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Apr 3, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

The Parable of the Ladder Maker

Words make formidable fences, rising to tower above us, easily reinforced with yet more words if they prove not to be sufficiently strong.

My parents made their fences from sentences that started “People like us don’t…” and for 14 years I contentedly lived behind those fences, made secure by other words that encouraged me to ‘Work hard at school” and “Look for a good job”. I was never conscious of the contradiction at the heart of that domestic claustrophobia. I was stifled within the fences.

Until I found that beyond the fence there was the possibility of a life spent more easily outdoors. I met people who appeared not to recognise those same fences; who walked, and ran, and climbed, and swam and talked of places that existed only in my dreams. They led me to believe that words could also be used to make ladders, indeed that words were in many ways better suited to fashioning ladders than building fences. I decided to become a ladder-maker.

Suddenly discovering that they had raised a ladder-maker came as a shock to my parents. They raised their fences higher and made impassioned statements “People like us can’t have lives beyond the fence”. I challenged them, showing them my story-ladders, “I met somebody who….”, “It’s really cheap to go….” “I’m reading this book…” My challenges only seemed to provoke them, I had to acknowledge that for some reason they needed the fences that I was trying so hard to leave behind.

Finally, at 16, my story-ladders grew stronger and higher than their fences, I traded the security of their home for the uncertain freedoms of independence, knowing that when I encountered other fences, in other places, my story-ladders were always a means of escape.

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Excellent writing, Geoff ... the whole idea of 'looking over the fences guarding aspiration'. Wonderful

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I really love this love that you tried so hard to show those around you the means of escape with your ladders out and beyond and that you found others like you what a gift to a young person who could see what was happening around him and what life could be if he relented and settled for that .

I'm so glad you kept climbing !

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I love this, Geoff. This concept of fences and ladders, yes, the child-who-was-me in a different part of the country but the same class, responded so strongly to the physicality of this - the barriers are felt as material ones, and the effort involved in getting free of them, that too requires a set of tools. Really felt for you, as I did for my mum in the stories she has told of her ambitious youth, with those phrases you've shared. So much energy going into persuading and asking permission, instead of it going straight into the adventures themselves.

And then the joy of that last paragraph. You got over and out...

Here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#geoffcox

Thank you so much for continuing to be part of this project, even while you are working so hard on your memoir. It's good to have you here.

Txx

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Loved this, Geoff - well done for realising you could escape all that at such a young age.

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Loved reading this Geoff. I recognise some of those phrases you mention all too well.

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My favorite line is, "my story-ladders grew stronger and higher than their fences."

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A wonderful read Geoff as I reread and nod along with it all!

So many similarities indeed.

Thank you.

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So powerful, this morphing from word fences to story ladders, your story of resistance and resilience, people who confuse confinement with protection, made me think of how I often fence myself in.

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Oh, the messages we receive as children! The confusion of them! The stickiness! And let’s be honest, a certain reality of them. The reality of that time, place, family, a state of mind …. One message immediately springs to mind. It was a message from my dad that shaped my early years like no other. It was a meme of my childhood. It was like a sticker with no small print, or a story behind it, or an explanation.

That’s the trouble with memes, they rarely come with a context. They don’t inspire questioning and feeling around them. The message often made me freeze with fear, it kept me quiet, it kept me locked in my bedroom. But also, it kept me reading, dreaming, craving for a better and safer place to be. Ultimately it did lead me to questioning too but that was much later. And acceptance… later still. The message still haunts me and follows me around, but I can look at it with different eyes, because now I can see a bigger picture and a story behind it.

“It takes one second to make the wrong decision. That one second could ruin your whole life”. You can’t really argue with that. I just wish he realised that years of fear can also cause irreparable damage.

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Elena, thank you for being the first contributor to Season Three, and with this piece of what I now see as your characteristic fierce insight and truth-to-power.

As a piece of writing, I admire how you build towards the phrase, so as a reader we understand the depth and extent of its impact. And then when it comes, yes, it is stunning in its grimly fated perspective. A heavy and hard weight for an unhappy or disappointed parent to lay onto a child with so many years ahead of them.

Your story, as I come to know more of it through these short works in the project, continues to move and unsettle me. I know there are several members of the community now who, like you, have parents in other countries, other cultures, to where they are now. I think your work here is making it easier for others to begin sharing their stories too. Thank you.

Here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#elenayates

Txx

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Thank you, Tanya! I’m so glad to see that this community is growing. It’s such and honour and pleasure to be a small part of it. Much love, Exx

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Your part in it is not small - significant, rather. As a writer and a community member, both. xxx

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I felt so curious reading this, just waiting to hear what the message was. "The stickiness" and "a sticker with no small print," I caught myself saying, yes, that is absolutely it, could just feel it.

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Thank you, Sheila xx

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Yes, Elena, I too can feel the heaviness of those words, the way they creep in under the skin, without our being able to do anything about them. So very painful. What was it like to be able to "speak" them aloud here in this safe space?

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Thank you, Erica. I do believe that writing and sharing can help to lift the spell that other people, situations and experiences cast on us.

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Apr 11, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

My father was a big man ; a nineteen twenties man, an out of wedlock man who shone with a harsh light. A price tag hung around his neck that displayed his worth. A birth certificate name missing man - who turned into a disapproving man. The poem I presented to him aged sixteen never reached his consciousness; it broke apart and blew away in his huff! of disapproving breath. He was a sabotaged man - a branded man.

I lived for the gentler strokes of education which opened up avenues of possibilities; helped me to rationalise and dismantle the harmful scaffolding I was building up inside. Gave me the strength in later years to wrap up my father in forgiveness as time wore him down and mellowed his malice.

I journeyed through acts of healing; felt the flow of voices piercing my adolescent weaknesses. I sifted through tangled feelings and the unvarnished response of others. The weight and gravity of choices emptied out a version of me.

The metalwork teacher forged a haven in his workshop at school; that wise old scroller of steel fed me a dialogue of support and understanding. I hit the anvil hard- beat out life's rhythm, shaping steel and skin. " Hit it harder!" he cried, " it's the wrong shape." I was hitting it harder but from the inside- hammering out my imperfections- trying to harden my resolve.

