Liquid Ink

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


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FAQs for Lithuanians

Before you send me your requests, please take a look here. You might save yourself some time.

  • Hi, I’m Lithuanian, just like you. Can I have some stuff for free?

Yes. You can get all the free toilet paper you want in any gas station toilet.

 

  • I got drunk with one of your relatives in 1974. To what private property of yours does this entitle me?

All of it. I’ll quitclaim my condo to you. It’s in a really good location, and I don’t owe more than it’s worth. Trust me. Here’s the dotted line. _______________________

 

  • I dated your mother back when we were in high school. Can I have your pants?

I hate to break it to you, pal, but you’re already wearing my pants.

 

  • I think you’re a brilliant writer and love what you had to say about amber necklaces. Do you have any amber that you would like to give me so that I could be proud of my Lithuanian heritage?

Thank you for the compliment, but I haven’t written about amber necklaces. The last time I used the word “amber” in a sentence, it was to describe the color of Stasys Girėnas’ teeth.

 

  • I knew your (grandmother/aunt/uncle/roommate) back in 1976, and we (ate/drank/fucked/smoked/danced) in Marquette Park all the time. Can I have your social security number?

Sure, it’s 312-588-2300. What, too long? Just take out any number. I’ll work.

 

  • I’m going to (Šokių Šventė/Dainų Šventė/LT Days/Cepelinų Vakarėlis/) this summer. Can my friends and I stay in your apartment?

Dude, you have to talk to the person who used to get drunk with my relatives in 1974. They have all my stuff now. It’s nowhere close to the festival you have in mind, but I don’t see why that should stop you.

 

  • Why aren’t you going to (Šokių Šventė/Dainų Šventė/LT Days/Cepelinų Vakarėlis/)?

Because I can’t find a place to stay.

 

  • Hi. My great grandfather owned a horse that took a dump near your great grandmother’s horse back when all of us were pagan druids on shrooms. I want your children to sign up for this summer program that will teach them how to be Lithuanian for only $4,000.

We’ll talk about all these things when you give me some shrooms.

 

  • I’m Catholic, believe in God, love the Jesuits, have my former nun’s yardstick, and I’ve already bought a plot to be buried in St. Casimir Cemetery. Could you send me a copy of your book, all the essays you’ve ever written, ten percent of your salary and a photocopy of your passport?

Everything you desire is available at this link.

 

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Forthcoming essay

I’m excited to announce that my essay, Marquette Park: Members Only, has been included in an anthology: Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, available in September of 2019. Fans of urban prose and Chicago history, and those readers interested in questions of race, ethnicity, nation and cultural identity will find this anthology provocative and entertaining.

My essay deals with the racial tensions in Marquette Park in the 80’s and 90’s, and the curious question of why so many residents worried about encroachment from African-Americans but didn’t seem to have any trouble with the Nazi headquarters on 71st Street.

You can pre-order here.

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Here is the complete table of contents:

Introduction

Martha Bayne

WEST SIDE

Austin: Austin and Division
Shaina Warfield

Austin: Cakewalk (poem)
Rasaan Khalil

West Humboldt Park: Queen of the Tunnels
Lily Be

Garfield Park: Perspectives (photo essay)
Gabriel X. Michael

North Lawndale: Interview with Alexie Young, MLK Exhibit Center
Amanda Tugade

Little Village
Emmanuel Ramirez, Gloria “Nine” Valle, and Zipporah Auta with Yollocalli Arts Reach

SOUTHWEST SIDE

Garfield Ridge: Comeback Kid
Sheila Elliot

Back of the Yards: Books and Breakfast at the Breathing Room
Miranda Goosby

Englewood:  Interview with Tamar Manasseh, Mothers Against Senseless Killings
Kirsten Ginzky

Marquette Park: Members Only
Gint Aras

FAR SOUTHWEST SIDE

Ashburn: That’s Amore
Tim Mazurek

Mount Greenwood: Growing Up In, and Reporting On, Chicago’s Poster Child for Racial Tension
Joe Ward

