Pornography and Parenthood

I’m thrilled to announce that a non-fiction article I’ve been working on for over a year is finally up and available to read on The Globe and Mail website: My Sexual Education.

I began work on this piece at The Banff Centre, which was an amazing experience in and of itself. But the good times didn’t stop there. I just can’t say enough nice things about what it was like to continue my work on this piece with the talented and thoughtful editors at at The Globe and Mail.

Also, look at this beautiful illustration by Rob Dobi that was paired with my article!

Globe and Mail illustration

I hope you’ll give it a read!

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The National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer

Are you an emerging writer in Canada? Check out this opportunity from the National Magazine Awards!
“The 2012 winner, Sierra Skye Gemma, published a personal essay about grief in the literary journal The New Quarterly. Read our interview with Sierra about her approach to creative writing and how she came to enter her story for a National Magazine Award.”

National Magazine Awards

Are you an emerging Canadian magazine journalist or creative non-fiction writer? Did you publish one of your first major stories in 2014 in a Canadian consumer magazine, university magazine or literary journal? Chances are you’re eligible to be named Canada’s Best New Magazine Writer from the National Magazine Awards Foundation.

The National Magazine Award for Best New Magazine Writer goes to the writer whose early work in Canadian magazines (print, online or tablet) shows the highest degree of craft and promise.

Last year’s winner, Catherine McIntrye, published an investigative story in THIS Magazine about cancer rates in New Brunswick and correlations to heavy industry. Read our interview with Catherine about her story and ambition to become a magazine journalist.

The 2012 winner, Sierra Skye Gemma, published a personal essay about grief in the literary journal The New Quarterly. Read our interview with Sierra about her approach to creative…

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Jonathan Swift

#TBT: A Modest Economic Proposal, Fringe, December 2011

So many pieces of writing are published in small literary magazines, both in print and online, only to slowly fade from view.

A couple days ago I checked one of my links to a piece I’d written for the Vancouver Sun and found that it is no longer online. The article was topical and it makes sense to wipe these out-dated pieces from the Internet, but it’s still a bummer that another piece of my body of work has disappeared into the ether. So, I decided to occasionally re-publish my older pieces here, provided I retained copyright to the work.

Below is a piece that was published in Fringe, an American online literary magazine that went defunct after 8 years of publication. Fringe, and my piece, is still available online, for now, even though they are no longer publishing.

———

A MODEST ECONOMIC PROPOSAL

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been spreading like a plague. American protestors are pretty upset that big business got the bailouts while the Regular Joe got diddlysquat. Approximately one in ten Americans is unemployed. All those out-of-work people have one thing in common: a lot of free time for gossip and complaint. Yet, whether you are part of the “99 percent” or the “1 percent,” we’re all in this together. If we want the “occupiers” to stop protesting and get back to work, we must change the current economic system. Capitalism isn’t working and neither is communism. It’s time to find something different that will satisfy both the needs of the poor and the wealthy.

I have rediscovered an economic system that will do just that. History provides us with a successful economic structure that, with just a few tweaks for this modern age, could be just what the United States needs. Although this system hasn’t been in use since the fourteenth century, it was highly successful for over a thousand years in Western Europe. It will provide all the basics for the many unemployed individuals who are fit and able to work. At the same time, it will continue to produce profit for the rich, thereby maintaining the balance of power in our system. Politicians will no longer be under the scrutiny of the public, who will be too busy working. Political parties will not have to distance themselves from their corporate sponsors. Corporations will make even more money. Everybody wins.

First, corporations must buy up the land surrounding their offices, factories, and/or plants, or relocate to newly purchased land in places no one wants to live, like the backcountry areas of Nevada, Utah, Kansas, and Mississippi. On this land, the corporations will build modest homes to meet the needs of a wide variety of family configurations. Everything from shared dorm-style buildings for young, fit, single men and women to one-bedroom apartments for parents with two to three children. Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute. A one-bedroom apartment for a couple withchildren?” Yes, and here’s why: they will not contain, nor require, kitchens or entertainment areas.

Nutrition facilities will be built, maintained, and operated by the corporations. Communal kitchens will serve a number of functions. First, they will provide people with a sense of belonging to a wider community. Second, they will ensure that optimal nutrition will be available to all. Third, measured meals will keep the waifish fit and the fatties trim. Each day, the nutrition facilities will dispense three meals and two healthy snacks per person, for free.

All living quarters will have free utilities such as local telephone lines, heat, hot water, lighting, and plumbing. Housing compounds will also include free recreation and basic medical facilities. The housing compound construction phase will likely create 300 new jobs for each building project. With projects springing up all over Nevada, Utah, Kansas, and Mississippi, at least 100,000 trades jobs will be created in the first year alone. As construction ends, the facilities will open, creating many additional jobs. Does it seem too good to be true? Well sit back and relax, because I’m just getting started.

