Liquid Ink

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


Leave a comment

Alone at graduation

This week’s True Community, my weekly column about men and higher education, is about the students with whom I identify most strongly: they come to graduation alone, and they make it through college with barely any support from an elder.

Graduation is usually pitched as a family celebration. For some, it’s a celebration of nerve and resolve, but still an experience of isolation.

I hope you’ll check it out. And do share.

cap-and-gown[1]

 

Photo by John Walker.


1 Comment

Synchronicity with Arkadii Dragomoshchenko

Note: I was asked by Mikhail Iossel to write this text. It ended up posted on his Facebook.

Early this summer, I needed to ride a train and a bus across Chicagoland, a trip that would take a good hour or so. Buying coffee, I looked in my bag to find I had forgotten to bring a book, so I went to my neighborhood bookstore to browse around. My desires were straightforward: a book of shorts, either poems or essays or stories, something that would not weigh down my bag very much. And I wanted to spend less than ten dollars.

Several books caught my eye, but I finally settled on a tiny little tome, a simple black and white cover. It was titled Dust, a collection of essays by Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. The blurbs said something about memory and dreams, favorite topics, but besides this, I had no idea who he was. I knew he had been translated from Russian, and I trusted Dalkey Archive Press. The book also cost less than six dollars.

The first sentences engaged me in a way books rarely do. As the initial paragraph made its way through my mind, I felt Dragomoshchenko’s prose was braiding strands of light among my thoughts; the effect was a trancelike wonder at the power of words to evoke spaces and sensations in the imagination. I had to stop reading for a moment to begin again—perhaps I was not concentrating properly. But this was simply the effect. The sentences were about something familiar, even tactile and intimate—knives, streets, shells—and yet his ideas and gestures flowed from one unexpected moment to another, cutting at angles that seemed invisible, passages that operated by association and accident, but also depended on some perverted mathematical principle, perhaps algebra. I read slowly, patiently, and let go of any need to understand this man, this Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. I simply let myself experience his beautiful visions, accept his gifts.

Later on in the summer, all the way in Vilnius, Lithuania, I attended the opening reception of the Summer Literary Seminar. I ended up in a conversation with Elizabeth Hodges, the publisher of the St. Petersburg Review, who handed me a bookmark, one of these meant as an advertisement for the journal. Among the names of people the journal had published—it leaped out to me—was Arkadii Dragomoshchenko.

I grew excited, “This guy! This guy! I read this guy! This guy’s a trip!” Someone else in the world knew him? Someone else liked him? Here was a person who had published him? “I stumbled on his book, totally by accident, and it blew my mind.”

I learned that he had only recently died. The news hurt me, a curious kind of pain. It was not the hurt I have felt when relatives or loved ones have died, but very much like the kind that pangs when I hear about the death of a colleague I had worked with overseas, or if I hear that my old professor’s heart stopped beating in the middle of a lecture. Reading Dragomoshchenko is like swimming in his consciousness; at least for me, it was like knowing him across a dozen births and reincarnations. He and I were once goldfish sharing the same bowl; later on I was his housekeeper, and now he was this writer who braided light in my head.

Hodges told me that Michael Iossel, the director of the seminar, had been Arkadii’s close friend. I had to tell him about my accidental discovery. While speaking, I watched a restrained, sublime pain soften Iossel’s expressions, loosen his posture. He told me about Dragomoshchenko’s methods and relations with others in Russia, few of them very good. I took mental notes on what else to read even when I already knew I’d read anything that existed in English.

It is easy to explain this as synchronicity—how often do we run into friends and colleagues of artists we admire? In one way, my encounter with Dragomoshchenko, then with Hodges and Iossel, is exactly the same as being hit by leaves falling from the same tree at different moments of the day and in different parts of the forest. In another, it is the same as searching out for those leaves, the leaves of an elm, in a space where all the other trees are maples or oaks. I read Dragomoshchenko because he is exactly the kind of writer I’d read, and I met his colleagues because they are also interested in these kinds of letters.

