You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession or childhood humiliation. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative."
In the fall of 2004, that's the message a Maryland businessman (and "accidental artist") named Frank Warren printed on 3,000 postcards, which he handed out in subway stations, left in art galleries, or hid in library books. What he got by return mail grew to become not only an art project but an Internet site (PostSecret.com) that's the second-largest English blog on the Web. Now it's a book: PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives.
How "extraordinary," you ask? According to Warren's results, as ordinary as self-hatred, self-mutilation, and self-abuse. Sore topics, to be sure. Popular topics, absolutely! So long as you're confessing to them anonymously.
What's more: incestuous thoughts, murderous thoughts, and run-of-the-mill existential thoughts (as in, angst). And there are true confessions to go with the true crimes: e.g., against Starbucks meanies: "I give decaf to customers who are RUDE to me!" Against non-meat-eaters: "I gave my vegetarian sister a meal with beef." Against pedicurists: "everytime i get my toenails done i want to kick the girl doing them in the face." And that all-time favorite, hidden pastime, against God: "I play a game when I'm in church. For every person who passes by me to go up to receive communion I think to myself: 'How much money would someone have to pay me to have sex with them?'"
An ungodly thought, yes, but at least no one gets hurt (or paid). Unlike the person confessing to a false arrest: "He's been in prison for two years because of what I did. 9 more to go." Ouch!
Why so many sourpusses? That's for a therapist, not Frank Warren, to explain. Except for the therapist who could use some talking to her- or himself, as in, "When I listen to my patients, all I can think about is how I drug that razor across my skin, too ... and how much I miss it." (She [he?] feels your pain?)
But it isn't all regret, fear, betrayal, desire, and childhood humiliation. Sometimes the most guarded confessions in Warren's book are just plain dumb ("i'm afraid of women who wear capri pants"). Or weird ("The nights I sleep the best I dream about being shot"). Or a matter for the IRS ("Income From Teaching Creative Writing ... $32,654.00; Income From Writing Creatively ... $0.00"). Or I-don't-know-what (a tossup between "I dreamt I was allergic to make-up. Now I am." and "I stole your duck and took him to San Francisco").
Consider this one confession though: "I know that sending in a stupid postcard to share a secret with a bunch of strangers won't do a damn thing to change the daily loneliness and unhappiness in my life. And I sent this anyway" -- no accompanying artwork as illustration, just those words of wisdom. Which makes that one card not only refreshingly clear-headed and plain-spoken but an unusual addition to PostSecret, where the uncommonly good amateur graphics are often anything but ordinary.
PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
Compiled by Frank Warren
ReganBooks, 278 pp., $24.95