Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


“Overwhelming evidence” that Russia interfered in the US election

There should not be any bigger story now than this one. Talk of Carrier or tax cuts or what the president-elect is tweeting? All inconsequential nonsense compared to the finding, unanimous amid 17 intelligence agencies, that Russia interfered in the US Presidential election.

Trump has been briefed to this effect…

“The fact is…Joe…that, um, seventeen, or all seventeen of our intelligence agencies have said, without a doubt, Russia was involved with trying to interfere, and interfering with the 2016 presidential election.” —Elijah Cummings, Ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


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Expressing gratitude on the first anniversary of my novel’s publication

Today marks one year since the publication of my novel, The Fugue. I have so many reasons to express gratitude. Thank you  to my readers, to the many people who visit Liquid Ink religiously, especially those who share my writing with others. I’m just humbled to think that my writing has reached so many people in such a short time.

I’ve received notes from readers enjoying the book as far away from Chicago as Madagascar, Seychelles, Sydney and various parts of Europe. In November of 2014, before I agreed to terms, I had labeled the book a failure. Set aside, it had been collecting dust since I had finished it in 2006.

The story of how my book got published has been a topic about as interesting as the book itself. After my original publisher went out of business, the book got dumped, only to be picked up in less than 24 Hours by Tortoise Books. In short, it has been a roller coaster.

Prior to it getting published—prior to newspapers like the Chicago Tribune calling it “magisterial” and comparing it to Dostoevsky; prior to Rick Kogan glowing about it on WGN Radio, comparing it to the likes of Stuart Dybek and Nelson Algren; prior to it becoming a finalist for a Book of the Year Award—The Fugue had been rejected for being “too long” and “too focused on a community unknown to most readers.” It had been called inaccessible, convoluted and unreadable. I had been told to think more carefully about what actual American readers wanted to enjoy, and had my attention drawn to books about 5th Avenue shopping culture and immature divorce stories. I was asked to stop fantasizing about becoming one of my favorite writers, authors “no one reads anymore” and to write something snappy and original. People told me no one had any interest in long novels; that year, a pile of 110,000 word debut novels had been released.

Of course, now I stand in bookstores selling my novel, talking to readers, and I see how often books the size of lunchboxes are purchased. Two of the last three times I had a book-selling event, I sold out of the copies I had brought.

The moral of the story for writers, or for anyone pursuing an ambition against odds, is never to give up, no matter how many times you’re rejected, how many times you’re told there’s no interest in you. The most important lesson I learned while getting my MFA was that criticism revealed much more about the critic than the critiqued. That lesson keeps me soldiering on. It’s universally true.

Interested parties should know that I’m almost done with another manuscript. You’ll have something new to read soon, hopefully.

Thank you for accepting, reading, sharing and talking about my work.  You’re all the best.

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Books: a threat to fascists

Two American classics, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, are again under assault. People have been calling for bans on these books since they were first printed.

Generally, two reasons explain why someone tries to ban a book. The first is the person’s ignorance of the book’s message. The second is that the person understands the message but fears it. In this case, both reasons might apply.

My purpose isn’t to advertise the name of the woman who called for the books’ ban or to draw attention to the school district temporarily and foolishly banning the books when they know exactly what they’re about. Interested readers can easily find this information. I’m here to counterpunch. An assault on any book, from the Bible to The Anarchist’s Cookbook, is an assault on all books. It contributes to America’s ever-growing anti-intellectualism and adulation of ignorance, which is often conflated as concern over someone’s emotions.

The worried mother claims the n-bombs in Twain and Lee disturb her biracial teenage son. Of course, instead of asking her son to be excused from reading, she wants the books removed completely. Her rationale: “I’m not disputing this is great literature. But there is so much (sic) racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.”

Claiming offensive language interferes with whatever the books are saying is, in fact, a dispute of the books’ greatness. She either hasn’t read or misunderstands Lee and Twain. Her concern for a divided nation is transparent; because her boy finds the books offensive, she feels the rest of the school should as well.

