PostSecret inspires campus organization
By Cody Norton
“Unrecognized evidence, from forgotten journeys, unknowingly rediscovered.” Hidden within this simple yet profound aphorism was the foundation for Frank Warren’s community mail art project, PostSecret. “I think we all have secrets,” Warren said at SXSWI conference in 2008, “and I like to imagine us keeping them in a box. Each day we face a choice to bury [them] down deep inside it, or find the box, bring it out in the light, open it up, and share the secrets with the light.”
The driving concept behind PostSecret is simple: People from across the world create their own original postcards that feature a secret they have been harboring. Then, they mail the secret to Warren, being sure to maintain anonymity. Of the thousands of submissions Warren receives, twenty are then posted on the PostSecret website every Sunday.
The motivation behind mailing the secrets is complex; while some people may simply want to share a witty anecdote (“Subconsciously, I narrate my life in my head. In third person. In a British accent.”), others expose stark realities they must confront in their daily lives (“I thought that when I got to college I wouldn’t feel alone anymore. I’m more alone now than before.”)
Regardless of the conveyed message, and whether or not the messages are true, Warren thinks of “each work as a piece of art, but also see some as sacred objects used by the creators to find peace or greater self acceptance.”
Since the project was launched in January 2005, Warren has received over 200,000 submissions and has expressed nothing but appreciation for his followers.
“Sometimes I feel like I have stumbled upon something full of mystery and wonder that I don’t fully understand,” Warren said in an interview with the blog How to Change the World. “When I started the project I had a goal of receiving 360 secrets in one year. I knew that collection would have special value for me and am deeply gratified that others find these revelations fascinating too.”
Ultimately, PostSecret is a project for people to share their most intimate secrets that they otherwise could not reveal. The secrets reflect a broad spectrum of issues that people struggle with. It is a forum where one’s most furtive thoughts are treated with dignity and acceptance. The cathartic powers of these revelations, whether they come from personal disclosure or that of a stranger, can lead to a greater self understanding and self-acceptance.
One of Warren’s goals is for people who are harboring secrets to realize that they do not exist on their own but, rather, they are part of a larger community who understands each other’s struggles. Often, when people choose to keep secrets, they do not realize that the secrets consume them, becoming a detriment to personal relationships and affecting the way they see the world.
Warren said to Orlando News, “There are two kind of secrets: those we keep from others and those we keep from ourselves, and my hope is when you see these earnest authentic secrets from strangers they inspire you to recognize a secret you might be keeping from yourself—understanding it, facing it, freeing it.”
Recently, the Ithaca College chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms, an organization that, according to its Web site, is dedicated to “presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide,” has used PostSecret as a framework for many of their activities throughout campus.
TWLOHA-IC President Meghan Rindfleisch, a sophomore journalism major, shares her story of how she discovered PostSecret:
“I never really knew about PostSecret until this past summer, when a friend introduced me to their blog. It’s a memorable experience, reading someone’s secret—they make you laugh, cry, smile, scream—there’s such a wave of emotions. The freedom to express your deepest, darkest secret to the whole world is a scary concept, but extremely liberating.”
Many of the issues that are expressed on the PostSecret submissions coincide with the issues that TWLOHA explores.
“During the first few TWLOHA meetings, I was curious about why people had joined. Were they self-injurers? Did that girl’s friend commit suicide? Had anyone battled depression or anxiety? Who had an addiction?” says Rindfleisch.
“It wasn’t to be nosy. I was just curious to see how people related to the issues we deal with, because even though they are ‘taboo’ topics, almost everyone has experienced them in one way or another. I wanted to share my story and talk, and I was sure other people wanted to do the same.”
Rindfleisch has used PostSecret as an inspiration for a TWLOHA project known as Stall Secrets, where “members of TWLOHA wrote down their reasons for joining the organization and displayed them across campus anonymously. When we first wrote down our ‘secrets’ and read them aloud, anonymously, I got the chills,” recalls Rindfleisch.
“Everyone in the room pulled out someone else’s secret and read it. Knowing that everyone in that room had experienced some sort of pain in their life was oddly comforting. It reminded me that we are all human and we need to take care of one another. Seeing the secrets around campus reminds me that an act of kindness is never wasted.”
We all have secrets. We all have insecurities. We all struggle, but we all have the potential to liberate ourselves with one courageous step. So, share your secrets and your stories, and remember that you are not alone.
Cody Norton is a junior sociology major who has admitted to countless felonies on PostSecret. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.