Fascism and Antifascism

These days I’m hearing a lot about Trump’s progress toward fascism. I hear Trump and his supporters denouncing “antifa,” apparently an organized group of violent Trump opponents. So I did some research.

Merriam-Webster online defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” That does sound an awful lot like the direction the Trump administration is going.

Merriam-Webster online defines “antifa” as “a person or group actively opposing fascism.” Wikipedia says that “Antifa (/ænˈtiːfə, ˈæntiˌfɑː/) is an anti-fascist political movement in the United States comprising a diverse array of autonomous groups that aim to achieve their objectives through the use of both non-violent and violent direct action rather than through policy reform. Antifa political activists engage in protest tactics such as digital activism and militancy against fascists and racists such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other far-right extremists whom they seek to combat. This may sometimes involve property damage, physical violence and harassment against those whom they identify as belonging to the far-right.”

There is certainly no question that I am strongly opposed to Trump’s slide toward fascism, but I am equally opposed to political violence. Trump on numerous occasions has encouraged his followers to use violence again the opposition. Biden, in contrast, has consistently decried violence.

So what does that make me? A pro-Biden anti-Trump nonviolent antifa practitioner who doesn’t belong to any organized group.

As it becomes clearer that Trump will lose the election in November, maybe by historical proportions, Trump shocked me by refusing to commit to abiding by the election’s outcome and leave the White House if he is defeated. That’s fascism writ large. It amounts to a coup d’etat. I am equally shocked that the Republicans have maintained their silence—and therefore their complicity—in the face of Trump’s stance.

These are the seeds of civil war.

Christmas in Hong Kong and Snow and Ashes

On to the last two stories in Coming to Terms:

The principal character in “Christmas in Hong Kong” is again an older man and a father—and a grandfather—named Ferdie. Others in his life, especially his wife, discount him as living past his time and being essentially of no use to anybody. When a neighbor’s dog attacks his grandson, Mikey, he drives the dog off and demands that the dog be destroyed.

Ferdie’s child is his daughter, Mattie, Mikey’s mother. She is devoted to Ferdie and distressed to see him dismissed by his wife (not her mother) and others. In passing, she mentions how funky it would be to go to Hong Kong at Christmas. He takes her up on it.

“Snow and Ashes,” the last story in Coming to Terms, is set in a house I rented a room in during my poverty years following the breakup of my first marriage. The same house appears again in my novel Secretocracy. I’ve already described the house in this blog (see the post titled “The Secretocracy House”).

The story is about a man dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He inherited the house and wants to assure that after his death it will continue to be used as a home for mentally and physically disabled men. He rents a room to a professional man down on his luck in hopes that he will be the man to take over the running of the house.

Writing about the stories in Coming to Terms has brought home to me the important issues in my life. So much of my writing deals with fatherhood. Music appears repeatedly. Nearly all my protagonists are men.

One oddity is that homosexuality is so prominent in my stories. The reason is that I spent five years volunteering to care for men dying of AIDS. I started out with the usual biases about gay men and learned that sexual preference does not shape character or personality. I was so moved by the experience that I wrote a novel about a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS, No-Accounts.

I’m reminded of a saying from an author (now I’ve forgotten who). It very much applies to me: “To know me, know my books.”

Wolf Rock

I am struck again by how much of my writing deals with fathers and sons. Three of my novels, The Trion Syndrome, Last of the Annamese, and Secretocracy, tell of the relationship between a man and his son. So many of my short stories are about filial ties. Readers might well ask: why the preoccupation?

I’m not very good at self-psychoanalysis, but one fact about my life stands out: I had a terrible father. Through most of my childhood, he was in prison. When I was in college, he forged checks against my bank account. He later died in a bar brawl. Because my mother was an alcoholic, I became self-reliant at age six. The ability to depend on myself has seen me through many trials in my life.

I have a son, now long since a grown man with a son of his own. My love for him knows no bounds. I promised myself as a young man that if I ever had children, I’d learn by my father’s example and nurture them with love and attention. My four children are all now thriving adults. I believe I served them well.

