Monthly Archives: April 2015


Allannon the Dragon Hunter


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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in Penn's Diary


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Fighting at Work



Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Penn's Diary


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Utopia Through Sexuality and Regeneration

Utopia through Sexuality and Regeneration

For D.H. Lawrence, there seemed to be two distinct paths to utopia: sex and regeneration. Through sexuality, wholeness can be achieved and the feelings of solitude fade. For sex is based on companionship and a mutual consent toward a common goal. Regeneration is based on the idea that a utopian society cannot truly be reached without there first being suffering. For how can one know the heights of happiness unless they have been pulled through the darker places of life? It is only after we have an understanding of how terrible life can grow that we can begin to set for ourselves any hope of something better. D. H. Lawrence understood these concepts, and did not shy away from his religious parallels regarding them. Although these two distinct forms of comparison seem to initially work against one another, Lawrence finds a unique manner in which to ensure they coexist. Through his use of tortoise imagery, he makes the sexual nature less obtrusive and at the same time allows there to be some semblance of self-retreat from the seemingly ceaseless suffering.

  1. H. Lawrence used sexuality in his poetry to portray a sense of utopia for his readers. He was criticized for what some considered pornographic images in his poems, but there can be no denying that these were used to deliver a utopic feel throughout. Lawrence first ensures that the reader has a complete understanding of the loneliness which accompanies life before the sexual consummation. We are “born to walk alone” until, through the act of sex, we are “dragged out of an eternity of silent isolation” (Lawrence 295). There is a desperate “need to add himself on to her”, for he is only a “partial being” without his partner (295). With a clear understanding of the lonesome nature of life without sex, Lawrence then sets up the utopic principles which he believes can be reached through sexual completion. “Sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence,” becomes the catalyst into heights of splendor that can only be categorized as utopic in nature. There is a “grim necessity from within”, an “awful need to persist” that drives us to reach this ultimate destination (295). It is here that Lawrence believes we can become “whole again throughout the universe” (299). Sex is necessary to propagate a species; this makes the act of sex a regenerative in nature.
  2. H. Lawrence uses regeneration in his poetry as a facilitator for utopic thought. Throughout his poems, he uses the idea of loneliness to set tone. It is through this sort of self-suffering that he believes we are able to truly experience happiness. Over and over again, Lawrence uses language that suggests how “tiny” and “fragile” we are (285). He ensures that we understand that “isolation is his birthright” (290) and that we are “enveloped in isolation” (293). We may be “tiny from under the very edge of the farthest far-off horizon of life” (298), but “out of life’s unfathomable dawn” (296) we remain “driven” (295). Although we are “ponderous”, we take immense pride in our “indomitable will” (296).

Regeneration requires that there be some semblance of suffering. D. H. Lawrence understood suffering, for he was stricken with tuberculosis and was often ill. His objection to the war put him at odds with the law, and his sexual writing put him at odds with his peers.

“complex, manifold involvedness of an individual creature” (289)

Baby Tortoise

“You know what it is to be born alone,”

“alone, with no sense of being alone”

“Do you wonder at the world,”

“Your little round house in the midst of chaos”

“All life carried on your shoulder”

Tortoise Shout “Torn to become whole again, after long seeking what is lost”

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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in From the Desk of the Author


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Wolf in White Van

Wolf in White Van

Our Choices Define Us

Wolf in White Van, John Darnielle, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, $24.

Wolf in White Van is unlike anything I have ever read. John Darnielle plunges the reader into a maze of unsynchronized thoughts and chronologically displaced views. The narrator’s mind is a labyrinth into which he invites not only the reader but anyone willing to join in his mail-in role playing game. The cover does a masterful job of conveying the complexities of this novel to anyone lucky enough to happen upon it in a bookstore. Like the cover, the novel offers no way through the winding tunnels of the subconscious. Darnielle is also the lead singer of the musical group Mountain Goats, and his lyrical writing is displayed in flowing sentences that parallel the novel’s intricacies.

The entire novel focuses on the idea of choices and the effects the choices we make have on our lives. Sean Phillips, the main character and narrator of the novel, begins the journey in the middle of its entirety. There are two tragic accidents in which Sean is involved. One of these involves him directly, where the other indirectly implicates him. However, in both situations it is the choices that Sean makes that deliver the tragic outcomes.

