Liquid Ink

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


Take a class with me in Berlin

I’ve always wanted to teach a community college class abroad. This spring, I’ll finally get to do it!

From May 28-June 11, I’ll be teaching a Humanties 150 (Survey of the Arts) course in Berlin, Germany. The good people at Walking Tree Travel helped me set up this itinerary , and you should agree it’s a kicker. We’ll have access to the Bauhaus archives, the KW Institute, the National Galleries and much more. To add context to this trip, we’ll read Dan Vyleta’s Pavel and I and watch Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.

If you’re a Chicago-area college student who needs an elective or a Humanities requirement, you’re free to sign up for this class. You’ll gain credit for a course and have an experience that should stay with you for the rest of your life. If you’re already planning on a European backpacking trip, knock out a college credit in the meantime, and participate in a class that’s sure to provoke thought.

Note: the college is also offering a non-credit section of the class for adults (18+) who simply want to tag along for the ride and take advantage of the benefits: a Berlin transit pass good for 2 weeks, central accommodations with daily breakfast, several tours of Berlin neighborhoods, access to museums, and also a play and concert.

Want more info? E-mail me.

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Contemporary Nativity Scene (shocking)

I originally got this from Imgur. It depicts an ideal reality, the kind of world so many Americans currently stay up at night fantasizing about, when they are not spewing its virtues online.

This is a Nativity Scene with the Jews, Arabs, Africans and refugees removed. Yet, hark!  A miracle remains in the sky.

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For more on this problem, read my plea to the Electoral College.


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An open plea to the Electoral College

Dear Electors:

You don’t need to be told this is a pivotal hour in world history.

In only days, you’ll meet and cast your votes to determine the fate of the world. Perhaps most of you, when you were selected to represent your states as Electors, looked at your role mostly as an honor, an expression of your patriotism, perhaps a noble way to participate in our nation’s process of government. The entire world, people from Taipei to Tallinn, know it is more than that now.

Your voting body was created for this moment. To quote Peter Beinart, from the Atlantic:

“It is ‘desirable,’ Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68, ‘that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of’ president. But is “‘equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station.’ These ‘men’—the electors––would be ‘most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.’ And because of their discernment—because they possessed wisdom that the people as a whole might not—‘the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.’”

You probably didn’t expect it to be true when you became an elector. However, the moment for you to discern and investigate is here.

I’m pleading with those of you in position to do so, no matter where you identify on the political spectrum, to act in whatever way necessary to keep Donald Trump from becoming our next president.

I share the same concerns over the threat posed to our constitution, political system—and also to global stability—that has been expressed in recent months by so many statesmen, political scientists, journalists, columnists, educators, former and current intelligence officials, and many other professionals. If you do not share their views, if you do not believe that the president-elect is a threat to world peace, if you do not feel he is unfit to act as president on account of his conflicts of interest, his business practices, his misogyny, blatant racism, ignorance of the constitution, unpredictable behavior, narcissism and addiction to praise, assault on scientific consensus, assault on the Bill of Rights, assault on factual information, or his gaslighting claim that our intelligence community is a factory of conspiracy theories, perhaps you will finally be concerned by his potential exposure to blackmail by international adversaries and bribery by foreign governments.

Surely, this last bit must concern even those who loathe Hillary Clinton and the American establishment. We might prefer reruns of Happy Days to TED talks, the NFL to MLS, but we should all agree that a president even potentially exposed to manipulation by foreign governments threatens us all.

It’s true we’ll be in peril no matter what you decide. Our nation has been damaged by this election—it has allowed our most heinous demons to surface—and we’re going to struggle and suffer, some more than others, no matter what decision you make. You might feel that by keeping the demagogue from office you’d betray the people and system, triggering some kind of upheaval. I’m begging you to compare that possibility to another: that you might be protecting the people from harming themselves in a way they never expected, from losing to a narrative written on a rug about to be pulled from under their feet.

I’d like to think that 100% of us would stop a young man from running around a field of stumps with a screwdriver in his mouth, no matter how dramatically he protested against us. The fire department still shows up if our neighbor sets fire to her own house, and doctors will stitch up our self-inflicted wounds. We have laws and customs designed to mitigate self-harm. The Electoral College is an expression of this, as conceptualized by a man, Hamilton, virtually all Americans currently admire.

One way or another, you’ll get to tell the story to young people who will one day wonder why you acted as you did. At minimum, think about what you know of the man you stand to empower, and weigh that against what you’ll tell the kids living in his aftermath, whatever shape it takes.

“I exercised my duty to uphold the will of the people and the system.”

“I exercised my duty to keep the office of the president from falling to a man who was not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

I’d trust, given the circumstances, they’ll understand.

—Gint

“Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?” 

Alexander Hamilton, March 14, 1788

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Image of Alexander Hamilton from Wikipedia


“Overwhelming evidence” that Russia interfered in the US election

There should not be any bigger story now than this one. Talk of Carrier or tax cuts or what the president-elect is tweeting? All inconsequential nonsense compared to the finding, unanimous amid 17 intelligence agencies, that Russia interfered in the US Presidential election.

Trump has been briefed to this effect…

“The fact is…Joe…that, um, seventeen, or all seventeen of our intelligence agencies have said, without a doubt, Russia was involved with trying to interfere, and interfering with the 2016 presidential election.” —Elijah Cummings, Ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


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Expressing gratitude on the first anniversary of my novel’s publication

Today marks one year since the publication of my novel, The Fugue. I have so many reasons to express gratitude. Thank you  to my readers, to the many people who visit Liquid Ink religiously, especially those who share my writing with others. I’m just humbled to think that my writing has reached so many people in such a short time.

