If you’ve seen Parks and Rec, you may remember a scene from Season 3 called “Soulmates.” Ann (Rashida Jones) helps Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) set up an online dating profile by asking about her hobbies, how she would describe herself, and finally, “Favorite Place?”
Leslie: Upstairs there’s this mural of wildflowers, and I like to sit on a bench in front of it.
Ann: Really? It could be anywhere in the world: Paris, Hawaii, the Grand Canyon…
Leslie: Nope. Just the bench in front of the mural.
Ann: What about an actual meadow, where wildflowers are?
Leslie: Eww, Ann, I’m scared of bees. Mural!
Although Ann thinks Leslie’s ideal destination is kinda lame, Leslie doesn’t budge; she likes what she likes. And it turns out, the spot is also liked by Leslie’s (future) favorite person as well, Ben (Adam Scott).
(Credit: Tumblr User nowayandy)
A favorite place doesn’t have to be lofty and expensive (or it can, whatever floats your boat), but it should be somewhere you enjoy going, solo or not. It just needs to be a place where you can pause, step back from the day-to-day tension, and just take a breath.
Regardless of the ending of the episode (or the numerous other times Ben and Leslie chat by the mural), I love that ambitious, compassionate, imaginative Leslie chose somewhere so seemingly mundane as her favorite place.
Along with our love of breakfast food, Leslie and I have that in common.
For anyone who knows me personally, the fact that I’ve ventured to the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum (yes, that’s a thing) more than once is not surprising. The United States Postal Service is a true underdog in the communication industry, fighting against gargantuan advances in both transportation and media technology yet they still work on commission (not taxes). I’m truly fascinated by them (e.g. this is an interesting book, if you are, too), but I digress.
My favorite place in the world, however, is not the Postal Museum itself but one of its limited exhibits called PostSecret.
PostSecret began as a blog of anonymous, voluntary secrets sent by post card in the early 2000s to founder Frank Warren. Since then, the project has exploded into books, a TED Talk by Warren, a CNN report about certain “confessions”, and recently, an exhibit in a national museum.
In the exhibit, there are hundreds of curated postcards with secrets, even a glass case of a hill of postcards representing only a fraction of the secrets Warren has received (and continues to receive) over the years.
Some of the cards are stuck to the walls where only the picture (altered, or not, by the sender) with their secret in sharpie; some have only the script.
Others look more like photographs developed from instant camera film, laminated, and then sent off with a stamp. Some of the faces or eyes are crossed out to hide identity.
Some aren’t even postcards, but instead objects with a secret written in marker, packaged, and sent in the mail.
The middle of the exhibit is almost like a maze of clear pillars of postcards so visitors can read the front and back.
During my year in DC, the exhibit became my place of solace, a way to get out of my head. Every secret, whether joyful, cryptic, depressing, or hilarious, is just a glimpse into the large incomplete picture that is an individual life.
I always have many questions: Is this picture of the sender? Or the family they miss? How long did they struggle before figuring out that problem? Are they doing better now? Are they still alive? Why did they choose this picture for that secret? Where did they find this postcard?
And always: What was the catalyst–the bridge–between admitting this secret, writing it down, and ultimately, deciding to send it to a total stranger?
I’ll probably never find out the answers to these questions. There’s no context given, only more and more postcards to peruse. And there’s something palpable about seeing these postcards in person–to hear another visitor’s laugh or sigh, see them frown or stare longingly–it’s quiet but connected. I like to think we’re all imagining the background of this PostSecret person or perhaps a more hopeful alternate ending as well. But, like the answers to these postcards, I actually have no idea. And I suppose that’s the beauty of this place: it’s the only place where I don’t have to know the answers nor do I have to find out. There aren’t many places like that left.
The commonalities between my fellow visitors, the PostSecret senders, maybe even you reading this, is that we all have moments of quiet triumph, we all wish we could fix some things, even people (even if it has nothing or everything to do with us), and we all worry about making the wrong decisions. Even though these secrets are so personal (the names are never signed), I like to think these postcards were sent in the hopes of cathartic release that someone else could understand, would not judge, and may even relate to it. We’re not really alone. Despite whoever or whatever higher power you do or don’t believe in, I have to have faith in people because we’re much more alike than hierarchies and borders and barriers and brackets would lead us to believe.
But maybe this is too much to put on a postcard exhibit in a postal museum. Maybe I’m reading too much into this? I’ll never really know why Leslie picked the wildflower mural bench, other than the fact that she just liked to go there, but maybe that’s all I need.
So why is my favorite place in the entire world the PostSecret exhibit?
I just like to go there.
Well, I liked going there…
As the year ends and we welcome a new one, take a moment to catch your breath–remind yourself of all the things you’ve accomplished and experienced and places you’ve been, and anticipate all the moments that are yet to come.
The PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard exhibit at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, DC closes in January 2018.
You can still send secrets by post card to the address below and check out the online archive of PostSecrets (updated on Sundays) at postsecret.com. Also, what’s your favorite place? Why?
13345 Cooper Ridge Road
Germantown, Maryland 20874
What I’m Listening To: Taking a small break from podcasts now and mostly listening to holiday music by Pentatonix and the Arthur’s Perfect Christmas CD.
What I’m Reading: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan; not bad so far, honestly just trying to finish it before the movie comes out.
What I’m Watching: Most recently, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Disaster Artist. I thoroughly enjoyed them both (so much that a movie critic argued with me because I criticized her for refusing to watch The Room before reviewing The Disaster Artist for a nationally-distributed public radio podcast, but I digress.)