Click on any animation in the grid to see its text below.
For four years, I diligently produced pieces in order, starting with Red Red and ending with Black White Black White. This year, the fifth year, I am producing the pieces “out of order,” or in a different order: an emergent order. Using a deck of Rainbow Squared cards, I draw a new card each week to determine its color combination, going through the entire deck until all 49 pieces for the year are complete.
An emergent order also makes room for another new feature: guest pieces. For Year 5, every seventh piece will be a guest piece. Since the project’s inception, I’ve fantasized about it as an open source formula. What might it look like for other makers to “do” a Rainbow Squared? At first I wondered about others committing to complete a full body of 49 pieces. Now I wonder about the formula less as one of creative productivity as much as spiritual inquiry: how might this (or any) symbol set operate as a lens through which to notice and make magical and narrative connections in your daily life?
You won’t know which is a guest piece by looking at the grid; they’ll be scattered across it. You’ll be able to pick them out by scrolling through the text though, looking for Pieces Seven, Fourteen, Twenty-one, Twenty-eight, Thirty-five, Forty-two, and Forty-nine.
Why Sacred Emergence? Much like Pantone declares a “color of the year,” my friend Monica Canfield-Lenfest declares a spiritual theme for the year ahead, and 2021 is Sacred Emergence. When I heard it, I knew immediately that this was the year to change how I follow this grid. In a time of chaos and upheaval, of so much suffering and so much growing solidarity, now feels right to choose an emergent strategy, a term coined by writer, activist, and dreamer adrienne maree brown in her book by the same name. Let’s see what emerges when I let chance determine the color combination instead of the calendar, opening up this practice to co-creators.
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Every other year I’ve begun the Rainbow Squared cycle with Red Red. Red the color of blood, perhaps the most appropriate color to begin any cycle with. This year I am following the 49 in an emergent order, determined by drawing cards. The first card I drew was Green Yellow. The middle of the grid, though satisfyingly not in the exact middle, composition-wise. Like we are going up the traffic light, from red to yellow to green: let’s go.
Drawing Green Yellow compels me to share something. During 18. Yellow Green last year, I came up with a meditation and a symbol that have been an entirely personal part of my practice until now. Or perhaps they emerged. I didn’t share it at the time because I didn’t really know how, or maybe I didn’t even want to. But Green Yellow popping up first feels like a nudge.
I pictured Yellow and Green as the center of the rainbow, the most visible points in the visible spectrum, with the other colors swirling around them. I pictured the colors in a circle, a sort of pie chart color wheel with Yellow and Green taking two opposite quarters, and with Purple and Blue and then Red and Orange sharing the other opposite quarters so that the rainbow is split and flipped, with complementary colors either touching or facing each other. Or maybe that symbol came from my attempted drawings of the meditation, a sort of uneven asterisk made from three lines split into two colors at the apex, a pole with a squat X through it.
Maybe the visual will also help. It’s my first time digitally drawing images for an animation.
I’ll try to describe the meditation: a series of four full breaths, with each out-breath imagining a ray of light going through you up and down, then left and right, then front to back, and finally a sphere of light surrounding you. These rays of light each have colors, two actually. Maybe numbered steps would help:
1. First, ground. However you choose to do so. Visualizing an anchor into the earth, taking a series of deep breaths, or doing whatever you need to do to get ready to be present.
2. Breathe in, then breathe out while imagining a single shaft of light split into two colors going through you up and down, with purple emanating from your chest up and red emanating from your chest down.
3. Breathe in, then breathe out while imagining a single shaft of light split into two colors going through you left and right, with orange emanating from your chest to your right side and blue emanating from your chest to your left side.
4. Breathe in, then breathe out while imagining a single shaft of light split into two colors going through you front and back, with yellow emanating from your chest behind you and green emanating out from your chest in front of you.
5. Breathe in, then breathe out while imagining a sphere of light emanating from your chest and spreading all around you.
Red Purple, Orange Blue, Yellow Green, BlackWhite.
Bodily Wisdom. Creative Expression. The Power of Love. Interconnectedness.
Though this meditation emerged initially during Yellow Green, it feels important to root here in Green Yellow. Why? Because the Green and Yellow pole was placed front and back as a conscious choice. Purple above and Red below followed the chakras, Orange as left and Blue as right are honestly somewhat arbitrary (or perhaps I don’t totally understand it yet). But I very deliberately placed Yellow going backwards and Green shooting forwards. If you are shooting anything at anyone, it should be love, it should be Green. Yellow is power, in some ways a thing to leave behind, or to approach with care. So though I have dubbed it Yellow Green, the Power of Love, perhaps it was Green Yellow all along. Not just the Power of Love, but Loving as Power. Love Power.
I am writing this today on January 28th of the Gregorian calendar, and the 15th of Shevat on the Hebrew calendar, or Tu B’Shevat. It is the full moon of the waning winter that is celebrated as the new year of the Trees. Green Yellow is also leaves and sun, or photosynthesis. Drawing power and sustenance from a star. Trees are star-powered beings trees, even if we think of them as perhaps the most earthly of all creatures, rooted in the beautiful brown dirt.
Where do you draw your power from? How do you gather nourishment, and how do you share it?
I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna.
I have been dragging my heels on this second one, not able to bring myself to just sit down and make. I do have an excuse: we moved this week. Moving is labor-intensive and disorienting enough, then add in two small children and a pandemic, and well, there is not a lot of energy left over for anything else.
Everywhere I look there is something to do, something to unpack, something to organize. Everywhere I look there is something new to notice and study, from the uneven paint lines on the moulding to the neighbor’s yard out the window. My brain is working overtime, humming like an overtasked hard drive.
So it is no wonder that at the end of each day over these last five days, I am spent. After I close the door to the kid’s room at night is when it should be my time to work. But three nights in a row I just couldn’t do it. I’m just plain tired.
I could cut myself some slack, but here we are only on Piece Number Two of this new year. It is always harder at the beginning when I don’t quite know what I am doing and don’t have momentum yet. It could cut myself some slack and skip a week, but as much as I don’t wanna make this week, I also don’t wanna not have made anything this week. What is that impulse? Is it constructive or a compulsion? Not that those have to be mutually exclusive.
I finally mustered the will to start something at 10pm last night. In bed. I fell asleep while I was doing it. Those blue smudges at the end are my fingers slackening mid-stroke as I lose consciousness. That’s what we get this week: the genuine article. This animation is my second one using Procreate. Maybe I will use this technique all year, maybe not. If I do, I certainly hope to see these animations improve. But this kind of crude communication style is appropriate for Blue Red anyway.
Blue Red is the beginning of the Blue cycle, the cycle of Communication and Expression. And like all cycles, it begins with the body, with Red. So even while I am dragging my heels at getting to work on this self-expression project, I am hitting the wall of my body. Again and again.
What is your body telling you? How are you listening?
Well, Blue Purple might be Mercury Retrograde itself. Blue is Communication, and Purple is Intuition, Wisdom, Awareness: the color of all things “Woo Woo.” Blue Purple is Communication Woo Woo. At its best, Communication Woo Woo could be prayer or telepathy or something mystical like that. At its most challenging, Communication Woo Woo could be truly bad things like spiritual bypassing or more neutral things like planetary interference from Mercury Retrograde, the astrological excuse for communication breakdowns.
In terms of the orbit of celestial bodies, I mostly follow the moon. It is the easiest one to track with your own eyes, making it a basis for so many calendars, the Hebrew calendar included. Though I know I was an adult before I learned that you can tell what phase the moon is in just by looking at it. The moon both waxes and wanes from right to left, so the side the crescent or gibbous is leaning isn’t arbitrary. You can use its position in the sky to disambiguate because the time each moon phase rises and sets is pretty consistent too, relative to the sun. Every full moon rises from the east at sunset and sets in the west at sunrise, and every new moon rises at sunrise and sets at sunset (with some variations depending on how close you live to the poles). Understanding the shape of the moon and when it is visible means you can watch the moon make changes.
Mercury though. I don’t think I could even tell you where Mercury is in the sky. I do know it’s the planet closest to the sun, and that apparently because of the difference in speed of Mercury’s orbit and Earth’s orbit that sometimes it looks like Mercury is going backwards, hence “retrograde.” I now also know the story of where Mercury shows up in my own astrological chart: Mercury was rising in the sky just ahead of the sun in that August pre-dawn that I was born, so it is in my first house, Leo, which is ruled by the sun. I know that Mercury is also the planet that rules the sign my sun is in, Virgo. Mercury is the astrological planet of Communication, named for Mercury the Roman messenger god, or Hermes in the Greek pantheon. It seems communication is pretty central to what I’m here on Earth to do, so that tracks with my chart.
