“Tonight I’m not going to jump off a bridge. My name is Fetch. Thanks for the book. ”
These were the last words of an entry left in the Bench Diary. Fetch was a 17-year-old living on the streets of Calgary. For him, the world was “so chaotic everywhere” but he was able to find peace, in front of the Pooh Corner little free library, reading a book and writing in the diary attached to the bench.
The Bench Diary appears sporadically and randomly on benches around the city for exactly one day. It’s a day when anyone who discovers this little gem is given the chance to write anything they want, to express their thoughts and feelings as they sit on the bench.
The original idea behind Bench Diary was to provide a creative space in which people can feel safe to voice their thoughts, and connect people that often pass each other by without a word. The idea originated with Dessa Lohrey from Atlanta, Georgia and has since expanded around the world, to places such as Singapore and Melbourne and Peru.
Tamara Ann-Lee brought Bench Diary to Calgary. Tamara has always had a penchant for Place Making – from leaving a friendly “Once upon a Time” in sidewalk chalk on the pavement, to participating in the grassroots Bow to Bluff citizen engagement project. The most profound feedback she has ever received was “Thanks for asking!”
Her philosophy is that people are just waiting to be asked. To be asked about what’s beautiful, funny, humiliating or sad in their life – to be invited to speak, in a space free from judgment and rejection. The Bench Diary project was a delight for Tamara’s heart. For her, it was like building a crystal radio and suddenly being able to tune into a station that she’d never known about. Occasionally the radio broadcast mundane stories about waffles and occasionally a person’s deepest thoughts. Tamara appreciated each and every message, because they were all precious, heartfelt feelings.
Tamara ultimately would love to see other Bench Diaries across the city but she does not intend to actively grow the project. She believes that “small is beautiful, and tiny even is more beautiful”. This project is enough for her, her tiny little Bench Diary, because it’s not the big things that you do that matter, sometimes it’s the little things at the right time. Her dream is that every one of us will realise our potential to bring little wonders to the people around us, so that we can invite each other to dance and play.