ambitions outstripped by reality / / cigar-tin stories one hundred nine


I have a few favourite books to keep me company on the edge of the tub when I run my nine year-old’s bath (this takes more than awhile, and even longer to get her actually into it). These are generally junkier books, the kind you find in the discount section, because they are going to get wrecked (water, indifference, yelling, etc). One of these books is called THE WORLD’S WORST MILITARY DISASTERS, and my favourite military disaster is the Battle of Nancy in 1477.

Charles the Bold liked wars, imagined himself a genius and had military ambitions to match. At Nancy he tried to lure the much larger army of the Duke of Lorraine and his Swiss confederates into a set-piece trap. Instead they went around. Charles was flanked, overwhelmed and his army of Burgundy utterly destroyed. A Swiss halberdier split Charles the Bold’s skull in two neat pieces. They found the rest of his body, partially eaten by wolves, three days later.

I like the story of Charles because it reminds me how often our ambtions are outstripped by reality. Charles had a dream, he believed in himself, and the universe turned him into a snacking device for wild animals.



I worked like a dog this month, putting in the kind of hours that would shame the most God-fearing medieval peasant at harvest time, and I still crashed and burned far, far below what I imagined I could do. For example, I wrote a ton, every day, but a lot of it was in service of other things, and in the end I couldn’t even be bothered to update my creative writing total for NaNoWriMo. And for the Fat Goose Craft Fair this Sunday, despite all my plans and best intentions (and several past years’ worth of sworn oaths), I still found myself dazed and confused in a swamp of packaging (packaging, packaging!) all this last week, just completely adrift in it, these sliding piles of scissors and staplers and cellophane sleeves, cards and stickers and tags and where is that thing I just had it Jesus. Even a simple product, like a drawing, just has so many ingredients –– choosing the art, scanning or photographing it, trimming it to fit a backing (card, foam board, etc), then the clear sleeve, then the information sticker (subject, media, etc), then the price. A cigar-tin story goes like this: prime the cover of a tin, paint a picture on it, varnish it, write a poem or short story, take that writing into a design program and apply it to a concertina booklet, print the booklet, trim and fold the booklet, put the booklet into the tin, apply other labels/stickers to the tin, put the tin in a clear sleeve, and finally add a packing top (information, process, price, etc) to the entire package.


I’m more or less done now, because I resolved that I would not work right up ’til the end. I cannot sell (or even sort) everything that I have, and what I’ll bring to my table is plenty and varied. I’ll have cigar-tin stories, library card art, book art objects, collage art mirrors, hand-painted notebooks and journals, original ink drawings on new and found paper, small paintings on masonite, canvas and cradled wood panel, prints on photo paper, art cube paperweights, collage art boxes, wax print monoprints on photo paper, and some copies of my short story collections.



So come by my table at Grant Hall, if you can. It’s supposed to be ten degrees(!) on Sunday –– a nice day for a walk. I’ll have some fun giveaways for buyers, including LUCKY CARD bookmarks and YOUR 2019 GLOSSARY BEST YEAR EVER! You can easily find two gifts of original art for under $50.


Have a good weekend, everyone,

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


no fear or favour / / cigar-tin stories number one hundred eight


An old lady drinking a milkshake is punching someone in the Beer Store parking lot. I can’t tell if it’s an affectionate or genuine attack. The parking lot at the Beer Store always feels like the last days in the Siege of Sarajevo. Guys pull up in trucks that often look more like tanks. Sometimes they wear bandanas.

We have a couch delivered. Because the arc of meaning in our lives often resembles the laziest of sitcoms, this delivery is scheduled for a six-hour window and doesn’t actually happen until the very end, when two small guys who might have a combined age of seven show up to do some scampering around a very big truck. The one in charge has gloves. The other one doesn’t want to be there. Much heaving and twisting and failure in basic geometry ensues, for about ten minutes, resulting in a verdict that the couch will not fit. C and I think out loud for another minute. The guy who doesn’t want to be there (this guy is standard issue in any labour crew), and who is backed up with one end of the couch into the laundry room, announces, “I just don’t want to stand around here all day.” So we send it back. In a strange way this makes the delivery guys quite happy, I think. Why can’t everyone just send it back? More to follow.

