How a bench diary could change your life

There I was, sitting in a quiet library cubicle. Books piled on the table. There to get away from the craziness of living with three other University students, and whoever else happened to be in my home at the time.

As I think back to my days in school – the first time I was really away on my own, I recall these cubicles. It seems that I spent a lot of time in these small boxes, with my books, my thoughts, and not much else.

There was no Internet access or smart phones to distract me at that time. I was there to get work done… at least theoretically. In actual fact, much of my time in those cubicles was spent writing on the desk. students-studyingI’d scribble out quotes, events of the day, and often – I’d write about how I felt. Happy. Sad. Alone. Frustrated. Whatever I was feeling.

To me, this was better than keeping a diary. It was a chance to get things out, and the fact that complete strangers would see them, was somehow therapeutic.

Often times, I would return to the same cubicles and see the responses scribbled on the desk. While some were admittedly crude, the vast majority of people responded with their own thoughts, stories and encouragement. It was genuinely helpful.

I’m reminded of my school days as I share the idea behind Bench Diary.

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The concept is very simple. Sit down on a city bench, where a diary is attached. And write in it.

The results are eye-opening. From individuals simply commenting on the lovely surroundings, to others sharing their struggles with depression or addiction, it’s difficult not to support this type of city project.

Here are a few recent examples:

 It's such a nice morning. After reading this entry above mine I can't help but to think of me & my situation. I'm a young - without being cocky or sounding to cocky - but I know I'm an above average looking - good looking guy. No one would ever know but I'm addicted to heroin. Again, you'd never ever be able to tell. Anyway, my incentive to stop would for for my void to be filled w/another woman in my life. My 5 year relationship smashed me when it was over. I'm the most likable guy ever and get along w/anyone but am struggling. Perhaps I need someone to talk to. I live in Midtown & am so over this addiction. It sucks. I love god & know he can deliver me from this - maybe someone will feel like calling. Don't judge me by my writing - I'm walking my dog rite now - or by my past - I'm a good, quality person.

A letter written in a diary in Atlanta, Georgia. September 26 2014.

 There were so many hotties at Whole Foods today. When you're single, it seems every trip outside the house is a potential opportunity to meet someone. I can't decide if that's exciting or kind of pathetic. EIther way, I always try to look nice when I leave the house, just in case.   - 20-something lady

A letter written in a diary in Atlanta, Georgia. September 21 2014.

 To whom it may concern:  It's easy to feel small in a big town. Especially if you're a 17 year-old kid living on the streets. It's hard to show love and peace when it's so chaotic everywhere except this bench. I love this bench. When I sit here and I pull out a book and start to read, I can feel reality fading in the background.  Tonight I'm not going to jump off a bridge.  My name is Fetch, thanks for the book.

A letter written in a diary in Calgary, Alberta – July 18-19, 2014.

I will not pretend that a diary placed on a few benches has the ability to change the world overnight, but sometimes, we just need to share. Sometimes we don’t want to log into some web forum, or put ourselves out there on Facebook or Twitter.

Sometimes we want to sit on a park bench, or in a library cubicle, and share our innermost thoughts with people we’ve never met. Sometimes we want to read the responses, but often, we just want others to hear us. To know that our innermost thoughts will be received by others.

I encourage you to check out the Bench Diary movement, and consider starting the program in your community.

About Darryl Kaplan

Darryl Kaplan is a public speaker, author and advocate who believes that the BIG IDEA will save Main Street and create a new revolution in local living. An entrepreneur with a passion for small business and retail, Kaplan founded the Baby Point Gates Business Improvement Area in Toronto, and currently sits as its Chair. He was elected to the Executive Committee of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas - an organization that represents 81 BIAs and 35,000 small businesses. A multiple award winner in communications, magazine writing and editing, Kaplan has had hundreds of columns and editorials published nationally.

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