Monthly Archives: October 2011

Only Child gets serious about prioritizing

Only Child contemplates setting her priorities.

Every fall, my late Dad used to prepare the lawn for the following spring by ordering in half a truckload of manure. After it was dumped in the driveway, he would spread it onto the lawn – front and back. I suspect my mother also put some of  this manure in her vegetable garden.

With autumn soon sliding into winter, I’ve been trying to wrap up the garden and prepare the house for winter. Weather, of course, dictates when this can be done. But there is another big factor that can get in the way here as well as in your business. You might call it the “manure factor,” but in my case, the meaning is just the opposite to my Dad’s endeavours.

Since I returned from my summer holidays many moons ago, I seem to be living in overwhelm. True, business has been brisk; there is (was?) the garden, plus a lot of administrative stuff to deal with – both for my writing, editing, and instructing business and for the house and property outside. Some of it was definitely necessary to handle in a timely manner. The question I need to ask is how much of what I’ve been dealing with in all aspects is actually necessary right now? What is suffering that is more important? What is (or are) the culprit(s) getting in the way?

Fall is a good time to have a constructive look at your business, what your vision is, what your goals are, and perhaps very important – what is your passion, and if what you are doing moves you forward to achieve them? And what the heck is getting in the way?

Too much social media may be the problem. In my case it is business email. Not personal email – I’m lucky if I get to some of that. At least, I talk to and see my son and his partner regularly.  However, if it weren’t for this blog some of my friends might think I’m dead.

The balance is off – both in my personal life and my business life. When I analyze where my time seems to go in my business, I see too much emailing back and forth – and this is to clients. Whoa. Wait a minute (make that several minutes). They are paying me to edit their work, write something for them, or instruct them in writing. So, why are we spending so much time emailing right away. Those are the key words. How much emailing to clients is actually urgent? True, if there is information either of you need right now to proceed or if the client is in some kind of crisis connected to the job you are doing for them, fine. But otherwise, is it really necessary to fire off an email right away?

Situations and events that occur sometime in the future may not require instant replies. Even the “normal” (whatever that is; you define) emailing back and forth between clients and clients to-be may work fine  with waiting a day or two. I know of some people who do that (I am one of their email recipients). Maybe they have the right idea.

Then there is what I call quasi-business email: e-newsletters related to your business, forums and other online groups related to your business, invites to conferences, book launches, workshops, etc. etc. My job and your job here is to sort the important from the not-important. That includes deciding who to reply to and when, what to file and what to just delete. For example, in my books, an invitation to a conference or a workshop that costs too much receives the delete button hit. Ditto conflicting dates (with a few exceptions such as if the times differ for the same day and I can work around them), something outside my business travel parameters, and an event way outside my business target markets.

Time is money. So, the question to ask is “Am I wasting money I could earn by wasting my time?”

Time is also precious. The question here is “Am I wasting time doing something I don’t need to do and forgetting my vision, my passion?”

Food for thought as we go about preparing for winter.

Comments anyone?

Excuse me while I rush out to my garden to bring in some weather-sensitive plants. Clouds are looming; rain is coming, and after that the temperature will dip.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Balance, Decisions, email overload, Home and Garden, Life demands, Manure, Only child, Only child memoir, Overwhelm, Passion, Prioritizing, Sharon Crawford, Time management

Only child at high school reunion – memoir fodder

Only Child in grade 9 at Notre Dame back in the grey ages.

One of the two high schools I attended had its 70th reunion on Saturday. My old school friend, Nancy, whom I reconnected with nine years ago at our other high school reunion, picked me up and we were off – first to St.  John’s Church for a Mass and then Notre Dame High School across the schoolyard for the meat of the reunion – mixing, mingling and re-connecting.

Gee, I got it wrong. More mixing and mingling happened inside the church  before the Mass started. As Nancy and I walked into the church, I stared at people’s faces. One lady from my tine had a name tag on but I thought it read the name of a deceased classmate. She soon set that record straight, coming up to me and telling me I walked right passed her. I didn’t want to mention the death part. I had merely forgotten her married name and the “J” of her first name looked like an “H.”

More former classmates from my year (’66 for those who are curious) popped up and we did some reminiscing and reconnecting over the pews after we sat down. The Mass itself had readers from former principals, teachers and students – including one family doing one reading session. That was interesting but I didn’t quite catch the significance of the priest’s sermon focusing on incidents from his grade school days. Notre Dame High is an all girls’ school. His sermon was much too long as was the whole Mass. I was itching to get over to the school and do some more reconnecting.

