Friday, October 19, 2012

"Angry Mennonites" -- and me.

During a recent visit, my father surprised me with a question: “Do you read any of the 'Angry Mennonites'?”

I asked him if this was a formally defined group, like Gertrude Stein's “Lost Generation” or Lauren Bacall's “Rat Pack,” and he admitted the term was amorphous, but commonly used among his peers. Who were the usual suspects, I wondered. He came up with the expected list: Miriam Toews, Patrick Friesen, Di Brandt, Sandra Birdsell — basically the only Mennonites receiving what passes for prestige treatment in Canadian publishing. I said they could be difficult to avoid, but I somehow managed.

A bit of a dodge, that. The truth is I've read enough of all those guys to know I have no interest in the larger monologue. If asked about the moral/immoral legacy of the Mennonites and the psychic burdens their theology and pieties place on the individual, I can fill in the blanks pretty quickly all by myself. In fact, I have filled in the blanks.

Last winter as I prepared to attend my grandmother's funeral, my wife pressed a notebook to me and said, “You should start writing. Now.”

So I reminisced as I flew to the prairies. It was pleasant, for the most part, but there was no escaping the single largest fact in all this: I had physically removed myself from the environment I grew up in, putting considerable geographical and spiritual and “Lifestyle” distance between me and the clan that raised me. You want grievances? Scribner doesn't make a large enough notebook.

Which probably cuts to the heart of my father's concern. His question was likely a dodge, to begin with. The question he probably meant to ask was, “You're not an angry Mennonite — are you, son?”

Well . . . yeah, Pop: I'm afraid I am.

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