Monthly Archives: February 2012

Only Child uses fiction to deal with life’s pain

Only Child reading one of her short stories

If you are writing a memoir/considering writing a memoir, but something in your life is too painful or might cause grief for you and your family, try writing it as a short story. Perhaps you or some other family member has an incurable disease. Perhaps you are dealing with a parent with dementia. Writing about a painful situation, even transformed into fiction, can be a healing catharsis, but it can also turn into the most powerful story. Almost anything is fodder for fiction. Just make sure it is fiction.

I do this. One short story evolved from a family member’s (not immediate) unexpected suicide. No way did I want to add to our family grief, but maybe I had some survivor guilt. I was also a suicide survivor (from 30 years ago) and for five years volunteered at a telephone distress centre.

The short story that evolved changed everything except the suicide fact and one character’s volunteering at a distress centre. The characters were younger, brother and sister, and the story was told from the sister’s point of view. It started with her big brother’s suicide and then went back to their life, including growing up with a mother who was an alcoholic and verbally abused her children. This definitely was not the situation in my family. In my story, the sister was filled with guilt and she felt that she should have been able to stop her brother, especially as she was volunteering at a telephone distress center. I made up the name of the distress centre and what “happens” at the fictional distress centre did not happen with my actual volunteering. For those interested, the story “My Brother’s Keeper” was published in the Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch anthology, Gathered Streams (Hidden Brook Press, 2010). Check out http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/anthology.html.

So, if you want to create fiction from fact, here are a few pointers about what to do/what not to do.

  1. Use only the incident/event as your idea to kick-start your story. The story must be fiction.
  2. Use fictional characters and events, not the actual people or their names. It’s best to have characters with different age brackets and different backgrounds than in real life.
  3. Change the setting, perhaps even the time line.
  4. Use your emotions to propel you forward, but also keep in mind that this must be fiction. You are using your emotions from the real happening to help you dig deeply when writing your story.
  5. As this is fiction, you can have a different outcome than the one connected to the real-life trigger event. Just make sure that the outcome works with the story.
  6. Make sure the story is fiction. I can’t emphasise this enough. Real life (mine) incident – one of my cousins blasted me for writing true stories about the family history. However, she said she wouldn’t mind fictionalized accounts. I’m not going to take that at face value. Readers have the knack for finding themselves or someone they know in fiction, even when it isn’t true. But we do absorb what happens in our life. And that is often the trigger for story ideas.

For another take on writing fiction from fact, check out Writing Truth or Fiction http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/truth-or-fiction.html The author here actually used a real character in her novel. And so do other authors. Here’s another take on this http://www.thebookladysblog.com/2009/08/26/writing-real-people-into-fiction/

For those of you in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area, I’ll be teaching a Crafting the Short Story Workshop at the Runnymede Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Tuesday, March 6, 6.30 p.m. It’s free. You just need to sign up at the library. Check this one out at http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/programs-and-classes/categories/book-clubs-writers-groups.jsp and click on “Runnymede.”

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Family, Fictional characters, Healing through writing, Memoir writing, Only child, Pain, Sharon Crawford, Short story writing, Suicide, Toronto writing seminars, Writing fiction from fact

Only Child feels the pain – physical

Only child works through the pain

Physical pain seems to be the norm in our lives. Age doesn’t matter. It seems we can do all the healthy things (or not) and we still get “hit” with pain. I’m not talking about one-offs such as toothaches or labour pains; I mean acute and chronic pain. But I’m noticing something. Those of us in pain are not taking it lying down without a fight.

I’ve been in some kind of acute or chronic pain for 30 years. I suppose I come from it honestly, the pain part anyway. As I write in my memoir about my dad and his cancer, I realize the pain he suffered.

Then Dad gets recurring headaches that escalate into one big throbbing hurt at the top of his head. It must be torture to bend over the toilet bowl to puke out his guts while his head drums to the same painful beat. He becomes weaker and spends most of his time in bed. Our family doctor sends him to the hospital, this time St. Michael’s.

Those are the bad old days, when cancer treatment wobbles in its infancy and has only two prongs – slice or burn. The doctor chooses the fire of radiation to try to destroy the cancer seeds. Daily, Dad is wheeled into the treatment room and blasted for 20 minutes with volts of radiation straight into his brain. Clumps of hair fall out, and his head resembles an abstract quilt with the white batting sticking out.

(Excerpt from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

Individuals with cancer are good examples of those in pain.. True, there are so many more options than when my father had cancer in the late 1950s and 1960s. But I see these good examples in the determination and guts of those with cancer today, for example, many walk in marathons for cancer research. The news has countless stories about the courage of children with cancer. Children getting cancer is something I think is totally wrong, something I can’t quite get my head around. But that is for another post.

My pain started with migraines thirty years ago. Despite postponing some work assignments for the demeral-gravol shot in the hip and crawling into bed  (temporarily) to sleep it off, I didn’t give up on my life. The migraines (which are long gone, thanks to the treatment of a doctor at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto’s pain clinic; he later became head of that clinic). Suffering migraines became a turning point in my life – migraines started my writing in the health area, which I still do (Example, see http://www.samcraw.com/Clippings/OHThePain.html, copy of my story originally published in Body, Mind & Spirit).

