1993. Sharon Stone. Sliver. A disconcerting, schlocky movie ‘about’ privacy and voyeurism. Watching it, I was appalled and repelled by the character placing his neighbours under surveillance.
Because I’m human. I like to wonder, invent their backstories, know things about them and about humankind.
(Writers, I suspect, are both unrepentant voyeurs and compulsive oversharers.)
I like to watch people. I like to watch.
Which is exactly why the whole tedious film was redeemed by Sharon Stone’s last line:
You like to watch, don’t you?
Yes. I do. Even when it’s a very bad idea.
It’s the same with conversation and secrets.
One of my friends has the most delightful conversational technique. She invites people beyond small talk. Someone – a stranger on a train, an acquaintance passing the time with chit-chat – will ask her a question, something seemingly innocuous, and she’ll reply:
Do you want the polite answer or do you want the real answer?
And because we hairless apes are voyeurs, we always want the real answer. And that leads to real conversation and connection and maybe even truth.
But, referring (sloppily) to yet another cheesy 90s flick, Can you handle the truth?
Sometimes, I can’t handle the truth. Lots of times, in fact. Or, maybe I can handle the truth from a stranger on a train who tells me about his tragically empty marriage; maybe I can handle sex confessions from bloggers; maybe I can read truth in the lines and lyrics of ballads and ballers and bestsellers.
There’s distance there. There’s no danger. The secrets – and secret lives – of strangers and sages are safe.
And then there’s this, from a friend or a family member:
Can I tell you a secret?
Do you want to hear a secret?
This kind of secret is sacred. This kind of secret is not safe.
Most of us say, yes, we want to hear the secret; we can and will keep that secret; your secret is safe with me.
But it’s not. On average, we keep secrets for 47 hours and 15 minutes.
Not because we’re ‘gossips’ or weak of character or women (don’t EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THAT). But because we’re human.
We need to watch each other, talk about each other, understand each other. And our desires, the way we truly live, our secrets, reveal us. To ourselves and each other. To the world. Our secrets make the world: when we camouflage events and behaviours and desires, we bow to the rules. Truly we bow to the rules. We prostrate ourselves to the demigods of society. We offer them propriety. We sacrifice our individual reality at the altar of respectability.
Sometimes rightly. Sometimes we are wrong. And so we lie. We keep secrets. We live multiple realities, none of them real, all of them real.
We keep secrets. And then we summon the desperation or the courage to share a soul-secret…and it won’t be kept.
Which brings me to the other side of us, the other side of secrets. To the hearing of a secret.
As much as I want to hear the secret, I don’t want to hear the secret. The voyeur in me wants to see, hear, know. The communal monkey in me wants to be invited in. But if I can’t keep the secret, honour the secret, then I can’t allow myself to hear it.
Because it’s not about the secret. It’s about the space for the secret. It’s about the person trusting me with the secret. It’s about honouring up.
Imma gonna honour up. I’m either going to keep the secret or deny myself the vivid, vicarious pleasure of the secret, entirely.