Liquid Ink

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


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At the Bloghop!

I’ve been asked by fel­low author, Nancy Agabian, to par­tic­i­pate in a Blog Hop in order to intro­duce new authors to new read­ers. If you’ve come here from the link posted on Nancy’s blog, wel­come! If you’re a regular Liquid Inker or came upon my blog by chance, this is an oppor­tu­nity for you to get know some­thing about the memoir I am work­ing on and to check out some writ­ers who might be new to you by fol­low­ing the links at the end of the post. They are all fine authors whose work I would highly rec­om­mend. Again, spe­cial thanks to Nancy Agabian for ask­ing me to participate.

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Ten Inter­view Ques­tions for The Next Great Read

Q: What is the work­ing title of your book?
A: Ghetto Blueblood

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A: I published an essay titled Baptism Party in Antique Children’s Revolt of the Underdog issue. Another contributor, Rene Vasicek, told me I should expand it to a memoir. Then another writer, Daiva Markelis, told me to expand it into a memoir. Later on, a fan of my writing, someone who’s been following my work since before I published my first story, told me I should expand it into a memoir. I finally took the advice seriously.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Non-fiction (memoir)

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your char­ac­ters in a movie ren­di­tion?
A: I myself should be played by a rock star, preferably a resurrected one, maybe Kurt Cobain. My brother should be played by a young Arunas Storpirštis. The rest of the cast should be made up of Russian, Lithuanian, English and American actors currently in drama school.

Q: What is the one-sentence syn­op­sis of your book?
A: PTSD isn’t as bad as the trauma that caused it, but you won’t know it without getting PTSD.

Q: Will your book be self-published or rep­re­sented by an agency?
A: I have no way of predicting this. Just the other day I ordered a pizza and it came to my neighbor’s house. In the meantime, a young girl came to my door asking if I’d like to subscribe to some strange local newspaper advertising pizza delivery.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your man­u­script?
A: I have yet to complete the first draft. I actually haven’t finished a draft of the first chapter. Ha!

Q: What other books would you com­pare this story to within your genre?
A: It’s a mix of influences, so I’ll use them to answer this question, even though comparing myself to these masters is idiotic. I can’t believe I’m doing this: Paul Auster’s Hand to Mouth, A Chronicle of Early Failure. Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (He claims it’s a novel, but that’s BS). Capote’s Music for Chameleons.

Q: Who or What inspired you to write this book?
A: I was diagnosed with PTSD a short time after my daughter was born. Anyone who has the condition (or anyone close to someone with the condition) will tell you how dramatically everything changes; life becomes a 3D (truly terrifying) horror film, and one cannot tell between dream states and their alternative. I don’t want to get into the vile symptoms here. Writing through it, even gibberish, helped. I also started treating it naturally, doing yoga and practicing Zen. A completed memoir will crown my victory over PTSD, as there was a time when I had lost any ability to read and could barely write anything beyond crude e-mail messages.

Q: What else about your book might piqué the reader’s inter­est?
A: I have a way of telling stories about the lower-middle class and the American underclass that’s extremely rare, primarily because my perspective is international, but also because I don’t pity the poor or the destitute. I don’t pity any human experience. As a student of zen, I try to reveal what’s before me, just as it is.

Here are the writ­ers whose work you can check out next:


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An Artist You Should Know: Eglė Kuckaitė (Kucka)

Eglė Kuckaitė is among the most inspiring people I’ve ever known. She has extraordinary energy, and conversations with her are like conversations with some mythical seer. She and I first met in 1996 when I was living in Vilnius; for a while we shared the same apartment with 3 other crazies. I knew back then that she would grow to become a special artist. Her vision is incomparable: a blend of darkness and whimsy, bleakness and euphoria. If you ever have a chance to see any of her live exhibits, as her reputation is now international, do not miss the chance.

Vote for Eglė here.


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Should I Hang This on My Office Door?

I’m seriously thinking of hanging this on my office door at the community college:

Frequently Asked Office Hour Questions:

1.) Is there anything I can do to pass this class?

Yes. You can meet the requirements and demonstrate that you’ve gained the necessary skills.

2.) Can I do any extra credit?

I have no idea. All I can tell you is that people who are passing the class never ask this question.

3.) Can you help me? I will lose my financial aid if I fail this class.

I can, yes. You should follow the syllabus, meet the requirements and demonstrate that you’ve gained the necessary skill. Then you’ll pass and get to keep your financial aid.

4.) Is there any way I can make up work I missed?

You’ve been making things up for years. Everything you’ve handed in to me has been a work of outside art.

5.) I don’t have time to do the homework. What should I do?

*confused professor staring into dead space and foaming at the mouth*

6.) Why don’t you teach your class the way everyone else does?

I base all my lessons on Tom Waits songs.

7.) Can I go back and fix all my mistakes?

All of them? Sure.

8.) I don’t like reading books. What should I do?

Read lips.

9.) Can you make a special test for me?

All the tests I write are special.

10.) Am I going to need this when I graduate?

No one has ever needed this. On occasion, I meet people who want it.