We go to the Santa Claus Parade. I don’t want to go, and people we go with are surprised when I do go, but my agency in these matters is often compromised by shorter, blonder people. And very soon Oona will begin to find these kinds of things stupid and boring. So I go. The weather isn’t bad and who doesn’t want to be psychically concussed with successive battalions of girls’ gymnastics and dance clubs, doing cartwheel after cartwheel after cartwheel. Meanwhile, grizzled middle-aged men on motorcycles rumble by and wave, which people seem to enjoy. For some reason. Also, apparently there are still two Shriners left alive, and the Knights of Columbus are up to something, according to their float, and at the very least they supply the crowd a vague notion about Christmas being about Jesus Christ. Whoever that was. So we stand around in the cold for an hour or two and at the end Santa shows up and his wife does all the talking while the fat man chuckles into a microphone like someone with a nagging brain injury.

The next day I have a cold, or some kind of tiny virus that makes my ears and face hot and produces generalized exhaustion and random episodes of total congestion. All part and parcel of being Canadian I guess but nevertheless still pointless and boring. Accordingly, C leaves town for a few days to attend a conference and enjoy those luxuries called hotel living without your family. She sends me texts about keynote speakers while Oona complains about the absence or presence of pulp in her breakfast orange juice and the possibility of spots on the bananas.

Oona also uses her mom’s absence to brag incessantly about all the things she does when mom is not looking. “She thought I was on ROBLOX but really I was Googling my name over and over and over again,” she tells me on the way to swimming lessons. “Did you have a blog called ‘red-handed’ daddy? I really like my baby pictures on there. Mom thought I was on ROBLOX but I was eating Halloween candy and looking at my baby pictures. Mom told me to take just one candy but I took like seven.”

A client asks me to put together a logo. I don’t see why this client needs a logo but whatever, this is what happens when people have meetings. Logos happen. We should have a logo! The client even provides a little sketch of what he wants this logo to look like. I make the logo. It is terrible. The client sort of realizes this so another meeting happens and minor changes are asked for, which is a bit like the German army updating its uniforms in April of 1945. Now I do not hear from the client. Next thing I know, New Guy is going to meetings with the client.

Because I have a cold, I reschedule a root canal. I do this because did I mention that it is a root canal and also viruses do not discriminate against dentists. I do not love them but they are still human beings. After all.

I listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I listen to Rafael Anton Irisarri’s The Clock. I listen to The Luxury of Dirt by Aix Em Klemm. I don’t know anything about music anymore, and I never really did, but it still has surprisingly much to offer.

I am cutting and trimming and assembling things for the Fat Goose Craft Fair on December 2nd. As per usual, my table is almost entirely original work that is priced to sell. I read yesterday that there are six corporations that control almost ninety percent of everything you consume by way of hearing and seeing, which makes me think that original things are more important than ever.

Have a great week everyone,

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

cigar-tin stories number one hundred seven // I dream of eagles and bring forth sparrows


On a Wednesday evening I take Oona to get her flu shot. Afterwards, as a treat, while she is still complaining about her arm hurting (“Yes, of course, someone stuck you with a needle”), we go to Wendy’s. It is clean and modern in there these days (I have to give Oona explicit instructions on the automatic soap dispenser, faucet and paper towel dispenser before she disappears into that other universe called WOMEN’S), and the staff is quite nice in exchanging the kid’s-meal prize (she wanted the wizard mask but got the pirate) and her Frosty was so thick (“…and delicious, dad!”) that I had to get her a spoon, but of course at mid-meal a young lady came in and crashed down at the counter opposite with her Dollar-Store bags and things falling everywhere and proceeded to leave a very loud voicemail (for her boyfriend?) who apparently is a real piece of shit and she’s tired of all his fucking games and if he wants to talk to her then come find her you weasel and stop sending these bullshit texts you fucking idiot. Oona was about to say something but I shushed her until the young lady stormed out because of the general rule in life of not talking to someone who is that angry and dramatic and willing to burn everything around her to the ground. And then I explained that the young lady was probably just having a very bad day and not to listen to anything she might have said. And besides, there was a wizard mask to assemble.

