The Internet has been an agglomerate of secrets since the first chat room was invented. Now blogs and Web sites out closeted senators, and Craigslist users flock to the “Rants and Raves” boards to expel their (usually anonymous) opinions while “Missed Connections” posters divulge their crushes. Soon Web sites may even replace stiff therapists’ sofas and cramped church cubicles as the confessional outlet of choice. And why not? No other place can offer such comforting anonymity and the possibility of low-risk secret-purging.
“We all have a secret that would break your heart if you knew what it was,” says Frank Warren, creator of the PostSecret blog, which allows readers to send in often-artistic, always-confessional postcards and share them with the world online. “I think we’d all be more compassionate if we realized that.”
Warren speaks deliberately and softly on the phone, seemingly the type of person with whom you’d want to share secrets. Then again, that may be due to the fact that he’s in a Seattle museum in the midst of a tour supporting his fourth and most recent PostSecret book, A Lifetime of Secrets (William Morrow), for which he’ll stop by the Brattle Theatre on Tuesday.
The posted secrets on Warren’s site range from humorous to heartbreaking, from vague to intimate, completely relatable glances into the inner psyches of complete strangers. “As a child on my aunt and uncle’s farm,” reads a recent blog post, “I fed a chicken nugget to a chicken. I still feel guilty about it.”
In A Lifetime of Secrets, one confession, printed on a crayon drawing of a dinosaur, reads meekly, “I hide my vulnerability behind meanness. Sorry.” Another, a torn-out book page turned postcard, has the marker-written words, “I handed the most important person in my life the drugs that killed him.”
In 2004, Warren, a Maryland-based small-business owner and volunteer at the suicide-prevention National Hopeline Network, littered the Washington, DC, area with 3000 blank, self-addressed postcards, asking finders to mail him their secrets. With the first 100 he received, he created an art exhibit, then the blog, which recently got its millionth hit. Warren now receives about 1000 postcards per week, along with a plethora of e-mailed reader responses. And in the short time since his fourth book’s October 9 release date, PostSecret fanatics have begun to leave postcards as bonus secrets for others to discover within the book’s pages.
Warren organized A Lifetime of Secrets according to the estimated age of the submitter, making it something of a commentary on life stages. “It shows the way secrets change as we grow older,” he says. But they also signify “the surprising way they stay the same.”
Frank Warren reads from A Lifetime of Secrets, October 30, at 6 pm at the Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617.661.1515. Tickets are $5.