Our Secret Worlds and Facing Reality

Near Dinas Emrys, Wales, one of my secret worlds. Photo by me.

We writers live in a secret world.

It’s evident from our faces, which go blank at inappropriate moments, our eyes searching for something we can use to scribble down a line. It’s evident from our obsession with subjects that wouldn’t interest most people past a Wikipedia stub, and it’s evident from the massive gap that appears between our world and our attempts to ground it in reality. All artists, I believe, live in such a world, and all art (from the Latin word for craftsmanship) is an attempt to bring those worlds into fruition.

When I was younger, brimming with an entire universe of secret worlds, I thought this set me apart from everyone else. After all, none of my friends had characters banging on the inside of their skulls and threatening death and dismemberment unless they hurried up and finished the dang book. (True story. Please don’t call the mental health police.)

In fact, outside the online community, where it seems everyone and their illiterate cousin is writing a book, you many never once run into another writer in the wild–and if you do, you’ll most likely be too buttoned-up for either of you to know it.

But that’s okay, because everyone has a secret world. We writers just have this overwhelming drive, like all other artists, to share ours with others. And for some reason, we think this makes us special, when all it does is isolate us from those who cannot help but fail to “get it.”

Because that’s the thing about secret worlds. They’re intensely personal, the sum of all our life’s experiences, and how can we possibly hope to properly articulate that? Sometimes I envy all those people who are content to simply occupy their secret worlds, never once feeling the urge to share it with others. It would certainly make relationships a whole lot less complicated.

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I have a piece of personal writing planned for an upcoming post, but first I wanted to write about the ability writing has to isolate us from the rest of the world–because that piece clearly illustrates how I let that happen. And there’s the key: I let it happen. I made the choice to go where my friend could not hope to follow, then held it against her to the point of souring our relationship.

The truth is no one can follow us into our secret worlds, not even other writers. That’s why we put so many hours in front of a keyboard or holding a pen: we desperately want to communicate our worlds in ways others can understand. Without others, we’re alone.

The title of my personal piece is “How To Lose A Friend,” and I wrote it a couple of years ago during a particularly low point of my life. Naturally, in trying to make sense of it, I blamed it on someone else (which is so easy to do when you’re no longer speaking). Even though I’m happy to report we’ve patched things up, having both gone through the painful process of growing up and experiencing life’s uncertainties, I feel compelled to share this piece because I think it’s a mindset we writers fall into so easily: Us and Them. Us, the great misunderstood, and Them, the uncultured cretins.

(What’s particularly interesting about it, I think, is the friend I lost happens to be an artist herself, and a rather good one. Make of that what you will.)

I’ve taken the liberty of changing her name, not because I’m afraid someone might recognize her, but because in the end, it wasn’t really about her. It was about my narrow-minded selfishness. I chose to isolate myself within my world, and I paid the price most bitterly. I can only hope that I don’t make the same mistake again.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Our Secret Worlds and Facing Reality

  1. I think you are right that all artists face this dilemma. In fact, I think anyone who is passionate about anything risks social isolation. Think about the aspiring Olympian who forgoes a football Sunday get-together for a long, hard workout. Or the scientist who disappears into the lab for days at a time. Anyone whop doesn’t share that passion doesn’t “get it,” and the artist/athlete/writer/scientists/whoever harbors that “secret world” of which nobody else is a part. A good thing to be mindful of if we are to maintain balance.

    • Exactly. I never thought to extend the idea to other passions like sports and what have you (maybe because I’m the worst athlete ever), but I think you’re right about that. Balance is the key, but oh so hard to find. Surrounding yourself with understanding people helps, but that only goes so far. The burden lies on the one with the passion.

  2. I love the idea that we all have secret worlds, and that writer’s simply feel more compelled to share them. I also love that photo! Gorgeous!

  3. Sounds like something is in the air. I have a piece scheduled for Sunday on exactly the same ideas you mention here. It’s called “Doodleboggery” and you will find it on Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such (unclebardie.wordpress.com).

  4. This post really strikes home with me. It is very hard sometimes to put myself in another’s shoes simply because I forget that I should actually be doing that. I love how you articulate so much in this article that so many of us writers (there it is, the us mentality) need to understand. Well done.

    Also check your email. I basically spammed you on accident but yeah, would love to talk sometime!

  5. Secret worlds don’t have to be exclusive, though I am of the opinion that no one can really know someone else not in their whole entirety. Though I don’t think either of us have dived headlong into each-others worlds but we have held windows open for each-other, a glimpse into those sanctuaries. It is though largely due to the fact that you have been the only friend I have ever had that I can express exactly what I mean in spoken words.

    • OMG I know who you are I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you little skunk. And I even commented on your blog like weeks ago you sneaky little sneak sneak. I could kiss you I miss you so much.

      And you are right. Of course you are right. Even fellow writers and best friends will never fully experience each other’s worlds but the glimpses are so so precious and so so vivid.

      I can’t believe you sneaked me. And I can’t believe that I’m the only friend you’re making me cry.

    • And you even posted a picture of Gallifrey and I totally didn’t guess it was you. When I saw it I thought, man this person is cool. I am so lame.

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