Skill

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One Foot from A Mile of Writing by Tanya Shadrick (Photo Credit: Steve Creffield)

Welcome to the fifth issue in Season Two of The Cure for Sleep: Stories From (& Beyond) the Book which you can read in full over on my free Substack. This month’s theme concerns skill: subscribers were invited to respond to the following prompt: Celebrate something you are able to do that gives you quiet pride – or even exaltation. OR: Describe a skill you admire in someone else.

Any stories received on this theme will be curated below. Click on each name to go direct to that reader’s contribution.

I am truly excellent at planning and organising.

Other people might be extraordinary artists or writers or athletes, but in my humble opinion my small unspoken skills are under recognised. If you need jobs done, tasks completed, I will get it done; if I start something then I finish it. I will find the extra time and squeeze and wring out the minutes and seconds of a day to Get It All Done.

But at times, this skill feels like a curse – it tips me over the edge into anxious overthinking; it’s frankly exhausting when my brain doesn’t switch off. To-do lists are scribbled over and pressing tasks highlighted and post notes stuck on top for something that’s really urgent – and that’s only the physical manifestation of it all. My mind is often a whirling messy mess remembering this and that, ticking off the to-do lists, making mental notes of this and that for later.

And it’s burdensome because everyone around me knows that I will do all the planning and leaves the mental load to me.

I used to feel like I was a crazy person that couldn’t just go with the flow like everyone around me seemed to do. And I felt guilty for thinking ahead and making A Plan For The Day.

But lately I’ve realised that this is my superpower, that without it my family and I would just fall apart. Without it I wouldn’t be able to work at a high-level job or train for marathons or care for my family. All superheroes seem to have some sort of flaw or difficulty in controlling their power don’t they? So I work hard to maintain that delicate balance of using my skills to their best effect without totally collapsing from the exhaustion of it all. I’m not saying this should be the new plot line of the next Marvel blockbuster (Organised Girl to the Rescue!), but these small, soft unrecognised skills are what makes the world tick.

jenni

‘Tell me about a skill you possess.’

My heart sinks heavy and I want to hide. Please don’t ask me this. I don’t have any skills. Not now, age 50. Not anything that would mark me out as special, different, unique, worthy of the telling.

My first instinct: to tell you about the skills of others. My friends, my family, the little boy who lives next door and pretends to be a dragon. Or to say that I did, once, have skills, but so distant in time it’s barely memory. Talents and abilities I possessed as a little girl. I could do backflips! Turn endless perfectly dizzying cartwheels until I collapsed in a giggling heap, the world still spinning around me.

And yet. My friends, my colleagues – have they not sung the song of myself to me, when I could not (or would not) sing the song myself? My friend who admired my hand-knit jumper, striped in the colours of the summer Hebridean sea, unknowing of the hidden months-long labour of its creation. A colleague who felt able to share with me some of her deepest worries, knowing she would be truly heard and seen by me in the telling. Awards given more than once for being ‘best educational supervisor of the year’ from former students.

Perhaps what I have lost is not the actual skills, but rather the skills of seeing, of recognising, of valuing. My skills. Myself. Perhaps it’s now more than time to regain this long-lost skill.

Suse

Clever Clogs?

I’ve always been an arty type: creative, handy (that’s what people have said, though I know it is true now). I’m not a ‘main stream’ teacher of things, but there’s been quite a lot of teaching, supporting, encouraging, helping of others, sharing my ‘skills’. I enjoy doing things differently – putting my creative spin on things whatever they are or have been. Sometimes rubbing people up the wrong way through that, and never mind, I’m not for everyone – I didn’t say that bit at the time to be clear!

These days I think, well, perhaps my quirky way may nudge a different thought in someone?

The stepping stones along my path? My older, wiser self sees these now as my sign posts, opportunities; my choices to make or not.

People, connections, situations have lead me to where I am today.

Now 61, hurtling towards 62, I teach children to swim. I didn’t see that coming ten years ago. I love it, it’s joyous really being around young people. I didn’t think I would feel like that but I do, it’s refreshing, and challenging at times too. Apparently, I’m told I’m good at it too!

Who knew, 30 years ago. I thought I’d be retired by now. Ha! No – that’s not how it’s worked out.

For the last three decades I’ve been a bodywork therapist (Julie-ing as a friend refers to it ): and all that literal hands-on work eventually meant I would hang up my therapist hat due to my too-painful digits.

Before that hat of choice, my younger adult self worked in the art departments of the distorted male-dominated world of advertising. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, want to go near that now. I’d definitely be more outspoken if ever I did.

