The Secrets We Share
The Cathartic Exposure Of PostSecrets
"I want to find someone
who will still love me
after I've shared
all of my secrets."
from A Lifetime of Secrets
As taxi driver, I quickly became well versed in people's almost inherent need to unburden themselves from the weight of truth. Every night revealed yet another stranger's secret. There were times when I just sat stupidly silent in the wake of these admissions, unable to offer an opinion, advice or even a half-hearted consolation. There were other times when the cab ride confessional would become so dark and real, I would have to clutch the steering wheel, white-knuckled, to keep myself from wheeling around and telling the person to just shut up and keep it to themselves for once. The anger would well up within me, not because they were revealing themselves with unwarranted abandon, but because they were bringing my own secrets to the fore as well, forcing me to face things that I was not ready to cope with.
Frank Warren began PostSecrets as an art exhibit at the 2004 Artomatic, which is a five-week, multimedia arts exposition in Washington, D.C. It started simply enough. Frank passed out blank postcards to random strangers, instructing them to write a secret on it, illustrate it however they wished and send it back to him. It has since snowballed, becoming one of the top blogs on the Internet and spawning three published books (PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives, My Secret: A PostSecret Book and The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book). A fourth book, A Lifetime of Secrets, is scheduled for release October 9th, 2007. I received a pre-release copy and immediately freed it from its bubble-wrap envelope upon its arrival, enthusiastically turning the book over in my hands. A question rose in my mind, unbidden, as I scanned the collage of postcards on the front cover: Why was I so eager to delve into this book?
That question pushed me off-balance for a moment. Why would someone want to read a nameless person's secrets? Why did one get the thrill of voyeuristic depravity viewing a stranger's torment or triumph? The answer, I soon found, was encapsulated within the questions. Man has always been a voyeuristic animal and through this act, sometimes a piece of oneself is revealed. The anonymity of this project cuts both ways. The confessor feels a sense of liberation by being able to reveal a long hidden truth while still having the ability for it to remain a secret, while the voyeur can feel the sense of a revelation without revealing the truth, even fully unto themselves.
The samples of the forty thousand plus postcards that Frank has received run the gamut from the mundane, the unfortunate and the erotic to the heart wrenching and the soul crushing. The sheer rawness of some of the postcards makes you wince with the clarity of their admissions. The handmade illustrations and collages sometimes reveal a more vulnerable insight into the confessor's true meaning than their words could ever try to encompass. As an example, "I'm preparing for a life alone" was scrawled on a picture of a single fast food meal on an empty table. The image tells the story in far greater detail then words could ever attempt to do.
The purity of pain is one recurring theme that seems to strike a universal chord within the reader. Memories and misconceptions cast in the stone of the confessor's soul scream out from the pages, one after another. The pain of neglect and abandonment kept locked away, yet remotely guiding a person's decisions forever. An awkward misunderstanding held forever in an immortalized moment, dictating a person's actions for the rest of their lives. One postcard held the words, "I never kissed my son after he was born because he was sick and I was scared. He died 2 hours later". The sentences were cut and pasted onto the child's death certificate. Childhood disenchantment plays a heavy role in a lot of our personal pathos as illustrated by a postcard depicting a mother and father at a recital with the words; "I miss when you were just proud of me" superimposed over the image.
There are also whimsical insights, petty divulgements and humorous anecdotes that will release you for a moment from some of the books more desolate depths. The voyeur is left with the sense that they are not alone in their thoughts and emotions and the confessor has had their secrets revealed into the light. Maybe it is the first step in the healing of both the observer and the revealer. The last postcard in the book eloquently brings the project to a sobering conclusion. The card shows a young girl in a sepia-toned photograph being held in the her now lined and aged hands, her palms outstretched with the offering of understanding…"It all passed so quickly."