Thursday, August 16th, 2012

The Fool — Tarot of the Absurd

Tarot Fool Meaning

The fool has been sitting on my desktop for a few weeks now, waiting for an entry. At last I am ready. For those who have not noticed, I identify with the fool. In the tarot deck, I relate the fool to the concept of beginner’s mind—


 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

     —Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki


Beginner’s mind is useful to help us learn. There is a famous zen story—


Empty Your Cup

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.” 


The Major Arcana can be viewed as the story of Fool’s journey through life. The Fool, at the beginning of his journey, has unlimited potential. With a mind uncluttered by knowledge, he is ready to learn. Anything can happen. Opportunities await. The Fool does not mind the lack of concrete plan. The only thing he knows is that he is ignorant of what lies ahead. He looks at the world with curiosity and wonder, takes risks, and has faith. Thus, the Fool goes blindly forward.


In the process of trying to print this deck, I have played the Fool, as has my printer. Both of us have learned a lot. Both of us have lost a bit.


I gave him the specs for what I want. He said up front, “I can do it.” He had a very positive attitude. So I had faith. I learned about layout for printing. I learned about paper, offset vs. digital printing, inks, the use of dies vs. cutting machines for corner rounding, machine error, and about thoroughly double-checking a proof before moving forward. And even tho he has been in the business for many years, he learned a lot about many of the same things.


After much effort, we thought we were at a place where my decks could be printed. I gave him a lot of money. He purchased paper. Then, something went wrong. The ink chips off the paper during cutting and corner rounding. The machine error is just a bit too great for the tightness of the design of the cards. In order to avoid an apparent break in the cards, the corners of the decks must be rounded by a machine he does not own.  Thus far, I have invested a huge amount of time and money and seen nothing worth keeping. Four months later, we are back to square one. In order to eliminate the above problems, the decks will perhaps cost me 30% more than the original estimate.


For those of you who have purchased a deck and are wondering where your money went, where your deck is, and whether I have absconded to Quebec to learn French and have my nails done, I apologize. I’m still in Vermont, my French is horrible, and my nails could use a little work. Plus, the deck is still on pre-sale with free shipping until the end of the month! If I quit now, I’m out more money than anyone, and all this new-found knowledge will have gone to waste.


The printer looked so sad after my visit yesterday. He felt, perhaps, the Fool inverted. The deck will be beautiful. I will be proud. You will see.

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Piatnik-Wien Three-Card Read

I am trying to learn to read tarot cards with unillustrated pips (minors) by merely reflecting on the geometry and colors and whatnot scribbles in the card. My favorite is the Tarot Piatnik Wien, which has beautifully colored un-illustrated pips.


I ask the deck to help me free my mind and learn to read unillustrated pips my own way. I draw at random one card for study. Valet de Baton. I am looking for numbers only, no people, so I draw another card. Valet de Denier. My third card gives me Troi de Epees, so I stop here and lay them out in a row.


Three of Swords


The Valet de Baton wears his fancy buttoned uniform in a field of flowers. The colors are warm. He kind-of reminds me of a British redcoat. He seems as if he is pondering something, tho not something unpleasant. According to the dictionary (one of my favorite references,) a valet is a man’s male servant who performs personal services. I think of batons as sticks. Sticks are natural things that come in all shapes and sizes. They are no longer living. This man is the Valet of Sticks, so he performs personal services for the natural world and those who love it. He likes to be outside doing stuff, but because he is immature, he does not have a great sense of direction in life in terms of what he wants. He knows what he should do, and he knows what is in his line of work, so, in general, he does what he is told. But because he loves the natural world so much, he also loves to explore. This leads him wandering down unexplored paths at inopportune times.


The Valet de Denier wears his fancy flower-embroidered uniform near a diamonded fence. He is a young man who performs services for money. Any blue collar worker (and he is blue indeed) can relate to this. He holds a big coin in his hand as if to say, “Hey! I just got my paycheck!” I think he is eager to learn what kinds of things he can do to make money. Until he matures, he might not care so much about the ethical side of the work he becomes engaged in. He knows that money is powerful but he isn’t sure why.


The Troi de Epees is black with a yellow border, as are all the epees in this deck. I call them blades. The backgrounds of the blades remind me of chalkboards, and the squiggly designs remind me physics equations or something I can’t comprehend.


What this says to me about my ability to read pips intuitively is this:


Like the Valet de Baton, I often run off into the woods without a proscribed trail. I do like to follow trails, one after another, but I do not know where I am going and I don’t necessarily care. I simply enjoy the woods.


Like the Valet de Denier, I hope to find a tiny bit of worldly success off what I do. But the success I will have at relating to plain pips in a worldly manner without outside influence will be mighty small. However, I know an awful lot and I can learn put it to use.


