Liquid Ink

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


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Take a meditation course

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be teaching a course this spring at the Zen Life and Meditation Center in Oak Park. The course is called the Core Primer Series. Here’s the description from the Center’s website:

Learn Mindfulness Meditation Today. Our Core Primer Series consists of 8 classes and two practice sessions. These classes will ground you in the fundamentals of living a Zen-inspired life.

If you’re wondering what a “Zen-inspired life” is, you’re asking exactly the same question I asked when I first signed up for a Primer course back in 2012. I’m not going to answer it here, except to say that the Core Primer Series teaches participants to develop a practice that allows for living proactively. Meditation improves one’s well being in countless ways.

You can see the calendar here. I’m teaching the class that begins April 7th, Saturdays from 10:00-11:30.

If anyone has questions about this class, they can send them here.

 

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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.

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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.