Secret Keeping

Nearly three decades ago, Psychologist James Pennebaker discovered a shocking correlation between secrets and health outcomes – that people who kept more secrets were dealing with more health issues. Today, secrets are generally considered bad. But in today’s episode, we’re going to discuss creative secret keepers. These people use secrets to form relationships, to explore worlds they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access, even to build new lives for themselves until – well – the secret’s out. Today we’ll explore what opportunities open up when someone keeps a secret, and what happens when that secret is revealed.


Host: Chelsea Davis

Producers: Rosie La Puma, Eileen Williams, Will Rogers, Claire Schoen, and Jonah Willihnganz

Featuring: James Pennebaker, Jackie Chan and Justin Krasner-Karpen. Thanks also to Preet Kaur, Natacha Ruck, Joshua Hoyt, Tess McCarthy, Alexander Muscat, Lilly Gill, Shara Tonn, Dustin Dienhart, Christy Hartman, Jake Warga.

Music used during transitions: Podington Bear, Revolution Void

Image via Flickr

Release Date: 21 October 2015


Intro Story: Unhealthy Secrets

Decades ago, James Pennebaker found that adults’ health problems are correlated with sexual trauma in early childhood. This wasn’t a surprise: everybody knows it’s not a good thing to be traumatized as a child. What surprised Pennebaker, though, in the health outcomes he saw, was how long people had kept these experiences secret, and what happened when they found ways to open up.

Producers: Preet Kaur, Natacha Ruck, and Will Rogers

Featuring: James Pennebaker

Music: Chris Zabriskie

Image via Flickr


Story 1: Call in the Night

Anonymity is a dangerous thing. Studies of online comment sections have confirmed what we all know: people are meaner when they are anonymous. One study even found that just wearing dark sunglasses resulted in people behaving less generously. But sometimes anonymity can foster intimacy rather than boorishness. Two Stanford students signed up for an experiment in talking to strangers. They were paired to receive a middle of the night phone call. What happened on the call was up to them. The call shows how keeping one’s identity secret makes it easier to share other secrets, and secrets, after all, are the currency of intimacy.

Producer: Joshua Hoyt

Music: Bensound (Jazz Comedy), The Suger Puckin Ganstarers (Cozad), Revolution Void (Scattered Knowledge)

Image via Flickr

Link: Documentary Theatre performance about the same story, written and directed by Xandra Clark


Story 2: Rescinded

Ashley Hart endured a rough childhood with an abusive mother after her father died. A tough upbringing turned into a dark nightmare when a judge found her guilty of manslaughter in the case of her mother’s death. As a minor, Ashley had the right to keep her name unconnected from the incident. No secret is truly safe though, and her fight to turn her life around is haunted by the secret of her past.

Producers: Tess McCarthy and Eileen Williams, original by Tess McCarthy, Lilly Gill and Alexander Muscat

Featuring: Tess McCarthy

Music: Kevin Macleod (Colorless Aura, Pepper’s Theme, Water Lily)

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Story 3: Frankly Emma

Since the day she was born in 1841, Emma Edmonds has felt betrayed by her gender. Inspired by a cross-dressing heroine in a novel, Emma decides to leave behind everything she’s ever known at the age of 17 and take on a new secret identity. Adventure with us through her amazing true life story – complete with pirates, romance, battles and spies – while Emma tries to determine exactly what it means to be herself.

Producers: Rosie La Puma and Shara Tonn

Featuring: Eileen Williams and Justin Krasner-Karpen

Sounds: Jury Duty (“Howling Wind”), Rosie La Puma (Birds at Munger), Mike Koenig (“Sniper Fire Reload”), TheMSsoundeffects (“Warfare sound effect 9 – Civil war battle – close”), The Best Thing Since Twinkies (“Record Scratch”), (“Peeper Frogs Near Lake”) Music: Chris Zabriske (Cylinder Two, Is That You or Are You You), Jason Shaw (Running Waters, Back to the Woods, Hoedown), Podington Bear (PrettyBuild, Climbing the Mountain, Hearts Affluter), Gillicuddy (Adventure Darling), Rosie La Puma & Deborah Wicks La Puma (“Military March”)

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Research References: The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier by Laura Gansler and Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse, and Spy: A Woman’s Adventures in the Union Army by S. Emma E. Edmonds

Additional Notes and Fun Facts:

You may have noticed in the story that Emma’s last name changes from beginning to end. Emma was born Sarah Emma Edmondson, but after she left the army, took on the name Emma Edmonds.

