Steinbach, that Maudlin Town

“On Main Street; once my street
I just want to say
They did things and do things they don’t do on Broadway”


I just read, and loved, Peter Ralph Friesen’s quietly profound new book, “Dad, God, And Me”

This novel (in many ways) has awakened smeary recollections of my own Steinbach childhood. Unexpectedly, I see stark similarities in our two fathers, although that comment will generate a “Waut?” tidal surge among Steinbachers who knew them both. In my dad’s case, it was more of a generational hand-me-down; something he dispensed with a hip check and then moved on. Or thought he had.

Certainly, the two men had core differences but they both bore the enormous weight of Steinbach in general and Kleine Gemeinde Steinbach in particular. It was, to each man, a stony brook; an overbearing, immovable, and intolerant entity.

In my view, at least.

I see two stoic, driven men—one pious, mild, and somewhat pedantic, the other secular, red-faced, a “man of action”, sometimes to a fault. I also encountered a third shadow presence: Steinbach itself. Looming with Lordly characteristics; a sub-deity.

There’s no place like it… 

Sandburg’s famed city of verse came to mind, also uninvited. The poet describes a place “stormy, husky, and brawling” as compared to my childhood home: Severe, bespectacled, and haughty. Both places feel male, both shod with shit-spackled gumshuh. Both broad-shouldered.

Chicago and Steinbach each have a primal gravitas, an undeniable presence that, like a high slap shot, leaves a mark—sometimes painful.

Adult Steinbach, that is. As kids, I remember our secret underground. Raucously—like the Free French—we chided the powerful, the self-important and the self-righteous behind their backs, schpotting in our hideouts: in the storage bins at “CT’s”, with a beer out at “the pits”, schmeatjing at the sinner’s rink and in the ballpark dug-out. Author Friesen confirms this too, recalling his and his poetic buddy Patrick Friesen’s days as noble infidels. (“Noble” is my word, not Ralph’s.) These two rebelled not with misbehaviour, exactly, but with logic and fearless debate, taking on “murderous literalism” and all those pitching a certainty built upon loose-ends and a fear of hell.

I also enjoyed the author’s many comments concerning his mother.

[…] “her eyes are soft with a deep and wordless sadness.” 

I felt it was a discrete and worthy sub-text. I noted the juxtaposition of her frazzled ham-and-eggs-and-house-full-of-children existence versus the descriptions of all other women in the local vernacular: “Mrs. Peter F. Rempel, Mrs. Jake G. Koop,” etc. Real-life shades of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and that book’s submissive naming convention. Steinbach’s patronymics to the last degree—a practice that attempted through churchy formal-speak to erase a woman’s given name, always seemed to me, as a kid and still, to be evidence of Mennonites “jumping the shark.” Women might as well been forced to address men as, “Your Honour,” and curtsey.  

Somehow, I can’t imagine my rebellious Mercury Cougar-driving mom, in 1968, to succumb. If she did, it would only have been with such an overflowing ladle-full of withering verbal irony that passing pick-up trucks would have been stuck in their Penner Tire tracks as they encountered her sticky sarcasm.

To her credit. I always speculated that my mom, despite her scandalous reputation, was secretly—perhaps guiltily—admired by some of those name-stripped Hausfraus—who regarded themselves as Madam Curie NOT “Mrs. Pierre Curie”.

Altogether, “Dad, God, And Me” is a well-written, thoughtful examination. Forensic, in ways, but never mean-spirited or overly disdainful. Those strong feelings are withheld, but they still add a salty sprinkle of complexity with their just-noticeable absence. It is written with clean text and a forthright style. There are seamless and fluent excursions into German both High and Plaut. The book is built on a firm foundation of self-examination: Candid, telling, and like the prose style, unadorned. I found it, once I adjusted to the cadence, flowing and beautiful.

Near the end, Author Friesen offers a red-hot ember of guilty truth and we are invited to share as he explores with honesty and integrity, as if he is splinta’ noaktijch… When he reveals himself so freely, we know we can believe in him and what he has told us.

Thanks, Ralph! 

P.S.–Alien revivalists do get a little sandpaper, and I was glad for that!

Encampment

My thanks and regards to the editors of Tiny Seed Journal.

TINY SEED LITERARY JOURNAL

Northern lights, drunken ranks of Chernobyl ephemera, waver pink and green high above the boreal shield. In November an odd wind blows sharp from the south, kicking skiffs of snow ahead of it. Nodding, heavy head. Insistent… pushing down on the ice all through the night as it rushes unflagging across the fetch, pouring north into the invisible low pressure hollow. The raspy-rough crust on the ice surface catches the gusts. Cat claw on a ball of yarn. Using this purchase the wind is brutish in its labour, heaving with heavy legs.
     In the winter morning the young ice platooned along the windward lakeshore, only inches thick and still vulnerable, is the last line of defence. When the ice can’t—it just can’t—push the land out of the way, it buckles with a shotgun crack. The skirmish continues until the shoreline looks like a long line of pup tents…

View original post 341 more words

“Penguin, if you’re out there—I hope you’re listening…”

A web beacon (or a pixel tag) is a small, invisible piece of text or image on a website that is used to monitor traffic on a website. In order to do this, various data about each site visitor is stored using web beacons.”

