Tuesday is Tinyletter Day / / Number 160 / / Episodes in November

Stepping in some cat puke one morning, feeling that very particular cold squish of lumpy semi-solid between my bare toes, I am reminded that the slow, remorseless descent called November is now well underway. It’s 5:35 a.m., and the house will be wrapped in lurid, frigid darkness for hours yet. One has to ballast with a certain kind of grimness in order to get up and move about and get things done on these kinds of mornings. Even then, the brain will misfire; more than once I’ve caught myself putting a mug away in the refrigerator.

A woman is having a fit in traffic. At least I think she’s having a fit — two lanes over, I pull up even to watch her head and hands thrash, her face twist and contort. But she seems to be in control of her driving, as she starts to execute a right-hand turn. Also she seems to be talking to someone. Is she prone to tics or spasms, or just really animated on the phone? But then I get the left-turning signal and have to go.

A fat little cowboy wearing a Queen’s APPLIED SCIENCE jacket is walking too slow in front of me, but the recently plowed sidewalk is too narrow for me to go around. He keeps making this wheezing noise as he walks, like a leaking Michelin man. Up the street a woman has pulled over to yell at a man and his dog. 

There is a cyclist on the unlit end of Bath Road at 6:35 p.m. at night. Between Kingston and Amherstview. Outside is like outer space, and it is very cold. The cyclist is on a narrow-tired, ten-speed bike. He is wearing all black. Even his backpack is black. He could not be better kitted-out for suicide-by-car.

A guy at work gets a certificate from management for his birthday. This is worse than getting nothing. In fact, some kind of tailor-made insult would at least show more in terms of effort and creativity. Even a post-it note with somebody’s bum drawn on it. Happy Birthday — guess whose bum! A laser-printed certificate on bond paper is a corporate non-object. An anti-object.

Certificate Guy keeps having meetings with clients, meetings with clients, meetings with clients. Meanwhile, I regard clients as radioactive monsters. In my mind, just talking to them could lead to some kind of molecular-level brain decay. They are things full of teeth and need and stories about that book they’re going to write some day.

A woman in my office talks about her Second Life birthday — the anniversary of the day she registered. She says the name for this but suddenly my ears stop working. Is the building on fire?

We watch The Reckless Moment. James Mason is crooked but young and handsome and affecting an Irish accent. Joan Bennett is robotic and smokes too much. And married. Still, somehow, incredibly, James Mason is swayed from the shady path by her irresistible sexy goodness? All the charisma seems to be on his side.

Don Cherry tries to make a point about poppies but inadvertently winds up disparaging immigrants. He is quickly and unceremoniously fired. He’s very old. He’s been saying the wrong kind of thing for a long time. The dismissal feels a bit like an out-of-tune piano being pushed off a ledge. This seems to happen a lot, in sportscasting (see: Steve Lyons, Hugh Douglas, Don Imus, or Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder).

Some people in Alberta want to separate; they call it Wexit. Okey dokey. In the spirit of fairness, I have the same reaction that I do to Quebec separation: when are they going? What non-binary name are they going to call themselves? I like Sasberta or Alsaska. Or Gas Station.

Dishonest/despicable/deranged people continue to exist, no matter how better/right we think we are or what faces we make. Okey dokey. It’s a struggle. Even occasional bitching feels like a slip, a source of regret. To be honest, I think everyone should stop bitching about it. All of it. Nothing is going to get fixed, no one will ever change, nobody cares, and everyone already stopped listening long ago. It’s fine!

These thoughts burn brightest when I hear people complain about the current state of politics. With Trump, in particular, watchers are incredulous, and seem to think that the situation must change or break simply from the obvious wrongness of it, and its internal contradictions, and that somehow corruption or injustice will self-destruct from the sheer force of public and/or legal condemnation. It will not. Bad guys are working from another playbook. Often they don’t even see themselves as bad guys. Often they have many fans, and lies are just part of the game. It’s an alternate reality, like wrestling, or drinking at lunch.

The Confederacy had to be utterly ruined by Union armies marching everywhere like ransacking ants before it would finally give up the ghost. Great heaps of dead Germans had to be assembled, and their country overrun from both ends, before der Führer blew his brains out and his cadre said kaput. At Cynoscephalae, the Romans systematically butchered an entire Greek army in order to convince Philip V of Macedon that his days of making meaningful decisions were over. The Mongols were experts at this kind of thing, ending every difference of opinion with devastation, death and miles of new slaves (they killed about forty million Chinese just to make more pasture for their horses). The Japanese needed not one but two demonstrations of the awesome power of the atomic bomb before their emperor could admit the war was lost, and the Battle of Vienna needed the largest cavalry charge in history to finally twink out Ottoman dreams of world dominion. And so on.

These were not arguments. There was not some gravity of moral force that decided things. Instead, an idea was crushed. The people you don’t like will not change. Instead, there will be some tipping point in history that makes them go away. The examples above are military but economic, demographic and ecological forces work just as well. The Ponzi scheme collapses, the Dutch Tulip Bubble bursts, Boss Tweed dies in prison, the Dust Bowl and black blizzards of the 1930’s expose certain bad ideas about farming, spraying twenty million gallons of Agent Orange on human beings is revealed (surprise!) to be evil, the Western Roman Empire falls apart because there are too many desperate people trying to get in, Enron goes bankrupt, Gawker gets sued out of existence, European viruses devastate the New World, WeWork collapses under its own bullshit … and so on. Things will change. And probably they will get much, much worse before they get better. That’s history.

