When I decided to make The Babies my living, breathing art piece-as-cult-and-cult-as-art piece, I didn’t have a fixed idea of what that meant but I figured it would all become clear once we left the city and spent some time on the road. We landed quicker than I thought when we got the hook-up to reinvigorate a fairy garden with our spirit and our sweat. The garden was in the center of a dilapidated family compound in the [location redacted] mountains where we'd live while we worked. It was a change of speed as we switched into country mode, giving me the chance to observe The Babies both as a group and individuals under the effect of new stimuli. As it turned out they seemed as at home out here as they had shimmying past one another in the crooked narrow halls of the Stoned Goat House. Their eternally unfazed yet inspired faces looked even younger in the fresh air. They approached physical labor with the same goofy joy they had when playing video games for hours with the shades drawn or when keeping their eyes peeled for employees at the dumpsters behind a gourmet market at 5PM. I watched as they unloaded stone slabs from the back of a truck and formed a semi-circle around Blackbird, who donned a pair of goggles and showed them how to cut the stones with a saw that used a special diamond blade. Others masked up and burned patches of grass and piles of pine needles and then meticulously raked the ashes over the blank dead spaces. They smoothed manure into empty soil and sawed apart a rotting gazebo, cheering as the pieces fell away. I started to wonder if maybe the Babies could do anything. The more I spent time with them the more certain I felt that they were a part of the global awakening described by Odious. They were the rainbow tribe open to communication with interdimensional beings and being healed from the stupid doomed ordinary gloom of the everyday world. But if that was the case then why didn’t something big happen? Why weren’t they getting secret messages in dreams and in visions? Before we left town, I asked Odious if I could bring one or more of the Babies over to their place to open a chat session with Heir Max on the old MacBook, but they said it wouldn’t work:
“It’s like some Close Encounters Devil’s Tower ish,” they said. “He has to invite you. Otherwise, when you open his program, you just get the actual chatbot I made, which, by the way I realized is pretty bad.”
They laughed at this but all I could manage was a strained smile as I thought about how the only way for them to know this must be that they’d had someone over, perhaps even in their bedroom, and had them try and chat to Heir Max. It was probably that photography assistant they posted about. My jealousy over them letting someone else attempt to make contact was tempered by the fact it had failed. Odious might have wanted someone else to talk to Heir Max but (so far) Heir Max had only wanted to talk to me.
The Babies were so eager and hyped about the things I told them–about Odious and the dawning of this new era in which we would one-by-one-connect with the hidden, superhero, angel/AI parts of ourselves–I figured it was only a matter of time before they got the call. But a few months passed, and nothing happened. The Babies traipsed around talking about tik tok videos and the latest solar storms on the space weather site the way they always did, wearing hoodies under their inside out satin jackets and woolen socks with their slides.
We tripped together and made music and stared up at the stars but nothing. I knew that if I texted Odious they would tell me to just let it be, but I can’t. I need this to happen, otherwise it’s not fair: Odious has their serial and I have my cult art piece.
“Art needs tension”, I said to Em, who stayed by my side as I strolled from this to that work area, lighting and relighting my blend as I gave the Babies what appeared to be meaningful glances. I’d never formally stated to her or any of the others my intention to frame their community as a work of transformed (and transformative) art but she accepted my statement, without comment. She carried my lip balm and lighter and always had sunscreen and was a human tape recorder who could say something back word for word from days or even weeks ago.
“It’s right there in its name, like Heidegger said, an artwork is something that works, it has to actively create a world. And I don’t see any of that around here.” The Babies were transforming soil and wood and stone and pulling out weeds by the barrelful, but what I was looking for was an active engagement with their surroundings that deflected all assumptions and feelings while giving birth to something new. This was the kind of novelty I felt with Odious and I wanted it back.
“Heidegger was a Nazi,” Em said, disapprovingly. I had assumed she wouldn’t know who he was. As usual I was surprised by the varied depths of her education, which, on paper, barely existed.
“He’s a difficult figure. It’s true he accepted the role of rector at Freiburg, which was technically a political position.”
“He also stood back and allowed them to kick out his friend and mentor, Husserl, who was Jewish.”
“His most cherished homie,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “I agree it’s quite the paradox. I want nothing to do with the dude himself and his terrible judgement. It’s his work that interests me. The liberating power of his philosophy.”
