on bets and bad deals / cigar-tin stories number 61


Oona and I have a bet: how long we can keep on our wax paper bracelets from the Gananoque boat tour we did on Thanksgiving weekend, for FAMILY FUN TIMES (this is the name her aunt gives to any heavily planned/prescribed family activity, as in: why are we all in a car to Nebraska, commenting on cloud shapes and bleeding from the eyes? Oh yes, because it’s FAMILY FUN TIME). If Oona wins the bet, I take her to Menchie’s, which in her mind is like trick-or-treating in Disneyland; if I win, Oona has to get up every morning for a week straight with no complaining during her morning routine (pee, wash hands, brush teeth, wash face, get dressed, etc … I know, I know, it’s worse than a Soviet gulag). Throughout the week she is constantly asking me to show her my bracelet, to prove that I still have it on. I do. In fact, it’s in pristine condition. Hers, meanwhile, deteriorates rapidly. At one point I notice that it’s been torn and re-tied. I say nothing. Finally, the next Saturday morning, I ask her if she’s still got it on. Tears flow over the breakfast table. Of course her lawyer (read: mother) runs in to present arguments, saying that she made her take it off for swimming the night before. Yes, because it was all torn up, I say. And I know that there is only one rule here, and that rule is, Dad never wins, so I say, Look, I’ll make you a deal … I’ll take you to Menchie’s *and* you have to do your best in the morning for the next week, no complaining. More tears flow. That’s a good deal, her lawyer advises.

Three weeks after the hurricane, Puerto Rico is still a zone of unmitigated misery. President Trump says they need to get to stop complaining. I’d say he should make them a bet about a bracelet, but his wrists are probably too tiny.

What is it about the British and hideous crimes? Certainly, other countries will occasionally produce a spectacular contender to tip the scales a bit, but aside from countries that don’t have functioning governments (I’m looking at you, Mexico), the grisly business of murder seems to be very, very English. Is that why they produce so much murder-mystery entertainment?

I have to lose my mind on Oona one morning when she cannot produce her puffy pink jacket –– the only jacket appropriate for the day ahead. She gets away with this kind of thing –– this not-caring-about-her-possessions attitude –– most of the time, but every once in awhile I feel compelled to go nuclear, just to implant a notable scene in her memory, and let her know that it is *not* okay to just shrug and not give a shit. I feel that this is a red line of sorts, like grafitti in New York City, where if you let the little things slide then it’s nothing but trouble ahead (believe me, I understand that the trouble will come anyway, but I don’t need to feed it).

Another week, another painting. Or, in other words, when in doubt, just work.


The Haunted; mixed media on cradled board, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches. Inspired by a Mary Shelley quote: “Oh! Stars and clouds and winds, ye are all about to mock me; if ye really pity me, crush sensation and memory; let me become as nought; but if not, depart, depart, and leave me in darkness.”

C is on strike. The main issue: part-timers make up 70 per cent of the teaching staff. In other words: the gig economy. A transient, disposable workforce. And then management wonders why staff is unmotivated and mercenary, and why nothing really works. Make more advertising about dreams and excellence! Give out more staff-appreciation certificates! More fun runs!

Tuesday is now Tinyletter Day; I’m going to commit to sending this out every Tuesday for awhile. See how it goes. I enjoy writing them (or at least they’re a good writing workout) and why the hell not.

Have a good week! Here’s a pic of Oona during a bike race, trying to look over her shoulder to see if I’m catching up with her.


I did. But I let her win the series.




cigar-tin stories number SIXTY

Yesterday C needed the car after work so I picked up Oona from school on foot and we were walking to catch a bus and it was cold and raining (the weather had just turned the night before) and she’d had a bad day (mean girls, a broken zipper on her backpack, getting caught taking toys to school, etc) and I could hear her crying under her umbrella and hood so we stopped and talked for awhile and later I made her laugh when I asked her if her mom would ever do something like this, something like walking in the rain to catch a bus. “Daddy that would never ever happen!” she said. Anyway we went home and after supper she got the last piece of pumpkin pie with a whopping head of whipped cream and that fixes everything.

This morning I had a cleaning and FULL MOUTH PROBE with my dental hygienist and of course she found something, or rather the dentist did, three little things, despite all my wishing and magical thinking to the contrary. One never gets out of there free and clear. It got me thinking about how the process of aging, at least in this country, is the often just the process of more and more exposure to medicine.