It’s fine,

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

This week’s Tinyletter has been brought to you by the vanity license plates …

GW 20

… even a car registration has the capacity to be everything to everyone.

once again, tuesday is tinyletter day / number 158 / breath, dreams, silence

Halloween sweeps in. A semi-delirious morning voice on the radio tells me that Canadians will spend about half a billion dollars on candy, and that the Americans will spend the same amount on costumes for their pets.

Oona has a very specific idea for her costume, one that requires exactly the right cloak with exactly the right hood. I warn her that we might not find this specific cloak, with its specific hood, that she might have to go as something simpler, that sometimes the most obvious costume is best (ghost, zombie, skeleton, Hitler, etc), and that anytime you have to explain your costume, you’re veering into dangerous territory. I tell her that when I was a kid, we wore the same costume every year (a men’s white dress shirt with shredded cuffs and ghosts/spiders/tombstones drawn all over it). She doesn’t care. At our fourth store we finally find the right cloak. The costume? Something about Harry Potter that I still don’t understand.

She also demands to trick-or-treat in our old neighbourhood, kicking off the evening with the Skeleton Park Hallowe’en Parade. I took her to it last year, which was fine, if a little heavy on skinny bearded guys in corduroys talking about their backyard French Turnip distilleries. Let’s go in our own neighbourhood, I say. It’s just *loaded* with old people *dying* to give you candy. Frantic complaining ensues. Her mom quickly gives in, and agrees to take her.

I listen to a podcast about The Shining. I like this movie, and think it’s important, but on another level I distrust it because it attracts so many low-ball, getting-high-in-the-morning obsessives and compulsives. The making of it does not sound like a picnic (was it ever, with Stanley?). For example, the scene where Jack Nicholson tries to axe-chop his way into the bathroom took three days to film as they went through sixty doors.

Halloween is a bust. The rain arrives in Bangladeshi-esque quantites. Oona’s costume gets soaked, the parade doesn’t happen, and all her Hallloween fantasies disintegrate. Streets flood. C and Oona have a wild escape driving home. There is cursing. We get maybe eight kids, cowering under umbrellas and forgetting to say trick-or-treat.

The random Trump updates from the Second Life Lady are annoying, at best. These happen throughout the day, spontaneously, like wind or insects or God making the lights flicker. In that over-loud-reading-from-the-internet voice. I mean, we could all do this — just pick something egregious (poverty rates, infant mortality, species extinction, income inequality, Albertans, etc), load up your stats/anecdotes and start reading. You can be your own Harper’s Index, except with a tiresome theme.

I make a painting called her favourite thing was spies. It’s multiple ink drawings divided and worked into layers of paint, found paper and printed wax, then covered with coloured varnish. It’s khaki, kobicha and walnut brown.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year, but with the wholly unnecessary added pressure of a drawing each day as well. Of course, my posting is always a day behind.

I don’t know, it’s fine,

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

This week’s Tinyletter has been brought to you by the vanity license plates …


… you all exist in your personal field of dreams.

This week’s title is derived from a quotation by Paul Valery …

Breath, dreams, silence, invincible calm, you triumph.
— Paul Valery

tuesday is tinyletter day / number 157 / i go to the sea

We visit Barbados. The day starts at two in the morning. It is very dark outside. The cab driver tells us that he, too, has been to Barbados, way back in 1985. I was seventeen, I think. Ungoverned on another planet. On the way to the airport the radio plays Alice Cooper’s No More Mr. Nice Guy. It is 4:15, and still very dark.

Within the contiguously fluorescent surreality of Terminal 1 in Toronto Pearson, C and I talk about the nature of travel. She finds the international travellers — say, from Addis Ababa — remarkable, even glamorous. I have the inverted view. I see lines, clocks, security, anxiety. Bored personnel. I see a Kafkaesque series of waiting areas. I see people crowding the gate, people stressed, people not feeling well. The word ‘cattle’ gets used a lot but this feels careless and inaccurate. There is no pushing, no muscularity to anything. Instead it is attenuated, a series of pauses, as if people (and time) existed on strings. Please take a moment to note the emergency exit nearest to you.

Of course, it is still fantastic to be winging along at 750 km/h above the Atlantic, over puffed masses of condensed watery vapour, beyond everything. The flight is just over five hours. Because of turbulence, there is no coffee service.

We stay in the south-west part of the island. We can walk to the beach, down streets that we would call back alleys. The ocean is calm, almost sleeping, in variations of cyan. It is aquamarine, transparent keppel, turquoise, bleu celeste and verdigris. It is crushed glass beneath crinkled cellophane, blue freezies emptied into a stainless steel sink. It is a colour I look at and look at and look at, trying to remember. Then I wade in.

There are clouds in the sky, but many breaks, and when the sun is on parade the place becomes an oven. A steady thirty degrees Celsius. I drink more water in a week than I do in a season.

Generous friends of C’s take us for a tour of their favourite spots on the island. It seems the place is divided into parishes and their saints: Lucy and Peter, Andrew and Joseph, John and George, Philip and Michael and James. The north and east of the island, with its wild seas, offers spectacular views from ridges and cliffs. Animal Flower Cave. Bathsheba. Coach Hill. The left-side driving doesn’t bother our host, while C and I are giant-eyed.

We take a sailing cruise. The weather is like a stage, the crew is thoughtful, the food keeps coming, there is an open bar. We visit wrecks. I reach out to touch giant turtles as they swim by. It is one of those smiling days.

