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.


it’s over, mister crow / cigar-tin stories number ninety-nine


In line at the drug store (someday I need to write a chapbook of poems with that title) and there’s a small club of young Indian men collectively filling out a job application, they all have their phones out as some kind of reference, and just behind them is a squad of young women from Queen’s, they dress like there’s a gym class they can’t commit to, each of them buying seven dollars in snacks with gold credit cards, black credit cards, but then one of them wants COLD-FX and she has a coupon and everything stops, there is no way this line will move until either the clerk or the customer gives up and these girls do not give up, not ever, you have to smash the patriarchy one coupon at a time so another clerk frantically opens up another till and before I can move an elderly lady who is almost a perfectly inverted “U” bent over her walker cuts me off in two seconds flat and I burst out laughing and abandon my goods on the counter because who needs dish soap that badly.

An old couple sits idling in the drive-thru at Burger King, sits there with the windows up, both of them smoking as hard as they can, facing straight ahead as if watching the less interesting landmarks from the deck of a second-rate cruise and smoking, smoking away, smoking so hard, their parched white heads leaning into it, little bundles of flesh and nylon jackets scrunched into the vinyl seats, and part of me loves this, loves the terrible square car all hard edges and rusted logos, the paint job like retired cancer, I bet they only ordered black coffees and small soft ice-cream cones.

I make a painting called The Thinker; it’s the latest in the icons and archetypes series. This craziness could go on and on: I like making these characters, these ciphers for classical personality types, for people like playing cards. Meanwhile the shop remains only half open––some handful of paintings that only ship to Canada. I guess I’m thinking, too.

Cutting across a lawn under trees one morning I almost walk into a crow, it squawks and hops away in that awkward manner that tells you this is the end for Mr. Crow, this is the last day of lustrous blackness and those shining eyes that know laughter and tricks and how to collect things, the currency of that.

Another Monkey Monday. I get up at 5:30 and make coffee in darkness and stumble to the basement and get myself sorted (sometimes I think about a no-shower life and wonder how I would ever wake up, how I would ever open my eyes) and eat a banana with peanut butter for breakfast and read the last page (“Findings”) of Harper’s (did you know that Panama disease may lead to the eventual extinction of the banana? also, what is Panama disease?) and make Oona’s lunch and do the garbage and recycling and walk to the bus (the night before I asked C if she wanted the car to go to an appointment and she said no and then the next morning she said I want the car today and I said, Well, I guess I better get going then) and the bus is crazy crowded, standing room only (and that’s fine except, I guess, for some young guys who do not get up and is this a feminist thing?) and I spill out at Queen’s and walk from there and it’s about three klicks which is fine, that’s about a perfect morning walk, and I spend the rest of the day slumped and staring at my computer screen as if a distant fire and only doing about half the things I should be doing but at this point they’re only paying me for my looks and my pay stub pretty much reflects that.

Well, that’s it for this week. The skies are grey and the air is cool. There is rain around, sliding furtively across the horizon in slow, curling anger. You should be thinking in layers now, and when you see your hands in your dreams, they should be hidden in mittens. Possibly fingerless. In fact, for all those middle-aged ladies with whole wicker baskets crammed with decorative infinity scarves in plaid and silk and chiffon and cashmere pashmina, this is your time to shine.

Stay gold, everyone,

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

first day of school (again) / / cigar-tin stories number ninety-seven


This Tinyletter is dedicated to the vanity license plates FARSIE,  BRADY 2 and ROX T. I wish I enjoyed your level of really, really disposable income.

How was your long weekend? Psychically, how long was it? Ten months? Five years? Mine was about a week and a half. Some notes:

• still (!) with the humidity, a guest that won’t leave, won’t take a hint, you serve her meals on a place mat that’s just a paper towel with hand-drawn directions to the airport
• new students and Toronto parents everywhere, black SUVs cruising at parade speed or walking arm and arm up and down Princess Street, looking for somewhere that Maisley or Perry will find acceptable, trios of teeth and over-washed hair
• the collapsible banquet tables up and down University Avenue, the computerized rap music (is this what happens when you scrub it up for white kids?), red plastic cups and beer pong (when you buy your drinking games from Shoppers Drug Mart, something has gone very, very wrong)
• Saturday morning at the No Frills, C has us on a cash diet because my spending of no money ever has been a real problem, I guess, but there’s a free cart drifting across the parking lot to scoop up and before I leave I try to return the favour, asking a young mom if she needs a cart and she spins on me and says, Yeah! and her little boy raises his fists in victory, Yeah! Yeah!
• more mowing and trimming to follow up the insane amount of mowing and trimming from earlier in the week, this is what happens when you go off to the cottage and there’s torrential rains and jungle levels of humidity and God doesn’t hate you but he doesn’t exactly like you either
• Oona and C go back-to-school shopping––the sort of retail experience that might be titled Slightly Mean Girls on a Budget
• I get some time at the studio and paint a savant, who makes me think of heroes and champions, the gifted and pre-selected
• long bike rides through Reddendale, which is the kind of crazy neighbourhood that alternates between McMansions and people with the kind of teeth from a perpetual blueberry-eating contest; also Everitt Park is lovely when it’s not flooded but be careful on the rocks

Today is back to school. Lots of work to projects suddenly blooming into full-blown rotteness. Today a client wrote me:

Names appears to be bolding, but only slightly. Please bolds more.

I had to read that three times. Most days I don’t even understand why I’m doing the things I’m doing, it’s just monkey work, like they’d rather tell someone to push button A rather than push any buttons themselves. Pushing buttons isn’t my job, they’d say. When are you going to be done pushing all those buttons?  Fucking hell.

Meanwhile, Cher is now seventy-two years old. Can you believe that? Surely the Apocalypse is just waiting around for the right soundtrack.

Have a good week, everyone,

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

and that was summer / / cigar-tin stories number ninety-seven


This Tinyletter is dedicated to the vanity license plates LADY DI, NANNY NA, DEB RG, PIETA and BOCKUS. Shine on, you crazy stars. And special thanks to Grace, who out of the blue sent me a lovely reminder to start writing again.

One Sunday afternoon in late July I put C and Oona on a sleeper train to Moncton, to New Brunswick, to the Norhumberland Strait, to an entire month at the cottage. Two weeks later I will follow them with the car. Meaning I have two weeks to myself, which in turn means two weeks trying to do everything in the world.

I kick things off by having an art sale. It’s a lot of work (the packaging, and then the packaging, and the constant lying to drugstore postal clerks) but my funds for studio rent are getting perilously low and something must be done. It goes well, and suddenly I’m busy. Too busy. Just to make sure I don’t start feeling good about anything for any reasonable length of time, everyone in the universe starts calling and texting and asking for a million other things. Some are important. Most are not. Meanwhile I’m going to work every day, and for some reason that’s busy, too. (Why are people trying to “get ahead” on things, especially when all that means is just randomly emailing me their incomplete bullshit? I have no idea.)

Also: the week before I’d been getting some wandering but insistent pains along my neck, around the back of my head, behind my ear, and I should have known some interesting elecricity was on its way. Sure enough, my jaw goes into full rebellion with a classic TMJ episode that lasts about ten days. It did motivate me to find a new set of exercises, which have helped immensely, but no exercise will ever make that kind of thing disappear when you’re in the throes of it. You just have to keep going.

Once my jaw pain had crested, my left eye decided to go buggy, filling up with floaters and the occasional blip like a missing frame from a film. Blip. Things were vaseline vague but, unfortunately, not Elizabeth Taylor glamorous. And because it was the same eye as my recently repaired retina, it made me a bit nervous (also, once you tell other people, they tend to get all over you about doing something about it). So I went in to see my ophthalmologist. No new tears, he said. Everything’s where it should be, he said. I listed off my symptoms again. So what’s the problem? I asked. You’re old, he said.

Old isn’t great. Also not great is stress, I think.

So in the end I sold some art (thank you, again, to my wonderful clients, who continue to rescue my faith in humanity just when I think it’s dipped permanently below the horizon) and got a few months ahead on my rent and did some work around the house and some freelance work and whole boatloads of nonsense in my regular job and in the end I managed to get almost everything done that I needed to do but this fall I will be *rethinking* a few things. This whole what we’re doing and why business. Because while jaw episodes and eye episodes will come and go, this aging stuff just hangs around and hangs around, like old ladies in a bingo hall, just waiting for that blackout number to finally drop.

As for the cottage: it’s fine. Going in August is different; at a certain point the weather turns ninety degrees, and the stupid humidity of July saunters off like a slavering dog. The wind picks up. Some days you need a jumper.