So what? Why should a writer care about this arcane bit of programmerease? Are the rules of grammar or the strength of one’s imagination not more important to a writer?

Of course. Except…

In the new world of Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publish vs. Indy Publishing, the most marketable skills may not be the inky variety so much as the slinky variety.

Let me ‘splain you: I live 90 minutes from the Winnipeg Floodway. My location is a bit remote, and in terms of population density, it ain’t Brooklyn. However, my Android phone has, in its logarithmic digital wisdom identified Bloodvein First Nation as my nearest population hub.

bloodvein

Hilarious. BFN is a small place. It’s far away. There are dozens of towns that are closer and larger, and yet, this is what Samsung gives me as my location. My point is not to cast shade on Bloodvein but to illustrate the level of technical advancement available to me as an average citizen. It’s pretty sad.

Sure, I can scrape a little basic data from Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress analytics, but it’s meagre at best.

Now go back up to the web beacon description in the lede. See the potential difference? A big-arse publishing house can hire brainy types who love math, puzzles, and Star Trek to pin-point all the Whos in all the Whovilles across the globe! They can ID the entire population of Romantic Space-Fantasy Adventure Horror aficionados to within a pixel point of accuracy, plus or minus one redhead.

Me? I could spend most of the Toews fortune* on marketing and end up with a garage full of UNSOLD, shabbily printed grit-lit, collecting dust and angst.

*Such as it is, we are mostly invested in books, windsurfing equipment, and sewing machines & sewing machine accessories…

And it need not mean that dust-gathering library of Prose by Toews is second-rate—that is not my point. (In fact, I’m hoping you’ll take the opposite inference here.) The point is that FEW in the grit-lit-identity-seeking-Menno-odd-syntax-unusual-language-and-extremely-long-hyphenated-word cohort of worldwide readers will know that my awesome book even exists. The Whos in Whoville will remain drearily unaware. Toewsproseless.

So, it is by definition, existential. Dude. If I want to exist as a published writer, I must not only write good, gooder, goodest—but I have to shout it from the digital mountaintops too. Or aim to be the best-selling author in Bloodvein? (That may be tougher than I think…)

Here’s an interesting related post by Poet-Author Elizabeth Estochen:

https://www.estocheneditorial.com/post/publishing-journey

He stands at his desk and verbs the nouns.

Twelve. Twelve stories since November 9, 2019. Twelve times I have over-hauled, cannibalized or started from scratch. Twelve times I have verbed the nouns until I wrote

End.

I did not craft these alone. Far from it. Besides editor James, who has a hand (sometimes a fist) in almost all of what I produce, I’ve enjoyed a lot of wise help lately. Newfound writer friends, old friends, cousins, heroes, journal editors, my Writing Circle leader and co-members are among these.

What a dimension these voices add! Voices in my head. Danke seea, voices. I see everything in one way. My way. Sure, my vision has changed over the years and I have the benefit of that changing viewpoint, but it’s still my hazy hazel eyes, my half-functioning, and not-tiny nose, my waxy elephantine ears, my salty, shrink-wrapped, suspiciously rosy memory banks. My taste, my tastelessness… my sense of touch and some would say—a Boomer’s loss-of-touch, an old white guy from a small town, a needling, nerjing, argumentative prick who’s more than happy to express an opinion au contraire mon ami.

Anyway, I’m not so much proud of my productivity as I am stunned. (Aside: A master humble-brag, right there, if I do say so myself, and of course—I’d never do that…) What brought on this flurry? Where are the origins of this Alberta Clipper that has sailed into my Manitoba deep freeze?

Was it my faint effort to mirror Winslow Homer’s advice?: “Travel widely, experiment boldly, love deeply.”

Perhaps.

Jan and I spent a month with family in Maple Ridge and Victoria. I rode the SkyTrain. I let my beard grow flaxen and breathed deeply of an urban strain of Pacific pollen not available here in the centre of the continent. I spent time with family and not crawling under the cottage to do battle with dragons and sewer lines. I read a story in front of a crowd of dubious strangers. (Most fully awake.) I lived with a beagle.

I marvelled at marvellous grandchildren, cherished children and found a way to pray for one of them in particular—I suppose that’s true, after a fashion and as John Prine might sing, “in spite of myself.” (I am not first-team all-star when it comes to prayer.) Yes, there was a scary thing.

I’ve worked on less familiar tenses. I cut my dependence on ING words, writing as I too often do, with withering, wringing present participles. I’ve come up with my own Victor Frankenstein of a story-shape theory, resurrected from the cadged prose cadavers of Vonnegut and David Jauss. (They go together like beer and bacon. Piss an’ porcelain.)

fortune complexity
Experiment Boldly: Sure, I will… If I could only figure out what I meant by all of this.

