Them, You, Then, Now, Always (repost)

I am reposting, in their entirety, the ten articles I wrote that were published in SHIFT magazine (which is now on hiatus) between 2013 and 2015, since some of the links have changed and so that my blog contains the full text of these articles (useful for searches etc.) Thanks to SHIFT for the graphics (much better than my originals), and for publishing and editing my work.

them you image 1

photo credit: photoshopped image from

“50 blackbirds nest in a dead tree, congregating and socializing raucously each evening, the babies squawking for food. Then someone cuts the tree down, and the birds scatter. Collapse. The tree-killer sells the wood and the empty nests for profit. The birds circle and regroup, and in a few hours find a new tree and start building new nests. Three days later, for the birds, it is exactly as it was before the fall. They understand community, and resilience.” – story taken from the writings of Orlov|Dmitry, c. 2014 Old Calendar

Cultural Anthropology Visit, 6462 New Calendar: Notes

The Tsilga people cannot tell you their story. At least, not in words.

Like many of the survivors of the Sixth Extinction, now thriving all these millennia after the Great Burning of the Earth, they have no need for words. They have gestures and sounds for the important concepts to communicate: danger, love, joy, anger, pleasure, grief. What more is needed? Their faces will express more to you than you can imagine, or ever hope to say. If you visit them, they will not tell you about themselves; instead, they will show you.

They will show you that they love music. They will play, and dance, and sing, making beautiful sounds with their voices, sounds that seem like words bristling with significance, but are just cadences, patterns, vocalizations that sound wonderful together, and that is their only meaning. They mean to be beautiful. Their life, you see, is about beauty, and its appreciation.

The way they adorn their unclothed lovely bodies, their hair, their faces, it will astonish you. You cannot help falling in love with them, all of them, male and female, young and old: They paint themselves to be a reflection of the sky, the forest, the water, the earth, the fire that still burns, spontaneously, over much of our planet’s face.

They will show you that they love food, and sex, and other pleasures of the senses. They will teach you, by covering your eyes, that fruits can seduce you just with their scent, can get you high with the mere anticipation of their touch on your lips and tongue, and their taste is just the orgasm of the delicious and prolonged process of eating, the love-sharing of taking in and becoming one with this exquisite composition of flavour, texture and smell.

And after that you will not be surprised to see that their love-making is as complex and delicate and nuanced as a symphony, and lasts so many hours you lose track of time, the passing of day and night, the space between bodies and worlds.

They will show you, too, that they love games, and play. They will show you how to invent a game with only winners, an impossibly new game, improvisational, changing every moment, a brilliant and razor-sharp and magical co-composition, and in so doing they will teach you a million different ways to laugh.

And last, they will show you their art – sculpture, drawings, paintings, pottery, weavings – more intricate and perceptive than anything you’ve ever seen, and containing such understanding and intensity, such synaesthetic power, that you will just stare at them, stunned, mouth agape.

Their art, you see, is their story. Not in the sense of past, and present, and future, since they have no sense of time, no need for such constraint. No, their art is a story of how they belong, how they are a part of all life around them, of their dreams, their connection, their oneness… There are no words to explain this. Just look, take it in, shake your head in wonder and disbelief, as if you were seeing faeries and supernovas and the birth of galaxies and creatures morphing in a flash of blinding colour into gods. Because you are.

Their art conveys the continuity of their make-up, our make-up, the make-up of everything from sub-gluonic minisculae endlessly smaller and more complex than you can conceive, to magisculae whose gravity and splendour dwarf universes, transcend meaning, explode mythologies. All there – in that tiny dish, that urn, that sketch, that crafted splash of paint across his or her rippling, muscled thigh – everything, you included, right there, captured, explained, presented, and represented.

So you ask, even after seeing this, their story, who they are, their magic – you ask, “What do they do?” And their response, since they can intuit your question from your puzzled expression, even without hearing your words, is to smile, and point first to the tree above you, filled with the songs of blackbirds, and then to the sea just beyond the ridge, where a pod of great whales are breeching, plunging, glistening in the sun, calling to the stars, and to you.

And then they give you this raised-eyebrow smiling shrug which you know, somehow, means “Do you understand now?”

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