cigar-tin stories one hundred eleven // small packets


This Tinyletter is dedicated to the vanity license plates …

  • G6KIDS
  • DRENG1
  • GRAMO6
  • 7 ZIGGY
  • 012HABS
  • MYGEM87
  • SYLV D
  • CARL14

I could go on and on. These are just the ones in my most current notebook –– never mind other notebooks, and what I have on my phone. I am fascinated by this. Craziness. Oh, it’s just a bit of fun, one might say. Yes, and so is wearing a tiger mask all day. Tremendous fun, until you walk into a bank.

I have a dream. In this dream I am on a long road trip, but I have to stop and buy a suit from an English tailor. Actually, I buy two suits, because I seem to buy one and then return to buy a second suit one week later. But the second suit is not ready. In fact, it has to be made from scratch, and while it’s being made I live with the tailor and his (now) Indian family. They are very accommodating and polite until I break something, which seems to happen a lot, and then they erupt into Bollywood levels of volcanic anger. There is dancing. I shrug and go back to my room. I have this dream on a Saturday morning and for once I get to sleep in but then there is light behind the shade and it’s time to get up. End dream.

My department has a Christmas luncheon. This is a nice surprise because I hadn’t paid any attention to the emails and now for once my coworkers will be out of the office over lunch (they never go anywhere during lunch, in fact they never get out of their chairs, which can be extremely depressing). On the way out the door, one of my coworkers comments that she wishes I was going. “Have a great day!” I say. While they are gone I play music and podcasts and chess and make the printer do things that it will never remember but always regret. No one comes back from the luncheon. I leave early.

The last department luncheon I attended, I sat at a crowded table where everyone spoke French. I do not speak French. They knew I do not speak French. Very good reasons for not attending luncheons (and anything non-compulsory) had been compiling for awhile but this was the moment where I said to myself, This will be my last luncheon.

One of the senior managers we enjoyed for about five minutes (we’ve enjoyed a couple dozen, all for about five minutes or so), and who had a farewell luncheon when he left (they always have luncheons, despite changing titles like shirts), stopped me in the hall and asked me how I was feeling, in reference to the day I called (well, emailed) in sick, the very date of his going-away luncheon. “Oh, I’m fine,” I laughed, moving past him. “Have a great day!”

There is a vast power in not doing things. I am part of a generation that loves to say no. We were the first generation to start getting collectively screwed by the boomers, who now suck up all the resources and savings and essentially run government for themselves, and are largely incompetent (see: current world), but we were less affected than all successive generations, while at the same time being the last generation to be raised by wolves, which means parents who instead of explaining anything just yelled a lot and told us to get the hell out of the house (to be fair, they had it worse). This combination gives us a very specific outlook on life, which I would sum up as I am completely on my own here. This does not make us amenable to being told what to do. We are not team players. We will not come on in for the big win. The big win is empty and senseless and probably a lie. We’ll take our little wins, and any other corners we can cut along the way.

Anyway, my coworker’s comment was not about me. We are not friends. She exists in a place that I go to in order to help pay my mortgage. We sometimes exchange tepid observations on the weather or the most obvious political issues, and I never argue about anything because she will always be contrary (“I happen to like hurricanes! They look so beautiful from space!”). So her comment was really about my non-participation. She should let this go. I can’t close my eyes and even imagine commenting in any meaningful way about her social choices. If she told me that she spent her entire Christmas holidays playing SimCity, eating cat food, and drinking gallons of Mountain Dew, my reaction would be, “Oh, Mountain Dew.”

I go to mail a small packet to the United States. I call it a small packet because that’s what the system will price it as. I have a printed QR code (a type of bar code) generated by the online customs form (they really don’t like it if you come in without this code). The clerk at the Shoppers postal outlet measures and weighs my mail and tells me that it is a small packet. I hand her the paper with the QR code. She taps away at her computer screen and frowns. “The system is telling me that this is a bar code for something bigger than a small packet,” she says.

