Shared secrets range from heartbreaking to hilarious

April 06, 2009

More than 200 secrets, shared anonymously on the backs of postcards, have poured into the Active Minds mailbox over the past few weeks after the mental health awareness club issued an invitation to students, faculty and staff to unburden themselves by submitting “a regret, fear, desire, talent, or confession.”

Displayed like mini works of art as pen-and-ink drawings, colorful illustrations, collages and even three-dimensional presentations, the secrets run the gamut from heartbreaking to hilarious. Active Minds President Kate Maloney ’09 said the college-wide community art project was inspired by the original effort begun in 2005 by Frank Warren, whose PostSecret website and books are wildly popular.

Last night, Maloney and other club members hosted an unveiling event of an exhibition of the postcards in Ensor Lounge. It was planned to be a festive occasion, with chocolate fondue and sparkling cider, but also featured an educational display of information about various mental health concerns and resources for getting help.

“I thought this would be a great project for Active Minds because a lot of the things I’ve read in the PostSecret books have been issues that are deeply personal issues but also universal,” Maloney, a Psychology major with a minor in Writing, said prior to the event. “People can realize that they’re not alone in their secrets, that others share these problems. And if a person isn’t comfortable going to counseling to talk about them, maybe it does something for that person just to get it off their chest.”

Of course, on a college campus, Maloney expected to receive some silly submissions, and she did, like the one that reads: “When I see someone wearing Crocs I secretly hope they will fall flat on their face.”

But, Maloney said, “I was right in my hypothesis that we would also get a lot of moving ones that touch on issues like sexual abuse, relationship difficulties, body image and eating disorders.”

One postcard, swathed in bubble wrap, shares the confession: “I pretend my vagina is bubble wrap so he won’t hurt me.” Another confides: “I joke about getting a nose job but I’m serious.” A third features a picture of people dancing with the message: “I used to dance before I got fat.”

Maloney suspects the impact on those who read these secrets at the campus exhibition will be greater than if they saw it in one of Warren’s books. “These are the secrets of people we pass in the halls or sit with in class. There is no way to know how many are from students, faculty or staff, but they are from people we interact with daily,” she said. “So it hits close to home because these are problems right here on our campus.”

Meanwhile, other secrets reference the sometimes mundane, sometimes maddening aspects of campus life. “When the toilet paper gets low I leave just enough paper on the roll so that the next person has to change it,” one reads. Another: “Sometimes I secretly want to punch my roommate in the face.”

“I think a lot of people will be able to relate to this one at this point in the semester,” Maloney said. “Things are hitting the fan.”

Some of the secrets don’t exactly fit into the problem category, but they are equally poignant. “I asked to use your printer so I could spend five minutes away from my lonely apartment. Thanks,” one reads.

Maloney observed that many postcards are like this one, addressed to a particular person who will know who they are when they read it. Maybe the person who lent the use of the printer will be inspired to invite the writer over more often, Maloney said, adding, “This might actually change the way we interact with our peers, which would be awesome.”

The McDaniel PostSecret exhibition will be displayed outside the College bookstore through next week.