Liquid Ink

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

My secret to avoiding procrastination

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Here’s my video response to the challenge, 30 seconds to impress. I don’t know if I’ve impressed anyone, but it was a fun thing to try making.

Beyond the point I make in this video is that I’ve come to embrace procrastination as part and parcel of the writing process. My meditation practice has revealed some things about procrastination that are actually worth thinking about.

What do I actually do when I procrastinate? Usually, I’m going over writing scenarios in my mind.

Sometimes I’ll waste time on social media. Of course, these days, I’m writing about an issue, racism and bigotry, that I get to study when I look at social media. I follow very few cat video people, and I’ve long-since blocked or unfollowed people and pages consistently full of drivel.

Other times, I’ll procrastinate by listening to music or—I mean this sincerely—by grading student work. It’s easy to say, “I have work to do that pays me money,” when in truth I’ll turn to grading because it’s a careful means to help me avoid some crucial decision or difficult moment my writing is about to reveal.

That’s the most common reason I procrastinate. It’s because my writing is about to show itself to me, and that’s often a terrible moment. What if it sucks? You come face to face with yourself in your writing. If that frightens me more than news about our narcissist president, his unfortunate followers or the general decline of our culture and collapse of our values, I know I’m onto something.

Procrastination, then, is a teacher.


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The tweet of a narcissist 

Donald Trump’s first tweet following his electoral victory reveals textbook narcissism and fascistic tendency:

“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

This babble reveals a lot of what we should expect from him as president. It uses techniques familiar to anyone who has ever lived with, been ruled by or has otherwise ended up under the power of a narcissist.

The first technique is a slithery bastardization of terms. “Very open”. Forget for a moment if some portal or speech can be the opposite, very closed; think instead about what most people assume when they hear the word “open”. Few should think “openly bigoted,” and he probably doesn’t want us to. Yet that’s what his campaign and election put out in the open about the electorate: we are either bigots ourselves or don’t mind one as our leader. But don’t split that hair…follow this logic:

Openness = good. Trump = Open. Therefore, Trump = good.

The second technique is to deny the sincerity of an opponent’s feelings and views. These aren’t actual protesters; they’re professionals, which means they’re getting paid. It begs questions: by whom and how much? But you should not worry about that. Instead, realize the people who stand up against Trump don’t *really* harbor these contrary feelings and ideas but only *seem* to be expressing them. These planted mercenaries are in it for a few bucks.

Obviously, the only thing that drives a person to action is profit. That’s why Trump does what he does, it’s why you voted for Trump, and it’s why these people are pretending to protest.

The third technique is to deny the opponent’s capacity to think individually. If not for “the media”, these people would have stayed home knowing “open and good Trump” is their president. Any opposition to a narcissist is an idea born outside the opposer. If you could think for yourself, you’d see that the narcissist is open and good, but you cannot see that because you have been poisoned. You’re incapable and subordinate to Trump, your superior.

The fourth is a demand for pity. Pay attention to Trump’s mistreatments and slights and the people calling Trump names, accusing him of wrongs. Fairness would be an acceptance of him wholesale, just as he is.

The fifth technique available here is exaggeration. Trump’s favorite word is “very”. To say something’s open or unfair is not enough. Everything’s *very* something.

Obviously, we should expect the assault on the rights to assembly and a free press to continue. At this point, Trump’s definition of “the media” has been clear: members of “the media” are those who openly oppose Trump in any capacity. If they could be trusted, they would have predicted what he and his followers knew all along, which was that he would win. If they were wrong about Trump and his followers once, they will always be wrong, very wrong, while he will be right, very right.

So, be very right. Don’t be very wrong.

This is life with a narcissist. Their danger is not that they can’t solve problems or build things. The danger of a narcissist is that they have no empathy, and they see as part of the problem groups and individuals who oppose them. Threats abound at every turn, and much of their energy is spent neutralizing or eliminating those threats, often by isolating, disenfranchising or demonizing people. Skilled narcissists start conflicts among their opponents and watch them distract and neutralize each other.

The other danger is that a narcissist needs a posse to be able to pull off what stunt he has in mind. He needs enablers. When that groups wakes up to his disastrous and destructive methods and acts, complicit in the damage, they deny everything and might blame the victims.

The simplest example occurs in families that enable child abuse.

If the victim finds the courage to come out and say “I’ve been tortured”, most people in that abusive system will retreat, deny the child’s torture, even defend the abuser. That defense mechanism makes it possible to live with the realization that they aided the torture of a child. They’ll do perverted things, like invite the victim to sit at the same Thanksgiving table with his abuser. The victim’s presence sure would comfort them all, help them feel that everything’s okay now, everyone forgiven, despite no one admitting a thing.

The entire world now faces a geopolitical game of high stakes played by charlatans and manipulators Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

In terms of political strategy, Trump’s tweet reveals rhetorical techniques hardly different from Putin’s treatment of something like the Ukrainian protests that eventually became the Maidan and led first to the ousting of Yanukovich, then the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of East Ukraine (one Russia still denies is happening at all).

