The less you know

Diane Arbus, 1967. Photo by Roz Kelly.

I'm standing among secrets at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

"A photograph is a secret about a secret," said photographer Diane Arbus, whose work is on display. "The more it tells you the less you know." 

It's a gallery of stark truth. The famed photographer is noted for black-and-white photographs of "deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers) or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal."

Arbus believed that a camera could be "a little bit cold, a little bit harsh" but its scrutiny revealed the truth; the difference between what people wanted others to see and what they really did see — the flaws."

Writing, I'm thinking, is much the same. We are veiled and we are exposed. We control the "story" and yet we have no control. Art is in the balance. Or, even better, art is in the imbalance.

"If one is writing well, one is totally exposed," said Kay Ryan, former U.S. Poet Laureate, in the Paris Review. "But at the same time, one has to feel thoroughly masked or protected."

I like secrets, knowing, keeping, storing the mystery deep. One of my favorite poems is A Secret Life by Stephen Dunn:

A Secret Life

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don't say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby . . .

When I am writing, I am a cocoon of secrets. I am both masked and revealed. Aren't we all? And isn't that the delicious draw of creating anything at all?