Best. Syllabus. Ever.

kellymcquain:

I love Lynda Barry, and as I prepare my syllabi for the fall semester, it’s a delight to revisit her work and use it as a way to make me rethink my own teaching methods.

Originally posted on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog:

tumblr_ngzqkl2VPm1t3i99fo4_1280In a recent residency at Atlantic Center for the Arts (great place, check it out!), our workshop leader had us do a daily exercise from cartoonist Lynda Barry: Divide the paper into four sections, label them Did, Saw, Heard and leave one open for a picture. In each quadrant, note down things we did, saw, and heard – and draw a picture.

It’s an exercise in observation, it’s fun, it’s a good free-write to get started on the page, and after about day three I stopped worrying about the quality of my drawing.

The exercise comes from Lynda Barry’s actual syllabus for her class at the University of Wisconsin, a nonfiction-driven cartooning class. And Barry’s whole syllabus, in more or less the form in which she issued it to her students, is also available as a book. Check out some selections from Syllabus over at Open Culture –…

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From Hippos to KISS albums to Yanni: The Best Hobby Collections of the Alameda County Fair! View my collection!

You won’t believe what you’ll learn in #7.–it’s HUGE!!!
#collections #AlamedaCountyFair #ACFair

#1 Collect a soft drink!

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One of the best pavilions at the Alameda Co. Fair is the HOBBIES pavilion, where you can get ribbons for artfully displaying the stuff you collect. Notice the judicious use of quotation marks in the detailed description by the Pepsi memorabilia collector here. Is “Antiques Dealer” really just a euphemism for mom being a “hoarder”? I think so!


#2 Collect a decade!

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Hobbies can be anything, but they are the most fun when they involve STUFF. Not sports. Who wants to sweat? Going to yard sales to get STUFF is so much better! Hooray for STUFF! Let’s call this collection “The ’80s!!!” I had all this stuff. Do you think this collector is gay? I do!!! Yay for the Thompson Twins and ’80s hair! Yay for the Psychedelic Furs and teenage melancholia!

#3 Collect things that don’t really go together!

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Hobbies are great!!! Especially when they involve Yanni! Let’s put up a display booth of New Age shitty music and some weird things to balance it all out, like a Wicked playbill. Yay for hobbies! Yay for non-traditional thinking!


#4 Collect rock and roll memorabilia–a no-brainer!

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Let’s collect KISS! Are they Knights In Satan’s Service or are they just a bunch of so-so musicians with kick-ass makeup and amazing marketing skills? When you get famous you should diversify, right? So notice the bottle of KISS wine on the far right. Do you think they stomped the grapes with their platform boots? KISS THIS! But don’t drink it! Save it for your collection! Tasty!

#5 Collect Smokey the Bear!

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As a child, I had a Smokey the Bear doll, so I am predisposed to liking this collection quite a bit. Plus Smokey has emerged as an unexpected emblem of gay subculture! Bears are great! Smokey also helps prevent forest fires! Some people might want to burn this collection, but not this aficionado! I hope he has a Smokey suit he can wear to the Furries Con in San Jose. Yay for Smokey! Fun fact: Smokey really existed! There is a comic book to prove it. But sadly the real Smokey was not nearly so anthropomorphic as the one on TV. (Don’t expect a good bio-pic. A lot of plot points similar to Bambie. #TriggerWarning) Love Smokey anyway! Mmmm! Fur! Stroke it! Be nice!


#6 Collect an Amazon superhero!

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Who wouldn’t want to collect Wonder Woman? (Boys, probably. At least straight boys.) A Wonder Woman collection is probably not going to go over well with the fellas on the football team, but who cares? Grab your magic lasso and make them tell the truth! EVERYONE loves Wonder Woman! Little girls in the 1970s spun in front of their TVs trying to turn into her. This little boy did too. MS. Magazine put her on their cover! She’s a freaking icon! How more wonderful does it GET?


#7 Collect Hippos!

