Liquid Ink

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


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Open letter to Lithuanian-Americans who tend to vote Republican

Dear fellow Lithuanians:

Today I’m asking you to think about one of our mutual interests: the continued independence of Lithuania and the rest of the Baltic States.

No, I’m not a Republican and never have been. So if you’re Lithuanian-American and have heard of me, I get that you’re probably not a fan of my writing or public comments. If this is your first visit to my website, know I’m not posting today to get you to like me or buy my books.

Instead, I’m asking you to think about something I know you take seriously: the sovereignty of  Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I’d like you to weigh what party loyalty you might feel against the possibility of that sovereignty’s breach.

I was among those Lithuanian-Americans who protested wildly for the United States to recognize the Lithuanian declaration of independence in 1990. Many of you were there in places like Daley Plaza in Chicago or before the Church of the Annunciation in Brooklyn.

I’m also aware that many of you, particularly those born prior to 1985, are old enough to have some idea of what Soviet occupation meant following WWII. Many of you know this meaning intimately.

I know not all of you vote along party lines. However, chatter on social media is compelling me to share my point of view. Perhaps some of you will conflate my post as a plea to approach an election based on a single issue. The independence of Lithuania and the Baltic States isn’t really that.

As we all know, the world is interconnected; we have, all of us, always been interdependent, but that is only more readily apparent now in a globalized economy where  commerce and communication are instant. The survival of NATO and the EU affects every global citizen, at least economically and politically. The possibility of an occupation of a country in northeast Europe should concern us morally, intellectually and even spiritually.

I find it paradoxical, at minimum, for those who were either blasted across the planet while fleeing Soviet aggression, or found themselves (like me) born to the displaced, to now enter a ballot box and vote for a candidate who looks at an alliance like NATO as a sacrificial pawn in a geopolitical board game.

It is also curious, for those who migrated during the 3rd wave, to find oneself living between countries, with friends and family in Lithuania, now to face the prospect of electing a candidate flippant to the possibility of a Baltic invasion, of leaving loved ones open to the increased possibility of foreign occupation.

You might find yourself voting for a set of personal reasons, perhaps to return jobs to mining or steel towns, or to punish the politically correct. If you’re that person, fathom waking up one morning to learn little green men are supporting a “separatist uprising” someplace in eastern Latvia. It soon grows and spreads past Daugavpils and into Lithuania, where “liberators” come to rid Zarasai of “fascists”. This is theoretical but hardly hyperbolic. A similar scenario has been taking place in Ukraine.

Our friends and family in Lithuania—indeed, in the rest of the EU and in the rest of the world—do not have a vote. But if they were faced with the choice, to the vast majority it requires not a nanosecond of thought.

Yes, there are plenty of things for Americans to be angry about. We haven’t been all that nice to each other, and it’s a fact that both the government and our bosses at work haven’t listened to the concerns of the middle class. Your gripe is legitimate. But what are you willing to risk in order to voice it? What alliances are you willing to tear down? No one has proposed anything we can prop up to replace the structures currently keeping the world from chaos.

The battle for Baltic independence cost lives. When I was a child, my elders believed it was something I’d never see in my lifetime. After so much progress, here we are, playing with fire as the world holds its breath.

And people who fled Stalinism—or the children and grandchildren of those who survived it—enter the ballot box prepared to vote for a demagogue on record as saying he may not honor American promises to protect the country which remains a cornerstone of our identity.

It begs so many questions, among them this one: if American promises have a price tag, what will the demagogue’s promises cost, and who will pay the price?

Please think about that.

Gint

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Photo: the Vilnius Television Tower, site of Soviet crackdown against Lithuanian independence on January 13, 1991.


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I’ll be on WGN!

Tomorrow, June 26th, I’ll be on “After Hours with Rick Kogan” on Chicago’s WGN radio.

I’m slated to speak beginning at 10:00 PM local (CDT) time. Chicago’s -5 GMT right now. If you’re in Amsterdam, I’ll be on at 5:00 AM. If you’re in Vilnius or Odessa, I’m on at 6:00 AM. Yes…I believe there will be a podcast.

If you’re in the Chicago area, just tune in to 720 AM. Internet users, you can listen live here.

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Photo courtesy of WGN.


Brilliant Lithuanian street art

All art is political. All art contains truth, although some art is more true that other art. This is about the truest works of art I’ve ever encountered, and it’s from Vilnius, on the wall of Keulė Rūkė BBQ, where I will most certainly be dining next week.

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Photo originally discovered at Imgur, posted by gintrux24.


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Incredible photographs of Soviet Lithuania

The Guardian is calling Antanas Sutkus’ photo essay, Nostalgia for Bare Feet, “An ‘epic poem’ of Life in Soviet Lithuania.” The few pictures available now on the Guardian’s website are just stunning, glowing with life and weighed by tragedy. Some of them seem other-worldly, even ethereal, while others are brutally real.

The actual exhibition is currently in Moscow. Click here to see the Guardian’s coverage.  I’m spellbound, instantly addicted.

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I Am Lietuva (not me, personally)

I was recently interviewed by Alexsandra Kudukis of I Am Lietuva. She asked me one question that is, to date, the most difficult one I had to answer in any interview.

The script is available in a newsletter available to subscribers only. To subscribe, please follow this link and go to the upper left-hand corner of the web page where you can add your e-mail address and receive the weekly letter.

