dysfunctional zen


there is a wind
tunneling through the leaves and grass and
circulation vents of houses
where wasps hide their nests


it carpets  street intersections
and lifts this morning’s newspapers
into dance with dust and moonlight


it burrows under my scalp and
scatters my thoughts and memories
into the clear dark night


Winter and My Dead Money Tree


OK…I think I’ve established that I hate winter. I hate the snow, the cold…et al…infinitely. All of that…the cold, the lack of smell, the lack of abundant color…the things you can physically see, smell and feel…are just one bottomless crater in my feelings about winter.

“So, Biff,” said the fox, “what else chills you about winter?”

“Good, one, fox,” said J, the notorious blood-sucking editor, as he laughed.

Oh shit. They’re back. I can’t even wallow in self pity by myself. And the fox was wearing a fox fur coat. “Oh, come on, fox,” I said. “You’re definitely related to that coat on some level.”

“I like to keep my ancestors close,” said the fox through a terrifying smile. If you’ve never seen a fox smile…don’t.

So, Biff,” said J, “I’m working on another anthology.”

Shit, I thought, more sleepless nights. More calls in the dead of the darkness: “Write, Biff, write. Need stories. Need your pain. Need your suffering.”

This is how editors talk to writers…even the editors that write.

“A…another…anthology?” I mumbled, lips quaking, sweat rolling.

“Yep,” said J. “It’s going to be a Twisted Tails anthology. I’m calling it Twisted Tails: The Ultimate Pain.”

“I like it,” said the fox. “It has a pizzazz ring to it. Does Biff get to suffer?”

“He sure does,” said J. “But that’s OK. Biff likes to suffer. It gives him an excuse to wallow in self pity. Right, Biff?”

I felt like a fly caught between a steaming pile of shit and a Snickers bar. But I wasn’t going to let the sinister editor get the best of me. “I wallow…therefore I am!” I blurted. Wondering as the words came out of my mouth…wtf.

The fox and J laughed for hours. And hours. Into days and nights and weeks. They laughed for weeks as I wallowed. “You guys almost finished?” I said.

They immediately stopped laughing and stared at me, straight-faced. “You don’t like the sound of laughter?” said J.

“You hate laughter?” said the fox.

I wasn’t taking any more of this shit. “CAN WE GET BACK TO WINTER?” I suggested.

The fox and J looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said together, “OK, Biff, winter.”

I took a deep breath, composed myself, took another deep breath, composed myself some more and said, “It’s like death.”

Simultaneously, the fox and J yawned.

“C’mon guys,” I said. “Look around! Everything’s covered in a shroud of snow. A shroud! There’s no smell, no warmth…nobody’s wearing shorts and t-shirts. No sandals. The beaches are closed. The swimming pools are empty. The outdoor patios for every bar and coffee shop in town are closed. As far as I can see, there’s not a single happy blade of grass. Winter is death and death is winter and all I want to do is wallow in self pity and cry for every blade of grass buried under a shroud of snow. And I want to put on shorts and sandals and a t-shirt, curl up under my bed and wait for spring.”

“Whoa,” said J. “That was good wallow,  Biff. Are those tears in your eyes?

“Yep,” said the fox. “Biff’s crying. Ah…Biff…did we make you cry?”

They laughed again. For days and weeks. Laughed as a tsunami of tears washed over my face. “And my money tree died,” I said.

The fox and J looked at my dead money tree, browned with death and wondering, “Wtf?” And they laughed some more.

On Cleaning Your Lens (and then some)


OK, I’m thinking that some of you reading this are photographers at one stage or another. I’m at that other stage…wtfai? But I’ve cleaned enough dust spots off images so that I felt like my life was cleaning dust spots off images.

So…I should know better.

“Shame on you, Biff,” said the fox.

“Shame,” said J. As if one tormentor wasn’t enough.

“Biff,” said the fox, “what is the first rule for getting nice shots of…anything?”

“You do know the answer to that, don’t you, Biff,” said J. “And I’ll be checking the formatting of your answer,” said J, the fucking editor.

“OK,” I said. “You’ve got me. “I should have cleaned my lens before every…every single…shot.”

“Why’s that, Biff?” said the fox.

“Why, Biff, why?” said the insidious editor as he enjoyed every second of my discomfort.

“Because,” I said, “because…because…it was windy. It was windy and the wind was blowing all kinds of shit onto my lens. Shit like…dust spots!”

I shrieked. I wept. I wrapped myself into a fetal position and cried for hours. I experienced the first time I had sex and didn’t realize until the next day that I ejaculated pre-maturely and couldn’t think of a single apology that might sound like it was coming from a sane person.

