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,
djb

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

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The Reverie

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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

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.

Thanks,
djb

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january is the new purgatory i mean black

I have not been good about posting new work lately (how many blogs have that line kicking around?); there’s something about the depth of January that probably isn’t dissimilar from the bottom of the sea, full of freezing and murk and poor visibility, even within.

But it’s not like I haven’t been doing the work –– here’s some I’ve just placed in the shop, new cigar-tin stories and a drawing on paper and a little art-monster painting on cradled wood panel.

I’ve also started a store on Redbubble, where you can achieve the most interesting iPhone case on the entire subway car.