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Hobbies are informative! And you know what? Hippos ARE HUGE! This girl doesn’t lie. I would give hobby #17 a blue ribbon for artfulness and attention to basic facts. Plus, it’s always a strategic idea, once you’ve made the basic case for your argument, to leave your audience with a new lingering question. Like, “Where’s Rhino?” I wanna know! Don’t you? Let’s hear it for HUGE!

#8 Collect semi-perishable foodstuff!

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You know what? If you can’t think of anything else to collect, COLLECT SUGAR! Who knew sugar could be so beautiful? This hobby is a real steal, and it encourages you to get out of the house more and into restaurants! Grandma can help! Just make her bring her pocketbook! Steal, steal, steal! Sugar, sugar, sugar! It’s almost poetry! (This collection can also help start a new one: ANTS!)

Don’t let Alameda County, CA, have all the fun! You TOO can start a collection. Some collections I’d like to see next year:

Stuff I Stole from Church
Parts of Bugs
Broken Hummels
Belly Button Lint Portraiture
Things That Are Invisible (like Wonder Woman’s plane! And ideas!)

There’s always so much more! What do YOU want to collect? (Tell me below). Open your eyes! Fill a display case! Consider joining a group like 4-H to help legitimize your collecting habits. Make a list of yard sales. Get started now! Remember, the more the merrier. Nothing is too insignificant. Egg cups, erasers, old gum in interesting shapes. Hobbies are the folk art of the common man! Let your collection help you fly your freak flag!
(Hey, who wants to help me start collecting actual freak flags?)

Kelly McQuain, June 19, 2015
California

Crosstalk–What can a canceled Berkeley Poetry Conference learn from San Francisco’s theater scene?

…or, You Won’t Believe What She Reveals About Clickbait at the End!
#BerkeleyPoetryConference
#CrosstalkColorCompositionABerkeleyPoetryConference

En route to the Lambda Literary Retreat in LA, it was only thirty bucks more to add an open-jaw ticket through San Francisco, and when you have friends willing to host you a side trip is a no-brainer. Especially since the Berkeley Poetry Conference was slated for this week, a commemoration of the 1965 Berkeley conference fifty years ago that featured Allen Ginsburg, Jack Spicer, et al.

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But then add one controversial experimental poet (Vanessa Place), subtract three-quarters of the other speakers, who pulled out in protest, and what you have is a big mess of pain and political correctness blowing up in your face. Regardless of your take on the related issues, what’s been happening at Berkeley is a sure sign that the poetry world is in a state of flux and change equally as pressing to what occurred a half century ago. Conference kaput!

But then last week, thanks to the hard work of a handful of Berkeley organizers, a phoenix rose from the ashes: Crosstalk, Color, Composition: A[n all new! all different!] Berkeley Poetry Conference.

A Brief Pause for Sound Bites (and Thought Bites) Heard Today at Crosstalk
(in no particular order)

“Armed Cell” “economic crisis”
“it’s a question of competing archives”
“colonization theory” “colonize” “decolonize”
“what is the human condition?”
“I felt policed as a young poet”
“I don’t need someone to say to me I have meta-concerns and concerns”
(–a blighted redwood being chainsawed; a blighted redwood falling alongside the creek that runs through campus–)
“I feel like there are bodies all over the floor”
“it’s like you’re a theory translator!”
“poetry offers the space to be nimble”
–are we _really_ post-crisis?–
“everyone has a spam poem–even Ron Silliman”
“what do we lose when the impulse to take on the socio-political overwhelms the poem as creative artifact?”
“I felt profoundly devastated, and I was rescued by you all”

Today I went to Brian Ang’s Post-Crisis Poetics workshop, as well as to the wrap-up discussion covering the last four days. Picture a circle of wooden chairs in stately Wheeler Hall, poets of all stripes and ages sitting around as if in group therapy (and perhaps it was). Laura, a professor from Sierra Nevada College, would later describe it to me as akin to “the Quaker meetings [she] grew up with.”

Coming from Philly, I find the comparison quite apt.

In the formal discussions there was a lot of jargon and academic gobbledygook tossed around–people being very, very careful not to offend. I got the sense that the organizers were still stinging from last month’s protests and that the participants were treading carefully (and quite politely) in their comments.

