Tag Archives: memoir

Only Child on Losing a Parent to Cancer

Sharon at 13 with Mom and Dad

When your mother or father is terminally ill and dies when you are still a child, you lose a part of your life, but more importantly you lose a part of yourself. Your mother or your father is no longer there and the hole that was once him or her follows you around like a bad omen.

Especially if you are an only child like me. Yes, I know, I’m a senior now, but that happened to me when I was growing up. Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 58 and I wasn’t quite 10. That was back in the late 1950s when the treatment options for cancer were limited to cut and burn. The link between smoking and cancer was known then, but a lot of it was hidden from public view. Tobacco companies were keeping their mouths shut about it. Here is a much later than 1950s study that covers that issue.

Dad had half a lung removed for the cancer. But that wasn’t the end of it. Two years later cancer spread to his brain and he had to cope with that for four more years. So did Mom and me. I inadvertently found a unique way for Mom and me to do so. But it wasn’t until later years when I was around Dad’s age of death , that I realized what Mom and I were doing back then. What had been foremost in my mind after Dad’s cancer returned was me pulling away from him emotionally because I was afraid he would die. Deep down that was probably something I knew. It scared me and as a pre-teen and teenager that was how I coped. I am not proud of this.

I wrote a personal essay about Dad’s cancer and something Mom and I were doing at the same time after he returned home from his second stay in hospital. The memoir piece was just published in the online magazine The Smart Set which is a publication of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Perhaps what Mom and I were doing did help, maybe even my Dad. We don’t always know or realize these things at the time.

Here is the link to “Don’t Look Down” in The Smart Set Magazine.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Only Child’s Dad when younger

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Filed under 1950s, Albert Langevin, cancer, Death and Dying, Health, Mom and Dad, Piano

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: follow Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”

Only Child behind barbed wire and feeling the lack of respect

My hairdresser hit it right about the nonsense I’ve been dealing with from others. In last week’s post, Only Child tumbles into overwhelm (May 3, 2011), I mentioned some of the situations that have thrown me into overwhelm. Well, it’s not just the situations per se, but the people involved in them. While colouring my hair on Saturday, she listened to me rant and grabbed onto the incident about the person who kept phoning me  with questions and comments a couple of hours before a meeting we were both going to attend.

“She’s disrespecting you,” my hairdresser said.

I never thought of it that way, but yes, it’s true. Ditto for the fellow doing the excavation and grading work outside my house. After promising me a new-used picnic table (his idea to remedy his breaking the leg off the old table  when moving it. A new leg on the old table would have satisfied me), he is now incommunicado. He didn’t show up when he said to do the table exchange and refused to return my one follow-up phone call. Note, I said “one,” as I’ve put him on “delay” until the time arrives for him to do the grading.

All this lack of respect got me thinking in two directions. First, there is a lot of disrespect in our actions in both business and the personal. Think voice mail and the dreaded message, “Your call is very important to us.” Think rude e-mails and Facebook retaliations. This may go against what I also said last week – trying to gain control and get out of overwhelm. But perhaps, a lot of the disrespect stems from people believing they have no or little control in their lives – business or personal. My hairdresser says she’s noticed people are very cranky lately and is blaming it on a shift in the planets. Even if you don’t believe in her “why” she is right about people being grumpy. I know from my own state of mind.

The other thing I started thinking about is not just why I may not be getting the respect that I deserve but why I’ve let it happen many times. Growing up as an only child I was bullied by both a friend and a teacher (a nun).  Of course, I had no brother or sister to stand up for me and as a shy person, I was terrified to stand up for myself – unless pushed to do so. On one occasion when the bully friend and I had sharp words, I acted – with a little help from my mom.

I don’t remember the issue, but we’re standing outside on my front veranda. The Bully is letting me have it; I am burning hotter and hotter inside. Mom must hear us because when I run inside to get a knife, she hands me a ruler. The Bully knows she’s in trouble and she runs down the steps. Brandishing the ruler like I’m Zorro without the mask, I tear after her down the stairs, down the street, and around the corner. I’m steaming with how good it will feel to whack her one across the back and head, but she is too far ahead of me. Unlike Zorro, I have no horse, only my short eight-year old legs. I go right up to the side door of her house after she dashes inside. I yell and shake my ruler. I wish I had the nerve to run into her house and finish the job, but what will her mother think and do?

Maybe Mom is trying to protect me by teaching me to stand up for myself.

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

Of course I haven’t been Ms Doormat up to now. I’ve learned from practice to be assertive in my work and sometimes in my personal life. Not without fear sometimes. I think the answer is “mutual respect.” Don’t push the person too far. Watch your timing and words when you ask for information or a favour. Mutual respect is offering to give something in return.

And here I have to add one instance in the last few days where mutual respect is happening. One of my East End Writers’ Group members has offered to help me with an area of my book proposal for my memoir because she says I have helped her with her writing within the group. In return I have offered to provide supper the evening she comes over to assist me.

Aretha Franklin had it right in her song, Respect. Spell it out like she does and listen to the words, especially the beginning, the end, and the chorus.  And follow them. Lyrics at http://www.lyrics007.com/Aretha%20Franklin%20Lyrics/Respect%20Lyrics.html, plus several video downloads on Y0u Tube.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Aretha Franklin, Assertiveness, Civility, Only child, Overwhelm, Respect