Liquid Ink

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

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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.


No more NFL for me

This past weekend I watched my last NFL game. The game has been bothering me for a long time, but I always stopped short of shutting off the tube, deluding myself that it was enough to be mindful of the game’s flaws. Being a fan has provided me with wonderful experiences and memories, even friendships. But I can no longer associate myself with this culture.

I am not a former high school player. I don’t see how it matters. Yes, I buy the arguments about how football builds character and responsibility. But plenty of cultures (er…all except Canada?) do not play American football, and plenty of American children never put on pads. You can’t possibly believe the vast majority of human beings  are irresponsible and lack character.

Gardening builds character. So do chess, meditation and swimming. Ballet teaches responsibility, discipline, body control, focus, determination, fitness, respect for one’s body, healthy expression of oneself, and ballet dancers perform through pain. Those lessons and that kind of perseverance are common to many activities, especially when performed by someone serious about them. American football, as a culture and society, offers no unique or superior lesson. Those football players I knew in high school and college who felt superior were sadly, tragically deluded.

Yes, most athletes, whatever the sport, are decent people. Some are less than angelic. We should look up to them with caution, and deifying them is foolish. Make your arguments about hockey thugs and footballer (I mean soccer) goons, many full of themselves. If you love American football so much that you’re willing to look past this latest cover up, to rationalize it away, or even to blow it off as unimportant, your certainty should not motivate you to argue with a guy who’s stepping away from consuming the sport. Neither you nor the game will miss me. My absence will have no effect.

And that’s exactly the point. If we’re angry and offended but continue to watch, it’s hard to convince anyone we’re all that angry or offended. If we keep the game on, our offense, large as it might be, will still remain smaller than whatever positives we believe football provides.

As a fan of the sport and long-time supporter of this league, therefore a participant in its culture, often a consumer of its advertised goods, I’m being asked to define the positives. Are they available in no other community or space? Is there no way to disassociate myself from an organization that pooh-poohs domestic violence? That question is inescapable, and the answer is obvious.

They won’t care about our protests or any noise we make. They will only care when the cost of a Super Bowl ad skydives. This year, even in the aftermath of the recent scandal, I predict the price will have risen since last February. And that will show what we truly value.