Ironically, both these books provoke discussion about the nature of equality and unity. Curiously, the woman uses the same critique employed by people who fear what ideas these books might provoke.

These books should be difficult for any boy, biracial or otherwise. Great books slap us silly, shake us up and kick us. If the woman could “get past” the offensive word, one that should offend us in 2016, and battle through what violence children witness in the narratives (Huck’s dad is an abusive drunk, for example, and Scout haphazardly stops a lynch mob from murdering Tom Robinson), she could stumble into seeing that both Twain and Lee littered their books with n-bombs, in 1884 and 1960, respectively, while essentially arguing that black lives matter.

In short, these books agree that the biracial boy should be offended not only by words but by his society. Another lesson is that Twain and Lee are also provoking his Caucasian peers to see the consequences of racism.

That’s among the many reasons these books are part of our canon, and also why people have feared Twain and Lee’s critiques for as long as the books have existed.

*     *     *

Literature has always been a threat to those fascists who want to bait us into hating each other. They know it’s a remedy to growing inequality and division. I’ve met very few people who consumed it in large quantities but came away hateful, afraid of their fellow man.

Having consumed it in large quantities myself, I’ve learned it radical in 1884 to claim black people were human beings deserving of equal rights, just as it was radical to make the claim in 1960, and it obviously remains radical today. If not, it should offend no one to hear the phrase black lives matter. People should hear it and think, “Yeah, no shit.”

Despite my life in letters, I know far more Americans who see no use for literature. So many  believe individual words are more offensive than the act of banning them. These people are everywhere; I’ve found them in HR offices and among the administrators in schools. Our president-elect has no use for literature, just as most of his supporters seem to care little for it. Forget about great books—sketch comedy offends them.

People fear books because they want their flawed ideas and hatred either justified or hidden while they get to control the narrative. That has been the only reason books have ever been hated and burned, the only reason their makers are demonized as unpatriotic and brought out to face firing squads.

Of course, my critics will point out that this woman has the best intentions. She’s a leftist who wants a safe space for her kid, and she’s trying to protect him from racism. That misses the point. Her impulse might be to protect her boy, and she’s right to find the word offensive. But right beside this affront is an impulse to make everyone do as she likes.

It’s exactly the impulse of someone who has either read too few books or failed to gain their most important lessons.

 

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Photo, book burning, from Wikipedia.

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. –Harper Lee


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An artist you should know: Susan Sensemann

Susan Sensemann is a member of my Zen center. She’s a skilled visual artist whose photography, painting and drawing prove intricate and powerful. I find her self-portraits particularly provocative.

If you’ve not heard of this artist, take a look at her work here. Here are some examples of her work.

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This week in American discourse (2)

Here are some points I’ve either read or heard made over the course of the past days by my fellow citizens. These have been edited for clarity, respectability and brevity.

Social Media

1.) I’m not a racist at all, but I think they make good leaders.

2.) The biggest racists are the ones who call me a racist every time I say something racist.

3.) The left created Trump because they called his followers racists. Racists are tired of having their ethos revealed to them.

4.) We really need to show more empathy to Nazis, otherwise we’ll never convince them that democracy makes sense.

Overheard

1.) I’m sick of environmentalists, so I’m not going to ride the public transit anymore. The only thing they care about is the environment.

2.) It’s time to get rid of the Bill of Rights. If we don’t, pretty soon there’s going to be a lot more educated people. They’ll outnumber us. That’s unfair.

3.) It’s really dangerous to put so many sex books in our schools. It would be a lot better for kids if they used books they really enjoy, like Hunger Games and The Game of Thrones.

4.) If we leave education up to the teachers, they’re going to teach kids how to discriminate against their family and leaders.