Individuals and families will apply to live in these fully furnished homes rent-free for the rest of their lives. In yet another tweak for this modern world, hereditary rights (of possession, not ownership) will be passed to the oldest unmarried child (male or female) who agrees to care for the widowed parent (mother or father). Our society has progressed too far to backstep into patriarchy now. The corporations will subsidize the care of the aging parent as determined by an adjustor, with considerations for length of employment service of the surviving parent, anticipated year of death, and estimated work absence for the care-providing child. The adjustor will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of home care versus corporation-sponsored assisted living or nursing home care. If home care is the outcome, then the inheriting child will provide such care until no longer feasible or required. Other married children will already have moved into their own single-room apartments. Unmarried children will move into dorm buildings at the age of 17. Thus, the inheriting child will have plenty of space to share with their aging parent. In addition to the hereditary right of possession, people will be generally tied to the land, regardless of future corporation ownership, providing additional stability and security for corporations and workers alike. Thus, families and individuals will have shelter and care throughout their lifecycle.

Education and legal responsibilities will be delegated to corporations for the management of their own people, thereby lessening the burden on currently under-funded federal and state systems. Having seen that many Americans are unconvinced that the benefits of higher education outweigh the costs (see wearethe99percent.tumbler.com), they will no doubt agree that education up to the age of 17 is sufficient. In exchange for taking on the costs of legal and educational services, the corporations will receive an even lower tax rate than the one they currently skirt. Corporations will also receive the added benefit of moulding such institutions to their continued benefit (e.g., training children the value of compliance, making insubordination punishable in their court of law, etc.).

By now, you are probably thinking, “Sure, this sounds great for labourers, but how can we get the corporations on board with this utopian system?” And no doubt, the corporations will be calculating the costs of housing and feeding a nation and wondering how this system will guarantee their continued power and wealth. Stick with me. I’m getting to that.

Every able-bodied person of at least 17 years of age will work four days a week for the corporations on whose land they live. These will be 10-hour days, so although it seems like a short workweek, it is actually only a compressed workweek. Of course, slightly longer hours may be required during peak production periods. The corporations will provide full work uniforms for all employees, including such items as four pairs of underwear, four brassieres (as needed), four pairs of socks, one pair of sturdy work shoes, four work shirts, and four work pants. The work performed will be in exchange for the housing, food, recreation services, medical care, and clothing that the employees receive free of charge. By only working four days a week, employees will still have two days free to pick-up extra work (either for the corporation or for another company) in order to purchase additional items such as extra clothing, make-up, computer equipment, books, and other materials for entertainment and amusement. If an employee chooses to work an extra two days a week, they will still have one day of rest. Some lazabouts may scoff at the idea of one day off, but one free day has been the tradition for much longer than the two-day “weekend.” With all necessities covered by the corporations, an individual could also choose to take three days for themselves to make use of the recreation facilities, confident in the knowledge that all their needs are fully provided for by their protectors, the corporations.

Yes, switching to this new economic system will at first tax the resources of the corporations that are not used to providing for their employees’ needs. They will soon realize, however, that the long-term benefits far exceed the upfront costs to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. For example, after the initial cost, each human will perform work that would have totaled an annual cost of $30,000 to $50,000 in wages. Imagine that one human now works an equivalent amount of time for the cost of housing, basic medical, recreation services, clothing, and food. In the past, the individual would have paid for these things, which might have cost the individual $25,000 a year. Paying for such things in bulk, the corporation can probably provide these same conveniences for $20,000 per person per year. That is a savings of $10,000 to $30,000 per person for each year of work. Now imagine a compound serving 5,000 people of working age, with an average profit of $20,000 per worker. That’s an extra 100 million dollars in the pockets of a corporation each year; money that would have otherwise been paid to workers in wages and benefits. This added income will quickly cover the cost of construction, the implementation of the services, and the maintenance of the facilities. Every dollar above and beyond this is pure profit.

Weary protestors, eager for the protection and care of the corporation, will be lining up in droves to participate in this new economic system. As generations upon generations of humans undertake this social contract—based on the long-standing tradition of serfdom—they will find little time, nor reason, to protest. The power and wealth of corporations will increase in exponential proportion to the number of humans whom they support. The corporations will finally be able to see how providing for their employees in a responsible way actually leads to more profit. Everybody wins.

Furthermore, we can be assured that this economic system will work. Not only was it successful for centuries in the past, variant forms still thrive today. One only needs to look to other modern day adaptations in the American military and in the factories of China to see that this modest economic proposal cannot fail to serve the needs of the employees while ensuring continued success for owners and shareholders. Most importantly, the scourge of idle time, and the resultant plague of public discontent, will be assuaged.

———

One of the funny things about this piece is that in any given group of readers (in my experience of workshopping and publishing this piece), there will always be one or two people that don’t realize that this is satire. While it seems obvious to me, and most readers, that this is not a piece to be taken at face value, if you are offended, please read this thorough explanation of satire before commenting below. Also, it would probably be useful to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and the historical context of that piece.

