Liquid Ink

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


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Free paper for film class

In case there’s somebody who’s in a crunch and really needs a last-minute paper for their Intro to Film class, I wrote this one. Don’t say I never helped you out. Just cut and paste and hand it in. Don’t worry. Your teacher won’t figure out you got this from the internet.

This paper works for any film class, any director and any project. Believe me. I have proof.

The film’s main point is how there’s like a meaning to anything, including the meaning of things you never even thought about, for example flowers or like a guitar sound in the background, or even a famous actor who you think is hot in real life but in the film they’re just like a regular Joe or even a character who needs to figure out the main part about the movie, which usually gets made up by a director, plus all those people who help out in a film, where you need electricity and somebody to set the table and make sure you have all the different props in the right place, maybe even a couple of things just in case you run out, and then you get to start making it, because it’s generally about how if you want to be strong in this world, then you need a lot of strength and passion, or how it’s not fair because they have money in high places and the poor people always get to sweep the floor or they have to figure out the problem all by themselves, which if you think about it is the same as all the lessons on how they made your life for you and you didn’t even do nothing about it, except maybe a couple of things, which now in days get all around big cities, you know, with social class in it, and then you can’t even see the theater anymore because what are you supposed to do if it costs like ten bucks to go in a film and they ask you for that money right at the window, not outside where the cars are still getting parked, and if you bring your own popcorn pretty much you’ll get told no, you can’t, so that’s why I only got to see like two out of the four films this semester even though I got a lot out of them and I am happy about it since now I know how to talk about film with anybody.

If you fail, just say, “Fuck off. I got this from a film teacher. I put social class in it.”

Good luck.

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Image from Wikipedia.


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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The next threat to American Educators: Murder

Questions:

What’s a good way to keep an educator from provoking a group of young people to think about a point of view that’s unwelcome, unusual or foreign to them?

How could we limit the capacity of a critical thinker to urge youth to explore ideas?

Is there a way an institution of higher education could censor its staff with a high rate of efficiency?

Might it be possible to dissuade a professor from encouraging youth to live an examined life, to urge them toward inquiring whether the ideas they grew up with, the assumptions of their society make sense?

How can we further lower morale among faculty members while further raising it among top-level administrators, particularly those who rarely see or work with actual students, and in some cases earn 15 or 20 times the amount of the lowest paid adjuncts?

Answer:

Threaten faculty with death.

Capture So, it’s not enough to pay your instructors slave wages. It’s not enough to flock them into meetings where overpaid top-level administrators present grids and graphs to highlight just how little money there is for instruction, faculty development or recruitment of talent for the faculty pool. We must also now face the possibility that students will kill us for doing our jobs.

In the meantime, the colleges shrug this off. What can the oligarchs of the American educational system do against the law of the land? They’d better warn the faculty to tread carefully. That, or as the Onion suggests, keep a gun pointed at the students at all times.

Image lifted from GunFreeUT


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Bringing fiction back to the college classroom

Thirteen years ago, I was fresh out of graduate school when I started teaching Composition in the community college. I had brought with me a list of reading materials made up mostly of fiction. I still feel the greatest lessons of my life have come from travel and from reading books with “staying power”, the kind that last decades and centuries, or risk lasting that long. The vast majority of those are works of fiction, the importance of writers like Sigmund Freud or Mary Wollstonecraft notwithstanding.

I started teaching books that had hooked me on literature at a young age, but I soon learned how unusual my enthusiasm was. Everyone knows the story: students don’t care about Huck Finn or Seymour Glass. They won’t spend time with Darl or Sethe, mostly because they don’t have the reading skills to follow As I Lay Dying or Beloved.  Sadly, a lot of students just can’t feel any empathy for “fake” characters living on the edge of sanity.

A mentor had warned me against using fiction. The departmental syllabus suggested readings in non-fiction, and I soon gathered that seasoned instructors had been using collected texts of only 800-1500 words. I ended up joining them, in a way, assigning collections of essays like Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons and Sasha Hemon’s The Book of My Lives. Books like those allow for the kind of concentrated reading lesson possible with a single essay, but they also allow for practice in sustained reading, a skill so many students fail to develop in high school.

Still…there are things even brilliant works of nonfiction just won’t get to, effects they can’t have. The kind of empathy and imagination one uses to animate “real people” (such a farce) operating in a “true story” (such a lie) is quite different from what we employ when we read a work of fiction, especially one like The Brothers Karamazov, where characters might be speaking to devils, or they just might be talking to themselves. The “ultra-violence” in A Clockwork Orange allows us a space to imagine and negotiate—for as long as the book exists—an unfathomable future, while the brutality in a genius work of journalism, Kapuscinski’s Another Day of Life leaves us horrified over the sins of the past as we remember people we might have never learned about.

