Monday, March 25, 2013

All We Have to Fear Is…

Nineteen-year-old Cork Graham on his Vietnam political prison freedom day May 18, 1984 ( AP/Wide World)
I didn’t mention it in my last post, but that was one of the major qualities of my relationship with SuzyQ, fear and how that fear expressed itself in a hard to ignore insecurity: never ceases to amaze me how self-destructive fear and the resulting insecurity can be. See, when you’re afraid of things like your significant other is THE ONE, or NOT the one , and prevents the relationship from reaching its full wondrous potential.
If you’ve been cheated on repeatedly, it effects your self-image, and especially how you relate to others. You’re always wondering if your love is cheating on you, or is about ready  to call it quits with you—and you know what they say about what you focus on, right? How what you imagine can comes true based on the amount of energy and thought you put into.
What killed that relationship last year was fear of the unknown, fear of intimacy, fear of loss, and, yes, surprisingly so, fear of success!
And that’s just a romantic relationship. What about all the other relationships out there: business, friends…even the relationship we have with ourselves?
Ironically, the very part of ourselves that’s supposed to protect us, becomes more inflated and instead of protecting us, actually, increases our dilemmas. This protective part or ourselves is the ego. A healthy ego helps us define our identity, supports a strong confidence, and on a base, animalistic level, creates an emotional response for an organism to keep alive. On the other hand, an unhealthy, an inflated ego, confuses arrogance for confidence, and is often resulting in someone who has intense conscious and subconscious fears as the result of repeated stress, especially in someone dealing with PTSD versus PTSR.


You could easily say that FEAR and I have had a profoundly deep relationship, ever since the early years of my life. You might be swayed to think the opposite by the fact that I lived a relatively privileged childhood, something my father was able to provide because we were expatriates, and would never be able to afford, had we lived in the US on his salary. I went to private school. We got to travel every summer, whether it was back to the States every other year or at least to one of the many nations around South Vietnam and Singapore, if not to Europe in special years.
What many who’ve never read My 2004 bestselling memoir: THE BAMBOO CHEST don’t get is that there were some pretty horrific things happening in Vietnam when we were there though, and it didn’t matter that we were civilians. Matter of fact, my first memories of life are those of the second part of the Tet Offensive of 1968, Little Tet, known by those who were there, as much bloodier than the early battle covered by Walter Cronkite. The deep red color of the blood spilled onto the streets tinted my childhood nightmares for years.
It’s funny how people, especially my parents, took my silence and introversion during the latter part of my childhood in Saigon as just a normal part of shyness: before we arrived in Vietnam, I was very talkative and pretty precocious. By the time we left Vietnam, I was extremely shy and withdrawn. And it was another indicator of what fear had been doing to my subconscious: I started bedwetting again then. I didn’t stop until I was twelve years old...and interestingly enough, just about the time horrible nightmares related to what I had seen in Vietnam, faded.
It was about that time that I made a promise to myself: I would take on any challenge, do everything in my power, to overcome fear. I would go out into the world and seek fear where it thrived. When the opportunity came to head into a combat zone as an 18-year-old, that’s what I did, camera in hand. I can’t tell you how many times from then on that I wished I had stayed on the normal path, finished my electrical engineering studies at Berkeley and went on from NROTC midshipmen to naval aviator, flying the newly minted F-18. But, from age 18 to age 26, yet another opportunity to look that demon in the eye always availed itself.
Midshipman Graham, back row, under the "XIN" in Lexington
I learned what it was like to be alone in the Thai Gulf, trying to get away from pirates; being taken prisoner on an island off the coast of Vietnam; being interrogated by a communist intelligence team; and even what it’s like to be blindfolded and put up against a wall during a mock execution.
And those experiences in Southeast Asia were just the fears of adventure and daring. Can you imagine what it was like to be in prison one day, having done 11 months, seven in solitary, and then it’s like I’m walking out on a stage at Carnegie Hall: all the lights were on me.  One day I’m in solitary confinement; the next I’m being interviewed by reporters from almost every news service from around the world. A week later I’m on GOOD MORNING AMERICA and being remotely interviewed, on a camera, on camera one, that the engineers were unaware that I was talking to a dark screen that should have had Joan Lunden’s face on it, so that I’d actually be able to talk face-to-with someone, instead of just looking at a glass eye representing millions of viewers. Stage fright, anyone?
Now, if that wasn’t enough of a lesson in how intense fear can become, there were other opportunities, like helping defend an Army base during an overrun by enemy forces, ambushes in the jungle and my favorite way to become scared shitless (NOT!): mortar rounds coming in out of the sky, explosive detonations that not only hit your emotions, but send shockwaves through the ground and your body. Terrifying…especially since they’re walking their mortar rounds in on you, in the hopes you’ll freak and do something really stupid, like try and make a run for it—right into the sights of their machine-gunners on the hill.
In the process, I learned how to strike up a treaty with my new friend, Fear, and have a somewhat less rigorous interaction. It takes a bit of preparation. There are meditations and positive reaffirmations. Yes, a lot of that really does work, but you have to put the time, belief, and emotional energy into the effort.
Often it’s not the actual incident that causes fear. It can, and often comes about, as a result of how we were raised. Take two children. Both go through the same, very traumatic events. Scold one child, tell them to get over it, and tell them to grow up and be an adult—cowboy up! Take the other child, tell them how much you love them, share with them how fear is something that we all have, and all we have to do is find a benign place in our minds for fear to live, so that it’s not keeping us from achieving our life purpose, and the differences can be amazing!
There are a number of powerful words we can share with the young, like “do your best, accept your emotions and work with them.” That doesn’t mean giving awards and bonuses for unachieved goals. We’ve seen the horrendous effects of that in our “entitled society” that’s sprung up in the last 20 years. No, it means rewarding goals achieved, and recognizing errors, fears and failures, and learning how to work with them to get the next stage of personal development.
I also find it interesting how one fear overcome, doesn’t necessarily mean that all fears are overcome. Take for example the conversation I had with the renegade hypnotist and Vietnam veteran Mark Cunningham. We marveled at how when we were younger, it easy was for us to charge a machine gun nest keeping our team pinned, yet, find it hard to strike up a conversation with a woman we’d never met before and to whom we were attracted.
That’s the thing about fear: you can bolster  your psyche to deal with fears within one environment, and type of scenario, by taking a confidence built in another environment; but, not until you actively practice overcoming your fears within the specific type of scenario or environment, it just won’t completely gel.
What does that mean?
 It means you can build your confidence in combat, or climbing dangerous mountains, and stick your chest out and feel confident from that experience of having a confidence built on those achievements, but not until you actually build practice in the other scenario, in this case dating and romance, being calm and confident speaking to someone of the opposite sex,  in order to build your confidence fully, you’ll need to actually go through the repeated act of improving your speaking experience with those of the opposite sex.
The experience of overcoming fears and building confidence can be done in a sink or swim scenario, as pretty much my 20s were in the 1980s. Or, it can be the baby steps and solid improvement as done  by someone intensely shy, attending toastmasters to learn how to become a good speaker and turn that almost crippling fear of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of eyes on you as you speak, into a rush of excitement that charges your speech for success.
Taking over your mind and mindset, making it an asset is something I’ve been keen on for a very long time. The techniques I’ve learned I’ve used to teach a variety of people in the military, law enforcement and even in the corporate and business world. Over at GCT Magazine, we’ll be releasing that information soon, in webinars detailing and training the warrior mindset. GCT Magazine's New FREE Newsletter Subscription HERE!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Sex, Death, Love, and Other Lessons From 2012

