"I am in love with my boyfriend's cousin." "My bulimia has made me better at giving blowjobs." "I always order chicken fingers when I go out with my friends... Because I still can't cut my own meat."
About a million strangers have told Frank Warren their secrets like these. And he's shared them with the world.
Ten years ago, Warren set out to give strangers the chance to confess their most-protected secrets anonymously for a community art project. On Monday, December 1, the Tuscon-born Warren will return to the Grand Canyon State for a live event and signing of his latest book, The World of PostSecret at Changing Hands Tempe.
In November 2004, Warren wrote his address on blank post cards and left them in public places and handed them out to strangers, asking them to write a secret on it, decorate them, and mail it back to him then he would scan it in to his website. He hoped for just 365 to be sent back to him.
"I really feel like I accidentally tapped into something full of mystery and wonder that I still don't fully understand to this day," Warren says.
Whether it's due to the innate therapeutic aspect of sharing a secret, the slightly twisted pleasure that comes from learning other people's secrets, or the safe community PostSecret has created, it took off. Actually, to say this project went viral is an understatement. Warren says he had to build a new room onto his Maryland home to accommodate the hundreds of PostSecret submissions he gets a week.
What started as an experimental project has evolved into a full-time job for Warren and after curating six books, creating a wildly popular website with over 600 million hits and an album, contributing to an All-American Rejects music video, holding international live events, and receiving an award from the National Mental Health Association for his suicide prevention work, we see why. Every day he goes through every new PostSecret submission he receives. Warren says he spends about an hour going through the post cards, flip flops, sea shells, an unsolved Rubik's Cube, last cigarettes, and any other kind of item someone has scrawled a secret on and mailed to him.
"I think initially it can be entertaining to see other true people's secrets," Warren says. "It can be funny or sexual but also painful or hopeful or a longing for something. I think people connect to that authenticity first and then it almost invites you to look inside your own life into those dark corners and maybe reconnect with parts of yourself that you've buried."
PostSecret has also created a community where people find others like themselves. At one point, Warren posted a secret saying that the person saves voicemails from loved ones just in case one of them dies. That week, Warren says he received dozens of e-mails containing the last messages that people have kept from loved ones who passed away.
"They said that by preserving and sharing those final messages, it allowed them to keep the spirit of their loved ones alive," Warren says.
But after 10 years of doing the same thing, Warren is understandably ready for a change. What exactly that change is, he can't say, but it's clear from the way he explains them that Warren is excited about the direction the PostSecret Live events have been taking.
During these public events, Warren shares an audio collage of those last voice mails along with other things like secrets that couldn't be included in the books. Audience members also are encouraged to spill their secrets live in front of an audience, but not in a shameful or confessional way.
"I feel like I created this safe, non-judgmental, anonymous space on the web where people could feel free to expose those parts of their lives they never had before," Warren says, "and my hope is at PostSecret events like the one coming up at Changing Hands and at ASU, I can create that same kind of space but not in the digital world, but in a real social space where audience members can really have those authentic conversations that we normally don't get a chance to have."
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These live events are also the basis of the PostSecret album Warren released earlier this month. During a few PostSecret Live events in the UK and Ireland last year, Warren's team recorded people publicly sharing their secrets. He says they have scored them to music by composer One Hello World and have created a kind of conversation with them.
"Through this project, I've come to my own personal conclusion that I think it's healthy to share more of these secrets than we feel comfortable with," Warren says. "Because in many ways, secrets are the currency of intimacy and if we share them with the right people, we don't just get a chance to deepen that relationship we share with them, but in our sharing and vulnerability, we invite them to let go of one of their secrets as well."
Join the conversation yourself at Changing Hands Tempe, 6428 South McClintock Drive, at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 1. A ticket, which admits two, to the Changing Hands event is free with the purchase of Warren's latest book, The World of PostSecret, $29.99.