DECEMBER IS FIRE // cigar-tin stories number sixty nine

Trying to escape the supermarket on a Sunday night, my way is blocked by a floppy-headed man (is his head too heavy?) talking to an elderly woman with the tiny-eyed face of a Russian doll about his lack of plans for the holidays. “I used to do stuff,” he says. “I used to do stuff every year. Mostly with my cousins. But now they’re all dead. Would you like to hear how they died?” The woman begins gesturing towards the door and front windows. “I think that’s my bus,” she says, and performs a neat scurrying manoeuvre to get around him.

Driving, driving, driving. In the left turning lane, I notice a car coming in the opposite direction and the driver of that car has decided to create a new lane for herself out of my very own turning lane(!), which would be a fantastic idea if only …

(a) it was remotely legal
(b) my lane didn’t run out in thirty metres and
(c) I wasn’t physically blocking her flight path.

Squeezing out her way, I do what anyone does when otherwise powerless in a driving situation: I lay on the horn. The car rolls past, going that I-know-I-did-something-wrong speed, and all I can see is her contorted potato face of confusion and horror.

At my last shared studio space I once had a conversation with the women there about aging, and I remember laughing when they talked about how, as one heads into your fifties, your body begins to betray you. Well, guess what corner I turn this winter, and guess what I no longer find so goddamn funny. And I think it’s this inconstancy of the physical, combined with the diminishing returns of one’s relevance, that can make middle-age such a discouraging business (if you were a superhero, you’d be losing the capacity to soar while gaining the ‘power’ of invisibility). Especially as a white, middle-class male in 2017, I can be shouted down by pretty much anyone (even children!), for any reason, and all opinions I might have on anything are invalidated by history. Someone has to pay the piper, I guess.

Go around, go around, go around: some coping mechanisms are easier than others. My typical response to any physical complaint is to ignore it (hospitals are appalling places and should be avoided at all costs, especially when dying). This usually works until it doesn’t. Some things function in opposition –– beer improves my mood but continues to make my silhouette more and more bear-like. The rest of it is a mixed bag. Work is no problem whatsoever –– I just don’t talk to anybody at all (see: hating my fucking job). Writing is more difficult, but generally I move my characters through the world more as distorted or wounded psychic entities than as persons defined by race or sex. Aside from this electronic newsletter, social media is now strictly for sharing art and episodes of cognitive incoherence. When talking to real people, out in the real world, concentrating on holding my face in a kind of half-wince will usually keep me from saying anything exceptionally stupid or remotely meaningful (read: offensive).

Oona and I are reading the Bible –– a children’s version of the Old Testament. It’s old, once owned by her mom, complete with a charming drawing by her of a little pig on the inside cover. Being a vintage book (1973), it doesn’t shy away from or try to sugarcoat any of the Bible’s batshit craziness. God creates. God destroys. God puts candies on the table and then smotes anyone who touches them. Don’t look back, Lot’s wife! Oh, too late, now you’re a bag of salt (is this where ‘old bag’ comes from?). Now Abraham and his ninety year-old wife Sarah are having kids. Sweet! That should kill them.

Still, Oona seems to enjoy it. Sometimes, on the way home from school or Brownies, I’ll put on the religious channel for her, because they’re always telling some kind of choose-your-own-holy-adventure type of story, and she really likes it. They’re talking her language, where everything can be solved by some last-minute deus ex machina or glittering magic, and there’s always rewards as long as you say sorry.

The Globe and Mail has done, in a middle-of-the-night kind of way, a total redesign –– if by redesign you mean making it physically smaller and printing it on cheaper paper. But I notice lots of little ‘pop-up’ articles, too –– like the “BREEZE THROUGH AIRPORT SECURITY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON” item in the new “Pursuits” section. And said breezing happens when you …

1. Keep presents unwrapped.
2. Have electronics handy.
3. Watch your liquids.
4. Be prepared.
5. Learn the new rules.

… and might I also suggest …

6. Faux-grovel in the face of faux-authority.
7. Do not be Arab or Persian.
8. Shave that beard!
9. Do not be Muslim.
10. Have no luggage and no personal effects.
11. Have no dignity.
12. Do not fly.

Just when I think I’m done with collage, it pulls me back in. It has a special addicting power, this stuff –– the layering upon layering. Like adult colouring books, except not for children.

Some podcast things I must recommend before I forget:

How democracy will end (soon, I hope!).

Why the future of work is awful.

The President of the United States is run by the Russians.

How is the CHRISTMAS SEASON treating you? Are you FILLED WITH JOY? No? WHY NOT? You’re probably not trying hard enough. TRY HARDER. You don’t want to let down Baby Jesus, do you?

Anyway, good luck with all that,

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


the new rules are old again / / cigar-tin stories number sixty three

According to Harper’s Index, 92% of Americans spend 90% of their time indoors or in vehicles. The part of that which makes me stop is the in vehicles part, how commuting in a large city must be a constant fugue state of displaced helplessness and rage.

