by Jean Roberta

During the winter holiday season, when occasions for partying abound, I feel a rant coming on. Lest I sound like a perpetual complainer, I will put my discontent in perspective.

I’m sure I’m more privileged than most people in the world, and probably more than most readers of this blog. Looking over the events of 2013, I’m grateful for my blessings, and relieved that my misfortunes were no worse.

In the summer, I moved years worth of books and papers into my new office in the university English Department where I teach first-year classes. My new home-away-from-home has an incredible amount of shelf space for my books, plus a window to the outside world so I can see the weather before I step out in it.

In September, I taught my first credit course in creative writing. This favour was granted by the head of the English Department, even though it is a second-year class usually taught by scholars with Ph.D.s (something I never managed to get, for various reasons). Teaching a small class of eager young writers was an adventure that helped refuel my enthusiasm for my job. My usual first-year classes are mandatory for most students, and therefore I get many recruits who would rather avoid writing essays about literature.

In 2013, I also saw more of my words in print than in any previous year. On the scholarly front, I co-edited OutSpoken, a collection of articles and creative work based on a series of presentations on queer (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) topics by faculty members. The co-ordinator of the series (also head of the Theatre Department) had been invited by the university press to put a book together, he graciously invited me to co-edit, and I accepted. I also had an article accepted for a book about teaching vampire literature which was edited by Dr. Lisa Nevarez of the English Department of Siena College in New York state. I’ve been told that Teaching the Vampire will be released by McFarland Press at any moment.

My historical erotic novella, The Flight of the Black Swan, appeared early in 2013 from Lethe Press. (The cover art is by Ben Baldwin, who was nominated as best fantasy artist of Britain.) A few months later, my collection of erotic stories, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past, also appeared from Lethe Press. Both books got a few glowing reviews.

However, during two family gatherings in the cozy house I share with my spouse (Christmas Eve for immediate family, Christmas Day for two old and dear friends, their grown children, their spouses, children and their friends), I didn’t mention my publications. It was understood that the non-fiction was too academic to interest anyone I know outside the Ivory Tower, while my fiction is too raunchy to be mentioned in the presence of children. I wonder how many writers, particularly erotic writers, are in this predicament. (In all fairness, I had already shown my new books to those closest to me. They don’t read my books or stories, but they accept my writing hobby as less harmful than most other addictions.)

On both occasions, I was encouraged to show off – guess what? – my new surgical scar. On November 4, the first snowy day in the town where I live, I slipped on the ice and broke my left wrist in several places. Thanks to the Canadian health-care system, I was rushed into surgery within 24 hours, and had my wrist repaired and reinforced with a long metal plate that shows up clearly in X-rays. (I will set off metal detectors in airports for the rest of my life.) During my short stay in the hospital and my longer convalescence, my two stepsons and my spouse were an impressive source of support. Later, when my cast was removed and I was shown X-rays of my damaged and repaired wrist, Spouse took photos of these images her cell-phone, and circulated them among the assembled crowd during our holiday suppers. Everyone commented that my incision has healed well.

On Christmas Day, before the second flock of guests were due to arrive, our furnace stopped working after keeping us toasty-warm during a week of very cold temperatures. Although the outside temperature had risen, we couldn’t welcome our guests into an unheated house, so we had to pay a repairman for his labour and a new furnace motor. He was honest enough to tell us that if we could have waited another two days, the bill would have been $100 less. But such is life. Luckily, we didn’t have to choose between warmth and food.

Medical and home-maintenance issues were not the only topics of conversation, but they seemed to be of general interest. Well, of course. Everyone lives in a body, and most folks (especially in Canada in the winter) have a dwelling-place.

I couldn’t help wondering how many other writers can only discuss their writing with other writers, or with any readers who can be found. And how many erotic writers must go far out of their way to prevent relatives, “friends”, coworkers and bosses from finding out that they write about sex, the stuff of life. (Note my previous comment about the universal human condition of living in a body.) News items about the inconsistent and fluctuating policies of booksellers regarding “obscene” material show that there is not (and never has been) any real consensus about what this is. In the current cultural climate, I’m well aware that I’m probably luckier than most.

My employer is exceptionally tolerant of everything I write, and for that I am truly grateful. My holiday wish is for peace on earth and good will toward all the writers who are brave enough to write about something that really (let’s be honest) interests everyone. The impulse to write anything seems to be a certain kind of craziness, and a desire to write about subjects formerly considered “unspeakable” still requires courage. I’m glad I live in a world where so many have felt the bite of that bug.

May the Deity of our choice bless us, every one.