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The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Frank Warren Interview

Frank Warren Interview

It isn’t every day you get the chance to speak to someone who has profoundly changed the life of another person. Rarer still is when you are able to speak to a man who has changed the lives of many people across the globe. Yet that is just what Frank Warren has done through his community art project PostSecret. The project invites anyone with an untold secret to anonymously put their revelation down on a decorated post card and mail it in with the possibility of their confession being published on Warren’s blog (www.postsecret.com) or in one of his books.

The response has been outrageous, and not simply because of the amount of submissions, but because of the content. “They can be funny, shocking, silly, hopeful,” Warren says of the secrets he’s received. “They’re so human, and they tie us into a greater unity and remind us how connected we all are.” A connection, Warren believes, that is facilitated by the artistic nature of the postcards. “It shows there’s an artist inside all of us, because all of the art comes from everyday people like you and me.”

Warren is no artist himself, at least not by traditional definitions. Warren refers to himself as “an accidental artist.” A small business owner living in Maryland, Warren has no artistic training and had never delved into the world of community art before PostSecret. “It’s as if the project came and found me,” he said.

The project has found more than simply Warren. Since its humble beginnings at the 2004 Artomatic in Washington D.C., PostSecret has reached far beyond the local community where it started. Now receiving roughly 1,000 postcards a week, Warren says he gets submissions from countries as far away as Afghanistan and India. “You’re bound to find one card that really speaks to you individually. You realize, there’s a stranger out there who’s more like you than you imagine, and I think that encourages empathy.

“It has given me a great sense of purpose, allowing me to feel a great sense of empathy. All of us have a secret that would break your heart if you knew what it was. If we all remembered that, there would be more compassion and understanding in the world.”

Even though he is known as the creator, Warren says he no longer has control over what the project means. “I think it’s many different things depending on who’s reading and who is mailing in the secret. It’s very challenging to try to describe. You really have to look at the postcards and see those poignant, soulful secrets to really understand it.”

So where did Warren’s inspiration for PostSecret come from? Well, from his own long buried secrets. He says, “In my own life I was struggling with secrets from my own childhood. [Post Secret] was a way to reconcile with my past, and through the courage strangers were showing me, I was able to face parts of my childhood that I was hiding from.” He is not the only person to be touched by the courage, honesty, and emotion of those who have let their deepest secrets breathe. The book contains emails and postcards from readers who have been inspired, either by the secrets of others or by releasing their own secrets, to change their lives, and that is just a fraction of the feedback Warren receives.

“I find those stories and experiences very gratifying. Keeping secrets is something very human. We all have secrets. It’s probably healthy for us to share more than we do, but it’s probably wise for some things to always be kept a secret.

“I like to imagine that facing the secret, and putting it on a postcard, and physically letting go of it to a stranger offers relief and catharsis. I hope that it is the first step in a longer journey of healing.”

While there is no stipulation on the nature of the secrets, many of the postcards reveal depression and despair. Warren, clearly concerned with such cases, has maintained a longtime affiliation with Hopeline, a national suicide prevention hotline. “I’ve been a long time volunteer, even before PostSecret. When the project began getting attention I wanted to tie it to a service I believed in. I always wanted to support 1(800)SUICIDE.” A number of the postcards in “A Lifetime of Secrets” are from those who have survived suicide attempts to come back stronger, with a new value for their lives.

“I hope others can appreciate just how earnest and human these postcards are,” Warren said, adding his desire for the project to lead others to “reveal poetry, humor and humanity unseen in our everyday lives.”

Hopes aside, the author has his own beliefs as to the reason for so much interest in reading other people’s secrets. “Initially, I think curiosity is a big reason. But I think they keep going because it allows you to understand the people we are sharing the planet with.”

After three years and over 180,000 secrets, Warren says he is not shocked by secrets anymore, but he is still surprised by them. “There are a couple I can’t shake: One was written on a Starbucks cup, it said: ‘I serve decaf to customers who are rude to me.’

“There’s another one of the twin towers and it says, ‘Everyone who knew me before 9/11 believes I’m dead.'”

Despite not being an artist himself Warren is much more than a simple mail sorter. The man who puts in 40 hours a week on the project also spends a considerable amount of time in organizing the entries for the book. “First I select secrets that surprise me and share something new. Then I try to arrange them in a way that tells a story, almost like a film editor, to tell this narrative about us. I think of myself as a storyteller.” In the most recent book Warren’s storytelling is apparent. “I collected hundreds of never-before-seen secrets from people from 8 to 80, and arranged them in loose chronological order, to show how our secrets change and develop throughout our lives, but also how they remain exactly the same.”

His influence goes even deeper than editing; he even includes his own secrets. “I’m like Alfred Hitchcock. There’s one of mine in every book.”

With four books already to his credit, where does PostSecret go from here?

“I try not to imagine the future of the project, I try to make choices everyday that protect its purity and integrity. I let the project lead me day by day. ”

Are there any plans to pursue a new project in place of PostSecret? “No,” says Warren,

“I feel too dedicated to this. I want to be faithful to the people who trust me with their secrets.”

Accidental artist Frank Warren