Two minutes had passed since I’d made the hurried 911 call. My father lay flat on his back from when he collapsed, his large belly still and unmoving. I took a deep breath and pressed my mouth to his, and blew as hard as I could, trying to keep the life giving breath from escaping our lips. By the time a police officer in the area arrived to take over, my father was dead as best as I could tell. When the fire department EMTs arrived and hooked him up, he was clearly flatlined.

I stood and just watched as they continued providing CPR. Finally, they called it almost 45 minutes later. That’s when the shock began; not about whether he was dead, but what damage control I would have to do with my mother and my younger brother. I would have to do  it smoothly and with a definite detachment. I was happy that my younger brother, who had also been in the military, was there by the time our mother arrived—she was so distraught, there would never be a funeral, and it would take a year for her to go down to her family in Ecuador and do a Catholic mass for her husband…she’s actually there right now, doing so.

Something from way back had kicked in for me back then. It was that response we, those who have been in harm’s way, had not been taught. We just picked it up out of necessity. It was that mental skill of keeping the emotions down in order to accomplish a mission—I was back.

Returned to the Mean Green…

Cork and one of his indig counterparts

I was back alright. Within the week, I was back in a very, very bad place. Actually, I was back in a number of places and times for the next few weeks. There was a beautiful sunny day that I wished I had been down at the beach, surfing, only a few miles away. Instead I was in the shade of a mango tree, getting one indigenous soldier to hold a bag of saline, while I inserted the connecting line into the IV needle I had inserted into a vein of another who had tripped an IED and had his legs blown off just below his genitals. Then, there was the kid who had taken a 7.62 NATO round to the arm, halfway between the elbow and shoulder. The round took everything below off, and left a bloody mush of muscle and bone; a weak pulse sent a dribble of blood out of the unconscious boy’s limb. There were more instances; but thankfully, there were many more successful events in my combat life that started as a corpsman, and ended three years later as a team leader.

All of those moments have come back to me in daydreams, and twisted nightmares. But, in the later 1990s and throughout the first decade of the new millennium, they haunted me only when I was dealing with something so stressful in my present life. I was pretty much free of them, and had actually made them memories with which I had peace.

With my father’s death they came back with a traumatic vengeance. Like anyone who has experienced the shock of seeing friends and comrades killed and maimed horrifically, it's that hard to describe emotional Sensurround of hearing them scream, beg, and plead that really gets you—everyone who’s never been there, always ask what it’s like to see dead people: the dead people are easy, it’s the screamers that claw at your emotions...

Interestingly enough, I had also experienced something that I had never experienced before: survivor’s remorse, not at how my father had died, but that I had brought him back to life. Let me explain. Everyone who has been in combat or felt the loss of losing a loved one, has some form of survivor’s guilt. For those us who came back, but our combat buddies did not, it was the guilt for that very fact—it’s natural. My guilt toward bringing life to my father for only second was that he had collapsed so quickly, had he not been brought back to life; it would have been a smooth transition along what many of us imagine that “white light” to be. Had he been resuscitated, he would have had to live in a body that had been wracked by a relapse of cancer, and hip replacement (can you believe the doctors at Kaiser actually recommended a hip replacement to an unfit man in his early 80s, whose body was already fighting cancer through chemo?! Greed has many forms: it has taken down great republics and it has infected the medical field where they try to get every last cent out of you before you die...)

I had to really get my head around how my medical skills that had been refined in combat, were the same skills that prevented father from having a peaceful death. Shoot, I hope when I go, I have something as fast as his death would have been had I not gotten in the way—but how could I have not got in the way, right? It was my duty…and those are some of the things that wake us up out of a sound sleep, my friend.

