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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.

No Reservations in my dreams

I've been watching Anthony Bourdain's show with Kevin at night while we eat dinner, and yesterday I watched a couple older episodes on my own. He goes to really neat places, shows you some of the culture, tells you a little of the history, and then unerringly heads for the most delicious food available. I've seen him in South Boston and Macau, in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, in the more obviously foodie Spain, as well as in terrifyingly poor Haiti, in the mythic Amazon, and in beautiful, historic Cuba. Wherever he goes, he opens himself up to the people and experiences, and is happy to continue proving that most people are very nice, and that most of what people proclaim delicious, Bourdain enjoys equally. The Saudi Arabia trip was special in that a viewer wins the opportunity to show him around their destination of choice, so a woman who is a filmmaker in S.A. (and has a license to do so without a man present!) invites him to her house, and takes him to all kinds of places to have as many exotic meals as can be arranged. It might not be Anthony's first bite of lizard, but it's hers, and of camel, too. Milk fed baby camel is apparently mild and delicious. Who knew?

I had a dream last night that Italy had a long tradition of raids on far flung regions of their own country, in order to steal examples of their best dishes, and bury them deep in the earth, both to alter their flavor and consistency, and to preserve the gastronomical history of Italy. Italian men in the dream dug up one of these huge vessels and pulled out the rack to show me what I thought of as a baby aurochs that had been roasted and stewed in a giant clay pot until the bones were as articulated as a chicken's. The people showing it to me were as proud of the original dish they'd stolen---proof of their good taste, as it were, in meat and in having been born Italian---as what they'd turned it into. They saw what they were doing as self-serving raiding and cooking in the short term, but in the service of humanity, and Italian reputation, in the long run. They knew that there would be some pots of food buried in the earth that no one dug up to eat in even the medium term, and they would be there for archaeologists to discover, so they might learn something about the regional cuisine of Italy.

Yeah, that's got nothing at all to do with colonialism :)
Have I mentioned that I am grateful to have my back repaired? I've gone off my pain meds today, an act I might regret in the next few days, but I believe I am done with them. There's no remaining pain. My back just works.


Turning 40, and the "You are here" effect

I'm going to be 40 this year in September, and I'm afraid that I'll not have written anything in my life (this is already not true, but I mean longer things, books, or even an entire story) and am a fake, someone who has managed to think himself a writer without being one. I keep researching history and considering how to expand the novel to include more instead of writing just one story. This morning I had scheduled for myself to get up and go to Susan Stinson's writing group but the hours from 8-10 are my favorite sleeping time, and I did stay in bed totally forgetting about it until around 10 when I got up. So I'm writing, see, but it's not a story, not yet.

Yesterday was therapy day. I talked almost the whole hour about the questions I have about how things happen in history. How do people mix ethnically after a military takeover? Jason says, well, uh, rape, you know. I'd asked him, feeling foolish, specifically why Pocahontas would save John Smith's life. Wasn't she a princess? Yes, but she was also a captive. When I will transpose the situation to today and answer my question in the present day, I also sanitize: there is so much brutality built into every power relation. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Beat your wife with a stick no bigger than your thumb. We're here to bring you Christ, and if you don't carefully consider it without stalling, or refuse, we'll burn you to the ground and steal your wives and children. Jason warned me about "12 Years a Slave," compared it to Mel Gibson's "Passion." I told him about watching it in NYC on Ash Wednesday. I feel distant from the glory that some Christians manage to feel watching Jesus be flayed. I just recoil from the physical horror of it. I spend plenty of time imagining various kinds of physical suffering and how I would get through them, even if it's not to survive, just to die. Lying on a battlefield with my guts hanging out. How long does a head sense after it's separated from its body? In myth, the tongues of saints go on telling sermons.

Soldiers on the ground get to know the subjects they police. Venders, personal servants including priests and other go-betweens, political graspers, courtiers, and those currently in power get to know the generals, and vice versa. Jason talks about four generations in between a change in values or beliefs, and a corresponding structural or hierarchical change. In the Bible, it only takes one generation for desert air to become the air they breathe, and for the assorted rabble to become Jews. They'd entered Egypt as Jews, but then stayed beyond the famine, stayed beyond the king who knew them, and became slaves. Leaving, they were sad about the nice things they had in Egypt. Moses dies within sight of the Promised Land, but he can't lead them there. Even the scouts come back with lies based on fear.

