See Change

“Can a sixty-three-year-old aufjefollna Mennonite living next to a lake in the boreal be part of change in the worldwide artistic landscape?”

Sure. In a small way, why the Mitchell not?

I’m quite sure some of the change champions featured in this article would agree:

12 Leaders Who Are Shaping the Next Generation of Artists

http://time.com/longform/art-leaders-next-generation/

I found this piece inspiring, even for a schnuddanäse like me.

I’m four years into a smashmouth experiment — my longtime dream to write fiction. To be published and to leave something good behind. To ask some interesting questions. All that stuff that sounds like a lot of fluff and horseshit, but is in fact, as tough it comes.

Chris Jackson

Publisher and editor in chief of One World, a Penguin Random House imprint

“But his goal is not to acquire any book by a writer from a marginalized background for diversity’s sake alone. ‘The idea that the imprint is committed to diversity is kind of absurd,’ Jackson says. ‘We want to reflect the world we live in.’ The imprint allows writers to tell subversive stories in an authentic way, without what he calls ‘white filtering,’ or couching stories in ways that feel comfortable or familiar to white readers.”

This is a helpful communication for me.

I am a grizzled old white guy, writing about real life in small towns, times bygone and present day, the northern forest, basketball and baseball, bruised knuckles, and Mennonite themes. While I personally have not benefitted directly from the near past’s traditional preponderance of white men in literary fiction, I undoubtedly benefitted in many ways in other parts of my life in Canadian and American society. I have a legacy of privilege. So, I don’t feel I can or should complain—at all—about other cohorts like minorities or women who, these days, might get a small advantage for not being a white guy.

Jackson’s clear call to, “…reflect the world we live in,” explains what has been a difficult and highly coded part of lit fic for me. I take this editor’s message to mean that I am not to be excluded, I just have to share. Proportionately, or even a little less, and accept the new status quo with some grace.

I believe I can do that, in fact, that’s just what I want to do. Thank you, Chris Jackson.

I also find clarity in his comment about “white filtering”. I know this too well. While I don’t “white filter”, per se, I sure as H-E-double-hockey-sticks know how to structure a story to appeal to conservatives, especially my Mennonite brethren. I also know how to pimp up a story to fit more liberal (my own true bearing) perspectives. Horses for courses, but not for literary honesty.

To engage in this posturing is specious at worst, unnecessary at best. My charge as an artist is to invest my work with honesty and courage, not to try to predict the audience reaction and pander my story. No filtering, of any colour or creed.

Sounds easy, but it ain’t. We writers want to be liked. But, again, Mr. Jackson’s leadership is helpful to me. Maybe I’ll be liked as one of the new age of subversive Mennonite authors writing, “in an authentic way” and without parsing readers by pew, rank, and political or social geist.

* * *

I hope you enjoy the article, I sure as hell did!

 

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Four Fantasies

A group of artists gathers for a meal. They each bring two dishes, one edible and the other inspirational.

The first of them lifts the lid on a steaming Dutch oven full of exotic stir-fry. She is small, with fine features and possessing a direct, flowing gaze that makes each one at the table feel a personal connection to her before she even says a word.

“Each mouthful is different, an adventure, a departure from the last, an experience defined by its variety,” she says, flourishing the lid with eloquence. “And yet, they each come from a similar culinary tradition and are all prepared by the same chef, in one communal pot. Each ingredient is spiced with varying amounts of identical additives: conflict, joy, desire, personality, sorrow and more. Much more.”

After plates are loaded and the group tucks in, a thin man with a sparse beard stands.

“My friends,” he begins, “I’ve brought wine. It’s meant to complement and heighten the enjoyment of the meal, but if you give it a chance, I hope that you can find in its complexity a fulfillment that stands alone. Savour it for what it contains, however well-hidden and blended the constituents are and enjoy the way each lends itself to the plenary, just as each wave adds its own shape to the shore.”

Glasses chime and there is a moment of satisfaction expressed by the table as collective stillness while the wine’s secrets are shared.

Without introduction, a brassy fanfare sounds followed by the swirl of parting curtains that separate the dining room from the house. A brawny, serious figure enters. With long, powerful strides this latest presenter commands the room’s immediate attention and is followed by a troupe of brightly costumed servers.  Perfectly conceived and composed plated entrees are set before the diners.

“Each is a masterpiece—with a beginning, a middle and an ending—that is delivered not only by taste but by the presentation, artistry, and the interaction between each delicacy. The arrangement of every morsel a work of art of its own!” Music swirls and fills the room from some unseen orchestra and those assembled take their seats, voices hushed, attention rapt.

In a dark corner, unnoticed, a furtive, wide-eyed rat keeps an unblinking watch with keen lamps that blinter like wee distant winter stars.

“How? Where did they learn these arts? How do I join them? Won’t I be crushed by their greatness?”

In sensuous forepaws, a shred of cabbage is braided and interwoven with a trifle of cheese so thin it is opaque. The grey rat weaves with busy concentration. Clawed fingers fret, the fragile conception set on a single sparkling sequin dropped without care or worry from the bedazzlement above, so far above.

“I’ll offer this portion from my pantry. Perhaps, someone will like it…”

 

Toopoabeide

TOOPOABEIDE*, or “working together” is the Plautdietsch word for collaborate. And, thanks to the generosity and skill of one of my hometown heroes, that is what I am able to do in an upcoming story.

I clearly remember sitting cross-legged on the floor in John Henry Friesen’s Steinbach sign-painting shop in the sixties, watching with unflagging attention as he lettered signs and trucks. I attended, usually along with my dad, while “John Henry” built, sculpted, painted or otherwise, “hucked stuff together”. He is a wonderful artist, a creative wonder-worker, and a local institution.

John and I have connected on the internet a few times and not long ago I showed him a draft of a story that I wanted to send out for consideration by literary magazines. A while later he came back with the drawing shown above. In the meantime, my story was accepted by the Canadian publication Pulp Literature and — with JHF’s permission — I sent them a copy of his fanciful artwork. 

Editor Jennifer Landels replied in the affirmative and John’s art will grace the title page of my short story, “Away Game”. I am pleased as I am sure John is too. (“Cool.”) I can only imagine my late father, who has an inspirational role in both the story and the art, is happy about our prose-ink collaboration. Dad was a great fan of John’s and, if my story is at all accurate, still is.

I’ll post the publication details as soon as they are available.

~~~

* Tawp-oawr-bide

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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