I saw the day that JFK was assassinated. I was at school in Winnipeg. I was in English class. Everybody had already heard about it. There were students in the halls, crying. Students hugging each other. Everyone…feeling a deep sense of loss.

Our teacher stood at the front of the class. I forget her name now, but she was kind of…prissy. That was the word we would have used at the time. But she was a good person and made the burden of having to have an English class part of the curriculum into something that wasn’t as painful as it should have been. She could teach. And she loved to teach. She could make an adverbial sound sexy.

But, maybe she underestimated her students’ intelligence.

She stood before us and she said, “Has everyone heard the sensational news?

We balked. Sensational? Sensational news? JFK is dead and this is SENSATIONAL?

The PA came on with instructions for everyone to go home while she tried to explain what she meant. Students packed books and pens away, not listening to her. And she seemed so helpless as she stood there trying to get people who had already judged to understand. She was just as distraught as everyone else.

“You should have told her that, Biff,” said the fox.

“I thought I knew you, Biff,” said J, “But I think I’m going to have to turn the torment levels up a bit.”

“One of those moments, guys,” I said, “that you decide…you’re never going to do that again.”

Strange to think back all those years and remember that the US had a president who was  loved and respected around the world because he had a vision that included the whole world. And when he died, there were tears around the world.

And so…when you’re taking pics outdoors and there’s any kind of wind…I mean, even a puff…get that micro cloth or that lens pen out, and keep those lenses clean.

About the photograph…yeah…I could have spent a while removing the dust spots…but there are some areas that wouldn’t be easy. Cleaning the lens would have been much easier. And it takes just a few seconds.









Green (in winter)


Where I live (about a mile or so from where the earth drops off into infinite chaos, where elephants carry worlds on their backs), winter lasts forever. In any given year, winter is at least 17 months long. Usually longer.

That’s 17+ months of air stripped of fragrance, devoid of the smell of living things like plants and bushes. Devoid of the dense sound of buds growing on sap filled branches. Even the wind sounds different as it rushes through snow-straddled fields and barren forests. The cold bites through sunlight and freezes the cheeks.

Now, I’m not going to go off on another “I hate winter” tirade (though I do hate winter) (very much) (I really do) but, instead, I want to pay homage to the color green. Yes, we do get green here in the winter in the form of evergreen trees and green buildings and green cars and trucks and buses and signs and green eyes. But there are no green leaves, no green grass, no green bushes.

Oops…am I tirading again? Sorry.

We get trickles of green seeping out from snow-capped evergreens, but never that resplendent barrage of green like a tsunami of color washing over the landscape. But when summer (after 17 months of winter) slides down the shute of winter and melts the snow and ice into arteries of life, the green is so intense you can feel it rubbing against your eyes and licking your nostrils.

And I think I just grossed myself out.

Let’s try that again.

The green simmers under the snowscape, sucking the life and nutrients out of the white stuff until it crumples and falls into the bowels of summer.

Green summer.


Under the Parking Lot


I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I want to make it annoyingly clear that I hate winter. I know I’ve made promises to people that I’ll try to get along with winter…and I have. I’ve actually gotten out of bed a few times. Like right now. I put on clothes and buried myself in a winter parka. I went into the the parking lot, into the frigid January daylight which, as soon as I stepped outdoors, turned to overcast skies, and a sub-zero wind that would lay a membrane of frost around Hell whipped out of the frozen air.

“Hey, Biff,” said the fox. “Like my new coat?”

Damn fox was wearing a mink coat.

“You do understand that you might be related to that coat, don’t you?”

“Are you giving the fox a hard time again, Biff?”

I looked behind me. Floating in the air in lotus position and wearing a 10 gallon hat full of steaming hot water from which pipes extended to form a circular heating system around him was J. Richard Jacobs, aka J. He wore a housecoat with a ninja turtle motif.

“J,” I said. “So, that really was you the other day, sitting on my kitchen counter.”

“Yes, Biff, it was. I read your blog and realized that the fox wasn’t making your life miserable enough. It takes an editor make life truly painful for a writer…even one like you, who just barely meets the qualifications for being literate and can’t follow simple formatting standards.”

“Biff,” said the fox, “J and I talked about your plans and your purpose for being. We decided that your search for peace was…well, you know…kind of futile. I mean, look around. Nobody wants peace anymore. There’s no money in it. There’re no movies in it. And besides, people like hating each other.”

“We don’t necessarily like our conclusions,” said J, “but, yes, the fox is right…we put more effort into hating than we do into loving.”

“Hating is more profitable,” said the fox. “And it makes for better best sellers.”