We visit Bridgetown. Not a success. Too hot, and certain junior members are uncooperative and bitter about the lack of obvious fun. What are we getting? What are the choices? Why can’t I have more?

We go on an excursion to Harrison’s Cave. The formations remind me of the eggs in Alien. Looking up, my helmet falls on the trolley tracks. Sorry! I call to the guide, as I scramble down to retrieve it.

We visit Huntes Gardens. To call it simply ‘gardens’ is like calling Cary Grant rather handsome. One goes down, deep into all of it, where you find yourself surrounded by every green imaginable.

If Cuba is the ABBA (something for everybody) of the Caribbean, then Barbados is the Billy Joel — the fans are older, and tickets (and everything, in fact, like $9 for a bag of Doritos) are frighteningly expensive.

A memorable trip. Travel is restorative, galvanizing, invigorating. It has an otherworldly impact on our consciousness, and often populates our dreams in sparkling, supernatural ways. But it is not real life — the very word carries that connotation, the moving away from where you are, or where you belong. It is the opposite of society, with its everyday plans and gradual building of lives. And its mechanics can be pretty awful, at times, such as when you find yourself hopping around without shoes, or taking off your belt to appease some rubber-gloved guard.

Fittingly(?), a subscription offer from Border Crossings arrives in my mailbox. How the hell did they get my address? And exactly who thought that I might subscribe to Border Crossings? Why not New Zealand Surfing Magazine? Or Marie Claire? Either of these are just as relevant; Border Crossings is a magazine for people with MFA’s who take five years to put together an art installation that needs a ten-thousand word catalogue to explain itself (usually, something about vaginas). Meanwhile, I make art objects for sale on Etsy, existing in some nebulous but painless space between art and craft. In other words, the pale folks at Border Crossings wouldn’t spit on me if my hair was fire … unless perhaps it was part of a group show, underwritten by a Canada Council grant.

It’s fine,
Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

This week’s Tinyletter is brought to you by the vanity license plates …


The reference in this week’s title is from Rilke …

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everthing in me that is bewildered and confused.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

Tuesday is Tinyletter Day / / Number 156 / / The Thanksgiving Edition

Thanksgiving Day always feels like a long day. There’s the extra-ness of it, the day tacked on. Most people eat on Sunday. We did. Oona is enjoying a small resurgence of Playing Games at Supper When We Don’t Want to Eat, which put a slight drag on things, but all you can do in these situations is walk away and leave them with their cold gravy, and hope the show closes early.

The holiday had a brief intermission of sun so we went walking at Parrott’s Bay. Lots of people out. C says that family walks are some kind of Canadian-holiday thing? Oona enjoyed the colours until she remembered that she was supposed to be complaining, and what a comfortable role that was.

Instagram crashes. The app crashes and crashes. I reinstall, I check for updates. It’s not just me, and there’s little I can do about it. A crashing Instagram is a problem because it’s my main vehicle for sharing artwork (an image-based platform is made for that, really). So the episode literally gives me pause.

I make some concertina art cards. I make one called the unexpected guest. I make another called careful and pretending, which is from the Kurt Vonnegut quotation: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

I watch Blade Runner 2049. This is a long movie — over two and a half hours — so I watch it in parts. C has a problem with the spoony curvature of Ryan Gosling’s face but it didn’t bother me. Harrison Ford certainly got old, though. The movie is more of a picture than a story, which is fine for Neo-noir. There’s a great deal of darkness, and it’s always raining. Lot of robots running around. Most are bad but some are good? They still die, just like everything else.

We go see Turandot. It’s Puccini, and Nessun dorma is the bomb, and C cried, but man, is this a long one, too. A lot of operatic noodling to get to that three-minute highlight. But that’s the outsider/agnostic perspective (just like I’m not supposed to notice that the love-object princess is a middle-aged woman), and the place was filled with extremely aged people who adored it, creakingly, and the seats were doze-comfortable and I brought lots of snacks, and Oona seemed to appreciate it, so there you go. It is a spectacle. Just be careful not to trip over all the walkers in the aisle on your way out.

It’s fine,

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

This Tinyletter has been brought to you by the vanity license plates …


… as we all keep acting as if what we do makes a difference.

Tuesday is Tinyletter Day / / Number One Hundred Fifty Five / / The Little Girl Party Edition

Oona turns ten. For her actual birthday, upon request, I make chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and (extra) gravy. There is a card with cats and lasers and space. There is a cake with strawberries. A last-minute search, however, turns up no candles in the house. Of course there are dozens of dusty candles, accumulated over many years and guests, in a certain cottage in Murray Corner, New Brunswick, a convenient thirteen hours away.

The next day is the BIRTHDAY PARTY, which means LITTLE GIRLS and BREATHLESS ACTIVITY. The girls attack an escape room with a Mayan Temple theme, and actually manage to solve it, beating the 25% success rate. This is almost entirely down to the one calm girl in the group, who does not constantly act like she has just swallowed bees.

There are balloons, and games of Sardines (a hide-and-seek variant where the quarry gets squished upon finding), and pizza (cheese and pepperoni only, as we do not like too many food things touching food things), and a cake which gives me diabetes, and presents, and yet another Harry Potter movie (C tried in vain to sell The Mummy, which the girls just made faces at), and a sleep-over, and hours of giggled whispering. It all goes off without incident. There is a strange moment where one of the girls asks me where the pizza is from, which makes me think of how clueless I was at that age, how that kind of question would never have occurred to me.

