Tag Archives: Writing memoirs

Only Child focuses beyond the four-letter words

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child contemplates then and now

Last week I posted dark. Maybe because a lot of what I’ve been experiencing lately is what is described as “going to hell in a hand basket, ” although the basket keeps increasing in size that it is now too big even for the Jolly Green Giant. My postings, my feelings, are a micro reflection of what is going on in the world today – from terrorism to wars to the weather. I’ve posted about that before, too.

Back in the “good old days” when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s life was simpler but not perfect. In the macro realm, most women stayed home with the kids and didn’t work; there was a lot of racism, and the extreme weather conditions were flukes not every-day occurrences. The only extreme weather I lived through was Hurricane Hazel. Our house didn’t experience any flooding. My late Mom said it was because we lived on a hill.

We also didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, and other social media that get abused today (think cyber bullying) and no Internet. The latter, along with email would have been useful. Instead we had landlines (rotary dialing which I couldn’t do now if you paid me), and transportation – we actually had trains going into rural areas carrying people not oil tanks that exploded.

But I’m a railway brat. My late Dad worked for the CNR so Mom, Dad and I got free train rides, a bonus for our holiday travel.

Behind all these good things in the past, there was underlying darkness. I was bullied but it was the in-your-face type of bullying and despite my intense shyness (thanks to being an only child of elderly parents), I did fight back, often more like a clown. In my memoir which I am currently rewriting, I write:

Mom’s uses subtler tactics. How else to explain our silent collusion when one day the Bully and I get into it with words?

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, Copyright 2014 Sharon A. Crawford)

And maybe that has something to do with why I became a journalist.

The biggest darkness of my childhood was when my Dad got cancer. I was almost 10 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It spread to his brain. Six and a half years later he was dead. Compounding living with this was living with betrayal – I found out Mom had lied about the lung cancer – Mom said Dad had TB. The Bully told me the truth.

So, life is never 100 per cent rosy or 100 per cent crappy.

But the balance of rosiness to crappiness has changed drastically since we entered the new millennium. Something is off there and hence the big big (and growing “basket) taking us to hell or whatever you envision as hell.

Shouldn’t the good be more than the bad? Or am I relying on life “back then” instead of  “life now?”

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Life demands, Mom and Dad, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Sharon A. Crawford, Train travel, Uncategorized, Weather

Only Child says winters no longer fun and Memoir Writing

Only Child  rests before doing more battle with companies screwing the consumer

Only Child contemplates winters back then and now.

As we drag ourselves kicking and screaming through this horrible winter that keeps on dumping, I can’t help remembering normal winters like the ones when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s. Actually even up to the last nine or 10 years, winters still were somewhat normal. But to go back to “then” as we do when writing memoir, here is an excerpt from my memoir about what winter had to offer and how Mom, Dad and I enjoyed winter. It’s about ice-skating also appropriate because of the current Winter Olympics at Sochi.

When I was six, Mom and Dad did collaborate when they decided I needed to learn to ice skate. Dad made the ice rink and Mom got me moving on it.

Dad turns on the hose and out pours cold water. Overnight it freezes on the dormant grass in the backyard. I never think how the water passes through the hose. Wouldn’t it be frozen? Did Dad put his ear to the radio and listen to the weather reports to see when the daytime temperature sat around freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit then) or just below? When night falls, so does the temperature and in the morning – magic – instant skating rink.

Then Dad turns it over to Mom. Like a dance instructor trying to teach steps to a nervous wannabe, she grabs my hands and tries to get me in motion.

“Come on Sharon. Just slide your feet, one foot in front of the other.”

My feet, tucked tightly into new white figure skates, scrape and totter along the ice and my fingers dig into her hands, my mittens no protection for the hard petrified squeeze they give her. I do not want to fall. I might break a leg. I’m terrified of losing control, so I continue to cling to Mom as she steps backward, sometimes in her rubber boots and sometimes in an old pair of Dad’s black hockey skates. I follow forward like a drunken clown.(Excerpted from You Can Go Home, Copyright 2014, Sharon A. Crawford)

You can see how I felt then about skating on ice. But it was a positive experience. So, let’s put it forward to compare with my feelings on winter today.

This winter, especially the great ice storm that hit southern Ontario from Dec. 22, 2013 has left me feeling that our world is no longer safe – anywhere. We constantly have to be on hyper-guard, especially with the weather. I felt scared to panicky, and yes very angry that this is what got thrown at us (and you can take your pick where/who to put the blame for this). Skating was not something to look forward to as everywhere you went there was ice. I no longer have my ice skates and probably in my senior years would wobble around and fall.

So the only positive spin I can put on winter is the Olympics at Sochi, especially the figure skating. And I wish Patrick Chan, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had won gold, but I’m still proud they won silver.

If you are in the Toronto, Ontario Canada area and want to learn more about writing a memoir, I am teaching a memoir writing workshop, Saturday, February 22, 2014, 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m..  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

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Ice Skating, Ice storm Toronto, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Winter Weather

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

 

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

Only Child back to memoir writing

Only Child and her parents  in another time and world

Only Child and her parents outside her godmother’s farmhouse.

Yesterday I returned to my memoir to give it a face-lift. With my pre-quel novel rewrite off to the publisher for yet another looksee, it is time to get back to the other book manuscript-in-the-works.

