I said I’d do it… and here it is.
I finally got to go to a PostSecret event.
The last one that came close to my area… got cancelled a few days before it happened. Yeah, me not happy about that. Now, when I heard that the University of Vermont was hosting one… well, it’s the closest it has since come to me… so I’m going.
Burlington, Vermont is a 3 hour drive from me… so it was going to have to be a day trip. I figured I’d take a half-day at work, leaving at noon… and just get back REALLY late that night. The website said it was scheduled from 7pm to 10pm… so I was expecting to be home a little after 1:00am, probably later. Sure, the lack of sleep was going to be hell… but something about planning for it way ahead of time doesn’t make it seem so bad.
Of course, had I realized that the day before was Columbus Day, of which I had the day off… I might have just taken a full day for an extra-long weekend. Oh well.
After about a 3 hour drive, I got into Burlington. Now, I’d been there once before, about 11 years ago with some friends for a small day trip during college. But I didn’t drive, and I only remembered this little outdoor-mall area. As far as I knew, that was the extent of Burlington. I had forgotten the whole town was built around a fairly big school. (Or maybe it was vice-versa) I actually lucked out with my parking… I got into a tiny lot not far from the building where the presentation was going to be. Just as some lady from New York State was pulling out of a space, I snagged that one. (Score!)
I went to pick up the tickets (I ordered them online in advance… I’d be damned if I drove 3 hours to and from just to find that they were sold out), and saw that it was actually a chapel. Most of the buildings I saw looked to have that “chapel-like” architecture… but this was an actual chapel, yet it didn’t look like it was used for actual services. (If it was, they were very sparse with the religious iconography) I did see a sign that told me it WAS used for Tae-Kwon-Do classes… which I think is great! Hell, if I had that near me, I’d have gone to church more myself. There was a group of student workers setting up a table display of all 4 PostSecret books… and by “setting up”, I mean they were sitting and reading them. Couldn’t blame them… I’d be doing the same. Got the tickets from them, and called my friend that I was meeting.
She’s an old friend from college… I don’t think I’ve seen her since before I first went to California, but we kept in occasional communication. She’s the one that got me onto Facebook (or rather, the final person to prod me before I finally caved), and she drove up 2 hours herself to get there. She took the whole day off, and spent the whole day in Burlington.
I headed downtown to meet her, and on my way passed a picture stuck to a lamppost. It was a flyer advertising some local band concert or event (I don’t even remember what it was)… but as many of these college-type advertisers do, they grab humorous pictures from wherever they find (mostly the Net these days) and use them on their flyers, regardless of the copyright. Since its college, no one ever really cares. This picture… was of Chewbacca grabbing Princess Leia’s boob, and both turned giving a faux-shock gasp. This wasn’t a drawing… it was a PHOTO. And I *don’t* think it was photoshopped. My guess is it was a picture they took behind the scenes while goofing around during Empire Strikes Back. This part has nothing to do with PostSecret… it just made me laugh.
Met my friend and we went and got sushi. Mmmmm…. Sushi. We talked, did some catching up, and then headed to the chapel, as the doors were scheduled to open soon. When we arrived, there was already a fairly respectable line formed. We sidled on up and got in line. Soon after, the line started REALLY growing. Thank Jeebus we got in line when we did. The young lady that stood right behind us struck up a conversation, and we chatted for a bit… asking where we were from, how we heard about PostSecret and all that small-talk stuff. She was a nice gal, very pleasant, even ended up sitting next to us inside.
Looking at the rest of the crowd… I think my friend and I were probably the oldest ones there. Hmmm… I guess I was hoping for a little more age variation in the audience, but then again, it’s a college campus… what was I expecting? I also found myself surprised by the fact that there seemed to be very few guys in the crowd… it was probably 90% girls. Normally, I don’t mind being genderly outnumbered… but this situation felt a little off. Maybe it was just the combination of the two. *shrug*
Some security came around for a quick camera check (they weren’t allowed inside), and we started to slowly file in. The seats were pews (it was a chapel, after all), and we actually ended up with a pretty good view I thought. We weren’t right up to the stage, but we weren’t far back enough to have trouble seeing or reading anything that was up there. I thought we got a good spot.
