Is there a connection between writing and sex? Between selling one’s skills as a writer and being a prostitute?
I opened the door to my husband’s psychoanalytic office, a neutral ground where I could meet with my own clients, writers (or potential writers) that needed help. I was about to enter into the complexities of narrative with a young man who would graduate from college soon as a computer major. Yes, the poor guy had been bitten—not by the Zika mosquito carrier but by the writing bug.
He’d emailed me for help after taking his first writing workshop with a fellow writer whom I know from an on-line critique group. She’d recommended me as a writing coach. In his message, he’d said, “I want to work with you once a week during the summer so I can publish a short story by the time we’re finished.”
Gulp. I recall how long it took me to reach a publishable level in my fiction efforts. It definitely was more than a couple of months, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that. Or was I too eager to earn my hourly rate to break out the bad news immediately?
I shook my new pupil’s hand and invited him to sit next to me at the large office desk. The overhead lights and a couple of lamps didn’t illuminate the whole room, leaving shadows and a romantic glow. I could see where this atmosphere would be conducive to the state of reverie that happens during an analytic session, but it wasn’t the kind of impression I wanted to convey. The analytic couch, Persian carpet, and leather easy chairs made the space feel a little like a boudoir, and I was relieved I hadn’t worn a strong fragrance or anything else that might suggest I was offering anything more than writing help.
At the end of our session, he handed me my fee in cash. I was selling him skills I’d gained over many years of both teaching writing in a classroom as well as writing myself in nearly all of the genres. But it was different receiving an impersonal paycheck once a month from the University of San Francisco to a client paying me in cash. I let him drop the money on the desktop, embarrassed to take it from him directly.
Later, I realized why. Even though there was no suggestion of sexual involvement, this process of drawing out a novice writer and helping him to bare himself on the page has some resemblance to what happens between prostitutes and their customers. Like me in this situation, the prostitute has the upper hand since she’s the one who is giving a service, ministering to her john as I’d much as I’d helped my client improve his writing. There had been a transaction, and he’d left, having expelled onto the page the seed that he hoped would blossom into a publishable story.