Cheimonette

Artwork and writing by Eden Gallanter.

Eden is a professional artist, author, and scientist, and is the creator of the Cheimonette Tarot, sold in over 30 countries, across 6 continents.

Filtering by Category: Philosophy

Death is Young

This is my monthly art-related newsletter/blog. Usually, its contents include new art I've made, news about exhibitions, and other art-related ideas I've been thinking about. However, August has been pretty rough, and so I wrote about pet death, family, and life history. If you'd rather look at the art I've been working on, please check out my new art-only instagram account, @edengallanter.

 

This month my sweet, two-year-old cat died of cancer.

One day she was running and playing, and jumping into my lap every time I sat down. The next day she started acting sick, and after two subsequent visits to the hospital, the doctors told me that she had cancer—lymphoma. It was incurable, and she was only going to get worse. We arranged immediately for a vet to come to our home to euthanize her, and she died in my arms. It was so shockingly fast.

If you've ever had a pet to whom you have a special connection, who follows you around the house, who trusts you, and just wants to be near you all the time, you already know that this pet feels like family. Whatever the world family has come to mean to you, it acts as a soft, warm cocoon around your heart. Family, whether made up of biological relatives, caretakers, close friends, partners, or pets, is one of those parts of life that appears to me to be fundamental, and vitally important for survival.

I am very close to my parents, and I know how lucky I am that this is so. Many people I know have bad luck in this regard. They have parents they are unable to connect to, or unable to respect. Some have parents who were cruel, or violent, or neglectful, or who abandoned them. I am fortunate to have parents I can love and admire, and who have always, always strived to be loving, supportive and faithful to me.

My Father. Charcoal on paper.

My Father. Charcoal on paper.

My parents are also quite old—especially my father, who turned ninety this year. I am writing his biography. This is both intensely pleasurable for my father, and incredibly difficult. There are few happy memories of childhood and youth to detail; an overwhelming number of his recollections are marked by loneliness and tragedy. It is an incredibly intimate experience to do this with him. He has now told me stories he hasn't told anybody else. Sitting with him, holding his hand, sometimes crying with him, while listening to these memories that have been buried for so long, touches me deeply.

In writing a story, we are always haunted by the story's end.

Both my parental grandparents died suddenly of cardiovascular disease in their fifties, his elder brother in his forties, and my father himself survived a triple bypass when I was in the third grade. Nevertheless, he is ninety, and I couldn't help wondering what it would be like when my dad passed away, as I was spending my last remaining days with my sick cat.

Anushka. (August 2016 – August 2018)

Anushka. (August 2016 – August 2018)

 

There is no real way to prepare for tragedy. I believe that the best we can all do is try to face the inevitable, and accept the fact that the world we live in gives us an illusion of control on a truly immense scale. There was no way for me to prepare myself for losing a very young and beloved pet to cancer. All I could do was focus on what mattered, when it happened. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, but I knew that the most important thing was my responsibility to take care of her. In this case, that meant protecting her from suffering any more pain. I stayed awake every night to sit with her. I could barely eat—food choked me. Grief can fill you up and bury you at the same time. The world around us faded. I couldn't even feel the chill of the house, sitting on the floor with her at 4:00 AM. I sat there, with my dying cat leaning against my leg, and I thought about what it would be like to lose my father.

The culture I live in has shielded itself from death. Death happens in hospitals and dark alleyways. Open casket funerals are increasingly rare in this country. The processes of mortality are more secreted away from us that they used to be. But isn't death as natural as the ocean? Can't death be as gentle as the wilting of cut roses, which leave behind a subtle fragrance even after they have faded? It seems to me that life is very short. Living in perpetual fear of tragedy isn't realistic, but at the same time I believe I ought to make the most of whatever time I have with the people I love—my little family, my close friends, and the small number of people who have profoundly inspired and changed the course of my life.

I don't have an answer for grief, or for the inevitability of future grief when you let yourself love someone. Grief is a living creature, with its own logic, its own desires, its own food. All we can do is care for it as tenderly as we would care for anything else we loved.

