Frank Warren is sometimes referred to as “America’s most trusted stranger.” His vocation? Secret collector.
What started out as a small art project five years ago has transformed Warren’s life beyond anything he could possibly imagine. He is the founder of a little website you might know and check religiously every Sunday: PostSecret.com.
The site gets 7 million viewers each month. There is a PostSecret en Francais, there is one auf Deutsch. He admits that at first asking perfect strangers to mail him their secrets seemed a little crazy, but at his talk Feb. 2 at Georgia Southern University, he challenged the packed house and asked:
“What’s your crazy idea?”
Warren believes in the power of secrets, to heal, to create friendships and to save lives. He wants to bring awareness to suicide prevention. The most common trend in secrets he receives deal with loneliness, self harm and eating disorders. His point was especially poignant when juxtaposed with the fact that more American soldiers in Iraq have died of suicide than in battle over the past two years.
“By sharing our secrets, we can save lives,” said Warren.
The site and its community have raised half a million dollars for Kristin Brooks Hope Center’s National Hopeline Network, 1-800-SUICIDE. A volunteer at Hopeline himself, Warren wants each school to start their own branch of Active Minds, a student organization that reduces the stigma about mental health on college campuses across the country. He encouraged the audience to allow the people around you to talk about their loneliness. Most people, he argued, want to tell someone how unhappy they are but are just waiting for permission to do so.
We can make a difference, asserts Warren, “just by being there, asking the right question and lending an empathetic ear.”
His talk ranged from exploring the power of releasing secrets to addressing some of his fans qualms with the site. For instance, sometimes the secrets are obstructed by barcodes placed on them in the mail. Warren keeps them on because he likes how it shows evidence of their journey; others feel he is just taking away from the sender’s original artwork or intention.
During the presentation, the audience members were encouraged to tweet questions at the hosting school for Warren to answer afterward. His advice for art students was this: create artwork that challenges the concept of art. In his opinion hopeful artwork is the kind that redefines art.
“Make art that one of your parents likes and one of your parents hates,” said Warren.
Warren’s had to super-size his mailbox to receive the flood of secrets that arrive daily at his door. Fans visit his house, asking for a signature or simply to take a picture of his mailbox. When the first stranger knocked on the door his daughter told him excitedly, “Daddy, Daddy, your first stalker is here!”
The postcards he receives are tiny evidence of personal healing. By sharing a secret with Warren, the keeper of that secret is letting him carry some of the burden. One woman told him she felt like she was telling the whole world her secret but after she thought about it she was really only telling him. Warren hopes that when someone writes to PostSecret they are able to leave a part of their victimized past behind.
“I hope the secrets never stop coming,” Warren said.Contact Anna Geannopoulos.