Finally, if I expect to be able to find insight using the pips alone without outside reference whatsoever, I will find nothing but blackness, indecipherable scribbles, and frustration illustrated on the Troi de Epees. This is but a small failure: a normal, every-day failure that occurs when one is not interested enough in the task at hand.

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Who is Dan Shanahan?

Dan ShanahanMy brother Dan (see Dan’s Room) has a show in the Shelburne Library here in Vermont.
I went to the library to take pictures of his show.
The pictures I took are horrible: basically reflections of the lights.
While I was there I met two old ladies talking.
“Are you the artist?” one asked.
“No, she’s not,” answered the other.
“I’m his sister,” I said.
“This is great!” says the one.
“We’re both artists,” says the other. “I do dogs.”
“You had the last show,” I said, trying to sound intelligent, which I am.
She nodded.
“Does he publish?” asked the other.
“No,” I said, “Did you read his statement over there?”
“Yes,” she said.
“It says he’s never published a thing.”
“But he should illustrate books!” argued one.
“I agree,” I said.
“Or magazines,” said the other. “Surely he’s been in magazines.”
I reminded them of the bio.
“Surely, tho, we thought he must have been published somewhere,” said one or the other old lady.
“No,” I said.
“On line,” she said, “He’s published on line.”
“I would like him to put more pictures on my website,” I said.
“I like the woman and the spiders,” said one. “It reminds me of Little Miss Muffet.”
“He sells prints,” I said, “Only $25 dollars, with a mat and everything.”
“Oh, the time to sell art was in the eighties,” says an old lady. The other nodded.
“He was in high-school in the eighties,” I explained.
“Well, the time to sell art was in the eighties,” says the one.
“The eighties,” says the other.
“Nice to meet you,” says the one.
“Tell your brother he should illustrate books,” says the other.
So, anyhow. There you have it. We missed out. It was the eighties, the fabulous eighties.
There will never again be any time like the eighties in America.
My brother Dan has lots of excellent pictures.
He sells his prints for only $25, with a mat and everything.
I want him to put more pictures on my site.
Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Seven of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd



Fantasy, illusion, imagination, wishful-thinking, choices: these are the meanings of the Seven of Cups. Fantasy represents something unattainable or unrealistic. Illusion is seeing something in the world that is not there. Imagination is useful for coming up with things that have never before been done: new solutions to problems or representing things in a new manner. And wishful-thinking often results in poor choices.


 •   •   •


I showed the picture to an acquaintance named Joe. He asked what it was about.
“Fantasy,” I replied, succinctly.
“Do you always fantasize about dragons?” he asked.
I shook my head and frowned. “No, never.”


He didn’t get it, and he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t interested in what went on in other’s heads and how they viewed the world. He wasn’t interested in symbols and meanings that were different than his own. It was pointless to argue or explain anything to him. He had majored in philosophy long ago in college. It seemed the outcome of his education was the philosophy (Fantasy—? Illusion—? Imagination—? Wishful-thinking—? Choice to believe—? ) that if he argued long & hard enough with someone, he could always bring that person around to see the world in the righteous way of Joe. A person could tell him a story from their own life and if Joe didn’t believe it, that person was wrong. I never argued with him or explained myself. It was pointless.


People generally use imagination to fantasize about sex or coming into money or sex or building a huge addition on their house or sex or throttling their boss or sex or drugs or a cigarette or being famous at whatever, and these things are all more or less realistic, tho at times highly improbable. All fantasy is based on reality, even fantastic worlds in works of fiction. The more fantastic a created world is— made-up words, different forces of gravity, never-before-described beings, strange customs, etc.— the more difficult it is for others to relate to that world. In order to be able to appreciate something, we need to be able to relate to it. 100% pure fantasy is actually hard to come by. Abstract art is close. This is why extreme abstraction in art took a while to accept: society did not have a basis on which to relate to the artist’s imagination. With years of practice, we’re coming around.


Have I ever fantasized about dragons? No, never, tho I’m sure plenty people do. I used to fantasize that I owned a flying horse who would come down from the sky when I called his name. I would run to him and he would carry me up in the sky, far, far away from school. As the years wore on, it became more and more difficult for me to imagine unrealistic things like growing wings and walking on air. I grew up.


My fantasies turned to somewhat realistic things that I wished to attain. My imagination tumbled over creative ways to achieve my goals. This is a mature use of imagination. Making the same mistake over and over and imagining we’re getting somewhere; thinking we can always win an argument if we just argue long enough; believing we have the one and only correct view point; remaining captive to addiction and thinking it does not harm us; and generally falling prey to intoxication and escapism is immature use of imagination.


I chose to draw dragons because I see dragons as representational of fantasy. Dragons sitting around drinking tea with politely lifted pinkies? Pure fantasy, impersonal, and kinda sweet.