 

suppose
Life is an old man carrying flowers on his head.

young death sits in a café
smiling,a piece of money held between
his thumb and first finger

(i say “will he buy flowers” to you
and “Death is young
life wears velour trousers
life totters,life has a beard” i

say to you who are silent.—”Do you see
Life?he is there and here,
or that, or this
or nothing or an old man 3 thirds
asleep,on his head
flowers,always crying
to nobody something about les
roses les bluets
                    yes,
                              will He buy?
Les belles bottes—oh hear
,pas chères”)

and my love slowly answered I think so.  But
I think I see someone else

there is a lady,whose name is Afterwards
she is sitting beside young death,is slender;
likes flowers.

- ee cummings, Tulips & Chimneys

Artifact

This is a monthly art-related (or at least art-adjacent) post about what I've been doing and thinking about. Welcome to the month of August!

General News

1. One of my tarot paintings, "Love" was accepted to a group exhibition at The Studio Door in San Diego! It will be on view from August 3rd to 26th. If you're one of my tarot customers and live in the area, it's really worth seeing the original painting, and it looks like it's going to be a wonderful show!

2. My drawing "The Sparrow and the sparrows" is up on view at Arthaus Projects gallery in Williamsport, Pennsylvania! Exhibition closes on August 11th.

3. I am participating in San Francisco Open Studios this year! Open Studios is a series of five weekends where local artists open their studios to the public and sell their art. The weekends are divided up by neighborhood, and my weekend is November 3rd and 4th. If you're going to be in the bay area, mark your calendars and PLEASE COME! I'll be posting more details as the event gets closer.

Painting in my home studio, photo by Jessica Palopoli (https://www.jessicapalopoli.com/

Painting in my home studio, photo by Jessica Palopoli (https://www.jessicapalopoli.com/

It's been a weird weekend. Over the last year, I succeeded in tracking down the movie that scared the everloving shit out of me when I was four years old, and I finally watched it last Saturday night.

If you ever have the opportunity of revisiting movies (or stories, songs, amusement park rides, pictures, or any other innocuous thing whose fearsomeness derives from the unformed and imaginative mind of the very young), I recommend doing so. You will find that you remembered some parts with surprising precision, and that other parts (in my case, most other parts) were largely fabricated. It is a glimpse into how utterly unrecognizable the same event can be when experienced by different people. I often think how miraculous it is that any of us can communicate with each other at all.

Me wearing my favorite elephant bathing suit (I still think the Pink Elephants song from "Dumbo" is one of the best things Disney has ever done), summer of 1983.

Me wearing my favorite elephant bathing suit (I still think the Pink Elephants song from "Dumbo" is one of the best things Disney has ever done), summer of 1983.

Now, of course, you would like to know what the movie was.

Embarrassingly, it was "The Horror at 37,000 Feet", widely known (among Shatner fans, at least) as William Shatner's worst movie—a made-for-TV production that first aired in 1973. The plot featured a haunted airplane, and ended relatively tamely, with two gore-free human deaths and one frozen dog. It was apparently still making the rounds on one evening during the summer of 1983, when my parents took me to their friends' home for a dinner party. The household children, who were several years older than me (and I imagine were secretly hoping to be entertained by putting a little kid into hysterics) were clustered around the TV, and of course I joined them. It appears I made it through almost the whole movie before silently leaving the room and rejoining my parents.

I need hardly say that William Shatner's worst movie was not, on second viewing, especially scary. The interesting part wasn't the movie, it was watching prototypes of all my nightmares since age four march across the screen for 90 minutes. Although I had apparently invented several scenes, my inventions had done a strangely excellent job of capturing the story and the characters' state of mind—better, in fact, than the actual movie did.

To conjoin a pair of disparate dictionary definitions of the same word, "artifact" (an unintentional or meaningless by-product of, say, a scientific experiment or photograph) turns out to be a valuable treasure-trove of historic information. Making up stories is an essential part of the pattern-recognition processes of the executive system. Our minds come up with a plausible narrative about what is going on and even who one is. These narratives never quite match with reality, but that is not their purpose. Without our stories, we would not be able to learn, to remember, to sympathize with others, to recover from negative emotions, or even to recognize ourselves. We would have no coherent identity.

I'm not exactly saying that such mental artifacts are either desirable or destructive—it really depends on the mind that's making them, I guess. Although every story we can think of is in some sense true, not every story is equally useful. However, I am surprised by how often our memories turn out to be deeply insightful fabrications, if that makes sense. Because isn't this, too, a form of art? Isn't reconstructing reality in a more human-sized way, in a way that distills its importance and meaning for us, what art is? And our minds do this all the time—it is fundamental to our functioning in the world. Many scientists even argue that this storytelling part of the brain is the cornerstone of consciousness.

