Liquid Ink

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


New interview: Collapsing and Constructed Identity, Lithuania Tribune

As followers of my Facebook Author Page know, I’m spending the entire summer in Lithuania this year, something I’ve not done since 1996. I found it fitting to be out here when I got a request for an interview from Alexsandra Kudickis, a journalist who has previewed my forthcoming book, Relief by Execution.

The interview was published on June 25 by the Lithuania Tribune. It’s in English. It covers cultural and ethnic identity, Zen meditation, The Fugue, the Holocaust in Lithuania, and pressing questions about controversial memorials in Lithuanian cities.

You can read the interview here.

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Photo by Žana Gončiar


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FAQs for Lithuanians

Before you send me your requests, please take a look here. You might save yourself some time.

  • Hi, I’m Lithuanian, just like you. Can I have some stuff for free?

Yes. You can get all the free toilet paper you want in any gas station toilet.

 

  • I got drunk with one of your relatives in 1974. To what private property of yours does this entitle me?

All of it. I’ll quitclaim my condo to you. It’s in a really good location, and I don’t owe more than it’s worth. Trust me. Here’s the dotted line. _______________________

 

  • I dated your mother back when we were in high school. Can I have your pants?

I hate to break it to you, pal, but you’re already wearing my pants.

 

  • I think you’re a brilliant writer and love what you had to say about amber necklaces. Do you have any amber that you would like to give me so that I could be proud of my Lithuanian heritage?

Thank you for the compliment, but I haven’t written about amber necklaces. The last time I used the word “amber” in a sentence, it was to describe the color of Stasys Girėnas’ teeth.

 

  • I knew your (grandmother/aunt/uncle/roommate) back in 1976, and we (ate/drank/fucked/smoked/danced) in Marquette Park all the time. Can I have your social security number?

Sure, it’s 312-588-2300. What, too long? Just take out any number. I’ll work.

 

  • I’m going to (Šokių Šventė/Dainų Šventė/LT Days/Cepelinų Vakarėlis/) this summer. Can my friends and I stay in your apartment?

Dude, you have to talk to the person who used to get drunk with my relatives in 1974. They have all my stuff now. It’s nowhere close to the festival you have in mind, but I don’t see why that should stop you.

 

  • Why aren’t you going to (Šokių Šventė/Dainų Šventė/LT Days/Cepelinų Vakarėlis/)?

Because I can’t find a place to stay.

 

  • Hi. My great grandfather owned a horse that took a dump near your great grandmother’s horse back when all of us were pagan druids on shrooms. I want your children to sign up for this summer program that will teach them how to be Lithuanian for only $4,000.

We’ll talk about all these things when you give me some shrooms.

 

  • I’m Catholic, believe in God, love the Jesuits, have my former nun’s yardstick, and I’ve already bought a plot to be buried in St. Casimir Cemetery. Could you send me a copy of your book, all the essays you’ve ever written, ten percent of your salary and a photocopy of your passport?

Everything you desire is available at this link.

 

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Reading from Ghetto Blueblood

In January, I had the pleasure of reading at Waterline Writers, among the most welcoming communities for writers. The venue at Water Street Studios is worth visiting on its own.

Fans of The Fugue and Finding the Moon in Sugar might be curious to know what I’m working on now. This reading offers a sneak preview. This excerpt comes from a recently completed manuscript, titled Ghetto Blueblood, which I’m currently shopping.

Yes…my beard was shaved. My kids had lice, so I sliced it all off as a precaution.

Enjoy. If you’re an industry professional who stumbled on this and became interested, please contact me.

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This Podcast Will Change Your Life

I was fortunate to be invited to speak to Ben Tanzer on This Podcast Will Change Your Life. We discuss, among other things, men’s issues, marriage, The Fugue, Robert Duffer, Finding the Moon in Sugar, Robert Duffer, The Good Men Project, Tortoise Books, coping mechanisms, refugees, trauma, meditation, forming an identity, migration patterns and much more.

Give it a listen! Click here.

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Photo of me with Ben Tanzer courtesy of This Podcast Will Change Your Life.


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Taco trucks: the shocking truth

Back when I was a kid growing up in Cicero, at that time almost equally (at least in my immediate neighborhood) made up of Eastern European and Mexican families, there were ways of expanding your ethnic identity. Ok…expanding is the wrong word. You could become an “honorary” Mexican or Lithuanian by going through initiations.

To be baptized an honorary Lithuanian, you had to eat a jar of herring or a huge chunk of homemade headcheese. My friend Juozas and I came up with this initiation, an ironic one, at least in my friend’s case, as he had never eaten either herring or headcheese in his life. The child of displaced persons,  he still qualifies, despite his culinary tastes, for Lithuanian dual citizenship. The Mexican boys who gagged over pig nose jelly will never be able to claim this.

Becoming an honorary Mexican was much easier.  You had to lie down and let your Mexican (and honorary Mexican) friends kick your ass for three minutes. The only rule was no punching in the face or balls. In truth, the three minutes often stretched to four or five.

We did not do this because we valued multiculturalism or envied each other’s identities. We were just boys finding ways to fuck with each other in the packs we joined for protection and friendship.

These initiations, like other rites and customs of the street, depended on unspoken but clear codes. Everybody understood that if your friend had gone through the trouble of taking a three (or five) minute beating,  or if he had slurped down a quivering cube of pig ass—which, mind you, often resulted in real tears—you had to defend him in the event that bullshit came his way.

