When most people check their mailboxes, they find bills. When Frank Warren checks his mailbox, he finds secrets written on postcards that are sent anonymously from people around the globe.
In fact, in five years, more than half a million people have sent Warren a secret.
Warren is the creator of PostSecret, a project that encourages people to send him secrets printed on a postcard via mail or e-mail. The secrets have been used in making five books and can be found on the PostSecret blog.
Warren, dubbed “the most trusted stranger in America,” shared his secrets and secrets that have been sent to him with the audience in Mershon Auditorium Wednesday night. He also discussed the growth of PostSecret and revealed postcards that have not been published in his books.
Warren said his ideas for PostSecret started as an art project, where he gave a postcard to strangers on the street and invited them to share their secrets.
“Some would trickle in,” Warren said. But even after he stopped passing out cards, they kept coming.
Warren then began scanning them and placing them in an online blog. This is where PostSecret took off.
“Because of the blog, PostSecret spread virally,” he said. “[It wouldn’t] have been possible without online tools like Blogger, which facilitates
conversation with millions around the world and exposes our deeper humanity.”
It’s not just the postcards’ words that have meaning.
“I invite people to use the postcard as a canvas and sometime the most interesting part of the secret is the part shared through art,” Warren said.
In addition, Warren says the secrets often come on unusual items, such as seashells and a bag of coffee. One in particular, he said, was on an In-and-Out Burger bag and read in part, “I smuggled this food into the auditorium where you spoke.”
Others tell tales of revenge. One read, “You called me an idiot so I sent your bags to the wrong place. Oops, I guess you were right.” Another written on a Starbuck coffee cup: “I serve decaf to customers who are rude to me.”
The postcards may sport lighthearted secrets — the most common secret is “I pee in the shower” — but Warren says the secrets are often serious and deep.
“Even though you see a range [of secrets] on the blog, it is not representative of what I get,” Warren said. Ninety-five percent of the cards include secrets of suicide, abuse, eating disorders and other serious, anguish-ridden experiences, he said.
One experience had an effect on Warren personally. This postcard had an image of a door with holes in it and read, “The holes are from when my mom tried knocking down the door so she could continue beating me.”
“Others started sending in images of their doors with holes,” Warren said. “I had an epiphany when one of the doors looked like the door I had when I was younger.”
Warren said this instantly connected him to the story.
“It makes me feel connected to person behind the secret. That’s what this project does; it brings people closer together and increases empathy.”
Some, he said, stick with him.
“They can grab your heart,” he said. “One read, ‘When I was in the mental ward, I would look out the window a lot. Now since I’m out, I ride my back past the window everyday and smile.’ It tells me there is hope. Hope and patience in the world and in the self.”
In addition, Warren said the ones that resonate are “the secrets from young people describe experiences that no young person should have to keep secret.”
“Young people describe abusive situations that they find themselves trapped in,” he said. “But I think it’s important that we realize those stories are out there.”
Warren shared some new postcards, like the card with a pair of tweezers poking out a hair on a nipple that read, “confession.” He also showed one that revealed the second most common postcard topic: finding someone to whom you can tell your secrets.
Warren says that these secrets may be preventing us and that by getting them out, some of our burdens are removed.
“We might feel like we’re keeping the secrets, but they’re really keeping us and it could be preventing us in our relationships and in our lives,” he said. “[Sharing secrets] doesn’t take it away, but it helps ease the burden.”
Part of the release, he says, is in the anonymity of PostSecret.
“I think it’s like whispering a secret to a stranger on a train; someone you’ll never see again. Someone who won’t judge you,” Warren said.
“That anonymity can allow people to feel more comfortable talking about parts of lives that their friends of family might judge them over.”
David Cifoni, a graphic designer who attended the event, agreed.
“There’s so many people that get a relief from telling something that’s been weighing down their mind,” Cifoni said. “Some of the confessions are disturbing, but people get it off their chests.”
Some students found Warren’s event to be a platform to get secrets off their chests.
In front of everyone, students lined up to share their stories:
“I spent some of the college money I saved up on a boob job.”
“To me, euthanasia is the greatest gift to give an animal who is suffering.”
“I hate my entire family except for my younger sister and my cousin.”
“I stopped loving my girlfriend because she stopped treating me like
“During the swine flu, me and my boyfriend changed many Purell dispensers to lube.”
For Warren, PostSecret has had personal benefits.
“I think it was a way for me to explore my own secrets,” he said. “I think when I was growing up I recognized secrets I was keeping from my parents and family. That might have led me down this road. “
Warren will be performing at 20 more events within the next three months and encourages all to join him again.
For information on how to send Warren a postcard or e-mail, visit postsecret.com.