Best-selling author Frank Warren was walking across campus last month.
While visiting the art hill, he realized that he had never taken an art class. He also realized that the only English class he had ever enrolled in was a remedial one.
One may not know the name, but his ongoing art project maybe more recognizable to some. Part of his work was featured in All-American Rejects’ music video “Dirty Little Secret.”
A literature book that he has kept for about 20 years from his Pierce College days led him back to campus, as well as providing a quote from A.E. Housman poem to be used in the foreword of his upcoming third “PostSecret” book.
“Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would.”
The following day, Oct. 19, at CSUN, the smooth surface of the concrete and the manicured hedgerows were accented by the sunlight glowing off the clutter of fast food signs around the University Student Union Building.
Banging and zooming electronic sounds were coming from the game room nearby where Warren gave his lecture, and drifted through the makeshift streets of the university.
A young man seemed completely mesmerized by the images on the screen, and oblivious to the sign posted outside the arcade door that read, “Frank Warren, author… PostSecret,” with a painted arrow that guided the way to his location.
The mood outside was in complete contrast to the solemn acts of sharing of sometimes-painful regrets and memories, taking place in the building.
A huge revealing glass window lined the back wall of the center and bright sunlight came beaming into the hall filling the dome like structure, giving it a church like ambience.
The chairs that accommodated the 180 or so people that came to hear him were now empty and through the music emanating from the center’s speakers came the murmurs of anxious fans lined up to meet Warren.
Each one held a copy his most recent book, “My Secret: A Post Secret Book,” seemingly eager to have it signed by the author.
The lecture and book signing were arranged and organized by CSUN’s Union Program Counsel (UPC).
Sandra Chheng, UPC art chair, learned about Warren’s “PostSecret” project through the Internet and later received a copy of the book for her birthday. She immediately took an interest in the concept because of the sense of connectivity that sharing secrets brings to people.
Consequently, she worked with the council to bring Warren to her campus.
“Everyone has secrets. In order to release your secrets, you see other people’s and you know you’re not alone and that’s what I found interesting in the project,” said Chheng.
“The project keeps growing. I think of it as a collection of secrets that I share with people in three ways. I have the blog (which has won five awards, “blogies,” and was ranked by New York magazine as the third most popular blog on the Internet) where I like to show living secrets and share their immediacy.
“I have the book (his second, the first was The Los Angeles Times bestseller “PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives”), which I like to think of as an archive of secrets, and of telling a story of hope and compassion. And I also have the art exhibition were I like to share the quantity… and tangibility of the cards,” explains Warren.
The line of fans worked its way slowly towards Warren. Each held their copy of the book so closely and with such care that one would think they contained their own secrets as well.
“That’s the one thing we all have in common is secrets,” said Hans Weichhart, UPC member.
On the right wall from the front entrance of the center, people’s postcard secrets were pinned to a bulletin board. The collage ranged in nature from the most profound of private confessions to the most whimsical and innocent.
“I am afraid of relationships.”
“I don’t think anyone with the exception of my parents will ever love me.”
“I’m gay and I had sex with my boyfriend’s dad, twice.”
The top of the board read “CSUN’s secrets.”
Each confession read into the heart of the participators sharing their regrets, emotions, embarrassments and betrayals.
Warren had no idea that the community art project that he started November 2004 would grow into the phenomena that it is today. The postcard endeavor began with 3,000 self-addressed cards, which were sent all over the country asking people to share their secrets anonymously.
Receiving about 100 back he put them up in an art exhibit. When the art exhibition ended he started passing out the postcards and before too long they started pouring in from all over the world.
Warren receives between 100 and 200 postcards a day, in his most recent estimated count.
“Some of the secrets affect me deeply, especially the secrets from young people but I think… I have had a very difficult childhood myself, and I have gone through a lot of suffering. So, like others that have had similar experiences, when you read something from someone talking about their suffering in a candid manner, in a way, it make you feel less alone. And you have someone else to share your burden with,” expressed Warren.