On Thursday I take Oona to the doctor so he can look (and possibly treat, is the assumption) an ingrown toenail (not really ingrown, just red enough to complain about). “So what have you done to treat it so far, dad?” the doctor asks, which catches me completely off guard, as I had assumed that my bringing her to the doctor was that very thing I was ‘doing’, if you know what I mean. So he fills a page in my notebook with instructions for home treatment, which involves this twice daily ritual of Epsom salts, rubbing alcohol, Polysporin and cotton pledgets. Nine year-olds love this stuff because it’s a list and a special treatment and they get to remind you to do it twice a day.

Also on Thursday Oona falls down in the gym and gets a massive bruise on her hip. Luckily we have plenty of Polysporin on hand.

The day before C had gone in for some kind of oxygenating(?) facial, and so of course on Thursday she wakes up to find herself looking like George Chuvalo after his first fight with Ali, those puncher’s eyes with the inflated cheeks. This is an ongoing thing with her skin, mostly skirmishes but a couple times a year it goes into full rebellion for a few days, and every morning she insists that it’s getting better it’s getting better and it’s not, it’s not, and then one day she suddenly looks like herself again.

On Saturday we go curling. Or rather: we go to a social event where we learn about curling. I had curled before, about thirty years ago, in another world called Saskatchewan in the mid-80’s, which gave me just enough knowledge to understand both its low barrier to entry and high degree of difficulty (curling is, I think, the whitest game on the planet). Anyway, it was fun, despite how much we resembled the Bad News Bears, and no one fell and broke their heads.

I go to the studio both Sunday and Monday, which makes me very tired, as I tend to work straight through for seven or eight hours and any breaks I take are for running errands. But the Fat Goose is coming up fast and then I’ll have a digital sale for Christmas and there’s much to be done. On top of this I’m still writing and writing, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, although I’ve left the idea of being a ‘winner’ (achieving 50 000 words) far behind. I understand that a benchmark is what makes the whole thing work, but in my case (writing many different short pieces) it’s never been that applicable.

Last night I watched Where Eagles Dare. I’d just listened to an interview with Geoff Dyer about a book he wrote on the movie, which is the kind of thing he does now and then, like the entire book he wrote on Stalker. This is a very English thing, like the when Martin Amis wrote about video games. Anyway, Where Eagles Dare is, in fact, quite enjoyable, in that way that vintage World War Two movies are: dashing British agents in feats of derring-do, simpering Nazi officers, hapless German soldiers who all have machine guns but can’t hit anything, and who burst into flames at the drop of a hat. The movie makes Clint Eastwood do all the killing, which he does mechanically, mowing down entire carloads of German soldiers (at one completely deranged point he fires two machine guns at the same time, one in each hand, Pulp-Fiction style) without any hesitation (or the need to reload) whatsoever. The movie employs that old plots-within-plots device, which is sort of tailor-made for Richard Burton, who gets to do lots and lots of elocution.

Alright. It’s 6:44 and I have to go get lazy people out of bed.

Everyone have a good week,

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

“I dream of eagles and bring forth sparrows.”
––Truman Capote

cigar-tin stories one hundred five / some pleasing, forceful sentences

It’s 5:56 a.m. and I’m sitting here in my sketchy basement office trying to remember what happened last week, why it is such a blur, the house making those dislocated complaining noises around me, that singular pinging and creaking of vents and middle-aged wood. Last Tuesday was Girl Guides; Oona’s unit is much larger and there is a great deal more singing and clapping and cheering going on at the end, there’s always something militant about size, I guess. Wednesday was the Boo Bash and while Oona wanted to take $40, her mom set the limit at $15, and in the end she spent $12, running around a dark gym with her friends, buying raffle tickets and playing toss-the-beanbag-in-the-monster’s-mouth games while I sat in a stairwell and read a book about aliens. Thursday was Lego-Robotics Club, after which I picked her up on foot and we walked up to Jiffy Grill for supper, making it the BEST DAY EVER. I gave up my Friday studio night so C could go to a puppet show about the Golden Girls. Saturday night was cold with gusting winds and sideways rain, so C made us all go out to The Otherworld, up at Fort Henry, and we all wore three layers and barely lived, and a skeleton named Dora called me dad in that disparaging way while I searched for the flash on my camera phone. Sunday I went to the studio and painted book art objects; the Fat Goose sale is about a month away (ten years old now), and any online selling for Christmas happens soon after. Sophisticated people call those windows. Yesterday I mailed a parcel and the (very disinterested) clerk told me that it would cost $12.35 to send regular and $12.50 to send it Xpress. I looked at her and said, I understand the predatory pricing, but I’m still only sending it Xpress if I don’t have to fill anything out. Canada Post now almost entirely resembling the civil service apparatus of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire. Last night I met a friend for drinks and then did that thing where one takes a bus and walks home slightly drunk through the cold and the dark, walks home looking up at the sky and thinking ten grand thoughts all at once, none of which I can remember now.

