Liquid Ink

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


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Reading this Tuesday: Tuesday Funk, Chicago

If you’re in Chicago this Tuesday, I hope you’ll join me at The Hopleaf for Tuesday Funk #110. The exciting lineup includes Parneshia Jones, Henri Harps, Jeff Ruby and Britt Julious

I’ll be reading an excerpt from my manuscript-in-progress, which I expect to finish by the end of the year. I have not shared a single word of this manuscript with anyone yet, so Tuesday Funk revelers will be treated to a public premier. My current project is a memoir that deals with perceptions of race, and links between racism, trauma and forms of abuse.

The vitals:

Tuesday, November 7th.
Admission is free, must be 21 to attend.
Doors open at 7pm sharp, show starts at 7:30pm. 

5148 N. Clark St., Chicago

Please RSVP on Facebook — and if you haven’t yet, please like Tuesday Funk’s page so you get their announcements right in your stream.

This is me writing at Volumes:

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Photo by Rebecca George.


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Readers ask: What’s your religion?

I’ll reveal that this question comes from students. I think it’s worth saying a few things about it on my blog.

Obviously, I write a lot about religion. Religion is a powerful force in the game of human fate, with tentacles in everything from political systems to educational institutions, nations’ customs and individuals’ identities. I’ve studied religions both formally and informally, and I’ve read a lot of the sacred books, including the Bible, Bhagavad-Gita and others.

I’m in the school that says you can’t really study Western Civilization without knowing the Bible, and you’re at a massive disadvantage as a student of literature if you don’t know at least the plots of the major Bible stories, including lessons in ethics like the Book of Job, the Sermon on the Mount or Paul’s letters. This isn’t just because every book of note will be packed with allusions to the Bible, but also because certain cultural assumptions trace themselves to a Judeo-Christian understanding of reality.

This is an evasive way of saying I’m neither Christian nor Jewish, but that I have deep reverence for the ethics and lessons of those traditions. Granted, I was raised Catholic, which is a lot like saying you used to be a cop or a member of the Latin Kings. Once you’re in, your mind will forever be affected. You can pawn your badge or burn all your black and gold, but the way you see the world remains. I have an easier time remembering the Act of Contrition than all the passwords I use on the internet.

I don’t identify as Catholic. Beyond that, my personal spirituality is a private matter.

Readers of this blog know I belong to a Zen center. I’ve written about mindfulness and trauma on multiple occasions, and I’m quite open about my meditation practice. Zen practice was as effective, if not more effective at treating my PTSD —at least after a certain period of time— as talk therapy. I stayed on because, frankly, it’s a sensible way of looking at the contemporary world, and I’ve also met wonderful people at the center.

What does a Zen Buddhist believe? My advice to anyone who wants an answer to that question is to try meditating. That’s the answer. While Zen has its set of ethics, it does not offer a list of rules that need to be followed. With the exception of meditation, there’s not really a set of beliefs or behaviors that equal Zen. What’s there to believe, and who’s in position to believe it? That’s a Zen question.

Still…this probably doesn’t satisfy the readers’ question. If I’m going to do something besides evade it, I should probably make an offering. What I’m willing to do is to present a list of questions that currently make up what I like to think of as my spiritual journey. I don’t have answers for them:

  • Is time a line, a circle or some other shape?
  • Is consciousness the result of the brain or is the brain the result of consciousness?
  • Will the individual please stand up?
  • What must be done in order to count beyond one?
  • Where is the past?
  • Where is the future?
  • If Jesus truly believed in paradise, would he have raised Lazarus?

 

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Photo: 9/11 Memorial, New York City 


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Video: live interview

This is about a 24 minute video of me answering moderator Amy Danzer’s questions following my reading at The Looking Glass Bookstore in Oak Park, Illinois on February 18, 2016. Yes! That gorgeous bookstore in the background is right here where I live. It’s worth visiting just to see the decor (and to  buy a bunch of books, obviously).

In this video, I answer questions about why I’d want to write a literary fugue, what place setting plays in my writing, how art helps with trauma, and what audience I had in mind while writing.

Enjoy, and do share.