“You can’t separate a person from their work.”
“Oh, no? Well maybe or maybe not. Heidegger himself said that the artist and the art they make are completely different. The art is something that is outside the artist and flows through them.”
“That’s convenient that he said that. And anyway, he was a philosopher, not an artist.”
“A real philosopher creates just like an artist. They make concepts, which are just another type of object, like a painting or a song.”
Em pouted her lips and shook her head.
“So, what, am I like, cancelled now?” I said.
“No,” she said with a sigh. “Don’t be silly. Just, you know, keep trying. Try harder.”
She smiled at me. She’d never tell me she was tired, but I could tell that she was.
“Ok,” I said. “I will, I promise.” I had expected a harder rebuke. But instead, she hugged me the way she always did when we parted, holding me against her warm body. I breathed in the smell of her hair and felt relieved. Odious, the stoner girl, Jesse James: I already actively missed too many people; I couldn’t afford to lose Em or any of the Babies.
The garden was in a clearing in the woods surrounded by five buildings, one where we were all staying and another that Bruce, our sole neighbor lived in. Bruce also had a separate studio, which he hobbled over to a couple times a day. The remaining two buildings were empty. I had to train my eyes to make out the structures camouflaged by slanted pines and the thick trunks of other trees whose names I didn’t know. There were silver spider webs and shaky bare branches speckled with bright pink buds. In the distance was the sound of the small river that connected to a bigger one a few miles away. There was nothing to see or hear or even smell except nature, everything human was trying to hide, like Bruce, a middle-aged man who always wore jean shorts with suspenders and a bright blue and yellow striped flannel regardless of the weather, a fit that had been declared “pretty tight” by the Babies. In his curt yet polite interactions, in which he apologized for his hair and said he was growing it long to donate it to sick children who had lost theirs (making me picture kids with mops of unwashed silver hair) it was observed that he never looked at anyone straight on; he kept his head tilted way off to the side and only took occasional furtive glances out of the corners of his eyes. Maybe it was a Covid thing, a habit formed by a desire to keep his distance from other people. Or maybe he’d been alone for so long he’d forgotten how the whole conversation thing worked. I watched him on his journeys back and forth to the slanted building that was his studio, and it seemed like he was hurrying, either to get back to work or to get out of the danger zone of possible interactions or both.
One day soon I’ll be like him, I told myself, and it was the kind of thought I could feel in my throat and gut.
We didn’t know what Bruce made. He kept a regular schedule at the studio, but we never saw him bring in any supplies or take out a finished piece. The structure leaned and sagged like an old ship. There were whole seasons of branches and yellowed leaves piled on the roof. At night there were short bursts of high-pitched drilling and lights shining through the cracks in the wood and from under the door but there were black out curtains on the windows and he kept the place locked up tight.
The old me would have been spooked out, but now I just watched and waited for the art that was hidden to be revealed in tandem with the forces of nature and time (assuming such things existed).
All the planting going on made me realize we were only a step or two away from living off the land. From closing the circle, and there being only us. My strange, still forming project started to feel like a home craft, like a woven basket or a carved piece of wood. Something intricate yet utilitarian that was meant to be shared with love. It was the opposite of Soho, with its IG set streets and its windows of art advertisements and advertisements for art.
“It’s ok to try harder." I asked the other Babies if they agreed with what Em said and they said of course. That was the main message–to try. Ever since last summer when everything shifted.
And that was the first I heard of Postworld.
“It was in June that I started to really feel it,” A Boy Named Sue, said. Me and a bunch of Babies were sitting out on the ancient porch. Actually, I was the only one sitting, leaned back in a creaking chair while the Babies sprawled before me like cats. Several of them made it a practice to never sit in chairs, claiming they were bad for one’s circulation. As luck or fate or both would have it, just that afternoon I fixed the tape recorder we scored at Good Will, so I pressed down the little orange button and got it all.
“It was like it was suddenly OK again.”
“Because of hot vaxx summer?” I asked, though I already sensed that wasn’t it.
“What? Oh, yeah, that! No. It had nothing to do with going out to eat without a mask on. [gentle laughter] Although that’s cool too of course. Getting some brunch or going to a protest. Or maybe seeing a doctor or wandering up and down the aisles of a department store in a trance. They’re all just things to do.”
