Interview with a Mennonite Imposter

http://bit.ly/MennoTOEWSba

Writer interviews can be kinda boring. This is a little more in the Mennonite wiseguy range of the register, but still—you know—predictably boring. And great fun to do, especially with such an engaging set of questions! My thanks to Editor Erin Unger.

 

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Shade

FAMILY TREES sometimes cast shade. Due to the unbending quality of light and the laws of nature, this shade falls where designated by physics, not preference. We can’t change history to suit our current disposition.

The above is the mental garden in which the following Facebook post took root:

https://www.facebook.com/mitch.toews

Macdonald, Mennonites, and Métis: these things have been ricocheting around inside my bulbous, roomy-and-well-lit cranium lately. My daughter, a woman of letters considerable and the possessor of a mind much more well-tended and well-educated than her dad’s, did some research on the goings-on of 1870-1873, part of Sir John’s tenure.

It’s worth noting too that the grandchildren she has provided own a much less homogeneous ancestry than their maternal predecessors. Her rugrats are Menno-Ukrainian-Franco-Métis. This moves the issue out of the theoretical and right into Nanna & Gramps kitchen!

Her scholarly digging turned up some unsavory evidence about how Manitoba Métis were given “scrips” for land titles along many southern waterways in the then-new province. That was in 1870, before our Toews antecedent and his Molotschnan peacenik delegation rolled in and said, “Sure, we’ll take this stoney ground off your hands for frie, ommsonst.” As the research suggests (to some), the post-1870 gov of the day appeared slow-handed in making good on the scrips and many would-be Métis land-owners left for greener pastures, tired of waiting.

Historians also wonder whether the 1873 governments (Fed + Prov) had some prejudicial racial motivation; they were all out of Scots settlers from Ontario and if they didn’t act fast and populate the prairies, they stood to lose the territory to the avaricious Yanks. These industrious, white, tabular-headed Mennos, well-schooled in the way of farming floodplains and (as it turned out) compound interest, were juuuust the ticket! Exit Métis, enter Kleine Gemeinde.

The whole issue is complex and unsettling. What did the delegates weehte and when did they weehte daut?

* * *

This whole Mennonanigan got reinitiated, for me, when I read,

Canada’s First Scapegoat 

in The Walrus. An article that was preceded by “Old Macdonald”.

In Pursuit of One’s Own Identity

Know thyself. It’s not that easy.

Writer, know thyself.

LOL. Yeah, right.

This topic makes Dave from Leamington, Eek the Freek, Charcoal Charlie, and other trusted advisors roll their eyes. Boring. Still, it’s fertile soil and I plan to muck around in it a bit. Why not?

Here’s what one author wrote about this personal pursuit:

While we constantly hear of postcolonial writers—Salman Rushdie, for example, to name one of the most famous—I am part of a rarer, dying species: a pre-postcolonial writer. That’s because I was born and spent my teen years in part of one colonial Empire, in what was then (redacted to protect anonymity) and started my writing career in another part of a greater colonial empire: (redacted). Having outlived both of them qualifies me to make the claim to be “pre-postcolonial.” And since I have lived in the (redacted) since (redacted), that gives me a broad perspective that is reflected in my fiction.

Okay, not bad. A bit blah-blah-blah, but you know – writerly.

If I follow that format—and you give me a little latitude—I get this:

While we constantly hear of part-postcolonial writers—Miriam Toews, for example, to name one of the most famous—I am part of a rarer, dying species: a part-pre-postcolonial writer. That’s because I was born and spent my teen years in part of one colonial Empire, Steinbach, in what was previously The East Reserve in Manitoba, and started my writing career, years later, in another part of a greater colonial empire: Chilliwack, B.C. Having outlived one of them qualifies me to make the claim to be “part-pre-postcolonial.” And since I have lived in Canada from my birth in 1955, that gives me a sea-to-sea-to-sea perspective that is reflected in my fiction.

You diggin’ it? Me either. Too colonialcated. But it has some potential.

How about this introspective, Bukowskiesque gaze-and-mutter:

“Some writers grab the polish and remove the tarnish. For me, the tarnish is the thing. The unequivocal; the rough, crushed rock that packs tight and stays put.”

