The Cure For Sleep: Mentors
Season 2, 006: Tell me about a great mentor or teacher in your life - or the one you dream of but have yet to find...
your invitation to write
Tell me about a great mentor or teacher in your life - how you met, what they taught you. Or: say instead what kind of wise guide you are still hoping to encounter, and why.
[Please read the guidelines for contributors if this is your first submission to the project.]
When writing The Cure for Sleep, I saw fully - and for the first time in my life - that while I’ve often felt poor in family (never being held by a loving father; without siblings; a kind grandfather dead before I was born) I was rich instead in teachers and mentors.
Having come such a long way on the support of these people, I want to spend the rest of my life finding small ways to hand that kind of attention onwards. This is why our growing story-sharing community here is so important to me. And as September is the start of the new school year in many countries, I thought it would be timely for us all to celebrate our wise guides. I so look forward to reading about the people who have influenced you.
A suggestion for more work around this theme in your private creative practice: In what ways are you a wise guide or mentor to anyone? Have you skills and knowledge that you have yet to pass on to someone else? How might you find ways to begin doing that?
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
(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: september extract
Write a book. You must. What more and more people had been saying to me, so that I held up my empty palms each time saying, I don’t know how to start.
Nor did I still. But it seemed obvious then, on that last afternoon of summer, that I could at least share the good I’d been given by the sculptor. What he had told me, that made me feel able to try what none of my family ever had: to make things from nothing, out of my own particular concerns; I could pass this on so others might get use from it too.
Hours it took, with the unsteady signal in the guest cottage, to send out and away just some of the much that I’d learned from him:
THE SCULPTOR’S ADVICE FOR ART AND LIFE
Always give your ideas ‘molecules’, quickly, before they fade: just a title is enough, or a sketch, or a few notes on scrap paper, sellotaped up and kept in view. In this way, a thing beyond your time, resources, or abilities now, is far more likely to happen in future.
Be professional and serious in your work, however late and tentative your endeavours.
Measure success not by the number of people who respond to what you make but be motivated instead by that one necessary person you might meet, whenever you risk putting a well-intentioned work into the world.
Be moved, also, by the possibility of becoming that person to others.
Tell a true, ongoing story of your life as well as your art. Even if you receive no reward or notice for what you do, you still gain meaning from this, and purpose.
Understand how much time it takes for a work, or a path, or a life to take shape.
Be alert to the teachings of chance.
I published it as a long online thread and turned off my phone. Last night of our holidays, and an early start in the morning for home. Work then for Nye, school for the children. No plans at all for me, who had clung to them for dear life my first forty years.
Shadrick, Tanya. The Cure for Sleep (pp. 295-296). Orion. Kindle Edition.
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this month’s extras
The Sculptor in The Cure for Sleep who I meet by chance at a crucial time in my life, (and who becomes thereafter my great friend and mentor) is - as some of you will already know - the land artist David Nash. There are some fascinating online clips of him talking about his philosophy of art and life, and this one is a good starting point:
And if you’re able to access BBC iplayer in your region, then you can hear David and I in conversation for the BBC Radio 4 show Slow Art: Pursuit of Beauty [from 17:46 minutes in]…
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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Gerald, of Wakefield.
I watched him through a lens of shyness. But mainly I read, researched, and thought. He made me want to. Back then, I was too busy making teenage sense of Homer, Thucydides and Plato to appreciate his influence fully. It’s so much easier now that I’ve walked in his shoes.
Gerald Thompson was a West Riding grammar school boy, with brainpower that allowed him to enjoy the same sort of mildly intoxicating Cambridge years he helped me to experience. Perhaps his ‘humble’ origins made him more at home in my unpretentious East Riding hometown. Larkin called us a ‘cut-price crowd’, but Gerald didn’t treat us like that. He wanted so much for us. He showed us the beauty of learning, and the narrowness of the syllabus. Above all, he gave us an example in how to live. I’ve never seen a teacher suggest so unintentionally that it wasn’t about money or status. He stood out.
Every boy in the school called him ‘Hermes’. And why not? He might as well have been Greek. In time, that was his identity: citizenship, orthodoxy, ways. He walked away from the unromantic restrictions of a heavy-handed management brigade. I know that walk now…
Gerald lies buried in a cemetery on Aegina, the island that became home for him. Our school trip to Greece in 1979 included a few days there. Remembering how at ease he seemed in that environment, it was no surprise that he settled into a life there so completely. We can all learn something from Gerald about marrying temperament with rhythm and milieu.
It was some years into my teaching career before I realised that I was holding the baton which Gerald had gently passed to me. I tried to grip it firmly and proudly. And I passed it on, Gerald.
Contribution offered by Paul Gamble
The Quieter One
She was the quieter one, kept things turning over in a house with more children than money, scraped mud off potatoes and sliced knobbly carrots while he led us on adventures into the mountains or unexplored corners of the city. “Nice time?” she would ask as, with a toddler in arms, she paddled through soapy puddles - the overflow from the clothes wringer – to put steaming soup on the table.
While we debated politics, music or books, around plates of stew or Queen of Puddings, her fingernails would drum continuously on the tin teapot, her gaze drifting towards the windows.
There were hints that, at one time, she led a more interesting life: a pink silk ballgown in the dressing-up clothes, cracked leather ice-skates in a plastic bag under the stairs, a collection of stilettos and old perfume bottles in the dressing table made from wooden fruit boxes.
“Never let your interests go,” she would softly suggest, as she led me across the peninsula before everyone woke up, to paint watercolours or watch rabbits; “find something you love,” she would tell us as she snatched moments to escape into novels and biographies; “you need to find a way to support yourself for the rest of your life” she would say as we moaned about homework, “you may not have a man to support you.” And as she organised yet another flag day or bring-and-buy she would declare firmly “remember how lucky you are.”
It took until my middle years to understand how effectively the quieter one had led me, from behind; how she lost sight of no-one as she navigated the world she found herself in, least of all herself. In the drifting gaze and the drumming fingernails she was holding on to her very soul.