Category Archives: School days

Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir (continued)

Only Child in Grade 12

In our last memoir writing session this week, we covered the topic of using fiction techniques when writing your memoir. Today, we discuss setting. There are similarities with using setting  in memoir and in writing fiction, with a few differences.

Always, you need to remember, memoir is not fiction, so you can’t make stuff up. True, settings in fiction often are real settings – at least countries, cities and the like. But sometimes the city or town is fictional, as are the residences and businesses and of course the streets.

Setting in memoir can give the writer an advantage, though. For example, you can write about the place you grew up in – as it was then (and a lot of that is how you remember it. Look at those old photos) and you can go back and see how it is today. Is the house you grew up in still standing? Or is it now a huge ugly condo or a paved parking lot?

But the narrative of setting in both fiction and memoir is stronger and more interesting if you skip writing it like a travel piece and put your character (you, in the memoir) right there. Show yourself going into that high school for the first time – how did you feel? Who did you meet? And blend in what you saw? For example, when my friend Nancy and I switched high schools for grade 12, (in the mid-1960s),  we had a heck of a time finding the most important classroom – the study hall. I don’t know how many times we walked around the whole top floor of the high school (it was walking in a square – that’s what it felt like and the actual shape of it). Finally another classmate with a study period helped us find the room.

So, you can see how that could generate the setting of just this school floor as Nancy and I wandered around lost. And the emotions, some dialogue and the actual study room when we finally found it and entered it.

Here’s one of the exercises I had my class do for setting. If you have time, you could try it.

  1. Exercise: Take a scene from your past and write about it with you in it. This could be the backyard of the house you grew up in, your bedroom, the kitchen, the street where you live. Note: if your memoir is about a particular time in your life use a scene from that as opposed to a scene in your past that won’t have anything to do with your memoir. The purpose is to create the atmosphere as you remember it in one location important to your life and learn how to show it to the reader from your unique POV. For example, if you were terrified of thunderstorms and hid under the covers when one came, and your brother liked to run outside in thunderstorms, the two of you would definitely have differing points of view. (copyright 2017 Sharon Crawford)

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Filed under 1960s, classmates, Friends, Memoir content, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, School days

Only Child looks back at going back to school

Only Child, age 14 in high school uniform

Only Child, age 14, in high school uniform

Back in the gray ages, each September was different when I returned to school. I felt different, depending on the circumstances. Looking back, the excitement and more positive outlook was definitely before I turned teen. I remember the excitement of buying new pencils and exercise books (I did say “gray ages” so before computers) and anticipated learning new things. The smell of the pencils and paper, new books, reading, even Math, and especially playing baseball with the other girls – my age and older, made me feel good.

Of course, it wasn’t all good. I was bullied in school – first by my so-called best friend and also a nun  in grade 2 and grade 8.

When I started high school, the first day of school and the “anticipation” hit high on the dread and scary scale.

High school grade 9 actually started a few weeks before as Mom and I visited the school (a Catholic one in Toronto) to buy my uniform. This outfit was enough to send you screaming in the street with its dark blue pleated tunic, long-sleeved white blouses, black oxford shoes and (wait for it) a choice of seemed nylon stockings or black leotards – old lady shoes and stockings we called them. However, I didn’t run screaming anywhere because I was just getting over a summer of being sick with the croup.

Great way to start high school? The next high school years’ start weren’t much better. On the first day of any high school year at the Catholic School we were herded into the auditorium to find out our home room and our schedules. For grade 10, some of us found out we couldn’t take the typing class we signed up for but had to take another year of sewing and cooking – both of which I could learn from my mom, thank you very much. It didn’t help that the new school addition wasn’t finished and I got stuck in a portable for the first time. In winter the ink froze in the ink wells (gray ages, remember?) and we had to put our boots, hats, coats back on and trail back to the main school and patrol through the halls looking for an empty classroom – usually the cafeteria for religion class. Was there some connection between food and religion?

As kids and teens traipse back to school today, many are filled with anxiety. Life is more complex now with all the technology, cyber bullying and the peer and other pressure to grow up way too fast – just to list a few things. But the interesting thing that psychologists haves found is that some people long out of school still experience the first day anxiety as adults and some don’t even know this is it. Psychologists equate it with the end of the summer holidays and coming back from vacation and getting back to school or work. The days are getting shorter and the weather cooler with winter now closer and that can affect some too, like a prelude to the winter’s seasonal affective disorder (SAD.)

