sleeping in your car (quiet piano) / / cigar-tin stories one hundred three


It’s 6:02 in the morning. Lately I’ve been getting up at 5. I used to get up at 5:30, but then I thought, Well, I’m getting up this early anyway, why don’t I push it a bit to get more done? It’s not like I’m here for my looks. 

In how many ways do you flinch when someone starts telling you how tired they are? Or how busy? At this point I think most people avoid even saying it.

I think distracted or disjointed or slightly unraveled would be more accurate.

I am most tired when I wake up. Yawning and yawning. There’s two other points in the day –– early afternoon and just after supper –– which might as well be filled with smoke bombs for all the seeing and thinking that gets done.

I used to work with a guy who would go out to his car to have a nap in the backseat over lunch. This worked not only because he was very tired but also because he was a small guy. Could just curl up. I think he packed a blanket. Sometimes he would go to the gym instead but only to sit in the hot tub. He blamed his sleepiness on his wife’s cats.

Of course, that kind of sleepy thinking came from an earlier place of tight shirts and flared jeans, young men in vans with tinted windows and shag carpet, Polaroids with laughing girls. All a lot cosier than a backseat in a parking lot.

The tortoiseshell took a shit on the newspaper the other day. Right in the middle of the living room. I was surprised. She might as well have rented a neon sign that read, Please euthanize me the next time mommy leaves town. I made a note of it. At least it was only the The Globe and Mail.

We’re ending our weekend subscription to The New York Times soon (The Globe came bundled with it, which is an indictment right there), or as soon as some box gets ticked on some warehouse manager’s clipboard. It’s become too expensive and besides, I’m growing tired of the two-headed hydra called Inequality Is Terrible and Here’s an Ad for a Luxury Condo, otherwise known as Trump Is Awful but We Have Nothing Better to Offer Except Badges.

I will miss the fashion magazine part, the crazy estates for the crazy rich who build private art galleries into the sides of mountains. The wasted spectacle of that. Like Barthes said, we all have our own rhythm of suffering.

The tortoiseshell follows me around and around every morning, purring and purring, throwing herself at my feet, praying that I’ll go back to bed so she can go back to walking on my face. I let her out so C can let her back in when she gets up later.

Oona had a camping excursion with her Girl Guide unit (troop? outfit?) last weekend. It was only to Verona, to the backyard of a community centre, but still it was sleeping in tents. Her mom spent the entire 24 hours worry over the quality of her sleeping bag. I slept in ’til seven, then worked away in my sketchy downstairs office for a few hours. This made C very nervous. At one point she came down to remind me that grocery shopping needed to be done. Oh yes, you’re right, I said. Just like the previous one thousand weekends in a row that I’ve done it. Good reminder! 

So groceries were got, and one last lawn-mowing done, and we still had time to go for lunch, and when we picked up Oona she was still alive, and easily distracted with a Green Aero Bar.

Well, I have to go to work. Have a good week, everyone.

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


how to be organized in one thousand easy steps / / cigar-tin stories one hundred two

We got some new dishes on the weekend. I had resisted this, in a low-key, subtle way, for as long as possible, but for C a visit to Ottawa is often like a visit to Chernobyl, only with IKEA contagion instead of radiation sickness. Sure enough, a full-on pandemic of antagonized reorganizing ensued, meaning things in front of things, things on top of things, an almost Soviet enforcement of category that does not respect the practical limitations of drawer size, cupboard size or any laws of physics, and that treats anything that does not look like something else (matchy-matchy!) as something heretical, and any odds and ends are immediately judged guilty regardless of their usefulness, and so marked for destruction (read: the garbage). And of course anything from my former lives that has somehow survived to this point (and believe me, there isn’t much) will now be purged, finally, at last, thank God.

I could not watch it while it was all happening last night, but I knew what was waiting for me this morning. The first cupboard I opened saw the coffee filters come tumbling out. Of course it was the only thing in there that sees daily use, which must have singled it out for being mashed precariously on top of ten other things towards the back. And what was in front, because it was the same size and height as three other things? Kool-Aid. I think we had that once.

The tupperware I needed for Oona’s lunch also required some careful extraction. While it certainly looked nice to have all the tupperware in one cupboard, all perfectly lined up like some May Day parade, this sort of thing doesn’t translate very well into those working necessities we most often call life. In other words, the things you need… need to be around. You don’t want to dig for them.