The next morning the Calm Girl has to get up early, as her parents are taking her to Ottawa for ballerina trials (yet another thing that would have crushed my mind at that age), and with minimal assistance she wakes and gets moving and goes about her morning routine quickly and efficiently and without complaint. A wonder. Later, I comment on this to Oona. Well, I’m like that at in other people’s houses, too, she replies. Uh huh.

I draw three Napoleons, because just one talented megalomaniac is never enough. I make loads and loads of wax-emulsion prints, which are now waiting for signifying marks and errata and other writing. I finish a small painting but don’t have time (or the light) to photograph it. I do some other things, too, but they all feel unfinished, and like so much else just end up getting carried around from place to place.

It’s fine,

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

This Tinyletter has been brought to you by the vanity license plates …


… Oona thought that CATPRSON stood for CAT PRISON, and I did not dissuade her.


A rain storm. A dream about identity. A woman getting out of a car says, You know where I live. A sunny street, filled with people. A conference and the speaker looks confused, asks what room this is. My badge says 255 so I say that. A friend gives me the thumbs up but I don’t know who he is. Text messages keep coming in. The Siamese is snoring. I wonder if my alarm will go off. The conference is sponsored by Polaroid. I sit up and put on my glasses and go out to the kitchen to see the time on the stove — 12:59. No wonder I’m so tired. There’s an alarm clock by the bed but I unplugged it because I didn’t trust it. Do planes fly in heavy rain? An officer stands before my desk and talks about privilege and responsibility and the end of the world, but really he’s talking about the rise of the manager class, and its fecklessness. What will correct it? Maybe a war, he says. My dad used to say that. Hotel rooms in southern Europe are extremely expensive, the officer goes on, but Vienna is still beautiful. I have no idea. This is different from dysphesia, which is the inability to form coherent sentences. Friday is a PA day. Clouds crowd in, then part again. I photograph some paintings. I talk to another artist about titles. I try to tell a story, I say. There’s enough untitled things in the world. I clean the pool for the last time this year. Leaves, worms, a dead mouse. I take Oona out for lunch. The place is empty then busy. No coffee refills. I tip anyway. Shopping for an orange shirt for yet another theme day on Monday. Four stores later: success. The clerk gives us a ridiculously big bag, something I’d expect to see floating from a paratrooper over Arnhem. Why she’d give you such a big bag, Oona asks. Shopping is the most exhausting thing I know how to do, filled with people who you don’t talk to. We walk by a vanity license plate that reads DOUGLAS. What does that mean, Oona asks. It means it belongs to this gentleman right here, I say, gesturing to the man opening his trunk. He looks startled and old. Another ambulance screams by. The New York Times has stories about Eddie Murphy, Debra Harry. Kate Moss is still modelling. Certain narratives just break down over time. Mon robot a deux bras. Every morning I run a sink of soapy water and the suds can never by high enough.

It’s fine,
Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

Tuesday is Tinyletter Day // Number One Hundred Fifty Three // The Small Worlds Edition

I take the bus one morning. I take the bus because there’s information floating around about a union picket at the entrance to work. Of course the information is vague, and these things are wholly unpredictable (I’ve seen pickets that have stopped traffic for over an hour and others that are more like the drive-thru at McDonald’s) so who knows and why take the chance and what not. The bus is full so I make my way to stand by the back door; the space there is about as big as a phone booth but it gets me out of the way of things. Still, at the next stop, after everyone’s loaded and we’re ready to go, the bus driver keeps opening and closing the back door, as if to sweep me out of that space. I can see his face in the rear-view mirror, can see him looking at me in that Hero-of-the-Soviet-Union way so I pull out my earbuds and call, You don’t want me to stand here? He peers at me as if some beetle has just crawled into his collar. Don’t lean on the door, he bellows. I’m not leaning on the door, I yell back. Really. Two middle-aged ladies to my left laugh at this, as I am nowhere near even touching the door. So now everyone has made some kind of point, I guess, and planted flags in the fresh corpse of the day, and the bus heaves off to its next stop, and all the Asian kids look horrified.

The avoided picket is a non-issue. Traffic flows in fluid, efficient patterns. Apparently there were three guys with signs who milled around the gate for about ten minutes, like broken Charlie Browns at Christmas, and that was it.

Two days later I sit in traffic for about an hour because of an unannounced, full-press picket. Week Fourteen of the strike. There are field kitchens. I rearrange and curate all the playlists in the music library on my phone. Other drivers keep cutting in, or blocking intersections, people using their straight-ahead faces, as if in the middle of a stroke, or bouts of stupidity, making things go as slow as they can.

Should adults ever wear costumes? Results just in say: no. But this latest episode won’t add up to much, at least in terms of the election, because we’ve gone so far down the road of voting against parties instead of for them, and the people most offended here either don’t vote or are entirely captured by fear and loathing of the other guy. And the rest don’t care.

Listening to the Front Burner podcast last Thursday night, I almost did a spit-take when they floated the idea of a resignation. Political parties are about a lot of things (fundraising, patronage, power, etc) but they are not moral agents. The first obligation of any political party is internal control. When that control slips (and sometimes this is because of outside pressure, such as a scandal, but much more often it’s just plain old repeated failure at the polls, which they always call confidence) then things might happen. Otherwise: no.

Even after bankruptcy and collapse, sometimes these players just won’t go away — look at Tony Blair, still trying to get in front of all those dead Iraqis, or the amaranthine deathlessness of the Obama/Clinton faction of the Democratic Party, like Cersei Lannister with nowhere else to go.