LOCUST X LOCUST ( Chortoicetes terminifera x Robinia pseudoacacia )

LOCUST X LOCUST (Chortoicetes terminifera x Robinia pseudoacacia)

Speaking of finding important truths in trite places, the idea for my latest painting came from a misunderstanding I have always cherished. When I first heard the word "Locust", I thought the teacher had said "hocus" (as in Hocus Pocus). The association is now immovable; I always think of magic—of fairytale, joyfully implausible magic—when I hear the word Locust. Magic then becomes the foundation for all the word's other associations: penny-slice leaves clattering in the breeze (the black locust tree), destruction and ruin (the plague locust insect), species invasion (the tree), the dry, muffled snapping sound of the swarm (the insect), creamy and delicately scented cascades of blossoms (the tree), the judgment of God upon Egypt in the Book of Exodus (the insect), and so on.

The best part of making something new is always over as soon as it is finished. Artists and makers who feel the way I do tend to make the most intricately detailed things, because we don't ever want it to end. More opportunities for new artifacts, too.

The Little Room in the Tower

bridgeIt’s been a while since I posted, and longer since I posted anything personal. The last few months have been some of the most difficult of my adult life. It would not be right to go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say that it consisted of a wintertime compression chamber of family disasters, heartbreak, the death of a friend, trauma, career upheaval, leaving my beloved warehome and living for several months on the kindness of my friends. I don't mean to sound overly dramatic here; I know that there is a huge and terrible world of worse things that could have happened, and I have been, and continue to be, very fortunate. However, I cannot honestly say that it wasn't all that bad. It was. I could have gotten through these past months without the support and generosity of my friends, but I am so unbelievably glad I didn’t have to. You all know who you are: thank you times one hundred thousand, with my whole heart. I always thought that an apocalypse would be explosive and full of energy, like the Big Bang or like the beginning of life. Beginnings hurt too—you are so very vulnerable, and in a sense, each beginning is entirely new. In a fundamental way, past experience doesn’t roll over. You have to build it all right from the ground, all over again.

wishing wellThe end of the world, as it turns out, can be very quiet and still. The explosions towards the end are harbingers of the world's demise, but ultimately, everything just freezes out. The end of the world is an artic tundra wasteland. Trauma can be like that: quiet and still and exhausted. There is really nothing left, nothing to orient yourself or build on. Nothing. You have to figure out where and who you even are before you can do anything else.

Of course, my own apocalypse was something I had taken part in, especially the career, heartbreak, and living situation stuff. It wasn't a natural disaster, a thing that happens outside of human control (people running screaming from their homes as clouds of burning smoke pour from the city). Much of the former life I had before so much collapsed was something I had helped to set in motion and worked hard to build. As the months progressed, though, it felt like a floodplain riverbed in a monsoon, as though natural forces had indeed taken over after all. I could see where the river was headed, and all I could do was try to keep ahead of it so I didn’t drown.

The nice thing about a disaster is that it leaves many of the strongest parts behind: the foundations, the well-made buildings, the best salvage, the most resilient materials, the toughest trees, those who were clever or prepared or just plain lucky. The things left behind always mean something. You can read the ruins like a book, and you can build a whole new world out of them.

So that’s what I’m trying to do.  Art has always been at the foundation of my identity, so I am trying to forge a new career, one that synthesizes my interests in math, ecology, cities, literature, mythology, and philosophy. I’m not couchsurfing with friends any more, I’ve got a sublet in a wonderful warehouse in Emeryville full of excellent people: artists, hackers, leaders, organizers, craftspeople, all talented, inspiring folks who have made me feel welcome and at home. It’s a good place to be while I work on figuring out where to live long-term.