Artists understand this better than most. For example, in my studio I have several plastic bins of collage materials. They are in clear plastic, and each is carefully and clearly labelled, in big lettering, and I try to store them in such a way that I can see them. And even then I sometimes forget they are there.

If I ever let C in there for five minutes, she would have it immediately and ruthlessly ‘solved’: all material crammed into one bin. Probably a black one. Tucked under a table. Under five other things. Done! And it would never get used again.

Which is why I have a studio.

Still, as long as you understand what kind of desperate instincts are at play, none of this is anything to fight about. Usually, if you just wait it out, then conditions will slowly but surely return to a state of practicality. Sure, it’s mildly aggravating to come home to find the milk buried behind all the beer in the fridge, just because someone is imposing some kind of weird everything-of-the-same-height-must-go-on-this-shelf rule, but it’s easier to just quietly unwind and un-crazy things and move forward.

Besides, it was Thanksgiving weekend. Time to be thankful! And I have to say that I’m starting to be thankful that I was born when I was. Yes, the seventies had all the charm of being pulled into a windowless van, and the eighties were bright and plastic and vandalistic and bullying all at once, while the nineties might be completely empty of any meaning whatsoever, but by any reasonable estimate the world is going be a very unpleasant place to live over the next few decades. Thanks but no thanks.

On that note, have a good week, everyone.

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

p.s. Did you know that 2001: A Space Odyssey has some 88 minutes of no dialogue? A million years ago I saw a scratchy analogue version in the Winnipeg art gallery. It was freezing in there.

how to be late / / cigar-tin stories number one hundred one


This Tinyletter is a week late. Only one person complained, which tells me something about (a) this Tinyletter and (b) this time of year.

As for this time of year: it’s busy, isn’t it? Which makes it a great time of year to say no to things. Saying no is vastly underrated. In fact, when you find yourself on the less charming end of that particular stick called people-acting-like-they’re-doing-you-a-favour, then saying no is a great way to reset the interaction. Don’t be afraid to be the most difficult person in the room! Or universe. Saying no is simple and elegant and lets everyone know what time it is. It puts the inner life first, in its rightful place, over any events of the outer life. My favourite quote on the subject is by the philosopher Vernon Howard:

Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from.


Both of my office mates had wicked colds last week, and one of them had it on top of some bronchitis that’s already been going on for months. They coughed and coughed and coughed, in that head-back-open-mouth way that little kids do. And then the festival of snorting, that full-on phlegm inverted rocket squelch where you hear the snot hit the back of the throat. Charming! It’s amazing how often people can’t even get it together enough to bring in a box of Kleenex.

It reminded of the time I went to renew my driver’s license at a Service Ontario (or was it Ministry of Transportion back then?) office when it was still around Division and Concession. The clerk who served me was snorting snot so quickly and violently that she kept tilting her head in such a way as to better chew it. She had a tattoo of a spider on her neck. I did not fall in love.

I often use this space to rag on the CBC, which sometimes seems to persist only to provide a venue for Sook-Yin Lee’s sophomore art-school projects, but this episode of Ideas is as good as radio gets. It’s a big-picture kind of piece, and gosh that picture is terrible.

Oona had a birthday party and sleepover. There were four girls altogether, which is not the full-on hosting psychosis of seven girls we enjoyed two years ago. A slow learning curve. None of them ate very much but all of them drank gallons and gallons of Orange and Grape Crush. The festivities had a Harry Potter theme, because everyone feels bad about how broke J.K Rowling is these days. The whole thing went off just like a bank robbery; no matter who screams, just keep moving towards the exit. It was difficult to get everyone to settle down to sleep but at least they all woke up at 6:30 a.m. I left for the studio.

I made a painting called The Dreamer. In my mind The Dreamer is always a young girl, fashionably dressed for the wrong occasion. The world is only half there, after all. The rest of it has to be willed into being. It doesn’t matter where you are; the magic of imagination is that the spells find you.

