I don't really remember how I first came across Postsecret. It may have been when I was working at Barnes & Noble and the first book of postcard secrets was published. But however I first became acquainted with it, I have been a loyal follower for some time now, and reading every Sunday's new secrets has often been a source of joy, sadness, solidarity, reflection, and intrigue for me. Strange then, that as long as I've wanted to, I've never before taken the plunge into
Today's New Activity: Sending My Super Private Thoughts & Feelings to Postsecret
If you're not familiar with Postsecret, I'll sum it up here. Frank Warren, the man behind the website and virtual cultural phenomenon, began a community art project by putting his return address on 3,000 blank postcards and handing them out to strangers. He asked the recipients to write down a secret they'd never told anyone and send it back to him. He received a positive response, and in 2005 began posting the secrets on a website. He was amazed to discover that people were deeply affected by the chance to read and identify with the unmentionable thoughts and experiences of others. Here are some of his words on the subject:
“The universal truth about secrets,” Warren said, “is that sometimes when we think we are keeping a secret, that secret is keeping us. By knowing that someone shares the secret, the burden gets a little bit lighter.”
A story about one of Warren's lectures says, "the biggest pattern he saw in the postcards was that the secrets weren’t about murder or crime, but self-harm and loneliness. He said suicide is America’s secret."
Warren began using the proceeds from the books of secrets collections he sold to fund suicide awareness and prevention. And over the years I have read many comments and secret postcards themselves in which people give testament to the positive effect Postsecret's existence has had on their mental and emotional well being. Many readers and secret-senders claim that reading about a shared secret or lightening themselves of the burden of their own did, indeed, help save their lives or--at the very least--greatly improve their outlook.
If you check out the site, you'll see that many of the secrets expressed have to do with disturbing or upsetting subject matter. Once in a while there is a silly secret, like somebody admitting to eating boogers, but very often the secrets are heavy, are laden with anxiety, shame, and deep, deep despair. I suppose the nature of Postsecret really lends itself to this sort of admission. If these things weren't painful or difficult to express, they probably wouldn't still be secret.
I know some people find it curious that reading about other people's misery could ever make one feel better about his or her own worries. But I can say that some of the secrets I've read on Postsecret have certainly been life-affirming for me. And not the rainbow happy ones...the ones that remind me that we are all flawed, at times troubled, neurotic, angst-ridden, injured, confused, angry, petty, dishonest, self-conscious, and over-the-top. These secrets give me continuing hope that as long as we are acknowledging, owning up to, striving to make better, and connecting with our fellow human beings, we are, however meanderingly so, still on the right track.
Today I set out to lighten my own load. It was interesting, what came to mind when I had the blank postcards in front of me, awaiting the juicy news. There were things I'd long thought of sharing that suddenly didn't seem important at all. And there were things that just finally occurred to me were as prominent in my thinking as they proved to be. Writing one of the secrets brought immediate tears to my eyes, and it wasn't even the BIG one...at least I didn't think it was. The one I thought would be the most painful to put on paper turned out to be a walk in the park.
That's part of what I like so much about the exercise. If I hadn't taken the time to express that surprisingly sorrowful secret, I wouldn't have even known how good and cathartic it felt to get it out.
All told I created 10 postcards. Some people get incredibly creative and arty with their postcards, but mine were just bare-boned bits of baggage in a none-too-fancy font. I would love to one day put some more creative juice in to it, but for today my goal was simply to take that first step on the road to a 100% clear conscience.
I think creating these little guys with some regularity would be a good habit to get into, even if I didn't send them to the official address. People talk about finding secrets in the Postsecret collection books in bookstores, posting them on walls at Postsecret lecture events, taping them to bathroom stall doors, etc.
When I was finished I bought some postcard stamps from the machine at the post office, then stood in the lobby and read each one out loud before sending them all on their merry way. Oh, and a moment for a picture too.
Lookit me...all paranoid and posting in black and white so you can't even recognize them by color!
Oh, but I decided that in the interest of just a wee bit of disclosure, I'll share the most innocuous of the secrets I unloaded...so if you happen to see this one on the Postsecret website, you'll know the culprit:
"I'd love to consider myself a sophisticated "foodie," but the truth is that I'm always happiest when eating rice and beans."
Don't say I never shared anything with you.
Oh, and just one more thing. Today I also tried out an idea I saw in Real Simple Magazine--making my own dry erase board. The idea was to take any largish picture frame and replace the picture with a piece of material or any decorative paper. Since the glass is automatically dry erase-friendly, you're left with a custom dry erase board that isn't ugly.
I went to Michael's, where they had album frames on sale for $4 each. Then I went to the (HUGE) aisle of individual scrapbook pages and chose one I liked (25 cents!). Bam! Cute dry erase board that can be revamped at any time for a quarter :)