I’ve heard and read learned comments on inspirational subjects:

“Poets are the unauthorized legislators of the universe.”—Mary Shelley

“It’s necessary to be pushy, but fatal to appear so.”—one of Bertram Russell’s old Profs.

“Root your story in what is particular and original rather than that which is re-hashed.”—Carolyn Gray

“I’m burly and brawny,
not squirrely and scrawny, and if you don’t like me
that’s tough.

I shit thunder and lightning, 
and everything frightening,
and where I come from
that’s enough.”—Red Lightman

“The writer stands apart and can adjust all aspects of the story in pursuit of specificity.”—George Saunders, via Carolyn Gray

I’ve filled my characters’ pockets with objects in order to get to know them, but I have not shared with the reader what these things are. I know the precise shade of yellow for all of these things: Mustard after the bottle has been thrown and smashed against a reddish mahogany kitchen wall… a melon… a September poplar leaf… a pickerel belly.

I’ve done all of the former plus more: Put on miles and miles on the X-C trails, heard a lot of Canucks games on my tablet (late in the Manitoba night) and also sipped—near Craigflower Road and other salty strasses—on a fresh Phillips First Bjorn, a delightful, light beer with a helluva lotta HOPS! All of this must constitute some kind of writing magic formula. A love potion expressed in diction and syntax, story, plot, character, and a restless soul.

I have killed two hapless MCs in this batch. Neither one saw it coming. Neither deserved it—not even close. But, hell… Shakespeare killed 74. (One of them ate hot coals!) Ms. O’Connor knocked ’em off like shooting cans offen thater split rail fence yonder. Right? I’m just getting my party started!

“Operation Night Bandit” (YA)  |  1,067 words—written 11.9.19  | Submitted

“A Man of Reason”  |  2,100 words—11.17.19  |  Submitted

“Hazel Creek”  | 1,500 words—11.20.19  | Submitted

“Regrets De Foie Gras”  |  400 words—11.30.19  |  Submitted (contest)

“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon”  |  1,850 words—12.20.19  |  Accepted by Agnes and True

“Tiptoe”  |  500 words—1.5.20  |  Submitted

“Encampment”  |  435 words—1.10.20  |  Accepted by Tiny Seed Literary Journal

“The Three Sisters”  |  3,450 words—1.16.20  |  Still tusslin’

“Red Lightman”  |  2,400 words—1.17.20  |  Looking for a prospective home

“Grudge”  |  2,800 words—1.23.20  |  Still fussin’

“Piece of My Heart”  |  289 words—1.26.20  |  Still insertin’ stents

“Screwdriver”  |  2,200 words—2.3.20  |  Just startin’ to winnow and weed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literally Reruns – “The Business of Saving Souls” by Mitchell Toews

via Literally Reruns – The Business of Saving Souls by Mitchell Toews

Some of my favourite people—and there are many in this inky-blinky biz—from Literally Stories, just north of the 50th parallel and a little east of me, gave me a rerun. I heart them, hard.

Cheers to my friends from London, the Pacific NW, and those tagging rude—but intrinsically artful—images on the stucco backside of a mega-church in Abbotsford, as we speak (in tongues.)

Want some FINE reading? Creative, real, raw, skilled, fun, funny, makes you shake your head with a hearty, “wish I woulda thought of that!” Here:

Allison, Leila

https://literallystories2014.com/?s=henson

https://literallystories2014.com/?s=sheehan

https://literallystories2014.com/?s=hawley

 

Jessica Lake Idyll

Last summer a good friend visited. We drank cold Belgian lager beside a warm Manitoba lake. It was idyllic and pleasant. To add to the enjoyment, Irene told us a story from her past—her mom is my aunt’s sister and that family is famously as full of life and spontaneity as a sizzling firecracker.

I confessed to our friend Irene that the story was terrific and that, guiltily, I was tempted to steal it. She said I could steal with her permission—so, a theft, but legally pre-excused.

Over the next few months, I wrote it first as a short essay, then changed it to be used as the first segment of a more complicated three-part story.

It was, I believed, a truly Canadian story and more so a Canadian Mennonite tale, even though my friend’s mom is not, by origin, a Mennonite. (But she sure as heck lived with Mennonites, as did her sister—my aunt.) I sent it out for consideration by several literary journals, hoping for the best.

Ultimately, I decided to withdraw the story. I had grown dissatisfied with it and a few readers—other writers whose opinion I trusted—felt it was convoluted and disjointed, even if they didn’t say it exactly that way…

Schiet.

But, one of the markets spoke up. Like several of my writer friends, they said the first segment of the story was worth keeping and would I care to rewrite it as a solo piece? “Sure,” says I, happy for the lifeline.

