Category Archives: Teaching

Transferring skills – hereditary or not – into work

Teenage Only Child with her Mom

Times are tough and everyone, especially those of us who are self-employed, has to stretch  his or her creativity to find new areas of work, especially if we fall into the “older” age brackets. Should be easy for us creative types. Well…maybe. But it got me thinking, not just about my underlying skills, but about my late Mom’s. And just how much have I inherited from her?

First, Mom, although a widow for six years, never made it to age 65. But she inherited from my dad when he died. Her skill here was financial acumen, something I definitely don’t have except in the area of budgeting. My financial inheritance came early (age 23) and at the expense of my mother’s death. Not really a fair trade. I’d rather have had my mother around a few years more. But on a practical basis, at that age and newly married, much money went into buying a house and later for our son. Later when my husband and I separated, I needed what was left to top up alimony and earnings from my writing for daily living with a growing son.

Mom was also great at organizing things. She had files related to her business of living stored in a dresser drawer. I’ve inherited that skill (although no files in my dresser drawers) as well as her attention to detail – both very important for a writer, editor and writing instructor and speaker. She was also a bit of a pack-rat – and so was I until a few years ago when I started the big purge. I still continue in this vein. Less is more.

My mother was creative in her own way – we share the gardening and cooking creativity and used to share the sewing one. She made many of my clothes and I made all my maternity clothes and my son’s first sleepers (years ago, but not quite in the grey ages). At that time I also quilted a lot (mostly by hand), something my mother never did. Instead she knitted. I gave up sewing around the time I sold my sewing machine at a garage sale just prior to moving back to Toronto. Now, my sewing is confined to mending…and only “kicking and screaming” about it. But you can’t present yourself to clients, prospective clients, etc. with holes in your clothes or missing buttons.

My creativity lies in coming up with ideas and following through with some of them, writing – personal essays/memoir, profiles of quirky people, businesses, gardens, health stories, book reviews, and fiction. I also find it helps when I edit other writers’ book manuscripts. No, not creative editing, but seeing what isn’t working in the story and the possibility for what might work, presented as suggestions for my clients. And as I’ve blogged about before, I love to teach and speak in public. Somehow from being completely tongue-tied and frozen as a teen debating in class, I’ve evolved into someone who likes to get up in front of people and not only provide knowledge, but entertain. Must be the frustrated actor in me. Although Mom wasn’t a teacher per se, she did teach me something by her help and acceptance when I practiced teaching for my grade 8 history class and when I had the audacity to teach her to play the piano – both when I was 13.

My point is that in these tough economic times, to find work we need to look beyond the obvious. What hidden skills do we have that we can transfer from parenting, volunteering, hobbies, etc. into ways to earn a living? If we are great at fund-raising for a community organization, can this skill be transferred to promoting ourselves and our work skills?  Or possibly teaching others to promote their business. If we have a cooking or baking expertise, can we transfer that into a business? Last month I met another writer on the same panel who is baking cupcakes and plans to turn that into a business. Still stuck? Think about your parents’ skills. Have you inherited any of them? Can you put them to use to expand how you make a living?

In these tough economic times, it’s worth a try. You know the old saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Comments anyone?

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under finances, Hereditary, Life learning, Only child, Self employed and cash flow, Skills transferable, Teaching

Only Child’s teaching heritage from mom and that nun

Only Child sharing her writing knowledge with other writers

My love of teaching writing, the teaching part anyway, goes back to when I was 13. As I have blogged before on February 12, 2010,  I taught my mom to play the piano then. But I also had another go at teaching, thanks to my grade 8 history teacher  the same nun, the school principal who bullied me. But this teaching experience went outside the area of bullying. If memory serves me right, each student had to teach a history class. I chose  to teach about the Fathers of Canadian Confederation, complete with maps, diagrams and anecdotes.

But I couldn’t go up cold to the front of the class and teach. Not me, who had stumbled miserably through a debate. That’s where Mom came in. As I write in my memoir…

After I put the whole lesson together, Mom and I do several dry runs.

