UPDATED FEBRUARY 1, 2011: For a follow-up article on this topic, including ticket information, visit http://bit.ly/fEnY8h.
“I have a secret,” says Jill, a local artist. “Millions of people know what it is, but no one knows it’s me.”
So what is it?
“I’m not telling.”
As you may have guessed, Jill’s real name is a secret too. And a lot more secrets will be revealed—to a point—in April, when PostSecret Live comes to the University of Louisville. A smaller, more local event will take place at the Louisville Free Public Library next month.
Every Sunday, millions of people around the world get online to check out something that really is news. PostSecret is part confession, part community art project, part voyeurism. Since late 2004, founder Frank Warren has received half a million postcards—about 20 of which wind up on his website, currently hosted at www.postsecret.com, each weekend. And according to website ranking site Alexa.com, it’s currently the 4,328th most popular site in the U.S.—not bad for one that only updates once a week and doesn’t make its archives available.
The postcards, which people all over the world send to Warren’s Germantown, Md. home, range from plain to whimsical, painfully basic to extensively artistic. The secrets run the gamut from the mundane (“I like to go to home improvement stores and pretend I'm planning my house,” reads a card from this week, set against a paint chip card) to the emotional (“To all those people that said ‘Everything happens for a reason’ when I had my miscarriage…I would like to say F*CK YOU”) to the hilarious (“Your mic wasn’t off during sound check… We all heard you pee.”). With sites in German, French, Spanish and Portuguese—and similar, non-sanctioned versions in China and the United Kingdom—it’s no secret that the appeal of Warren’s idea is universal.
“Secrets can have different layers of truth,” Warren has said. “Some can be both true and false, others can become true over time depending on our choices. Sometimes a secret we keep from ourselves only becomes true after we read it on a stranger’s postcard.”
For Warren, it’s a full-time job sifting through the thousands of cards that arrive each week (as his address is prominently posted on the site each week, visitors often leave gifts and food for him and his hardworking mail carrier, Sonia Warren—no relation), and on top of that he’s managed to produce four New York Times-bestselling compilations and tour the country. Warren also encourages fans to support suicide hotlines, including 1-800-SUICIDE, after receiving numerous desperate messages in his mailbox. (One young woman, Cassie, occasionally is pictured on his site as a testament to someone who decided against suicide after visiting PostSecret.com. In a more disturbing instance, however, one contributor this past summer sent in a card announcing his or her plan to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Warren posted the secret, and thousands of people wrote in urging the sender not to jump. Despite these pleas and a 67,000-member Facebook group, the sender’s fate is unknown.)
The UofL stop, set for Tuesday, April 5 at 7:30 in the Student Activities Center Multipurpose Room, will include a presentation of what Warren promises to be “inspiring and funny stories” and “postcards that were banned from the books” (although given the NSFW nature of some of the cards that have managed to make it through the postal service and onto Warren’s page, it’s hard to imagine what might constitute “banned”), followed by a Q&A session and book signing. Ticket prices are not yet set, but it will be no more than $7 (the equivalent of 25 postcard stamps) for students and $10 (about 35) for the public.
But that’s not all that goes on at PostSecret events. The live presentations have included revelations of new secrets before the crowd and even a couple of marriage proposals.
During the month of February, teens (and others) are encouraged to make their own postcards and drop them off at the Highlands-Shelby Park branch of the library. Cards will be displayed at the Teen Outpost section of the library, which is located in the Mid-City Mall.
As for Jill, will she attend either event? “Not sure,” she says. “Part of me wants to know what other people are going through, and of course it’s a terrific art project. Not to make it sound all serious…It’d be a great date [night], too. On the other hand, [Frank Warren and PostSecret fans] were there for me, and I’d like to say thank you.”
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Photo: Courtesy Nicole Keimer