I feel pretty cool knowing that, but I don’t know how I feel about astrology overall. I use astrology much the same way I use this Rainbow Squared system: as a tool to notice correspondences and generate narrative interpretation. So when communication feels out of whack and the internet tells me that Mercury is in retrograde, it seems to make sense.
And yes, communication is out of whack right now. Maybe that’s why I’m sharing 2000 words this week, and have written almost double that. If communication were easier right now, this would be a lot shorter.
“Good luck with the juggling act,” a friend said as we were hanging up the phone last week. I had picked up her call in the midst of communication chaos:
Maybe it would have been practical not to answer the phone in this moment, but when I saw that it was Rachel calling I wanted to pick up. Because she is my friend and I love her, and also in retrospect maybe because I needed a witness to this maternal multitasking feat, this “juggling act.”
“Good luck with the juggling act.” I laughed when she said it because it felt true. Then the phrase rang in my head for a while afterwards, expanding and distorting over time. Good luck with the juggling act. The juggling act. Yes, everyday does feel like a goddamn circus. But do I want to be juggling? Is this the circus act I am choosing, the one where I dazzle my audience by doing so many things at a time and none of them well? Here I am, a clown, exaggerated emotions painted on my face, leaping then lurching from act to act until they all blend together, picking up toys and text messages and children and their feelings and my feelings and dishes and bills and obligations and animations. Please gasp as I swirl them all in mid-air, and laugh when I drop them! With me, though, not at me. Please.
There are times I do literally identify as a clown. I have a persona devoted to it in fact. And this new moon we just passed marks the start of the Hebrew month Adar, the month of joy and dressing up, the month of the clown. But not all jugglers are clowns. Someone showed me an image once of the ancient Canaanite goddess Asherah, a goddess that many early Jews worshipped long into their new experiment in monotheism. Asherah is often depicted as a tree, and in this image Asherah was a tree and a mother, her many dancing branches holding all the things that mothers hold at once. Which is to say that not all jugglers are clowns. Though not all clowns are silly, anyway.
But how much is juggling a super power of motherhood, and how much of it is self-perpetuated overkill? Is there something I could put down? How much of it do I perform for my own sense of self-worth and validation? Is it a professional hangover of some kind to continue to glorify busy-ness even outside of a business context? Or is it just real? Even in my moments of anxiety, I do seem to like it, or get something out of it at least. So what is that like for the people close to me? Is it something that they are supposed to console me about or something that they are supposed to cheer me on for?
After hanging up with Rachel and finally changing E’s diaper, I found D playing by herself and so very eager to play with me. She wanted to pretend to make a birth movie, a movie about people giving birth. I was obviously charmed by this idea, but it was late in the day so I suggested we go on a quick walk while we still had the chance. It would have been our first time leaving the house in three days.
So she screamed at me, deeply disappointed to be thwarted from her game, especially after being ignored for the last hour. She screamed pretty loudly. I didn’t have the energy to argue. In fact, I didn’t have the energy to engage at all. I had reached my limit. I left the room and retreated to the rocking chair in their tiny bedroom, somewhere I could be within ear shot but out of the emotional splash radius. D blessedly didn’t follow me. I sat.
Eventually E wandered in, happy to see me, thinking that me hiding my face in my shirt was a version of peekaboo. “Mama!” he pointed and laughed, then played next to me, occasionally chatting with me one word or sound at a time in his sweet baby voice. I smiled at him and echoed his words, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave that rocking chair. I couldn’t really move my body. I couldn’t find a way to unravel my knot of thoughts, each tangling in another and then another before I could even finish it.
In that chair, I started imagining making a Blue Purple sculpture: a writhing, tangled mass of blue and purple ropes and strings that I knot and wrestle into each other. I pictured this for a while, then realized with a start that I had already made it. A miniature version of it anyway. It is the remnants of the curtains I sewed the previous week that were hanging right next to me as I sat in this rocking chair. I always take my scraps of unusable sewing bits and wad them up into a ball as tiny soft sculptures. This one had a strip of purple fabric I ripped off the inner curtain where one piece was too long, and an entire bobbin of blue thread I had to unwind because it kept clogging the sewing machine. It also had the loose threads from the outer curtain’s glow-in-the-dark constellation fabric. The whole thing was blue and purple before I even knew that would be the next week’s colors.
Sewing curtains is part of the juggling act too, right? Such a sweetly domestic act, one I took on with almost ritual importance, selecting the (awesome) fabric before we moved and sewing it even before many of our boxes were unpacked. It was a way to nest, to energetically establish ourselves here in this house even if we don’t know how long we’ll be staying. D even helped me press the foot pedals on the sewing machine, though it didn’t hold her interest for long. Granted, in the other rooms I just threw some loose fabric over a tension rod, but somehow bringing the sunlight in and out of the kids’ room felt like something to do right.
I sat in that rocking chair next to those curtains still trapped in my thoughts, now with the added track of the sculpture I had accidentally already made, thinking about how to animate it. I was also thinking about wanting to write this all down, this knot of thoughts, feeling the throbbing urge to write that I knew I wouldn’t be able to act on until the children were asleep when I would already be too spent. So I sat there dictating text messages to myself from my watch, like:
“I don't even know if I'm experiencing daily life anymore or if I'm just thinking about how to interpret and document it”
“This is what self-care looks like in this moment. Hiding out in a rocking chair in the kids room while the toddler walks in and out and the four-year-old makes a film about birth”
Even in that moment of total overwhelm, somehow I just wanted to make. And yes, that absolutely contributes to the seeming chaos in my daily life, of trying to pull it all off. But if Blue Purple is Communication Woo Woo, it is also communicating with my intuition, and man I just have to keep going. I want to keep going. I want to juggle. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be agonizing.
Another thought kept popping up in that chair: “The way to fix this is to get up at 5am everyday to write.” And every time it popped up, I thought, wait, is that a healthy reaction to being overwhelmed? To try to take on more? But the more I thought it, the more practical it sounded. Not so much adding another ball to the juggling act as giving myself another arm.
I’m trying it. I’ve been at the computer writing before 6am four out of the last five days. Not totally undisrupted by demands for attention and milk, but mostly blessedly quiet. It is almost 8am and I can hear Justin doing breakfast. And some shouting, but only a little. Maybe I don’t need to be there every moment. There are some windows of time where I can focus on one thing. It will take discipline though. Something that is hard to maintain in this world ambiguously run by the orbiting bodies of planets and children. But not impossible.
What are the ways communication is breaking down for you? What are the ways it is really working? Where are you hearing and listening to your intuition?
Blue, blue, electric blue that’s the colour of my room where I will live. Blue, blue.
That’s the line that popped into my head when I drew this week’s card, Blue Blue. It’s my third Blue in a row. I swear I’m shuffling. It’s almost as if after the last two, this card came along to say: “No, really. Blue. Blue BLUE. It’s Blue time.” Okay. I’m paying attention.
Pale blinds drawn all day. Nothing to do, nothing to say. Blue, blue.
I had never thought about David Bowie’s song “Sound and Vision” in the context of quarantine. What it means to be living in one room, day in day out. I don’t even know what color (or colour) I would call this room I am in. Peachy beige? And I suppose I’m not really in this room all day because we are assuming at this point that everyone in this house also has COVID, though gratefully (blessedly) three out of four of us are asymptomatic. And the symptoms I do have are very mild, considering. Even so, when the weekend rolled around I finally claimed the opportunity to fucking rest, breathing freely in one room without a mask. So I laid in bed in that beige room trying to heal, maybe not totally unlike Bowie attempting to sober while writing that song.
I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.
One of my very first photo animations I set to “Sound and Vision.” It was technically part of my final project in a Color Theory class. I haven’t thought about this video in a long time, but it popped back into my head along with Blue Blue and that song. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn’t that far off from what I am doing now. Both in technique and in inquiry. Sure, the genesis was a little different: I’m remembering now that my stop-motion practice emerged from being stoned and taking far too many photos on my digital camera. But it remains for me a different way of connecting to and capturing a moment. What I do now is perhaps more intentional, but still in the spirit of discovery.
