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So fucking tired of the shock

I'm an American. That is not going to change. I already searched my soul about this in 2000. And again four years later, as my fellow citizens repeated the error. I'm a queer radical who grew up under Reagan. These were terrible years, these presidencies. And sure, we survived them, but is that where we're setting the bar?

I can't help but think that we have somehow destroyed people's abilities to make reasonable choices, what with test-oriented education, and the erosion of the media, two pillars of society that used to prepare citizens to vote. Instead, it looks like the human ability---not infallible, but at least pretty good---to discern people of good character from the deplorable ones, is dying out as a trait. What else can explain Trump's candidacy?
One friend is annoyed---not that a fascist is running, or that her family members support him, but because her political friends are being so mean to one another. I'm told, don't take it personally.

Trump would be a disaster, and his campaign is already emboldening some of the worst elements in this country. If you still can't tell the difference between Trump and Clinton, you're an idiot, and you're helping other idiots feel good about that. If you prefer Trump, you're an evil idiot. When someone in my life chooses to support the worst possible human being for the most powerful position in the country (and maybe the world), I am going to take that personally.

I only have so many fucks to give. If you're an evil idiot, or even just an idiot, I don't have time for you anymore. Buh bye. Good luck with your calamitous choices. May we survive them.

Tony Soprano's madeleine

I'm rewatching The Sopranos, ten years later, and I identify more strongly with Tony's character, being closer to his age now. He and Carmela reminded me of my parents, the first time I watched this. Dr. Melfi points out that what has triggered Tony's panic attacks, making him pass out, have been associated with meat. He remembers an event from childhood where he witnessed his father's violence, and where the meat came from. Pleasure and power and meat and violence, all rolled up together. Abbodanza.

This weekend, my cousin Gina from Palermo emailed me, "for fun," she says, to tell me how my surname is pronounced in Sicily. We're FB friends, she may have saw on my profile how I say our name, KAS-ee-oh. In the old country it was KOSH-ee-oh. Down south in this country, there are descendants of Cascios from Corleone who spell our name Cashio. That discussion made me wonder if perhaps "la cosa nostra" was really derived from "cosca nostra." The pronunciations are much more similar than I have ever given consideration, before. It's the same vowels, and the difference between an S and an SH sound in the middle could be easy to overlook. And if an English speaking American heard a Sicilian say "cosca costra" and asked for it to be explained, and the Sicilian didn't have a lot of English, it would be easier to say "thing," cosa, and leave it at that, than to go into what, exactly, a cosca is, and what it metaphorically represents.

My post this week on Mafia Genealogy is about given names. In my Sicilian family, and among all the families of Corleone, there is a very strong naming tradition: first son is named after the paternal grandfather, second after the maternal, and likewise for the girls. My great-grandfather was baptized Leoluca, a very common name in Corleone, but he moved to America when he was a teenager, and here he went by Louis. That's the name that my grandfather, Paul, passed down to his oldest son. But that's as far as they went. Their other three kids, including my father, the second born, have American names that I can only imagine my grandparents picked because they liked them. Louis' son is named Paul. My aunt's daughter is named Dorothy, after our grandmother. That used to be my middle name. For the past sixteen years, it's been Paul. My son and my niece have novel names. My son is named after my mother, a nickname she had.

Sometimes I have trouble making my name heard over the phone. Unhelpfully, Kevin has suggested that when I'm anxious about this, I make it worse, because in enunciating it, I end up sounding like I'm saying some other name. I get Jason, Chester.... When I lived in Bushwick, and would take my dry cleaning to be done locally, the counter clerk would take my name for the slip. I started pronouncing it with a Spanish accent, so they would "get it" and write it correctly. If I say my first name like that, and my last name like Gina would pronounce it, my name feels right to me in a different, and deep, way. Who STEEN, like Dave likes to call me. I must have told him the dry cleaning story. Who steen cash, yo.

