Would You Ban These Books?

Cover of "Going Rogue: An American Life"

Cover of Going Rogue: An American Life

An unofficial exhibitor set up shop this past Sunday at Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest with a white poster board filled with covers of provocative books traveling the political spectrum from the Communist Manifesto to Mein Kampf, and everything in between. He asked passers by if they would be interested in trying to ban any of these books.  Participants could pick three and mark tally with a red Sharpie.

I happened to hit his time there when I had some time to kill before a reading event I wanted to check out.  I stopped by the Independent Publishers table and met the guys at Knee-Jerk MagazineI also won a solid round of Rocks-Paper-Scissors to score a $2 discount off their print edition.  Definitely the coolest round of the classic game I ever played.  Thanks, guys!

Our Guy with the Poster Board was set up along the curb across from the tent.  I definitely experienced my own knee-jerk reaction of amusement, especially after seeing the wide range of choices.  My first reaction to things like that is often Observe and Move On.  Which sometimes leads me to Participate and Do.  And I wanted my brief time this weekend at the Fest (where I also helped out at the NewTown Writers table) to involve some participation.  So I took the Sharpie, and made my marks under Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, Glen Beck’s Broke, and Ann Coulter’s Guilty. Even though I have not read any of them.  Other choices in addition to to aforementioned political manifestos included Bill Clinton’s My Life and books by President Obama, Michael Moore, Ayn Rand, and others. I haven’t read any of those books either, though that’s not to say that I wouldn’t.  My political-historical non-fiction reading tends to fall more under WWII memoirs and books by Sarah Vowell.

Then I noticed the little video camera and was like Great.

Because honestly, I would never actually seek to ban the books I chose–or any of the ones I didn’t choose.  Though my default setting for the three I chose is that I’d really like them all to just shut up and go away.  Then I move on from there to more intelligent thinking. I’d be pretty pissed if any books of mine were ever banned.  I was also riled up by my recent trip to Denmark whose way of life is more socialist than this country would ever have the balls to try.  And also I’m in the homestretch of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna which finds its main character brushing up against the post-WWII HUAC investigations.

After the reading, I headed back over to see what the final results were.  My picks definitely had to the most marks. Though all choices were marked–one older guy have all three marks to Michael Moore.  The Knee-Jerk guys told me that security and other nearby official exhibitors were giving him trouble.  I’d heard our friend with the poster board say that he was conducting “research.”  Okay, so since I participated and was caught on video, I wanted to know more about what was up.   By this time, he’d moved off to the side and was talking to someone.  I approached, listened some, and joined in.  Our researcher (whose name I didn’t get) basically wanted to conduct a social experiment to see how many people would actually, at a Literary Festival FULL of books, would seek to actually ban books.  The correct answer, which many people gave him, which I should have given, which my Ernie would’ve given was “Sorry, no books should be banned.”  Later, over vodka pineapple martinis on our back patio and dinner from the grill, a friend suggested that instead of banning particular books, we should ban book contracts.  Which is also funny in that knee-jerk kind of way, but still has serious undertones and sends my brain spinning toward the business side of things, but that’s a whole nother, if related, topic.  The other guy talking to our researcher–who expressed more regret with his participation than my little bout of paranoia had given me–said that the experiment was less about banning books and more about banning people, which is where I myself immediately went.

So this project, our researcher plans to put together a YouTube video and sending it to the world (which two days later, I have not found).  After learning that our researcher professed that he was “as far right as you could get” the suspicion felt by the other guy is that the project aimed to expose some sort of left wing hypocrisy by way of duping us with tongue-in-cheek humor (he also suggested that while his range of books was varied, the 3 books I chose and that “won” were all on the top line along with one other–that the arrangement was skewed to prove some point).  Ernie was like You fell into their trap!  Though I don’t think it was a trap.  It’s a rather interesting idea for a–shall we call it a stunt?  And he ran with it.

The other guy asked that he not be included in the video.  And since he went there, I asked to not be included as well.  Our researcher said that his intent was not to unravel us in any way, and that he’d respect our wishes since we took the time to talk to him, and that we’d just have to take his word.  Not that I really feel that my participation in this, as a writer and a reader and a person, will be my undoing.  But hey, just in case, right?  I could not talk about it–or write a blog post about it.  Heck, maybe this post will be more of an undoing than being “caught on video.”  Maybe this post is a sort of preemptive “damage control” strategy.  Actually, it’s just writing about an experience that went from lighthearted to heady.  And maybe it’ll strike up a conversation if people find it and are inspired.