I look at her. I tilt my head. Is this some kind of riddle? “This bar code is generated from the online customs form that I filled out,” I say. “It’s a unique code for this parcel. It is not for some other imagined parcel.”

“The computer is telling me it’s not for this parcel,” she says. “The computer is saying that it’s for a larger parcel. But if you want to fill out the paperwork, then we can still send it as a small packet.”

“I’m not filling out any paperwork.” I say, retrieving my small packet and beginning to walk away. “Thank you anyway, I’ll figure this out.”

She is completely bum-puzzled. “I just don’t want you to pay more than you have to,” she says. “The computer…”

“Thank you!” I say. “Have a great day!”

I walk a block over to the main post office. It’s empty. They take my mail and my form with the QR code and it goes through as a small packet.

Jesus Christ it’s Christmas in two weeks. I knew there was some reason for this rash. At least as we drive around town, glowing with the satisfaction of our vanity license plates, the lights will look nice.

Have a good holidays (Holidays?), everyone,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.


going places / / cigar-tin stories one hundred ten


We go to a Cuban orchestra. The Grand is three-quarters full, and it is three-quarters full of old people. This seems like a strange disconnect until I think of Cuba as a land of resorts, as a place that people spend part of their winters in. Or at least the resorts.

The music is very, very good resort music. Relaxing. A young Cuban woman, who gives me that why-don’t-you-die look as she comes up our aisle (a look that you often see, even on the resorts, I think it’s just one of the resting states of their eyes) obliges the band with some dancing in the front row, but the rest of us just nod and tap and clap when asked. On the ride home we talk at some length about standing ovations, and how their significance has been seriously denuded, like everyone getting medals at the end of junior track meets. But I like medals, Oona says.

C tries to have a couch delivered. Again. And, like a Vikings kicker in any given playoff game, it is a failed attempt. I was so sure this time, she says. I stand there and squint like I am trying to remember something.

We attend the year-end play for Oona’s drama class. Something about fishes. Oona’s fish is blue. The kids all read from scripts, which is a step up from previous years when the instructors just said their lines for them. One kid (the shellfish?) is really acting, which is noticeable. Afterwards there are some rather haphazard treats  (miniature cupcakes?) and Oona is like a shark trying to get to the table.

We go to Brockville and have Canadian Chinese. Everything is breaded and swimming in sauce and I love it, it reminds me of the prairies. And this place is a step up in the small-town-Canadian-Chinese-restaurant order of things in that all of the fish in the aquarium are still alive.

We go to Brockville and see The Addams Family. C sits next to a couple whose male half is that particular kind of guy who always looks slightly roasted and who randomly stands and claps and shouts at the performers things like, Looking good, girl! and You can get in my bed anytime! I ask C if she wants to move over to my side, which is empty, and would at least give the man’s wife more room for her felt cowboy hat or two-litre bottle of 7 Up, but she says it’s fine. The performers are equally stoic, real professionals, and plow through the musical numbers like they’re somewhere that’s not Brockville. They’re very good, the entire production is extremely well done.

I participate in a craft fair. I have learned to have low expectations for all live events (readings, open houses, book launches, births) so I concentrate on presenting a good table and having non-superficial conversations with (non-crazy) people. In a sense I talk less and less with every one of these sales that I do, as I’ve learned to spot the time-wasters and never-buyers from far, far away. I still give out many cards to people I know gave cards to last year, and every year before, and who every year ask me if I’m from Kingston. Yes, I am still in Kingston, God never answers my prayers. But I have some nice chats with people too, like the woman with nine siblings (I have six), and the ceramicist who told me how much she enjoys this Tinyletter, and other people I look forward to seeing every year, talking about work and children and coping strategies for the never-buyers in our lives.

