In 2005, an art project was founded that changed my life. Frank Warren created PostSecret, a community art project where strangers were invited to share their secret with a complete stranger.
Frank started the project by walking the streets and alleyways of Washington, DC late at night and leaving these postcards in various mailboxes and giving them to random individuals. Some people looked at him like he was crazy and said, “I don’t have any secrets!” As Frank said at a PostSecret Event I attended Wednesday night, he made sure those people took a postcard because “they were the ones with the most interesting secrets.”
Soon, secrets started pouring in. Frank scanned about 20 of them and posted them on his blog, http://www.postsecret.com/. The first batch of “Sunday Secrets” had about 100 views. The next week, when he posted the next batch of secrets, his blog had over 1000 views. Since then, his site has had over 500,000,000 views. Frank has published 5 PostSecret books, raised money for Hopeline http://www.hopeline.com/ (a suicide prevention hotline), and partnered with IMAlive (https://www.imalive.org/) , the world’s first online suicide prevention hotline.
Bottomline, what Frank Warren has managed to accomplish with what started out as a community art project is AMAZING. He is also now known as “the most trusted stranger in America.”
I’ve been a PostSecret groupie since my sophomore year of highschool (2005/2006) when one of my classmates showed me the website. For the rest of my highschool years, I could easily be found in the cultural studies section of my local Barnes & Noble. I would examine the books of secrets for hours, connecting with one or another and feeling less and less alone during my teenage years. I never found any additional secrets placed in the books by other PostSecret groupies (a common practice!), but I did find a newfound appreciation for the rest of the world. At a time where not everything made sense, reading secrets and being able to connect them to my own life was a miracle. I fell in love with the project so much that I insisted on writing about it for my school newspaper. (Okay, as an Editor for all 4 years, I got pretty much whatever I wanted. But still.) My high school soon became obsessed with PostSecret, and even if students didn’t participate in the project, they at least knew what it was.
Fast forward two years. In the Fall of 2009, I was a first year RA (Resident Assistant). The newest book, “Post Secret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God,” was set to come out in October, and I decided to throw a “Dirty Little Secret” party as a program. A decent number of residents turned out, and once I introduced the project to them, we had a really heart-warming program. Some people shared their secrets, others held on to them. I told everyone who felt comfortable with it to leave their (anonymous) secrets with me and I would mail them in. Some residents couldn’t part with their secrets and they left with them, but a large number of secrets were given to me to mail. For a bit, I felt like Frank as I sifted through the secrets and read them one by one. Some were funny, others were heart-breaking. I packed them up in a manilla envelope, and put the envelope in my desk so I’d remember to mail them. It actually took me 2 years to send because I wasn’t ready to part with my secret yet. (I was also lazy and forgetful.) At the start of this school year (Fall 2011), I finally mailed the envelope. I don’t know if Frank ever got it, but I hope he did.
Over the years, I’ve mailed in a few secrets. One of my secrets made it on to the second to last Myspace PostSecret posts. Now that it’s been 4 years, I think it’s okay to reveal the following secret, which I made with my fellow classmate my senior year of high school. We worked in the library together, and we used to have the rudest, bitchiest girls come in and treat us like shit because we were smarter than them. I’m happy to say that most of these girls have actually now had to use the book mentioned in the secret…. 😉
A few months ago, another one of my secrets made it onto the site. This time, it was on the LEGIT POST SECRET SITE!! I nearly peed myself when I saw that. I’ll let you interpret this secret as you will.
Wow. I’ve spent a lot of time going on about my history with/ love for PostSecret. I haven’t even begun to talk about the event!
My friend, Haley, is an Assistant Director of Student Development at the University where the event took place, and she put it all together. I drove just over two hours down to the event, and, due to my association with Haley, I was treated like a queen. I was able to sit in the front row directly in front of Frank, as well as help (or try to help) with set up for the event. When Frank first got there, I could barely speak because I was so star-struck. (I’ve met a few celebrities, and I’ve never been star-struck before!) Before the event started, Frank tested out the mics, saying, “I’m going to tell you what I ate for breakfast. I had an orange, a banana, oatmeal, vodka, coffee, and kahlua.” He went on and on about the ridiculous breakfast he supposedly had.