Also: for two nights running something with claws is being very disruptive to my sleep. Actually there are two, these things with claws. But one quantity is known––a squirrel who works the very top of a tree above the hut where we store our wood. And he works it maniacally, throwing down bits and bobs as fast as he can, as if he were the villain in an 80’s-era video game. And the sort of hut that stores our wood is a pre-made, comes-with-the-wood-inside thing, a kind of pod, and to the delight of the squirrel this hut has a corrugated tin roof. And so: tink, tink, tinktinktink TINK PLUNK TINK on and off throughout the day but most especially at 5:30 in the morning. And so I go out and throw some stones at it but I am such a bad shot that he hardly flinches. Just looking at me with one eye. Furiously chewing.

The other thing with claws is unknown. It visits somewhere around a particular bottom cupboard in the kitchen, but it has not actually been in the cupboard because there’s no way in and no evidence (mice are all about the evidence) of him/her/it being there. Just this kind of unconfined scratching at 12:30, 3:30, 5:15 in the morning. And so I get up and walk around, intentionally heavy, and look at things in that Blair-witch way using the flashlight on my phone. And the scratching stops. I think he/she/it is underneath the cottage, doing God knows what. I even go out and flash the light under there, trying to see a pair of eyes, and find nothing, but at least that stops the party for the night.

What can a guy do? In a week we’re supposed to be getting the cottage raised and straightened, and I’m hoping this will damper his enthusiasm. But in the meantime it’s me and 12:30, 3:30, etc.

And then, by some force of boredom or nature, the scratching stops, and does not return. There is a giant bald eagle, erect and vigilant (put that on a t-shirt) in the lot next door, and I’m hoping that my scratchy friend provided himself as lunch one day. Perhaps Mr. Squirrel could be dessert.

Can we talk about bad temper? Can we talk about temper tantrums? We let Oona join some other girls and their family at a bonfire on the beach. She stays for about an hour. Then it is quickly getting dark and she is supposed to have a shower before bed, so I go fetch her. There’s that classic argument in front of other people where I have to tell her repeatedly that it’s time to go and she keeps not listening and wanting more time. Finally her mom comes down to the beach as welll, and Oona races back to the cottage and throws a tantrum. For me this is simple. It’s as simple when I go pick her up from school, or from a playdate, or some class or day camp: it’s time to go. Do not run away from me. But then mom gets involved and hey, let’s talk about feelings. Anyway, things do not go well from there.

I remember some long ago parent-teacher inteview (who exactly is being interviewed, in this scenario) where my maths teacher (I say maths because he taught all of them: algebra, physics, geometry, trig, calculus) pointed out that I was not doing the necessary amount of work and consequently not doing well in his subjects. Reaching for any excuse (and “feelings” was not on the table back them), I said I was bored. This was plausible because I scored really well in all my humanities, and people considered me smart. The truth was that I was lazy and just not very good at maths (and in many ways not very smart). But now I had my maths teacher going to great lengths to explain how his subjects were interesting and necessary. More importantly, I had bought myself some time.

I used that time to learn how to cheat. The real trick was timing: just an exam here and there, just enough to float you along and out of trouble. Hey, it was a small town school in the middle of nowhere and with enough nerve you could get access to anything. A lot of people don’t lock their cabinets.

ANYWAY, I guess what I’m saying is that I remember that devious, dissembling heart. And that I still know it. And I’m not going to have a discussion or debate as to why you are losing your temper, because I know you will reach for any excuse at all. In fact, I could probably come up with a greatest-hits list off the top of my head:

It’s not fair.
I just needed two more minutes.
We were just getting started.
That’s not the time you told me.
You’re early.
You’re late.
I never get what I want.
They get to stay, how come I don’t?
I hate you.
It’s not fair.
I hate you.

Which is fine. Everyone has the right to not like something, and to be unhappy about it. What they don’t have the right to do is throw a fit and tear off across the playground or disappear into the bowels of the school. Then we’re into something else entirely, and that particular movie has a crime and punishment theme.