There are precedents for perpetual enslavement, the term that contrasts with indentured servitude. There is also the example of feudalism. The people who live on land are considered part of the package, part of what you rule when you become a chieftain, a governor, duke, earl, or king. And the Roman concept of partus, as I've heard it shortened to somewhere in a Southern accent (I want to attribute it to Kevin Spacey in "House of Cards" but that's wrong; was there reason for its utterance in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"?) which is the idea that what comes from the womb is of the same kind, so that if a mother is a slave, her children are slaves, which isn't true of a servant under indenture: that person is a citizen. Before partus, European men could be held responsible for their children's welfare and education, but after, they just owned the children. Partus became part of colonial law. There is also John Punch, a case where there were two or three indentured servants who all ran off, but then were caught, and the white ones got one punishment, and Punch, who was black, got lifetime enslavement. He was the first person in the North American colonies to be enslaved for his natural life. Did he "happen to be black"? No, that was why he got it. We'd already developed that hatred of the Moor, the "dusky race," the Moslem, the non-Christian. Even though the first thing white people do when they get somewhere is start converting people, they always seem to regard them as "Christianized," like Moriscos.

In South America, they imported feudalism as encomiendos, and there was more of a missionary presence, an infantilization of the Indians. (I have only begun reading about this, don't yet know why they could do this, if it follows a bloodier submission, or the resistance is too scattered. I mean, why are Indians respected as warriors in the North and in Inca territory? Woodland and rainforest Indians seem to us to live in a state of Edenic bliss. They don't have a lot of civilization: rules, permanent structures, ornamentation, or war. I suppose there is an array of satisfaction and success among cultures, regardless of level of civilization. We do it to be happier, then blame it when it causes us pain.) In the North, the French and Spanish bring them, but the English are religious refugees.... I just paused now to say hi to Kevin on chat, and saw that Lynn Beisner had written something about wifely submission that interests me. About her mother, she writes that she just could not take the stresses of being the actively participating wife of a church leader extrovert in a noisy, demanding church, so she got very fat and unhealthy until she could no longer go to church 6 days a week and 8 hrs on Sundays. She can't live a full life, but what she has is her own. If she got healthy (in all ways), it would destroy her marriage, because in truth she cannot submit herself to her husband or her husband's idea of good Christianity or wifely submission. Since having children for her husband is a wife's duty, a big part of it, for almost all of Christian history, a punishing Creator can destroy your children's health for your own spiritual wavering or sin of any kind. Beisner asks what a husband should do, and IIRC the answer is he should beat his wife into submission.

What would Joseph Campbell say? Something about the power of myth. Here, the mythology is that power flows from G-d to kings and men, and sometimes to anything with a will, so women, children, maybe horses and mice. We use that will (or we don't have it but it's hard to tell, from our subjective positions, whether we have liberty, if we are imprisoned by other men, even if we think we chose the path to that prison) to do good or bad, but firstly, we act to keep ourselves alive. If Lynn's mom had thought she could survive leaving that angry G-d, everyone she knew, even her children, and live on her own, she would. Most of us, me, I know, think we'd die if we just walked away from it all. Mary Rowlandson learns that she possibly could survive in the wilderness, if she learned the ways of the Indians who've captured her, but that so far in her life she has not learned those things and would have died if she'd walked away from her husband and community in Lancaster, MA. There has to be something to walk to, someone else, another possibility. Women's lives are usually very constrained, but those who've had to live at the bottom know they can live through something very difficult. Soldiers have already risked their lives, and lived by their wits and strength on what they stole (this was how all armies ran until someone got the brilliant idea to provision them), like the poorest of the poor do. There is comfort in the middle, doing what the chain of command tells us to do, because it's incumbent upon them to keep us alive to keep doing their will, making them richer. There is a fear of becoming lost that keeps us going. Sometimes there's a chance to advance, too, a carrot as well as a stick. If you're a good enough wife, you might be better liked and cared for, and have a place in heaven.

