Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Between the Worlds

by Jean Roberta

In 2010, I was interviewed in the media (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) because an antique set of laws controlling the sex trade had just been struck down as unconstitutional, and sex workers were being asked for their opinions. At that point, I had not turned a trick in many years. I was Ye Olde Harlot, but because I was willing to admit publicly that I had worked for two escort agencies in the 1980s, I was apparently considered eligible to speak for Scarlet Women in general.

It became even clearer to me in 2010 than it was in the early 1980s that out-of-touch laws arose from out-of-touch attitudes to sex. The interviewers seemed amazed that I could interact sexually with total strangers in shady hotel rooms, then go back to my Master’s thesis, a work in progress, and discuss it with my faculty advisor. According to them, I had been living an unheard-of double life.

What the mainstream media has never heard of could fill a library. Why does no one interview women who somehow manage to hold down paid jobs, then rush home to cook meals for their families, do laundry and tend children? Couldn’t this hectic lifestyle be considered a double or a triple life? From what I’ve seen, graduate students in general have to function in several other roles as well, since they usually can’t complete a thesis while living entirely on student loans, scholarships or modest honoraria for providing teaching or research assistance to tenured faculty. Sex work could be considered a part-time service job, and it can be made to fit a grad-student’s schedule.

We live in a culture and an age in which adult women, in particular, are expected to switch from one role to another with ease. If I was living a double life, who hasn’t?

On the subject of double lives, let’s consider notorious men who juggle two or more wives and sets of children without holding down a job (other than manipulating other people out of money), and never admit anything to anyone – until it all comes crashing down. Let’s also consider the world of espionage, and especially double agents who collect information for two very different governments while maintaining at least two cover stories. This is the kind of double life I’m sure I couldn’t handle. At some point, I would drop all the balls.

Writers, scholars and other nerds (such as devoted fans of television or movie series, or on-line role-playing games) live double lives which don’t require dishonesty. Erotic writers are only a sub-category of writers in general, and all of us live in the world of our imaginations whenever we can, even though reality (in the form of dirty dishes and Significant Others) often hauls us rudely away from there.

Over the holidays, I finished reading a three-novel series by my colleague Jes Battis, writing under a different pen name, Bailey Cunningham. In his “parallel parks” fantasy saga, four graduate students at the local university discover a portal to a different world in the large local park, which actually exists. In the novels, the very believable characters make regular visits to a version of ancient Rome, a city named Anfractus, which exists in a parallel dimension. It is clearly inspired by role-playing games, and the real-life characters have different names and different roles in the other world. For example, a sensitive young man named Andrew becomes “Roldan” in Anfractus, and he acquires useful information as an “Auditor,” one who can hear the voices of the lares, elemental spirits who coexist with humans in the city. A young man who lives in a cheap apartment over a sex shop in the real world (and I’ve often seen it in downtown Regina) becomes an enchanting musician named “Babieca” in the imaginary city. Shelby, a young woman of First Nations descent, becomes, Morgan, a “Sagittarius” (archer) in Anfractus.

The characters, who are all supposed to meet regularly with their faculty advisors to discuss their academic progress, are understandably distracted by the parallel lives they lead in the alternative world after dark. At first, they strenuously try to avoid even talking about their lives in Anfractus when getting together for real-life activities such as grading student assignments, but conflicts in the other world threaten to spill over into this one.

I thought about the double and triple lives that are described in the novel. Graduate students as a group are in a kind of limbo between the school life of teenagers and the working life of adults. To earn degrees, they must spend much of their time in the alternative dimensions of fiction or history or theoretical systems. Yet as human beings living in real bodies (which are usually young and healthy), they must live in the real world too, which means constantly adjusting to current circumstances.

In the novel, a female character (an education student in real life, a knife-wielding gladiator named “Fel” in the other world) becomes pregnant by a male “meretrix” (courtesan) in Anfractus, and gives birth to her son in the real world. She decides to raise him, with much help from her loyal brother, and must eventually decide how much to tell her precocious child about where he came from. On some level of his mind, he seems to know.

I could relate to this. In some sense, all children exist as fantasies or abstract concepts before they materialize in the flesh. Those of us who read, write and have offspring could be considered creators in several different ways.

Thinking of double lives, I wonder who actually lives only one.


  1. What a great post, seamlessly interweaving so many different examples!

    The book sounds fascinating as well.

  2. I probably should have posted a link or two. The three novels in the "parallel parks" series by Bailey Cunningham are: Pile of Bones (#1), Path of Smoke (#2), and Prize of Night (#3). I highly recommend them.

  3. In a sense most readers of fiction want to experience the other lives being lived in those books. With some kinds of books they're relieved to be able to exit those alternate lives safely, but they do choose to enter them again and again.


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