Knock-knock-Knockin’ at Heaven’s Door

Two weeks after my father’s death, I got a telephone call from my rocker friend, Michael Riddle that our mutual friend and rock legend, Ronnie Montrose, had put a .38 to his temple and committed suicide. Ronnie and I were birthday brothers and had a mutual love of fishing. We had planned to go to his favorite fishing spot in the East Bay in our last conversation. I was floored when I got that call. After a number of professional trials after the really big years in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, he was once again going to ride a big wave of success—he was back with a whole slew of concerts planned that would have brought him back to those heydays.
Trout stream days for Ronnie and Cork

I tried to imagine why Ronnie would have done something like that. The original answer passed around was that his prostate cancer, the same cancer that had hit my dad, had also relapsed for Ronnie. It wasn’t until later that it was clear that his battle  with depression, as hits so many perfectionists, amplified by binge drinking, is was what led to that moment of calling his wife, seemingly joking about killing himself, and then laying back in his recliner, putting the muzzle up to his head and pulling the trigger. Personally, I think it was the fact that he was getting ready to have such a great return, that he looked at that, didn’t want to go through the inevitable dip after the rise that had been so rough over the last years, and it made him think it was better to go out with the visions in his mind’s eye of all this wonderful greatness that lay in front of him.

It was at Ronnie’s funeral at Native Hunt Ranch that we ceremoniously burned Ronnie’s recliner and said our goodbyes. I hadn’t cried for the dead in a long time—not even when my dad died: I couldn't with all the demands on my energy and attention. That day at the ranch, I cried not only for a lost friend but a lost father.

…Then SHE came in to my life

As luck would have it, bad luck, something from my past also came back—a very strong “savior” mentality (you may have read about it in my 2004 bestselling memoir, instilled by seeing the Vietnam War up close as a child, and my father killing my pet white rabbit in front of me), which resulted in me getting into a six-month relationship with a woman that I normally I would have avoided like the plague. You know the kind: there’s an immediate mutual attraction, the sex is pretty good, you see that glimmer of light in their eyes that makes it seem as though your souls are connected, and you think, you pray, that if you just do everything right, somehow,’ll be happy together, forever and ever. I had long thought I had gotten over that part of myself when I was in my twenties, just returned from war, before I realized that the savior mentality is really just an attempt to fix the world, instead of just working on ourselves first.

I’d already gone through something similar, right after my return from the war, in 1989, and even proposed to her, as though by proposing things would change, and we would both get better: we were deep into the symptoms of PTSR—mine from combat, hers from sexual abuse as a child.

I’d done my work, so that was why I never could have imagined that within a couple weeks of my father’s death and then Ronnie’s, I found myself in that relationship with a woman (let’s call her SuzyQ for legal reasons, and my own personal entertainment) that greatly appealed to that savior mentality.

Originally, I had avoided SuzyQ. But, what I expressed as playful avoidance, she took as playful banter. What was worse was that I didn’t ask for her telephone number, which really got her panties in a twist, as it often does with any attractive women who have a big ego and following of men—and expect the rest to immediately fawn over them. Thing was that I really didn’t want to interact further: something about still thinking about someone, my father, dying in my arms such a short while ago, kind of makes most people withdraw for a while for perspective—I went to the party to just not get too lost in the shock and depression… What she took as being standoffish, and surprisingly a challenge to her ego, was really me just wanting to enjoy our mutual friend’s birthday party in a relaxed environment, even if I’d felt slightly withdrawn for the last two weeks—the emotional impact of my father’s death, and breakup with my partner of 15 years (we’ll call her Rochelle to avoid the same legal ramifications, as she’ll figure into this story later), just two weeks prior were finally starting to sink in…

SuzyQ was pretty, and she had that kind of childlike quality that most other men consider the attraction cincher. You know the kind, they appeal greatly to the “protector gene” in all men. But, part of that childlike quality was her voice, which was so high pitched it drove me up the wall. Not until just a few months after the end of what would become a six-month relationship with SuzyQ did I learn how certain hormone levels can be affected by repeated rejection, and how that change in hormones leads to that high pitched tone, which explained my  initial reaction of avoidance. What I thought was goodbye that night turned into her stalking me through Facebook…imagine that!

That’s the thing about sexual attraction. It has this ability to surmount what our logical mind tells us, which was an emphatic: STAY AWAY! We hooked up and what should have just been a quick, very physical affair, turned into days, weeks and months, an emotional one where “I love yous” were exchanged. But, what became clear was transference. Even though she’s two years older than me, emotionally, she reminded me of myself, but twenty years ago, before I started a very solid path of self-awareness, and introspection—doing the work on my post-traumatic stress and major rage I had when I came back from fighting in Central America. That’s not to say she didn’t also do the same. Considering how traumatic her own childhood, teens and early twenties had been, how could she not feel a need to do some kind of self-work? But, that’s where our similarities diverged.

She read all the right books about relationships and self-awareness—after all, her own mother was a published author and respected therapist, in the field of family counseling. What SuzyQ didn’t seem to get, or it was more likely just too painful to accept, was the emotional understanding of what those books were trying to communicate. In order to do that, the reader has to do some pretty profound ego restructuring, and with her, as much as I had to do with my father, and mother, for taking me to Vietnam, as I wrote about in THE BAMBOOCHEST, she would have to forgive, forgive a lot.

The problem about ego, which is actually an important part of the human psyche to have, as it’s what protects and defines our character on this physical plane we call LIFE, is that when it becomes a beast unto itself, as it often does with those traumatized throughout their life, is that it prevents full self-awareness and reveals itself in the subject having a profound inability to forgive, and interestingly enough, to apologize, or take responsibility for dark deeds that others would have to forgive.

Within two weeks of the start of our romantic relationship, she was telling me about her previous two boyfriends and how much they had taken away from her. Most importantly, she told me how she was going to get them back…But, you  know me, maybe because I’ve always felt that there was nothing as bad as war, I’d seen war: I even started calling SuzyQ, “My sweet little Irish banshee,” what with that long, full brown hair, hazel eyes, and the wildness she had--Boy, oh boy…!

