When I began to write this post, I was going to call it, We’ve Renamed Our Book Club The Menopause Club – something we joked about during our last meeting after our lengthy discussion of the narrative in Hardy’s Tess Of The D’Urbevilles, switched abruptly to mood swings. But as soon as I began to write it, I realized that for me, Book Club is about so much more than literature or menopause – it is a support group wrapped up in a mask of culture.
Did you know that the biggest killer in old age is not drinking and smoking, as we are led to believe, but rather a lack of socialization? Which is why, since we moved back to our old hood, I have been trying to encourage the old man to get a life out more, to catch up with old friends and make a fucking effort.
Admittedly, that encouragement may be intrinsically linked to my desire to have the house to myself – just occasionally – so that I can drink irresponsibly, eat irresponsibly and catch up on Bachelor in Paradise in peace. But it is also because I genuinely believe that he is missing out. Since we moved back, (and my besties and the other womenfolk in my circles have forgiven me for being the prodigal bitch, embracing me back into the fold with plates of Jamie’s organic fatted calf), I have become much more aware of how my health benefits from that support. As could his, if he made a fucking effort.
My Book Club is an example of the groups of erudite, funny women that I feel privileged to have in my life right now. It is inevitable that when you put several fifty-plus women together in front of a large plate of cheese, a home-baked cake and several bottles of wine, there will be little literary criticism about the book. And as much as I would love to tell you that ‘I loved this book’ is the most commonly-used phrase in our book club, in truth, it is more likely to be ‘just a small one,’ as each of us eye the aforementioned bottles of wine, cakes and crackers topped with lashings of goats cheese from the specialty cheese section at Harris Farm.
I’ve come to the conclusion that once the kids have moved out and the men take their sore, middle-aged heads to their man caves more often than is healthy, women return to women. Finally, after years of earning, mothering, feeding, listening and wiping of tears, if we’re lucky, there is this small window left to self-indulge, self-love, blossom; to share experiences, wisdom, and fears. We can lean in and do what the fuck we want. Most importantly, we lean on each other, if necessary.
In Book Club, we share an appreciation for good cheese and writing and occasionally, our kids. A few of us are grandmothers, some of us are at the beginning of our empty-nesting journey, and some of us are still battling with those chicks that aren’t quite ready to leave the nest. And yet all of us are conscious of and ready to make the most of this next stage in our lives – the final chapter as the chirpy chappy I’m married to likes to call it. There is much talk about retirement (or being ready to retire), much ridicule of partners, much laughter (the sort of guffaws that sorely test bladder control), sexual innuendo and planning about taking book club on tour – plans that rarely materialize because we’re all so busy cramming as much as we can into whatever time we have left. We are a positive, assertive, opinionated bunch of women, and yet age has taught us how to listen as well. While each one of us has been touched by the fragility of life, every one of us understands the pointlessness of dwelling upon it.
Outside of our six-weekly meetings, our love of books, wine, and cake, most likely I have little else in common with this eclectic bunch of women. Yet each time I am in their company, I am reminded of the importance of these small communities, one of the many that have replaced the support of extended family in my adopted country. They enrich my life with their stories and experiences, their shoulders to cry on, the forum they give me to voice my fears and their encouragement when I most need it.