Tag 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

 

 

1 Comment

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

Only Child says it’s back to school and business

Only Child on the patio of her backyard garden

Only Child on the patio of her backyard garden

The summer holidays are over and that makes me feel sad. Yes, I know there will be summer weather for at least another month, month and a half, but with school and work, there is a shift in the day. When I took a walk earlier this morning, the park I passed by was completely empty of people. Then from the school next to the park came a loudspeaker telling teachers and students to meet in the cafetorium – probably for classroom orientation.

I remember those days – the excitement and trepidation of returning to school – grade school it was internally smelling the pencils and books (I know back in the grey ages when we were spared all this digital business) and in high school some trepidation about new classes and new teachers. The latter with good reason. In the auditorium for grade 10 I found out that the typing classes I and many others had signed up for as an option were cancelled for us and we were stuck with cooking and sewing. Most of us didn’t like the cooking teacher and the sewing teacher was well, okay. But I needed to learn to type and I could learn cooking and sewing from my mother.

Fast forward to way too many years and I am being crowded by the “to-do” list – both mental and written. The writing, editing, writing instruction, book promo and the like do create some problems and it can get hectic, but this is what I love to do. Extra house repairs, including getting an eavestrough (yes, one eavestrough) repaired or replaced is now back on the agenda. In early spring I started getting quotes but became discouraged when one of the contractors came to my door to take a looksee and give a quote and the first thing he said was “I’m 72 and I don’t climb up on roofs.” Well, send somebody who does. His quote was way up there for just one eavestrough replacement. I was also discouraged by some eavestrough contractors who won’t replace just one eavestrough. I also had to get some trees hanging over my roof pruned way back as well as the recovering juniper trimmed back so I was also getting quotes from arborists.

Overkill in work to be done. And as my limited finances wouldn’t handle both, it was the trees that won out.  Now I’m focusing on the eavestrough with the hopes that it will get done by mid-October and I can afford it. Yes, I know, should have had quotes during the summer, but I was busy with the garden (by choice – something I love), editing and writing clients (ditto), getting other stuff outside and inside fixed, and dealing with trying to get the money I was owed. One client, in particular screwed up with half of the payment and the other was the government payments to us seniors that start up again after we file our taxes. Well the Notice of Assessment came back in pretty good time but the other – let’s just say the government took a month to get back into the swing of paying. Which was about a month better than that one errant client.

So, it’s back to the eavestrough business and other fall stuff like checking my heating protection plan renewal and booking a furnace cleaning. But also my garden – lots of vegetables and herbs to bring in and eat and process – just started collecting some of the oregano and drying it in the dehydrator. And of course my writing and editing and the writing groups I belong to starting up again.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Sharon wearing her grade 10 school sewing project

Only Child wearing her grade 10 school sewing project

 

Onl

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, finances, Home and Garden, Life Balance, Life demands, Only child, September, to do list

Blending the past and the present in your memoir

The Beatles back in 1965. This photo is supposed to in the public domain.

The Beatles back in 1964. This photo is supposed to be in the public domain.

I grew through my teenage years as a Beatle fan – complete with screaming at their concerts in Toronto to agonizing over what they said, did (and didn’t say and didn’t do) according to newspaper and magazine stories.

So, seeing the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show (Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964) on this past Sunday (Feb. 9, 2014) triggered a lot of nostalgia. Where was I when the fab four appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show? At a youth club dance at the church where the club organizers had a black and white TV brought in so we could see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show. The TV was appropriately put on the hall’s stage.

On this past Sunday, as I sat and watched others perform the Beatles’ hits and saw the reaction of the two remaining Beatles Paul and Ringo and their wives, and the late John Lennon’s wife and son Sean and the late George Harrison’s wife and son Danny (Danny performed with some of the others on stage including Ringo and Paul’s reunion performance), I was caught up in nostalgia, in going back. And I truly felt that in those days the world was in a better place and the world was not so bad – considering today’s weather to the rush-rush, terrorists, over-technological focus, meanness, etc. etc.

