Why I Want To Be A Hooker

I sat alone in the upper corner of the Seneca College lecture hall, the morning sunlight beaming in behind me, when Art Stone told me about how to be a hooker, but not before he called me out in front of the class.

“I know writers like you,” he told me.

It’s been over twenty years – almost thirty- since that class – and I still remember it.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Art Stone before. I’ve googled him time and again to remind me what he really looked like, but in my memory he’s a spry older man, with wiry muscles, wearing a short sleeved white dress shirt and tan khakis along with some kind of soft, casual shoe in a shade of cornflower blue.

“Oh, yeah. Guys like you sit in a darkened room, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, crying about how no one understands real writers.”

Sure, I wore black, but I also wore cowboy boots, which meant that I did not fit his stereotype. I still have the boots and the blue notebook I used in class, along with the satchel Mell bought for me not long before. What I don’t have is that kid’s energy and the chip on my shoulder isn’t so big.

“Writing for a living,” he said after the laughter died down. “It’s like being a hooker. First, you do it for yourself, then you do it for free, and then you do it for money. If you remember that, everything else will be just fine.”

It’s that bit of wisdom on my mind lately. On the surface, it is humorous. I mean, doing it for free is easy, because the only one paying for it is you. But what are you paying? What currency is being exchanged in order to purchase the interest of the reader?

I think that currency is a combination of honesty and distance. Stories that touch me – the ones that aren’t always the best written but the ones that ring true and stick with me – are the ones where I feel the author has invested a part of themselves. I can think of a short story contest I helped judge a few months back. The winning story – the one we agreed was strongest – perhaps wasn’t the most expertly written but it resonated with me. Even now, I can remember how it made me feel.

What did that author do?

He may not have attended a single writing seminar nor was he a member of any elite, pontificating society of local writers. He likely read a whole lot and wrote even more and developed enough courage to dig deep to find the honesty to write what was true while at the same time, kept their distance so it remained about the story and not about them. I am fairly sure there is no writer’s course in the world that can teach that.

In my mind, writers like that are doing it for free and are begging for a chance to be paid to do it so they can do it all the time. And that’s the kind of writer I aspire to be.

I find it hard to dig deep for a story but not put myself in it – otherwise it comes off as so much self indulgent, navel gazing omphaloskepsis. Writing like that comes off not as a journal – an honest examination of your feelings – but as self aggrandizing – justifying why you are right and everyone else is wrong.

So, yes, for write (sic) or for wrong, I aspire to be a good hooker and to give my customers what they want for free so that someday I might earn the right to charge for it.

 

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