Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 6: Secretary

Every once in a while a synchronicity gives me pause. Two times today someone has mentioned that the original definition of "secretary" was "keeper of secrets." The first time was in an article in The New Yorker, in reference to someone who was secretary to a public official (I think) and thus privy to their secrets. The second was during tonight's Pecha Kucha in Belfast, when an artist showed a slide of a piece of furniture he had made, a big secretary desk with many drawers to keep people's secrets.

Last night while at a friend's historic house, getting a tour of its antiques and intriguing old things (like a closet full of valuable Queen Anne chairs), we came upon a piece of furniture that particularly interested me. It was made of fine wood, about a foot wide, above waist height, with a top-lifting lid. Inside were three or four divided sections. The house's owner thinks that it was a letter holder, a miniature, perhaps even portable, form of a secretary. There's nothing in it now. I coveted this piece of furniture, thinking of the journals and scraps of my life that I could stash there. But probably not letters. Hardly anyone ever sends me a letter anymore.

Once while looking for a book in a boyfriend's school bag, I came upon a cache of love letters to him from an ex he clearly wasn't quite through with. She'd mailed them to his box at the English Department for which we both taught--his mail box just a few slots away from mine. A male friend I consulted told me to just ignore it, so I did. He was the only one I told. A similar thing happened recently to a friend of a friend who is currently separated from his wife, cementing his resolve to make the separation permanent. Everyone's got their secrets stashed away somewhere, a secretary of some sort hiding their deepest and darkest.

There's something about the act of writing that reveals glimpses of our secret self, but only glimpses. Our thoughts are all unwritten letters, most best left unshared. How often do we really share a secret with someone? How often do we write something down that arises from our innermost soul? When I was in grad school, one of my professors--as part one of our one-on-one meetings--asked us to share a secret with him about ourselves that no one else knew, and then he would share one with us. I've kept his secret for so long now that I don't even remember what it was. Or, come to think of it, what mine was.

As a haiku the following poem is horrible--no "season word," no reference to the natural world. But sometimes this is what happens when one writes at midnight. The tired mind lets down its guard and taps into different sources.

Old memories filed,
secrets pigeon-holed. Some nights
I lift the lid, peek.

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