Mad Typist

The Writer Tag and Blog Hop

Ok, so I have been tagged for the Writer Tag and Blog Hop by the wonderful Sonal Champsee. She is both funny and smart, and that pretty much describes all of my most favourite people. Plus, she’s nice. She didn’t just tag me for this thing, she emailed me first and asked me if I had the time to do it and if I wanted to do it. (That’s very nice.) And, at the time, I was, like, Yes and Yes! But then life got crazy and I got busy and now it’s been on my To Do List for two weeks. Today, I’m moving this task from the To Do List to the Doing Right Now List.

The Writer Tag and Blog Hop is an opportunity for readers and writers to learn about new writers (through four questions). Since the Tag moves through friends and professional acquaintances—instead of, say, by genre—you may get connected to a writer you’d never have known of otherwise. For example, I am tagging my dear friend, Jeffrey Ricker. He lives in St. Louis, MO, USA and writes awesome YA and genre fiction that is totally unlike anything that I write. Now you get to check him out because he is my friend! Yay!

Here are The Questions:

1) What am I working on?

Like always, I am working on multiple projects at once. Because I write creative non-fiction, I usually have a few articles competing for my attention. For example, I was working on an article about parenting in the age of internet pornography, which I continue to tweak while I shop it around to various publishers. I’ve also started on a shorter piece that I’m really excited about. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a humorous piece on how one particular family arrangement could save you a fortune living in Vancouver, one of the most expensive cities in the world.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Puh-lease. What arrogant asshole came up with this question? Next!

3) Why do I write what I do?

Probably because I’m not very good at making up stories or inventing characters.

I love telling true stories. I like the craft of it, especially when I get to combine various real-life stories to make meaning out of lived experiences. “The Devil’s In Her Mind” (Rhubarb 34) and “The Wrong Way” (The New Quarterly 124; you can find a link to the full essay here) are two examples of when I used this technique most successfully (I think). The making-meaning part of writing brings me the most satisfaction. And if I can do this without ever telling the reader how to feel or aggressively guiding them to a conclusion of my own, then it’s even better. Ideally, when people read my work, I want everyone to find their own unique meaning.

I remember when “The Wrong Way” was being workshopped and someone said, “The stories about the pets don’t belong in this piece. This is a story about your sister!” Someone else said, “The stories about the pets don’t belong because it’s a story about a dysfunctional family.” And then someone else said, “All the stories belong here, because it isn’t a story about your sister or one family. It’s an essay about grief.” That one piece could be so many different things to so many people, well, that’s a great feeling for me.

4) How does my writing process work?

Oh dear.

Well, I get one tiny, little idea for a piece. One thing someone said or one moment in time. And then I start thinking about it. I think about it for a really, really long time. Every time I think about it, something firms up in my mind, or settles. Or I add pieces. Or I take away pieces. And this all happens very slowly in mind—sometimes for weeks, usually for months, or even, rarely, for years.

Then one day, it becomes The Day. It is like the piece has been percolating so slowly for so long and then one day it wants to boil over! It’s suddenly a dire emergency. And I have to write it all right away or else. I’m not really sure what “else” is, but it is INTENSE.

Then I’m like a mad fiend, pounding away on my laptop, until it all comes out. Pretty much like this:

Gross, right? I know.

Once, I thought about a paragraph for over a year. I thought about it on a daily or weekly basis. I thought about what I wanted to accomplish. Then when I figured that out, I thought about how to do it. Then one day, I was taking a shower, and all the words came to me. All the right words. I jumped out of the shower and fiendishly pounded those words out. Sat back, made a few edits, and then—that was it. I was done.

I remember telling a writer friend of mine the next day about how pleased I was about that paragraph and how it had all gone down. And he said, “Oh, and then you woke up the next day and realized it was garbage?” And I frowned, and said, “Noooo. It was good. I should hope it was good—I’ve been thinking about that one paragraph for over a year!” He told me about his process: where he gets an idea, writes it down, looks at it later and realizes it’s shit, then has to painstakingly edit it for weeks or months to get it right. Well, I think I probably go through all of those same steps. I just do most of them in my head.

 

Sierra Skye Gemma Falls in Love with Banff

Swoon

Back in June, I was thrilled to announce that Sierra Skye Gemma is the new core member of the Swoon team, and I boasted about the amount of expertise that she is bringing to our community of love, sex, and chocolate. Sierra recently made connections in another community that she loved being a part of: the Literary Journalism Program at The Banff Centre.

I asked Sierra to share some highlights from her time in Banff. Even the most dedicated writers can sometimes find it hard to love their vocation (for example: the revision process), but having the opportunity to hang out in Banff in an adorable writer’s studio of your very own is enough to rekindle that passion! Take a look at Sierra’s photos, and you’ll immediately understand why she fell in love this place!

—Ruth

Photo by Kelsey Kudak Photo by Kelsey Kudak.

This summer, I spent four writing-filled weeks at The Banff Centre

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