I had my own madeleine moment yesterday, walking through the plants outside the Stop N' Shop near my house. They were so thick and the air was, too, that they smelled like a nursery, like inside the greenhouses where I worked the year I was eighteen. It brought back memories, so easily. I can't even bring them back now, thinking about it. I remembered Terry, my boss, and some of the feelings of being on the farm. It was a good time for me.

Walking the dog

It happens slowly, the adustments. I walk him with a very loose grip on the leash, and pull up the slack so it doesn't tangle around his left front paw. When it does, he stops and lifts a foot for me to make the extraction. He can't hold it up for very long, because he's already compensating.

He came with a tremor, and strangers rarely fail to remark upon it, up close. From the distance of moving cars, people marvel out their windows at how beautiful he is, whether that's a Chessie. They had one, or their parents did. Always in the past tense, but they give the impression, these people who stop strangers on their dog walks, that they would drive right home and begin looking for a rescue society to adopt from. Pet owners get attached to breeds. It's why the rescues are specific: pit-mixes, teacup poodles, greyhounds. Charlie came from Chesapeake Safe Harbor with marks in the fur of his back legs, that we figured meant he slept in a metal crate for a long time.

Now that he's five years older than whatever age he was when we got him (which was misrepresented, at the very least), his shoulders are also starting to quiver at times. We increase his pain medication regimen when he starts to lick the hair off his back legs again. It's a compulsive trait, common to his breed, the vet tells us, like the way he starts to drink water, or bark at passers by, and can't stop.

He walks slower now, can't tolerate as long a walk as he used to, which he shows by stopping at intervals to just stand, not even sniff. So I keep the leash slack in my hand so I'll feel it draw through when he isn't keeping up. I make a lot of stops on people's lawns, or while others are approaching on the sidewalk, and it makes me feel awkward, like I shouldn't be just standing around, but of course I have a reason, a beautiful reason, and he shakes. Does he always shake like that? Yes. He's not scared, or cold, or suffering in any other way we can think of to alleviate. He takes pain meds five times a day, wrapped in cream cheese. When I'm late with dinner or pills, he puts his head in my lap and looks up at me, to remind me that I have an adorable dog who is is jonesing.

Kevin monitors Charlie's well being by inviting him onto the bed each morning, on his way out to work. Sometimes Kevin has to help him. Even though it's hard to get up onto the bed, he wants to be there. When I wake up hours later, he's on the bed with me. He'll stay sometimes til noon. Other times he'll get up when I do, and go take up his other napping space, on the wingback chair in the dining room.

Today, I took him on one of our regular walks, to the bakery, and there were a lot of people around, because one of the schools is having its graduation. He knows the drill and submits to being hitched to the bike rack for the minute it takes me to select a loaf and retrieve him. On the way home, a man with a toddler walked by, holding his hand, and I judged her a calm child, so I didn't do anything to get Charlie out of her way. The possibilities, as I saw them, were all fine: she might shy, or walk past, or reach out to touch Charlie, even put her hand in his face, and he would tolerate it all with more or less happiness about the attention. It was only after we passed, and I was reviewing what could have reasonably happened, that I remembered Kevin saying he had been surrendered, because the owners said he bit a child. I can't imagine Charlie biting anyone without them being repeatedly aggressive. Babies have put their fingers in his mouth and nose, puppies snap at him, and he takes it all in stride. But then, he got fixed right before we got him... it could make a difference. That much? I don't know. I've never had an intact, adult male dog for a pet.

Since he's come to us, he's gone swimming hundreds of times, been on lots of long walks in the woods and around town, gotten love from friends and extended family, been a guest in a nice hotel when we took him with us on vacation to Ohio. He's had a rich life, the past five years. I don't know what his life was like before us. I heard he went duck hunting once, but not how that went. I know he loves to swim and retrieve. He had an uncanny knack for finding balls in the woods, lost by other dogs, but I can't remember the last one he found.

He climbs the few stairs to our apartment with a subtle reluctance. This is the time when we're watching, waiting. I want to say that we'll keep helping him onto the bed as long as he wants to be there, keep walking as long as that's something he wants to do. I know the truth is going to be more complicated than a dog's joy.

