Liquid Ink

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

Are you going to hell?

Americans are confused about this question, so I’ve come up with a way to simplify it for us.

Here’s a brief quiz. Today, you can learn if you’re going to hell in only two easy steps.

Step number one: take the brief quiz.

1.) Do you know the Earth is older than 4,000 years?

2.)  Can you name a single book

3.) Are you making America great?

Correct answers:

1.) Yes

2.) Yes 

3.) Yes  

Step number two, let’s debrief.

If you answered “no” to any combination of the questions, here’s news: hell’s not on its way. It might already be here.

Let’s take a close look at the questions:

Question 1

You’re aware that it takes a tree 50 or 100 years to grow, right? You know a fetus gestates for 9 months, no matter the pregnant woman’s religion? Your body requires 6 to 8 hours to go from chewed-up Italian Beef to Chicago-style bowel movement. It takes an ice cube 20 minutes to melt on a summer day. Rome rose and collapsed over the course of centuries. It takes you fifteen minutes to fill a bathtub with water, yet you think the oceans are 4,000 years old? It takes a child 30 minutes to build a sand castle, but the Himalayan Mountains popped up instantly 4,000 years ago?

Question 2

Where did you get that story about how old the Earth is? How do you win friends and influence people, and where did you first consider the possibility that dealmaking is an art form? Unlike those who think things are black and white, book readers consider the possibility that gray might have 50 shades. That possibility extends itself, quite naturally, to believing that values might also be fluid, that evil might put on a disguise.

Question 3

So…you’re not making America great? Well, what exactly are you doing? How are you going about it? If you need the qualifier…if you need to make America great again—back, for example, to the days when the masses could neither read the Bible nor compute beyond the most basic equations—you need to reconsider. To believe we were ever great is to think we never had anything to improve. It’s to suffer from a sin of pride, which at least one famous book identifies as a grave transgression.

And what, according to the book, is that transgression’s punishment?


Image of the Medieval illustration of Hell in the Hortus deliciarum manuscript of Herrad of Landsberg (about 1180), from Wikipedia

To hear a Republican politician’s prayer

With so many of our leaders once again offering thoughts and prayers following another mass shooting, I find myself wondering what those thoughts and prayers sound like.

What are you praying for, and what does the shape of your prayer reveal about God? When people lie slaughtered, today in Texas, yesterday in Vegas, the day before in Orlando, what words do your hearts send to God? When school children are sliced and diced by weapons designed for no other purpose, how do you shape a prayer?

You cannot possibly have been praying for these shootings to cease. If you’ve been begging Please, Lord, stop the killing—so many times now to have lost count—you should naturally be doubting your faith. That prayer isn’t being answered. If you believe all things happen through God, the slaughters are obviously part of His Great Plan. Your prayer, then, is a hopeless breath, slain silent in the chaos of so many rifle reports and final cries before death.

Do you pray for the souls to find heaven as the bereaved find solace in the wake of our sins? How does God hear that prayer, and only hours after you’ve prayed for further donations from those who profit from America’s addiction to weapons and fear? How does God allow comfort to the grieving when tomorrow yet another parent will lose her child, yet another son his dad, all part of His Great Plan?

Do you pray for the killers to burn forever in hell? Oh, but you couldn’t. That wouldn’t be Christian.

Your prayers aside, honestly, what are these thoughts you keep sending? What are you thinking? Do you imagine the children strewn across the floor of a classroom splattered with blood? Do you keep in mind the portraits of those shot and trampled during a concert? Do you note their names, think of their humanity, wonder what they might have done the next day, had the gunman’s plan run aground? Do you imagine your own loved ones—or, perhaps, you yourself—shredded by the weapons your political allies peddle?

Or do you think the bereaved can now be counted on for votes? Because, let’s face it, in this dangerous country, where every Fate and Fury can buy a gun, they’ll need guns to keep them safe. And who’ll protect their access to guns, the very guns that kept their loved ones safe in school, at the concert, in church and on the dance floor, if not you, messenger of God, disciple of the word? Where would America be without you?

Where would God?


Photo of Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer from Wikipedia.

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The Chicago Cubs and World Wars (or why the Cubs must win)

Like many Chicagoans—I might be able to say most—I feel both excitement and trepidation at the prospect of a Cubs World Series appearance. The reasons for excitement are obvious. My trepidation, however, is complex and affects more than just sports.

I need to note that, while I’m a passive baseball fan, I was raised by White Sox fans and miss old Comiskey Park more than I love Wrigley. This does not mean I loathe Wrigley  or anything similarly asinine. I celebrated the White Sox 2005 victory having long before shed the usual sense of unfortunate tribalism that accompanies Chicago baseball. Still, that tribalism is a special-enough force, so I should disclose my roots. If the two Chicago teams met in the World Series, I’d probably wear a Fisk jersey while watching the games. That won’t happen this year, so Go Cubs!