I prop up my maps on the dining room table. Mom stands at the other end in the living room and I start my spiel. We also do the dry run in the kitchen, where I go through the whole lesson, using my illustrated props and pointing with her long dressmaking ruler. She doesn’t tell me to talk slower or speak up; she listens, nods and smiles. When I am finished, she doesn’t need to say anything. I know I’ve done a good job and pleased her.

In class, Mother St. Helen calls on me to teach my lesson. I cart my maps to the front, support them against the blackboard and start, from the first provinces into Confederation and tell tales about the “fathers” behind them, I weave an interesting story that keeps the class and Mother St. Helen mesmerized. I don’t falter as I lecture, ask questions, comment on the replies, and answer questions posed by some of the students. It is as if I am transported into another world, where I tell true stories and everyone hangs onto my every word. I don’t recall the class clapping when I finish, but I can feel it in the air that they learned history without yawning.

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

You might say that history keeps repeating itself – not in what I teach, but the fact that I do teach writing (and also editing, although I much prefer teaching writing). When I stand (or sit) in front of a small or large group of writers and share my knowledge I get warm fuzzy feelings. I also feel gratitude, because by sharing back and forth (my students also share their ideas and their stories) I always learn something.

Maybe that is the core. You don’t just get up in front of others and start lecturing with the attitude it’s my way or the highway. Sure, you are telling your story, your point of view, spreading your knowledge, but it is just your tiny part that you are sharing. You are there to learn, as well.

I’ll be doing more of this tonight – although this time I’m talking to a group of writers about how they can also teach writing. There will be Q & A but after the other two panelists also share their ideas. The topic actually is Writers Earning A Living: Alternate Revenue Sources and it’s run by PWAC (Periodical Writers Association of Canada) Toronto chapter, and yes, I’m a member here. It’s in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 7 p.m. tonight. Details at http://tinyurl.com/3ken7vl if you are interested.

One of the other speakers makes and sells cupcakes. It should be interesting and feed the stomach as well as the mind.

Cheers.

Only Child Writes

Sharon Crawford

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Filed under Only child, Only child memoir, PWAC seminars, Sharon Crawford, Teaching, Teaching History, Teaching writing, Toronto writing seminars

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

Only Child looks at research in writing a memoir

Two of Only Child's many cousins. The one on the right is the Canadian family genealogist.

The upcoming Memoir Writing Workshop I’m teaching for another Toronto Public Library branch is filling up fast. That tells me memoirs are still high on the trend list. A Google search of  “Memoir Books 2006 to 2011” produced a hit list of 5,300,000.  This continuing popularity gives me hope about getting my own memoir You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons published.

What about memoir writing itself? I’ve covered some ideas on what to write in previous posts (See https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2010/05/). But writing a memoir isn’t just mining from your memories. Research is involved and sometimes where to begin can overwhelm you. Do I go through all those unsorted family photographs? Do I have to become a genealogy expert? Should I talk to family members? Do I…?

Hold it right there. Before you do your version of a chicken-with-no-head, focus. Make sure you have narrowed down what you want to write about in your memoir. Subject matter will determine research. If you’re writing about an area of your childhood and/or your parents, you might want to talk to family members to get the bigger picture. Maybe someone in your family is doing the family genealogy. On my mother’s side of the family, two family members – one close (as in relationship and in distance) and one in another country are researching family history.  Neither knew about the other until another cousin met the United States-based one and connected him to the Canadian one. This connection brought out one point. The Canadian cousin was researching both the Strauss and Schefter sides of my mom’s family. The US distant cousin was researching only the Schefters. On my dad’s side of the family, a cousin once removed (I hate that expression; sounds like the person was kicked out of the family) is doing a bit of research. If I hadn’t talked to several cousins (Although I have no brothers and sisters, I am blessed with many, many cousins) I would have been blindly going where no one has to go. (Sorry, Star Trek fans. I’m one, too).