Writing is hard

Sometimes it's frustrating to be a writer. Not in a good way, where I'm wondering how to write the thing, make it work. That's the art, the thing I'm in it for. But selling it, finding the right market: that sucker punches me in the ego, all the time. I get all wrapped up in trying to produce the kind of content that x publishes, and it's nothing like the kind of stuff I write, so it's not going to work out, but I can't stop making myself think I ought to be "that writer."

I have a new blog. Having a container that forces me to keep posts on topic, and keeps the posts short, and a reason to write something each week, is all good for me. I like having some boundaries and limits, and those being something I can actually live with. If you want to see 500-900 words each Monday on the overlap among mafia history, Corleone, and genealogy, have I got the blog for you.

I'm happiest when I'm writing about something I know a lot more about than I'm going to actually say. I'm more comfortable with nonfiction. I'm also trying to build some kind of narrative arc into the blog. But I'm not stressing that too hard and just figure the themes will present themselves, and something organic will happen when it comes to making each blog make sense, standing alone, but even more so combined with A) the other posts and B) a knowledge and interest in famous mafia figures. Just like if you're writing about pop culture, you can rely upon your audience's familiarity with Beyonce, here I'm assuming most readers have at least heard of Dr. Navarra, but unlike the pop site, still giving enough clues to those who haven't.

I had a couple of pretty bad days this week, worked through them, and wrote something for the blog at the end. I am not entirely sure what the relationships are between my anxiety and depression getting triggered, and being able to write and actually produce something. I know I feel better when I work.

To some degree, my other blog is forcing me into a box that I want to break back out of. I think I have to solve some giant problem, answer a huge question, every time, and that's not what makes my writing special. That's just what brings the eyeballs, being able to anticipate the strings people type into Google. I want to write there again, but I devour myself, trying to write the giant "it" thing that no one has written yet, finally decide other people have done an adequate job, and give up. I started the mafia genealogy blog because it seemed like an overlooked segment, as well as someplace I have an intense interest. What do I feel that way about, that fits into the other blog? I don't seem to know, anymore, or else I talk myself out of it. Marketing requires self-consciousness, but too much of that kills creativity.

Love in the Time of Cholera

I thought I should read this book before writing my own story of love in the time of cholera. As it turns out, they're very different stories. This one had some interesting things to say: on the subject of love, on the devastations of doubt and the passage of time. I was bothered by one of the love affairs, and if affected my willingness to feel compassion for one of the main characters, as a consequence. The end of the book did not touch upon its beginning as I would have hoped. There are secrets about Saint-Amour that are never revealed.

Updates, and cholera

Things I have been doing, and am continuing to do, include posting my dinner each night at The 365 Dinner Project. Tonight I made a stew of venison seasoned with allspice and cinnamon, currants, and pistachios. Last night, we got pizza. It varies, but definitely more toward the venison end of things.

I'm also doing my genealogy stuff. I'm still concentrating on this very rich vein of material in Corleone's vital records, and working far enough back, now, that the method of scanning each page for a list of maybe a dozen names, is no longer a sufficient or efficient strategy. Though at one time, it worked for me, when I couldn't figure out which of the dozens of Leoluca and Francesco Cascios were my relatives, and how, if I want to trace all of my Sicilian ancestors back from what I know so far, I have to keep better track of their names. I've added a spreadsheet, am trying to use it as a kind of task list, with estimations of the years in which I might find their records, which also functions as a cheat sheet of my ancestors' names. I'm trying to remember them all, so that I can actually scan a document again, looking for them. I'm also, at the same time, looking for ancestors of Giuseppe Morello. I don't know why, exactly, but it will come to something.

Because I work at this for hours at a time, I make pretty steady progress through the records. Typically I get through two years' worth of records in a day, sometimes more. Baptisms, marriages, deaths. Yesterday I spent almost the entire day on the second half of 1837. Deaths. I Googled the first day of the book of records, 23 July 1837, and Sicily, to see if I could figure out what was going on. It was weird. Pages of deaths for a single day, where ordinarily, there might be no deaths on a given day, or one, or at most, a handful.

