Liquid Ink

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

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A good office chair?

I’ve decided that I finally need a good office chair. But I have no idea where to begin looking for one. All my life I have been writing from whichever chair was available, and I have never gone out to look for something that might improve my health. I realize this is probably an important thing now, especially given what yoga is teaching me about my body.

So, writers, any recommendations? Post in the comments or send me e-mail messages.

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Summer Literary Seminars, Vilnius

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be participating as a lecturer and faculty in-residence at the SLS (Summer Literary Seminar) this upcoming July and August in Vilnius, Lithuania.

I’m scheduled to give two lectures. While I do not yet know what I will be talking about (the phrase assumes there are times I know what I’m talking about, but whatever), you can bet that I’ll have a curious take on Lithuanian identity, and what an English-speaking writer or artist might have to gain from a visit to one of the most fascinating cities in Europe, a source of tremendous inspiration for me personally. That this seminar is taking place in Vilnius is a testament to the organizers’ wisdom. I can’t think of a better place to discuss the state of contemporary letters; looking over the list of faculty lined up for the SLS, I know participants will be engaged and provoked in ways to rival or surpass any literary seminar. The nightly parties at ŠMC will be beyond what anyone is prepared to handle.

If you stumbled upon this post while searching for a literary seminar to attend, I hope you’ll click on the links and look very seriously at SLS. I have not looked forward to something with this much energy in a very long time.



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Who’s a turkey now?

As it turned out, no one stole my turkey. No one even paid it any attention. The turkey, substantially smaller than a Volkswagen (it was actually rather turkey-sized) had been on my porch for four days, tucked away safely into the seat of a baby stroller we keep out there.

Shortly after posting my last blog entry, I started to think that things were not adding up. My friends, Inga and Rimas, read the entry and asked themselves the same question I was asking: If you’re going to steal something from my porch, why not steal the $400 stroller? Why steal the $20 turkey? Things were not adding up. However, thieves are not logicians, so I thought perhaps food was more important than a stroller. Perhaps this thief, desperate for dinner, did not imagine transforming a stroller into enough turkey to feed an orphanage.

Apparently, I did not listen to a very important voice mail message which had detailed the turkey’s whereabouts.  I simply deleted the message, thinking I had all the information I already needed—how complex can this exchange be? I had checked the porch (in the dark). I had contacted Rimas to be sure he had been the one who rang at the critical hour. With no turkey on the porch, and no one who knew where it could be, there was only one conclusion: theft. Frozen turkeys do not disappear on their own, and they certainly do not rise from the dead.

Well, I came home last night to embarrassing news. My wife had found the turkey. It was in the stroller.

Now the lesson becomes even more fascinating. I must add my own delusion: I truly did believe, falsely but ever-so-strongly, that the turkey had been stolen. And my gentle elation in that moment was real, a result of loving-kindness for an imaginary thief. In fact, my elation continues to be so strong that I am thinking of where to donate this turkey.

But how fascinating. I had started out with no turkey. Prior to Inga’s phone call, I had not even the ambition for turkey. In the wake of her call, I was imagining a turkey to take up my entire oven leaving no room for even one potato. Then an actual turkey arrived and transformed into a daydream, a construct, a work of fiction complete with villains. I thought I was truly experiencing it. In that way, I truly *was* experiencing it, just as I experience all the constructs of my daily living. Now that the turkey has “appeared” and rests safely in my freezer (where I have more than enough room for bags of spinach and autumn herbs), I can meditate on the turkey’s emptiness. The lesson is suddenly clearer than it would have been had I greeted Rimas at the door and thanked him for the turkey.

In the meantime, I must be mindful to pay close attention to the messages people leave me.



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Stealing Turkeys: a Zen perspective

I had a turkey stolen off my porch this weekend.

My friend, Inga, had called me several weeks ago to ask if I wanted a “…turkey the size of a Volkswagen.” I said that yes, I wanted it (even though I don’t have room for it in my freezer).

Her husband decided to drop it off this past Saturday. He had tried to get in touch with me but I had left my phone out of audible distance. I was putting my son to bed in a dark house when my daughter came up and said, “Dad, there was someone making ding dong.” (She’s three.)

I had not heard the doorbell.  I don’t ever dispute my daughter’s claims about reality (Even when she’s telling me that giraffes are getting haircuts in our yard, I see them myself) and went out to see if some solicitors or preachers were out in the dark street. I saw no one and figured kids had been out selling chocolates for their schools. Our neighborhood sees them very often and they move quickly.

Apparently, in the time between my friend dropping this turkey off (one that had been the size of a Volkswagen) and the time it had taken me to come out on the porch—this could not have been more than twenty minutes—the turkey disappeared. There is no animal (besides a person) in our community who could take a turkey this size, certainly not a frozen one.