I get the weather one. Near the end of August and particularly Labour Day, I am saddened that there isn’t much more of summer left. Sure, we still get warm days in September (heat wave right now in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and officially by the calendar summer doesn’t end until Sept. 21. And I do like the early part of fall. But once the cold arrives – once November arrives and we go back to standard time – it is all downhill from there until sometime in April. I hate winter with a passion – especially after the horrid last two winters – in particular the ice storm and the resulting power outage in December 2013 right before Christmas.

When September rolls around I keep wishing we could go back to July 1 and the Canada Day celebrations. So much summer promise of fun, hot weather, gardening, beaches, holidays, and somewhat taking it easy.  So, I hang onto what is left and garden as long as I can, bringing potted plants inside. Of course they won’t last all winter because the sun doesn’t appear that often or that long in winter.

Read the story “No more pencils, no more books? Fall blahs still hit adults” athttp://www.pressreader.com/canada/toronto-star/20150906/281505044989606/TextView

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

 

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Anxiety, Back to School, Only child, School, School days, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Sharon A. Crawford, Toronto

Only Child on kick-starting memoir using sound

Only Child age 9 to 10 in the Holy Cross Elementary school jumper and blouse

Only Child age 9 to 10 in the Holy Cross Elementary school jumper and blouse

Do you want to write a memoir but don’t know where to start? You can use your senses (all six of them – Intuition is the sixth sense) to bring back memories and the feelings you had back then. Let’s look at the sense of hearing.

Merriam Webster (online) defines hearing as “the process, function or power of perceiving sound, specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.”

Bells can conjure up so many memories. The sound of an ice cream truck travelling on your street can remind you of ice cream when you were a child. For me that brings memories of going into Ron’s Smoke Shop and buying a vanilla or chocolate ice cream cone (I didn’t like strawberry). The ice cream wasn’t like the scoops of today. Ice cream (at Ron’s anyway) came in longish (maybe four or so inches) cones that had wax paper wrapped around them. So Ron or his wife would remove the wrapping and place the ice cream in a cone.

The sound of an ice cream truck also brings back memories of the few times my mom made ice cream from some sort of a machine. I don’t remember what it looked like (and here is where I would do research on the Internet) but besides vanilla ice cream, Mom made some lilac-coloured ice cream, which I suspect was huckleberry because she grew huckleberries in her garden and made a mean huckleberry apple pie.

You can see where that ding-a-ling sound can go.

Then there is the school bell. I have a small bell that looks a bit like a school bell but is smaller and sounds a little different. But when I ring this bell it reminds  me of the teacher coming out the front doors of Holy Cross Elementary School in Toronto and ringing the bell for the school day to start or to come in after recess. I think of the school grounds and playing ball (rubber ball thrown up against the window or baseball), or Red Rover.

Here are the details of this workshop.

Kick-starting Your Personal Memoir Using the Six Senses Workshop

Memoir is not only the story but is also the emotions the story brings back to you. Join author, editor and Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch Writer-in-Residence Sharon A. Crawford to get started writing your family history or life story using the senses to draw out emotion and memory.

Upcoming:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Location:

Agincourt Toronto Public Library Branch

Program Room

155 Bonis Ave., Toronto

More information and to register: 416-396-8950

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

http://www.samcraw.com

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Filed under 1950s, classmates, Friends, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, School days, Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child on when to write memoir or fiction

Sharon A. Crawford aka Only Child Writes. I promise I won’t repeat this photo each week.

I thought it fitting today to talk about writing – fiction versus memoir – when to use each – at least in my experience.

A short story or novel can come from something in real life – yours or someone else’s. It could be a news story, a classified ad, a personal experience, a friend or relative’s experience, something you see or hear, etc. But that experience is only the idea that kick-starts the story. For fiction, you need to use your imagination to create your plot and your characters.

For memoir, you gotta tell the truth – at least as you see it. This means real people, real events, although you may not remember exactly what everyone said. I’ve learned that as long as you are sure A and B were in the same place at the same time, they probably spoke – unless you know or find out they were feuding and not speaking. You can also check with others (family, friends) who knew the people involved and the scene in question for input. And if the people involved are still living you can talk to them. This is where it can get interesting because everyone sees the same event differently.

When do you write memoir and when do you write fiction? There is no hard and fast rule but here’s what I do. As those following this blog remember, my original memoir version got hit by family flak – they didn’t mind fictionalizing some of the stories, but some of the narrative they didn’t want in (this was from reading one chapter and based on some of the questions I had asked them). So I revamped the memoir to focus on my story, deleted the “objectionable” stuff and…got busy with the fiction.