The role of social justice in poetics is an important and timely consideration. Yet I couldn’t help thinking it’s not an easy thing to discuss, especially in an age when we have to look over our shoulders to make sure some anonymous #HashtagWarrior isn’t stabbing us in the back.

That’s not to say the conference wasn’t valuable. For me, the value came mostly in the little moments, the more-intimate discussions with strangers at lunch when people’s guard came down and they spoke to communicate rather than to lecture or publicly perform. (Like the Australian grad student who told me about her LA research project. Or the Filipino guy from Oakland who joked about his misgivings identifying as a poet. These were moments of real connection.) Later too there were moving confessionals in the official wrap-up. These brought sympathetic nods (and tears) to many.

My time at the conference was brief but valuable. As one woman said, conferences like these can provide the “leap between the local and the global”. An irony, then, is that those of us traveling from outside of Berkeley to attend the conference (Philly, LA, Nevada–even Sydney) had such trouble getting details about what was happening until last week. One organizer confessed that this “conference 2.0” purposefully stayed off social media in planning and disseminating the updates out of fear of potential protests. Which begs the question: how do you create a “global” coalition when you’re not a part of the Berkeley phone tree?

I guess that’s a question for another conference. I don’t know if any of the initial protesters came, or if what sprang up in the original conference’s place would have pleased them. I can say I was very much impressed by the good intentions of the organizers, as well as the spirit and statements of the participants. These people are my tribe, no matter their race, their age, their gender or nationality. No matter if they are actually strangers.

And yet I worry. If we continue to fight so stridently amongst ourselves, to pick each other apart through social media, then maybe the machinery of the one percent has already defeated us. Their socio-economic machinery, their war-industrial machinery. In my dark hours I imagine a cabal of one percenters herding us, with our iPads and cell phones and endless media channels, into an ADD stupor of distraction. If we fight among ourselves, how do we fight them? Are the very tools that empower us fundamental to our undoing?

#HashtagWarrior: Kristina Wong?

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Which makes me want to mention last night’s totally-unrelated-except-in-a-zeitgeist-sort-of-way premier performance of Kristina Wong’s “Wong Street Journal” here in San Francisco. Wong, a performance artist based in LA, hits on some of these very topics: how do we fight for social justice from our armchairs and our iPads? She has much to say about privilege and ‪first-world #‎HashtagWarriors‬ who vie for social change so long as it adds to their tally of “likes” and “retweets”.

She also skewers Western notions of race.

The show centers largely on three weeks Wong spent in what she initially calls “the country of Africa”. She was actually sent to Uganda to help a charitable organization micro-fund business opportunities for local women. Bizarrely, however, she ends up getting roped into managing the career of an aspiring Ugandan rapper. From the moment she steps off the plane, Wong’s identification as a person of color gets turned on its head. As she tells BlogHer.com:

“I had been told to expect that I’d be a Mzungu (or ‘white person’) over there, but I didn’t realize how white I would feel. There are several incidents that I humorously recount in the show about what ‘white guilt’ made me succumb to.”

Though a bit uneven, Wong’s show asks some very provocative questions: How real are our values in an age where we capitalize on them as clickbait? It’s as true a question for performance artists as it is for poets.

#LoveAndInformation

Which brings me to tonight… and another show. This time at the Strand Theater, a newly rehabbed bright spot in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. (When your host is an arts and entertainment writer, you truly luck out with free tickets). “Love and Information” by Caryl Churchill is the American Conservatory Theater’s inaugural production in their new home. The play is a series of vignettes centering on love and (dis)connection in the Information Age.

Each segment functions almost like a visual tweet, a short textual and synaptic burst, non-lineal but connected in a layered way. In one, a pair of young girls compete over who knows the most facts about their shared celebrity crush. In another, first-date talk goes deliciously wrong as a researcher describes slicing chicken brains into slides to study how memories form. In another, ontological issues are debated between a true-believer and an atheist.

Throughout the show information is shared both interpersonally (secrets divulged; suspicions confirmed) and through numerous technological devices (cell phones, laptops). A giant media screen hovers above the stage to periodically interact with live actors, who are racially diverse and play a multitude of roles. Segments accrue meaning by lapping against each other like waves.