Have a good week, everyone,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

ambitions outstripped by reality / / cigar-tin stories one hundred nine


I have a few favourite books to keep me company on the edge of the tub when I run my nine year-old’s bath (this takes more than awhile, and even longer to get her actually into it). These are generally junkier books, the kind you find in the discount section, because they are going to get wrecked (water, indifference, yelling, etc). One of these books is called THE WORLD’S WORST MILITARY DISASTERS, and my favourite military disaster is the Battle of Nancy in 1477.

Charles the Bold liked wars, imagined himself a genius and had military ambitions to match. At Nancy he tried to lure the much larger army of the Duke of Lorraine and his Swiss confederates into a set-piece trap. Instead they went around. Charles was flanked, overwhelmed and his army of Burgundy utterly destroyed. A Swiss halberdier split Charles the Bold’s skull in two neat pieces. They found the rest of his body, partially eaten by wolves, three days later.

I like the story of Charles because it reminds me how often our ambtions are outstripped by reality. Charles had a dream, he believed in himself, and the universe turned him into a snacking device for wild animals.



I worked like a dog this month, putting in the kind of hours that would shame the most God-fearing medieval peasant at harvest time, and I still crashed and burned far, far below what I imagined I could do. For example, I wrote a ton, every day, but a lot of it was in service of other things, and in the end I couldn’t even be bothered to update my creative writing total for NaNoWriMo. And for the Fat Goose Craft Fair this Sunday, despite all my plans and best intentions (and several past years’ worth of sworn oaths), I still found myself dazed and confused in a swamp of packaging (packaging, packaging!) all this last week, just completely adrift in it, these sliding piles of scissors and staplers and cellophane sleeves, cards and stickers and tags and where is that thing I just had it Jesus. Even a simple product, like a drawing, just has so many ingredients –– choosing the art, scanning or photographing it, trimming it to fit a backing (card, foam board, etc), then the clear sleeve, then the information sticker (subject, media, etc), then the price. A cigar-tin story goes like this: prime the cover of a tin, paint a picture on it, varnish it, write a poem or short story, take that writing into a design program and apply it to a concertina booklet, print the booklet, trim and fold the booklet, put the booklet into the tin, apply other labels/stickers to the tin, put the tin in a clear sleeve, and finally add a packing top (information, process, price, etc) to the entire package.


I’m more or less done now, because I resolved that I would not work right up ’til the end. I cannot sell (or even sort) everything that I have, and what I’ll bring to my table is plenty and varied. I’ll have cigar-tin stories, library card art, book art objects, collage art mirrors, hand-painted notebooks and journals, original ink drawings on new and found paper, small paintings on masonite, canvas and cradled wood panel, prints on photo paper, art cube paperweights, collage art boxes, wax print monoprints on photo paper, and some copies of my short story collections.



So come by my table at Grant Hall, if you can. It’s supposed to be ten degrees(!) on Sunday –– a nice day for a walk. I’ll have some fun giveaways for buyers, including LUCKY CARD bookmarks and YOUR 2019 GLOSSARY BEST YEAR EVER! You can easily find two gifts of original art for under $50.


Have a good weekend, everyone,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things. 

no fear or favour / / cigar-tin stories number one hundred eight


An old lady drinking a milkshake is punching someone in the Beer Store parking lot. I can’t tell if it’s an affectionate or genuine attack. The parking lot at the Beer Store always feels like the last days in the Siege of Sarajevo. Guys pull up in trucks that often look more like tanks. Sometimes they wear bandanas.

We have a couch delivered. Because the arc of meaning in our lives often resembles the laziest of sitcoms, this delivery is scheduled for a six-hour window and doesn’t actually happen until the very end, when two small guys who might have a combined age of seven show up to do some scampering around a very big truck. The one in charge has gloves. The other one doesn’t want to be there. Much heaving and twisting and failure in basic geometry ensues, for about ten minutes, resulting in a verdict that the couch will not fit. C and I think out loud for another minute. The guy who doesn’t want to be there (this guy is standard issue in any labour crew), and who is backed up with one end of the couch into the laundry room, announces, “I just don’t want to stand around here all day.” So we send it back. In a strange way this makes the delivery guys quite happy, I think. Why can’t everyone just send it back? More to follow.