So I rewrote and resubmitted. I felt positive, partly because of the resurrection and also sensing that the reduction from that longer piece was now more purely refined; “Un sirop nappant,” as, René, a spontaneous Jessica Lake neighbour and skilled cook, might have said.

Happily, the editors agreed and come July, “The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” will appear in Agnes and True, an exceptional Canadian publication.

Agnes and True is a Canadian online literary journal.

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Our journal was founded on the belief that there are many writers whose work has not yet had the chance to be appreciated and many stories that have not yet found their literary home.

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As our name suggests, Agnes and True celebrates the achievement of women, though not exclusively. We are particularly interested in discovering and publishing the work of emerging older writers (both female and male).

My thanks to the editorial team at Agnes and True, home to more than a few sizzling firecrackers, I am sure.

Agnes and True is brought to you by The Trojan Horse Press, Inc. 

 

 

 

 

Mak’n Sparks

Janice and I spent a month over Christmas and New Year visiting family and dog-sitting in BC. The majority of the time had us in Victoria. While we were there I contacted the Victoria Writers’ Society to see if they had any events or functions taking place during our stay.

They did: the Society’s Annual General Meeting was on the slate and the Secretary, Ms. Sheila Martindale, invited me to sign-up for their Open Mic, which, she assured me was the main activity of the evening.

So I did: reading a sightly abridged version of “Sweet Caporal at Dawn”. It was fun and Jan & I really enjoyed the various readings. Lots of grab-ya-by-the-throat poetry and some fine essay and memoir pieces.

A reading I found particularly entertaining—and relatable—was Ron Stefik’s bright, funny ramble, “Mak’n Sparks”. I’ve received Ron’s permission to share it here.

Like Conrad led us upriver into a world of winding darkness and deception, so—conversely—Ron takes us downstream, away from lives filled with confusion and dilemma.

We are brought into the quiet of the workshop: the place of washer-filled Cheeze-Whiz jars suspended by their lids from the underside of a shelf… the land of pegboard and felt pen outlines on the wall… the sanctuary of our favourite tools—their double-insulated smells, their familiarity, their loyalty, their simple ways.

But also the power tool’s growling capacity for raw, emergency room-feeding might!

“I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”—Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

 

Mak’n Sparks

by Ron Stefik

I enthusiastically read the latest Canadian Tire advertising flyer that had arrived in the mail.  These are basically glossy hardware porn. The centrefold display caught my attention, the item between the stepladder with open legs and the set of socket wrenches. Angle grinders were on sale.

I have always felt a desire to own a portable angle grinder. Not an actual need, but a desire. When I had worked in the design office at Strathcona Steel in Edmonton, I would occasionally have reason to go down to the cavernous shop floor; to get a measurement, to get a progress update, or to get yelled at for not wearing safety boots. Metal shaping and welding stations were busy all around as I navigated across the factory, but those using angle grinders seemed to have the most satisfying tasks. Like Prometheus delivering fire, labourers cast long showers of fiery sparks to the howling accompaniment of their empowering device. Here be men!

Ownership of such a tool might lead to identification of a previously unrecognized daily need for such a thing, and would likely inspire a worthy addition to my story series, “The Joy of…”.  The Joy of Radial Arm Saws, The Joy of Hedge Trimmers…..The Joy of Angle Grinders…..intriguing titles like that.

Scanning the store shelves in my quest for self-worth, I suppressed a rising panic this item would be sold-out and unavailable to the remaining local angle grinding citizenry. Such disappointing ventures are reminiscent of potential dates that never show, an unfulfilled promise of a happily ever after future. Discovering my equivalent of the Golden Fleece craftily located on a lower shelf, with fevered anticipation and sweaty hands I made my selection from the inventory. I had briefly considered using some of my hoard of 5 and 10 cent Canadian Tire coupons to finance the investment, but wisely decided to maintain this bankroll for a future spending spree, such as the purchase of an electric lighting fixture to donate to an Amish charity. However, I did also acquire a 10-pack of grinding wheels. I was sure to identify many things around the house that could benefit from a good grinding. I could hardly wait to get home and start annoying the neighbours.

Alone in the privacy of my workshop, I savoured the moment of unveiling. The box included an instruction book sealed in a plastic bag. This would preserve it in pristine unopened condition for the benefit of future generations. It was tough plastic, and curiosity getting the better of me, I used the grinder to get it open. A thick booklet, it was printed in a multitude of languages, for the convenience of angle grinding Swahili bushmen and Bedouin travellers with long extension cords. Of the 32-page English section, the first thirty-one and a half pages were dedicated to safety advisories of the “never do this” variety. Such as using this power tool to open a plastic bag.

As it would happen, I had recently brought home from a neighbourhood free-pile a damaged air compressor. I did not see any need to compress air but had a vague idea of using the attached small pressure tank for a future inventive project. It was welded on. My first grinding task! Safety glasses and ear covers on, I attacked the task with suitable angle grinding élan and vigour. Electric motor whining at a satisfyingly high pitch, sparks flew as I spread destruction, Jedi warrior descendant upon a metallic foe. Within minutes I transformed a once useful piece of equipment into bits of scrap. This was progress!

