Ivy Leaf - Spring 2009

What's Your Secret?

The "most trusted stranger in America" spilled it all during a tour stop at Penn State Altoona in January. Frank Warren, creator of the PostSecret project, spoke to a packed house of students, faculty, staff, and community members. The project began in 2004, when Warren handed out 200 blank postcards to strangers on the streets of Washington, D.C., instructing them to share a secret by decorating the card and mailing it to his home address. Today, Warren receives 100 to 200 postcards a day and has published four PostSecret books with two more on the way.

Warren showed videos about the project and answered questions from the audience; one from a student inquiring as to whether Warren is concerned about the legitimacy of the secrets. Warren explained that he views the project as one of art and literature; while the process of sharing a secret is a moving and often cathartic one, the reaction of observers is often just as emotional. Just as a person can be moved by a piece of fiction, the same is true of postcards that may not be based entirely on truth.

A community member told Warren that he was a postal worker and wondered what Warren’s own postal carriers thought of the project and whether they had any favorite postcards. Warren responded by showing the crowd a photo of his postal carrier loading up his mailbox with cards and stated that she seems to enjoy the ongoing project. Warren has gone through several mailboxes because of wear and tear with the thousands of postcards delivered each week and said his carrier requested that he buy extra large ones when he replaces them. He also said each box ends up getting covered in written messages and notes from people stopping by to see where the secrets go.

In addition to asking questions, a few audience members felt compelled and comfortable enough to share some secrets of their own with Warren and the rest of the crowd.

One girl stood up at the microphone and shared the fact that she’d had an abortion. A student shakily talked about sitting beside his father as he lay dying. He admitted that he missed his father’s final breath because he was thinking about his ex-girlfriend whom he’d been with for nine years.

The audience seemed to accept these divulgences with genuine support and empathy.

Warren told the audience that each of the PostSecret books includes a secret of his own, then shared one of them: "When I was in the fourth grade, a new kid moved into our neighborhood. He was a charismatic leader who quickly became popular. Soon after, he convinced two of my friends to pin me to the ground and hold open my eyelids. They took turns spitting into my eyes."

Warren said he likes to think of people keeping their secrets locked inside and, each day, making a choice: to bury those secrets deep within or to bring them out into the light and share them like gifts in order to be true to themselves and become who they truly are.