Volume 76, Number 33 | January 10 - 16, 2007

Courtesy PostSecret.com

A postcard from PostSecret.com, online repository of arty, homemade confessions

Hit send for therapy, or take the stage

By Ibby Caputo

Stephanie Sabelli is sexually frustrated and not afraid to admit it. In fact, she’ll tell you all about it.

“I used to be 50 pounds heavier,” she announced to an audience of more than 20 people, mostly men, sitting in the downstairs room of Je’Bon Noodle House in the East Village last month. “My way of helping my self-esteem was to [have sex] a lot. Now that I’m not fat I don’t need that boost of self-esteem. So I spend the majority of my time masturbating.”

Sabelli — a 22-year-old with pale skin, long brown hair and large dark eyes — is one of many regulars at True Stories Tuesdays, a weekly open mic night where participants are encouraged to tell the truth.

“We’re living in a time when people are lying to you,” said the co-host of the event, Master Will Lee, citing the faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that led to the Iraq war as a case in point. He then quoted George Orwell: “In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Fortunately, in this age of reality TV, blogs, talk shows, and personal memoirs, there is no shortage of venues for telling our true tales. In addition to True Stories Tuesdays, Lee also hosts Talkingstick, a monthly storytelling event at Chelsea’s Rubin Museum of Art, where truth is not merely encouraged, it’s a prerequisite. At Mo Pitkins, Peter Hyman and Allen Salkin host Group Therapy, a psychological show-and-tell sponsored by Heeb magazine, where “people have discussed their problems with academia, premature ejaculation, bad teeth and the rise of Christian nationalism,” said Heeb’s editor, Joshua Neuman. And on the Web, the avenues for confession are virtually infinite, as sites like PostSecret.com, Notproud.com, and DailyConfession.com have multiplied in recent years. But whether the stories are told live or online, are completely true or partly exaggerated, storytellers and psychologists agree that this type of public expunging is therapeutic.

“There’s nothing more liberating then telling a story that’s true,” said Dave Ritz, a regular at True Stories Tuesday. “It’s better than sex and drugs.”

Recently, Ritz and 20 other people signed up for an eight-minute slot. A drum set tucked into the corner of the stage went unused throughout the evening, though a ba-dum-bum from the cymbals could have accentuated many performers’ punch lines. Many were amateur comedians, and more than two-thirds were regulars. They have been gathering on Tuesday nights to tell stories, practice comedy routines, or do both, for almost a year.

This time, Ritz told a somber story about waiting tables on Thanksgiving, and feeling a little depressed because he wasn’t with his family. Some well-mannered, Southern whites who appeared to be religious sat in his section, and went around the table saying what they were thankful for. Then they looked at Ritz and asked him. He was taken aback. “Customers rarely ask me anything about my life,” he said.  “But when they asked me what I was thankful for, I didn’t want to tell them. Here I am serving you turkey and stuffing and you’re asking me what I am thankful for?” When they insisted, he lied and said he was thankful for his health.  “To be honest with you, I’m still searching for that,” he said, then added, “Probably being here tonight in front of you, telling the truth.”

Performance plays a big role in drawing people to these events, according to Steve Beverly, assistant professor of communication arts at Union University. “Whether [you’re] telling a story on stage, television, to your family or friends,” he said, “for that time you’re the center of attention, and for some people that fills a gap.”

Not everyone prefers to air secrets in public, however. At PostSecret.com, “an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard,” the online confessions can get pretty dark. One postcard features the image of a girl being shunned by her peers in a cafeteria, with a typed admission: “At 31, I realize I’ve become the kind of person who was always the villain of the stories I wrote as a little girl. It makes me wish I were dead.”

Confessions are broken into eight categories on Notproud.com: the seven deadly sins — pride, envy, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, anger — and miscellaneous. On the homepage, a disclaimer reads, “Confessions are as we see ourselves. It is not always pretty, but it is often illuminating.”

Readers have a chance to respond to confessors by clicking a “Talk Back” link on DailyConfession.com. In one anonymous admission, a man said he cheated on his wife six weeks after they were married 17 years ago. The first person to comment chided the confessor. “Way to say I love you to your wife… you still are pathetic.” But the second person was more supportive: “He who is without sin may cast the first stone (or something like that). My point is, who are you to call him pathetic?”

Greg Fox, who founded DailyConfession.com in 2000 and authored a book about it called “Coming Clean,” said a community has sprung up around his site.

“A lot of the people that talk back are regulars,” Fox said. “People come here and find out that they are not so weird and that their life is not so bad.” He likens the process to the Catholic sacrament of confession. “It was recognized thousands of years ago that it was a cleansing and cathartic process to be able to say these things, and unburden one’s soul.”

Fox, who was born and raised Jewish, categorizes the confessions on the site according to the Ten Commandments. Many confessors reference Jesus and a hope that they are forgiven for their sins.

At True Stories Tuesdays, Sabelli says she finds solace on stage, where she is encouraged by nods of understanding.

“It’s so cool to have such an intimate connection with complete strangers,” Sabelli said. “I come from a history of a lot of pain. Being able to express that pain, in a funny way, is like therapy.”

True Stories Tuesdays is now held each week at Mug Lounge, 448 East 13th Street, at 7 p.m.


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