Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sharing Secrets

Last night I went to the PostSecret event here at UT. If you're not sure what PostSecret is, this Wikipedia article has a great summary of the project. In short, though,
"PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren, in which people mail their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Select secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret's books or museum exhibits."
The event was just wonderful. It was funny, touching, and emotional. Frank started by telling some stories, both personal and relating to secrets he'd received, and then showed the audience a slideshow of secrets that had affected him or others, and some of the stories around them (many times the original owner of the secret, or those who have been helped by it, will follow up with an email after the secret has been posted on the website). He shared some secrets that had already been in books or on the blog, and he shared some that had never been seen before, including several that publishers had refused to put into the books. Sometimes this was because they were afraid the image would offend people, sometimes this was because of copyright issues - one was done on a page from a Disney coloring book, and as the lawyer put it, "Disney will sue your a**!"

After the slideshow, Frank invited the audience to come to one of the mics that had been set up in the auditorium and share a secret or a story in person. A couple of these were funny. Others made me cry. Some made connections. While telling a story, one guy shared that he had Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows tattoos on his wrists - from across the auditorium, a voice yelled out, "So do I! Find me later!" Another girl shared that she had been cutting for years, and had recently found out that her younger sister, who was the most important person in her life, was doing it too. She shared her fear and guilt that it was her fault, and told us she was terrified that if she didn't find help for them both, she would wake up one morning and find her sister gone. Someone else shared the overwhelming guilt they felt about being asleep as their brother committed suicide one night.* And then, there was a girl who told us that late one night when she was trying to study in the library, some guy was on his phone going on and on about debate club, and how she was so furious she posted about it on Facebook - and then tonight, recognized him as the first person to stand up and tell a story, the guy with the Harry Potter tattoos. They laughed with each other and hugged as she publicly apologized for being so angry.

Since Frank Warren started the project in 2004, the website where he posts his secrets has grown to be the largest ad-free blog in the world, with around 300,000 unique visitors each month. The @postsecret account on Twitter has almost 500,000 followers. Social media is all about sharing, and Frank has definitely tapped into that need with this project.

*PostSecret has also spawned the International Suicide Prevention Wiki, "a worldwide directory of suicide prevention hotlines, text-lines, and resources."

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