2019 will be the best year of your life, I guarantee it // cigar-tin stories one hundred twelve

Actually, that’s probably a lie, and I can’t guarantee anything. But if you are the guy they keep handing the rake to, then you are undoubtedly the Rake Guy, and there’s nothing to do but keep raking. And watch for oncoming traffic.

And there goes 2018. How did it look? Did you have a good Christmas? Did you enjoy the holidays? Or did you feel press-ganged into some kind of irrational mass event, like Y2K except without the hysterical thrill of possible species extinction? My own views on le temps des fêtes have softened somewhat, or at least turned away as if from herd animals or inclement weather. For me, these days, the holidays seem like a kind of spaceship –– much hoo-ha and fanfare at launch, then the long, extended grey and sleepless sleepiness of constant inside-ness, and sideways considerations of crew, few of whom you actually chose, and time filled with time-filling tasks, whole days within days of dingy lighting and dimmed thinking, as if engaged in some kind of perpetual night shift where there is really nothing to do, or nothing of consequence can be considered, because everything is aimed at some constructed date in January, at which point we’ll land on a brand new planet, only imagined but somehow very real, and our own selves magically revitalized and refreshed, emerging spiritually armed and psychologically ready to do whatever it takes to lead that life which lives in some kind of waiting shadow world within us. Or something.

It’s sad that a simple children’s holiday has gone so psychologically nuclear on us, and that it’s now so beside-the-point for children. By the time my daughter’s three weeks of Christmas holidays finally began, she was more or less on a constant ambient loop of bragging about how she hadn’t done any schoolwork for a month. Pizza day, pyjama day, gift-exchange day, skating day, crafting day, PA day, movie night, games night, potluck, theatre… every day was another permission slip, another special lunch, or special lodestar thing (teddy bear, costume, narcotics, etc) stuffed into her backpack, concession money tucked into her pocket, and many notes-to-self on just where to be and when. I felt like someone’s batman, just waiting around with hot water and shaving kit.

Gosh, it is all too much? Future anthropologists, huddled around their oxygen fires in their underground survival bunkers, should have their own field day with that one. When I told my two office mates that I wasn’t taking any extra time off over the holidays, they looked at me like I’d just popped out of a coffin. But it’s the holidays, people always say, using the thing to justify the thing. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings by saying how nice it would be to come in when they were not there, how an empty office is the only time Christmas speaks to me.

So: hopefully you didn’t spend too much, or plan too much, or look for salvation, or otherwise lose your mind. I think the best you can expect is just to be exhausted. I think it’s that part of it, that helplessness before events, that I will always have an issue with. People don’t behave well under pressure, and somewhere in the background Christmas is always simmering with a certain level of Biblical anger. Like when God pulled a bear instead of a rabbit out of his hat…

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. 
~ 2 Kings 2:23-24

Rotten kids. They were probably high on whole pounds of baking and candy and iPad. I hear something called Fortnite is a thing? My daughter’s own psycho-chemical dependency is Roblox, where she wanders around something called MeepCity and

1) lays in the bed or
​2) goes through the doorway or
3) turns on the TV.

Or so it seems to me. Which I guess is better than hunting down and murdering other digital simulacrums. Anyway, she’s only allowed forty minutes at a time, except when it’s just her and mom, and then all the parental controls are very, very off, and punctuated by a lot of yelling.

Okay, thanks for reading, and good luck in the New Year,

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

>> Bonus New Year’s Track <<

TEST 14A-8.3   Changing Figures of Speech for 2019

Complete the similes and then change the first ten of them to metaphors. Write those metaphors on a separate list. Then carry that list with you (neatly folded!) for the entirety of 2019. Further instructions and signs will reveal themselves in the sky.

1. On January 2nd, her resolutions already in tatters, Scarlett is as internally unmoored as a __________. Winter descends as dark and dispiriting as __________.

2. Juice cleanse, liver cleanse, Blueprint Cleanse… soon her colon feels like a __________ after __________.

3. Her heart becomes as dried and yellow as __________.

4. Gloom hangs like a __________ over the land.

5. Jasper does breath work and mindful movement and cognitive therapy and lectin-free diets like __________. Choose to be happy! he always says, like some kind of __________.

