Liquid Ink

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

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A series of good questions

What should I do if I can’t come during your office hours?

Also, if I can’t hand in any of my homework, what should I do?

Another thing, I need to know if it’s possible for me to miss class next week because there’s like a trip to Texas my mom is looking forward to taking. You know, the whole family. She’ll be real sad if one of us can’t go.

Oh, man, this computer just crashed. What should I do?


What’s appropriate to wear to class?

This just happened.

I was sitting in my office and typing an email message . A trio of students walked past my wide open door, and I noticed that one student’s shirt said “suck dick” on it. So I stepped out into the hall and asked him, rather jovially, “Hey, can I see what your shirt says?”

Here’s what it said:

You can’t suck my dick while talking, so shut the fuck up.

I’m not for censorship. I think people should wear what they please, and I occasionally teach wearing a dashiki. But I’m glad I’m not the one who’s got this guy in his classroom today. I’m going to guess most instructors are just going to ignore it. Why attract further attention? However, right now I’m wondering how I would handle it if he came to my class wearing that thing.

I’ve responded to students’ t-shirts before by assigning research projects. A guy who came into my class wearing a hammer and sickle got to do a project about the Gulag. Another guy sporting a Che t-shirt got to read Ay, Cuba, A Socio-Erotic Journey. But how do you turn this kind of frat-boy belligerence into a learning experience? “Here, watch all 44 episodes of Keeping Up Appearances, then write a paper on how etiquette and protocol can be contrived to equal passive aggression.”

For the record, when I was 16, I had a t-shirt that said Shut Up, Bitch. I bought it in California following a nasty bit of heart-wringing over a girl, and I wore it to a few beach parties and a summer camp. One of my dearest friends in the world, a woman who knows me through-and-through, two years my elder, took me to the side and said, “I don’t think that shirt’s like you. It’s just taking the hurt you feel and hurting others with it.” After that I never wore it again.

So, perhaps it’s best to leave these kinds of things to the peers to sort through. Again, I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision.

Here’s a photo of me in my dashiki, as photographed by my 5 year-old daughter in Vilnius this past July. I often teach class this way:


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Alone at graduation

This week’s True Community, my weekly column about men and higher education, is about the students with whom I identify most strongly: they come to graduation alone, and they make it through college with barely any support from an elder.

Graduation is usually pitched as a family celebration. For some, it’s a celebration of nerve and resolve, but still an experience of isolation.

I hope you’ll check it out. And do share.



Photo by John Walker.


Chilling prediction—Video 2:34 min

My grandfather and I used to watch Cosmos every weekend on PBS. Here’s the host, Carl Sagan, speaking many years ago on Charlie Rose. The point he makes here is the point I try to make in every single class I teach at the college. I succeed in making it to a minority of students:

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What your ringtone says about you…

If you have a ringtone that sounds like a motorcycle starting up, you might be tough. Or you might wish you were tough. If your ringtone is a pop song, you might be the fan of that pop artist. Or you might wish you were that pop artist. If your ringtone is the sound of crickets or of soft harp music, you might be soft and gentle. Or perhaps you fantastize about being softer and gentler than you are. You might also be wishing for a softer and gentler environment.

Here’s one way to get one: shut the thing down. When your ringtone goes off during a quiet period—and when that ringer is a crowing cock, the phone’s volume turned all the way up—you draw attention to yourself. People wonder, “What connection is there between you and a crowing cock?”

Some of them, of course, pity you. After all, this can happen to anyone. You select a ringtone. You feel it expresses your personality. And then—boom!—one unexpected moment that ringtone is interfering with everyone’s peace. Your cock is crowing. Reminiscent of the hour when Peter realized he had denied his Lord three times. Or at the hour when your Peter rises in your pants and you cannot perform tasks at the blackboard, walk down the street in your puritanical neighborhood without being deemed a pervert and stoned to death.

You’re wondering, no doubt, about my ringtone. Mine sounds like a phone. After all, it belongs to a phone, so I’ve selected a traditional sound. And when it goes off by accident—we have these convenient machines, we masochists, that allow our friends, loved ones and creditors to communicate with us while we defecate—people do *not* wonder, “Who the fuck is calling him as he shits?” Not at all. Instead, they think, “Why can’t I get peace and quiet in this toilet?”



