Telling Secrets: PostSecret project founder Frank Warren comes to campus

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April 7, 2011

11:20 PM

Some things should be kept secret. But PostSecret founder Frank Warren believes that, most of the time, it’s better to share. Warren shared his story about PostSecret with a full audience Thursday in the Commonwealth Auditorium, at an AMP-sponsored event.

Warren has made it a personal mission to help people share their secrets — be they sexual, hopeful, funny, painful — with his online art project PostSecret (postsecret.blogspot.com). On the PostSecret Website, Warren posts postcards that have been anonymously mailed to his home in Germantown, Md.

Warren told the audience that he receives about 200 postcards each day. Over the course of the week, he must whittle over a thousand postcards down to the 20 secrets that are shared on his website every Sunday.

“I think I might fall into the same patterns and have certain blind spots, but I rely on gut feeling to choose the postcards … whatever speaks to me,” Warren said.

Not all secrets have come on postcards — if it can fit in Warren’s mailbox, it’s probably been there. Wedding bands, a knife without a blood-crusted blade, seashells, sonograms, death certificates and an Idaho potato have all appeared in Warren’s mailbox.

A thoughtful barista sent Warren a bag of coffee beans with the note “Where I work, they don’t keep inventory. Enjoy this dark roast.” While giving his presentation on another campus, an audience member stood up and asked Warren if he had tried the coffee. It turns out that the audience member had sent the beans in question.

This type of connection is not uncommon at PostSecret events.

Before he was getting free bags of coffee and stacks of postcards, Warren owned his own small business. While on vacation in Paris, Warren bought three “The Little Prince” postcards. In a dream, he found the postcards inscribed with messages for him. One read “unrecognized evidence, from forgotten journeys, unknowingly rediscovered” and another message was about a “reluctant oracle” postcard project.

To kick start PostSecret, Warren solicited strangers on the streets of Washington, D.C. for their secrets. He gave them postcards with instructions to send him a postcard with a message revealing anything true.

“The most common reaction of stranger was ‘I don’t have any secrets.’ I made sure they took a card … they have best ones,” Warren said.

What began with three postcards has gone much farther. PostSecret has put about a quarter of million
dollars into U.S. Postal Service registers. Warren works 50 to 60 hours per week on Post Secret.

His passion for a seamless presentation and his dedication to providing a safe environment for secret-senders has ensured the success of PostSecret.

Warren is no stranger to the suffering that many of the postcards convey. Of the many postcards he showed the audience, Warren identified one as his epiphany postcard: a picture of a door with multiple punched-through holes and the message “the holes are from when my mom tried knocking down my door so she could continue beating me.”

Warren said the most heart-breaking postcards are sent from children and young adults who experience unnecessary suffering.

As Warren shared his feeling of inadequacy after he could not stop a friend from committing suicide, he encouraged the audience to be direct with friends who may be contemplating suicide. Warren showed a postcard that was a screenshot of a text conversation of one friend simply saying, “I’m worried about you. Are you ok?” The sender said this simple demonstration had saved his life.

PostSecret has certainly created an open dialogue for many issues, and even personal joys and triumphs. Online There are even PostSecret fan communities with active message boards. Warren wants PostSecret to be a living project, so his five books are a better place to store the old postcards, but there are websites dedicated to archiving PostSecret.

Some fans have even gone so far as to directly replicate Warren’s idea. Dozens of imitation sites, feature postcards with anonymous secrets in many languages.

Warren asserts that the internet has been crucial to PostSecret’s success. Consequently, he believes that anyone can and should replicate what he has done — and not just with postcards and secrets.

“There’s nothing genius about Post Secret,” he said. “You could’ve done it.”

At the end of Warren’s presentation, he welcomed students to come up to microphones and share their secrets — without anonymity.

Challenging people to share their secrets is one of Warren’s focuses as he tours college campuses.

“[At PostSecret events] I’m talking less and less,” Warren said. “People are sharing their voice.”

Not many people took the bait — to be exact, only two people came forward. One senior shared her “secret”: She is scared to leave Williamsburg and unsure of her life after graduation.

Chris Marazzo ’13 walked to the front of the auditorium and told fellow students that his ex-girlfriend from high school showed him PostSecret, and claimed that he learned a lot from it.

“The only reason I came out [to the PostSecret event] was because my ex and I used to read PostSecret together. It’s cheesy,” Marazzo said afterwards. “Frank’s the man.”

A posting on the PostSecret event’s Facebook wall mused about the students’s inability to share secrets:
“Regarding the lack of secrets shared at the event tonight: William & Mary: a school without secrets or a secretive school? I’d say the latter.”

Despite students at the College having a secretive nature or fear of sharing, many students waited for over an hour to enter the event.

“I love reading [the Post Secret] blog, and I think it’s a really interesting idea,” Kylie Hiemstra ’13 said. “I thought he was a great speaker and really inspirational. Embarrassingly, I got there an hour and half early.”
After the event, students waited to meet and get books signed by “the most trusted stranger in America.”

“It was a good turnout, overall; people were excited, and the event got even more people into PostSecret,” AMP member Nicole Rugayo ’13 said.

Although Warren’s mother has called PostSecret “diabolical,” he has impacted many lives with his ability to share secrets while making people chuckle, cry and think.

Warren may be called a “world class expert on secrets” and he takes this relationship seriously. He doesn’t foresee a conclusion to the PostSecret project, but wants to continue helping people share.

By sharing, people can strengthen and deepen relationships. Because of PostSecret, Warren has been able to reconnect with his father. He wants other people to share and reap similar benefits.

Warren has even put one of his own secrets in each of his PostSecret’s book. But he doesn’t share everything.

When asked where he keeps all the postcards, Warren replied, “That’s my secret.”

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