Actually, can we just talk about banning leaf blowers instead of books?  As I finish this, my building’s maintenance is polluting the air with noise and gas fumes just to blow some tree droppings and dust to another part of the grounds, something a broom would just as effectively take care of, thank you.  Seriously, in my daily life, leaf blowers rile me up more than the State of the Union.

UPDATE 7-11-11: So, the video is up and running!  Went live today and is already all over the “red” side of the interweb. I had to stop reading the comments on YouTube and other sites I found it on.  Just had to. True to his word, I was not featured. Having trouble posting the video, so I’ll just include the link, if only for the sake of context and completion. Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/OCcYSRACwx0.

“Dance of the Ring” online at Q Review!

Hey Friends, just a few days after mine and Ernie’s 7th wedding anniversary AND on the first day that Illinois’ Civil Unions bill kicks into effect, the Chicago-based online literary magazine, Q Review, has published my story, Dance of the Ring, for its June 2011 issue.

Check it out HERE.

This story from our Indiana years was first presented last June in NewTown WritersSolo Homo 8 performance event (and is looking to be a part of my full length solo show, Battles With Boys). The next installment–Solo Homo 9–will be presented June 20 & 21, 2011 at Strawdog Theatre’s Hugen Hall.  RSVP at the event’s Facebook page HEREI will be presenting a “sequel” of sorts in that it tackles the next traditionally chronological milestone….

Thank you much to Q Review for including me!  And welcome to any readers who found this site through reading my story.

Happy writing, and Happy Pride!

UPDATE October 2017 – The Q Review is no longer on line.

Story Lab Chicago Launches & Other Updates!

Hello Friends! So, like Happy New Year!  Boy, is this site due for an update.  October seems so far away now.  And I’ve finally posted all my photos on Flickr of my amazing California trip. To follow up on the previous post, Story Club was an awesome time, if a little mellow due to the cold November rain that evening–which has beauty in itself of course.  Hoping to get back next month to maybe snag an open mic slot.  I have a Valentines Day themed piece that could be good….

In the mean time, I have a storytelling gig coming up on Wednesday January 19, 2011 at 7:30 pm at the Black Rock Pub on Damen and Addison in Chicago. Story Lab Chicago is a new venture by the fine folks at This Much Is True.  SLC features new and new-ish writers/storytellers.  Check us out!  And visit the web site and become a fan on the Facebook.  I’ll be debuting a new story, which is still coming together, but getting there. 🙂  If you see me in Caribou this week, you’ll know what I’m doing.

Other writerly goings on these days….

~ Coffee Boy, the movie, wrapped production at the end of August and was officially released on October 15, 2010.  World wide distribution and domination is pending film festival slots and other goings on.  In the meantime, check out the film’s page on direct0r-adapter-friend Erwan Ripoll’s site HERE.  Also with this project, I have my own IMDb page. I want to think that makes me cooler than before, but I guess not really. 🙂  Still, exciting.  There isn’t much on it, though I submitted the link to this site to be included.  So, visit it and up my “Star Meter”!  (Though I think I’d have to pay for that first….)

~ Battles With Boys took another step closer to reality thanks to a handful of friends and a class room at DePaul University where I was able to share an official first draft of the show as a full length entity comprising of various short pieces.  A discussion proceeded and there is much to think about.  The next step will hopefully reach a wider audience.  More to come….

~ Mining My Life: This past year has been in part focused on organizing all that I Have. Loose pages of high school and college poetry, 7th & 8th grade assignments, ETC, are all in one handy folder in order which works for the chaos of it all.  My 19 handwritten journals plus my private cyber journal are getting the personal indexing treatment (getting there….) so that I can quickly look up things instead of spending hours trying to find it.  My journals have been particularly helpful for my CNF work–and along the way I’ve gotten inspiration for my fiction as well.  Journal #1 will come in handy for an upcoming project landing this Spring (TBA…!)  This all helps my brain process the fact that I’ve reached the age where the past is just as overwhelming as the future.

~ NewTown Writers: Leg work to be done soonly on Solo Homo 9.  Stay tuned….

