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PostSecret founder speaks

Amanda Gray | Thursday, March 29, 2012

The secret that impacted PostSecret founder Frank Warren the most was the secret he never saw.

“The only reason I know this secret exists is because of an email I received from a woman who said she wrote her secret on a postcard, thinking it was going to make her feel better, but when she saw it staring back at her, she felt horrible,” said Warren, the founder of PostSecret, a community art project to which people send in postcards with secrets. “She tore the postcard in half and decided in that moment that she would never be the person with that secret again.”

Warren founded PostSecrets in 2004 and has toured for the last five years with PostSecret Live, which took place in Washington Hall on Wednesday night.

SUB Ideas and Issues coordinator Tricia Corban said the event was cosponsored by the Student Union Board (SUB), the Junior Class Council and Notre Dame’s chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

At the event, Warren shared secrets that did not make it into the five PostSecret books, as well as some secrets of his own. Students also had the opportunity to share secrets via four microphones set up around the auditorium.

Warren said the tour is special for college campuses.

“I think the project resonates with young people more than anyone else, and so I feel like the conversation I have on college campuses is so much more meaningful because young people are just more aware of what’s happening online,” he said. “But more than that, I think that they are at a place in their lives where they are more authentic with themselves and trying to figure out what’s true in the world.”

Frank said he doesn’t like to think of himself as a performer, but because he’s given hundreds of lectures, he notices differences and similarities with each new place he visits.

“One thing I noticed abocoming here is how ideal that theater [Washington Hall] is,” he said. “It’s a wonderful theater. It’s just set up so well. In a lot of ways it’s a more beautiful theater and better accustomed for events than modern theaters are.”

Warren said he has more than half a million secrets in his home, coming from countries all over the world.

“The fact that seven years later I’m still getting about 100 postcards every day from around the world for a total of over a half-million still surprises me to this day,” Warren said.

Warren posts around 20 new “Sunday Secrets” to the PostSecret website every Sunday. The website receives more than seven million hits a month.

“Every postcard comes to my house, and I read every secret and I keep them all,” he said. “I think it’s a singular, precious archive.”

With so many secrets arriving, he said it’s difficult to select the weekly secrets he chooses to display.

“It’s harder than you think, to select the weekly secrets,” he said. “And not just to select them, but to arrange them. I try and tell a different story every week with people’s secrets, connecting them so that they’re not just twenty voices, but this complete conversation that’s greater than the sum of the postcards.”

Including the website and all of the books, he said he has shared less than five percent of the secrets he has received, but he hopes the secrets he has shared make an impact.

“If you open up your heart and mind to a secret, you’ll see a kernel of the truth that you can learn from,” he said at the event.

Warren said he is now trying to find a way to share the secrets from the now-defunct PostSecret App, which ran for three months but was shut down after misuse in the comments portion of the application. The application allowed users to submit secrets digitally, and more than 2 million secrets were shared in its limited time.

“I just received a drive with all of the PostSecret App secrets on it,” he said. “It’s got three terabytes, and it took three days to transfer. I hope to have a book or a searchable database of the secrets.”

No matter how the secrets are shared, Warren said the program has given him and countless others the ability to finally look at the secrets within themselves.

“I think a part of the beauty of PostSecret is the courage people see in these vulnerable secrets every week. I think that kind of courage is contagious,” he said. “When you see it, you feel it, and it inspires you to join the conversation.”

For more information on the project, visit www.postsecret.com. To mail Warren a secret, address a postcard to: Frank Warren, 13345 Copper Ridge Rd., Germantown, MD 20874.