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.

cigar-tin stories number eight five // no i don’t

This morning an eight year-old told me that I am the worst person in the world who makes her breakfast. Considering that I am the only person who makes her breakfast, this is a strange, abbreviated list. Sitting in the dimmed light (“Too bright! I can’t eat when it’s too bright!”), half perched between her chair and the dining room table (despite my repeated requests for sitting flat on her bum, so she won’t fall off, which she has done before, several times), complaining about the blackness of the grapes (“I don’t like black grapes! Stop buying black grapes!”), wearing a sweater that I had told her not to wear to bed, she was merely being consistent with her behaviour over the long weekend—a constant kind of commentary/half-arguing about everything. If I asked her to, say, tidy up the floor of her bedroom and pick up a few things, then she would immediately ask how many things, and argue that she was playing with that, and anyway first she has to go get something from the basement. Right now. It could be as simple as me stating that it was cold out, and that she needed to wear a hat, which would immediately set off a string like, All my hats are dirty or Mom said I could wear a beret or My coat already has a hood and so on.

The day before, while working together at her craft table, painting some art books (hers was about Harry Potter, mine was about some unloved monster named Paul), we listened to a podcast about space, and at one point someone referenced Star Wars.

“We should watch that sometime,” I said.

“No, we shouldn’t,” she said. “I hate Star Wars.”

“You have no idea what it’s about. Anyway, I think you’d really like it.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

I did an informal poll about the Easter long weekend, and the people who like it tend to be people with older kids. For them, it’s a true holiday, with their teenagers sleeping ’til noon and then slumping off to a friend’s for the rest of the day. Whereas for little kids it’s just four more days of the world pouring sugar into the blazing inferno of their egos.

“There are many times in life when you do not want to argue or even comment,” I try to say.

“No, there isn’t,” my eight year-old replies. “Like when?”

“Like when you’re trying to cross the border,” I suggest. “That’s a good example. You can’t argue with a border guard. If you even get smart with them, then you’ll find yourself sitting in a little room for five hours while they take your car apart. And then they’ll still make you turn around.”

“They can’t do that! That’s not fair!”

“Who said anything about fair?” I ask.

This morning, as she finished her breakfast (including the hateful grapes), I asked her to clear her place. When she started to try to do so by carrying the plate with the outer edge of her palms only, I told her to put it down and carry it like a normal person.

“I can’t,” she said. “My hands are too sticky.”

“Wipe them on the napkin I gave you.”

“It’s too dirty”, she said. “It’s all used up! I don’t like dirty napkins!”

“No, it’s only half used.”

“No! I can’t do it!”

Which ended with her sitting in a chair facing the corner. This is the only effective response that I’ve found, because kids these days hate being without stimuli more than anything else. In fact, she held out for about ninety seconds before admitting that she could, in fact, carry the plate into the kitchen with sticky hands.

Later, on the drive to school, she asked me if it was possible to divide 3 into 14.

“Yes,” I said. “Any two numbers can be divided into each other.”

“No, they can’t. There’s two left over.”

“It’s called decimals and fractions, and you don’t know anything about that yet, but that doesn’t make it not true.”

“Blah blah blah blah blah…” she started to say.

Which ended with us sitting for five minutes of silence once we got to school. She was missing five minutes of before-school care, five minutes of snacks, five minutes of friends, and fun, and having to sit there was worse then Tamerlane and the Black Death combined.

“Are we done with the blah-blah-blah’s?” I asked, at the end of the five minutes.

In fact, we were.

I only got to the studio once this long weekend (another strike against it), so I have only one new work to share.