We go to the Santa Claus Parade. I don’t want to go, and people we go with are surprised when I do go, but my agency in these matters is often compromised by shorter, blonder people. And very soon Oona will begin to find these kinds of things stupid and boring. So I go. The weather isn’t bad and who doesn’t want to be psychically concussed with successive battalions of girls’ gymnastics and dance clubs, doing cartwheel after cartwheel after cartwheel. Meanwhile, grizzled middle-aged men on motorcycles rumble by and wave, which people seem to enjoy. For some reason. Also, apparently there are still two Shriners left alive, and the Knights of Columbus are up to something, according to their float, and at the very least they supply the crowd a vague notion about Christmas being about Jesus Christ. Whoever that was. So we stand around in the cold for an hour or two and at the end Santa shows up and his wife does all the talking while the fat man chuckles into a microphone like someone with a nagging brain injury.

The next day I have a cold, or some kind of tiny virus that makes my ears and face hot and produces generalized exhaustion and random episodes of total congestion. All part and parcel of being Canadian I guess but nevertheless still pointless and boring. Accordingly, C leaves town for a few days to attend a conference and enjoy those luxuries called hotel living without your family. She sends me texts about keynote speakers while Oona complains about the absence or presence of pulp in her breakfast orange juice and the possibility of spots on the bananas.

Oona also uses her mom’s absence to brag incessantly about all the things she does when mom is not looking. “She thought I was on ROBLOX but really I was Googling my name over and over and over again,” she tells me on the way to swimming lessons. “Did you have a blog called ‘red-handed’ daddy? I really like my baby pictures on there. Mom thought I was on ROBLOX but I was eating Halloween candy and looking at my baby pictures. Mom told me to take just one candy but I took like seven.”

A client asks me to put together a logo. I don’t see why this client needs a logo but whatever, this is what happens when people have meetings. Logos happen. We should have a logo! The client even provides a little sketch of what he wants this logo to look like. I make the logo. It is terrible. The client sort of realizes this so another meeting happens and minor changes are asked for, which is a bit like the German army updating its uniforms in April of 1945. Now I do not hear from the client. Next thing I know, New Guy is going to meetings with the client.

Because I have a cold, I reschedule a root canal. I do this because did I mention that it is a root canal and also viruses do not discriminate against dentists. I do not love them but they are still human beings. After all.

I listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I listen to Rafael Anton Irisarri’s The Clock. I listen to The Luxury of Dirt by Aix Em Klemm. I don’t know anything about music anymore, and I never really did, but it still has surprisingly much to offer.

I am cutting and trimming and assembling things for the Fat Goose Craft Fair on December 2nd. As per usual, my table is almost entirely original work that is priced to sell. I read yesterday that there are six corporations that control almost ninety percent of everything you consume by way of hearing and seeing, which makes me think that original things are more important than ever.

Have a great week everyone,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.​

cigar-tin stories number one hundred seven // I dream of eagles and bring forth sparrows


On a Wednesday evening I take Oona to get her flu shot. Afterwards, as a treat, while she is still complaining about her arm hurting (“Yes, of course, someone stuck you with a needle”), we go to Wendy’s. It is clean and modern in there these days (I have to give Oona explicit instructions on the automatic soap dispenser, faucet and paper towel dispenser before she disappears into that other universe called WOMEN’S), and the staff is quite nice in exchanging the kid’s-meal prize (she wanted the wizard mask but got the pirate) and her Frosty was so thick (“…and delicious, dad!”) that I had to get her a spoon, but of course at mid-meal a young lady came in and crashed down at the counter opposite with her Dollar-Store bags and things falling everywhere and proceeded to leave a very loud voicemail (for her boyfriend?) who apparently is a real piece of shit and she’s tired of all his fucking games and if he wants to talk to her then come find her you weasel and stop sending these bullshit texts you fucking idiot. Oona was about to say something but I shushed her until the young lady stormed out because of the general rule in life of not talking to someone who is that angry and dramatic and willing to burn everything around her to the ground. And then I explained that the young lady was probably just having a very bad day and not to listen to anything she might have said. And besides, there was a wizard mask to assemble.

