Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What is a secret? (03/15/10)

Featured writer: G. M. Monks

Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
Christine Falcone
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Elaine Webster
G. M. Monks
Jenny Matlock
Marilyn Petty
Susan Bono


by G. M. Monks

I'm not telling.

G. M. Monks has been published in Alehouse Pre, Bathtub Gin, Todd Point Review and she won the 2008 Poetry Prize at the Mendocino Coast Writer's Conference. She lives near San Francisco.

What is a secret?

  by Becky Povich

A secret can be several different things. To children, it is power. It makes them feel superior, grown up, in control. Remember the singsong phrase, I know something you don't know!

In pubescent kids and teenagers, a secret commonly pertains to matters of the heart. Unrequited love can be such a bittersweet secret. Hearts become collateral damage. I've witnessed it. I've experienced it.

In adults, secrets may expand into many fragments of life. Secrets kept from spouses. Secrets kept from friends. Secrets kept from employers.

Secrets are like promises. They can sometimes cause quite a dilemma.

Becky Povich leads a full and happy life. You’ve most likely heard the term: “attached at the hip.” That would pretty much describe Becky and her laptop.

What is a Secret?

  by Christine Falcone

"When people judge you for the things you desire, you start keeping secrets." --Richard Chiappone

I came across this line in a short story in The Sun recently and it literally stopped me, mid-page. I immediately went to my desk drawer and got out my yellow highlighter so I could mark it. The words have been knocking around in my head ever since. The main reason they persist is because, for me, they're so true.

In my case, it began with cigarettes. Then boys. But I think it goes back even further than that. For me, it probably began with dreams of a larger life.

What is a secret? A deeply hidden desire. And what are we if not beings with deep wants and desires? So it goes without saying that most people keep many secrets, way more than I would've believed at one time. But the older I get, the more I realize, just as there is a public and private side to the individual, so too is there a secret side to all of us. One fraught with desire. Most desires have to do with some form of pleasure. Some are merely sexual in nature; others have to do with a bigger picture.

Secrets were invented to combat the guilt rooted in having those desires. A secret is something you believe no one can know. It's the very thing you think would kill you if anyone ever found out. Just thinking about people discovering your secret is like having the wind knocked out of you. And it's the very thing, as a writer, you have to tell.

Secrets are powerful. They're like bombs, waiting to drop. But there's magic in them, too. They have the ability to bring us closer together. When it comes to writing, revealing secrets is a necessary part of getting readers to trust us. We must confide in the reader if we have any hope of winning them over. We must make the reader our closest friend, our most trusted confidante. Only when we do that, show the reader that they are not alone in their secret-keeping, can we make them our ally.

Christine Falcone is keeping secrets in Novato, California, where she does a fair amount of writing these days.

Sharp, Sweet

  by Claudia Larson

A secret is delight's tender sprout
Heart-held ‘til it outgrows its nursery bed.

A secret is shame's sharp tack
Gut-hidden where it pricks and draws blood.

Claudia Larson tends her garden and grandkids in Sebastopol, CA.


  by Don Edgers

Anything that's not intended to be known or seen constitutes a secret.

Esoteric cults or groups e.g., alchemists, secret societies, politicians, scientists, economists, computer nerds, and automobile mechanics understand a secret as "information beyond ordinary understanding."

When I was growing up, a secret was anything my father, brothers or I didn't want Mom to know.

In the military and N.S.A there are two classifications of secrets: "Secret" & "Top Secret." This strikes me like degrees of deadness, although, "deadest" might be someone with a stuffy nose trying to say "dentist."

The revelation of a secret:

As an undergraduate, two of my friends and I took a two-hour class at night. One of my nighttime class companions had a friend in the day class taught by the same professor. After the first weekly test, the day class student told our night-timer the questions he could remember, as a guide for what we might have to know for our test.

When we took the test, we discovered our informant had a photographic memory of every question. The three of us completed our first test in a fraction of the time it took the rest of the class, making us feel guilty for unintentionally cheating.

In ensuing class tests we continued receiving questions from our informant. On test nights we spread out and waited for other test takers to finish before turning in ours. The instructor always kept our tests separate from the rest of the class's.

At the end of the quarter we had perfect scores. We assumed our final test surely would be different for the day and night classes. It wasn't.

Our final grades should've been an A, however, we received Cs. The professor figured we'd contest our grades in order to discover our secret to score perfectly on every test. The three of us decided to let our secret go undiscovered.

The late Earl Nightingale made a fortune with a 30 minute audio and videotape called The Strangest Secret. He defined the Strangest Secret as: We become what we think about most often. ($6.25/word) This seems reasonable, at least for those of us who think about writing.

The secret of Don not being listed in the Port Orchard, WA phone book or receiving unsolicited phone calls is he doesn’t have a landline.

What is a Secret?

  by Elaine Webster

I only have one secret and it lives in my heart. It is encapsulated in a glass ball with spikes. I know this because of the heartache it creates.

A true secret is something that can never come out, never be told. It adds weight to an otherwise lighthearted me.

I like to think that someday I'll crack the glass, let it out and set it free. That there will be a time that the secret will heal instead of hurt. But, this may never happen.
The pain would no longer be mine alone, others would suffer and I can't do that.

So I keep my secret.

Elaine Webster, is a staff writer for the on-line publication, Greener Living Today. She’s part of the Memoir Writing group in Sebastopol sponsored by SRJC and Steve Boga is the instructor. She lives in Windsor, CA.
E-Mail Elaine Webster


  by G. M. Monks

I'm not telling.

G. M. Monks has been published in Alehouse Pre, Bathtub Gin, Todd Point Review and she won the 2008 Poetry Prize at the Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference. She lives near San Francisco.


  by Jenny Matlock

My Father grew old.

