The Cure for Sleep: Birthday Letters
Season 2, 007: Using our anniversaries as a way to take stock, measure change, pay tribute
As it’s my birthday this week, this seemed like a good time to share one of my core creative practices with all of you in case you might find it interesting to try.
And I’m wonderfully aware - in sending out this month’s email - of how different and better my life is now than in my isolated teens, as I describe that time in The Cure for Sleep. Only last week a memory came back sharply to mind (suppressed til now) of a birthday had while living in a particularly bleak village. I stood outside the small newsagent shop that morning, offering sweets to anyone who came out, just to have a small way of sharing the joy I felt (somehow, stubbornly, despite my difficult home life).
How hard that memory is to admit - to myself as well as to you reading it: and yet these lumps in the throat, these knots in our memory - this is also where our art, our service to others, can come from too…
In the video, I show you some of the birthday letters I’ve been keeping annually since my and my husband’s thirtieth year, explaining how they have - in a way I couldn’t have imagined - fed into the book of our shared life I’ve published only now, almost twenty years later.
As with my ongoing Concentrates of Place practice, if this is something you haven’t done before and would like to try, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the idea.
your invitation to write
And for this month’s writing prompt:
Write a letter on the occasion of your - or someone else’s - birthday. Or perhaps it is the anniversary of an animal arriving in your home or a new life-stage you want to celebrate?
[Please read the guidelines for contributors if this is your first submission to the project.]
There are a number of births and birthdays in The Cure for Sleep. The cow stuck in her delivery that I witness while a young student, pregnant and lost in a foreign country. There are the births of my two children. My rebirth as I return from coma. And then the quieter, but no less significant one that I share below as this month’s extract: the moment I became a writer after so many years of wishing and wanting.
You can read the stories already contributed by readers over on The Cure For Sleep website: bedtime stories | memory games | bonding | choosing | promises | size & shape| time | desire | regret | faith | rebirth | play | hands | mirrors | friends | skill | longing | mentors
(All themes are still open for contributions, so that subscribers with time or health limits have the opportunity to take part as and when they are able.)
suggested further reading
Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes
the cure for sleep: october extract
I’d carried on daydreaming of the writer’s life ever since my degree years, yet I never wrote anything beyond my diaries and so had no real hope of ever being published.
But the season I spent painting the railings moved me to story at last: seeing a local psychogeography project advertised back on campus, I made myself show up for the briefing – me, who’d never attended a single social activity as an undergraduate. I listened, heart going hard, as each person was asked to share an idea and my own turn came closer. Said then, speaking timidly and too fast, that I might describe a vandalised tree in my street and my strong response to it?
Once home, I went straight upstairs and began to type, finishing within an hour, and finding my essay only one word short of the length limit. I read it aloud to the cats on the bedspread, then sent it away.
It would be accepted.
I was certain of this, a belief that never faltered in the months it took for the deadline to pass and the editors to reply.
How was I so sure?
From a new density in my bones; an unfamiliar sense of being at the very centre of my life in the moment of writing. What I’d made was short, and local, but it was also concentrated: a story of pure experience.
I was invited to read it in a campus lecture theatre that autumn, and on my birthday, of all dates, so that I had a rare chance to be reborn as a bolder and braver incarnation in the very place where I’d been a reclusive student and shy administrator.
Through all the years I’d studied and worked at the university, the occasional need to give presentations was only ever something to suffer: the nerves had never gone away despite all the extra training I sought. But now I found in myself a fierce wish to speak so that I was impatient to begin, while also mourning the evening’s end already: Oh what if I never got to do it again?
Shadrick, Tanya. The Cure for Sleep (pp. 174-175). Orion. Kindle Edition.
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ask me a question…
If you have a question about The Cure for Sleep or writing more generally, do remember that I have an always-open thread for this on my Substack. I always try to give answers with links to further resources that might keep you good company in your own creative journey.
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The Cure for Sleep: Birthday Letters