Liquid Ink

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

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Writing process, and old love

I published an essay at The Good Men Project yesterday. Titled Running Into Your First Love, it has to do with a New Year’s Eve party, and my chance run in with a woman I had been crazy about as a teen. The experience led to all sorts of meditations which I’ve examined. I hope you’ll check it out.

This is one of those pieces of writing which, while straightforward for the reader, has a long history and a peculiar difficulty behind it for the writer. I first imagined writing it over a half-decade ago. I imagined how it would sound and what I would do about it, but I never found the right words. I realize now it was a question of courage (it is so often a question of courage!). Could I allow myself to feel, again, that torrent of emotion that came when I was a teenager in love? Could I face the consequences of that torrent? What if it revealed something I had been denying? How would I deal with the memories of embarrassment and rejection?

Writing is crazy torture. The liberation it offers only continues to surprise and excite me.

Thanks for reading.

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Enough, David Whyte

This is a zen poem I heard following meditation at the Zen Learning and Meditation Center last week in Oak Park. It really moved me. I wanted to share it but had trouble finding it. Here it is:


by David Whyte

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

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Tooting my horn…or something

I received this note from a reader recently. S/he had just finished reading one of my personal essays.

Gint, you are an emotional personal trainer.  You write, I read.  As I read, I cringe, I squirm, I feel my stomach turn, I exhale, I read on, I cringe again, I stop, I breathe, I breathe in, I breathe out, until my heart hurts.  I then I hate you….for making me FEEL.  And then, just as in any relationship with a personal trainer (if they are a good one, i.e.), I thank you when the emotional workout is over and I’ve had the chance to soak my aching emotions in some self-reflection and empathy.   Yours, [a reader]

It’s a paradox to feel so humbled by this as I also feel the urge to share. I hope my readers will remember, when they find I’ve taken them to the deepest pit, that I also write humor, a self-deprecating variety.

Thank you, in public. It’s amazing to recieve.

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The kind of essay I expect from students

In my opinion, one of the things this writer uses is words.

For example, there are other things he could use. If the writer were to use them, they’d be used right along with the words (unless he didn’t use words). The reason this would happen is because you have to use something in order for it to be used. That’s how I know he uses words. When you read them, you see them.

The writer could have used something else, but he didn’t. He chose to use words because he wanted to make a choice. If you don’t choose, you’re left with no decision. This is because you need to have an action in order to be sure you are not doing nothing.

I think the writer uses words because he wanted to write something, and the reason he wanted to write something was because he wanted to use words. There’s no way around it. Our society does not allow you to write something without writing it.

This is the problem. All actions, if they’re to exist, need to be taken or else you have nothing. Our society frowns upon nothing. Perhaps if we were more open-minded, we could learn to accept nothing and be tolerant of it, but until that day comes writers are going to be using words.

Fuck words. I can tell you something about them. Words say things, only sometimes they mean something different. For example, we say “I took a shit many times in my life.” This is false. We did not take it and we can prove it because our hands are clean. If we took a shit, our hands would be dirty, unless we wore gloves or protected them in another manner. To protect your hands, you need to make sure they are not naked. If you do nothing, your hands are naked 24 hours a day. That’s obvious!

We should say, “I left a shit many times in my life.” Another way of saying it is this: “I dropped shit many times in my life.” There are many alternatives. Here’s another: “I gave shit many times in my life.” You have many choices. Pick one.

In closing, this essay demonstrates that the writer used words mostly because he had no choice. This is the tyranny of life. The writer can’t simply leave the words alone and be accepted by our society. He has to use them or else nothing happens. We hate nothing. All of the time, we are expecting something. It’s unfair, in my opinion.


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Things I would never have done as a college student

These are in no particular order. They are not meant to imply someone’s moral or cultural superiority. I suppose I intend this as a document of how things have changed.

Here’s stuff I never did in college. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone who ever did this kind of stuff while I was studying:

-Ask a professor after two days if he “finally” graded my paper.

-Ask a professor who was not my instructor if s/he could “give me the information” I needed to complete an assignment. (Example: a student knew I teach English, so he came in to tell me he’s writing a paper about teaching and needed some “info” on how to teach English. He essentially wanted to interview me for “answers”.)

-Expect a professor to tell me where I had to be at what time on any day of the week for any class.

-Expect a professor to give me a summary of a reading assignment.

-Expect a professor to answer my questions on weekends or during non-business hours. I don’t mean questions like, “What does Joyce mean by this obsession with the consubstantiation of the father and the son?” I mean things like, “Could you give me an understanding of why we’re supposed to read this book?”