After Sean’s self-destructive accident, he is forced to delve deeper into his own mind. Never knowing if he will ever be able to see or be a part of the world of his body, Sean begins to build an intricate and detailed world in his mind. He calls it the Trace Italian, and it becomes a role playing game that generates enough income for him to live on his own. Sean states, “It was later, lying supine and blind for days, faced with the choice of either inventing internal worlds or having no world at all to inhabit, when I started to fill in the details”. Even as a child, Sean imagined himself as a conquering ruler. “I ruled a smoking, wrecked kingdom with a hard and deadly hand. It was dark and gory. No one liked living there, not even its king.” These childhood thoughts seem more than the workings of a child’s imagination. Instead they make us wonder about Sean, and his motives later in the story.

As the game master of the Trace Italian, Sean sets the scene for the characters involved. In a post-apocalyptic United States, there is not much hope for those who plunge into the game. The players mail their moves to Sean and he dictates the outcome of their choices. Sean never killed off any of his players for making one poor choice, but instead coerced them into making better decisions on the next turn. Only after several terrible turns would Sean feel the need to kill off a character. This idea of one poor choice not dooming someone to death seems to have been inspired by Sean’s own accident. The players were searching for a haven located in Kansas, the Trace Italian. Oddly enough, Sean never actually created the place. It seemed as if he never intended anyone to make it to the Trace.

A young couple, mailing their journey to the Trace Italian from Florida, makes the choice to try to find the Trace in the real world. Their decision leads to terrible consequences, leaving one of them dead and the other in a precarious state. Sean is called in to court, to be held accountable for the effects his game had on the young people. Ultimately, Sean is not help responsible, but it does not stop his mind from wondering if perhaps he should have been. Sean talks about one of his players, “I pictured him acting out his dreams in real space, pantomiming his moves in a room somewhere before he wrote them down”. He proceeded to send the boy a scalpel through the mail in honor of one of the boys more courageous turns. Sean even drew comparisons between this particular player and the couple who ended up exactly what he imagined. Certainly, he did not feel that he was completely innocent.

The book deals with the decisions we make and the outcomes that come after, but Darnielle does a masterful job of taking these elements and tangling them in the mysteries of the mind. The structure of the novel is worked so masterfully that both of the horrific events, although taking place many years apart, become both the beginning and the end of the novel. Wolf in White Van is an interesting read for anyone familiar with the intricacies of role playing games. The novel is intelligent, yet very comical in a real way, at the same time.

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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in From the Desk of the Author


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All Quiet on The Wasteland

All Quiet on the Wasteland

All Quiet on the Western Front drops the reader right into the Great War. Here we follow a young German soldier, Paul Baumer, as he takes up a journey of self-discovery. Remarque, through Baumer, allows the reader a glimpse into the young and impressionable minds of the soldiers during the battles of World War I. The text describes not only the atrocities of war but also the hopelessness these men felt. The soldiers struggled to understand the reasoning behind the war, and they also tried to carve for themselves some hope beyond the war. Throughout the novel, Baumer shows his detachment from humanity. Sometimes he likens himself and his fellow soldiers to animals, and other times he understands that being a soldier is something completely different than being a human. Through it all, Baumer realizes his disillusionment and that he will never be the same, no matter how the war ends. Remarque takes a modernist approach in All Quiet on the Western Front which followed the terrors brought out during the war. This approach allows a nice parallel to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? – T.S. Eliot

Initially, Baumer is critical of the male elders. These men called Baumer and his peers the Iron Youth. In response he states, “Iron Youth. Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.” (Remarque 10). The recruiters and teachers took something from these boys that they themselves never had to sacrifice. Baumer felt that “they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity” (7). “The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief” (7). The older men, the ones who convinced these boys to give their all for Social Darwinism ideals, had real lives before the war and were therefore more likely to fall back into that rhythm of being. “We had as yet taken no root. The war swept us away. For the others, the older men, it is but an interruption” (11). Baumer and his friends try to determine the reasoning for the war in Chapter Nine, but in the end they come to the conclusion that “the wrong people do the fighting” (22). They had been deceived by the very people they trusted the most, “And that is why they let us down so badly” (7).

I will show you fear in a handful of dust. – T.S. Eliot

In the terrors of the war, Baumer detached himself from his humanity and instead gave himself and his fellow soldiers animalistic qualities. “By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure, less fallible, than consciousness” (27). To view the war through an unfiltered lens could drive the men insane, and they protected themselves using whatever mentality it required to survive. “Just as we turn into animals when we go up to the line, because that is the only thing which brings us through safely” (65). The way in which these troops were treated lends itself to feeling little more than an animal, an unthinking and reactionary creature used up for the cause of man in his Great War. “They flock together like sheep instead of scattering, and even the wounded are shot down like hares by the airmen” (61). Baumer, himself, recalls, “I feel like a pig” (125). A man can kill an animal without much regret or loathing for his actions, however to kill a man for no reason other than the commands and decrees of unseen leaders is something else entirely.

