frog's blog

Anuran, n. an amphibian of the order Salientia (formerly Anura or Batrachia), which includes the frogs and toads

Friday, July 14, 2006

Candy & Soulfood

In a world where criminally few people have what they need, we remain unsatisfied—even with what we think we want. We have it all, and we want more. Like Mick Jagger said, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

One popular diagnosis for this dilemma takes direct aim at the false desires manufactured by our consumer society. This argument has weight, but I always worry about its logical conclusion: a kind of post-marxist puritanism, a secular religion of perpetual renunciation.

Yet, I do not want to choose between this and that, him or her, tomorrow or the next day. Spiritually, my love for the goddess is not a denunciation of the god. Socially, my feminism is not a renunciation of my own masculinity. Politically, I’ve always believed in the extreme personal freedom that marks a libertarian while simultaneously advocating the communal life that only pure socialism could provide. When laboring—or “playboring” as I like to call it—I can get caught up in the most esoteric and speculative, flighty and fanciful of purely intellectual pursuits, or I can turn off the brain get knee-deep in all the sweaty, physically strenuous glory of my daily chores on the land.

Rather than get trapped in the muck of “either/or,” I dance in the mulch of everything and nothing all the time. I think like the French utopian Fourier who taught us that variety is more than just the spice of life: it is our sustenance; it’s what distinguishes paradise from slavery, and like a badge I saw recently declared: “Artists make lousy slaves.” (Turns out, there’s also a limited edition, underground release by Michelle Shocked and Fiachna O'Braonain that bears the same name.)

My affinity for frogs is founded in their amphibious nature as neither land-dwellers nor water-critters yet always both! I’ve argued they are an apt living metaphor for bisexuality and polyamory and many other things. This embrace of variety and “both/and” difference does not stop in one category of life’s loves and passions, chosen duties or cherished distractions. Why put the lure of one important priority before the price of another?

Take this example and all its implications: I don’t want to embrace my new found southern identity at the expense of my northern roots.

After the last presidential election, I cannot deny I wanted to run “home” and hide in some blue-state cocoon. I love living in the south, but why are there so many ignorant people around me who find the thought of two men kissing more offensive than murdering thousands of strangers and destroying an entire country. But then I paused: Michigan passed an anti-gay law in 2004, and Tennessee did not. (Or as someone less tactful than me put: “We have rednecks up north too; they just ride snowmobiles instead of ATVs.) Then I paused again: I live on a radical commune within a short driving distance of a half-dozen other radical communes or like-minded land projects.

As simple as it sounds, someone suggested blasting through all this blue versus red business with the perfect alternative: purple. Of course this notion has been co-opted and watered down, but it describes my dilemma nonetheless. I like purple.

I’m from Detroit: motor city grit and gravel pulse through me like an MC5 guitar riff. I’m from Tennessee: it’s all about summers at the swimmin’ hole or a chigger-laden amble through the blackberry bramble. Why choose between hip hop and hoedown when you can enjoy both?

A free music festival helps me understand this. Last week, I went “home” to Detroit, and my friend invited me to catch some outdoor shows downtown. We got to see: legendary soul and gospel goddess Mavis Staples; radical queer poet and Detroit folk music icon Blair; the grimy twang, garage rockers Kings of Leon, my neighbors from Lebanon, Tennessee.

The evening’s diversity boasted a proud combination of ages, colors, and sounds mirrored by the aromas of the “Tastefest” they were a part of. The menu offered on West Grand Boulevard that early July evening was another metaphor for what I’m trying to explain: a well-seasoned cosmopolitan palette could be just the food we need to create a Creole consciousness. The meaning of “both/and”: I need my soulfood, but I like my candy, too.

I’m from here, but I’m also from there, and at any moment, I could be on my way to someplace else.