“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’s true and you have never shared it with anyone else before.”
In 2004, Frank Warren distributed 3,000 postcards printed with that block of text and a mailing address throughout Washington. He expected a modest return. Instead, the “PostSecret Project” went viral; in the past six years he has received approximately half a million secrets and has been called “the most trusted stranger in America”.
These secrets flood his mailbox in Maryland, arriving from countries around the world and in multiple languages. They are jotted down on grocery store receipts, written over photographs with blacked out eyes, scrawled on watercolour paintings. They have been written on bags of coffee, knives, and prescription pill bottles. Warren limits the creative freedom of the expressions in only two ways: no blood or glitter (please).
The secrets are displayed at art exhibitions and compiled into books, each set arranged to tell a different story. Every Sunday, approximately thirty secrets are posted on Warren’s blog (http://www.postsecret.com), creating a mini-narrative that is aptly named “The Sunday Secrets”.
Despite having seen 374,966,688 hits (as of October 11), PostSecret remains free of advertisements.
There are links to external sites, but each is selected for being relevant to the original project.
Moreover, the distance between the reader and the blog dissolves once you find a secret that is an echo of your own experiences. It’s not in your handwriting and you haven’t used the postal system since Hotmail debuted, but it looks like your secret, confessed by an anonymous stranger.
The shock and comfort of realizing that two strangers can hide the same secret reveals “our rich inner diversity while reminding us of our deeper unity” (Warren, in the entry “PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God”).
If you’re hesitant to believe that strangers’ secrets can have such an impact, go to a PostSecret event.
They’re held in the fall and spring, at universities across North America. Warren introduces the project, reveals postcards that publishers banned from the books, and shares his own secrets. After his story is told, he invites the audience to do the same. Lines form behind the microphones. People share their secrets live.
I attended an event in Waterloo last spring. There were confessions of parental pressure over university program choices, friends dying and the guilt that lingers, eating disorders that led to cutting, and—on the lighter side—daydreams about zombies during boring lectures. Sitting in an auditorium of strangers, I had never before felt so connected nor cried so publicly.
“The Sunday Secrets” evokes a lesser response, but in my opinion is one of the best blogs out there, and you’re still invited to join the community “art project”.