Liquid Ink

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


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Readers ask: What’s your religion?

I’ll reveal that this question comes from students. I think it’s worth saying a few things about it on my blog.

Obviously, I write a lot about religion. Religion is a powerful force in the game of human fate, with tentacles in everything from political systems to educational institutions, nations’ customs and individuals’ identities. I’ve studied religions both formally and informally, and I’ve read a lot of the sacred books, including the Bible, Bhagavad-Gita and others.

I’m in the school that says you can’t really study Western Civilization without knowing the Bible, and you’re at a massive disadvantage as a student of literature if you don’t know at least the plots of the major Bible stories, including lessons in ethics like the Book of Job, the Sermon on the Mount or Paul’s letters. This isn’t just because every book of note will be packed with allusions to the Bible, but also because certain cultural assumptions trace themselves to a Judeo-Christian understanding of reality.

This is an evasive way of saying I’m neither Christian nor Jewish, but that I have deep reverence for the ethics and lessons of those traditions. Granted, I was raised Catholic, which is a lot like saying you used to be a cop or a member of the Latin Kings. Once you’re in, your mind will forever be affected. You can pawn your badge or burn all your black and gold, but the way you see the world remains. I have an easier time remembering the Act of Contrition than all the passwords I use on the internet.

I don’t identify as Catholic. Beyond that, my personal spirituality is a private matter.

Readers of this blog know I belong to a Zen center. I’ve written about mindfulness and trauma on multiple occasions, and I’m quite open about my meditation practice. Zen practice was as effective, if not more effective at treating my PTSD —at least after a certain period of time— as talk therapy. I stayed on because, frankly, it’s a sensible way of looking at the contemporary world, and I’ve also met wonderful people at the center.

What does a Zen Buddhist believe? My advice to anyone who wants an answer to that question is to try meditating. That’s the answer. While Zen has its set of ethics, it does not offer a list of rules that need to be followed. With the exception of meditation, there’s not really a set of beliefs or behaviors that equal Zen. What’s there to believe, and who’s in position to believe it? That’s a Zen question.

Still…this probably doesn’t satisfy the readers’ question. If I’m going to do something besides evade it, I should probably make an offering. What I’m willing to do is to present a list of questions that currently make up what I like to think of as my spiritual journey. I don’t have answers for them:

  • Is time a line, a circle or some other shape?
  • Is consciousness the result of the brain or is the brain the result of consciousness?
  • Will the individual please stand up?
  • What must be done in order to count beyond one?
  • Where is the past?
  • Where is the future?
  • If Jesus truly believed in paradise, would he have raised Lazarus?

 

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Photo: 9/11 Memorial, New York City 


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Two new articles today

I’m excited that two new articles about The Fugue appeared today, one of them in time for Lent.

The first is from Newcity, the Chicago alternative press. Amy Danzer calls The Fugue a must read.

Aras’ novel examines the persistent haunting of traumatic pasts, the burden of bearing dark secrets, the lightness that comes with confession, the profound desire to feel understood, and the varying degrees to which people are responsible to one another.

The second is Leland Cheuk’s interview of me. You can read it in Entropy. I talk to Cheuk about Catholic guilt, the state of publishing, trauma and how to remain accessible while writing about topics like visual art and classical music.

I have no training in visual art and only a year of piano. I’m neither a composer nor a sculptor—for that matter, neither am I a priest or a physician, two important players in the narrative—but I really wish I could be everyone at once and learn everything they know. Writing a novel is, for me, a vicarious experience. Life forces us to pick a limited number of roles. But a novel is an antidote to life’s pigeonholing.

Please check out these publications and share the articles.

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Reading at Tuesday Funk: (video)

Thanks so much to Eden Robins and Andrew Huff of Tuesday Funk for shooting and posting this video of me reading from The Fugue at Tuesday Funk in December of 2015. This video actually represents only the second time I had read from the book in public.

Tuesday Funk is one of the best reading series in any city. If you’ve never had a chance to attend, the next one is February 2nd at the Hopleaf. Click here for more information.

The following bookstores promise to keep copies of The Fugue in stock:

The Book Table, Oak Park, IL (Autographed copies, will ship in continental USA)

City Lit Books, Logan Square, Chicago

52nd Street Bookstore, Hyde Park, Chicago

The Morton College Bookstore, Cicero, IL


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Another blurb for The Fugue

The advanced reading copy of The Fugue is almost done. While anticipating how it will look, I received this humbling blurb from Alan Ziegler.

