Liquid Ink

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


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Alice Walker on a pissed off God

Liquid Ink continues its celebration of black history month with this quote from Alice Walker, one that hit me hard as I worked to compile this series. I think it’s particularly impactful to me now that I’m a student of Zen. I last read The Color Purple a few years after the film was produced and realize now I must return to it soon.

I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

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Photo of Alice Walker from Wikipedia.


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James Baldwin on society and education

To celebrate Black History Month here on Liquid Ink, I’m quoting from black American intellectuals every day until March. These quotes are all deeply meaningful to me.

Yesterday’s was from Frederick Douglass. Today it’s James Baldwin, taken from his Talk to the Teachers, delivered in 1963.

It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

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Photo of James Baldwin from Wikipedia.


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Writing advice from Alan Watts

This is kind of classic Alan Watts. I just stumbled on it while looking for a text for a student. Watts says he has no advice and then gives the best advice you’ll ever get.

Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.

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Photo of Alan Watts, age 7, from Wikipedia.


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Grading what does not exist

I am approached every semester, usually about 10 to 11 weeks in, by at least one student who has not turned in a single bit of homework and yet is very interested to know how he is “doing”. I use *he* with purpose. Probably four out of five of the students who’ve asked me this question over the years have been men.

My answer is always the same: You haven’t turned anything in. The student will, as a student did earlier today, stare at me in wonder, even bafflement. It’s as if there’s some hidden meaning, some riddle, some plastic we could bend to crack and reveal, pop!, the answer beyond what’s obvious. The student did not ask me to tell him how much homework he had handed in. He asked me to explain how he is doing, and I clearly misunderstood. Now the young man is at a loss. Should he repeat himself?

Some of them ask, “So, like, whaaaaat? You know. Does that, like, mean I’m not doing…good?”

I’m fascinated by the idea that I should know how the student is doing without having read any of the student’s writing. It’s a compliment, after all, to be considered a seer, to have the existential capacity to know how a student is doing on an absolute level. Pick a number: seer, priest, empath, monk, alien, god. Not even Apollo had the ability to feel how someone was doing. Apollo had to ask or observe. In terms of the pantheon of mythological figures, these students seem to think I’m the Holy Ghost.

It begs questions. Why? How? Is this the result of an education system that worries about how everyone is feeling? Is there a gap between how a student is actually feeling and how a teacher perceives the student’s emotional state? I don’t grade emotions, of course, but perhaps I should. I should imagine them and grade them.

Or perhaps I should imagine the paper I would really like the student to have written, award it exactly the grade I wish he could earn, and then announce to the world that our imaginations have become one, at least from my point of view. This is a path to perfection. Oneness with the teacher. It’s a concept of divinity, easy to consider real.

Shouldn’t this at least partially explain how this student got the idea in the first place? I mean, someone out there must have told him that, yes, you’re doing fine. I have not read a single thing you’ve written all semester—a piece of writing from you doesn’t even exist—but you’re doing fine.

There. I said it. You’re fine and so am I. You and I both are fine. And that’s the goal, isn’t it? Feeling fine. It’s easy. Just ask someone to determine your emotions for you. It’s automatic.