This “Sound and Vision” video was made before I would have (or could have?) easily shared such things on the internet. But I scoured a hard drive, and just as I was about to give up, I found it, along with another video I made at the same time. For both, I had taken all of my (very colorful) clothes and laid them out on my bed in rainbow order. I was probably stoned when I did that too. I followed colorful objects with my camera, looking for moments that matched, assigning significance when they did. I was 19 years old, which I know quickly was fifteen years ago because my sister is 19 right now. And somehow here I am again (or still) making stop-motions in my environment, searching for layers of meaning in colorful objects. The persistence of this practice caught me off guard. What am I looking for here? Whose breadcrumbs am I following?
I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.
So now, fifteen years later, here are all the blue things in our house. Not literally all of them because it was a lot of effort just to gather these ones, and certainly not all of the blue things I own because many are in boxes or in storage. But a lot of blue things. I arranged them and photographed them earlier in the week when I should have been napping while the baby was napping while my mom read to D over FaceTime. It felt like a natural thing to do: if I am constantly picking up and sorting toys and dishes and clothes anyway, why not make an installation out of it? So different from that clothing rainbow long ago, mostly in that my possessions have now grown to include a family. A family’s.
So Blue Blue: what am I trying to communicate and what is communicating through me? With a double color, it goes both ways. This week I am mostly desperately grateful not to have communicated viruses to anyone else. But in a longitudinal sense, as an artist, what am I communicating over time? Does everyone have something like this, some thing trying to make itself known through them?
Drifting into my solitude, over my head.
Most of the time I’ve spent isolating and resting in this blue blue peachy beige room has been spent reading (reading!) sci-fi, specifically N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. Her characters listen to and through an angry Earth. Are colors another way that Earth speaks, and that humans speak to Earth? Color is just one tight band of electromagnetic frequencies when the full spectrum is so much more than what is visible. It’s all information, from radio waves to gamma rays. So what is so special about this particular small set of wavelengths? Is it the color waves that are special or the fact that our eyes are tuned to them? Our human eyes are tuned not just for these colors but for this particular planet, this blue blue planet with its skies and oceans.
There is a huge environmental and even human cost to our colorful objects. The mass-produced ones and their untold (and told) toxicities. But even ones dug from the Earth, the crystals and certainly the gem stones. Hell, even the fresh flowers grown and chilled and flown all over the world. The colorful objects I use to adorn myself and my kids and our environment are themselves symbols of how removed I am from their production and their impact. I am terrified of the power we have in this moment in history to conjure and create pigments. And yet I can’t pull myself away. So I collect. And I photograph.
Don't you wonder sometimes about sound and vision?
What are you here to communicate, and what is communicating through you because you are here?
I felt a pang of recognition as I pulled this card, Black White Red: Transcending the Body. I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do lately, push myself past the limits of my own energy. I know I am not alone. It’s strange that it’s not more difficult, actually, or that my body wouldn’t speak up more loudly to tell me to pay attention. Maybe it’s just easy to ignore. Maybe we are reinforced to ignore it by a capitalist culture that demands it, where endless grinding is easier than taking care of yourself. Where for many people, taking care of themselves stands in the way of their subsistence.
The Black White series is about interconnectedness, and as the seventh and final color set, its messages are always on a collective, societal, or global scale. Black White is also the ultimate lesson of its accompanying color, which in this case is Red. Red is the body, survival, life.
Are we not currently pushing past the limit of the collective human body, let alone the Earth body? How many bodies are exploited to create luxury and power for the (very) few? How often have colors like Black and white and even red been invoked in this exploitation, as a twisted tool to determine whose bodies are expendable? How often is it people of color and Indigenous people who are stewards of the Earth’s body, using their own bodies and their own lives to defend it?
Right now water protectors are putting their bodies on the line to prevent construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline on Ojibwe land in Northern Minnesota. This pipeline is a violation of several treaties, crossing no less than 200 water bodies and 800 wetlands. Line 3 is technically an update to an existing pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Canada to its terminus in Wisconsin at the headwaters of the Mississippi river. Enbridge claims these updates are necessary for safety, but the plan is also expanding the pipeline’s capacity to transport nearly 800,000 barrels of oil a day. As Ojibwe attorney and activist Tara Houska said: “Same risks, same climate impacts, same violations of treaty rights” (Public News Service).
From the Stop Line 3 official website:
“All pipelines spill. Line 3 isn’t about safe transportation of a necessary product, it’s about expansion of a dying tar sands industry. Line 3 would contribute more to climate change than Minnesota’s entire economy. Minnesota’s own Department of Commerce found our local market does not need Line 3 oil. We need to decommission the old Line 3 and justly transition to a renewable, sustainable economy. Line 3 would violate the treaty rights of Anishinaabe peoples and nations in its path—wild rice is a centerpiece of Anishinaabe culture, it grows in numerous watersheds Line 3 seeks to cross. It’s well-past time to end the legacy of theft from and destruction of indigenous peoples and territories.”
Tar sands are possibly the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. Their extraction decimates Canadian boreal forests, their transportation through pipelines puts waterways and lifeways at existential risk, and actually using them puts more and more carbon in the air. If the impact on the land, water, and people isn’t enough, what about the climate? We should not be building new pipelines at all, we should be decommissioning them.
Black White Red has different cultural meanings around the world, and certainly different meanings in different Indigenous cultures that I am not privy to. I am seeing though that Black White Red is showing up here not only symbolically but also very physically. These stirring black and white and red prints are the work of the Onaman Collective, specifically by its founding artists Isaac Murdoch and Christi Belcourt. They’ve shared the PDFs and JPEGs of their Protest Banner Art for free online, to download and use in support of water and land protection.
There are actions happening around the country. Print out these banners and put them in your window, and best yet screen print more to hand out. Personally, I can’t see multiple image files without thinking “animation,” so I made one. The revolution will not be GIFed, but sometimes GIFs help. You can share this one too, making sure to credit the artists.
Okay, there’s more:
This past weekend, not knowing that I was writing about this, two dear friends gifted D and E the book We Are Water Protectors by Ojibwe author Carole Lindstrom and Tlingit illustrator Michaela Goade. This lushly watercolored childrens’ book tells the story of an Ojibwe girl fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the author’s note, Lindstrom says:
“There is an Anishinaabe prophecy that speaks of two roads: One road is a natural path. It leads to global peace and unity that embraces the sacred relationship between humanity and all living things. On this path, all orders of creation—mineral, plant, animal, human—are relatives deserving of respect and care. We are instructed to use our voices to speak for those who have not been given a voice. On this path there is no ‘black snake.’ The Earth is not damaged, and the grass grows lush and green.
This prophecy, known as the Seven Fires Prophecy, says that if humans choose the natural path, then we will proceed toward peace and unity and a healthy Mother Earth.
The other road is described as a hard-surfaced highway where everything moves faster and faster, at an unimaginable speed. In this path, humans embrace technological advancement with little regard for Mother Earth.
Many Native Nations believe this path is symbolized by the oil pipeline, the ‘black snakes’ that crisscross our lands, bringing destruction and harm. This path leads to a damaged Earth.”
Honestly, when I read Lindstrom’s author’s note my first thought was: it’s too late. The black snake is here in so very many forms, not just oil. The speed on this highway is exponential, and there is no way that the dizzying momentum of technological advancement and perceived material comfort will let us exit. There is no way that financial power will let us exit. What other reason is there to build more pipelines besides profits and power? They can cloak this in the promise of jobs, but those jobs are temporary. When the pipeline is completed those workers will still be struggling and Enbridge will still be thriving. Switching to a natural path that embraces unity with the Earth will take no less than upending whole systems. Stopping this pipeline will chop off the head of one black snake.
But that is how the transformation has already begun. Holding up the dangling body of that snake as well as the waterways and lifeways thriving without is the way to illuminate the new path, or a very old path. Centering Indigenous people and their wisdom and leadership is the way to get off that highway, the only way. Tara Houska says that Indigenous people make up 5% of the world’s population but steward 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Giving Indigenous peoples the power and authority to take care of their land (which is really all of it) is the only hope for humanity, or humanity in any form that we recognize.
Black White Red reminds us that the body is real, that all bodies are connected, that the Earth is a body, and that Water is Life. That all three of those colors have been historically used as tools of exploitation to warp what is real about the body and the collective human body, and that this goes hand in hand with the exploitation of the Earth. That centering the leadership of Indigenous people, of Black people, of people of color is the way to live in balance with the Earth. Again, or for the first time at this massive scale.