We almost didn’t make it thanks to the extreme wind, blowing umbrellas inside out and threatening to have some of us do an impromptu Mary Poppins imitation (minus the singing). However, once inside and signed in, I added a name tag to my two “back then” school photos pinned to my sweater so people could recognize me.

I shouldn’t have bothered. Nancy and I reconnected with one student from our time, who also went to our grade school and we saw a few of those we’d already talked to in the church.  I actually reconnected with one gal I met at an alumni gathering two years ago. Carmel is a 1975 grad, so after my time, but I introduced her to Nancy and the three of us had fun reminiscing.

What was also interesting was checking out the classrooms and seeing their contents now. I can’t remember which rooms were my actual homerooms, but some of these classrooms had the trimmings of classes we never had – drama, music, a chapel, and four rooms with computers. Mind you, most of the computers had the old “fat” monitors. The auditorium still doubles as the gym, although the changing room has moved from the equipment supply room off the auditorium, to a a small classroom across the hall.

As one of the volunteers phoning old classmates, I expected a better turnout of 60s students, but the 50s and 70s had us beat by a long shot.  Mary, one of my other classmates doing some of the phoning said, “I had trouble persuading most of them to come.” Even the one who said, “yes,” didn’t show up.  No wonder I kept staring at faces and name tags and kept wondering why many of the faces weren’t familiar. Many of the ones I knew just weren’t present.

So what is the purpose of all this reminiscing? The reconnection with old classmates (emphasis on the “old”) helps me connect the past with the present. Not only do I solve my journalistic curiosity (oh heck, let’s be honest – nosiness), I can get some answers, maybe some peace about anything that happened back then that might be bothering me. Looking into the classrooms and talking with my old classmates, I realized that these were special times – not perfect, but times to be cherished.

However, I wouldn’t want to go through them all again. Maybe seeing more old classmates would be a good idea.

I hear Notre Dame is having a 75th anniversary reunion. In the meantime, this reunion (and any school reunion) you or I attend, does present fodder for writing your memoir.

More on this aspect next week.

Meantime, I ‘d like to hear about your school reunion – if you’ve ever gone to one.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Back to School, classmates, Memoir writing, Notre Dame High School, Only child, Only child memoir, School days, School reunions, Sharon Crawford, Teachers

Only Child on too much research in memoir

Only Child's Dad when he worked for the railway

In last week’s session  in my Crafting the Personal Memoir taught in my home, I covered incorporating research information to the actual memoir without overdoing it. I used an example from my memoir and the old version is a doozie.

Old version beginning of Chapter  Riding the Rails with Dad:

If you’re going to travel on the train with my Dad, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line for Platform 7 or 9 for Guelph. Dad had to be first in line at Union Station and that dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and Aunt Rita’s farms.

What did I expect when Dad worked as a timekeeper for Canadian National Railways since 1918? Just before the 20th century, Canada had three transcontinental railways: the Canadian Pacific Railway – the one tied in with Confederation, the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway. From 1900, railway lines had increased from 27,000 to 77,760 km (16,777.02 to 48,317.82 miles) but the extra construction and World War I had the latter two railway companies rolling on shaky financial tracks. So, in 1917, the federal government followed a Royal Commission recommendation and joined the Canadian Northern Railway with the Canadian Government Railways. The year my Dad Joined CNR, this amalgamated railway took on the moniker of Canadian National Railways. One year later another railway, the Grand Trunk Pacific jumped tracks to become part of this federal family.[i]

As timekeeper, Dad must’ve had his work cut out for him. Sure, the merger had reduced railway operating expenses, but the equipment to keep the railway running needed a big overhaul. The purchase of 8,450 new cars, 163 locomotives and 200 passenger cars,[ii] required much re-scheduling of train runs, both freight and passenger. Dad didn’t actually stand outside on the platforms and time trains coming in and going out – not like a bus inspector. He worked in the CNR Office on Front St. West, adjacent to Union Station in Toronto. He kept track and analyzed train run times from reports. Railway schedules were based on the Uniform Code of Operating Rules, until 1990 when the Canadian Rail Operations Rules came into effect. Despite “Rules,” train accidents occurred, and in 1907, the year my Mom was born, nearly 600 people, most of them railway employees, died in train accidents. Again, Dad entered the CNR workforce at an ideal time for him, as the total number of railway accidents declined after the Frst World War. [iii] But his clerk’s salary was lower than that of the more skilled engineers or conductors who actually rode the rails as part of their jobs.