So far one short story I wrote got its idea from something that happened with my relatives. And in another story, one character is loosely based on a relative and another character in another story originated with someone I once worked with. But that’s it – the stories are fiction and so are the characters. The real life events and people only planted the proverbial seed and the fictional took over.

Some stories have to be told as I see them. They just don’t work as triggers for fictional stories. They are too important not to narrate as they happened. With me it was being bullied as a child – both by a so-called friend, who I call “The Bully” in my memoir, and the nun who became principal at the grade school I attended. The two are important to what I was, what I experienced as a child and how I turned out as an adult. For example, if I had not been bullied I may not be so gung-ho on justice and fairness – which includes presenting both sides of the story. Heck, it is possibly a big factor in my becoming a journalist. It also may have something to do with why I think people who commit crimes need to be punished (although I think my Catholic upbringing in the late 50s and 60s has a lot to do with that attitude). However, my basic honesty and integrity came from my mother.

And I’ve tried writing short stories about kids being bullied but the stories never go anywhere and some read downright silly.

Rule of thumb: Write nonfiction – memoir, nonfiction article, whatever – about what is important to you to bring out into the open as fact. I know there are issues of will so-and-so sue me or get angry or? You need to consider these to a certain point. Don’t let them get in the way of writing your true story if you believe it is necessary to do so.

Like me, if you’ve already received flak and decide not to write it as memoir or personal essay, then use it as the trigger for fiction, and let your imagination soar with plot and characters.

My take on this. And I’m sticking to it.

What do you think?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Filed under Catholicism in the 1950s, Family Flak Memoirs, Fictional characters, Libel in Memoir Writing, Memoir content, Naming Names in Memoirs, Only child memoir, School days

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 views September’s new beginnings

Only Child age 8 Holy Cross grade school photo

September is too fast approaching and kids, teens  and others will be returning to school or college. I remember the mixture of anticipation and dread of that first day back after two months of freedom. Back in the grey ages I could smell the pencils, paper and print from the books – it’s a miracle I didn’t get high. I wondered who would be my teacher(s) and who would be in my class(es). Not all was smooth sailing for someone who was shy and quiet (then, not now. Try shutting me up today). As I write in my memoir, I had some difficulties with one particular nun in grade 2.

In grade 2 we applied our Grade 1 reading skills in exercises.

“Turn to page 12, exercise A,” Mother St. Helen says. She stands behind her desk. She holds the exercise book, alternating between glancing down at it and over at us. “When you are finished it and exercise B, you may quietly bring them up here for me to look at.” She sits down.

For the next 15 to 20 minutes the only sounds are the flipping of pages and the scratching of pencils. I read through each question and write down my answer or draw the picture required. Some of the students finish quickly and line up at Mother’s desk, so now I hear her occasional, “That’s wrong. How do you expect to pass Grade 2,” and “Good.”

I have now completed the work, so pick up the exercise book, which is the size of a thick colouring book and climb out from behind the desk, walk up to the front and line up. Nora and Michael stand in front of me and as Mother looks at Nora’s work and says, “Good,” I think I also have done all right.

“How do you expect to pass grade 2?” Mother asks Michael.

I hope I have done all right.

It is now my turn. I say nothing as I place the open exercise book before Mother. She presses her lips together as she follows along on the page with her pencil. When she reaches the bottom, she jerks the book at me.

“What’s this?” she asks.

I look down and read out loud. “Draw an X.”

“The word isn’t ‘X;’ it’s an ‘axe.’ ”

I have drawn an “X.”

“Stupid,” she says. “You should know better than that.” She whacks the pencil against my nose.

Tears well up in my eyes. My face must be turning red because Mother is looking a little strange for Mother.

“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

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

But that was back then. Now, with this September lurking near, it might be a good idea to focus on renewing ourselves, what we do, and what we really don’t have to do. Some of us are in a too relaxed mode and September can thrust us in overwhelm and overload. Here are a few ideas to help get us through the next month or so (Do as I write, not necessarily as I will do).

1. Make a list of what you do, what you think you have to do in both work and personal.

2. Use the three D’s – delay, delegate, delete as you scrutinize all the items in your “to-do” list. Ask yourself: What can you get someone else to do? What can you put off doing until another time? What can you delete or never do?

