opinions about life, work, and spirituality

Banquet; a day of research in Huddersfield, UK

June 17th, 2013

We uncurl ourselves from the packed train like roly-polies. We hustle out of the station loaded down with backpacks, suitcases, stuffed animals, diaper bags and a silver lap-top. My research schedule for the next two days is packed tight. My daughter, Calla, and my husband, James must accompany me on this foray because we can’t afford separate hotels over the next two nights.

The three of us hurry hand-in-hand through the square outside the station, but Calla breaks free and sprints to an ornate fountain, where she begins to undress. We sprint after her. Our luggage bangs over cobblestone and slaps against our limbs. I sit on the lip of the fountain, and grab Calla. She kicks an enthusiastic and giggly can-can while I attempt to fit her back into socks and shoes. I give up and James places our bare-foot three year old into the stroller. “I want to walk!”, she screams. “You can walk, but you need to wear your shoes and hold our hands,” James says. I attempt shoes again, not bothering with socks, but she returns to the can-can. I don’t have time for this negotiation, I think, I have research to get to! New tactic: laugh along with her and make funny noises as I trap her feet and shove them into her shoes. Her laughter stops. “No shoes!” she yelps from the stroller and flails her feet so that the shoes spin off into the air, plopping down metres from the fountain. James rolls Calla onwards as I snatch the shoes, livid, all but throwing the damn things in the fountain myself.

My play, Wolf at the Door, uses the Luddite movement as a backdrop for the sometimes humorous breakdown of a single family, the Grenfells. As we lumber past Georgian era buildings that would have been familiar to the Grenfells, our muscles ache and we sweat profusely under our cumbersome, heavy loads. The sound of my sobbing child is like the screech of a dental drill, and feels like the sharp pain of tin on teeth. As we rumble past large, square-bricked buildings, I try to make eye contact with locals, but people keep their eyes to the ground or to the distance beyond us. The city feels rough and hard and impersonal. We arrive at the hotel on the last dregs of adrenaline where we are met with a long, steep flight of stairs to the entrance. “Oh, come on!” I yell and kick my suitcase like a two year old in a tantrum. My husband shoots me an angry glance and my daughter cries more furiously. It feels that we too, like the Grenfells, are on the brink of breakdown.

Out of breath and ragged, we dump copious bags and backpacks in our bland hotel room. We barely speak as we quickly head for Huddersfield’s joint public library and historical archives. James takes Calla to the kid’s section, while I rapidly climb to the third floor, through a set of double doors to Reference and Archives. The large room has high ceilings and arched windows, with wood desks lined in the middle, and shelving along the edges, and feels cozy rather than cavernous. It has taken what feels like arduous years, but finally: I’m here!

I immediately approach a librarian and tell her I’m interested in how weavers lived and worked, and how local Luddites organized themselves. I’ve already been to Manchester, I say, visiting a working industrial revolution-era cotton factory where I had to scream to be heard over the clanking and whirring of steel machines. I sheepishly point out that I don’t have much time to conduct my research. The librarian stalwartly enlists her peers, and soon a team of superstar librarians lead me to a banquet of first-hand sources. I allow myself a moment to salivate before digging in; letters of correspondence, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, warrants for arrest, legal documents and even some photos.

I scribble notes, photocopy maps and take pictures of posters. I work solidly and seamlessly. Hours pass in what feels like minutes. I file through lists of weaving apprentices when suddenly a lively, fuschia-bright voice pitches across the room,
“Mommy! Mommy! Are you hungry? I’m hungry! Daddy’s going to take me to get some dinner. Are you coming?” My daughter swaggers across the room and beams at me, while my husband follows, alternately chuckling and apologizing to patrons.

Dinner already?! I look at the clock. The library doesn’t close for another hour. “Mommy! You need to come to dinner,” my daughter implores. A tightness screws across my chest and my head buzzes like radio static. The table before me is spread with books and pamphlets, a buffet of information. I have to stay here, I need my research time! This is what I came to England for! My daughter pats my arm gently, and the gummy smile she’s inherited from me spreads across her face. My husband looks at me, happily hopeful. Ugh. I swivel my head between my family and work.

Choose research; this play’s my baby!
Choose family; I love them, and they’re so hopeful!
Choose research; so little time to work!

The weight of my decision is as heavy as large, mechanized steel across my chest.

I hurriedly ask James if he can tide Calla over with a bun from a nearby bakery and wait for me while I finish. He nods and my daughter gallops towards the library doors, dragging my husband by hand. A compromise because: I want it all. But like Matthias Grenfell, will my desire to have everything undermine all?

Damper the thought. No time for philosophy. Return to research.

Two minutes to closing time, as librarians tug on coats to go home, I slap my book closed, only halfway through. I leave the third floor, my delicious buffet of information unfinished, interrupted. Like a starving beggar thrown an hors d’oeuvre from the doors of an opulent wedding banquet, I feel sickened by what I can’t possess.

I pass through the library’s front doors towards my family. Resentment pours off of me like bubbles off soda. James smiles, half-warily, half-hopefully, from the front steps. My daughter runs to me and places a sticky chunk of current scone into my hand. I take a bite.

The bitter tang of orange rind; the sting of unsatisfied research needs. But then: the sweetness of tiny currents and the rolling, smooth creaminess of butter. The pressure of earlier, the loaded-down exhaustion and subsequent misery dissipate, and with it, my fear and anger. This scone, offered so giddily by my enthusiastic three year old daughter, may not be a banquet, but in this moment, it is more than enough. Tomorrow is another day of research, and it, too, will be enough. My family will live through the chaos, just as we have before. I fall in line with my hungry family as we munch on tasty english pastry, unfinished notes slung in a bag across my shoulders, all of us compromised, but, grateful for this life, like our mouthful of scone; enough.


Days 34-82

January 27th, 2010

Obviously, there were no posts. I got burnt out. I’m a new mother, and, instead of napping, I was spending the time while my daughter napped writing poetry. Naps are very, very essential. I suppose you could say this idea failed. Well, yes, it did. But that’s okay. Failure’s part of the daily mess.

I am still writing poetry, but at a much more sane pace, when I have a little extra time. Which isn’t often! However, I’ve just recently finished up the play that I’ve been working on for three and half years. So, there may be some poetry between now and whenever I begin writing a new play.

Day 33

December 9th, 2009

placed your head,
my pillow
and slept

Day 32

December 8th, 2009

night frost glints
shattered mirror
broke ground
the moon in
shards of

Day 31

December 7th, 2009

true gift

Advice inflames
an itchy rash
that spreads crimson
from tip of toe to
top of tangled hair
But empathy’s
a cool bath
balm for the body
and silk sheets
to sleep on.

Day 30

December 6th, 2009

In winter
the sun slides smooth
across my palm

Day 29

December 5th, 2009

the moon
scrap of white
in blue
a little girl’s faded dress
hung in breeze
a clothes line
dust and prairie sky.

Day 28

December 4th, 2009

this bed’s not built for three

Mid night
my family’s festivities
the bed
Baby kicks,
can-cans covers,
spirited squealing.
Sleeping husband goes for gold
in feverish
four a.m front-crawl.

in middle
audience stolen from slumber
clap quietly
wonder when…
will I ever…

Day 27

December 3rd, 2009


i’ve been


for health

my arm
i’d like to go to bed

Day 26

December 2nd, 2009

early morning
winter sun
through my neighbourhood
a spirited lover
the shadows
a cruel and jealous husband
bruise the landscape
purple, navy

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