25th Trillium Award

Miraculous Bench Writing School & Retreat (Withrow Park & Foursquare)

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I created The Miraculous Bench Writing School & Retreat in the summer of 2010. I'd lived in the neighbourhood for many years and had my rituals, namely reading and writing from a particular bench. I began to notice just how many authors lived in the area, from as-of-yet published writers to finalists (and winners) of some of Canada's largest literary prizes. (Feel free to read into the name of this bench for a clue into the identity of one such author.)

One day, it occurred to me that any of these writers would have had occasion to sit on this very bench, looking out at the same trees, paths, soccer field and baseball diamond. Maybe they'd watched the same baby start to walk as a toddler. And most likely they, too, thought about writing, or not writing, or when to write again.

It was around this time that I also got my first smart phone and became intrigued by the possibilities of mapping applications such as Foursquare that allow users to "check in" to locations, leaving tips and To Do items for mutual friends. For instance, the first time I checked in to Mercury Espresso a note popped up on my screen, a wine suggestion a friend had left the last time she checked in to Swirl Wine Bar just down the road.

What if, I thought, I mapped the bench, inviting people to visit, in person or online, and to leave a small piece of microfiction, or a writing tip, or a reading suggestion? Like Twitter, on Foursquare you're limited to 140 characters. And these tiny thoughts and responses can be pushed to other social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, so that your larger network can also share in the fun.

Marketers are taking these applications by storm, but I'm taking it back as a cultural tool. A virtual writing school and retreat where we can store our narrative impulses.

But the really cool thing? If you live in Toronto, and you and I are mutual friends on Foursquare, and happen to Check In somewhere relatively close to The Bench, one of my pieces or tips will pop up on your screen! I remember the first time that happened for me. I was coming back from a favourite pub, crossed through the park and decided to check in. This is what greeted me: "Certain Sunday miracles are right to exist: creeping clover, ants that greet with fire, and the children, the children, their unnerving carillon. The minister's wife, ever so sly, draws the curtain." It was my Foursquare friend, Carolyn. I giggled like a kid. It was so unexpected and, simply, nice.

Hope you'll join us!

Visit The Bench in person in Withrow Park, Toronto, ON, at the intersection of Carlaw Avenue and Strathcona Avenue.

Visit The Bench online at Foursquare.

Landmark curated by Julie Wilson. Wilson is the literary voyeur behind Seen Reading, The Madam at Book Madam & Associates, and the author of Truly, Madly, Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion (under the pen name Becca Wilcott).

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