We go into Port Elgin for a drive. We also go to get more alcohol, but the sky is darkening and the air is close and still and promising nothing, so it’s really about the drive. The drive is something to do. Some kind of action. How many things in life happen just because some kind of action is needed? No decision, just action. A drive, a meeting, a walk, doing laundry, calling that guy. The highway is a dead grey snake, has no centre line, is just bumps and patches and the up and down of endless hills through endless trees, welcome to New Brunswick. Did you see the abandoned house there at the end of the lane? Don’t worry, there’s another one every ten minutes. TEEMING with ghosts. Port Elgin used to be nice, or so C tells me. Grand houses on the water. But then the ferry closed and now it just looks like a Stephen King short story. Then again, my eye is still buggy so it might just be that. It’s fine. Which is not what I could say about their local beer selection. Ugh.

We front-load our chores––which are mostly painting and replacing boards related to eaves, and the ungodly mess that comes with that––so that the last three days are free. This works out on a number of levels, including increasing amounts of darkness and rain and a full-scale invasion of mosquitoes. There have been other years when they are bad, when you sit behind the window screen and watch them mindlessly climb and bounce and gather like some miniature winged zombie horde, but this experience feels different just from how suddenly they come on. Unfortunately, almost all our remaining repellent is of the children’s variety (a lopsided drawing of an elephant on the label is aways a bad sign) and its effectiveness is on par with butter or nursery rhymes. Mosquitoes! The pointlessness. For me, the only relief, after they’ve had a really good feasting, is cold water (I’ve also been told that the only ingredient in AfterBite is baking soda, so there’s that).

The drive home is long. Looong. We eat a lot of fast food. It is not always so fast. Often the talk at these various pseudo-meals with my (almost) nine year-old is about not always looking at what other people are eating, what they ordered, what they have, do they have more, etc. This is a specific kind of talk. It is about looking at what you have, and trying to appreciate it, and being grateful for it. So much with these kids (listen to me, the old man) is about the menu, and endless choices, and constantly being able to upgrade your selection. This is the road to unhappiness, I tell her. Someone will always have more, have better. You will never be happy looking over your shoulder, I say. In fact, you will never be happy if you’re always looking up. This insistent distraction of chasing things. I understand this is contrary to the follow-your-dreams stuff she is usually bombarded with, from everyone all the time, but I do not believe that we can all get to the end of the rainbow just by playing Journey really loud. I’d rather have her thinking about things in the here and now, and accepting things as they come, as they happen, as they sometimes fall out of the sky, for no reason whatsoever, and sometimes it’s nobody’s fault and sometimes it’s yours. The rainbow is, in fact, often grey, blue, black. And this includes not-perfectness, not-a-picnicness, pretty shittyness, and absolute total failure. All on the menu, all arriving on your plate, in a giant half-cooked mess, and you still have to pay for it, and no, they don’t take credit.

And that’s it. I have nothing to plug, nothing to try to sell you. My shop isn’t even back open yet.

I hope everyone had a good summer. We expect so much. But September swings open with its opportunities for work. I saw a good quote from Doris Lessing today:

Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.

Take care everyone,

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

cigar-tin stories ninety-two / / pictures came and broke your heart

I don’t know what to write about in this week’s Tinyletter.

I went to bed early last night because I was tired. And I would have slept in, too, but the Siamese started coughing and coughing and I thought, Well, that’s it.

I would write about the provincial election but it’s all about the parties just trying to scare everyone into not voting for the other guy. The government has been in forever and can hardly keep their eyes open at this point, it’s one little sneaky scandal after another, but they are very clever, too, and quite slick about things, especially when it comes to planting tiny tiny hopes and fears but in the end they know (and pray, I think) that they are going to crash and burn here. And the party that is supposed to win (by default, it seems) is run by a guy who reminds me of someone who might sell you tons of insurance and then not honour it, saying that it was you who was trying to hit that meteor and maybe the meteor will sue you if you’re not careful and yes, you always had that space rock in your head and fine, let’s see you prove otherwise in court. And then the third party seems a bit watery and somewhat reasonable but then the other two parties say, No way, they’re communists! and they’ll ruin everything and remember Rae Days? And people do remember Rae Days even though it was a jillion years ago and they still get crazy about it because it has a pretty catchy name.

I would write about summer but Sunday was the first day that I thought it was really here.

I would write about work but please. Yesterday it was 27 degrees Celsius in there. And the floors are still filthy. Today I’m dressed like an unemployed tennis pro. But I still have a good view from my window so they say we’ll be moving down into the basement soon.