Have a good week, everyone,

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

cigar-tin stories one hundred four / this Tinyletter has vampires and a car chase


Last night, during Oona’s swimming lesson, I fell asleep on the red leather couch in the lobby of the Boys & Girls Club. I was having one of those dreams, the dream where I realize that there’s people in the building (what people, what building, I cannot say) so I go around shutting doors. Then Oona was standing in front of me and asking if I was tired.

I think I wrote last week about being tired as well, and about how you shouldn’t talk about it. How pointless that is, how it makes everyone pull on their skin. Well, here I am. But I did get some sleep last night; I know I did because I don’t have that greyed-out electron ache that I went to bed with. I had more dreams about whispering and doors and people seen around corners but that’s another story. For now we’ll chalk it up to brain clouds.

One thing that didn’t make me tired was voting in the municipal elections yesterday. I voted online. It was easy. All I needed was my registration letter and some personal information about my various identities. I voted seventeen times! I’m kidding, of course. I would never work that hard to vote.

Tomorrow night Oona has Girl Guides, Wednesday night she’s going to something called the Boo Bash, Thursday she has Lego Club (they build robots, like some SCTV version of The Terminator) and Friday is a PA day. Nevermind what C is doing. I mark it all on the calendar, draw the appropriate colour-coded arrows, and in the end it looks like Operation Citadel (spoiler: the Germans still lose).

Because of the PA day I had to take the Friday off and C will need the car that day so Oona and I will be at home and at least she will have that one day(!) for quiet, imagination-fuelled play. Those kind of slow-orbit days are sometimes difficult to set into motion (the complaining, the lure of the iPad) but I still think that natural, anxiety-free downtime is critical to whatever is growing in that little brain of hers.

Did you enjoy Queen’s Homecoming Weekend? Those ambulance drivers must make a killing in overtime. Aside from all the previously-over-protected white kids aggressively poisoning themselves, I did see quite a few parents walking around with their adult children, both ages sporting those obnoxious varsity jackets. I’m always amazed at whatever impulse would drive a middle-aged person to attend an organized reunion event like this, which is a whole other country from revisiting the campus on your own or catching up with old friends (never a completely good idea, that kind of time machine, but whatever). To me it’s the equivalent of an expensive play date for your memories, with some terrible Sam Roberts soundtrack.

And then Canada became the second country in the world to legalize weed. I’m amazed that it happened, in that it seems like government does nothing these days, and people expect even less, and this government in particular hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire in terms of legislation. But they did do this, they did do something, whether you like or not (and if you’re high then I can’t trust your judgement), so I will give them that.

Halloween will soon be here. Are you scared? That’s probably just the weed talking. Have a good week, everyone.


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

p.s. Someone I know (possibly high) recently compared Ali MacGraw to Kristen Stewart, which I found egregiously unfair to the former. Discuss.

p.s. This is a version of my weekly Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to here (it’s free).

how to be late / / cigar-tin stories number one hundred one


This Tinyletter is a week late. Only one person complained, which tells me something about (a) this Tinyletter and (b) this time of year.

As for this time of year: it’s busy, isn’t it? Which makes it a great time of year to say no to things. Saying no is vastly underrated. In fact, when you find yourself on the less charming end of that particular stick called people-acting-like-they’re-doing-you-a-favour, then saying no is a great way to reset the interaction. Don’t be afraid to be the most difficult person in the room! Or universe. Saying no is simple and elegant and lets everyone know what time it is. It puts the inner life first, in its rightful place, over any events of the outer life. My favourite quote on the subject is by the philosopher Vernon Howard:

Our freedom can be measured by the number of things we can walk away from.


