Liquid Ink

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


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Brain damaged American football players

Frontline tweeted this report less than an hour ago. From the article: “…New data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined.”

I feel it is only a matter of time for the links between brain damage and violent behavior to become clearer. However, I don’t believe any of this matters. We Americans will continue to purchase the NFL and support its sponsors and the businesses affiliated with the sport, no matter what investigations or scandals reveal about the culture, or what studies quantify about the actual brutality of the game.

I’ll come clean: concussions really don’t bother me, not by themselves. If grown men want to slam their heads into one another, or enter a ring and attempt to knock each other out with heavy blows, that’s their very entertaining business. It requires naiveté or delusion to see what football players do and to conclude that this sport is healthy on the head. The “concussion scandal,” if you can call it that, is minor compared to the reality of a league whose brass and governing bodies see domestic violence and child abuse as tertiary, even annoying issues when compared to their profits, sport or overall camaraderie.

But what if brain damage is intimately linked to violent behavior? I don’t believe Adrian Peterson whipped his son’s testicles because he has brain damage; I believe he was raised in a culture that equated child abuse with sound rearing, as some idiotic percentage of American parents think hitting children has benefits. (Those same people feel hitting a dog in public is a crime.) It might be true, given what we’re learning, that the act of slamming one’s plastic-encased head into another plastic-encased head is the act of creating violent people, men who will take our their aggression on strangers, lovers and children.

It’s one thing to love a sport, as the Romans did (and I am not among those who fetishize the comparison of Rome and America, but it’s convenient in this case), that leaves men dead in the sand. It’s brutal, but there’s no illusion. In contrast to them, we’re engaged in conversations about safety and discipline procedures. We’re so attached to this game, so invested in the love of our teams, that it’s clouding our vision, and we’re spewing a bullshit narrative.

What would it take for America to turn away from this game? What would it take for us to seek out a different form of community on Sundays? A child’s beaten testicles, a knocked out wife and a league office that says, “Who cares”? Now a study that confirms over 96% of studied brains were damaged?

Nope. Not enough.

Game on.


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How can there be such a thing as a bad reader?

A student asked me the question last week. I gave a brief answer: “Reading’s a skill. There are ways of measuring any skill.”

The student wasn’t satisfied with this answer, so we had a long discussion about it in office hours. People should be allowed to read as they see fit, the student insisted. This defensive position always fascinates me. No one is keeping anyone from reading or not reading. Where’s the tyrant out there telling us to understand things one way but not another, or to have one brand of fun one way all the time?

Philosophy aside, what do we measure when we measure reading skills? And what do the skills we measure have to do with what writers like myself want, which is for more people to enjoy reading, to allow it to provoke them, to change their point of view? Aren’t we dumping shit on someone’s brain when we tell them, “If you become a better reader, you’ll get more out of reading.” Leave me alone, they’ll say; I’ve got one life to live.

I loathe reading tests, standardized or otherwise, although I’ll admit having both used and devised them. Generally, I think we teachers do our students the best service when we teach one thing when it comes to reading:

There are so many ways to approach a text, but for purposes of clarity, let’s divide them into two basic methods. The first approaches a text expecting it to be and do something. The second approaches a text to investigate what it’s doing and how. The second method will leave a reader open to a wider variety of texts; the reader will learn much more from them, no matter what they are, and practice flexing the mind. The first approach leaves a reader disappointed most of the time.

I’ll note that these methods, which are really states of mind, extend to much more than reading. If you go to a beach expecting sand and sun, you’ll be disappointed when you find rocks and wind. But if you go to the beach to see what it’s like, you’ll see the rocks and feel the wind. That’s to say, we don’t allow ourselves to experience what we dismiss. So often, we’re the tyrant in the way of our experience, but we’ll blame the beach for being rocky, or the person who hung a sign at the top of the pathway: “Beach, this way.”


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My 5 year-old daughter explains fiction and non-fiction

My daughter came home from kindergarten earlier this week to tell me she had learned the difference between fiction and nonfiction in the school library.

“Really? What’s the difference?”

Her answer was a hodgepodge of Lithuanian and English, as it tested the limits of her vocabulary in both languages. I’m paraphrasing it:

“Dad! Fiction would be like this. Look at this tube.” She showed me my wife’s skin cream. “Look. If it’s fiction then you say, Okay, there’s an elephant, and he lives inside here with Strawberry Shortcake and all the Little Ponies and they fly and get their candy and cakes from the bakery, a good one that never closes and where you can have anything you want, but you don’t need to bring money. And then, outside, you can have an umbrella and sunshine and shower sprinkles and a hot air balloon all together at the same time, and you can sleep if you want to, but only if you want to. If it’s fiction, you don’t need to sleep. And you can make anything you want, and you can put it anywhere. Everything fits inside everything and you can always have a place for anything no matter what it is. Everything’s together. It can all be inside the tube and outside the tube and everywhere all the time.”

“That’s quite correct,” I said. “But what about nonfiction.”

“Well, nonfiction.” She shrugged. “It’s a tube. With skin cream. That’s all. It’s just real..”

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Roger Goodell needs a translator

You might be confused after hearing Goodell’s press conference.

That’s because the commissioner of the NFL needs a translator. I’ll offer my services. Here’s what he said:

“Fuck you. It doesn’t matter what I say or do, whom I care about, loathe or feel indifferent about. You will still tune in. You will still buy my sponsors’ products. So be pissed off if you want. The network carrying the Super Bowl will announce its price for advertisements shortly. Again, fuck you.”


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What your college values

If anyone in America is confused about what our institutions of education value, be sure to read this brilliant letter penned by former NYU student Lucy Parks, addressed to the president of NYU.

If you’re lazy, here’s the heart of the matter:

…It was made clear to me that NYU doesn’t value me as a student or a member of the community. NYU only values me as the amount that I can pay, and when I can’t pay what the institution asks there is no help for me.