I’m not going to bore you with a history of all my pain episodes, but I want to mention the current one because many people may have it but don’t know they do. I have a Vitamin D deficiency and one of the symptoms is severe bone pain in one leg, just below the knee, so we’re not talking arthritis. I also have a digestive disorder which causes malabsorption. The best Vitamin D source is the sun filtering in through your skin; so far I’ve been okay in summer as I’m outside a lot in my garden, walking, and at outdoor festivals. But for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, winter brings little sun and much cold weather. Despite this winter’s somewhat milder climate (in some parts of Canada), most of us do not spend much time outdoors. We bundle up, so our skin isn’t exposed much in the winter. So we have to take Vitamin D3 supplements, but if we have malabsorption those supplements have a hard time getting absorbed into our system.  I have a friend who takes from 3,000 to 5,000 IU’s daily (depending on the season) of Vitamin D and so far she’s had no side effects. Over the weekend, I just bumped mine up to 2,500 a day and began taking digestive tablets.

Studies in the United States and the United Kingdom show there is a dearth of Vitamin D deficiency in people of all ages – from children to seniors. A University of Minnesota study showed the count at 100 per cent to 55 percent with five people having no Vitamin D in their bodies; in most cases the symptom was undetermined muscle or bone pain (See http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/4836.php). In the last few years tests for Vitamin D deficiency have skyrocketed (See http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-07-13-vitamin-d-tests_N.htm). It’s a simple blood test folks; I recommend you ask your doctor for one if he or she doesn’t already do it as part of your annual medical check-up.

Meantime, I think my leg pain may be decreasing. I’ll find out for sure when I go for my daily walk. Walking outside tends to up the pain. And I’m hoping to still be able to start my Yoga class this Thursday evening – a gentle stretch Yoga with meditation, specifically for those recovering from injury and illness. Yes or no to Yoga, I will continue to apply what has kept me going through my pain: determination, passion in what I do, perseverance, and plain old stubbornness, a trait I inherited from my Dad.

Dad’s cancer went into remission – for the time being. I’ll leave you with how he rejoiced at this.

…one day when mother and I walk into his [hospital] room, Dad smiles at us.

“I ate a cheese sandwich, and it stayed down,” he says.

(Excerpt from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

Tell me your pain stories and how you cope.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Bone Pain, cancer, Health, Only child memoir, Pain, Vitamin D Deficiency, Vitamin D tests, Yoga

Only Child learns lesson from clogged drain

Only Child sits and ponders

Today may be Valentine’s Day but some of us chug and churn along alone in both work and our personal lives. I call it the “only person syndrome.” Never more did this hit home to me until my kitchen drain clogged Sunday evening. But I learned something from the experience, something I knew in my heart before, as well as something I intend to apply in a couple of ways in both personal and business life.

Sunday evening I was (and still am, at least the side effects of the medication) getting over a bout with the flu so a clogged drain was one of the last things I needed. When this happened to my late Mom and Dad, they knew what to do. As I write in my memoir:

When it came to getting things done around the house, if Mom and Dad couldn’t do it themselves, they turned to friends and colleagues. Dad worked as a timekeeper for Canadian National Railway and somewhere in the bowels of Union Station, he met up with Ken, the singing plumber. When house pipes burst, Ken arrived, and after he fixed the offending plumbing device, he let his pipes loose – he sang opera, loud, gregarious, but not to the height of breaking the glass top of the door between the living room and front hall.

(Excerpted from the memoir You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

However, I don’t have a “Ken” in my life. So I turned to my neighbour friends who do this type of work. No help from these neighbours who I had thought were my friends; we help each other out… or so I thought.

One exception here. One of my neighbours was sick and so he was immediately forgiven and I wished him a speedy recovery. One of the other neighbours refused to  help with excuses of what he was going to be too busy doing the next day and evening (I had specifically said I didn’t expect anyone to come over late on a Sunday evening). He proceeded to give me a long list of suggestions plus he said he didn’t know anything about such a situation. I know the latter isn’t true and from what I saw yesterday I have my doubts about some of the excuses. As much as it would have hurt, I would prefer he had said he didn’t want to help me with this. Monday morning I called my some-of-the time handyman, and bless his heart, he came over within a few hours and cleared the sucker. His fee was reasonable and he gave me a three-month warranty.

So, what is the lesson? How can I apply it in my personal and business life?

The lesson is two-fold. The bottom line is we have to trust ourselves to fix things in our lives and not really depend on others. I don’t mean we have to learn all trades and be all things. But when push comes to shove, we need to be careful whom we ask for help. Friends may not be the best answer (and really from previous experiences with another friend, I should’ve known this) so consider other options – from other professionals to ourselves.

