It is 10pm on a Saturday night and I am watching a drug deal go down in a kitchen somewhere near Brisbane.
I have a front row seat and I am totally and utterly balls deep. I can’t look away; I don’t want to walk away, and I have no idea how I even got here. I am inside the dealer’s brain, trying to predict what his next move might be, wound up deeply in the narrative that brought us both here and desperate to know how this is going to end.
But there is a nagging voice inside my head that says I shouldn’t be here doing this.
I should be reading a different book (because I’m obviously not actually present at a drug deal or even more ridiculously, in Brisbane!)
I reluctantly put “Boy Swallows Universe” down, carefully marking the page and pick up a different book which is nowhere near as exciting or compelling but it’s the set text for discussion at my next book club meeting (I have become the adult I used to mock).
I am a third of the way through my book club book and frankly it is as dull as shit. I am forcing myself to read it and willing myself to understand it (it’s a lot).
As my eyes scan over the words on the page, registering a grand total of fuck all of them, my brain begins to wonder, and I start thinking about Carol.
Carol is not the real name of one of the other members of book club. This woman has literally read every sodding book under the sun. She is a walking library with hair the same colour as her skin and clothes to match. She is the first to offer her insight on any novel (and it’s usually profound) and once she’s deconstructed the narrative using words I don’t understand; she usually backs it up with other clever peoples reviews printed in publications I don’t read.
Carol doesn’t mean to be a massive twat. She’s just obsessive about books, authors, Pulitzer Prize winners and publishing houses. In short, she’s not my people.
The truth is, I feel inferior to her, like an imposter sat at the table who nods along as she talks about pathetic fallacy (the attribution of human feelings and responses to inanimate things or animals – and yes, that is a direct copy and paste explanation from the internet). I find myself questioning my own opinion in the shadow of someone who seems so knowledgeable. What could I possibly offer to the Carols of this world?
My focus comes back to the book in my hands. I have turned 3 pages and registered none of the text. I want to put this pile of shit down and return to my drug dealing mate but I have to push through. It’s the set text so I have to finish it.
Or, do I?
Here’s the thing, no one else in the group is a Carol. Everyone else at book club is there for the same reasons as me – to expose themselves to a wider range of books, to have a laugh and to eat an obscene amount of cheese.
In crawling my way through a third of this shit book, I have indeed exposed myself to a new genre and concluded that murder mysteries of the wild west aren’t my thing. So why am I wasting my precious time trying to finish it? To impress Carol? Even if I do finish it, she won’t be impressed by my opinion which right now stands at “I thought it was a bit shit, actually”.
There are so many books out there which bring me joy, so why am I choosing to read one that doesn’t? There’s no book club rule that says you have to like or even finish the set text every month. They won’t kick me out for my opinion. And if Carol thinks I’m a massive twat because I chose to stop reading a book I hated, then at least we’re even in our opinions of each other.
And this got me thinking about how much shit we do as humans because we feel we should or because we are trying to impress someone who’s opinion doesn’t even matter because they’re not our people.
For years I tried to be the person I thought other people wanted me to be. But I ended up feeling like a massive twat (ironically) most of the time as I moved further from my divine, intrinsic self. For decades I worried that my opinion would be ridiculed by others and then one day I realised I didn’t know how to voice my truth any more. I spent chunks of my one precious life trying to enjoy what others deemed to be joyous instead of admitting that it wasn’t my thing and as a result I robbed myself of feeling good.
And I’ve worked hard over the last three years to come back to my own authenticity. And part of that process has been picking up new books, new ways of thinking and new behaviours and seeing what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s as much a process of elimination as anything else.
And so, I put the shit book down. And when I walk into book club next week, I’ll listen to Carol’s critique of it because she has the right to her opinion. And when it comes to my turn to voice my opinion, I’ll speak my truth. “I thought it was a bit shit, actually. And I didn’t finish it. Because there are books out there which delight my soul, and this wasn’t one of them. And that’s okay. Because at least now I know.”
And for those of you wondering, the drug deal didn’t end well. But I’m only half way through this brilliant book, and I have faith that the next few chapters will unfold, just as they should.
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