The summer of 1837 was when the first cholera epidemic in all of western Europe struck Sicily. It swept the entire island, and killed so many people, that the leaders and academics in Palermo thought people were being poisoned deliberately. In addition to the deaths from disease, the epidemic sparked riots, a rebellion against the Bourbons (which was put down), towns shutting their gates, supply lines cut, lynchings. There was a genetic bottleneck that is still visible in the record today, from the deaths that summer.

Cholera is something like typhoid fever---another disease I was lucky enough to know nothing about before reading about deaths from it in the records, had to study on Wikipedia---except without the fever. Massive quantities of watery diarrhea, until the patient dies of dehydration in about half of cases. And no one dying of it would have seen anything like it until there it was, killing dozens of people every day.

I've got a little cold today, but I'm overall more cheerful than I was last week. Holiday hangover. Now I have what people brought back from their travels. But I also have my friends back in town, routines that I crave. I'm putting on my crampons and taking the dog for long hikes in the woods. It's cold, so we have big family cuddles on the bed, Kevin and me and the dog and sometimes Nicky, the bolder of our two cats. The Christmas lights are still up. The landlord shoveled yesterday, surprising the hell out of me, in a good way. I'm sore enough today from the shoveling I've done, and I was happy to give it up and come inside. I trimmed my outrageous beard a little, not enough to lose any serious insulation, but tidier. I don't want to say anything prognosticatory and go fucking it up, but things are on a mild upswing.

A year spent in the past

When this year began, I was several months deep into a self-directed study of the history of slavery and of the Americas. This was my mental anchor while I prepared for and then recovered from back surgery. I began, contemplating writing a historical novel about an early American. At some point, I began adding what I could learn of Sicilian history, because I recognized my project was a personal one, that I wanted to understand what it is for me to be an American, and was tracing it through a kind of mythical proto-American, a lineage that weaves many kinds of American stories into one person. The story of slavery is so inextricable from that of being an American, that even I, a white man descended from post-1850 immigrants to the American North, cannot disentangle them. Without slavery, there is no America, and without America, there is no Great Immigration. The America I grew up in would not be the same without the millions of immigrants who’ve adapted to America, and changed it in the process.

I asked my sister to send me what she had on our family’s genealogy, and began to add to it. I traced my paternal lineage back eight generations (and counting). Along the way I corrected myself after a false start, met some cousins. I learned to read Italian and Latin, which has been comparatively easy when compared with my efforts to learn Sicilian history. A story that I was beginning to build in my head of the origin of American identity began to change and become another story, one about a Sicilian who lived long enough ago that it is improbable he would have made his way here, to the site of my first story, but holding open the possibility that if not he, his descendant would come. It remains to be seen whether I will write this story or anything resembling it.

I have written countless biographies for my lineage study on WikiTree, and an account of a paternity case involving my fourth-great aunts and uncles. My most popular blog post in 2014, which Rolling Stone is already calling the biggest in transgender history, appeared in my WordPress blog in 2013. This year has been one of study and preparation, and because I’ve generated so little, I have difficulty quantifying or qualifying my achievements. I used to get more pageviews, and I am still proud of much of what I wrote that found a wider audience. But even my fears of becoming irrelevant and unpopular don’t stop me from what feels like an obsessive hunt, to the beginnings of my family’s recorded history. I feel that, until I have traced my descent as far back as is possible, that I can’t move on. In a year of concentrated research, I’ve gotten perhaps 100-150 years back in the record. Am I willing to put in the next few years? There’s no way I can justify or afford to go on the way I have. And yet I still do it.

Not all of my work goes into the past. Current events still remind me of the world I live in, and move me to do what I can to make things a little better. I show my public support of the civil rights movements of my day, and engage people on the subjects of police brutality, institutionalized racism, a living wage, how to raise our kids to be good people. I look for work I might do. I look around at other people’s kids, now that mine is grown and lives far away, and I see the future of my town. I want them to know I’m not afraid of them, that I care about them, that we are neighbors. I telegraph this message with the way I look at people I’ve been trained to ignore. This is the kind of change I can create. I can change myself, and have an effect on the world because I choose to do things differently, better than I was originally taught.

