There’s no connection between writing and sex, right? Between selling one’s skills as a writer and being a prostitute? This question has vexed me recently.
I open the door to my husband’s psychoanalytic office, a neutral ground where I can meet with my own clients, writers (or potential writers) that need help. I’m about to enter into the complexities of narrative with a young man who will graduate from college soon as a computer major. Yes, the poor guy has been bitten—not by the Zika mosquito carrier but by the writing bug.
He had emailed me for help after taking his first writing workshop with a fellow writer whom I know from an on-line critique group. She had recommended me as a writing coach. In his message, he had 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 don’t have the heart to tell him that. Or am I too eager to earn my hourly rate to break out the bad news immediately?
I shake my new pupil’s hand and invite him to sit next to me at my husband’s desk. The overhead lights and a couple of lamps don’t illuminate the whole room, casting shadows and a romantic glow. I can see where this atmosphere would be conducive to the state of reverie that happens during an analytic session, but it isn’t the kind of impression I want to convey. The analytic couch, Persian carpet, and leather easy chairs make the space feel a little like a boudoir, and I’m relieved I haven’t worn a strong fragrance or anything else that might suggest I’m offering anything more than writing help.
At the end of our session, he hands me my fee in cash. I’m selling him the skills I’ve gained over many years both teaching writing in a classroom as well as writing myself in nearly all of the genres. But it’s different receiving a paycheck once a month 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 realize 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 resembles a little what happens between some prostitutes and their customers. It’s an unequal dynamic, the prostitute really having the upper hand, drawing out and taking in her john much as I’ve taken in aspects of this young guy. There’s been a transaction, and he leaves, having expelled onto the page the seed that he hopes will blossom into a publishable story.