Of course (and I have to stick this in) it helps if we have a partner, a significant other, even a sibling, who we can rely on at least for support, and sometimes help. Those of us living the “only person syndrome” can’t. However, we have another option…find someone else on our radar who is in a similar situation and offer that person support and ask for his or hers and I don’t mean running over to fix the plumbing. A buddy-type support, whether by phone or email or maybe sometimes in person when the going gets rough on one person’s side. The situation will switch and both individuals will have a chance to listen or lean on the other.

In these tough economic times, especially for us self-employed, this can often be the tipping point that gets someone moving in a positive direction – a job lead, a step out of the miasma of hopelessness and maybe a good laugh or two. It’s worth a try and I’m going to do this as soon as these medication side effects ease off (not drowsiness or anything with the brain working, for anyone wondering). I have someone in mind on the professional level.

Comments?

Next week I want to go into how laughter can help our health and well-being.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Aloneness, Betrayal, Family, Friends, Help and Support, Learning Experience, Only child, Only child memoir, Plumbing, Trust

Only Child looks at ageism

Only Child not ready to be considered old

If you are a person of a certain age, particularly a woman, have you been subtly discriminated against because of your age? With job hunting? Retirement? Health? Or anywhere else?

The recent Superbowl feedback about Madonna’s performance hinted at her age. So what if she is 53? Or if she were 23 or 73? The point should be her talent, not her age.

Ditto for other female performers. I’m thinking of Helen Mirren in particular. And then there are the rest of us “of a certain age.” And for full discloser, I have been guilty – not just towards others but towards myself using the so-called health issues related to age as an excuse for not coming up to snuff doing different things.

As the late Ann Landers used to say, we need a “lashing” with a wet noodle.

Many of you know from reading some of my other blog posts that my parents didn’t exactly live through the middle or higher ends of so-called old age. Mom died at 63 and Dad died at 66. I don’t think they were discriminated in the health area because of their age, at least not intentionally. The closest I can come to that is with Dad’s last bout with cancer (untreatable), he was sent to what was then Riverdale in Toronto to finish off his time. In 1965 there were no hospices like today. When Mom had her brain aneurysm the doctors at the hospital did all they could (including operating) but it didn’t work. However, the fact that I wasn’t going to be notified of her actually dying until afterwards may be bad hospital practice rather than ageism. Maybe.

As I write in my memoir:

I get a phone call from one of Mom’s church friends, Mrs. Cook, the mother of Mary, the girl who used to walk The Bully and me to kindergarten.

“Sharon, I just called St. Mike’s and it doesn’t look so good. They’re not really saying anything, but when my husband was dying this is the way it was. They didn’t phone until after he died. You better get down to the hospital.”

I phone home and get Aunt Minnie who is just heading out the door. We agree to meet in mother’s room at the hospital. Then I receive permission to leave from the Acting Superintendent who says to get one of the staff to drive me. I look around for a cop – preferably a hunk in uniform who can just shove aside the security guard at the hospital. It’s before visiting hours start at 11 a.m. and I don’t have enough nerve or body to muscle my way in.

The only cop is a 19-year old cadet. But Roger is tall and in uniform, and he drives me. When we arrive, I ask him to accompany me to the elevator because I had problems with the security guard after hours on Saturday. I feel safe strolling behind this almost-cop in uniform. The guard gives me no problem. I thank Roger and take the elevator up. As I round the bend on mother’s floor, I overhear two nurses at their station talking.

“Better phone the daughter.”

(From You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford)

Today, as I journey through the same age as Mom’s last year, I consider if I am discriminated against in any way (subtle or not) and I have to conclude that for the most part I am not…yet. But I also have to consider my life situation. I am self-employed but if I had to look for a full-time job would I be discriminated against because of my age? I am able to get my Canada Pension Plan before turning 65. I get seniors discounts (before 65) at several stores, railway travel, and my bank (no account fees except for bounced cheques). And sometimes someone even offers me a seat on the subway, streetcar or bus – and I don’t take that as an insult. I get respect in my profession (writing, editing, writing instructing and speaking) although I think that comes from experience, but experience comes with age. Catch 22?

No, the only derogatory age item I can think of now is being called “dear” or “ma’am” I am not anybody’s “dear” or “deer” for that matter, and I hate being called “ma’am,” although I have to admit I got “ma’am” when I was in my 30s.

There are studies done and article written on ageism in relation to health and work. One of the most interesting is connected to the UK’s change in law in 2011 regarding mandatory retirement age. Read about that at http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2011/sep/30/abolition-default-retirement-age-ageism-at-work, which also contains links to other articles on age discrimination. And go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/17/age-discrimination-work-peoples-panel for comments by five people on age discrimination – too old or too young for their work. Also check out Linda Woolf’s excellent thesis on the subject at http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/ageism.html

You be the judge on this. But it is worth looking around and seeing what exactly is going on with age discrimination – despite it being illegal in many countries, at least for job discrimination.

Meantime, I’m going to work on my attitude towards myself. And give a pep talk to a friend feeling OLD because she is approaching 60.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Age discrimination, Age discrimination laws, Ageism, Madonna, Old Age, Only child, Only child memoir, Seniors, Sharon Crawford