cigar-tin stories number eighty three / / a Friday, in several parts

A Friday morning. It’s the end (finally, Jesus, the end) of Oona’s March break so I don’t have to make any breakfasts or lunches but my own. And that’s easy: coffee with cream. My brother-in-law is a believer in short periods of fasting so I’m trying it on; although I won’t make it to noon, I can probably last ’til 10, with more coffee and water along the way. Since starting this dieting business, I’ve lost nine pounds. I have until the end of April to lose twenty. I use my no-rushing, no-coercing, no-craziness morning time to write in my day planner. I am that person who is more or less organized because I constantly struggle and fail to be more or less organized. But soon I have to get going; Oona has a play date at a frenemy’s this afternoon which means her mom needs the car which means I need to go catch a bus. After a warm, hope-filled day Thursday, the weather this Friday morning is a rap across the knuckles, with a hectoring wind that cuts right through my light gloves. Several people at the bus stop are not wearing hats and some even have wet hair and I know I am getting old now because the sight of this makes me wince. On board the 502 Express downtown, things get eerily quiet; people are already working hard at avoiding eye contact. I listen to an Irish Times podcast about Russians being poisoned in Great Britain, then about the slurping volcano of buffoonery and sleaze in Washington D.C.; the musicality of the Irish accent somehow makes it all less deplorable. The walk from downtown to my office, especially the middle part going over the causeway, is loud and biting and wholly unpleasant. A guy in front of me, determined to try and smoke and have his coffee along the way, is experiencing the weather equivalent of being rolled into a wet rug and kicked by a gang of children.

A Friday working. I spend all day making minor, senseless corrections on a massive book that is murderous in its blunt length––all heavy, black-letter design and blustering irrelevance (I once had an American history professor who confessed that most military history is the intellectual equivalent of masturbating into the sink). The sheer volume of charts and graphs and things that have to be turned on their sides just to fit is brutal; I think I understand ideas around crashing ambition better than most but this is a bit obliterating in the futility department. By the end of the day I’m literally twitching with the sheer uselessness of the last eight hours.

A Friday evening. Friday evenings are hard. I’m tired. But if I can just get to the studio and fall into some work, things will usually proceed on their own simply by picking things up or taking them down.

I finish some cigar-tin stories –– here, here and here. I make a booklet about wolves (which I haven’t had time to scan or photograph––maybe next week). I remake a painting that has been asking me for something for quite some time. I finish a book art object about monsters.

I start a new painting, over a giant map, but there are some problems with working too wet, so it will need some going over. Also, I have this idea to re-fold it as a map again, incorporating those lines/folds as part of the image, and thereby transforming its nature as well (it could be treated just like a map, something to pin to a wall, or even frame). A more affordable, transportable art. I’ll probably write more about this next week as well.

Finally, I have to call it a day. On the way to catch the bus home I pass whole battalions of stumbly-legged blonde girls and pressed-together boys, all of them giving off the psychic energy of gophers, all half-drunk and carrying flats of beer, and then I remember that it’s St. Patrick’s Day this weekend, and I start thinking about drinking, and bars, and I have this weird errant thought about Winnipeg, where I used to live, in the long ago, for ten years in fact, and I wonder, is Winnipeg the Sammy Hagar of Canadian cities? Loud, wildly permed, all capped teeth and Mazatlan tan, largely ignored but standing directly in front of the speakers anyway?


I hope everyone survived their kids’ social calendars last week,

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

p.s. This is a version of my regular Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to here.


cigar-tin stories number eighty-two / / memory ruins

Oona and I listen to a podcast about colours. One of the stories is about a woman who loses her sight, then regains it slowly, painfully, in a highly altered fashion, seeing like some prehistoric fish at the bottom of the ocean. At one point her brain begins turning on the colours of things when she’s told what they are; somewhere in our brains are tiny wires marked out for ‘blue’, I guess.

At the supermarket (always at the supermarket): a teenage girl, sullen in the wake of her mother’s endlessly stupid grocery shopping (“Why are you even buying that? I’m not going to eat that. This is boring!”), says, with little atomic lightning bolts shooting from her eyes, “Do you even know where you’re going? You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” Sometimes it seems like this is the entire world.

