When University alum Davy Rothbart found a note mistakenly placed on his windshield a few years ago, he got an idea. A glimpse into the lives of two strangers, the letter led Rothbart and some friends to rally in the basement of his Kerrytown home and create a ‘zine out of various “found” items with scissors and glue.
Thus was the beginning of FOUND Magazine, founded in 2001. Today there are five issues of FOUND, which include submissions from people all over the world. The movement has since blown up, and Rothbart will stop by The Michigan Theater at 8 p.m. tomorrow as part of a 65-city tour to promote the latest magazine.
Rothbart will share the stage with Frank Warren, founder of the PostSecret blog and book series, as the historic venue hosts a bevy of creativity, spontaneity and randomness wrapped in the non-profit and grassroots production of FOUND Magazine, PostSecret, 826michigan and the Neutral Zone. Warren is summoning us to reexamine the “poetry, humor and humanity that goes unseen in the world every day.”
Warren will join Rothbart in 13 cities, including tomorrow in Ann Arbor. Warren is just coming off the tour for his most recent publication, “A Lifetime of Secrets.” PostSecret started in 2003 while Warren was in Paris, when he had a vivid dream about sharing secrets visually, publicly and anonymously. The next day he began a project that would lead to PostSecret – a community forum in which anyone can submit a four-by-six-inch postcard relating a personal secret through image and text. Warren chooses cards to post weekly on the blog, and others are included in his books. The secrets range from the sexual (“Reading the directions for condoms turns me on”) to borderline silly (“I don’t care what you say . I still think RLS [restless leg syndrome] is bullshit”) to the utterly depressing (“The next time I get cancer I’m not going to fight it”).
The proceeds from tomorrow’s event will benefit two local non-profit organizations, 826michigan and the Neutral Zone Teen Center. 826 is a volunteer-driven local chapter of a national organization created by author Dave Eggers. The Neutral Zone is an organization started and run by youths. Both have tutoring and creative writing workshops, as well as dance, theater and other wacky events.
The outrageous spirit of each nization will manifest itself in a carnival-like atmosphere tomorrow. Rothbart will share some favorite and recently found items – some that have even been found during this tour – while his brother Peter performs songs based on an eclectic mix of other inspiring found items.
In a phone interview, Warren promised to share some “secret” secrets – the ones that are “just too shocking” to go in the books – as well as a personal secret, which has been kept for 35 years and acted as the driving force behind PostSecret.
Both Warren and Rothbart are often asked about the owners of the secrets and found items they publish. Does Rothbart ever meet them? Does Warren receive updates? They had some anecdotal answers.
As he drove through Oklahoma, Rothbart told me over the phone about a new find brought to his attention after a recent performance. It was a piece of paper with an illustrated picture and personal ad. On it was his name, some interests – he likes “oatmeal and train stations”- and his desire to meet a girl. Rather than claiming extraordinary good looks (“I’m no Brad Pitt,” he admitted), the ad described him as more of a “biscuit” than a “stud muffin.”
While Rothbart and the finder looked at the paper, they suddenly noticed the “biscuit” himself in the front row of the theater, waiting for the next movie. Rothbart struck up a conversation with the stranger, who was both shocked and pleasantly surprised to see people were interested in his homemade classified.
Warren offered a different type of story, one that tactfully illustrates the cultural significance of these unique art movements. After a lecture at a college campus, one girl updated the audience on her secret. She had sent in a card about anorexia and then went on to make a T-shirt to publicize statistics and symptoms of the disease. She not only found an accepting environment when she wore the shirt to school, but her friends and teachers asked for shirts of their own.
Warren said he saw the story as a touching display of one person’s courage, which spread to the community and made it more “collectively healthy.” The postcards are a tool for people to confront and let go of long-held secrets simultaneously, and they can act as a catalyst for community interaction and growth.
FOUND and PostSecret are two avenues into the lives of strangers. They may be voyeuristic, but, Rothbart said, “A certain amount of voyeurism is healthy.” Our lives are spent in the midst of strangers, and these two projects – “kindred spirits,” as Rothbart called them – seek out points of relation and connection. Who knew how cathartic writing a deeply held secret on a little postcard and sending it off in the mail could be? The size of Warren’s following proves the concept’s potency.
Take a break tomorrow to experience what Warren promises will be a “fun, poignant, sad and happy” event. The stories exposed via PostSecret and FOUND are both anonymous and yet incredibly public. Sometimes we need to keep feelings and thoughts inside, but other times it’s important to let it all out. That’s what FOUND vs. PostSecret is all about.
Found vs. PostSecret
At the Michigan Theater
Tomorrow, 8 p.m.
$15, $9 students, $40 VIP
*Tickets can be bought at Shaman Drum, Vault of Midnight, The Neutral Zone and 826 Michigan, or online.