My own little world may have been difficult – I mean as a teenager and experiencing all the usual teen emotions intensely with a few added ingredients. My dad was dying of cancer and I had been bullied in grade school, which left any self-confidence buried deeper than the proverbial hole.

And this is the perfect time where my past and present connected. And you can put this type of connection in your memoir. I already have some of the Beatles stuff in one chapter. Here’s a brief excerpt:

 

One day Susan and I are standing on the sidewalk outside East York Collegiate. Some of the popular crowd in our class – Dana, Lou, Marnie –stand right next to us in an open circle, but talking amongst themselves. I pretend to listen in and not listen, and try to think of something relevant to say. Something that will show I am worthy of them. But my lips and voice do the opposite to my behavior at last year’s Beatles concert.

“Sharon and I are going to see the Beatles,” Susan says. “Maple Leaf Gardens mailed her tickets.”

The eyes of the popular crowd turn to me.

“Lucky you,” Marnie says.

“Fab,” says Lou.

Even Dana is smiling at me – she who seems so formidable, probably because she is tall and heavyset. I just murmur a weak “yes,” and smile back. Why can’t I say more? I know Marnie and Lou, the twins, from Miss Garlick’s piano lessons.

Then John Lennon makes his famous “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus Christ” statement and Susan’s mom pulls her permission. Susan returns her ticket to me but it’s too close to the performance to get someone else to go and I’m too shy to ask anyone. It never occurs to me to ask one of the popular crowd. The second ticket gets sent back to Maple Leaf Gardens and Mom let me go alone.The new ticket holder is a 13-year-old girl, who after intermission moves to sit with her brother and his friends in another section. I’m left alone to see, listen, and fantasize. This time I sit on the same side in the bleachers, but way way down from the stage. The mopheads appear small and far away but I can hear them singing. I don’t scream. I felt inhibited because my friends aren’t around to join me in letting out my emotions.

But John Lennon’s statement stuck and I found myself trying to defend it, mostly in my mind. Looking back, the seeds of discontent with religion may have already been planted inside me, although Lennon’s statement wasn’t what would make me question the righteousness of religion, in particular the beliefs of the Catholic faith. My own home situation with Dad dying from cancer coupled with the change in society norms coming right up against the religion-by-rote from grade school would take care of that. This time Mom wouldn’t stand on my side and when I would turn around, no one would be there at 139 to confide in. (Excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2014 Sharon A. Crawford)

 

There is some hint of what will come in the near future. But this is a good place to add a couple of paragraphs to connect it to the present – how I felt when I saw the 50th anniversary of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show Feb. 9, 2014. The religious angle could also lead in to how and why I feel the world is not a better place now and why it was at least simpler then. How I feel now is important because memoirs are also about your personal feelings.

 

That is the way I would do the past and present connection. As long as the present doesn’t go off on a tangent and you can find your way writing back into the past, adding the parallel in the present can work.

Perhaps the quote I use at the beginning of my memoir says it all

 

The past is our definition.  We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it. 

~Wendell Berry

If you are in the Toronto, Ontario Canada area and want to learn more, I am teaching a memoir writing workshop, Saturday, February 22, 2014.  Here are some details:

Getting your Memoir off the Ground:

Presented by the East End Writers’ Group

Always wanted to write your family’s story or your story but need some motivation and guidance? Sharon A. Crawford, who conducts Memoir Writing workshops for the Toronto Public Library, will teach this one-day expanded workshop on Memoir Writing. After a brief review of kick-starting your memoir using the senses, this hands-on workshop takes the writer into the nitty-gritty of writing the memoir. You will learn how to organize your memoir’s content, do research and work it into your memoir, deal with family flak, and not only start writing your memoir, but write an actual chapter and have it critiqued.  Handouts provided. Bring photos and other memorabilia, pen and paper or the electronic equivalent.