Beverly: How to Integrate a Chicago Neighborhood in Three (Not-So) Easy Steps
Scott Smith

FAR SOUTHEAST SIDE

Roseland: They Killed Him and His Little Girlfriend
Raymond Berry

Pullman: Pullman and Ideal Communities in Chicago, the Rust Belt, and Beyond
Claire Tighe

Hegewisch: Pudgy’s Pizza
Josh Burbidge

East Side: Something About the South Side
Mare Swallow

SOUTH SIDE

South Shore: Between the Lake and Emmett Till Road
Audrey Petty

Woodlawn: Memories of Obama
Jonathan Foiles

Hyde Park: Quarks and Quiche on the Midway
John Lloyd Clayton

Bronzeville: Black Metropolis
Alex Miller

NEAR WEST SIDE

Bridgeport: The Community of the Future
Ed Marzsewski

Heart of Chicago: Sketches
Dmitry Samarov

Pilsen: The Quietest Form of Displacement in a Changing Barrio (photo essay)

WEST SIDE

Austin: Austin and Division
Shaina Warfield

Austin: Cakewalk (poem)
Rasaan Khalil

West Humboldt Park: Queen of the Tunnels
Lily Be

Garfield Park: Perspectives (photo essay)
Gabriel X. Michael

North Lawndale: Interview with Alexie Young, MLK Exhibit Center
Amanda Tugade

Little Village
Emmanuel Ramirez, Gloria “Nine” Valle, and Zipporah Auta with Yollocalli Arts Reach

SOUTHWEST SIDE

Garfield Ridge: Comeback Kid
Sheila Elliot

Back of the Yards: Books and Breakfast at the Breathing Room
Miranda Goosby

Englewood:  Interview with Tamar Manasseh, Mothers Against Senseless Killings
Kirsten Ginzky

Marquette Park: Members Only
Gint Aras

FAR SOUTHWEST SIDE

Ashburn: That’s Amore
Tim Mazurek

Mount Greenwood: Growing Up In, and Reporting On, Chicago’s Poster Child for Racial Tension
Joe Ward

Beverly: How to Integrate a Chicago Neighborhood in Three (Not-So) Easy Steps
Scott Smith

FAR SOUTHEAST SIDE

Roseland: They Killed Him and His Little Girlfriend
Raymond Berry

Pullman: Pullman and Ideal Communities in Chicago, the Rust Belt, and Beyond
Claire Tighe

Hegewisch: Pudgy’s Pizza
Josh Burbidge

East Side: Something About the South Side
Mare Swallow

SOUTH SIDE

South Shore: Between the Lake and Emmett Till Road
Audrey Petty

Woodlawn: Memories of Obama
Jonathan Foiles

Hyde Park: Quarks and Quiche on the Midway
John Lloyd Clayton

Bronzeville: Black Metropolis
Alex Miller

NEAR WEST SIDE

Bridgeport: The Community of the Future
Ed Marzsewski

Heart of Chicago: Sketches
Dmitry Samarov

Pilsen: The Quietest Form of Displacement in a Changing Barrio (photo essay)
Sebastián Hidalgo

