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 seventy-seven / / a rapidly congealing mass of paffle and nonsense


Here is the info for the brochure. I attached the original texts that I have been working from. This is pretty much already all done in Microsoft Publisher, except for a few things I can’t figure out.

Could you add some colour, like Bittersweet Shimmer or Deep Space Sparkle or other (not grey, or even Battleship Grey) and some borders; also there should not be spaces between items with a bullet.  Some fonts need to be changed to Calibri.

When will this be ready? I need 500 copies.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof.

I do not have the capacity to print 500 copies (which would be 1000 impressions, and then 1000 folds done by hand). For that I will need to get a quote from a print broker (and you will need access to a print budget).

I can do 50 copies. How would you like me to proceed?



50 is a good start.

The proof: you rearranged the order of the text! Please use the original order. Is this font Calibri?

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof. I have put the text back into its original order. Some panels may now appear squeezed because it’s too much text for the space.



Starting to look good!

Except for:

on the first side, can you change the bullet points into stars
can you make the titles bigger
make the logo bigger
can you put a border around the logo? or a star burst
could you add some kind of colour in the background or a border.  any colour except Battleship Grey.
Some French Sky Blue would be nice
It is my eyes or does the font look like it’s bigger and then smaller, like ripples in the ocean. Like traffic at night, that light snake that is all eyes, mean and sliding along a road beside a polluted and forbidding lake. Like the stairwell in an abandoned parking garage, cold and wet with the ghostly smell of long dead anxiety. Like a drawing that falls off the page. Like footsteps in the forest, never seen.

Also change all the fonts to Calibri.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof.



All that Battleship Grey is too overpowering.
Can you make a Light Medium Orchid border around all the paragraphs?
And a gilt-frame border around the logo?
Do you have Calibri as a font choice?
Also make the logo bigger.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


Please see the attached proof.



This is perfect! I need 500 copies by tomorrow. I’m off for the rest of the day, but I’ll come by to pick them up tomorrow morning.

Esther Poppy Evans
Special Executive Administrative Assistant to the Spiritual Success Team


You’re killing me. Stop it.



I hope everyone’s well (even you, Esther). We’re still in the single digits of February but more sun is on its way.


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

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 Reverie


The Reverie; mixed media, cradled wood panel, 18 x 24 x 1.75 inches. More pictures here.

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A Sunday trip to the library morphs into a broken conversation with a shrugging security guard about a locked door –– “It’s summer hours,” she explains. “But you can still use the book return!” Hooray. So Oona and I wander the mall for awhile, waiting on mom to do some shopping. Almost instantly I find myself in Claire’s, where I get conned into buying a two-piece charm bracelet that reads BEST FRIENDS. “I’ll make my bed, daddy,” Oona lies, because that’s her currency instead of money. I shrug. I give in. BEST FRIENDS. Then we wander some more. Everyone looks like extras from a pirate movie; there are limps, eye patches, tattoos, blindness, crutches, more blindness, hips where hips don’t belong, brown and blue teeth, horizontal facial scars, missing fingers, invented hairstyles, ballooning outfits with stars on them. The psychic weight is crushing.

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Halfway through my morning shower, the water pressure falls by half and my entire world view reasserts itself, comes into focus: people are going to do what they are going to do. Certainly I can storm upstairs, half-soaped and fully crazed, and ask, Are we all done running water yet? Certainly right is right. But where does that kind of thinking get me? Right is never right. These days, ‘right’ is more of a shrug. The whole reason I get up first in the morning, long before anyone else, is to go around problems like this. And going around these things, I think, is the key. A guy comes into my office with some marked-up photocopy of a job that I’ve never seen and says, I don’t have any of the text or pictures for this, how long will it take to do? Certainly, How about never? feels about right. But then he’s going lose his nut, and sooner than later I’ll have my manager in my office, bursting at the hairline trying to manage something. So I say, Leave it with me, let me take a better look at it, I’m just having some computer issues right now, and I just have this other job to finish first, there’s this thing with this other person tomorrow, but I’ll get to it as soon as I can. And then I take a long lunch, and leave early, and the day after that I’m on holiday for a week.

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Listening to Naomi Klein on Democracy Now!, and the interlude music is some Ani DiFranco song, I might as well be in a dream where it’s 1999 and I’m sitting in front of a red velour curtain in some musty theatre in Winnipeg, and some girl with ripped jeans and dirty hair is explaining to me how wrong I am about everything, and how I really need to read the I Ching and get my teeth fixed.

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I need to start running again. For months this winter I trained for the Limestone 5K, all the way from only being able to run 90 seconds at a time to going the entire distance without pause. I ran every second day, without fail. I ran when there was no one else out there, often late at night, in the cold and the dark. And on the morning of April 30th, in freezing rain, I ran the race. Ta-dah. And then we went to Cuba for a week. And then: June. Goals have a way of deflating themselves.

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It’s the staff barbecue so I take the day off. I believe that work is meant to be work –– not a place to fulfill your dreams, not a place to make best friends, not a place where people know anything about you, not even a place to score free hotdogs. The ideal situation is to be the polite person at the end of the hall with a job description that coworkers don’t understand or care about. Also, if management wants to show me how much they care, then please spend that hotdog money on institutional improvements. How about clean bathrooms? How about coffee in the kitchen? How about air-conditioning? How many mission statements read like conspiracy theory. Anyway, excellence now!