How in the world did you get into this?!

It gets better…
In reaction to how SuzyQ’d been rejected and betrayed by her previous boyfriends, I was a prime target for her increasing unrestrained anger, as I try to keep a friendship with the healthy former girlfriends of my past. Before, I wouldn’t do that, and that was why I used to be like SuzyQ: angry, vindictive, jealous, and avoiding my previous loves. But, I thought about it, and if they weren’t a headcase, and it wasn’t just physical attraction, meaning if we really had feelings for each other, shouldn’t there be a peaceful and friendly rapport, even if the breakup wasn’t so amicable? It was that wise realization twenty years ago that enabled me to have friendly relations with my girlfriends before my fifteen-year relationship with Rochelle, for which I hold responsible for my lasting that long in such a relationship: it would have been over in six months, at the most, had I not.

Instead of rejoicing in that fact that I didn’t have animosity, or major baggage, against any of my previous deep relationships, all I got was grief and jealousy-filled condemnations: according to SuzyQ, it was impossible to have a platonic friendship with anyone with whom I had previously had a romantic relationship. I can’t tell you how many times I wished and outright asked SuzyQ to contact her previous boyfriends, and just make peace with them—or at least make peace privately, forgive them for whatever slights she thought they’d committed and release all that anger she carried...Not only that, I was also asking her to make peace with her father and mother. That was the last straw. From then on there was no question where this relationship was going in her eyes.

But, it should have been clear to me long before, when I learned that she had been out of work for more than three years, and while paying $2,500 a month to keep a façade going. Yep, her identity revolved around the pretense that she had pulled herself from poverty, put herself through school, got an MBA from one of the more prestigious business schools and had risen to level of CFO in one of the fields that was still making a lot of money in the present twisted economy. Still, she lost that job for some dark mysterious reason…another red flag…and it was everyone else’s fault, according to her. It was always everyone else’s fault...

I can’t tell you how many of the clients I had to deal with as a drug and alcohol rehab counselor in the seven years I worked for Friendship House Association of American Indians in San Francisco, after I came back from Alaska in 1991, telling me that it was everyone else’s fault: the government, their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, their family, their society…the list was always long for why they were in their pickle. For SuzyQ, it was her parents, their divorce, her mother’s post-divorce lesbian experimentation while SuzyQ was a teen, and her father’s rejection of her.

Takes Two to Tango…to UNLEASH THAT DRAGON

Now I could have said the reason we didn’t work out was that she was a hypocritical, lying, psycho bitch. After all, when I’d finally had enough of her nagging and complaints—she would actually ridicule me for my military experience, for its life-threatening qualities, as though I had gone to war solely out of bravado [instead of the fact that, I was privy to the very real threat to the US, and as a result felt it was the right thing to do] and even denigrated my mother who was still mourning her husband just a few months gone—about how I wasn’t putting anything into the relationship, and then she, breaking her own rule to me(not that I would ever want to--if you have to go through your lover's phone, what's the point of going on?) by going into my cellphone and dialing my ex-girlfriend, who she’d actually demanded I not talk to, getting into a shouting match with her over the phone.

I grabbed my phone, and par for course, SuzyQ launched into a one-sided punching match as I prepared to leave. I thought she was just angry as I made preparations to leave by putting my clothes on and slipping on my cowboy boots. What I didn’t really get at the time was she was actually trying to get me to stay and  talk with her—unable to communicate verbally under intense emotional stress, other than the way she must have learned subconsciously by watching her birth mother and father go at it when she was young, she stood between me and the door and even jumped on my back and got me in a neck hold, which I got out of, while trying to lay her to the ground without too much impact to her butt.

When I left, I thought it was finally over, but then using her honed stalking techniques, and one of the many online credit check services, SuzyQ got Rochelle’s home number, calling to leave NINE messages on her phone…telling Rochelle that she was delusional, and that she should listen to SuzyQ, because she had a $2,500 a month condo and an MBA (forget that she hadn’t worked for years, and traded an initial dream of becoming a veterinarian for the short-term, and very conditional reward of only financial wealth)—Ironically, if she’d stayed with the vet school dream, she’d actually have had the personal well-being AND the wealth. Funny isn’t it, how so many of we humans use our titles and amount of wealth and university education to qualify who we are…as if who we are, and what we say, isn’t enough?

Right after rattling off her titles, she then offered her own number for Rochelle to call back if she’d like to…Call back?! Like she’d never met my ex, and after SuzyQ had called to insult her, she was expecting Rochelle to call her back and they’ll be like buds?!

Never a dull moment in my life…and whatever fears SuzyQ had about me rehooking up with my ex were made real as I tried to do damage control for an innocent bystander who was caught in the crossfire.

Now I could be like SuzyQ, and say it was all her fault, that I had nothing to do with it—I found out later from my friends that she was telling everyone it was my entire fault we didn’t work out, that Rochelle was always my girlfriend, throughout my relationship with SuzyQ...Rochelle was just appalled that I had even gotten hooked up with someone carrying as much “baggage” as SuzyQ—“With your background, you should have known better,” Rochelle said.

When I later told a friend what had happened, he said, “you’ve got to watch this!” He inserted a DVD called BITS AND PIECES, and before me played a shortened version of my six month relationship, as depicted by the comedian Pablo Francisco, in his PSYCHO CHICKS shtick.


Pablo Francisco: “Psycho chicks, Psychos!.. I think it’s after you have sex with them that you UNLEASH THAT DRAGON..’Cause you know a girl who’s psycho…and you haven’t had sex with them, they’re really nice, aren’t they?”

The part about how SuzyQ was pleasant, and friendly and even charismatic…until sex was entered into. Then that dragon was unleashed…!

