Liquid Ink

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

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The tender hell of unrequited adolescent infatuation

I’m pleased to announce that my latest work of short fiction, titled “Nothing Extraordinary, Nothing of Note,” is now available in Issue Seven of The St. Petersburg Review. This is a story inspired in part by my Zen practice but also by a brief return to central Illinois when I attended an academic seminar and got to spend the night in Urbana.

The story’s main character is Milt Ilsa, an optometrist and socially awkward amateur poet who spends his time obsessing over lines he knows are loathsome. He has virtually no social life and lives a mundane, tiresome daily routine of meals in diners and visits with patients. One day, of course, he’s met with a realization—it actually happens while he is masturbating—that provokes an experience not unlike a satori, or a Zen awakening, in which the impermanence of all things becomes ultra-clear to him.

Here is a sexy excerpt:

The other woman Ilsa had known only as a teen. This was Deanna, the freckled and red-haired girl for whom he had felt the tender hell of unrequited adolescent infatuation. The youths had never shared any more than a few awkward dances at their high school mixers, nights when Deanna had come with actual dates while Ilsa had to muster all his courage just to show up to the gymnasium, then clench his raging heart into a fist and ask Deanna for a single slow dance. Sure, she sometimes sat with him at lunch, but she did it out of conceit, to feel how powerfully he wanted her. Ilsa knew but sat hoping for some miracle of Cupid. On Homecoming and Prom nights, Ilsa would lie in his boyhood room with the tortured thoughts of what Deanna was doing with the imbeciles who always took her out. On the spectrum of imbeciles, they were far worse than Ilsa, the sons of the Caltoon’s wealthiest: doctors, lawyers, one guy a former college quarterback, another the owner of a factory that packaged frankfurters into plastic.

Although he had never even kissed Deanna, and while he had last seen her more than two decades ago, he still fantasized about her, imagining an adult woman between twenty-five and thirty. The helplessness he felt to these automatic fantasies could actually drive him to fury. This Tuesday night he wanted Melanie, but as if on train tracks, his consciousness left her bed and curled down to the valley station where thoughts of Deanna waited. Of course, he imagined Deanna far more often than Vera.

Interestingly, he often didn’t touch her in his fantasies. The thought of her sitting naked for him at breakfast or on a boat in the middle of an isolated lake could drive him to agonizing climax. In a reoccurring fantasy, he saw her posing for him in a birch forest as he photographed her body, her pubis unshaved, a few yellowed leaves in her wild, frizzy red hair. He was having that fantasy now, himself in the birch forest, a fully manual 35mm Leica in his hands, Deanna leaning against a tree, then arching her back and lifting her arms toward the forest canopy. Now she knelt for him, knees pressing into soft moss, mouth open only gently, green eyes a shade lighter than the verdant background divided by narrow white trunks. For the next sequence of shots, she spread her legs and flashed an intoxicating glance, allowing him to adore her, remaining wildly beautiful for him, freely giving her beauty over so that he could possess it in photographs, return to it whenever he wanted, whenever she was absent.

Purchase Issue 7 here, or order it from your favorite bookstore in July.

Photo on 6-24-15 at 9.51 PM

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How can I provoke you to read this?

This piece by Katy Siegel, titled The Worlds With Us, is the best summary of the current intellectual/social moment that I have found. I have been struggling myself to write or express something like this without sounding new-agey or ancient. (It’s odd that ideas such as these leave you pegged as either Santa Barbara Bead Shop or Byzantine.) My greatest fault, whenever I tried to take pen to paper on the subject, was that I’d end up bitching about the academy being a wank fest (which, when bad, it is). While this piece is concerned primarily with the aesthetic of contemporary visual art, I believe the shift in consciousness that it’s getting to can be viewed in any intellectual circle. Writers are always late to the game when it comes to aesthetic movements (or at least they have been since WWI). In this case, however, many are stuggling with the same beast.

Here’s the heart of the matter: [The] shift is not from one perspective to another, but to the loss of perspective itself, to the rejection of an anthropocentric worldview and its subject/object dichotomy. Basic is the recognition that humans are neither on top of the world or outside it; they are in the world, and not as a special category (the subject). The subject/object polarity underlies and maintains categorical dualities such as organic/inorganic and nature/culture that we have used to carve up existence; dualities that, following the dismantling of the first opposition, no longer seem useful, much less true or still less inspiring.

