The Hobbit is a sausage-fest // cigar-tin stories number 66

Oona and I have been reading, as her bedtime story, The Hobbit. We’ve just finished the chapter where Smaug (great name), a bit too caught up in berserk rage and the carnage he was causing to a town full of hapless men in wooden houses(!), catches one in the weak spot (dragons, Death Stars, last level bosses –– there’s always a weak spot) and goes down in flames. We’ve also reached the point where I feel comfortable making some comments about the book, and few of them are in line with my fond (read: murky) memory of my last contact with it (assigned reading in Grade Seven, I believe).

The Hobbit is a total sausage-fest. Unless some female characters emerge in time for the Battle of Five Armies, the entire enterprise is completely estrogen-free. This is weird. Even Tom-of-Finland-friendly Conan mixed it up with the occasional witch.

So Bilbo … he’s what … some kind of confirmed bachelor? I mean, he’s little more than a Winnie the Pooh who blows smoke rings. What the fuck does he want adventure or gold for?

And then there’s the dwarves, who seem to be on an extended version of one of those male-bonding camping trips. With about as much of a plan.

Because exactly how did they think they were going to kill a fucking dragon?

And then there’s the goblins. It’s difficult to see how these no-hopers even get out of bed in the morning, so predestined they are to lose lose lose all the time, in everything they do. Could we at least give them some temporary victories? They’re organized, they’ve clever with machines, they even ride giant wolves, for fuck’s sake. But no, they’re the Montreal Expos of Middle Earth. Thanks for having black blood, here’s your 7-3 off-suit starting hand, forever.

The Hobbit is a strange, perplexing book. Plot-wise, it’s something an ambitious thirteen year-old Dungeon Master would cook up. And then I think about Tolkien and his Oxford professor friends, getting together at pubs and dens to discuss the finer points of elvish grammar. As adult men. Who had seen the blood horror of the First World War. Firsthand.

I don’t know. Let’s just say I can’t wait for the day when Oona and I can watch Alien together.

But not Prometheus. Never Prometheus.

Have a good week, everyone,

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


cigar-tin stories number sixty five / / we have powers you cannot match

I’m running an experiment this morning: instead of chasing (read: yelling at) Oona to do her morning routine (get up, use the washroom, wash her hands, eat her breakfast, clear her place, brush her teeth, wash her face, get dressed, not be mental), I’ve retreated to my basement ‘study’ (read: a half-ransacked storage room with a folding table along one wall) to type this. I’ve left her in front of her breakfast with my watch and some indication of what she should be doing by when (she has a weird respect for timers and clocks), and there is the promise of a new Rideau Public t-shirt somewhere down the line (“Let’s just see how the week goes, shall we?”). Really this all started last night at dinner, when I flatly refused a request to buy more Rideau Public Spirit Wear (‘spirit’ seems like an antiquated word, doesn’t it?) because she’d just lost her Rideau Public bunny hug (or ‘hoodie’, FINE), and I took the opportunity to negotiate something. Now I can hear her moving around up there, so we’ll see.

Speaking of negotiations, we’re now into WEEK FIVE of the Ontario colleges strike, and management has forced a vote on an offer that is certain to be rejected. You can almost smell the groupthink around the management table, aided and abetted by colourful Powerpoint slides and oversized Excel spreadsheets, lots and lots of stats and acronyms and projections about money, money, money, with loads of arrows to demonstrate an end run around collective bargaining, resulting in performance bonuses for managers, because we are the good people, the smart people, just look at us, we all went to the same schools for Christ’s sake, have you seen what I drive? Do you trust us? I definitely trust us. WE HAVE POWERS YOU CANNOT MATCH.

I started making art boxes.

Just finished the audiobook for High-Rise, by J.G. Ballard. Ballard is an interesting writer –– very much on the exposition side of things. The chapters of his books are really just an opportunity to set the table over and over again, with him then telling you what’s for dinner (hint: something terrible and disturbing). But God, that Tom Hiddleston is a suave bastard.