“People have more fun hating than loving,” said J. “Haven’t you ever watched reality TV? It’s what we’ve become.”

“It’s all a big TV show with bad script writers,” said the fox.

“So we’ve decided that you need to focus your less than ample talents on something else,” said J.

I felt like I was between a brick wall and a thousand foot precipice with flying demons trying to bite my ass off. “OK,” I said. “I’m game. What should I focus on?”

The fox and J went silent. They looked at each other. They looked around. They looked at me. They looked back at each other. They looked up. They looked down. They looked all around. J started to speak…but looked up instead. The fox scratched his head…and looked at J.

J suddenly smiled and beamed and the pipes surrounding him tooted.

I swear…they tooted.

“I have an idea,” he said. The fox snapped to attention. I dropped my forehead into my right palm. This was going to be bad. I mean…he tooted.

“Biff,” he said, “it’s time for you to come to grips with winter.


There followed two hours of silence as J’s words tumbled around inside my head trying to fall into some kind of coherent meaning. J and the fox stared at me during this time. Just…stared.


There followed another two hours during which I chased J and the fox around the parking lot, needing desperately to beat both of them to death with my camera.


Just as I was about to bring my camera down onto the head of the mink-coated fox, a lid in the parking lot flipped down and I fell into the paving.

How did I never notice this before? I thought.

I tumbled through a tunnel under the parking lot, thinking, This is probably how Alice must have felt.

It seemed like I tumbled for several minutes that turned into several hours and turned into days and into months…and entire lifetimes flashed by my right and my left and right through my head and body as I tumbled into the openings of void after void and I thought: How did I not know this about the parking lot?

Eventually, I landed, camera in hand, on the walking bridge. So I took a couple of pictures before the other two figured out where I was and set out to torment me.

And I still hate winter.




Coming to Grips with Winter (and a horrifying ending)

I hate winter. I hate snow. I hate the cold, the dark, the icy roads, the shoveling and scraping but, most of all I hate the absence of color and aroma. This is why I love taking pictures in winter.

Yes, there’s the beauty of snow-capped and ice-framed trees…the sublime quiet of their form and texture. Like this…


But you can only take so many thousands of pictures like this before you say, “I want a living leaf. My imaginary kingdom for a living leaf.

And some color would be nice

So, beloved Canon 5D2 in hand, I ventured out into the cold Canadian winterscape in search of color (after kissing the camera of course) (and the Sigma 24-70 lens) (after having my lips stuck to my wonderful Kia Soul just a few days ago, I patted my Soul affectionately and said, “Good girl.”) (and then left my Soul behind).

I walked for miles. And miles. And miles with a song sitting vaguely at the edge of my mind, but ever elusive. I traversed vast snow-shrouded fields, trekked to the summits of cloud-touching snow banks and giggled as I made now-angels to mark my path so that I could find my way back.

All this within the borders of Freddie Beach, a small city perched precariously at the edge of the Earth.

Just as I was about to scream, “Oh shit!” to the gods and those who haunt the forests with snowmobiles and snowshoes…and thermos full of tasty hot chocolate (which, at the time, was sitting safely on my kitchen counter wondering wtf)…I spotted the color. It was muted and almost shy, like something recently birthed from the frozen ground.


I quickly cleaned my lens and set my camera to ISO 200 (it was overcast), f/11 (to bring out a world of detail), 1/240 (because I was shaking from the cold) and 70mm (because there was no way I was going to struggle across that wasteland of white up to the subject).

I think, at one time, this might have been an ice house…a structure used to keep winter within its walls year ’round to preserve food. Or it might have been someone’s pot garden…a structure used to keep summer within its walls year ’round.

I took three pictures, using different compositions. I rejected the two with dragons flying out of the door. They seemed so out of place, and I would have been accused of gratuitous Photoshopping.

It wasn’t until I processed the image that I saw it.

A dust spot…rearing its ugly head at the top left of the image. Just as I was about to eliminate it with the Spot Remover, I thought, That’s not a dust spot. That’s a dragon flying into the void of another Canadian winter. So I left it in…for those who still believe in dragons. See it?

Back to the moment, though, I suddenly had an urge to crawl under my bed with a thermos of hot chocolate and wait for spring to arrive.

When I arrived home…the hot chocolate was gone and I had a feeling of something ominous present. And I heard a voice, “Serves you right, Biff.”

I looked at the counter behind me. Sitting on it with a terrible smile was…the fox! And beside him, smiling just as evilly was…the soul-sucking editor of the Twisted Tails Anthologies…J Richard Jacobs.

He ground his teeth together and said, slowly, coldly, blood-suckingly, “Hello, Biff.”

(To be continued)