Churchill’s writing is elliptical. Characters finish each other’s sentences; what is left out of an exchange is often more important what what is put in. In the playbill, a sample of the script is provided. There are no character names, no stage directions. On the page, “Love and Information” reads like a prose poem or an interior monologue between opposing parts of one’s brain. On stage, under the deft, inventive direction of Casey Stangl, it’s a kinetic mashup of human wants and desires, a careful contemplation of how technology assists and impedes our efforts to make connection, often at the same time.

It’s the kind of play I’d like my poet friends to see.

In a time of online petitions and protests against poets and ideas we do not like, Wong and Churchill remind us with humor and invention that sometimes the best social critiques are the ones made manifest in art. Theirs is the kind of socially-engaged art-making today’s poets ought to be doing. No doubt today’s best poets already are.

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Did you hear about those Two Girls in West Philly…?

My #FiveDayPoetryChallenge is coming to a close with a brand-spanking new poem newly out in the new summer issue of Philadelphia Stories. “Two Girls in West Philly Spray Their Hair into Beehives”. #PhiladelphiaStories #GoFundMe

http://www.philadelphiastories.org/two-girls-west-philly-spray-their-hair-beehives

This poem is an ode to summertime, love, hotdogs and my home city. It has always made me want to get out the sketch book, so I dashed this off this morning to accompany it, just for kicks. Maybe I’ll take a go at it with my new watercolor pencils, but it’s time for a walk in the sunshine. Jet lag kept me from getting the poem posted yesterday. I’m in California now visiting a friend on my way to the Lambda Literary Retreat. A big THANK YOU to all who have donated to my tax-free fundraising campaign! I have passed the 25% mark and am arrowing toward the 50% mark. Friday is the last day the conference organizers allow me to keep the page open. Donors can get goodies like a sketch or other artsy one-of-a-kinds, and my hope is to send more off to people than just the ones currently listed on the donor page.

If you haven’t heard, I am trying to raise about a third of my tuition and board fees for the retreat, which, combined with airfare, is substantial. Any tax-free donations that come in will get the added bonus of telepathic good karma vibes meditated your way, and perhaps some extra special goodies.

If you’d like to gain some good artistic karma, please consider making a tax-deductible donation via the Donor Page to help me or one of the other writers who has yet to meet his or her goal. Friday is the last day the organizers are allowing me to accept donations, so if you are on the fence, jump.
Sponsored by the Lambda Literary Foundation.

http://lambdaliterary.donorpages.com/WritersR…/KellyMcQuain/
Much gratitude to the people who have donated so far!

Semi-random tags:
‪#‎Poetry‬ ‪#‎GoFundMe‬ ‪#‎LambdaLiterary‬ ‬ ‪#‎congratulations‬ ‪#‎happybirthday‬ to art ‪#‎PoetryTag‬ ‪#‎karma‬ #ILoveArt #PhillyPoetryDay

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Five for Philly: Lisicky, Provenzano, McQuain, Kostos, & Hittinger

https://www.facebook.com/events/836983619708969/

FIVE FOR PHILLY
Five gay authors to read at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, May 31, 5:00pm.   #gayPhilly  #PhillyWriters

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Authors Dean Kostos, Matthew Hittinger, Paul Lisicky, Kelly McQuain and Jim Provenzano will read from and discuss their latest works in poetry and fiction on May 31 at Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, May 31, 5:00 P.M.

The five writers have various connections to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia poet Kelly McQuain is a local English professor who’s also been published in local, and regional publications.

New York City resident Matthew Hittinger hails from Bethlehem, PA, and author Paul Lisicky lives in both New York City and Philadelphia. Poet Dean Kostos is also from Philadelphia.

While not a resident, San Francisco author and journalist Jim Provenzano’s latest novel is set in early 1980s Philadelphia.

Each poet and author will read from selected works and sign copies at the historic bookstore, located in the heart of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.