The consequences of a Cubs World Series title would be monumental. For many, it would be akin to a religious experience, the revelation of truths, or transubstantiation to a Billy Goat. Some Chicago legends might rise from the dead. Of course, being only one out or, Lord forbid, one strike away from Nirvana also sets one up for monumental heartbreak, and if any team has the karma to cub-it-up, it’s the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps instead of a Bartman we’ll see Game Six affected by a douchebag streaker running out to interfere with a routine fly ball, ruining everything.

But that sort of trepidation is minor compared to this unscientific but curious historical observation I’d like to offer: The Cubs do seem to have a knack for correlating their World Series appearances with World Wars, the rise of demagogues and one Great Depression. The 1918 World Series, mind you, saw its last game played on September 11th. The next day, the Americans attacked, acting alone during WWI for the first time, fighting on the brutal Western Front.

In 1929, the Cubs’ World Series loss occurred only 15 days before Black Tuesday. Of course, the Cubs appearances in the 30’s correlate with a variety of noteworthy dates leading up to the rise of Germany and culminating with the 1938 occupation of the Sudetenland.  The 1945 appearance occurred with the war already having ended, but who’s splitting hairs?

Now the world finds itself in a precarious position that does not need an intro. And the Cubs have a double digit lead in their Division as the magic number continues to decline. I shudder.

It must be said that the aforementioned calamities all correlate with Cubs’ World Series losses. So, this October, dear world, please note that we should *all* be Chicagoans. If the Cubs win the National League, by all that is good and just in the universe, may they play to four more victories. We root against them at our own peril.

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A view from outside the universe

Admit it. You have always wanted to see what the universe looks like from outside it. You’re also very interested to know, in physical terms, the scale of the Earth (and yourself) relative to everything everything everything. It would put so much into perspective.

Now you can. Click here.


Image taken from Wikipedia.

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Happy Ending

I’ve come to a realization. There is a massive group of people living in the United States who believe not only in an afterlife but in one that mimics culminations or resolutions of plots they have learned by watching television. This is noteworthy. There are people in American workplaces who seem to be regular and normal but in fact are completely insane.

Let’s pretend you get hit by a garbage truck later on today, and your body ends up smeared all over the cement of your alley. You’re dead. You won’t feel any shame. Yes, it’s embarrassing, perhaps, to end up inside a garbage truck’s container—you’d have to conclude, were you in that predicament, that you’re garbage. But death is not embarrassing, not to the dead. The dead do not write confessions of shame in fucking McCall’s.

The dead, if there is an afterlife, end up someplace where we cannot find them. That place is identical to the place they were before they were born. If it exists the same way snot or shit exists, we’ll never get to it unless we die and find ourselves in heaven’s sewage system. Think about this: you have more access to shit and snot than you do to the afterlife. That is not an insane point of view. If you believe in shit but not in the afterlife, you can be sure you are quite sane. Reverse it, believe in the afterlife but not in shit and send yourself straight to the nearest bin.

Let’s pretend, just for the sake of philosophical engagement, that the afterlife is euphoric. It’s a constant rush of dopamine, a never-ending orgasm, an absinthe enema, a joint of Super Lemon Haze, and a massage from good Miss Mary, topless, all rolled into one. Fair enough. That’s an amazing thing to long for. However, that’s not what happens at the end of an episode of Friends. The ending of your average episode of CSI is substantially less interesting than a massage from good Miss Mary.

So please, believe in your euphoric bliss if you want. Be insane. It’s your right, after all. But please do not confuse euphoria with the resolution of an average episode of Three’s Company. Just because Jack Tripper and Larry meet hot chicks does not mean that the afterlife exists; even if it did, that afterlife probably would be very different from Jack Tripper’s orgasm.

You should note, however, and do this the next time you take a crap, that Jack Tripper is a fictitious character. Your crap is not, even if it starts talking to you and telling you: “You owe Gint Aras $624.”

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What’s a natural thought?

I read an article the other day that asks if the suicidal are selfish. It got me thinking and tweeting, and I found myself remembering moments from my childhood.

I was in grammar school the first time I wondered if the world would be a better place without me. I remember the moment, the thought fresh as frigid winter air, frightening as the face of a demon. I was in church, sitting alone and waiting to confess sins for the first time in my life, horrified about how to tell the priest that I am a little pervert—this would put me in my first communion class. It means I was eight years old.

The memory is gray and cracked, like a black and white photo that survived a war. I can still depend on it, and there are layers that I know to be true. I knew with certainty that the world would, indeed, be better off without me. I was not merely a sinner, but most of the time I provided nothing of use to anyone. If I was useful, it was to make satisfactory public displays, to recite things before groups, to demonstrate my memorization skills (which, in childhood, were phenomenal, far better than what I can memorize today), things that made various adults in school and home glow with pride. Beyond this, I was constantly in need.

I needed food, and I had a gluttonous appetite. I needed clothing. I needed friendship, even if I often preferred to be left alone. I was mostly a burden, and without Jesus I would have been doomed to a horrible eternity of fire, a furnace my imagination raised easily: the space in the heart of a campfire larger than Chicago, deeper than a fallout shelter. If I died without confessing my sins, I’d burn forever. As I burned, trees would grow without me. Stores would still work. Busses would keep lumbering around the neighborhood like drunks.

