Origin of the Species — Tarot of the Absurd

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

I did a woodcut print a number of years ago (to be posted in one week) called, “It was Raining Out.” In the image, a boy pulls a girl by the hand. He points to a ladder which leads to the attic. In the attic, there is a trunk. Outside, umbrellas fall like rain.

 

*    *    *

 

It is the attic, the endless attic where all toys go when they are outgrown, where the works of years past are laid to wait for the minds of future generations. There, the treasures are endless.

 

When it rains out, the boy and the girl sneak into the attic, close the door, and open an old wooden trunk, origin of all adventure. In the trunk lie the treasures of the mind, for it is filled with papers— letters, photographs, journals, cards— papers covered in writing and images.

 

One rainy day, the boy picks out a small carved wooden box. A box within a box. He opens it. Inside are slips of paper. On each piece, writ with fine fountain-pen script, is a terse aphorism: a riddle.

 

The girl takes the one on top and reads it aloud. “…”

 

“A riddle,” says the boy. “But what could it mean?” He takes the next, reads it. “…”

 

“I wonder how many there are” says the girl. She dumps the papers and arranges them in a grid on the floor to count. “Twenty-two.”

 

*    *    *

 

The problem was, I had no basis for filling in the ellipses. I had never seen a tarot deck. I knew there were twenty-two pictures. I knew there was a fool. I didn’t think the sixteen faces and forty numbers were actually part of the tarot deck. I had some research to do.

 

I went into a store that specialized in tarot decks and went through their albums of sample cards. Nothing caught my eye. They were all 78-card decks and none of them were special. At last I found a little hand-written booklet with a red lion on the cover and the words, “Twenty-Two Keys of the Tarot.” THIS was what I was looking for.

 

“Do you have the deck for this booklet?” I asked the clerk.

“It’s somewhere in the back,” he said, disappearing through a door beyond the bookshelves. When he returned, he handed me a small white box. “Just one,” he said. “It’s been here for ages. There’s no price on it.”

“May I look?” I asked. I was filled with that nervous sort of energy that happens when everything is absolutely right. It made my hands shake as I opened the box flap, and I was too jittery to see anything beyond the print quality (real ink on real paper) and the hand-written date. The deck was exactly 20 years old. “How much?” I asked.

“Name your price,” said the clerk.

“Ten dollars,” I said, knowing nothing about anything. I wasn’t the sort of person who bought things. The clerk nodded, rung me up, and slipped the deck into a small brown paper bag. I walked home, glowing brilliantly like the sun in the heavens.

Who is Dan Shanahan?

Sunday, August 5th, 2012
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.