How I Ended Up in a Book Club
If you ask me what type of person I am I’d answer, “Not a book club one.” This answer may surprise you in that:
- I love books.
- I’m a writer.
- You never asked me about book clubs in the first place, so what an odd and negative response to immediately describe myself as what I am NOT.
And yet here I am, in a dang book club.
My various friend groups, bless them all, have all had their own book clubs with fabulous selections whose topics interest me. I have no doubt that their ensuing discussions were thoughtful, lively, and intellectually stimulating. And yet, I cringe at the thought of even picking up a title that has the endorsement of the Oprah or Reese Witherspoon Book Club on it.
Let me be clear-- there is ZERO rationale to this. It’s just who I am. Apparently, I have a large underlying streak of defiance that screams, “You’re not the literary boss of me!” (Unless you’re Reid Tracy and then you ARE the literary boss of me).
Which is why I am befuddled that I am not only IN a book club, but I facilitate the meetings of one of the discussion groups. Who is this Jillian Abby?!
How I Became a Club Kid
This is no ordinary book club. It’s one made of up “late blooming” women who are all in various stages of the questioning or coming out process in their adult lives. When I shared that detail with a dear book-club loving friend recently she responded that it sounded like something of her nightmares. I understand why.
In this book club, we are all in various stages of wounding or scarring. Those of us who have been through the process of coming out and rebuilding our lives sometimes hear from those just getting started, or in the thick of it all, and we wince.
We’ve been there. We know the hurt. We know that while they can and will make it through as most do, it is a long and difficult road. Some heal easier than others. More than anything, though, it shows why this group has the potential to be incredibly, terribly, how shall I say this… awful.
A book club for women going through what could be a traumatic situation could result in a runaway “processing” train of verbal vomit and toxic tears. It has the potential to be a baggage-collection stop, heaped upon every minute with another suitcase of hardship to unpack. It could be a one-way-ticket to professionally unfacilitated advice-giving.
It could be all those things. At the end of the day, it’s just fucking beautiful.
Sitting In the Book Club Mud Together
With every meeting I am reminded of the same joy that I get from being a craniosacral therapy practitioner. I remember in one of my trainings the teacher cautioned against using words like “healer” or discussing “fixing” people’s situations.
We were given the following visual instead: picture your client is sitting in the mud and wants to get out. To you, their situation may not seem like difficult mud to get out of, but to them it is. Your job is not to give them every solution to pull themselves out, particularly if it’s putting yourself at risk of being pulled in face-first and ending up with a head full of mud. Your job is not to try and push them out of the mud, particularly if they’re not ready to stand yet.
The best thing you can do is sit there in the mud beside them so that they are not alone. And then, when they’re strong enough and feel ready, they can figure out their own solution to get themselves out of the mud. In the meantime, there is nothing you need to do besides be there with them in their moment and see them for where they’re at.
I’ve gotten used to sitting in the mud with my CST clients over the years and it’s a place I feel very comfortable. It’s free of timetables and expectations. In some ways, it’s a challenging way to own a business in a results-driven society. But when a client has a breakthrough, when they reach that moment and stand up from their mud, whether it happens in one session or after many months, it’s a powerful moment to witness.
I wanted my book club group to sit with each other in the mud too.
A Book Club of Late Bloomers
Our first ever book selection was obvious for a group of middle-aged women, many who were or are married to men and have children, who have recently realized their true sexuality—Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. The discussions were sometimes light and sometimes fun and our meetup group ended with two of the participants getting married months later. My heart warmed as I was invited to attend their virtual nuptials.
But this next book had me worried. We were taking on Dr. Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. It’s a story about taking on and overcoming big challenges in life to stand strongly on the other side of adversity. Unlike the Untamed discussion topics that asked about our thoughts on “touch trees” and “shampoo bottle labels”, Rising Strong goes straight to the pit of pain.
This had all the makings of a sit-in-the-mud session turned mud-wrestling-gone-wrong discussion.
Our first topic, the low-hanging fruit (insert sarcastic face) of Brene Brown’s favorite and famous subject-- vulnerability. What does it mean to be vulnerable? When do we feel most vulnerable? And why do we make ourselves vulnerable in the first place?
