“Finders Keepers, holder Seekers hidden Secrets”: Writing in Cryptics

Finders Keepers, Knightmare S7

Most of us are guilty of this at some point: writing in cryptics. Why do we do it? Why express ourselves in terms that are not meant to be understood? Is it, perhaps, a deep subconscious desire to be public with our privacy? Is it more about reaching out, or being reached out to?

Aside from studying a poet forever burying his truth beneath layers of perplexity (if we are ever meant to find it at all), what interests me is the human tendency to overcomplicate problems, either out of shame, embarrassment or in trying to rescue some moral dignity.

Scenario: person A is in a relationship but goes to spend the day with person B, whom they have always had an attraction to. Person A ends the day feeling sheepish, unsettled and awkward, and explains it off as ‘it’s complicated’. It’s not complicated at all, but a collection of guilt and other unpleasant sensations that determines a distinctly defensive response. The majority of us will tie situations in knots to avoid a palpably and unescapably naked truth.

I’m no exception. One of my fundamental attractions to poetry, as I referenced recently, is how it frequently harbours and shrouds truths that are (as they often are) too painful or disappointing to contemplate. Thomas Wyatt’s sensational sonnet ‘I find no peace’ mulls mysteriously over such an awkward (if straightforward) problem.

Convictions and Courage

Once conscious of this, it’s quite striking how different brands of truth emerge, not least that which untangles rather than tangles. A friend of mine, who excuses me for this example, wrote something online a few years ago regarding a family member, which was then spotted and read by its subject. His reaction, unthinkingly, was to call up and talk it over rather than acting evasively. I was also impressed at a posterior confession, following a challenging discussion on fate, of his own vulnerability around a subject he seemed so forthright over.

This brand of transparency is refreshing and evidently memorable. An old writing space, the subject of recent discussion here and elsewhere, fell into difficulty with extended cryptics until it was simply just not fair to keep writing. There are different reasons for inhibition, and my claim of human tendency for overcomplication does not automatically make everything overtly simple.

Transparency like this takes courage, confidence in one’s own self, and faith in the understanding of others. I do not claim to have an abundance of any of these qualities; this past week in particular has shattered the latter.

Hence, I understand why writing in cryptics happens. It’s a risk these days to admit lowness in public. As Al Allday has recently noted, ‘selfish media’ has put pay to that. How, then, do we trephinate, so to speak? How do we let off steam to make ourselves better? Cryptics are not always about deceit. Sometimes there’s a calculated or necessary circumvention. It’s perhaps a case of needing support without the shame or the awkward questions that touch upon the raw and blistering truth.

But I wonder if patience is wearing thin for my own indecipherable utterances. Many things, I prefer not to talk about, but that does not easily excuse cryptics. To reach out has to be done constructively. The last week was a bad one; somebody I was trying to warm to laid on an astonishingly personal attack. Can one be excused for not wanting to say too much more?

A Masque for Seekers

Other Worlds - Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
“Yet it creates, transcending these…” Birmingham Art Gallery

I have come to accept being a fundamentally unattractive kind of person, and even to grace the benefits – it heightens my reactions to the promise of nicer things and nicer people – but I have not yet come to accept being a target of invective and ire. If only I could show any sign of giving back rather than just absorbing it.

Perhaps that itself is some positive function or personal fallacy for the world. But then perhaps I can forgive not wanting to detail any of this. To do so, after all, is not only to reiterate and relive what was said, but also to fill with doubt anew, and then to realise that it did happen. A human vacuum cleaner of others’ insecurity and bile. It’s a truth I do not expect others to believe, and one which is getting worse to contemplate. Come on – there must be better things ahead.

I dedicate this to a dear friend, seen for the first time in over four years yesterday. He never liked cutting through the ribbons of what I was trying to say, but straight talking has always proven his uncomplicated love. He is the catalyst behind great things and, in living, makes the world a better place. God bless, Sy.


