Got a secret? Then Frank Warren is the man for you. He has just written his fourth book, A Lifetime of Secrets, and his blog, postsecret.blogspot.com, is one of the most popular sites on the Internet. This morning, he chatted with Meredith about some of the secrets people have shared with him.
After the segment, in between members of our staff coming up to Frank to tell him their secrets, he and I discussed his inspiration for this project, why people trust him with their secrets, and what he does with all the postcards he receives.
Here's our conversation:
Q: What inspired you to start this project in the first place?
Frank Warren: I think that in my own life, I was struggling with secrets from my childhood. And so in one sense, this was a way for me to reconcile with parts of my past that I'd been struggling with.
Q: Why this particular avenue? Why the postcards and the Web site? What prompted you to go in that direction?
FW: I've always believed that people have these ordinary lives, underneath. And I thought that if I could create a safe, non-judgmental place -- a "place" on the Web -- that people would feel free to share these hopes and fears and dreams and desires that they wouldn't share with their closest family members.
Q: Has the project helped you deal with your secrets?
FW: It has. And I've received emails from other people, too, that say that pasting a secret on a postcard and letting it go to a stranger has brought them a sense of healing or catharsis.
Q: Why do people trust you with their secrets? Or does it not matter who you are, just that you don't know them?
FW: I don't really understand why, fully, but I know it's very special. What I do try and do, every day, is make decisions to protect that relationship, because it's very valuable to me.
For example, on the Web site, I've had over 100 million hits. I don't take any paid advertisements. I use my home address on the Web and on the book cover. Not a P.O. box. So when you send your secret to Frank, it comes to my home, and I read it and keep it. It doesn't go to a committee or a P.O. box. So maybe decisions like that, collectively, have added up to making a relationship where strangers feel like they can trust me with something that they've never told anyone before.
Q: So it's a personal thing for you, that you're giving something of yourself to these people...
FW: Yeah, I think so. I know that I respect everybody's secret. I'm not going to judge your secret, and I'm going to value your secret. And I think people understand that.
Q: Do you read every postcard that you get?
FW: Yes. They come to my home, I read every postcard, and I keep every postcard.
Q: You must have boxes and boxes of postcards in your house. Where do you keep them all? Are you going to have to move into a new house at some point?
FW: I have about 170,000 secrets on postcards that come in from all over the world. And where I keep them? That's a secret that I'll just have to keep.
Q: How do you choose which ones to post on the Web site?
FW: Every week I receive about 1,000 postcards, and I select 20 for the Web site. I try and pick 20 that surprise me, secrets that a lot of us share but they're expressed in an interesting way. I also try and pick secrets that represent our full humanity. So every week you're going to see a secret that's funny, sexual, hopeful, confused, philosophical...and I try to arrange them, knit them together in an order that really shares a larger story about who we are?
Q: Do things still surprise you?
FW: I'm not shocked anymore by the secrets, but I'm surprised every day. I think there's something about secrets -- and us -- that's just inexhaustible.
Q: You've become an Internet phenomenon. As you said, your site has gotten more than 100 million hits. Has that surprised you?
FW: I've been completely awed by this, yeah. I knew it would be something special for me that I'd love, to see these hidden stories of extraordinary nature. But to realize that it's resonated so much with other people as well...I find it very surprising but also very gratifying. I think that it really does show us this hidden landscape that we all share but rarely talk about. Almost like social dark matter.
Q: It seems like part of this is people unburdening themselves...does it ever become a burden for you, having to be the keeper of all this?
FW: No, I don't think so. I've told people in the past that I sometimes feel haunted by secrets, but not in a bad way. What it means is that every hour of every day now, I'm reminded of somebody's secret that I've got on a postcard. For me, it makes me feel more connected to people and gives me more empathy. I hope it's the same way for other people too.
Q: Is your life basically 24/7, all secrets? What else do you do other than read postcards and post on your blog?
FW: I do plenty of other fun things with my family. But I do spend 30-40 hours a week with this project. I'm very happy to have this opportunity.
Q: What does your family think of this whole thing?
FW: I have a 13-year-old daughter, and I've been doing this for three years. So for her, it seems very normal. Probably all of her friends' families get secrets with postcards, too.
My wife has been supportive also. She wasn't too thrilled when she saw that our home address was going to be printed on the cover of a best-selling book. But she's been very, very supportive.
Q: But she must also have been happy that it was on the cover of a best-selling book.
FW: Yes, definitely a good news-bad news situation!