Dirty little secret

April 17, 2008, midnight | By Kiera Zitelman | 16 years ago

Making confessions in a community built on mysteries

On top of a black and white vertically striped background that resembles prison bars, someone wrote in thick black marker: "He's been in PRISON for two years because of what I did. Nine more to go." Next to a picture of a dog, another person scribbled, "If I had to save ONE person in the world, I would ALWAYS choose HER."

These are just two of the hundreds of confessions published in the book "PostSecret," Frank Warren's 2005 compilation of anonymously submitted postcards. Since the first project, Warren, who lives in Germantown, has put out three more PostSecret books and maintains a web site where, every Sunday, he posts up to 20 of his favorite secrets received in the mail the previous week.

An anonymous CAP senior submitted this secret to the CAP yearbook. Photo courtesy of Kiera Zitelman.

PostSecret has spread around the nation, including a chapter inside Blair. For the first time, this year's Communication Arts Program (CAP) seniors are coordinating a PostSecret section of the CAP yearbook, an annual project distributed to CAP seniors at the end of the year. The CAP secret project is not the only way PostSecret has become part of Blair culture – many students make it a habit to read the secrets in Warren's books or on his web site, and others even send in their own secrets with the hopes of seeing them published.

"The most trusted man in America"

Junior Giovanna Selvaggio finds relief in sharing secrets with Warren – once or twice a week, for the past two months.

She praises PostSecret's role as a place free from the bonds of everyday society. "It's one of the few places where people are not boxed in. They can break out of their roles," she says. "Frank Warren is the most trusted man in America."

The PostSecret project began in November 2004, according to Warren's web site. He printed 3,000 postcards, each addressed to his home in Germantown, with directions to share a secret: "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. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before."

Since then, Warren says that he has received close to 200,000 postcards. His project has been featured in the All-American Rejects' music video for "Dirty Little Secret," in which secrets were flashed in between lyrics, and 400 PostSecrets were showcased at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in November 2007. People submit videos and e-mails as well as postcards, all of which are showcased on Warren's weekly updated web site, and endlessly discussed on the PostSecret blog and forum.

This senior avoided doing a major CAP assignment. Photo courtesy of Kiera Zitelman.

Selvaggio has read the blog every Sunday for months. Several of her postcards have been featured on the web site. As all of the secrets are anonymous, people are free to submit as many as they want. "You just take them from daily life," she says. "They don't have to be really deep."

Psychotherapist Ann Collins, who works from her home in Silver Spring, thinks that therapy is a more effective place in which to share deep emotions – but she has no arguments against PostSecret. "As long as they feel a safe place to do that, they feel relief," she says. "In therapy, people share secrets and there's an opportunity to delve more deeply."

Senior Ly Li submitted a secret to Warren about a year ago. Though she says it has not appeared on the web site, she still has hope. "I've been looking to see if I came across it," she says. "It's like sending out a message in a bottle, and you wonder if you'll ever see it again."

Collins believes that people like Li and Selvaggio read the blog for several reasons. "It may be because they get some vicarious satisfaction out of it, or it gives them courage to share secrets of their own," she speculates.

Li made her postcard a collage, one of the many things confessors do to customize their secrets. Each PostSecret has unique artwork, ranging from cut-and-paste newspaper letters resembling ransom notes to elaborate photographs and drawings. "It's so personal to you that you don't want it to look like crap when you express it," Li says.

Secrets, secrets are no fun, unless they're shared with everyone

While some people merely send in secrets and read the blog, junior Yelena Johnson proclaims herself a PostSecret addict. She checks the blog and web site constantly – even at school. "I read it religiously," she says. "It didn't use to be blocked at Blair." Due to adult content, the PostSecret community web site is now blocked by MCPS.

Johnson was hooked from the first secret. "As soon as I read it, I couldn't stop," she recalls. She even added an application to her Facebook that lets her pick her favorite secrets and displays them on her profile.

Many CAP PostSecrets involve romance in libraries, darkrooms and the television studio. Photo courtesy of Kiera Zitelman.

Unlike his student, social studies and yearbook teacher Jacob Lee did not become an addict after his visit to the web site. Last Valentine's Day, his fiancée gave him an autographed PostSecret collection. In the back of the book, she wrote a secret about Lee – which he declined to share – that she had already sent in to Warren. Even though he found the gesture romantic, Lee did not become hooked onto Warren's project. "So many of the secrets are really depressing," he says. "I can't say I'm a huge fan. It's kind of hard to read."

While many PostSecrets are not uplifting, the determined reader can find a few bright postcards. Several of the secrets in the CAP yearbook, for example, were not depressing at all – many dealt with love, mischief and procrastination.


The PostSecret section in the CAP yearbook has evolved into a two-page spread, becoming a sounding board for the many secrets of CAP seniors. One such student, Whitney Skippings, is organizing the section with fellow seniors Kate Harter and Miriam Ragen.

AP World History teacher James Mogge lets his students use tape, gluesticks and scissors to put worksheets into their notebooks, but he might find a few pairs missing. Photo courtesy of Kiera Zitelman.

Unlike Warren's project, the CAP PostSecret was more of an effort to remember high school – and a CAP-inclusive inside joke. "It's a good way to remember our experience," Skippings says. "All the CAP kids know, but you could never tell the teachers…It was more, 'Let's hide this from the teachers.' "

CAP teacher Kevin Shindel went through the seniors' secrets, but he did not end up censoring any. Skippings likes the concept of the CAP kids finally coming clean. "There's nothing more true than what people say when they think no one's listening," she says. "You get it off your chest with virtually no repercussions – it's almost kind of cowardly, but if that helps someone deal with a traumatic event, then kudos to them."

Warren, who donates a portion of his proceeds to a suicide hotline, has no plans to cease his project, according to his books and web site, and the postcards still generate pages of discussion in the forums of the PostSecret Community. Until the world runs out of secrets, Warren's mailbox at 13345 Copper Ridge Road in Germantown will continue to receive hundreds of postcards every week, each one bearing a wish to get noticed.

Kiera Zitelman. Kiera Zitelman goes by many names and Photo Booth effects. She enjoys being able to drive and representing Kensington. She likes her dog, Sophie, and her human friend of the same name. Kiera owns one-third of a hot dog toaster and one-fourth of a movie … More »

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