Red Purple is bodily wisdom, embodied intelligence. The refrain I keep hearing is that line from Mary Oliver’s very famous “Wild Geese;” maybe you know it:
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Hearing that line makes me physically slump, set my ears back like a rabbit settling into its own fur. It’s sort of like relaxing, but with a pout. A vulnerable, incredulous, pleading pout. Like, please, could it really be that simple? Are you sure, Mary Oliver, that I don’t have to be good? And of course it’s not that simple, when loving what you love can be cause for your murder depending on the particulars of what and where it is. But even so, and maybe especially so, it is so vitally important to remember (again and again) that we are animals made of bodies that are here to love. That’s the baseline: loving is all you have to do. Being is all you have to do, and to let that being be loving.
My grandfather wasn’t familiar with Mary Oliver’s work before I shared it with him. This is notable because at age 96 he is familiar with many, many other things. A voracious reader of periodicals and historical non-fiction, he is also a lover of poetry. He talks about how as a young man he and his friends used to recite poetry aloud to each other as a source of entertainment. I think he also appreciates my love of poetry: he has sent me his copy of Poetry Magazine in the mail every month for over ten years. Maybe fifteen at this point. So at the beginning of the pandemic I sent him a copy of Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume One (Beacon Press).
He is not an effusive person, but I could tell my grandfather was excited because he called her a “down to earth writer” and asked me to tell him two or three poems he should read. Of course I pointed him toward “Wild Geese” (page 110), “The Summer Day” (page 94, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”), and a third one that I hadn’t encountered before picking up the book but is now perhaps my favorite (page 123, emphasis mine):
breaks from the blue-black
skin of the water, dragging her shell
with its mossy scutes
across the shallows and through the rushes
and over the mudflats, to the uprise,
to the yellow sand,
to dig with her ungainly feet
a nest, and hunker there spewing
her white eggs down
into the darkness, and you think
of her patience, her fortitude,
her determination to complete
what she was born to do—
and then you realize a greater thing—
she doesn’t consider
what she was born to do.
She’s only filled
with an old blind wish.
It isn’t even hers but came to her
in the rain or the soft wind
which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.
She can’t see herself apart from the rest of the world or the world from what she must do every spring.
Crawling up the high hill,
luminous under the sand that has packed against her skin,
she doesn’t dream
she is a part of the pond she lives in,
the tall trees are her children,
the birds that swim above her
are tied to her by an unbreakable string.
I find it hard to articulate the experience of having given birth, or in the case of the turtle, given life. Perhaps it takes place outside of the realm of words. This poem speaks to procreation as a shared animal activity, contextualizing it in a way that doesn’t rarify or fetishize the one doing the spawning but celebrates everyone’s place in it all the same.
When I first started writing this, I wasn’t sure why a soft animal body loving what it loves would make me want to write about my grandfather. He has taught me many things but perhaps none that have to do with that. But what is my relationship with my grandfather if not part of that unbreakable string? As my only living grandparent, a flesh and blood connection to the generations before me that made me what I am?
And yet this turtle is not only connected to her eggs and offspring. She is a part of everything, everything is a part of her. Our connections as bodies on this earth are about so much more than blood. Or maybe it is blood in an expansive sense, that the vast majority of our DNA is shared so closely among so many different kinds of organisms. We are all relatives, we are all kin. There is no reason to see yourself apart from the rest of the world or the world from what we must do.
There is a phrase from a Hebrew prayer that has become an expression: “L’dor v’dor.” It means “from generation to generation.” This concept is a hallmark of Jewish faith and culture, as the primary means of its propagation. You can point to matrilineal blood lines and DNA tests to see if someone “is Jewish,” but the blood is perhaps the least interesting thing about it. In the prayer, the phrase continues “L’dor v’dor nagid godlecha...mipinu lo yamoosh lay’olam va’ed” or “from generation to generation we will tell of your greatness...your praise will never depart from our lips.” Now, we can and should debate who or what that “you” is, but what I love is the emphasis on speech. It’s not about creating more people in a bloodline, it’s about passing down values through what we talk about, through storytelling. It’s about sharing love. If I have learned anything in this pandemic, when blood family is so far away for us, it is the surprising power of intergenerational chosen family.
I’ve been thinking about Ancestor Work lately, how to honor and connect with those that came before me, before us. It’s a bit tricky to know how to engage, but I have heard the advice from practitioners that it’s okay to go slowly. One new pandemic habit I’ve picked up (like so many others) is baking bread, very specifically challah for Friday night, for Shabbat. There is an old custom to take a bit of the dough and throw it in the oven as a burnt offering, following a commandment to offer the first portion of your bread to God. I don’t like the idea of intentionally burning anything in the oven, filling the house with VOCs for tiny lungs. But I like the idea of an offering, and I especially like the idea that it might be an ancestral offering. After finally overcoming the fear that I would be producing weird sacred bread trash that I wouldn’t know how to dispose of, for the last two weeks D and I have made a teeny tiny challah loaf along with our other two loaves and put it outside under a tree next to the sidewalk. It has blessedly disappeared both times. And I am totally fine if that means we are sharing it as an offering with our raccoon relatives.
Speaking of smallish furry animals, let’s talk about bunnies. Why bunnies? Red Purple made me think of Mary Oliver’s soft animal bodies which made me think of bunnies but also made me think of sending a book of poetry to my grandfather which made me think of generations which also made me think of bunnies, specifically the Fibonacci Rabbit Sequence and species proliferating over time. Maybe you know the Rabbit Sequence: one pair of rabbits is born, they reach maturity at one month, and then each subsequent month every mature pair of rabbits has another pair of rabbits. The formula continues on and on forever in the golden string, an unbreakable string: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…
This sequence is beautiful, and also dizzying. Beings creating more beings and more beings, generations and generations spawning like so many viruses, multiplying and proliferating. Red Purple is afterall also survival and intuition. Survival instinct. Where the drive to procreate and proliferate comes from, and maybe how humans have come to build all the things they have built, wanting not only their genes but their memes to live on forever. This is when “l’dor v’dor” is not a comfort to me but a source of anxiety.
But with anxiety often comes awe, and perhaps that is what also draws me to the Fibonacci Sequence, the golden ratio. That encoded in so much DNA is this formula: the unfolding of a fern leaf, the curling of a nautilus shell, patterns of swirlings branches. Another bit of bodily wisdom on a planetary scale. Universal scale?
You may know about my purple plastic rabbit named Rabbit, but what you may not know is that I initially liberated him from a children’s museum display on the Fibonacci Sequence. I carried him around for a few years like you might carry around a small dog, as my pet, as Art. Rabbit was (is?) a gesture to daily evoke the absurd and as living commentary on what I thought must be other people’s relationship to their own pets. In retrospect I think this was reductive, as I now have a deeper firsthand understanding of bonding with a nonverbal dependent. Rabbit is in some ways a body without a mind. But I think I’ve given him a spirit. So here in his honor is a purple rabbit; many, many, purple rabbits.
Red Purple is embodied wisdom. Your wisdom isn’t just in your body, your wisdom is your body. Your human self is your animal self, which is tied to every other animal, plant, mineral self. Where Red Purple could be a separation of mind and body it is indeed reinforcing their very integration. So while we are human, and while we are here on Earth (Space may be different), you have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Orange is my mother’s color, complementing her auburn hair and fair complexion with freckles. At some point in my childhood, orange clothing became more commonly available than it had been in the 80’s, and the orange-buying habit my mom had developed (“buy orange whenever I see it”) led to an orange explosion in her wardrobe. I couldn’t tell whether it was Freudian when, the first time I bought bedsheets and a duvet cover, I went with orange. Maybe it was just a womb thing, for comfort. For sleep. Oh sleep: such a fundamental paradox to check out of a world of reason and into a world of mystery, from light into dark, daily, to be reborn again, anew. Plato’s cave, often a womb metaphor (with orange light reflected onto its walls), guides us from the dark world that seems to make sense into the blinding white light of the outside.
