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Just proof that art is still being produced. 🙂

watercolour painting by d. bernicky

Papaya King – NYC

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Who still reads this!?!

It was a little bit of a surprise the on Wednesday when a message showed up in my Facebook messages under the Message Request tab (the one that doesn’t go red but stays pale grey even when a message comes in). Laura and her husband Mitch, friends of Lynn’s from theatre days, had messaged that they had a bike they were not using that our son could have. At first I said no because I thought it was a loan and our son can be very hard on his bikes because he rides in a very urban environment – lots of curbs, pot holes etcetera – but the offer was for a gift of said bike. Wow! So it was off to their house with our daughter in tow to pick up the bike. Laura and Mitch have three kids two whip smart girls, one who just finished her first year at one of Quebec’s best high schools with an 86% average, another who will be heading to the same school soon and a little titian haired boy who redefines enthusiasm and persistence. It was nice to see them all again and the bike, even if it had been “gathering dust” as they put it, is wonderful. Our son was very happy to hear about it.

Our son's new bike courtesy of Laura and Mitch

Our son’s new bike courtesy of Laura and Mitch

While this was happening Morrie emailed me to tell me that he too had a bike that he was willing to pass along to our son. It was raining bikes.

Very cool, very generous, and very eye opening. I really do forget sometimes that there are people who read this page, for that I am thankful and for their generosity I am equally thankful.

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Jack Russell

Once upon a time, and for all I know it still goes on, there was a “sport” called Ratting.

The premise was simple. A walled pit would be filled with rats. Punters would be encouraged to place bets as to the the number of rats that would be killed by a particular dog during a particular time period. Once the bets were closed a Jack Russell Terrier was dropped into the pit and the blood bath began. Rats would climb over each other, attack each other, all in the effort to evade the Jack Russell. The bookies never offered odds on the rats killing the dog. Rats do their best to look out for themselves and the dogs always had someone even bigger and more powerful to protect them.

Our son’s new bicycle was stolen. It’s a hard hit he uses the bike to get to and from work. It was locked up properly to a bike rack outside a metro station with security cameras and it was stolen. No doubt the person who stole it was poor and this is how they support themselves. There is always a need and a motive. I get that. What never fails to surprise me though is how we, the poor, behave like rats every time. We’re so predictable that it must be an unending source of entertainment for the rest of the universe.

The trouble of course is that he still needs to get to and from work. By foot that’s eight kilometers each way while we save up for a replacement bike. I’m looking for a second hand bike on Kijiji and Craigslist but have my concerns about buying bicycles from people who, like as not, are selling stolen goods. I messaged someone this morning about a bike asking two simple questions when and where was it purchased. Still no reply.

One day maybe we’ll all wise up and realize there are more rats than there are Jack Russells or handlers for that matter. At the very least we should stop attacking each other.

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A new poem

Wisdom

In dreams
She arrives
In need’s precise moment.
In day’s light
She is ever
Life’s beloved straggler.

– denis bernicky

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Choosing a journal – long form fiction

My first choice for getting Concrete Memories out into the world was The Fiction Desk. I thought, and still think, it would have been a good fit. A story about a war bride in an English literary journal. They didn’t think so. Which is okay – that’s their job, to know their audience. Mine is to find one.

To that end I’ve decided on the next submission. The Alaska Quarterly Review is one of the few giants left standing. Adirondack, Blackbird and of course Tin House. There aren’t many left and there are even fewer that will accept a short story of almost eighteen thousand words. The Alaska Quarterly Review will consider fiction that length. They aren’t alone there are exactly 33 journals of which I am aware which will accept fiction of novella length. One has already rejected the story. I’m not put off by that because the feedback from almost forty readers total has been uniformly positive. Even with my own inner critic nattering away at me the weight of the positive feedback is enough to convince me that I’ve done something good with this story. The trick will be to find an editor who agrees with me enough to give it the pages it needs.

The Alaska Quarterly Review. There were 32 possible places to submit: why them? It probably sounds odd, but the method of submission. Snail mail. Old school. Print up your story. Put the story in an envelope with a cover letter and SASE for the rejection slip, address it, put postage on it and drop it in the post. Wait for the SASE to come back.

Back in the day when I was going to set the literary world on fire with my genius and turn of phrase that was how it was done. Things change of course. I don’t use an Underwood manual typewriter with Elite script keys, or sneak into the secretary’s office at Lonergan College to use her IBM Selectric at lunch time. The paper has changed too. Fifty pound bond used to be a big expense for me, now it’s something I can pick up on the way home and while not cheap 500 sheets will keep me in paper for a while. Postage has gone up but not nearly proportionally with income over the years. The whole idea of mailing off a story has a nostalgia attached to it that made a submission to The Alaska Quarterly Review an inevitability. It would be nice to get a letter back saying that they accept the submission for publication but odds being what they are I will be happy enough to receive the inevitable, impersonal, form rejection. The writing life being what it is you have to take your pleasures in whatever form they come.