The reading takes place on the eve of the celebrated Lambda Literary Awards, to be held June 1 in New York City. Three of the authors at the May 31 reading are among the finalists for the 2015 Lambda Literary Awards, and a fourth has twice been nominated for the prestigious honor.

Matthew Hittinger and Kelly McQuain are contributors to the anthology The Queer South: LGBTQ Writers on the American South (Douglas Ray, Editor; Sibling Rivalry Press), which is a finalist in the Anthology category. McQuain is also a Lambda literary Fellow for 2015.

Jim Provenzano’s Message of Love, set in 1980s Philadelphia, is a 2015 finalist in the Gay Romance category. The companion novel, Every Time I Think of You, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2012.

Paul Lisicky’s Unbuilt Projects was a Lambda Literary finalist in 2012. His memoir Famous Builder was also a Lambda literary Award finalist in 2002.

Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room
345 South 12th Street
Philadelphia. (215) 923-2960
http://queerbooks.com/

Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room is a community thrift store and the re-opened historic LGBT bookstore. Re-opened in October 2014, the country’s oldest bookstore temporarily closed after more than 30 years. The new store is now an outpost of Philly AIDS Thrift’s successful flagship store at 710 S. Fifth St. The 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable organization donates proceeds from sales to AIDS Fund, which distributes funding to area HIV/AIDS service organizations.

Author Bios:

Matthew Hittinger is the author of The Erotic Postulate (2014) and Skin Shift (2012), both from Sibling Rivalry Press. He received his MFA from the University of Michigan where he won a Hopwood Award. His work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, has been adapted into art songs, and in 2012 Poets & Writers Magazine named him a Debut Poet on their eighth annual list. Matthew lives and works in New York City. http://matthewhittinger.com/

Dean Kostos’s collections include This Is Not a Skyscraper (recipient of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award), Rivering, Last Supper of the Senses, The Sentence That Ends with a Comma, and Celestial Rust. He co-edited Mama’s Boy: Gay Men Write about Their Mothers and edited Pomegranate Seeds: An Anthology of Greek-American Poetry (its debut reading was held at the United Nations). He translated and compiled a suite of Ancient, Byzantine, and Modern Greek poems for an event sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation. His work has appeared in The Bangalore Review (India), Boulevard, Chelsea, Cimarron Review, The Cincinnati Review, Mediterranean Poetry (Sweden), Southwest Review, Stand Magazine (UK), Vanitas, Western Humanities Review, on Oprah Winfrey’s website Oxygen.com, and elsewhere. His libretto, Dialogue: Angel of War, Angel of Peace, was performed by Voices of Ascension. His literary criticism has appeared on the Harvard UP Web site and Talisman. A multiple Pushcart-Prize nominee, and a finalist for the Gival and Jot Speak (UK) awards, he has taught at Wesleyan, The Gallatin School, and CUNY. His poem “Subway Silk” was translated into a film and screened in Tribeca and at San Francisco’s IndieFest. He is currently working on another collection of poems and a memoir. http://deankostos.com/

Paul Lisicky is the author of five books, including Lawnboy, Famous Builder, The Burning House, and Unbuilt Projects. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Fence, The Offing, Ploughshares, Tin House, and other magazines and anthologies. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two Fine Arts Work Center Fellowships, and two finalist designations from the Lambda Literary Award, in gay men’s fiction and in autobiography. He teaches in the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden and serves as editor of StoryQuarterly. A memoir, The Narrow Door, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in January 2016. http://www.paullisicky.net/

Kelly McQuain is a 2015 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2015 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His first poetry collection, Velvet Rodeo (2014), won Bloom magazine’s chapbook award as well as two Rainbow Award citations. His poetry also appears in a new Lambda Award-nominated anthology, The Queer South. Other work has appeared in Philadelphia Stories, Assaracus, Painted Bride Quarterly, Weave, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Pinch, The Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, A&U, and Mead—as well as in numerous anthologies: Men on Men, Skin & Ink, Best Gay Erotica, Between: New Gay Poetry, Rabbit Ears: TV Poems, and Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books. He has received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts in fiction and nonfiction. A native of West Virginia, he now works as a professor of English in Philadelphia. https://kellymcquain.wordpress.com/