A few years ago, my friend Ilyse asked me to update much of this website (for pay, Ilyse believes in paying artists), and I said yes even though my web-design skills are quite basic. So I have been close to “A Rainbow Squared” for a while now, and throughout that time “Black White” has perplexed me more than any other aspect of this project’s formula. I thought, rainbows are nothing like black-white and why does this rainbow skip the mystical color of “Indigo”? So I shook my head when Ilyse drew this card for me for this week, smiling at the chance to meditate on my discomfort around “blackwhite’s” place on the rainbow (squared). It wasn’t long before I felt quite lucky to have been drawn this card, the 7th week of this sequence, the fourteenth square on the grid (7+7, combining to a nice 777), and so, resting on a bed of orange (which represents “creation” in this project’s symbol structure), I feel nudged to share that I’ve been writing an essay about the dichotomy of light and dark.
To paraphrase it, the story started a decade ago, when I noticed how light and darkness are fundamental to all the cultural symbols I’ve been taught: positive and negative, 1’s and 0’s, existence and non-existence. With light and dark so near the center of my way of making meaning, I’ve been taught to emphasize the visual: when I ask do you “see” what I mean, “seeing” equates with “understanding.” To see is to know, but really? We are called to reinforce this “perspective” (ie, this “bias toward what can be seen”) with the moralizing of “move toward the light,” so that “light,” of course, equates with “good,” and “dark” equates with “evil” or “bad,” the things we fear.
If you don’t already “see” why this vision-based symbol system could be problematic, I’ll spell it out (so you can read it… with your eyes), like this: in a culture where light=good and dark=bad, a culture that knows by seeing, it kind of makes sense why we have such widespread w-h-i-t-e s-u-p-r-e-m-a-c-y. Even though we understand that white is not better than dark, we’re surrounded by innumerable metaphors suggesting otherwise; the primacy of vision is baked into our language, ignoring what cannot be seen. We need to reach beyond the visible if we’re going to create together a culture where all people are treated with dignity. We can tease apart the bonds of light=good and dark=bad, letting go of a system that is not serving us.
There is so much truth that cannot be seen!
And whenever we need to “see it to believe it,”
we lose the invisible, and we lose the dark.
Knock knock, who’s there: Orange you glad to be noticing this?! Dark is not the same as Bad, and Light is not the same as Good! We can grow new connections branching out from this reality! We can understand through feeling, tasting, smelling, and sensing with senses we don’t yet have words for. There’s so much more that we can’t see than what we can see.
And so, I’ve realized this week, the genius of blackwhite’s place in “A Rainbow Squared” is that it makes room for all that’s beyond the rainbow of the visible spectrum of light… And yet! There’s still much to be learned from tuning into specific colors and what they’re saying, via the combos on the grid: all we have to do is turn our heads and look: I shot the photos of this week’s animation within a few feet from where I’m sitting right now, at my desk. An orange box that used to belong to Uta Barth, a black-and-white drawing by Rachel Dwan, a collection of short stories called Octavia’s Brood, co-edited by adrienne maree brown, alongside a tiny photo of Edward Hopper’s home studio, his wife standing next to it. It started as a portrait but Hopper is cropped out so that his wife is no longer in the background of his foreground: her name is Josephine Hopper, a painter and a key player in her husband’s success as an artist (some might have called her support an “invisible force”). I feel lucky to be so near to these things, starting my day next to them.
Anything “in black and white” means text, so while I shot stills it was only necessary that I flip open my copy of Octavia’s Brood, (referring to the pioneering Black science fiction author Octavia Butler) and see what it offered. Chance/fate brought me to a story by Autumn Brown, sister of adrienne maree and co-host of their podcast, How to Survive the End of the World (highly recommended). In the story, a post-collapse society that lives underground (in the dark) is about to “surface” a woman who has committed a crime. Surfacing is their mode of capital punishment, since no one survives there, but [spoiler alert] the woman’s mother gives her an ancient bag of supplies (“It is the color I have always imagined the sunset would be”) so that when she is thrust into the light, she might live.
Orange, Black, and White, imagining a new kind of future together, with Octavia Butler as our guide. Let’s all stretch out from the rainbow of light, into the great unseen.
“Wherever we go, is there a way to get home?” D asked me while walking back from the playground.
“Oh wow,” I said. “That is a deep question.” I repeated it to myself out loud a couple times: “Wherever we go is there a way to get home…?”
I mean, the answer is a definite no. Right? As an example she might understand, I brought up Elsa’s ill-fated journey to a mystical glacier in the movie Frozen II. But as D pointed out (spoiler alert), Elsa does ultimately come back.
Wherever we go is there a way to get home? Who is we? What is home? Usually people don’t intend to get lost. But there are certainly trips that people embark on and never return from, like an accidental drive off of a cliff, or a poorly-timed flight in a small aircraft. Or just this week, going to work as an Asian woman at a massage parlor. Or going to the grocery store.
Yes, you can get lost forever easily, all too stupidly easily. But maybe it isn’t the victims who are lost. Their lives were taken, not misplaced. It’s the murderers who lost their minds. Lost it how though? To what? To pain? To loneliness? To late-capitalist colonialist white supremacist patriarchy?
What does it really mean to lose your mind?
What does it mean to have a mind?
I guess that’s the question I was already wrestling with this week. I told Will Rogers (you might remember him from last week, Orange Black White) that this week was Purple Yellow, and that I was thinking about mind power. In response, he forwarded me our mutual friend Bradley Heinz’s thesis. Now, normally someone’s 70-page graduate school thesis written to satisfy degree requirements in medicine might not make for accessible reading, but when it comes to Rainbow Squared I take any of the universe’s bids for my attention seriously. And as it turns out, this was a great bid.
On Medicine, Mind, and Metaphysics: The Placebo Effect and The Hard Problem of Consciousness talks about mind power indeed. In it Bradley argues for a post-materialist scientific paradigm. I didn’t know what that meant before I read it, but to sum it up (hopefully without botching it), modern science operates in a materialist framework, in which everything in the universe is made of matter. The scope of a materialist framework is limited to what can be measured, which limits what is considered “real” only to the physical. This poses a problem when it comes to entities like the human mind or consciousness. As Bradley poses (emphasis mine):
If a computer were an apt metaphor for the mind-brain, a materialist study would aptly describe wires and logic boards and encasements, but would have no reference to an “internet” or “cloud,” core features of today’s technologies. As these various schools of thought within cognitive neuroscience have evolved and provided new theories of mind that try to explain how the brain produces consciousness, is it possible the field is making a clear logical fallacy? Is it possible we are mixing up or assuming a relationship of causation when all the evidence we have merely points to correlation? What if consciousness wasn’t produced by the brain at all, yet instead exists as an independent entity from the brain, and perhaps all of matter?
And it’s not that any of this can’t be studied. It can and it has. But rather than letting data speak when it comes to phenomenon that might point to an expanded understanding of consciousness—like near-death experiences, clairvoyance, or even accounts of past lives—modern science shuts down potential discussion before it starts, rendering it pseudoscience. See where that bias may be coming up for you even right now, before looking at the data.
The potential implications here are huge and far reaching, in the medical field and beyond. Bradley again (emphasis also mine):
Operating under the belief that the only “real” thing in the world is matter, that life is nothing more than a complex arrangement of constituent tiny dead parts, the universe could appear as a cold, lifeless accident, devoid of purpose, intention, or direction. It is plausible to consider links between this hegemonic scientific worldview and the state of the world. If collectively we believed in and our institutions operated under a post-materialist framework, could we continue to objectify and desecrate our natural world for profit? Would we be able to continue funding aggressive wars and military occupations of foreign lands for imperialist gain? Would we continue to register record levels of disaffection, despair, and even suicide?
Could we (please) be on the precipice of a paradigm shift here?
Oh there is so much more here to say about this, about everything, that I did say, that I deleted, that I had to delete. It’s just not in my scope this week or next or perhaps any time before my kids are in school ever again to write an essay about the spiritual ramifications of medical epistemology, let alone mass shootings. But the feelings are there, so many of them, trying so hard to come out as words.
I snuck away to my computer to write early the other morning. When I came back in the room, I was immediately stopped by little E pleading “Chair! Chair!” begging me to sit down with him so he could nurse. As I sat, I talked through the open door to Justin in the kitchen. I told him how no matter my initial intentions when writing, it never seems possible to just say something simple.
“Thum-puh,” E tried to repeat after me, pulling off of my nipple suddenly to say so. He latched back on to nurse some more, and then pulled back off to try to repeat the word again. “Sum-puh.” Then latched again, pulled off again. This is not the most comfortable sensation. But he kept trying until he got it. “Sim-poo. Sim-ple!” E locked eyes with mine, brimming with pride and seeking recognition. I think. Or maybe he was trying to tell me something, trying to have me get it, that he gets it. Simple.
