For women only: No men allowed

Here’s something I’d never thought I’d hear myself say, “I’ve had so many fights since I started a book club,”. I should clarify that it is a woman’s only book club and that it is a corporate one, not that that sheds any light on why this is such a contentious topic though. For some reason people (read men) are shocked, appalled and angry with me because I’ve created a platform that excludes them. Yes, I know, I should buy them all dictionaries so they can look up the word “patriarchy”. I suspect that I’m beginning to lose my sense of humour around the whole thing, I did want to title this blog “How not be an idiot and other useful tips” so perhaps we’re already in dangerous territory. It just frustrates me that men think that they should weigh in on certain things that, quiet frankly, are none of their business. Now, I am not saying that feminism shouldn’t include men, I’m not saying that men should be excluded from the dialogue, that’s as stupid as some of the comments I’ve gotten regarding a woman only book club. What I am saying is that I’m sick of men telling what I should do and I’m sick of them thinking they have right to do so.

I’m not about to apologise for pushing the agenda for women empowerment

I’m not about to apologise for pushing the agenda for women empowerment. Neither am I willing to apologise for the fact that I’ve created a platform for women to learn and grow from each other, and hopefully one that will encourage women to use their voices. Nope, I’m not about to do that but somehow, many men I’ve spoken to seem to think that’s exactly what I should be doing. I know the conversations would be easier if I was a bit more diplomatic (read agreeable) and if every time a man told me of how the book club should also include him I simply bowed in submission and said, “Kind sir, thank you for that golden suggestion, my fragile mind had not yet thought such grand thoughts”. Truth be told I had thought of whether the book club should include men or not, I had even discussed it with a wider audience and put it up to a vote before deciding because I am explicitly aware of the fact that to move forward, we must not do it in isolation. I also believe that this book club will evolve to include a wider audience one day. I don’t know when, but one day. I am fully aware that men exist in this world and that it is also their voices and their actions that we need to dismantle patriarchy. Nobody is saying otherwise, least of all this book club. But somehow, I need to explain it, I need to justify it, I need to make the men who I’ve excluded feel better because that is what’s expected of me. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to do any of that either. Tell you what I am willing to do though, I’m willing to pretend that I’m less annoyed and put together these few gentle, guiding points on how to be less of an idiot during these conversations with me. One day I’ll learn how not be sarcastic, I don’t know when, but one day.

Instead of saying, “I also like to read”, (because my response will remain the same “So, who’s stopping you?”) say, “That’s a great idea. I also love reading, what is the book club reading now?”. Say that and you’ll shift the conversation away from me saying, “By starting a book club that I did not invite you to, I did not magical cast a spell that stops you from reading or buying books. It is my sincere hope that you do not reproduce on the off chance that they inherent your intellectual abilities.” Instead I’d merrily leap into a conversation about our current book, what key things interest me and what actions it’s sparked. Chances are, I’d probably volunteer to lend you my copy once I’m done.

Instead of saying, “Yes, but why aren’t you involving me?” say “Yes, and I’d also like to get involved. How can I contribute to uplifting women?” That would probably earn you a high-five or a hug or both and we’d get to talking about how we can do something together to serve and even wider audience.

Instead of saying, “Women need to tell us how to fix this, otherwise we’d never know” say “Patriarchy has served me my entire life and I am ignorant to the challenges that women face. Are you aware of any known cure for my ignorance?” There’s no telling how this would pan out but I’d sure respect you for admitting that your were ignorant.

Instead of saying, “I don’t understand why women need to talk amongst themselves,” say “I think it’s great that you’re creating a space where women can leverage off each other and while I’d also like to be part of the conversation, I have no right to tell you or any woman what she should be doing with her voice.” Again, this is totally five-high and or hug material. We’d probably launch into a conversation on how we could go about breaking conventions and how we could leverage of each other to do something great for women. You would inspire me and you’d also probably be a unicorn, but a girl can dream.

It’s really not that challenging to stop and check your privilege. And if you want to be part of the solution, I applaud you, I really do. We need more men who want that. We also need more men who don’t think they have a right to tell women what to do. We need more men who call themselves feminists. We need more men challenging words, thoughts and actions that cement toxic masculinity in our communities. We need more men who listen, who have been listening to what women have been saying for centuries. We need more men who believe that patriarchy is wrong and who are willing to do something to challenge something that serves them. We need all sorts of men to do all sorts of things, but by god, we do not need more men in book club.

October: A month in review

It’s odd to face the first day of this new month, it feels like years have passed since the start of October. I read a blog recently that said that in order to live healthier, happier lives, we should learn to reward ourselves, something that I personally find difficult to do. But for some reason, when the start of this new month rolled around, I felt the need to stop and take stock and also to perhaps acknowledge the things I’ve accomplished in the last month. So here goes, this was my October (this is where you hear the drum roll and start the victory dance).