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This Podcast Will Change Your Life

I was fortunate to be invited to speak to Ben Tanzer on This Podcast Will Change Your Life. We discuss, among other things, men’s issues, marriage, The Fugue, Robert Duffer, Finding the Moon in Sugar, Robert Duffer, The Good Men Project, Tortoise Books, coping mechanisms, refugees, trauma, meditation, forming an identity, migration patterns and much more.

Give it a listen! Click here.

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Photo of me with Ben Tanzer courtesy of This Podcast Will Change Your Life.


The American press is in a fix

The American press, and to a smaller extent the whole of the Western press, finds itself in what’s almost a double bind.

I have no doubt that Donald Trump is afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you don’t know what that is, you need to read this Medium post composed by N Ziehl. American journalists are not equipped to cover a narcissist. They’d struggle to cover a narcissistic manager of a Jiffy Lube, but a President of the United States afflicted with NPD ruins a journalist’s methods.

Like most professionals, individual journalists are not trained to deal with a narcissist’s constantly shifting truth, false reality and gaslighting. (Gaslighting is a really important concept. Everyone needs to learn what it is and how it works, because Trump keeps doing it.) They are trained to deal with liars and evasion tactics, but when it comes to uncovering truth or meaning, they try to connect dots logically, to search for rational motivations and a reasonable relationship between actions and thoughts. None of that is available in a narcissist’s behavior.

Like most organizations, media companies are not armed with the assumptions necessary to tell an accurate story about a narcissist president—newsrooms assume there is always more than one take on a story, more than one angle and interpretation. The highest forms of essay writing focus on nuance. With a narcissist, there is only one story, and it has neither a flip side nor an alternative take, no nuance at all. The story of the narcissist is that he lives in his own grandiose reality, motivated entirely by self-gain and others’ adulation, unable to feel empathy for anyone. Stories about narcissists can either point out the narcissism or they can enable it. There is no gray area, so forget about nuance.

Quite obviously, journalists have to quote the words the president utters, then attempt all sorts of interpretations when applicable, present the slant they’re after. The problem is that a narcissist’s words are meaningless; the reason they’re shocking is because they don’t represent reality. He wants our adoration, and if he can’t get it, he’ll distract us by threatening our safety or by actually putting us in harm’s way. If we find ourselves identifying his tricks, he’ll burn down the neighbor’s garage and force us all to rush over with buckets. Most of us care about our neighbors. He cares about himself.

***

Now, here’s the double bind.

In America, the problem around telling this story lies also in the way newspapers create revenue streams. Revenue has always been tied to circulation and the size of an audience; obviously, the bigger, the better. Unlike in decades past, when print companies depended at least partially on their brand and their mission to sell a whole paper with advertisements inside, now they depend much more often on individual stories or topics that get shared by readers. The biggest story right now is Trump’s insanity and the threat it poses civilization. It’s dopamine, and media companies know it because they’ve been riding it now for almost two years.

The American press has to change the way it covers the president. Unfortunately, doing so threatens their bottom line.

I still think news companies can generate revenue and get clicks by writing about Trump’s professional enablers…essentially the rest of the federal government. Attention, or the lack of it, is the most potent weapon we can employ against a narcissist. Because they need it, they’ll throw tantrums, insult people, contradict themselves, threaten us with prison, make deals with our enemies, etc. If they perceive it going elsewhere, they become crazed with jealousy and make irredeemable mistakes.

It’s accurate to report that the Republican Party is enabling and attempting to benefit from a narcissist, just as it’s accurate to report that Twitter is enabling a narcissist. This is the brutal truth of the matter. Those who benefit from the narcissist—specifically, those who figure out a way to increase their political power or their profits by blowing sunshine up Trump’s ass—need to be investigated and exposed by the press. It’ll drive him nuts to know someone else is getting more air time, and it should still provide the American public the dopamine it needs to keep on clicking.

It is also not inaccurate, and hardly a disservice, to teach the American reading public about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It used to be that the quiet kid in class was the only one who knew about it. Now we’re all in the same ship because we decided to put one in the Oval Office.

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Picture of “Ugly Building” from Wikipedia.