Simple. Simple. Tell me, child, is anything ever? I can’t know what your cognitive experience is, but I bet I romanticize it as more simple than it actually is. Right now your mind is filtering and sorting so much, learning to assign language to your environment, learning to tell your mouth to make sounds that make sense to other people. The things I will need to tell you with words will certainly get more complex over time, as it already is with your sister. How to explain the inexplicable? How to explain the inexcusable?
Purple is the mind, consciousness, awareness, wisdom. Yellow is power and saying yes. Mind power. More than we can ever hope to understand. Maybe even mystical power, higher power, or mystical yes, admitting that there are things going on that we don’t and won’t understand. That we can’t understand how reality works, let alone how the mind works, or how the two are linked. We don’t even understand what the mind is, so how could we ever understand why it does what it does?
But how could we ever stop trying?
For at least as long as the pandemic has been going on, D has made “potions.” It probably started earlier than that, but I remember it mostly in the context of our many (many) hours together on walks (what else is there to do?). These potions mostly or entirely consist of foraged plant matter, leaves and flowers ripped up and put in some sort of vessel. It’s been a learning process for both of us, negotiating about which plants she can touch and which she should leave alone, learning to pick flowers only when there will be many still left.
We were outside together this week just the two of us, somewhat of a rarity. Of course she wanted to make potions. Somehow she located a cinderblock and declared it the perfect container: “You can have that side, and I’ll have this side!!”
D filled hers with what she considered a wide array of flowers and leaves. This week being Green Green, I filled mine only with green things. She declared this boring, and not very magical. She didn’t really buy it when I told her that colors are my magic.
“My potion is for healing people and creatures, what’s yours for?” she asked me.
“Hmm...I suppose mine is for healing hearts,” I said.
I mean, healing hearts is a tall order, right? Isn’t that the start of healing people and creatures? I didn’t feel like going down that rabbit hole with her, so we just sat making potions. Eventually though, I couldn't help it. I pulled out my phone to take pictures.
“Mom, you aren’t doing as much as I expected you to do. Just taking pictures,” she complained.
Sure. But isn’t making animations part of my magic too? Isn’t taking pictures a form of devotion? Of signaling to the universe what you want, what you love, what is yours, what is you?
Apparently I generated 26,606 images on my phone in 2020 alone. That’s an average of 70 a day. Many of them are duplicates to create stills for animations, or drafts of animations, or multiple file types. My phone is my studio, after all. But 26,606 is still a lot. And a lot of those are photographs of my children.
Now, I’m not taking the photos for social media. I try not to share the kids’ faces there or much of anything else besides my own art. I take many of the photos to share directly with loved ones and family far away. But a lot I take almost reflexively, as a means to mark and try to hold a moment.
Now that I have a second child, I feel acutely how much the little moments slip through the cracks. How much we already don’t remember about D’s babyhood. “We won’t remember this,” is something Justin and I say often to each other incredulously when something small and wonderful happens: a funny pronunciation of a word, or being led to look at something by an impossibly small hand. Maybe it’s a way of simultaneously celebrating it and releasing attachment. The gesture of taking photos might be an opposite gesture, one of grasping, of capturing. Pulling out the phone to take a picture is still a celebration though: it says “This. I love this. I appreciate this.”
But pulling out the phone also disrupts the very moment it is trying to capture. Does photographing it mean I get to hold on to it somehow? To keep it? Or do the photographs replace the memories, become the only memories?
I can claim that taking pictures is part of my magic, but it doesn’t seem to pass muster with this four-year-old. She sees it for what it is: a separation from being with her in the present moment.
Just about any symbol set could be used as a tool to notice and sanctify connections in your life and environment. I mostly embrace my Jewish heritage and its rituals and symbols. Lately, I have also chosen color. These are not mutually exclusive, and in fact may inform each other. You could also really use almost anything: numbers, letters, cards, stars, tea leaves, bones, conversations. I wonder then whether the meaning I derive from color arises from my own associations over time or objective classifications arising from the nature of the colors themselves. Probably both.
But what happens when you switch systems of meaning entirely, using the same symbols but with different meanings?
This week is Passover, or Pesach, the Jewish holiday celebrating the passage from bondage into freedom and the perpetual struggle for collective liberation. Passover is also the Festival of Spring: at the ritual Seder meal we symbolize this by placing a green leafy vegetable on the Seder plate, often parsley. This green vegetable is called “karpas” and it has its own blessing.
So drawing Green Green this week immediately evoked Passover for me. I even made sure to include parsley in that backyard potion. But this week, and the next seven weeks, the colors are going even deeper than that.
There is a 50-day period between Passover and the next Jewish holiday of Shavuot. If Passover is about becoming free, Shavuot is about receiving the Torah, or the means to living a righteous life. These are also each agricultural holidays: two out of the three harvest festivals during the year, when Jews would take their first harvest to the Temple, the other one happening in the Fall with Sukkot.
On the second day of Passover, an offering of an “omer” of the first barley harvest was taken to the temple, where the priest would use it in a “wave offering,” waving it in the six directions: north, south, east, west, up, and down. Only then could that year’s barley harvest be eaten.From that day on, it is commanded to count 49 days until the 50th day of Shavuot, when Jews would bring the wheat harvest to the temple. This is called Counting the Omer. This entails, well, counting. Literally. Every night (on the Hebrew calendars, days start at sundown instead of at midnight) you say a series of blessings and you count, like so:
“Today is Day One of the Omer.”
“Today is Two Days of the Omer.”
On and on until:
“Today is Forty-Eight Days, which are Six Weeks and Six Days of the Omer.”
“Today is Forty-Nine Days, which are Seven Weeks of the Omer.”
It doesn’t stop with numbers or the harvest. If Passover celebrates going from slavery to freedom, there was still so much healing for the Israelites to do before they were ready to recieve the Torah on Shavout. So these 49 days become a sort of spiritual healing program, following a 7 x7 grid of holy attributes, or sephirot in the Tree of Life of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Each week has an overarching attribute, and each day pairs it with one of the other attributes, cycling in a 7 x7 grid, like so:
Yes, this is basically like a 49-day sprint of Rainbow Squared. Or perhaps more accurately, Rainbow Squared is like a 49-week marathon of Counting the Omer.
I’m still processing the similarities here, which are staggering. I knew about Counting the Omer, but I didn’t really know about the attribute matrix, and I certainly had never seen it represented in colors. In that way, it did not consciously influence the Rainbow Squared grid, which I really conceived as a formula for artistic discipline. It is perhaps no accident though that these last five years has brought my practice closer to this Jewish practice.
So this year, for the first time, I am counting the omer. It is a commitment, but I like those. And I am not doing it alone: while each night blessings are done on my own, I am engaging biweekly with a creative cohort called “A New Gift” who is doing the same.
While I am in this 49-day process within my otherwise 49-week cycle, I’m going to think about each week’s overarching attribute and how they relate to colors. These attributes are hard to translate, and every source seems to have a different take. They each also have multiple meanings. The attributes or sephirot go as follows:
Week 1: Chesed - Lovingkindness, Unconditional Love, Grace, Mercy
Week 2: Gevurah - Strength, Judgment, Boundaries
Week 3: Tiferet - Harmony, Balance, Beauty
Week 4: Netzach - Eternity, Endurance, Dedication, Ambition
Week 5: Hod - Splendor, Awe, Humility, Acceptance, Order
Week 6: Yesod - Foundation, Creativity, Bonding, Sexuality
Week 7: Malchut (Shekhinah) - Divine Presence, Physical Reality, Manifestation, Leadership
So how do colors fit into this?
There are just as many color associations as there are meanings of each of these individual sephirot. In some systems, the colors are determined one by one, and in others they follow a certain rainbow order. The grid above uses the colors determined by Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, or Reb Zalman, the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, as laid out in his rainbow tallit design.
In Rainbow Squared, Green Green is the very center of the grid: the middle of the journey, or perhaps the core from which all things emanate. Its significance is love, family, plants, Earth, opening your heart and living from it.
I think that Green might be a pretty good match for Chesed, the attribute for this first week of the Omer count. Green Green is where I have always located unconditional love and connection to the Earth. Chesed is also unconditional love, its full week always showing up right at the start of the festival of spring. The cycle of plant growth is connected to our ability to love unconditionally, its own kind of bursting into bloom, into what Taya Mâ Shere and Nomy Lamm call “heart expansion.”