Both of my office mates had wicked colds last week, and one of them had it on top of some bronchitis that’s already been going on for months. They coughed and coughed and coughed, in that head-back-open-mouth way that little kids do. And then the festival of snorting, that full-on phlegm inverted rocket squelch where you hear the snot hit the back of the throat. Charming! It’s amazing how often people can’t even get it together enough to bring in a box of Kleenex.

It reminded of the time I went to renew my driver’s license at a Service Ontario (or was it Ministry of Transportion back then?) office when it was still around Division and Concession. The clerk who served me was snorting snot so quickly and violently that she kept tilting her head in such a way as to better chew it. She had a tattoo of a spider on her neck. I did not fall in love.

I often use this space to rag on the CBC, which sometimes seems to persist only to provide a venue for Sook-Yin Lee’s sophomore art-school projects, but this episode of Ideas is as good as radio gets. It’s a big-picture kind of piece, and gosh that picture is terrible.

Oona had a birthday party and sleepover. There were four girls altogether, which is not the full-on hosting psychosis of seven girls we enjoyed two years ago. A slow learning curve. None of them ate very much but all of them drank gallons and gallons of Orange and Grape Crush. The festivities had a Harry Potter theme, because everyone feels bad about how broke J.K Rowling is these days. The whole thing went off just like a bank robbery; no matter who screams, just keep moving towards the exit. It was difficult to get everyone to settle down to sleep but at least they all woke up at 6:30 a.m. I left for the studio.

I made a painting called The Dreamer. In my mind The Dreamer is always a young girl, fashionably dressed for the wrong occasion. The world is only half there, after all. The rest of it has to be willed into being. It doesn’t matter where you are; the magic of imagination is that the spells find you.

The previous Sunday, the non-madness Sunday, Oona and I had gone for a long bike ride in our neighbourhood. A necessary energy-release valve. It was cool but sunny, with many homeowners out working on their yards. They were all quite old, all literally bent to their tasks. I could not help but notice: all these big, well-kept homes and massive yards owned by old people. How does this story end? What happens with all this housing stock? Young families will move in, you might say. The cycle continues. Yes, I agree, some will. But I don’t know if there’s enough of them, and how many of them can afford these homes? This cheap-money business can’t last forever. How does a freelance web designer and a part-time yoga instructor with two kids add up to home ownership? You can’t pay with tattoos. And do these kinds of families even want to live in the burbs? I don’t know.


Every single day the Siamese wakes up and sees me and wishes that I was dead. To be fair, almost any kind of disappearing would be acceptable, but only death has the kind of finality that would let him truly relax. Yet I persist, despite all the fear-hate rays of his single-watt brain, and I have to say that, at this point, it’s mostly out if spite.

I received my own kind of ‘no’ last week as well; I’d been angling for a certain qualitative change in my job and then, just like that, the door closed. The decision made no sense but there it was. To be honest, I’d always known they’d go the route of disassociation, which is where people hope things work out by doing nothing to fix them. It was fine. I did not die. And it clarified things. Besides, I dislike waiting around to see what other people will do. You have to have your own plans.

It was also C’s birthday the previous week. She is older but still young. This morning we got up very, very early so she could go to a workout. It was weird, seeing all those 4’s in a row. Anyway, the struggle to keep whole continues. It’s a shame she’s still nowhere near retirement, but I put honey in my coffee these days and the hopes and dreams of bees don’t come cheap.
Well, that’s it. Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone,

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

read this for instant riches / / cigar-tin stories number one hundred


In the New York Times Magazine there is a feature called This Boy’s Life: The enduring spell of S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders’––then, now and always. This includes an interview with S.E. Hinton and a fashion spread of bloodless young men in stiff, unforgiving denim and very thin moustaches. The clothes have a gritty, flawed, surplus-store quality. Some items include:
• Polo Ralph Lauren jacket, $1,998
• Calvin Klein 205W39NYC sweater, $1,600
• Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello plaid shirt, $890
• Helmut Lang t-shirt, vintage, from the David Casavant Archive, price on request

Eat your heart out, Ponyboy.

