Monday, December 14, 2015

The Power of Words

I was recently asked to create an exhibition for the Te Awamutu Museum. This is my essay, which will be displayed in the cabinet with my chosen items.


 As a young girl I dreamt of being a journalist -  I wanted to write for a newspaper, or be a reporter for a radio station (the idea of TV was rather beyond my comprehension).  Or maybe work in a library - that was appealing too. How else could I feed my insatiable appetite for words, and for reading, as well as prove the critics wrong!? (who said I talked too much and my written word just wasn't very good). I had my first article published in the NZ Women's Weekly when I was just 7 years old - and so began a lifelong love of words. 

I was one of those kids who read cereal boxes. Who when going to the feed store for chicken meal, would read the ingredients on the drum.  Who had a radio going all the time (and who still holds the secret shame of listening to talk back and National Radio). Who probably would have had a blog, had blogs even existed in 1973!  But who didn't do well at school, hated exams, and was petrified of sharing anything remotely personal anyway. (It also didn't help that I was left handed, and so anything I wrote smudged the minute the ink hit the page.)

Words - words were everywhere.  My house had books of all kinds, an unlimited supply of paper and pens, and even a typewriter that was mine to use whenever I wanted to. I grew up in a house of conversationalists too - and it came as a great surprise to me to discover that most people DIDN'T discuss the state of the nation, women's lib, or the merits of the current Prime Minister over dinner, like we were wont to do! 

At 14 I was told by my teacher that  I wasn't very good at writing essays. At 16 I discovered that working in a library didn't mean I'd get to read books all day, and that I'd have to go to University to learn how to be a proper librarian. And at 18 I was told I wasn't 'tough' enough to be a journalist.  So that was that.  

So, I became a banker (as you do) and satisfied the itch by writing the occasional article for a community newspaper, and some strongly worded letters to the Editor of the Waikato Times.   At 20, I went overseas, and as email hadn't yet been invented, wrote long detailed letters home every week for four years - suitably censored for parents and grandparents eyes, but also full of long lyrical descriptions of the places I went, the people I met, and the food I ate. Phone calls were horribly expensive, so words were chosen carefully for those too (although they did include an engagement announcement, excited plans for return trips home, and the odd request for money...)

Time went on and I turned to technical writing - it was part of my job to write manuals, and training workshops.  Hardly the stuff of a great writer, but again, it satisfied the need for words.  The Internet came, and my typing became word docs, and eventually blogs, video logs, and web content.  Letter writing almost out the window, but not the dream of being a journalist - it lingered and still does. I write two blogs which have had more than 50,000 people read them. 

I established a local paper in Pirongia seven years ago - it's small and published only a few times a year, but it's mine and I'm proud of it.  This summer, it's twelve pages long, and my editorial is written about a former Te Awamutu resident for whom I had great admiration.

Words can be cruel and like many I've been on the end of a few of those.  But they can also be powerful - written or spoken, it is possible to change peoples life - indeed the course of history - with them.  

Whether it's a conversation 'over the tea cups', the power of a  strongly worded letter, a history changing submission to Government (as is the work of the Chamber of Commerce), a courageous conversation over the phone, or an attention grabbing headline that makes you sit up and think - or better, get up and act - the power of words is formidable.

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