Liquid Ink

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

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We probably don’t know what we’re talking about

Yesterday I was reading the newspaper while waiting for my daughter to get out of ballet class. To my right were two women engaged in a typical conversation between parents whose only true connection is that they feel the same activity—in this case ballet—benefits their kids.

One woman was from England, the other Mongolia: they said as much to each other. I couldn’t tell a thing about their social class, except that they paid for a lot of activities. Their cliched conversation—unaware of its bragging and ironies—meandered typically. The kids liked ballet but not gymnastics, karate but not horseback riding, skating but not soccer—or maybe it was soccer but not skating, maybe diamond cutting but not glass blowing.

Whatever. There just wasn’t enough time in the day anymore for all these activities! And school! The homework! Argh!

It was excessive. Truly excessive. Several hours each day. How could their daughters, seven year old girls, get transported from their ninja training to their preparation for the Bolshoi when they also had several hours of daily reading and math?

Soon enough, the women came to the magical discussion: Common Core. All of this was the fault of Common Core. The math was too difficult and the reading too excessive and the numbers funny and the words arbitrary. To quote: “This Common Core is asking them to find the cumulative. Why do they need a word like cumulative?” Then she bragged: “I didn’t even learn that in college.”

I tried to ignore the conversation, as my blood was already boiling just from reading the news. But they kept at it with their Common Core and the meddling and the funny numbers and strange bubbles and the several hours and frustration about why learning couldn’t be fun. (As opposed, I guess, to cumulative.)

I finally interrupted them. “Excuse me,” I said as politely as I could. “I didn’t mean to be eavesdropping, but your conversation leaves me curious. What actually is the Common Core?”

Shishwish wang dabble and frockfrack too complicated. Frigmack moof mackle and ploopluck weird methods. Agwack mick mickle. Zeepopeepopuck. No, impossible, shippity pippity, Because parents can’t do the math.

The women spoke their shishwish wang dabble with conviction and passion. They were so certain of their frigmack moof mackle that their eyes opened wide as entrances to mansions. By the time they got to zeepopeepopuck, they had already built an eight wonder of the world, and there it stood before me in the shape of a Pippity.

The point of this post is not to defend the Common Core. America has long ago burned all of its books and sold off the ash as truth. At attempt to unify what all American kids should know at the end of each grade is bound to present problems, but that’s a discussion for another day.

My point is that these women were guilty of the very thing education should be built to fix. They had no idea what they were talking about but pretended they did. Their evidence was that their daughters’ math homework was unfamiliar, more difficult than they could bear. They did not ask the questions any educated person should know to ask: If as a professional adult I can’t figure out a 2nd grader’s math homework, is it because the problem’s too difficult or my skill level too low? If I don’t know what the Common Core is, how do I know it has something to do with these math problems I don’t like? 

Maybe the reason we can’t figure out our kids’ math homework—um…2nd grade arithmetic—is because we never learned any math at all, just a method to get to an answer within the context of a particular kind of exam. We remove that method and context and find ourselves lost; the cumulative effect of our “education” leaves us spewing nonsense in public, blaming something we don’t understand, have not even bothered to read about, and yet we speak confidently, presenting our ignorance as a paradigm, all while our daughters plié before a polished mirror. Maybe the point of this education reform was to keep future generations from turning into us.

With less than 48 hours left before our polling places open, we can rest assured. The reason we find ourselves in the mess we face is not because of something outside us. We’ll be in this mess so long as we believe that spewing ignorance with confidence is everyone’s right. Because we’re all entitled to our opinions, all our opinions are correct.


Photo from Wikipedia

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Honestly, Europe, now’s not the time

In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten into several conversations with Europeans—British, Dutch, German and Lithuanian—who were having fun at America’s expense. Just today I received an article written by a friend who contemplates American identity as the stuff of hyperbole, superficiality and non-sense. Of course, none of these people could hide their current trepidation, not entirely.