I know you’re bitter about everything, C says, but those are great books, and she wrote them when she was still a girl.

Am I bitter about everything? That feels inaccurate, like the German army crossing the Polish frontier being described as a home invasion. ‘Bitter’ implies a level of understanding and engagement that I don’t know if I’m capable of anymore. You start ascribing motives to people, and then later you find out that they just fell into things, like those ants that just run around looking busy so they still get fed. Very few people have a plan, let alone considered ideas. Attaching blame is fun but pointless. Also, people react badly. As I get older, it’s difficult not to twig at how terrible even organized or completely corporatized things, entire institutions, are managed, and just how calcified and immovable these structures are. In a psychic sense, these are windowless black monoliths that only H.P. Lovecraft could admire.

So one joins the crowd, where the only sensible reaction amounts to a sort of shrug and looking away. Politics is the least of it, like some slow-burning ferris wheel on a distant island cliff; you can stand on the beach and see the flames and hear something that sounds like screams but it’s almost impossible to tell what’s really going on, and no means to get there anyway. The vessels of real change wrecked along the shore. In the meantime, would you like to make a donation to the Children’s Fund of Childrenia? It comes with a sticker!

I know at least that I’ve reached peak Trump. And this isn’t just the all-sugar, stunt-casting, Big-Gulp criminality involved (what, exactly, were we expecting?) but also the hysterical reaction to it. Brought to you by the same people who got us here. The technocrats overplayed their hand and this is where we are, where the news cycle makes The Shield look like The Muppet Show, and everyone’s supposed to get excited because not all the candidates are middle-aged white men anymore. Not exactly a war of ideas, is it?

I visit the downtown branch of TD bank. I stand in line for a teller. I understand that this is a purgatory-for-rookies kind of move but I’m only missing work so there’s no hurry. Good thing. I’m wearing earphones so I can only watch as one of the tellers makes complicated hand gestures to accompany a lot of head-shaking to a man wearing pants that do not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit. Also the woman in front of me has left the line to go fondle the miniature green TD armchair on display. There is a monitor for news and other announcements and it displays the information that Carrie Underwood suffered three miscarriages in the last two years. To the right is a pillar with the word EXCELLENT spelled out in individual, fiesta-coloured stickers. Is it strange that we’ve all reached this place where the only people you see in bank lines are contractors, old people or the human equivalent of gophers with brain infections?

Going by the old house to pick up some mail: because of the ongoing chaos (read: the Big Dig) around Division, I am forced to walk up the ass-end of Colborne. The end of the world, really, by appearances. Not even a street, at this point, just a place where students live, and anyone with a car and any sense hides it around back. That particular weed-riven, bombed-out quality that Kingston likes to dabble in. A man walking in front of me tries to text and pull up his pants at the same time, losing badly at the latter.

We have a new change dish. I bought the dish, a smart and inexpensive piece of local pottery, in Murray Corner during vacation, and then designated it as the dish for loonies and toonies (I also said quarters, but C somehow vetoed that, because “I don’t like clutter”) to be used all those times that someone with a juvenile limp or slow-draining speech impediment or dental dam as a fashion statement comes to the door selling smiles and chocolate bars for refugees or escapees or whatever. Some van with tinted windows always idling half a block away.

The trouble, which starts almost immediately, is that C and Oona start using the change dish as a FREE MONEY DISH, as in, “We went to the Fall Fair and it was fucking awful and we blew a shitload of money on absolute garbage but we took most of the money from the change dish so it was almost free anyway.” This is always the point at which I go down to the basement and start writing notes to myself.

I make a book art object about Macbeth. Not my first crack at that Scottish rodeo. It is my favourite Shakespeare, has all the best lines, doesn’t drag out the insanity and death the way King Lear does. My latest Macbeth is young and blonde, and why not, but the fissures are still there, and the background will always be red.

There are other new things in the shop, which is now open again. I have maybe … 20% of my work listed? So if you live in Kingston, and are desperate for a present for a friend, please drop me a line with the premise of what’s needed.

This is the 100th edition of this Tinyletter! I did it! Some kind of thing, I’m sure.

I hope everyone has a great week.

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