What makes a secret a secret? Is it the thing we don’t want people to know because of how it reflects upon us? Is it a thing that we feel guilt about and cannot stand to voice?

My Dad is in town which is great. I love him to bits and we haven’t hung out since he flew to Hong Kong last year to help me through a period of hot mess-ish-ness. He’s seeing a completely different side of Toronto to the city my Mum saw in the bitterly cold winter months. The summer in Toronto is short and sweet, so we are taking the opportunity to walk all over, and see what we see. Today along with one of my camp besties Amanda (who was only passing through this Maple syrup city) we stumbled upon a contemporary art gallery down by the water front.

I’ll preface this by saying I did two different courses at University in Art History (the pre-requisites for Film Studies units at Sydney Uni) but that I may be on the more sceptical side when it comes to the definition of “Art”. The first room we entered had wigs on stands with microphones hidden in them with peoples voices recorded, whispering stories about why they wore a wig. I know. I raised my eyebrow too. How contemporary. Another room featured a 13 minute video loop with what I can only describe as a homo-erotic sequence of three european dudes getting each other naked, pointing at each others penis’, covering said penis’ with hands in a “no” gesture, and staring at each other uncomfortably before sitting on the floor or pushing each other over (mmmm yes, art art art, penis penis penis, I sees hmmm, so vivid, so real… strokes goatee, silently beats drum).

I just don’t think I’m deep enough to get it.

Ya know?

And then we wandered into a section of the art gallery that was roped off. A girl in a lab coat stood up, introduced herself and began to talk to us about the Sanatorium, a performance art space by an artist by the name of Pedro Reyes.

There were a number of different elements that this lab coat wearing art person could walk us through but as we were under a time limit (flights to catch, lunch to eat, general scoffing at contemporary “art”) Amanda and I elected to do the quickest option.

Secret for a Secret.

The general concept was this: you would write a secret on a piece of paper, you could either share it with the group (or in this case, share it with Amanda and the trained lab coat wearing person) or not as you chose. You would then roll the secret up and tie a piece of string around it, and put it in a glass bottle, with the edge of the string poking. You then place your bottle amongst the group of bottles sitting in disarray on the floor behind the table. Then you could select a bottle from the ones already placed and read the secret aloud and discuss it.

Okay we thought. Simple enough. Right off the bat we agreed to not discuss what our secrets were to each other and off we went writing. We placed our bottles in the group and we selected our bottles.

I was attracted to mine because the paper wasn’t rolled at all. It was folded many many times into a small rectangle and tied very tightly.

The secret Amanda chose and read aloud related to an artist who was nervous to tell people they were an artist, and that that is what they wanted to do full time. It was interesting and we discussed bravery, and going after the change we want, to make our lives the way we want them.

And this is what mine said:

Years ago-
A lady who lived on my floor killed herself by jumping off her balcony. Everyone suspected she sold drugs from her apartment. But a week before she died, she asked me to call her a cab. A man was clearly abusing her, but I never told anyone what I though.

…..

Even to type it out now hours and hours later, it hurts my heart to think of the woman who jumped, and the person who has been carrying around this secret. A secret they shared in a glass bottle, with some strangers, in an art gallery in Toronto, down by the waterfront. When I first read it all the hairs on my arms stood on end and by the end of the last sentence my voice was cracking with emotion.

My secret seemed quite petty in comparison. I’m a fairly open book – that is obvious to most that know me, and even to those who only know me through this blog, but there are some dark things inside of me born of jealousy and loneliness (even though I subscribe to the Desiderata and even have some of the words tattooed into my skin).

More than anything, I wished the writer of the secret I read had been sitting across the table from me so I could take their hand and tell them that it was okay, and that they were forgiven.

Because that is a hell of a thing to carry around inside of you.

We talked about the secrets for a long time. Longer than we expected.

At the end of our session our Art Assistant/Guide(?) told us that usually they collected the secrets, however because we had talked about them so much and they had clearly affected us, we were also welcome to keep them.

And so we did.

Amanda kept hers I think because she has a potential load of changes ahead of her, career decisions, thoughts about travel, and she needs to remember to be true to herself and to be brave in the face of change.

I kept mine because it reminds me to speak up when someone else needs a voice they may not have inside them. Too many times I have turned away from others I did not know because it was not my “place” to do or say something. How many people have I brushed off in the street? What if I could affect good and meaningful change.

It is too easy to say nothing. Do nothing.

It reminded me of this incident that I blogged about.

I very well could have passed the person who wrote my adopted secret in the gallery today. There were dozens of bottles, perhaps hundreds more stashed elsewhere. What do I know, perhaps the artist actually wrote it as a piece to inspire the “performance art”.

I am haunted, and I just wanted to share it