When I was in graduate school, and I graduated in 2002, I argued strongly against what I saw as a form of institutionalized yet invisible censorship disguised to look like openness or a liberal philosophy. What I mean is that writing, especially literary fiction and poetry, was judged to be either PoMo or non-PoMo, “innovative” or “square”; in both cases, the former was “good” while the latter “shit”. It’s hard to explain without looking at examples, and I don’t want to get into examples or parodies. I’ll expose myself: the typical art student I encountered, and I was this way to a degree, went to art school because s/he saw it as a means to escape becoming a middle class square. Art school, however, wasn’t enough. You also needed to become a hipster, if you will, and dismantle all things square. One of those things, for example, was the narrative that you learned made for a “good story” in high school, taught to you by a teacher who reminded you of your mother.

In college, you learned to dismantle all things square by “deconstructing” them. Now, you’ll forgive me, because I haven’t the slightest clue what deconstruction is. I wrote papers about it, and, apparently, used the method to deal with literature. One teacher called one of my “deconstructions” brilliant. The whole time, if I’m to tell the truth, I felt like I was playing amateur shrink, using various clues an author gave me to peer into his sex problems, all of which I invented, basing my inventions on various texts by Sigmund Freud.

I think any reading of any text, either formal or informal, is fine, so long as it is not built up as THE WAY to do it. You cannot call yourself a defender of open-mindedness, the kind of open-mindedness that’s necessary to creat art—to play, as a child does, in the sand with the stones—if you believe there is only one way to play, only one way to observe the game. There is more than one game.

Except, of course, for the BIG GAME, the game in which all the little games get played, the one where the illusions take place. I’m talking about what Zen teachers call emptiness, what Alan Watts calls “it”. It is, to use a brutal term, a singularity, a universe in which we are not subjects engaging objects, separate from anything, but entirely and completely part of a system that we can neither fathom nor perceive, except in small chunks generated by our (flawed and limited) minds. Everything is in constant shift and flux and, ironically, that’s always true: it’s impermanent. Always. Shifting so quickly that nothing—no thing—is ever fathomed as frozen and itself. Born human, all you get is flow.

In such a predicament, you should be able fearlessly to tell exactly the story you wish or write the text that flows naturally to you. I myself was guilty in the past of attempting to write stories and texts that adhered to some aesthetic movement or theory, and for doing it to demonstrate my understanding of that theory. Of course, it was all contrived bullshit. The only idea I ever encountered that did not seem to create automatic dualism was Robert Irwin’s seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees. His artistic project was a strong inspiration to me when I encountered it in graduate school.

That was over ten years ago. A decade later, I’m preparing for my own Jukai. I don’t know if it’s ironic that now my single greatest aesthetic position or theory is one that exposes all theories, including the self, as constructed delusions. I have become aware that all I can really perceive is myself perceiving, and that this is its own delusion. How to express the realm beyond this is not as important as simply accepting that there’s a story flowing inside me, an image I’m imagining, a feeling I can set alight by selecting the right kinds of words, hand them over to an interested reader.

Most imporantly, I’m happy to see that we’ve come back around as a society and a human race. We’re understanding once again that a work of art does not have to prove anything. It can’t. We knew a very very long time ago that there is nothing to prove.

Lamp post


It finally happened…

I wondered if it ever would—today is the day. Students routinely come to class without having completed reading assignments, often really short, almost symbolic ones. But today an entire class of college students came without a single one having completed this week’s writing assignment.

I came prepared to lead a revision workshop. I was prepared for some percentage of the students to come without anything to revise. I use to collect essays, and only five minutes before class was to begin not one student had turned anything in. I gave them a long break (it’s a three hour discussion/lecture that meets Wednesdays) thinking that some of them would sneak to a computer. Nothing. Two students left the class to take phone calls. Two others left before the class was finished.

I didn’t bother enforcing any of my telephone rules. As for the essays, I played along without ever mentioning them. I taught a workshop on flawed assumptions, and we reviewed a paper that makes serious errors. And that was it. I told them their revisions are due next week and sent them home.

For the record, this is a horrible feeling. I feel useless, inconsequential, like I went through motions that had less value than steps on a treadmill. I could have spent this time writing or playing with my children. I could have cooked food for a hungry person. I could have gone to the Zen center to meditate. Continue picking numbers—the gutters need cleaning and my garage door is broken.

I used to get angry and frustrated. I used to think about what else I could do to motivate, to interest the students. Today I just came back to my office and ate the meal I had brought with me. I put on Pandora and sat to write this post. I’ve become one of them. This is how it feels—I’m finally there—to have nothing at all to say.