I had not thought death had undone so many. –T.S. Eliot

To Baumer being a soldier was something far different than being a man, and in some ways one could never be both. His troop, his outfit, and the war began to define him. “I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness;–I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life” (106). Baumer speaks about his uniform and the manner in which it transforms him from a skinny and malnourished boy into something far more intimidating, a German soldier. As the troops press forward into battle, Baumer recalls that they more closely resembled “A column–not men at all”. When he returns home while on leave, he laments, “I used to live in this room before I was a soldier”.  Here we can see that he believed it was impossible for him to be the person he once was. The war had stolen his identity and left only the husk of soldier. “But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world”. In the end, Baumer felt more comfortable on the battlefield than he did in his own hometown. The transformation was complete.

Baumer is detached from his humanity during his time serving in the war. He understands that the war has left nothing for him. He speaks of his mother “Who else is there that has any claim on me but you.” However, Baumer allowed the recruiters and teachers to steal that claim. He is stuck somewhere between youth and manhood. In Chapter One he speaks of not being a youth anymore, yet in Chapter Seven he laments, “I would like to weep and be comforted too, indeed I am little more than a child.” Although Baumer is convinced that the war has rendered him something less than human, his actions while on leave back home suggest something quite different. He denies his mother’s claims that the war is bad with the gas and everything. He swears to Kemmerich’s mother that he died quickly and without pain. All of these things suggest that Baumer has not lost his humanity during the war. In fact, it could be argued that being on the front lines and experiencing death in such an intimate fashion has rendered him more in tune with the realities of what it means to be human. Society focuses on truth, yet truth has no place in the words spoken to parents dealing with the loss of their children. The truth is something cold and calculated, and serves not the individual. In some ways, Baumer’s truth is the war, and he “would swear to anything” to keep those back home from that truth. “We know only that in some strange and melancholy way we have become a waste land.”

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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Penn's Diary


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Sight Beyond Sight

Sight Beyond Sight

            Sight is an important idea in the play, Oedipus the King.  There are two characters which most prominently portray the contradicting ideas of blindness and sight. Although Tiresias’ eyes have failed him, it is Oedipus who is blind. Sophocles has Oedipus look down upon Tiresias’ handicap, but Tiresias has knowledge that Oedipus longs to have revealed to him. In his rage, Oedipus cannot see but continues to plunge forward into the darkness of the unknown. His friends and family cannot stop him from his descent into the preordained will of the gods and the darkness which follows. There is a paradox with the lines of Oedipus; Tiresias is blind but represents vision, and Oedipus has sight but cannot see the clarity of his own identity. The two men seem to weave and dance in and out of the confining strictures of blindness and sight, and there are three movements within that dance.

            Tiresias must be led to his encounter with Oedipus, and the audience is forced to understand the misfortune of the poor man. He is forced to be led by a boy. Oedipus initially praises Tiresias.  “Though your eyes can’t see it, your mind is well aware of the plague that  afflicts us. Against it, we have no savior of defense but you, my Lord.” At this point, it is the audience that finds Tiresias lacking but Oedipus who understands the man’s wisdom. As Tiresias refuses to enlighten the king of his own downfall, there is a shift; the audience begins to understand the soothsayer, and Oedipus starts to doubt. The king, who once saw Tiresias a savior, now throws taunts and jeers at the man. “Oh, truth has strength, but you have none. You have blind eyes, blind ears, and a blind brain.”  The first movement, as Tiresias flows from blindness to sight, has taken place.

Oedipus takes up the next movement, as he slowly and painfully cultivates an understanding of his identity. Through seemingly no fault of his own, Oedipus cannot see who he truly is and what horrific acts he has already committed. Tiresias begins to chip away at the stony façade which Oedipus has surrounded himself within. “You are the plague. You poison your own land.” The king’s blindness pushes him to accuse Kreon of betrayal. However, Kreon asks Oedipus to listen and understand reason. The king replies, “I reason in my own interest.” This sort of thinking is what keeps Oedipus blind to the swirling truth around him. It is not until many witnesses have been called and many stories corroborated that the king finally begins to open his eyes. As his eyes opened to the truth, Oedipus cries out. “It was all true. O light! Let this be the last time I look on you.” Oedipus moved from an uncomfortable darkness to an unbearable light as he was forced from blindness to sight.

