Friday, July 24, 2015

Intimacy of a Stranger

By Shelby Tansil

DARYL: Are you sure you’re not here for a reason? This is stupid.

HANK: Wait... I ah... I...

DARYL: What?

HANK: I want someone to talk to. You were giving me company.

-From Bryant Hernandez’s play, Tricks

It is exactly 10:48 pm on a Saturday. In a little over an hour, I will commence my weekly ritual. Midnight between Saturday evening and Sunday morning is a special time for me. It’s a time for reflection, connecting and late-night chuckles. Some days I don’t make it until midnight—my roommates don’t call me Grandma for nothing—but when I do stay up that late, I know I will be rewarded with a worthwhile gift. How do I know this? Because every Saturday around 12 am, PostSecret delivers a fresh batch of secrets right to my computer screen.

For those of you who haven’t been introduced to the world of PostSecret, here’s how the official website describes it: “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard” (Warren). Since 2005, people have been sending their secrets to creator Frank Warren for the project. After receiving bundles of anonymous confessions, he selects some of the most intriguing ones and posts them on his blog. Ten years in and PostSecret is still thriving. Here are some samples of secrets from the project:

Sometimes the secrets are heartbreaking. Sometimes they make
me choke on my drink with laughter. Sometimes they repulse me with their attitudes or images. Sometimes they are in unfamiliar languages or inscribed in codes I can’t decipher. But I always get something from my weekly ritual with PostSecret. It’s a nontraditional form of intimacy: the intimacy of a stranger. The experience excites and alarms. It brings comfort and discomfort in equal measure. Being able to peek into the deepest crevices of another human heart and seeing reflections of your own darkest secrets is liberating. However, it’s also a reminder that almost everyone you have met or
ever will meet has secrets that you will never discover. This can be a frightening thought when you take into account some of the darker, crueler secrets that have been posted on the website.

As much as I love PostSecret, I also wonder what makes people decide to share their secrets with total strangers instead of with the ones who love them the most. In theory, it makes more sense to share the most intimate details of your life with the people you have intimate relationships with. So why do some people choose to divulge their deepest secrets to strangers? Why do they turn from the familiarity of friends and family to the anonymity of an unfamiliar face? What is gained and lost in this intimate exchange between strangers?

These are questions that Bryant Hernandez explores in his play, Tricks. The play focuses on the meeting of two male strangers on a secluded park bench. Although the
conversation starts out with talk of the weather and sandwiches, it quickly escalates and ends with both men revealing some of their deepest secrets. Hernandez uses vivid details and distinct dialogue to breathe life into his characters. The plot is simple, but the complexity and authenticity of his characters is admirable. Through these complicated individuals, Hernandez investigates what factors might lead someone to share intimate life details with a total stranger. He also considers the impact that turning to a stranger has on the secret teller’s other personal relationships. Tricks demonstrates that the intimacy of a stranger may be temporarily comforting, but it doesn’t necessarily provide a long-term solution for dealing with our secrets.

My experiences with PostSecret have lead me to this same conclusion. The beauty of PostSecret is that it makes
people feel less alone, less burdened by what they might have thought was a unique issue or emotion. The project is great for momentarily relieving shame, fear and worries. But the biggest issue with this method of secret sharing is the very thing that makes it desirable: anonymity. Because viewers are strangers we will probably never encounter in real life, we can tell our secrets to them without fear of major embarrassment or repercussions. The downside is that we don’t receive support from those who love us most. PostSecret submissions receive responses in the form of Internet comments and emails posted publicly on Frank Warren’s website. When our submissions are posted, we receive support from strangers but not from friends and family. The support of strangers seems a little hollow when I compare it to what I could theoretically get from the people who care for me on a day-to-day basis. An article about PostSecret from USA Today expands on this idea:

Evan Imber-Black, a family therapist and author of The Secret Life of Families, says telling secrets has no meaning except in the context of family relationships.

"We live in a time where people have the mistaken idea that you tell a secret to the multitudes on TV — and move on," she says. "But opening a secret is just the first step. (Posting on PostSecret) might offer some measure of relief, but I'm not sure how long it lasts. When a secret opens, it usually takes time and relational work to get a new equilibrium." (Puente)  

It’s not always easy or realistic to share our deepest secrets with our families and friends. In these situations, turning to the intimacy of a stranger might be the best option.
But perhaps the most valuable thing people can gain from this intimate exchange with a stranger is the courage to one day share these same secrets with someone they love.  

Have you ever revealed a secret to a complete stranger? How did you feel afterward? Does that feeling differ from how you feel when you tell secrets to a close friend or family member? We would love to hear from you! Comment below and tweet us at @Rianttheatre! Follow the conversation at #strawberryoneactfestival.

TRICKS will be performed in the Riant Theatre’s night of one- act plays titled, LOVERS, STRANGERS & WHAT SOME PEOPLE CALL FAMILY on the following dates:

August 13th (Thursday) at 8:30pm
August 18th (Tuesday) at 8:30pm
August 23rd (Sunday) at 8:30pm
For tickets go to

You can also purchase TRICKS in the anthology, THE BEST PLAYS FROM THE STRAWBERRY ONE-ACT FESTIVAL: VOLUME ONE, which can be found online at:

Works Cited

Puente, Maria. "Blogger Gives Dark Secrets the First-class Treatment." USA TODAY. USA
TODAY, Gannett Co. Inc., 14 Mar. 2006. Web.

Warren, Frank. Web log post. PostSecret., n.d. Web.


P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about PostSecret or sending in a secret of your own, here is some useful information:

Official PostSecret website:

Address to mail your postcard to:  13345 Copper Ridge Rd
                                                            Germantown, Maryland