Sure that’s better, but ain’t it a little, “Oh, damn, I’m good! And so fresh.” Yeah. Thought so. I do try to drop the pretention, but like all Mennonites—even Mennonite Imposters, of which club I am the Boss—I’m pretty proud of my humility.

And then there’s the big question I am asked*: “What’s with all the assinine yappin’ on social media? And then you turn around and write these dark, hurtin’ stories about degenerate scum with theology degrees and such, interspersed with your, ‘Aren’t Mennonites quaint and whimsical, especially in 1964?’, stuff? Like, PICK A GENRE, DUDE!” 

* Not that anyone has actually ASKED me this, but IF THEY WOULD…

Anyway, “What’s with that schiet?” you ask? Good question. It’s mainly because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings on social media. I mean, it’s such a cowardly thing to do, right? Ignoble. The pinnacle of pipsqueakery. So, I like to kid around instead. Dad jokes, wordplay, quips, I’mjusfuckinwitcha stuff. You know?  At the same time, I DO mean to ruffle feathers in a lot of my writing. That is the point, sometimes.

I suppose I want to be class-clown AND also get a few “A” grades on essays, even though I like to mess around.

Here’s my last try at self-realization, for today:

If writing success is the tip of Everest, I am plodding my way there, wearing gummschooh three sizes too big and making my way over the wet, sucking clay of the Red River Valley towards the Himalayas.
.
You know the stuff, right? The sticky, grey, toxic compote around the basement walls of a house under construction. It reeks of radon, and of rotting alphalfa roots, and decaying ancestors. It makes each boot as heavy as a sack of nickels. Hope I don’t burst a stent!
.
Nonetheless, I like these boots I’m wearing even if they do come off every step or so. I enjoy the miserable terrain. I appreciate the path although I’d gladly take a less difficult shortcut—just for a change of pace—and I ❤️ the other travellers steeweling their way to higher ground along with me.

keep on trucking stewelling.png
Keep on steeweling.

 

allfornow,
Gummschooh Toews

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The Ins and Outs of Religious Freedom

Jan & I have created a private enterprise to govern our lakeside hut, The SheShed. We have righteously decreed that no person possessing an INNIE belly-button shall be granted entry. “Outies Only,” is The SheShed credo.

“So what?” you say and I agree. We are, after all, a private entity and interdiction from our Outie-exclusive establishment does not pose an injustice, nor cause harm, to the people of Canada nor does it materially interfere with any other individual’s fundamental rights and freedoms. It’s not like our privately-funded SheShed is a law school or a university, for example!

However, if we received a tax exemption because The SheShed was deemed to be a non-profit religious organization, I suppose some people might wonder about the fairness of either our tax designation or our Outie/Innie policy. Some people might object to being forced, due to our tax exemption, to support a greater tax burden. Especially, I expect, the Innie community who would in effect be paying greater taxes so that The SheShed could more easily (with less expense) discriminate against them!

Oh… What about our neighbour’s scandalous Innie-Only club, a den of concave depravity? Could that evil place of debossment be granted religious status too? Equal to ours? (How depressing!)

Anyway, like-minded Outie individuals are welcome to stop by The SheShed and fellowship with us. Muffin tops, button mushrooms, walleyed pike, Vesuvio’s pizza and other protuberance delicacies are always on the menu.

As our slogan says, “We’re All Puffed Up!”

Innies, accompanied by an Outie spiritual advisor, may even drop by on Forceful Fridays when we train our stomach muscles to distend our belly buttons in an appropriate convex manner, as taught by the ancient PITIFUL scripture, “Proper Inner Tummy Inflation and Full Umbilical Loading”. Through rigorous training, even deeply impacted Innies can be reeducated and their possessors deprogrammed, allowing the bodies true, natural Outieness to stand proud, a button—not a pockmark—on their midriff!

Peace-Out! brothers and sisters, or as we conclude in our sacred covenant down at the ol’ SheShed, “NO LINT? NO PROBLEM!”

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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A Letter to My Conservative Friends

What do you do the day your sewer pipe freezes? I wrote this.

First of all, am I a ‘snowflake’ because I don’t want the environment to be irrevocably ruined? If so, sign me up! I’m in. Call me names if you must just don’t say I’m irresponsible or negligent.

You see, the environment, last time we checked, ignored political borders. So, yeah – I am inclined to pay attention to what goes on, south of the border, down USA way. Also, whatever disease they have right now – I’m hoping we’re immune. But I doubt it.

