Most people have secrets. Many hold them in for years, some find that one special person they can trust with anything and still others mail them on postcards to a complete stranger.
Frank Warren, founder of PostSecret, is that complete stranger. Every week, he receives a few hundred anonymous postcards from all over the world at his home address. Each carefully crafted postcard contains a few words or paragraphs of a confession that no one else has ever read or heard. He publishes many on his website, PostSecret.com, every Sunday, and others appear in books, art gallery shows and public talks.
Warren started PostSecret in 2004 as a community art project. He self-addressed 3,000 blank postcards and handed them out to strangers, inviting them to anonymously e-mail him their secrets. It was his third postcard endeavor, and he would have been happy with even 100 responses. More than that were returned, and Warren soon started posting them online to share with the world.
“I didn’t tell my neighbors or my friends what I was doing. I told my wife; she didn’t really understand it, because it was this crazy idea, but she supported it,” he said at his lecture at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Wednesday, Sept. 20. “Soon the project, the whole idea, didn’t seem so crazy, because secrets began to find their way to my mailbox. A small trickle at first, but then more.”
At his lecture, which was attended by an estimated 500 people, Warren discussed his reasons for starting the project, which include the idea that people are connected by their secrets, that no one is alone — because somewhere else, others share similar, if not the same, secret.
One lighthearted secret that Warren often receives is that the sender pees in the shower. One dark secret that showed him how powerful his project could be involved a young person who anonymously confessed that their mother abused them, which included a picture of his or her broken bedroom door. When that secret was posted, Warren received many responses of similar secrets and photographs of broken bedroom doors, showing this individual that they weren’t alone. It also reminded Warren about a similar secret that he had buried from himself, which involved his own broken door. Seeing these secrets reminded him of his own.
“Confessing a secret, even to ourselves, can be transformative. Sometimes when we think we’re keeping a secret, that secret’s actually keeping us,” he said.
Warren’s presentation also included a voicemail montage that will be included in a PostSecret play that is in the works, how PostSecret has involved itself with suicide awareness and even how the secrets have been censored in various forms. Certain secrets are kept out of publication due to copyright infringement (involving the images used on the postcards) and others for being graphic, either in writing or visuals. Even though they were not published, Warren had no problem showing the audience many of those secrets on the giant projector he was utilizing for the lecture.
Indicating a postcard displayed on the screen, Warren said, “My publisher asked me to keep this image out of the book because they were afraid that Walmart wouldn’t stock it on their shelves. I’m happy to say that Walmart has never sold a PostSecret book, and I hope they never do.”
At the end of the lecture, Warren invited audience members to line up at two microphones at the sides of the auditorium to tell their own secrets. Surprisingly, many lined up almost immediately. Many of the secrets were heartbreaking, involving suicidal thoughts and family secrets that hurt the secret keeper. One uplifting secret involved an audience member who found a sense of community through reading the PostSecret blog, and who feels as though they owe Warren their life for always being there through the website. Warren, who looked a bit taken aback, offered the individual a hug, and the audience applauded the secret keeper’s courage.
The audience applauded every brave person who stepped up to the mics.
The lecture was an emotional one that seemed to connect with most, if not every, person in the audience. Many cried during the sad stories, many laughed at Warren’s jokes and the funny secrets he shared. It was engaging and left everyone with something to share later, whether it was about the lecture itself,or secrets of their own.
After Warren closed the show at he end, he sat on stage to sign autographs; the campus bookstore was also selling his books in the auditorium lobby.
He stayed until the very last book was signed.