The previous Sunday, the non-madness Sunday, Oona and I had gone for a long bike ride in our neighbourhood. A necessary energy-release valve. It was cool but sunny, with many homeowners out working on their yards. They were all quite old, all literally bent to their tasks. I could not help but notice: all these big, well-kept homes and massive yards owned by old people. How does this story end? What happens with all this housing stock? Young families will move in, you might say. The cycle continues. Yes, I agree, some will. But I don’t know if there’s enough of them, and how many of them can afford these homes? This cheap-money business can’t last forever. How does a freelance web designer and a part-time yoga instructor with two kids add up to home ownership? You can’t pay with tattoos. And do these kinds of families even want to live in the burbs? I don’t know.


Every single day the Siamese wakes up and sees me and wishes that I was dead. To be fair, almost any kind of disappearing would be acceptable, but only death has the kind of finality that would let him truly relax. Yet I persist, despite all the fear-hate rays of his single-watt brain, and I have to say that, at this point, it’s mostly out if spite.

I received my own kind of ‘no’ last week as well; I’d been angling for a certain qualitative change in my job and then, just like that, the door closed. The decision made no sense but there it was. To be honest, I’d always known they’d go the route of disassociation, which is where people hope things work out by doing nothing to fix them. It was fine. I did not die. And it clarified things. Besides, I dislike waiting around to see what other people will do. You have to have your own plans.

It was also C’s birthday the previous week. She is older but still young. This morning we got up very, very early so she could go to a workout. It was weird, seeing all those 4’s in a row. Anyway, the struggle to keep whole continues. It’s a shame she’s still nowhere near retirement, but I put honey in my coffee these days and the hopes and dreams of bees don’t come cheap.
Well, that’s it. Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone,

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

read this for instant riches / / cigar-tin stories number one hundred


In the New York Times Magazine there is a feature called This Boy’s Life: The enduring spell of S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders’––then, now and always. This includes an interview with S.E. Hinton and a fashion spread of bloodless young men in stiff, unforgiving denim and very thin moustaches. The clothes have a gritty, flawed, surplus-store quality. Some items include:
• Polo Ralph Lauren jacket, $1,998
• Calvin Klein 205W39NYC sweater, $1,600
• Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello plaid shirt, $890
• Helmut Lang t-shirt, vintage, from the David Casavant Archive, price on request

Eat your heart out, Ponyboy.

I know you’re bitter about everything, C says, but those are great books, and she wrote them when she was still a girl.

Am I bitter about everything? That feels inaccurate, like the German army crossing the Polish frontier being described as a home invasion. ‘Bitter’ implies a level of understanding and engagement that I don’t know if I’m capable of anymore. You start ascribing motives to people, and then later you find out that they just fell into things, like those ants that just run around looking busy so they still get fed. Very few people have a plan, let alone considered ideas. Attaching blame is fun but pointless. Also, people react badly. As I get older, it’s difficult not to twig at how terrible even organized or completely corporatized things, entire institutions, are managed, and just how calcified and immovable these structures are. In a psychic sense, these are windowless black monoliths that only H.P. Lovecraft could admire.

So one joins the crowd, where the only sensible reaction amounts to a sort of shrug and looking away. Politics is the least of it, like some slow-burning ferris wheel on a distant island cliff; you can stand on the beach and see the flames and hear something that sounds like screams but it’s almost impossible to tell what’s really going on, and no means to get there anyway. The vessels of real change wrecked along the shore. In the meantime, would you like to make a donation to the Children’s Fund of Childrenia? It comes with a sticker!

I know at least that I’ve reached peak Trump. And this isn’t just the all-sugar, stunt-casting, Big-Gulp criminality involved (what, exactly, were we expecting?) but also the hysterical reaction to it. Brought to you by the same people who got us here. The technocrats overplayed their hand and this is where we are, where the news cycle makes The Shield look like The Muppet Show, and everyone’s supposed to get excited because not all the candidates are middle-aged white men anymore. Not exactly a war of ideas, is it?

I visit the downtown branch of TD bank. I stand in line for a teller. I understand that this is a purgatory-for-rookies kind of move but I’m only missing work so there’s no hurry. Good thing. I’m wearing earphones so I can only watch as one of the tellers makes complicated hand gestures to accompany a lot of head-shaking to a man wearing pants that do not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit. Also the woman in front of me has left the line to go fondle the miniature green TD armchair on display. There is a monitor for news and other announcements and it displays the information that Carrie Underwood suffered three miscarriages in the last two years. To the right is a pillar with the word EXCELLENT spelled out in individual, fiesta-coloured stickers. Is it strange that we’ve all reached this place where the only people you see in bank lines are contractors, old people or the human equivalent of gophers with brain infections?

