The secret life of secrets
“It’s beautiful to see the transformative power of secrets,” said Frank Warren, who will host the multimedia “PostSecret Live” presentation at the University of Illinois Springfield Student Union on Oct. 17.
PostSecret is the brand name encompassing an oddball media empire overseen by Warren, consisting of anonymous personal secrets shared by strangers from all over the world. It began as a mail-art project/prank in 2005, with a blogspot site calling for postcards to be mailed in, each containing a secret. The idea quickly went viral and led to a book deal with publisher William Morrow, which has so far spawned six New York Times bestsellers. The books paved the way for “Post-Secret Live,” which began as a promotional book tour but has evolved into much more.
The whole thing started with a dull job, according to Warren. “I was a self-employed entrepreneur for about 20 years and my business was lucrative but it was kind of boring.” On weekends and after work, Warren would pursue creative projects, of which PostSecret was the third – now its own website, postsecret.com has had over 800 million hits and is still growing. “It’s taken me on an extraordinary journey,” Warren said. “It started as relief from my boring job but as I was doing it, I realized maybe there was a deeper purpose I didn’t know at first.”
Warren said that at some point he started receiving postcards that reminded him of parts of his past which he had buried long ago. “In some ways, it seems like maybe I started this project because I needed a place to share secrets as much as anybody else.” He said there is one particular postcard he received, which he uses in the presentation, which motivated him to reconcile with a part of his past he had kept hidden. “It was something that happened to me when I was a student at Springfield High,” he said. “It happens to a lot of people, I think – in the process of keeping a secret, sometimes we live under the illusion that we are alone with that secret, that story, that confession. But if we can find the courage to let it out, sometimes that wall separating us from others becomes a bridge connecting us to others, to our deeper stories, our whole self.”
Warren had initially been terrified of public speaking but he says that witnessing the experiences of attendees of “PostSecret Live” around the world has forced him to get over himself. “I decided to try not to worry about my small concerns and embrace the larger message and the power of self-revelation and how it can connect us to others in meaningful ways,” he said. At the live events, he has seen things like surprise marriage proposals and sons and daughters sharing something they had previously never said out loud in front of their parents. “The audiences respond in ways that are very embracing,” he said. “It’s the antithesis of what you see typically on the web, all the snark and cynicism. It’s hopeful and embracing and celebrating our common and shared humanity.”
“PostSecret Live” uses video, music and spoken word to create an immersive event. “At the beginning, I talk about the most extraordinary secrets I’ve ever received, secrets that have caused me to be contacted by the post office, the FBI, police, even secrets that were banned from the books by my publisher,” he said “I’m a true believer that secrets want to be free so I do what I can to create spaces where they can live.” Warren also tells secrets from his own life and invites audience members to come to the microphone and share theirs. “In some ways, the best part of the night is not what I say, it’s what audience members say for the first time – and also the conversations people might have on the drive home, maybe for the first time finding the courage to be vulnerable and telling the biggest secret in your life to someone you love.”
“PostSecret Live” will take place at the University of Illinois Springfield Student Union, Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Scott Faingold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org