Having satisfied my initial primal urge to cut through metal, I await the next necessity that will present itself to use this latest weapon in my home-improvement arsenal. That jam jar that has been getting a bit tough to open? Perhaps a bit of grinding to remove the lid is in order. Or perhaps a passerby on an electric shopping scooter will overturn in front of my home and require my rescue with a portable angle grinder to cut them free from the wreckage. One can only hope.

Publication-Interviews-Readings

The list is getting long enough to have its own dedicated page. I’ll keep this page more or less up to date and that is all I’m gonna say about that.

Last updated: June 2, 2020

PUBLISHED

Since June 2016:

“Encountered on the Shore”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“A Vile Insinuation”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“Without Reason”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“Zero to Sixty”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“The Margin of the River”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“Nothing to Lose”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2016

“Heavy Artillery”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2016

“Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“South of Oromocto Depths”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“Frozen Tag”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“A Fisherman’s Story”, Rhubarb Magazine (Ca), Issue 39, 2016

“Our German Relative”, Red Fez (Ca), Issue 96, 2016

“Graperoo”, Fair Folk Journal (US), 2016

“So Are They All”, Voices (Ca), Volume 16, No. 2, 2016

“The Phage Match”, Broken Pencil (Ca), 2016

“The Rothmans Job”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“Winter Eve in Walker Creek Park”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“South of Oromocto Depths”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“Encountered on the Shore”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“The Preacher and His Wife”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“The Beefeater and the Donnybrook”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“The Light Pool”, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish), 2017

“Nothing to Lose”, Digging Through the Fat (US), 2017 (Link)

“Heavy Artillery”, Digging Through the Fat (US), 2017 (Link)

“The Business of Saving Souls”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“So Are They All”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“The Rothmans Job”, Sick Lit Magazine (US), 2017

“The Business of Saving Souls”, Sick Lit Magazine (US), 2017

“I am Otter”, The Machinery – A Literary Collection (India), “Fauna” 2017

“The Log Boom”, Storgy.com (UK), 2017

“Encountered on the Shore”, Occulum (US), 2017

“The Peacemongers”, The MOON magazine (US), 2017

“The Margin of the River”, riverbabble (US), 2017

“The Seven Songs”, Fictive Dream (UK), 2017

“I am Otter”, CommuterLit (Ca) 2018

“Fall From Grace”, Literally Stories (UK), 2018

“Of a Forest Silent”, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish), 2018

“City Lights”, Literally Stories (UK), 2018

“The Bottom of the Sky”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2018

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence”, riverbabble (US), 2018

“Nothing to Lose”, riverbabble (US), 2018

“Shade Tree Haven”, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US), 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, Blank Spaces (Ca), 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, “Just Words, Volume 2” (Ca), 2018

“Away Game”, Pulp Literature (Ca), 2018

“The Doeling”, Cabinet of Heed (Ireland), 2018

“Groota Pieter”, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “The Immigrants” (US),  2018

INTERVIEW, Mennotoba (Ca), 2018

“The Narrowing”, Scarlet Leaf Review (Ca), 2018

“Wide Winter River” podcast Not Ready for Prime Time (US), 2018

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, Literally Stories (UK), 2019

“The Toboggan Run”, The MOON magazine (US), 2019

“Peacemongers”, The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” The Best Short Stories from the MOON (US), Volume 1, 2019

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac”, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93, 2019

“Din and the Wash Bear”, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 95, 2019

“Died Rich”, Fabula Argentea (US), Issue #27, 2019

“I am Otter”, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran), 2019

“Away Game”, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran), 2019

INTERVIEW and EXCERPT from WIP novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar”, South Branch Scribbler (Ca), 2019

“Ifs and Butters”, TurnPike (US), 2019

“Concealment”, Me First Magazine (US), 2019

“Groota Pieter”, Pact Press (Australia), “We Refugees” anthology, 2019

“Fast and Steep”, Riddle Fence (Ca), Issue 34, 2019.

“Holthacka’s Quandary”, Lunate Fiction (UK), 2019

“Shade Tree Haven”, (mac)ro(mic) (US), 2019

“My Writing Day”, my (small press) writing day (Ca), 2019

“The Log Boom”, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “A Fork in the Road” (US),  Date TBA, 2020

“The Business of Saving Souls”, Literally Stories (UK), January 26, 2020

“Encampment”, Tiny Seed Literary Journal (US), February 8, 2020

“Regrets de Foie Gras”, Literally Stories (UK), May 2020

“My Life as a Corkscrew” (CNF), Blank Spaces (Ca), June 2020

“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon”, Agnes and True (Ca),  July 2020