I mail a painting to New Brunswick. I mail a painting to Pennsylvania. I put Hobbes, Sherman, a French Revolutionary and Billy the Kid in the shop. I make composite collages.

Every day the spiders send forth a new champion to challenge the space over my work counter, his black form wriggling like some blurry hand grenade, and every day that spider goes a-pinging down the plastic hose of the ShopVac. And they will not stop. We’ve had some weirdly tropical humidity lately, and it’s Kids Day in Russia for spiders around here.

It’s fine,

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

This week’s Tinyletter has been brought to you by the vanity license plates …


… as Fitzgerald said, the world only exists in your eyes, and you can make it as big or as small as you want.

Tuesday is Tinyletter Day Number 152 / / We may not always get what we want, but surely we will get what we deserve.

I keep going into places and they keep playing AC/DC. On Sunday it’s a place called Bookland and the song is You Shook Me All Night Long. This is a song that came out in 1980. I was twelve. It seemed aggressively stupid even then, the perfect song for all those pointless bush parties yet to come, which I guess is the point. However, I am now 51. // A compelling example of 1980’s thinking, and why things will never change. // A painting about limbo. // At lunch I flee the office, go out walking for an hour, across the playing fields and the Causeway, not far (maybe four kilometres round trip) and not fast (I’m always back just past the hour) but at least I’m in the world, as long as the weather lasts. Thursday is typical, mailing a small painting down to Utah and then buying a used book about the strange, affected man called Andy Warhol. // All over the Maritimes this summer I saw signs for the WRONG WAY. // Quantum computers: yet another reason why we have maybe ten years of normal life left. // Suddenly my work email is flooded with spam, emails riddled with gibberish English, from photonic entities like ‘Lyla Roueche’ and ‘Neo Demange’, who can’t even be bothered to correspond the addresses accordingly, perhaps with something believable, instead it’s all lydia.aguirre@1mpmvxnsa6a.i.naplesmiamiconnection.com or induisentJailu@1o0nwnavey2.eqr.plasmapen-us.com. Strings of garbage. They insist that my order has been processed and $2,814 has been debited. How to arrive at such a number. // Ric Ocasek dies. // A painting about villains. // Three drawings about wrath. // I read The Biggest Game in Town, by Al Alvarez — ostensibly a book about gambling but more about Las Vegas and the 1981 World Series of Poker. Stu Ungar won the event, and $375 000 (these were early days), and would go on to win over $30 million from poker, but his ending would be grim. // I am struggling with The Stand. // The commissionaires of PSAC Local 818 have been on strike for twelve weeks. They stop me and give me their flyers. They want sick days and a boot allowance. I feel bad for them, because it’s 2019 and people resent unions, or anybody getting anything. After forty years of the neo-liberal project and accelerated individualism, everything is now projected through the narrow lens of self-interest. // Hockey is starting, apparently. I saw Paul Maurice on television. He used to be the young coach. Now he looks like somebody’s probation officer. 

It’s fine,

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

p.s. Today’s quotation is from Douglas Horton, a clergyman of the old school. 

This Tinyletter has been brought to you by the vanity license plates …


… the starship has special seats for you, right behind the thrusters.

Tuesday is Tinyletter Day / / Number 151 / / I never see the dawn that I don’t say to myself perhaps.

Robert Mugabe dies. Someday there will be an illustrated dictionary with his picture in it, above the caption What it looks like to live too long. // I stand behind Spenny in the line at Starbucks. Five years older than me and wearing an improvised headband, there’s something inconclusive about him, like a six-grader’s quick sketch of what an adult might look like. // I mail a pair of drawings to Washington DC. The order is only for one but there was a good match for it staring up at me from the bottom of a drawer and sometimes you just have to let these things go. // Waiting in the left lane for a pedestrian to clear the intersection, I watch the driver of the car beside me decide that he can’t wait, and suddenly he’s swinging around to make a left turn from the right lane. Wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs baseball cap pulled down low, almost over his eyes, he looks straight ahead, as if the world was made of fog. // Having achieved a quick and cost-effective total victory, after just eighteen years and over one trillion dollars, the Americans are finally trying to pull the plug on the war in Afghanistan. Or maybe not. // End of the day, the school yard half-full of after-school kids, a car comes hurtling down the side street, at least three times too fast, the driver’s face like something you’d mash potatoes with. // A top-ten list of books about fake news. A top-ten list of ghost stories. // I put a two-headed deer jumping over a gigantic blue mushroom in the store. // A piece about extinction. // In line at Shoppers, because I refuse to use the self-checkout, I have time to look over the magazine rack. On the cover of Us Weekly is REMEMBERING PRINCESS DIANA, with a star burst reminding us that it’s been 22 YEARS AFTER HER DEATH. Just below that is the GLOBE proclaiming QUEEN ORDERED EPSTEIN MURDER. // Back in Great Britain, while the real government self-immolates, Prince Andrew denies that he’s ever had his picture taken with anyone. // I mail a painting to New Jersey. // Breaking news. // I start reading The Stand, by Stephen King. For a book about the end of the world, it’s crazy long. Still, broken ambitions are what life’s all about. 

It’s fine,

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

p.s. The quotation in the title is from John Dos Passos.

> > This Tinyletter was brought to you by the vanity license plates …


… all of you are brilliant examples of seamlessly aggregated resource-maximizing channels

Tuesday is Tinyletter Day / / Number 150 / / You will please be unconscious.

I send a painting off to Texas. It’s called The Palace Coup.

