A form of political totalitarian dictatorship that I find especially repellent is fascism. The name of this brand of tyranny comes from the Italian word fascio, meaning bundle, or by extension, a political group. It reached its peak in the first half of the twentieth century in Italy under Mussolini and in Nazi Germany under Hitler. The pogroms both undertook, especially those with the goal of eliminating the Jews, were characteristic.
According to Wikipedia, “Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti [under Mussolini in Italy]) 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.”
Fascism interests me these days because it’s obvious to me that the U.S. was well on its way in that direction under Donald Trump. One feature of fascistic governing is the use of the power of the state against the ruler’s enemies. Trump’s corruption of the Department of Justice was precisely that. Another trait of a fascist regime is defining for the citizens what may be believed as true, no matter what the facts may be. That is exactly what we had under Trump, especially with respect to the 2020 election. And Trump’s “make America great again” is ultranationalism writ large.
Auspiciously, Trump was, beyond any doubt, defeated in the 2020 election. That hasn’t deterred him from claiming victory in the face of overwhelming evidence that he lost. What is astonishing to me is that so many Americans accept his lie in the face of undeniable evidence of his defeat. The violence of January 6, 2021, when Trump supporters attacked and ransacked the U.S. Capitol, is strikingly similar to that which led to Hitler’s empowerment and the establishment of Germany’s Third Reich.
There are lessons to be learned from Trump’s triumph and ultimate defeat. We must ask ourselves why so many voted for Trump in the first place. We must consider the implications of the fact that in 2016 he lost the popular vote by almost three million and yet was elected by the Electoral College. And most amazing, why do so many Americans continue to believe the proven lies he told?
We can make a more perfect union by learning from the mistakes we have made. Let’s get started.
A more important reason for grasp of languages to weaken is aging. My ability to remember things seems to weaken daily. My recall of people’s names is embarrassingly bad. Sometimes, I can’t remember where stores I frequent are located. When writing, I far too often can’t remember the word I want and have to resort to a list of synonyms. And my recollection of past events is becoming spotty.
But as my language facility weakens, my work in my true vocation, writing, is actually becoming better. I long ago discovered—and recorded in this blog—that the ability to think expands with age. That’s what we mean when we say that the old are wise. And thinking in depth is the key to successful writing. So my writing today is better than it ever has been in the past.
My problem is writer’s block. When my partner of more than twenty years, Su, died a year ago last March, my ability to write stopped dead in its tracks. I had been working on two novels at the time. One was about the 1967 battle of Dak To in Vietnam’s western highlands; the other was based on my relationship with Su. I have been unable to work on either novel since Su’s death. My sense is that I must wait for my grieving to lessen before I can pick up my pen again.
For all that, I genuinely loved studying, speaking, and reading in the languages I knew so well. Switching from one to another was second nature to me. And learning those languages greatly enhanced my understanding and use of English. But now I must accept the changes that go with a different time of life. Working in other languages no longer dominates my life. My calling, now and always, is to write. I’d better get to it soon.
I’ve mentioned in this blog a number of times that I am—or at least used to be—comfortable in seven languages, other than English, that I have worked in. But as I get older, I’m finding that my grasp of the languages is less and less reliable. All too often these days, I reach for a word in, say, French, but come up with one in German. Other times, I simply can’t remember the word at all.
My best foreign language is Vietnamese. I spoke it constantly during the thirteen years I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S, that is, between 1962 and the fall of Saigon in 1975. The language became so natural to me that sometimes native Vietnamese talking with me on the telephone mistook me for a native of North Vietnam—all my professors at the Army Language School in Monterey were northerners, so I learned the northern dialect, generally accepted back then as the preferred dialect. Vietnamese became so ordinary for me that I thought in it and even dreamt in it.
But nowadays even my Vietnamese is slipping away. Too often, I can’t remember a word and have to look it up. I find myself substituting Chinese words for their Vietnamese equivalent. It’s worse with other languages. I’m finding that when speaking in similar languages, like French, Spanish, or Italian, I mix them up and choose words from one language to use in another.
Some of the problem is that when one doesn’t use a language, memory of the grammar and vocabulary fades. I haven’t spoken any of my languages during the more than a year that the pandemic lockdown was in force. And I have fewer opportunities now than I did earlier in life to visit locations where the languages are spoken.
More next time.
As a writer, I am always fascinated by words, how people use them, how they change meaning over time, and how synonyms differ from one another enough that they all stay in the language. One class of words that particularly intrigues me is invented slang with a humorous undertone, words like gobbledygook, flimflam, shebang, and balderdash. What these words have in common is that they are all, without exception, based on the Anglo-Saxon roots of English—none of them is derived from French, Latin, or Greek. And while I can’t prove it, my sense is that all of them were deliberately invented by individual speakers or writers to express an idea that made them laugh.
Among my favorites in this category are flibbertigibbet, monkeyshine, and taradiddle. The mere sound of these words makes me smile.
I found forty words of this genre in a list of interesting words prepared by Kathy Temean on her website. Each word is unique and stays in the language because no other word has the same precise meaning.
So I invite readers to enjoy a boondoggle and lollygag with this non-highfalutin poppycock set of words. You’ll be boffo at it.
I admit it. I’m an artist. Through and through. I knew at age six I was born to write, but I tried other arts to see if I could escape my fate. I trained to be a dancer. I studied to be an actor—my major during my first year of college was theater. I worked hard to become a musician and composer. I took a BA in music at the University of California, Berkeley; wrote and performed reams of church music; and taught myself how to play the piano and guitar. I even took a course in conducting and led groups of musicians.
