Friday, July 2, 2010

Cruel to be kind, in the right measure?

by middle
the latest installment of "one fey's tales"

I’m sleeping in a tent in a wooded hollow on a farm in rural central Tennessee.  
I start to wake up.  

I remember wondering as I fell asleep last night whether or not the nature sounds here (one of the things I love about camping) would match those of another local gathering space.  I’m relieved as I start to stir that more and more birds join the morning chorus.  At some point, they seem almost too loud and too vivid – am I dreaming?   

Are there birds INSIDE the tent?  
I force my eyes open a bit and it’s damn near true.  Looking up I see and hear a wren darting around between the screen of my tent’s roof and its bright red rain fly.  It dawns on me that the bunch of leaves and forest debris that I noticed there yesterday wasn’t random.  Floating in and out of consciousness, I catch glimpses of a winged couple alternating deliveries to the nest.  At one point, what I see looks like a bulging, wriggling burlap bag full of snakes; Mom is re-arranging it from within. 

I’m visiting this art-oriented queer intentional community for the first time in several years.  The land features scattered gardens and farm buildings as well as a couple of outrageously whimsical outhouses.  

The fields are peppered with gaggles of queers and trans folk, anarchists and punks, faeries and freaks.  It’s the annual IDApalooza Fruit Jam, a festival that specializes in edgy, indie, homegrown, alternative music.  On the back porch and barn stages, around the fire and in the camps, queers connect through music, theater, art, and conversation.  It’s immersion in the true diversity of our community: a gorgeous antidote to what can sometimes be for me a tiresomely commercialized, bar-centric, danceteria-dominated culture of form over substance.  

Beyond the music, there are workshops on everything from local flora to self defense for sex workers, hikes, and fabulous vegetarian and vegan meals served up collectively by incredibly organized kitchen volunteers. 

It suddenly occurs to me that my tent and I must leave tomorrow.  What to do?  Are there eggs in the nest?  No, the parents wouldn’t be working so hard if there were.  I finally realize it’s best to remove it now – before more energy goes into its construction and before she lays.  

I force myself up off the air mattress and unzip the door.  I grab most of the nest in one hand and deliver it to the crook of a nearby tree, take a leak, and return to bed.  I’m still dozy and my eyes droop.  I see one of the pair hop under the fly with a scrap in its mouth.  I feel a pang of guilt as it looks around in its spastic, jerky way and then flies away.  Nature having realized its mistake, I observe no more visits.  An old Nick Lowe song comes into my head:  “You’ve got to be cruel to be kind, in the right measure…”

After breakfast, I hang out in the main yard, watching and listening.  I wander over to the front barn to check out a class.  I’m a bit nervous – it’s probably been five years since I’ve done yoga.  The leader has that special knack for reaching everyone, regardless of their experience or skill level, and I revel, sweating profusely, in a much needed practice of breathing, stretching and balancing.  

After lunch, I sit in on a passionate discussion of Arizona’s SB 1070, immigration, and oppression in general.  One of our hosts lists the relevant stories of the territory we occupy which includes links to the Trail of Tears, the KKK, and more recently, nighttime ICE raids.  By then the weather is steaming.  I nap, catch an amazing series of mostly unplugged performances in the barn, and take a rejuvenating afternoon dip in the icy creek. 

After dark, under a sky full of stars, I snuggle up to a local faerie and share with him my feeling that the surrounding ridge seems to insulate and protect us from the rest of the world.  I join with other locals on a blanket, catching up on the feyborhood gossip.  They drink beers and I nibble on an enormous dark chocolate bar I bought from a superstore thought by many here to epitomize all that’s wrong with the world.  Philly bands Dangerous Ponies, A Stick and a Stone, and Signals pour out an aural assault.  A monochrome montage of nude dancer loops and real time doodles is projected onto the steep forested ridges that form the geographic bowl we occupy.  A pair of DJs go to work (oh my God, are those actual turntables?!); they slam a hyper-eclectic collection of dance anthems, pop oddities, Latin beats, and 80s tunes together.  

Eventually I head to the tent and get ready for bed. As I fall asleep, I’m triangulated by live space music from one direction, the percussion of an extended spanking scene from another, and screaming multiple orgasms from a third – all painted against the Tennessee soundscape of crickets, dogs, frogs, and birds.

Driving back to Nashville I pass from cellular purgatory into five-bars territory.  Text and then voicemail icons appear on my phone.  Re-entering civilization is a profound transition so I delay checking them for a while.  When I do, I hear the voice of someone I’ve been seeing.  Over the weekend, I’ve struggled with the memory of our last encounter – which was uncharacteristically hurried and rife with emotional red flags.  It’s a friends with benefits thing – no – that’s what I’d like it to be, but the cold reality is it’s a benefits only thing.  He and our lovemaking are beautiful in exotic ways, but our relationship is strictly limited to a mostly regularly scheduled bi-weekly booty call.  
I can handle that, but his voicemail is an overly romantic “I really miss and love you.”  The boy’s a paradox.  No time for dinner, no time for a movie, but he wants to talk long-term exclusivity.  I know – bullshit!  

Thoughts of what I really want are stirred.  Monogamy is not part of my reality these days, and it’s just silly to bring it up given the small compartment we occupy in each other lives.  I’m definitely seeking more than what we have.  On top of that, despite our serodiscordancy, he fights me over condom use.  The call of the wrens and the Nick Lowe lyrics come back into my head.  I’m not good at being cruel to be kind, especially when it comes to lovers.  Years of work have moderated my once rampant co-dependency, but I still find traces lurking in unexpected corners of my life. 

Should I stop seeing him?  Are the hot times worth the irony and the stress?  Who needs me to be cruel to be kind - and to whom?  Him? Me?  Both of us?


  1. Thanks for this! I've been really curious about this fest for about four years but haven't made it yet because of conflicts with other summer stuff.

    I hope you work out what you want with your friend with benefits. I would agree that fighting you over condom use is a real red flag. That's only the opinion of a random stranger on the internet, but I wanted to offer it.


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