It seems like earlier this month he was busy bossing everyone around.

My Father is a career Air Force man. He has spent his life keeping things clean and orderly in his home and his life and woe to the person who dared to disrupt these routines.

Somehow, somewhere in the midst of my Father not getting older, I had children and then grandchildren.

And my Father became enamored of the little sticky fingered, curly red-headed girls invading his home.

Crumbs and chaos follow their little footprints all through the house. Handprints now adorn my parents once pristine windows.

And my parents rejoice in their every action.

"Oh, look at that hair," my Father exhales, "oh, they are so cute," all the while handing them crackers and juice to consume wherever they wish.

Stern admonitions follow my simple request to drink a cup of tea in the living room. "You'll spill it!" he says sternly, "You will make a mess."


Sometime in the time my Father was not growing old he had a heart attack.

And he stumbled a bit.

But then he rallied.

And his golden brown eyes continued to notice every transgression.

And his silvery hair still shone with great neatness.

But his voice became quavery. And thin.

But that didn't matter because I would not admit my Father was growing old.

He struggled with his medications and problems with blood pressure and he became shaky.

He grew fearful.

And one day when I was visiting with the grandchildren I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.

The late afternoon sun came slanting through my parents perfectly clean windows and illuminated my Father sitting in his favorite chair.

He was sitting quietly…unusual for a man of such intent and purpose.

And tears were streaming down his cheeks.

I stopped. Unsure what to do. He averted his face. I turned away.

But the oldest granddaughter knew what to do.

She walked over to him and peered steadily up into his face. She climbed into his lap. She lowered her little head onto his chest.

After a moment she looked at him crying and asked, "Gumpa cwy?"

My Father lowered his head and tears continued to drip.

Julia exclaimed, "Oh!" and jumped down to return moments later with her mangy, stuffed white Doggie. She climbed back up again and tucked the toy under his chin.

My Father started crying harder and whispered, "Julia, can I tell you a secret?"

Julia's big blue eyes just looked at him intently while holding the ratty white stuffed animal under his chin.

"Yes," she whispered.

And my Father leaned forward and said "I am afraid I am going to die."

Julia patted his hand with great solemnity.

And in that moment I saw clearly.

I saw that sweet, little hand patting the hand of an old man.

I saw age lines and sagging and wrinkles.

And I watched my Father grow old.

Jenny Matlock lives in Mesa, Arizona with her husband, Steve, and their dog, Oskar. She has always written but started writing a daily blog almost a year ago and has been striving to perfect her craft. She primarily writes humor but has also spent many years writing Corporate newsletters. In 2008 she self-published a humor quilting book that was featured in Paula Deen's Christmas magazine. Tiny Lights readers can contact Jenny at or may follower her blog at

You Never Can Tell

  by Marilyn Petty

"Don't tell anybody," we little girls would whisper to one another. "It's a secret," we would say. The logic escaped us, the telling an already unacknowledged betrayal. Once told it was no longer a secret. But how delicious to share gossip in confidence with a best friend, confess a personal flaw, compare the cutest boys, cast slings and arrows at unlikeable classmates.

Secrets may be benign - the surprise birthday party, for instance — unless the honoree loathes surprise parties. Secrets can be dangerous - the local butcher an undercover agent for the evil gang; a nefarious liaison with the boss's gorgeous secretary. Secrets come in a plethora of sizes, shapes, intensity, importance. They may be dull, titillating, devastating, hurtful, shameful or captivating.

We may never discover the secrets of the universe and I may never reveal those secrets the devil on my shoulder murmurs in my ear about my inexcusable aberrations, pathetic lacks, silly ambitions, longings. On the other hand, secrets can be the juicy plot of a novel which I may begin to compose first thing next week. Its secrets will shock even you.

Marilyn Petty may live in Sonoma County but maybe not. She’ll never tell.

Like You

  by Susan Bono

A secret is a fuel cell that concentrates the power of the hidden by adding varying degrees of "If you only knew . . ."

As a child, I could not be trusted to keep mum about surprise parties, the contents of my brother's Christmas presents, or who liked whom. Those secrets held no juice for me. I got more mileage from stories I told myself about my true identity as the misplaced daughter of royalty, or the clone I kept hidden in my closet who could do my chores and go to school for me. My favorite secret scenario had me wasting painlessly away from a mysterious illness into a limply delicate heroine who drew crowds of sobbing penitents around her bedside.

It didn't matter if these stories weren't true. By keeping them to myself, I found the energy to keep going whenever I felt lonely, unappreciated, misunderstood. The charge came from believing I carried a concealed weapon. My test for a powerful secret in those days: "If you only knew . . . you'd be sorry."

As a teenager, my favorite secrets became, "If you only knew . . . you'd be shocked." I shored up my crumbling Good Girl image by drawing on the power I got from my darker side. The ensuing lying, cheating, stealing phase burned through me like a fever, and like a fever, it left me feeling hollow and worn out when it passed.

Instead of reforming entirely, I continued to avail myself of secrets until I tried to keep one that almost destroyed me. I survived the toxic waste that secret generated, and since then, I've kept away from situations that make me worry, "If you only knew . . . you couldn't possibly love me."

I have now converted to cleaner, if less impressive sources of energy. I keep only those secrets intended to delight and benefit others, and if I find myself headed in the direction of secrets that could bring me shame, I try to talk about them. That's because no matter what I fear, I have learned there is more power in revealing a secret than in keeping one. "If you only knew . . . you'd see I am human, like you."

Susan Bono is eschewing secrets in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email:

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at, or visit her blog at

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at:

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