Wednesday, March 20, 2013

PostSecret event in Madison

I have read the blog PostSecret since some point in high school, so not long after its creation in 2004.  If you're not familiar with PostSecret, here's a blurb from the blog itself: "PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard."

Creator Frank Warren updates the blog every Sunday, posting around 20 postcards every week (for the first couple of years it was 10).  Postcards range from light and humorous to sad and serious.  For example, here are a few older secrets:





When the project picked up momentum, he published a book of secrets.  Then another, and another, and another -- to date Frank has published five PostSecret books.  At some point in there, Frank began visiting universities to talk about his project.  These events always ended with open mics, so audience members could verbally share secrets in front of the other attendees.  From time to time some of Frank's Sunday Secrets posts would mention something that happened at an event.  There has been at least one proposal (if not more) that took place at a PostSecret event.  I've wanted to go to an event since they first started... but Frank never came to Madison!  

Last fall when I made a life list, one of the items I added was to attend a PostSecret event.  Fast forward to this past Monday evening.  I'm reading my blogs, and start reading PostSecret from Google Reader (as I do every week).  Below Sunday's Secrets, Frank has posted some new tour dates.  I quick scroll down the list, Oshkosh catches my eye as I think he's already been to Oshkosh, why doesn't he ever come to Madison??  As I stopped to look at the Oshkosh, event, the word "Madison" stuck out above it.  Date: 3/20/13.  Please don't tell me I missed the event -- the date seemed too close to the present.  I checked the date.  It was currently March 18.  Frank Warren will be in Madison on Wednesday!

Turns out the younger brother was on spring break this week, and was coming home on Wednesday.  Also turns out that brother Teej didn't have to work on Wednesday.  The result?  I went to a Post Secret event, crossing off a life list item, with both of my brothers!

Unfortunately I didn't take notes during the event -- which I really should have, because if I don't write it down I won't remember it.  Turns out my brothers are the same way.  We struggled to remember many of the secrets we had heard only minutes earlier, as we walked to the car after the event.  So here's my summary without notes:

PostSecret event in Madison, 3/20/13

There were postcards on our seats when we arrived:

PostSecret blank postcard
PostSecret: Share a secret

The professor that introduced Frank said we could take pictures during the first five minutes, then no more.  All of my flash-less photos of Frank in the dark room are terrible.  This is the best I have, with two people's heads in the way:

Frank Warren PostSecret
Frank Warren

Frank began with a brief history of the project, which I've already glazed over above.  Then he shared various secrets by projecting pictures of postcards on the screen, reciting some that he had memorized, and reading from postcards he carried with him.
I think the funniest secret of the night came when Frank shared secrets that fell into the category of "When parents taught us false things".  The secret went: "When I was younger, my parents told me that the ice cream truck plays music when it's out of ice cream."

Another secret along those lines said that their father had told her the "No Outlet" road signs mean that there were no outlet malls nearby.

The most common secret Frank has received is "I pee in the shower".  So apparently it's not a secret anymore -- it's normal to pee in the shower!

PostSecret event in Madison, WI on March 20, 2013

Saved voicemails

One week on the blog Frank posted a secret from someone who saved voicemails of the people closest to her, so that she would have a recording of their voice when they die.  After seeing this secret, many readers emailed Frank voicemails that they had saved of their loved ones, some who have since passed.  He played a compilation of the many voicemails tonight.

You are not alone

A theme that Frank emphasized throughout his talk was that you are not alone in your secrets/feelings.  Share your secrets, and use them to build bridges rather than walls.  If you feel alone, chances are you're not; someone else in the world has the same secret as you.  The PostSecret community is filled with strangers helping strangers.

PostSecret App

Later Frank talked about the PostSecret app, which had a lifespan of only 3 months due to a few rotten tomatos that ruined it for everyone else.  He shared some secrets up on the screen that had been submitted via the PostSecret app from the Madison area, which was neat.

Suicide Prevention

Frank shared some secrets of his own, involving a troubled childhood.  He also spent some time speaking about PostSecret's involvement with suicide prevention, by both raising money and awareness.  I want to say that proceeds from his books go towards 1-800-Suicide, but I'm not 100% sure.  Frank stresses that the smallest act of kindness can save someone's life.  That's an extreme, but it does happen -- and people send in postcards to share that experience.  On a less extreme, the smallest acts of kindness can also positively impact someone's life - which Frank also brought to the front of our minds tonight.

Open Mic Secrets

To end the night, two microphones were set up in the room and Frank invited audience members to share a secret, if they pleased.  Organizers of the event decided to keep the lights dim, to help protect the speakers' anonymity   I think the one that caused everyone to gasp was: "My husband's boss is buying us a house, but I think he's doing it to blackmail us to join his sex club."

I got a little anxious when people went up to the mics -- it was a similar feeling to Q&As at Freethought Festival 2.  (At that conference, there was a woman who would raise her hand during Q&A, then proceed to talk and talk and talk, rather than ask a question.  It was awkward/uncomfortable for all, and the conference speaker actually had to cut her off and ask what's your question.)  Being live and unplanned, some people did tell longer stories that didn't necessarily resemble the brief format of postcard secrets, and I cringed throughout.  Then there were serious, heartfelt secrets where the secret tellers finished in tears, some sobbing as they returned to their seats.  Two different girls each shared a secret about an eating disorder.  One girl shared that her mom was diagnosed with cancer two months ago, then just two weeks ago her younger brother was diagnosed with something else (I didn't catch it), and she's afraid she won't be any fun anymore.  Oh, I just remembered one from a guy --  He said a year or two ago he was considering suicide, so his girlfriend asked him what he would miss most about her.  His answer was: I like it when we cuddle up in bed together, then you fart and giggle.


I'm thankful I don't currently have any secrets that would bring me to tears.  I don't have much to hide, and I haven't experienced an unexpected tragedy.  I'm available to listen for anyone who is keeping a secret from others, and feels overwhelmed and secluded because of it.

Well brothers, did I leave anything out?  What did you take from the event?  Readers -- Were you familiar with PostSecret before reading this post?  Have you been to a PostSecret event before?
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