Liquid Ink

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


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Book launch reading and gathering

I’m happy to announce that my book launch reading will take place at City Lit Books in Logan Square, here in Chicago, on December 17th at 6:30. Come purchase a copy of The Fugue, have it signed, meet me and support an amazing independent bookstore.

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I won’t be giving a traditional reading (the kind where a writer stands in front of people and mumbles), but will instead talk about the process of writing a long book, one that took fifteen years to publish. Interestingly, some of the topics The Fugue deals with are more relevant now than they were when I first started the manuscript: the sociology of refugees, a culture of fear and secrecy, and the search for meaning in a society whose institutions are failing. Of course, I’ll  read short sections.

There will be a brief musical interlude featuring world-class violinist Maria Storm. She’s going to play Bach’s Fugue from the Violin Sonata in G minor.

Afterwards, I hope interested parties will come along for a drink down at The Owl.

Help me figure out how much wine to get by announcing your wish to attend this event. Click here.

 


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Three important differences between teaching in America and in the Netherlands

This past May, I participated in a teacher exchange between the USA and The Netherlands. It focussed on visits to “vocational schools”, the European equivalent of Community Colleges. I’ve been on all sorts of exchanges and cross-cultural academic ventures before, including participation in literary seminars, and a brief teaching stint in Cuba. This trip to the Netherlands was amazing by any measure.

I recently gave a “presentation” at my college regarding this trip. I said about as much as I stated in the previous paragraph, adding only that colleagues should take advantage of the opportunity. In all, I spoke for about three minutes, and did nothing but drop the kind of platitudes work expects from us these days.

“They have very good tea.”

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As expected, colleagues, particularly upper-level administrators looking to gauge the usefulness of spending an extra $1,500 on a faculty member, had questions in private. The big one, “What’s it like to work out there? How’s it different? What do you learn?”

I’ve never answered it honestly.

So…here it is, if you want to know. Three important differences:

1.) Generally speaking, Dutch educators do not imagine getting shot at work.

I have imagined getting shot at work countless times. It happens almost every day. At work, I have thought about escape strategies, and I look at every room as a place where I might either have to hide or try to escape from an active shooter.

Sure…I have a fiction writer’s imagination, so that plays a role. But I do not imagine getting executed on a guillotine in the college courtyard. Our college has no guillotine that I’m aware of. Yet getting shot or witnessing a slaughter is a real occupational hazard. We were even briefed and shown a film. What to do if you are about to be killed at work.” Three steps: Run! Hide! Fight! It’s rare for me not to imagine, if only in a flash, a shooting taking place on campus as I sit in my office chair.

In fact, I did some calculations with a friend from the math department, and we have surmised that the chances of us both getting shot at work are substantially higher than the chances some powerful person in our community might come out and say, “Raises for faculty across the board. We really appreciate you.”

2.) Dutch educators are paid a living wage

This means they can, even when they work part time, afford either to live off their salaries or to supplement their lives while in some temporary condition or as part of a second career, usually right in the town where they are working. In the meantime they don’t have to fuss about looking for health insurance, managing how they’ll pay off their student loans, etc. etc.

I know some reader is going to throw eggs at me: you are handsomely compensated as a full time instructor. Indeed, I’m one of the lucky ones. But a minority of college classes are taught by full time instructors. Most courses are taught by adjuncts so mistreated that it’s embarrassing to begin the narrative.

It’s part of the game. American colleges, taking a tip from the government, look at students as sources of revenue first, potential graduates second, and human beings only somewhere down the line. Most colleges will happily take the coin from student loans but never bother to orient the young people to the nature of that game, one unique to America.

If students are revenue, colleges look at faculty primarily as cost. You are a walking chunk of change which could go elsewhere, preferably to the friend of a board member, one who’ll handle some concocted administrative need. It’s dehumanizing to be seen as an obstacle disturbing the distribution of revenue in the “way the powers see fit”.

3.) Corruption

I’m sure there’s some desk jockey working in the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science who has managed to secure his best friend’s son a job. That lad is now jockeying a similar desk in a similar office somewhere in a Hague basement. Or maybe there’s the college director who approved a purchase of Kapsalon for every visiting teacher, and he sent the kids to get the yummy snack from his friend’s kebab stand. The Turk charged an extra 10% and the director got a cut. The scandal! An outrage!

This is chump change compared to the corruption in American education. No Child Left Behind? Well, they couldn’t call it No Test Publisher Left Without Lube. And here in Illinois…ha ha ha…ha ha ha! Oh, shit. Oh…let me. Let me button my pants. Where are my latex gloves? Yes, I left them under the desk. My God, they’re filthy.

The CEO of Chicago Public Schools gets busted for accepting bribes

*gulp*

I’ve just been informed that my chances of getting shot at work have substantially increased. No…I’ve just been told…yes, I’ll comply…they remain the same. Exactly the same! There’s no corruption in Illinois. No. We treat even the birds and squirrels as human beings. We are loved as employees. We love teaching and learning, and we all teach just as we all learn, either the hard way or the easy way. We are all good here. We’ve been blessed.


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What an amazing bookstore: The Looking Glass

I thought I knew all the bookstores in Chicagoland. Then a friend of mine told me about The Looking Glass. It’s only one L stop from my house, and I learned that the owner lives a block from me. It has been on Oak Park Avenue since February of 2013.

This is just an extraordinary find, and a delight to have right in my neighborhood. It’s brightly lit used bookstore whose light blue and green walls recall a college town cafe (curiously…I felt it resembled the kind of room Alice, from The Looking Glass, might choose if she had her way). No, they don’t serve coffee, but that’s hardly an issue (not when The 206 is across the street). The website is really attractive and the owner, Steve, has excellent taste in books. I had a short talk with him and know he’s got plenty in storage. I was struck by his fiction shelves, a bibliophile’s dream: loads of classical and acclaimed contemporary titles, including those you’re “supposed to have read but didn’t”, all in very good shape and at affordable prices.

As a parent, I’m excited to have a bookstore that stocks plenty of kids’ books. But the real treat at The Looking Glass is the local author section. Obviously, both Chicago and Oak Park have a long and rich literary history (Elizabeth Berg…Edgar Rice Burroughs…Ernest Hemingway). Steve has set up two attractive shelves to feature the locals. I happened to learn that Steve also has first editions available of local authors’ works.

Tourists in the area, or anyone who ends up coming to eat at Taste of Brasil or Sen Sushi, should not miss a chance to browse and buy from The Looking Glass. Daring readers might choose to get a book wrapped in a paper bag. Given Steve’s taste, chances are these will be great surprises. My bookworm friends should look forward to birthday gifts lifted from this shelf:

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823 S Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, IL

Just steps from the Oak Park Blue Line station.