Frank Warren, the humble, unassuming artist behind the international phenomenon that is PostSecret, spoke tonight at the Borders store on Columbus Circle, which saw a standing-room crowd of about 200 people. He came across as a very thoughtful, giving person who speaks of the project "choosing him" instead of the other way around. I missed the first 10-15 minutes of his discussion, but I was there for a good part of it.
Some of the things I learned: He still lives at the address that was printed on the cover of the PostSecret book, despite jokes by his wife that they'd have to move after the book came out. He said they've only ever received one unannounced visitor at the house, just someone who wanted to drop off their secrets in person. He said he took a leap of faith in humanity by putting his postal address out there in the hopes that people in return would trust him enough to send along their secrets, and he's been pleasantly surprised to find little if any trouble because of it, something he called "cooly karmic."
Despite the growth in popularity of the Blogger-hosted website (he said about 70 to 80 people visit a minute), it's still just a one-man operation, which he championed as a rarity in today's world where so much entertainment and creative content is, if not entirely produced by committee, then edited and shaped and marketed heavily. He spends a few hours each Saturday scanning a selection of postcards to put up on the blog, and if they're not up there bright and early on Sunday morning, he usually gets bombarded by e-mail from people wanting to know what's wrong. He said he's had to schedule vacations around that Sunday morning post time as the site has skyrocketed with visitors during the past months. (Not sure what he does for his day job.)
He spoke of how the project has a very human quality to it, because it mixes old technology (sending postcards through the mail) with new technology (posting images on a blog) to reach out to so many people. He also made a gentle suggestion that a lot of the relief and catharsis that people possibly get from sending in their secrets might be recreated by sharing things with others in real life. He said that loneliness, thoughts of suicide, and instances of self-hurt, whether cutting or anorexia or the like, were some of the troubling themes that often arise across many of the cards he gets. He suggested that these problems might be improved by getting them out in the open more and talking about them.
It was clear that many in the audience respected the project, and Warren said that he's tried to see where the project leads him instead of having a big master plan for what it should be. One recent pattern he's seen is people sending in cosmic replies to secrets posted on the site, such as one writer who teased and abused a childhood friend but still feels really horrible about it years later and another postcard submitter saying s/he was teased and abused by a childhood friend but that s/he forgives that person.
Warren had the audience laughing when he said that sometimes his wife tries to secretly submit postcards to see if they'll end up on the site, first actually mailing them, and later slipping them into his Saturday pile. He said he thinks he's always caught her. One recent one? "I want to sleep with Richard Gere."
He said an episode from his childhood that might've inspired the art project involved him sending a postcard home to his parents from camp and actually getting home himself before the card arrived — thus the feeling of sending a letter to yourself.
When asked about what's next, Warren said there are four more PostSecret books coming out, with the themes of "teenagers/young adults," "men," "women," and "older adults." While it's exciting to see that this guy's getting book deals, I had to laugh a little, because it sounds like it's becoming a Chicken Soup series. He also said that a secret to uncovering old postcards that aren't on the site anymore is to type "PostSecret" into Google Images, and see what comes up. As of the moment, there are nearly 1,000 images, most of which are PS cards.
¶ Frank Warren, PostSecret [Defunktion.net]
¶ Postcards Feature Secret Messages from Strangers [NPR]
¶ For Md. Postcard Artist, Mystery's in the Mail [WaPo]