Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A place to share secrets

Do you have a secret you're really itching to share, but don't have an outlet? Frank Warren has made it easy for you to unload -- and be creative in the process -- with his site, PostSecret.

Warren started the project four years ago by handing out blank postcards to strangers in Washington, D.C. He asked them to write a secret on the card and mail it back to him. He's had more than 300,000 cards returned. He post the cards on the site and publishes them in books. He also visits colleges to talk about secrets and young people; he has a sold-out appearance at UNC-Charlotte tonight (auxillary seating is available for 10 bucks).

"I think of the postcards almost more as works of art or literature," Warren said in an interview on WFAE this morning. (Go here to listen to an extended version.) "... I think if you look at enough of these you eventually find one from a stranger that articulates a secret or burden you're dealing with -- and when that happens, it can be an epiphany."

He shared one his favorites: a Starbucks barista sent in one of the company's ubiquitous cups scrawled with, "I serve decaf to customers who are rude to me." One that unnerved him was a postcard with a picture of New York City's former Twin Towers. The sender had written, "everyone who knew me before 9-11 believes I'm dead."

The idea that people might submit made-up secrets doesn't faze him. "You might think that you're writing down a secret that's fake," he said in the interview. "But perhaps you do that and you mail it to my home and I put it on the Web site and you look at it on the computer with thousands of other people and you might recognize for the first time that the whole process was a way for you to come out to yourself about any number of issues."

I visited the site and got an eyeful. Some of the postcards are playful ("If heaven is not EXACTLY like the TV show 'Lost,' I don't want to go!"), poignant ("Guys never stayed because I wouldn't have sex with them. So I did. And they still won't stay."), disconcerting ("tenure-worried professor ignore cheaters in hopes of 'teacher of the year' nominations from students"), and a little weird ("when my roommates aren't around, I look through their cameras and delete the pictures I look bad in"). But they're all insightful.

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