The price of battling disapproval and bending the knee de-stabilized me; deepened my resentments and internalised an un-keeled form of me; but the soft skim of a girlfriend's smile gave this libran some balance; softened the brittleness crystallising within. The snatcher of smiles threw me into uncertainty and I veered into the unknown only to be rescued by loving hands. I witnessed and I was in my turn witnessed.

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Steve, I hope one day to be holding a book by you, because I have such a thirst for these stories from male experience that disrupt and deepen the stock of narratives written by men. Whenever I read you - even though your prose style is so wholly your own - I think too of Lawrence, of Williams' Stoner. Books about men who have a deep connection to production, to work, but have deep natural/spiritual knowledge too.

I've read this several times for the rhythm, for the beauty. Thank you. Txx

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#steveharrison

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Apr 29, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Such a lushness of visceral verbs, Steve...Jarring at first--"A price tag hung around his neck ... a sabotaged man"--and then the paradoxical surprise of a "Hit it harder!" metalwork teacher who forged a haven for you...and coming to rest in the embrace of shared witness.

Thank you.

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Always so happy - and grateful - when new subscribers not only write for the project, but take the time to read the archive and respond to other storytellers. Thank you Catherine. Steve isn't often online but I know he will be thrilled to feel himself read by you.

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Absolutely beautiful

I witnessed and I was in turn witnessed.

Sublime . so lovely to read Steve !

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“Where’s the other 3%?” I was asked. I’d just got 97% on my maths exam – I can’t remember if it was a particularly important exam, but even if it wasn’t, I was so proud. I couldn’t wait to tell him. It still makes my eyes prickle, over 30 years on. I wasn’t good enough. And that started it – or maybe it didn’t, maybe it had started earlier. Actually, definitely.

Two fathers, this from was my stepfather who lived with us; my real father lived with my stepfather’s family. Unusual to swop fathers with a best friend, but that is what happened when we were little. Two fathers, two families each with two children. Hearing how great the other two children were, how talented, sporty, musical, academic – hearing their achievements both from my father when he visited, and from my stepfather when he returned from his visit, the same night. In hearing how amazing the other children were, I heard how I was not.

It didn’t occur to wonder then, but I do wonder more recently - if the other children heard the same about me & my sister. Received and internalised the same message. We don’t have a relationship with the living other child to ask; and the best friend died relatively recently, no longer a friend for many years before that. I believe she felt as I did though. The father died long ago. The stepfather has revealed so much grief, loss and trauma it makes me ache for him.

So there won’t be apologies from either of them, but I have eventually found forgiveness anyway. For these fathers, for all of us children. Maybe we all got things wrong. But maybe, actually definitely, we were all always good enough.

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Becs - what a compelling story you have shared with us here. The circumstances are extraordinary and won't be shared by many people** and yet I know that the way you were spoken to, and how you had to listen to the praises of others being sung: this is sadly so common, in my experience as a story-gatherer. I wish I could say that the people I worked with at end of life had been able to reach the kind perspective you have in your last sentences here, but I don't think many do.

A beautiful piece of writing - and unless my record-keeping has gone awry, I think it is your first piece for the project? I hope you will be tempted to try others (all themes stay open without deadilne). I've listed you as Becs B currently, but I'd love to add your full name or a pseudonym last name of your choosing...

Here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#becsb

Txx

(** although I did have a best friend whose parents swopped partners in this way, and your fine piece makes me wish I'd thought more about their experience when they were in my life: I was so focussed on being estranged from my father that I think I saw anyone with access still to both their parents simply fortunate. Chastened by this hindsight caused by your words...)

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Thank you so much, Tanya. Your records are right - it is my first piece; having read your book when recovering from a surgery a few months ago, I have been waiting to join this community in real-time... I have given myself a pseudonym surname (a beloved cat!).

I loved your memoir very much and have been recommending it to so many friends. I do enjoy reading about other people's diverse real lives, though it often causes me to re-see the experience of someone I knew and reflect on whether I realised what they were going through at the time - and conclude mostly, probably not! I hope self-compassion accompanies any chastening for you. With love x

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Thank you so much for reading my book - touched to think of it keeping you company in that post-surgery time that I found so strange and alien when I experienced it. I always hoped it would be the kind of story that readers would want to tell their friends and family about - as I share word of books that change my way of seeing.

Here is your updated link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#becsmackenzie

I think you have an exciting way of writing personal experience and hope to read more by you.

Txx

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Oh Becs! What a dynamic. How complicated and unnerving that must have been for you and all other children. It made me think how often a childhood becomes a puzzle for a grown-up child to solve later. To evaluate what was fake and what was real. Those who are not curious enough to go into it will probably carry on with the same pattern for their own children. Those who examine their past might swing to another extreme and overcompensate if not careful enough. You beautiful piece just underlines the importance of being real and not getting caught up with a current trend whatever it might be xx

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Apr 5, 2023·edited Apr 5, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Thank you Elena. And reading your piece - gosh, it resonates for the same reasons doesn't it? For both of us, I'm sure the messages were meant with love, with encouragement, but what puzzles for us to unravel and solve. With love x

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Loved this Becs

The forgiveness that comes seeing our parents as they really are

adults muddling through ,no guide book only what they have learnt from their parent the simple luck of the draw for alot of us .

And the realisation and climb to forgiveness of it all the simple release of letting go .

Beautiful.

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Apr 7, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Longing makes the early bird wake to sing the light into being, to sing for territory, to sing for a mate, also to kill the worm. Birds long for the north and then the south. Women often long to be birds. My great grandma saw yellow finches after her stroke. My grandma never had a bird feeder, too much mess, brings mice, can’t be bothered, your pap will get upset. My mom arranged ceramic birds in a curio. They told me I held the promise of change. No one knew the disruption it would create. I once saw a hawk swoop down and snatch a sparrow, at night I hear the begging call of the great horned owl.

