ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Would You Share Your Secret? Visiting the PostSecret Exhibit

Updated on April 5, 2011

This March, I had the opportunity to visit the PostSecret exhibit at my campus library. The exhibit was tucked away in the basement of the library, like the school's own special secret, but I heard about it in the local newspaper. My sister, a friend, and I, both frequent visitors to Frank Warren's weekly blog, went to see the collection of postcards, many never before published or seen by the public.

What is PostSecret? It's an online community art project started by Frank Warren. He left blank postcards in public places and handed them out to strangers, inviting them to mail back an anonymous secret. There are no limits to what people can share, but the secrets must be true and never shared before.

Frank Warren reading his mail
Frank Warren reading his mail

No one could have predicted the tremendous response--Warren received hundreds of postcards sharing stories of secret pains, joys, regrets, hopes, and fears. People took his instructions to be creative to heart. Some of the postcards could be considered art, making use of traditional art media. Some use collage, photographs, or advertisements. Even postcards with the most rudimentary art--childish stick-figures, for instance--often have a heartfelt or humorous touch.

The All-American Rejects and PostSecret video

Some messages are handwritten, neatly letter or casually scrawled across the postcard. Other postcards have printed text cut out and glued across the picture. However the secret senders decide to put together their postcard, they all have something they feel they need to share--something deep, emotional, or wryly observant.

The atmosphere at the PostSecret exhibit was quiet and reflective. People slowly circled the room, studying the postcards hung on the walls or in glass display cases. Some postcards were double-sided, requiring us to walk to the back of the glass partition to read the entire story. The All-American Rejects's "Dirty Little Secret" music video played quietly on a screen set up for the exhibit, along with clips of an interview with Warren.

What were people sharing about themselves? There have always been postcards detailing painful struggles with difficult situations, such as rape, abuse, abortion, mental illness, substance abuse, and family problems. There is no doubt some sense of catharsis for these secret senders, being able to release some of the pain, shame, or fear that they have kept bottled up. "I still drink out of my dead son's sippy cup," writes one person. "It doesn't make it any easier." There is some catharsis for the reader, too, no matter how heartbreaking some of the stories are. 

Just as many secrets are more bizarre, revealing something of the idiosyncrasies of human nature--strange habits and behaviors and secret obsessions.

  • Whenever I see a pigeon, the only thing I can think about is kicking it.
  • Sometimes, I put the toilet paper on "backwards" just to annoy you.
  • When my friends leave their things at my house, I sell it on eBay!
  • When I feel bored or overwhelmed at the office, I sit in the toilet and play video games until I feel better.

One postcard, featuring an illustration of an ambulance and two paramedics, reads: "My partner and I have sex to pass the time on slow nights."

Confessions of guilty secrets are quite common. A person writes: "As a child on my aunt and uncle's farm, I fed a chicken nugget to a chicken. I still feel guilty about it."

Predictably, secrets tend to revolve around issues of God, religion, sex, and identity. Over the years, some secret senders have made it a goal to be as cryptic or ambiguous as possible with their postcards, inviting readers to puzzle over and debate their meanings.

Some make observances about life in general: "After my first day of kindergarten I told my mom, 'It wasn't as exciting as I thought it'd be.' Story of my life."

Not surprisingly, many people reveal feelings of sadness and alienation. "I just feel so invisible and alone," says one postcard. If there's one benefit to PostSecret, it's that readers may see these secrets and realize that they're not as alone as they think. Frank Warren works with a suicide hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE, because of the number of messages he gets from depressed, isolated people. While he cannot contact individual secret senders--he respects their anonymity and wouldn't be able to find them if he tried--he wants people to know that there are resources and organizations that can help them with their troubles.

Another thing Warren shared about his experiences with PostSecret? The sheer volume of postcards confessing to peeing in the shower! He chuckled when he described the numerous visual depictions of this habit. People think their behaviors are unique, when really they're not. That's the crux of PostSecret's success. We read these secrets and identify with them, even when they sadden, anger, or repulse us. The secrets unite us through their depictions of hope and fear, joy and tragedy. And the relief we feel when we read a secret and privately think, "Oh, good! I'm not the only one who does that!"


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Painted Seahorse profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Rowland 

      8 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Thanks! It was a treat going to the exhibit. I never thought my school had anything cool like that.

    • Lee B profile image

      Lee Barton 

      8 years ago from New Mexico

      I was just going to skim through this and ended up reading every word. What a great hub! I love the post cards you chose as examples.

    • Dstiteler profile image

      Blake Stiteler 

      8 years ago from cypress, Tx

      awesome...will you look at my hubs?


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)