On writing

October was a good month for Existential Musings of a Mad Woman, not only because I pushed myself to write more but also because of all the support I’ve gotten in this month. I got to read some amazing blogs and to connect with even more amazing people, in my book if nothing else, that is a huge win! And of course, when I say good, please don’t read dollar signs here, I mean it was good to write and good to connect with other bloggers across the world. All the benefits I’ve reaps from this in October were purely of the non-monetary kind! I’ve written 12 blogs in October and for the first time ever, I can say that traffic to my blog was in the thousands (usually it’s single digits but I believe that if my dogs could visit my site they would!)

On health and wellbeing

I’ve never really been one to step on the scale and I actually hate using it as a proxy for my body image, but after a particularly slovenly couple of months I decided at the beginning of October to pay the dreaded number guessing game. No surprises when I realised that I actually needed to get myself back on track and start making a conscious effort to get back to some semblance of a healthy lifestyle. It’s been two 5kms, 20 gym visits, many good days (and probably and equal number of bad days) later and I’m definitely a healthier (and slightly lighter) version of my former self. What I guess would be the best part of this entire thing is that I realised that I’m not actually working towards a fixed goal, I don’t want to lose 2kgs by the end of the month, I just want to look and feel healthy and if that is not a win, then I have no idea what is!

On reading

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The Godfather, one of my October reads. I can’t believe it took me this long to read it!

My Goodreads tally puts me at seven books this month and even though I’ve left this for later in the post, perhaps this is my greatest achievement, to actually get back to something that I truly love and to allow myself the opportunity to get lost in the world that books create. I’ve longed for the days of my youth where I could spend endless hours absorbed in a book and getting to read this voraciously again has certainly rekindled those memories (albeit with added commitments and stress but hey we all have to grow up sometime).

On buying a house

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The renovation madness has begun!

I suppose there is no real way to describe the feeling of being given the keys to your new house, it is feeling of equal part joy and apprehension. I remember the first time I stood in our new house all by myself, apart from the panic, I was excited and impatient to begin this new journey. In the short time between being handed keys and starting the renovation work on the new house, I guess I fell in love with the place (maybe it had something to do with seeing the dogs frolic in the yard that did the trick). Sadly, the house is now a construction zone which means I’m in line for greater stress before we can move in but maybe I can list “Surviving the renovations” as an achievement for November?

On to November

It is partially my fear of success that makes me feel like I shouldn’t be making any concrete plans for November, but I’m all too eager to quash that fear and replace it with something more exciting -hopeless optimism! And it is exactly this hopeless optimism that has allowed me to join in on National Novel Writing Month. So, this is more than my goal, this is perhaps an ardent hope for myself, it is the hope that November shall be the month that I finally write the novel I’m been dreaming of!

I would love to hear from you, what successes did you celebrate in October and what are your ardent hopes for November?

Blowing the budget on books

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“Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.” Virginia Woolf

I have a problem. A BIG problem. There I’ve said it and they do say that admitting that you have a problem is the first step, right? Well I’ve admitted it and it does make me feel better. In fact, it makes me feel so good, I think I can go out and buy more books again! It’s obvious I couldn’t have overemphasized the enormity of my problem to start with. As you may have realised, that problem is books, more so the purchasing of books. So Machiavellian is this problem, that it actually tends to manifest as a good thing. My mother always encouraged reading as child, so when I buy a book I always think to myself that I’m doing something she would be proud of and of course as far as “problems” go, I could do a lot worse. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself or maybe (the more likely option) I’ve slipped back into denial again?

I am the unfortunate human being who gravitates to books, be it on holiday, at a flea market or in someone’s house. I have only recently discovered the magical gift of being able to buy second hand books online (upon discovering the sheer wonder of it I promptly purchased 14 books and then when I went back to check if it wasn’t a dream I added another 12 books to my collection). It pains me to think of how many books I am yet to read and of course, I’m not only referring to the ones I own (hence my propensity to purchase more books). I am currently in that lost no man’s land of “between books”, that idle, frustrating time between the last book you finish and the next book you start reading. Whenever I read a good book, I am almost, how shall I put this, in a relationship with the book. Yes, I know that sounds weird but luckily, we’ve already established that I have a problem. We all remember the sensation of being in a new relationship, where everything is to be experienced for the first time, where separation feels like torture and whether you want to or not, all your waking thoughts are consumed by the one you desire. We also know the comfort of the known, the warmth in the hug of the familiar, the joyousness of being recognised and acknowledged by someone you love. This is sometimes the solace I seek after finishing a book; returning to another one I have loved because when things come to an end, it is always too soon, too abrupt, too cruel. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would be so proud to see her well-known five stages of grief process play out every time I finish a book I love.

