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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone have a good week,

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

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


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

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

Have a good week, everyone,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

sleeping in your car (quiet piano) / / cigar-tin stories one hundred three


It’s 6:02 in the morning. Lately I’ve been getting up at 5. I used to get up at 5:30, but then I thought, Well, I’m getting up this early anyway, why don’t I push it a bit to get more done? It’s not like I’m here for my looks. 

In how many ways do you flinch when someone starts telling you how tired they are? Or how busy? At this point I think most people avoid even saying it.

I think distracted or disjointed or slightly unraveled would be more accurate.

I am most tired when I wake up. Yawning and yawning. There’s two other points in the day –– early afternoon and just after supper –– which might as well be filled with smoke bombs for all the seeing and thinking that gets done.

I used to work with a guy who would go out to his car to have a nap in the backseat over lunch. This worked not only because he was very tired but also because he was a small guy. Could just curl up. I think he packed a blanket. Sometimes he would go to the gym instead but only to sit in the hot tub. He blamed his sleepiness on his wife’s cats.

Of course, that kind of sleepy thinking came from an earlier place of tight shirts and flared jeans, young men in vans with tinted windows and shag carpet, Polaroids with laughing girls. All a lot cosier than a backseat in a parking lot.

The tortoiseshell took a shit on the newspaper the other day. Right in the middle of the living room. I was surprised. She might as well have rented a neon sign that read, Please euthanize me the next time mommy leaves town. I made a note of it. At least it was only the The Globe and Mail.

We’re ending our weekend subscription to The New York Times soon (The Globe came bundled with it, which is an indictment right there), or as soon as some box gets ticked on some warehouse manager’s clipboard. It’s become too expensive and besides, I’m growing tired of the two-headed hydra called Inequality Is Terrible and Here’s an Ad for a Luxury Condo, otherwise known as Trump Is Awful but We Have Nothing Better to Offer Except Badges.

I will miss the fashion magazine part, the crazy estates for the crazy rich who build private art galleries into the sides of mountains. The wasted spectacle of that. Like Barthes said, we all have our own rhythm of suffering.

The tortoiseshell follows me around and around every morning, purring and purring, throwing herself at my feet, praying that I’ll go back to bed so she can go back to walking on my face. I let her out so C can let her back in when she gets up later.

Oona had a camping excursion with her Girl Guide unit (troop? outfit?) last weekend. It was only to Verona, to the backyard of a community centre, but still it was sleeping in tents. Her mom spent the entire 24 hours worry over the quality of her sleeping bag. I slept in ’til seven, then worked away in my sketchy downstairs office for a few hours. This made C very nervous. At one point she came down to remind me that grocery shopping needed to be done. Oh yes, you’re right, I said. Just like the previous one thousand weekends in a row that I’ve done it. Good reminder! 

So groceries were got, and one last lawn-mowing done, and we still had time to go for lunch, and when we picked up Oona she was still alive, and easily distracted with a Green Aero Bar.

Well, I have to go to work. Have a good week, everyone.

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

how to be organized in one thousand easy steps / / cigar-tin stories one hundred two

We got some new dishes on the weekend. I had resisted this, in a low-key, subtle way, for as long as possible, but for C a visit to Ottawa is often like a visit to Chernobyl, only with IKEA contagion instead of radiation sickness. Sure enough, a full-on pandemic of antagonized reorganizing ensued, meaning things in front of things, things on top of things, an almost Soviet enforcement of category that does not respect the practical limitations of drawer size, cupboard size or any laws of physics, and that treats anything that does not look like something else (matchy-matchy!) as something heretical, and any odds and ends are immediately judged guilty regardless of their usefulness, and so marked for destruction (read: the garbage). And of course anything from my former lives that has somehow survived to this point (and believe me, there isn’t much) will now be purged, finally, at last, thank God.

I could not watch it while it was all happening last night, but I knew what was waiting for me this morning. The first cupboard I opened saw the coffee filters come tumbling out. Of course it was the only thing in there that sees daily use, which must have singled it out for being mashed precariously on top of ten other things towards the back. And what was in front, because it was the same size and height as three other things? Kool-Aid. I think we had that once.

The tupperware I needed for Oona’s lunch also required some careful extraction. While it certainly looked nice to have all the tupperware in one cupboard, all perfectly lined up like some May Day parade, this sort of thing doesn’t translate very well into those working necessities we most often call life. In other words, the things you need… need to be around. You don’t want to dig for them.

Artists understand this better than most. For example, in my studio I have several plastic bins of collage materials. They are in clear plastic, and each is carefully and clearly labelled, in big lettering, and I try to store them in such a way that I can see them. And even then I sometimes forget they are there.

If I ever let C in there for five minutes, she would have it immediately and ruthlessly ‘solved’: all material crammed into one bin. Probably a black one. Tucked under a table. Under five other things. Done! And it would never get used again.

Which is why I have a studio.

Still, as long as you understand what kind of desperate instincts are at play, none of this is anything to fight about. Usually, if you just wait it out, then conditions will slowly but surely return to a state of practicality. Sure, it’s mildly aggravating to come home to find the milk buried behind all the beer in the fridge, just because someone is imposing some kind of weird everything-of-the-same-height-must-go-on-this-shelf rule, but it’s easier to just quietly unwind and un-crazy things and move forward.

Besides, it was Thanksgiving weekend. Time to be thankful! And I have to say that I’m starting to be thankful that I was born when I was. Yes, the seventies had all the charm of being pulled into a windowless van, and the eighties were bright and plastic and vandalistic and bullying all at once, while the nineties might be completely empty of any meaning whatsoever, but by any reasonable estimate the world is going be a very unpleasant place to live over the next few decades. Thanks but no thanks.

On that note, have a good week, everyone.

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

p.s. Did you know that 2001: A Space Odyssey has some 88 minutes of no dialogue? A million years ago I saw a scratchy analogue version in the Winnipeg art gallery. It was freezing in there.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Eat your heart out, Ponyboy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope everyone has a great week.

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