Liquid Ink

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


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Writing advice from Alan Watts

This is kind of classic Alan Watts. I just stumbled on it while looking for a text for a student. Watts says he has no advice and then gives the best advice you’ll ever get.

Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.

Alan_Watts_age7

Photo of Alan Watts, age 7, from Wikipedia.


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This is how you give a commencement speech

“The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” -David Foster Wallace

These kids probably learned more from the commencement speech than they did from four years in college. Enjoy and share.


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I saw Godzilla

I went to the cinema for the first time since my daughter was born in 2009. I usually can’t justify it, not with writing deadlines and grading due and children to care for. But yesterday I was met with some writers block, and I chose to go see a film.

What intrigued me about Godzilla was essentially one scene in a 30 second trailer; it shows Godzilla screaming down into the camera while juxtaposed to Chinese lanterns. The scream and dark mise-en-scene really affecting my feelings, and I felt the film might actually be frightening. I think monster movies, while accessing our deepest fears, are usually really stupid, but I also think their stupidity is important. There’s only so much you can do with the plot of a monster movie. Then again, there’s only so much we can do with our monsters.

I did not expect a film full of candy for cinephiles. It includes off-hand references to Kurasawa and Kubrick (Gareth Edwards, the director, uses Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, one of my favorite compositions, in a masterful sequence depicting paratroopers jumping from a plane and falling through a gray and orange sky). It’s also full of delightfully ironic and blithe meta-film, screens depicting newscasts of monsters tearing up Vegas while clueless gamblers focus on slot machines. The film takes itself just seriously enough to offer important commentary on our human arrogance before nature and our belief that technology—specifically military technology—can solve all our problems. But it retains the whimsy necessary to make a monster movie. In the end, its entire premise—I won’t get into it, because it’s part of the delight, but the film deals with nuclear technology and uses the history of nuclear testing and atomic warfare as part of its plot—is absurd. To pretend it isn’t would be folly.

I also did not expect the film to present a Zen argument. This is still a Hollywood film, a remake of a Japanese monster movie. The Zen lesson amounts to pop-Zen, perhaps a good step above the kind available in Tron Legacy, but it’s still rooted in lessons that are sincere and wise. Essentially the lesson is that our self-inflation is the problem, larger than the monster we perceive, a creature that is actually benevolent. I felt the lesson provided a refreshing counterpoint to the usual themes of Biblical apocalypse and redemption at the heart of most monster or disaster narratives that come out of Hollywood. It was also fun to be part of a community for whom this film was clearly meant.

In short, I really recommend it. There’s a lot more to it than what monster movies usually bring, and it includes some really poetic cinematography.


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Rare footage of LSD test (video)

If you’ve taken LSD before, you’ll know what this woman is trying and failing to explain. I have recently been thinking about some of the more transcendental psychedelic experiences I had during my college years and comparing what they revealed to what Zen meditation reveals. The overlap between insights offered from psychedelic experience and Zen practice, especially when rooted in mindfulness training, aren’t merely uncanny. They are essentially directing attention to the same thing, this “it” that the woman keeps trying to explain. While she’s hung up on the “prisms” and “colors”, it’s only because the “wholeness” of her experience is beyond what language can handle. It’s true for anyone, not just the tripping: our experience is greater than what language can handle, greater than what we can be aware of consciously…and I’m about to babble.

I’m so happy this interview is available.


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Boredom is a choice—new article

In my most recent True Community article, I consider a phenomenon I see over and again at the community college. Students come to classes believing it’s the job of the class or the professor to keep them engaged.

I have, in the wake of this trend, begun lecturing students on the nature of boredom. I’ve actually started teaching mindfulness in class, and this semester I made two of my classes meditate. I don’t know if it will have any effect but it’s been keeping me interested. I may very well become a member of the Contemplative Mind in Society. This is coming from someone who belongs to zero academic organizations.

Hope you’ll read and share my article.