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Sheila! I didn't see this initially as it came through among lots of wonderful ones from other subscribers to you about your work! (Good reason for missing it though!).

This reads and hits hard for me like some of Sharon Olds and Oliver's poems too - and I read it like a poem.

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#sheilaknell

Now. Have you seen a new Substack I'm recommending on here? Unpsychology Voices? It's editor Steve was one of the first people to take work from me - a print edition and a fiction version of what 5 years later become The Weather House chapter in The Cure for Sleep. I admire him and his work immensely, and I feel strongly that you would enjoy publishing work with Unpsychology - reaching new readers for your words.

Take a look and if you're interested, I'm very happy to speak of you and your work to Steve so that it's easier for you to make a first approach to him...

Txxx

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Apr 12, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Tanya, this blew me away...had trouble concentrating at work today! I've taken a look at what he's doing with Unpsychology Voices, reminds me somewhat of Emergence Magazine. I was struck by the quote from Alice Walker he used in the first issue “In each of us, there is a little voice that knows exactly which way to go” and was thinking of Poe's the Imp of the Perverse and how that is the human condition, the knowing of which way to go and at times the impossibility of going there, always that other voice. It would be amazing to have something published there. Hard to describe the gratitude I feel for this whole project of yours. Just amazing....xxx

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I really think you should just send a message to Steve, Sheila, saying that you are one of the main contributors to my project here, and that I had an instinct you could contribute something valuable to Steve's publication - particularly given you have an American perspective...

Will you let me know if you do and how it goes? He is the most approachable of editors. Rather than write something laboriously and send it him cold, I risked messaging to ask what type of thing he might take from me. He was short on fiction for the issue I went for, so I wrote a story for it after our exchange!

xxx

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Sheila, I love this, how you say women often long to be birds, how birds figure through your maternal line, how you bring the hawks and owls, re-instating live bird power to what had dwindled from finches to ceramics. You are singing the "light into being" in both directions for your female line.

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Thank you for that! It made me think of the writing differently as I’m not sure my mom and grandma would describe it that way, but I did want the light for them and definitely see it moving forward in my daughter. Just love this space and how much it makes me think deeper…xxx

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Me too! Hugs!

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This is beautiful and so true Sheila! Women do long to take flight and be as they say as free as a bird ,i know this to be true as I have felt this always ! And have friends that feel this affinity to our bird companions also .

I now make fat balls for the birds a new joy in life ,like baking it makes me feel grounded to life ,to a core .

I am filled with happiness in their preparation and when I see my balsy Robin reigning war on any other poor birds trying to gain a nibble,its the simple drama of nature right there that makes heart breathe a little bigger .

Connection .

Thank you for putting this feeling into words its beautiful truly .

I Loved this piece ❤️

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Monique, Thank you for such a lovely response. I love the image of the ballsy robin and the sweetness of you baking for them. Fascinating how much joy watching birds can bring us and from your writings here, I am not surprised that you identify with them. So grateful! xxx

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I think it's wonderful you put this connection down in words always felt it ! Thank you for your writing Sheila 🙏❤️✨️

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Oh wow, what a beautiful and extremely interesting read Shelia! Each sentence holds so much!

Thank you for sharing

Tracey x

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Tracey, As always, thank you. So glad you enjoyed it! xx

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deletedApr 8, 2023·edited Apr 8, 2023
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Jo, Thank you. It is always interesting to see what show up! xx

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Mar 31, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

For a long time I believed I had to have been adopted, more truthfully, I wanted a different history. Perhaps I was a changeling swapped at birth in a strange hospital mix-up or left by mischievous Faery folk. I only had to look in the mirror, the curve of my face, the blue knowing eyes, to see my mother and grandmother reflected there. The truth was clear to see.

Whatever the story I told myself I did not feel that I belonged to this family, I felt so different it was hard to imagine that I was of the same bloodline. My ancestors are hardy folk, pioneers that left familiar people and places , to travel to a new world on the other side of many oceans.

These were woman, who heavily pregnant trudged through thick mud in long skirts, toddler on the hip in a strange land where there was nothing they knew as home and hearth. The men cut trees and worked many days and nights. There was always something to do and someone had to do it. Their hardworking ethic, the grim determination, is etched into my bones, handed down as a blessing and a curse.

I was a free-spirited nature child. I sang to the trees. Danced endless hours with the nature beings, both seen and unseen. I rescued injured birds and stray cats. I cried for the hurt animals and was sick at the sound of trees being felled. Not exactly a practical match for a generation's old farming family.

The unspoken family motto was “If you are not working you are not worthwhile”. Even the definition of working was narrowed by convention and conformity. The slow cold creeping mist of this legacy began to rise as I left childhood and I succumbed.

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Carole, this is beautiful storytelling from you - weaving in so few words such a rich picture of generations, and then that tightening into a knot of what is considered worthwhile by them. So at odds with what in you was responding with such depth, such breadth, to the world around.

Here is your link, with my thanks for joining our project here, and with these words.

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#carole

I think we are already working together over on the Hagitude program? Let me know if that is not so!

And may I have a last name/pen name or initial please, as I need to make sure stories by people of the same first name are kept distinct from one another in the story archive.

Tanya xx

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Apr 4, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Yes, Tanya we have indeed meet in Hagitude. It is through that connection I have found your wonderful community and feel grateful to join you all.

My name is Carole Mahood, I am happy to use my full name.

I have so much respect & love for my ancestors who gave so much that their descendants could have a better life and I also grieve keenly for much was sacrificed and lost along the way. It is a push pull I have felt throughout my life, a see sawing on unstable ground x

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Yes, that respect pulses through what you've written.

I'm so glad you have joined me here so we can keep working together after the Hagitude program finishes in September.

Here is your updated link, and your name now appears in the A to Z of contributors on the book site and over on the By Readers tab in the Substack.

xx

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#carolemahood

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Carole, I had some of the very same wishes! I memorized every line to the movie Little Orphan Annie, and fantasized about my "real" family coming any day now to rescue me. Despite a resemblance (I told myself maybe I was my aunt's illegitimate child given to her brother and his wife to raise) this fantasy actually lasted into adulthood, when I made up some grad school project for which I needed to run our DNA through Ancestry.com. Much to my disappointment, they are in fact my actual parents.