Jim Provenzano is the author of Every Time I Think of You (a Lambda Literary Award winner), and its Philadelphia-set sequel Message of Love (a 2015 Lambda Literary Award finalist and 2014 Rainbow Award finalist), the novels PINS, Monkey Suits, Cyclizen, the stage adaptation of PINS, as well as numerous published short stories. The curator of Sporting Life, the world’s first LGBT athletics exhibit, he also wrote the award-winning syndicated Sports Complex column for ten years. A journalist and photographer in LGBT media for more than two decades, he lives in San Francisco, and is an editor with the Bay Area Reporter. http://jimprovenzano.blogspot.com/ www.myrmidude.org
This event made the BEST OF list here:
http://www.phillymag.com/g-philly/2015/05/26/15-best-gay-things-to-do-in-philly-this-week/

What Ya Gonna Do This Summer?

I’m stealing this idea from Philebrity editor Joey Sweeney. What are the things you are looking forward to between now and Labor Day 2015? Here’s Mine. Now it’s your turn! #SummerToDoList #summer2015

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Painting by Ric McCauley

What I’m Looking Forward to Doing the Summer of 2015
–meeting my friend Steph (along with all out other peeps) to show her the pleasure of happy hour drinks at Harbor Park.
–water gun battles.
–corn, potatoes, shrimp and sausage boiled in Old Bay.
–actually calling at least one old friend a week to catch up and stoke the embers of the good times we’ve shared.
–drinking wine and watching movies in the park.
–checking out the El Bar and hearing friends’ old stories about getting chased and beaten up on that block and boy has this neighborhood changed…
—-hanging out at the Lambda Literary Writing Retreat and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. (https://kellymcquain.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/lambda-literary-fellows-need-your-help/)
–reading for pleasure (hammocks preferred).
–planting something and watching it grow.
–wearing sandals every day.
–aw, hell. Going barefoot.
–helping my high school pal Ric hang his solo art show on the Chesapeake Bay.
–Jersey tomatoes.
–taking pleasure in my friends’ successes.
–jazz cocktails on M Restaurant’s patio.
–t-ball and playground trips with my adorable nephews, and pool trips sans their water wings. Checking in with all the other nieces and nephews, too.
–getting someone to go tubing with me in New Hope, or canoeing in the pine barrens…
–drawing, painting, getting messy and having fun.
–talking to someone older who might be able to give me a little wisdom for what’s ahead.
–wearing breathable seersucker shirts and shorts.
–eating outside.
–jumping in a fountain and pretend I’m on Friends.
–visiting Mom at her WV home… and seeing what latest critter has tried to get inside her house (in the last year, it’s been a mother bear with her cubs, two blacksnakes, and myriad deer. Only an enterprising groundhog has actually made it all the way into the living room)
–eating my way through Philly’s festivals. (Italian Market Festival? Check. Greek Festival? You’re up next)
–sudden thunderstorms where the temperature drops fifteen degrees in twenty minutes.
–peeling off wet clothes with someone I love.
–beach trips to Jersey, Delaware, and beyond, I hope.
–discovering the Drink of Summer (Paloma? Dark ‘n Stormy? Mojito? Some new invention?)
–writing, writing, writing. Finishing things, finishing things, and not beating myself up when I don’t finish everything.
–making a summer Playlist with the help of my music guru (he owns nearly six thousand CDs and they are all alphabetized! I know, I know. What’s a CD?)
–easy desserts of John’s Water Ice (lemon) with a shot of limocello (add strawberries for additional fancy-pants points.)
–hard cheese drizzled with honey infused by chocolate and habaneros (thank you, Mr. Artisanal Beekeeper at the Italian Market).
–seeing two summer blockbusters back-to-back on the big screen. Maybe even three!
–celebrating Walt Whitman’s birthday with some great out-of-town writers as part of the “Five for Philly” reading at Giovanni’s Room. https://www.facebook.com/events/836983619708969/
–shooting the shit with my neighbor in his yard.
–taking part in some exciting secret projects with various literary journals.
–and so much more!

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