“Piece of My Heart”, Pulp Literature (Ca)  Issue 27, Summer 2020

“The Margin of the River”, Blank Spaces (Ca), Sept 2020

“Away Game”, Quail Bell Magazine (US), TBA 2020

CONTESTS & AWARDS

“So Are They All”, Second Place in the Adult Fiction category of the Write on the Lake (Ca) contest, 2016

“Fall from Grace”, Honourable Mention in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville (US) Memoirs Contest, 2016

“The Phage Match”, Finalist in Broken Pencil’s (Ca) annual “Deathmatch contest, 2016

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac”, Winner in The Hayward Fault LineDoorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93 Triannual Themed Flash contest, 2018

“I am Otter”, CommuterLit (Ca), Runner-up in for Flash Fiction Feature, 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, Nominated by Blank Spaces (Ca) for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2018

“Piece of My Heart”, winner of the Pulp Literature magazine Editors’ Choice in the 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest.

READINGS

Voices Launch, McNally Robinson, Winnipeg, MB, 2016

Pulp Literature Issue Launch, Vancouver, BC, 2017

Manitoba Writers’ Guild, Artspace, Winnipeg, MB, 2019

Prosetry, Jessica Lake, MB, 2019

Driedger Readings, Winnipeg, MB, 2019

Victoria Writers’ Society AGM, Victoria Central Library, Open Mic, Jan 8, 2020

Pulp Literature Reading Series, live internet April 24, 2020

Jake Epp Public Library, Steinbach, MB, 2020 (date TBA)

FOLLOWERS

Twitter 5,499

Facebook 290

Goodreads 209 friends, 12 followers

LinkedIn 916

WordPress 176

A Mennonite Imposter’s Discursive Rhapsody

Three Problems with Christianity: Souldierism, Heaven, and Receipts. (And possibly some of the reasons why the author maunders along in so many stories, searching out weak actors like a Red Rock Bible Camp Councillor hunting for Playboys between the mattresses.)

Problem One: Onward Christian “Soul-diers”

  • Mennonite religion (voted *Best Guilt* at Reformerpalooza) is obsessively and unabashedly built upon an army mentality.
  • Follow orders or else. It’s just that simple.
  • Those who ask questions based on some external code or sense of moral dissatisfaction are often eliminated. Shunned, excommunicated, kicked out, shit-canned… The church is governed by court-martial law, coercively presided and prosecuted by high-ranking church officials who are put in place by you-know-who (Die Owlah! An unimpeachable authority.) Just like the armed services, to disobey is to risk extreme penalties and disgrace.

So why is an organization dedicated to peace governed by the same laws, ordinances, and traditions that are used by the world’s militaries; the same rules that were in place for the fearsome armies of the Old Testament?

  • Also like the military, most Christian conventions change, but they are grindingly slow to do so. Examples of past changes I’ve seen in my own adult lifetime: Divorce (with the caveat that it is still far rougher on women then it is for men), Tight Jeans, and Rock n’ Roll. No? Just take a look around at church this Sunday, is there not at least one divorced person in your pew? Are you and others not wearing jeans that would have drawn a hair-afire rebuke in 1970? That musical menagerie: drum kit, synthesizer, and stable full of guitars up on the (ahem) stage is at the ready and is not out of place, in fact, they are the instruments of salvation and worship.

“Last one in the mosh pit is a demon!” 

  • And yet the church, just like the military, battle on in their efforts to resist LGBTQ (see below), to sustain their sadly obvious misogynistic roots, and to disavow the nativism that the church’s unholy co-combatants—far-right conservative politicians—seek to uphold.
  • In 2012, Steinbach, Manitoba’s Southland Church led opposition to a provincial law that sought to provide protection for LGBTQ students suffering from bullying. The church took the position that the Bill would promote “wrong lifestyle choices.” A petite-but-confident and charismatic high school student (not yet voting age at the time) serenely and handily took on the Steinbach Town Council, several adult congregants, a group of not-so-petite (but plenty-surly) adult members of the local ministerial association who carried NOT ON MY WATCH! placards. This latter crew had to be gavelled into silence and was threatened with expulsion from council chambers. Despite being less disruptive than the placardists, a phalanx of spear-wielding ancient Roman soldiers was prevented from entering the chambers.
    • “We want them to change it (the Bill) to say independent faith-based schools do not have to have groups that are in conflict with their beliefs,” Coun. Susan Penner told CBC News on Thursday. —https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156 (The soldiers could be heard grunting and clacking their spears in noisy agreement outside of the meeting room.)
    • At Steinbach’s Southland Church, pastor Ray Duerksen told parishioners during a (“worship”) service on Feb. 24 that God will judge those who don’t oppose the anti-bullying bill.—https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156
  • My QUESTIONS for Coun. Penner and Pastor Duerksen include: “Is it still your watch? An elected or appointed position? Both, you say?” And, “At the point when the church and the town finally change their puny positions on LGBTQ issues, what REDRESS can be expected for your irresponsible and discriminatory actions in 2012? Will this redress be financial? A public apology? Resignation? Stoning?
  • I have no questions for the placard-waving chuckleheads or the Roman soldiers. (These two represent the same fertilizer; in different piles.)
  • It is my prediction that the petite young high school student who—armed with only five smooth stones—stood up to colossal hatred in 2012. I believe she will one day be a legislator who will debate on a level battlefield. I expect she will defeat the doctrine-wielding and the spear-wielding, alike. I suspect her “watch” will be empathetic and egalitarian.