Like any biography, this portrait of Emma is far from complete. Interested in learning, for example, why Emma was labeled a deserter and denied a pension? Check out Emma’s page on


Story 4: A Change of Heart

A star student attributes his high school success to a friend who inspired him to change his entire life. The catch? He’s kept it a secret from her the entire time.

Producers: Chelsea Davis

Featuring: Jackie Chan

Music: Podington Bear (The Window, Kid Is Frangin Tight, Kingbeat 9, Tribe, Old Skin, Odyssey, Hearts Aflutter)

Image via Flickr


When you lose something, there’s a hole where that something used to be, and you have to figure out how to live with that loss. The emptiness will always be there, but what can you gain from trying to fill it? What can be gained from losing? This episode has four stories about people who lose something, and then seek new things to fill the emptiness. A lifelong dream gets derailed by a butterfly knife, an athlete’s passion for her sport crumbles after an injury, a girl searches for something she isn’t really sure she wants to find, and a woman slowly loses her ability to hear.


Host: Jackson Roach

Producers: Jackson Roach, with help from Jonathan Kleiman, Will Rogers, Nina Foushee, Jake Warga, Christy Hartman, Claire Schoen and Jonah Willihnganz

Featuring: Owen O Súilleabháin, Gabriel Lomeli, Amabel Stokes, Julia Berkson, Mitch Berkson, Olivia Berkson, Claire Richards, Daniela Roop, Jody Louise

Music: All music in this episode originally composed by Owen Ó Súilleabháin

Image via Flickr

Release Date: 20 January 2016


Story 1: Hole-Hearted

When a policeman stopped Gabe Lomeli on the street, he thought he had nothing to hide, but that one interaction would shift the course of his dreams.

Producer: Maddie Chang with help from Will Rogers

Featuring: Gabriel Lomeli

Image via Flickr


Story 2: Getting Off Track

As a successful track athlete, Amabel Stokes has crossed many finish lines. In this story, she learns to move beyond the red tape.

Producer: Justine Beed

Featuring: Amabel Stokes

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Story 3: An Eventful Brunch

A lovely meal in a small mountain villa is interrupted by a stumbling man with his hand tight against his stomach. Everyone spends the rest of the morning frantically searching for something they’re not sure they want to find.

Producer: Maddy Berkson with help from Nina Foushee, Jackson Roach, and Jonathan Kleiman

Featuring: Julia Berkson, Mitch Berkson, Olivia Berkson, Claire Richards, Daniela Roop

Image via Flickr


Story 4: Forgiveness

Dr. Fred Luskin, founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, shares his story of loss, and how he learned to move forward.

Producers: Jake Warga, Emma Heath, Jon Kleiman

Featuring: Dr. Fred Luskin

Image via Geograph


Story 5: Sound by Sound

In her twenties, Jody Louise started to lose her hearing, and her doctors couldn’t figure out why.

Producer: Jackson Roach with help from Maya Lorey

Featuring: Jody Louise

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The 5 Powers: Superheroes of Peace

The 5 Powers: Superheroes of Peace

Friday, October 9, 2015
Film Screening and Panel Discussion
Cubberley Auditorium, Stanford University
Link to map
This is a ticketed event—see below for details
Doors open to ticket holders at 6:00PM

From Spiderman to the Hulk, numerous superhero origin stories tell of a character’s interaction with an unknown element that effects a radical transformation. This change often leads to heightened senses, enhanced abilities, and the sense of a greater mission that transcends our individual selves. Although this path is a familiar trope in the realm of “fantasy,” it exists in the real world as well. It is a profound yet simple notion: each of us can be a superhero. Like the spider that bit Peter Parker, we can tap into a real life element called mindfulness to have better concentration, self-awareness, and impulse control. Mindfulness has also been scientifically proven to help us feel calm and increase empathy for others.

Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1957 comic book The Montgomery Story, which informed and influenced a civil rights movement, the animated film The 5 Powers tells the story of three inspiring individuals who used the power of mindfulness for peace during the turbulent Vietnam War. We learn about our main character’s journey towards mastery of the five powers through the experiences of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong, and their friends Alfred Hassler and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Please join The Stanford Storytelling Project, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s international community of monks and nuns for a special screening and discussion of The 5 Powers on Friday, October 9 at 6:30pm at Stanford University’s Cubberley Auditorium. Learn how to access the power of mindfulness to effect change within oneself and the world. Click here for more info about The 5 Powers.

This event is co-sponsored by The Stanford Storytelling Project, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE). All proceeds from ticket sales go towards supporting event costs.