The author feels that the sharing in this medium gives people a sense of unity in that they are not the only ones with secrets like theirs out there.
Consequently, the feeling of alienation disappears when the burden is shared.
“The good news we can’t wait to share with our friends, but it’s the heavy stuff that we keep inside that makes us feel isolated.”
“The majority of secrets we keep for the wrong reasons,” he continued.
The project has now birthed two books with a third one coming January 2007 “The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book,” and with each new book the project increases in popularity. Appearances by the author on CNN, 20/20 and FOX News just to name a few have also contributed to its growth.
Some may find the project to have spiritual undertones because of the sense of serenity people feel once they unburden themselves.
“I don’t consider myself religious but I do feel spiritual, and I feel like this project has developed a new kind of faith in me. Its taken experiences I found confusing and (ones) I found difficult in my own personal life. And it has shown me later on in my life that those same experiences that were so negative could be channeled into something that could help me and other people,” affirmed Warren.
Warren said that he does not like to compare the project with “what priests, and what psychiatrists do.” He thinks of it more as an artistic endeavor and explains that some priests and doctors, who have said that the “PostSecret” project will never replace the confessional or an interpersonal conversation with a psychiatrist, have nothing to worry about because that is not the goal of the project. But if it happens to help people resolve their own conflicts then that is up to the individual.
“I think of it as being the responsibility of the person to share their secret in way that’s right for them. And I also consider their responsibility to take another step (to resolve the issue),” he went on to explain.
The “PostSecret” project is not the first one he has launched.
“The first postcard project I was Paris on business for the first time I went to this gift shop and I bought three little prints-postcards brought them back to my hotel room, put them in my nightstand drawer and went to bed. While I was sleeping, I had this lucid dream in which I knew I was dreaming and I found myself in that hotel room. I opened up the drawer in my dream and pulled out those cards and they had been altered… one of the postcards had been aged another postcard had this weird design on it. It look like a shell, like this mathematical design… they had messages… one of them led me to the next project. This was one of the messages ‘unrecognized evidence of forgotten journeys unknowingly rediscovered.'”
The message led him to a second project in which for a year he created postcards that looked like severed hand and put them in a bottle. Warren calls the second project the “reluctant oracle.”
He then took the bottles and placed them in Clopper Lake in Seneca Creek State Park near Warren’s home in Germantown, Maryland. Also, each hand shaped postcard had a message on it coming from the supposed oracle.
“There was full page story in the Washington Post about these mystery bottles being discovered,” said Warren.
“You will find your answers in the secret of strangers,” read one of the messages, which led him to the “PostSecret” project.
He considers each of his projects as being connected like a trilogy and he first embarked on his artistic journey after a midlife crisis, in which he was prescribed Xanax for anxiety.
But he found better healing and solace through his art then his medication.
Warren was born in Arizona and moved to California to live with his father after graduating high school in Illinois. He then attended Pierce, received an associates in Art degree and went on to the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1980s, where he studied social sciences.
Running a document delivery business that is successful, he finds any similarity between his work and that of the postcards project as coincidental.
He met his wife Jan Warren near Pierce and then later married her a year later when she moved to Berkeley to join him.
Warren currently lives with his wife, Jan, 12-year-old daughter, Hailey, and a dog named Shadow, in Germantown, Md.
According to Warren he is much happier now because the project has given him a sense of purpose and positive path to follow. A path that will help him, as well as others, by taking things that haunt him and changing them into something positive for others.
“I like to infect other people with the idea that it’s possible that truth and beauty could come from the experiences we carry that we find the most confusing and painful,” said Warren.
The rest of poem, “Terrance This Is Stupid Stuff,” which will be used in his yet unreleased third book reads,
“And train for ill and not for
‘Tis true, the stuff I bring for
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered
It should do good to heart and
When your soul is in my soul’s
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.