And I would write about art but at this point I think I’m just making it for myself. I mean, yes, I still sell work and it makes me quite happy to see the different places it lands but there’s certainly no stable money from it, I’m always just counting how many months of studio rent I have left, and anyway these things I make come from images and stories and dreams and ideas that are like little rivers of thought that I follow who knows where and even I only half understand most of the time. And even this newsletter I just write for free. Some kind of weekly exercise in something.

So, yeah, this week I’m at a loss. Let me know if you think of anything.

Enjoy the rest of your week, everyone,

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

p.s. If you run your election by trying to scare people, then you will get bad results (see: Brexit, Trump). Don’t listen to any of it; vote how you like.

Also, this is a version of my Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to here.

getting the cut that suits you

Driving through Queen’s campus on a Sunday afternoon and everything reeks with SUV’s parading vanity plates emblazoned BUNNY1 and KITSCAR and PRFXN2, it’s no-holds-barred parking and everyone chauffeuring like slow-motion heart attacks, all expensive heads lolling out the window and the rearview mirror completely obscured, and suddenly we realize that these are PARENTS picking up their KIDS from university––it’s the end of the semester and here’s mom with fourteen scarves to frame her blazing face, calling dad an idiot and telling him to circle the block while she stuffs Wilder’s or Saxon’s or Audrey’s dirty stinking clothes into a brand new hamper from THE BAY. It’s time to regroup. It’s time to go back to Sunnybrook and lick our wounds and talk about failure and plans for the future and money not very well spent after all and things we might do differently. If only we can try. Don’t worry, none of this will last. All falls will be cushioned and quickly uploaded to Instagram. Who wants to ruin the mood for summer? Don’t do it, dad. Don’t be an idiot. Again. Everything will be fine! New clothes the cottage the trip to Italy the new computer should we hire a tutor who paid for that tattoo? awaits. What have you been eating? Your skin is terrible. Why don’t you get a cut that suits you?

For some reason I have warm memories of my university days from this time of year. Certainly it resonates, but darkly: all roads narrowing, the end of pretending that certain issues could still be resolved, that certain causes could still be rescued, the desperate blankness of summer employment, the realization like falling lightning that money was needed and had to come from SOMEWHERE. Jesus. And that pale sun emerging like a sick joke, flaring on the survivors staggering down the hill, shining on their no-hope-of-rescue. In fact: no money, no ideas, no exemptions, no anti-depressants, not a single vitamin to be found anywhere in the bloodstream. All those skipped classes, all those cheap noodles, all that ambition left to sour on the counter.

Oh God we were so broken and willing to debase ourselves. In fact, an entire tree planting industry was floated on this, carelessly, on the economic model of press-ganging stupid white kids into the incinerator of predatory employment. Work like a back-breaking maniac and make a couple of grand maybe. Brilliant. Too bad about the scurvy and the skin infections and the way your poo turned green for six weeks.

In fact: I was planting trees in northern Ontario when a provincial police car appeared to take me to the local station. A cinder block bunker with chipped desks. A phone dialed and handed to me. And on that phone was my mom, telling me about some generic application I’d put in with the government, and how it landed a summer job at a mental hospital. Steady, decent money. Like a small lottery win. All I had to do was come up with a lie to my boss in order get the deposit back on my tree-planting tools (no problem), hitchhike into Thunder Bay (interesting), get to a money transfer joint to pluck the $100 my mom had wired me (okay), and then use $97 of that princely sum to buy a 24-hour bus ride back to Saskatoon (see the least interesting one-third of the country! talk to maniacs with fiddles! starve!). So I did.

There will be no Tinyletter next week. I will be in Cuba. It’s the vacation we can afford, and the beaches are glorious.

I will talk to you soon,

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





cigar-tin stories number eighty seven / / you’re labelled wrong

Good morning. It is, in fact, 6:23 in the morning as I write this. We’ve changed our mornings around as of late, trying to save on the cost of before-school care, which makes for more time before perp-walking Oona off to school. I could sleep in. Especially since I usually make lunches the night before, I could sleep in. But I’ve been getting up at 5:30 for what seems like forever now, and the jello wiring of my brain seems to have set that way. Besides, I only ever get things done in the morning. By late afternoon all hope is lost.

Last week’s Tinyletter was received with some staticky kind of complaining along the lines of not-enough-Oona. FINE. This week you get the full dose. I hope your hair doesn’t fall out.