I didn’t imagine suicide, not really, although I did imagine dying. What would it be like? Would I really be forgiven for everything before I died? I realize now that I had never believed confession led to forgiveness—it was just a temporary post, a kind of way-station where my secrets were examined and evaluated by an elder, but in reality the sins were always there, shoved into a pillowcase I carried on my shoulder like a runaway. Even if I dumped the case, the next perverted thought was looming, coming even as I counted how many I had harbored up to that point. There was no escape, neither in death nor in life. I had nowhere to go except into my own perversions.

My opinion of myself has changed only slightly. Since childhood, I’ve been influenced by Camus, Beckett, Dostoevsky, Pink Floyd and The Cure. I look at myself as a massive consumer of resources, a burden to the system, a mouth in need of energy. I need lights and heat. I need transport. My impact on the world is mostly to its detriment. The universe is better off without me. If I disappear, the sun will burn on one side of the earth as the moon glows milk-white on the other.

Is this an idiot’s thought? If it is, it proves, again, that the the world has little use for yet another idiot.

How are ideas like this—including the concern about whether or not I am useful—born? Is this my natural state, or did I learn to believe this?

And is it really unselfish to wonder if you’re necessary. What if it’s actually the height of megalomania? If I believe I am worthless, isn’t it because I assume I should be worthwhile? And if I I think I should have some value, isn’t that the mark of a self-inflated twit? A twit assumes value is measured in absolutes. He remains blind to the obvious reality: there is no measure of anything that is not contrived.

I attended a Zen lecture yesterday that reminded me how desperately we all cling to delusions of security when there can be no security in an impermanent universe. I was reminded that we are not separate from what we perceive. So, quite obviously, if we feel we provide nothing “of use” to anyone, it’s because the universe provides nothing “of use” to itself. Worrying about your value is like worrying about the value of sunlight. And worrying about death is like worrying about giving the flowers enough water. The thoughts are equally contrived.

At times like these, I like to go to sources of unfathomable beauty. The Brahms Horn Trio. Things like this have no meaning beside themselves. They are, in that way, like petals fallen from obliterated peach blossoms, perfect metaphors for reality.

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Questions for Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Pope Benedict:

It seems that God has changed His opinion on the use of rubbers. Therefore you, His right-hand man on Earth, have now changed the church’s position on prophylactics, or so I read in the Telegraph. I must admit, having read God’s new position carefully, that I am quite confused by this, His latest mystery.

Condom usage “could” be “responsible” when used to halt the spread of disease, but remains immoral when used to prevent life. I am not sure about the meaning of the words “could” or “responsible” in this case. Are we to assume that there is sometimes a case when it is irresponsible to avoid spreading illness? Or do you mean that those sexually active men who know that they are infected with an STD, AIDS for example, should now, according to God’s will, use a condom when having sex? What if the infected person is a woman? Should we ask her, “Are you infected, or do you think you might be infected?” Some clarity on this position, Your Excellency, would aid me in my investigation of God’s ever-increasing mystery.

Of course, as happens with all theological positions and edicts from God, the human mind immediately considers particular situations. (Even one of God’s greatest servants, Abraham in Genesis 18, demanded clarity from God when He stated He would smite Sodom and Gomorrah, history’s first recorded gay tea party.) I am struck now by my situation. Having earned decent grades from diligent study at two of the Lord’s most holy Catholic schools, I learned that I should not have sex with anyone but my wife. It should only be in the missionary position, and then only when we intend to procreate. We cannot procreate during Advent (four weeks), Lent (forty days), on any Holy Day of Obligation (six more days) or during the Sabbath (53 of them this year). In His love for His children, God has left us about 244 days of the year, give or take a Sunday, when we might procreate; of course, we must, for practical reasons, subtract the 20 or so days when my wife has a headache and the 30 or so days when I am either drunk, ill, bloated, exhausted from work or unfortunately limp. So great is God’s love for his children that He has left us about one third of the year to procreate in the missionary position, preferably in a dark room, woe to us if we imagine the neighbor’s spouse (or, so horrible is our lust, members of the Australian Men’s Swimming Team) in the middle of the act.

However, given God’s new opinion, the following theological questions arise: If I have reason to suspect, for example, that my wife might have contracted an STD from a Ukrainian toilet seat–I have in mind the kind available in the задница train station near the Polish border–must I wait until she is diagnosed, or could I potentially have sex with her prior to the doctor’s visit, condom on as a precaution, provided it occurs during one of the legally sanctioned 194 days? Yes, I understand that this would not be sex for the purpose of creating life; however, I *would not* be using the condom to prevent life! Would this situation fall into the category of those when I “could” be acting in a “responsible” way? Which sin separates me further from God? Is it worse for me to be having sex with my wife doggy style on a Wednesday afternoon in November without a condom, or with a condom in missionary position starting on Mardi Gras, the climax accidentally occurring several minutes past midnight, technically already Ash Wednesday?

Please help!

Confused about our Lord’s most Holy Laws, I remain nevertheless His humble student,

Gint Aras