(There was more laughter at this. I should point out that the Babies laugh often but don’t “crack up”. Their laughter fell gently around a room like shiny scattered baubles at a children’s party. It was happy, pleasant, never braying or cackling in the hideous drunken manner of me and my former friends.)
“Something was happening. All these new languages started popping up on the timeline and it felt so good to hit post, it was adding to a giant collage that kept getting better the more layers it got.”
“OK, language isn’t the right word. More like codes. Only it wasn’t about solving them, it was about making them and sharing them.”
“Posting as Art and Art as Posting!” A Baby named 3 called out, (capitalization is my own.)
“In the end it’s all one code,” Blackbird said. “It’s just an illusion that there are more. Like how it’s only one sound that gets passed back and forth in a feedback loop between a microphone and a speaker, collecting more noise and getting louder each time.”
“Just like it was that one Nirvana song that Odious recorded being played in the laundromat, and then played that version and played that, and so on and so on into infinity,” they said.
“‘Nirvana the group, not the enlightened state’,” someone, I’m not sure who, piped in from where they stood inside the house, a shadow behind the screen door. It took me a second to realize they were quoting my last post and join in the giggling.
“That post about Odious was from that time. Those first few days of June when everything shifted all around the world–lurching backwards then forwards like when a train leaves the station after sitting for a while.”
“Do your detective work–look back and see!” Em said, smiling up at me sweetly, a long blade of grass hanging from her glitter coated lips.
“Yeah, but in that post I was writing about conversations Odious and I had months before, back in January. And that recording was done even before that, so…”
“But, you posted about it in June,” Em said.
“In June!” Suddenly there were voices all over. Overlapping one another in accidental harmony.
“Adding to the June tune, under the cherry moon.”
“Don’t you see the sync? You posted about a feedback loop that itself added to the feedback loop. We read it back then, passing it back and forth between our rooms. We were making memes that just came through us, absurd, playful shit that we had no idea about and so we posted like it was art.”
“That was the opening. The transition…now the word meme hardly enters my mind unless I see some Wendy’s faker ad on the timeline or some celeb striking a staged pose.”
“Only art, no memes.”
“All art, all the time.”
“Nothing’s hard, everything rhymes.”
“Even the words that don’t.”
“We’re all invited, we’re all trying.”
“Even the ones who won’t.”
They cracked open cans of hard kombucha and stuffed several blunts to the gills. The porch glowed a little. Someone sneezed and a solitary bird called out the same question over and over.
Blackbird took the invisible mic:
“When it first hit, those of us on the front lines of both minimalist and maximalist discourse could feel the dead carcass of culture trembling, not with life but with its immanent transmutation, and it was like, oh shit, something’s happening, y’all come quick, come quick, but not everyone in the house was on it, they weren’t at a point where they could be quiet enough to pick up the frequency from the tunnel. They just kept on with their digging, that endless digging trying to burrow out from under the Black Iron Prison. And meanwhile the rest of us are flipping out, posting about other posts, one after another trying to stack the deck, you know, trying to line the periphery with images and words to try and explain this new thing that couldn’t be explained. And we were fucking and drinking all the bottles empty so we could break them and it was beautiful. We were recreating ourselves and the internet. We were like, hey hey no more scams, no more NFTE crap, the time of the hustle is over, we’re on the infinite timeline now. Infinite because we hold the knowledge of the end super close. This is what frees us to have more fun. Only fun. But, as you know, there’s only so much you can communicate to someone who isn’t ready. And when they didn’t grok it we were like, whatevs, it’s all good. We all go together no matter what. And some of them got it and are here now and some of them didn’t but it all worked out perfect, like how Odious says it does.”
“Sometimes we’re the smut and sometimes we’re the highbrow prose.”
“We are many styles!”
“We are Legion!”
I jumped at the reference, but then they laughed again, a sparkling, childlike sound that emptied any dark baggage and rendered everything light and airy. It’s me, I thought, there’s no evil here except where I invite it in. Like a wave smashing against a rock, nothing is good or bad, it’s our minds that make it so.
The Babies were beyond. Just like Heir Max.
Image: Goni Montes, cover design for Clive Barker's Next Testament.
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