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PostSecret creator Frank Warren started his talk on Tuesday with a remark that demonstrated the simple honesty upon which his project is based.
“My name’s Frank and I collect secrets,” he said.
At an event sponsored by the Harvard Book Store, Warren entertained a packed Brattle Theatre audience with the story of his project and shared some secrets that did not make it into his newest book, “A Lifetime of Secrets.”
PostSecret encourages people to anonymously submit postcards containing secrets they have never told anyone. Although it made its global debut on the Internet, Warren said that PostSecret began three years ago as local community art project.
Warren, then a small business owner from Germantown, Md., passed out 3000 blank postcards in the Washington, DC area, all with his address on them.
“Slowly secrets began finding their way to my mailbox,” Warren said. He posted them at an exhibition soon afterward.
Among the first secrets displayed was a postcard stating simply, “I’m a white guy and I like black girls.” A few days later, someone added graffiti to it. “That’s o.k.,” the graffiti read.
“There’s this sense of non-judgement and acceptance,” Warren said of his project.
Pretty soon, he was getting secrets from outside the DC area on all kinds of postcards. In January of 2005 he started a blog, postsecret.blogspot.com, to share the anonymous secrets he was receiving from all over the world on the order of about 1000 per week.
To this day, the secrets come in all sorts of mediums, from e-mail and homemade postcards to hotel keys and a bag of stolen coffee. So far, he has received over 175,000 secrets, he said.
“I’ve been called the most trusted stranger in America,” Warren said.
Receiving the secrets of so many strangers can be a strange experience, he told The Crimson before the event. “It makes me feel like I’m haunted by secrets, but in a good way.”
Every Sunday, Warren posts 20 secrets to the blog, which has received over 100 million hits to date. On the blog, Warren likes to display both surprising secrets and those that are representative of secrets he commonly receives.
Warren does not archive the secrets on the blog, displaying only the 20 current ones in order to demonstrate “the fleeting nature that secrets can have,” he said. To preserve the secrets, every single one of which Warren keeps, he has compiled four books.
According to Warren, his project works for several reasons.
“I think we all keep secrets,” he said. Warren added that sending a secret on a postcard can bring a sense of relief. “Sometimes when we think we’re keeping a secret, that secret is keeping us.”
According to Warren, reading the secrets of others can bring relief when they remind us of our own.
“There is one secret that has been mailed to me again and again,” Warren said. “I have seen ‘I pee in the shower’ artisically rendered in so many ways.”
Warren uses his project to raise awareness about a problem that is a common theme of the postcards he receives: suicide.
Warren agreed to let the All American Rejects use images from PostSecret in the video for their song “Dirty Little Secret”—in exchange for the band making a donation to the National Hopeline Network, a suicide hotline. “I really believe that suicide is America’s secret,” he said.
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