Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Secret Sharer

In a viral conversation with a friend this morning, the topic of secrets came wedging itself into your awareness, in the manner of an Oreo cookie or, as a mixed metaphor.  Questions written in Spanish are begin with an inverted question mark,  To make sure the respondent has no doubts, the question concludes with a question mark.  Thus your Oreo cookie reminder.  ?Secrets?

There are shared secrets, an example being your friend telling you a few secrets and you, enjoying the exchange, offered some of your own, a payment in the same medium of exchange.  What are friends for?  They are for a number of complex transactions, including the trading of secrets, particularly if the shared secrets are emotionally charged elements you'd not be comfortable broadcasting about.

Thus you've just added an important element to secrets, the force of some intense emotion that, acted on directly, could cause a spectrum of trouble.  The ideal response from a friend with whom you've just told such a secret is, "Of course, you're not going to act on it."  And the ideal response to that observation is, "I'm tempted."  Lovely dramatic equation there.  

No wonder secrets have such a high exchange value in story.  Secrets are the gold standard of dramatic narrative, every bit as significant as suspense and conflict.  In fact, with proper arrangement, secrets could be the catalyst for suspense and conflict.  

Knowing the secrets of another is a form of power by which you have the leverage of knowing an aspect of the secret bearer few other persons have.  You have the power of betraying the secret by sharing it, deliberately or inadvertently.  Another way to demonstrate the calculus of power is the strategy of speaking obliquely about the secret to the secret bearer, causing that person to ask you for the reassurance that you will keep the seal of the secret.

Secrets are the footpaths to hidden agendas, which are common enough in Reality and essentials in Story.  If the motives of all characters in a dramatic situation were overt and immediate, there would be less surprise and suspense.  Story would rely on arguments more than on arguments acted upon, which would be conflict.

In addition to shared secrets, there would be the carefully guarded ones, sometimes allowed to fester within from the fear of sharing them with anyone.  Neil Simon, the shrewdly observant playwright, once observed that the most compelling way of beginning a story or a fresh scene is with a character making the admission, "I've never told this to anyone before."

Who could fail to pay some ransom of curiosity to such a statement?  Who could fail to be curious about a bit of information deliberately withheld by another?

Here's where the irony creeps in.  You are not alone in having secrets, nor are you unique in keeping secrets from yourself?  There are things you wish, fantasy, yearn for, and on the other side of the equation detest, loathe, dread.  You might share some of those secrets.  Worst case scenario is mild to intense embarrassment, were these made public or shared with however much discretion.  The greater likelihood is that the secrets you keep from yourself are kept in fear of the abject humiliation you'd suffer were they made apparent.

You do see the catch there, don't you?  The bait is your sense of self.  A similar "secret" in another might not be a secret or a threat to that person's self image.  The boundary lines are those you've set yourself, perhaps without active consultation.  But the self knows.  You know what aspects of yourself would humiliate you, were they made public, and yet there is the possibility that you have not as yet been able to tell yourself what these visions or aspects of yourself are.

Those early writers who saw enough to build the analogy between the human psyche and the onion were wise beyond measure.  You join your brother and sister members of the species in wrapping the layers about the armature, covering, coding, insulating.

At some early age, you became aware of the mantra "Know thyself."  Reaching into metaphor again, your quest for self-knowledge and its most attractive product, self-awareness, has by your judgement been as successful as your attempts to understand and put to practical use algebra and geometry.

You've done in the Reality of seeking self-awareness  the equivalent of repeating those courses until you were able to demonstrate lackluster, mediocre understandings and comings to term with algebra and geometry.  There are often multiple possibilities of answer in the subjects that interest you most and in which you have some demonstrable measure of ability.  Of algebra and geometry, as with much math, there is one right answer per problem.  All others are close but no actual or proverbial cigar.

In the most subjective of ways, you've done better at self-awareness than you have at algebra or geometry.  For some time, your struggles with the two were your secrets, thus you come to yet another kind of secret.  This is the OBE or overcome by events secret.

You have any number of those, secrets who've outlasted their use-by dates, thus becoming irrelevant.  To whom?  Why, to you, of course.  But there are still some things you're holding back on, things you've not told anyone.

Yet.

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