I am not doing well at work; all information systems and cognitive relays seem permanently compromised. I send things out and they keep bouncing back. Nothing is ever finished. Clients desperate for Solution A, clients in some last-minute bind, will not be satisfied when I actually supply them with Solution A, on time –– when I solve their stated problem. Suddenly they want Solution AB, or maybe even B would look better, don’t you think?  Plus the logo needs to be bigger. BIGGER, PLEASE. ASAP. Most days it seems pointless to do anything, especially if the work is going to be reviewed at any kind of meeting.

So I make some NEW RULES. They’re mostly old rules, mostly just underlining the idea of using up the entirety of my limited brain power to doing my own work first. Then the rest of the day, with its continuous debasement of my coherence as a human being (this imagined entity embued with stained dignity and a dangerously compromised soul) seems less egregious, as I stumble through in a robotic haze.

Snacking and naps are also integral. Walking and reading next on the list. Also: being strategically disagreeable. It has to be possible, and easily imagined, that you will wreck any dinner, walk out any front door, or exit any vehicle, if people talk to you or otherwise treat you like an asshole.

I read Personal Days by Ed Park. It’s a book about an office in decline, in its death throes, a last-days sort of thing, with the usual quirky-and-clever-but-flawed characters. Everyone has a tic, every moment is existential. It’s smart, probably too smart by half, because only the villain has any blood in him.

A double-page spread in The New York Times Style Magazine shows off a Louis Vuitton handbag decorated with Claude Monet’s Water Lillies. Also, just in case you don’t get it, there is a gold, embossed MONET on the side. This is what the Impressionists are now –– art so accepted, so colonized and consumerized, that it no longer works as anything but merchandise. Like the Beatles.

Because my office mates never, *ever* leave the office at lunch, and because they close the door at twelve o’clock sharp (even though 90% of the building has fled by 11:30), and because my idea of fun is *not* to sit in a closed room with two people and their chewing sounds, against a background of mouse clicks, I almost always leave at lunch. I run errands, I do some dry-goods grocery shopping, I visit the library, I drop by the studio. It feels like fleeing and the idea is half accurate.

The fourth floor smells like wetness and death but I know it’s just industrial grade mold. I can recognize that smell of degeneration anywhere –– the last office I worked at flooded all the time, because Winnipeg is hell’s black box of bad weather, and because somebody had poured concrete down all the drains. Eventually, all the floors and walls needed to be completely re-done. Anyway, at least I work on the second floor, and probably have a good three or four years before major pulminary issues.

Of course the Wi-Fi doesn’t work.

Lots of talk about how the political project is dead. I can’t say I’ll miss it; my adult entry into the world was to find myself wading into a sea of unemployment, debt and malaise. We still have the debt but at least everything’s constantly on sale.

Oona has a Halloween party at school, a Halloween night at Brownies, a Halloween day at daycare (another PA day, quel surprise). Never mind the actual Halloween. Every holiday is a week now. Christmas is a month. Does anyone wonder why? All I see are stooped hordes of hapless parents, playing seamstress/purchaser/chauffer/partyplanner. Being harangued by five year-olds for stupid choices. BIGGER, PLEASE. ASAP.

I used to love Halloween. It was greater than Christmas. In fact, Christmas was really for the little kids. Once you hit 12 or 13, Christmas was just a bit play-acting in the thank-you department followed by a highly awkward meal with not nearly enough stuffing. But Halloween in a small town in Saskatchewan in the early eighties, a town with no resident police presence … well, it was pure, unbridled anarchy, and more than once some middle-aged man came tearing out of a front door, trying to catch one of us so he could kick someone’s ass. Which only incited us to egg him and his house more.

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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the handsome devil


the handsome devil; an original ink drawing with crayon and coffee touches; 8 1/4 x 11 3/4 inches.

an old drawing, used ages ago as a barely noticeable screen on a back cover, which I pulled from a drawer and resurrected with coffee, colour and handwriting. i like his rugged anti-ness, his charm that would be nothing but trouble.

sent a new tinyletter out into the world yesterday; this one’s about the advantages of being malleable (or at least not standing up too straight).

making many drawings and little collages on rust paper lately, as well as much tinting in coffee and food dye. the next fat goose is in november, and I’d like to have some new and interesting things for people. will show some here soon.

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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first exit last (appendices, appendices)



first exit last (appendices, appendices) and knowing never does –– two watercolours put in the gallery shop today.

These are not new artworks; however, they are finally finished, in the sense of being processed (properly scanned, catalogued, listed for sale, etc). This is at least half the battle, and one that creatives are not especially well-programmed to do. We get behind, or even lost –– God knows how much work I’ve completely forgotten about, only to find later in a drawer or box or even sealed envelope.


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