Also, be sure to check out my fledgling YouTube channel. It’s sure to grow as I gather more videos.


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Readers ask: So…what’s a fugue?

Among the challenges I faced trying to sell my novel, which took about a decade, was that my title, The Fugue, refers to something obscure. I actually fought with this title for a long time, and I came up with other ones, some of them embarrassingly bad. Obviously, no alternative title satisfied (for reasons I think most readers will—even without learning what those titles were—understand if they investigate the novel).

Still, I want to say some things about my title. Just the other day, at a library, a woman looked at a Fugue postcard I had given her and asked, “How do you pronounce that?”

This is how: /fjuːɡListen here.

What does the word mean?

One reason I found the title attractive was that the word has multiple meanings, and I explore all of them in the novel. I’ll guess most people will associate the word with music, primarily a polyphonic composition technique. Here’s how a character in the novel—she’s a teenage music student—understands a fugue:

Lita knew what a fugue was, a composition of usually two strands—voices—of music that borrowed short melodies and phrases from each other. It was like a game where melodies played side-by-side and pretended to be each other, or sometimes even became one another. They could weave together like braids or plaits, then split up and come back together again.

There’s also this educational You Tube video called What Is a Fugue? It really explains why these kinds of compositions are fascinating.

One of my favorite musical recordings is this one here, Ashkenazy playing Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues. While listening to that music with a friend in my Manhattan apartment back in 2000, I wondered out loud if it could be possible to write a work of literature on the principles of a musical fugue. Soon enough, I tried my hand. Whether or not I succeeded remains to be seen.

Of course, the word has other meanings. It’s a synonym of flight. That’s to say an attempt to escape, to flee a threat.  One fate of those in flight is displacement. The Fugue deals with an entire community of displaced persons and their children.

The last meaning is difficult to discuss without a spoiler, so I’ll say little about it. When I was taking psychology classes in Urbana, Illinois, I learned about conditions known as “transient” or “dissociative” fugues,  or “fugue states”. This National Geographic article tells of a contemporary case, and this book presents fascinating case studies. These days people think of the psychological states as forms of amnesia, but I’ve heard arguments that they are forms of schizophrenia or identity disorders. One thing seems common: in all cases, the person suffering from the condition has endured a horrifying trauma.

The book launches next week. I hope you check it out.

 


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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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My 9/11 Memoir

I was living in New York on 9/11/2001. I composed this brief memoir for today’s edition of The Good Men Project.

Sept 11 Fireman


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My SLS Events

Liquid Inkers:

This is a great week to be in Vilnius and to be participating in the Summer Literary Seminar. I’m really excited for tonight’s opening reception.

I’m presenting this week at two events:

Tuesday July 16th, 2:00 at Mokytojų Namai Room 219

Lecture: Trusting Oneself—Memory, Imagination and the Traumatized Writer.

(Open only to SLS participants)

This lecture will examine how a writer sees himself after experiencing a childhood trauma—be it abuse, war or some disaster—which interferes with his ability to clearly distinguish between memory and imagination. I’ll be talking about my battle with PTSD, and the difficulty this condition presents to a writer who wants to document and share his traumas.

Interestingly, my experience of PTSD has convinced me that the reason we see so few wartime narratives from the 1945 wave of Lithuanian displaced persons is not only because those memories are difficult to handle. They are also slippery, folded into and between fantasies and dreams, imagined episodes, some of them impossible distinguish as one thing or another.

It is easy to blame oneself for being a fool when we’re caught in such a psychic predicament. However, the relationship between memory and imagination is reciprocal, and we depend on our imaginations more than we depend on our memories to write, to create and to do our daily work.

Thursday, July 18th, 7:00 PM at Mint Vinetu Bookstore, Šv Ignoto 16

I’ll be reading selections from Finding the Moon in Sugar. It’s the only American cult novel ever set in Vilnius.

Also reading are Benas Januševičius, who’ll present translations of Linor Goralik’s poetry, and Alex Haberstadt, presenting works of non-fiction.

In celebration of Vilnius’ cultural diversity, this reading will be in English, Russian and Lithuanian. So bring your polyglot friends!