Going by the old house to pick up some mail: because of the ongoing chaos (read: the Big Dig) around Division, I am forced to walk up the ass-end of Colborne. The end of the world, really, by appearances. Not even a street, at this point, just a place where students live, and anyone with a car and any sense hides it around back. That particular weed-riven, bombed-out quality that Kingston likes to dabble in. A man walking in front of me tries to text and pull up his pants at the same time, losing badly at the latter.

We have a new change dish. I bought the dish, a smart and inexpensive piece of local pottery, in Murray Corner during vacation, and then designated it as the dish for loonies and toonies (I also said quarters, but C somehow vetoed that, because “I don’t like clutter”) to be used all those times that someone with a juvenile limp or slow-draining speech impediment or dental dam as a fashion statement comes to the door selling smiles and chocolate bars for refugees or escapees or whatever. Some van with tinted windows always idling half a block away.

The trouble, which starts almost immediately, is that C and Oona start using the change dish as a FREE MONEY DISH, as in, “We went to the Fall Fair and it was fucking awful and we blew a shitload of money on absolute garbage but we took most of the money from the change dish so it was almost free anyway.” This is always the point at which I go down to the basement and start writing notes to myself.

I make a book art object about Macbeth. Not my first crack at that Scottish rodeo. It is my favourite Shakespeare, has all the best lines, doesn’t drag out the insanity and death the way King Lear does. My latest Macbeth is young and blonde, and why not, but the fissures are still there, and the background will always be red.

There are other new things in the shop, which is now open again. I have maybe … 20% of my work listed? So if you live in Kingston, and are desperate for a present for a friend, please drop me a line with the premise of what’s needed.

This is the 100th edition of this Tinyletter! I did it! Some kind of thing, I’m sure.

I hope everyone has a great week.

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

it’s over, mister crow / cigar-tin stories number ninety-nine


In line at the drug store (someday I need to write a chapbook of poems with that title) and there’s a small club of young Indian men collectively filling out a job application, they all have their phones out as some kind of reference, and just behind them is a squad of young women from Queen’s, they dress like there’s a gym class they can’t commit to, each of them buying seven dollars in snacks with gold credit cards, black credit cards, but then one of them wants COLD-FX and she has a coupon and everything stops, there is no way this line will move until either the clerk or the customer gives up and these girls do not give up, not ever, you have to smash the patriarchy one coupon at a time so another clerk frantically opens up another till and before I can move an elderly lady who is almost a perfectly inverted “U” bent over her walker cuts me off in two seconds flat and I burst out laughing and abandon my goods on the counter because who needs dish soap that badly.

An old couple sits idling in the drive-thru at Burger King, sits there with the windows up, both of them smoking as hard as they can, facing straight ahead as if watching the less interesting landmarks from the deck of a second-rate cruise and smoking, smoking away, smoking so hard, their parched white heads leaning into it, little bundles of flesh and nylon jackets scrunched into the vinyl seats, and part of me loves this, loves the terrible square car all hard edges and rusted logos, the paint job like retired cancer, I bet they only ordered black coffees and small soft ice-cream cones.

I make a painting called The Thinker; it’s the latest in the icons and archetypes series. This craziness could go on and on: I like making these characters, these ciphers for classical personality types, for people like playing cards. Meanwhile the shop remains only half open––some handful of paintings that only ship to Canada. I guess I’m thinking, too.

Cutting across a lawn under trees one morning I almost walk into a crow, it squawks and hops away in that awkward manner that tells you this is the end for Mr. Crow, this is the last day of lustrous blackness and those shining eyes that know laughter and tricks and how to collect things, the currency of that.

