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January, 2008


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IN The Closet
Secret identities proliferate on passon and desire
By  Jennifer Edelson

I
think everyone lives a secret life. Not the kind that ends up on the Springer show, or ensures a lifetime relationship with the interned walls of San Quentin. But the quiet, sometimes taboo type, lived in the most secretive mental recesses.

Sometimes flawless, sometimes desperate, we all own alternate identities; inner imposters who live tall tales most of us won't admit to. Secret selves that weave unspoken thoughts and longed for adventure, into fabricated worlds of intrigue and love and mystery. Worlds where we do things and say things and become things we would never consider in actuality - for so many stupid and sad and wonderful reasons.

Our secret identities thrive on the desires and passions we keep in a lock-box inside our head. They are the quietest expressions of mysterious curiosities, yearnings and things we covet. They let us imagine, and privately digest, a world void of boredom, scripture and responsibility.

Secret lives are the narratives we invent to entertain and pass time, to quell boredom, to foster denial and to deal with longish bouts of travel, illness, grief and insomnia. They are our own exclusive fairy tales.

Writers especially, are plagued by secret identities. Perhaps driven by some metaphysical need or haunting wanderlust, writers seem programmed to seek out extraordinary adventure, and then experience it vicariously through character and story.

Almost all of us, writers and non-writers alike, have this one thing in common. See, everyone is a writer in the making. The only difference is that writers see it as fodder and choose to express it in prose. We're lucky that way - lucky to have the cathartic ability to move our intrigues out from our heads onto paper.

Of course not every manuscript comes straight from a writer's seventh dimension, and many have nothing to do with a secret dream or desire. Nor is every work of fiction based on some crisis of identity. Sometimes, your secret self just wants to ditch the kids and head South with a good book for a week instead of doing the laundry. And then other times, you're just plum out of secrets.

But when life won't let you join that month long caravan to Morocco, or you just don't feel right admitting you'd much rather down a twelve pack of Guinness Stout and people watch at The Viper Room than come home and make dinner for your spouse again, it helps to pretend.

Turning a secret yearning or identity into story is an escape; a channel that lends fluidity to real thoughts and desires; a forum to safely explore taboo topics or feelings in a safe haven of "make-believe." And writing about it makes the secret feel all the more poignant and real.

I'm not saying run out and declare your desire to live an unconventional life, or whatever it is you want that you keep locked inside, from the top of the highest mountain. Just that sometimes, it's good to acknowledge the darker, maybe less obvious sides of your personality in writing.

I think about, and dream of being, or doing, a lot of things I'd never commit to paper on my most honest day. But sometimes, my secret self does stir up some really good ideas; thoughts that jump-start my interest when I'm waning. And they're often very cathartic.

In many ways, story telling is an honest, safe way to express and explore certain "undesirable" and/or unpopular feelings. Other than in my head, where else am I going to acknowledge my neurosis, needs and eccentricities, yet escape accusations that I'm divergent, peculiar, ordinary, unrealistic, irresponsible and silly?  It's almost like confession. Got pent up anything? Get it out in story.

Myself?  I've led a double life at least since 10. Not even my closest family members know who I am.  Know that I've been, at times, a fugitive, a renegade, a tortured artist, a reclusive small town enigma, a reformed mobster, an assassin, a spy, a famous writer, an amnesiac and a drug-addicted Manhattan hipster (among other things). That last month, I finally cut off another brilliant but morally bereft character from feasting on the 'what ifs' and 'could've beens' inside my head - this time, one that zigzagged across the Southwest on a greyhound, robbing convenience stores at gunpoint in search of meaning.  But one day I'm sure, they'll read all the messy and redemptive details in a novel.IN Icon


Veteran IN columnist Jennifer Edelson is a former Minnesota, USA attorney now working as a freelance writer and legal writing professor. Her work has appeared on all the finest refrigerators in the Twin Cities. Jennifer can be emailed at: raceyipsa@msn.com


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