Tag Archives: Only child 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

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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

Only Child on memoir writing using the six senses

Only Child with Mom and Dad at her godmother’s farm in the early 1960s.

I’m not talking about common sense here, although it could be a seventh sense. And yes there are six senses – sight, taste smell, hearing,  touch, and the sixth is intuition. And I’m teaching two workshops called Kick Start Your Memoir Using the Senses – this Friday, November 17 and next Tuesday, November 21.

As the title suggests we will cover those six areas. But the workshops are geared to the participants, not me, so I find out what they are writing and help them get organized to do so –  with tips on research and putting all that you find together, finding your memoir muse and getting started.

Here’s a peak at one of those things we will cover. First things first.

Why do you want to write a memoir?

Are you writing for family? To get something off your chest? For publication? Discussion using the below for kickoff.

What is the most interesting area of your life that is also different than the usual?  For example, your teen years, did you overcome an addiction, dysfunctional family? Ask yourself: what is your most vivid memory, the memory that evokes the strongest emotion from your childhood, your teens or your young adult years?  Your school years and school friends. Bottom line is focus on your theme or area of your life.

Decide. Hone in on the one that is the strongest and the one you can develop into a memoir. Ask yourself if you learned something from your story – that can be a key to deciding.

In next Tuesday’s blog post we’ll take a peak at one of the senses. But if you are in the Greater Toronto Area, you might want to consider attending a workshop. Both are at Toronto Public Library branches and are free. But you have to register first. Here is the information on my website.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Teenage Only Child with her Mom

Leave a comment

Filed under Memoir writing, Toronto Public Libraries, Toronto writing seminars, Writing, Writing workshops

Only Child says Memoir reads like fiction

Only Child and Dad few years later

In today’s Memoir Writing session I deal with the different ways you can write your memoir. It can be humorous, serious (or both), in chronological order (or not), but most of all it contains emotions and feelings and people. Although the people are real, from your life, there is a resemblance to fiction – in the way you write your memoir.

You don’t just want a list of events. You want to engage your reader. You want your reader to see your life and the family, friends, and enemies, too, in it.

So write it fiction style. Emphasis on the word “style.” The difference here is memoir is not fiction, it is your truth, your story. So the characters, the people, must be real, and the events must be real. Unlike fiction, you are not making it up. The emphasis is on how you tell your story.

Probably the best way to see how that is done is to read published memoirs. The list of memoir authors would cover several blog posts and I’m not going to post my starter list here. Just Google “memoir writers.”

Below is an excerpt from my memoir-in-the works, but I have shortened it and reworded it some, so it is not exactly as in the memoir. This particular piece of prose deals with being bullied as a child. But it covers a lot more as you will see.

The Bully Gang – Vera, Mare, Shannon (the Bully’s younger sister by two years), and the Bully – line themselves against Dorothy and me. They pursue us up and down the street. Then we run throughout the Harmon front yard, onto the street, back to the yard. This time Dorothy and I chase the others and we trap them inside the yard.

They are jumping up and down, and through the steel gate, yelling, “Nah. Nah, Nah.” I am rolling on a high and nothing and no one can stop me. I pick up a fist-sized rock from the ground, glare at them, squeeze the rock as if it is my new best friend. You’re in for it, Bully. I raise my arm over the gate and throw the rock… smack into Mare’s forehead.

No. No. Not Mare. I like Mare. I can’t understand why she’s hooked up with the Bully. I stand still and shocked. We seem lost in this sudden limbo second. The rock falls to the grass and we jolt into screamland.

Then the Bully Gang breaks free.

“You’re in for it,” they say. “We’re gonna get you now.”

Dorothy and I turn and fly towards my place. The Bully Gang is a posse on our tail. My Dad, on holidays from work, shoves Dorothy and me downstairs. He locks the outside doors for our safety. I look up and peek towards the basement window. The Bully and her followers shake their heads and waggle their hands. Then the Bully flattens her face against the window and ugly intent and uglier looks mesh into what could pass as road kill. I shiver and turn to Dorothy. If we looked in a mirror, our facial expressions would show us resembling twins. We back away and I wish Mom had made curtains for the window. But there is no bright light, no feeling of freedom in running around inside an unfinished basement with its white cement pillars and tarred concrete floors. Dorothy and I are the victims. Why are we the ones confined inside?

Excerpted and shortened from Chapter 4, Protecting the Princess – from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2017 Sharon A. Crawford).

