Raw Material

by | May 26, 2013 | General | 3 comments

by Jean Roberta

“You’re a writer. You’ll write about this some day. The more experience you get, the more you have to write about.”

This is the consoling remark I get from someone close to me every time I fall into a hole in the road. One of the worst aspects of disappointment, of course, is that it is always at least partly one’s own fault. I won’t accept the diagnosis that I was completely responsible for the trainwreck of my first marriage (there were two people in that relationship), but in hindsight, I could see numerous warning signs that I ignored at the time because I didn’t want to see them.

At the time this post appears on the Erotic Readers and Writers blog, I am supposed to be in New Orleans, attending the annual Saints and Sinners literary conference for gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer/questioning/not-entirely-straight writers. The last time I went to S&S was in 2007, shortly after Hurricane Katrina. In 2013, I intended to bring my female spouse along to show her the sights, and to stay in the same picturesque inn in the French Quarter where I stayed last time, which has been renovated since then. (I was afraid of that. In 2007, I assumed the hole in the bathroom wall was part of what kept the price low. I didn’t mind, since the plumbing, the TV, and the air conditioning all worked.)

For several weeks, I planned our trip. I made up a budget and printed out the conference program with my name on it to bring to the office of the Dean of Arts in the university where I teach, so I could get pre-approval for reimbursement of my expenses after my return. (I would have to submit receipts.) Spouse got us a good deal on air fare through a site named The Flight Hub.

Then I thought about checking my Canadian passport. It was expired. (At one time, I also had a U.S. passport which I allowed to lapse for reasons I won’t go into here.) I phoned several Canadian and U.S. government agencies, including Homeland Security in the U.S. As though this body had been expecting my call, I was forwarded to a recorded message that said that Canadian citizens with expired passports are not allowed on U.S. soil. Crossing the “undefended border” was never like this before.

I was relieved to find out that I could (theoretically) get an “emergency passport” in less than a day. On the day we were to board a plane, I told Spouse I had to go to the passport office. She tried to explain that we didn’t have time for that since we had a plane to catch. I pointed out that I would have to miss that plane, but she could travel without me. (Her Canadian passport is up to date.) She said no.

At the passport office, I was aghast at how much ID I had to provide besides my expired passport. Since I had a Canadian passport in my hands, I argued, why couldn’t I just get it renewed like a library card? Apparently this is not how bureaucracy works. When the official who was “helping” me learned that I was a naturalized Canadian citizen (born in the U.S.A. – oh the irony), I was told to provide the certificate (a small laminated card) that was given to me when I got my Canadian citizenship in 1974. “Surely you jest,” I said. “I’m not even sure where that is.”

“You have to show it to us,” said the official. Spouse and I rushed home in a car with our suitcases in the back seat. By a miracle, I found that card in the same bureau drawer where I kept my expired passport. We rushed back to the passport office.

Then I was told that I had to provide documentation to support my request for an emergency passport. I would have to reschedule our flights, since the flight I had just missed no longer counted. I rushed home and phoned The Flight Hub. Someone there told me that Spouse and I were “no shows” for our original flight, therefore we would have to start over, and pay for new flights. I explained my situation. I was told to phone the airline (United), which I did. A helpful woman there actually found new flights for us, but then she said unfortunately, I would have to call The Flight Hub to get the original price. There I spoke to the evening supervisor, Natasha as I’ll call her (with an accent from somewhere in eastern Europe). Natasha seemed able to work miracles. She said she would arrange for our new flights at no extra charge.

Natasha put me on hold while she contacted United, where she was put on hold. At some point, Natasha was so concerned about me that she asked me if I was hearing music on my end of the phone line. I said yes, I’m hearing old Broadway show tunes from the 1940s. She seemed glad, and asked me to be patient and not hang up. I hung on.

Natasha sounded delighted when she told me that everything was arranged: Spouse and I had new flights. She sent the information to Spouse’s email. Spouse was out with her son, shopping for a car. With Natasha on the line, I called Spouse on her cell phone to ask for the new password for her email addy. She gave it to me.

I found the email with our flight information, thanked Natasha, printed out the itinerary, then called a taxi to rush me to the passport office. While I waited, I called the taxi office again and was told I would just have to wait. I wondered if I could get to the office faster on foot, but realized that I would then miss the taxi. At length, I got to the passport office just in time to find the door locked. “No!” I said to a woman who was waiting on a chair in the hallway.

“There are people inside,” she said. “Knock on the door and they might let you in.”

I knocked, then knocked again. The door was opened by a grey-haired woman in a uniform who looked like a retired military officer. (These are often employed as civil servants in Canada.) “The office is closed,” she said.

While Officer No-Go kept trying to close the door, I held it open so I could explain my situation. “You’ll have to come back in the morning,” she said. My new flight was to leave at 6:50 a.m., before regular business hours.

Spouse and her son picked me up. Son was exhilarated because he had just signed a lease for his first car. I was distracted.

At home, I phoned every Canadian government phone number that might possibly have a live person on the other end. No luck.

Spouse and I missed our rescheduled flight. Bob (as I’ll call him), the day supervisor from Flight Hub, phoned to ask why we were “no shows” for the second time. (Note that this was the same guy who originally told me I would have to start over and pay for new flights.) I explained. This time, Bob sounded sympathetic. I told him I was giving up. I didn’t want to repeat the process of the day before.

In that case, said Bob, Spouse and I could get reimbursement from our travel insurance. I told him I had spoken to them already, and we were not covered for this type of emergency (expired passport). Bob assured me that I only had to tell the folks at the Royal Bank of Canada (providers of travel insurance) that I had to cancel our flights for “personal reasons” not involving my “passport story.” I would have to provide documentation. I didn’t see any point in arguing with Bob.

While I was speaking to him, someone from the passport office phoned me to say that I could have my emergency passport in an hour to ninety minutes, but only if I had proof of an upcoming flight.

I said I no longer had an emergency. I had missed the conference, and I would wait the usual two weeks for a passport.

I sent email messages to everyone who needed to know that I would not be attending Saints and Sinners this year.

So now you know why I am not posting this from New Orleans. Today I co-signed for Stepson’s new car while he reminded me several times that I should have renewed my passport weeks ago. (“Smug” could be defined as the attitude of a grown child who has a reason to lecture a parent about responsibility.)

Stepson also reminded me that I could write about all this. All life experience can be considered a blessing for a writer. Be that as it may, next time I need to rush to a government office or an airport, I expect Stepson to give me a ride.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica (http://excessica.com). Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, www.eroticanthology.com. Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links: www.JeanRoberta.com http://eroticaforall.co.uk/category/author-profiles


  1. Kathleen Bradean

    That sounds like the most frustrating adventure ever.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    Oh, Jean! How awful and disappointing.

    However, I will say that it makes a great story…

    Big hugs,

  3. Jean Roberta

    I'm glad it makes a great story! It was definitely frustrating in a would-you-believe-it way. (This is partly why I wrote a full description while the details are fresh in my mind.) Even at the rate at which bureaucracies move, I should have a renewed passport before Saints & Sinners 2014.

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