Problem Two: Heaven

  • You rent a house. The owner stresses that you—the renter—have full dominion over that house. It’s yours to use as you please. It’s almost as though the landlord told you, “I got awesome insurance so party on, DUDE!” Additionally, you rent this house knowing that you will be moving to a castle at some point in the future. You’ve taken all the necessary steps to assure your admittance to the castle. It’s a done deal.
  • My prediction, based on close personal contact with numerous rat bastards and almost as many sweet soulful brethren is that the renter is not gonna put a lot of leasehold improvements into that rental house. The renter is not gonna worry about a drywall dent here, or a busted tile there, or a swimming pool filled with empty Tim Horton cups. (Or rusted out Chevy Blazers, dirty syringes or radioactive waste, for that matter. It ain’t the renter’s problem.)
  • The renter’s carefree attitude is in high contrast when compared to their landlord-less heathen neighbours who own their abode and who intend to hand it down to their descendants… Those dumb suckers are tasked with the constant upkeep and care of their place, unlike the renter. Renters have the same rights to live in their home as the homeowners but, ‘cuz of the whole “I’m gonna move into a golden castle in the sky” thing, renters don’t really give a Norwegian rat turd about upkeep, cleanliness, sustainability or any other word ending in pollution or climate change or extinction or any words that are not “dominion over”.

Heaven appears to be an effective disincentive to take care of the earth. “DON’T BE GENTLE—IT’S A RENTAL!”

Problem Three: Receipts

Here’s a modern parable:

You run down to Anabaptist Appliances and buy a toaster. It’s fine, until one day you don’t smell burning toast. Hot under the collar, you hustle back to the store and ask to trade-in or return the toaster or to be given warranteed compensation.

“Sure, Mister Ishmael. Do you happen to have a copy of your receipt? I’m gonna need a scriptural confirmation to verify that everything you are telling me is gospel. Know what I’m sayin’?”

“Of course. But, can’t you just take my word? Have you no, uh, faith?”

“Oh bah jo! I believe everything you’ve told me—the trilogy: alternating|direct|ground… the death of the thermostat and its resurrection via the reset button… the four horsemen of the power surge… It’s just that my boss is a stickler and I really need a  proof of purchase.”

He seems insistent, this clerk. Now, you KNOW you bought the toaster—full retail price—at Anabaptist Appliances and you never abused it or changed anything or went outside of the commandments of the operator’s manual so even though you don’t have actual written proof, you say, “Look, bro. I don’t have the receipt, but my buddy James, on King Street, he can vouch for me. Will that do?”

“Sure. As long as it’s in print, on ancient, rotting scrolls, in an appropriate language not spoken on earth in centuries, and concerns only the toaster model later built in the precise triangular region delineated by i.) the old blood-letting clinic (Abe’s Arteries) on Queen up to ii.) Spadina and then back along Graffiti Alley to the location of iii.) the common pasture … we’ll accept that as gospel!”

“Sure, partner. Sounds like we have a deal. Is it okay if the written proof from James on King is filled with ambiguities about when and exactly how to prepare and eat toast, how a toaster should properly be prepared for sacrifice, the selling of a toaster into slavery, the rules governing the crucifixion of a  toaster, and the throwing of plugged-in toasters into the bathtubs of Hittite neighbours?”

“Hittites, eh? They’re the worst. It can even be co-authored by several hundred of James’s best buddies (just not too many women, eh?) and you can come on down and revise it any time you feel like it.”

  • The main trouble with the good book is that it is the product of WRITERS and EDITORS. Untrustworthy louts, by and large. And the genre—is it literary fiction, is it reportage, is it non-fiction, is it science-fiction, is it fantasy, is it non-fiction? Astrological science?  History text-book or historical fiction? Maybe foodie lit? (What Whales Love to Eat: Old Guys with Long Beards… Superbowl Munchies? How to Feed a Crowd with Just Bread and Fish.)
  • Lots of authors. Lots of (Holy) ghostwriters. Distributors and agents gettin’ their Gideon on too and disenfranchising the Midianite Book Club. It’s quite the anthology!

The Bible is kinda like the Leity high rollers (from a long time ago) assuring all us lunchpail Leity types that a Deity won the big hand except the Deity does not want to show His cards. He wants us to take it on His word that He filled His holy straight. He understands our mortal doubts though, and instructs us to have faith. He gives His Leity pals a few tools to help with the convincing; some insider info to prove what He claims. The suite may be Clubs. (But it could be Diamonds.) He may have drawn the Ten or it may have been a pat hand. Sure, His betting pattern doesn’t support it, but… if you don’t believe the Allmighty, you just might be banished to the basement—with his relative, Diablo, who sells life insurance—for the rest of eternity, so… it’s up to you, but I know what I’d do.

