By: Jacqui Wiens
In November of 2004, a man took to the streets of Washington, D.C. with thousands of postcards and a crazy idea. He approached strangers with a simple message.
“Hi, I collect secrets.”
Frank Warren’s mother told him he was crazy, but the secrets started trickling in: small secrets, life-changing secrets, and everything in between.
First they were all from Washington, but soon enough postcards with little notes written on them started coming in from all around the world. They travelled long distances and sat in Warren’s house hidden from the world until one picture changed everything.
Warren, who spoke to students in the new commons theatre Sept. 6, received a picture of a broken door captioned, “The holes are from my mom trying to break down my door so she could continue beating me.”
That was the first Postsecret to be posted online, but it struck a chord. Responses started pouring in. Picture after picture of broken doors turned up, first in Warren’s mailbox, and then online.
He would have been the last person to expect such a response from what started out as a crazy art project.
“I realized I’d tapped into something that had been there the whole time and I still don’t fully understand,” Warren said.
Postsecret’s web presence has changed since its beginning. The site is updated once weekly on Sundays, but the secrets Warren shares are no longer only about abuse. The variety of secrets posted reflects the diversity of those who choose to anonymously share them.
The secrets posted on September 15 included a picture of two children sitting side by side with the caption, “I fell in love with my husband during our 10th year of marriage.”
Just below that is a picture of a family with their faces covered by text, “Being forced to be ‘politically correct’ offends me.”
Despite the diversity of secrets Warren receives, there are some easily identifiable trends. The most common secret received by Postsecret is, “I pee in the shower.”
Warren gave an example of the second most common secret. A picture with the caption, “I have 15 secrets I’ve never shared with anyone. My greatest hope and greatest fear is to find someone I can share all of them with.”
One of the many things Warren said he has taken away from his art project is that, “sometimes when we keep secrets, it turns out our secrets are actually keeping us.”
He has a theory that secrets can be used as the currency of intimacy. Sharing secrets is often a good thing when they are shared with someone who can be trusted. Secrets can help build and strengthen relationships.
“If I could go back and avoid the worst parts of my life, I wouldn’t do it. The worst parts of my childhood are directly related to the parts of my life that have the most meaning,” he said.
Like it or not, Waren added, your secrets are a part of you. They make you who you are, but they don’t have to control you. Sharing the things you keep hidden can have a positive impact, and finding someone you feel comfortable sharing them with is something most of us strive for.
“Maybe Postsecret is just a substitute for that person,” he said.