~ Open Books:  One of my goals for the end of 2010 and into the new year was to do a little volunteer work.  Thanks to the fine folks at Open Books (Chicago’s leading literacy non-profit), I’ve been able to work a couple sessions of the Adventures in Creative Writing Field trip program.  So far, I’ve worked with high school girls on prose, and 3rd graders on poetry.  The little ones were more into it.  I have a couple more sessions this month as well.  If you’re so inclined, you should check out all the volunteer section at the site.  Shown below is a cool photo someone snapped of me and my 3rd graders who make you fall in love with them, then they leave and break your heart just a little.

Well, that does it for now. If I’ve forgotten anything (it happens), I’ll shoot another post.  Cool things abound in 2011.  Can’t wait!  Cheers.

“Playing Guns” @ Essay Fiesta!

Hello Friends!  The latest News is my up-coming reading at this month’s Essay Fiesta!  7:00 PM, Monday, February 15, 2010 at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Essay Fiesta is a new FREE monthly reading series (which kicked off this past November).  Raffle tickets will be sold to benefit the work of the Howard Brown Health Center, Chicago’s leader in GLBT health.  Check out Essay Fiesta’s Facebook Page for more info, to become a Fan, and to RSVP (Official Event to be posted soon, I’m sure….)

The line-up will be announced bit by bit.  So far, myself and author Randy Richardson have been made official.

I will be reading my piece, Playing Guns, which has its tiny roots in the Arlene Malinowski’s solo performance class at Chicago Dramatists in 2005, and was later workshopped for real via my coursework at Indiana University-South Bend.  I’ve written about the piece here on this site a coupla times.

Join us for a Valentine’s Day hangover cure, or to celebrate President’s Day, or for whatever old reason you feel.  Can’t wait to see you!

Update of an Artist in November

Sticking it to 'em.

I suppose this post will also cover some of October to fill in all those gaps between cookie baking, Kathy Griffin, and Miley Cyrus.  I know your lives feel empty without knowing the scoop.

This photo here was taken on my pre-birthday road trip to Gebhard Woods State Park and the Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail in and around Morris, IL.  I had a window of good October weather and time off work.  ‘Twas a lovely quiet day of hiking and talking to myself and the voices in my head.  Lots of writerly conversation. 🙂  While only an hour away or so, it fulfilled my wanderlust in the tradition of past October trips to Vermont, Oregon, and Europe.  Took many photos, most but not all of which have been uploaded into my Flickr.  This was one of my favorite finds! All the naturey stuff was cool, but this find made my day.  As I say in the photo’s Flickr description, it’s not 100% accurate and fair to say that All Mormons Hate Us, but they sure as heck have been making a name for themselves lately. I’m feeling the pain of Maine (& etc.)  I definitely felt a kinship with the trail walker who came before me.  So, yay to whoever you are….

My birthday on the 25th was a good one.  Mellow, but wonderful.  Brunch, then later dinner and drinks with Ernie and friends.  Some time to myself in between.  I made a trip to the Art Institute. It had been a while, a few years.  I always love their photography gallery.  They’re currently showing a collection of Victorian photo collage works.  SO cool.  I also hadn’t been to the new Modern Art Wing.  Breath taking.  I dig all that stuff.  Had a moment with Picasso–it was his birthday too! I also enjoyed the student/journalist/etc. interviewing the gallery worker in the section with the clown abuse film, light installations, and other very contemporary work (sorry for the general terms here).  I wanted to hang out and listen more, but that would’ve been creepy. Like the clown.

NewTown Writers goings on are winding down for the year.  Our October NewPlay Readings event was a success.  I know the authors, actors, and audiences had a good experience.  I put my producer brain in overdrive, which was good for me, though I’ll tweak some things for next year.  I attended the final workshops of the year (and met a couple new writerly friends), my 2009 Artistic Director report has been written and sent out, and we have a Board meeting this weekend to talk 2010–the group’s 30th Anniversary.  Oh, and you can become a fan on Facebook, too. 🙂

I’ve attended a couple writerly events in the City in the past couple weeks.  As always, the amazingly fun 2nd Story had an event on the 8th at their home base, Webster’s Wine Bar.  My Solo Homo pals, Byron and Sara, read and directed respectively.  Last night, Essay Fiesta, a brand new series held its inaugural event at the Book CellarEssay Fiesta features personal essays and comedy.  It’s a free event, but with the opportunity to buy raffle tickets to benefit the Howard Brown Health Center.  They had an awesome turn out last night.  You should go to the next one in December.  It’s right around the Holidays, but if you’re around and inclined and want to hang out in the way cute Lincoln Square neighborhood, do it.  I’m looking to hopefully be involved in future editions.  And of course, 2nd Story’s December deadline approaches….