Therefore, I believe we need more snowflakes, dude! Banks and drifts and dunes of ’em!

More scientists, too. Scientists, most would agree, are best taught in schools, not in houses of worship. “Why?” So the scientists have the freedom to ask, “Why?” instead of stating, “Because that is our faith.”

Let our faith be that we will have the scientists ask why, over and over, and then, well, let’s go from there.

Can we not let schools be schools and their views–from crop science to medicine–be broad? Broad enough, at least, to see that the earth is not flat, appearances notwithstanding. Even at the corner of the #1 and the #12 – a plain if there ever was one.

Gather by the margin of the river? Of course! Scientists don’t prevent that. They shine a light on that Chartered pledge. Gather by any river you want.

Aliens Need Not Apply

‘Libtard’ – a shameful, ignoble word and I’m positive most of my friends don’t use it except when they are with an extreme crowd. Peer pressure. Anyway – am I a libtard because I don’t want a Canadian version of the WALL around “our” part of the sandbox? (The same sandbox we grabbed when the previous tenants weren’t looking.)

Sure, my weak-ass approach might mean sharing more of Canada with some odd Queeg Quegs who did not RSVP. Just like in 1873, when the Métis, French, the subjects of the British Queen, and all the established patches in the quilt around the Red River of the North had to get used to us. And we were a bunch of dike-building, silk-spinning, plum-growing peaceniks. Aliens? Oh bah, joh! 

We sat in our white-washed (inside and out), gender-segregated churches and argued about our ancestors –  the people who waged word wars about buttons versus hooks. (Like Dee Oolah even cared.) Oh, what a magnificent gaggle of crazed zealots we were!

“Mennonites with hooks and eyes,
are pleasing to the Holy Guise.
But Mennonites with buttons and pockets
are choice trinkets for the Devil’s lockets.”

Günter Gross, via page 503, Mennonite Low German Dictionary, Jack Thiessen

We were bonneted, bearded, stubborn, obscenely productive foreigners who spoke Plautdietsch like we really, really meant it. Deutsch issued from our lips even as Canada fought wars against Deutschland. Hmm…I would have thought that was suspicious. It was! It was, and yet they let us carry on – every Hans and Heinrich and Helen.

But we, of course, and to our ever-lasting credit (union and otherwise) made the struck pay off. “Damn it, how those Mennos can make the Red Fife grow!” happy prairie politicians said, twirling their moustaches with fingers dipped in every pie.

They all got used to us, I guess. The Englanders and colour commentators (“A good Canadian kid!”) can now pronounce our strange, umlauted names as accurately as any church elder. Now they prize our books, buy our autos, elect us to high office; even teach us graft and greed! (We’re fast learners and even offer some tricks of our own – like conflating church, and state and industry – a time-honoured way to make pigshit flow uphill.)

So be it – as we were welcomed, let us welcome others. Bring on the frintschoft, the fast-talkers, the money-changers, the dishwashers, the uber drivers and the undertakers. In fact, invite the whole madman’s rainbow garden, sown with every flavour, stripe and viewpoint and let them brandish their curly daggers and their straight laces alike. They will enrich us, and although that road may not be perfectly smooth, it’ll be worth the trip.

So be it, indeed. Even if that means acquiring some new, elastic personal boundaries, or smelling a little more garlic–or curry–or seeing a tall spire, here and there. Even on ‘your’ side of Sumas Avenue.

Also, we must remember: as the USA turns to a Hispanic majority–estimated to happen in 2044–Canada will become an Asian majority by 2050, or so. I want my children and their kids ready for that sea change, not meeting it with irrational dread and regurgitating old great-bias and great-great-hatred.

Soa doa wie doat nich

Am I a ‘sinner’ because I fear the climate is shifting and we are bringing it about?

“We don’t do it like that – it is not our way,” as author Elizabeth Reimer Bartel wrote* with a full heart.

God commanded his flock a long time ago to not worry about things like climate. “I got this,” He might have said, had He cameoed on a TV sitcom.  (Yes, you can PVR God, just not on more than two channels at once.) “You guys go ahead and sacrifice that lamb, dam that creek, burn that whale oil, domesticate those beasts – let me worry about the deets.” We made the deal and now there are nine billion of us and the creeks are all dammed and we are drowning in the deets, Big Oolah.

