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click to enlarge from PostSecret.com
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Secrets. Everyone has 'em. Sometimes they're kept close; sometimes they're revealed, as in PostSecret.

It began with an invitation printed on a postcard:

"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 is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative."

Conceptual artist/confessor Frank Warren started handing out the invites in 2004 and, sure enough, secret postcards started arriving at his Maryland home. PostSecret was born. The project has since spawned a website and five books starting with the New York Times best seller PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives.

When we spoke the other day, Frank was waiting for the mailman. At this point on a typical day he'll get anywhere from 100 to 200 cards. "I've learned that I can't fall behind with going through them, or with my email. If I can keep up day after day then, surprisingly enough, it doesn't get old -- well, the email gets old. I get an awful lot." 

In the beginning, he says, "I hoped that I could earn people's trust so they would really share their most meaningful secrets. I knew if that could happen it would be something special for me. I was completely surprised to see how it's resonated with millions of people around the world.

"Through the project I've come to understand that there are two kinds of secrets: the kind we keep from other people and the secrets we hide from ourselves. And underneath every one of those secrets there's a deeper one we have to face."

As in a confessional, unburdening yourself can be cathartic. And Frank figures, reading other people's secrets can reveal something hidden in yourself.

"Sometimes we see a secret on PostSecret that articulates our own secret better than we can say it or face it. You can go through the PostSecret website, where there are about 20 secrets posted every Sunday, and read a few. You might think, 'Oh, that's weird," or 'Hmm, that's interesting.' Then you come across one where you say, 'Wow. I could have written that last night in a dark moment.'" And given the initial request for secrets revealing fear, betrayal, desire or childhood humiliation, things can get pretty dark.

Every week millions visit his website, www.postsecret.com, to see what has been revealed, something he sees as "creating community." The site is in a blog-style format, but unlike many blogs, he does not allow public comments. "Some conversations, when you allow anybody to say anything anonymously on the web, can spiral in different directions. I try to keep PostSecret a safe, non-judgmental place where people feel comfortable sharing the things they'd never share anywhere else. Sometimes those two ideas come in conflict."

The latest piece in the Secret media empire is something he calls PostSecret Live. Taking the secrets on the road allows him to share videos, share secrets that were banned from his books for one reason or another (usually inability to obtain permission from copyright holders for source material), tell the stories behind some secrets and share some of his own. He also has something akin to an open mic where audience members can stand up and reveal a secret to the world.

And, of course, there's the obligatory post-PostSecret book signing at the end. He recalls a signing one night in Georgia: "There were 1,400 people there and a young woman came up to me with her book open to the page with the dancing grandpa, I think it's the first book. She said, 'Will you sign this one?' I asked why that one; she said, 'Because I sent that one in; that's my grandfather.' It's fascinating to me how the project continues to bring strangers together in meaningful ways."

CenterArts presents PostSecret Live, a multimedia visit with Frank Warren, on Friday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. in HSU's Van Duzer Theatre. Tickets are $28, $20 for HSU students and are available at The Works, at the University Ticket Office, 826-3928, or at humboldt.edu/centerarts.

 

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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