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.


let’s bring your secrets out into the light


let’s bring your secrets out into the light

This is an art object, or book sculpture –– intended as a home decor accent or touch. It’s the kind of art that travels well, especially to cubicles or shelves or mantles, even just sitting on coffee tables (it’s heavily varnished, and meant to be picked up and examined).

5 3/4 x 8 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches

I have three quotes for this one, on the nature of secrets …

If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.
― George Orwell, 1984

Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.
― André Malraux

Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.
― James Joyce

This is a found/rescued book, from someone moving and downsizing.


It’s been snowing all day. Looked at the forecast on Environment Canada this morning –– Special Weather Statement in Effect –– and had to make the call on whether to send the kid to school. For me, school wins. Too much school gets cancelled or otherwise nullified already. The buses being cancelled has nothing to do with it; that outfit folds up if there’s an angry cloud hanging around.

Anyway: we made it to the end of the day without a call from the school. And soon I’ll go pick her up and spend my evening pushing snow up and down the long, crooked driveway.

cigar-tin stories number seventy-six / / three days

Sunday: I have a stomachache. It’s one of those high-end-pressure aches, some kind of clamorous, furry gas inflating me middle-ways, with enfilading fire via my esophagus. It reminds me of an episode of LOST –– strangely insistent but ultimately completely senseless.

And then I try to think of the why –– what I might have consumed or been irradiated by to cause all this pointless suffering –– but there are no compelling suspects. Apple? Peanuts? Chocolate milk? Quiche? Heroin? It hardly matters. The stomachache is going to live its life, bathing itself in the glittering Cuban surf of my pain, and all I can do is wait for it to complete its destiny.

Getting sick is always tricky in the respect that if I tell C, then I have to expend considerable effort describing the evidence to a skeptical and impatient judge who can’t wait to dismiss the case. Yeah, you had what I had this morning, she says. It’s nothing.

Oona and I are now at the part of the children’s illustrated version of the New Testament where Jesus returns to Jerusalem, and it seems like on every second page the disciples cower and waver in the background, cringing with doubt, while Jesus provides cryptic answers along the lines of, Look, it’s the family business, I don’t really have a choice, besides I’ll rise from the dead. And this is a very confusing narrative for the disciples, never mind for an eight year-old. But in another way it’s the perfect story for our times, when everyone believes in whatever’s convenient, and all our problems will be solved by magic. And by fighting the man I mean the power I mean the patriarchy. And zombies. Look, it’s Lazarus!

Monday: after a semi-deranged morning of distraction and complaining and general non-compliance, I spend the drive to school lecturing Oona about being capable and coping. Good times! But it’s a lecture I keep coming back to with her, because of this future wave I see of people not being able to cope (the British would call it ‘not managing’). My generation was defined by the kind of fucking up that came from being both too-cool and generally clueless; the only advice most of us received from our parents was of the get-the-hell-out-of-the-house vein. To be fair, their own upbringing hadn’t exactly prepared them to deal with us, and we couldn’t exit fast enough. So these were largely crimes of omission: when we failed (often, and in spectacular fashion) it was in that oblivious, floundering, falling-into-something manner, with any adults around trading in a lot of anger or shrugging. But at least we were doing things, and and trying to course correct along the way. Whereas what I see now is things not happening, and loads of people not coping, and looking for the sidelines, where they can just live through their phones. Anyway, all we want her to do is brush her teeth, wash her face and get dressed, and do these things on her own, with no chasing. And most days this is still a fail.

Weird dreams. A completely invented title for a completely invented object. Besides, I have weird dreams all the time, which I try to write down while they last: Monday’s features a pile of utility blades on the couch, and my insistence that they could not be there, how dangerous that was. Exciting, right? A notable one from last week was about being lost in a giant warehouse, and something about being shoeless and not stepping on spiders. Yeah, I really don’t know.

A friend of mine reminds me that this is my last week to be 49. I can write that number down and circle it and no thoughts come at all. I never expected to live this long (there’s always been a doom-y streak, or low-volume countdown, somewhere in the background) so I guess I should be thankful?

Tuesday: listening to BBC radio while I make breakfasts and lunches, and I hear the question, “Now, where does that leave the political situation in Kenya?”, which makes me laugh. But you know what? It’s fine. I’m glad to learn a little more about Kenyan politics. That doesn’t hurt at all. Most importantly, it’s not Trump. Because I think I’ve reached peak Trump. The news about him is starting to fall away, is beginning to lose any coherence or meaning. The American system is so oppositional, so confrontational that it begins to look like some kind of Orwellian media super-scheme, leached of any nutritional value by propaganda and agendas and false flags. Most of what I read and hear is recycled nonsense. Hardly anyone talks about economics and class, the two issues that really matter (and solve many others). So what’s the point?

Trying to get Oona out the door, out to the car. I forget my phone, which I go back for. Then, dropping Oona off at school, I realize I’ve forgotten my coffee flask. It’s sitting upside down on the dining room table, upside down so the spoonful of honey at the bottom can work its way through. And I’m a little angry about this, and I resolve to move my wake-up time from 5:30 to 5, because I need to be completely done before anyone else gets moving, otherwise things get forgotten or badly done. I guess I’m prone to distraction, too.

Please have a good week, everyone,

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

p.s. This is a version of my every-Tuesday Tinyletter; if you’d like to subscribe, please go here.

art boxes

A few years ago a studio neighbour gave me some cigar boxes. I’ll be interested to see what you do with them, she said. And so they sat on a shelf above my studio door, amongst many other useful/useless things, because that’s what humans do when given things they know they know the why of but not the how.


And then, while on a collage tear (I’m starting to believe collaging is an addiction –– this white noise automation that takes over while one keeps adding and subtracting, smoothing and removing) one morning, I looked over my shoulder to see them up there, and within a minute they were down and being primed.


The thing with a cigar box is this: it’s already an imperfect object. Half industrial weight card, half light wood, all nicks and torn labels. So adding the stressed texture of collage just feels natural.

And there is something wonderful about images revealed, whether it’s by pulling back a curtain or opening a lid.


I think I’m done with these for now, knowing full well that I’ll return to the idea when that internal lightning strikes again. But they’ve been very enjoyable to do, and just knowing that I’m making one-of-a-kind things that people will always keep is more than enough for me.

You can see these and more art objects here. Good luck with Christmas!