It gave me an opportunity to see how much psychological abuse I had put myself through—in the last three month of her nagging, I would actually say, “STOP!! Tell me something good about me—why in the hell are you in a relationship with me if you all you do is browbeat me?”

She didn’t get it: she was worse on herself, comparing herself to her younger sister, who was married with two kids, and seemingly happy.  It was jealousy that made her repeatedly tell herself she was a loser…which made me wonder where was the woman who had achieved all she had achieved before her fall. By becoming intimate with her, I had put myself in the same pot of water she had put herself in to boil.

After the DVD was over, and the laughter died down I was left with: how did this all happen?! One of the first things you learn, whether in the news, business and military intelligence world, is that most often, all you have to do is let the subject talk, and they’ll tell you just about everything you need to know. As a human species, we can’t help it. We need to communicate. The problem is that there’s what’s being said, and then, there’s what we hear. We all have our filters that let us listen, but only hear what we want to hear. Even the best interrogators are always working on this innate quality of ourselves —in reality, even for the most jaded, we all want the world to be a better place. In so doing, we ignore a lot.

Attraction made me do some really crazy things: stay in a relationship when it was clear it was over from the very first time I was nominated as the emotional punching bag for all her rage at her parents, past relationships, and life, putting myself in a scenario that if I were a woman, and SuzyQ was a man, would have been easily labeled psychological abuse. She even used that manipulative tool adulterous spouses use to cover their tracks by saying the other one is screwing around on them…beware a woman who seeks the love of her distant and abusive father by keeping a following of adoring men, hoping and wishing to replace that love, somehow, some way.

What was it in my psyche that had taken such hold of me that I felt compelled to week after week drive over to her place, still mad as hell at her from our last conversation, and then it all seemed to fade by the time we were in bed? I can still remember me driving and saying to myself, “Why in the hell are you going down to her?! She’s mean, vindictive and nuts!” …but, there I’d go. And there’d she be...

It’s easy to say it was just a savior mentality, which along with a specific sexual attraction, was keeping me going back for more sex and abuse. It was almost like that old conditioning tool of using pain and pleasure to train a subject. Not that SuzyQ could have actually thought it out like that, as the relationship was just too unpredictable. When we understand the meaning of “physician heal thyself” is when the meaning of “savior mentality” is clear. Emotionally very similar, though years apart, I felt that I had to impart my wisdom. What was really happening was that I was trying to fix the world. More importantly, I was trying to fix myself, through her. How’s that for transference?!

Throw in the fact that SuzyQ often showed the stereotypical symptoms of post-traumatic stress, backed up by a number of traumatic incidents she revealed to me from her past, and I easily saw myself as I was when I came back for the last time from war. When I looked at her, I would often think how much of an angry terror I must have seemed to my girlfriends and then my fiancé at the time. I was a different man back then. I was a very, very angry man. Thing was that I got the tools. Instead of just looking at those tools from a very removed, logical mind point of view, I processed them from a very logical AND very emotional place. It was painful—forgiveness, remorse, and acceptance were the rewards, and trials. SuzyQ never did that, and when it became evident she never would while I was with her, I finally l had to say enough.

Lemonade Out of Lemons

It took me awhile to process what had happened. How did I get into a relationship with a woman who had so much baggage, and who had actually stalked me using Facebook? Interestingly, I realized that her stalking had appealed to me. The act of chasing is as primitive as mankind. Normally, though, it’s the man’s role to do the chasing. This is why women sit at bars and parties with their friends, with the deep hope that one of the attractive guys in the place will come up and say hello.

When a woman reverses the roles, it offers a man the opportunity to feel that feeling of excitement, the feeling of being wanted, that makes the more traditional response so exciting to not only the woman, but also the man. It often ends up as a story told to friends and family about how the couple met.

There was also another reason, kind of a dark reason, but one that I theorized was also working in favor of this attraction, and that is that there is a quality of combat that many don’t like to admit to those who’ve never been in combat, and that is that while we often hunt during war, we are also hunted. Those are the facts of search and destroy and search and capture, of which I had first-hand knowledge on very many occasions. It’s extremely exciting. There’s an old saying about “The Most Dangerous Game” and that has always been the hunting of Man. The fact that the other guy is hunting you is a big part of the rush, and one of the reasons many who used to hunt recreationally before they went to war, especially if they did so more as a challenge, instead of for table meat, often don’t hunt after they come back from war.

Still, there is that excitement of feeling pursued, and I think that was another reason I fed into the attraction, and even carried on with the romance and risk of emotions…

The key that I had to remember, and yet had forgotten, is that we all have experience and training. Some of it generic. Some of it very specialized and unique. What's hard is to do, but so important, is to remember this when our emotions from the subconscious parts of our mind are up, and they bypass the logical safeguards of the conscious mind, leading us to some very painful and self-destructive behaviors. To find out more about this amazing quality of our minds, and the conflict between emotions and logic, between what see and what we don't want to see, watch my latest FREE recording of my webinar on lie detection at GCT Magazine, by following this link: THE HUMAN LIE DETECTOR

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Dad...RIP.

Frederick A. “Fred” Graham passed away at his home on February 16, 2012. Born on September 8, 1930 and raised during his teenage years in Spokane, Washington, he was an avid wrestler at John R. Rogers H.S. He tried his skills in the professional ring upon his graduation from high school in 1948 and soon got his wake up call that there were better forms of employment, when he was thrown into the fourth row seats. He then took up construction work, employed by his uncle in Chicago.

With the money saved from a summer on construction sites, and a year in the USNR, he got an NROTC scholarship, and entered the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he studied electrical engineering. He lost his scholarship due to myopia, which meant he would not be able to take his passion started as a private pilot to the next stage, as a US Navy pilot. The Korean War was ramping up and wanting a little more room to decide than the draft, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1951, and became a radio relay repair instructor at Signal School Battalion, San Diego, CA.