The joy that Europe usually feels poking fun at American idiocy is at once an expression of bewilderment, superiority and self-consciousness. Honestly, I think it’s past time to be poking any fun, and Europeans really do need to start asking themselves some serious questions. What will the continent do in the case of American political, cultural and economic collapse?

People might shrug this question off. European nations are, after all, survivors of calamities. But the current moment is troubling. Europe has looked at the United States, at least since the late 40’s, as a stable global player, and American political and economic interest has been predictable, even dependable, no matter how often it has proven vile. Currently, the threat of chaos is real and I don’t feel Europe is having the necessary conversation.

What’s Europe’s plan if America turns fascist? Make fun of our lack of culture and our poorly educated population all you want, but a fascist America would really put the heat on you. American descent into abjection would strain and risk so many systems. From a bird’s eye view, perhaps a massive teardown of the world’s power structure is exactly what’s necessary for our long-term survival. But it really won’t be any fun to watch the fields getting torched, or to find ourselves standing in the middle of one.

I suppose I’m saying, Europe, that your American friends are ashamed and frightened, and it should embarrass you if at this moment you need to feel better about yourselves by calling us idiots. We know we’re idiots. This thing in America is a mess: we’ve a critical mass of people holding jackhammers to the home’s foundation. If that crew gets to work as it wishes, you might be forced to bunker down in a way you haven’t for many decades. Sure, you’ll survive, as you always have, but I don’t see you laughing on your way to survival, just as I don’t see any global foundation being rebuilt without rational and sensible European leadership.

On an individual level, if you want to be a friend to an American, don’t immediately start pestering or laughing. We know you’re confused, but don’t start an interrogation. Instead, ask us if we could use a cup of tea or coffee. We really, really could, and if you made it for us while we sat forehead-in-palm at the table, we’d only love you. You can spike it with amaretto or brandy while you’re at it. We should have that drink together because, as we both know too well, there’s no place to escape from this planet. No matter what November brings, we’re all going to need each other.


Photo: late summer light along US 45, East Central Illinois.

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Help to fight Facebook’s secret plan!

Dear Liquid Inkers, particularly those who use Facebook:

Facebook will cuckold or whore you, or both, in the next 24 hours if you do not copy and paste this blog entry in its entirety as *your* status update, message it privately to 100% of your friends, and then share your friends’ shares of this share. Know, being cuckolded and whored is not without consequence, not in this or any other civilized society; so if you do not in the next 24 hours (at print it was just around 9:30 AM, GMT -6) copy and paste this text as *your* status update, message it privately to 100% of your friends, and then share your friends’ shares of this share, you will find yourself or your committed lover taken by Facebook to adulterous sheets, to engage acts performed only in hell, swept in the process to diabolical joy.

This is true. I have proof. To quote from Troilus and Cressida (a play by Shakespeare, who is a famous English playwright and poet): “Here is such patchery, such juggling, and such knavery! all the argument is a whore and a cuckold; a good quarrel to draw emulous factions and bleed to upon death.”

There. Now, please help to spread the word.


Image: An Allegory of Folly, by Quentin Masys, taken from Wikipedia.

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I’m like Shakespeare

I can now say, without arrogance or hyperbole, that I have at least one very important thing in common with Shakespeare. This is no small joke, as Will is one of my all time greatest heroes, and I would very much like to be him. I would kill my entire identity if I could be Will for as little as a year, during which time I’d write two world-altering plays and seduce everyone, male and female, old and young, with my poetry.

So, it gives me great joy to report that we have evidence—as if we needed any, to be honest—that William Shakespeare was a pothead, or at least that his soul called out to the buds on occasion, as all good souls do. Read it right here. Share with blunt instruments, like Chris Christie.


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You have difficulties? What a relief!

This week’s True Community, my weekly column on education and men, is an introspective piece. I ended up feeling relief when I learned professors in England and the Continent were also facing poor standards and disinterested students. I wonder where this relief comes from and if it’s the appropriate response.

Hope you’ll check it out and share.

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My 9/11 Memoir

I was living in New York on 9/11/2001. I composed this brief memoir for today’s edition of The Good Men Project.

Sept 11 Fireman