The parallels between Trump and Putin essentially add up to a pair of rails. Putin routinely tells Russians that Ukraine does not really exist, that it’s not really a country or a culture. Their protests are not actual protests but staged shows orchestrated by America, who’s just paying protesters (this despite the fact that the socio-political, cultural and economic conflicts between Russia and its neighbors have a history several centuries older than the United States). If Ukrainians wanted to be democratic, they would allow democratic and good Russia to do what it wanted to them. Instead, they want to join with the Europeans, and “everyone knows” Europeans are bad gay hedonists while Russians are the good true saviors of the world.

So, America, you might have been hoping for a steel mill to reappear or to punish Hillary. Maybe seeing people deported will make you feel empowered. The sooner we wake up to the institutional failures that led to the election of a narcissist, the more likely we are to get out of this with some horrible rhetoric and tweets that threaten the Bill of Rights as our only fouls.


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Roger Goodell needs a translator

You might be confused after hearing Goodell’s press conference.

That’s because the commissioner of the NFL needs a translator. I’ll offer my services. Here’s what he said:

“Fuck you. It doesn’t matter what I say or do, whom I care about, loathe or feel indifferent about. You will still tune in. You will still buy my sponsors’ products. So be pissed off if you want. The network carrying the Super Bowl will announce its price for advertisements shortly. Again, fuck you.”


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White privilege and unintended ironies

This week’s True Community is a response to the culture that makes an article like Tal Fortgang’s possible. If you haven’t heard, a young Princeton student had an article picked up by Time Magazine. In it, he refuses to apologize for his white privilege, stumbling backwards through unintended and deeply unfortunate ironies. They reveal a lot about how elites perceive themselves.

I take a look at this problem from the perspective of a community college teacher who only teaches the underclasses. And I find many similarities between the Princeton kid and the community college kid.

Hope you’ll check it out. And please do share.


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Duck amuck (my two cents)

It’s not that some unfortunate and poorly educated old man said foolish things to writers licking their chops for his folly. It’s that this kind of folly becomes the centerpiece of a national discussion. We don’t talk about “that book that just got published” or “this new scientific discovery.”

No. We don’t even know what that is.

Some of us express shock that a man who makes his living carving whistles and pumping shotguns on a television show also harbors deluded views of reality and warped readings of his own religious teachings. Some of us rush to his defense as we dress ourselves in warped views of our own political documents, our hearts aflame with nationalism. Yet we fail to understand that both responses are identical. They’re motivated by the same impulse. And both miss the point.

This should be dismissed as unfortunate rambling. Instead, we sit transfixed, lobbing insults at one another. In the meantime, we’re not paying attention to anything that can save us from ourselves. Instead, we dive right in to the folly that keeps us from the conversation we should be having, namely this one: What can be done to keep us from destroying our home?

The answer isn’t in the colosseum. The fantasy pick. The patriarch of ducks or the cover of a magazine. But that’s what a society starts paying attention to when it loses the values that once allowed it civility. It’s in every history book. If you want to know what comes next, pick one up.

For the record: he should be taken off the air, but not because his comments are offensive to either the public or sponsors. He should be taken off the air because leaving it on the air would reflect a lack of empathy for him and those he loathes.

Narrow door


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Discussing bigotry

In 1996 I worked in Linz, Austria as an English teaching assistant. The main job was at the BORG (Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium), a high school for advanced, mostly college-bound students. On one of my first days at work–I was twenty-three years old and without any idea of what to expect–a certain Herr Professor put me up in front of his English class, about sixteen pupils. He introduced me as the new teaching assistant, then moved to the side and left me up at the board. In a matter-of-fact tone, he belted out instructions, “Our class has been reading about the civil rights era in the United States. I’d like for you to explain to us why America is so racist.”

The experience taught me about problems in any discussion or accusation of bigotry, especially across groups that have very different sensitivities. Is America racist? Well…yes, quite. But the Herr Professor’s question was also bigoted, loaded with idiotic assumptions, including the belief that it’s somehow fair to ask a single representative of a community or group to first speak in its name, then explain something notable about its sociology. The pupils and instructor seemed ready to draw very serious conclusions from my answers, and the class turned into the interrogation of a twenty-three year old, almost a test. Would you marry a black girl? Do you have any friends who are black? Would you work for a black boss? Do you believe black people are as smart as white people? The Herr Professor, much to my shock, did nothing to reposition or edit the self-incriminating questions.

This is exactly the sort of self-incrimination coming from those who have rushed to the defense of Petras Lescinskas, the unfortunate Lithuanian basketball fan found guilty of a racially aggravated offense at the Olympics. Among the defenses is this misguided juxtaposition of hand gestures separated by over 70 years of history. In Facebook discussions, and in the comments under articles covering the arrest, you’ll find all sorts of banter. A faction claims that Lescinskas didn’t mean to be racially offensive and, therefore, wasn’t. He was just a passionate fan, and the British cops perceived him as racist. He should have freedom of speech. The apologists also claim that the hand gesture means all sorts of things.