It’s also no accident that love, grace, and mercy would be where we start the journey away from slavery into freedom. Slavery is an old story, but it isn’t over. Here is the United States we are still living daily in the deep effects of slavery, with a long, long road of repair ahead (one step on that journey may be passing H.R. 40). And there are so many people still enslaved today around the world. Some in ways that are abhorrent and easy to renounce though hard to see like sex trafficking. Some in ways we don’t often acknowledge or accept like the oppression of the many unseen people behind the creation and distribution of the goods we all think we depend on, who have no choice but to submit their lives to this cause
Chesed means seeing beyond the self, opening your heart until you can no longer tune out the suffering of others, especially when you might personally benefit from it.
Color it green, color it purple. Call it love, call it lovingkindness. Let us this year call it collective liberation, every year and every day until it’s true.
That’s what my Pesach potion is about.
Each week I draw a card from my Rainbow Squared deck to determine that week’s colors. At the same time I also draw a Tarot card, and this week I drew the Page of Swords. In the Tarot deck I use—the Prisma Visions deck by James R. Eads—each suit of the minor arcana cards is a contiguous panorama when you lay them out start to finish. In the Page of Swords, the figure is finally vanquishing a giant bird beast that has been terrorizing the previous cards. With one casual swing of the sword, the beast bursts into butterflies. Monarch butterflies.
In Tarot, swords are the suit of the element of air, which is thought and intellect, the life of the mind. So often what we think is an insurmountable, terrible thing can be addressed by starting with the mind, dismissed like so many butterflies. And sometimes what we think is no big deal is actually a swarm.
I’d been thinking about butterflies and violence after reading a passage in the 2010 book Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy, written by the infamous artist filmmaker author healer and master of Tarot himself, Alejandro Jodorowsky. If Purple is the mind and also magic and Red is the body, then Purple Red may be the perfect color for what Jodorowsky calls “Psychomagic:” the ability to heal oneself through ritual performance. Jodorowsky describes a psychomagician as less of a shaman or doctor than an adviser in helping the patient to be their own healer through poetic acts. In Psychomagic, written in interview format, Jodorowsky describes an incident from his youth in Chile that helped him to understand the nature of the poetic act:
The poetic act allows for expressing energies that are normally repressed or asleep inside us. The unconscious act is an open door to vandalism, to violence. When the crowds erupt into violence, when the demonstration deteriorates and the people begin to set cars on fire or throw rocks, it is also about a liberation of repressed energies. For this reason, acts of violence do not merit the title poetic act.
Were you and your friends conscious of this?
We ended up being so, after observing some dangerous acts perpetrated by hot-tempered individuals. These experiences shook us up and made us question ourselves seriously. A Japanese haiku provided a key for us. A student brought the master his poem, which stated:
take away the wings
and it turns into a pepper!
The master’s response was immediate: “No, no; it is not like that. Let me correct your poem:”
and it turns into a butterfly!
The lesson here is clear: the poetic act must always be positive; it must be constructive and not destructive.
The poetic act. Using your body to conjure poetry into the physical realm, out of the mind and into real time and space. Perhaps it is in this way that poetry, art, and spirituality can intertwine as ritual. An act not to be undertaken lightly or confused for the unconscious act, otherwise the result can be literally disastrous. Don’t pluck wings off of butterflies, give wings to peppers.
Anyone can perform a poetic act, deliberately setting the bounds for a ritual and even its desired effects. But I would say that what gives the poetic act its poetry is not only the author’s intention but the way that life intervenes and even collaborates. The way that life presents elements and circumstances you never could have planned or anticipated.
See, I wrote the above about butterflies and Jodorowsky’s book on Monday, April 5th, and spent that evening making images of a pepper and a monarch butterfly.
Then this is what happened on Tuesday, April 6th. That day was Day 9 of the Omer: Gevurah she’b’Gevurah. Strength within Strength. Justice within Justice. Blue within Blue.
I took the kids on a walk around 11am to a playground. Usually we get out the door way earlier, so everyone felt a little on edge. Or maybe I just felt a little on edge. I let E walk on his own, so the five block journey took half an hour as he examined every fallen berry. Once we finally got to the playground it was so close to lunchtime that there was no one else there, so we took our masks off. D was playing with little stacking cups in the sand as I watched E gleefully bound back and forth across a rickety bridge. Then D called out:
“Pretend that you have two babies and you are watching one of the babies and you made a perfect cake and you didn’t notice that the other baby was about to ruin the perfect cake.”
It was a pretty specific request, so I went along with it. I locked my eyes on E and cooed at him loudly, deliberately not looking while D dumped out a blue cup she had carefully packed with sand and fennel. “Oh noooo!” I play-acted, “My perfect cake is ruined! And I worked so hard on it!”
D laughed with glee. I wondered to myself how E must perceive the play, how he can probably tell the difference between when I am pretending to be mad and when I am really mad.
Then D asked to play the game again, where I pay attention to one baby but not to the other. So I resumed watching E on the play structure. Then I heard her right behind me: “Hey, mama!”
I turned around to look and was immediately clocked in the face with that blue cup, my mouth filled with gritty, filthy, playground sand.
Now I actually was mad. My whole body tensed, but I controlled my reaction into pent rage and stunned silence. D immediately bolted away and hid under a different structure.
She hid there for a long time. I spat clumps of sand into the bushes, finally taking a swig off the kiddie water bottle to swish and spit that out too (so much for keeping my germs isolated at the playground). Then I sat on a bench and waited in silence. Eventually D got up and ran closer to me, climbing on a ladder and artfully avoiding eye contact.
“Do you want to tell me what just happened?” I asked.
We got to the very first street corner, and that’s when we saw it on the sidewalk. A butterfly. A monarch butterfly. A dying monarch butterfly, sitting there on the pavement with its tattered wings up.
We stood there transfixed for a minute. This would be a notable encounter even if I hadn’t spent the night before making weird graphics about monarch butterfly peppers. And it was certainly magical for a child either way. We decided we wanted to help the butterfly, to bring it home to try to give it water or milkweed or something, or put it out of its misery, or just to examine it more closely. We looked for something like a stick to carry it on, and then I remembered the tiny cups in my backpack. I picked up the one it would fit in, the blue one, and put it in.
We walked home holding that orange butterfly in the blue cup. It kept moving, not just the wind flapping its wings but voluntary movements of its legs and head. Its body looked chewed or something. I couldn’t believe this little butterfly was still alive. I couldn’t believe any of it, that we were carrying it home in the blue cup, blue for Gevurah.
Gevurah is strength and justice and probably in its unchecked state what I would associate closest with violence. Not an association I had with Blue in my color work before, but one that was always there and is there for so many people, of course. Carrying a dying butterfly in the blue cup that my willful daughter had chucked at my face in some sort of demonstration of sibling resentment. Her own poetic act. Or was it an unconscious act? Don’t we need violence sometimes to speak truth to power? D showed me her fierceness, and I showed her mine back, though doing it fairly. I think.
What is this metaphor? Who or what is the butterfly here? And this cup, a weapon then used as a shelter?
Is this a poetic act?
There are just so many butterfly metaphors here. They are magical beings themselves, worms that turn themselves into goo and grow wings. Faith. Transcendence. Transformation. Beauty. I saw a stupid meme recently saying something like: “Butterflies: now there are bugs for girls!” The next time I saw a butterfly I imagined what might make a butterfly scary. What if there were a plague of butterflies? In the Passover story, two of the Ten Plagues are insects: Lice and Locusts. Could you ever have enough butterflies that it would be horrifying, debilitating? How many would that have to be?
Gevurah. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Wings may turn a pepper into a butterfly but only violence turns the butterfly back into a pepper, not even back into a caterpillar, but something broken. The poetic act must never be violent, must never be destructive.
It was wild to watch that butterfly die slowly. To be witness to it and then suddenly and inescapably party to it. When we got it home it had no interest in our water, of course. But there it was. I was so transfixed by the moment, I couldn’t think to do anything else but take pictures. If I couldn’t make it survive and I couldn’t bring myself to kill it, at least I could turn it into Art. But is that an act of violence too?
