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Why You Can’t and Shouldn’t Keep a Secret

August 14, 2013

I learned my first secret at the age of four. My father drank. I’d discover little vodka bottles stashed in the pantry behind 5- pound bags of sugar. I’d be left alone in the car while Dad disappeared into Phelps Bar and Grill.

There is a great deal I admire about my father and would like to have inherited—his creativity, humor, generosity. And though I now understand that my father was self -medicating and the victim of his body’s chemistry, the weight of this secret bore down with a shame and sadness so great I’m surprised I could walk. I had my own gravitational force field ten times that of earth’s until the night I finally confessed my knowledge to my mother. She was attempting to rock me to sleep but I had a secret to tell and getting it out was torturous. It seemed to take hours to say just four words:  “I know Daddy drinks.” My mother listened, kept on rocking me, and finally said, “Some things are too heavy for little girls to carry. Give this to me. I will carry it for you.”

The brain just doesn’t like to keep secrets. Studies at the University of Texas, have shown that writing down or telling your secrets diminishes the level of stress hormones in your body.  When you have a secret, the part of your brain that wants to tell is in constant conflict with the part of your brain that wants to keep the information hidden, according to David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine.

What secrets have you carried since you were very small? What secrets do you protect now? For whom? From whom? Why? When have you revealed a secret, your own or someone else’s? When and how have you discovered a secret?

Write about the tension, that conflict at war in your brain. Hold the tension on the page between the need to tell and the need to conceal. Show it in your character’s body. Be the secret itself asking to be told! Be the rational internal dialogue denying your secret its freedom.

Brainstorm on paper, what would happen if the world knew all my secrets? Maybe the earth stops spinning, the moon flies from its orbit—maybe you or your character walks away new and free—or embraces someone because without the secrets, all former impediments gone.  Just brainstorm. Make a list. The title is “I Never Told You This.”



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