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Apr 2, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I have been surrounded by much more than my fair share of people with very little curiosity and imagination, let alone ambition and determination. All my life I have heard that ‘it can’t be done’, ‘it’s too difficult’, ‘you won’t make it’, ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’. From ‘don’t take that job, the bus ride is too long’ to ‘what would you want to go to university for?’. The amount of bad (often unsolicited) advice I have been given throughout my life is astonishing. Exasperating. And the effort it has taken me to quieten these voices down and grow as someone conscious of living on a beautiful planet full of possibilities has been huge. It took me a while, but now I mostly follow my instinct and it has not failed me yet.

I will never forget a conversation I had about Revolutionary Road (the Sam Mendes film based on the wonderful novel by Richard Yates). I was discussing it with a colleague who was becoming a friend, someone I thought was one of the most adventurous people I knew. In the story, Frank and April Wheeler have a troubled marriage and he complains constantly about the dull job he has to hold to support the family; so, April comes up with a perfect, practical plan that would allow them to move to Paris, where she would support them and Frank would be free to chase his dreams. My colleague did not understand how April could think it would work out: ‘But she had it all perfectly planned!’, I can still hear myself saying in a heated tone. Frank was clearly just not up to the challenge. My almost friend and I have not spoken in years, with the exception of one Facebook interaction when someone died. Life really is too short.

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Oh my! A characteristically powerful piece from you, Maria, reminding me once again why your anonymised application for mentoring spoke so directly to me that I needed to work with whoever was behind the words. And an added excitement tonight, reading your piece, as I only DAYS ago went to fetch Revolutionary Road from its place on my A to Z shelves of paperbacks to sit with other novels that I want to revisit this year because I feel they have things to teach me about the power of writing/life. Even though I've never travelled as you have, as April planned to, I felt (like you) that April's plan was perfect, and practical. But I love how Yates describes the way Frank begins to enjoy his almost accidental, careless success at work, so that it begins to exert a pull on him.

The book is shocking in its events the way some of the things that have been done and said to you are.

So it is so interesting to me, as someone who has shared a deep mentoring conversation with you, to find out now that you know this book well. We must find a way to talk again this year, if you'd like that too!

Here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#mariasimoes

Txx

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Apr 3, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I'm still here thinking... What an amazing coincidence you had just picked Revolutionary Road again. xx

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When we talk next I will tell you about a hair-raising example - similar to this - that happened with me and much-younger-than-me editor during the second draft of the cure for sleep! Similar to this one and a blessing on the book and what I was trying to do with it. xx

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Apr 3, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Thank you, Tanya! I hope I didn't come across as ruthless about other people, I'm not, it's just that I only had 300 words to play with. I love the challenge of using exactly that many words (I've set myself that challenge), and I think I've managed it so far. I would love to talk again at some point! I love Richard Yates, his short stories in Eleven Kinds of Loneliness are heartbreakingly beautiful. I hope you are well. Much love to you, your Mum and all your family. xx

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No, not at all ruthless, but clear and direct in a way that makes for exciting writing that feels truthful, important.

I don't know those short stories but love the title so will treat myself for Easter!

Best holiday wishes to you - love the glimpses I get on instagram of your travels. xx

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Thank you. Have a peaceful, lovely break. xx

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We have a phrase, 'a little bit awfully too much' which is how my mother views everything, diminuitising herself and her world. To be bold and brave, adventurous and ambitious is seen as aggressive, masculine, in her book. Aren't these narratives limiting! Thank heaven for our rebellious natures that allow us to think differently

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What a great phrase! Your mother sounds a lot like someone I know... It takes a lot of strength not to be crushed by our family’s view of the world.

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Yes, well, but you didn’t top all the subjects.

You’ve won the prize! Straighten your hair up before you go on stage.

How will anyone ever know how smart you are if you only study arts?

And so, every success was a failure and nothing that I did was ever good enough. I was never good enough.

Staring out the window, staring through the pages of a book, staring at the screen. All these ways to be seen to be absorbed in work, in study, in thought. I learned early on that if you appeared to be a certain way then you could fool people into believing it to be so. In the fourth grade, my eyes riveted to an Ancient Egyptian documentary, in part captivated but also knowing that adopting this posture would earn me points, would cement myself in the eyes of the teacher as a serious student. In the high school quadrangle, I would pull out my serious-looking hardback black notebook with the red corners and set to furious scribbling. I would carry my Norton Anthology of Literature face out in my arms as I walked the university campus.

Always with her head in a book; she must be so smart!

You’d think so, wouldn't you?

But in fooling people, I also fooled myself. So I believed that if I only read enough books, studied harder and longer than anyone else, achieved all those top scores, then yes, wasn’t I smart? Wasn’t I worthy? Wasn’t I of value?

I was playing a part and it was exhausting. To this day, I no longer know whether I am being myself or being what I think it is that others want me to be. Actually, that’s a lie. I know - I'm just too scared to drop the facade.

Emily Tamas

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Emily, this is fierce and fiercely honest writing from you. You use the word limit to compress a whole lifetime of internal and external pressures into form, into story.

Such painful recognition and fellow feeling from me: this is what I did too. And it's only since I published my book last year that I feel able to walk around in the world now without a book or a diary always with me, as visible signifiers/proof/shield. The first day I sat on a train and simply looked out the window - not needing to 'look' like a bookish person - this everyday normal way of being for most people in the world - it felt so wild, so free. And while I still have a library of books shelved A to Z in my living room, I'm thinning them radically to keep only what I feel are books that I love or that I will refer to in my teaching or that my children may one day ask for (as my teen daughter has now discovered a love of Greek plays, so that she is asking for ones I only was forced to read for my degree).

'I was playing a part and it was exhausting.' How much I hope to get glimpses of your onward journey out from this through what you write here in the project.

