Liquid Ink

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


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‘Relief by Execution’ by Gint Aras

“A beautifully crafted and poetic essay that deals with multiple big-ticket issues in a cohesive and fluent way, Gint Aras’ Relief by Execution is a pocket-sized must-read.”

Centered on Books

relief-by-execution-arasGint Aras’ newest release, Relief by Execution, is an essay about cultural community, universal calamity, and the power of transformation.

Aras begins his long-form essay with an introduction to himself: the son of Lithuanian refugees living in a segregated neighborhood in Chicago. We learn of the unsurprising racism in Aras’ neighborhood and his family’s equally racist attitudes. We learn of Aras’ own brushes with brutality by the hands of his father, and we learn that Aras is interested in the complicated relationship between Christian and Jewish Lithuanians.’

At first the story seems jumbled, a mix of interesting and horrifying events that don’t quite piece together. That is until, Aras embarks on his own adventure to his homeland and feels at odds with visiting the concentration camps in Europe, but why? Aras admits that it’s not because he’s afraid of being emotionally affected by the atrocities committed against humanity; instead, he’s…

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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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We are all members of our culture

I’m depressed today because I know I’m complicit. Separating myself from the culture—indeed, the cultures—to which I belong is impossible.

I am an American at a terribly low point in our history, and I can’t separate myself from the embarrassing maelstrom in our daily rhetoric, the “leaders” we believe reflect our values, at least in part. I refuse to use their names in this post. Using their names has for a long time been part of the problem, a way of using attention junkies to gain attention.

I’m an educator at a time when education is far less effective than it should be, both yielding and reflecting the maelstrom. I’m in higher education at a time when the whole system—the system that compensates me so that I might pay my student loans—looks at students as streams of revenue, at courses as products, and thinks of itself the way an empire might, at its teachers the way Pharaoh saw captured troops. A contemporary college’s greatest partner is a bank. Its greatest enemies are artists and philosophers.

I’m a man of letters at a time when people argue in comments about clickbait headlines. Despite the headline’s purpose, so many don’t bother to click, yet freely unload their frustrations, ignorance, hatred, fear and anxiety. I have written such headlines in attempts to profit. My refusal to monetize this blog is a cheap and pathetic attempt at integrity, one whose sincerity is questionable. It’s embarrassing to receive a “paycheck” for your “writing” in the amount of $6.00, the result of 12,000 “clicks”. We’ll say, “Hey, better $6.00 than 0!” We justify so many vile acts this way.

I could go on. I think I’ve summarized the situation well enough. No…I’ll go on.

I am a child of migrant refugees who now fear and loathe migrants and refugees, who blame refugees for failing to contain a war that banished them from their homes, migrants for working jobs that, if performed by others, would raise prices. Among us are sons and daughters of those displaced because tyrannical demagogues decided to send their armies into battle, slaughter citizens en masse. These children of the displaced today support a demagogue and tyrant. I am complicit in this irrational fear, in this simultaneous hatred and denial of one’s back story. I have paid money to companies that financed movements and politicians who profit by inflaming the maelstrom. Some of these politicians hold shares of the company that sends me a bill each month.

That bill buys a product that’s bad for me. The company knows, all of its employees know the product is bad for me. How many of us pay our bills from the sales of products we know are bad for the people consuming them, and how many of our bills represent purchases we know are bad for us, bad for our kids, bad for people not yet born? The maelstrom swirls, gaining speed. We all know what we’re doing, and we go about it as if there’s no alternative.

Our national rhetoric is about to achieve a level of profanity we may not be able to imagine. I think it’s important, right now and right here, for all of us to stop using this sentence: “Look at what they’re doing over there.” That’s a dangerous delusion, part and parcel of the problem. The correct sentence is this one: “Look at what we’re doing over here.” If we could wake up to ourselves, to our actual predicament, which is that our conditions are the result of our actions and ideas, we’d see the alternative path.