The third movement takes place as Oedipus makes a decision regarding his newfound vision. The next time that the audience sees the king, he is being escorted by a servant. Oedipus remarks of his blindness, “Darkness buries me in her hate, takes me in her black hold. Unspeakable blackness. It can’t be fought off, it keeps coming, wafting evil all over me.” Although it is clear to the audience that Oedipus is now blind, the horror behind the empty sockets has yet to be revealed. Then, the king tells us how he lost sight. “But the hand that struck these eyes was my hand. I in my wretchedness struck me, no one else did. What good was left for my eyes to see?” There is a clear shift in Oedipus’ way to thinking. He pushed and pressed so hard to finally be able gain true sight. However, when he finally received that vision, he could not bear to keep it. “If I had eyes, how could they bear to look at my father in Hades? Or at my devastated mother?” It is here that Oedipus makes a choice to step back into the confines of the blinding darkness.

Three different movements , all part of the same symphony, accompany Tiresias and Oedipus and bind them in a cycle of blindness and sight. Tiresias’ eyes did not function properly, yet he was able to see and understand the truth of Oedipus. Oedipus was blind to his own identity, yet he forced those around him to bring clarity of vision to him. Upon receiving his much sought after lucidity, Oedipus chooses blindness to the light of vision. Throughout the entirety of the play, Sophocles forces the audience to take a hard look at what vision and blindness truly mean.

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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in From the Desk of the Author


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New Blood

New Blood

            The questions of loyalty to family and accountability to one’s self seem to blaze into a conflagration within Sarty. The heat tempers the young man, allowing him to be molded into a far greater man that Abner ever seemed capable. Sarty never seemed to have the same blood coursing through his veins, and his father knew it. The boy seemed to be itching for a chance to sell out his blood. Sarty, in his transition from a boy to a man, escaped the bonds his father attempted to place on him. These bonds would have become shackles, locking Sarty into the same cage of malcontent for authority that his father seemed trapped. In every way he could, the boy sold out his blood.

Abner would not even look at Sarty as the boy approached the Justice to give his testimony. The father had his doubts about his son’s loyalty to the family. Abner later states, “You would have told him”. Sarty did not want to lie for his father, and no son should be put in that situation by their parent. The Justice realizes what a horrible situation this put the boy in, and sends him away without a word spoken. Sarty is stricken with “frantic grief and despair”, but Faulker’s words seem to suggest that he would lie. Although, he would “have to do hit”, he was not happy about it.

Abner lacked faith in his son. He “struck him with the flat of his hand on the side of the head” and stated that Sarty was “getting to be a man”. Abner wanted his son “to learn”, and did not realize that the lessons he was teaching were not going to produce the desired results. The day in the courthouse changed Sarty, and he would not allow himself to be put in the same situation once again. As Sarty looks back on the conversation with his father some twenty years later, it is clear that he understood the wrongness of his father’s actions. This flash forward tells us much about Sarty and the blood that he chooses to turn away from.

Without the text, “If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again”, it could be argued that Sarty simply continued his father’s hatred of authority. A continued cycle of fighting and lashing out against those in positions of power is broken by a few simple lines of text. Sarty is not turning against his father because he despises being under that rule. He goes against his own blood because it is the right and just thing to do. Sarty’s panicked fight to get away from his family in an attempt to warn De Spain, parallels nicely with his inner struggle to flee from the blood bonds that seek to drown out his ability to see the truth. Luckily, given the lines from his future perspective, it is clear that Sarty does not succumb to the embitterment. Not only does Sarty break free, but it seems that his bravery starts to inspire another member of his family. His aunt states, “If he don’t go, before God, I am going up there myself.” Unlike Sarty, the aunt never gives legs to her claims.

At the end of the story, after gunshots are fired and Sarty believes that his actions have killed his father, he still has his back to his old home as he stares into the darkness of the unknown before him. The memory of his father, albeit incorrect, is much easier to admire than the cold and calculated villain that Abner was in reality. “Breathing was easier now” for Sarty. He no longer had to run. “The rapid and urgent beating of the urgent and quiring heart” was pushing blood through his veins, and he could create for himself a new bloodline in which truth and justice did not conflict with family bonds.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning”. Global Crossroads. Ed. Louis Iglesias. New York:

Fountainhead Press, 2007. Pages 337-353.