I watched the faces on my Zoom screen open up bravely as they shared their details of what vulnerability meant to them. The common thread seemed to be that we feel most vulnerable when we put ourselves out there and the outcome is unknown. Even if we think the result will be mostly positive, knowing that there is a chance for hurt or unkindness makes us question if being vulnerable is the right action to take. It went unsaid that for all of us, having to “come out” over and over and over again was a constant act of vulnerability that left us feeling exhausted. We could see it in each other’s eyes.
But then the conversation turned to the juicy stuff-- WHY we do things that make us feel vulnerable. Why take the risk?
The general conclusion was that we take the risk because ultimately, at the end of the day, we believe that there will be some benefit that makes vulnerability worth the effort.
We take risks to benefit our families. We take risks to protect others, whether we know them directly or not. And we take risks to become better versions of ourselves.
Mission, Purpose, and Reopening Wounds
This all seemed very timely for me. Just that morning of book club (before I even had time to look at the study questions… because I’m still a book club rebel who defies rules and obligations until the last possible hairy second), I had posted my most vulnerable blog yet, “Did God Make Me This Way?”
It was terrifying to me for two reasons—it put discussion of my identity AND my spirituality on screen for others to read and opine on. I knew the mixed feelings that the “born this way” concept could bring up amongst members within the LGBTQ+. And I knew that nearly any time you bring up religion, you’re inviting the big feelings and deeply rooted beliefs that come along as well.
I wrote that blog from scratch several times over, each version a scant reflection of the previous one’s thoughts. I watched it develop and transform. As my willingness to be vulnerable grew, so did my confidence that this was a story that needed to be told.
But, if I was going to put my words out into the world, I had to be sure they were coming from my heart and not from my ego, from a place of love and not sarcastic defense. (Though I’ll admit, the penguin pride parade was a fun graphic to make). Ultimately, I was proud of what I posted. It sparked meaningful conversations both from those who agreed and those who disagreed. Hugs and tears may have been involved, even if shared beliefs were not.
Blogging and the Book Club
Sometimes I wonder why I write this blog. It is both an expenditure of my time and money to create. Nobody asks me to do this. There’s no fan base loudly clamoring for more content (though silent readership is surprisingly large based on my page analytics). Why do I keep showing up? Why continue posting about vulnerable subjects and opening myself up to an unknown response?
I used to tell people that when the LGBTQ+ community was treated equally I would hang up this blog and retire. My goal was just to be able to live my life with my partner and my family exactly like I used to in my hetero life, when I didn’t have to worry about my marital status being stripped away or my children’s ability to share about our family at school. I figured I would stop being so loud and ranking highly on searches for things like “verklempt middle-aged lesbian homeschoolers” and “word-spewing mini-van queer moms of Tampa Bay” when life could just let me go back to being normal, boring, and label-free.
Not Just a Spokesperson for the Gays
In my spiritual women’s group (NOT a book club), we talk often about mission and purpose. For much of my life, I wouldn’t have known where to even start explaining WHY I was put here on this earth, besides to tell some killer knock-knock jokes and give my family occasional heartburn.
Over the past year I’ve wondered if LGBTQ+ advocacy was my purpose, now seeing first-hand the stark contrast of hetero life versus life through the gay lens. But the concept of bridging has come up repeatedly for me and I am starting to settle into a clearer understanding of my mission and purpose. This is more than just discussion of my LGBTQ+ experience, told from my scars and not my wounds.*
It is so much bigger than that.
*This is a nod to one of my favorite quotes from Lutheran Minister Nadia Bolz-Weber who said, “I only preach from my scars, not my wounds.”
How Book Club Is Teaching Me My Purpose
My late-bloomer’s book club is my regular reminder that we are so much more than just a letter in a long, tongue-tying acronym. Book club has taught me that words are a great starting place to get to know a person, but showing up, shutting up, and showing love will get you there faster.
At the end of the day, my purpose is simple and usually shows up in the quietest micro-moments of life when it’s just me and you, sitting together in the mud.
I hope that through my work we can all become better at learning how to sit in the mud with each other: me acknowledging your light, you acknowledging mine, with no agenda to judge, fix, or change each other.
Learning to sit in the mud requires integrity and security in knowing that you are allowed to exist and be seen... and so are they.
Sitting in the mud involves zero mudslinging.
We can witness the light in others as a reflection of our own, even when we live in opposing ways. We can stop reducing each other to two-dimensional, single-adjective beings and appreciate the many facets that every single human has.
We can choose to become the embodiment of muddy, gritty, honest love every day.