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Cure for Sleep: Stay This Moment
Season 3, 004: Tell me about a time of great love or purpose in your life that you return to often in memory. An experience you might choose to stay inside forever (if such choice were ever given us)
Thank you, my friends, for being part of this long-term and collective story-telling endeavour.
I wasn’t able to release a monthly prompt in June as my mother was admitted to hospital as an emergency. And I’m already about to travel again from Sussex to Cornwall - for the last stay now, however long or short. The district nurses think it will be only a few weeks now, perhaps less. But my exchanges with all of you mean so much to me that I’m sending this month’s now before I go, at a different time in the week and perhaps with mistakes. But connection matters more than perfection - and so…
We’ve been having such long and loving talks about the past, my mother and I, during our daily video calls. If you’ve read The Cure for Sleep you know that she was happiest in the time before I was born, so that I’ve been learning glorious stories of her younger life through all of my own. She doesn’t always remember that though, and so memories of hers that I already know by heart (and have put in the book!) are being told me again - luminous as ever.
There’s a Joanna Newsom song I play often called Time, as a symptom. All the lyrics are moving, but these in particular pull at my imagination:
The moment of your greatest joy sustains
Not axe nor hammer
Can take it away, and it remains
I hope that’s true when I reach my dying time, as it seems to be proving for Mother in hers. My near-death at thirty-three was - as many of you know - suffused mainly by sharp and shameful regret, so that all my life and work since then has been about feeling different when my final moments do come.
Towards the end of The Cure for Sleep, I invoke these words from Woolf:
If one does not lie back and sum up and say to the moment, this very moment, stay you are so fair, what will be one’s gain, dying? No: stay this moment. No one ever says that enough. Always hurry. I am now going in, to see Leonard and say stay this moment.
This is something I’ve been trying to do since the book was published: to live more in the moment than the past. But I have still - by nature or nurture? - a backwards-looking sensibility. Hence a recurring phrase/desire in The Cure for Sleep - a wish to have certain times in my past be ‘perpetual’: a sort of snowglobe or glass paperweight or willow pattern plate I might stay inside.
I think many of us have these: poignant places in our memory relating to a gone job or relationship - or maybe only ourselves in our bodies - that we wish could have sustained. Which brings me to this month’s theme for you…
your invitation to write
In 300 words or less, tell me about a time of great love or purpose in your life that you return to in memory. An experience you might choose to stay inside forever, if such choice were ever given us...
[Please read the guidelines for contributors if this is your first submission to the project.]
And remember: all the themes from previous months and seasons remain open for your stories. My reply times may be longer than usual, but do trust every submission will be read and responded to with care.
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you can’t write a book in the hope of it winning love…
Last month, I answered questions about the craft and consequences of memoir, as put to me by poet, mentor and memoirist Wendy Pratt and her writing community. I invite you to read my responses, and wholeheartedly recommend that you follow Wendy’s Substack Notes from the Margin (if you don’t already).
let’s all say hello to each other…
Thank you to all of you who’ve already used the introduction thread to say hello and share links to your own Substacks or other online projects. Do take a moment to introduce yourself if you haven’t already - it’s lovely to see people finding like-minds there…
ask me anything…
about The Cure for Sleep or writing more generally. I have an always-open thread for this. I always try to give answers with links to further resources that might keep you good company in your own creative journey. Do read through questions asked by other members of the community too, in case my answers to them are also of use to you.
explore the story archive
Desire, time, longing, friendship, regret, faith, promises . . .
There are now hundreds of thought-provoking true tales on these themes and more in The Cure for Sleep story archive.
There are several ways to explore it:
By theme - all the stories, organised by monthly prompts
By A to Z - read a single story from each contributor
By name - search for all the stories written by a single author