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Daddy needs a new pair of shoes

My income tax returns were filed the first week of March. Revenue Quebec received it, processed it and issues the refund owed me in less than a month. Revenue Canada on the other hand has been taking their time. First up was a “preassessment notice” which called into question educational expenses. That’ll teach me to go back to school at my age. They disallowed a bunch of education expenses that our daughter had because they were independent study and they were not included on some slip or another that the college has to issue. Okay, fair enough, the expenses didn’t qualify. It wasn’t a big difference but it was a difference. I’m good with that – I only want back what is mine. That was almost five weeks ago now and still no refund.

Revenue Canada has it both ways. When they owe you money they can take as long as they want to pay you back and you are not entitled to interest except from the end of the filing period regardless of how long they’ve had your money. If you owe them money it is due on the day the taxes were filed and interest starts to accrue immediately. In my limited view of finance it seems like the government gets to collect and hold on to money that is mine and gain the benefit and interest of using it for as long as they want before generously refunding it to me. The Canada Revenue Agency has a reputation for ruthlessness which has played out in the press a few times so it is only the very rich and powerful who ever take issue with the way they do things. That leaves me waiting on my own money and loath to ask what’s going on because, well, they’re the CRA and asking them questions is akin to being a nail sticking up from the floor.

I’m looking forward to receiving my refund. There are exotic plans afoot. Quite literally afoot. I need new shoes. I have a pair but they are at the end of their life cycle having spent a little over a year wearing them to work,as winter boots, hiking boots, running shoes and Sunday go to meeting best. Other exotic expenditures include paying the oil bill, paying the electric bill, buying groceries and splurging on a couple of new paint brushes. I plan to live large once I get off the curb.

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Concrete feedback

A while back I gave Concrete Memories to a teacher I know and asked him to blue pencil it for me. He obliged and when he returned it he told me he enjoyed it then asked if he could show it to his students. Naturally I agreed.

The upshot was that it was the last story in a series of short stories he had the students read. In the module he had asked the students at the end of each story to do a little research on the author and come up with some questions they would like to ask the author if they could. When they came to my story some were a little surprised to find that I was the author and that I had stories listed on Amazon and iTunes. That’s when he told them that I would come in and they would be asking me their questions.

What questions they were! Yesterday morning, for sixty minutes, I fielded some pretty sharp questions about autobiographical nature of the story, things I had problems with in the writing, how long it took to write, genre fiction, making art etcetera. My favourite moments were these. One question started with “The second time I read the story…”. Wait, what? The second time? Wow. Another one was when I asked about a feature of the story which I felt was problematic and got feedback that they felt it was the core strength of the story. Wow. Just goes to show you aren’t always the best judge. By all accounts they enjoyed the story even though they were reluctant to read it when they first got it – 53 pages is a long short story. One student in particular sought me out to tell me how much he personally enjoyed the story. That was mind blowing.

There’s always a little part of me that thinks: they’re just trying to be nice. Whenever someone gives me positive feedback about any of my art I actually find it hard to accept. I don’t know why that is. Having such great feedback and great questions from a group of students is a good thing and I shouldn’t second guess it, but my inner critic is a harsh bastard. (As an aside I wrote a little essay on art for LinkedIn you can find it here)

In the meantime here’s my most recent sketch

California Donuts - Winsor Newton on Stillman and Birn Zeta

California Donuts – Winsor Newton on Stillman and Birn Zeta

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Irony

a sentence broken
into little pieces does
not make it a poem

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Moisture Barrier

Work and work and work and work. That’s about all there is to it these days.

My grand niece managed to get out of Fort McMurray during the evacuation. It took her and her man 18 hours to make it from Fort Mac to Lac La Biche which is normally a two hour drive. They are safe though which is really all that matters.

Spring has been touch and go in Montreal – temperatures varying from -2 at night to 19 some days and only 5 and rainy others. Summer will get here, it always does.

I start two new courses this week. Introduction to C# programming and “Getting and Cleaning Data” which is basically an R programming course. Have to keep the mind busy some how.

In the meantime I finished my last watercolour sketchbook and started a new one. This one has hot pressed smooth paper in it which is very different from the first one which was cold press and very rough. Time will tell which I prefer, both handle very differently. Here is the cover and the first painting.

The new watercolour sketchbook

The new watercolour sketchbook

Papaya Dog - first sketch in new book.

Papaya Dog – first sketch in new book.

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Quick observation

The most frustrating thing about completing any task, including a painting, is that immediately after finishing it you can see everything that could have been done better had you only just changed a little bit here and a little bit there.

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