Prior to having started my Zen practice, I would have been furious and depressed. I would have blamed myself for not hearing the doorbell, and I would have been calling my friend with every possible apology. Amazingly, I don’t feel this way, not in the least. I actually feel a gentle elation.

I do not need a turkey. I will only have two visitors this Thanksgiving and they, Europeans, would rather eat fish. My plan was to smoke the turkey with a friend and then to divide it up among people. It seems I won’t need to do the work. The turkey found someone all on its own, someone who is needy or does not have the will to buy or shoot one. Perhaps it was someone who could buy his own turkey but now feels jubilation, a score! These fools left a turkey on their porch! Idiots! It’s mine!

I am sincerely happy for this person. I really do hope the bird feeds a large number of people. I hope the person who prepares it does it with care and interest, and I hope the person who took it feels the freedom to tell everyone at their table how thankful he is that a tukey had been waiting for him on a stranger’s porch.

It had never been my turkey. This experience makes it clear. No turkey is ever ours. I’m so thankful to be able to see this with clarity and peace.

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My NFL (Chicago Bear) Addiction

Recently, I’ve come to realize that my relationship to Chicago Bears’ games is troublesome. I wrote about it for The Good Men Project. You can read the article, titled “Five Bothersome Things About the NFL”, here.

The article is the first one contributed to The Good Men Project by our new Sports Editor, Liam Day. Follow him on Twitter @LiamDay7 for updates on more posts like this.


It finally happened…

I wondered if it ever would—today is the day. Students routinely come to class without having completed reading assignments, often really short, almost symbolic ones. But today an entire class of college students came without a single one having completed this week’s writing assignment.

I came prepared to lead a revision workshop. I was prepared for some percentage of the students to come without anything to revise. I use to collect essays, and only five minutes before class was to begin not one student had turned anything in. I gave them a long break (it’s a three hour discussion/lecture that meets Wednesdays) thinking that some of them would sneak to a computer. Nothing. Two students left the class to take phone calls. Two others left before the class was finished.

I didn’t bother enforcing any of my telephone rules. As for the essays, I played along without ever mentioning them. I taught a workshop on flawed assumptions, and we reviewed a paper that makes serious errors. And that was it. I told them their revisions are due next week and sent them home.

For the record, this is a horrible feeling. I feel useless, inconsequential, like I went through motions that had less value than steps on a treadmill. I could have spent this time writing or playing with my children. I could have cooked food for a hungry person. I could have gone to the Zen center to meditate. Continue picking numbers—the gutters need cleaning and my garage door is broken.

I used to get angry and frustrated. I used to think about what else I could do to motivate, to interest the students. Today I just came back to my office and ate the meal I had brought with me. I put on Pandora and sat to write this post. I’ve become one of them. This is how it feels—I’m finally there—to have nothing at all to say.

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Advice for Republicans

I wish I had beaten Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal to the ideas he expresses in this article. To those too lazy to read it, I’ll summarize: He’s asking conservatives to stop fretting over other people’s sex lives and their (bourgeois, ha!) demands for marriage rights. He suggests that the fuss over abortion has become extreme. He presents a good question: “What’s so awful about learning Spanish?” and points out that immigrants—specifically Spanish-speaking ones—show values most of us identify as American. That ringing you hear right now is the echo from my applause: he’d like future conservative presidential and congressional candidates to pass an exam of basic knowledge and take an IQ test. He defends himself, claiming it’s not flippant. I agree with him.

Here’s the question: Why can’t the intelligent, rational, pragmatic wing of the Republican Party become the party’s undisputed central voice? Why don’t those pragmatics take serious issue with the hysterics, the ones barely able to accept the president’s humanity? We are far away from the political environment necessary for a presidential candidate of either party to dismiss American Exceptionalism (although that day is inevitable, and should be welcome). But a Democrat does not need to pitch himself to quite the same group of fringe thinkers, to people who need reality distorted in order to feel “right”. If you’re among those claiming, “But the president is an extremist, a communist, an alien, a Muhammad, a Trotsky, a Stalin, a Hitler! He believes in holes in the sky!” realize that you’re part of the wing that’s causing the problem. Your voice has been exhausting from the start.

At the end of his piece, Stephens suggests Republicans had spent four years listening to echoes of themselves. He suggests they “change the channel for a while.” I have a more advanced suggestion. Isn’t it time to change the talking heads? Is it really a threat to the party to find some secular professor, a student of Smith, and put him on TV to host a show? Would Republicans refuse to coalese around a host who claimed, unabashedly, to be an intellectual or presented himself, at minimum, as a pragmatic thinker. Aren’t we past the point where we find loud-mouthed bullies either entertaining or quintessentially American?

If Republicans took Stephens’ advice and changed the channel (for a long time), they’d go away. But we must demand they be replaced by someone who isn’t going to distort reality, demonize anyone or blather on about rape. I hope this election has shown that each side of the political aisle and every layer in each coalition is sick of that stuff.