PostSecret Founder Finally Comes to Albany (February 2011)

28 11 2011

Laura Marshall
February 14, 2011
Barnes, AJRL 475
Assignment: Original Reporting

“Hi, my name is Frank, and I collect secrets.”   The audience went nuts.

Frank Warren at UAlbany; Feb. 8, 2011

Frank is Frank Warren, and he has been called “The Most Trusted Stranger in America,” because a community art project he started in 2004 has lead him to possess over a half million secrets mailed in by strangers.

What began with 300 blank index cards distributed throughout the Washington, D.C. area Warren lives in, has become an empire of personally decorated, carefully worded postcards sent from across the country, and the world.

Warren, who is the founder and proprietor of the hugely popular “PostSecret” website, served as keynote speaker for UAlbany’s 20th Annual Sexuality Week. Tuesday night’s event attracted so much interest that an additional show had to be added. Students poured in from neighboring St. Rose, Hudson Valley Community, RPI and Sage College.

A Facebook page for the event had 639 people listed as “Attending–” a hard feat with only 150 seats available in the Main Theater of our Performing Arts Center.

Tickets were free with a student ID, and $15 for the public. The speaking engagement was hosted in conjunction with a three week-long showcase of the postcards Warren has collected through PostSecret. The exhibit, which closed on Friday, was made up of images that can be found in Warren’s most recent book release “PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God.”

Warren took the stage after a clip of the All-American Rejects’ music video for “Dirty Little Secret” played. Warren was approached by the band in 2005 to sell the rights to some of the postcards for one thousand dollars, Warren countered the offer by asking AAR to make a two thousand dollar donation to the Hopeline (1-800-SUICIDE) where Warren was a volunteer. The video was one of the most requested on MTV that summer.

Warren revealed a few secrets of his own on Tuesday night — speaking about the lasting effects of his troubled childhood, bouts of homelessness, and seeing his best friend fall to his death while in college. Warren admitted that his relationship with his parents is tense — as PostSecret grew Warren’s father called the work “voyeuristic” and his mother deemed it “diabolical.”

“This project has taught me to have patience with myself and patience with the world,” he said.

Warren has consistently said, “There are secrets we keep from others and secrets we keep from ourselves.”

Looking back, Frank Warren feels as though PostSecret came about because he too had secrets to reconcile, and parts of his life he had to face.

A few of the brave souls who approached the microphones after Warren’s presentation seemed to surprise even themselves with the candor of their words. Some choked up, one cried into his hands, and another offered an overdue apology.

Following the speech and audience interaction, Frank Warren was available for a book signing. All five of his “Post Secret” titles were for sale, prices ranging from 26 to 35 dollars.

The line to meet Warren curved and turned like the entrance to a rollercoaster. Eager twenty-somethings moved by his work smiled anxiously as they moved closer and closer to his table.

What is it that is so attractive about the premise of spilling your guts to a stranger?

Warren says that it’s all about common humanity. The two secrets he sees most often are “I pee in the shower” and “I’m looking for someone to tell my secrets too.”

Warren says that this project would never have become what it is without free access for viewing and sharing made possible by the internet and social media.

There is a universality that we often forget, trudging through our daily lives, that makes things a little easier to bear. Being able to see the newly scanned secrets every Sunday on allows for a little reminder that you are not alone in feeling what you’re feeling.

The PostSecret community is a system of friends that never meet, but are forever bonded over their audacious insecurity.

Two years ago a secret that read “I have lived in San Francisco since I was young… I am illegal… I am not wanted here. I don’t belong anywhere. This summer I plan to jump off the Golden Gate bridge” resonated with so many visitors of the PostSecret site, that 20,000 people joined a Facebook group in hopes the sender would change their mind. It was because of that group that the city of San Francisco has officially declared September 22 “Please Don’t Jump Day.”

Maybe Frank’s dad was right, there is a hint of voyeurism at the heart of PostSecret. But maybe if we all just acknowledged the morbid fascination, the contrite curiosity that we have for each other’s secrets and lies — there would be fewer divorces, fewer wars, fewer suicides.

PostSecret promotes understanding of your fellow man.

It’s like Frank Warren says, “Everyone has a secret that could break your heart.”




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