It amuses me when I’m able to see how afraid of change I can still be. I have moved to different regions of the country, had a conversion of religious faith, changed my name and gender expression, married twice. You’d think I’d be the master of change by now.
"As the brain stem and limbic system instinctually tells the child that danger is coming and that he needs to seek safety and security in the embrace of the attachment figure, the limbic system also confronts the reality that the attachment figure is, in fact, the source of danger. Safety and danger conflated. Brain chemistry roundly fucked up. " ---Roger Thompson, Associate professor, Stony Brook University

The scientific evidence against spanking, timeouts, and sleep training (Quantz)

The doldrums, brought to you by weak tea

Did you ever read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"? One of the gags is a beverage dispenser that thoroughly analyzes your anatomy while you're standing there, figures out exactly what drink you'd like best, and then invariably delivers the same sickly liquid. Think McDonalds. Think Coca-Cola. Think, "I 'like' the status message, 'Jane Doe is in a relationship with John Smith.'" It's our electronic bumblepuppy. #dystopia

I almost posted the above as a comment on my son's Facebook status. He doesn't like that FB is suddenly showing him relationship status updates on his feed. But this is what FB does. They position themselves to show you things that you feel positively about, so that you will feel positively about Facebook. This is why you see lots of Coca-Cola for sale at sports arenas, why McDonald's has Playplaces, so you'll think of them in connection with fun.
I found that one of the pieces of data I inherited from someone on our mother's side of the family, is incorrect. Our great great grandfather on our father's side was not named Francesco, but Giuseppe. I show my work here. This is like four months of solid research in the making. I'm pretty excited about it. Like I said on Facebook in a little genealogy group there for Sicilians, I never could have gotten started without all this data that others mined ahead of me. I would have had nothing to look for. But I had to be ready for something to be wrong. When some facts didn't fit, and continued not fitting, I had to be ready to revise my hypothesis, even though it came from wiser people than me.

I had to be ready to discover nine different people named Leoluca Cascio, all born in Corleone in the 19th century, to find the one that is our ancestor. If I hadn't done so much of this work, I wouldn't have known what I can only know from immersion in data: just how common the name is, for starters. Not to assume that even someone with a remarkable name is the only one with that name, in that place. That women keep their names in Sicily of that time, and only become subsumed under their husbands' names in public records when they come to America. The mental map I keep of the translations from Americanized name to Italian name to Latin church records name to baptismal name, which is yet another form. Rose in America is Rosa in Corleone, both in Italian and in Latin, but she is baptized Rosam. Other names go through more permutations: Charles/Calogero/Calogerus/Calogerum, Cajetano/Gaetano, Joanna/Giovanna, Blasia/Biagia and so on.

I have had a run of successes the past couple of days, finding some of my Soldano relatives, discovering there actually is some (no surprise) wibblety-wobbletyness to the spellings of at least some names. I'd started off by assuming the Cascio/Lo Cascio divide happened before the time I was studying, and then found an example where both names are applied to the same person. I found Sordano/Soldanos and Paparcuri/Paparcusis: cases where it's clearly the same people, but the name is spelled differently, this time. I have been steeling myself for fresh flowerings of spellings on my mother's side of the family tree, where Fandrey/Fandry/Vandrei is one of the names, and where Edge might turn out to be Hedge at some point: who knows. I had been thinking of getting into my father's mother's family next, after I'd gone back a satisfying way on the male line. Now that I've made this breakthrough, I'm going to want to plow backwards and see how far I can go. I have found, on the male line, my great great great grandfather Leoluca Cascio, born around 1811. There are records to 1531. I've also created a category page on Wikitree for Corleonesi immigrants to New York, where I hope to eventually weave a narrative about some of the people who came: who helped them when they arrived, and who they helped, in turn.

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