Tracy Quan writes frequently for The Daily Beast. Her most recent novel is Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl (Harper Perennial).

The no.1 Velcro goddess

A call girl's secrets, such as a client's name or the age when she began work, can provoke an inquisition. The secret housework keeping her enterprise afloat is more easily overlooked. If she sees clients at home, domestic labour is included in her fee, but this remains politely invisible.

When preparing for my customers – changing sheets in a hurry, hiding laundry – I often experienced a pre-coital adrenalin surge. Housework induced a silent fear of being "found out", for you never really want to be caught tidying up after another man, or seen with your manicured hands in thick rubber gloves wringing out the towels. And yet there was something satisfying about getting the cleaning done between sessions precisely because it was done on the fly, undetected. The responsibilities of glamour can transform drudgery into domestic trickery.

During adolescence I became infatuated with an exotic Marxian tract called The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community which made the case for unwaged housework as the fulcrum of modern capitalism. Later, I applied its lessons to my gentlemen callers. I placed a customer's used wine glass in the sink and waited for the next visitor to arrive. It was a point of honour to furtively wash the glassware while a customer showered, unaware that he was paying not only for sex, but for a spot of cleaning. I enjoyed being a stealth housewife, my feminine secret.

A career shift from sex to letters has forever changed my relationship to housework. My working bed has been replaced by a desk, and light housekeeping is no longer a backstage chore with an urgent deadline but a secret hobby, a compulsion that threatens to devour me. Many freelancers who work at home relate to a modern form of guilt brought on by the tempting distractions of homemaking. While some say housework is never-ending, it's often composed of finite physical tasks that are much easier to define than the wobbly arc of your career.

Housework as a form of self-expression is a luxury or vice, a possible trap – unless, of course, you can turn it into a business. When Caitlin Flanagan devoted her first book, To Hell With All That, to the fate of the "inner housewife" she was condemned as a hypocrite for delegating her own household chores. Are women morally compelled to be honest and rigorous about their housekeeping? Flanagan wouldn't be the first female author to dissemble about housework – and I doubt she'll be the last.

Consider Isabella Beeton. She was far too busy establishing herself as the quintessential housekeeping guru to actually live like a full-time housewife, but this didn't stop her from becoming a voice of authority – and remaining so after an early death at the age of 28. Her biographer Kathryn Hughes believes syphilis, contracted in the marriage bed, contributed to her ill health and the death of two of her children. (Nevertheless, I find that Beeton's biography – and her 1,120-page manual – can be surprisingly effective as conversational foreplay, a romantic icebreaker, when the right man is near.)

Mrs Beeton succeeds still as a domestic goddess because her theme is so multilayered. Housework is about illusion and appearance. Whether we pretend to be more involved with housework or not at all, we resist a wholly honest approach. Everybody who hires someone to do the cleaning worries about being deceived, has trouble figuring out exactly how much work has been done.

Housework is one of the first things we learned to lie about. Did you pick up your toys? Have you tidied your room? You learn quickly to say yes. The shortcuts we take as adults have their genesis here. Eventually, if we're lucky, we discover that picking up our toys can be quite satisfying.

As one of Apartment Therapy's four million unique website visitors, I recently felt the urge to boast about a new way of using my Swiffer. An old T-shirt stuffed where Procter & Gamble would have you place one of their disposable cloths is wonderfully subversive. But since mopping the bathroom ceiling veers into the realm of hardcore cleaning, I kept this to myself. It is decorating, organizing and recycling that make a girl seem pretty and virtuous.

Apartment Therapy is like a soft porn site where I go to fantasize about household tasks. Just as the porn consumer won't act on everything he sees, I certainly don't have what it takes to follow every domestic impulse. Should I scrub up a steel cabinet acquired at a set designer's garage sale in 1996? Attempt a mod, white, imitation Jonathan Adler vase from an empty juice bottle and some spray paint? I yearn to refinish my late stepfather's Victorian icebox. But it's a look-but-don't-touch parade of unattainable home improvements.

There's one accomplishment I've been unable to resist. By dipping into a long accumulation of Velcro, rubber bands and previously unexamined wire, I've tamed every cable in my study. I stare at the bundled black loops, wondering why housekeeping never frees us from sloth, only replaces that sin with vanity and pride.



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