“Wolf Rock” is the story of a camping trip for a father, Charlie, and his two adult sons, Steve, the strong one, and Boyd, the beautiful one. Steve needs no help or guidance. Boyd insists on being an artist at the cost of his marriage and his credit rating. He asks his father once again to bail him out.

An aspect of the story is Charlie’s sensitivity to music. Blessed with perfect pitch, sounds come to him in musical form. Charlie’s musicality is based on my own. I lack perfect pitch, but like Charlie, I hear music in the sounds around me. I tried to become a musician, even took a BA in music, but finally gave in to my vocation, writing.

So Charlie is, in many respects, me in disguise.

E-Square and The Song of the Earth

“Some things are more important than chemistry.” That’s the sentence that ends the story titled “E-Square.” The story is ostensibly about a man named Tuohy, a very ordinary guy, good-hearted but not every ambitious. But it’s really about his friend, Trish, from whose point of view the story is told.

The story’s title comes from an incident Trish remembers. She and Tuohy and others were hanging out in a local bar when Tuohy noticed a young woman that interested him. The others introduce him to her, but she has trouble understanding his name, so Trish says, “Like Two-E. You know, like E-E?” The girl says that makes him E-Square. The joke sticks, and E-Square becomes Tuohy’s nickname.

Trish is pushing forty but still hasn’t found a man to settle with. She wants a man with whom she shares “chemistry.” Only when Tuohy’s father dies and Trish is comforting him does she understand how deeply she cares for him. They end up together. She says to herself, ““Some things are more important than chemistry.”

The next story in the book, “The Song of the Earth,” uses as its title the name of Gustav Mahler’s son cycle, Das Lied Von Der Erde but never mentions that work by name. The piece at the center of the story is another Mahler song cycle, named Kindertotenlieder, “Songs on the Death of Children.” An older musical coach, Luke, is helping the young singer, Jeb, learn the songs. Luke stresses the need to hear with the inner ear. Though the story never reveals Luke’s history, the astute reader will intuit that Luke lost a child earlier in his life, and that the Mahler songs capture his anguish.

The unspoken lesson in the story is the need for human beings to find the depth of their own being, to hear with the inner ear, to listen to the song of the earth. That is what Luke is trying to teach his young student.

Fuchsias and Jolly, Jolly Sixpence

Further about the stories that make up Coming to Terms:

One of the few stories I’ve written told from a female point of view, “Fuchsias” describes the end of a marriage. Jane, the protagonist, focuses her attention not on her husband and children but on the admiration she can arouse from outsiders. Even as her husband is moving out, she can’t bring herself to shift her awareness away from her admirers.

I see the story as a lesson in working for what is important and putting aside the trivial. Jane is so addicted to the opinions of others that she neglects her own family. But at the end of the story, even with her husband gone, she thirsts for the adulation of her admirers so much that she goes on with the party.

“Jolly, Jolly Sixpence” is the name of a song I first heard in Vietnam from Australian soldiers I worked with. The story by that name includes the lyrics to the song. It tells of a father who planted a cherry tree when his son was born. The marriage goes sour. The father is separated from his wife and son but takes his son on camping trips and tries to teach him the song he learned from Aussies in Vietnam. He discovers that another man, his ex-wife’s current boyfriend, has replaced him in the son’s affection. He decides to cut down the cherry tree planted to symbolize his love for his son.

Both stories are about broken marriages. They are drawn from my own experience.

Best Buddies and Trip Wires

The second story in my new short story collection, Coming to Terms, is called “Best Buddies.” It’s about an old man and his dog. Implicit in the story but never specified is the idea that Fred, the principal character, had a son. That’s why he’s so moved by the much younger man and his son who show up in the park while Fred is there. His act of generosity, giving the younger man a half-price coupon for pizza, is an act of pure love.

Fred’s generosity reflects my belief that we all have an obligation to help one another. His act of kindness for the younger man is a small gesture, but Fred lives in a small world.

The next story, “Trip Wires,” is an entirely different kind of tale. It is drawn from my many years working undercover with the military in Vietnam. Its protagonist, the soldier Kerney, does not recognize his own homosexuality. When he meets what he considers to be the perfect man, the soldier Griffin, he cannot rest until Griffin is destroyed. The story is a study of love-hate and its ramifications.

