Photo by Angela Mary Butler
If someone were to tell you that every single day, thousands of people willingly give their innermost secrets to some guy living in Maryland, would you believe them? Well…say hello to Frank Warren.
In case you aren’t familiar with it, PostSecret is a community art project (and some may say, movement) where hundreds of thousands of people send Frank postcards with their secrets on them. It sounds odd, but that is part of the beauty of this project. They don’t call him “The Most Trusted Stranger in America” for nothing.
As part of this project, Frank has published several books, and tours across the country to promote them. Attending one of Frank’s talks is almost like a therapeutic experience; all that has been bubbling and festering inside people’s hearts is finally set free, like a sort of spiritual deliverance, whether it’s by actually plucking up the courage to tell everyone in the room your secret, or just listening to everybody else talk, you finally get to feel that you are not alone.
One of the things that makes PostSecret such a big success is that everyone has secrets. Your parents, your teachers, your friends, and even your mail carrier have secrets, and having an opportunity to share them with the world, without fear and judgment from others, can be very liberating. All of sudden, you’re not alone. There are other people that have your secret, and being a part of a community that encourages you to not only share your secrets, but inspires you to get help or improve your life, is ultimately something that appeals to everyone. It’s a project that supports the human condition of finding fulfillment in your life.
So suffice it to say that when there is a PostSecret event, it’s a mad scramble to get the highly-coveted tickets to attend. At a recent UMass Boston event, hundreds of people from all walks of life lined the hallways of the University Campus Center in anxious anticipation. The lights were dimmed, and people all around talked in excited murmurs, wondering what they were about to experience.
Soon enough, a man strode up to the stage. It was Frank. He seemed very unassuming in his grey sweater, jeans, and glasses. He looked like an average guy, not the mastermind behind an international movement like PostSecret. But then again, if you’re ever lucky enough to see Frank in person at one of these talks, you will see why PostSecret has become so popular. (According to Wikipedia, at one point, PostSecret was the 10th most popular site among female students in the USA, with 7% of those polled naming the site as their favorite, and in September 2011, when an Iphone app was released, it quickly became the top seller and more than 2 million secrets were shared.)
In Boston, Frank simply introduced himself to us with: “Hi, my name is Frank, and I collect secrets.” From there, he explained to everyone in the room how the PostSecret project began, with soliciting secrets from random strangers on the streets of Washington D.C., often being met by the response, “I don’t have any secrets.” Frank revealed that in reality, these people usually had the best secrets! Over time, Frank watched his project expand virally. The secrets began “as a slow trickle at first, but soon, [the secrets] just kept arriving and arriving.” Today, Frank has in his possession literally hundreds of thousands of secrets, stacked up in pyramids at his home at 13345 Copper Ridge Road, in Germantown, Maryland (an address that is now world famous!).
There are two types of secrets, according to Frank: secrets we keep from others and the secrets we keep from ourselves. The two most common secrets that Frank receives are: “I pee in the shower,” and “I want someone in my life who understands me.” Many of the secrets he receives are humorous and silly, but others are just heartbreaking.
Girls, in particular, may find solace in such a public forum; many girls submit their secrets of being raped, of suicide attempts, or of heartbreak. The great thing about PostSecret is that once you submit your secret, the community usually comes forward, bursting with supportive commentary through the online threads of the website.
In fact, one of the reasons Frank continues to keep the PostSecret project alive is to help people. And it is why he gives attention and money to suicide prevention, aligning himself and the project with IMAlive.org, a live online crisis network that uses instant messaging to respond to people in crisis 24/7. During his talk, he stated: “In the time I’ve been speaking to you, two people have been killed. Four have committed suicide.”
Frank believes that it is only because of life’s hardships that we are able to grow into better people. He has had a very hard life himself, but admits: “If I could go back in time and look over my life and all the bad moments, I would go through each and every one of those moments as they occurred. And I wouldn’t change a thing.”
So whatever secret you may be harboring in your heart, don’t be ashamed to share it–you’ll be welcomed with open arms. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to attend a PostSecret show, go! You’ll be glad you came.