To tell someone all the truth

As the lights dimmed and the cheers escalated last Tuesday night inside Ira Allen Chapel, it would seem that the crowd of students and other fans were waiting for a concert to begin. A few moments later, the crowd quieted and was greeted by the guest of the night.”My name is Frank, and I collect secrets.” This is the way Frank Warren, founder of the PostSecret project, introduced himself at the event hosted conjointly by the IRA and UPB. It is also the testament of his project; Frank started in 2004 approaching strangers in downtown Washington D.C. and confessing the same line. He then handed them a blank postcard with his home address, and encouraged them to send in a secret they had never shared with anyone before. Most were apprehensive at first, Warren said. The people who claimed to be secret-less were actually Warren’s favorites: “I always made sure I got a postcard to them,” he said. “They’re always the ones with the best secrets.”The project shortly took flight. At first, he received only a fraction of the 3,000 postcards he handed out, but then, homemade postcards began to pour in. And not just from Washington, D.C. Postcards came in from all shores – at first from the East Coast, then the rest of the country and even around the world.”At first,” Warren claimed at his presentation, “I wasn’t even sure why I had started the project.” His quest became apparent quickly after: as he began to read some of the cards, PostSecret was no longer the scrapbook of childhood confessions and embarrassing moments, but a collection “searching for grace, looking for authenticity.” Even if one never sends a secret into PostSecret, simply reading the secrets others anonymously share holds a freeing, healing ability. Warren began PostSecret with the inspiration that “a secret sent in by someone else can be the same one that you didn’t know you were keeping,” he said.”What’s shocking to me more than anything else is how it’s resonated with other people,” he said. “I always knew it would be something really cool for me,” said Warren, “but now, 5 million people every month from around the world come to PostSecret to view these little windows into people’s souls.”As secrets kept pouring in, Warren, whose project’s tenure at the temporary exhibit was up, decided he needed to share this concept with a larger audience. “This project seems to have come and found me,” Warren said. Cue the birth of the PostSecret blog.”I always believed in this kind of hidden social landscape that we all share and recognize but we don’t talk about,” Warren said. “I thought if I could create a safe, non-judgmental place where people could share those hidden feelings and fears and kindnesses and anguish and joys and humor – that it could be really special.”Ira Allen Chapel framed the haven Warren sought to create, as he invited anyone in the audience to come up to two microphones set up in the aisles, and share their secrets with the room. These candid moments, of guilty, personal, and indulgent confessions, demonstrate best what is so attractive about PostSecret: the simple truths expressed by real people give you goose bumps from their raw honesty. Specifically, they highlight Frank Warren’s claim that “the secrets that we think make us so different are the parts of humanity that connect us.” Every Sunday since the blog’s inception, Warren has posted between 10 and 20 secrets on the Web site that receives thousands of hits each week. Well, every Sunday except one. “One week I had to stop,” said Warren. “It really felt burdensome. But that was just one week out of four years.” And as a man with a wife and a teenage daughter, does he ever take a vacation? “Yeah, well … really short ones.”Even now, as Frank Warren receives over 200 postcards in the mail each day, PostSecret is still a one-man operation. His secret, Warren said,”[Is]treating all of the postcards with dignity and respect and in a non-judgmental way,” he said. “Not exploiting people’s secrets. I think that has allowed me to really develop that trust with strangers. They’re comfortable sharing the most extraordinary stories with me.”Warren said it takes him about an hour and a half to get through each day’s stack. And yes, Warren said, he does read each secret he receives. He keeps every single one.