It’s light but feels heavier, because there’s at least two paintings buried beneath the surface — shallow implausible things now hidden by a cloudy combination of Titanium White and gel medium. But those paintings never really showed me anything, and I got tired of waiting.

Buyers always want to know about a work, and I tell them what I can. In this case there was a reference photograph that I liked, specifically the closed eyes, and the tentative hand, but which I moved away from in terms of colour and style because I’ve never been interested in just trying to reproduce things. With the title, I’m attempting a little story — what are we looking at and why. She does seem like royalty to me, and her reaction is to the unexpected, something pleasing or disastrous. 

I put a pair of drawings in the shop.

Called the afternoon attack. I probably drew these about a year ago, over lunch, in a cubicle on one of the upper floors of the library at work. You can draw a lot in an hour, if you dispense with any preliminary pencil lines, and simply apply ink brush straight to paper. 

I’ve read quite a bit of twentieth century history, and probably too much about the Second World War, but I’ve only a surface familiarity with the First; terrorized masses of badly managed men running into gas or artillery or machine gun fire always felt too senseless to hold any story, and societies blindly industrializing the process of self-destruction too dim-lit and grim. The gas masks, in particular, give these fellows a doomed, dystopian quality, like those Liberian kids who used to wear safety vests and wigs to confuse enemy bullets.

I read No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg. It is a small, sad book. She says one thing, very clearly, with great urgency, and she says it over and over again: the climate crisis is an existential threat, and unless our response is radical and immediate and massive in scale, then we will soon reach a tipping point of chain reactions that will bring about the end of civilization. I feel bad for Greta Thunberg, because she is smart but young, so while she understands failure, and is alarmed by it, she doesn’t really know it, has never seen someone leave the wrong party by getting into the wrong car, has never lost an afternoon to a job interview just because two managers were bored, and this was their mindless interpretation of an inside joke, has never watched someone bathe in laundry soap even after you thought you’d hidden it, but there they were, the skin dotted bright red with perverse determination. Reading this book reminded me of Mitch Boyer trying to warn Custer about what awaited him down at Little Bighorn River (when his words failed, he gave away all his possessions and prepared to die). It’s too bad. Everything can be done but nothing can be done, because failure is stitched into us, tight and brighter than any buttons, and aren’t horses fine things to ride?

To quote Marcus Aurelius (once again): You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.

This is a subject I’m still flunking but I continue to do the homework. The mindset is a bit of a trick: you’re going around the house turning off light switches while ignoring the fire in the basement. Getting away from facts is key; those are like needles in your pocket, and you have no business carrying them around. 

I make a painting called tomorrow completes the circle …

I never think about a colour palette going in (that feels too close to design, while painting is much more immediate, like fixing something) but there was some part of me that was always going to use cyan and rose here, no matter what strange bedfellows they make. The honey colours (marigold? gamboge? lemon curry?) of the background assist quite a bit, as well as all the texture. And expectation is always a good subject. 

We will see.

The subject line for this Tinyletter is from The Producers, when Franz Liebkind tries to stop the show. Renata Adler called aspects of this movie “shoddy and cruel”, while Pauline Kael described the film as “amateurishly crude” with “rank incompetence and stupidity.” Mel Brooks had “almost no idea where to put the camera,” she wrote. So there you go. Just keep flicking switches. 

It’s fine,

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

Tuesday is Tinyletter Day / / cigar-tin stories #149 / / present at the end

Sometimes I’ll look up from my backyard to see an airliner coming in loud and close above the trees. Close enough to read the logo, sometimes. Close enough, sometimes, to see silhouettes in windows. The planes come in much closer now, since they extended the runways.

It’s interesting to live in the last century of things. You could see the airliners as a symbol of that, these instruments for the primacy of business and decadence above all else, but that’s a bit easy.

I prefer magazines.

In Shoppers on a Saturday morning and I see not one but two magazine covers featuring Robin Williams. Has it been five years since his death? Okay? Beside him is something called the Magnolia Journal; it promises “inspiration for life and home”, with the Fall 2019 issue being “IN PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS”. It also suggests something about “leaning into every chapter of your story”. I don’t think I have a story, unless you count some walking coffin of anecdotes, delusions and complete fabrications. Also, I don’t bother to leaf through this magazine because I already know what thin women with long straight hair and expensive accent rugs look like. Skin tones! Next to this is something called Breathe, which sounds like good advice. “Make time for yourself,” the subhead advises, which is something I only manage to do at work. Next to that is Willow and Sage, a magazine about coziness, which is kind of like an encyclopedia entry about a rock concert. Next to that are the Yoga Journal (“LESS STRESS”), In the Moment Magazine (can I choose the moment? because after 51 years I have exactly three), and, of course, Real Simple, which describes most of the people I went to design school with (drawing ability and literacy can be surprisingly antagonistic). 

At this point I stop taking notes. While interior design and the royal family (no, not the Hapsburgs, stop it) come in a distant second and third, there is no questioning the primacy of mindfulness (wellness, mindful wellness, restorative meditation, etc) in the waning days of periodical journalism. And, to be honest, there is a stoical, Viktor Frankl aspect to mindfulness that I completely appreciate. Yes, absolutely, find those resources within yourself.

But it doesn’t change anything in the world, does it? The place is still burning down. You just have a new attitude about it. Let’s hope it holds.

(And notice the neat trick in play: once again, the responsibility has been put on you. Let’s not address any real problem, let’s just get you to stop complaining about it. Rampant corporate power loves this stuff.)