Honorably discharged in 1954 after two meritorious promotions to sergeant, he sought and received a B.S. in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1957. He took a break between school and employment to drive his new VW Beetle from Chicago on the Al-Can, making it as far as Whitehorse, Canada, before October and having to turn south to visit his family in Spokane. By the start of the next year he was employed by General Telephone & Electronics (GTE).

With an interest in distant lands, spurred by books read as a youth, about adventure and travel, he took his first foreign assignment as a sales engineer for GTE in Havana, Cuba. He got to see Cuba before and after Fidel Castro took power, which then led to his next assignment for General Tel, moving from a base of operations that covered the Caribbean, to one that covered South America. First headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela, he moved to Quito, Ecuador, where he managed the installation of a number of telephone line projects throughout South America, and met his wife of 50 years.

After a six month traditional courtship, they married in 1962, and had their first son in 1964, and their second in 1967. From 1965 to 1966, as a Philco-Ford Corp Field Project Manager in the C & E  Division in Saigon, Rep. of Vietnam, out of Tan Son Nhut Airbase, he simultaneously supervised and directed three groups of contract installers and tech reps for three communications projects at various classified sites all over South Vietnam and Laos. He was a good hobby photographer and brought back not only photographic stills but also 8 mm and 16 mm news quality home movies of his travels in the Indochina countryside, while out on remote radio station installation operations with members of the US Army.

In 1966, he transferred to AMTRACO’s Saigon office and as their Industrial Dept. Manager, he headed the department including local and expatriate salesmen and technicians representing such accounts GE Power & Electronic products, GT&EI, Peerless Pumps, & York Boilers. He would experience the Tet Offensive by himself, but later that year he and his wife and two sons would observe the May Offensive of 1968, called “Little Tet”, after bringing them in from a year’s nearby stay in Singapore.

From 1972 to 1977, he was Kohler International’s Regional Director (Asia/Pacific Rim), headquartering the Kohler office in Singapore and coordinated and supported a network of distributors, trading companies and agents throughout the Far East, covering the full range of Kohler products, including, plumbing fixtures and  fittings, small cast iron commercial grade gasoline engines, and electric gensets. His area of operations went as far west as Iran, as far north as Korea, as far south as New Zealand, as far east as Hawaii.  Singapore was and still is the center of trade in Asia.

In 1977, with a love of the City by the Bay born out of his months as a student Marine at Navy Signal Battalion School at Treasure Island Naval Station during the Korean War, he brought his family to the San Francisco area. And after a decade in the microwave satellite communications field, as a sales application engineer, he returned to his professional roots in 1987, taking the role of Sales Manager at DCM, a producer of telephone cable testers. Working through a network of local sales reps worldwide and involving extensive travel, made many visits to China, Japan, Korea, Latin America and Europe.  During one of his sales trips, he was in a foot cast, which became a business card-like story that preceded him on his travels as he returned to China often to meet potential clients, who manufactured telephone cables for placement underwater, connecting land masses.

With much practical field experience in different cultures, and a polyglot since gaining fluency in French and German in high school and university, later adding Spanish, Vietnamese, Scots-Gaelic, Japanese and Chinese, he was well-suited for doing business in the world. He retired at the age of 79 from his position at DCM, in 2009.

Through his adventures he not only visited nations and encountered cultures that are now gone, but also met those famous literary heroes of his youth, such as buying a drink for Ernest Hemingway at La Florida bar in Havana, seeing John Steinbeck on the streets of Saigon during the Vietnam War. Even the paths of the notorious and controversial were crossed by this kid from Spokane, like Evita Peron’s exiled husband, Juan, in Peru in the late 1950s.

A gregarious man, he was a member of Theta Xi Fraternity, Marine Corps Assoc., the Masonic Lodge, Libertarian Party, Fully Informed Jury Assoc., and was a life member of National Rifle Assoc. and California Rifle and Pistol Assoc. He considered himself a Christian of non-denomination.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Just a Little Bit of Politeness and Self-Respect: Why I always answer emails...

Dinner with one of the nicest bestselling authors in the world: Joe Galloway. It doesn't take surviving the Ia Drang Valley to be polite these days...or, does it?
What is it with some bestselling authors? You put down your hard-earned money. You really enjoyed their book. You took time out from your life to share with the author your joy, how the book touched you, that you were overjoyed to have a literary adventure to just take a break with the content between those pages...and all you did was ask a nice little question about the new book they're coming out with, or how they arrived on a certain plot twist.

You click on the submit button...

And you wait...and you wait. And the self-absorbed author turns out to be a totally rude a-hole! Did you insult them? No.

Did you ask a question that's about to be answered in a PR released FAQ? No.

So what gives? Oh, yeah, the author is too damned busy to stay in touch with the very people who made him or her so successful in the traditional publishing world.

...Well, look out rude gals and guys, your days are numbered. Traditional publishing has been looking for the elephant graveyard for years, and with what has been happening in the world of ebooks and Kindle, traditional books might in the future be only found in used bookstores and libraries. In the meantime, saying hello and thank you to the fans is not that much time out of your writing schedule.

Remember that little thing called voice? Well, voice is part of an author's identity, and since it goes both ways, the identity of an author can color a fan's view of an author, especially in the world of the Internet--I smile politely and turn my head from rude people, don't you?

In the past, you could wonder what Ian Fleming must have sounded like, or seemed, in person based on a major magazine's interview of the famous book author. Or, you could possibly have felt a connection with an author interviewed on a radio or television show. That was enough for authors back then. Oprah took it to the bank. These days, if your name isn't John LeCarre or Frederick Forsyth, forget it!

The Internet, and the "official author website" has made it too easy for our fans to connect with us: the question is whether we respond appropriately. Sure there are glitches in software, where the email doesn't get through...

