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There are several confessions websites where people can tell their secrets, such as Group Hug, Confessions.net, and the confessions section of the Experience Project. Most of these are text based, and the stories are often not entirely believable. People like making up stories. The PostSecret blog and community website are rather different; people put their secrets on postcards, photographs, or artworks they have made themselves. PostSecret was started as a community art project by Frank Warren in 2004, and the combinations of secrets with images is consistently poignant or funny, so they are far less sordid and salacious than the confessions one finds elsewhere on the Internet.
A Lifetime of Secrets is the fourth book collecting secrets sent to Warren. Many of them express fears or regrets. On a postcard of a keyboard, the confessor has written "I am afraid to meet people from the internet in person because I photoshop my pics and think they will be disappointed." On a Polaroid photo of a crucifix hanging in front of a window, someone has written "I'm scared I may never have real faith." On a photograph of two people posing together, there are Post-it notes covering up the faces, with writing on them saying "It's weird ... forgetting what you look like." Others express contentment or hope. On a photograph of the backs of four men sitting together on a bench overlooking a city river, there is the message "I'll probably grow old with my three best friends Which would be fantastic." On an old photo of a man and a boy working in a backyard are the words "Dad, I can do anything... as long as your working by me." On a photo of a burning fire someone has pasted paper with the words "9 years ago I was raped. Last night, it finally stopped hurting. I think I'm OK now. Thanks for letting me tell my story. You listened just right." On a card painted red and orange, there is a heart pasted with the words "I love you" and a white square with the explanatory words "I'm falling in love with myself. I wish you were alive to see this." Some of the secrets are confessions that do not necessarily express regret. Next to a picture of church pews and icons of singing voices are the computer printed words "I have been planning my husband's funeral for 24 years." On a dollar bill, someone has written "I'm a gold DIGGER!" On a photograph of a dog is the revelation "When I was 18, I baptized my dog in the living room." Some are explicitly about mental illness. On a hand-painted picture of a guitar, the painter has written "I write songs about killing myself and play them for audiences that think they're about breakups run-of-the-mill sadness. I just want someone to understand. Maybe then I wouldn't feel the need to write them." Someone has hand-stamped a postcard spelling out "I was just diagnosed with bipolar. Thing is, I'd rather be crazy than just feel crazy." On a water-color picture of two dark blue eyes, the artist has written "I've put off telling my mother that I'm depressed and need help... 'cause I'm afraid she'd be angry I'm not the perfect daughter she thinks I am."
The book makes great reading. Even though it is no surprise that people carry secrets, these works of art are powerful expressions of hidden lives. While some of the secrets are terrible, especially those about being raped or abused, the book is not depressing because there's a wide range of different sorts of secrets, and the artwork adds depth to the words. Recommended.
© 2007 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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