The Artwork in My House

My house is decorated with art from around the world. The pieces reflect my life of travel, mostly as a signals intelligence operative. I enjoy them daily.

My living room is dominated by a large painting from China of a tiger, hung over the fireplace. On the wall to the right are an American Indian painting from the southwest U.S. and a depiction in oil of the Saigon central market in the monsoon downpour. The wall to left features two oil paintings of landscapes from Vietnam.

The piano room where my Steinway grand is center stage is where I have hung a brass tray from India, a watercolor of a Japanese nobleman, and another watercolor of a church in Kiev. But the attention-getter is a photo taken by an artist friend of my combat boots from Vietnam with a quote from my novel Last of the Annamese: “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.”

Over the fireplace in the adjacent sunroom is a painting that appears to be a copy of an Aztec circular decoration with a face in the middle. On the wall by the door to the deck is a copy of the head of the virgin from Michelangelo’s Pietà in Rome.

Strategically placed throughout the piano room and sunroom are four ceramic elephants from Vietnam. Close by are ceramic and wood-and-marble garden seats from Asia.

In my current life as a fulltime writer, I no longer travel. But I am surrounded by memorabilia that recall my rich experience and spark my imagination. I couldn’t ask for more.

The Year of the Rat

Yesterday was lunar new years, the beginning of the year according to the Chinese zodiac. And the year that has just begun is the year of the rat. That makes it my year. According to my birth date, the rat is my zodiacal sign. I am a rat. That makes me clever and resourceful but not very brave.

In Vietnam, the beginning of the lunar year is also the start of spring. The Vietnamese call the day Tết. It is far and away the biggest holiday in the Vietnamese calendar. The celebration  lasts for days.

We Americans know the word Tết because the North Vietnamese in 1968 launched a country-wide offensive coincident with the Tết holidays taking the South Vietnamese and U.S. forces by surprise. As I have reported elsewhere in this blog, the National Security Agency (NSA), my employer, had, at my behest, put out a series of reports starting five days before the first attack warning that a country-wide offensive was coming. The reports were largely ignored.

The offensive was a military failure. The North Vietnamese were repulsed with great losses. But the offensive was a political success. The U.S. government had been telling the American citizenry that the North Vietnamese were losing the war which wouldn’t last too much longer. The Tết Offensive proved the opposite was true. U.S. public opinion turned against the war. We ended up withdrawing from Vietnam and ceding the country to enemy. It was the first war the U.S. had ever lost.

So every year, toward the end of January or the beginning of February, when the new year, according to the Chinese zodiac, arrives, I remember the Tết Offensive. I can never forget it.

Prison Rate and Gun Ownership

The United States prisoner rate (number of prisoners per 100,000 people) is 737, the highest in the world, followed by Russia at 615. We have well over two million people behind bars.

And, as I reported here recently, “In 2017, the most recent year for which complete data are available, 39,773 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a death rate of more than 10 per 100,000 people. At the same time, our number of guns per hundred people was 120.5—we have more guns than people in the U.S. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we have about 46 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns.”

Is there a relationship between these two extreme figures? What does it tell us about our country that we have more people per capita in prison that any other nation and the highest rate of gun ownership among the developed countries of the world?

I conclude that we must find a different way. Are we really a nation of jailbirds and gun toters? I request comments from readers of this blog.

Presentations (3)

What I find hard to explain is that I enjoy all these presentations. I am normally rather shy. In groups, I tend to be quiet and listen rather than speak. But put me in front of a crowd with a microphone, and my personality suddenly changes into that of an actor. Granted, I was trained as an actor and public speaker many years ago. That doesn’t explain why I revel in speaking to a group and watching the reaction.

And my audiences are focused and attentive. They follow each word and gesture. Every eye stays on me. My sense is that their rapt attention results from two factors—the intensity of the stories I have to tell and my own emotional stress. Every time I give the fall of Saigon presentation, for example, I get tears in my eyes at three different points in the story I’m telling. I’m so moved that I have trouble controlling my voice. The audience is as moved as I am.

The problem has become that my presentations are so popular and I enjoy them so much that I have too little time to write. And writing is my calling in life.