And it doesn't matter that we have newsletters and blogs. Yes, they're good for keeping the fan base up to date on the appearances, our special interests and upcoming books. Even sharing what we have to go through in the process of writing, marketing and selling books.

This is afterall a business. If we just wanted to write, we'd just type away on our computer, or crack open the diary and bleed onto the page.

As you can imagine I've interacted with a number of celebrities: they're always wondering if there's possibly a film idea with my next book, or something in my past that can be adapted to the screen. Some of them, like many of the paycheck writing producers they cower under, can be real self-centered little dweebs that make you wonder what did they think they did in their lives that earned them the right to look down on others as if they're owed something by their fans: they act like they earned a Medal of Honor for saving a division, though they only played a first or last name-only soldier character in a low budget film. You know who I'm talking about.

Then, there have been other film and TV actors, those who remember that respecting other people is a high level of self-respect, those like Gary Graham, Adam Baldwin, Michael Gregory, Patrick Kilpatrick, Kenn Scott, and Tim Abell, and, of course the dearly departed Charleton Heston, who not only put his actions behind his words, but also was kind enough to a neophyte book author, to write a nice little plug for the open of my Vietnam prison/Captain Kidd treasure hunting memoir, The Bamboo Chest. What applies to them, is what applies to anyone in the public eye.

If you want to keep your readers and you want them to recommend you to the uninitiated, then responding to an email is definitely worth a few minutes of your time...

It's also common courtesy--just being polite and in my book, in this time of increased rudeness as everyone goes about their lives as if they're alone (or they were just not taught how to treat other people with respect, which can be an indicator of self-respect), being polite and sharing common courtesy goes a long way!

And while I'm at, I want to share with you my most heartfelt words of appreciation for reading my books--THANK YOU.

...I'd never have gotten here without you!

Monday, May 02, 2011

New 2nd Edition of Bamboo Chest and return to Blogger

Well, we've been away from, since they no longer let us control our ads. But, now with the new format, we'll give it a try again. Been heavily on articles at and

And real news is that a new 2n Edition of Bamboo Chest is now available on Amazon Kindle! Yep, that might be what save book publishing and I'm working on being at the head of the wave, instead of the back end. You can expect a number of new books this year. In the next couple months, we'll be releasing my first political intrigue novel. Until then, check out the NEW BAMBOO CHEST

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Blogger has decided to stop supporting FTP capability for bloggers to post columns to blogger scripts and directories residing locally at non-Blogger servers, i.e. So, I will be starting a new blog to continue the Cork Blog, it just will be on wordpress locally at .

If you've come to this page, which will be the last post on the Blogger script/FTP, just click on the following link to take you to the index page at and then click on the "Cork Blog" link and you'll be taken to the latest in manifestation.

See you there!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where Were You During Loma Prieta: Oct. 17, 1989?

The day had been warm and it was October, known as earthquake season. Other than that, there wasn’t much to think about than the sun was bright and I would be afforded a nice motorcycle ride on a pleasant day. There wasn’t anything to indicate this would be one of the worst afternoons in San Francisco history.

At 5:04 p.m. I was on my motorcycle having just left Bair Island Storage on the east side of 101 in Redwood City (a parking lot and defunct Century Park 12 are there now) when all hell broke loose. Only the day before I had adjusted the chain on my Yamaha 400 and thought I had done something wrong. Both wheels vibrated as though ready to fly off!

Pulling to the side, I leaned the motorcycle left and right to see what was loose. The wheels were solidly attached. If I wasn’t wearing a helmet (in those days you didn’t have to wear one) I’d probably have been scratching my head. That’s when I looked up to see the line of street lamps swinging back and forth like metronomes—I had just experienced an earthquake, and a big one at that!

To my left, all the cars that had been speeding along on HWY 101 were pulled to the side of the road. People were out of their cars and talking, stunned looks on their faces. I drove to Belmont to check on my parents and then headed up to San Francisco to check on my girlfriend. All was good, and then I got a call from my Emmy and Edward R. Murrow-winning camera buddy, Mark Eveslage.

His producer needed someone with a motorcycle to run tapes between the shooting locations and the KRON affiliate for NBC on Van Ness. I wasn’t too interested; I was only in San Francisco as a break from the war in Central America. But, then they told me how much I’d get paid.

In minutes I was on my Yamaha and lane-splitting through non-stop, stop-and-go traffic from Milbrae to San Francisco: people trying to get to San Francisco from work, trying to get past bridges that closed, like the Bay Bridge whose top section had dropped. I made it in record time and expected to start running tapes immediately.

Instead, the producer said, as I followed him through the darkened halls of KRON that yet had to be lit by the KRON generators, “Get out of the city and get us food: chips, sodas, anything you can get at a 7-11.” San Francisco was wrapped in an electrical blackout.

As I made my way carefully down dark halls, I noticed Jerry Graham. Before Doug McConnell hosted “Bay Area Backroads” for 15 years, there was Jerry Graham, a KSAN general manager who started the show by travelling the state with a cameraman capturing the fun places to visit in California. Never did my parents miss an episode…plus he was a fellow Graham, and you know how the Scots are about clan names.

So, even though I had as a photojournalist in Southeast Asia and Central America met kings, sultans, presidents and generals, seeing a family mainstay kind of hit me with awe…until I heard an NBC employee make a snide remark that made me chuckle with the others who had heard: “You better start looking for a job!”

A bit of morbid humor, more than a comment about Graham’s employability, I probably would have enjoyed it more if the comment wasn’t so illustrated by the day’s events on the monitors in the newsrooms. The San Francisco Bay and Monterey area had been pummeled. A gunshot sounded out toward the Tenderloin, punctuating the thought. With lights out in the city, the looting had started.