6. In fact, Jasper’s Instagram cheeriness feels like __________ in Scarlett’s intestines.

7. Her melancholy winks and twinkles until it becomes wholly __________.

8. The axe gleams and whispers as __________.

9. After midnight she moves as quietly as __________.

10. Jasper never sees her, never looks up, is as lost and mesmerized by his cellphone as  __________.

11. The axe is as thirsty as __________.

12. The police treat Scarlett’s lack of resistance as __________.

13. The trial is faster than __________.

14. The verdict comes in as clear as __________.

15. The executioner’s song is sweeter than __________.

16. Heaven is colder and emptier than __________. On the plus side, it is the ultimate detox.

p.s.2. This is a version of my weekly Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to here.


no fear or favour / / cigar-tin stories number one hundred eight


An old lady drinking a milkshake is punching someone in the Beer Store parking lot. I can’t tell if it’s an affectionate or genuine attack. The parking lot at the Beer Store always feels like the last days in the Siege of Sarajevo. Guys pull up in trucks that often look more like tanks. Sometimes they wear bandanas.

We have a couch delivered. Because the arc of meaning in our lives often resembles the laziest of sitcoms, this delivery is scheduled for a six-hour window and doesn’t actually happen until the very end, when two small guys who might have a combined age of seven show up to do some scampering around a very big truck. The one in charge has gloves. The other one doesn’t want to be there. Much heaving and twisting and failure in basic geometry ensues, for about ten minutes, resulting in a verdict that the couch will not fit. C and I think out loud for another minute. The guy who doesn’t want to be there (this guy is standard issue in any labour crew), and who is backed up with one end of the couch into the laundry room, announces, “I just don’t want to stand around here all day.” So we send it back. In a strange way this makes the delivery guys quite happy, I think. Why can’t everyone just send it back? More to follow.

We go to the Santa Claus Parade. I don’t want to go, and people we go with are surprised when I do go, but my agency in these matters is often compromised by shorter, blonder people. And very soon Oona will begin to find these kinds of things stupid and boring. So I go. The weather isn’t bad and who doesn’t want to be psychically concussed with successive battalions of girls’ gymnastics and dance clubs, doing cartwheel after cartwheel after cartwheel. Meanwhile, grizzled middle-aged men on motorcycles rumble by and wave, which people seem to enjoy. For some reason. Also, apparently there are still two Shriners left alive, and the Knights of Columbus are up to something, according to their float, and at the very least they supply the crowd a vague notion about Christmas being about Jesus Christ. Whoever that was. So we stand around in the cold for an hour or two and at the end Santa shows up and his wife does all the talking while the fat man chuckles into a microphone like someone with a nagging brain injury.

The next day I have a cold, or some kind of tiny virus that makes my ears and face hot and produces generalized exhaustion and random episodes of total congestion. All part and parcel of being Canadian I guess but nevertheless still pointless and boring. Accordingly, C leaves town for a few days to attend a conference and enjoy those luxuries called hotel living without your family. She sends me texts about keynote speakers while Oona complains about the absence or presence of pulp in her breakfast orange juice and the possibility of spots on the bananas.

Oona also uses her mom’s absence to brag incessantly about all the things she does when mom is not looking. “She thought I was on ROBLOX but really I was Googling my name over and over and over again,” she tells me on the way to swimming lessons. “Did you have a blog called ‘red-handed’ daddy? I really like my baby pictures on there. Mom thought I was on ROBLOX but I was eating Halloween candy and looking at my baby pictures. Mom told me to take just one candy but I took like seven.”

A client asks me to put together a logo. I don’t see why this client needs a logo but whatever, this is what happens when people have meetings. Logos happen. We should have a logo! The client even provides a little sketch of what he wants this logo to look like. I make the logo. It is terrible. The client sort of realizes this so another meeting happens and minor changes are asked for, which is a bit like the German army updating its uniforms in April of 1945. Now I do not hear from the client. Next thing I know, New Guy is going to meetings with the client.

Because I have a cold, I reschedule a root canal. I do this because did I mention that it is a root canal and also viruses do not discriminate against dentists. I do not love them but they are still human beings. After all.

I listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I listen to Rafael Anton Irisarri’s The Clock. I listen to The Luxury of Dirt by Aix Em Klemm. I don’t know anything about music anymore, and I never really did, but it still has surprisingly much to offer.

I am cutting and trimming and assembling things for the Fat Goose Craft Fair on December 2nd. As per usual, my table is almost entirely original work that is priced to sell. I read yesterday that there are six corporations that control almost ninety percent of everything you consume by way of hearing and seeing, which makes me think that original things are more important than ever.

Have a great week everyone,

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

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.