 


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Creativity and Mental illness

I was very pleased to read this article from the BBC news, the headline: Creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness’. It suggests rethinking how we view illnesses, as some traits of mental illness are desirable. I actually believe that sometimes they’re flat-out enviable. I have in mind how Michael Burry’s Asperger’s syndrome left him obsessed with research and analysis of market data that, combined with some courage and guts, left him enormously wealthy.

I am not comparing myself to Burry, except to say that I have traits people consider problematic. When people find out I have PTSD, and when they hear  stories about my childhood, they make striking conclusions. The most common are “You’re too sensitive,” and “You’re too intelligent” followed by “You think too much.” When I face those comments, I might actually surge with rage on the inside. But I’ll claim to agree: “You’re probably right.”

Am I thinking too much? Am I guilty of hyperbole when I put those dots together and come up with this: “If you were dumber, less insightful and a bigger asshole, you woudn’t be suffering from an anxiety disorder.”

Is there any other conclusion? Could this realization be why writers, if the article is correct, are twice as likely to commit suicide?


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Luck vs. Intelligence, part II

Having reviewed the mid-term essays written by my English 102 sections, I’ve discovered more curious assumptions to add to the previous post. These do modulate from the luck vs. intelligence question. However, they reveal quite a bit about why some students just can’t learn at the college level, in a community college or elsewhere.

(continuing from previous post)

6.) You’re lucky if you make a decision to improve your life. If you choose not to improve your life, it’s because you’re unlucky.

7.) People learn things when you teach them.

8) It is impossible to look at the world from any point of view other than your own.

9) Environments generally adapt to an individual’s needs.

10 [to expand] An individual has no need to adapt to an enviroment and, therefore, should not worry about changing bad habits. People will accept you.

11 No one believes that learning is fun.

12) I am an acceptable representation of most people.

13) I can ignore evidence when it does not fit my beliefs.

14) You should only be taught things you already know (because that makes you more comfortable and improves your grade).

15) It’s always ineffective to teach someone something in a way that makes them uncomfortable and confused.

16) I should not have to search for information on my own. It should be presetned to me so that I could use it to solve a problem.

17) Most employers give you a clear list of instructions and explanations, and there’s always someone at work who knows that the answer is.

The most baffling one for me is #8. There’s evidence everywhere that this is simply absurd, and I’ve been consistently providing the students with data that contradicts that point wildly. Number 9 is a very common belief among students who make no habit of reading. I’d explain #14 by drawing our attention to virtually any politician; however, these students pay virtually no attention to the political process. Those political behaviors, if it isn’t obvious, just reflect our culture.


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Luck vs. Intelligence

I had a curious experience this week at the college. It illuminates assumptions my students have about learning.

I’ve assigned The Big Short to my sections of English 102 (it’s an intro to research class). Most of the students who refused to read it have either dropped the class or no longer attend. The rest, about 60% of the originally registered, fall somewhere between the few students who are able to engage a decent discussion of the material to the rest who find the book impenetrable. That second group really offered me interesting items in recent essays.

I asked a question regarding luck vs. intelligence. Two of the figures in the book (Ledley and Mai), young men who shorted the CDO market in the middle of the last decade, describe themselves as lucky even though they do very intelligent things. They research the markets. They seek the help of folks (whom they perceive to be) more knowledgable than themselves. They actively seek out people who might offer them an opposite point of view to their own and, when they are unable to find any, conclude that they must be right about what they have learned.

Most students considered them to be primarily lucky. They ignored their actions and focussed on their descriptions of themselves. After all, these men must be self-aware. They’re rich!

Students also revealed striking assumptions about how one acquired knowledge. Some of them:

1.) There are two groups of people. One group knows things. The other group does not. If you exist in the second, you cannot move to the first. (This despite all the evidence in the book to the contrary!)

2.) You’re lucky if you know things and unlucky if you don’t.

3.) If you have someone who can help you, you’re lucky. If you ask them for help, you’re even more lucky.

4.) It’s not fraud if it takes someone time to figure out they’ve been tricked. Fraud only occurs when the person who’s been tricked figures it out right away.

5.)It’s normal to get tricked. Therefore, it’s not fraud.

6.) You’re lucky if you make a decision to improve your life. If you choose not to improve your life, it’s because you’re unlucky.

There are others but they’re complicated and would require me to deal too deeply with the reading material here. The ones I’ve listed, I think, are already shocking. While they help me understand why some percentage of my community college students look at learning as a hopeless endeavor, they don’t help me understand how these lessons have been formed. You’d assume students understand that they once did not know how to drive but eventually learned. It had something to do with luck, I suppose—you must, for example, have access to cars and education. But you must still start from a position of ignorance. You were not born knowing how to drive.

The assumption that you’re supposed to have already understood everything when you begin the lesson must come—I’m guessing—from the drill and repeat and review structure of their high school classes. If this is not true, I’m at a total loss. It really pains me to think that students believe they should already know how to do the things their college classes are teaching them and how horrible it must feel when they realize how unlucky they are.