As I left, the electric generators started running and KRON looked more like a jungle firebase I’d have seen back in El Salvador, a lone white-walled fort illuminated in the night.

A quick drive down to San Bruno to fill up on food and gas and I was back in San Francisco. As I unloaded the goodies for the crew, I noticed an Asian man in his early 30s who introduced himself as Steve Sung. What caught my eye what I’d seen too many times in the war zones.

With a nod toward the long, indented scar up along his arm, I asked “Where’d you get that?”

“I was an audio tech at Jonestown,” he said.

I recalled the massacre, the Kool-Aid suicide, and the reporters hitting the deck as gunmen ambushed the US delegation and them at the airfield. One of those killed was SF Examiner photographer Greg Robinson, after whom a darkroom and scholarship would be named at our alma mater, San Francisco State University.

While Sung and I traded stories about covering gunfire, first NBC reporter Bob Jamieson arrived, then Bob Dotson, and finally Tom Brokaw. It’s funny how world events suddenly seem to take on a whole new aura, an imagined stamp of greater importance, when national TV news reporters arrive.

Dotson is probably one of the nicest guys you’ll meet in the media; Jamieson had some interesting things to say about baseball, especially to the baby-faced kid I was then; and Brokaw didn’t look like he wanted to be there at all. Frankly, I, too, would have preferred to be in LA at a tennis match with family instead of joining in on what I would later learn was the “Media Zoo.”

Introductions passed around, the reporters moved on to their reporting, and I went onto shuffling producers, assistant producers and tapes back and forth between the Marina and KRON.

It was pretty easy work, actually one of the first duties I got paid for in El Salvador as I made extra cash as a translator and gofer for visiting networks in San Salvador. The producers in San Francisco, though, didn’t like the speed with which I flew along Franklin to get them to the Marina the first time. I was just back in Salvador mode where you didn’t stop at lights, red light nor not, else the banditos and FMLN guerrillas carjacked you.

One producer, who was only memorable for his blond flattop and constant scowl, really got on my nerves. I got a kick out making him squirm with my lead foot on the gas pedal. A little fun until I saw what has happening at the Marina. Night battles in Central America couldn’t have been more lit!

Water was everywhere. Flames were everywhere the water wasn’t. As if in a dance in the Infierno, were the shadows and silhouettes of firemen doing their best keep the fire at bay. When you see a city block ablaze in San Francisco it leaves an impression!

By morning the San Francisco Fire Department had pretty much conquered the fire, and I signed for a stack of $50 bills from NBC. On the way south on 101 I noticed the trailer for my previous employer in El Salvador, the Associated Press. I stopped in and was immediately reminded why I had gotten fed up with being a photojournalist. “I want fires, blood, bodies—if it bleeds it leads!” the AP bureau chief said, like so many other before him.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll see what I can do.” Even though I strung for them out of Bangkok and San Salvador, I couldn’t get a press card from them in time here in San Francisco.

So, what did I do? I made one—pretty official with the blaze orange tape and laminated. It was amazing what a laminated card could get you a pass to during the pre-1990s computerized, holographic identification card.

With camera bag across my chest, I rode my motorcycle to where most of the deaths had occurred. Tom Brokaw was already standing in front of a camera with mic in hand. And beyond him stretched a caravan of other networks. Dan Rather made his way across to the CBS motorhomes.

As the Oakland cop checked out the press credential—one thing you learn through having to use forged documents in foreign countries, in very dangerous places, is that it’s all about attitude. I’d been in enough successful events to act properly: a nod of thank you and pleasant smile as you pass.

That’s when it really hit me how much of a journalism zoo the Bay Area had become. Frankly it turned my stomach—almost as much as when I decided to stop covering the war in Central America because of the inaccuracy of reportage I was seeing, and how everyone went around on “media safaris” in their cute little white vans and the letters “TV” taped on the side.

Sure, I followed along on the guide tour setup by the Oakland Police Department. They didn’t want anyone climbing and getting up close to the crushed bodies that still had to be removed from the structure above. Plus, it was perilous enough standing under the overpass that still supported not only the crushed vehicles and bodies, but also the tons of upper-level structure.

After only a few shots, after nearly seven years in combat photography in Southeast Asia and Central America, I took a break and asked a man sitting on a pile of large rubble if I could share the bench. There’s a stat running around the journalism field that says the average life expectancy of a majority of journalists is age 30, and then it’s off to PR or advertising for some big corporation or city. That day as I sat there thinking, I realized I had beat that by seven years, having started as an 18-year-old in Thailand—I was truly done…

Introducing myself to the man who shared the rubble with me, I learned he was Dr. Williams from Colorado. His trade was psychology. A Vietnam veteran who not only worked with fellow veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he had volunteered to assist first response emergency teams pulling the dead and wounded deal with the emotional and psychological impact of their experience.

As we talked about the symptoms of PTSD, I realized that while I had done the work needed to heal the traumatic childhood memories of living in Saigon during some of the worst events of the Vietnam War, later described in my 2004 Topseller, The Bamboo Chest, I had added new events during my years in Central America from 1985 to 1989 that had caused subconscious responses easily labeled PTSD. Leaving Oakland with exposed film I didn’t even take to the makeshift AP bureau office for developing, I went home.

Within six months I had broken off an engagement from my girlfriend who had become my fiancé. Within two days of the final blows of separation, I was in a VW van, packed with books, rifle, shotgun and fishing rods and headed north along the AlCan. And within nine days of that I was moving into a cabin overlooking dramatic and healing beauty of Cook Inlet and Mount Redoubt in Alaska.

I arrived to write the first draft of my first memoir and work on the psychological effects from my combat experiences in Central America, soon to be captured in my next memoir my agent is preparing to take ‘round the publishing houses in New York.