Still, I have taken nearly all my skills from then with me, knowingly or not.

Actually, not too long ago I sought the help of a life/business coach to assist my twirling procrastinations. I was told straight off that I have too many skillsit can be problematic. That might have been said in encouragement, but it didn’t feel like it at the time! It was a useful experience though – I went a different way afterwards with my suitcase of too-many skills!

Clever Clogs. What my mother often said to me, the me of now thinks: Is this a loaded backhanded compliment?

Anyway, I’m off to blow my own trumpet!

Julie Benham

Oh….Skill.

That really got me thinking. I can list so many things that I lack and so many skills I wish I had. So, I’m always learning and always ready to start something new just to try it out for size.

I do, though, have a very useful skill that got me through childhood and my 20s… I am my own best friend.

I only found out that when I trained as a nutritional therapist and started working alongside doctors and counsellors at a cancer charity. I never realised until then that it was a skill. Of course, it doesn’t mean that I don’t need friends. I do. But… I’ve been able to self-counsel myself through anything that life has thrown at me so far.

I’m never bored with myself. Me and I have some great conversations (not in public!). Sometimes we argue but never bear any grudges, never shame, ignore, or punish each other. We can find different perspectives on almost everything. I’m almost always honest with myself but I’m also good at lying for self-preservation or to put someone else at ease. I talk myself calm through tricky situations, like having a gun to my head. I can easily smile while crying inside. I can camouflage myself in any room if I need to (ok, this might be a wishful thinking). And I can play ‘dead’ and still breathe with my head in the sand when things get tough.

Elena

Quote on my chalkboard kitchen wall by Neem Karoli Baba: Love people and feed them.

I will squeeze lemons and peel ginger and add water and cinnamon and honey and then simmer, pour, deliver.

I will pick chicken from bone, add broth and vegetables, season and serve soup when you feel depleted.

I will make fresh scones and clotted cream and homemade raspberry jam and tea when you come home from England wishing you were still there, young and full of dreams of travel.

I will shave dark chocolate into full fat milk with sugar and just a touch of cayenne and cinnamon to warm February bones.

I will send cookies and brownies to your air force base and when you are home on leave I will fill the kitchen with every favourite, every dinner a Sunday meal, and eggs every which way for breakfast.

I will step away and let yeast and water and salt and flour become better than the sum of their parts and bake in a blazing cast iron pot and call you to the kitchen while the bread is still warm.

I will let flour fly and sugar sparkle, berries will join hands, buttery crust will flake and pie will be served.

I will grind the beans and pour the water into the French press and pick a mug I think you will like.

I will pick and cook and peel and process beets in a kitchen stuffed full of hair frizzing humidity.

I will stir, mix, blend, chop and toss, simmer and grill, boil and broil, bake, saute and simmer, coat in olive oil and season with salt and roast for you.

I will feed you like an oak feeds squirrel and jay, like goldenrod feeds September bees, like snowmelt feeds streams and rain feeds puddles. I will feed you like a middle-aged lady feeds her birds.

Sheila Knell

After his eyes, it was his hands that I fell for.

Pressing my stubby fingers firmly along the edge of a table to increase my span, I would watch the silken skin slipping over neat knuckles to the tips of his slender fingers which effortlessly spread tobacco along the length of a fine cigarette paper. This he would then roll, lick and light with elegant precision.

In time we worked side by side. My right hand would move between thin black pens and thick white paper, while his soldered a circuit board or shaped the stamens of a Fuchsia bud, in silver.

His were hands that could turn any screw and mend the washing machine, stretch the thinnest dough for a pizza base and fillet a mackerel, build a tiny model of an enormous factory and ease the bellyache of a sick cat. Mine could play Philip Glass on the piano and sad tunes on the tin whistle, dye calico and shape it into dungarees, gild the Lord Chancellor’s carriage or restore a broken urn.

My freckled fingers sat comfortably in his strong hand.

When our children were little my hands held them to my breast, to my flesh, to safety as we crossed the city streets. He would sit them, in turn, on his right hand which he would raise slowly to the sky. There they would balance, like the torch in the hand of the Statue of Liberty, surveying the world below.

This evening it is quiet; lightly rustling leaves, a small fire crackling, a supermoon rising. On the shore a curlew is calling as waves whisper against the sand. My hands are putting a new D string on my guitar. His hands are holding a penknife which he is using to fashion driftwood into the handle for a rake.

sheila de courcy
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