Do you know Ferrante's Neopolitan Quartet? I first read the pre-publication in 2015 when carrying books about always was my only way of showing people what I most cared about. To read them now is powerful in a different way. One of the two main working-class characters in it manages through effort and some circumstance to study her way out from her dangerous part of Naples. To move in a different world. But how well she describes the cost of that, and how it is both authentic and also a sort of necessary costume that one can't then exist outside of...

Here is the link to you latest piece. Thank you again for sharing it.

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#emilytamas

Txx

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Thank you, Tanya. There is great comfort and solidarity in your words and I am grateful for them. I began the Neapolitan Quartet years ago but only read Book 1 - just ducked into the bookstore this afternoon and bought the next two and will begin again. Ferrante's writing both compels me and agitates me, particularly the fiction. Will read with different eyes this time. I am currently rereading your book and it compels and agitates me as well. You have great courage and strength to allow yourself to step outside the expectations of others in order to do what is necessary for you and I am so glad you wrote your story - it shines a light. Xx

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Emily... your reading of my book and what you say here means a lot. And it's a real privilege to curate your stories here in the project. xx

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May 2, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Emily, this really got me in the gut. I struggle with being myself and wearing the facade. It is exhausting. A coping behavior for so long I am not sure how to drop it & who I will meet in the ashes. I am willing to give it a go though, I am curious, perhaps I will surprise myself. Thank you for honest insight.

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Thank you Carole. Hopefully our curiosity will astound both of us and the exhaustion will lift. x

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Apr 16, 2023·edited Apr 16, 2023

"But in fooling people, I also fooled myself. So I believed that if I only read enough books, studied harder and longer than anyone else, achieved all those top scores, then yes, wasn’t I smart? Wasn’t I worthy? Wasn’t I of value?"

Wow. Emily, I can so relate to this. Profound, deep, honest and self effacing writing here. I'm feeling very inspired by you.

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Thank you, Olivia - am feeling comforted that it resonated with you 🙏✨

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Apr 14, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

A room made from geraniums, pelargoniums, ferns; from stringy, precious orchids and African violets that seem dead or nothing but one dusty, velvet leaf. Mrs Eaton understands these plants that my family would disregard, that are ‘too much like hard work’, they have no desire to learn new or difficult things. She lets me water the conservatory plants with a small brass watering can and I pretend that I live here as she guides me gently, says kindly, ‘on you go’. She explains how some plants slumber, almost asleep, for months, not quite 100 years she says, smiling, but how clever that I thought of that, remembered the story. One day, she continues, when you are not looking for it, indeed had forgotten it, the plant wakes up and you discover a new green leaf, see that it’s not dead at all or to be thrown away, as things are at our house when they become worn or ‘chatty’. In a misplaced extravagance of the fashionable, much is given up on there, it can feel that I am given up on too, overlooked like one of these violets; perhaps one day I will be a lovely surprise or discovery: I learn how to wait patiently and long.

Heavy curtains unspool to the floor like a reverie. Inside tall windows I read, draw, stare at the sky; clocks tick and chime, somewhere in the house there is music, fruit cake on a china plate that tells a story. I imbibe kindness and attention from Mrs Eaton: it is as if I am real, as if I am here. She encourages me to cultivate my shy self-expression which, untended, is stifled by the weeds and thorns of place and blood ties, what is real and true in me kept from the light.

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Donna... so very glad you have joined this project because what an exquisite piece you have shared with us. It is both a very complete and concentrated statement of place and people and feeling, full of love, but with a shadow of your other home, your family one... and it at the same time feels like a voice, like a sensibility, like a story I could spend a much longer amount of time with. What draws me in so completely in the work of novelists Marilynne Robinson and the short stories of Alice Munro I feel reading this piece by you. And so all over again you are another new contributor who proves to me that my choice to offer a 300-word limit is in no way a constraint to people telling very full and rich tales. Just wow. Here is your link and I will be adding you to the A to Z lists of contributors on the book site and over on substack. I do hope you will try out other themes in the large-now archive - no deadlines, all stay open. Thank you. Tanya xx

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#donnamaynard

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Apr 15, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Dear Tanya, thank you. I feel honoured, humbled to be a part of this enriching, brave, brilliant community of writers, there is such generosity here in this sharing. And, really, thank you for your kind words, I feel very moved by your response to my writing. I heard you on a podcast say the phrase , ‘come from away’, I’d not heard that since my parents died and it transported me back to Devon, Mrs Eaton in my piece came from away or was a ‘stranger’ as my mother would have said . I read your book at the end of last year and it stays on my bedside table now. It is so special, a work of integrity and authenticity: beautifully crafted, bravely honest, unforgettable once read. I feel sure that in years to come it will be regarded as a classic . I believe, truthfully, that it broke me down and made me begin to be better, recognising among its many truths ‘How little I’d given. Or gone for’. My heartfelt , grateful thanks and best wishes to you, Donna x

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I read this too aloud to my husband and we both had tears come. It took a lot for both of us to share this story of our shared life - for all the reasons of childhood conditioning that you know about from reading the book with all the care you have. So what you've said means the world to me but also to Nye. Thank you from both of us. xx

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Nov 13, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Donna, I'm late commenting as I've only just joined, but wanted to say how much I enjoyed this piece. Your writing is so rich, with evocative detail. I like how you manage to convey the world of your own family through its contrast with the world of Mrs Eaton. A really lovely piece of writing. I'll look out for your other pieces as I trawl through the archives.

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I can't remember when I first understood that I was different, but I can clearly remember an interaction with the child who lived nearest me on the village street when I was no more than four or five.

"You have no daddy. He died in the war."

Now, I knew I had a daddy but he wasn't part of my life, for reasons I didn't understand at the time. I also knew, even at that young age, that there had been no recent war, but it was evident that in 1980s rural Ireland, some explanation had to be provided for a child without a father.

Having since learned the horrendous fate of many unmarried mothers at that time, packed off to Magdalen laundries and seeing their babies die or be put up for adoption, I consider myself and my mother very lucky not to have faced complete ostracism, such were the prevailing societal values and the messaging of the Catholic church.