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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in From the Desk of the Author


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Language and Reality

Language and Reality

            Language is an essential function in every society, and allows us to share our culture and pass on our beliefs. It seems to be known and established that our culture has a direct impact on our language. This understanding of the function of our language is generally and widely accepted among anthropologists as well as in our society. Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, however, proposed a different hypothesis which has not been so readily embraced. In their theory, they believed that language could change the way a person perceived reality. We will take a look at a few examples of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and attempt to understand how our lives may be changed if we were subjected to other languages since birth.

Our language can be used as a tool for building our culture. Each culture uses a different set of tools to create the desired impact. In the same sense that a farmer would need a completely different set of items than a fisherman, our languages dictate the type of reality we find ourselves embedded within. Using the example above, it would be hard to produce an effective fisherman using only a farmer’s tools. This is important in understanding the language tools used by people of differing cultures, and exactly how those differing tools can ultimately alter their reality.

Generally, the best way to understand how language can dictate our reality is to take a look at the children of different cultures and languages. A wonderful example of this is the idea of gender specification. Some languages, such as Hebrew, place heavy emphasis on gender. All nouns are broken down into masculine and feminine forms. In the United States, we have some distinction but not nearly to the extent of the Hebrews. In Finland, there is little language to differentiate gender. How could this language affect culture? Middle Eastern nations have the lowest toleration of homosexuality; however, European nations were among the most accepting of such behavior. The results of these statistics could be, in part, due to the language spoken and the effects it has on the reality of those who speak it.

In Hopi culture there seems to be no distinction in past, present, and future events. This is a far cry from our English language and the emphasis we place on time relativity. Our English verbs have tenses, ensuring that we can immediately determine exactly when an action took place. It is not surprising, then, that our people almost seem to be controlled by time. We are in a constant battle with the calendar and clock. Our children’s stories begin with “once upon a time”, and engrain within our young ones an idea that there is a time for everything. We have snack time, play time, bed time and so forth. These children grow up feeling the stress and pressures of such scheduling. The language of the Hopi, however, does not emphasize time in nearly such stringent tones. Imagine a society that was not bound to deadlines or schedules; try to wrap your brain around even a week with no direct effects of time. A Hopi child, as opposed to an American child, does not understand the standing three count that we rattle off to our young. The Hopi child would likely be expected to obey their parent or guardian immediately, not before a certain scaling number was reached. With less focus on time and a strict adherence to schedule, the Hopi are certainly less stressed and rushed than Americans. It is not surprising that Hopi means “the peaceful people”.

Lastly, the idea of numbering in a language is believed to affect the ability of different cultures to identify images. The Yucatec Mayan language allows the noun to remain neutral in regard to number, where English ensures that there is an indication of exactly how many or how much is being referred to. Strangely, this has less of an effect on actual numbering and more impact on how things are described. The Mayans are more likely to refer to an item by its material composition. People who speak English, however, have a tendency to attribute shape to items. Americans want to label everything according to shape if no number quantity presents itself. Our shapes help us attribute number quantities to things that otherwise would not be easy to describe. We have dunes of sand and cubes of sugar; however, the Mayans do not feel the need for such distinction. Also, when asked to recall images the Mayans did not elaborate on the number of items shown in the pictures. On the other hand, the English speaking participants more often offered the actual number. American society is heavy on how much or how many things we can acquire. We have limits on how many fish we are allowed to catch and how many wild animals we are allowed to hunt. There are laws about how many miles per hour we are allowed to travel while on the roads. I imagine Mayan culture and how liberating it must be to be freed from the constant constraints of number and volume.

There is one glaring problem in testing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis; there is no real way to separate the effect of language from the many other variables and aspects of culture. Using our analogy of the fisherman and the farmer, there is no way to know for certain that the tools alone are what define the person as a fisherman or farmer. Could a farmer become a fisherman simply by changing his tools? There are simply too many variables to safe for certain that language alone can alter our reality. However we have proven that, at least in some fashion, our language does indeed have some bearing on our perceptions of what is real. It is likely that a child from Israel would be more tolerant of homosexuality if the language did not make such a distinction between male and female. A Hopi child would almost certainly be bound to the same constraints of time if the language constantly referenced it. If a Mayan had the language to describe everything numerically, then certainly they would make that distinction. So, although we cannot prove the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, we can certainly hold it up and draw some interesting conclusions.


Ember, C.R., Ember, M., & Peregrine, P.N. (2009). Human Evolution and Culture. Upper Saddle

River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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Posted by on April 5, 2015 in From the Desk of the Author


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