But, really, who am I?
I am a Klassen.
My paternal grandparents were D.D. and Susan Klassen of Halbstadt, Manitoba (they moved to Homewood and then to Carmen where they finished their days). Their parents had been Mennonite settlers who came from Russia in the early 1870s and settled on Treaty 1 territory. My father grew up there and I still have many Manitoba family members. They were Bergthaler Mennonites.
My mother’s parents were born in Russia and met in Saskatchewan after immigrating separately. My mother grew up in Leamington and then moved to Toronto. Her family were “Kirchliche” Mennonites in Russia, United Mennonites in Canada. As far as I know, all my acknowledged ancestors were Mennonite, though of slightly different stripes.
My parents lived in Altona, MB and then in Toronto before I was born but settled into the Kitchener-Waterloo region in time for me to make my appearance into the world. I spent the first eight years of my life in an inner suburb – or maybe the outer inner city – of Kitchener. After that, we moved to a farm outside of Waterloo and stayed there for four years. Then we moved to another place in Waterloo before gathering up our belongings once more and heading on back to Kitchener. And, after another few years, we moved to a different house at the other end of Kitchener.
So, you see. I am a person of diaspora. Micro-diaspora.
By the time I left home at eighteen, I thought those kids who grew up entirely within the same house to have lived very dull lives indeed. Mind, it never occurred to me that there were others who were uprooted as many times as I (or more) and over far greater distances and that I looked ridiculously coddled next to them.
My Beginnings as a Writer, followed by a Heartbreak
I started writing at the age of four or five but was never an ace at penmanship. I impressed my first grade teacher by putting together a few sentences into an order that approximated a plot. Subsequent teachers were not as easy to impress but I continued to write and have a number of notebooks someplace full of aborted stories.
Unless I threw them out.
I might have done that, during a phase in my young adulthood when I was young enough to be embarrassed without the wisdom to see how time can transform embarrassment into a charming nostalgia.
I remember that one of the stories I wrote was about a cat and a dog who solved a mystery — I think it may have been a burglary; I don’t think I could have managed a murder — and needed to try to communicate with the people to bring the criminals to justice. I never finished that story, though, so those dastardly thieves are still at large. I like to think they have reformed their lives through restorative justice but without the help of the local cat and dog population.
In high school, I fell in love with History and this love took me away from writing stories of fiction. Prior to this, I had already fallen in love with Toronto and so, upon graduating from my Mennonite high school in Kitchener, I followed both my loves by pursuing a history degree at the University of Toronto. I also left the Church and the faith community it represented. Over the next fifteen years, I chased my love of history from Toronto to the US to France and then back to Toronto. We parted ways when the discipline made it clear that I could have a PhD if I liked but there was no way History had any intention of supporting me financially. I would not call it an amicable break-up.
In the meantime, I had married and borne two children. They helped me keep that heartbreak in perspective.
I started writing stories again. Somewhere, there are floppy disks with various aborted stories on them. Unless I threw them out.
I gave myself one year during which I would not teach or look for work and I would devote myself to two things: I would write a novel from beginning to end; and I would learn to make butter croissants. While child rearing.
And I did that.
The novel from that year had a small cast of characters and a simple plot but it had a beginning, middle and an end and that was enough to be considered an achievement of my goal. The croissants were sublime. I make them every year at Christmas now.
My Illustrious Career
I took a job as an administrator at the University of Toronto, and then another until finally I came to one that uses the critical, analytical and academic writing skills that I developed while embroiled in my relationship with History. I have started to mellow my resentment at History for having done me wrong. As a historian, I started studying Medieval Europe but gradually moved forward in time until I was butting up against the modern era. Now I work in the Sociology Department as a research administrator; I have jumped the twentieth century and now work on the present.
I am now also a member of a local Mennonite congregation, having partly reconciled myself to the faith of my ancestors. In the process, I have discovered that partial reconciliation is a place where I can live comfortably.
My children have grown up. My father passed away about a decade ago. My mother, just the other year.
I have seen three cats and one dog mature and die in my care and had another two cats that ran away and simply disappeared from sight. I have another dog and cat now who regularly chase each other around the house and yard.
As far as I can tell, none of the cats or dogs that I have known have ever shown an inclination for crime fighting.
But what about the Drinking?
I started blogging and tweeting as the Drunken Menno in 2013. I’d been working on a novel for about a decade and was starting to imagine that I might finish it at some point (it’s done now, but not published). But as I wrote, I found I was editing out too many of the funny parts and so I wanted a place for the fun and amusing bits of my experiences as a Mennonite.
I thought the title The Drunken Menno sounded funny and imagined singing, “What can you do with a Drunken Menno…”
And I had recently discovered the existence of cocktail blogs — written by bloggers who were almost as earnest about their subject material as Mennonite bloggers were about theirs. I thought it would be fun to put the two genres together, but without the earnestness of either.
As a research administrator, I tell researchers that they need to articulate the value of their projects beyond filling a gap in the scholarship. To them, I could say “No one has ever done a Mennonite cocktail book either, but that does not make it worth doing,” and they might smile and think a little harder about their projects.
But the joke is on me, now.
I have no formal training in mixology. I started with only the liquor bottles in my cabinet, a set of standard kitchen tools, and an internet full of cocktail tips and recipes. The recipes I came up with aren’t as fancy as the ones you’d find at a serious cocktail bar — but they’re not exactly “plain” either.
Because I’m not that kind of Mennonite.