Well, yes. It does and has, most likely dating back to the dawn of civilization. The raised arm on this man is honoring Shiva, and these elementary school pupils are posing for a stock photo. Lescinskas, however, had something very different in mind from Rowan Atkinson or even the Olympic statue (that predates WWII). Few people see a Lithuanian saluting with the arm and imagine him imitating the  statue, paying tribute to Shiva or asking for Herr Professor’s attention.

Lithuanians have earned a reputation for tribalism, small-mindedness, drink and boisterous non-sense, especially at sporting events, concerts and festivals. The behavior of Lescinskas and his entourage, bigotry and all, makes far more news than Lithuanian efforts toward sustainability, for example, which many countries could learn from. But Lithuania could do well to start taking cues from European neighbors like the United Kingdom when it comes to points of view on race and ethnicity.

The bigotry expressed by this basketball fan and his apologists does not exist in a sub-culture. Conversations about race with Lithuanians–even those who have lived abroad for decades, or others who are quite well educated–are often tedious. I’ve met plenty of Lithuanians who look at race and ethnicity as absolutes, not social constructs; they’d think me insane, for example, if I suggested that a Nigerian could become a Lithuanian or vice versa. But ask for a definition of “Lithuanian”. Four nationalists will give you four definitions, each one vehemently dismissing the others. You realize how delusional and isolating it is to believe ethnicity is the sun at the center of an identity system.

Consider the photograph posted below, Lithuanians in blackface. At one point the performance had been available on YouTube but has since been taken down for copyright infringements. It is from a television show called Chorų Karai (Choir Wars), one of these live competitions. The show aired in primetime, the summer of 2006, on national Lithuanian television. It showed Lithuanians in blackface–some dressed as maids, others in odd adaptations of traditional African garb–all of them dancing about while, at the piano, a man in blackface (not pictured) led a version of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack”. I told my friends, all of them college-educated, that this was rather offensive. They told me I was taking it too seriously; I was being American. Americans see racism everywhere. When I pointed out the history of the minstrel show, they all waved it off. These people don’t know anything about that. They’re just trying to have a good time with a song. They’re not trying to insult anyone. It’s a performance. They’re just acting like blacks.

Second City’s ETC, the training ground for the comic troupe, has a rule about writing comedy and satire. You’re not allowed to make fun of or represent a group unless you are a member of that group. I don’t necessarily agree with it but understand the reason for it. It helps to keep the proper sensitivities and perspectives in place. 


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An open letter to the LKF

Dear Lithuanian Basketball Federation (Lietuvos Krepšinio Federacija):

During your past few Olympic basketball matches, a handful of Lithuanian fans disturbed the games by mimicking apes and making obscene racist gestures. This is, by any standard, outrageous behavior that stands in direct contrast to the spirit of the Olympics. While the majority of your fans behaved themselves and supported their team respectfully, they did not make the news. The minority of racists did, of course, as their behavior is extreme and, sadly, contributes further to Lithuania’s well-deserved reputation of intolerance and bigotry.

You cannot ignore this. These are your fans. They have come to support your team; by default, just like you, they are representatives of an entire country. Any team, no matter how popular or obscure, contributes to its culture of fandom through its own behavior, politics and official stances. If you ignore these fans, or if you pooh-pooh their behavior as the minor actions of a foolish handful, you indirectly enable it. It is not enough that arrests were made by English authorities or that an English judge threw the book at a fan. You must also act on your own accord.

Someone from among your brass, either President Arvydas Sabonis or Garbės Prezidentas (koks tinkamas pavadinimas!) Vladas Garastas–or, at minimum, some PR desk jockey–needs to step forward to condemn this behavior. You do not need to make an eloquent or even very lengthy statement. Something like this would suffice:

To our basketball fans, the citizens of London and the world:

It is with deep regret that we, the Lithuanian Basketball Federation, faced the news that a handful of our fans tarnished the Olympic games through racist behavior. This is deplorable and embarrassing. We have not come to the games in this spirit.

We denounce the fans who behaved in this manner. They are not representatives of Lithuania or our greater international fan base. Our players respect their opponents, and the team knows what a great privilege it is to play in the Olympic games before a worldwide audience. Lithuanians have a tremendous love of basketball, at home and abroad, and take great pride in their national team. The team takes the court with a spirit of sportsmanship, and we participate in the Olympics as members of a unified global community. Racists and neo-Nazis have no place in our fan base.

Cordially,

LKF 

You might argue that this is absurd. Should Christopher Nolan make a statement in the wake of the mass murderer who claimed to be inspired by The Dark Knight Rises? He should not have had do. However, he did.