What are some of the fiction techniques used in the above passage?

Until next week.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

1 Comment

Filed under Dad, Family and Friends, Memoir writing, Only child memoir

Only Child on research for your memoir

Grandpa’s farm back when

“Have you found Grandpa’s farm?” my cousin Leona asked me when I called her just after arriving in Walkerton, Ontario.”

This is all part of my research for my family history on my mother’s side.

Today’s class is on doing research for your memoir and beginning your memoir. In this post we will briefly focus on the research part.

Research can vary depending on your memoir’s content. For example, if you were born in another country from the one you now live in – you will be doing research in different countries. And if you are going back to your ancestors, that likely means another country.

I’m in Toronto, Canada, so some of the points I cover below will be from that perspective.

Last week’s post on family photos and how to use them to write your memoir, have another purpose. They not only can kick-start memories, but can provide possible people to interview about your shared past – and in the case of family – your ancestors. When I first began researching for my memoir, I went to my cousin Anne who is the family genealogist (on  my mother’s side). Anne and I went to visit her father – my uncle and godfather – in the nursing home. Now, I’m a former journalist, but Anne did most of the work, showing her dad old photos (which I did supply) and asking him who was in it and to tell us a bit about what was going on. The photo showed a group of then young women, including my mother’s older sister who appeared to be waving a book around. At any suggestion that this aunt of mine was being frivolous, my uncle basically said that no, she was a good girl.

So photos can lead you to point people to interview and in turn they can lead you to others to interview, a good thing with me as only two uncles remained alive then (both since died) to interview. But another cousin, Anita, who used to go with her mother to visit extended family, put me on to one of her mother’s best friends who was still living. Got a lot of family information from her.

Besides photos of family and friends, there are diaries (maybe like me, you kept one or two or more). I went through most of them (I keep them in a box) and pulled out one or two with excerpts that could be used. You might also have access to family letters and documents such as wills and house sales. I have some of the latter.

Anita was a big help in my search for Grandpa’s farm where I used to visit with my parents every summer. They could drive there – the two miles from Mildmay, Ontario, but didn’t know the exact lot and plot numbers. You need that to find out who currently owns the property. And we had no intention of just landing at the farmhouse and banging on the door.

The search taught me two things.  Serendipity plays a big role and your research is never all online or all in person and phone.

Churches and the area assessment office often have records. So I phoned both – no luck with either. So onto the Internet and to the area’s main library branch in nearby Walkerton, Ontario. Yes, they had land registry info so I booked a day’s use for the micro fiche machine, contacted cousins Anita and Leona for our actual visit to the farm after, b00ked a motel room in the main area of Walkerton (no hotels), got a bus ticket, packed my bags and off I went.

The librarian who booked the micro fiche wasn’t in that day and the librarian who was didn’t know how to work the micro fiche machine. Neither did I, but she figured it out and handed me six possible micro fiche rolls. If you have ever used micro fiche, it is labour-intensive, not easy like digital (Note: some larger libraries in big cities have their daily newspapers digitized from when the newspaper began to up to two years ag0 and with a library card you can access it from your laptop anywhere). I found the info in the sixth roll but did discover another couple of properties that my grandfather owned. I was so excited until I discovered the info went up to the early 1980s  and we were now in the 21st. century.

So I asked a librarian for the Land Registry phone number, phoned them for their hours and location.

They were still open for half an hour and were one block from the library.

I paid for the micro fiche copies, gathered my belongings and ran out the door. And stood on the corner.

Which way to go? I asked somebody and charged down the street, just in time to get inside, look at the latest piece of information, get it photocopied and pay for that. Then it was back to the motel to make some phone calls to the current owners and my cousins.

I had an answer to Leona’s question and she and Anita met me at the motel the next morning. And we were off. But that’s another research story.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course

Only Child on using photos for memoir writing

Only Child and friends

One way to remember your past is to look at old photos. The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” can be translated here to “a photo is worth many memories.”

Take that photo here. I am on the right and two of my friends are beside me. The fourth in our summer play group isn’t in the photo because she took it.

If you are writing a memoir – whether you are trying to figure out what to focus on, or trying to remember the past, look at your old photographs – or those from family members – you never know what is lurking in their drawers, photo albums or yours. Remember, we may be going back before digital and before selfies, although many of us scan our old photos.

