Liquid Ink

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


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Come with me to Berlin!

This May and June I’ll be leading a trip to Berlin, a city I know well and love dearly. This is an opportunity for anyone in America to escape for a few weeks and engage a cultural tour while spending time in one place which we will get to know intimately.

When I planned the trip, some people criticized it as offering “too little”. What those people had in mind was the typical two week trip that tours multiple cities and whisks people from one end of Italy to the next. Honestly, I feel those kinds of trips offer “too little”. You hardly get to know a place, and before you’ve gathered your bearings you’re in some other town you’ll only recognize from photos.

I’ve always preferred travel to tourism. The difference between these concepts? Travel allows you to immerse yourself in an alternative point of view, to see yourself as others see you, and to shift from just visiting a place to feeling like you’re a part of it, even if that part is foreign or strange. It’s surprising how little it takes us, actually, to shift from feeling foreign to sensing the intimacy of a city, and few cities are as welcoming as Berlin.

This trip was originally tailored as a college class, and the website still features from of that language. I’ve decided to extend it to the general population for a variety of reasons. Participants will get to go to Berlin with a writer, a speaker of German and a person who knows European art, literature and culture intimately. It’s a great way to spend two weeks in May and June.

Check out the details here. The vendor is Walking Tree Travel. The price includes airfare, accommodations, daily breakfast, a transit pass, a museum pass, several tours, a concert and an unforgettable experience. Come with a friend.

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Malcolm X on reading

I want to continue today with Malcolm X, whose Autobiography was a strong influence on me when I first read it in my late teens. I both identified with Malcolm X and realized I had a lot to learn from him, primarily about the experiences of people whose lives were different from mine. I admired his desire for knowledge and authority, his passion for books, and his diligence in prison, where he studied the English language with obsessive fervor.

It’s crushing, annihilating to me to know that we now have a president whose illiteracy is celebrated by a massive swath of Americans, while others shrug it off as acceptable. Malcolm X spent his days in prison memorizing the dictionary. Decades later, America elects a man who can hardly utter a three syllable word.

I wish I could quote his entire book. But this will do:

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, “What’s your alma mater?” I told him, “Books.” You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something I feel might be able to help the black man. 

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Photo of Malcolm X from Wikipedia 


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Raising kids to speak multiple languages

I have a new article up on The Good Men Project, Raising Trilingual Kids in America. It’s about my attempt with my wife to teach our children to speak (and read) Lithuanian and Russian alongside English.

One of the things I found attractive about my wife, beside her violin playing abilities and her energy as an artist, was her capacity to learn languages, and her fluency in five. I consider languages to be treasures, and if I met a djinni, I’d ask to become fluent in every language that has ever been spoken on earth, even dead languages like Prussian. I can’t explain this fascination. It’s similar to my obsession with planting a garden. I don’t take for granted the human capacity for communication, flawed as it is, and I have never heard a language that I found ugly or crass. I remember sleeping in an airport one time and listening to a group of very tired Moroccan men speaking Arabic together. It sounded like a train ride, long and romantic, through an orange and brown mountain range of ancient rocks.

My daughter has learned more Lithuanian before her fourth birthday than I knew before my fifth, and she certainly knows more English than I did as a toddler (I knew virtually none). Some of the ways she translates language have really educated me about the syntax of English and Lithuanian, and the meanings of certain words. I can’t explain them here without going through a long explication of now negatives work in Lithuanian, and how the concept of “sense” is communicated in my old, archaic language. But I’ll say this: you don’t really understand what language you speak until you try to learn a second one. If there’s any universal, absolute value to learning another language its that you realize the one you’ve grown up with isn’t normal, and that many of the assumptions you have about reality are completely artificial, often based on the syntax you have at your disposal. Alan Watts talks about this in his lectures Learning the Human Game.

So far, the lessons dad has gained in the process are so much bigger than the ones my kids have gathered. I’ll be presenting those lessons in my memoir about PTSD. This article is a warm-up of sorts to some of the topics I’ll be covering.

I hope you enjoy and share it.