Liquid Ink

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


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Lie, steal and stop listening to NPR

This is a wonderful presentation by Tracy Letts at Chicago Ideas Week, 2013. I just came across it today. It answers the questions: How can you live a creative life? and How can you open yourself up to ideas and creative impulses? Enjoy.

If you can’t watch the video, there’s a transcribed summary here.

“Stop drinking, but do drugs.”

Tracy Letts v2 from Chicago Ideas Week on Vimeo.


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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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Drunk husband

I hope you’ll check out today’s Good Men Project article, Dragging a Drunk Husband Home. I’m still in Vilnius, and I witnessed a scene that got me thinking about the private and public lives married couples lead.

By the way, Vilnius is just amazing right now!

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Response to readers

I was very moved by some of the responses that I got to (trigger warning!) my republished version of Baptism Party. If you have not read that essay and have stumbled on this post at random, know that, as a memoir of my abusive childhood, the piece is very difficult to read and might remind traumatized readers, especially those who experienced life with an alcoholic, of their past.

For obvious reasons, many of the responses did not appear in the comment sections. They came directly to me  from subscribers to the Good Men Project, readers who have been following me since the publication of Finding the Moon in Sugar and also former students. The majority were from people who suffered at the hands of a narcissist, or who grew up with pervasive intoxication either at home on in their community. What shocked me—it actually rattled me up—was how many readers quoted this part of the essay:

Children of narcissistic alcoholics will tell you they inhabit the homes of their childhood about as often as their dreams, as so many of their dreams, in daytime as in sleep, are the stubborn memories of childhood. At times when I must return physically to the house, I always enter twice, initially through a sequence of vivid memories and images. As they play out, I construct a fortress of introversion around myself. It does not matter if I am simply dropping off borrowed jars or coming into a full-blown party. Each time I enter, I brace for an assault, though I can never be sure what kind.

I had not really spoken to any “children of narcissistic alcoholics” prior to writing this. Sure, I had read books, attended some meetings, and I had spoken to a variety of therapists before writing the essay. I had also heard stories from people at work. But I can’t say that I wrote that paragraph believing I had gotten to the heart of something. Quite frankly, I thought I was taking calculated liberties.

If you are among those readers who took time to write and say, “That’s exactly how I feel,” know that I was deeply moved. What’s shocking is that so many of us feel something private and sinister while we exist inside that “fortress of introversion”, however we dress it up, but if we could lift our heads out for a moment, we’d find ourselves in a community we didn’t know we had. Realizing this helped me quiet the voice in my head, so similar to the one I write about, the one that criticizes me constantly, bellowing: “Why the hell are you writing this self-indulgent horseshit? No one cares. Grow up! Get over yourself!” (Doesn’t that remind you of anyone?) It’s so much easier to tell that voice, “Take a look at these letters I’ve received. Take a look at this group of people that has no idea what they share, and with how many!”

There are more of us than any of us know. We are invisible even to each other as we sit lonely in cafes or ride the bus to buy soap and toothpaste. Your responses have given me enormous energy. I’m encouraged to continue writing about these important issues of abuse, trauma, self-realization, social confusion and all the close toxic cousins. Thank you so much for all the well-wishes, the sympathy and your expressions of vulnerability. That is all I can say. I feel it is not enough.