After the mic check, Frank went upstairs to get ready. People were allowed to start filing in, and I immediately felt the PostSecret community magic I have often read about. There’s something about knowing complete strangers are willing to bare their souls with you that makes everyone feel like old friends. Two of the strangers sitting next to me also came to the event alone, and this strengthened our connections. Sitting and talking with them made me feel as if I were connecting with old friends. It was such an odd, amazing feeling.
Me obviously engaged in meaningful conversation with my 2 buddies for the evening
The event started with the playing of the All-American Rejects song, “Dirty Little Secret.” (Note: the music video for this song was actually created around PostSecret, with Frank’s permission!) Frank walked on stage, and all 500 people in the crowd went CRAZY. Frank simply opened his mouth, and the room grew silent. He looked at everyone, commented on how amazing it was to see everyone there, and said, “How many of you have sent in a secret?” My hand went up, and because I was in the front row, he asked me how it felt. “Amazing!” I instantly replied without hesitation. He handed me a copy of “PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God.” I took it and put it down by my bag, planning on giving it to a friend later, as I already had a copy of the book. Later in the program, Frank said, “Whenever I speak at a university, I like to leave a secret message somewhere on campus for someone to find. I already left it here. (At this point, everyone sort of glanced around from their seats.) Only one person has it.” Frank then looked at me, smiled, and told me to open up the book he had given me earlier. “I want you to stand up, and read this loud enough for everyone to hear,” he told me. “The World Needs to Hear Your Voice!” I read, choking a bit as the words sunk in. Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the sudden success of GingerSass. I only made the site a few weeks ago, but it’s at almost 1,000 hits. I have almost 50 fans on Facebook, and my number of Twitter followers has gone up significantly. I’ve been toying with the idea of actually trying to reach my dream of becoming a poet/writer, and this message really meant a lot to me.
Realizing the implications of Frank’s message
Another thing that stood out to me was the recognition Frank gave to RAs while talking about his involvement with suicide prevention projects. He said, “Chances are there are RAs here tonight. They may not realize it, but they’ve probably already saved lives by saying that they’re there for someone if they need to talk. Or, they may have actively saved a life. RAs make a difference.” I CRIED at this one. This week, one of my residents tried to take her life. I was already dealing with a lot of emotions stemming from stress depression, as well as thinking about all the suicide/ potential suicide situations I’ve dealt with this semester, and this moment was just the icing on the cake. It felt so amazing and so heart breaking all at once to have this fact recognized by someone, but to have Frank say it really warmed my heart.
The emotional rollercoaster continued when it came time for audience members to share their secrets. Some were silly (“I stood online, holding my girlfriend’s hand, and this postcard jabbed me and hurt the entire time, but I didn’t care!”) and others were sad, dealing with mental illness, suicide, and even unexpected pregnancy. One secret, however, really spoke to me. I couldn’t see who said it, but a girl went up to the mic and said, “Hi… I drove 2 hours to get here. I go to Rutgers, and the only reason I go there is because I didn’t get in to NYU.” Without thinking, I excitedly shouted, “ME TOO!” I tell everyone I didn’t bother applying because I couldn’t afford it, but I actually didn’t get in. It was so exciting to find a stranger who shared my secret…a secret I didn’t even realize I was still holding on to.
God awful photo of me waiting for the line to end
At the end of the evening, everyone lined up to have their books signed or speak with Frank. When it was finally my turn after everyone else had gone, I told Frank about GingerSass and why it was so meaningful to me to have gotten the book with his message in it. His response? “Wow. You were meant to receive it. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish with your voice!” Having this message from one of my biggest inspirations in the world really means so much to me. I feel as if my destiny and my dreams in life are actually starting to coincide, and that, above anything else, is an extremely phenomenal feeling.
If you look closely, my face is literally lighting up at what Frank is saying to me
Me, Frank, and Haley!
Me, Frank, and the message that inspired me so, so much!
I’ve dreamt of attending a PostSecret event since I was 16 years old. Finally attending one was everything I imagined it could be, and more. I’m forever grateful to Haley for putting this amazing event together, and even more grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given in life. I’m definitely going to work to continue to make my dreams a reality. As Frank said in his secret message to me, “The World Needs to Hear Your Voice!” If we’re silenced, the world will be all the more quiet.
My PostSecret collection after one amazing night!
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