Greektown/Maxwell Street/Little Italy: UIC: Chicago’s Past and Future
Ann Logue

River West: Cranes of River West
Jean Iversen

CENTRAL

South Loop: Michigan and Harrison
Megan Stielstra

The Loop: Life in Chicago’s Front Yard
Rachel Cromidas

Gold Coast: The Alleys of the Gold Coast
Leopold Froehlich

NORTH

Lakeview: On Belmont and Clark
Emily Anna Mack

Lakeview: The Blue House
Eleanor Glockner

North Center: Signs in Bloom
Kirsten Lambert

Ravenswood Gardens: Chicago River Life
Rob Miller

FAR NORTH SIDE

Uptown: A Trip to the Argyle Museum of Memories
Vitally Vladimirov

Andersonville: The Precarious Equilibrium
Sarah Steimer

Edgewater Glen: Trick or Treat
Kim Z. Dale

West Ridge: Rebel Girl
Sara Nasser

West Ridge: Paan Stains and Discount Vegetables (photo essay)
Stuti Sharma

Albany Park: Edge Zone Chicago
Benjamin Van Loon

NORTHWEST SIDE

Portage Park: Six Corners, Many Changes
Jackie Mantey

Hermosa: Holy Hermosa (poem)
Sara Salgado

Logan Square: The Best Burger on the Square
Nicholas Ward

Wicker Park: milwaukee avenue (poem)
Kevin Coval

Humboldt Park: Along Pulaski Road, From Irving Park to Humboldt
Alex V. Hernandez

Epilogue: The Last Days of Rezkoville
Ryan Smith

Greektown/Maxwell Street/Little Italy: UIC: Chicago’s Past and Future
Ann Logue

River West: Cranes of River West
Jean Iversen

CENTRAL

South Loop: Michigan and Harrison
Megan Stielstra

The Loop: Life in Chicago’s Front Yard
Rachel Cromidas

Gold Coast: The Alleys of the Gold Coast
Leopold Froehlich

NORTH

Lakeview: On Belmont and Clark
Emily Anna Mack

Lakeview: The Blue House
Eleanor Glockner

North Center: Signs in Bloom
Kirsten Lambert

Ravenswood Gardens: Chicago River Life
Rob Miller

FAR NORTH SIDE

Uptown: A Trip to the Argyle Museum of Memories
Vitally Vladimirov

Andersonville: The Precarious Equilibrium
Sarah Steimer

Edgewater Glen: Trick or Treat
Kim Z. Dale

West Ridge: Rebel Girl
Sara Nasser

West Ridge: Paan Stains and Discount Vegetables (photo essay)
Stuti Sharma

Albany Park: Edge Zone Chicago
Benjamin Van Loon

NORTHWEST SIDE

Portage Park: Six Corners, Many Changes
Jackie Mantey

Hermosa: Holy Hermosa (poem)
Sara Salgado

Logan Square: The Best Burger on the Square
Nicholas Ward

Wicker Park: milwaukee avenue (poem)
Kevin Coval

Humboldt Park: Along Pulaski Road, From Irving Park to Humboldt
Alex V. Hernandez

Epilogue: The Last Days of Rezkoville
Ryan Smith


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Art is resistance

It’s always an exciting step when your publisher tells you the cover of your book is finished. Here it is.

Relief Execution Cover final

The release date is October 8th. Pre-order begins on Amazon and Barnes and Noble some time late next week, February 21st. Follow Liquid Ink to keep up with the details, including news about the launch party, scheduled for October.

Here’s what Mikhail Iossel, the founder of the Summer Literary Seminars, and a samizdat writer born in the USSR, had to say after reading it:

This short text packs a powerful punch. A searingly raw exploration of one’s roots, one’s original milieu, one’s upbringing and one’s own conscience. At times difficult to read, it is nonetheless entirely engrossing. Hard to look at yet impossible to look away. A remarkable piece of writing.

From the back cover:

Between the years of 1996-1999, Gint Aras lived a hapless bohemian’s life in Linz, Austria. Decades later, a random conversation with a Polish immigrant in a Chicago coffeehouse provokes a question: why didn’t Aras ever visit Mauthausen, or any of the other holocaust sites close to his former home? The answer compels him to visit the concentration camp in the winter of 2017, bringing with him the baggage of a childhood shaped by his family of Lithuanian WWII refugees. The result is this meditative inquiry, at once lyrical and piercing, on the nature of ethnic identity, the constructs of race and nation, and the lasting consequences of collective trauma. 