The story told in “Trip Wires” is the basis for my novel Last of the Annamese. In 1974, years after Griffin’s death, his father, a retired Marine officer, volunteers to go to Vietnam to try to win the war that cost his son’s life. Once there, working as an intelligence analyst, he learns that his son was not killed in combat but murdered by another soldier. His purpose for being in Vietnam is no longer valid.

The Gift of the Father

Today I begin introducing the stories in Coming to Terms, my collection of short stories being published this month by Adelaide Books of New York.

So much of my writing focuses on fathers and sons. That is the relationship that most intrigues me. And so “The Gift of the Father,” the first story in the collection, tells of the reunification of a father and a son after many years of estrangement. The son, who is homosexual, had become a priest. His father abandoned him as a child to embrace the life of a homosexual himself. He lies in a hospital dying of AIDS. His son finds him at last.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic, I volunteered to care for men suffering from the disease. Over five years, I had seven patients. They were all gay. They all died. I got into the AIDS business because I needed to be able to focus on the needs of others worse off than me. When I did that, my Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), from the unbearable memories of my years in combat in Vietnam, faded into the background. When the AIDS crisis was over, I worked with the homeless, then spent seven years as a volunteer in a hospice. The experience of working with men dying of AIDS so moved me that I wrote a novel about it, No-Accounts.

The father and son in “The Gift of the Father,” like all the characters in the book, find some form of peace at the end of the story. Their love overcomes their difference.

Coming to Terms

Adelaide Books of New York will publish my sixth book, Coming to Terms, this month. The book is a series of short stories originally published between 1998 and 2016. They all date from the time in my writing career when I alternated writing novels and short stories. That ended when I became engrossed creating stories only suitable for the novel form.

The Foreword to Coming to Terms reads as follows:

Coming to Terms tells the stories of men and women confronted with pain as a consequence of love and hate, goodness and evil. Each finds a way to go on living, however imperfectly. None is left unscathed.

“All these tales come from my life, as a husband, father, soldier, and caregiver to the dying. Each major character is drawn from people I’ve known. My hope is that you and I, both, can learn from the choices these people made.”

Over the coming days, I’ll introduce some of the stories. Please feel free to comment.

 

Interim

The text of my newest book, Coming to Terms, has arrived for proofing before publication. I am currently spending fulltime working on that project. That means, for now, no new posts for this blog. My apologies to regular readers. Once I finish the proofing, I’ll have plenty to say about the book.

Virtual Presentations

With the pandemic lockdown continuing and likely to be prolonged because the virus spread is rising, not sinking, I’ll be replacing my in-person readings and presentations with remote appearances using the Zoom software. Thanks to the generosity of a friend and fellow writer, I now have a webcam. I have a far more sophisticated camera on order, but it’s delivery has been delayed by the lockdown, the dilemma it was intended to overcome.

Learning to do Zoom presentations will take some doing. I’ll have to practice with the software to learn how to, for example, show slides as well as being on camera myself. I’ll need to become familiar with the ways to notify audience members and assure that they can see and hear me. I’ve already started experimenting with the camera for lighting, angle, and position to achieve the best performance. It’s a new field of learning for me.

I am indebted and deeply grateful to Greg May who supplied me with the webcam. He went out of his way to bring the camera to me and has worked with me in setting it up and using it. He is a remarkable man in his own right. Trained and experienced as a circus entertainer, he performs for parties and organizations. You can learn more about him at his web site: www.circusgreg.com

As a writer to whom words have great importance, I’m amused to be writing about virtual appearances. “Virtual” to me always meant actual but maybe not recognized or formalized. “Virtual” and “remote” have changed their meaning.

And now I will be able to do readings from the two most recent of my books, Secretocracy, published last March, and Coming to Terms, due out this month. And I can do my standard presentations on the fall of Saigon, the 1967 battle of Dak To in Vietnam’s western highlands, and Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), which I suffer from as a result of being in combat in Vietnam and surviving the fall of Saigon. And I could do my workshop on fiction craftsmanship if I can figure out a way to get the handouts to the participants.

If any readers would be interested in remote presentations or readings, email me at tomglenn3@gmail.com