For a number of years, I put art aside altogether and became a linguist and spy—I had a family and needed to support my wife and children, and art doesn’t pay. I was helped by an inborn flare for languages. Then, as I moved up in rank and was assigned subordinates, I led them rather than managing them. I had learned the difference while working with the military on the battlefield during the thirteen years I spent mostly in Vietnam. I was so good at helping my followers be the best they could be that I kept getting promoted until I reached the highest executive ranks in the government.
But in the end, my fate was sealed. The written word wouldn’t leave me in peace. I had to write. And since I was a born artist, I had to write fiction. So I retired as early as I could from the government and devoted myself fulltime to writing. I now have six books and seventeen short stories in print.
Even so, I cheated. Instead of making up stories to tell, I wrote about things that had actually happened. I turned the tales into fiction by attributing things that had happened to me to fictional characters. The critics caught on. They accused me of writing fiction in name only. I plead guilty.
All that said, I haven’t given the reader an accurate picture of what it is like for me to write. I choose to make writing an art. The challenge is to make beauty with words. My sense is that I have succeeded. But that is not for me to judge. Only my readers can decide if I have accomplished my mission. From what they tell me, I conclude that they have forgiven me for writing fiction in name only and enjoy my work. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
I have written in this blog several times about my agnosticism—my uncertainty about the existence of God—and my unquestioning belief in the reality of the noncorporeal, that which has no physical form.
One philosophical strain avers that only the somatic is real. Anything lacking physical substance is imaginary. It is obvious to me that that way of thinking is unquestionably wrong. The nonmaterial is not only real but more important by far than the material. Creativity and love, for example, motivate us and elevate us above and beyond that which is merely physical.
So I am caught in an apparent contradiction in my own thinking. If I accept the existence of the nonmaterial, what logical arguments do I have to question the existence of God? The answer is that I’m stuck with a lack of strong evidence of the existence of God. But here I sit with my inability to forswear belief.
In this context, I have struggled all my life with the writings of Sigmund Freud, whose name, ironically, means “joy” in German. Sex was at the center of his psychological construct, but he famously said, “Love and work (lieben und arbeiten) are the cornerstones of our humanness.” While both love and work have physical manifestations, both are mental concepts, lacking a material foundation. So my struggle with Freudian psychology as I matured was related to my assessment of the reality of the nonphysical. Modern-day psychologists nowadays largely reject Freud, as I always did. So I can put aside his thinking.
That’s only one example of the philosophies I’ve delved into trying to answer my own questions about the reality of the deity. So here I am baffled by my own inability to come to terms with my understanding of reality. It feels like a permanent dilemma.
One trick I’ve learned over the years of speaking to an audience is to introduce a moment of silence. I simply stop talking and listen. If I hear occasional coughs and shuffling about, if I see eyes wandering, I know that I have not captured my audience’s undivided attention. But if I hear nothing, see every eye focused on me, detect no motion in the people gathered before me, I know that they are spellbound. The story I have been telling, my words, and my emotions have captivated them.
I often get the spellbound reaction. That’s largely because the material I’m presenting is in and of itself mesmerizing. So much of my story is about life-and-death situations on the battlefield. My most popular presentation is on the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. Audiences react to the terror I felt and convey.
So I look forward to speaking to live audiences again. I enjoy watching them react to my story. I cherish the interchanges with them. I take pleasure in watching the emotions I’m feeling reflected in their faces. And I’ll have an opportunity to do just that at 11:00 a.m. today when I do a reading from my books at the Ellicott City 50+ Center. The center is located directly behind the Miller Branch Library at 9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City.
I’m astonished at the transformation an audience and a microphone can create in me. And I can’t wait to be at it again.
During the fifteen months of the pandemic lockdown, I have given no presentations or readings before a live audience. Thanks to a faithful friend, I have a working webcam, so I was able to manage a few remote appearances. I have missed the face-to-face contact.
But now, with the vaccine being administered widely, I’m being invited again to do in-person readings and presentations. I’m delighted. I have missed greatly being able to see, hear, and touch the human beings I want to communicate with.
I’ve written here before about a peculiarity that affects me. I am normally introverted, shy, and quiet. In groups, I have little to say but listen carefully. All that changes when you put me behind a microphone in front of an audience. The hidden extrovert suddenly takes over. I can’t wait to slake my thirst for interaction.
The process of communication between a speaker and an audience is little observed and commented on because the subject of the exchange gets all the attention. But it is the process that I crave and most enjoy. Watching audience members who speak is a lesson in human behavior. Some are quiet and self-effacing; others bold and even brash.
But what I enjoy and learn from most is the reaction of the audience members to what I say and how I say it. I watch their faces (if I can see them). I listen carefully to whatever noise they make. I try to sense the atmosphere that they and I have created together.
More next time.
My apologies to all. I forgot to include the time of my reading on Monday. It’s 11:00 a.m.
FYI: On Monday, July 12, 2021, Dr. Tom Glenn will be reading from his books at the Ellicott City 50+ Center, located at 9401 Frederick Road, Ellicott City, Maryland 21042. Glenn will focus on his two most recent books, Secretocracy, a novel about the Trump administration’s attack on an intelligence budgeteer, and Coming to Terms, a collection of short stories about coping with life’s reverses.
Glenn’s writing derives from his eleven years of providing signals intelligence support to combat forces on the battlefield in Vietnam, his escape under fire when Saigon fell, his work in the upper levels of the U.S. intelligence community, and his twelve years of working with the dying, starting with the AIDS epidemic. A much sought-after speaker and reader, Glenn now has six books of fiction and seventeen short stories in print.
The Ellicott City 50+ Center is directly behind the Miller Branch Library at 9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City.