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?

a track meet and some art sets

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

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

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

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

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

“There you go,” my wife says.

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

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

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

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








a video snapshot

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

the never time

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

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

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

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

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

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