I’m guessing that since He has not fixed things, He’s either suffering from some major Saviour’s block or He wants us to use our miraculous brains to fix it ourselves. I expect it’s the latter.

Sunday (Afternoon) Golf

Am I a ‘leftist’, or is that just what you call all those who push back at the hate mongering that passes for leadership?

I imagine a foursome for golf. Let’s call it a politically-mixed group. It comprises the American Steve Bannon (I think he’s American? Could be Russian?), a Syrian refugee who froze off six fingers when walking over North Dakota beet fields to get to Canada, dee aforementioned Oolah, and me. The odiferous and the ornery, the omnipotent and the obstreperous.

We play the game not with clubs and golf balls, but by hurling ideas as far as we can. More like Frisbee golf, come to think of it, especially since three of us have beards and one of us wears sandals. (Not Birkenstocks, alas.)

Bannon strikes first, launching now-commonplace shock and awe as far and as wide as his amplified voice can broadcast. He flings it from a high place and some of what he throws lands in Canada. Sharp Operators observe with interest, “Hey! That could work here, too!” they say, grinding their unblemished knuckles into the eye of reason.

Next up, the four-fingered Syrian. She was an engineer back in her native land, so she has rigged a clever device to take her shots; overcoming her physical infirmity. Her prosthesis is constructed of gold and measures precisely 12 inches. Trim it, she did, with history and law, though these nostalgic indulgences were easily rubbed off. Not knowing the course we played, her powerful drives bounced badly, misbehaving and leaving her with impossible lies.

It was my turn, but Bannon’s caddy pushed me aside and said, “Here’s how we’re going to do it!” He took my shot and I admit it was much stronger than I could have managed. It travelled at least a country mile – from dit seid to yan. In comparison, my effort would have hardly made it off the tee. The gallery gave a rousing cheer and noted his black boots and brown shirt. “Natty attire,” they whispered with admiration. “That’s what we need, a man who buys his shirts and his ideology abroad. Someone to make golf great again here in Canada too!”

“You’re up, Big Hitter,” I said, but the Almighty was busy with a call from the hereafter. “Long distance, gotta take this,” He said, His words rolling like thunder. He gestured to the Syrian engineer. “Take another turn,” He said. “Knock one right down the waterline!”

She waggled, she knitted her brow, she rent her clothes, and she bowed her head. Just as she began, the florid caddy ran up with a fully automatic rulebook. “She can’t play!” he bawled, unlocking the safety on his weapon. “She’s not a member! She doesn’t belong!”

All eyes turned to the attendant elected official, whose ruling was law.

“Sorry, I have a previous engagement in St. Pierre, at the Frog Follies,” the official said and he slipped away in silence, his thousand legs churning in practiced conformity.

“Well, look, she’s with me and I’m the founding member. So slow your role,” God said, eyeing the caddy’s red hat and wondering how it could fit over that albino mink coiled on his scalp.

Who?

And it came to pass in the land of Nod–the land of vigorous, sycophantic, sanguine nod–that the lowly caddy became king. “Kiss his ring? You can’t be serious,” I say.

Really though, who would follow such a man? “Who? I scream up at the six-story bunker? Who?” I whisper to the woman, up early to do some baking – the only way she has time. (Meet Netty at the mall, go straight to work, pick up the kids after school, make dinner, work on my dissertation, get dressed for the Christmas program. Is that tonight?) Who? I demand of the once-outspoken preacher’s kid who sits drinking coffee, spezearen and smirking while his proxies inherit the earth for him. Who? I ask of the slave drivers who strain to shove a shop-worn camel through the eye of a needle, “just one more time.”

Where is the line of dissenters – each in that queue as conscientious and true to themselves and their children as Christ the carpenter? Would that line not be a raging, roaring, rippling, steel chain 7,448 KMs long?

“From Bonavista to Vancouver Island;
the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters?”**

And when he shouts, “Bomb them!” we reply in unison, “Give them bread.” And when he says, “Build the wall!” the congregation sings, “Love thy neighbour!” And when he hisses, “They defile Him.” we shout, “He is in them.”