Fussweg


The writer who doesn’t read books

I was at a book sale and signing event recently, sharing a table with another writer. The bookstore, located in a place with virtually no foot traffic, was near-empty, and the only people who came to our tables were interested in getting our signatures so that they could use them to enter a raffle the store had organized. My table partner and I spent the time talking about the usual things: book marketing strategies, the publishing industry and our current projects.

Eventually, I asked the guy, “What are you reading?”

He shrugged and said, in a tone so casual to be almost dismissive. “Eh, I don’t really read books. I’m just not really into them right now.”

I had no way of preparing myself for this. The guy was young, in his mid-20’s, right at the age when I had discovered writers who would remain favorites for the duration of my life, whose influence on my writing will never evaporate. He was at the age when I—no children or frightening responsibilities in my life—read between two and three hours each day, towers of books on my nightstand, desk and toilet tank. To this day, I don’t ever leave the house without a book in my bag, so I simply couldn’t hide my shock. “You don’t read?”

“I mean, I do research for projects. I like to study, mostly, so I get stuff from the internet. But I just don’t read books right now.”

I started stuttering. Perhaps I appeared offended. The experience was painful, stinging, unfathomable, inexplicable…I felt strain in my stomach and was overwhelmed by an urge to clench my teeth. “So, how do you work on craft without looking at stuff written by people who are better than you?”

“Eh, I get feedback. I’m in a writer’s group.”

“And…these writers. Do they also reject books? Do they ever tell you things like, ‘Your writing reminds me of such and such?’”

“Maybe they like books, but we don’t talk about it. The group is all about writing, so we focus on that.”

I sat with his answer for many minutes, feeling the silence stretching between us like a bungee cord about to kick back with the force of a falling elephant. I imagined the guitarist who did not listen to guitar, the painter who did not look at paintings, the doctor who rejected convalescence, the teacher who had nothing to learn. On any level, in any environment, the sculptor who had no use for sculpture would be considered a buffoon. If a singer came to a singing coach to reveal she had no interest in listening to song, the coach should send her packing. Yet this young man sat cocksure and certain of his intrinsic talent. Reading would be an admission of either weakness or incapacity.

I finally asked him, “How do you rationalize selling books to people when you don’t want to buy or consume books yourself?”

“Yeah, I get that point. I mean, it’s true, I guess, kinda. But I just got so many things on my plate. I don’t need to read someone else’s stuff to sell my own.”

I realized I was the only person to have ever asked this man that question. His education and culture must have reinforced his position as reasonable and rational. Still, I’d have a much easier time with the pharmacist who knows her wares are poisons just as I could get my head around the grocer who sold high fructose corn syrup without ever eating it himself. But…dude…these are books.

Books.

In America, in the 21st century, it’s not just the president and his followers who don’t read. Some writers have also joined their ranks.

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Photo of a contemporary book burning from Wikipedia.


Your right to hate speech

This should only be said once.

Dear Nazis, no one is taking away your right to spew your hatred. You’ve been doing it all along: on the Internet, at dinner parties, on bar stools, during Thanksgiving dinner, and now in Portland, where you were met with opposition.

The reason you believe you’re being oppressed or denied rights is because you conflate your right to spew blather, ignorance and mental sewage with the listeners’ need to believe you or agree with you. This is how freedom of speech works. You stand up and spew your hatred, express your ignorance, make public fools of yourselves, and your peers duly note it. When you stage your protest, the counter-group stages theirs. That’s not a denial of your rights. On the contrary: it’s you expressing your right to stand up in public and say “I’m an imbecile!”

We know, and we’ve known all along.

There’s a reason most people don’t believe you. You’re blatantly and idiotically wrong, and your world view is psychological and sociological pollution. Your loathing is based on a false perception, on constructs you’ve never taken the time to investigate or think over. Your ideas would bore most of us if they didn’t lead to violence and the destruction of lives.

