Friday, April 20, 2012

Love Me, Love My Dog

I have had the statement 'founding member of Sisters of Disorganisation book group' as a proud part of my blog profile for over 4 years. I have just deleted that as my book group imploded rather spectacularly this week!

Perhaps the fact that the group formed over a mutual love of dogs, not reading, should have sounded a warning note. Yes, that's right, women who met walking our dogs in the local park (or 'parc' to use the creative spelling favoured by one of our number), decided to form a book group.

Isabel Allende's The Sum of Our Days gave us our name, but disorganisation, it turns out, was the least of our worries.  Our main problems were, as they were for Isabel's family, usurped democracy, coup d'etat and exile (luckily we have so far stopped short of assassination).

Our foundation members were two scientists, one full-time carer, a librarian, an accountant/administrator and two public servants. Later both scientists left - one amicably and the other under a cloud (read on); an ex-school principal, a caterer and a training consultant joined progressively over our last 3 years.

Forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning (sometimes 'mourning' is added) are the well known stages in the life cycle of groups first articulated by psychologist Bruce Wayne Tuckman in the 1960s. We could add fawning, damning, commandeering and interfering (and a word that means speaking on another's behalf without even considering what that person might think or feel, if there is a homophonic half rhyme that means that).

Above: Dog lovers ate my peace of mind!  

We had a constitution of sorts, a list of questions to address (sourced partly from Oprah so quite possibly hexed!) and our meetings were roughly monthly at the home of a 'sister'. Our meetings were great, food and alcohol fuelled fun for quite a while. The first instances of disharmony emerged in our 2nd year over skinny dipping, dog minding, sexual anecdotes and a lawn mower. I agree, as literary controversies go, they are not really up there with the Ern Malley hoax or the 'Hitler' Diaries!  

This is what occurred:  
  • A pious sister had a rural property where she invited two more earthy sisters to stay and where they took off all their clothes and swam in the creek - the neighbours may have seen, or heard about it, or suspected. Not on. 
  • A kindly sister had an informal doggy day care arrangement with another sister but found the rambunctious behaviour of the minded mutt stressful so asked to be released from the arrangement. Inconvenient and resented.
  • Two frisky sisters started playing the singles scene and reporting on their conquests to the rest of the group. A monogamous, a widowed, a polite and the more book-minded sisters weren't impressed. Censure and accusations of prudery and of curtailing free speech ensued.  
  • A lawn-mower owning sister moved to a house with no grass and left her lawn mower with another sister then thought better of it, or disputed that it was a gift, or who knows... and retrieved it to give to another sister, in the first sister's absence, by breaking into her shed. Accusations of betrayal and trespass aired in indiscreet emails to all sisters. 
The first 3 issues we managed without too much fuss, loss of face or loss of membership but the last led to a schism whereby the temporary owner of the lawn mower was 'expelled' by some angry sisters. Not all sisters liked this move.

So the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had been tasted. We continued to meet regularly, to eat and drink lots and to read and discuss some interesting books. Among them, Nam Le's The Boat, Christos Tsoulakis's The Slap, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and several whose titles did not begin with the definite article, such as Geraldine Brooks's Caleb's Crossing and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

Time marched on. One member had 2 babies and moved away. One member had two admissions to hospital for her dangerously low weight (never actually acknowledged as bulimia/anorexia). One member had two workplace grievances lodged against her and changed jobs twice. The dating members introduced beaux to the group and dropped them in quick succession. One members' dogs died and were replaced. One member's Mum died and wasn't. One member was retrenched from her job. Then the latest round of ruptures happened:

  • A sister of strong views and forceful actions stated that she would 'take over' the scheduling of meetings and counting how many book choices each sister had made. Overly controlling? 
  • Rules about not choosing new releases (which are costly or hard to come by in libraries) or expecting anyone to read a book they had already read were relaxed without discussion. Nit-picking or fair enough? 
  • Partiality was shown and covert grumbling indulged in when it came to supporting sisters' extra curricular activities - school plays, market stalls, art exhibitions, trivia nights  etc. What price honesty and assertiveness?
  • The philosophical pronouncements of some sisters sat ill with others. Is it possible that everything may not be for the best in this maybe not the best of all possible worlds all the flippin' time? 
And lastly
  • A sister who has a male relative visiting from overseas in the latter half of the year asked us if he might join us at an upcoming meeting. Some agreed instantly, those who questioned including him on the grounds of gender and book-centredness were howled down.  Pedantry? Inhospitality? Failure to  realise that book group is 'so much more than a book group'? ( Hmm.. don't remember signing on to hero-worship someone I don't especially admire or to have others tell me who to invite to my house?)

You'll note I'm finding it harder to be amusing as the list goes on... And, oops,  I may have showed my hand in some of my comments. Suffice to say that after exchanging numerous heated emails and having an intense discussion that significantly ate into my time with my family we've decided to part company. I think I have learnt my lesson though. Next time I consider joining a book group I will definitely opt for cat lovers!

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