The Cure For Sleep: Longing
Season 2, 005: What do yearn for? Do you see longing as a productive or painful state?
your invitation to write
Tell me about the longing in your life: what do you yearn for? Are you trying to attain it, or are you engaged instead in trying to move on, let go? And if you did get what you longed for: how was that for you?
[Please read the guidelines for contributors if this is your first submission to the project.]
When writing The Cure for Sleep, one of the harder things to admit, to describe, was how much of my life - since earliest childhood - had been lived in states of (by turns) diffuse or acute longing. It’s such a melancholic, minor-key emotion, and I was always ashamed of it…
…and yet my late-made art life only began when I owned up to that aspect of myself: the mile of writing I made on scrolls during my young children’s school hours by my town’s lido was longing made material - I poured all my desires, frustrations and hopes into it. It was an expanse of time and paper large enough to take the weight of all in me that yearned for expression.
I would love it if this month’s prompt offered you a similar space here to give voice to your stories of want, of longing.
Suggested further reading:
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Can Make Us Whole by Susan Cain (Viking: April 2022)
Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte (Canongate: November 2019)
You can read the experiences 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
(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: august extract
Bearing witness to all mother’s memories in my preschool years left me with an unbearable longing to be seen and heard in turn. I placed a mirror on the floor each day and sang into it until my throat went croaky, imagining it a portal to both God and my father, the two men I yearned for. They lived together, I believed, in a realm I might reach only by song.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. The Lord’s Prayer, found in another of my nursery books: learned by heart as the only form of words I could find for what I lacked and wanted.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses. Singing to Father so many months without ever an answering sign that I began to forget my love had ever been anchored to a real man. It became instead a dream state, the heavy water in which I was suspended – longing without end, so that I began clinging to objects for more reliable contact. And the fact of his absence, which had come before I had words to show Mother how it hurt? This lived from now on as an ache in my stomach that refused any foods I had once shared with him. In these and other obscure ways, all my unhappiness either sublimated or suppressed.
Shadrick, Tanya. The Cure for Sleep (pp. 40-41). Orion. Kindle Edition.
Thanks for reading The Cure for Sleep with Tanya Shadrick! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
this month’s extras
Listen to my conversation with Sharon Blackie
To mark the publication of her eagerly-anticipated HAGITUDE, acclaimed mythologist and story-teller Dr Sharon Blackie is dedicating the new season of her This Mythic Life podcast to conversations with women on the gifts and challenges in our second half of life.
It was an honour this month to be her first guest, and I’m excited to be part of her team from October for the year-long online Hagitude program: I’ll be collecting and curating members’ stories as I do here.
(And this is a chance to say a very warm welcome to the many members of Sharon’s wonderful - and world-wide! - community who have joined me here in the last few weeks. I forsee a rich time of cross-pollination ahead as more and more of us come together to discuss ideas around deliberate living).
Wild Women Reading Book Club
And do head over to my fellow author Lorraine Candy’s brilliant Substack where Issue 4 of our shared Wild Women Reading club will soon be up. Every month we each choose a book we feel might speak to curious spirited dreamers with an awakening on their to-do list. This month, we’ve chosen memoirs that engage in deep and surprising ways with motherhood…
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.
author site | book site | twitter | instagram
An octopus, one head barely distinct from the body, three hearts to pump blood blue with copper to survive the depths and eight arms with two rows of suction cups, arms reaching in all directions, arms in motion, arms with choices, arms full of neurons, far more even than in the brain, each arm almost a brain itself, able to bypass the brain and communicate with each other, arms ruled by senses. Each arm tasting what it touches.
I long for an arm built for creating joy and releasing false responsibilities, sweeping past unnecessary demands, an arm for embracing ease instead of effort, this arm that goes limp and cannot be willed to write a list of chores to check off, this arm of curiosity, refusing time, tossing clocks.
An arm for holding and pulling close, full of muscle and flex, an arm to protect, to unfurl and cast back into the ocean, this arm of neurons lighting up when others are ready to swim, this arm that knows when to let go and speed off before poisoned by its own ink, blinded by the ink of others ready to go.
An arm to grasp courage and fling off fear, an arm to pull back another arm when it gets tied down with tedium, this arm that will fill the porch with wildflowers, steep in autumn air, stay and stare at stars until their light reaches down and through, burrows into bones, light becoming marrow, holding the patience of lightyears.
An arm that holds my mouth open wide, suctions my fingers to pen and pen to paper until all that was needed to be said was let loose, even if these words are disregarded, tossed and scrambled back into random letters, words no longer floating through my blood, ricocheting through veins, pulsing through gut, now riding ocean tides.
An arm that reaches up, grabs a rope, a wave, the tail of a kite, a witch’s broom, pulled fearlessly forward, joined with a cloud on a far horizon, knowing if it lets go, gives up, that backward motion is deadly, this arm that grips tight to free reign, avoids the hard falls that come with restraint.
An arm to cast away like a spider’s fine filament, not knowing where it will land, across creeks and pastures, in woods from tree to tree, across oceans and rising tides, slant of sun holding the power of being seen or unseen but casting away anyway, an arm arching toward adventure.
An arm that meanders, finds its own path, pushing through dirt and rock, ocean silt and the shells that hold others captive, barricading and camouflaging when necessary as it strays from the expected, the known, crawls through deep water, cradled in currents ruled by a moon it cannot see.
An arm able to regrow when severed.
Not everyone would understand the feeling of longing. For some it’s meaningless – “Why long and yearn? Just go and get it!” or, simply, “Come back to Earth - want what you can achieve”. I envy that approach.
My birth had too much meaning for my family; it came out of need not love. I was an unplanned and an unpaid work for granny, the precious last hope of happiness for mama and a pension fund for papa (although he was sorry that I turned out to be a girl). In return, I’ve inherited their own often nameless and rootless longing. Longing to belong, to be free and to feel safe.
My parents’ accidental and unwanted union caused too much rift in both families, and I was left in a care of my grandmother for my first seven years. All week I longed to see my parents at weekends; then I longed to return home to granny. I longed to play with other children but there were none around. Instead, I played by myself, helped with chores, and listened to adults’ conversations; “child should be seen, not heard”. I longed to be heard and I longed for my questions to be answered but the only answer I ever received was “when you grow up, you’d understand”. So, I longed to grow up. At school I longed to be like other children, make friends and I longed to be alone. Often, I longed to be back in granny’s flat in a two-storey house surrounded by apple and cherry trees that were no more - demolished and bulldozed to give way to a sky-scraping, expanding capital.
And on and on it went until all I could long for was to be someone else, living in a different time and in a different place.