Nevertheless, I was the only child in my class in primary school who didn’t have a father, and even the otherwise kindly local shopkeeper seemed to take some pains to always refer to me by my mother’s surname, despite my correcting him on a number of occasions, as she had, unusually registered me under that of my father. I often wonder what that man’s motivation was; could he just not accept that a child born out of wedlock could have her father’s surname, or did he take some perverse pleasure in tormenting that same child?

Lucky though I may have been, and though my mother later married and supplied me with a wonderful father, my difference was apparent to me from a very early age, and that sense of being an outsider has coloured my entire life.

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Oh Tracey. What a moving piece - the intersection of your own deeply personal experience and the painful historical context that you bring to it. So that reading you, I am feeling acutely your discomfort (I'm always shocked anew by each story of an adult being unkind to a child as that shopkeeper was to you), and you've also used the short word limit to speak for entire generations of mistreated women and children.

For different reasons, I - like you - was the only child in my 1970s primary school to be without a father, until my very last year there, when a girl joined whose father had died, instead of left. She got so much sympathy and support from teachers, and it hurt me and made me jealous. My father not bothering to see me even though we shared a small town was never acknowledged as a difficulty I faced by friends, teachers, close family... only by old women in town who commented on it with a sort of sympathy that was laced with ill intent.

That sense of being outsiders: I wonder if it makes us warmer adults, attentive to others, wanting to create communities? No coincidence perhaps that you and I have connected here! xx

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#traceykennedy

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As a small child, I was told to be a “good girl,” a “good little helper,” with my younger sisters. Yet, at almost two, I couldn’t have been much help to my mother, when my mother almost died of mastitis after my sister’s birth. Or at three, at my next sister’s birth. Outwardly I tried to be “good,” but internally I seethed.

I remember holding a tiny soft doll, plush, pastel-colored and sweet and stabbing it with a needle, imagining that it was one of my sisters. Immediately I was filled with a heady, full-body feeling. Red and fierce and full of life. Instead of tiny and helpless, I was all-powerful, huge and strong. Soon, very soon, this fiery feeling was replaced with horror, fear and shock. Someone was going to see through me and know that I was bad. Worse still, I was going to be rejected. Instantly, I pushed down the anger and rage into the deepest recesses of my being.

I began to believe both that I had to be a good girl, meaning be quiet, compliant, don’t take up too much space. And any feelings of anger or rage were not to be expressed, too dangerous. I became a shy child, fearful of my words and my body and the impact they might make on the world around me. These messages of early childhood were reinforced by school and later by work. My own voice and inner life were dangerous and not to be trusted. They were too much. I was too much. I needed a glass wall between me and the world, protecting me from the world but more than that, protecting the world from me. Recently, I have learned to craft healing dolls that speak for me, saying everything, gradually dissolving that wall.

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How powerfully you describe the enormous - and utterly wrong - weight of expectation placed upon your small self... and your quite-natural rituals of anger. A sign of self wanting to protect itself.... but then that retreat into what we believe the world wants from us until we believe it too.

And what you say at the end about the doll-making. More and more now I feel these rituals are needed by our adult selves just as they are by our young ones. As children we find the forms of rite we need quite naturally don't we - just as you describe so well. But I think it is rarer to find adult ways to do that all of one's own as you have done.

Another beautiful piece from you. Thank you so much. Here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#erikacleveland

Txx

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Tanya, thank you for seeing me in this deep way. It was tender putting this out there, so I appreciate it on that level, of witnessing something that felt a bit scary to share. And also, you help me to see what even now felt like a sort of taboo way of acting as an anger ritual. And yes, it was that, a ritual. I was trying as a small child to find a way to express very powerful feelings-I was at a pre-verbal place or at least with limited words. It was innocent. But the feeling that came after was so powerful and that message got internalized in many other contexts, until I came to feel myself as "bad." What a powerful shift to see it as a small child's attempt to make sense out of things. Thank you for this perspective which brings healing for me.

And yes, I am also grateful to have found a medium as an adult to process strong feelings and emotions.

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I so value this aspect of life-writing when it is shared in safe spaces: we sometimes get from our readers a gentler perspective on our past behaviours and choices. When we risk honest tales of our struggles - as you did here - then we also open ourselves up to getting help seeing those times in a new light. Love how you write. xx

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Apr 14, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Half a glass of red was enough for the words to pour. "You'll never amount to anything, being so shy". Said to the thirteen year old with a snarl that left her silently weeping as he topped up.

Shame, branded on my cheeks, flared up across the decades. I later implored my NHS counsellor to turn the harsh lamp away from me. Trapped in a tiny room at the back of the village health centre I was distracted by toads smearing the windowpane with muddy webbed feet. They reminded me of Catherine’s tormented spirit at the window in Wuthering Heights. I got the giggles observing us, two adult strangers in the room. He mentioned his daughters, his ex-wife. Confusing.

In retrospect I feel sad. There was a ghost at the health centre. A pond had been paved over by a recent extension, leaving no place for migrating, maternity-loyal amphibians to spawn. “You’ll probably suffer from chronic, lifelong, low-level depression”, the counsellor claimed. I winced but jutted my chin. “Great, thanks. I don’t believe you”, I told this man.

Age sixteen. Maybe my English teacher could be a mentor? He championed me even though I sometimes fell asleep in class. “You’re so naive”, my friend told me (in our first week students had seen him stroke my arm. Odd but harmless.) “Any ideas for a career?” he asked. “Journalist?” I replied. “You're far too shy”, he laughed.

My teenage nature diary noted kingfishers courting in the tropical green glade of spring. A dozen grass snakes of varying colours, draped around a willow tree. A weasel moving squeaking kits. Hundreds of eviscerated toads: carnage! The nature notes petered out in a punky, sarcastic scrawl. But I’d already discovered that silence and serene curiosity for the wild would always be my guide.