Speaking of which: I recently had a life episode that could only be called PARTIALLY DETACHED RETINA. For a few days I’d been seeing a semi-transparent shadow across the top right hand corner of my left eye. Not going away. An appointment at an eye clinic led to a sudden transfer to the emergency ophthalmologist at the hospital, which in turn led to the injection of a gas bubble, whereupon I had to lay on my side so the bubble could float up and press the retina back against the wall of the eye, and then the next morning I had laser surgery, to make scars and seal things up. And then back to laying on my side for a week. Everything seems to have worked, and the bubble got smaller and smaller until it just disappeared one morning. Very grateful. Especially considering that C has told me in the past that her patience for invalids is about two weeks. I still made supper every night.

More library card art sets, most recently on the themes of ENGLISH POETRY and MAD SCIENTISTS. A set is a great gift idea for a specific friend. For example, if you know someone who would laugh at this …

Q. What did Mary Shelley say when Percy claimed he was the better poet?
A. Bysshe, please.

… then a themed set of original ink drawings on vintage library cards might be perfect for that person.



More about them here or here.

QUICK PERIODICALS QUIZ –– which of the following periodical titles is fake?







Answer at the bottom of this newsletter!

Sears is dying. A familiar story: old brand, slow on its feet, raided from the inside-out by a U.S. hedge fund manager, traded stock dividends for innovation and even good business practices, accelerated decline in relevancy and then common sense, boom. It’s like Trump, only with a faded retailer instead of the world’s greatest military power. #goodtimesahead



Putting this book art object into the mail tomorrow, along with a surprise or two. Please remember that I quite often do direct gift parcels –– you buy the work but supply me with the address of your friend and what you’d like in the note. I use Etsy this way myself, as it’s the easiest way to send a gift.

Some pictures from Boldt Castle. We went there on Thanksgiving. For some reason. The restored castle fell a bit flat for me, but I was fascinated with the unrestored top stories, and the years of grafitti (and ghosts of partying) there.


Have a great week, everyone!

pattern   //   instagram

Answer to the Periodicals Quiz: b and d. Can you believe FORCED MIGRATION REVIEW is a real magazine?

a track meet and some art sets

So: we get a notice about my daugther’s upcoming track and field (in fact: cross-country running) event, which will be held at eight a.m. one morning at Fort Henry Hill. Really the notice is about there being no bus available, so the parents are responsible for bringing their kids to the meet.

And at this I make a face. And the reaction to my face-making (in fact: my face) is standard, even universal –– not just at home but at work and everywhere these days.

“All the buses were probably used up taking kids to school,” my wife says.

Which is a bit like saying we’re doing your surgery without surgical gloves because we used them all up on the other surgeries, but whatever. I am trying to evolve, go with the flow. It’ll all work out, everyone says, all the time, regardless of the appalling shambles under discussion, and everyone gets really uncomfortable or even agitated if I continue to comment, and starts asking me why I’m being like this, and are you in a bad mood?, so I am doing my best these days to just look away, look away.

A teacher will be waiting halfway up the hill to direct students to their meeting spot, the note reads.

“There you go,” my wife says.

Luckily, I have the kind of elastic, it-will-all-work-out (read: not really) job that allows for this kind of thing, so at 7:50 this morning I find myself driving my daughter up Fort Henry Hill. There is no signage about any track and field event. There is no teacher. Instead there are just distracted clusters of parents and kids, milling about, some walking in the general direction of … something? In my personal lexicon of disorganization I call this the Bullshit Bingo Deluxe (with extra cheese).

I think back on my own track and field events in school … those fluttering clusters of white participation (Participaction?) ribbons (white was the colour code for: yay! you exist!), the jumpy chaos of wholly unprepared kids under half-assed supervision (most gym teachers only liked two things: winners and cigarettes), mass dehydration, the weird kid who took a dump in one of the urinals …

Eventually, after traipsing uphill across some wet fields, we find some spot which bears the same psychic hallmarks of another crowded area I remember, the one just back from the betting windows at the race track: a sort of dedicated pandemonium, with plenty of screaming kids for backdrop noise. Finally a teacher shows up with some sort of list, and Oona gets some kind of sticker, AND DON’T LOSE THAT STICKER, and let’s not even talk about her behaviour or the way she was dressed (there was a woollen poncho involved), and I leave, and start the walk back to the car, to go into work, late.