I’ve received notes from readers enjoying the book as far away from Chicago as Madagascar, Seychelles, Sydney and various parts of Europe. In November of 2014, before I agreed to terms, I had labeled the book a failure. Set aside, it had been collecting dust since I had finished it in 2006.

The story of how my book got published has been a topic about as interesting as the book itself. After my original publisher went out of business, the book got dumped, only to be picked up in less than 24 Hours by Tortoise Books. In short, it has been a roller coaster.

Prior to it getting published—prior to newspapers like the Chicago Tribune calling it “magisterial” and comparing it to Dostoevsky; prior to Rick Kogan glowing about it on WGN Radio, comparing it to the likes of Stuart Dybek and Nelson Algren; prior to it becoming a finalist for a Book of the Year Award—The Fugue had been rejected for being “too long” and “too focused on a community unknown to most readers.” It had been called inaccessible, convoluted and unreadable. I had been told to think more carefully about what actual American readers wanted to enjoy, and had my attention drawn to books about 5th Avenue shopping culture and immature divorce stories. I was asked to stop fantasizing about becoming one of my favorite writers, authors “no one reads anymore” and to write something snappy and original. People told me no one had any interest in long novels; that year, a pile of 110,000 word debut novels had been released.

Of course, now I stand in bookstores selling my novel, talking to readers, and I see how often books the size of lunchboxes are purchased. Two of the last three times I had a book-selling event, I sold out of the copies I had brought.

The moral of the story for writers, or for anyone pursuing an ambition against odds, is never to give up, no matter how many times you’re rejected, how many times you’re told there’s no interest in you. The most important lesson I learned while getting my MFA was that criticism revealed much more about the critic than the critiqued. That lesson keeps me soldiering on. It’s universally true.

Interested parties should know that I’m almost done with another manuscript. You’ll have something new to read soon, hopefully.

Thank you for accepting, reading, sharing and talking about my work.  You’re all the best.

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Books: a threat to fascists

Two American classics, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, are again under assault. People have been calling for bans on these books since they were first printed.

Generally, two reasons explain why someone tries to ban a book. The first is the person’s ignorance of the book’s message. The second is that the person understands the message but fears it. In this case, both reasons might apply.

My purpose isn’t to advertise the name of the woman who called for the books’ ban or to draw attention to the school district temporarily and foolishly banning the books when they know exactly what they’re about. Interested readers can easily find this information. I’m here to counterpunch. An assault on any book, from the Bible to The Anarchist’s Cookbook, is an assault on all books. It contributes to America’s ever-growing anti-intellectualism and adulation of ignorance, which is often conflated as concern over someone’s emotions.

The worried mother claims the n-bombs in Twain and Lee disturb her biracial teenage son. Of course, instead of asking her son to be excused from reading, she wants the books removed completely. Her rationale: “I’m not disputing this is great literature. But there is so much (sic) racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.”

Claiming offensive language interferes with whatever the books are saying is, in fact, a dispute of the books’ greatness. She either hasn’t read or misunderstands Lee and Twain. Her concern for a divided nation is transparent; because her boy finds the books offensive, she feels the rest of the school should as well.

Ironically, both these books provoke discussion about the nature of equality and unity. Curiously, the woman uses the same critique employed by people who fear what ideas these books might provoke.

These books should be difficult for any boy, biracial or otherwise. Great books slap us silly, shake us up and kick us. If the woman could “get past” the offensive word, one that should offend us in 2016, and battle through what violence children witness in the narratives (Huck’s dad is an abusive drunk, for example, and Scout haphazardly stops a lynch mob from murdering Tom Robinson), she could stumble into seeing that both Twain and Lee littered their books with n-bombs, in 1884 and 1960, respectively, while essentially arguing that black lives matter.

In short, these books agree that the biracial boy should be offended not only by words but by his society. Another lesson is that Twain and Lee are also provoking his Caucasian peers to see the consequences of racism.

That’s among the many reasons these books are part of our canon, and also why people have feared Twain and Lee’s critiques for as long as the books have existed.

*     *     *

Literature has always been a threat to those fascists who want to bait us into hating each other. They know it’s a remedy to growing inequality and division. I’ve met very few people who consumed it in large quantities but came away hateful, afraid of their fellow man.

Having consumed it in large quantities myself, I’ve learned it radical in 1884 to claim black people were human beings deserving of equal rights, just as it was radical to make the claim in 1960, and it obviously remains radical today. If not, it should offend no one to hear the phrase black lives matter. People should hear it and think, “Yeah, no shit.”

Despite my life in letters, I know far more Americans who see no use for literature. So many  believe individual words are more offensive than the act of banning them. These people are everywhere; I’ve found them in HR offices and among the administrators in schools. Our president-elect has no use for literature, just as most of his supporters seem to care little for it. Forget about great books—sketch comedy offends them.

People fear books because they want their flawed ideas and hatred either justified or hidden while they get to control the narrative. That has been the only reason books have ever been hated and burned, the only reason their makers are demonized as unpatriotic and brought out to face firing squads.

Of course, my critics will point out that this woman has the best intentions. She’s a leftist who wants a safe space for her kid, and she’s trying to protect him from racism. That misses the point. Her impulse might be to protect her boy, and she’s right to find the word offensive. But right beside this affront is an impulse to make everyone do as she likes.

It’s exactly the impulse of someone who has either read too few books or failed to gain their most important lessons.

 

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Photo, book burning, from Wikipedia.

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. –Harper Lee


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An artist you should know: Susan Sensemann

Susan Sensemann is a member of my Zen center. She’s a skilled visual artist whose photography, painting and drawing prove intricate and powerful. I find her self-portraits particularly provocative.

If you’ve not heard of this artist, take a look at her work here. Here are some examples of her work.

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