I’ve recently gotten in the habit of tracking my writerly activities on my private/Friends Only blog.  I call these entries “Writerlogged.” I jot down every day-ish what I’m doing, working on, attending, etc.  They’re keeping me in check.  And they’re things that don’t necessarily need to be posted in a public forum like this–jottings of works in progress, process, hopes and dreams I don’t want to jinx by announcing them to the world.  Etc.  When I feel like my life is being taken over by laundry and my restaurant job, I can be like Hey, this is what I did and this is what I need to focus on and stuff.    The posts also apply to reading and watching which feed the writerly stuff.  It’s good.

So I have been working on various things.  I’ve been giving some love to a handful of short stories that are in various stages of life.  Also working on a CNF/Essay/Solo piece.  I like going back and forth with this.  Sometimes I really don’t want to deal with myself and my own life.  So I write about others.  Beyond this, there are always photo, media, etc. projects that want love too….

Organized my reading list.  I wish I could read all the books and all the lit mags and all the blogs, but you know, I can’t.  Listed are things we have in house, things I need to acquire, things to finish.  In the middle of the Best American Short Stories 2008.  Realize the new one just came out.  Oh well.  Also, my Walt Whitman collection.  The latest issue of MAKE Magazine.  All in due time.  Recently finished Band of Brothers, the Ambrose book, that I borrowed from my brother.  Having my base of knowledge from the film was helpful, and I was able to fill in any gaps and experience the source material. Waiting in the wings is my copy of With the Old Breed, E.B. Sledge’s memoir which was used in HBO’s The Pacific, which can’t come soon enough.  Recently finished Richard Peck’s Past Perfect, Present Tense Young Adult story collection.  Cool to have a perspective from that genre.  I also received Kathy Griffin’s Official Book Club Selection for my birthday.  Started that because Kathy’s awesome.  I need to acquire and start the new John Irving soon, too.  I won’t bore you with the rest of the list, but know I’m reading stuff. 🙂

And writing too.  I’m not a speed writer, though this time of year many are.  While I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this time around, I am with all my NaNo friends and others in spirit as I work to accomplish something writerly every day. Whether it’s updating my writerly site, or swooping the editing comb through a story, attending an event, or just walking through UnAbridged Bookstore to be surrounded by tried and true printed real books.  Etc. 🙂

With that, I’ll end this, but hope to post other bits soonly.  Happy Creating, Everyone.


Hangin’ with KG!

The Fabulous

A couple months ago, I surprised Ernie with Kathy Griffin tickets.  Last night was the night!  A lovely time together and break from creating all our art. 🙂 We had pretty cool balcony seats.  This was my best, most focused shot.  Not bad!

She opened the show with “Fuck the Olympics!”  She went there for a brief glorious moment–and then moved on to all the other topics she had to cover.  Like Oprah, Whitney, Miley (who totally deserved the KG treatment!), Barbara W, MJ, Paula, Britney, Levi Johnston (her new “boyfriend”) and of course, the Gosselin’s!  Her fave Gosselin kid is OUR favorite Gosselin kid.  I knew we were in sync. 😛

When it ended, were like Oh!  Then looked at the time, and it was almost 10:00.  We’d been hanging out for a couple hours like old friends just shootin’ the shit where time slips away and you end up staying up all night talking the time away.  There could’ve been hours more!

We watch her specials and show on Bravo, and that’s amazing, but she’s still this image coming out of our TV’s.  All these other people she talks about come to us in various media outlets–TV, online, our music delivery media of choice, and they all seem a little unreal after a while.  But having Kathy with us in the same room was a reminder that we’re all people in this world and we’re talking about what some of them are doing.  I just felt this deeper connection to all the craziness.

So, thank you Kathy Griffin!

Sold Out!

NewTown Writers Presents: Solo Homo 7!


Hello Friends!  You should come see my latest show.  I am co-producing it with the wonderful Josef Steiff, as well as performing a “new” piece, Is Jimmy Stackpool Singing Too? I say “new” because it’s something I’ve been working on for a while now, on and off.  Like writers do.  I hope you like it.  Here’s all the official info:

Solo Homo 7: NewTown Writers (newtownwriters.org), Chicago’s oldest GLBT writer’s group, presents the 7th installment of its hit solo performance series, Solo Homo.  Mon-Wed June 22-24, 2009 at 7:30.  Join us in Strawdog Theatre Company’s Hugen Hall at 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago.  Tickets may be purchased at the door or online at strawdogtheatre.com.  Please, no phone calls to the Strawdog box office.  $12 or 2 for $20 on Tues-Wed; $6 or 2 for $10 for Monday’s “Preview.”

