Throwback: We All Need Our Little Secrets

Alfred Soto/Former Editor-In-Chief

Let me be clear: Self-exposure has never been my bag. I admit, it’s an issue. For me, it’s always been easier to weave a cloak of impersonality than to walk around emotionally naked.  “I wear my heart on my sleeve,” goes one very old pop song, and it was right. “We need secrets,” the and Pavement once wrote, and they were right, too.

In a world of Oprah, Deepak Chopra and Celine Dion albums, it is sometimes necessary to maintain a chilly “hauteur,” playing the part of Nick Carraway to the world’s Jay Gatsby, events unfolding around you while you still have something at stake. For one, it impresses the hell out of your friends. What’s wrong with keeping people on their toes?

I have problems like everybody else. The difference is, I think it’s infinitely preferable to either deal with them myself, or else sublimate them to short fiction, where they become at once more specific and accessible to a general audience.

Then there are more conventional methods. Putting on some Bryan Ferry or Al Green whenever I’m feeling swooningly romantic, delighting in Wallace Stevens’ bejeweled verse (yes, I read)—these go a long way towards balming the soul. Often I’ll unwind by sitting on my terrace during these precious moments, the breeze heavy with the day’s waning heat.

Of course, keeping your own distance creates its own hazards. There’s a fine line between mystique and pretension—a line most guys don’t notice until they trip over it. No, I’m not the arty type who sits back, cigarette in hand, dropping fake “pensees” and insight while others do the suffering, yet I recognize how easy it is to pay that part.

In a world of Oprah, Deepak Chopra and Celine Dion albums, it is sometimes necessary to maintain a chilly hauteur, playing the part of Nick Carraway to the world’s Jay Gatsby, events unfolding around you while you still have something at stake.

The other problem is demeanor. I can’t tell you how many times good friends have thrown the words “cold,” “unfeeling” and worse in my direction. Just because I’m the strong, silent type (with the looks of Tom Cruise to boot) doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with your problems—or ache as much as you do.

Where is all this coming from? Well, I’m trying—learning—how to, um, express myself, which is a deliberate, difficult process relying less on art and alcohol as mainlines to the id and more on honesty and straight talk. As far as friends go, I’ve always been lucky; in the past, however, conversations have tended to be rather one-sided, with Alfred playing confessor to Joe’s abject sinner. Friendships, I’ve realized, grow from a quid pro quo. Sarcasm and one-dollar cynicism too often act as barriers on relationships.

The biggest change in my life happened exactly one year ago: I fell in love. It happens to everybody, but it’s been a while for me, and the force of the passion caught me completely off-guard. After years of counselling friends through their own romantic woes, unaware that I was tacitly patronizing them, Cupid’s arrow got me good.

The weeks rolled on endlessly; it became increasingly difficult to maintain a poker face when I was tied up in knots inside. Eventually, the secret was out, but the many sleepless nights before then took the thrill out of the victory.

Alas, the love was unrequited. Things are better now—almost. What moved me most about the experience is how willing friends were to listen. “Why couldn’t you tell me?” they said again and again. “You could’ve said something earlier!” It wouldn’t have eased the pain, but how wonderful to have someone to talk to! The point is, I could never hide behind the mask again, could never pretend I was detached. And no one else could say that about me either—those who knew about the event, at least.

The most obvious byproduct of this crucial alignment in my star chart is, naturally, this column. I’ve been with The Beacon for nearly four years now, and I’ve written for every section except this one, not unintentionally. College newspapers tend to either print painfully unfunny columns by pseudo-Dave Barrys (one Dave Barry is enough) or the political rantings of future George Wills adrift in a sea of data and sanctimony. The Beacon has printed its share of these, but I’ve always thought I’m too good to join the ranks of these unwashed heathen.

There is a value to ranting, however. “Anger is an energy,” John Lydon, a famous ranter, once sang. Over the last couple of years, I have tried to channel that energy; thus far, the results haven’t been too bad. This situation creates its own rewards. Chronic anal-retentives don’t let go very easily; sometimes the tension between my reserve and newfound confidence is fascinating to watch.

Besides, I have no choice. As an English teacher and editor-in-chief of this newspaper, you get trampled if you don’t whip out the club and assert yourself (are you listening, boys?).

So I’m hanging in there. Method Man, Pavement and Wallace Stevens still bail me out of difficult situations. I will never wear my heart on my sleeve—it feels too gross. But there’s nothing wrong with letting yourself go a little, especially around close friends who love you. So, guys, I got mad love to give. Just for God’s sake don’t send me Hallmark cards.

Alfred Soto is a visiting instructor at FIU and Student Media advisor. This column originally published on January 26, 1999 when he served as editor-in-chief for PantherNOW (previously known as The Beacon).


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