For the past few weeks I've been working on something. I use 'working' loosely because, really, I haven't been working at anything. More of a pecking away.
I'm starting a book club / reading group in our small neighborhood. I hoped one would already be up and running, but it was not. So if I want it to happen it's up to me.
We wondered, when we moved here just over a year ago, if we'd have enough privacy. After a year of being here we know less than a handful of people. There's Barbara, the lady with the chihuahua, the house with a yellow ribbon tied around the tree in their front yard, the widow who moved from California, but there are only a few whose owner's name we know, and we've had more than a paragraph of conversation with.
The neighborhoods where we grew up weren't like that. Fifty years later, I still remember Danny Bacon who lived on the corner and had freckles across his nose; Pam Costilla's kinky crazy black hair and the canoe ride where we sipped warm beer; the crazy Erwins, all eight of them, who lived across the street and their Daddy hid in the back bedroom, playing his electric guitar; plump, odd Rose who was being raised by grandparents and had a hard time making friends; the older couple who lived next door and hired me to babysit their weenie dog. We borrowed sugar and eggs and played and fought and watched out for each other. That was back when neighborhoods were more than a bunch of houses that shared a zip code.
That doesn't happen anymore, we don't live that way. But maybe we can try to recreate that just a little? We can know each other's names and hearts and life situations. We can pitch in and lend a hand when it's needed. We can have community. This woman talked about that very thing today. I would venture to say we need each other more now than we did back then, in spite of being less isolated than my mother was, in spite of more so-called connection, often with people we don't really - and never will - actually know. Maybe all our friends don't have to be on social media but we never actually see them? Maybe many of these cozy looking houses are filled with lonely people?
In the past I've made friends through church or my kids' school activities. Our kids don't live with us anymore, and although we still attend church regularly, I want a bigger circle than that. I want people who see the world differently than I do; who believe differently; who live differently, have different life situations than I do. I expect that is true right here in my neighborhood. I want to be stretched by my friends.
I also want to rub shoulders with women who want to know. They want to know what it's like to live in a place or time where women have no rights, to have a disease, to deal with life situations we haven't actually experienced. I'd like to get to know other women who want to be with other women, while enlarging our worlds, in the coziness of each other's homes. That's it in a nutshell.
I've also learned, as most of you likely have, what type of woman I want to gather close to my heart, and who to keep at a distance. She doesn't count the cost, gives more than she gets, makes mistakes and asks to be forgiven, tells me and forgives me when I mess up, laughs and cries with me, and drinks coffee and / or wine. She has bad hair days, kids that didn't turn out perfect, didn't ace the SAT, and she loves them with all she has anyway, or at least she wants to. She isn't mean-spirited, or prim. She may occasionally let a curse word slip. On her bad days it may be on purpose. She's got some stuff going on in her life and is willing to admit it. I only need a few of those women but I do need a few. If I found one from this group that would be great, and maybe others in our neighborhood will also.
I'd give up all my other interests, to keep books. I'd give up the yarn and fabric and pots and pans and swim goggles movies and TV shows, and this blog, to keep books. I don't remember learning to read, or when I fell in love with books, but I do remember the smell of the bookmobile, my little blue cardboard Terrell Park Library card and the three books I'd take home with me every week. I remember the musty smell that wafted from the pages of Nancy Drew books, and reading about Helen Keller and Benjamin Franklin and Perry Mason and Nurse Sue Barton, and so many others who made my world bigger. They still do.
I just finished Still Alice last week, and understand better what my mother is experiencing. Reading Delicious by Ruth Reichl sent me in search of James Beard cookbooks and eggs to make soufflés; Right now I'm reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, making me wonder how I would have seen the world during the time of slavery. War Brides, All the Light We Cannot See, Tender at the Bone, As I Lay Dying, The Unlikely Pligrimage of Harold Fry - all these have provided 'wisdom, succor, escape' (as someone else put it), these first few months of the year when I've felt worn out, challenged, sad, overwhelmed.
So I'm hoping to find a group of women in our neighborhood who feel, at least partly, the same way about books. Or friendships with other women. Who see how important it is that we still gather together, share our hearts, stretch our perspective and if we don't agree, a't least we respect the way someone else sees the world, or lives in it. So far I've gotten about half a dozen women who are interested, and we'll meet in May to see if we can get this up and running. I hope so.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "the only way to have a friend is to be one." I can live in this house, in this neighborhood, for another year and not know anyone, or I can be intentional and start a group. I'm hoping this book club will grow some great friendships, and possibly eggs and sugar will be handed across fences now and then.
If you've been a part of a book club, and have any books to suggest for our reading list, please leave it in the comments. Also, do you read only Fiction, Non-Fiction, both? Do you share hosting? Leading? I've read a gazillion books but have never been a part of a book club so I could use some input.
P.S. Happy 1st day of spring!