But grief aside, it’s time to think about what the next read will be and how on earth I’m going to stop myself from buying more books. My domestic worker looks at me reproachfully as I sift through the books now finding a home on my kitchen counter (she has long since given up on the pile of books on the dining room table, at my bedside and on the arm of the couch). I smile manically, pile the books into a majestic tower and crown it with my teacup proclaiming it to be art. She’s not sold but I do see another book flirting with me, allowing the wind to gently lift it’s front cover is a rather irresistible manner.

5 reasons why I’d never get a Kindle

Okay, before you tell me all the reasons why I’m nuts and how I can easily have access to a plethora of books at my finger tips and how it’s antiquated to carry around books, let me forewarn you that my mother did say I was special. I am that “special” kind of special who stresses about making the correct book selection before a holiday, who returns to old books like bad habits, knowing it will destroy me to pick it up but unable to do anything differently. I am that “special” kind of special who is a book lover and an old school one at that. And it is probably equal parts old school-ness and stubbornness that has lead me to the firm conclusion that I will never own a Kindle. Here’s why

1. Jean Louise, Atticus and Boo Radley

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I feel like I need a disclaimer here, just seeing this book makes me feel like I want to pick it and hug it, that’s how strong my love for it is. So it is incredibly unlikely that anything that follows resembles an unbiased opinion.

When I was in high school, nothing frustrated me quite as much as having to read the “set book” for the year. We would always read some classic that bored me beyond belief and I would then have to spit out details and thoughts on books that I had absolutely no interest in. In the year of my 16th birthday, that changed. In that year, the book that I was required to read became not only my favourite book, but a book that I have returned to read almost every year since. If you didn’t get it from the title or the picture here (shame on you), that book is To Kill A Mocking Bird. And this is about to sound creepy but it was my sister’s then boyfriend who ignited this love affair within me.

Apart from the boyfriend being dramatically tall and unusually pale, I’ll always remember him for the book he lent me. Hearing me bemoan my fate at having being assigned to read To Kill A Mocking Bird, the said boyfriend grew unusually animated and seemed genuinely interested in having a conversation. He insisted that I read his copy of the book, even though I would get a brand-new copy from school. He said something about the joy of having read a book that someone else had previously loved and his enthusiasm was warm and contagious. On my bookshelf, with the spine weathered through multiple reads, sits a copy identical to the book that he lent me all those years ago. Having the replica means something to me, feeling the creases and wear of the book feels like touching the face of someone I love. Each marking a memory, a reminder and a promise. Reading this book on a Kindle would be an unwelcome distance, my love affair necessitates proximity and life is too short to be separated from the things that you love.

2. My books are an insight into who I am

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My favourite part of my entire house is my bookshelf. Of course I have way too many books to fit in the impossibly small space so I routinely change the books that I see everyday. Some are firm favourites, stalwarts if you may, and some are more flavour of the month types. It is often a dangerous thing to ask a question about any book that you may encounter on my bookshelf as this may prompt an unsolicited three hour account on my views on that book and seven other books that have some mild association with it. The books I’ve read (and the books I haven’t) have shaped me and my thoughts and the idea of hiding them away somewhere deeply upsets me. I also love other people’s bookshelves, if you have a bookshelf or an an animal in your house, it’s almost always a guarantee that that’s where I’ll gravitate to. If you have both an animal and a bookshelf, then good luck getting rid of me (EVER).

3. I’m stupidly sentimental

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Just in case you haven’t quite figured this out yet, I am stupidly sentimental. Yes, stupidly. I won this book when I was 6 as a “book prize” at the end of a school year and 27 years later, I’m still hanging on to it.  There’s terribly embarrassing answers to some of the questions scribbled in childish script, some of the characters were also given makeovers with the use of a red pen and impossibly crooked lines and this is not exactly my favourite book in the world. But somehow, the nostalgia of being able to walk to my bookshelf and pull this out and laugh at myself is inexplicably joyful. Also I’m pretty sure this isn’t available on Kindle.

 

4. I have a post-it habit

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Okay, this is a bit of an ugly addiction and I’ve finally decided to come clean. I do have a Post-it problem, especially when to it comes to non fiction books. And If I’m re-reading something I’ve often been known to re-post-it as well. Trust me, I’m not proud of it, I’ve tried to fight it and all I’ve ended up doing is hating myself for not having a Post-it on hand. I know I can bookmark electronic files, but face it this way I get to look like I actually took the book seriously (Professor Cox would be impressed!).

 

 

 

5. A kindle won’t remind me of the times when a book has found me

btyI remember walking though Stone Town and having an overwhelming desire to buy a book, not just any book but a book that would always remind me of the hot, sticky summer holiday we had in Zanzibar. Of course, I ended up getting a Swahili/English/Italian phrase book and all it seems to remind of are European men in ridiculously small speedos so my story isn’t half as romantic as I would want it to be. But then there’s The Alchemist, the first book I bought after being enthralled by the Northern Lights, as if the Green Lady herself had compelled me to find my purpose. It sounds silly, but I am well schooled in the art of silly.