We waited there for a while longer, and a little after 7:00, it started. Frank Warren, the guy who started and runs the site, came out… a very calm, unassuming guy. He didn’t exude an overpowering feel-good touchy-feely fakeness, he seemed humble, modest… normal. Hearing him talk, it felt… genuine. He wasn’t giving pseudo-pschological Oprah/Dr. Phil-style speeches about how you should feel good about yourself… in fact, the things he did talk about, and the stories he relayed… were about listening. He wasn’t the kind of guy that did a lot of talking… he listened.
That’s the best part about PostSecret… even the best part about when I was going to therapy for the time I did… just being able to have someone LISTEN to you. I mean, *truly* listen… without judging or just waiting for their turn to talk. And when you send in a postcard, you really do have someone listening… potentially thousands. But guaranteed… at least one.
When it came to the part of the presentation where the audience was invited to share their own secrets… with 2 microphone stands set up in the aisles. A few people started to get up and formed a small line at each. Frank had mentioned how the lines were always small at first, but quickly grew (mainly because few people are comfortable being first). After a few secrets were told, I turned to my friend and asked, “Should I?”
In retrospect, I know that just saying that is me looking for a “yes, go.” So even though she said, “I don’t know… do what you want”… I decided to get in line.
I’ve sent in secrets, texted them and randomly placed them around my gym… it seemed almost silly to drive 3 hours there and NOT say something. Was I going there for the experience to be just voyeuristic… or for it to be cathartic? I don’t know if it was ever about voyeurism (maybe a little bit)… but the other always seemed more important to me. So I got up.
Just after I did, Frank asked that no more people got in line… but we would hear those who were already there. I looked behind me… no one. I looked at the pattern of going back and forth between the two microphones… and figured out that I was going to be the LAST person that spoke one. More than not being first… I didn’t want to be the LAST one. Maybe the performer in me felt slightly pressured to give a really good last secret for people to end the night with, but mine wasn’t that kind of secret. But… when it got to me, I just said what I was going to. I tried to say it simply… I didn’t want to give explanation or a set-up, and I tried to pick the words carefully so it wouldn’t take long. I tried to say it like I would on a postcard.
Probably didn’t make a lot of sense to all the others… but it’s what I wanted to say, so screw ‘em.
The presentation ended not long afterwards… actually, I thought it was going to go a lot longer. It definitely could have. It was only about 8:30 when it finished. Frank was being taken over to the next building for the book signing portion of the evening, and most people were either leaving or heading over there. My friend decided to get on the road and head home… I wanted to hang around just a little longer.
I didn’t bring any of my PostSecret books to be signed… which is okay, because I’m not really into the autograph collecting. To me, the experience of being there was more important… and that happened whether I have an ink scribble to prove it or not. But I got into line anyway… because I just wanted to shake his hand. He’s read my secrets, he listened… as he’s done with a few hundred thousand others… and never violated that trust. I’ve only witnessed integrity from him and the website… and I think that’s worth a handshake.
When I got to the front of the line, and it was my turn… I told him, “I’ve sent in secrets… I’ve texted them, and even randomly placed them around…
… But never this one.”
And I handed him a folded up piece of paper… where I had written another secret. One I’ve never told ANYONE… one that I’ve never even formed into words, spoken or written. It’s not something *I* think is bad… but something that I was made to be ashamed of when I was a kid. I’ve never told my best friend… nor any of my girlfriends, not even the one I thought was “the one”. But I told him.
He smiled and thanked me, and shook my hand. I said, “Thank you… for all that you do.”
Then I turned around and walked away… then drove 3 hours to get home.
And you know something? The 6 hours of driving was completely worth it. While driving and reflecting on the trip… I started to tear up a little, and I’m not even completely sure why.
He’s been called, “The Most Trusted Stranger in America”… he humbly says he’s not so sure of that.
I think there’s a damn good argument for it.