(Copyright 2005 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons earlier version)

Yawn. As you can see it even included footnotes (which I’ve deleted here.) Too much information and while I tried to connect it with my Dad it just doesn’t work. After the feedback from the summer workshop with Ken McGoogan at the University of Toronto in 2005, I made several changes. Below is the version in the manuscript I’m now pitching to agents.

Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad

If you’re going to travel on the train with Albert Langevin, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line at Platform 9 for Guelph, Ontario. My Dad has to be first in line at Toronto’s Union Station. His “typical CNR” style dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms.

On the way to Union Station, Dad sits in the front seat of the taxi, the better to play navigator. Mom and I, with my doll Darlene, sit in the back. 

“The best way to get to Union Station,” Dad says, looking down at his watch, “is to take Broadview down to Eastern Avenue, then take Eastern Avenue to Front Street.” He scowls over at the driver. “We don’t want to miss our train.”

Not likely. Unless we get stuck in traffic on this pre-Don Valley Parkway day in the late 1950s, we will arrive an hour and a half early at Union Station.

The driver makes a right turn and Dad jumps into attack mode.

“I said to take Broadview to Eastern. We’re on Gerrard St. now. Turn left at Parliament and go down Parliament to Front Street.” Dad removes his watch and is practically shaking it at the driver.

(Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons).

As you can see I deleted all the railway history here – some of the other history is still in the chapter later on but in narrative as I saw it back then, not as my research now stated it. The watch was incorporated as narrative in this version and more on the watch and Dad as timekeeper is incorporated into narrative in Chapter 1. The rest is as they say, history.

The idea is not only to connect the history to you but to do it in a way that is more in story-telling mode than lecture-mode. Also make sure that the history you are including is really relevant and necessary to your story. For example, does the reader really care how many railway accidents occurred when my Dad started working for the (then) CNR?

I welcome any comments on this and how others deal with research in their memoir or have difficulty dealing with the research. I call too much research “researchitis.”

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes



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Filed under Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Research memoir writing, Sharon Crawford, Union Station Toronto, Vacations

Only Child teaches writing course at home

Only Child learns course prep and practice makes a good session

On Saturday, I taught the first two sessions of my Memoir Writing Course from my home and it worked out great. Probably one of the 5 per cent of what goes on in my life that didn’t get messed up with snafus. Today is just the opposite and I hope that doesn’t continue into this evening’s course session. Everyone and everything is “jumping” at me today with demands, snafus – you name it. So, maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the first day’s sessions (besides the memoir writing content).

First of all I finally decided on the room – my kitchen. Yes, all five of us crammed into my small kitchen. I pulled out the medium-sized table, cleared off the top, positioned five chairs around the table, made coffee, had fresh strawberries, muffins and cookies available. I cleared off the top of the radiator and put memoir books I planned to use on the radiator. We did go into my office (next door to the kitchen) for part of  Session 2, to do research online on my desktop computer, but that was already planned.

I was also prepared with course materials for the first three sessions and laid those out in folders around the table, one folder per participant. I had three folders for me, one for each session. When I added pens, paper and that bowl of strawberries, we were ready to go.

All who signed up showed up. That meant a few emails or phone calls back and forth beforehand. All paid their fee promptly, too.

I did a dry run the evening before to refresh my memory and make sure I had all handouts, etc. I needed.

I didn’t make any apologize for the room except to say it wasn’t warm enough in the rec room downstairs. So, we worked in the kitchen and took our lunches into the living room where we carried on memoir writing and other writing discussions.

The course itself is geared to the participants with many practical exercises, including getting them started and continuing writing their memoir, some lecture, but lots of time for them to talk about their memoir projects, ask questions and get a real discussion going. All five of us seemed to bond. And one participant sent me a thank you email afterwards.

Why did it work? Gearing the course to the participants, sharing my experiences and knowledge, the food and coffee, and being prepared.

But the big factor, I think, is I focused and I also didn’t have everyone and everything else not connected with the course jumping at me with their demands. Therein lies the big answer. I have to tune out all this “static” and focus on what I am doing in the moment. I have to get rid of any guilt of not jumping to attention at all these distractions. They (people and things) will just have to wait their turn.

Easier said than done, but one can try.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Life demands, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Problem solving, Sharon Crawford, Teaching, Teaching courses from home, Writing courses from home, Writing workshops