My First Few Hours at Mennonite/s Writing VIII

The word “sonder” began to show itself sometime in 2012. An attempt to define that moment you realize everyone around you has an internal life that is vivid, rich, conflicted, complex, important.

I was overwhelmed by sonder at the Mennonite/s Writing conference, October 19-21 in Winnipeg. The theme was Personal Narratives of Place and Displacement. So, we heard from many writers of memoirs and biographies. As well as authors whose works featured some autobiographical elements. So many people, each sharing these significant glimpses into their thoughts, experiences, histories, and work. It was like the definition of “sonder” had come alive.

Unfortunately I missed Thursday entirely, which explored narratives centered around adoption in the afternoon, and later in the evening, displacements of the Russian Revolution.

Friday morning found me crossing Portage Avenue with a crowd of U of W students. I was late. Trying to slip into Eckhardt-Gramatte Hall undetected so as not to disrupt the crowd listening as Julia Spicher Kasdorf reflected on the poetry of Jane Rohrer. I think she may have been referring to Di Brandt’s poetry as well, particularly So This Is The World & Here I Am In It. Still the words echo in my head. I must find this and read it.

Connie T. Braun shared her experience on having traveled to Poland, uncovering Mennonite roots. I wished I had been there too. I wrote down: “Inherited trauma. Travel in search of closure?” I made a note to look up the Eichenfeld Massacre, and the cave that the Swiss Mennonites like to go to, outside Zurich.

I wished Andrew could be there with me for Travis Kroeker’s paper, “Scandalous Displacements in Irma Voth“, as Kroeker announced he was going to turn Miriam Toews into a theologian. He was explaining Ordet to us. This is something I was familiar with! Andrew loves the work of Dreyer, we own that film in its Criterion Collection incarnation. I told Andrew that I had learned that Silent Light is an homage to Ordet. He already knew this. Beautiful films, both.

Andrew Harnish shared a lovely fond reflection of the church of his youth, hinting that he knew there was more to it than kindness and golden-toned memories… He asked, “What are ‘Mennonite values’?” I wrote down: “True motivation. Hidden cruelty.”

During the talkback, someone from the audience related a story about a Mennonite elder who was caught soliciting a sex worker. He insisted he was “witnessing” to her, and the church, and his wife, they all believed him, even though it was an obvious lie. I have no idea what the point of that story was, but I wrote it down because I was cynically amused by it.

And then lunch. I had arranged to meet a friend, and lost track of time, so I missed the launch of Rhubarb 42. I had not meant to do that. The launch wrapped up just as I took my seat. Frustrated with myself. I really need to get a reliable watch.