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Here’s a teaser:

 

6.) We ask all of our guests at www.iamlietuva.com the same final two questions. What does Lietuvybė, or being Lithuanian mean to you?

Being Lithuanian in America offered me a vantage point from which I eventually grew and evolved to imagine myself a global citizen. What I mean is that the policies of isolationism and the point of view that sees America as exceptional and God’s best friend with a gun didn’t work on me.

When I came to Vilnius at age 19, read the city’s history, realized how complicated the place was, it was liberating, and I started to see the entire world not as a set of teams behind borders but an ever-shifting, ever-changing interplay. Realizing how different Lithuania was from the story I’d been told drove my curiosity through the stratosphere. I started traveling, opening myself up to the stories and ideas of people different from myself. Vilnius was my gateway drug to global consciousness.

 

 


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Feeling the weight of history

The perpetrator and the victim learn the real truth, but the witness, the observer gains only an impression. The quality of that impression—is it stronger or weaker—to tell the truth, there’s no difference. One way or another, the impression will die out, become a distant, faint memory, but the victim and the perpetrator will never forget the truth. –Sigitas Parulskis, Tamsa ir Partneriai (Darkness and Partners)

I have experienced a handful of moments in my life when I felt history as a massive, unfathomable force sprawled out behind me and yet entirely present in the moment. These transcendent moments inform my work as a writer about as strongly as anything I’ve experienced. My identity conjures itself around these immovable forces.

One of them occurred when I was about seventeen years-old, standing on the corner of Michigan and Wacker, facing the Tribune Tower in Chicago. This is the former site of Fort Dearborn. I had read about it for a high school assignment, but this day I happened to look down on the ground to see the demarcation. (Photo from Chicago Detours):

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In a flash, the fort and its story, the people who lived there, the people who died violently on the bank of the Chicago River…it all became real. Not a story in a book or a memory dancing amid the lightning of synapses. Not a film or a painting. I could sense the reality, unfathomable yet palpable, and how different that space had once been: no skyscrapers or metal bridges, street lights or fancy stores. I became aware of a force all around me, inside me, in which there were no longer sides to a story, enemies and friends. There was simply a human experience so overwhelming that I felt myself extinguished yet deeply connected to a great everything.

I had exactly this experience, although perhaps ten times more intense, while sitting at a table with writers Ellen Cassedy and Sigitas Parulskis. Cassedy, author of We are Here (an amazing book) was traveling around Vilnius, Lithuania collecting stories and experiences that had to do with her Jewish identity and the Holocaust in Lithuania. Parulskis had published Tamsa ir Partneriai, a novel which imagines the events of the Holocaust from the point of view of a Lithuanian photographer. She was to interview him, and I had been recommended as an interpreter.

At first I approached the conversation as I would any job. I felt a little anxiety, had brought my small dictionary along, made sure to come early. We sat at a table in an outdoor cafe, just down the street from the University of Vilnius. The conversation began and lasted a few hours.

The interview was published this past January in Cosmonauts Avenue. I highly recommend it, not just to those interested in the Holocaust, but especially to those interested in European history and questions of ethnic identity.  Click here to read.

I recognized, perhaps a quarter hour into the experience, that I was witnessing something important, and I knew the conversation I was hearing—I was soon participating—would change me forever. I hope one day to write with greater detail about that afternoon—in fact, the experience inspired me to pursue the completion of a work of non-fiction. I won’t say very much about it right now, only that I’m working on it, and that it is based on a moment of transcendence. It left me understanding what it means to admit a burden and then to let it go.

I will forever remember the moment I walked away from the table with Sigitas and Ellen, and how ultra-vivid Vilnius seemed to me. An orange sun had skewered puffy clouds with shafts of glass. I walked down streets in the middle of Old Town where atrocities had taken place. I had always known about them, but now they were different. Not scenes from a book, images from photos, memories I’d heard about. I recognized the feeling, the weight of history, at once annihilating and unifying, unfathomable yet palpable, sprawled out behind me and yet entirely present in every brick and cobblestone. Indeed, it was there in my body, in a hand that trembled uncomfortably for the rest of the night.

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The world’s greatest living painter: Šarūnas Sauka

Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” -Banksy

I’m thinking of begging for money, opening up a Go Fund Me page or something to be able to make it to Vilnius before March 6th when the following exhibit will end. Here are a few of the milder images:

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Image from Nacionalinė Dailės Galerija

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Image from delfi.lt

I first encountered the paintings and visual art of Šarūnas Sauka while wandering the streets of Vilnius in 2006. I walked past a small gallery with a modest glass door and was struck by a portrait of a woman that seemed to recall the work of Ivan Albright, another of my favorites. When I went inside, I was completely transfixed. The gallery contained only a few paintings by Sauka, but each one slaughtered me. It was the kind of painting I had waited my whole life to discover.

If you’ve never seen his art before, be warned: he’s not Monet. I feel his work is more intense than Egon Schiele’s or even Joel Peter Witkin’s. This video presentation of the exhibit will give you more than a solid introduction. That it’s set to the music of Massive Attack only confirms all the feelings of synchronicity I sense whenever I engage the art of Sauka.

If anyone would like to donate a few dollars to send me out to Vilnius before March so that I might write a long essay about why his work should be required in all the world’s high schools, please PayPal me.