This year’s line up of storytellers includes Cookie Crumbles, Byron Flitsch, Sara Kerastas, Deb Lewis, Timothy Rey, Mike Rogers, Lisa Scott, Josef Steiff, and Michael Van Kerckhove.

And there will be a cash bar too!  Can’t beat that, yo. 🙂

* * * *

Lit Fest 09-2

Here’s a shot of me reading at this past weekend’s Printer’s Row Lit Fest.  NewTown Writers had a slot in the Arts & Poetry tent.  I read a pieced called Out of the Collective Blur. The events in the story took place in the spring of 2000.  I’ve revisited the story a handful of times over the years.  Still looking for a home for the story.  Interestingly, it’s about the homeless in general, and more specifically about a homeless woman I would often see in the Grand Avenue Red Line station.  It will find a place.  Even if I post it here on this site. 🙂

And here’s another photo.  Cos the Chicago Tribune banner makes me look more important, right? 😛  My photomate is Jill, NTW’s current president.  She’s cool.

Lit Fest 09-1

All right, off to do more show stuff….

NewTown Writers News


Here is the Official press release (written by myself and sent out to the world, or at least the group’s mailing list and our Facebook group):

NewTown Writers announces the appointment of Michael Van Kerckhove as the new Artistic Director of the performance wing. Michael returns to Chicago after he and his partner, Ernie Nolan, spent three years working with Indiana University at South Bend. His affiliation with the group dates back to the inaugural edition of Working Stiffs in 2002.

Michael and long time member, Robert Klein Engler, have found a new home for their performance endeavors. After a number of years at the Bailiwick, stops at Live Bait and Chemically Imbalanced, the 2009 season will be presented in Strawdog Theatre Company’s Hugen Hall cabaret space located at 3829 North Broadway.

Plans are in the works for the 7th edition of Solo Homo in June and an evening of short plays in October. Stay tuned for details…

Pretty cool, huh?  In my reintegration into the city, dubbed “Operation Chicago Re-boot,” I became a board member of the group last fall and an “official” member of the performance wing.  Even though I’ve been involved with the group and have been published in both publication arms, I really do feel this sense of official-ness.  I haven’t been involved as much with the literary wing, though that could change now that I’m back, depending on Life and Everything Else.  Either way, the group has my support.

There was a noble effort to regroup and re-focus the theatre wing this past December.  The Holidays and New Year unraveled that a bit.  I was asked to step into the AD position and approved by the rest of the board.  Yay approval! 🙂  When recently asked my goals as AD, I basically replied “Focus and Process.”  Solo Homo will have some familiar faces, a few new ones, and will get back to its roots of writing & performance–that magical blend of the literary and theatre worlds I love so much.  How we get there should bring out the Best in all of us.  I like that.

Now, I just have to figure out what I’m going to do for my own piece in the show.  You know, the writing part.  I have a couple pieces I’d love to do, but they may be a little long.  So maybe this will be a good way to impose a deadline upon myself for new material.  The other pieces will definitely be incorporated into my full length solo show that maybe I’ve mentioned around here a few times.  It has a yet to be determined unleashing date, for sure.  But Battles With Boys will arrive….

NewTown Writers continues its bi-weekly workshops, and as in the past should have a table at the Printers Row Book Fair, also coming up in June.  Will definitely let you all know about that!

Happy Writing and Happy Spring.  It’s wonderful to be back! 🙂


So, we made it back to Chicago!  Very exciting.  The boxes are just about unpacked and the books are almost organized.  It’s the details right now.  Finishing up our classes in South Bend and forging ahead in the city. More details on that.  I haven’t made it to the Lake yet, except by car.  It’s close enough, though!  Looking forward to warmer days and getting over there.  Driving in and out of the city, we see plenty of runners along Lake Shore Drive.  I always want to bust out in this classic Sesame Street song.  I’m more of a biker, though.  Something about just my feet and the pavement doesn’t work for me.  At least at accelerated speeds.  I have much more stamina on my bike.

Watch the video, sing along, and Happy Spring.

More to come…. 🙂