What started as a public art project for Frank Warren in 2004 to overcome his personal struggles burst into something far-reaching and profound — PostSecret.
PostSecret is an art project based on the concept of people sending anonymous postcards decorated their innermost with secrets that has grown to encompass a permanent Web site.
Warren receives thousands of postcards a year decorated with clandestine messages and illustrated with magazine clippings, partially concealed photos and handwriting.
Some are funny, such as, “When people around me speak another language, I pretend they are talking about how hot I am.” Others are common teenage tragedies detailing first kisses, lost loves and embarrassing family members.
Some are so inexplicably dark that one can only imagine the outcome of such problems going untreated: “I’m not so much afraid of heights as I am of being tempted to jump.”
PostSecret begs the question, however, of whether professing our secret lives to strangers is the best way to handle our issues.
Self-denial and repression are common defense mechanisms for staving off feelings of stress and guilt, but our actions lurk hidden in our subconscious, slowly encroaching into our waking thoughts. Some people seek professional therapy for their problems — others are fortunate to have understanding friends and family.
Many, including myself, use writing and art as a means of self-expression and therapy, and PostSecret is a welcome forum for just that. People are invited to send in their artistically stated secrets, while standing comfortably behind the curtain of anonymity.
Confidentiality and people’s ability to relate to these postcard confessions are the reasons for PostSecret’s success. The artist gains alleviation from fear and anxiety by sharing his or her secret, and the fans find their own secrets among the postcards, empathizing with even the most bizarre confessions. Suddenly, the world doesn’t feel so big and scary because you realize that you’re not alone.
I’m a fan of postsecret.com and the related book series, which compiles the most touching and confidential secrets submitted. Every Sunday, I scan through the updates, pulling inspiration and confidence from the confessions and knowing that numerous others are doing the same.
“The power comes through the voices on the postcards,” Warren says. “We think we’re keeping secrets, but the secrets are actually keeping us. With one courageous decision, you’ve freed a part of your life.”
Sharing critical secrets, such as those on suicide and self-harm, can motivate someone to take charge of his or her life. Once the words are on paper, they are tangible and more easily dealt with. Sometimes just the act of sharing and knowing that someone will read it and relate can be enough to alter someone’s life.
Is this always enough? No. Warren never claimed PostSecret was a suitable substitute for professional help, and because of that, its Web site links to a suicide prevention hotline, hopeline.com. But for creator and reader alike, the handmade postcards have been a source of enlightenment and rehabilitation.
My own burdens and concerns are lighter as a result of some of the secrets I’ve read. Areas of my life I once thought tumultuous and too much to bear have paled in comparison to the distraught words I’ve seen in others. The humility and humor that I’ve seen encompass many secrets make my own seem insignificant.
So, in fairness to all the secrets I’ve been privy to, I present my own: I’m terrified that despite my passion for writing and involvement in journalism, my work will be seen as nothing more than pretty words. As someone once blogged about me in high school, “she does nothing more than play Scrabble with her keyboard.”
And now I feel better for having shared that.
Daylina Miller is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.