Check out the full details on my website at www.samcraw.com (click on Speaker’s Bureau).

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Beatles, Family and Friends, Mom and Dad, Nostalgia, Only child memoir, Sharon A. Crawford

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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’s win of ABC Blog award official

Only Child won this award. Part of the criteria when winning is to post their logo, so here it is.

One of the criteria for those who receive the ABC award from its creator, Alyson, of the Thought Palette blog (http://thethoughtpalette.co.uk/abc-award/) is to nominate other blogs and also to share briefly something about yourself, from A to Z.

I  recently wrote about my blog being nominated for an ABC award in this  post

https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/only-child-abc-blog-award-nominee-on-memoir/ Now that it is official (thank you Alyson for awarding me this and Trisha http://trishadm.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/alphabet-soup-the-abc-award/for nominating me), it is time for me to do the A to Z list of  things which have meaning for me. In line with this blog’s content about writing my memoir, including all the offshoots into health, living the only person syndrome, time management, etc., and of course, my parents, cousins and my son and his partner, here is my short list.

A is for ABC Award (I couldn’t resist) but it is also A for my mother’s middle name “Amelia” and my middle name “Anne,” and for Alison, my son’s partner, and Alyson who gave me this award.

B is for blogging.

C is for Crawford, my last name.

D is for death, in relation to my parents. I still grieve.

E is for empathy with others who are only children – any age.

F is for my family.

G is for good, which despite all the ups and downs, I feel my life is (well 80 per cent anyway).

H is for my health, what is good about it, but maybe for some of the bad as it teaches me lessons and makes me curious to find answers.

I is for inspiration which fuels my imagination.

J is for Joker – a mild word to describe whatever causes the snafus in my life.

K is for Kleenex, something I use a lot, for allergies, for crying when sad, and when really exasperated.

L is for Langevin, my father’s last name and the name I was born with. I still use it, too.

M is for memoir, and also for Martin, my son.

N is for Nancy, an “old” friend from school – grade to high school, whom I reconnected with at a high school reunion almost ten years ago.

O is for ostrich, the way I used to handle problems and sometimes do now, at least as a delaying tactic.

P is for parents – mine – Julia and Albert.

Q is for quiet – something as an only child and now only adult person you can get lots of.

R is for retreat, something the nuns at my grade school and one of the high schools sent us to.

S is for my son, Martin and also my first name, Sharon. My mother once told me she had also thought to call me “Sheila.”

T is for Tim, a childhood friend who stood up for me against The Bully. I reconnected with him 12 years ago.

U is for umbrella – I had a synchronistic, almost psychic experience with an umbrella left in a park and my mother’s spirit in the fall of 2005.

V is for the first letter of the last name of three cousins on my dad’s side of the family. We used to go to their home sometimes for Christmas dinner.

W is for writing. What else for a writer?

X is for xylophone, which as a child I used to play (a very tiny xylophone).

Y is for yellow, the colour of the sun. In my childhood and today I prefer sunny (and warm) days.

Z is for Zoomer, what I am in age and partly in spirit now. My spirit is also with my childhood.

Now, it is my turn to nominate other bloggers for the ABC Award. I have a few in mind and will report in a future blog post once I have done so.

In the meantime, there is a Facebook page for ABC Award blog winners. Check out the comment with my blog post at https://onlychildwrites.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/only-child-abc-blog-award-nominee-on-memoir/ and go to https://www.facebook.com/ABCaward?bookmark_t=page

Cheers.

Sharon Langevin Crawford

Only Child Writes

1 Comment

Filed under ABC Blog Award, Albert Langevin, Alphabet list, Blog Award, Cousins, Death and Dying, Family and Friends, Health, Lists, Martin Crawford, Memoir content, Mom and Dad, Only child, School reunions, Sharon Crawford, Zoomers

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Back to School, classmates, Memoir writing, Notre Dame High School, Only child, Only child memoir, School days, School reunions, Sharon Crawford, Teachers