November 1, 2007

Shhh … Whatever You Do, Don’t Tell!

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Since 2004, Frank Warren has been violating the fundamental law of secrets: whatever you do, don’t tell!
By scanning anonymous secrets written on postcards onto his community art project/blog,, Warren has shouted out over 150,000 secrets to the world.
A Lifetime of Secrets is his newest compilation of over 100 never-before-seen postcards, with secrets ranging from charming to frightening, from depressing to deeply moving.
The overarching theme of time unites this collection — topics explored include: growth, age, maturity, youth, adolescence and adulthood. Ultimately, the anonymous secret-tellers expose a complex relationship with change, an issue that affects us all — illustrated (literally) by the hundreds of cards in the book.
On one card, a teenybopper puffs her cheeks out, another purses her lips, the third’s jaw opens in excitement and the text reads: “I wish life was like a VCR, so I could rewind & replay good memories.”
Innocent enough, the card is simply nostalgic. But juxtaposed with other more “serious” cards — “I’m glad I didn’t kill myself and hurt my children” — the imminent reality of change becomes poignant.
A different card reads: “I’m only in 8th grade + 13 years old, but my life is flying right before my eyes + I’m terrified I’m not living it to the fullest.” This text is illustrated by a stick-figure narrative: baby carriage, bicycle, book, car, Harvard diploma, family, wheel chair, tomb stone and then, finally, the sun.
A different card could be narrated by the same image: “Last time I graduated I couldn’t have been more excited. This time, I couldn’t be more terrified.”
Although the messages, colors, images and handwriting are a mishmash mosaic, the book manages to unite us all despite our markedly quirky differences.
There are some heavily depressing cards: a red velvet valentine reads, “I don’t know if I was raped.” Yet, in the face of these low moments, there remains a therapeutic quality in the overall collective power. What was once a secret is suddenly shouted out loud. Together, the secrets function as one powerful voice.
The final card is an image of old, wrinkled hands holding a photograph of a young boy. The text reads: “It all passed by so quickly.” This elegy harkens back to a literary tradition spanning from Villon’s passing snows of yesteryear, to J. M. Barrie’s ticking crocodile to J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.
In many ways, Warren’s collection of postcards reads like one work of fiction. But instead of from the imagination of a single author, this PostSecret book anchors in the truth found in the real lives of the featured secret-tellers.