On Brownie night I serve Oona a quick supper––in this case it’s a mixed plate of grape tomatoes, sliced strawberries, vegetable crackers, seedless grapes, Polish sausage in bite-sized chunks, apple slices, cheese, toast with butter and jam, and cold chocolate pudding. It’s the cheese where I fall down; Oona won’t eat regular cheddar or mozzarella, she’ll only eat either when they’re mixed in a processed cheese string. Foolishly, I have broken these into pieces, and mixed them with all the rest. The censure is swift. “What were you thinking, daddy?” she asks.

I haven’t been posting as much art. This isn’t to say that I’m not creating as much, only that I’m experiencing some kind of glitch where I skip the last step, the packaging and presenting and posting part. I seem to have a lot of things lying around the studio, moving around but never put away and asking strange questions in their need to be finished off. But it’s always easier to start things than to finish them, isn’t it? At the start of things the world is yours. But finished things move away from you.

Part of this is down to organizing. Nothing of importance can be accomplished without organizing. I’ve heard. Unfortunately, the aspect of my brain dedicated to organization often looks like the forgotten remains of a bag of onions––all rottenness, brittle skins and some kind of plastic mesh where you can’t find your way in. And then as you get older, you just don’t care as much.

So much of my life these days is the giving up on things. I don’t mean this in any negative way; it’s more the ability to ignore the various circuses that roll through one’s cognitive suburbs. The noise, dear, and the people. I think instead about routine. I don’t want to buy anything. I have too many masters already.

Consumer society doesn’t really work so much anymore by pulling the old levers of advertising and having you want things; now it cultivates the need for adventure. It’s the difference, I guess, between the Cuisinart You and the Curated You. It’s just a different road to the same place. You’ll still require many products and devices.

Looking for music, I find a CD with the handwritten (Sharpie) label of ‘mixed for new’. It might be fifteen years old. The ancient JVC stereo in my studio was always cheaper than fuck, and these burned CD’s always have a secondary audio quality anyway, but I sort of love the heavy, low-fi sound: loud but somehow never sharp, never refined, as if coming from the end of some narrow memory tunnel.

At a children’s play where the kids read from scripts: it is not exactly a the-future-is-ours kind of moment. But the real play is called SELF-ESTEEM, and the velvet ropes are fiercely patrolled by organic-fed parents, all ecstatic applause and giant teeth, so I do not say a word.

It’s March Break, which should really be called Emergency Child Care Week. I take some holidays to stay home with Her Highness. The morning is for playing, the afternoon is for getting out. Yesterday it was simple: a giant walk that ended at a bakery. “But all these cookies have peanuts!”, my eight year-old complained, even though she is not allergic to peanuts and her aversion is completely based on some random comment by another manipulative eight year-old. In the end she picked out some lemon cookies and some shortbread with a jam centre. How awful.

Have a good March Break, everyone.


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

p.s. This is a version of my Tinyletter, which I send out every Tuesday from here.

cigar-tin stories number eight one / / fat raccoon

I make a painting called The Fantastic Trees. In fact I make a few attempts with it, changing its personality completely, more than once, but ultimately I hang it and look at it carefully and like its overall effect. Then I don’t. This happens slowly, in stages, over weeks of seeing it out of the corner of my eye. Somehow it catches. And then one night I just take it down and remake it, without thinking about it at all.

Kill your darlings is a phrase often used in writing. One has to get away from the idea that anything is precious. Because it isn’t. It has a life and then that’s it. Great works––the kind you see in museums––have long lives, and the greatest seem almost immortal, while certain others survive incidentally, falling through time by accident or strange intention, and wake up astonished on the Antiques Road Show.

I do not change the title.

I listen to a podcast about dropshipping: that spurious scheme of getting rich from being a kind of internet straw man, when in fact the real money is in teaching or coaching this pipedream to others. Fantastical thinking always reminds me of the writing community, which most closely resembles a road crammed with French refugees in the summer of 1940: badly dressed, humping their frantic collections of treasure and junk across the psychic countryside, wailing and tramping along, motivated only by vague ideas of escape and destination, all the while wondering why this simplest of ambitions keeps getting dive-bombed so mercilessly. With writing, too, any real money––any long-term stable money that buys groceries and mortgages––lies in teaching. Even Zadie Smith––the Greta Garbo of modern publishing, so glamorous and well-advertised (is there a difference?) that she has to wear elegant headscarves to keep from exploding into a British glitter cloud of radioactive coolness––has to teach creative writing at NYU.