As I seem to be wearing my teacher’s hat today, let me list some of the things you can do when researching for your memoir.

a)     Sort through old photos, diaries, letters, etc. for what is relevant.

b)    Read the diaries and letters you keep out. Make some notes.

c)     Talk to relatives (the older the better), especially the family genealogist. Bring a notebook, digital recorder or laptop to take notes. Or communicate via Skype and webcam, Facebook or e-mail.

d)    Talk to people with the same last name (yours and your mother’s maiden name in particular) even if you don’t think you are related.

e)     Look at the photos and see what stories they trigger about the family and friends in them. Bring photos when talking with relatives, preferably someone in the photo(s). Or post them on Facebook or on Flickr for online checking with family members.

f)      Visit the cemetery or cemeteries where your dead relatives (including those ancestors) are buried.

g)     Look at photos of the house where you grew up and see what stories that triggers.

h)    Revisit the “scene of the crime” that old house. See if you can get an appointment with the current owners. Compare house stories.

i)       Library – (Disclaimer: I am not a librarian – ask a librarian for more info on what to look for) Some things you can use here – books on areas you want to cover. Digital and micro-fiche records of old newspapers which might have stories about your family, and the time period you are writing about. Your memory isn’t 100 per cent.  If you have a library card, you can access digital files of newspapers from your home computer. Micro-fiche records of the ownership history of the house you grew up in, or at least the lot number may also be available at your library.

k)    If you must do some genealogical research, try: http://www.genealogy.com/index_n.html and Church of Latter Day Saints  (new site) https://www.familysearch.org/ which links to (old site) http://www.familysearch.org/eng/

Those are just for starters.

And for those in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area (shameless self-promo here) I will be teaching that Memoir Writing workshop at the Bloor/Gladstone branch of the Toronto Public Library, 6.30 p.m. March 31. Check out my website http://www.samcraw.com and/or the Toronto Public Library http://www.tpl.ca.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Cousins, Family, Genealogy, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Research memoir writing, Teaching, Writing workshops

Only Child learns from teaching memoir writing

Sharon reading and teaching

Only Child teaching workshop

The past couple of weeks I was immersed in teaching memoir writing workshops at several Toronto public library branches. One workshop was a straightforward memoir writing gig; the other was called Blogging Your Memories and involved a PowerPoint presentation. Both have roots in my childhood, particularly with one thing about my mother – she showed me how to teach and that I could teach.

In my February 12, 2010  post, https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/only-child-teaches-mom-to-play-piano/ I talked about teaching my Mom to play the piano when I was 13. But that same year I had a grade 8 history class project and Mom was instrumental in  helping me make it a success.

As I write in my memoir, You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons:

I decided my lesson would tell the story about how each province entered Confederation and I was going to make it more interesting than a history book. I wanted maps, drawings and background history of the history. As she usually did with my school projects, Mom dug in and accumulated some of the research materials, a habit she’d picked up when I needed information about other countries for school projects. In those Internetless days, Mom visited consulates in downtown Toronto as well as travel agencies. In grade six, she had ordered the whole collection of the World Book Encyclopedia, from a door-to-door salesman. But World Book was no scam – it had detailed coloured maps and detailed text. I used it as part of the background for my Confederation lesson.

After I put the whole lesson together, Mom and I do several dry runs.

I prop up my maps on the dining room table. Mom stands at the other end in the living room and I start my spiel. We also do the dry run in the kitchen, where I go through the whole lesson, using my illustrated props and pointing with her long dressmaking ruler. She doesn’t tell me to talk slower or speak up; she listens, nods and smiles. When I am finished, she doesn’t need to say anything. I know I’ve done a good job and pleased her.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

Thanks to Mom’s patience and encouragement, the lesson went over very well in class. I think that’s where I got my love of teaching, although like my Mom I didn’t go into the teaching profession per se. I got into it via my writing and editing. I continue to learn lessons as I teach.

