The Cure for Sleep: Hands
Season 2, 002: Share a story of what you have made, mended or broken with yours
your invitation to write
As you read (or re-read) The Cure for Sleep, you will see in how many places and ways hands are invoked. People shake them upon extraordinary bargains in love, art, friendship. Things are made by hand that outlast the loss that prompted their creation. As a clever working-class girl ear-marked for a higher education, I was always discouraged from learning manual skills being told by family and teachers in my small rural community that ‘I wouldn’t need mine.’
This month’s extract from The Cure for Sleep is from the time in my early thirties when my husband wanted very much to start a family, and we were waiting for our infertility treatment to start. Feeling far less sure of the path we were on, I turned to the kind of handiwork I’d been discouraged from in childhood as a means of earthing myself.
This month’s invitation to write for The Cure for Sleep story archive is as follows: Tell me about your hands: something your have made, mended or broken with them.
[Please read the guidelines for contributors if this is your first submission to the project.]
And a suggestion for more work around this in your private creative practice: Make a touch-paper: a list of the most delicious sensations your hands have experienced. How can you bring more tactile pleasure into your days?
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
(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.)
the cure for sleep: april extract
Last weekend before treatment.
How I sat late evening in the red armchair beside Nye’s, begun upon a crochet blanket, new pastime by which I hoped to control myself and stay put, instead of running away fully and forever as it was now my urgent wish to do. The wool was orange like the binder twine Granny and other retired farmers used to fasten their gates and fences, and I tried to imagine myself likewise bound to my seat.
So restful, you knitting like that. What Nye said several times, even while my fingers whispered for me to throw open the front door and set feet free. But I knew what I’d see if I did: bright circle made by the last lamp on our small street – and beyond it? A dark in which I’d belong nowhere, to no one.
Old knot of fear and longing. Girl awake through so many country nights, too scared to run along lightless lanes and reach the help she needed.
How stuck I was still.
Whereas Nye, meanwhile? Intent on growth. Our tiny house filled by him with seedlings so our rooms had a new and thick greenhouse smell; every surface covered with trays and pots. His trouser pockets full of loose seed now whenever I emptied them for the washing machine. And such close attention he bent towards those plants – little, multiplying substitutes for the child that refused to take root. I offered to share their care, but he shook his head always, and continued alone. Back turned to me, our life.
Shadrick, Tanya. The Cure for Sleep (pp. 88-89). Orion. Kindle Edition.
this month’s extra
Tanya recently joined another debut author Georgina Scull on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour (their conversation with host Emma Barnett starts at 45 minutes in). They then wrote for the BBC website on their seven tips for living life more fully.
author site | book site | twitter | instagram
I grew up in a house with no books, no awareness of art except as something that 'others' did. And yet I loved to draw and paint. I used discarded cardboard and cereal packets, as buying paper for a child to draw on was unthinkable, unthoughtof. At 14 in the top stream of a grammar school i was told i had to give up art as a subject and do sciences instead. I was heartbroken. I would never be an artist now. But no one understood so I had to grieve quietly and coped by not picking up a pencil or brush for forty years. Then I did a weekend course in drawing and found it was all still there. I've become pretty good but what is also still there is my family's incomprehension, their refusal to see any worth in it. I got accepted for an MA and they sneered. This time I chose the drawing and gave up the family.
Home from school, she watched as I practiced my hand writing. “You could be a hand model”, she said. I took it as a compliment, although others later tried to persuade me it was an insult. She knew how to give those, but never to me.
In the care home, an old bloke had threatened her. “You’re too old to punch a hole in a wet Echo”, she scoffed, covering her fear. That was as true for her now, hands crippled with arthritis. She liked to chat and knit, but neither small pleasure was on offer, shut in as she was with the demented, her hands as stiff as her whisky.
She would wait for my visits, threads of stories forming in a mind more active for being trapped in an unwilling body. There was the time she made my cousin a pair of gloves from scraps of old wool, each finger a different colour. Soon they were all the rage. Children would turn up at her door, left over wool in their pockets, asking for a pair to be made. All of them, making ends meet. She, a local hero.
I wanted to be as effortless as she had been, but every time I took up the needles, I counted each stitch as if it were a child, and I, a worried teacher on a school trip. I wouldn’t know what to do if I lost one, so vigilance was key. I wanted to be as bold and as brave as her, but there are things that can’t be handed down so easily.