Opinion

Getting back on the write track

By John Lewis

One of the great things about returning to writing is getting out and talking to people.

I have been desk-bound for the best part of three years, working under the fluorescent glare of the coffee machine and the computer screen.

My only contact with the outside world has been the dead conformity of email or the wildly unpredictable hotline where anyone from the mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know category or the country music listings lady can call at any minute.

Usually they want to tell me about an important community event, which is wonderful for a community newspaper.

Sometimes they want to tell me about something awful that we need to put in the paper but with no names attached of course.

Sometimes they just call for a chat about the state of the world — or more commonly, the state of the council — which is fine if I didn’t have to put a paper out and get home before bedtime.

Anyway, goodbye to all that — as someone who fought in the real trenches once said.

One of the great privileges of journalism is being offered windows into people’s lives — their dreams, their joys and sometimes their sadness.

I always try to walk away from these conversations with a little piece of inspiration to offer others, starting with myself.

For me, journalism is not just recording facts, it’s also bringing some meaning to the world. Otherwise, I’ve been a trainspotter all my life.

In a 35-year career of chasing, talking and scribbling I’ve spoken to a lot of important and ordinary people.

What I’ve found is that important people have often told their story many times and become cliched and closed about their lives, while ordinary people are far more candid, open and inspiring because everyone loves to be listened to for the first time.

This week I met two young people about to step into a classroom as teachers for the first time.

I was there to talk to them about their selection as Teaching for Australia recruits — a program which brings people from non-teaching backgrounds into classrooms to help bring expertise and different life experience to disadvantaged schools.

These young people had the light of inspiration behind their eyes.

They had high aspirations and moral foundations for their chosen careers.

I felt they just couldn’t wait to get into those classrooms and make a difference in young people’s lives, and in so doing change a corner of the wider world for the better. I felt the world had poured an ice bucket over my head.

If I had hair I would have shaken the drops out and squared my shoulders like a freed prisoner walking away from his cell.

I left that conversation refreshed and inspired to jump a little higher and make my good better, and my better best.

After three years of berating the coffee machine and listening to the mad, the bad and the boring, I had forgotten that such people exist.

People who answered a calling with pure motives.

I remembered that I had once trained as a teacher, but I had to give up because I just wasn’t ready.

I had to live a life first.

Then I remembered my best teachers.

Mr Williams who gave me a picture book about medieval history with castles and knights — he must have known something about myself that I didn’t at nine years old.

Mr Davies the Welshman with the booming voice who insisted I had a way with words and told me to read my story to the class.

Mr Trap who had survived the Japanese prison camps in Burma to bring his obsession with history to the classroom and encouraged me to attend History Club instead of hanging out with the bullies and roughnecks at lunchtime.

Miss Evans with the red dress who could light a fire under the cold intellectualism of TS Eliot and WH Auden with her voice.

I still remember these people and I thank them, because they helped make me who I am — a scribbler, a dreamer, and a chaser with an inner life.

John Lews is a News journalist.