PULLMAN, Wash. -- Frank Warren has a secret. To date, he has 500 million and counting -- but most of them are not his.
As the founder of PostSecret, Warren receives secrets from around the world sent to his home on anonymous, homemade postcards that he posts online at postsecret.com, some making it onto his blog and many more in bestselling books. Some of his favorites have come on sonograms, a sea shell, a bag of coffee and an In-n-Out Burger bag.
"I've received secrets on so many amazing items," he said. "I've been called the most trusted stranger in America."
At Washington State University's Beasley Coliseum on Sunday, he not only shared some of those 500 million secrets lumped into bricks at his home and stacked in a pyramid-like shape, but the lessons he's learned about secrets and the human condition.
Secrets, said Warren, can be buried like a coffin or brought to light and shared. No matter the secret, he said, the worst are the ones people refuse to let go. Secrets, he said, can hold a person back, and prevent them from happiness.
"Sometimes when we think we're keeping a secret, that secret could actually be keeping us," said Warren, calling hundreds of WSU students' attention to the postcards they were issued when they entered the coliseum with one side blank. "Would you give it to the person next to you? Would you tear it in half? Or would you send it to a stranger?"
The idea seemed to come before the purpose, he said, which he only realized after the project started about nine years ago handing out 3,000 postcards he printed to people in Washington, D.C., inviting them to share their secrets.
"Yeah," he said. "It's probably as strange as it sounds." He said his father called it "voyeuristic" and his mother called it "diabolical." He later played a voicemail from his mother to his wife declining her offer to send his new book, "PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God." "Only a mom can rip your heart out and then say, 'Thank you, good bye.' "
But the project took off and suddenly, Warren said, The All-American Rejects wanted to use his postcards in the music video for "Dirty Little Secret" and publishing company HarperCollins wanted to sign a book deal. But there are postcards, he said, that never made it to print for various reasons -- the big one for publishers was how they would affect marketability. He pointed out a new kind of censorship, which he said comes from corporations attempting to sanitize music or literature.
"I'm happy to say Wal-Mart has never sold a PostSecret book and I hope they never do," said Warren.
He shared several Sunday night, including one he received several months ago of a door with holes in it sent by a girl who said they came from her mother trying to break it down to continue beating her. Then more of the same came in, he said, followed by a letter from a girl saying she felt better knowing she shared the same secret with others.
Warren said many times he receives postcards from people talking about loneliness and their compulsion to hurt themselves. He told students about watching a friend fall to his death and the toll suicide had on his life. He encouraged people to reach out to friends and strangers. He told people he was inspired to create the International Suicide Prevention Wiki.
And from all his experiences, especially the bad ones, Warren said he would relive them all. PostSecret, he said, taught him how to live, and is the most meaningful job he's ever had.
"I've learned to have patience with the world and patience with myself," he said.
Warren ended his presentation by opening the floor for anyone wanting to share their deepest secrets with hundreds of their fellow Cougars. A bus driver spoke about his pet peeves. One girl told Warren she hates him for not posting her secrets. Many spoke about depression or someone with depression. One girl said she secretly wishes her mother will die, so her sister will stop being abused. Another girl said PostSecret got her through chemotherapy sessions and made her appreciate how having cancer changed her life. One guy said he worried about cameras in air vents in public bathrooms.
"Secrets," said Warren, "come in many forms."
Brandon Macz can be reached at bmaczdnews.com.
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