Some similar crashing and burning in my efforts with NaNoWriMo … several days of no output at all. Can I suggest a restart? Yes, let’s just see how the week goes.

Take care, everyone,

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

p.s. And how did Oona do this morning? Pretty good, actually. I came up to find her fully dressed. She even showed me the stages of her progress according the big hand of the watch. But then things did fall apart a bit, when it came known that she’d lost both right hands for two different pairs of mitts. Oh well.

p.s.2. If you like this kind of personal essay, please subscribe to my Tinyletter (it’s free).

cigar-tin stories number sixty four // hope is a waking dream

Can you guess what anniversary is tomorrow? On some level you probably can, instinctually, because it’s the kind of thing you feel, deep inside, all the time. Something you very intentionally don’t think about but somehow still remains. Ignored but always felt.

I am doing NaNoWriMo again this year. Last year’s effort was really more editing than writing, and reaching the goal of fifty thousand words by month’s end was relatively easy (this is the upside of a drifting attention span –– one has so much stuff in the way of half-finished, half-assed stories just lying around, all these notebooks and text files with titles like “late_summer_2015” and “fragment_38”). But this year I’m determined to create entirely new writing, at least a story every day, so while the output is lower, it is, at least in terms of the project’s energy and intent, better. Today is Day Seven. My word total at the end of yesterday was 8072, which projects an end date well into December. We’ll see about that.

I don’t consume much in the way of writing advice or tutorial (one doesn’t need research into a decadent and insolvent enterprise), but a remark by Salman Rushdie sticks with me: don’t listen to anyone. And if you doubt this, then just look around at how many seminars and courses and coaching there is on offer, and ask yourself why so many writers are really in the business of teaching (with festivals and prizes as secondary industries).

Standing in line at the bank. The people in front of me seem to be in pajamas? One woman (people get so upset these days when I say ‘girl’, but all I mean is that she seems young) stands there with a hoodie in her hand, letting it drag on the floor like Linus and his blanket. Her friend one spot ahead holds his bank card and some form in one hand, an unlit cigarette in the other. The acne and missing teeth prompt me to add holding single unlit cigarette to my ongoing list of NEGATIVE INDICATORS. This is a Kingston-centric project and perhaps I can get a local grant for it –– pitching it as some kind of ironic and wholly negative tourism scheme, with a David Foster Wallace-ish title like A FIRST CLASS TICKET TO THE UNDERCLASS or something. I mean, people already love the prison tour.

C’s strike is into WEEK FOUR. I had a feeling that this would be a long one, in that it represents a watershed moment for management: if they can keep the hammer of using temp and contract workers to fill most positions, then they can effectively bypass the union. Even better, eventually they can shrink it out of existence.

When I start thinking about my own workplace, it suddenly occurs to me that my department (and several other ones in states of mild anarchy and persistent disrepair) would become a wilderness if it wasn’t for our collective agreement. I mean, Jesus, the talent show is pretty thin as it is, but who would you get if there was no security, no dental plan? People would just cycle in and out, taking what they could, expecting nothing, and effecting just as much.

At the end of the day, a coworker regularly breaks into a run when he gets within fifty yards of his car. It is an enthusiastic, heel-kicking kind of run, like little kids have, spontaneous and effortless. It always makes me stop and stare.

In some fit of sleepwalking or psychosis, I visit No Frills at 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon. I fully expect the worst. In fact, I’m dressed for it, as if going into a robbery –– black toque, black jacket, scarf, black gloves, running shoes, burial money. But the experience is weirdly quick and u-shaped, less Guantánamo Bay, more seedy tavern where you just run in and use the phone. I celebrate by giving away my cart to a woman who offers me two dimes and a nickel for it. “I looked into my wallet and thought, oh no!” she says. “That happens to me all the time,” I reply, walking away.

And then more work: trying to make new things for the Christmas season and the two-day Fat Goose Craft Fair on December 1st and 2nd. In the links below you’ll find some of the newest stuff, a book art object, cigar-tin story, art journal and mixed media collage. And then all I can do is keep moving.