Driving Oona to school, she asks me what time we’re going to get there.

We’ll get there in plenty of time, I say. Just before the supervisors come out onto the schoolyard. And the bell doesn’t ring for another ten minutes after that.

You don’t know what time the bell rings, she says.

I do know what time the bell rings.

No, you don’t. How do you know that?

Because I looked it up. Because that’s my job. Because I looked it up on the school website and I read it with my brain and my eyes. You’d be surprised what I can see with my eyes.

No, I wouldn’t, she says.

At the end of the day, coming home from school, we go through the drive-thru, then sit in the parking lot and eat while everything’s still hot. This is an anomaly, a treat, something that her and I do a few times a year, something that her mom would find very gauche. We listen to music or Jesus radio or a podcast about science and enjoy the hundreds of calories flooding into our digestive systems. On some level, I guess, it’s almost meditative. At least until Oona insists on telling me a riddle that “her friend” has made up. Do you want to hear it, daddy? Not really, but my mouth is full. So the riddle goes like this:

Three brothers live in a house. One night they go to bed (I don’t know what they do other nights) and there is a fire on the roof. Everybody dies. Who set the fire?

Give up? I don’t blame you, this is a tough one. With the no-clues aspect. And the self-annihilation business. The answer:

It was the first brother. After supper he went out to the fireworks store while the other brothers had a bath together(!). Then everybody went to bed. The first brother was the only one who had time to start the fire before he went to bed.

Feel stupid? You should.

Because I am still chewing, I roll my eyes at the mentalist in the backseat.

Why are you looking up like that? Oona asks. Are you trying to look up through your skull at the bald spot on the back of your head?

Afterwards we go get groceries. The complaining about this is off the hook.

But most of these groceries are for you, I remind her. It’s a constant struggle to keep your lunch stocked with things that you’ll actually eat.

You should go do it on your own, you’re wasting my time, she says.

We are in the snack aisle. Okay look, I say. I’ll let you pick what kind of cereal bars are going into your lunch.

Strawberry, she says. I only want strawberry.

Strawberry is fine. We’ll get that. But why don’t we try a new flavour, too? How about apple-cinnamon?

No, I only want strawberry.

Fine, I say, putting both in the cart.

Hey! You took apple-cinnamon, too!

No, I didn’t, I lie. That second one is labelled wrong.

You’re labelled wrong! Your label says ‘Nice Guy’ but that’s wrong!

Maybe, I say.

Going through the check-out with an eight year-old is always a bullshit bingo so I usually send her off to the card aisle to “go look for a card for grandma or Uncle Jaime”, and once there she immediately gets bogged down with some nonsense that plays music when you open it and is appropriate for no one, and I get to complete my grocery purchase in peace. This time I send her off to get a card for grandpa, who is sick with gallstones.

Amazingly, she actually returns with a card. Believe in yourself, it reads. You can do anything.

Your grandpa is one thousand years old, I tell her. It’s a little late in the game for the whole ‘believe in yourself’ business. He’s not reading The Secret. His only secret is a shortcut to the bathroom.

What’s The Secret? she asks.

It’s a book about believing you can get whatever you want just by wishing for it. It’s for people who believe in angels and magic and special destiny. The only thing you can attract with your thoughts is a headache. You can’t will luck to fall from the sky.

What if you think bad thoughts? she asks.

According to the book, then bad things happen. If you’re mean or you’re negative about life, then bad things happen to you. But that’s not true. 

You’re right, that’s can’t be true. If that was true, you would have been dead a long time ago, she says.

We get a weekend ice storm. People in Kingston are very wary of ice storms, I find. Whereas in Saskatchewan, where I grew up, we’re more wary of sliding into a ditch and freezing to death beside some forgotten highway.

The following Monday, Oona and I are sitting in the car, watching the rain and the empty schoolyard and waiting for the right time to go in.

What time is it? she asks.

The clock is right on the dashboard, I say. Read it yourself.

You read it, she says. When does the bell ring?

I thought you said I didn’t know when the bell rang. I thought you knew better.

Just tell me, dad. You’re wasting my time. You’re always wasting my time.

Okay, it’s 6:57 and I need to keep moving. There is snow in the air but the sun is somewhere around, and maybe by the end of the week this little re-visit by winter will have faded away.


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

p.s. Jane, that app is called WeCroak, and I highly recommend it.