~

Also, you cowboy philosophers and your John Prine mix-tapes (“Jesus Christ died for nuthin'” etc.) and your medical marijuana… you can just stop pointing out that whole, “Well, doesn’t the very presence of evil prove that an omnipotent God does not exist?” thing. The man with the long white robe and the gold throne is getting pretty tired of that whole logic spiel and if you don’t want those glaciers to start melting at TURBO speed, then—verily, I say unto you—just watch it!

Conclusion: Wherein the Author Wraps Up with a “Ha! Toro!” and a Swirl of His Fadadatj

“The Holy Fool”. Another parable, of sorts.

You know the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, where supposedly only those with “a perfect sense of fashion” can actually see the King’s new duds. Those peasants without the chic fashion eye cannot even see the King’s new apparel. At least that’s what the King’s advisors tell the King and his court in order to keep their ruse alive. No one dares point out the folly—they all pretend to be able to see the clothes, including the King—and it goes on and on.

Until, a person in the court, a jester perhaps, the so-called “Holy Fool” steps up and says the obvious. “The King is naked.”

Gasps and outrage follow. Slowly, the truth seeps in and then with a surge, everyone is busy denying that they see anything and the truth wins out after much subterfuge.

I sometimes feel like this “Holy Fool”; one who has no investment in the bullshit, a person who is not a part of it—not even close—and who without anything more than average insight utters the obvious, uninfluenced by the need to fall in line.

I am that fool. I cannot be sanctioned because I live a life within, but apart.

A believer may say to me, with force and indignation, that because I am nothing but a Mennonite imposter—a secular Mennonite—that I cannot and do not speak for Mennonites.

And yet,

  • My G-G-GF was Delegate Toews, born in Fischau and sent with 11 brooda to find a new home.
  • My G-GF and G-GM Toews, John and Sarah—late of the Kleine Gemeinde—were shunned from the Holdeman camp—shoed away like a pair of impertinent crows picking at a roadside deer carcass before the eagles had their fill. John and Sarah took umbrage at their unfair ouster and sued the church. The lowly corvids sued the uppity raptors. That must have sent tail-feathers fluttering!

Interesting bonafides, wouldn’t you agree? Plus I grew up in Steinbach Bakery—the floury bullseye of Manitoba’s cultural Mennonite dartboard. Add to that my uncommonly good and well-loved community treasure GrandMother Toews, despite her German Baptist (non-Menno) baptismal certificate. Also, my full-fledged adult-dunked Menno wife and one dunked daughter. (So our little family is 50-50: two wet and two dry. )

http___www.hendersonnebraska.com_wp-content_uploads_2012_04_zwieback

And now, at the end of this trail of breadcrumbs, I find myself standing in the court—not at the bench John and Sarah Toews stood before at the turn of the last century, but the aforementioned King’s court.

Sure enough, the king is naked. In fact, he’s got a boil on his butt the size and texture of an overfilled jambuster and a belly that must be schmaundtfat cuz jelly don’t shake like that!

The dude is, as we used to say, nuck bak-ed!

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. I Corinthians 6:12 (NLT)

So, hear me when I say that I may be uniquely qualified to see it all—including the ignoble and the insincere and the hypocritical—with eagle eyes and a crow’s discernment. I am a slave to none. And with familiarity and empathy and kinship and knowledge of the waymarkers and the places to stumble and those places too, where Mennonites soar.

~

And if I’m a little bit annoying and more didactic than you’re prepared to accept from a everyday guy, an former class-clown, an ex-jock with a plentiful supply of demons and not near enough angels, well… too bad, because no one gave me this job, I just damn well took it.

“Poets are the unauthorized legislators of the universe.”—P. Shelley

Coming Up Soon

COMING UP:

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10.15.19—The VERY promising new UK literary journal market, Lunate Fiction has accepted Mitchell’s much-sweat-over story, “Holthacka’s Quandary.” It will appear in December, but don’t wait! Visit their site and see what’s on offer. It’s free so there’s no wrist.

Holthacka (Matt Zehen) interacts once again with the venerable Peter Vogel, one of the author’s favourite repeat characters. Here’s hoping these Hartplatzites can find a happy home in Lunate where favourites (like Damhnait Monaghan and Robert Boucheron and more) have taken up residence.

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10.13.19—One of Toews’ recent short stories has been graciously accepted by a special Canadian lit mag from a rock near a windrous and wondrous squiggly-edged place. Yes, it’s true, he has a short story called “Fast and Steep” in Newfoundland’s Riddle Fence: A Journal of Arts & Culture. Coming November 2019.

A winter’s tale from the flat, frozen front yard of Matt and Justy.