Another Monkey Monday. I get up at 5:30 and make coffee in darkness and stumble to the basement and get myself sorted (sometimes I think about a no-shower life and wonder how I would ever wake up, how I would ever open my eyes) and eat a banana with peanut butter for breakfast and read the last page (“Findings”) of Harper’s (did you know that Panama disease may lead to the eventual extinction of the banana? also, what is Panama disease?) and make Oona’s lunch and do the garbage and recycling and walk to the bus (the night before I asked C if she wanted the car to go to an appointment and she said no and then the next morning she said I want the car today and I said, Well, I guess I better get going then) and the bus is crazy crowded, standing room only (and that’s fine except, I guess, for some young guys who do not get up and is this a feminist thing?) and I spill out at Queen’s and walk from there and it’s about three klicks which is fine, that’s about a perfect morning walk, and I spend the rest of the day slumped and staring at my computer screen as if a distant fire and only doing about half the things I should be doing but at this point they’re only paying me for my looks and my pay stub pretty much reflects that.

Well, that’s it for this week. The skies are grey and the air is cool. There is rain around, sliding furtively across the horizon in slow, curling anger. You should be thinking in layers now, and when you see your hands in your dreams, they should be hidden in mittens. Possibly fingerless. In fact, for all those middle-aged ladies with whole wicker baskets crammed with decorative infinity scarves in plaid and silk and chiffon and cashmere pashmina, this is your time to shine.

Stay gold, everyone,

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

The Thinker


The Thinker; mixed media on canvas, 24 x 24 x 1.5 inches. Another in my series on icons and archetypes. The horizontal line is string, which has been primed/painted right into the surface of the canvas.

The Thinker is as much seeing as reckoning; imagination is a distant sun beyond mere worlds of understanding and ideas. How to express electricity? Yes, there are problems to solve but there are not necessarily solutions. We have time and experience and some number that sets down what might possibly be conceived. Or rather what is the limit. Perceptions, rules, plans, beliefs: draw your arrows across the sky. Watch how they fall, see where they land. People say it must be terrible, the storm of so much knowledge, but the Thinker would tell you that there is no understanding at all, only portraits rendered imperfectly, as if at a distance, or even another room, and the going price is just endless questions.

first day of school (again) / / cigar-tin stories number ninety-seven


This Tinyletter is dedicated to the vanity license plates FARSIE,  BRADY 2 and ROX T. I wish I enjoyed your level of really, really disposable income.

How was your long weekend? Psychically, how long was it? Ten months? Five years? Mine was about a week and a half. Some notes:

• still (!) with the humidity, a guest that won’t leave, won’t take a hint, you serve her meals on a place mat that’s just a paper towel with hand-drawn directions to the airport
• new students and Toronto parents everywhere, black SUVs cruising at parade speed or walking arm and arm up and down Princess Street, looking for somewhere that Maisley or Perry will find acceptable, trios of teeth and over-washed hair
• the collapsible banquet tables up and down University Avenue, the computerized rap music (is this what happens when you scrub it up for white kids?), red plastic cups and beer pong (when you buy your drinking games from Shoppers Drug Mart, something has gone very, very wrong)
• Saturday morning at the No Frills, C has us on a cash diet because my spending of no money ever has been a real problem, I guess, but there’s a free cart drifting across the parking lot to scoop up and before I leave I try to return the favour, asking a young mom if she needs a cart and she spins on me and says, Yeah! and her little boy raises his fists in victory, Yeah! Yeah!
• more mowing and trimming to follow up the insane amount of mowing and trimming from earlier in the week, this is what happens when you go off to the cottage and there’s torrential rains and jungle levels of humidity and God doesn’t hate you but he doesn’t exactly like you either
• Oona and C go back-to-school shopping––the sort of retail experience that might be titled Slightly Mean Girls on a Budget
• I get some time at the studio and paint a savant, who makes me think of heroes and champions, the gifted and pre-selected
• long bike rides through Reddendale, which is the kind of crazy neighbourhood that alternates between McMansions and people with the kind of teeth from a perpetual blueberry-eating contest; also Everitt Park is lovely when it’s not flooded but be careful on the rocks

Today is back to school. Lots of work to projects suddenly blooming into full-blown rotteness. Today a client wrote me:

Names appears to be bolding, but only slightly. Please bolds more.

I had to read that three times. Most days I don’t even understand why I’m doing the things I’m doing, it’s just monkey work, like they’d rather tell someone to push button A rather than push any buttons themselves. Pushing buttons isn’t my job, they’d say. When are you going to be done pushing all those buttons?  Fucking hell.

Meanwhile, Cher is now seventy-two years old. Can you believe that? Surely the Apocalypse is just waiting around for the right soundtrack.

Have a good week, everyone,

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