I forgot how to say “butterfly” in Hebrew so I just looked it up. Are you ready? Butterfly is “par-par.” Parpar. It sounds wildly close to “pepper,” huh? It even sounds wildly close to pepper in Hebrew, which is “peel-pel.” These words are almost identical when they are written out: פַּרְפַּר and פִּלְפֵּל
That connection floored me, but maybe it’s arbitrary. Butterflies and peppers: what does it mean? I mean, maybe there are just semantic threads connecting all things if you look for them. But isn’t that stunning in and of itself?
Purple stands for magic, for woo woo, so it seems Purple tries to demonstrate this by going a little extra with the synchronicities. The last Purple this year, Purple Yellow, sent me on a wild goose chase of lemon references that hasn’t even ended yet. This time it’s butterflies.
Is this project a poetic act then? Maybe it’s poetic infrastructure, a framework for poetic acts. Or maybe I am just crazily chronicling patterns, spattering them out to anyone who will listen.
I think there is something else here though, something more about life itself as poetry. I’ve always talked about Life as Art, but maybe Poetry is more precise. You just have to pay attention to find the rhymes. I just have to write them down to understand them.
In this way, the act of writing itself can be a poetic act. Writing is not merely a means to create poetry, but also a way to conjure it. Something happens between the spaces of living and writing. To do both regularly is to make more poetry happen to you.
Purple is the mind and Red is the body. The two together make poetry manifest.
May our actions be just and balanced; tempered by poetry, not violence. May our collective poetic acts be a kaleidoscope and not a swarm.
Red Red is the first color in the Rainbow Squared cycle. It always means the beginning of a cycle, the beginning of cycles. When Red Red shows up, I pay attention.
This one came at the beginning of a few other cycles for me. It came on the first day of my menstrual cycle, which is also Red. It came with the new moon, and in particular the new moon in Aries, the first new moon of the astrological year. This new moon like any new moon was also the beginning of a Hebrew month, the month of Iyar. Red Red also came the day after my first vaccine, the start of a new cycle of re-entry back into the world, or back into a world, anyway.
So maybe this is a time to start over here. To reorient the way I make these pieces, which have taken over nearly every minute of my free time, after the kids go to sleep and before they wake up and sometimes while one is napping. These pieces also consume what I think about in between. Each Rainbow Squared piece is its own little research project, its own little puzzle. And I love it. I love seeing the way the elements show up in my world and figuring out how they fit together. I even like letting myself be driven by creative obsession. I feel intensely motivated. But other things in my life are falling by the wayside, including my own sleep.
So it is perhaps time to bound my time here. I still don’t know what that means and I certainly didn’t do it this week, but maybe I can start to loosen my grip a little here. Bring this back to something closer to poetry, maybe more like stream of consciousness. I don’t even know if that will make these shorter; it’s actually the editing process that takes the most time. I am in some ways a maximalist: all the colors, all the photos, all the words. I work like a sculptor shaping a bust from a giant slab, rather than a painter building up a canvas mark by mark. But I suppose in this case I am also building the slab, sentence by sentence, frame by frame. And then editing them down again. Expansion. Contraction.
Which brings us back to Red Red. Beginning Beginning. Let’s talk about the beginning of a beginning, then. The Torah begins with Genesis which begins with this sentence: “Bereishit barah elohim et ha’shamayim v’et ha’aretz.”
The traditional translation is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But the Hebrew word for “the” is “ha.” Both “heavens” and “earth” have a “the” before them in the Hebrew. But “beginning” doesn’t have a “the.” The word “Bereishit” then could be translated into something closer to “In a beginning,” not necessarily “the” beginning. It is a story afterall, and perhaps the authors of the Torah were calling it as much.
The beginning is still happening. The beginnings, so many interlocking cycles in perhaps multiple simultaneous streams of time. There is no “the” beginning.
This week I heard the Kabbalistic take on the Creation Story from Elana June Margolis, in my creative cohort for counting the Omer. I can’t totally reproduce it so I won’t try, but I will take some of the threads and weave it into my narrative here. And maybe even link it back to Red Red and the harmony of the universe that we are experiencing this week with Tiferet. (For more on counting the Omer, see Year 5 Green Green.)
In the beginning, in a beginning, or rather before the beginning, there was Everything. There was also Nothing. Everything was everything. No differentiation, everything a part of everything else. There wasn’t even an “everything else,” just everything. This Everything has since been given a name: Ein Sof, or “(There Is) No End,” “The Endless One.”
Eventually (what is time?) this everything had a longing, a fierce longing to create. In order to create something different from itself, the Everything had to make room. The Everything had to contract. This contraction also has a name: Tzimtzum. The Everything took its divine light and shrunk it infinitesimally. Then it exploded, shattered, divine light breaking into so many particles and waves and the spaces between those particles and waves, expanding again, infinitely. An expansion that is still taking place. A constant becoming.
The Everything is still in the process of differentiating itself into these divine sparks, turning itself into everything around you. Turning itself into you, in every moment.
Still, the sages say that these divine sparks are scattered, and it is up to us to bring them back together. But what if the sparks aren’t actually separate, and never were?
What if those sparks, like the light they are, were more like a spectrum? And all of us one flowing mass of particles with varying amounts of space between, all different points on that spectrum?
Humans have given names to the light we can see, called them “colors.” Isaac Newton canonized them as the Visible Spectrum, differentiating and designating bands of wavelengths as Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. But it’s really a continuum.
And even that visible spectrum is just one part of the whole Electromagnetic Spectrum. What we call “color” sits within a tight range of 740-400nm in wavelength, just 300nm when the full electromagnetic spectrum spans infinitely in both directions. There are longer wavelengths before “red,” before infrared, what we experience as heat. There are shorter wavelengths after “violet,” after ultraviolet, what emanates from the sun. And beyond. You’ve probably seen a chart like this, the waves we recognize as radio waves, television waves, cellular waves, internet waves, microwaves, thermal waves, visible light, sunshine, x-rays, gamma rays. All waves and particles pulsing around us, through us.
In this way there is light all around us, all the time, some it visible to us, some of it not. Light and information. So much information and always increasingly more, particles and waves taking up space in the otherwise mostly empty air. More than your eyes can sense. But not as much more than some other animals can sense.
Some migratory animals, including birds, fish, butterflies, and bees, seem to have a sixth sense that allows them to distinguish north from south. This sense may be a sort of magnetic vision based on a protein found in the retina called cryptochrome. “Crypto” as in secret and “chrome” as in color. This means that north and south actually may look different to these animals. And the electromagnetic waves of human activity might alter how these animals perceive them.
What other colors are we bathing in all the time? If other animals use senses we don’t have to navigate, how could they not sense this giant web of information we’re laying across the earth, across the sky, across the heavens and the earth? And what might it be doing to our own bodies?
The Cloud as we call it is also part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In this way, The Cloud is also a rainbow. Just like everything. Just like you. You are the bird. You are the cloud. You are The Cloud.
All waves, all particles. Reflecting light, absorbing light, emitting light. Points on a spectrum.
This is Week Three of the Omer: the sephirah of Tiferet. Tiferet is harmony, balance, beauty. The perfection of the cosmos, of the Everything. Tiferet is the boundless love of Chesed (the sephirah of Week One) coming up against the boundaries of Gevurah (the sephirah of Week Two), both shaping each other into the world we see.
Tiferet is Green, which is Red’s complement. Green is also what Red looks like to some human eyes that we call “colorblind,” including all three of my brothers and what I suspect might be my toddler son.
Mapping the sephirot to the body, Tiferet is the heart, sitting underneath and between Chesed and Gevurah. The harmony of the universe is the very heart pumping life through it, pumping blood through it. Red blood. Red, red blood.
Maybe in the beginning, in a beginning, this first contraction of the universe was not unlike a uterine contraction. God’s own uterus squeezing to let the universe flow out, not so much as birth but as blood. God’s menstruation, the destruction that makes future creation possible.
There is more than one kind of bloodshed though.
Some blood we give and give freely, give cyclically, give as a sign of life.
Some blood is taken. Taken by guns that pierce the boundaries of skin to draw it. Taken by police claiming to make fatal mistakes with Black lives, or shooting children who are following their directions. Taken by crazed men unleashing automatic weapons on masses of people.
Guns are the ultimate tool of separation.
We are all connected, we are all one. Sure. But our boundaries of flesh keep our lives intact, as brief as they are.
This cycle of gun violence keeps starting and restarting again and again, shooting after shooting.
This is not the Red Red I wanted to end on here. This is not the Red Red we have asked for.
Please, Everything, Nothing, God: make these cycles of shootings stop.
If only that worked.