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Such skill in this piece, Jo, to write of such upsetting, unsettling encounters with this kind of...agility. That is the word that has come to me, and so i'm going to use it and then think what I mean. I mean there is an instinctive reaction in you to each of these encounters that feels like the kind of quick and sure self-protective movement we see in the natural word (where you feel safest). I'm thinking of Solnit's description of having an inside-out childhood, like Mary Oliver had too (and I did): safer and more at ease outdoors among wild things. And you choose and use dialogue to such strong effect. Always thrilled when I see your name come up in notifications and hope more Season 3 prompts move you to keep writing...

here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#josinclair

Txx

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Apr 14, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Thank you so much for continuing to provide the supportive space and feedback. Great to be among like-minded writers so intimate and comfortable with the outdoor world. Jo xx

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Only just read this today, as was looking through Tanya's archive. Beautifully rendered. Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you Sharon.

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Silence

Shush, we don’t talk about that.

I was 15 when I found out that I had a cousin living in my home town that wasn’t allowed to be mentioned. I found out about her on a dark rainy November night in a car park. My uncle ‘couldn’t keep it in his pants’ apparently. Dirty little secret. He was in the navy. ‘Likely a child in every port’ they said. There was also another son, adopted by his sister, my aunt. I grew up with him but didn’t know the truth of his father until I was an adult. Another cousin spent time inside. That wasn’t mentioned either. Shush.

Then there was Auntie Mary, who had a child out of wedlock & the child was raised as her sister. Secret after dusty cobwebbed secret.

My mum had an affair with the neighbour. Over the fence at the back of the house. I remember sitting on the blue metal swing age 9 hearing them whispering and feeling my blood run cold in shock. Shush.

Life we as knew it fell apart soon after. Dad crying on the sofa as my mum took everything.

Shush, we don’t talk about that became the motto for my childhood. A big empty space. We don’t talk about anything. A total lack of clear, guiding voices. My parents. Distant, distracted. Elsewhere.

At 50, I can unravel the empty silence. To parent myself. To talk about everything all the time.

I ask my children ‘how are you? How do you feel? What do you think? What’s important to you? What music do you like? Who are you? What would you like to be when you grow up? Are you ok? Do you need a cuddle? I love you.

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So much life and pressure compressed into this by you Helen. Diamond-hard and so clear-seeing.

And then the sudden expansiveness and warmth of the last paragraph, which is how you live now and look after others.

A beautiful piece of work. Here is your link to it in the story archive:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#helen

Can you let me know an initial (your own or a pseudonymous one of your choosing) that I can add to Helen please? And can you confirm that you're the same Helen who has written already for Friends, Birthdays, Reading & Gestures? Now that the number of contributors is growing, it's important I can make sure stories by people with the same first names are kept separate!

Txx

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Apr 3, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Thanks Tanya- so happy you are back with more themes & thanks for the chance to add to your archive as always - I added my middle name and yes I have written the others you mention xx

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Here is your updated link using Helen Louise. I will do the others tomorrow!

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#helenlouise

Txx

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Wonderful! I thought it was the same Helen running through them - you have a distinct voice and prose style... and so the editor in me is pleased that I got that right!

I will update all your entries tomorrow and in the A to Z listing also.

Thank you again for being part of this project. xx

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This is beautiful like you as I'm older i

have learnt to parent myself and to talk and talk to my children

It's a conscious decision isn't it to be different to know them

Also ourselves while we are here , to try to leave no stone unturned.

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May 28, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

I love how you start with silence then finish with so many questions which build up into I love you. Such different styles of family life!

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May 25, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

The message of silence. Nothing. No words. It was a fierce and uncompromising rejection; it spoke volumes in anger, resentment, and regret. It was a message on its own, held with such authority and cruelty. It was considered and deliberate. Punishment, he said.

Often not seen from a distance, but I felt it as it landed all over me. Dished out for the sheer perverted power of it. He controlled the story then, of his own design. A child plunged into the depths of coldness, ignored and disregarded. Respect, they called it.

What a cruel love. Shaped to suit the perpetrator, just because he couldn’t find it in himself to do the work of love. A lost opportunity for sharing stories, memories, hurt, tenderness. We’ll have to leave you in the dark now, for good, they said.

Give me your words, let me take them in. Tell me more, let me collect and caress them, give them love and understanding. Sit down and share what you are thinking. How can I help you? Talk to me if you need to or fall tenderly into stillness. Of course, speak to me, that’s what I am here for. Come my child if you need me, I am here to listen and share, I say.

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Jodi, thank you for joining the project and with this heartrending piece. I often get tears come in my eyes reading words entrusted to me here, but yours had me fully crying so that I've had to take a moment before curating your piece. I know so many, too many, good people who were treated with this kind of cold silence as children - 'what a cruel love': how you name it, that shameful way of misusing a child's innate need for closeness, warmth, comfort.

And then the tenderness, the generosity, of your last paragraph. All the words that should have been your natural inheritance and treasure as a child. That you can say them to yourself and others is a rare kind of courage.

Here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#jodi

And I've added you to the A to Z of contributors.

Tanya x

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May 30, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Hi Tanya, thank you so much for your generosity with this entire project and how you are bringing us all together through sharing stories. It gives us all the opportunity to write and make a personal commitment to the practice. I am writing from the other side of the world - Australia. It is amazing how the power of language can transcend time and distance, and connect us in all kinds of ways. I hope to be contributing more, interweaving with the daily tasks of life. Many thanks again, Jodi x

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It's a pleasure for me, Jodi, and a privilege. But lovely to be told that it matters to you and how - thank you. And yes, for me, still living a largely town-bound life in this small country, there's a particular thrill to feel the project connecting me to you and others in countries I've never even had the chance to visit yet. So glad you've joined the project, and hope plenty of the themes in the archive will tempt you to try more stories... xxx

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" People will talk about you...."

If I heard that now in the context it was said to me four decades ago I would most likely respond wryly, with " Good! - I'm so pleased: acceptance and difference is a beautiful thing"

Back in the late 70s early 80s there was so much prejudice, judgement, ignorance and fear. I wasn't confident, I was scared of what was going to happen to me. I didn't have the narrative, or maturity or experience or have opinions to allow me to be me.

