PostSecret founder Frank Warren reads over some of the postcards he's receive.
Frank Warren says he gets 100 postcards a day — sometimes more. He goes through each one, and in fewer than 10 years, he's collected approximately 500,000 of them.
The postcards reveal secrets — some intimate, some funny, and some horrific — about their senders. His postcards have led to five bestselling books and more than 600 million people visiting his website, PostSecret.
"With reality TV and memoirs coming out daily, we are an exposed country," says Warren. "But I think there's always a line between what we're comfortable sharing and the parts of ourselves we want to keep private. I feel like I've accidentally tapped into this reservoir of human emotion that will never run dry. The same way we will never run out of poems or songs or prayers.
The most common secret Warren receives is people admitting to peeing in the shower. But there are also the kinds of secrets that make your heart stop, like "Everyone who knew me before 9/11 thinks I'm dead." He says the project creates a safe space where people can share their innermost thoughts without feeling judged by others.
Sandy Rosenblatt has a disorder called Trichotillomania — compulsive and repetitive hair pulling.
"I wrote 'I pull out my upper eyelashes, and I don't have any.' I wear heavy black eyeliner to hide it from people.'"
It was her secret for 31 years. But then she sent in her postcard. "It began the question of 'would I be safe sharing that with people? Would they judge me?' And it went from 'what if?' to 'why not?'"
After a year she told a friend, and then wrote a blog post.
"I got over 500 comments and found I'm not the only one," she says. "There are a lot of us. So that led to me starting my own website and blog about it so people have a way to share, look for information... have them feel like there's nothing wrong with them."
Frank Warren scans in some of his favorite postcards on his computer. He reads one of them.
"You promised never to do what my ex did. He would go online and cyber with women. You've never done that. You go online and cyber with men."
The postcard shows a picture of a keyboard, coloring out certain letters to spell out the words "sex" and "gay."
"Sometimes the most critical part of a secret is transmitted through the artwork, not the words," he says. "It's easier to 'out' that secret about ourselves without having to say it or write it. If I had to pick a category of secrets that I get the most of, it would be secrets like this. Secrets about that search that so many of us are on for intimacy, to find that one man or woman that we can tell all our secrets to. PostSecret is a poor substitute till we find that one person we can be our whole and true selves with."
In many cases people write in thinking they are sharing it with me, they're sharing it with the world. But really the first step is the most significant. Finding the words to take ownership of that secret experience and sharing it with yourself.
That's what happened to Mike Mauger. He was in graduate school, studying English, and everyone would say 'what are you going to do with that?' So he sent in a postcard with a picture of a schoolteacher with a big stick and students listening attentively.
"At the bottom I wrote, 'I'm afraid that I'm becoming a teacher because I can't make it in the real world.' I had never admitted it to anyone, even myself," says Mauger. "It was freeing."
Mauger says when his postcard was published on the PostSecret website he realized he didn't have to be afraid; he had options.
"I'm a car salesman now," he says. "I'm very, very happy!"
Frank Warren says some of the most difficult secrets are those that involve suicide. Like the one that reads, "By the time you get this, I'll be gone." But some of them can help others.
"I believe each of us had at least one secret that could break your heart if you knew what it was, and through this project people can see that and feel it. And my hope is that it increases empathy."
[Music: "Voices Carry (In the Style of Til Tuesday)" by Ameritz Karaoke Entertainment from Voices Carry (In the Style of Til Tuesday)]
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