Have a good week, everyone,

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

the new rules are old again / / cigar-tin stories number sixty three

According to Harper’s Index, 92% of Americans spend 90% of their time indoors or in vehicles. The part of that which makes me stop is the in vehicles part, how commuting in a large city must be a constant fugue state of displaced helplessness and rage.

I am not doing well at work; all information systems and cognitive relays seem permanently compromised. I send things out and they keep bouncing back. Nothing is ever finished. Clients desperate for Solution A, clients in some last-minute bind, will not be satisfied when I actually supply them with Solution A, on time –– when I solve their stated problem. Suddenly they want Solution AB, or maybe even B would look better, don’t you think?  Plus the logo needs to be bigger. BIGGER, PLEASE. ASAP. Most days it seems pointless to do anything, especially if the work is going to be reviewed at any kind of meeting.

So I make some NEW RULES. They’re mostly old rules, mostly just underlining the idea of using up the entirety of my limited brain power to doing my own work first. Then the rest of the day, with its continuous debasement of my coherence as a human being (this imagined entity embued with stained dignity and a dangerously compromised soul) seems less egregious, as I stumble through in a robotic haze.

Snacking and naps are also integral. Walking and reading next on the list. Also: being strategically disagreeable. It has to be possible, and easily imagined, that you will wreck any dinner, walk out any front door, or exit any vehicle, if people talk to you or otherwise treat you like an asshole.

I read Personal Days by Ed Park. It’s a book about an office in decline, in its death throes, a last-days sort of thing, with the usual quirky-and-clever-but-flawed characters. Everyone has a tic, every moment is existential. It’s smart, probably too smart by half, because only the villain has any blood in him.

A double-page spread in The New York Times Style Magazine shows off a Louis Vuitton handbag decorated with Claude Monet’s Water Lillies. Also, just in case you don’t get it, there is a gold, embossed MONET on the side. This is what the Impressionists are now –– art so accepted, so colonized and consumerized, that it no longer works as anything but merchandise. Like the Beatles.

Because my office mates never, *ever* leave the office at lunch, and because they close the door at twelve o’clock sharp (even though 90% of the building has fled by 11:30), and because my idea of fun is *not* to sit in a closed room with two people and their chewing sounds, against a background of mouse clicks, I almost always leave at lunch. I run errands, I do some dry-goods grocery shopping, I visit the library, I drop by the studio. It feels like fleeing and the idea is half accurate.

The fourth floor smells like wetness and death but I know it’s just industrial grade mold. I can recognize that smell of degeneration anywhere –– the last office I worked at flooded all the time, because Winnipeg is hell’s black box of bad weather, and because somebody had poured concrete down all the drains. Eventually, all the floors and walls needed to be completely re-done. Anyway, at least I work on the second floor, and probably have a good three or four years before major pulminary issues.

Of course the Wi-Fi doesn’t work.

Lots of talk about how the political project is dead. I can’t say I’ll miss it; my adult entry into the world was to find myself wading into a sea of unemployment, debt and malaise. We still have the debt but at least everything’s constantly on sale.

Oona has a Halloween party at school, a Halloween night at Brownies, a Halloween day at daycare (another PA day, quel surprise). Never mind the actual Halloween. Every holiday is a week now. Christmas is a month. Does anyone wonder why? All I see are stooped hordes of hapless parents, playing seamstress/purchaser/chauffer/partyplanner. Being harangued by five year-olds for stupid choices. BIGGER, PLEASE. ASAP.

I used to love Halloween. It was greater than Christmas. In fact, Christmas was really for the little kids. Once you hit 12 or 13, Christmas was just a bit play-acting in the thank-you department followed by a highly awkward meal with not nearly enough stuffing. But Halloween in a small town in Saskatchewan in the early eighties, a town with no resident police presence … well, it was pure, unbridled anarchy, and more than once some middle-aged man came tearing out of a front door, trying to catch one of us so he could kick someone’s ass. Which only incited us to egg him and his house more.