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Discussing bigotry

In 1996 I worked in Linz, Austria as an English teaching assistant. The main job was at the BORG (Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium), a high school for advanced, mostly college-bound students. On one of my first days at work–I was twenty-three years old and without any idea of what to expect–a certain Herr Professor put me up in front of his English class, about sixteen pupils. He introduced me as the new teaching assistant, then moved to the side and left me up at the board. In a matter-of-fact tone, he belted out instructions, “Our class has been reading about the civil rights era in the United States. I’d like for you to explain to us why America is so racist.”

The experience taught me about problems in any discussion or accusation of bigotry, especially across groups that have very different sensitivities. Is America racist? Well…yes, quite. But the Herr Professor’s question was also bigoted, loaded with idiotic assumptions, including the belief that it’s somehow fair to ask a single representative of a community or group to first speak in its name, then explain something notable about its sociology. The pupils and instructor seemed ready to draw very serious conclusions from my answers, and the class turned into the interrogation of a twenty-three year old, almost a test. Would you marry a black girl? Do you have any friends who are black? Would you work for a black boss? Do you believe black people are as smart as white people? The Herr Professor, much to my shock, did nothing to reposition or edit the self-incriminating questions.

This is exactly the sort of self-incrimination coming from those who have rushed to the defense of Petras Lescinskas, the unfortunate Lithuanian basketball fan found guilty of a racially aggravated offense at the Olympics. Among the defenses is this misguided juxtaposition of hand gestures separated by over 70 years of history. In Facebook discussions, and in the comments under articles covering the arrest, you’ll find all sorts of banter. A faction claims that Lescinskas didn’t mean to be racially offensive and, therefore, wasn’t. He was just a passionate fan, and the British cops perceived him as racist. He should have freedom of speech. The apologists also claim that the hand gesture means all sorts of things.

Well, yes. It does and has, most likely dating back to the dawn of civilization. The raised arm on this man is honoring Shiva, and these elementary school pupils are posing for a stock photo. Lescinskas, however, had something very different in mind from Rowan Atkinson or even the Olympic statue (that predates WWII). Few people see a Lithuanian saluting with the arm and imagine him imitating the  statue, paying tribute to Shiva or asking for Herr Professor’s attention.

Lithuanians have earned a reputation for tribalism, small-mindedness, drink and boisterous non-sense, especially at sporting events, concerts and festivals. The behavior of Lescinskas and his entourage, bigotry and all, makes far more news than Lithuanian efforts toward sustainability, for example, which many countries could learn from. But Lithuania could do well to start taking cues from European neighbors like the United Kingdom when it comes to points of view on race and ethnicity.

The bigotry expressed by this basketball fan and his apologists does not exist in a sub-culture. Conversations about race with Lithuanians–even those who have lived abroad for decades, or others who are quite well educated–are often tedious. I’ve met plenty of Lithuanians who look at race and ethnicity as absolutes, not social constructs; they’d think me insane, for example, if I suggested that a Nigerian could become a Lithuanian or vice versa. But ask for a definition of “Lithuanian”. Four nationalists will give you four definitions, each one vehemently dismissing the others. You realize how delusional and isolating it is to believe ethnicity is the sun at the center of an identity system.

Consider the photograph posted below, Lithuanians in blackface. At one point the performance had been available on YouTube but has since been taken down for copyright infringements. It is from a television show called Chorų Karai (Choir Wars), one of these live competitions. The show aired in primetime, the summer of 2006, on national Lithuanian television. It showed Lithuanians in blackface–some dressed as maids, others in odd adaptations of traditional African garb–all of them dancing about while, at the piano, a man in blackface (not pictured) led a version of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack”. I told my friends, all of them college-educated, that this was rather offensive. They told me I was taking it too seriously; I was being American. Americans see racism everywhere. When I pointed out the history of the minstrel show, they all waved it off. These people don’t know anything about that. They’re just trying to have a good time with a song. They’re not trying to insult anyone. It’s a performance. They’re just acting like blacks.

Second City’s ETC, the training ground for the comic troupe, has a rule about writing comedy and satire. You’re not allowed to make fun of or represent a group unless you are a member of that group. I don’t necessarily agree with it but understand the reason for it. It helps to keep the proper sensitivities and perspectives in place.