About a year ago I started to feel as though I had forgotten who I was. In a state of perpetual preoccupation, trying to keep up yet feeling like I am being left behind. I am surrounded by women who are smart, aspirational, connected, savvy and educated. Trail blazers and social entrepreneurs. It wasn’t as heavy as hopelessness but a feeling of being unremarkable, peripheral. The opinions of those around me were more interesting and not only did it feel as though I had nothing to say, but I also wasn’t even sure if anyone was listening. I felt somehow stuck and for a self-described optimist, it was an obscure feeling. Grounded in the immediate here and now of motherhood, running a business with my husband, the well-worn invisible, yet essential labour that comes with the everydayness of life. Unwittingly, I had lost sight of my true self.
I have felt especially defined by my work, a career that has spanned more than 25 years, it is hard not to feel so deeply entrenched in my role at work and the person it has made me. I am also a wife and a mother and inarguably it is motherhood that has been both the making and the breaking of me. Though these aspects of my life don’t consume my entire identity, they had overshadowed everything. I was so busy leaning into these roles, I ended up being swallowed by it all. Work, wife, mother. I wasn’t quite sure how to be anything else and I wasn’t entirely sure who else I was. Questioning all of this felt self-indulgent and a bit eye rolly.
Then, unexpectedly, two things happened.
I joined a book club.
And I found myself.
Reading has always been one of my greatest joys. I was one of those kids who would read the back of a cereal box at breakfast just so I had something, anything to read. I have a deep love for reading and books are my love language. I am the ‘go to’ person when friends need a recommendation of what to read next. A trip to Westfield is not complete unless I come home with a book. It is the one thing I will not say no to when my son wants me to buy him a ‘treat.’ Pokeman cards, Slime, Beyblades, they are for birthdays or his own money. Books fall into the category of ‘essentials’ like food and water. Trust me, I know this is a privilege.
But back to book club.
I can’t quite remember how it all happened, but I think it was a Facebook post from Brisbane writer and author Rebecca Sparrow who floated out to her vast social media following a hypothetical ‘what would everyone think about an online book club.’ For a self-confessed bookworm extrovert, the concept of book club felt like home to me.
In the case of this book club, known as Birds of a Feather, founded by Rebecca and Jane Sullivan it would be all online. Monthly meetings, via zoom. I had previously attempted to join a face-to-face book club, I’d even tried to start one but the reality of daily life meant it was only ever an item on my long and dusty wish list. A virtual book club was a genius idea.
The first meeting was with Trent Dalton, and we were there to discuss Love Stories. What happened in that first hour is hard to describe but I’ll try. It was uplifting. There was a spark of energy, the hosts and author shared a close, seamless connection and they bantered with natural ease. Gosh it was just lovely. Trent’s book is pretty special so I am sure that had a big part to play and at the end, when Trent left the call, all those who remained were left spellbound. No one could quite work out what we’d just been a part of and I would not be surprised if even Rebecca and Jane were taken aback by what they created. Collective joy amongst community and it was genuinely fabulous.
Book club has become a monthly ritual that is entirely separate from everything else in my life. I don’t have to do anything or be anyone other than a tile on a screen. I can wear my lounge pants and drink tea and in return the reward is immense, my tea cup is filled. To be a part of a community that asks nothing of me and in return, I can simply listen or I can press a button, raise my hand, ask to be unmuted and say what I think or feel. Surrounded, albeit virtually, by fellow readers the beauty is in being exposed to new ideas and different viewpoints, all of us share a love for reading but not so likeminded that the discussions are vanilla, instead they robust and interesting. There is also laughter. Loads in fact.
Book club has also given me the motivation to do more of the things that make me feel like me. Maybe it is that in achieving one small thing for myself it has provided me with the momentum and motivation to propel me forward and to do other things just for myself.
Who knew that the reason I get out of bed at 5.30am to go to Pilates is because book club made me do it.
I think we underestimate the power in community particular one that is built online. Social media and the internet get a bad rap and often rightfully so. But be it a Facebook community group, a podcast, or a virtual book club, there can be a sense of belonging, a feeling of being a part of something.
I am someone who loves to be in the company of others, so what has been so surprising about book club is that I found the very thing I needed to reconnect with others and importantly connect again with myself.