Liquid Ink

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


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Reading this Tuesday: Tuesday Funk, Chicago

If you’re in Chicago this Tuesday, I hope you’ll join me at The Hopleaf for Tuesday Funk #110. The exciting lineup includes Parneshia Jones, Henri Harps, Jeff Ruby and Britt Julious

I’ll be reading an excerpt from my manuscript-in-progress, which I expect to finish by the end of the year. I have not shared a single word of this manuscript with anyone yet, so Tuesday Funk revelers will be treated to a public premier. My current project is a memoir that deals with perceptions of race, and links between racism, trauma and forms of abuse.

The vitals:

Tuesday, November 7th.
Admission is free, must be 21 to attend.
Doors open at 7pm sharp, show starts at 7:30pm. 

5148 N. Clark St., Chicago

Please RSVP on Facebook — and if you haven’t yet, please like Tuesday Funk’s page so you get their announcements right in your stream.

This is me writing at Volumes:

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Photo by Rebecca George.


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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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Are author interviews boring?

The reason I’m asking this question is because The Next Best Book Blog has run an interview of me today (click here) . It’s a series called Would You Rather, and the header asks a rhetorical question: Bored with the same old-fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? I had a load of fun answering those questions and I hope you’ll check it out.

I got to thinking during the interview. I’m not like those authors who want to cut themselves when they hear “Where do your ideas come from?” or “What are your greatest influences?” As I blogged yesterday, I often forget my influences, but I also feel a bit ashamed about them; so many are the usual books writers are “supposed to know”. Still, if I had to pick from among cliches and sentiments, I’d rather answer questions like, “Does an artist have a responsibility to society?” or “Is there any way to bring back the noble hero?”

Asking a writer where ideas come from is obviously loaded,  and to certain parties can be a put down. What do you mean where do my ideas come from? They come from me. I know a lot of people assume they “lack ideas” (they don’t, and more about that in a moment), and ideas must “exist somewhere”. But how would we feel if we asked a writer, “Hey, where do you get your ideas?” and s/he answered, “A vending machine outside Hammond, Indiana.” Would we seek out that machine? Would the art be interesting, then, if you could buy it for a quarter?

Any time I hear a piece of beautiful music or read an amazing book, I’m stunned by the artist’s creation. It’s shocking to think there existed nothing, but then an artist came around and released a symphony or an epic poem or a monumental sculpture straight out of empty space. It must have a source! Where? Tell us where!

That hope for a source is worth investigating.

I had a neighbor once tell me—most writers hear something like this—that, despite never having written a thing, she should write a book about her life. I asked why. Oh, she said, my ex-husband cheated on me, and I had a tough childhood, and my eldest daughter is in therapy over my ex-husband’s affairs, and I used to work in hospitality but I quit because I thought I’d raise a family.

She felt the weight of all this experience, all the sadness. I could sense it. But was it all that different from what anyone else has ever felt? Who knows. The book she imagined doesn’t exist. She never found (or carved out) time to sit and write.

Curious things happen when you force people to sit and write. I see it among my community college students. Most of them—perhaps 90% of them—believe they lack ideas. They’ll prove it to you: ask them to write a regular old college essay and it will drip with “say no to drugs” and “it’s unfair to be judged” cliches high schools dump into young brains. But when you make them freewrite—just keep pen to paper for ten minutes without pause and allow whatever comes to come—all kinds of intimate surprises appear.

If you want to know where writers’ ideas come from, try freewriting. When you see what’s there, what came from you, ask yourself which of those bits you’d be willing to develop and share with strangers. That’s what a writer is. We share the bits most people pack away while wondering where the good ideas are.

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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.