Look at the photo and identify who is in it. Go from there and see what stories about the people and their relationships, the location of the photo. The possibilities are endless. Write them all down in a list to start and then write a short scenario – dialogue included – about what the picture conjures.

For more detailed information about photos and writing memoirs, go to one of my much older blog posts right here.   That one says a lot more.

Now, I have to get moving to teach the first session of my Memoir Writing Course.

Out into the rain – yech! We get more rain, too much (so I’ll be on basement watch) Wednesday overnight and Thursday.

And rain can also bring back memories.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Memoir writing, Only child memoir

Only Child teaching Memoir Writing Course

A week from today, I start teaching my Sharing Your Stories: Introduction to Memoir Writing Course at the Toronto Reference Library. For four Tuesday afternoons in April, the 20 participants and I will share some of our personal stories, share the joys and roadblocks we are encountering to even get started writing. I will share how to actually get on your butt (at the computer) and get going at writing your story.

I taught this course last year at another library branch, and many short workshops on Kick-starting Your Memoir. Yes, I have written (and rewritten) a memoir . It has not been published yet, but it has been pitched a few years ago. I got sidetracked because I started getting my mystery fiction published in 2012, but have plans to do some more rewriting (and change the title) of my memoir. Meantime, I pull short excerpts from my memoir and rewrite them with more text pertinent to short or longish memoir pieces for print and online magazines. And I teach memoir writing.

We can all (participants and instructor) learn from each other. As this course is full and not everyone reading this blog lives in the Toronto, Ontario area, I plan to post snippets from each session in the next four or five blog posts. That way I can share some information and suggestions with readers of this blog. After all, one of the original criteria of this blog is the memoir aspect. And I know I have deviated somewhat into posts about weather, religion, gardens, seniors, my parents – well even those are related to being an only child growing up Catholic in the 1950s and early 1960s, the only child of middle-age parents. Our past has a lot to do with our future. Of course, we can make changes, if we choose to do so.

And posting some info here avoids carting around a bunch of handouts. Although I use Power Point for part of the first two sessions, it is still hard copy and a lot of dialogue. Which might be appropriate for a course on writing about the past.

Today, I will just add the overall information about what I plan to cover in this course.

First the blurb used:

Always wanted to write your family’s story or your story but need motivation and guidance? Author, editor and writing instructor, Sharon A. Crawford will get you writing your story. Using prompts such as the six senses to kick-start your memory, sharing your stories, looking at published memoirs, and doing fun exercises, these four hands-on sessions will take you into the nitty-gritty of writing the memoir.

Broken down briefly (for now), sessions will be:

Session 1 – Getting started – often the big bugaboo. And often it is because we can’t decide what to write about. So, we will get some ideas and tools on this and do some writing exercises. Lots of discussion as well.

Session 2 – Research and Writing Your Memoir Beginning:

It’s not all online searching. We must not forget the “rellies” (as a friend calls her relatives). Dialogue, dialogue as well as documents, documents. Again exercises, including writing a draft memoir beginning and sharing our stories.

Session 3 – It’s all about Form and Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir

Memoir is written in many forms, but the bottom lines are: they read like fiction, but are not fiction. Again lots of discussion back and forth and writing exercises.

Session 4 -Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir (continued), Truth or Dare, Q and A

The actual memoir writing (and I only promise to get everyone starting their memoir) takes more than one session. In fact a whole six to eight week course would be more realistic and then you would have to write some more. And rewrite and rewrite. So we will continue with this, including writing and sharing our stories. We will also cover something most memoir writers run up against – the rellies wanting to keep family secrets secret.

Are you writing a memoir?

I’ll close with a couple of suggestions of memoirs to read – maybe you have already read them. Both describe family life – but two completely different situations. The books are Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildner and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Bloggimg, Only child, Only child memoir

Travelling public transit then and now in Toronto

Toronto transit streetcar

Toronto transit streetcar – College route – end of the line High park

Sunday, I got the big run-around (literally) with travelling on public transit in Toronto. I avoided the subway route where part was closed to subway trains due to maintenance. But when I had to take a bus from a subway station to get to a grocery store, the bus took a detour. Sure, the sign on the bus said “Detour on route,” but not where. No signs at the subway station and the driver made no announcements. Imagine my surprise when the bus suddenly make a right turn off its schedule – one stop before I had to get off.