I’m taking a new angle to it and have already rewritten the Prelude beginning and the start of Chapter 1. It is more edgy and suspenseful to begin with, although I will keep the poignancy, etc. throughout the memoir. However, nothing is sacrosanct as far as rewriting it is concerned.

Sometimes you have to take your writing by its horns and turn it around. With memoirs that happens often for various reasons: you want to focus in another area, family flak, or you just want to rev up the writing and interest.

My other motivation is I’m preparing to teach a one-day Memoir Writing Workshop in Toronto, Saturday, February 22. Previously (I sound like a TV show here), I’ve taught hour and a half Memoir Writing Workshops at Toronto Public Library branches or  six half day session Memoir Writing Courses through my East End Writers’ Group.

This one will combine the two. The blurb goes like this:

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.

What does that tell the memoir writer? Besides, it is not a piece-of-cake one- time shot. Nor is it all creativity.

You have to be organized

You can’t just sit down and write or you will be all over the place. You need to decide just what exactly you want to focus your memoir on and write that down, then do a chapter/subject outline, then…

You have to do research

Our memories aren’t 100 per cent. Although you are telling your story, you won’t remember everything going on for each segment of your life back then. And if back then covers your childhood, you certainly have a different perspective then from now. As a child you probably didn’t know much about the issues surrounding what went on in your life. For example, if you are writing about when your parents were divorced, what were the divorce laws then? You will even have do some digging for some of your family background. Family trees, relatives, particularly of the senior variety, and old family photos can be most helpful here. These conjure up all sorts of necessary research, which can be interesting in itself.

And of course, with your research, you also need to be organized. You don’t want to suffer from researchitis (over research with tons of paper and electronic files in your possession).

So, you can see that writing your memoir requires using both the left side of your brain (logical, analytical) and right side (creative).

We’ll cover a little bit of the creative side in the next post. Meantime, if you are in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area and are interested in my workshop, you can check out the full details on my website at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/SpeakersBureau.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Family, Memoir writing, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Organizing Memoir, Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child on when to write memoir or fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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

Only Child on naming names in memoirs

Only Child reads excerpt from her memoir You Can Go Home - Deconstructing the Demons

Anyone who has or is writing a memoir has run into it – the “do I name names dilemma.” This topic has come up in the Women’s Memoir Writing group I belong to on Linked In as well as in the Crafting the Personal Memoir course I am currently teaching. And the Internet is full of ideas about what to do and what others did.

Some of these ideas are wild. Wait to write you memoir until everybody in it (except you, of course) is dead. Well, if you wait, your spirit may have to come back to earth to do so. Show what you have written to everybody in it. That can just make matters worse as I can personally relate to from just showing one chapter to cousins.  Change the names. Don’t tell anybody you are writing a memoir (except your writing critique group and swear them to secrecy) until it is published. Do you really think no one will blab about it?

A few years back when writing the original version of my memoir, I emailed one chapter to a cousin who had helped me with family background information. She must have passed it on to her siblings. But it wasn’t this chapter that stuck in the craw of one of her sisters. Nope. This cousin was upset because she didn’t want her children reading in a published book about the mental illness of a dead uncle. Our parents had “hidden” this uncle from us until one summer he showed up visiting another aunt and uncle and then our parents had to open up. Except their stories didn’t jibe. Flash forward to years later where some of us cousins discussed just what was the story with this uncle. The objecting cousin was not one of this bunch although she probably heard about it from her siblings. She later said she “would be very angry” if the book was published but wouldn’t sue me (I asked her). However, she had no problems with me writing it and publishing it as fiction, names changed, of course.

Which I’m doing. One family story became the basis of a fictional short story  I wrote and had published in an anthology. The details and family situation changed – only the theme remained. And no, it wasn’t about my late uncle with the mental illness. Not yet…

At the same time I had done a manuscript evaluation exchange with another author and he said that my story was the most interesting in my memoir.

So, I changed it, including the title to You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons. I deleted all the old family history (except for my parents and my grandfather) and wrote more of my story – the whole focus and theme changed. I also used pseudonyms (and state that in a Disclaimer at the beginning) for all but my parents and myself. That won’t hide it all but I felt it was the best way for me to handle the situation.  Did I do it because of this cousin’s objections? Partly. But more so, from reader feedback.

The bottom line is when writing a memoir you have to decide for yourself whether to name names or not, what to show to family members or if to show anything to family members; only chapter excerpts for fact-checking might work best. If someone has a different take on something, why not include their take (but give them their credit)? Remember everyone sees a situation differently. You can always show the draft to a lawyer if you are really worried about libel.

And here are some of those websites I checked out.

http://en.allexperts.com/q/Writing-Books-675/2009/10/Using-real-names-memoirs.htm

http://100memoirs.com/2010/03/24/how-to-write-your-memoir-and-still-go-home-for-the-holidays-a-guest-blog/

http://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/i-am-contemplating-writing-a-memoir–to-do-so-requ-397127.html

Do a Google search for “naming names memoir” and see what you find.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Family Flak Memoirs, Libel in Memoir Writing, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Naming Names in Memoirs, Only child, Only child memoir, Sharon Crawford

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