It bothers you to witness those you loathe supported politically or enjoying economic success, larger acceptance into mainstream society, or just greater confidence to walk hum-drum down city streets as everyday people and not “others” or “freaks”.  You believe that the success of those you loathe disenfranchises you. That’s to say your power or station in society is not actually the result of anything you yourselves can do or manage. In order for you to feel secure, you need someone else to be struggling or denied their humanity. “How come I’m not wealthier than these people I hate?” Good question. Don’t most of you believe that you get what you deserve, that individuals determine their own fates all on their own?

Your mistake is to think that power and acceptance are ladled out like soup. More soup for “them” means less soup for “you” until the whole pot has been distributed. Forget about the idea for a moment that the difference between “them” and “you” is constructed in your mind. If you woke up to see that your neighbor’s success actually makes your life easier, you’d have no need to raise your right hand in defiance of your society’s democratic values.

But you won’t ever see that. It’s obvious. Every time you speak freely, raise your hands into the air, you make that perfectly clear. It’s clearest when you stand up and wonder why you don’t have the right to speak freely, as if you’re unaware that you’re speaking. That has always been to most baffling part to me. It’s always the loudest and most hateful drunk in the bar screaming “Why isn’t anyone listening to me?”

Soap Box

 

 


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Flooding damage

I had a clogged sewage pipe. The basement flooded, about five inches of water. All sorts of stuff needs to be discarded: rugs, mattresses, clothes. But there are two things that just ripped my heart to shreds.

This is a photo of the box that contains the only hard copy of the novel I wrote while living in Europe between 1996-1999. About a Lithuanian orphan who ends up influencing the life of an historian from Santa Barbara, it was never published. Yes…like The Fugue, this one was just sitting on the floor somewhere.

My wife fell in love with me while reading this book. I developed friendships while writing it, and I became myself as a writer, found my voice somewhere in the middle of it. It contains some of the worst sentences I’ve ever written, so pathetically, honestly unfortunate that they represent an organic beauty I’ll never know again.

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The text is ruined. Also in the box were critiques of my writing I had collected from classmates at Columbia, some of whom have gone on to become quite accomplished and acclaimed writers.

The other damage is a box of letters. Those letters date back to the late 80’s; many of them are in old air mail envelopes. The box contained post cards from ex-girlfriends, letters from men who had witnessed the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania; it’s just a box of treasures, memories, mementos, documents to make sense of my identity and past. Many of them will be saved, but some of them are just trashed.

My computer and cameras survived. So did my tax papers and all sorts of stuff money can replace.

Move your treasures to higher ground.


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My reading at Waterline (video)

Here’s a video of me reading from The Fugue, as recorded by the good folks at Waterline Writers Reading Series in Batavia, Illinois.

If you’re interested in the writing workshop I’m leading, click here.

Gint Aras at Waterline Writers: March 2017 from Waterline Writers on Vimeo.


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How to deal with a narcissist

I’ve been reading accounts from the American press written by journalists stunned to find Trump is worse beyond their expectations. I obviously don’t share their sentiments. I’m an abuse survivor, grew up with a (much less wealthy) Donald Trump in the house, and have the misfortune of currently working with a Donald Trump heading my place of employment. Over the years, I’ve seen what sort of madhouse network dances about men like our president.

Get used to it, America. We are now an abusive family.

Abusive families have three primary players: the abusers, the enablers and the victims. If it isn’t clear, the abuser (Trump) dishes it out while the enablers (the establishment) make excuses for it, attempt to rationalize it, sometimes to benefit from it, thereby supporting it, while the victims (citizens) take insults and deal with disorienting confusion, even chaos.

It’s more complicated and shaded-gray in reality. All sorts of professional people have broken these roles down further. Obviously, there’s overlap between them.