I charged up to the front and asked the driver if we would be getting back to Pape at Cosburn. He said he would be getting back to Cosburn. The detour continued around and up Donlands Ave. and when we got to Cosburn (and a red light) I asked if he was left turning onto Cosburn. He didn’t know. The bus ahead of us at the light continued straight on and so did “my” bus. Furious, I demanded to be let off on the other side of Cosburn. He let me off and I walked back to Pape (a short walk) in case there was a problem with the regular bus on Cosburn Ave.

What caused the detour? A street festival on Pape.

Why couldn’t the bus have a sign indicating where the detour was? Why didn’t the driver know about it?

So many unanswered questions.

Of course I later filed a complaint online at the TTC website. Seems that I do many of these lately.

I find travelling on Toronto public transit – bus, streetcar, LRT or subway can be a challenge sometimes. Despite the TTC website postings for times, delays, postings at subway stations, sometimes I feel like I travel public transit at my own peril. A little disclaimer here – I do not have a Smart phone (can’t afford one) so once I leave the house I can’t check updates that way. Before leaving I do trip planners online, check for any delays, and make note of the four bus routes where I can board a bus near home. I am grateful for this proximity.

But..

Anything  can happen. Sometimes the buses are late or early.  I used to enjoy subways rides. It gave me a chance to read or observe people. Now, when I get on I wonder if I’m going to make it to my destination on time and without mishap. Subway fires in stations sometimes  flare up on the tracks; signals malfunction; there are medical emergencies and police investigations of incidents (these latter  two are necessary), and of course there are scheduled subway closures on weekends (we get lots of warning about those). The irony here is these closures are usually for track and signal repair and upgrades. So why do these track and signal mishaps still happen? I’ve also noticed that the subway closures for maintenance are often repeats of areas where it was supposedly done in previous’ months closures. What does this tell you?

Shuttle bus service is put on for these weekend scheduled subsay closures. But no matter how many buses are in service, it doesn’t come near the space on the subway trains. So, you get long lines of commuters patiently waiting to get on a bus (if  lucky) or angry groups of people crowding on the street outside the subway station waiting for a bus to get to work. The latter occurs more often when pop-up emergencies happen – such as a fire under some of the tracks at the Yonge subway station last week. That is Yonge-Bloor – the major subway transfer station in Toronto. The subway was closed for three hour during rush hour.

I’m glad I don’t commute to work every day.

But I used to years ago and yes, subways were crowded, but it didn’t seem as bad.

Taking it back even further (we’re in the grey years now folks), when I was a small child I used to travel a lot on buses, subways, and streetcars with my mother. I never worried about getting where we were going because Mom was leading the way. Sure we had to wait for buses and subways and streetcars, sometimes in the snowy cold; sometimes it seemed like hours. There was always something to look forward to – such as where we were going – our weekly shopping trip to the Danforth for fresh vegetables and fruit and wanderings in the old Kresge, Woolworth and Metropolitan stores. I would often let my imagination and sense of adventure take over (yes, despite being a shy kid, I liked some adventures, although not real scary).

And yes, it wasn’t all convenient. Here’s a very short excerpt from my memoir in the works about getting a bus from home – which was not too far from where I now live.

The bus stop closest to 139 was around the corner on O’Connor Drive – that is if you walked left and the TTC hadn’t moved its trademark red and white sign to the far side of Don Mills Road. If we saw the bus coming, we played transit roulette with the streetlights at Don Mills Road and the driver’s whim to wait for us and the alternative – making a hasty right turn and sprinting to the next bus stop.  Once we boarded the bus, we continued with the rest of our travels. (excerpted from You Can Go Home – deconstructing the demons copyright 2016 Sharon A. Crawford)

 Ironically bus service in that area has increased in bus routes but the old Broadview 8 bus route mentioned above actually runs more infrequently then back in the 1950s and 1960s. Another paradox, service slowdowns seem to happen more frequently than back then on these routes, old and new. I know that with the subway and streetcar routes aging infrastructure is often to blame and a lot of that is being fixed – at least work is being done on it. But sometimes it seems as if the work is being repeated in the same areas.

And the timing seems to be bad. Lots going on in Toronto on weekends in the summer – from Blue Jays games, to street festivals that close streets, concerts and all those runs and walkathons. It is a nightmare, but more signage and information would be a start to help.

So would upgrading and fixing those subway signals and tracks the first time round.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Sheppard subway station entrance and exit

Sheppard subway station entrance and exit

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Life demands, Mother and Child, Only child, Only child memoir, Public Transit, Toronto public transit, Toronto transit detours and maintenance