The evolving role of postcards

With the help of millions of webpage hits, Frank Warren single-handedly revamped therapy in a 4x6 space

For more PostSecret samples, visit Warren’s website at postsecret.com
For more PostSecret samples, visit Warren’s website at postsecret.com
Credit: 
Supplied
Credit: 
Supplied

On an idle Sunday afternoon, I spent my day catching up with Frank Warren. After his recently released fifth Postsecret book, Confessions On Life, Death and God and his teeming mailbox, Warren has become an icon—a remote therapist whose client list includes not a single name.

Anonymity is Warren’s specialty and his creation of PostSecret has made countless strangers across America question their mother’s reiterated advice: don’t trust strangers.

Warren’s new book—along with his lecture tour and the maintenance of his site—have expanded the PostSecret phenomenon from a mere blog to an international sensation. PostSecret’s proliferation into countries like France, Germany, Spain and Korea has revealed something essential about human nature and the basic need to master the art of keeping—and more interestingly, sharing—secrets.

Warren’s past four PostSecret books have had no particular thematic arrangement, but his newest addition carries a contentious subject within its sleek and colourful pages.

“Over time, more of the secrets have been of this religious or spiritual nature,” Warren said over the phone. “I have noticed that a large number of the secrets I get tend to touch on the great mysteries in life, things that we sometimes forget in our day-to-day life.” 

Interestingly, Warren said the topic of God wasn’t a prevailing theme in the secrets he receives.

“Our secrets about spirituality are so much broader than one would typically think,” he said. “If you go to a church service you might feel like you’re experiencing the full breadth of religion just by meeting and talking with the people you meet during congregation. But I receive secrets from all faiths and all different cultures—and after hearing those, I began to understand that there is so much complexity and conflict and selflessness. Yet at the time, many people find that when they’re within a congregation, they still don’t feel comfortable enough to share their deepest secrets with the Church.” 

During his North America tour—mostly across the United States, with several stops in Canada—Warren regularly speaks with the individuals whose work he reads on a daily basis.

“I was in New York—on the Today Show—and I bumped into a woman who had mailed in a secret and it was posted on the website,” he said. “So I asked her, ‘How did it make you feel that your secret was posted’? And she said something very interesting to me. She said that it makes subway rides much more interesting.

“By visiting the website and reading through the secrets in the books you get a greater understanding of how extraordinary stories of heroism and frailty are playing out in people’s lives—especially in ways that are beneath the surface,” he said. “It makes things like walking on the street or getting a coffee or riding the subway so much more fascinating, because you can actually relate to all these strangers.”

Often called America’s most

trusted stranger, Warren’s is the antithesis of the typical candy-holding stranger.

“I feel very honoured that so many people have trusted me with their secrets,” he said. “It definitely adds a lot of pressure not to screw up. I think that sometimes sharing a secret with a stranger on a train gives you a certain kind of freedom that you might not necessarily have in your everyday life.”

“I get many secrets that come from people who have experienced abuse or pain or suffering—and typically that comes from someone they know, sometimes very well, like their parents or uncle or a first date, rather than from a complete strangers. And even though I made my address available to millions of people, I’ve never had a bad experience; rather, I now have this sense of faith in other people, this sense that I can share my life with them.” Dan Trottier, a PhD candidate and instructor of SOCY284—Sociology of Communication and Information Technologies—said the idea of the stranger is comforting because individuals can confide in someone who has no bearing on their lives.

“It’s sort of like a confession without consequence,” he said. “In this sense, PostSecret resembles the way people will share intimate details with people they meet under fleeting circumstances, like the whole ‘stranger on a plane’ phenomenon.

“PostSecret allows people to anonymously share details about themselves to an anonymous audience. While it’s a new possibility for publicizing our deepest secrets, it also traces its origins back to personal listings in newspapers and other kinds of print media.”

Trottier said the PostSecret’s anonymity allows it to remain a major phenomenon in our culture. “This kind of community is definitely strengthened by the anonymity provided to its members. You wouldn’t find the same kind of trust and support if its members could be identified.”

Included in the latest PostSecret book are two of Warren’s personal secrets, scattered haphazardly in the midst of various others on page 103, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

Warren said the stories he hears fluctuate in terms of their content, but not in their sincerity.

“I was speaking at Johns Hopkins University last night and people were standing and exposing secrets about all different topics,” he said. “They stand up and share their secrets in front of their entire University and it’s such an amazing emotional experience, they expose themselves in front of friends and family and strangers—and there’s never a lack of volunteers. Awhile back someone shared the secret that when they were a kid they stole Playboy magazines from their parents and sold it to their friends to get money for the ice cream truck.”

Warren’s unusual occupation has propelled several outcomes; he has made the secrets of millions impersonal, making a secret not a private confession but rather a forum for a deeper connection. Surrounding himself with hundreds of daily postcards, Warren has also shown his readers the prevalence of secrets—and moreover the importance of sharing them. And while Warren’s tremendous success has rendered him a secular global parishioner, he has also unwittingly helped emphasize the perks of a job in the postal service.

Everyone has a secret... send us yours

The Journal wants your secrets for our second annual PostSecret project. Secrets can range in content—they can be romantic, heartfelt, uplifting, confessional or humourous.

Secrets should be formatted on a 4x6 postcard or any writeable surface; embellish as necessary.

The deadline is Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Scan your secrets and submit them to
journal_postscript@ams.queensu.ca

or mail them to:

PostSecret c/o the Journal
190 University Ave.
Kingston, ON
K7L 3P4

Secrets can also be dropped off at the Journal house.

All submissions will be kept completely anonymous.

For example submissions, see postsecret.com.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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