PostSecret book gets personal on paper

by Beacon Staff • November 7, 2007

So says Frank Warren, and like the secrets he collects, he'd probably rather remain anonymous. Warren, the creator of the weekly PostSecret blog is a humble man. He is quick to say that the success of PostSecret belongs to the people courageous enough to send in their secrets, not to the man who compiles them.,"My name is Frank, and I collect secrets."

So says Frank Warren, and like the secrets he collects, he'd probably rather remain anonymous. Warren, the creator of the weekly PostSecret blog is a humble man. He is quick to say that the success of PostSecret belongs to the people courageous enough to send in their secrets, not to the man who compiles them. In a reading at the Brattle Theatre on Oct. 30, he spoke about his simple online venture that became an an international phenomenon.

The beginning was uncomplicated enough. In November 2004, Warren passed out 3,000 blank postcards to people in Washington, D.C. One side was blank and the other side bore the written instructions, "You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything-as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before."

Slowly but surely, Warren began receiving postcards. On them, he found a mixture of emotions that ran the gamut of human experience. The cards held a variety of covert phrases from childhood deeds ("When I was little I used to pull bugs apart to see their wiggly insides. I am so ashamed") to accounts of parental torment ("If daddy knew I liked men he wouldn't tell people I was his son").

Three years later, Warren receives about 1,000 postcards per week and the project is still going strong, through four PostSecret books and Warren's blog, where secrets are posted each week.

The weekly update on other people's dirty laundry, "Sunday Secrets," on the PostSecret blog is not simply words and images lost in the vast expanse of the Internet.

"I look for secrets with a sense of immediacy," said Warren of the Sunday Secrets. "I like to display surprising secrets, and I like to include a large variety of emotions."

The secrets are the previously private thoughts of people finally able to share their undercover information, albeit anonymously, with others worldwide.

"It's a platform for discussion," said Alina Shevlak, a sophomore Chinese and art history double major from Tufts University. "It's moving, and the themes are universal. It's nice to connect and empathize."

By using PostSecret as a starting point for conversations, Shevlak and others around the world are accomplishing the goals that Warren set out to achieve.

"I think that through these, we are able to find common humanity," Warren said. "We all have a secret that would break your heart if you just knew it. And maybe if we remembered that we would be more compassionate."

Insight and understanding are just two of the positive effects that PostSecret has had on thousands of people and for Warren himself.

"Through the courage of strangers, I have found courage in my own life," he said.

Warren encourages people to share any secret they have, whether it is seemingly insignificant or completely life-changing. Warren said the most common secret is "I pee in the shower," and many stories deal with body image. Depression and suicide are recurrent themes. Some admissions are not so much secrets, as they are catalysts for change, not only in the sender's life, but for others reading the hidden proclamation as well.

"PostSecret is raw," Warren said. "When people mail in their secrets, I reflect them right back."

According to Warren, PostSecret will continue successfully as long as people continue to send in their secrets.

"I don't think the story is finished yet," he said.

Warren closed his talk with another reminder of the hope and healing that can occur when a secret is released. His advice?

"Free your secrets and become who you are."