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. 

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.