To believe.

In earlier years, frequently I heard this: "Children should be seen and not heard" so I thought I must be quiet, stay hidden or small. That stuck in my bones for a long time. Even to this day it rises up.

The support or lack of and situations that I leaned in to back then felt very uncomfortable and often toxic, but I didn't know why. I do now, there was no celebration, joy or fun - just a sense of, you're here because you're different. Though these were more the deeply ingrained messages that lived in my head then.

These days I have the confidence and experience to exit anything I'm not comfortable with or speak up, ask questions.

Discussion is good.

I was, I thought, being judged or would be for my choices. I would've loved to tell my younger self then "Wow! - it is brilliant! you are being true to yourself, speaking out, coming out, being visible. You are loved whatever" and tell her of all the fab people and experiences she will meet and have in her life.

Back in my late teens and early twenties I made what were then life changing, life affirming choices with little or no support. I didn't know that then. Life was precarious at times. Not wanting to be heard or having the confidence to speak out.( Actually - I already had ).

Years later I have so much to celebrate and be proud of. I walk a confident, visible path being true to myself. Living a happy, honest, out life..

and people do talk about me too!

Good.

Julie Benham

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How lovely to get a new piece in from you Julie, I love the you of now pulsing back to your young self, giving it assurance, encouragement. You speak of a happy, honest, out life... and while I make no assumptions about what you mean by out in this context, as the mother of a daughter who has felt able to be openly gay since she was a young teenager, it makes my heart feel fierce to think of how many young people had to go through so much without family or social support when growing into their adult selves. Although it's not only inhabiting our sexuality that gives us that good out feeling of course... I got it too when I finally dared starting to tell (quite hostile elders) that I wanted, really, to be a writer...

Your piece has so much energy that it sent me back to reread your other two pieces, and I found in your skill piece an exciting reflection of this one now. When your friend says of you that you're 'Julie-ing'! And then in the one of your sister, how you reconciled, there is a different attention to voice.

That's a real privilege of this project now being in its third year: I'm beginning to be able to look back through contributors' work and see more angles but also moving continuities...

Thank you. Here is your link:

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#juliebenham

Tanya xx

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Thank you so much Tanya. Honestly, reading your response makes my heart expand. I sensed myself taking a big breath. I know I still seek acceptence as growing up living behind the veil (so to speak) has imprinted deeply within me an air of caution. Being able to have the opportunity to express myself in this amazing community that you have created is a real gift. With writing and reading back my words and the responses to them really makes a profound difference. Thank you. Im so happy your daughter is able to be openly gay. My parents and sister were in their own way supportive. Though it was not to be talked of openly when I was a teenager.

I hadn't considered there being a thread in my previous pieces that weaves through but it is a lovely thing that you have brought my attention to.

Thank you xx

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Just so deeply glad this project feels like a place where you can safely show your whole and wonderful self. And yes, there is a lovely bright thread running through your pieces so far... xxx

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Thank you, Tanya. Glad I've got back on the writing bus. Especially here xxx

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Apr 24, 2023·edited Apr 24, 2023Liked by Tanya Shadrick

The tale I tell is about truth. Who holds the monopoly on truth? Is it the teller or the receiver of the message? Growing up my Italian father would often tell the story of my conception and birth. “We already had two sons and she kept nagging me for a girl. I would tell her: My grandmother had seven sons trying for a girl. Enough is enough.” Except enough wasn’t enough. Only more was enough. After a late night of poker and a guard that was down, I was conceived.

In those days it wasn’t standard practice for a father to be present at the birth of his child. Instead, my birth was announced by a nurse on the end of a phone. My maternal grandmother was in the room with my father. She’d been knitting in pink for months. I pictured my father cupping his hand over the telephone’s speaker and announcing: “It’s a girl”. Excitement in his voice, a heart bursting with pride and happiness. Only to be matched in enthusiasm by my grandmother who, despite her 73-years, jumped nearly as high as the ceiling; I was told.

The message I was given was that I was a longed-for and loved little girl. What better message in the whole wide world to receive? And yet…as time went on amidst the joy, the jealousy, the clamour, the chaos, the fullness and the emptiness of my journey from child to adult, I needed to test the weight of expectation that accompanied my being in the world, to fully understand its limitations and to know my version of its truth.

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Lou - how glad I am to have you join the project, and with this... finely-boned piece. That's the phrase that comes to mind, because there is a such a beautiful fluency and shape to how you take us through your origin story and how it has shaped you. And it is a story not enough told, I think: how apparently loved children can be left feeling unsure of their own truths, their own selves, when they are bathed in their elders' stories of what a happy family is. I once cared for someone who never had any of the cruel things said to him that were said to me: I didn't understand why it had been so hard for him to move into adult life, given he'd been given so much love and continuity. He said, and I've never forgotten this phrase, that as a teen and young man he'd felt himself and other children from his parents' close circle of friends to be 'trapped in amber': the amber was the story told to them by the elders about how perfect their upbringing was. It left them no room for movement themselves - anything they did would always fall short...

I feel I could read many more instalments of this story from you, and I wonder if other prompts in the story archive might give you room to keep exploring... (all stay open without deadline).

Here is your link, and I've added you to the A to Z of contributors both on the book site and in the By Readers tab over on the Substack.

https://thecureforsleep.com/voices/#louhudson

Tanya xx

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Tanya - and I am so glad to have found this wonderful space! I will definitely be responding to more prompts, including your most recent, which I'd coincidently been crafting in my mind for weeks before. Thank you for opening up this opportunity for people to find their voice and for freely giving your time to feedback, encouragingly and gently, as you have above. I've played with the image in your comment of 'trapped in amber' many times over the past few days, tragic yet beautiful - thank you for sharing. Lou xx

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I'm so excited that your book is winging it's way to me as we speak. Congratulations on it's publication in paperback and may your project continue to grow xx

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Touched that you'll be reading TCFS - and so hope it speaks to you. And excited to hear there are more words from you on the way, Lou! xx

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