Beisner says for true intimacy, you need equality. (So obviously we cannot love G-d, nor can G-d love us.) There is secrecy and worse, resentment, from both sides, not just the subjugated but fear and loathing from the subjugators. (We curse G-d, He drowns us.) Like Huxley's Alphas, who are so glad they are Alphas and not dreadfully slow Betas, or unthinkable Gammas. Deltas are beyond the pale, hardly human. The air we breathe. If you are see the enormous differences between how the rich and poor live, because you come into contact with both (through stories, even), you learn to hate the Other. It breeds its own division, when you start having any kind of inequality. There's that between women and men, and among the class divisions. Lords hate dukes, dukes resent kings, princes (those not first in line or succession are styled Infante in Spain) despair of becoming less than dukes, serfs dream of becoming royal servants, they join the military or the Church to rise through the ranks to general, and often successful generals can become dukes. Most people don't actually rise very far above their birth station, and some drop. Some die before they get to sit down on the thrones they've been destined for from birth.

We defend the inequalities of our own societies fiercely. When Lynn says that even the inequality between parents and children is harmful, my first emotional response is to leap to defend the practice of keeping children protected. Of course we must not let them out of our sight. Someone could hurt them. We used to say this about our wives, and it was true, until we made a world in which women's places included more workplaces beyond home and convent. Once women truly belong everywhere, they won't be punished with violence for their transgression. (This is not the same as saying that a woman deserves violence. I am all for transgression. Look at me.) Jason's rule of four generations applied here, it will take perhaps another generation for American women to be safe from their fellow soldiers. If we made a world in which children were expected to take the subway and go into stores and factories (they used to work in mines, remember), then we'd somehow change society, not right away, but within four generations, so that it was normal and commonplace to see babies and children exercising their will far more, and going more places, and not being accosted but accommodated. What an interesting idea. Parents would buy their little tots things that tended to protect and enable, not just restrict. Remember those walkers that babies were always put in about ten years ago, and that are considered bad for them now; what if there was something like that, that allowed babies to just go wherever the hell they wanted? Like, they'd be motorized scooters for babies, so they could go anywhere in comfort. They'd have GPS and voice and hand control that babies could use. And they'd be in no more danger than anyone else in that place, no matter how far they could easily travel, because in this brave new world, we're citizens from birth, with all the rights of citizens. Someone's going to sue for it as soon as it's practical to apply. Once, what I'm describing would have been pure science fiction when applied to people with physical disabilities, yet now it's reality in most of the world. Being physically too weak to travel on one's own pins once meant you'd lost in the world where might makes right.

Writing stuff I'm excited about

A writer friend who just finished his own memoir gave me this gem (among other solid advice) on completing a writing project: "Once finished, print it out. Fuck the trees. Your book exists."

My second draft was accepted as final. "Heartbreak and Withdrawal" is slated to appear, along with the stories of 23 other trans men, in "Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family and Themselves," (Transgress Press, Zander Keig and Mitch Kellaway, Eds.) I worked with Zander, who has already edited one volume of stories by trans men, "Letters for My Brothers," that was nominated for a Lambda. He's given me terrific editorial feedback; though I sweated this draft, it still only took me one more draft to get it right. There's a lot in this story: I talk about the experience of having PTSD a lot in this one, and internalized homophobia, as well as being trans, and tie up a few different stories that I wasn't sure I could bring together, at first, though I knew they belonged. I even write about how hard it is to write, having PTSD: one of the most frustrating aspects of my illness. When I finally let Kevin read it, he cried a little and declared it "really good." He's my toughest critic.

Depending on what order the books are published, this will be my first or second contribution to a book. The Bisexual Resource Center is publishing a bisexual anthology in 2014 which will include my story, "Why I Still Go to Pride Events," a reprint of this story originally published on The Good Men Project website.

Also, I successfully married my first couple. Dear friends Julie and Reggie are now legally married: the license is in the mail. Last week I was really stressed out about two important writing projects. One was the draft for Zander. The other was this wedding ceremony. Julie introduced me and Kevin at least a dozen years ago. Now she's found someone who is perfect for her, and I am so happy for them both. Reggie has been family since she was at our wedding, three years ago. Now I feel like it's official that we're all family. 

On the subject of neglect

http://emergingfrombroken.com/the-black-hole-of-emotional-neglect-by-pam-witzemann/ A personal account that includes details familiar to me: living in a dream world, feeling unlovable by design, not recognizing loneliness but wishing that someone else would notice and name it for us
http://emergingfrombroken.com/how-i-learned-to-self-abuse-by-pam-witzemann/ This one by the same woman makes me scratch my arms nervously


How's your shit?