3. Tell yourself that the biggest word in your dictionary is NO. Repeat it to yourself, out loud. And keep it in mind when someone asks you to do something you really don’t have time to do. All it takes is a “No, sorry, but I have a full schedule and really don’t have the time to do…” And courage to say it. If I had more courage here I might have said, “no,” back in July to phoning member of my graduation high school class for the reunion coming up in October. But I had to get the list of classmates with their possible current contact info. I’m not a journalist with a nosy mind for nothing.

4. Find some relax time – go and sit in your garden, a park, go for a walk, meditate, listen to soothing music, read a book, heck even watch some of  the new TV shows.

5. And don’t beat yourself up mentally (or otherwise) if you fall off the balance wagon. Nobody is perfect. (I will repeat that one to myself like a mantra, along with the “No.”)

I think my friend, Fran, had the best way of summing this up – consider what is best for you right now, not what someone else thinks you should be doing. I tend to agree with her. What about you? I’d like comments on how you plan to deal with the September rush and its back-to-business mode.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Anxiety, Back to School, Balance, Delete, Life demands, Memoir writing, No, Only child, Only child memoir, Overwhelm, Prioritizing, Reading escapism, School, School days, September, Stress, Teachers, Time management, to do list

Only child looks at school days

Only child school photo at age 8

The first day back at school can be scary. There are worries about what the teacher will be like, who will be in your class, will you fit in, and the age-old question that has bothered girls of all ages – what the heck will I wear.  Of course, some students miss all that because now they go to school year  round, a concept I find disconcerting. Although these year-rounders get a few weeks off here and there, it is not the same. How can you have a normal school year if you don’t have summer vacation in July and August?

Back in the grey ages when I went to school it was from September to June with two months off for good or bad behaviour. In grade school I actually anticipated that first day. I could smell the lead pencils and text books, feel the exercise books we wrote in (no laptops then), see the blackboards and hear the squeak-scratch of the chalk across that blackboard. But it wasn’t all good times. I felt some dread about fitting in, especially with no brothers or sisters to stand up for me (or tease me). Then there were the teachers and I had some doozies from the old bat who blinked non-stop to the nun who bullied me in grade 2. I write about her in my memoir.

In grade 2 we applied our Grade 1 reading skills in exercises.

“Turn to page 12, exercise A,” Mother St. Helen says. She stands behind her desk. She holds the exercise book, alternating between glancing down at it and over at us. “When you are finished it and exercise B, you may quietly bring them up here for me to look at.” She sits down.

For the next 15 to 20 minutes the only sounds are the flipping of pages and the scratching of pencils. I read through each question and write down my answer or draw the picture required. Some of the students finish quickly and line up at Mother’s desk, so now I hear her occasional, “That’s wrong. How do you expect to pass Grade 2,” and “Good.”

I have now completed the work, so pick up the exercise book, which is the size of a thick colouring book and climb out from behind the desk, walk up to the front and line up. Nora and Michael stand in front of me and as Mother looks at Nora’s work and says, “good,” I think I also have done all right.

“How do you expect to pass grade 2?” Mother asks Michael.

I hope I have done all right.

It is now my turn. I say nothing as I place the open exercise book before Mother. She presses her lips together as she follows along on the page with her pencil. When she reaches the bottom, she jerks the book at me.

“What’s this?” she asks.

I look down and read out loud. “Draw an X.”

“The word isn’t ‘X;’ it’s an ‘axe.’ ”

I have drawn an “X.”

“Stupid,” she says. “You should know better than that.” She whacks the pencil against my nose.

Tears well up in my eyes. My face must be turning red because Mother is looking a little strange for Mother.

“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”

I can’t speak because I am too busy pretending tears are not sliding down my face.

“I’m sorry. Come down to the lunchroom after school and I’ll make it up to you.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Part 1 – Deconstruct. Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

Shortly after that, this nun disappeared from my grade school but if I thought I was well rid of her, I was mistaken. She returned in full fury as school principal when I was in grade 8 and made it her business to boss me around.

All this may sound tame to what kids have to put up with in school these days. I’m talking high school when I refer to the violence, the gangs and lockdowns. I live in Toronto and we’ve had murders inside and outside Toronto schools – not a lot and not on a daily basis, but because it happens is enough to raise the fear factor and make me glad I’m out of it and my son is out of it, although there were some rumblings in the high schools when he attended  in the 1990s and that was in Aurora, Ontario.

These are just my thoughts on the first day back to school in 2010. What do others think? Any hair-raising personal stories? Any heartwarming personal stories about that first day back at school?

And I really did not like the sound of that chalk scratching across the blackboard. And chalk is so messy and dusty.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only child writes

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Filed under Only child, Only child memoir, School days, Teachers, Teaching