A character in The Fugue describes the eponymous musical form as having melodies “weave together like braids or plaits, then split up and come back together again.” One of Gint Aras’s many achievements in this constantly compelling novel is to propel the reader back and forth in time, encountering several generations of characters (mostly congregants and clergy at St. Anthony’s in Cicero) in various permutations with each other and in relationship to a house fire, the central act of violence (and many subsidiary affronts) that bind and break them. 
 
Set in the Lithuanian community during the decades following World War II, The Fugue is partly a “whodunit,” but is more concerned with the steps leading up to and fallout from what’s been done. Aras is a master with dialogue (especially when characters are inarticulate with each other) and details. We vicariously experience such acts as converting beer bottles “into a crude stained glass,” writing with an antique fountain pen, eating, playing and composing music, and sculpting from scrap metal, seemingly innocuous details Aras exploits to accentuate evil and surprise us with good. Aras doesn’t sugar-coat the agonies—great and small—endured and perpetuated by his cast; rather, he spices them in such a way that you feel the bite on your tongue and remain hungry for more. Amidst shattered lives, it is still possible for broken pieces to find each other and make something beautiful.
 
The Fugue is scheduled for release on December 7th, 2015.
A view of the Lithuanian wayside cross beside St. Anthony's Parish School, Cicero, Illinois.

A view of the Lithuanian wayside cross beside St. Anthony’s Parish School, Cicero, Illinois.


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Questions for Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Pope Benedict:

It seems that God has changed His opinion on the use of rubbers. Therefore you, His right-hand man on Earth, have now changed the church’s position on prophylactics, or so I read in the Telegraph. I must admit, having read God’s new position carefully, that I am quite confused by this, His latest mystery.

Condom usage “could” be “responsible” when used to halt the spread of disease, but remains immoral when used to prevent life. I am not sure about the meaning of the words “could” or “responsible” in this case. Are we to assume that there is sometimes a case when it is irresponsible to avoid spreading illness? Or do you mean that those sexually active men who know that they are infected with an STD, AIDS for example, should now, according to God’s will, use a condom when having sex? What if the infected person is a woman? Should we ask her, “Are you infected, or do you think you might be infected?” Some clarity on this position, Your Excellency, would aid me in my investigation of God’s ever-increasing mystery.

Of course, as happens with all theological positions and edicts from God, the human mind immediately considers particular situations. (Even one of God’s greatest servants, Abraham in Genesis 18, demanded clarity from God when He stated He would smite Sodom and Gomorrah, history’s first recorded gay tea party.) I am struck now by my situation. Having earned decent grades from diligent study at two of the Lord’s most holy Catholic schools, I learned that I should not have sex with anyone but my wife. It should only be in the missionary position, and then only when we intend to procreate. We cannot procreate during Advent (four weeks), Lent (forty days), on any Holy Day of Obligation (six more days) or during the Sabbath (53 of them this year). In His love for His children, God has left us about 244 days of the year, give or take a Sunday, when we might procreate; of course, we must, for practical reasons, subtract the 20 or so days when my wife has a headache and the 30 or so days when I am either drunk, ill, bloated, exhausted from work or unfortunately limp. So great is God’s love for his children that He has left us about one third of the year to procreate in the missionary position, preferably in a dark room, woe to us if we imagine the neighbor’s spouse (or, so horrible is our lust, members of the Australian Men’s Swimming Team) in the middle of the act.

However, given God’s new opinion, the following theological questions arise: If I have reason to suspect, for example, that my wife might have contracted an STD from a Ukrainian toilet seat–I have in mind the kind available in the задница train station near the Polish border–must I wait until she is diagnosed, or could I potentially have sex with her prior to the doctor’s visit, condom on as a precaution, provided it occurs during one of the legally sanctioned 194 days? Yes, I understand that this would not be sex for the purpose of creating life; however, I *would not* be using the condom to prevent life! Would this situation fall into the category of those when I “could” be acting in a “responsible” way? Which sin separates me further from God? Is it worse for me to be having sex with my wife doggy style on a Wednesday afternoon in November without a condom, or with a condom in missionary position starting on Mardi Gras, the climax accidentally occurring several minutes past midnight, technically already Ash Wednesday?

Please help!

Confused about our Lord’s most Holy Laws, I remain nevertheless His humble student,

Gint Aras