Yes, I know, I know, all sorts of people like me have speculated that they were living through the final days of something. But some of those people were right. Look through Vanished Kingdoms by Norman Davies sometime. Or just Google “Khmer Empire”. And while it might have felt otherwise, none of those civilizations were staring at a global phenomenon of collapse (environment, stability, security, financial order, etc). 

Anyway, it’s just interesting, these last eighty years or so. Like living in 350 A.D. Rome … the “Eternal City” … how could it ever end?

Have a good week, everyone,

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

Tuesday is Tinyletter day / / number one hundred and forty eight // The Snapshot Summer Holiday Edition

On holiday, at the cottage, at the edge of the sea, I go for a walk on the bars. It is early but the sandbars will only be out for a few hours, and C has heard me make coffee now and will emerge from the bedroom saying, Aren’t you going out on the bars? Which always reminds me of the How can you be indoors on such a beautiful day? line that I’d hear as a kid. These days, this question belongs in the as-soon-as-we-get-home-you-can-jump-in-the-pool drawer, right beside I-bought-you-an-aisle-seat-for-more-leg-room and I-got-you-some-beer-that-looks-like-fun. Sometimes I point out that I am not, in fact, some seven year-old with an irresistible bum itch to jump into any pool I see, and that the extra leg room in the aisle is only useful for tripping people on the way to the can, while watching a parade of crotches, and beer is not really supposed to be fun. But of course it’s better to say nothing, these days. These days I just go out on the bars. I take a pitching wedge, a pocket full of badly abused golf balls, my phone, some headphones, a notebook and pen. I walk up and down the shore, kicking inches of water, making my way to the farthest bar, hitting balls in high but shallow arcs, and losing some, and listening to podcasts about how the Democrats should run a candidate that appeals to the centre (isn’t this how they lost last time? choosing a manager instead of ideas?), and about the nature of experience and especially hardship in fashioning the tools we need to live fulfilling lives (read: avoid commitment and you avoid life, I guess, which might be half true, half of the time), and about the death and funeral of Karl Otto Lagerfeld (apparently, he tried to survive on nothing but Diet Coke, which reminds me of certain women I dated in my early thirties). I stay out on the bars as long as I can, a couple of hours, because the weather these days has turned into something less than a summer postcard (the first week and then a side-trip to Cape Breton were characterized by furnace heat by day and two-blankets cold at night) and into more of a let’s-just-make-time-move-forward proposition, these ballooning qualities of wind and sky. Read, write, do some chore, take the kid out in the kayaks, rescue the kid, give the kid lunch, play some cards with the kid, send the kid to play with other kids at the shore (instant friends!), have a nap, look at where the kid got stung when she stepped on a bee, do some other chore, have a drink, sort out some supper, then let the evening fold in on itself. Bad attitude or behaviour on the part of certain short people will activate some kind of pointless walk, perhaps to the store or the provincial park. Or maybe just up and down the lane. Also, all electronic devices are always on the verge of being confiscated. For all of us, the default activity is reading. What have I read? Die a Little, by Megan Abbott, was a hard-boiled thing more about shadows over the soul than corpses and guns. Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem … a planet that can think, in its own way, and reads its visitors minds, and provides manifestations of deep ideas in the form of those people who haunt us? I guess? I still don’t know how it ends. I also had the forty-year anniversary issue of Granta, the grand dame of literary magazines. And a book of essays called Feel Free by Zadie Smith. Sometimes I think she wears headscarves just to keep her brain in. On a trip to the PEDVAC in Port Elgin (a town that always makes me imagine Europe after the war) I got Libra by Don Delillo, which might take awhile, and Collapse, by Jared Diamond, which is interesting in parts (the Norse in Greenland, the Mayan cities in the jungle) but ultimately too much. As I write this we have three days left to go, and the sun is just starting to come out in any convincing way, and I’m sort of done and wanting to go home. Holidays always bring out the planner and worker in me, inspiring all sorts of ideas and lists in various notebooks, all these things that I’ll do when I get back. Of course life will step in front of all that, or failure, or just sheer exhaustion, the whole needing-a-holiday-after-the-holiday bit, so we’ll see. Notebooks and lists can’t make you do anything.
> This Tinyletter has been brought to you by the license plates …
> I hope everyone is having a good summer, whatever that means,
> djb
Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

Number 146

School finishes. C and Oona are home alone for a week, which is dangerous on all kinds of levels, mostly in terms of leaching financial damage but there’s at least three levels of psychic/existential crazy in there as well. Crazy-Lite is our sort of normal, everyday, cats-are-great! setting of crazy, with the apple sauce in front of the milk in the fridge and alternating bouts of shouting from people in different rooms and asking nine year-olds for their considered opinions on things, and talking about feelings, and hormones, and generally getting played, once again, and then discussions on the subject of Why Nine Year-olds Don’t Listen. Crazy Train is, of course, Ozzy-level crazy, usually involving some sudden and irrational need, such as a change in hair colour or new patio furniture or a hundred-piece magic set. All of which will soon be changed back, sold on Kijiji or largely lost and/or ignored, in that order. Full Metal Crazy involves ghosts and vast conspiracies and laps around the house and I can’t park there because I saw a scowling man with a clipboard and this level of nuttiness is important to spot ahead of time so I can organize some kind of temporary exit strategy and refuge, which is one of the reasons why I kept a studio for so long, and thank God for public libraries.

Summer arrives. Big girls and little girls float in my pool and I bring them chips and drinks. Sometimes they complain about the quality or proximity of the chips, or they want the one floatation device (an old noodle) that I am currently using, despite being surrounded by a dozen others. I ignore this.