Have a good week, everyone,

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

you’re making me anxious / cigar-tin stories number sixty two

Read a story in The New York Times Magazine about anxious kids –– not the usual Smiths-type anxiety but the I’m-not-going-to-school-anymore category, or what I’d call nuclear grade, in that once you stop leaving the house, or indeed your room, then everything is obliterated. It reminds me of the Hikikomori, the Japanese kids who shut themselves away (parents leaving dinner plates at the door, etc). My question was: okay, but what happens when these kids turn 18, 19, 20? 35? Do they never leave? And what happens when the parents die? C says there’s always someone else, some aunt or brother or church, but I wonder.

I’ve always had all sorts of anxiety; a grade four teacher once told me flat out that I’d kill myself if I didn’t stop worrying. Any kind of public event, in particular, can be a psychic wrecking ball of stress, at least until the event actually happens. But it was never an option to just not do it, or to stop doing everything.

Occasionally, we must do difficult things.

At the dentist (always at the dentist), getting two ‘repairs’ and one cavity addressed. “I don’t even know if you’ll need freezing,” the dentist comments, warming up her drills. This makes me anxious. The work is all near the gum line, which *might* lead to some sensitivity. “Would you like some freezing?” she asks. I shrug. Do I look like a guy who studied dentistry?

It reminds me of the conversation I had with the emergency ophthalmologist, who gave me the choice of the gas bubble + laser or full-blown surgery. “You tell me,” I said. “You’re an ophthalmologist. I’m just some guy who barely understands the problem.”

So I get the freezing. More needles, but at least these are in my gums instead of my eyeball.

If I never went to the dentist, I would never hear Foreigner or Def Leppard again. It’s always the radio in these places, and it’s always bad radio, as if life’s worst aspects are the only thing we can agree on.

A friend says all she does is dream and shop. “That’s a good t-shirt,” I reply.

Friday night at the studio and C texts me a link to the news that my express bus home cannot take its usual route home, that in fact it’s detouring all over hell’s half acre because the construction on Front Road is retarded. Great, I text back. Accordingly, the bus is fifteen minutes late. I ask the driver about my stop. “Oh, it gets there eventually!” he cackles. “What, like forty minutes?” I ask. “Who knows, buddy! Who knows!” Great. What are you, an extra in a Kids in the Hall skit? Everyone onboard is totally fucking confused as the bus careens around the west end of Kingston. Amazingly, we arrive at my stop at roughly the designated time. “You’re almost caught up,” I comment on the way out. “Almost, buddy! Almost!” he brays.

Sorry to bother you.
We found an error on the poster. The one we needed ASAP on October 3rd, the one we kept bugging you and bugging you about, and you stayed late to print all those copies.
On the side of one of the logos (the tiny one in the bottom-left corner), there is a ‘le’ where there should be a ‘la’. Yes, I know, you can’t really see it, but still.
Could you make the change and then reprint a million copies at forty-eight different sizes?

Hi Darryl,
I made a mistake when I said the project was approved. My manager says the date might change, and there’s a meeting on November 4th for this, so I will let you know at that point if the date is to change. Sorry about the confusion! Guess we didn’t need it right away after all!
Have a good day

Hey Darryl
Had a meeting and someone pointed out that the guy on the cover of the brochure isn’t in the program anymore, so we need to cancel the printing and redo the cover with a more current student. Do you have any pictures of current students?
We need this ASAP.


Because I carry a small magical box that tells me what to do, I dutifully download the newest update for my iPhone. Now it makes strange crackling noises, and randomly crashes, and performs weird tricks like turning the text upside-down if I try to use a photo filter while listening to a podcast. When it starts randomly texting me ASAP and SORRY over and over again, its mission will be complete.

Another week, another painting. This one is called The Traveller. I like its sense of wonder and relinquishment, and how the figure works with the map background.

Have a great week everyone,

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

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?