And would that unflinching line not be led by clear-eyed Mennonitisch people with their DISAVOW pens flowing dark; indelible with the ink of their antecedents? I want to believe it would be so. Unsaved, auf’jefollnah wretch that I am, I want to sign on. I want to link arms and bellow, “Not on my watch!” with the same conviction as that hollow pipsqueak who once spat those words in the face of the 98-pound high school girl in the Council Chambers.

The A-word

But, if it’s all about abortion for you, then let’s talk. Let’s take a deep breath. I respect your passion. Many are driven by their abhorrence for abortion.

So be it, I’m not arguing that issue. There might be a fifteen-year-old living on the street who has an opinion – I’ll leave you two to discuss things. Again, deets.

The US president has made clear promises about abortion. It’s off-putting to you that his lifeboat is filled with a collection of repellent Scaramucciesque characters. The US President himself is unapologetically vile in his behaviour when held to the standards we all (try to) follow–conservatives in particular– in our own lives. This US President, the caddy in the little parable above, is shunworthy by any church standard. He and his chosen crew are those who would take you down with them, but you believe it’s the last boat – the only boat.

I sense that you feel compelled because “he promised to fight against abortion for us.” And, “he’ll change the law in America and then we can vote in a Canadian clone here, right?”

Maybe. He could just as easily bail out on you, leaving you with only your heart and no sleeve upon which to wear it.

I  know that you see right through this bad caddy’s specious fake-fervour – you know what he really is. So, why do you believe he will support you when the time comes? His political needs always come first, isn’t that obvious? He’s likely to abandon you for some new expedient and he’ll do it with a tweet. A message you may not ♥.

Tally

If you hunt or are a target shooter or a collector, fill your boots. Maybe you need a .22 for the farm or at the cottage. (That last one is a stretch.) But other than that, I have reservations. I hope Canada does not copy this frightening American trait. GUNS.

The 12 months of 2017 in the United States:
🔫  61,113 total number of gun incidents
🔫  15,501 gun deaths
🔫  31,065 gun injuries
🔫  345 mass shootings
🔫  2,003 unintentional shootings
🔫  2,018 incidents of defensive gun use
🔫  3,949 children/teenagers shot or killed
Canadian numbers are creeping upwards. Do we really want to join in reckless gun ownership and proliferation? The problem is, if we get a “populist” Canadian version of the current POTUS, it might come part and parcel with Republican style anti-gun control rhetoric and policy. Surely we can leave that to our US neighbours. Do you agree?

The Bully Pulpit

As a kid, I was the owner of a late birthday and a precocious nature. I was a small boy, usually the youngest in the class, and I had shrimp-orange hair, a bumper crop of freckles and ears like London Cab doors. Teasing came my way, not unlike the Steinbach snowstorm of ’66. True to popular gingerology, I possessed the infamous redhead short fuse so black eyes and split lips ensued. (Mostly mine.)

I earned, via the court of knuckle justice, a discerning eye and ear for blow-hards. I could spot a bully who was secretly not willing to back it up in the same way some schnoddanäs pastors claim they can spot a gay congregant. I’d hone in on these posers and challenge them:

Runty me: “Shut up!”
Big bully: “Nay!”
Runty me: “Then let’s fight.”
Big bully” “Nay!”

Doing this repeatedly, I developed a keen sense of Naydar. (Nadir too, in some cases.)

When these self-professed toughs backed down, I won a small measure of street cred there on the Southwood School playground. If I was off in my assessment, I endured a physical pounding – so my iterative process, like editing, painfully discerned the true from the false.

I also learned not to lead with my right hand.

Fast forward to 2016. #45 came on the US scene and I read him as a straight up heehnaschiet. A pair of deuces acting like a flushNo doubt about it – my Naydar screamed its verdict like the in-dash Geiger counter on Bond’s Aston Martin db5.

Evidence? His unfulfilled threats against North Korea and his yellow-bellied bluster against women who accused him of a host (not heavenly) of misogyny. He’s all talk, locker room and otherwise. Vietnam deferments, I’ll remind you, made his true character clear long before he became a seedy pop-culture symbol. An unconscientious objector.

I believe Putin has a similar result on his Nyetdar, so please my friends – don’t lead with your right.

#

Fun reading for masochists: Fire & Fury Excerpts

That’s it. We may differ, but I like you, ya know? That’s why I bother with all this nertjeI hope you can still like me. Just maybe not, you know, online. I’ll understand. 🙂

_____