Bench Diary: Write Your Thoughts in a Community Journal
If you see a small pink or purple journal seemingly abandoned on a park bench somewhere in the Boston area, don’t turn it in to the lost and found. Instead, take a seat and write something in it.
Tethered to a string connected to park benches, the mysterious journals are part of a now-international project called “Bench Diary,” which gives strangers passing by the outdoor seating spots a chance to take a few moments to anonymously pen anything from a poem, to a thought, to a complete letter or confession—some people even draw in them. “There’s a wide range of topics, but it seems like a lot of people like to talk about the setting that they’re in, and they take inspiration from that place and write what they see, or what the place means to them,” said Dessa Lohrey, who founded the Bench Diary project in her hometown of Atlanta last June. “Then the other end of the spectrum might be asking for advice, or making a confession or revealing a secret, or even giving advice—that’s kind of a popular topic, people giving life advice.”
Since she launched the concept, interest in spreading the idea to other cities, both in the U.S. and in places like London and the Philippines, has piqued. On Wednesday, Bench Diary touched down in Somerville’s Union Square, not far from the Bloc 11 Café on Bow Street, and a pink booklet was left out in the open for the public to peruse and write in at their leisure. Along with the kick-off of the public journal in the Somerville area came an accompanying Twitter handle, called @BenchDiaryBOS, which will alert followers about a book’s whereabouts so pedestrians can keep an eye out for it.
An architect by trade, Lohrey started Bench Diary in her free time as an experiment to see what kinds of thoughts people would share. Once she started collecting the books and reading what people had written down, she was surprised by how honest some passerby were in their confessions. “It’s different from anonymous rants in a comments section, or on other social media outlets that let people post thoughts,” she said. “I think that people are surprisingly honest about what they’re thinking.”
Lohrey said the whole thing spawned partly out of a sense of isolation, and partly from wanting to connect with people she saw walking down the street and was curious about.
As her project grew in Atlanta, people started reaching out and asking how they could get involved to bring Bench Diary to their own communities. Working with individuals, Lohrey started a website with links to each new city, and left it up to the discretion of volunteers to pick and choose which benches to leave the books on, and for how long. Lohrey’s only rule is that once entries start coming in, she wants organizer to scan copies of what’s being written so it can be shared on the Bench Diary website for everyone to enjoy.
Surey Rodriguez, who runs the Boston branch of the project, said she found out about Bench Diary through a news article. She reached out to Lohrey and told her if she wanted to spread it to Boston, she would be willing to help. “I take public transportation every day, and often have found myself wondering about fellow passengers or even just people I pass on the street: where they’re going, what they do, how long they’ve lived in Boston,” she said. “I think most people wonder similar things, but so few of us engage with strangers…for a variety of reasons. This project seemed like a really great way to collect some of those thoughts and stories, and that’s where my interest stemmed from.”
Rodriguez said the first diary was planted in Porter Square this week, and already someone made a “pretty amazing sketch for its first entry.” (You can check it out here).
With the diary now moved to Union Square, Rodriguez said she’s looking forward to seeing what people will continue to share. “I’m hoping to get diaries to a variety of neighborhoods and areas in the greater Boston region, so I’ve begun scoping out good benches which would work well for this, especially once the weather continues warming up,” she said.
People should look for the diaries in places like the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston Common, the Public Gardens, Harvard Square, the Arboretum, Chestnut Hill Reservoir, and other spots. “I might even get one of my park ranger friends to take a diary out on the Harbor Islands for a day trip in the summer,” she said.
Eventually, as the project grows, Rodriguez wants to take suggestions about where a diary should go via Twitter. “All in all, I’m just excited to see Dessa’s idea grow within the local community. I think Bostonians have a lot of interesting things to offer a project like this,” she said.
To follow along and see what people are writing, check out the Bench Diary’s website.