Yesterday, I was presented with a certain task:
‘Take a piece of paper and write your darkest secret on it – a secret that, even if you were in twenty years of marriage, you still wouldn’t tell your partner. Once you’ve done that, I will ask you to rip the paper up and throw it in the bin.’
This seemed like a strange task at first. What would be the point? But then again, I reminded myself, this is a seminar and for these two hours our pens are at the mercy of our leader.
It was interesting watching the people around the table. Some struggling to come up with anything; some merely pretending to write something down; others finding what they were writing extremely difficult to process.
The problem with it was, I realised, that once something is written down, it has been confessed, it is real once more. There is no arguing with ink on paper, there is no running away from what your eyes can see.
And this is what makes writing – whether it be prose, poetry, plays or any of the other numbers of genres and styles we could pick – so magical. It is a thing that can make the most courageous of us blanch in fear or the most self-assured begin to question our own morality. Around that room, people were feeling a range of emotions from shame to fear; around that room, people were feeling the power of the written word.
Not everyone can appreciate what I mean when I talk about this power. At the end of the day, I am an English student, so my love for the art would be that much more pronounced to the point of obsession than any other normal human being. But humour me for a minute: has there not been one story from your childhood that has stayed with you? Have you not at least once been seen rifling through pages of a magazine or newspaper to find out the developments of a certain article? Are you not word perfect to your favourite song? All of these are examples of the power written word has over us, even from a young age.
Once we had written down the most vulgar representation of ourselves in that seminar, there was a rush to rip the pages up and get them into the bin. In fact, the seminar leader even shook the bin up to ensure the pieces were sufficiently mixed. Isn’t it strange how closely we guard ourselves from others?
He then told us the lesson that I will never forget. He told us that one day, when we know ourselves more completely than we could imagine, we would be writing that secret down in the depths of a story or in the title of a poem. We would be putting that secret out on display for all to see.
But the secret of telling our secret to the world?
We would be entirely invisible when we did it.