A new phase 🌓
Hello again. It’s been a while. I’ll tell you why but first, a story.
A couple weeks ago I somehow found myself unhurriedly driving across town with my five-and-a-half-year-old, D. When I’m in the car I like to string together as many errands as possible, so I decided it would be fun to stop at the art supply store. Before we went inside, I made a big deal of establishing that we’d be looking at materials for inspiration, and that we would only buy what we already agreed we needed (fresh markers) (we color a lot).
In retrospect, I think that pep talk was actually for me more than D, but we both stayed decently disciplined. Feeling pleased with ourselves, we started to get back into the car when something down the sidewalk caught my eye.
Tarot cards. Giant, life-sized tarot cards.
Well, there were some materials for inspiration.
“Journey to the Tower Photo Tarot.” Okay. The link chosen for the QR code leads me to believe that this was an ambitious marketing stunt for a new deck based on the classic Rider Smith Waite cards. It appears to be produced by photographic installation artists who call themselves Two by Sea. Looking through their website, I realized I’ve experienced some of their work before and enjoyed it. I think I enjoyed this piece too, though I felt more challenged by it. Selecting eight specific tarot cards and displaying them on a street corner is sort of like giving an ambiguously consensual public reading.
And so began a spontaneous lesson about tarot for D.
D knows that tarot cards exist (mostly from this scene in The Princess and the Frog), but I’d never shown my cards to her before. These blown up pictures combined with her recent ability to read empowered her to ask specific questions.
“Why is there a Death card?” was one of those questions. Of course it was. I told her that Death as a card doesn’t actually mean dying, it means change.
“What do you mean?”
I tried to explain that with the death of one thing comes the birth of another.
“What do you mean?”
What did I mean?
Compost. In compost, things that were once alive break back down into dirt and nutrients so that new things can grow. Did that make sense? She nodded. Phew. An interesting pedagogical tool, this was. The questions continued on our drive home.
“What is tarot?”
Tarot is an ancient set of pictures and symbols that you can use for storytelling.
“How do you know what the cards mean?”
The cards have pictures and symbols that people have shared and developed over time. There are guide books where you can look up what each card means. But the true meaning comes from your own intuition. What you think or feel when you draw a card is also its meaning.
“Draw a card? Are they face down like in Go Fish?”
Yes, and just like a card game you shuffle the cards to mix them up.
“Is it a game you play alone or with other people?”
Tarot isn’t a game so much as a tool you can use to better understand how you feel about a situation. You can do it for yourself or read cards for someone else.
“Then can you read cards for me? I want to understand how I feel about my friend Penelope.”
When you are old enough.
Because some people try to use tarot to tell the future. And no one can tell the future.
“Bruno can tell the future!”
But do people like it when he does?
“No. I want the future to be a surprise. I don’t want any spoilers for the future.”
Considering the ethics of giving my child a tarot reading is quite a thought exercise. Any child. I don’t feel torn about it exactly: given the reverence and, well, superstition I have for the cards, waiting until she is at least 12 or 13 feels just fine.
But magic aside, I do feel that tarot is a great tool for understanding your own mind and a given situation. Might there be another tool that could work to similar effect?
What about color divination?
What is so powerful about tarot as a symbol set is its complexity, its richness. There is just so much going on in any given card, let alone combinations of cards or placements in a spread.
What is powerful about color is its accessibility. Your experience of or connection to color is direct and personal. Color evokes emotion, feeling, any number of associations or experiences on any number of scales.
When I use a Rainbow Squared deck in a reading, it isn’t as specific as tarot. And that’s kind of the point. The color pairs on their own don’t tell a story until you give them context. The color pairs are a lattice, a scaffold, something you build your own associations on top of. Considering the colors is meant to be a process you engage with yourself, a tool for noticing connections in your own life.
I’m not considering building an oracle deck for kids, though that does seem like something that could be fruitful or even profitable for someone else (go ahead, run with it!) (though actually if you are interested, let’s talk).