At least the rest of the week is short,

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

cigar-tin stories number eighty four // i never sleep

Spring, and getting warmer. It seems like I never sleep. The drifting classes are all over Princess Street, spectating and standing around. Some have spotted dogs. Fat kids in pink corduroy try to eat giant chocolate bars that are too big for their hands and mouths. Silver foil litters the sidewalk. Why are their feet so tiny? A woman with her head in some kind of decorative net tries and fails to walk and cough at the same time; she keeps having to stop and fling herself around. The cough itself is an animal, ugly and wet, the kind of cough they use as shorthand on television when someone’s going to die from cancer. A million years ago, in some remembered lifetime, a guy I used to work with enjoyed teasing me about dying from cancer someday. It was just something he did. He had been a Thalidomide baby, so now he’d use his stunted arms and sardonic mind to mimic a cancer guy having to talk with a robotic voice through a hole in his throat. It always made him laugh. One day, after a bunch of us had gone out for lunch, he hopped around to the back of my car where another guy was getting out his wheelchair, but instead of handing it over this other guy rolled it away from him, across the parking lot, making him chase it on his undersized legs. We all laughed and laughed. We were real monsters then, I guess. Now I can always be interrupted and I never ask for anything. A friend of mine says I use this as a pretext to complain about not getting help but the last thing i want is the unwashed grip of someone’s grubby opinion. In front of me, a cross-eyed man with a red beard and a bad limp jaywalks at the intersection. He has on one of those caps that seems to invite unwanted violence. A truck with decorative flames on its front grill drives by playing Spoonman loud enough to make people look up from their phones. Temporarily. What a ridiculous song––the musical equivalent of pouring maple syrup down a snake pit. The truck rattles like a tin of dishes. The night before I’d dreamt about a woman with a yellow onion for a head. In fact, it was only half an onion, with the flat side presented instead of a face. In the dream we’d talked about that at some length, this business of having no face, and the whole time she’d sat there with a lit cigarette in her hand. The room next door with filled with greyness. At some point, too, there was the buzzing open concept modern plan pinball foosball soft chair tumbled over thing, all around us, and these slumping young adults. I have absolutely no opinion. As a rule. With spring all the storylines start splaying and crossing. In front of me is a guy on a bike so obviously stolen that I can’t believe he doesn’t burst into flames. He stares straight ahead, betraying nothing––some kind of internal cathedral. There are oceans of data out there but this guy is in his own little world. I wonder what that must be like.

Oh, and Happy Easter.

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

cigar-tin stories number eighty-two / / memory ruins

Oona and I listen to a podcast about colours. One of the stories is about a woman who loses her sight, then regains it slowly, painfully, in a highly altered fashion, seeing like some prehistoric fish at the bottom of the ocean. At one point her brain begins turning on the colours of things when she’s told what they are; somewhere in our brains are tiny wires marked out for ‘blue’, I guess.

At the supermarket (always at the supermarket): a teenage girl, sullen in the wake of her mother’s endlessly stupid grocery shopping (“Why are you even buying that? I’m not going to eat that. This is boring!”), says, with little atomic lightning bolts shooting from her eyes, “Do you even know where you’re going? You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” Sometimes it seems like this is the entire world.

On Brownie night I serve Oona a quick supper––in this case it’s a mixed plate of grape tomatoes, sliced strawberries, vegetable crackers, seedless grapes, Polish sausage in bite-sized chunks, apple slices, cheese, toast with butter and jam, and cold chocolate pudding. It’s the cheese where I fall down; Oona won’t eat regular cheddar or mozzarella, she’ll only eat either when they’re mixed in a processed cheese string. Foolishly, I have broken these into pieces, and mixed them with all the rest. The censure is swift. “What were you thinking, daddy?” she asks.

I haven’t been posting as much art. This isn’t to say that I’m not creating as much, only that I’m experiencing some kind of glitch where I skip the last step, the packaging and presenting and posting part. I seem to have a lot of things lying around the studio, moving around but never put away and asking strange questions in their need to be finished off. But it’s always easier to start things than to finish them, isn’t it? At the start of things the world is yours. But finished things move away from you.

Part of this is down to organizing. Nothing of importance can be accomplished without organizing. I’ve heard. Unfortunately, the aspect of my brain dedicated to organization often looks like the forgotten remains of a bag of onions––all rottenness, brittle skins and some kind of plastic mesh where you can’t find your way in. And then as you get older, you just don’t care as much.

So much of my life these days is the giving up on things. I don’t mean this in any negative way; it’s more the ability to ignore the various circuses that roll through one’s cognitive suburbs. The noise, dear, and the people. I think instead about routine. I don’t want to buy anything. I have too many masters already.