The air/cooling system at the office fails. It fails on purpose, because they chose July to upgrade it, and they hadn’t quite managed to acquire all the parts yet. Even if it is only 23C outside, it will be 30C inside. They put giant sheets of paper over a wall of windows with no blinds. This does not work. Anyway, I get an unscheduled holiday from the office.

I make a painting about grace under pressure — about the simple motion of bringing one’s hand to one’s face, what that communicates. I make a painting called July 1999. It’s almost impossible to photograph … the colours are orange peel and pale spring bud, queen pink and purpureus, purple mountain majesty and puce, web plum and piggy pink, all of it changing according to the light.

I like to re-use things — especially in terms of repurposing unwanted items as art objects. Of course, that’s a highly personal or individual act. On the other hand, I’ve always looked at the recycling industry as a convenient fairy tale that makes middle-class people in Western democracies feel better about themselves. On the other, other hand, saying this kind of thing out loud makes people really, really crazy, so I stopped saying it quite awhile ago. Why cause a ruckus? The world is the way it is because that’s the way we want it. Of course, things get tricky when countries across the ocean start sending things back. Anyway, here’s a very concise update on the issue from the Guardian.

Oona goes off to Girl Guides camp, which is awesome on all kinds of levels, mostly in terms of self-actualization and navigating group dynamics and having fun but — and let’s be honest here — this is my vacation, too. A little break from all those long conversations about when to argue with mom or dad (answer: never) and how she usually gets what she wants anyway (almost all the time) and how dad can tell when someone is starting to spin and spin and spin with boredom and growing consciousness and the incalculable need for more attention, and how the point of life is not just more treats and more electronics and who currently likes who. Anyway, Girl Guides is great. We do not get hugs when we drop her off. That’s fine.

I hope everyone’s having a good summer,
Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

This Tinyletter has been brought to you by the vanity license plates …

GUS 17
NOT 364

… you’re the Tabby’s Star of social identity.

two paintings

July 1999; mixed media on cradle wood panel, 16 x 20 x 1.75 inches.
The Palace Coup; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 16 x 16 x 1.75 inches.

The first one is about colour (queen pink and purpureus, purple mountain majesty and puce, web plum and piggy pink, orange peel and pale spring bud …) while the second is about texture over line, and grace.

cigar-tin stories one hundred thirty two / / B E L I E V E

Good morning. It’s Tuesday, June 4th. The sun is shining but it’s only seven degrees outside, and it will only reach fourteen. Late afternoon showers are likely.

I make breakfast and a full-page to-do list (large, Sharpie cursive) for my nine year-old (like most kids these days, she feels adrift without step-by-step instructions, like she can’t believe it unless it’s written down — or at least listed by Google) and then retreat to my sketchy office in the basement. I put on (not really ‘put on’ … it’s not a record, is it?) an ambient playlist and try to write this but the ambient music doesn’t really work, doesn’t really mute the sound of my nine year-old arguing and cutting deals with her mom. What about this, and what if I only do that? The endless menu. A great ambient song title would be Some Open Chords with Unstrung Ego.

I didn’t want to get up this morning. Most mornings I wake at five, no matter what, by that point I’m not quite comfortable anyway, can never get quite fully comfortable, I’m a six foot-five bone puppet that never collapses the right way, an inverted snow globe of glittering aches, so I might as well get up. But this morning the entire length of me was nicely settled, as if at the bottom of something, a wet ditch or shallow pond or lake of mildly polluted dreams, which at this age are simply glimpses of things, little performance pieces of closed shows or ones you’ve never properly seen from the cheap seats at the back of the room.

Anyway: there’s all this stuff to do, if only expressed as to-do lists for nine year-old ego machines.

I make a painting called The Believer. This is not a believer before a blazing cross, or winged thing emerging from a crypt, or answer to the final clue that will unlock the great mystery. This is not the proclaiming of a grand champion. This is not the one true cause. This is not a magical manual for making friends and influencing people. This is not about control. This is not about channelling invisible psycho-electric currents that can manifest positive energy. This is not about a vision. This is not about the right pictures on the right cards in the right order. This is not about a system to beat the system. This is not math. This is the one thing that is not about math. In fact it is simply about colour, the stains that emanate from some dark star within, and how impossible it is to use them as a guide, but yet we follow them anyway.

Forget the Crusades; we live in the golden age of belief. The earth is flat, what climate change, vaccination is bad, the market knows everything, they’re staging a mass shooting again. I’m wearing pajamas today. Maybe every day.

So yes, I make a painting called The Believer. It requires three distinct visits: awful, okay and finished. The first two visits, always, are painful, but absolutely necessary for the third. And because this is the first painting that I’ve done since giving up my studio, those first two visits are especially awkward and pinned together with doubt.

But my own to-do list of getting going again, of rebuilding my studio finances, and having/affording another studio someday, has to start somewhere. And that’s a kind of belief, too.

Have a good week, everyone,
Draw things, paint things, write things, make things.

This Tinyletter is brought to you by the vanity license plates CLARK 3, AAAA777, MFARRELL, U P I, EAR LADY, LISAVEE, TOPOPOP, LILDARLN, 2PAYNT, HOOPSIE, PUNSHER1, MENDETTI, TADPOL17, LEONS 4, SHRTYGRL, LCWON, LION D, S MED 1, GIGADEE, BSWAGZ, DEBILY1, DP VIBE, LUVMYPUP, 511 PAL, SP K WW, NICKY R, and VE3LXK. I believe in all of you and none of you all at the same time.