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No real plan in the studio lately. I’d been set to move out –– briefly, there had been a person known to police in the studio next door –– and then the situation resolved itself, and it was if some kind of reset button had been pushed. So I’ve been painting large paintings, with a mind for icons and characters. All painting is therapy, and the works themselves just relics for the cult of beautiful but pointless posterity.

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People walking around downtown in two of three dimensions on a Friday night and I think, Is it Mental Health Week again? Forever? In Kingston, at least. A woman tells me that Jesus loves me. Another is swearing at her two chihuahuas. At least they’re on a leash. The people in front of the McDonalds look like the Apple Dumpling Gang on opioids. Purple gums, yellow fingers.

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It’s summer, I guess. Men walking around in shorts, white chicken leg embarrassment. The women on the cover of the magazines by the checkout have lustrous dark hair parted straight down the middle, their hairlines an inch above the eyebrow. People squinting at things. More humidity than heat. Oona has a final ‘play’ for her acting class; the teachers say the lines for the kids, then the kids repeat them. I guess that’s how we do things now.

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come by my table on saturday afternoon


These are some of the fifty-five library card art pieces I’ll have for sale at my table this Saturday afternoon at the Made in Canada Etsy + Fat Goose Craft Fair (Grant Hall, Queen’s, 10-4). Original artworks on vintage library cards, $10 each or 3 for $20, packaged for gift giving (they’re great to tuck into birthday cards), these work both as bookmarks or miniature paintings to frame in their own right.



I’ll also have cigar-tin stories, copies of my books, and a great selection of various mixed-media artworks, all of it priced at $20 and $30. Get out of the house, go for a walk, enjoy the day and come home with an original work of art –– all for the price of a (cheap) pair of pants. My table is cash-only but at least the bills are small.

cigar-tin story – “Draycott”


cigar-tin story – Draycott  / /  an original painting on a dessert cigar tin which contains an accordion booklet of an original short story

Draycott is the story of bus ride out to the edges. You can hear it here.



I used to number my cigar-tin stories but at some point (around the 180 mark, I think?), between selling online and in-person, I lost track and couldn’t keep them straight. So now I just label them by the story, even though some stories might appear in two or three different tins over time (I probably have about 60 published stories and another 100 unpublished stories to choose from).





I find it easier to sell these in person, when I can put the cigar-tin story into someone’s hands and explain to them that they’re holding a one-of-a-kind, original art object, something priced to work as a highly unique collectible or gift.


The online aspect is still a real struggle. I keep thinking that I’m going to reach some magical point where I’ve put in enough hustle and I’ve reached a large enough audience and I’ve won enough customers (or even patrons) that it will all go on autopilot and I’ll only have to worry about producing enough work … but that never happens. And all I can do is keep working.

cigar-tin story number twenty-eight / an open letter


An Open Letter to Whoever Abandoned the Semi-crushed VCR in Our Back Alley,

So … it went on for about a month, I’d say. That semi-crushed VCR just sitting there, in its semi-crushed box, abandoned in our back alley, and no one coming along to claim it, to rescue it.

No one’s going to want that, I thought. Even in our neighbourhood, where culture arrives exclusively in the form of tattoos and misheard expletives, no one has any semi-crushed copies of Rambo or Cobra or even Rocky III that they want to see anymore. I’d say they’ve moved on. I’d say the consensus is that Sylvester Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen and even Mr. T (!) have nothing left to teach us anymore. That they’re just decadent, monosyllabic spectacles from an embarrassing decade.

Full disclosure: I’ve never seen Rambo. I know Brian Dennehy is in it. He’s good. He does a lot of theatre now, that guy. And I know Stallone has that line about ‘pushing me’, and where that leads. Seems like the kind of movie that would be perfect for a semi-crushed VCR, if you ask me.

I don’t know, maybe it’s another technology thing. Maybe nobody watches semi-crushed VHS tapes at all anymore. Maybe everyone’s into DVD’s now, or even semi-crushed Blu-Ray.

Or maybe it *is* the semi-crushed thing. To be honest, we already have a lot of semi-crushed stuff in our neighbourhood: semi-crushed toys, semi-crushed shopping carts, semi-crushed bottles, semi-crushed dog shit, semi-crushed cigarette butts, semi-crushed spiders, semi-crushed squirrels, semi-crushed front doors, semi-crushed roofs, semi-crushed garages, semi-crushed fences, semi-crushed lawn ornaments, semi-crushed housing prices, semi-crushed childhoods, semi-crushed hopes, semi-crushed dreams, semi-crushed attempts at post-secondary education, semi-crushed marriages, semi-crushed employment histories, semi-crushed credit scores, semi-crushed relationships with local law enforcement, semi-crushed attempts at parenting, semi-crushed promises to stay away from solvents, semi-crushed efforts at not yelling obscenities in the street, semi-crushed psyches …

I could go on. But all I’ve ever wanted is an ending for this bit of performance art or public theatre or whatever you want to call it, for that semi-crushed VCR to go back to whatever semi-crushed hole it crawled out of, so we can all get back to our semi-crushed lives.

And then one day it was gone. “It’s gone,” I said to C, in that higher tone of disbelief.

“No it’s not,” she said. “Someone just moved it around the corner.”

Nicely done, I thought. Nicely done.


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