I am considering how to build a more accessible divination system, and thinking about how kids might relate to the concept isn’t a bad start.
In some ways I already have built this divination system. But I’m not sure it’s actually “accessible” yet. Color may be simple, but I think these last five years I’ve used it to build something differently esoteric than tarot. Not nearly as complex, but perhaps just as hard to explain. The closest analogue I have to Rainbow Squared is the Counting of the Omer. There is a Kabbalistic practice of counting each of the 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot by assigning each day a special combination of attributes determined from a 7x7 grid. But that’s also hard to explain.
It’s not so much that I want to eliminate esoteric symbols as I want to personalize and collectivize them. I want a living divination system, one that is both deeply specific to the individual and newly generative for a collective. This is not because tarot is limiting, but because it points the way to so much more.
Here is what I wrote about Rainbow Squared in an artist statement I submitted to a show last week:
“When I got pregnant, I was terrified. I believed I could no longer be an artist, that a baby would take away my time and identity. To conquer this fear, I drastically shifted my practice: making time for art became art itself.
I create series of 49 pieces that fit together in 7x7 rainbow grids. Each piece draws on a specific color pair as background and foreground, cycling through 49 pairs until the series is complete. For five years, I have produced and shared these pieces nearly weekly. Publicly maintaining a ritual cadence compels me to create time amidst the chaos of parenthood, from postpartum to full-time work to pandemic and back again.”
That statement describes what the project has been, but it no longer describes where I want the project to go.
And that’s why you haven’t heard from me for a while. I actually wrote and completed a different essay last month and didn’t even publish it. I’ve been spinning a little bit.
Generating and sharing weekly essays indefinitely wasn’t personally sustainable, and I needed a break. And now that I’ve had it, I find myself wanting to go back. I miss the structure, I miss the deadlines, I miss the sense of purpose, I miss the dopamine hits of accomplishment. I miss the chance to connect with you, you who are reading this right now. But I know that if I put all that energy into each piece again, I won’t have energy to shape the collective system that this project wants to be. That I want this project to be.
The truth is, I am still a student of Rainbow Squared. I have a lot figured out already, and I want to unveil it, to share it like it is some sort of product launch, and I want to do it now! But I am still learning. As long as I am learning, I’ll continue to share glimpses of my process, because Rainbow Squared has always been a time-based practice. And maybe that’s why I’m so scared. How do you transition from an ongoing, deeply personal, ritual performance to forming an open source divination system?
So maybe this year isn’t Year 6, it is just Time. The words you are reading right now are not part of a numbered piece in a series. They are part of the arc of this project, just documenting a different phase. And with that new phase, I am establishing a new cadence. I’ve learned that without a deadline forcing my hand, I will never deem anything worth sharing.
For the next while, I’ll be sharing updates monthly, hitting your inbox on the first quarter moon, like this one. Why the first quarter moon? I already receive some email newsletters on new moons as well as on full moons, but I don’t think I get any emails on the first quarter specifically.
Rising midday, the first quarter moon is still visible in the evening, as opposed to the third quarter moon that comes out late at night. If the new moon is about release and renewal, and the full moon is about culmination, the first quarter is what happens in between. The first quarter moon is about building and creating. Rainbow Squared is also about building and creating, is about process, is in a constant state of becoming.
Choosing a quarter moon also nods to weeks even as I move to a monthly pace. Marking the procession of weeks is a deeply Jewish practice, and in developing this magic I want to stay close to that.
I don’t know precisely what you will get by subscribing here, but did I ever really know? I have some ideas, like a narrative deep dive into my own symbol sets, including rainbows themselves. Including The Fool, like the card you saw above. Certainly ponderings about performance art and parenting and probably a lot of the same stuff you’ve been reading already. Just not necessarily dedicated to a color pair in particular.
And eventually, this is where we will be able to connect about what this thing becomes and how you might be part of it.
Thanks for being part of it already. Let’s see where this takes us.