That difference is important and worth learning.

Even if we take the dolt’s point of view, that fiction is “lesser stuff” than the “trained and true” work of non-fiction, our view is dumber still if we eliminate an entire aesthetic from consideration. So in this New Year, I aim to bring fiction back to the Composition classroom, albeit carefully and with strategy.

While talking to friends in the publishing world, I came across a novel by Lavinia Ludlow, to be released in March, titled Single Stroke Seven. An excerpt, Lost Boy, can be read here at Atticus Review. I’ll be very excited to read it and consider it for the classroom. The reason I think it might be a good novel to use in a course like English 101 is because it critiques our attention deficit culture but does so from the POV of a young, talented and obviously dedicated musician.

This paragraph, in particular, strikes me:

___

…I head to my studio where an eight-year-old boy whose mom uses me for cheap daycare tells me that I’m “a boring lady who sucks” because I’ve made him do nothing but hit quarter notes into a drum pad since he started taking lessons. Out of protest, he spends forty-five minutes kicking the wall in conjunction with his pad strikes, and every so often hurls his sticks toward the drums in the corner of the room.

___

This is, frankly, how many teachers feel these days. And it’s also how students feel, kicking and screaming their way through education. So maybe it would resonate…

Another book I’m considering is Stephanie Kuehnert’s Ballads of Suburbia, which is about a pair of girls who grow up not far from where I currently live. I’ve also thought…fuck it…why not go completely nuts and pick something like W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, perhaps test my colleague’s theory that the best books make people loathe literature.

I’ve also thought about doing something rash to throw all care and strategy out the door, assign David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which I have not yet read, tell the students we’re going to read a long book together just to see what it’s like. That way, I’ll get paid for reading a book I want to read, will be able to set aside class time for the purpose, and the only benefit will come to those student who take away lessons no matter what’s on the syllabus. Now they’ll be able to claim, for the rest of their lives,that they finished Infinite Jest in a community college class, or pretended to…

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Image provided by Lavinia Ludlow.


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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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A series of good questions

What should I do if I can’t come during your office hours?

Also, if I can’t hand in any of my homework, what should I do?

Another thing, I need to know if it’s possible for me to miss class next week because there’s like a trip to Texas my mom is looking forward to taking. You know, the whole family. She’ll be real sad if one of us can’t go.

Oh, man, this computer just crashed. What should I do?


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What I learned at faculty seminar days

Yesterday, on Presidents Day, (In America, we celebrate “presidents”, all of them.) I attended our bi-annual seminar day. On this day, faculty and staff are treated to presentations and other events like raffles and the distribution of service awards, seniority gifts, a dessert social, etc. We also had Union and English faculty meetings.

Here is what I took away from the event. I’m presenting these epiphanies in no particular order, just as they return to my memory:

1.) The best way to treat someone addicted to cocaine is to give them even more cocaine than they currently have. Use it in the classroom.

2.) If you are entertaining, people will pay you tuition. You are entertaining when you are loud and know the secrets of the internet. Entertaining teachers teach an important lesson: volume and internet secrets are important.

3.) If you find yourself in an emergency, read the guidebook. It’ll explain what to do about the emergency. There are eight varieties, all of them with endless variations. (So I guess that makes them similar to musical notes.)

4.) Enrollments rise and fall. When you accept more students into your classes, enrollments will rise. If you reject students from your classrooms, enrollments will fall. This is true right around 100% of the time.

5.) A good way to pass the time is to point out the obvious to a group of people whose degrees place them steadfastly in the 98th percentile of educated Americans. An example of this: take ten people with masters degrees in math, put up a graph before them and say, “Here are the numbers.”

6.) If someone brings a toy to class, turn the toy into a lesson. For example: today’s lesson is on the Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics. Please pull out your cell phones. Look up the following “Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics.” I’ll take your questions. Anybody? No? Class dismissed. (Collect paycheck anyway. Call yourself “innovative”. Brag endlessly. Charge money for your knowledge.)

7.) If  you are pissed off at a colleague, you need a good reason. Example: this colleague makes me angry. Why? Because I’m pissed off.

8.) What you actually do in classrooms is not really all that important. What’s really important is what you will never be able to do in an important classroom. The important room does not yet exist but is in the process of being built for students who do not yet exist but are in the process of being recruited (from nowhere).

9.)    Somebody’s soon going to write a book called 50 Shades of Greyhound that depicts a sado-masochistic orgy on a bus traveling from Toledo to Tuscaloosa.

10.) Everybody’s doing a great job!

 

Image from Wikipedia.