I'm seriously asking you about your bowel movements. Do you shit regularly? Comfortably?

Or are you like Louis CK, constantly between shit emergencies?

I have no BM problems to report. I usually have very regular, comfortable, solid shits, the kind that yogis and Japanese talking toilets look for as indicators of good health. I attribute my regularity and pooping comfort to my diet, which is very healthy, and includes plenty of fiber and water.

I'd like to help more people have better shits, and overall health, by improving their diets. Help me out... tell me about your shit, and what you eat.

  1. How many servings of vegetables do you eat in a typical day?

  2. How much water do you drink in a typical day?

  3. What other beverages are part of your daily routine? (Energy drinks, coffee, sodas, etc.)

  4. How often do you shit, and what time of day is normal?

  5. Do you usually need to take a dump right after a meal?

  6. How would you describe the size, shape, texture, and color of your normal BMs? (Is it diarrhea or are you shitting a brick?)

  7. Are you comfortable with your BMs, or would you like to have more control over your pooping comfort, frequency, duration, size, or texture?

  8. Would you describe your diet as pretty healthy, very healthy, or not very healthy at all?

  9. How often do you cook from scratch, versus heating up prepared foods at home or eating out, in a typical day?

  10. How much exercise do you get in a typical day?

I understand that this is not what Americans call polite conversation. I also think it's what's allowing an epidemic of poor health to go undetected. Louis CK alerted me to the fact that this condition he describes, of always being in a "24 hour window of diarrhea," might be widespread. My doctor never asks me about my poop. Does yours? Does your doctor ask you how much water you drink, or how often you eat out? Maybe this is all related. Maybe there is some serious discomfort we could be alleviating. Is it worth it? Maybe it is. So I'm starting here, with fact gathering.

If you are embarrassed about posting this info publicly but want to help, you can email me at likethewatch@gmail.com.

Thanks for participating!


The clue stick

This happens so often, I'm starting to prepare for it. Starting to? Shit. I told Jason about this a few weeks ago and he told me to start carrying a stick for self defense in the woods, because this happens so fucking frequently. The woods are full of moronic dog owners who either don't realize their dogs are untrained or don't think this is a problem. Hence the clue stick. I will deliver, with all necessary force, all clues necessary using the hip high length of tree branch I found on a walk. But today, I had another one. It starts like this often: they ask, is your dog friendly? And I need to start looking at that person and that dog before I answer, because this happens. The dog is straining at the leash. The owner has no goddamned clue. I need to start saying, really? Is that the question you want answered? Because yes, my dog is unaggressive. You might call him friendly, though actually he's pretty disinterested in everything that isn't me, my husband, a ball, or a stick. Everything else can go fuck itself, but in a friendly way. Now me? I'm the asshole with the clue stick. So ask yourself, is your dog friendly? Because if he jumps on my totally friendly dog here who wants nothing else but to chase this other stick into the river as many times as I'll throw it, I will beat your dog's face in. I am not friendly to people who are not my friends.

I walk past countless dogs who are off leash, and they don't give me a moment's trouble. They engage in their greetings with my dog, they piss on things, they move on. We give dogs on leash a wide berth when we pass on the sidewalk. But the next fat chihuahua who comes running at me, full tilt and trailing a leash, I will bat into traffic. I have spent the whole walk home having violent revenge fantasies because of one clueless fucker in the woods and his stupid, untrained bitch pup. I already woke panicked like I do every goddamned morning, then did paperwork that wound me up some more, the second time I'm having to do SSDI paperwork, and then I walked hoping that would relax me but instead, this guy. I need to deploy that stick more. Deploy early, deploy often.

Diversity for Dummies

There's a post I keep meaning to write, called Casting for Racial Diversity for Well Intentioned White People, that would advise against doing everything that "Under the Dome," a new Stephen King piece of schlock running on Amazon Prime, does. Things like casting black people in random parts in an otherwise completely white, backwoods town. Or Hispanic, or Asian, or whatever makes you go "huh" when you look at the lead, the main love interest, the ingenue, the young hero, etc etc. There are two blond white chicks on this show who are within five years of each other. Could you not have cast actresses who look a little more different? I don't know, maybe that was one of your opportunities to diversify the cast, instead of "Phil the DJ," who is one of two black people stuck under the titular dome. The other is the second most unconvincing lesbian mother I've ever seen on a made for TV movie. The first is her wife.

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