Murray Toews

Murray Toews Rationale

When I was about 10 years old, my younger brother and I would come home from school for lunch and forage for food. It was a short walk across the field because Mom worked during the day, and wasn’t able to prepare us a meal, so we improvised with toast dipped in a bowl of stove top heated canned beef and barley soup, Kraft Dinner, or whatever we could find. We had a couple of hungry cats that I would sneak an extra spoonful of “Puss n’ Boots” and refresh the water bowl and of course, being cats, were always grateful and chatty. 

The only task remaining was locating my Dad, who was “living with us”. He claimed to be separated from his real wife and my half sisters and brother on their way out in Ontario. I simultaneously believed that he was married to my Mom, but I never saw photos that could substantiate that claim. I did know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was my biological father.

Then my eye caught him standing in the corner of the living room, wearing only his fruit of the loom underwear, wearing a lampshade on his head. Today he was pretending to be furniture.

I found his lithium, and then got him to sit on the couch, tell him to open his hand and I would give him his medication. He was often cooperative with me, once referring to me as Jesus Christ but more often produced an intense glassy-eyed expression and simply took his meds without a struggle. Once he settled on the couch and became thoroughly comatose, I’d turn on the TV, finish lunch and then head back to school.

My Mom would return from work at the hospital after a long day and, thoroughly exhausted, attempt to make dinner. My brother and I would help, understanding that we had to all pitch in. We’d often eat something from the tabletop skillet like chilli or some Mennonite contrived meal like Ruhrei or roll ‘em ups (basically eggs and flour crepes) dusted with white sugar. And then depending on the time of the week, we’d follow our list of chores like vacuuming, dusting, clothes washing followed by homework. If there was time, we’d get to watch some television and then, once everything was done, I would read, listen to music and mostly draw.

My Dad would remain immobile for the remaining part of the day. Basically furniture made out of meat.

Drawing, over time, became an activity for me that went far beyond a series of quaint reflections or whimsical meanderings of my daily life. It was a door that led into a carefully

constructed subrealm, a refuge in a parallel line of thought. Once I entered, everything felt saturated with colour. It was a  visualised version of singing in a choir in Sunday school, where all the harmonies would merge into a feeling of endless possibilities. I could explore inner spaces, and use the exterior world as my frame of reference.

Over the years, long after my biological Dad left, and was replaced by my second Dad, who married my Mother, only to die of cancer at home, where she then dated the security guard (who I still talk to) who watched over my second Dad, who apparently had some kind of criminal record. My Mom, through it all, held the line. However, she made decisions that ensured we’d never own a house, and while we would inexplicably hop from one apartment to the next a solid dozen times, my subrealm was there. Reliably there. Just walk through the door.

Or maybe, I was crazy?


As inappropriate as it is to say that “C” word, it best describes my deepest concerns growing up. Was I like my lampshade wearing Dad, or was I like my paradoxical Mother, hovering between pragmatic and eccentric? Was this ability to live in a world that ran parallel, simply the product of inherited, aberrant brain biology?

Sometime after 12 years old, things got darker. The warm and comforting embers of youth faded and were replaced with mixed feelings, intense emotions, confused perspectives and on-going depression. Maybe I was mutating into my father? So I retreated further, as any normal kid would, protecting myself from the sharp edges of reality. I pushed back, made a place in my subrealm. All I had to do was walk through the door.

Let’s talk about Victor Enns and the LOOK show. All you do is walk through his pain-room door and enter his realm. It is raining jagged shrapnel of verbiage, haphazardly expressive stories and poetry that describe a life of personal pain, on-going physical entropy and occasionally humour. 

That makes sense to me, I can work with that.






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