Monday, December 21, 2009

Musing a Bit on Prostitution

So, in John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year, there is quite bit of time spent in the Red Light District of Amsterdam, which I happened to walk through when I was 14 or 15. I was a little bit shocked then, mostly amazed. I think having been there probably enhanced my tolerance and compassion for this kind of work later, as a grown up, having read a lot more about a lot of things.

Notably, the connection between sexuality and spirituality and some things about sex workers and the sex trade. I don't want anyone to be forced into sex work, or kidnapped, or offered some legitimate job as a waittress or seamstress, only to be trapped into prostitution. But I liked the idea that young women could observe in order to find out if this was work they wanted to do. I doubt that very many women or men with other options do want to do this work, but some surely do. So I don't want the work to be looked down on, nor the workers to be in terrible danger, especially since this is known as "the oldest profession" and the demand never stops. I am glad there are spots--in Amsterdam or Nevada--where the work is legal, regulated, and somewhat safe.

Nor do I believe all the people who dismiss prostitutes or porn actors as having fully chosen their line of work. Many haven't. Choice was absent, minimal, or compromised in complicated ways.

And I sure came to love or care about the prostitutes in Irving's novel, yet another testament to his storytelling skills. I care about all the people in his books, even the assholes, as I can hope they will change...for instance, if they read his novels. (Snake eating its own tail a bit there, I know.)

To all the sex workers who chose their work and like it and want it, happy holidays. To all who don't, I hope you find a safe way out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Widow for One Year

This was one of those odd days, full of coincidences. It is Maud Gonne's birthday, and this bit of Yeats was posted at the Writer's Almanac today, in celebration of it:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

This is also on p. 513 of John Irving's novel A Widow for One Year, which I finished up today, reading the Yeats verse shortly after seeing it at the Writer's Almanac. Since Yeats is quoted earlier in the book, too, I was having this folding-over deja vu feeling....and all of this happened shortly after watching Stranger Than Fiction again with my daughter, who woke up wanting to watch that movie with her breakfast today. I cried at the end, at the lovely narration.

Then I told her that I do think fiction can save our lives. I alluded again to the "news of the world" that can be found in poems, something I'd told her about earlier this year. Some of us can only do art; it is our thing to do in the world. "Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." My hand writes. My mind reads and writes, all the time. It is what I have found to do. I get so tired of people who tell us to do something else, or think there is only one thing to do and we should all be doing it. "Make money" or "Social justice" or whatever it is. If you want to make money, go make it! If you are capable of enacting social justice, enact some! I will, in my quiet ways, do what I can do best. Which is not, evidently, those two things! But please don't judge or terrorize me for that.

This is a nice novel from 1998, which I am just getting around to reading now. I was busy in 1998. But I tend to read things at the right time. I mentioned here that I had started A Prayer for Owen Meany several times before reading it straight through, and I read it, not knowing its full subject matter, after revisiting the Vietnam War through a museum exhibit. Everything came together. So now I am in another John Irving phase, it appears. I read one bad review of his newest novel, the kind of review that reminds me why I don't like to read reviews. Leave him alone! Let him write. He cares about people and their happiness. He knows crap happens, and he writes about that, too. This is his form of social justice. And it's how he makes money. Let him. It's what the world keeps indicating that it wants. Then, when somebody does it, you get jealous and kick him. Or call him sentimental or predictable. Sigh...

Anyway, I like Billy Collins, too. Sue me.