4 thoughts on ““Finders Keepers, holder Seekers hidden Secrets”: Writing in Cryptics

  1. ‘Hidden secrets’, as illustrated by the screen grab, formed an irritatingly tautologous part of what was perhaps Knightmare’s most ridiculous clue scroll: a verbose pseudo-poetic hint about divining rods, spyglasses (possibly), potions with blatant names and the fact that, oh my, dungeoneers can take things from clue tables. I’m not sure how applicable the term is to cryptic writing, however, which arguably comprises exposed secrets – if not flaunted secrets.

    Your post touches on the issue of deceit, but not conceit. Cryptic writing is often published with the conceit that it cannot and/or will not be decrypted: that people will be able and/or willing only to wonder at its enigmatic mystique, at its author’s determination to build walls with his or her words. I have been both inside those walls and outside, which is why I feel qualified to comment on their bricks and mortar. ‘You,’ I was once told by a correspondent, ‘can probably read through more of my cryptics than anyone else’. Even so, there have been days when I’ve wished for a horn of Joshua or a wooden horse.

    Maybe social networking sites, with their rabid insistence on publicity and onymity, are almost daring the cautious and troubled among us to hone the art of hiding in plain sight. But, to coin a phrase, is it art?

    You refer to yourself as a vacuum cleaner for others’ insecurity and bile. What is worrying about that is how it carries the sense of voluntary if not wilful absorption. Not to mention a possible play on the word ‘sucker’. I may be reading it wrongly of course, but therein lies the point: when it comes to ambiguous text, the power is not just with the writer but also with the reader.

    I believe you are not wrong to wonder about thinning patience. Personally I do not welcome cryptics, my own or anyone else’s, as perhaps I once used to. I have urged myself to avoid writing in cryptics unless I am prepared to explain myself upon request. After all, if someone I trust is caring enough to want to reach me, should they suffer the pain and bewilderment of being shut out? I have also come to believe that the likely destination of any relationship saturated with cryptics is strongly hinted at in the first five letters. It is then that cryptic writing gives way to an ever graver blight.


    1. I hope it’s not overly ironic, given your final word, that I welcome your words back here again. 🙂 Sometimes, silence is silver and words are genuinely golden.

      I thought the scroll was apt for what we might call the ‘conscious withhold’: ‘I’ll tell you I’ve got something to say, but not exactly what it is’. Dropping a hint in a different way, perhaps.

      I might have to exercise that here and keep others outside the circle. What I revealed to you recently exemplifies why cryptics do have a place. Just attempting to write ‘The Full Truth’ in its explicit glory was pressingly and persistently damaging.

      Why didn’t I just continue to mask myself in poetry, music, colour, and every other sweet deviation I could find? That was failing. This year’s entries were becoming increasingly grim, and the awareness of this brought only a need for silence. Such was the determination that only unremitting exposure would suffice, even if it had been founded in the end, the process itself only deepened the need for catharsis rather than satiating it.

      A rather sad analogy comes to mind, which relates to something that you indirectly touch upon at the end. When you dig a grave to lay someone to rest, it has a rather crestfallen, yet closed sense of peace in its achievement. Keep digging further than you need to, and not only will you fail to climb out yourself, but you might end up buried alive by the foreclosure. Knowing when enough is enough is a precious skill in life.

      And thank you for extending your concerns with a sympathetic tone rather than a sceptical one. Voluntary and wilful are probably equally true. I think the Dorian Gray references that surface here on occasion are very telling. He adopted compulsive habits and grew dependent on people and places that he knew were bad for him and yet carried such a dark fascination in his own moral-aesthetic demise. It’s doubly ironic that DG has played a part in making July a much better month.

      I still find cryptics a relevant subject, and I’m glad that the post was memorable enough to you to warrant a typically rich and considered response.

      If we can take the benefit of timing (and iPlayer): mercifully, silence did not end up falling. Where there was a will, there was a way.

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