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Photo by zoetnet


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I miss teaching Sophie’s World

The article I composed for tomorrow’s edition of True Community reminded me of the first book I ever used in my sections of English 101. Sophie’s World is one of my favorite books, and not just because it tells the story of western thought. I like it because of the story Jostein Gaarder creates, essentially in response to the dry nature of most philosophy textbooks. It’s a book I recommend highly. This isn’t a book review, not a traditional one, but know that Sophie’s World is one of those books that stands to be ruined for you if you read even the mildest commentary on Amazon or some other place.

I abandoned the book because students found it tedious, way too abstract and, yes, boring. I can’t tell you how shocking I find this. The history of ideas is boring? What do you find interesting?

In the meantime, of course, I’ve developed a Zen practice, and the very concept of dualism is something I would no longer really subscribe to. Perhaps it’s time to bring Sophie’s World back to my classes, and to offer that point of view to the students who’ll end up reading it.

I might just do it.


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The origins of the cold

My daughter has been talking to me about the temperature lately. She’s four years old and doesn’t like the cold. She knows that places like Los Angeles and Odessa, cities she’s visited, are warmer than Chicago. Of course, she has endless questions, including this one: “Can we move to California?”

Perhaps I’m the only parent I know who doesn’t completely (and I mean entirely and thoroughly) delight at her endless battery of “why”. All children are philosophers. It’s not stupid to wonder why there isn’t any grass under the evergreens or why one part of the world virtually never gets snow. She asks me why people begin as children and not the other way around. Why can’t we start as adults and get younger? (In other words, why can’t we be born allowed to do all the stuff she really wants to do?) Yesterday she asked me if we could Skype Charles Mingus. And she consistently asks about my childhood, though not only because she’s curious about me. At the end of a story, she’ll ask questions like this one: “And when you were fishing with your grandfather, where was I?”

Like her, I was insatiably curious as a child, and not merely about the things I saw in my world. My curiosity led to an identity as a bookworm; books, as we know, present ten new curiosities for every one they satisfy. So I had tons of questions, all of them impossible to answer. Many of my questions had to do with origin and the past. I rarely wanted to know how something functions, but I was always interested where it came from.

I was probably seven or eight years old when I asked an adult where the cold came from. I understood that heat came from things that burned. I knew that the sun, a star, was burning, and that gas flames in my childhood home heated the water that circulated through our radiators. But what generated the cold? Was cold just the standard state, the way things actually were when you removed all fire? If this was true, was it “more real” than heat? In other words, was heat artificial?

The adult told me that cold comes from the air. Air is cold. You can feel it if you stand in the wind. So when you have air, you have cold. And if you want air to warm up, you need fire.

Most adults in my childhood answered questions this way. He spoke authoritatively even though I knew he simply didn’t understand my question. By the time I was seven or eight, I had learned not to press on, to explain that this could not possibly be the answer. Air could not be the source of cold because air did not exist at the beginning of the universe. This was in all the books, even the Bible.

I tried to ask another adult, a teacher this time. She told me the cold doesn’t come from anywhere. Cold just is. But I didn’t believe this answer, mostly because I strongly believed a priest who had taught that everything had an origin someplace. If this were true, cold must have been created just as fire was created.

No book I could find in the library or in school helped me with my problem. The question remained unsolved until I learned about absolute zero in high school. My understanding was that the lowest possible temperature in reality actually couldn’t be reached. I interpreted this in a radical way: cold doesn’t exist. Every temperature is a measure of warmth, either some or a lot. While we feel uncomfortable in negative temperatures, it doesn’t mean we’re experiencing cold. What we’re really experiencing is a smaller amount of heat than we would like.

It strikes me now that this is a rather Zen-like way of understanding something. The teacher who had told me that “cold just is” had one way of looking at cold, but the truth was that “cold is just in your head.” Sure, certain temperatures will kill you. But “cold” is a concept, a construct. The origin of cold is the mind.

Cold is, therefore, a kind of poetry, brutal and hard-kicking, harsh on the skin. It retracts gonads and turns exhales into spectres. Seeing this poetry in action is no consolation to the freezing, perhaps, although I propose an experiment. Next time you’re waiting for a bus in an ice storm, see what happens if you think, “What a harsh poem I’m telling myself.” When you see how something functions, you often realize where it comes from.

Elvensky