Wednesday, September 8, 2010

You Can Tell Me Juliet

People tell me things. Secret things.

When I work as a muralist, I spend so much time in people’s private space they start to speak in front of me as though I were a piece of furniture--leaving few subjects, however lewd or illegal, unmentioned. Often lonely housewives –and in one case, a lonely househusband—follow me around while I paint, treating me as a trusted confidante. Before that, I was a Social Worker, which essentially means that I was underpaid to hear –and interpret, and keep—my clients’ secrets. And even prior to that I was an anthropologist; while I was asking about boring things like employment choices and settlement issues, my informants would tell me all sorts of private, intimate goodies that were ever so much more fun than any questions I could come up with.

(As a novelist, I might use some of these stories as inspiration, but only after I’ve twisted and molded them so that no one would ever recognize them.)

The truth is, they’re right to talk to me. Because I’m really good at keeping secrets.

For one thing, I’m deficient in gossiping abilities. I was an outcast in high school, where a lot of these skills are honed, and I never developed the right attitude towards the subject. I listen intently and then go on about my business, completely forgetting that the really juicy part about gossip is turning around and telling the next person, preferably while enhancing and radicalizing said tidbits of rumor and hearsay.

But mostly I'm good at keeping secrets because I believe we have a right to our surreptitious sides. Our dark desires. Our furtive fantasies. Our hopelessly nerdy needs. I’m not talking about secrets born of shame and imposed silence; harmful directives to hush about family disgraces, or terrible truths left unsaid...not at all.

Rather, I’m thinking of those undisclosed, mysterious parts of ourselves that we take out only at very special times: when we are alone and safe, or when allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to someone very special. These secrets are tiny, gold-foil packages to be unwrapped and savored in stone-clad garret rooms, guarded by iron doors and lit only by the subtle glow of candles. They are magical, private little gifts that become distorted only when others convince us that it’s wrong to keep them close to our hearts.

So keep your secrets, at least a few. Let them bring a mysterious smile to your lips, an inexplicable sparkle to your eye, a surreptitious pounding to your heart. They’re yours, and only yours.

Unless you decide to share. And if you do, I’m your gal. I probably won’t even remember, anyway, and if I do, I promise: I’ll wrap them in gold foil, let them bring a Mona Lisa smile to my lips, and keep them safe.


Sophie Littlefield said...

what a beautiful post!

I think that one of the things that people respond to about you is that you always seem to be thinking of a lovely secret. As you say, one that is not even a distant cousin to shame, but which might be just a tiny bit naughty, and is most certainly big-hearted. In that way you just might have something in common with that mona lisa.

Rachael Herron said...

I'm gonna tell you SUCH a secret. ;) And I agree with Sophie wholeheartedly, about you always seeming to be thinking of a lovely secret. What a nice countenance to have.

Gigi Pandian said...

Wow, I knew there must have been a reason I spilled my guts to you the first time we roomed together at a mystery conference...

Juliet Blackwell said...

Oh, Gigi, I told *everyone* that! (just kidding!)
Rach and Soph -- don't let it fool you. Mostly I'm thinking about food. Or scotch. ;-)

L.G.C. Smith said...

Oh, I love the notion of keeping secrets as tiny, private gifts to ourselves! I've never thought of them that way. Ever. I think this may be an epiphany for me. :)

Unknown said...

This is so lovely... and I agree with Lynn, secrets as private gifts is *perfect* :)