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Dirty Little Secrets

September 10, 2009

Secret in Hebrew means “come closer.”

I learned that  last night from author Frank Warren, who spoke at Meredith College. My friend Lisa, who works at Meredith, got us tickets to the sold-out event. Somehow, I’d never heard of him or the secret-collecting project that made him famous.

If you haven’t either, here’s the story: Warren, a 40-something Arizona native who now lives in Maryland with his wife and daughter, five years ago was inspired by a dream to collect secrets. He distributed thousands of postcards and asked people to write down a never-before-revealed secret and mail them anonymously back to him. As cards poured in, he posted them on his PostSecret blog.

Frank Warren

Frank Warren

What Warren started as a community art project soon changed his life, resulting in an award-winning blog, three books (the fourth comes out in October), a traveling art exhibit, inspiration for music videos, an avalanche of donations for a suicide hotline and much more. His publisher calls him the Most Trusted Stranger in America.

Hundreds of people each day still write Warren to confess crimes, fears, fantasies, quirky habits, yearnings. One man proposed to his girlfriend by sending Warren a picture of the couple’s cat with the diamond ring. The card appeared on PostSecret, where the girlfriend saw it. A subsequent photo revealed her answer: the ring on her finger,  the cat in her lap.

Long after Warren quit handing out postcards, people mailed in their secrets on handmade cards and backs of photos. Some people send video confessions. Others send email.

Their music video, Dirty Little Secrets, was inspired by Postsecrets and includes anonymous confessions to Warren.

Their music video, Dirty Little Secrets, was inspired by PostSecret and includes anonymous confessions.

After Warren spoke at Meredith, he invited audience members to share their secrets:

  • A single mom confessed that she felt  tired and lonely, but said she was determined to be strong for her daughter.
  • A freshman worried that mistakes she’d already made in her life would keep her from realizing her full potential.
  • A preacher’s kid admitted: “I hate my father for being a fake.”

As I listened to these revelations, I thought about the power secrets hold. Are they best withheld or shared? Does a secret unshared, like a gift never given, become a burden?

On a sand dune at Bird Island, N.C., the Kindred Spirit mailbox is a place where people share their secrets with strangers. Someone keeps it stocked with notebooks and pens. People sit on a bench facing the ocean to read and write insights.

Kindred Spirit mailbox

Kindred Spirit mailbox

In 12-step meetings, people confess the truth about themselves to strangers, and many walk out happy, joyous and free.

The New Testament says the truth shall set you free. Does it always work that way? Does sharing a secret with someone trusted really draw you closer to that person? Or does it drive a wedge between you?

This secret, featured this week on PostSecret, guarantees a phone call from someone the sender loves:

A mom's ploy to get her daughter to call?

A mom's ploy to get her daughter to call?

But does it bring them closer? What do you think?

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