So this year, 2020, will be the year in which I spend the majority of time writing. I’m currently working on two new novels. I’ll get to them just as soon as I get through the current spate of presentations. Or maybe the one after that. Or maybe . . . time will tell.

Presentations (2)

My presentations with slides are on three subjects—Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) (which I suffer from as a consequence of my time in combat), the 1967 battle of Dak To in the Vietnam highlands, and the fall of Saigon.

As this is written, I haven’t yet given the PTSI presentation. As noted earlier in this blog, I’ve been hesitant to speak publicly about my malady but came to realize that I can help others with the affliction by telling publicly how I’ve coped with it. I’m now scheduled to give the presentation twice in the next two months.

The Dak To presentation recounts my experience in supporting the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade in one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war and tells of how the intelligence I provided on the North Vietnamese wasn’t believed, resulting in severe casualties. My next scheduled presentation on Dak To will be in February.

Far and away my most popular presentation is on the fall of Saigon. I’ve now done it more than 60 times, most recently on 17 January, and I’m scheduled to do it again on 26 January. It tells of my desperate struggle to get my 43 subordinates safely out of the country before the North Vietnamese attacked Saigon in April 1975 and my own escape under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets.

More tomorrow.

Presentations

As a writer and speaker, I do many public presentations. I do speeches with slides about my experience during the Vietnam war, a class on fiction craftsmanship, and readings from my published novels and short stories. I can’t speak publicly about my experiences after 1975 because they’re still classified.

And occasionally, I do presentations on opera. That results from my more than ten years of presenting introductions to operas to be telecast from the Met at senior centers around the Washington, D.C. region. I hold a BA in music and became an opera devotee before writing took over my life. The presentations were very popular, and I enjoyed doing them. But as my books were published, I found I had less and less time for anything other than writing and speaking about the subjects I focused on in my writing. Nevertheless, once a year or so, I get a request to present about an opera shown on DVD.

My readings are from my four published novels and 17 short stories, derived, for the most part, from my 13 years in and out of Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1975, I was in Vietnam at least four months every year, and I escaped under fire when Saigon fell. Later this year, I’ll add two more books I’ll be reading from. My Secretocracy will be published in March, and Coming to Terms will come out in July.

My class on fiction is intended only for writers. It details the practices required to write publishable fiction—the rudiments of craftsmanship unique to fiction—basic reference materials, formatting, copy editing, and wording and structure, with a primer on the construction of dialogue.

More tomorrow.

Interview with Karen Allyn

A year or so ago, I did an interview with TV & Radio Talk Show Host/Producer/Journalist Karen Allyn, on Montgomery Community Media. She had read my books and knew of my history in Vietnam, and she prompted me to talk about my experiences, including coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). She emailed me recently to tell me that the interview will be aired again at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, 23 January. Meanwhile, you can hear it at  https://www.blogtalkradio.com/fowm/2018/02/23/annamese-by-tom-glenn-focus-of-women-magazine–joslyn-wolfe-a-scammer

After Karen contacted me, I listened to the interview again. Those familiar with my presentations and writings, including this blog, will recognize many of the incidents and issues I brought up. The book I mentioned that I was looking to publish, Secretocracy, will be released by my current publisher, Adelaide Books of New York, in March. The same publisher will bring out my collection of short stories, Coming to Terms, in July.

Listening to the interview made me reflect on how far I’ve come. When I returned to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in April 1975, I was an emotional and physical wreck. In addition to physical illnesses (amoebic dysentery, ear damage, and pneumonia), I was subject to the worst symptoms of PTSI. I have struggled ever since to come to terms with my unbearable memories of men slaughtered during combat and the monstrosities that occurred during the fall of Saigon. I’ve taught myself to calm my emotions as I remember the atrocities I witnessed and participated in. It worked. I’ve trained myself to react calmly to the memories that are ever with me. I’m to the point that the worst I suffer is occasional crying jags and nightmares.

I’m to the point that I can now start helping others afflicted with PTSI. I’ve agreed to speak publicly about my affliction and how I’ve coped with it. I know that will aid others similarly damaged.

I’m grateful to Karen and others who have encouraged me to deal with and speak openly about the malady. I and other sufferers will be better for it.