Consumer society doesn’t really work so much anymore by pulling the old levers of advertising and having you want things; now it cultivates the need for adventure. It’s the difference, I guess, between the Cuisinart You and the Curated You. It’s just a different road to the same place. You’ll still require many products and devices.

Looking for music, I find a CD with the handwritten (Sharpie) label of ‘mixed for new’. It might be fifteen years old. The ancient JVC stereo in my studio was always cheaper than fuck, and these burned CD’s always have a secondary audio quality anyway, but I sort of love the heavy, low-fi sound: loud but somehow never sharp, never refined, as if coming from the end of some narrow memory tunnel.

At a children’s play where the kids read from scripts: it is not exactly a the-future-is-ours kind of moment. But the real play is called SELF-ESTEEM, and the velvet ropes are fiercely patrolled by organic-fed parents, all ecstatic applause and giant teeth, so I do not say a word.

It’s March Break, which should really be called Emergency Child Care Week. I take some holidays to stay home with Her Highness. The morning is for playing, the afternoon is for getting out. Yesterday it was simple: a giant walk that ended at a bakery. “But all these cookies have peanuts!”, my eight year-old complained, even though she is not allergic to peanuts and her aversion is completely based on some random comment by another manipulative eight year-old. In the end she picked out some lemon cookies and some shortbread with a jam centre. How awful.

Have a good March Break, everyone.


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

p.s. This is a version of my Tinyletter, which I send out every Tuesday from here.

songs for skating / / cigar-tin stories number eighty

I make a painting called The Adventurer. There are no real adventurers anymore, at least not in the classic mode: costumed out in khaki and straps, always crash-landing their dubious flying machines, or half-starved and completely mad beyond the borders of some godforsaken jungle, or abandoned hinterland, or skeleton-paved mountain range, before disappearing forever in some desperate, senseless attempt to circumnavigate an area of the globe entirely devoid of dots or reason. One can’t just rollick around the planet any longer, powered by stylish steamer trunks and charming letters of introduction to the right local chieftains. Too much of the world is a no-go zone now, with all the appeal of a drainage ditch, or wet ashtray, or Detroit, except with cluster bombs and refugees, and like Detroit these places just keep limping along, no matter how poorly their scars and screams fit into our Instagram feed.

I remember reading Scott‘s letters in school; I think he was meant to personify something specifically British and stoic and doomy and romantic all at once, and I wonder how much my National-Lampoon-saturated brain could have possibly soaked in.

Friday, March 16 or Saturday 17 – Lost track of dates, but think the last correct. Tragedy all along the line. At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn’t go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and we induced him to come on, on the afternoon march. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come.
Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates’ last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not––would not––give up hope till the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning –– yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.

We go skating. Oona never wants to go skating (see: kids, effort) but this is a skill she needs to acquire. As with learning to ride a bike or catch a ball, I would like her future decisions to be motivated by reason or enthusiasm and not based on fear. So yes, avoid the company slow-pitch team like the 100%-polyester drunks that they probably are, but don’t do so because you feel like Les Nessman in left field. Besides, she’s getting better all the time.

I played hockey as a kid and I was atrocious. Combine one cup of all-limbs, talent-free athletic ability with two tablespoons of white-bread, indifferent coaching, mixed with the mendacious no-name mincemeat otherwise known small-town hockey culture and voilà: you get a thoroughly lacklustre hockey player who jumps from the oven as soon as humanly possible, and afterwards can only relate to sports through a Funny Games versus Island of Doctor Moreau-like prism. Are all sports bad? Of course not. Should most of them be regarded as Amway with whistles and more meaningless prizes? Yes.

It’s always The Past at public skating. It’s always time for Nazareth or Golden Earring or Def Leppard (did you know the drummer only has one arm! wow!) or Tears for Fears or the Cranberries or even Poison, and it is never, ever time for Kanye. But the one song that eclipses all others, that tears through the psychic stratosphere of public skating like an avenging comet, obliterating all consciousness with syrupy detonations of feel-good rock stardom, is More Than a Feeling by Boston. You can skate to that forever.

Alright. C has put me on a 15-calorie-per-day diet so I don’t have the strength or mental cohesion to type any more. Tonight we’re going to see the Peking Acrobats!

I hope everyone is having a good day…


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