M a r c h   2 0 0 6

Guest Writer

Enough about you
I'm joining a group
by Rachel Mendez

rendy people do trendy group things but I never join at the right time or in the right way.

Maybe the last time I did was in high school, when I joined drama groups and hung out with all the other freaks, gaining acceptance and admiration for my dramatic skills. In drama, working on a play, I could momentarily escape my rural high school, where Jordache jeans and Farrah Fawcett feathered hair (alternately: the shiny Dorothy Hamill bob), were marks of success and the only approved topics of conversation.

Since then, though, I've never successfully been a member of a group. When I was pregnant, I tried joining pregnant-lady groups: yoga and swimming at the Y. I never fit in with the carefully coifed pregnant ladies who managed to look more slender and attractive eight months pregnant than I'd ever looked not pregnant.

I thought that, as a pregnant lady, I would be accepted by the others. Instead, they got back in their nice cars and I got back in my beater. They went back up to the West Hills from whence they came, I went back to Felony Flats to my little 800-square-foot shack with a dirt basement and a mouse invasion so bad that mice ran across my feet as I cooked.

Later, I tried to fit in with other mothers at a cooperative daycare center. Again, I thought the coincidence of circumstance (mothers of tiny tots) would bring us together. Instead, they thought I was weird because my son hadn't had antibiotics, and we had a Solstice Tree instead of a Christmas Tree, and I dressed my son in pink sometimes (it set off his complexion marvelously!) and let him play with dolls (he grew out of it, relax!).

Next, I tried to be paganish, figuring that I never fit in with any other religion, so maybe this one would work. I went to some ceremonies where men in tall boots and capes sprinkled salt on the floor and invoked the spirits of North, South, East and West. I just felt silly at the ceremonies.

Then, I went to some Blessingways, where pregnant women had their hair braided with flowers by their paganish friends. The friends soaked the pregnant lady's feet in warm water garnished with meaningful herbs (stinging nettles because life as a mother won't always be easy, rosemary because it symbolizes memory, etc.) and tell them positive, life-affirming things.

At some point in every Blessingway, participants are supposed to touch the pregnant woman and say something meaningful. I wasn't any good at this. Touching people makes me uncomfortable, and saying something meaningful in front of everyone makes me want to misbehave and shout out something like, "Now everyone knows you've had sex at least once" or "Did you consider abortion?"

Before quitting paganishness, though, I did convince some witchy friends to throw me a Divorcingway, a ritual I made up to celebrate the end of my marriage. I thought it was a nice contribution to the pagan canon. The witchy friends braided my hair, rubbed my feet with nettles and rosemary and told me how lucky I was to be single.

After that came the book-group craze, kindled first by Oprah, then fueled by women and men eager to feel like they were back in college, only without teachers or grades. I never managed to join a book group. Not the one with brilliant women who chose books about literary women committing suicide, nor the one for happy, older couples who regularly retired to some member's beach house for weekends of what I can only imagine to be literary hilarity and intellectual bonding (and perhaps games of Boggle, Scrabble or Hangman). Nor was I able to join the book groups where books took a backseat to gourmet desserts baked by one member or another each month: Wasabi Chocolate Portfiteroles or Guava Steak Tartar Truffle Niblets.

I tried running a book group at my neighborhood library but it was a wearying failure. Nobody except me bothered to choose books and the books I chose were usually disliked. You should've heard the complaints when I suggested Dickens. "It's 750 pages!" or "The characters are so unrealistic!" As if Dickens should be short or realistic, for crying out loud. I was also taxed by trying to play hostess and making sure that everyone, not just the loud and pushy, got to speak. And that the one man present didn't feel over-estrogened.

Later, knitting happened, but I failed at that, too. I tried to go to a knitting group or two but found myself bored with the conversation, and not really interested in knitting, which seemed to me to fall into two groups: scarves or ridiculously complicated patterns requiring attention to detail, making them completely useless to work on while watching TV, which, as far as I could tell, was the only positive thing to say about knitting – something to do with your hands while watching TV so you could pretend you're being creative and productive with the TV on for background noise, instead of pretending to knit a lumpy, unwearable scarf out of ugly yarn you found at the Goodwill, while watching the entire first season of "24" on DVD over the weekend.

After knitting my poor son a seven-foot scarf, with lumps that would make Cream of Wheat proud, I gave up knitting and took a long, hard look at the next group craze: poker.

Sadly, I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to play poker regularly, either. A friend has a group that meets at her house weekly. I went twice. The first time, I won handily by playing recklessly. The other players, all at least 10 years younger and several tattoos cooler than me, called me a bully. It was fun to bid high on any hand, just to watch people's reactions. They took it so seriously! The next week, I lost as carelessly as I had won the week before. I never went back

I'm tired of hearing about knitting, book groups, yoga and poker. I've decided that I want to belong to a group and the only way to do it is to start my own. So this is it: my new group is called "I know what's wrong with you, and I'm going to tell you."

As I see it, I'll get together with five or six close friends every month. We will have, perhaps, some green tea, chai, or Scotch on the rocks. We will sit in a circle and draw each other's names out of a black beret.

If, for example, you draw my name, you are allowed to tell me one thing I am doing stupidly. For example, you might say: "You have gained 30 pounds in the last year and you look like shit. Stop eating so much and start going to the gym." Or, you might say: "You whine about how much you want to be a successful painter, but you haven't been in your studio for two weeks. What the fuck is your problem?"

If I drew your name, I might say, "You have no friends because you are so boring and all you do is talk about yourself. Shut your mouth and practice listening for a change."

It will be loving, of course, and life-affirming. And helpful! We all know what our friends are doing wrong with their lives. We listen for hours to their problems and want to tell them the truth, but never do for fear of offending.

In my group meetings, you will have the power, indeed, the obligation, to tell the truth about one thing – not a laundry list of problems your friend needs to fix, but one problem with one solution. I could join a group like that.

Find more from Rachel in our archives.

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