Most abusers were once victims, and still perceive themselves, like Trump does, as mistreated or unfairly targeted. Some enablers also abuse, but all enablers are victims of the abuse, at least to some degree, if even by virtue of needing to depend on it to play a role, complete some task or access a resource. From my point of view, victims are enablers until they remove themselves from the system, decompress, gather their bearings and accept, with as much clarity as possible, what the abuse was truly like. This requires admitting it. They have to make a conscious decision that the abuse stops with them or it simply won’t.

Most of us are nowhere close to that point yet. This is new and bizarre; we’ve been dropped into the madhouse and can’t tell where to focus our attention. It explains why so many of our journalists and other professionals are staring ahead wide-eyed, mouths agape, making delusional claims like “this might lead to totalitarianism” when a totalitarian is already in control, when reporters are being arrested for doing their jobs and protests outlawed in the wake of idiotic, distracting tweets and abject falsifications of reality.

It’s important for everyone in a position of influence, from every level of our government to the whole of our press, our institutions of education, social services, our courts and our legal professionals to understand something unequivocally. Our president is an abusive madman, a narcissist with no capacity to change, no ounce of empathy, no motivation beyond his own aggrandizement.

Showing him photographs to contradict his delusional claims is pointless. Narcissists cannot be “managed” or “influenced.” In my experience, there are only a few ways to deal with a narcissist, none easy or comfortable.

The first is a war of attrition, the arsenal merciless, consistent insult. The insults do not have to be exotic, vulgar or vindictive; speaking about reality, consistently and in a sustained effort, is enough. You’re not very well liked. Most people abhor you. They disagree with your values. They think you’re uncivilized, deranged, mentally ill and unable to grasp reality. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Do it in shifts, like an oiled hockey team crashing the net. He makes a false statement, so you dismiss it, call it a lie and immediately set about ridiculing it in every possible channel, making certain he sees it.

A narcissist will try to exhaust you until you give in, until putting up with whatever the narcissist is doing becomes easier than listening to his assault on reality, or hearing the insults. It’s exhausting, obviously, to tell the narcissist, “No. The tablecloth is white, not yellow,” every time you deal with him. But that is what we must expect. When the president speaks, he is fabricating a delusion in an effort to exhaust our imaginations and mental capacities. He wants to shell-shock us into submission.

Trump will not stop lying. In fact, he’s going to need to lie more as his administration unravels, as people begin abandoning him. He will not respond to reason or rational conversation, and he will continue sending his representatives to meet the press and lie that they intend to tell the truth, one second after they lie.

This seems counterproductive, even masochistic. A narcissist does not lie merely because he can or because it provides him attention (narcissistic supply). A narcissist’s lie gives him power over others’ imagination and feelings. The lies become the parameters of the discussion—we argue over the delusion instead of weighing the reality—and anything the narcissist doesn’t like he’ll claim has been invented by his victims. The technique renders reason useless and obliterates the basic agreements among the educated; you cannot argue with someone who makes up numbers, contradicts himself constantly or tells you your information is fake, what you’ve witnessed is false.

This latter point is most important. An abuser will beat you up or molest you but then accuse you of imagining it. He’ll accuse you of being unfair, of trying to make him look bad when you show everyone your bloody nose. What’s true is what he says; he is the center, the ultimate reference point. Everything, including reality, is subject to his power.

Attacks on a narcissist, in the short term, only increase his bluster. Eventually, however, the embarrassment of enabling him becomes a liability. At that point, exile becomes an option, but it requires a critical mass of enablers to stand up and say they’ve had enough.

The press cannot in good faith come to press conferences and ask Trump’s secretary, “What lies have you for us today? What bullshit of yours should we share?” However, our legislative branch can, and rather quickly, exile Trump to someplace outside the White House. Currently, Congress is Trump’s greatest enabler, far worse than the press, and getting worse as this horror show blusters on.

What will it finally take for our leaders to say they’ve had enough? Well…the usual thing. Massive opposition from an intrepid, inexhaustible, furious (but also clever) populace.

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