The best thing I’m finding about writing this little blog is the freedom it gives me to write about whatever or whoever I choose. I love that. Love the freedom to say what’s on my mind or my heart and to share it with anyone who cares to listen. I’ve decided over the coming months to write about my personal heroes. To celebrate and thank those people who light my way. So today I’m going to write about the Bruno Lettieri who first taught me creative writing and has since taught me a lot about creative living.
I could start the story in a hot portable classroom at St Albans TAFE in 1993. I could talk about how nervous I was returning to education after twenty odd years. I could tell you about sitting down on that first night thinking, ‘ I’ll kill my daughter for talking me into this.’ I sat in the back row at that first class figuring the door and a quick exit would be handy if the going got tough and I decided to just get going! I didn’t know on that first nervous night, that this short energentic teacher would unlock a door for me into a world I didn’t know exsisted.
On that first night Bruno handed out exercise books and enthusisim. He told us that the word encouragement meant ,’To give courage.’ He told us we all had stories that were worth writing. That the words we needed weren’t in a dictionary, but were in our hearts and our memories. He told us to roll up our sleeves, to not be afraid of what we didn’t know but to just get something, anything down onto a page. He threw around prompts and quotes like a manic chef with a pan in one hand and a piping bag in the other. He quoted writers I’d never heard of. Came out with lines about footy and love and daydreaming . For homework he told us to write three times a week for at least ten minutes without stopping. To keep all our stuff. Told us where to look for inspiration. Told us to be, ‘Interested in the predicament of being alive.’
I came away that first night thinking, ‘ How long has this been going on’. My memories of teachers and classrooms were nothing like the two hours I’d just experienced. This guy, this passion, these ideas were something I’d never experienced before. In the following weeks and months I fell in love with my teacher’s ideas of writing about the stuff that was important to me. I started to carry a notebook with me and would often stop during my workday to jot down a line about something that caught my eye. I started to view my life and the lives of my family as a tale worth capturing. I forgot about boring english classes I’d had during my school years. I began to see that life is literature, and that the world I’d only been glancing at, had so much to offer.
In the years that followed that teacher became my mate. He became my mentor, sometimes my confessor but always someone who continued to open doors for me. At my wedding he gave my wife away cause her dad was on the other side of the world. He helped me get my work published. Wheeled me out to talk to new students about my writing and about my journey.And each time I’ve been in a psych ward he’s been my first visitor.
Last Wednessday night he invited me to talk to his life writing class at Rupertswood. I arrived a bit early and he was mid lesson. I pulled up a chair and watched the manic chef in action. I saw the pan, saw the piping bag, saw the faces of his students and recognised myself in their eyes. Heard him read them a short story set in Sunshine.And I listened as he encouraged his students to write their own.
Yep, He’s a hero. He’s still teaching. Still inciting ordinary people to tell their extraordinary stories. And nineteen years on continues to,’ Give me courage!