On Thursday I take Oona to the doctor so he can look (and possibly treat, is the assumption) an ingrown toenail (not really ingrown, just red enough to complain about). “So what have you done to treat it so far, dad?” the doctor asks, which catches me completely off guard, as I had assumed that my bringing her to the doctor was that very thing I was ‘doing’, if you know what I mean. So he fills a page in my notebook with instructions for home treatment, which involves this twice daily ritual of Epsom salts, rubbing alcohol, Polysporin and cotton pledgets. Nine year-olds love this stuff because it’s a list and a special treatment and they get to remind you to do it twice a day.

Also on Thursday Oona falls down in the gym and gets a massive bruise on her hip. Luckily we have plenty of Polysporin on hand.

The day before C had gone in for some kind of oxygenating(?) facial, and so of course on Thursday she wakes up to find herself looking like George Chuvalo after his first fight with Ali, those puncher’s eyes with the inflated cheeks. This is an ongoing thing with her skin, mostly skirmishes but a couple times a year it goes into full rebellion for a few days, and every morning she insists that it’s getting better it’s getting better and it’s not, it’s not, and then one day she suddenly looks like herself again.

On Saturday we go curling. Or rather: we go to a social event where we learn about curling. I had curled before, about thirty years ago, in another world called Saskatchewan in the mid-80’s, which gave me just enough knowledge to understand both its low barrier to entry and high degree of difficulty (curling is, I think, the whitest game on the planet). Anyway, it was fun, despite how much we resembled the Bad News Bears, and no one fell and broke their heads.

I go to the studio both Sunday and Monday, which makes me very tired, as I tend to work straight through for seven or eight hours and any breaks I take are for running errands. But the Fat Goose is coming up fast and then I’ll have a digital sale for Christmas and there’s much to be done. On top of this I’m still writing and writing, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, although I’ve left the idea of being a ‘winner’ (achieving 50 000 words) far behind. I understand that a benchmark is what makes the whole thing work, but in my case (writing many different short pieces) it’s never been that applicable.

Last night I watched Where Eagles Dare. I’d just listened to an interview with Geoff Dyer about a book he wrote on the movie, which is the kind of thing he does now and then, like the entire book he wrote on Stalker. This is a very English thing, like the when Martin Amis wrote about video games. Anyway, Where Eagles Dare is, in fact, quite enjoyable, in that way that vintage World War Two movies are: dashing British agents in feats of derring-do, simpering Nazi officers, hapless German soldiers who all have machine guns but can’t hit anything, and who burst into flames at the drop of a hat. The movie makes Clint Eastwood do all the killing, which he does mechanically, mowing down entire carloads of German soldiers (at one completely deranged point he fires two machine guns at the same time, one in each hand, Pulp-Fiction style) without any hesitation (or the need to reload) whatsoever. The movie employs that old plots-within-plots device, which is sort of tailor-made for Richard Burton, who gets to do lots and lots of elocution.

Alright. It’s 6:44 and I have to go get lazy people out of bed.

Everyone have a good week,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.​

“I dream of eagles and bring forth sparrows.”
––Truman Capote

one hundred six / / Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?


all of this I did alone, with none of your melancholy fire; three original mixed media paintings on cradled wood panel; each collage is 4 x 6 x 1 3/4 inches


Very suddenly and quite out of the blue we have a fruit-fly problem. All the fruit promptly goes into the fridge (a minor victory for me, as C has always had some weird compulsion to display fruit on counters, in baskets, etcetera, like so many Roman entrails) and all surfaces are thoroughly wiped down. No effect. C prefers to kill her way out of problems, so she makes some kind of trap involving vinegar, a jar, and a paper funnel. And boy, do they go for that in droves! It’s a tiny swarming death-mart. And everyone says that nature is so clever.