The diet continues. Today is Day 15. I’ve lost seven pounds. C has me using an app called myfitnesspal (which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t feel like my pal at all; a real pal would give me chips) that I mostly use to count calories. I finish one day at 1083 calories. The app does not like this one bit. The app says I need 2 000 calories a day. Or at the very least 1 200. The app will not record this day in my progress because it does not reward bad behaviour. And I thought I had been so good.

A raccoon comes to visit me on the back deck one night. He is so fat that I have to double-check his tail, looking for stripes; in fact he is easily a medium-sized dog. He does not care that I am there at all. Only after I start talking to him does he even look at me, and then only briefly do we make eye contact, one fatty to another.

March just goes on and on about itself, doesn’t it? I hope everyone has stopped listening.


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

p.s. This is a version of my every-Tuesday Tinyletter; you can subscribe here.

You cannot make a revolution in white gloves.


a catalyst for a revolution; an original mixed media painting and collage on cradled wood panel, 6 x 6 x 1.5 inches

The quotation in the title is from Lenin –– who is in no danger of having clean hands.

March is here. I always say February is the calendar’s tribute to waking up in a drainage ditch, but March is not far behind… more like wandering through a forest at dusk, and somewhere is the sound of bells.

I’ve decided to lean into the pain (that’s a good name for a professional wrestler: Thomas Paine) and go on a diet; we’re travelling to Cuba in the spring and we’ve decided not to go in fat. Or at least less fat.

Giving up the beer has been the hardest because: beer. And I’m probably consuming too much honey. But other than that I’ve been well below the recommended calorie intake every day, now for ten days going. We’ll see what happens.

Try to be productive this March. Because summer will come, all stupid with sun and bad swimwear, and then nothing gets done.

songs for skating / / cigar-tin stories number eighty

I make a painting called The Adventurer. There are no real adventurers anymore, at least not in the classic mode: costumed out in khaki and straps, always crash-landing their dubious flying machines, or half-starved and completely mad beyond the borders of some godforsaken jungle, or abandoned hinterland, or skeleton-paved mountain range, before disappearing forever in some desperate, senseless attempt to circumnavigate an area of the globe entirely devoid of dots or reason. One can’t just rollick around the planet any longer, powered by stylish steamer trunks and charming letters of introduction to the right local chieftains. Too much of the world is a no-go zone now, with all the appeal of a drainage ditch, or wet ashtray, or Detroit, except with cluster bombs and refugees, and like Detroit these places just keep limping along, no matter how poorly their scars and screams fit into our Instagram feed.

I remember reading Scott‘s letters in school; I think he was meant to personify something specifically British and stoic and doomy and romantic all at once, and I wonder how much my National-Lampoon-saturated brain could have possibly soaked in.

Friday, March 16 or Saturday 17 – Lost track of dates, but think the last correct. Tragedy all along the line. At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn’t go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and we induced him to come on, on the afternoon march. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come.
Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates’ last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not––would not––give up hope till the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning –– yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.

We go skating. Oona never wants to go skating (see: kids, effort) but this is a skill she needs to acquire. As with learning to ride a bike or catch a ball, I would like her future decisions to be motivated by reason or enthusiasm and not based on fear. So yes, avoid the company slow-pitch team like the 100%-polyester drunks that they probably are, but don’t do so because you feel like Les Nessman in left field. Besides, she’s getting better all the time.

I played hockey as a kid and I was atrocious. Combine one cup of all-limbs, talent-free athletic ability with two tablespoons of white-bread, indifferent coaching, mixed with the mendacious no-name mincemeat otherwise known small-town hockey culture and voilà: you get a thoroughly lacklustre hockey player who jumps from the oven as soon as humanly possible, and afterwards can only relate to sports through a Funny Games versus Island of Doctor Moreau-like prism. Are all sports bad? Of course not. Should most of them be regarded as Amway with whistles and more meaningless prizes? Yes.

