source - PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
The project that captured a nation’s imagination.
The instructions were simple, but the results were extraordinary.
“You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation.
Reveal anything — as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.
Be brief. Be legible. Be creative.”
This book is dedicated to every person who faced their secret on a postcard, released it into a mailbox, and bravely shared it with me, the world, and themselves.
The Most Trusted Stranger in America
I met Frank Warren after seeing PostSecret at Automatic—a Washington, D.C., arts festival. As a practicing clinical psychologist and art gallery owner with an eye toward the psychological and healing aspects of art, I was looking for new artists to show at my gallery. At the PostSecret installation, I saw three rows of postcards, each with a taboo thought, each with artistic images, carefully clipped to display wires. There hung dozens of anonymous secrets on public display.
“This is one of the most amazing projects I have ever seen,” I said to my husband. “I’ve got to have this in the gallery.” Without pausing, my husband looked at me with worry. “Do you think the person who is doing this is safe?” he asked.
Frank, it turns out, is very safe. A father, husband, and business owner, he has no formal art background or training and refers to himself as an “accidental artist.” Four years ago Frank experienced an emotional crisis in his life. Developing a passion for postcard art projects was how he worked through it. It became his personal experience of healing through art. He doesn’t like to think too much about the origin or meanings of his postcard art works. He likens it to trying to understand why a joke is funny; the magic may be lost in the attempt to analyze it.
He does know this:
While at camp, when he was nine years old, he wrote a postcard to his family. He arrived home before the card did. Receiving it seemed magical and felt deeply meaningful to him. He had intercepted a message from himself as he had been days earlier. As he considers the event now, he believes those themes of home, understanding our changing identities, and self-communication held long-term inspiration.
Why is PostSecret so appealing? It is because Frank has tapped into the universal stuff of being human—the collective, often unconscious level of existence that defies age, culture, gender, economics, and so on. From this universal level come great and timeless works of art: theater, music, dance, visual art, and literature. At this universal level lie the depths of spirituality: mythological tales, sacred text, and ritual. Also from this universal level comes direct access to healing and personal transformation. Although in Western cultures we act as though there is a separation, there is no separation of the arts from spirituality or healing.
By participating in PostSecret, we all are invited into that collective level to become artists—free to explore and share private aspects of ourselves creatively, both through writing and through the alternative language of visual art. Whether we are PostSecret creators or viewers, we are affected and changed by experiencing the creative process and interacting with the resulting works of art.
The project also invites us into the collective level to heal ourselves, healing that has several characteristics similar to psychotherapy. For example, the prominent themes in PostSecret mirror some of the reasons people are drawn to psychotherapy:
seeking relief from suffering;
sharing painful experiences (especially concerning difficulties in relationships or feelings of isolation);
expressing shame and anxiety about aspects of self that are difficult to face;
and admitting ones impulses, fears, and fantasies.
Although many of the secrets are about psychological pain, the grist for the mill in psychotherapy, others are hopeful, optimistic, or even humorous. Hope and humor are certainly important aspects of the psychotherapeutic process as well.
In PostSecret, by being asked to share a secret, we are invited to journey into our depths, perhaps into the unconscious mind, beneath the level of our awareness at the moment. Perhaps we venture into the preconscious where our secrets are already on the verge of awareness and emergence, or maybe into the conscious, where our secrets are being held back, ready to be let out under the right circumstances. As in psychotherapy, we are provided with a projective screen onto which anything can be placed and viewed. In this case, it is the postcard.
Also, as in psychotherapy, there is an action element in PostSecret. There is something that we can do—fill out the postcard. Reading the postcards is also a form of taking action. Something might change. There is hope. My patients often tell me how much better they feel after making the phone call to arrange for the first therapy appointment or after the first psychotherapy session. They have taken action toward healing; they feel hopeful that their lives will improve.
PostSecret is even briefer than the briefest of psychotherapies. The healing experience in PostSecret is bite-size, manageable. One postcard, one shared aspect of self, the secret, shared in a structured way, shared as part of an art project that may slip quietly under the radar of the psychological defenses. Release the secret onto the card, then release the card to Frank by mailing it, and notice what happens inside.
Albeit an anonymous process, PostSecret also shares some characteristics of the healing relationship with psychotherapy. At the foundation of psychotherapy is relationship, no matter the technique. It is about one human being expressing authentic caring and concern for another, offering comfort, witness, acceptance, assistance, and hope. When you send the postcard to Frank, he is on the other end to receive it. The same person who has offered us an opportunity to share has taken an interest in us and is there for us, unconditionally.
In PostSecret, art and healing are one, brilliantly condensed into the elegant simplicity of filling out a postcard. All for the price of a 37-cent stamp.
Frank told me recently, “There are times when I feel like this project has chosen me and not the other way around, and at times it feels like it may have picked the wrong person.” Or maybe it has found exactly the right person.
Anne C. Fisher, Ph.D.
In November 2004, I printed 3,000 postcards inviting people to share a secret with me: something that was true, something they had never told anyone. I handed out these cards at subway stations, I left them in art galleries, and I slipped them between the pages of library books. Then, slowly, secrets began to find their way to my mailbox.
After several weeks I stopped passing out postcards but secrets kept coming. Homemade postcards made from cardboard, old photographs, wedding invitations, and other personal items artfully decorated arrived from all over the world. Some of the secrets were written in Portuguese, French, German, Hebrew, and even Braille.
One of the first PostSecrets I received looked like nothing more than a worn postcard filled with two shopping lists. But squeezed into the corner was a soulful admission, “I am still struggling with what I’ve become.”
Like fingerprints, no two secrets are identical, but every secret has a story behind it. From the clues on this card, I imagined that this person had an internal struggle about sharing the secret. It was so difficult that they tried to use up the postcard as a shopping list, twice. But the urge to reconcile with a painful personal truth was so strong that they were ultimately able to find the courage to share it.
Secrets have stories; they can also offer truths. After seeing thousands of secrets, I understand that sometimes when we believe we are keeping a secret, that secret is actually keeping us. A New Zealander recently wrote the following about what they had learned from the PostSecret project, “The things that make us feel so abnormal are actually the things that make us all the same.”
I invite you to contemplate each of the shared secrets in these pages: to imagine the stories behind the personal revelations and to search for the meaning they hold. As you read these postcards you may not only be surprised by what you learn about others, but also reminded of your own secrets that have been hiding. That is what happened to me.
After reading one particular PostSecret, I was reminded of a childhood humiliation—something that happened to me more than thirty years ago. I never thought of it as a secret, yet I had never told anyone about it. From a memory that felt fresh, I chose my words carefully and expressed my secret on a postcard. I shared it with my wife and daughter. The next day, I went to the post office, and physically let it go into a mailbox. I walked away feeling lighter.
I like to think that this project germinated from that secret I kept buried for most of my life. At a level below my awareness, I needed to share it, but I was not brave enough to do it alone. So I found myself inviting others at galleries and libraries to first share their secrets with me. And when their postcards found me, I was able to find the courage to identify my secret and share it too.
Some of the most beautiful postcards in this collection came from very painful feelings and memories. I believe that each one of us has the ability to discover, share, and grow our own dark secrets into something meaningful and beautiful.
See also: PostSecret project