Do Tell

Most of what I thought I was keeping private I've really been keeping secret. The former is keeping confidence for the sake of others, not revealing something because it would be a burden for them. The latter is hiding. I'm speaking here of the secrets and privacy of the self, myself really. Secrets can be valuable when carried for a loved one. Secrets kept about myself seem less so. Also, privacy, like solitude, feels healthy and good while secrets, like loneliness, mostly do damage.

Don't worry though, I'm not about to reveal my deepest secrets here today. That's another kind of burdening that does damage. Instead I'm looking to consider the effects I'm feeling of having let go of a couple secrets.

Start easy with one I've talked about before: I'm quitting my job after this school year. That's the sort of thing I would usually kept to myself worrying What if my employer and colleagues find out? What if I change my mind? Fearing these things, I have the habit of making such decisions but keeping them secret. Privacy isn't motivated by fear, but secrets usually are. My habit says, don't tell anyone.

I bucked that habit and have announced the decision and then some. The effects help me see the value of going public. I have been surprised by the support, suggestions, and gratitude with which my announcement has been received. I expected it to be a burden to others, but it turns out to be a type of kindness.

It has been kind to me as well. There have been other times I've said I need to quit my job, but that was only my inner voice echoing inside the empty warehouse of my skull. I kept it secret because the idea felt shameful and made me seem weak. Transforming the secret through telling, I felt lighter and open to ideas. The secret had me thinking I had to go on until retirement. Telling others had me feeling the truth of it.

A second example. At my in-laws, talking about my job, I said it was making me sick. To show I wasn't just whining, I let go of a secret: I'm 219 pounds, technically obese. My mother-in-law was shocked and did not want to believe. No way, she said. That's not possible.

I never want to reveal that I'm fat. It's embarrassing and feels like failure, a lack of will, and weakness. Being fat is something I keep secret out of shame. This is what I've learned. That's my habit.

Saying it didn't change my weight but I felt lighter, less trapped in my weight or held down by it. Letting go of the secret I found that no one reproached me. There was no shame. There was understanding and I felt good.

My recent experience has been that sharing secrets is strengthening. Still, I resist the urge to share because shame, the heaviest of weights, feels so crushing. Shame drives my habit of hiding, of keeping secret while claiming privacy. The habit is so strong it overcomes most logic and experience.

Of course it matters how the secret is told. It's no surprise that telling honestly and in straight-forward fashion without hoping to elicit any response, least of all shock is best. I didn't want to shock my mother-in-law. Instead, I wanted to share something and help her understand how bad my job has become. I told her about my weight not to say, Look at me! but more to offer, This is me. Here I am. I was giving instead of asking for something. For me, that's a radical approach.

There are implications in this for writing. When I tell of my job and weight, I'm not looking for a result, effect, moral, or even an ending. There is no moral. I don't know how the story will end. It's a thing in process. I tell the story without drama or effect and go forward in the belief that someone, maybe me, might benefit. Secrets are hidden stories. Telling in the right amounts — and here there is a border to explore — is good for all.


I cannot quite conceive of how to write a book. I can imagine it but can't work out the nuts and bolts. My guess is that learning it requires doing it, like getting a mortgage to buy a house. I tried to read up on points and PMI, but didn't understand until my wife and I just bought a damn house and learned along the way. I'd like to think that just deciding to write a book I would learn how. Well, deciding and digging in.

It isn't like I haven't tried to write books. I wrote a pretty bad NaNoWriMo novel that has a few startlingly good moments. I drafted a hundred pages of a kind-of memoir. I planned out a book about writing Morning Pages and sketched another about good tools. I've made decisions and on occasion dug in. I've tried.

Except, I haven't really tried. Mostly I've come close to trying. I've thought about these books but haven't done the work over the long term. I'm not sure how to do that kind of work. Should I outline or let the book become what it needs to be? Is it too self-centered to write about myself? Fiction or non-fiction? Non-fiction for sure because I've seen how my "novel" turned out. Then again, I like some of that novel. Maybe fiction then? Under all this questioning, I stop.

Even if I do get going, I let other things interrupt (maybe to save myself from the risk of going forward) and I go down some sidetrack. The memoir went like that. I worked on it for a summer, but when school started I left it lying on the shelf for someday when I had time to get back to it. A year later I went back for a few pages, but had lost the feel. It seemed foreign to me or dead. I couldn't quite return.

I bet writing a book is all about returning. I've read that every book is a failure, but failures aren't full stops. They yield chances to return. I know a book comes from sitting down and writing, but it also springs from returning each time I wander away.

Return. Return. Return.

It reminds me of the carriage return on my old manual typewriter. The bell sounds near the end of the line and I throw the lever from left to right. New line. Return to typing. Return to writing. Return until the end of the line and return again until there is a book. It's so simple. Then why haven't I done it?

Returning often feels too difficult to attempt and so I put it off until later. Returning requires understanding, acceptance, a gentle touch with myself, and faith both in the process and my abilities.

I return to writing daily for Morning Pages, a blog entry, and other writing, but almost everything I write is done in a handful of sittings over the course of a day or two. A book requires returning to the same big idea daily for weeks, months, seasons, and years. Stephen King says he can write a book in a season. Good God. Dani Shapiro stays with a book for two to three years. Oh my. And George Saunders talked about the two years of revisions for his book. What? That kind of returning sounds otherworldly, superhuman, the works of the gods.

I'm easily distracted and interested in everything. I've been asked what my blog is about. It's about anything in which I have some interest. Last week it was writing about writing. Today it's how returning might make a book. Tomorrow it may be physical/emotional health. I want to write about it all. How could I stick to one thing and return to it again and again? Someone on the internet said the key is to have multiple projects going at once, but I can't get anything big done. Sigh. I just don't know.

When I first learned to cook I had trouble getting all the foods to the table at the same time. The rice would get dry or cold waiting for the chicken and the sauce would need ten minutes after the chicken was done. How do I time it all to come out together? Whoever was in the kitchen with me said, you'll figure it out in time. I was ten. I'm fifty now and, though there are the occasional screwups, I almost always get a full meal to the table, warm, ready to eat, and without much thought of how. It just works. I just make it happen.

I learn it by doing — making individual dishes into a meal, taking out a mortgage and buying a house, writing a book. I probably just need to try, return the next day, try, and return the day after that. Repeat as necessary. Faith and belief in the process and in myself will come along the way, right?

I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you. Speak up will you. Or just give me a push.