Photo by raymondgobis/Flickr


Lies you’ve learned about grammar

There are two moments I must brace myself to deal with each semester: leading reading discussions and teaching sentence grammar. The former barely exist because no one reads anymore. The grammar lessons keep getting more absurd each year.

I hear it from a handful of students every semester. I’ll ask, “Now why do we have a comma here?”  The reason you have a comma there is because you have to take a little breath. Or a pause. Or a break. Or a moment to reflect.

Oh, let me fart, okay. (Did you inhale? Twice?)

There isn’t a teacher in the world who believes this is true. (Right?) And yet the average student claims it. They’ll talk this nonsense even though they notice no serious change to their breathing patterns when they come across texts loaded with commas.

Let’s accept it for a moment. Comma equals breath. Ok, (breathe) fine. What should we do when we face a full-stop? Inhale the atmosphere? Have a coronary?

What about a semi-colon? If I see a semi-colon, should I—what?—experience a twitch in my eyelid? Should I take a break from reading to go take a crap? It’s a weird symbol, I’ve heard; some people say it’s meaningless. So let’s chant OM or MU anytime we see a semi-colon.

This “breathing philosophy” begs further questions. What should I do when I see an exclamation point? Here it is! You just had an erection. (Women have imagined boners.)

If I need to take a breath when I face a comma, must I drop dead when I come to the end of a text? Is that why no one finishes books anymore?

You want to breathe? Read this: Give me that, dope.

I want something worth inhaling. Give me that dope.

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Luck vs. Intelligence

I had a curious experience this week at the college. It illuminates assumptions my students have about learning.

I’ve assigned The Big Short to my sections of English 102 (it’s an intro to research class). Most of the students who refused to read it have either dropped the class or no longer attend. The rest, about 60% of the originally registered, fall somewhere between the few students who are able to engage a decent discussion of the material to the rest who find the book impenetrable. That second group really offered me interesting items in recent essays.

I asked a question regarding luck vs. intelligence. Two of the figures in the book (Ledley and Mai), young men who shorted the CDO market in the middle of the last decade, describe themselves as lucky even though they do very intelligent things. They research the markets. They seek the help of folks (whom they perceive to be) more knowledgable than themselves. They actively seek out people who might offer them an opposite point of view to their own and, when they are unable to find any, conclude that they must be right about what they have learned.

Most students considered them to be primarily lucky. They ignored their actions and focussed on their descriptions of themselves. After all, these men must be self-aware. They’re rich!

Students also revealed striking assumptions about how one acquired knowledge. Some of them:

1.) There are two groups of people. One group knows things. The other group does not. If you exist in the second, you cannot move to the first. (This despite all the evidence in the book to the contrary!)

2.) You’re lucky if you know things and unlucky if you don’t.

3.) If you have someone who can help you, you’re lucky. If you ask them for help, you’re even more lucky.

4.) It’s not fraud if it takes someone time to figure out they’ve been tricked. Fraud only occurs when the person who’s been tricked figures it out right away.

5.)It’s normal to get tricked. Therefore, it’s not fraud.

6.) You’re lucky if you make a decision to improve your life. If you choose not to improve your life, it’s because you’re unlucky.

There are others but they’re complicated and would require me to deal too deeply with the reading material here. The ones I’ve listed, I think, are already shocking. While they help me understand why some percentage of my community college students look at learning as a hopeless endeavor, they don’t help me understand how these lessons have been formed. You’d assume students understand that they once did not know how to drive but eventually learned. It had something to do with luck, I suppose—you must, for example, have access to cars and education. But you must still start from a position of ignorance. You were not born knowing how to drive.

The assumption that you’re supposed to have already understood everything when you begin the lesson must come—I’m guessing—from the drill and repeat and review structure of their high school classes. If this is not true, I’m at a total loss. It really pains me to think that students believe they should already know how to do the things their college classes are teaching them and how horrible it must feel when they realize how unlucky they are.