Last night I returned from spending the weekend in Chicago for the Pilcrow Lit Fest with my friend Dana. It was my first time in the city and it particularly struck me as very green and low-density. The wide streets and abundance of neon signage best viewed from a car in motion lend the whole enterprise a mid-century optimism that I like. When we weren't going to or appearing on panels at the festival, we hung out with Dana's friend Tom, who's a brilliant, searingly sarcastic graphic designer and who kindly drove us around Oak Park, which has its own Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District. Another highlight was a gloriously fun dinner in Lakeview with Jami Attenberg, Wendy McClure, Timothy Schaffert and Laural Winter, and lunch on the Gold Coast at a little French bistro that plays Blossom Dearie and "My Baby Just Cares For Me" with a friend of Dana's family who regaled us with tales of her travels in India, Bhutan and China in the '70s and '80s and Italy and Santa Fe more recently. Mostly, just kicking around a new town was really fun; I didn't do much shopping per se but managed to come across the perfect straight-leg grey jeans, an oversize toffee brown hand-tooled leather belt with floral motif from Italy, and a pair of very Jane Birkin-esque white ballet flats. And of course we hit the photo booth at zine-tastic local landmark, Quimby's. On Saturday I moderated the closing panel on independent publishing with thirteen (!) participants from Featherproof Books, Future Tense Publishing, Impetus Press, Other Voices Books, So New Media, Two Dollar Radio, Word Riot, et al. After that we attended a benefit for the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, lovingly and masterfully emceed by Pilcrow's own Amy Guth and Leah Jones, which raised $4000 for possibly the best cause ever. On the way back, Dana and I chillaxed with iced chais in the airport and impetuously decided to upgrade to first class for the short but leisurely night flight. It couldn't have been a better decision. I'm not sure when I'll have a reason to return to Chicago, but my adventures in the Midwest are hardly over, as I'll be heading out to "Star City" for the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference -- with Kurt Andersen, Sean Wilsey, Meghan Daum, Kim Addonizio and more -- in three weeks, and then to Omaha for another Downtown... Lit Fest this fall.