My sixteen-year-old son recently consoled me as I wept over the rejection I received from the Banff School’s Writing Studio’s 5 week residency course. He told me that I would make it, that my writing was good. He has read my work – well, some of it, at least. But on more than one occasion, he has moaned, “Why do you always have to write about sex?”
It’s true – last year when I read the short story, What’s Left, for the launch of the Whispered Words Anthology, he is reported to have slumped on the banquet with the words, “That’s my mom.” The story opens with a couple experiencing orgasm together. The story isn’t about sex; it just starts there.
When I go through my work looking for a suitable piece to submit to Canada Writes, it’s always a challenge. There are always “nasty bits” in my stories. That’s not to say I write porn, or even erotica. It’s just that there are often naked people, and just as often they are engaged in some sort of “activity”. Sex is interesting. It’s important. It’s where characters are at their most vulnerable. In my novel, the sexual relationships of my protagonist are a story arc in themselves – through his intimate relationships we see him go from aggressive and somewhat desperate to drunken and somewhat impotent to a slower, more sensitive and appreciative lover. He grows up, and that is demonstrated by his bare interactions.
In the Canada Writes competitions, the winners are published in en Route magazine, which would suggest a relatively family friendly story. Sigh. I have so few of those. Even in the one I did submit, there were naked women wandering around a hippie commune in the Kootenays. No one actually did anything during the story…
It didn’t even shortlist, of course.
I can’t blame my son. What healthy teenage boy wants to hear his mother read or talk about sex? I’ve tried to write more generally “appropriate” stories, but I find it difficult to say the least. Sex, or lack thereof, is such a rich place to develop characters; to reveal them. And it’s fun to write.
A couple of years ago I was in an ongoing expressive arts group, and one of the expressions I loved the most was collaging. In a mixed media piece I did on the theme of love and sex, I pasted a sentence I’d taken from a magazine article: “Sex is what adult humans do when they really like each other.” I put it beside what I thought was a picture of a fiery rollercoaster. I’d also found a phrase that said: “IT MATTERS”. When I put up my collage for the others to see, they all giggled. In this workshop, as with all the workshops I love, no one is to critique the fresh work. In this one, we were invited to creatively express how the piece made us feel – by dancing or singing or saying a phrase the piece evoked. There were a few giggles. And then I saw it: The roller coaster spelled out in loops of fire: ORGASM.
I hadn’t seen it, honest. It just looked like fun.