The Cure for Sleep: Open House
Season 3, 007: Use a room in your current house or a former home to tell us a story of your values, your habits: where you've lived, what you've lived for...
Welcome to the final writing prompt in Season Three of The Cure for Sleep on Substack: this companion project to my memoir of waking up, breaking free and making a more creative life. It’s a space where you can explore your own most important memories and motivations in the company of others who are also interested in the art of life-writing.
I’ll still be curating submissions to this prompt and all previous themes in the project archive (almost thirty of them): this is a long-term commitment on my part - a way I can offer free creative confidence mentoring to as many people as possible. I will also be keeping my Ask Me Anything thread open.
But I need to rest from creating new content here for a while as I tend to my late mother’s last home and reflect in private on that tender process of leave-taking.
It’s likely that Season 4 in the new year will focus on subscribers’ work from the archives - a monthly celebration of all the stories received in response to a particular theme, that I hope will also encourage you to add yours if you haven’t already.
Finally, a very warm welcome to the many hundreds of you who are recent new arrivals here. I hope you will enjoy exploring other subscribers’ work in the story archive as well as writing yourself for as many of the themes as you wish.
Every new contributor gets their name added to the ever-growing list of writers - and I’d love to include many more of you in that over the coming months.
now to this month’s prompt…
If you’ve already read The Cure for Sleep, you know how preoccupied I am by the concept of home life, as the only child of a marriage that ended before I had language to protest its loss. My first home was a contested space (my father and his new partner battled in the courts for ownership) and then, after my mother’s awful remarriage, things began to happen in those isolated rooms that had me escape into fantasies of home ownership and house-keeping:
Only ever interested in the mechanical world until then so that my few first toys had been trucks and toolsets, now I asked for dolls, just as other girls were throwing them aside. In my last year at primary, I pretended at my classmates’ new interest in school discos and music magazines, while only wanting to be safe with my Sindys, my Barbies. I braided their hair (Mother had always kept mine short), stitched them clothes. Begged my gruff and only grandfather to build me a huge doll’s house, taller than I was, which I minded with wifely care, back turned to the home I lived in. Things in the bungalow might get broken, and smell now of cooked meat, cigarettes and my stepfather’s aftershave, yet in the rooms I owned everything was tended and intact.
That household was an unsettling early lesson in the gap that can exist between outward appearances and private reality, and I’ve been fascinated ever since by how we behave behind closed doors. As a new mother, alone long hours with sole responsibility of two small children, this manifested itself for a while as a genuine fear of being unseen and unaccountable, so that I devised a way of living as if I were in a doll’s house, open always to view:
So many games I improvised to meet their need for hours of play and close attention when I was too disabled by back pain to move very much.
Catching the Moon. Torch beam that I bounced around a darkened room in the last excruciating hour before their father came home each evening – letting it linger on a spot until they grabbed at it, only to send the light skipping off and away from them once again.
Mechanical Dancer. Me as an old rusted doll they’d found, who had to be dusted and oiled before they could wind me up – and then I’d begin, slowly, very slowly, to move just a little . . . a finger, then a toe – and then my eyes opened and I rose to my feet, turning about like the ballerina in a jewellery box. Pointed toes, pirouettes – until my spring was unwound and I lay myself back down.
These and other amusements, all played out behind our big bay windows that I kept curtainless, even after dusk in winter, so anyone outside could look in. Not exhibitionism but a safety mechanism. The terrible things in my childhood took place in private, behind thick net curtains. What if such fury came one day roaring out through my mouth and hands when Nye was not home to rescue our children? Being always on show in rooms illuminated and open to view like a doll’s house – this, I felt, would keep me in check, and them protected.
Yes, the standards we set for ourselves, even when there is no one there to see, to know: that is central to my purpose in The Cure for Sleep, and I kept this quote from Thoreau’s journals in view as I wrote:
“Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are. Every sentence is the result of a long probation. The author’s character is read from title-page to end. Of this he never corrects the proofs. We read it as the essential character of a handwriting without regard to the flourishes. And so of the rest of our actions; it runs as straight as a ruled line through them all, no matter how many curvets about it. Our whole life is taxed for the least thing well done; it is its net result. How we eat, drink, sleep, and use our desultory hours, now in these indifferent days, with no eye to observe and no occasion [to] excite us, determines our authority and capacity for the time to come.”
Now I invite you to write to me from your home life in turn. What scenes, what routines, can you find to show (as in Thoreau’s subtitle to Walden) where you live and what you live for?
how to take part
Use the comments field below this post on Substack to submit your response (limit is 300 words).
last month’s prompt
A reminder that all responses to last month’s prompt (Why Do You Write?) received by 1 December 2023 will be among those I consider when selecting a person for a free mentoring session in the new year. The chosen writer will have their piece included in the first issue of Season Four.
write with me at Arvon Lumb Bank…
27 November to 2 December 2023
RESIDENTIAL WRITING WEEK: NON-FICTION
Bodies of water: writing through the senses
There are now just a few spaces left on this residential course at the iconic Ted Hughes Arvon Centre Lumb Bank, Yorkshire. If you’ve been saving up for an Arvon course for a while now, I’d love it if you’d consider choosing this one.
Water has long been a rich motif through which writers can explore the interplay between private and public embodied experience, internal and external landscapes, ‘the geography closest in’, as the poet Adrienne Rich puts it, and the geography of the wider world around us. Many of the most-loved recent works of memoir and narrative non-fiction take us into exhilarating physical and emotional territory, as well as being philosophically and politically stimulating, via bodies of and in water – from Roger Deakin’s iconic Waterlog onwards.
Join Tanya Shadrick and Miranda Ward – authors with a shared love of swimming and psychogeography – for an immersive, water-themed week of embodied writing that will help you bring your whole self to the page. Using workshops, readings, outdoor sensory exercises and one-to-one tutorials, you will learn how to take readers on deep dives into personal experience and important landscapes of all scales in a way that has them resurface with their skin and senses singing – whether you want to write about, around, through, from or to the water, or are simply inspired, challenged or moved by water to write.
Guest tutor: Malachy Tallack
Prices & concessions
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