In more coherent news, I’ve started creating new library card art according to themed sets. The first two I’ve done are Dante and the French Revolution








a video snapshot

I’ve started to create videos as another means of showing what I have in my online studio store. They’re great for showing detail, for hovering over the work in a close-up way that highlights just how textured and intricate the work can be. Ironically, it’s a two-dimensional means of showing the best three-dimensional aspects of the work. A video of what’s current also helps to clarify where I’m at with my work.

the never time

I am aggravated this morning. I am about to go into a three-hour mandatory training module. It is training I do not need. It is training that does little to further the outfit’s larger objective, but someone has put it on a list, and the box must be checked. In a meaningless way, the outfit will have something measurable –– We can report that x number of our employees have received this training, they will state. It is part and parcel of something the outfit does a lot of, which is torture the non-offenders. We’re not good at swimming, the outfit says. So we’re going to make all of you take swimming lessons. Especially you who already swim.

I’ve reached that age where the irritations of time get a strong reaction from me. These irritations usually operate on three levels:

  • I do not have enough time.
  • I do not always use the time I have in the best way.
  • I do not like my time wasted by others.

Of course this training falls under the third point. And it is especially acute when I feel like I’m already failing at the first two.

Being a creative takes enormous resources of self-drive and discipline. Nothing happens unless you –– literally –– conjure it out of nothingness.

Yesterday I was doing badly with all of this, especially after finding out about the impending training, so I forced the issue over lunch with some drawing and minor story-telling. It helped redeem the day, somewhat. And often that’s the best you can do, just make something, and push things along a bit, even when they don’t want to go.



… but the sky is empty.

large paintings in my studio

A short video of large paintings in my studio (and online store) as of August 1st, 2017. I want to make more of these kinds of things, as much for my own memory (it doesn’t take long to forget what I’ve done, what I’ve sold where) as anything else.

The title of this post comes from a Sylvia Plath quotation: “I talk to God but the sky is empty.” It fits well with the first painting I’ve done since getting back from holidays ––and back into the studio this past Sunday, called The Doubter.

The Doubter; mixed media, 24 x 30 x 1.75 inches, cradled wood panel.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker writes: “I am all in a sea of wonders. I doubt; I fear; I think strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul.”

I doubt almost everything these days. I turn on the radio and hear impossible things – Los Angeles actually wanting the 2028 Summer Olympics (please see the smoking economic ruins of Athens, Rio, et al) or the son of an American president taking hotel-room meetings with Russians. What to eat, what not to eat (right now fasting seems to be a thing), how to exercise, what to read, what to wear, how to get rich. As I get older I seem to have embraced a kind of blankness, as if the noise of the world was smoke, and the only real thing behind it is the idea that I should stick to my own plans.

But I did have a good holiday, in that crooked little cottage overlooking the Northumberland Strait. Two weeks was enough: I read four books, took innumerable naps, walked in the ocean, hit golf balls with a wedge from sandbar to sandbar, up and down the shore. But I always fill up with schemes and intention while on holiday, so it’s good to be back, and we’ll see how we do.

The heart of a maiden is a dark forest.



The Maiden; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches.

Second blonde in a row for me, while still on this kick of icons (martyrs, idols, demigods, characters more poster than real) in a larger format. But the ideas for working small are creeping in, too.

Strange times. I look at the news and see spidery arrangements in lies and advertising. Of course the broken centre of this is the president of the United States, a character so blurry and appalling as to not seem real. Which, in a way, he is not. It seems even within the confines of his own skull he is not. The cultural historian Patrick Wright once described him as

A smudged deadbeat left over from the Reagan era … and propped up in a temporary kind of way by ailing US and Japanese banks that couldn’t afford to let him expire completely … If Trump was in the White House which, as he was rash enough to hint in those undiminished days, he might well be before too long, then he could follow the examples of Presidents Reagan and Harding, and look for astrological anchorage in the stars.

Or Twitter. That was in 1991. I guess this is the logical wreckage of neoliberalism, of the the triumph of markets and money and branded individualism above all. Trump speaks the language of reality television, which is really very simple: promise anything to anyone, and otherwise say whatever you need to say to confuse the issue, while advancing spaces in your mind. Even on TV this is sometimes dubious.

My attention to this is sporadic, at best. All I can do is work. There are really very few things I am any good at. I hope painting is one of them.