It’s always The Past at public skating. It’s always time for Nazareth or Golden Earring or Def Leppard (did you know the drummer only has one arm! wow!) or Tears for Fears or the Cranberries or even Poison, and it is never, ever time for Kanye. But the one song that eclipses all others, that tears through the psychic stratosphere of public skating like an avenging comet, obliterating all consciousness with syrupy detonations of feel-good rock stardom, is More Than a Feeling by Boston. You can skate to that forever.

Alright. C has put me on a 15-calorie-per-day diet so I don’t have the strength or mental cohesion to type any more. Tonight we’re going to see the Peking Acrobats!

I hope everyone is having a good day…


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

The Empress Awakens


The Empress Awakens; an original mixed media painting on canvas, 24 x 36 x 1 1/2 inches

canvas, card strips, collage, crayon, pencil, acrylic ink, acrylic paints, wash, varnish

a large, vibrant painting that sets the tone of a room

an painting that speaks in texture and colour, with allusions to the archetype of The Empress of the tarot

I have three quotations for this one:

A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more.
― John Steinbeck

See all of this world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.
–– Buddha

I called the world of phenomena an illusion, I called my eyes and my tongue and accident, valueless phenomena. No, that is all over; I have awakened, I have really awakened and have just been born today.
― Hermann Hesse

shipped with care –– with masonite board

everything from my store comes with an extra art surprise

ESCAPE THE DREAMING PLANET –– live your life with original art

besides, Spring is almost upon us!

The Girl from Alabama / / Cigar-Tin Stories Number Seventy-Nine

There was a girl from Alabama in our hot tub. There were two other kids as well (I say ‘kids’ because they all look like kids to me, when in fact they’re probably old enough to drive) but they quickly fled. The girl from Alabama was a Chatty Cathy of the first order, with a charming habit of sprinkling everything with “ma’am”. She was in Canada, and staying at our hotel, for a family reunion–– a very pricey one, I thought. I had that overrich feeling one gets from having just finished the kind of meal that includes the words “goat cheese mousse”.

It was an echo of the way I used to eat restaurant meals, in that long ago, premised on the idea that I should order things that belong to some other time and space, some imagined version of myself, better dressed, better read. It could always be boiled down to: what have I not ever had, what would I never have. I would order things like I was stepping into a dark room, wondering what would happen when someone turned on the lights.

The resort stay, sans eight year-old maniac, was a gift from C’s sister––birthday, anniversary, something–– and C had added spa treatments for herself and then the dinner for us. The hot tub was a short walk (longer when it’s winter, and the robe and slippers are comically/tragically meant for normal-sized people) around the corner from our room. The girl from Alabama was an anomaly: not middle-aged, not pellucid-skinned, not accustomed to glossy catalogues for apparel themes in expensive-casual. But she had youth, which is better.

“It’s been cold in Alabama,” she told us. “A little snow shuts the whole place down.” Later, when she was gone, as C looked up at the stars, we tried to imagine the helplessness and wonder of Alabama snow. The water steamed gorgeously around us.

It was the kind of hotel or resort or destination or something where everything is old and distressed and new and vaguely European. At breakfast the croissants were in miniature. Waiting for C to buy some of the spa product she’d been treated with the day before, I read labels like poetry––mocha berry bronzer, bright skin starter set, caramel latte tinted moisturizer, stone crop serum––and understood it about as much.

Earlier the same weekend we saw Les Misérables from a box seat. Javert seemed like a bit of a tormented prick but I couldn’t be sure from way up there. The French certainly romanticize and commodify the whole self-destruction business. The crowd was very well-behaved and no one looked at their phones at all. C bought me a button of Cosette.

I’m late with this today because of crazed secretaries groaning with more demands for Calibri. What is it with this ugly, default font? It’s the typographic equivalent of a MasterChef Cruise where the entire crew is violently bulimic and keep giving you drinks based on curaçao. A rule for life: just because you’re comfortable with something does not mean it’s good.

I picked out a book from a box on the sidewalk and took it to my studio and tied it up with twine and painted all the pages shut. Then I painted it some more. Then I put it on a shelf and forgot about it for a year. Then I took it down and painted it some more, and added collage. And then more collage. And then I gave this object a new title, and sealed it all once more with varnish. And that’s how things get done in a studio sometimes, being found and forgotten and then seen again and rescued.

I hope you’re having a good day. The clouds are sitting right on the ground today.


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