature a guest post from a talented up and coming writer. This week I’m thrilled to present the work of Noreen Hernandez, a gifted student in a 300- level English course I’m teaching at Northeastern Illinois University this term. I think you’ll agree we want to hear a lot more from Noreen…..


One Tuesday morning, a little more than a week ago, I was drinking my coffee and decided my digestion couldn’t handle reading about another schoolyard brawl between Rahm and Rauner. So I opened the Red Eye and started to flip directly to the Celebrity News for a little mental relaxation. Instead of checking out the reaction to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl outfit, my eyes were drawn to this headline:

I’ve Never Voted: Here’s Why,

Oh ha ha blah…I expected a sad column trying too hard to replicate the humorous genius of The Daily Show.  However, instead of satire, I read a self-serious list of reasons why 24-year-old Chicago Tribune reporter Rianne Cole has NEVER voted, or registered to vote-ever. She offered the usual pro forma list of excuses: too much hassle to register and nobody else votes. I sadly have to agree with Cole and admit, with voter turnout at 40% for the last mayoral election, she is correct in acknowledging voter apathy.

But the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners does understand the “hassle” of filling out forms, so they made it possible to register to vote online. I wondered if Cole knew she could procrastinate right up until Election Day and register at her polling place. That’s right-it’s possible to register and vote on the same day! As I continued reading the article, I became aware of a certain futility in these attempts to “get out the vote.”  Because her reason for not voting is more insidious than mere laziness.

Cole believes it is not her “civic duty” to vote.

I sighed…deep breaths…I tried solving the crossword puzzle to relax. But I couldn’t overlook the implications of Cole’s total civic apathy. The next Presidential election is historic because for the first time we, (not including Cole of course) will elect either a woman, a genuine activist, or a pouting bully. How could she sit this one out? It doesn’t matter what her politics are. If the thought that TRUMP COULD BE OUR NEXT PRESIDENT doesn’t get her running to the polls to stop this madness, what will?  At this point I was wishing for an asteroid to enter our Earth’s atmosphere and just end it all quickly.

Which led me to another maddening statement in Cole’s article:

“So here I sit, going about my post-graduate life and still not registered to vote. I have plenty of time, but maybe like in my work life, I’ll do it on a deadline.”

Really Rianne? I hardly know where to begin. Do you understand why you enjoy a modern post-graduate work life with the freedom to make ignorant choices? While you think of an answer, look up Lucy Burns (1879-1966). She fought for the same right to vote that so disinterests you. She was arrested, went on a hunger strike, and tortured when authorities shoved a tube down her throat to force feed her-all this, so you can choose to take that struggle for granted.

Once Lucy’s battle was over, the next generation of women leveraged their votes to fight for Equal Rights-the ones that offer you a 21st Century opportunity to get an education and build a career. These women looked into the future, saw your potential, and battled for you. How do you repay them? By abdicating the responsibility you owe to our foremothers, yourself, and our children.

The responsibility to remember this history and show up at the ballot box in indeed your “civic duty,” and allow me to help you remember the definition from your 7th grade Constitution Test. Civic Duty is “the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force.” Like it or not Rianne, you are bound to a social force comprised of militant suffragettes and feminists of the Women’s Rights movement. Since this army of women fought, suffered, and died to provide you with the freedom of a comfortable post-graduate life, they have a right to demand your recognition.

Honor them by fulfilling your civic duty. Vote on November 8, 2016.

Noreen Hernandez has been a financial services professional for 10 years. A lifetime student with a passion for keeping her skills sharp, Noreen recently returned to university life, pursuing a degree in English Literature. She uses the power of the pen to synthesize and articulate her liberal, Catholic, and feminist viewpoints. Noreen likes a challenge. Follow her on Twitter: @Noreen_Hern


Chicken? Game Theory? Whatever. Go Kasich.


“2016 is a year marked by a rapid rise in personal cognitive dissonance. I don’t want President Kasich. Frankly speaking, a majority of the Republican Party has come to the same conclusion. The only demographic demonstrating an appetite for his candidacy are residents of his home state. Still I find it impossible not to enjoy the schadenfreude that is the Governor’s adamant refusal to quit the race. Kasich’s most high-profile campaign success is happening in real-time – acting as Chief-Thorn-in-Side to party leadership and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.”

Click here to read the full post at Contemptor.

From Five to Four

From Five to Four

“Grief does not change you…It reveals you.”

― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

If you’ve followed my adventures since I began blogging seven years ago, you know that many of them after fall 2013 involved Dino the Wondercat. I met him through an old friend when the kitty was 12 years old, and adopted him at 14 after the same friend moved to the Philippines. Throughout the course of our relationship, the tiny gray and white ball of fur with the light pink nose never topped six pounds. His smallness in no way prevented Dino from being one of the most handsomely demanding animals the world has bequeathed. Head scratches, love and constant warmth were high on the list of orders. He had his own heating pad. About food, Dino could be prickly and high maintenance. We had numerous conversations about it. I would alternately plead and threaten. He would listlessly yawn by way of answer.

It was love at first sight and for eternity. I adored my beautiful, little old man. We were a contented duo until a year ago when Bob, Meko and Jude entered our lives. Neither Dino nor I were entirely sure how we’d take to dogs and a strong, silent marathon man. Very quickly we wondered how we ever lived without them. And we became the five fingers of a hand – capable of moving individually, but better and more flexible as a unit.

At the start of the New Year, Dino was 16 and a half years old. Slower certainly but no less cute and plucky. After we moved in with Bob and the pups last June, Dino enjoyed a consistent second wind at his back – exploring the hallways and recesses of his new home, teasing the dogs and forming a particularly charming bond with Bob. Dino would often “help” my partner with the laundry, climbing hills of clean, warm clothes and stepping on Bob’s feet as he tried to sort piles. The two boys developed a call and response routine. The sometimes skittish Dino grew quite verbal, engaging with the human love of my life in soft-spoken dialogue.

The comedian Louis C.K. once labeled the adoption of a pet “a countdown to sorrow.” His painful humor hits at an essential truth of animal love. They return it so unconditionally and so well, yet they remain with us a relatively short time. In Dino’s case, I knew the era we’d enjoy together would be particularly brief. Always so kitten like, due to his tiny stature and sweet visage, but already 14 when he came to dominate my studio apartment.

We had two and a half wonderful years. But Dino could not live forever and with much anguish, Bob and I laid him to rest nearly two weeks ago. In the end, he was very ill, suffering a stroke and kidney failure. However in a cat’s dodgy way, compounded by Dino’s own perversity, he seemed just fine. Until he wasn’t. One Monday morning moment he was walking toward his Daddy for a perfunctory cuddle. The next second he’d fallen off the bed and was paralyzed. I did not witness this instantaneous end of our baby as we knew him. That cross is Bob’s horrendous one to bear alone, and there’s tremendous regret on that point. I want to share everything with him – including the terrible stuff.

I suppose if there’s a bright side to Dino’s loss from our family, it’s realizing that. I learned so much about the strength of mine and Bob’s relationship and our commitment to supporting each other in the hours and days following Dino’s collapse. In our shock and grief, we were nonetheless a well-oiled machine of solid decision making, emotional sharing and affirmation of our love for one another. My partner and I have been together almost exactly a year and we’ve encountered some tough spots, rather gracefully, but this was our first devastating blow. I’m twice divorced and walk in front of a trail littered with broken, dysfunctional bonds. I have failed, and been failed, in crisis.

This time when I went slack, and my significant other joined me, the experience was awful but strangely healthy. I’ve never felt so understood. In hindsight the observation seems relatively naïve but the certainty of a partnership can go a long way in soothing a broken heart. We turned toward each rather than away or against.

Dino is gone from our daily lives, but neither absent nor forgotten. After we returned from the vet’s office and cleaned out “Dino’s room,” once again known as the laundry and guest space, Bob embarked on a photo project. The result is what you see above – a collage of our favorite digital snapshots featuring the departed bambino. My partner printed, mounted and hung them on the section of the laundry room where his litterbox once stood. Dino remains king of the throne. We would have liked the doggies included but in eight months of trying, we could never get two energetic pups and an itty bitty kitty to sit still together for a frame. Go figure.

When Bob and I find ourselves in Dino’s room at the same time, we gravitate toward the family photos and without words, sink into a long embrace. We know what we’re feeling without speech. We miss him. We’re sad. But we have one another. Always. We suspected it I’m sure, but losing Dino made our essential togetherness as clear as his constant demands for attention.

Scalia’s Own Words Challenge Republican Intransigence On SCOTUS Nominee


“If David Axelrod is to be believed, Scalia himself would recoil at the idea of a year-long SCOTUS vacancy. Appearing on CNN this week, the former Chief Strategist of President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns reminisced about a 2009 conversation he had with Scalia over the then-pending replacement of David Souter. Axelrod recalls Justice Scalia saying, ’I have no illusions that your man will nominate someone who shares my orientation…But I hope he sends us someone smart.’