I really want a home, as it turns out. I want a place where I can work and live with a handful of friends who are interested in sharing living space, making art, and doing other kinds of creative work in which they find real value. I want to build friendships and partnerships that are about trust and inspiration and adventure and collaborative work and shared ideals and mutual support. I want to bring comfort and happiness to my family without compromising who I am, or the ambitions I have for my life.

towerTowers are symbols of human ambition and achievement. They are frequently torn down by natural disasters and human frailty, but we keep on building them. The risk of danger at the top of a tower is not the same as the danger at the bottom of a wishing well (sitting alone in the dark, in the dust, quiet and safe and dying of thirst). Towers, being as they are the human effort to reach beyond the capabilities of our minds and our mortality and the shortness of our lives, carry the risk of immortality. If you turn into a bird in that room at the top, you can’t turn back. You can never really go back (always the blessing and the tragedy of mortal existence, rolled into one).

So here’s to home, and to the human condition: mostly a matter of negotiating what to build on the forgiving surface of the earth and what to build inside myself. I’m still doing the best I can.

The Artist's Legend

There are some metaphorical concepts at that lie at the core of many of the images than run through the Cheimonette Tarot. I saw René Magritte’s legend last week, at his special exhibit at the MOMA: a mirror, a bird, a ribbon in a bow, an apple, a bowler hat, a candle, all collected on one canvas, for the benefit of his beloved observer. So, here is mine, explained for my best beloved reader, and you can add your own, and we can make our own language together in this way: high:deepThere are deep things and there are high things.

Deep things, being either underground, underwater, or buried burning within the core of some star or singularity, are slow-moving and silent. They take on the aspects (the surge current, the echoing crunch of seismic uplift and subduction, the blinding glow of irradiated atomic fusion) of their environments, and express their identity by a profoundly isolated and recursive imagination. In the way that the infinite field of postulated “collapsed” Calabi-Yau dimensional spaces take up no space and yet exist at every point in the universe, deep things each contain their own, disconnected little internal worlds.

High things have their own mass, their own energy and their own gravitational field. They do not take on the aspects of their environments because those environments have no size or shape of their own. Biological or tectonic forces keep the surface of the earth in a state of flux, and by the time we rise up into the stratosphere and beyond, the crowd of molecules and their motions have thinned out to a bare minimum.

Therefore there are only two directions in the whole world in which we may move: higher and deeper.

X: The Wheel

There are eight spokes in the tenth card in the major arcana, The Wheel. At the end of each spoke, where a limb of an angel terminates, there is an icon. This is the eight-letter pictogrammatical alphabet of the Cheimonette Tarot.

appleThe Heart-Apple: the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  This is the ability particular to human understanding, in which we are able to grasp our position in relation to the world, and exert ourselves to change it. (This tree is also known as the tree of death.)

flowersThe Mandala-Flower: the fruit of the tree of life. This is the temporary escape from the demands of biological existence we find in profound feeling and creative understanding. This flower, when eaten, is also called freedom.

moonThe Crescent Moon: the sign of truth. Not only is truth not always beautiful, it is not always even righteous. It is simply the course of events along the inexorable passage of time.

godThe God Sign: the mark of a divine concept or entity that cannot change or die. Really a rough zero and one, placed together like a phi.

real eyeThe Real Eye: the symbol of life. Life is to be understood as the whole arc, from understanding and joy to suffering and intellectual darkness. Life as an opportunity, life as an adventure, life as a cruel trap, life as a responsibility: all of these.

false eye

The False Eye: the symbol of death. Death may also be understood to be eternal life (in which life is not life, but a changeless observation tower in which the corporeal body transforms into a bird and never returns to the mortal coil of existence and non-existence).

zeroThe Bubble: the number zero. Like all bubbles, zero is a potential event and trajectory that has not yet happened: a star that has not yet exploded, an egg that has not yet hatched, an eye that has not yet opened.

oneThe Helix: the number one. A 1 curled up on itself, this number is both linked with numerical concepts such as zero and infinity, and also the beginning of all real numbers, which constitute the set of the visible universe. One is the integer who makes its debut into the world of flux, change, and chaos in which we find ourselves.

(Author’s Apology:

This world that surrounds us is in fact not self-made, but in our own subversive way we create another world out of differentiated labels (this is how language is made).  We are nothing but helpless children in the midst of the lovely and fascinatingly unfamiliar light projections of our dreams, which we can of course never touch but which we mindlessly worship as the truth.  What we are constantly forgetting is ourselves, holding out our palms sadly to one another and each of us wasting our desire on these things, which have been created by us, after all, and are not in themselves real and cannot compare to the indescribable beauty of their creators.)

Copyright 2014 - Cheimonette