Monday, October 15, 2012
Augusta Civic Center, Augusta, Maine
I found out that Frank Warren, creator of the fascinating blog PostSecret.com, was coming to speak at University of Maine Augusta because I randomly saw a flyer hanging on the community bulletin board at the Hannaford in Gardiner. What a lucky find! I am so excited I got to attend Frank’s only appearance in New England! Here’s an article about the event in the Kennebec Journal.
My friend Clare and I made our way to UMA early so we could get good seats. I was surprised and disappointed that there were VIP seats for friends of UMA and then the rest of us had to sit far away from the stage. I was lucky that I had my glasses with me to sharpen things, but they don’t really do the trick because I have an eye injury. Boo.
There were postcards on each of our seats when we arrived addressed to Frank’s house in Germantown, Maryland. The gist of Frank’s project is that he started handing out these postcards in 2004 in Washington DC inviting people 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.” Now Frank has over 500,000 postcards at his house and more than a million people read his blog every week. And Frank has created a space where people can share and also reach out to help or for help—especially via the National Hopeline Network.
Clare and I chatted with our neighbors in the front row of the bleachers. People had driven from all over (a row of folks Frank recognized from Panera earlier in the day even drove five hours) for his talk. The lights dimmed and local restaurant owner and suicide prevention advocate Laura Benedict introduced Frank. I still have a lot of feelings I’m working through about the following hour and a half. I didn’t realize that, actually, until a few nights ago when Clare and I had dinner at Gardiner’s famous A1 Diner and we ended up having a long talk about that night. There’s a lot I could say, but I also don’t want to share other people’s secrets. Instead, if you watch Frank Warren’s TED talk, you’d have a basic understanding of the presentation we saw. Here’s another cool video of people sharing their secrets, too.
Frank told us the history of PostSecret.com, showed us the secrets that his publisher banned from his books (there are five Post Secret books now), told us some of his favorite stories from his eight years of the project, and revealed his secret to us. I think Frank gave us three major take home messages that night. One, the secrets we keep are really keeping us. If we don’t let them out they can consume us. Two, our secrets can either be walls or bridges. If we keep them to ourselves they are obviously walls. If we share them, our secrets can build bridges with others. Third, Frank said that he would go through all the failures in his life again because they led him to where he is now. I “get” the first two messages of the night, but as a perfectionist, the third is hard for me. I would definitely go back and change some things if I could.
Part of Frank’s presentation included a funny story about The All-American Rejects, who used a sampling of postcards sent to Frank in their 2005 music video, “Dirty Little Secret.” The most touching part of his presentation for me was the story of someone who sent a postcard that he posted on his blog (he posts new secrets for every Sunday) saying that they never delete voicemails because it might be the last time they hear a loved one’s voice. It created a lot of discussion on the blog, and Frank played a sampling of people’s saved voicemails that they emailed to him. Something about hearing a recording of a now deceased grandparent singing their grandchild “Happy Birthday” really affected me. I am glad I packed some tissues. I needed them
The last thing that happened floored me. Frank invited people to take the microphone and share a secret with all of us. I was shocked and so impressed and moved by the many brave, brave people who shared secrets of such magnitude with a room full of nearly 500 strangers. I won’t repeat any of those secrets here except to say they ranged from secrets about playing The Oregon Trail to suicide attempts to rape to leaving home and forging a completely new identity to get away. I was floored.
Frank closed the powerful night and encouraged us to share our secrets so that we can be freed of the weight of them. I bought his most recent book, Post Secret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God, and waited a while in line to have him sign it. When I had a brief moment to say something to him, I told him that I’d mentioned going to his talk with my advisory group at the high school where I teach and they were interested in his project and that I hoped we’d keep looking at it together in the future. I’m hoping to make checking out PostSecret.com’s weekly updates a tradition with my kiddos since we’ll be together every morning for four years. I think it will build bridges instead of walls. It’s funny now as I’m editing this a day after writing that because some of the kids in my advisory group and I just read PostSecret.com together this morning.
Here are a couple postcards from the new book that I really like. I picked a lighter one and a heavier one so you can see how varied the postcards in the book are.
What a night. If Frank Warren is coming to speak anywhere near you, get there.