Each of my Memoir Writing Workshops had either a father and daughter duo or a mother and daughter duo.  Each daughter was helping her parent write his or her memoir and came to the workshop for some direction on how to do this. My approach here was to focus but also to remain open enough to be creative – a fine balancing act which I’ve had to learn in writing my memoir. The child/parent duos reminded me that without our parents there might be no family memoir and also showed me (and also reminded me) the beauty of parent and child working together on a project.

I also learned that there are many circumstances that evoke memoir – from the funny situation of two friends posing with a big wooden bird to a woman who lived through the Holocaust and had no family pictures except the ones inside her head. When we did the picture exercise, she had to go within  for hers and taught me that not all picture memories are in print or electronic. Many live on in our hearts and souls.

I also learned that there are different approaches to writing a memoir. One participant went in for the more creative way to write her memoir. Many wanted to write their whole life instead of focusing on one area but I hope I at least showed them how to focus on that, rather than change what they write about.

The Blogging Your Memories workshop was a whole other situation. First, I had to relearn Power Point and then how to do a presentation. I followed the old journalist’s rule – ask, ask, ask. Three experts, including my computer techie son, got bombarded with questions but I listened. And I put together my workshop and did a trial run at the library with the librarian’s help. At the actual workshop only one computer glitch occurred. Fast fingers here tried to go back too fast in slides and the program shut down. Fortunately Auto Save came to the rescue and I could proceed.  But my students taught me much with their rich range of topics to blog and all their questions kept me on my toes. One participant gave me a real workout with categories and tags for your blog posts.

Each workshop had around a dozen participants and the librarians were also pleased with the workshops. They want me to come back in the spring and do more.

I will oblige. Besides sharing my knowledge I will also learn more. All thanks to my Mom’s incentive and encouragement.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Life learning, Memoir writing, Only child, Only child memoir, Parenting, Teachers, Teaching

Only child on gratitude and not

 

Only Child and barbed wire July 1950

 

The Canadian Thanksgiving yesterday prompted me to think about gratitude. The self-help and new age gurus tell us we need to express our gratitude daily – write it down, maybe five things we are grateful for. Period. Well, I do a different take on it. Yes, I do a daily gratitude expression of what I’m thankful for, but I also add what I’m not grateful for in my life. I need to get that balance – life is not all good; neither is it all bad. I need to deal in reality. Blame it on my journalist background where you try to be unbiased and get a balance in your stories – unless you’re writing an Op-Ed (Opinion-Editorial) piece. Or it probably goes back to my childhood, to my mother, with her somewhat offbeat take on honesty.

In my memoir I have a chapter called “Mom’s Ten Rules of Honesty” and after I go through that I add:

Mother’s honesty didn’t just encompass telling the truth; it covered people’s basic integrity and how they dealt with the screw-ups, bad times and bad luck that always pop up in life. Nothing is certain except taxes and death, but the trick is to wind yourself through the days, months and years until you die – without falling into the muddy waters.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)

Or it could also spin off from my grade 6 teacher who told us, “I’ll give credit where credit is due.” Over the years I’ve added “and discredit where discredit is due.”

Now I can hear some of you thinking, “Why doesn’t she just accept what is?” That is good to a certain point. However, if we all accepted everything in our life then certain big changes would never happen. For example, what would have happened (or not) if  Terry Fox merely accepted he had cancer in his leg and left it at that? What if he didn’t take his cancer a big leap forward and start his walk for cancer research? Just doing the proverbial lying down and accepting our conditions in life and doing nothing about them doesn’t help us or others. Methinks if we do that we often end up ranting and complaining about our plight in life.

Of course we can’t go out and try to change everthing. The key may be the old serenity prayer  which goes something like this – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I don’t read anything here  about accepting everything.

And so I do my gratitude/non-gratitude list daily. And I do work to change what I can in the latter. But sometimes  it is a long road getting there.

What do others think?

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Balance, Family, Gratitude, Life learning, Only child, Only child memoir, Parenting, Teaching

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