We watch Star Wars. When I rent it the packaging is confusing because it calls itself Star Wars: Episode IV –– A New Hope. That’s a colon *and* a hyphen. And then I remember all the terrible terrible terrible prequels, which must have been movies one through three and I wonder why George Lucas tried so hard to immolate himself so publicly over so many years. Maybe the money pile was only shoulder high or got haunted or something. Anyway: we watch Star Wars because I think Oona will love it. She does not. In fact, she’s pretty bad through most of it, and it doesn’t help when the DVD randomly freezes and we have to jump to the next scene. Which reminds me of the bad old days, all those sticky VHS tapes and scratched DVDs and the dandruff-shouldered pricks who worked at every Blockbuster Video.

I am well into NaNoWriMo again, which I am doing for the third time. Day 6 today. My strategy is extremely simple: get up early every morning and write. Word counts are cool but ultimately meaningless. The added hour on Sunday morning was a nice surprise (I knew but then I didn’t know, and was wondering why my alarm didn’t go off), allowing me to write for an hour before sneaking off to the studio.

Today is a biiiigggg American election. Its The Con Artists versus The Party with Pretty Badges but No Ideas. Tough call! You’d think a stack of recent humiliations would be enough to make a party figure itself out. Nope! Instead, Hillary Clinton is still hanging around, hanging around, like some Romeo who won’t take no for an answer (twice), talking about how she’d still like to be president. And there’s a shiny new Broadway play about Bill and Hillary, too! Fabulous!

Christmas is coming. Did you feel your testicles drop? I’m kidding––those were just feelings of helplessness and dread. Enjoy November while you can!

Have a good week,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.​

cigar-tin stories one hundred five / some pleasing, forceful sentences

It’s 5:56 a.m. and I’m sitting here in my sketchy basement office trying to remember what happened last week, why it is such a blur, the house making those dislocated complaining noises around me, that singular pinging and creaking of vents and middle-aged wood. Last Tuesday was Girl Guides; Oona’s unit is much larger and there is a great deal more singing and clapping and cheering going on at the end, there’s always something militant about size, I guess. Wednesday was the Boo Bash and while Oona wanted to take $40, her mom set the limit at $15, and in the end she spent $12, running around a dark gym with her friends, buying raffle tickets and playing toss-the-beanbag-in-the-monster’s-mouth games while I sat in a stairwell and read a book about aliens. Thursday was Lego-Robotics Club, after which I picked her up on foot and we walked up to Jiffy Grill for supper, making it the BEST DAY EVER. I gave up my Friday studio night so C could go to a puppet show about the Golden Girls. Saturday night was cold with gusting winds and sideways rain, so C made us all go out to The Otherworld, up at Fort Henry, and we all wore three layers and barely lived, and a skeleton named Dora called me dad in that disparaging way while I searched for the flash on my camera phone. Sunday I went to the studio and painted book art objects; the Fat Goose sale is about a month away (ten years old now), and any online selling for Christmas happens soon after. Sophisticated people call those windows. Yesterday I mailed a parcel and the (very disinterested) clerk told me that it would cost $12.35 to send regular and $12.50 to send it Xpress. I looked at her and said, I understand the predatory pricing, but I’m still only sending it Xpress if I don’t have to fill anything out. Canada Post now almost entirely resembling the civil service apparatus of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire. Last night I met a friend for drinks and then did that thing where one takes a bus and walks home slightly drunk through the cold and the dark, walks home looking up at the sky and thinking ten grand thoughts all at once, none of which I can remember now.

Have a good week, everyone,

Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.