So, as an honorary Mexican who oversaw the baptisms of a few dozen honorary Lithuanians, let me say a few things about the prospect of taco trucks on every corner.

To America, this would represent a culinary revolution of a magnitude not seen since the invention of the Weber grill. If there were a taco truck on even one corner in most any random town of less than 50,000 people between Youngstown, Ohio and Limon, Colorado, the quality of the local cuisine would improve by a factor so large that I cannot find any tool to help me calculate it. If there were taco trucks at both ends of my block, I’d have hardly any need to go to a grocery store.

A taco truck is superior, both as a food delivery system and a purveyor of quality, than any McDick’s, Burger Thing, Undies, Taco Hell, Beef’n’Cream, Pulverz, Shitway, Jimmy Shlong’s or any other such dump. A taco truck is a civilized place to eat and sells a food item with a rich and fascinating history, linked to lifestyle changes among the working class, specifically to men mining silver. Its development is not unlike the arrival and evolution of the pasty in Michigan’s iron mines or the Vienna Beef dog on Chicago’s South Side, the latter during the Depression. So the taco has more in common with the story of class struggle than does any pumpkin latte or chocolate stout.

So, bring it on. A taco truck beside every school, across the street from every workplace, down the road from your town hall, public library, place of worship and watering hole. Especially the watering hole. Because the only thing better than a taco following a night of raucous frolic is the tamale guy.

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Open letter to Lithuanian-Americans who tend to vote Republican

Dear fellow Lithuanians:

Today I’m asking you to think about one of our mutual interests: the continued independence of Lithuania and the rest of the Baltic States.

No, I’m not a Republican and never have been. So if you’re Lithuanian-American and have heard of me, I get that you’re probably not a fan of my writing or public comments. If this is your first visit to my website, know I’m not posting today to get you to like me or buy my books.

Instead, I’m asking you to think about something I know you take seriously: the sovereignty of  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I’d like you to weigh what party loyalty you might feel against the possibility of that sovereignty’s breach.

I was among those Lithuanian-Americans who protested wildly for the United States to recognize the Lithuanian declaration of independence in 1990. Many of you were there in places like Daley Plaza in Chicago or before the Church of the Annunciation in Brooklyn.

I’m also aware that many of you, particularly those born prior to 1985, are old enough to have some idea of what Soviet occupation meant following WWII. Many of you know this meaning intimately.

I know not all of you vote along party lines. However, chatter on social media is compelling me to share my point of view. Perhaps some of you will conflate my post as a plea to approach an election based on a single issue. The independence of Lithuania and the Baltic States isn’t really that.

As we all know, the world is interconnected; we have, all of us, always been interdependent, but that is only more readily apparent now in a globalized economy where  commerce and communication are instant. The survival of NATO and the EU affects every global citizen, at least economically and politically. The possibility of an occupation of a country in northeast Europe should concern us morally, intellectually and even spiritually.

I find it paradoxical, at minimum, for those who were either blasted across the planet while fleeing Soviet aggression, or found themselves (like me) born to the displaced, to now enter a ballot box and vote for a candidate who looks at an alliance like NATO as a sacrificial pawn in a geopolitical board game.

It is also curious, for those who migrated during the 3rd wave, to find oneself living between countries, with friends and family in Lithuania, now to face the prospect of electing a candidate flippant to the possibility of a Baltic invasion, of leaving loved ones open to the increased possibility of foreign occupation.

You might find yourself voting for a set of personal reasons, perhaps to return jobs to mining or steel towns, or to punish the politically correct. If you’re that person, fathom waking up one morning to learn little green men are supporting a “separatist uprising” someplace in eastern Latvia. It soon grows and spreads past Daugavpils and into Lithuania, where “liberators” come to rid Zarasai of “fascists”. This is theoretical but hardly hyperbolic. A similar scenario has been taking place in Ukraine.

Our friends and family in Lithuania—indeed, in the rest of the EU and in the rest of the world—do not have a vote. But if they were faced with the choice, to the vast majority it requires not a nanosecond of thought.

Yes, there are plenty of things for Americans to be angry about. We haven’t been all that nice to each other, and it’s a fact that both the government and our bosses at work haven’t listened to the concerns of the middle class. Your gripe is legitimate. But what are you willing to risk in order to voice it? What alliances are you willing to tear down? No one has proposed anything we can prop up to replace the structures currently keeping the world from chaos.

The battle for Baltic independence cost lives. When I was a child, my elders believed it was something I’d never see in my lifetime. After so much progress, here we are, playing with fire as the world holds its breath.

And people who fled Stalinism—or the children and grandchildren of those who survived it—enter the ballot box prepared to vote for a demagogue on record as saying he may not honor American promises to protect the country which remains a cornerstone of our identity.

It begs so many questions, among them this one: if American promises have a price tag, what will the demagogue’s promises cost, and who will pay the price?

Please think about that.

Gint

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Photo: the Vilnius Television Tower, site of Soviet crackdown against Lithuanian independence on January 13, 1991.


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New essay published

The good folks at ReImagining Magazine have published their summer issue. My essay, An American Imposter, finds itself there.

I spent a long time abroad this spring and summer, and got tired of having to “explain” my American identity. It got to the point that I no longer wanted to talk to strangers about where I was from. It became impossible to have conversations about anything besides our loathsome national politics.

The experience inspired this essay. Hope you’ll read and share.