Even so, it illuminates something I’ve always believed about literature. Reading a book is not just to engage the thoughts of an author but also to join a community. It’s invisible, spread out over great distances, even foreign to itself, barely aware of how large or small it might be. Despite all this, it is real, enormously powerful and deeply intimate.

Writers must remember this when they stare at their words and wonder, “Why the hell should I bother with this tripe?” There’s no reason, actually, just as there is no reason to invite friends for dinner or ride the bus across town to meet colleagues. But when we do it, and when we share, we create and maintain communities which contribute to what makes life interesting. Books improve bus rides for strangers and make distant friends in the process.

38468_417050001051_611084_n


2 Comments

Essay prompts for contemporary college students

Final exam
Instructions: Pick one (1) of the following prompts. This means you should not pick more than one or less than zero. You *may* pick a prompt other than number 1. “Pick one (1) prompt” means you pick less than two prompts from among the possible ten. If this is confusing, please ask for clarification.

Compose an essay of at least fifty (50) words. Good luck.

1.)

Consider this ethical dilemma: The person you love more than anyone in the world has been kidnapped by a madman with a biological weapon at his disposal. He will either shoot his single hostage in the head or deploy the weapon in a major metro area, killing millions and possibly starting a pandemic. But he is leaving the choice up to you. You decide if he kills millions or his hostage.

Explain how will you face society after you refuse to sacrifice yourself. Will you mostly text or will you also be available on Facebook? At which time and on which days? Also, explain in detail why the deployed biological agent will have no effect on you.

2.)

Imagine a nightmare scenario: the internet, television and mobile phones have been deactivated for 48 hours by a Texan whose superpowers allow him to control all electronic communication. Explain who must step forward immediately—either a government leader, a representative of private business or an educator—to ensure your self-esteem feedback loop is properly maintained. What punishment will be appropriate in the event that s/he fails?

3.)

What would give you greater pleasure: fucking a vampire or killing a zombie? Explain in detail and be sure to use relevant sources.

4.)

Imagine that you found some money to buy a car. You ended up driving this car through a bus shelter, killing a pregnant woman, her unborn son, a veteran of Iraq and a rabbi. The police arrived to discover that you have no insurance, that your license is suspended and your car unregistered.

Using what you have learned this semester regarding civics and ethics, explain if the person who misplaced his money, your parents, educators, the salesmen of the automobile or the urban planner who left a shelter in your path are most responsible for this atrocity. What would be an appropriate punishment for the guilty party?

5.)

Once you graduate from college and secure your dream job, where will you go for your first summer vacation? Describe in detail.

6.)

Imagine the online service that has been writing all your essays suddenly went bankrupt. Although it would be legal for an opportunistic competitor to charge you double or triple for a last-minute service, would this price increase be ethical? Be sure to apply at least one principle of business ethics to your argument.

7.)

Invent at least three facts that would help support an essay arguing for the creation of a grade higher than an A and meant for the most special students. Be sure these facts do not contradict any of the facts you have invented on earlier essays this semester. (They are recorded in the class database.)

8.)

Cut and paste a text written at a level that is four to six times higher than your current reading capacity. Do not document where you found this text. (Failure to follow this instruction will automatically lower your grade to B+. Do not test this!)

9.)

Consider this theoretical situation: In an effort to keep tuition costs from skyrocketing, the college devises a plan that allows instructors to supplement their income by charging students fees to write their assigned essays for them. This equals an automatic “raise” for faculty to the tune of 35-40%, but costs the college nothing. Students, instead of paying online essay writers, divert those funds to their instructors. Given that the instructors already know what they will write, AND that they are the only one who will “read” these essays anyway, should they be written at all? If these essays never exist, would your degree be more or less marketable?

10.) If any of the above prompts offends or confuses you, make up your own prompt. Be sure to take the offensive material to the dean and demand a full refund for the semester. (Note: in most circumstances, students who receive refunds do not get credit for having taken the class.)

Extra points:

+50 for writing at least three complete sentences
+100 for writing at least one coherent paragraph
+500 for demonstrating vague knowledge of at least some of the assigned reading material
+1000 for completing the assignment without your asinine hip hop ring tone erupting