I never believed it possible to agree with Antonin Scalia on anything, but it’s another 2016 first. Let’s have someone smart. Soon. Floating any other option is just stupid. More evidence for the rest of the planet that our great experiment in democracy has devolved into a stagnant sideshow mocking its own structure.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

The Uneven Road Home

The Uneven Road Home

At the turn of the New Year, Bob and I undertook our first co-habitational household project. We converted the unused, uninsulated, enclosed porch at the East corner of our two-bedroom condo into a full-fledged office space. We installed an electric fireplace and Bob assembled a new desk and chair while I cleaned five years of grime from windows, floors and walls. The Lady Cave – where I work from home on Mondays and write on nights and weekends – has become my favorite room in the house.

In an environment overrun with the testosterone of a marathon running man, a male kitty and dog, Meko and I have found our own X-chromosome respite. She stretches out in front of the fire on the new Memory Foam bed that Bob bought for her. I type, read, journal and think with the joys of warmth, companionship and lumbar support. It’s simply delightful.

On weekday mornings, I like to sit in the Lady Cave for a minute or two before the madness begins. As I collect my thoughts, I often find myself looking into the window across our alley, where Pilgrim Lutheran School’s fourth and fifth grade instructor prepares for the day’s lessons. I attended this parochial school myself from 1983 – 1988, returning in the fall of 1991 to graduate in June 1992. My mother Gloria also matriculated from Pilgrim in 1969, and my maternal grandparents were deeply involved in church and school activities starting in 1961.

As I passively watch the teacher ready her classroom, I sometimes feel the conflict between coming home and returning to darkness. 28 years ago my own fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Kiehm, probably performed the same routines. It’s a comforting idea of continuity. My time at Pilgrim was mostly happy. But in February 1988, I did not enjoy the luxury of a safe, warm, healthy household. Despite the palliative care school brought in the way of routine, normalcy and opportunities for achievement, my family was “that” one. The parents were bizarre and probably crazy. The children were unkempt, underfed and exhibited behaviors of the abused. The grandparents were well-meaning but seemingly helpless to keep their daughter and son-in-law from disgracing the family’s institutional legacy.

When these thoughts become too uncomfortable, or I’m aware that I’ve been staring too long, I turn my gaze rightward, North, to the buildings that remain of the former Ravenswood Hospital. It’s where my great-aunt Gloria worked for many years and where her namesake niece, my mother, attended nursing school. During the summer of 1993, my younger sister and I made daily walks between our grandparents’ apartment and the hospital’s hospice unit, where our beloved Poppa lay dying of congestive heart failure. The property has since been converted to a French school and senior housing development, but the façade that represents so many memories remains intact. Last summer when Bob and I would walk past to the grocery store, I’d ask him to stop with me for a moment. I wanted to see the bricks that protected the only man before my partner whose love was truly unconditional. As though my penetrating gaze could will more of Poppa’s long absence into presence.

When I walk out our front door and move South or West, I see a string of places and spaces along Irving Park Road that represent the paternal side of my history. The BBQ joint where Biasetti’s Steakhouse once stood. My grandmother June was a waitress there for decades. My father worked as a part-time bartender there in the early 1980s on Saturday nights. It was a real treat when our mother would take us there for Cherry Cokes (before Coca-Cola introduced the store version) and a visit. We’d sit on the high barstools listening to our dad have interesting conversations with regulars, feeling very important.

Up the street there’s O’Dononvan’s (formerly Schulien’s), another restaurant where June waited tables as a single mother raising six children. Across the road, at Lashet’s Inn, my dad and his brothers were able to buy beer while underage in the early 70s. The whole brood attended St. Benedict’s Catholic grade and high school, at the corner of Irving and Leavitt. My sister also completed her freshman year of secondary there in 1995.

As I make my new home with Bob and our pets, the ghosts of the past lie literally everywhere I move, visible even from the snug confines of the Lady Cave. During our quarterly check-in, I spoke with my therapist about the confusing feelings that can erupt from the tension. I’ve painstakingly built a present suffused with love, acceptance, peace and positive direction. I walk past landmarks of great childhood joy and silliness that remind me I’ve made it to 37 years old with important pieces of selfhood intact. That resilience and consistency makes me smile.

At the same time, I live amidst pockets of jarring trauma, with the phantoms of those both treasured and rejected as frequent companions. There is harmony and justice in coming home to live my way – no longer the pawn of the confused and dangerous. To be able to remake the neighborhood in my own vision of late-30s harmony. I stare the demons down every day knowing I’ve won, building new memories free of hurt.

Yet I’m not made of steel. I can’t totally disconnect then from now, even though the eras do sometimes seem as though lived by different women. I offer no conclusions. They’ve yet to be written – pen in the air, eyes peering from my favorite room toward the past and future.