Mar 29, 2010 | Santa Fe, NM
Mar 29, 2010

"Do let me know."

That is what my Mom likes to say when there is something she wants to know.

A few months ago, on New Year's Eve, there was something she wanted to know. My daily photo said that something very dear was missing, and it was true. So she wrote to me and said, "What was missing? Do let me know."

There is usually something people want to know. People want to know especially badly when they suspect there might be love or loss or pain involved. When people start to smell these things they get all crazy, and they go sniff sniff sniff to see what they can find. There is a kind of unspoken self-preservation in this searching, as if love and pain, like gold and uranium, exist in finite quantities in the world, and finding them in others means there's less of them for you.

The effects are opposite — lack of pain makes you gloat, lack of love makes you jealous — but either element will disrupt a safe and simple routine life, so somehow they both make you scared, and finding them in others is a relief, because it reduces your own chance of infection.

Secrets are the most powerful things, but you have to guard them carefully because people will try to rip them from you. People hate secrets they don't own, and they'll try to expose them, dilute them, mock them, and make them seem banal.

This is how you kill a secret, and steal away its power.

But if you have a secret — especially a secret that's fueling your work — you must learn to protect it, because that secret is your best source of energy. When you speak about it once, a bit of its energy evaporates. When you speak about it 10 times, the energy is almost gone completely, and if you give a talk about it, you might as well smother the secret with a pillow, because it won't have the energy left to live, and certainly not to help you live.

Secrets hide tremendous beauty, and a good way to create something beautiful is to uncover a secret and state it. Often the most beautiful secrets are the secrets that everybody knows but that nobody has realized they know. These are the secrets that hide in plain view. They are powerful because they already exist inside of each of us, so revealing them is like revealing to people a part of themselves.

The strangest secrets are those that can't be stated, but only felt and sensed. They are like fog or lava, and the moment you start to see their shape, they bend and blur into something else.

These kinds of secrets can only be defined with violence. You can try to stuff them into any box you know, but every box will be too tight, so you get frustrated and you chop off part of each secret to make it fit into a box, and you don't tell anyone you did it, so that's like a secret, too, but not a powerful one.

Once you've chopped up a secret, it's no longer what it was, and the thing you have in a box won't be the thing you felt and sensed before, because now it will be a fake secret, which is to say a dead secret, which is to say a lie.