-Mark anything “extremely urgent”. (Example: This is extremely urgent!! I have to work tonight and tomorrow and will not be able to do my writing assignment. I hope this will not count against me!)

-Tell a professor that they were  “harder” or “easier” than anyone else and expect them to be happy about this.

-Deliberately ignore instructions, or ever ignore instructions for any reason.

-Suggest alternative assignments. (This assignment would be easier for me if you didn’t require such-and-such.)

-Explain why I can’t learn something. (“I need a video for this because I’m a visual learner.”)

-Ask, following the final exam, what else I had to do that semester.

-Negotiate. “If you get rid of this assignment for me, I’ll work extra hard on the other one.”

-Attend classes in which I had handed in zero assignments.

-Rewrite exam questions. (I’ll ask a question regarding Bob Fosse’s film-making technique and get an answer that says the student was really very happy that I chose Cabaret. It was really a great film.)

-Argue about what expectations are fair. (“It’s unfair to expect us to demonstrate our knowledge of film by making us write.”)

-Reprimand a professor for not being somewhere. (“You’re supposed to be in your office hours from 1:00.”)


Now, what *would* I have done? Things like this:

-Write nasty things about a professor in the toilet where I knew he takes craps, taking care to disguise my handwriting.

-Kiss their ass by reading about 1/4 of some book they had written and praise it in public or during class.

-Explain, even if I was learning fuck all, that I was learning some very special thing.

-Excuse myself for having failed to complete the reading assignment.

-Hand at least one paper in early to a professor’s mailbox, getting it stamped by secretaries, especially towards the beginning of the semester. I would do this strategically and ask, “Did you get that paper. I did it early because I knew I’d have this bullshit later on in the week.”

-Find some shit in the bibliography of a primary text and read one chapter from it to make it look like I knew more than I was expected to. (Sometimes this backfired.)

-Choose an essay topic that would satisfy requirements in multiple classes and require only mild adjustment to make the papers “seem different”.

-Quote from the professor’s favorite author, even if I had read jack shit from that author.

-Devise ways to get information from the best student in the class. (In the English department at U of I, this was usually possible simply by offering someone free beer or weed.)

-Stop to chat with my professors in places like hallways, libraries or on the quad. Ask them what they worked on outside of class.

-Go to after hours events a professor advertised. Things like screenings, readings and exhibits offered students and profs a chance to bullshit together and to see what profs were like after two glasses of wine.

-Register for multiple sections of the same class to compare them to each other, then drop the ones that sucked. I’d do this before final tuition was calculated.

-Attend the workshops and the volunteer review sessions even if I didn’t have any questions.

-Say things like, “The Cliff Notes miss this part and that part.”

-Use words like “temporal”.

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Final exam extra credit questions

Who says final exams have to be boring?

The following are extra credit questions on the final exam of my Film Class, Humanities 153:

1.)   Which of the following can be an Explicit meaning of the film Amadeus:

a.)   If you’re going to compose music, you should make it accessible and simple so that all people could understand it in all cultures and time periods. This is especially true if you’re elitist.

b.)   A composer dreams of becoming as great as an adversary he admires. When he cannot, he murders him, and is doomed forever to realize his mediocrity.

c.)   A composer tries to commit suicide. When he fails, he has to talk to a priest and feel shame.

d.)   Salieri is not as great as Mozart and will never be as great as Mozart. This is especially true in places that play Mozart’s music, like Macy’s during Christmas.

e.)   Why should we listen to Mozart when there’s way better stuff available these days like Falco? Falco’s death was a tragedy.

2.)   Which of the following can be a Referential meaning of Amadeus?

a.)   God, an often misunderstood figure, believes that torturing a talented mind is justified in the face of pre-Napoleonic political turmoil in central Europe.

b.)   God is cruel because he allows certain types of men to have power over others.

c.)   In a society where value and beauty are determined by a Monarch, a community of artists seems to be the last refuge for personal worth, except when one of them kills you out of jealousy.

d.)   In pre-Napoleonic central Europe, a crazed composer takes pride in his murder, in grand defiance of God, of a contemporary.

e.)   None of the above

3.)   Which of the following can be an idea about the subject of war in Casablanca?

a.)   Those who fornicate before marriage will invariably be damned and forced to retreat to places such as Morocco where abject madness replaces morality.

b.)   Michael Curtis believes that it’s better to escape from war than it is to shoot a Nazi.

c.)   We should all be French Nationalists.

d.)   The police have always had their way, especially during wartime, unless Humphrey has his say.

e.)   None of the above