It was book group night. Unfortunately I had only been able to read about half of the book, which is not great for giving an opinion on it but 326 pages is something to comment on never-the-less. The book called “And the land lay still” by James Robertson is a piece of fiction set during the last fifty years of Scottish history. These fifty years has marked radical industrial and political changes in this remote part of the UK. Since the members of the group are fifty and over, it also coincides with a large part of our lives though since some of us grew up in other parts of the UK, the connection to these changes differed greatly.
The format of the group is that the host starts by saying what struck them about book. We are not an academic group so our analysis tends not to be very high brow and often relates to our own experiences that are triggered from the writing. This was a good book to get discussion going and there was certainly a lot of topics covered which often strayed away from the book into the modern day.
Being autistic, speaking in front of groups and giving my personal views can be difficult. I find it helps if I am go earlier on in the discussion phase because I can keep my own thoughts in my head and not get carried away on other people’s interpretations and the thought processes they may trigger. I happened to be sitting next to the host but unfortunately the discussion route went away from me. I ended up being last. Normally that’s okay. I always have something different to say but today with lots of discussion going on, my concentration was starting to waver by the time it was my turn to speak.
Often I will wonder about things out loud. And because of the way I tend to speak in a measured way, people have plenty of opportunity to jump in and say their bit. Such as it was tonight. I think I started by wondering if not experiencing Scotland before the major upheavals, meant that the book would have less of an effect on me. I tried to describe when I arrived on the scene in Scotland. This immediately launched a discussion which took on a life of its own. After several minutes and several vaguely connected topics, the group brought to attention back to me and I started saying something else ( I haven’t a clue what anymore). This triggered another discussion thread which lasted even longer than the first one. At some point, my partner, brought the conversation to a close and allowed me space to say something. I had nothing left by this point and I think simply stated that I couldn’t keep track of my thoughts with the long interruptions and that I didn’t think I had anything more to add.
Inside my mind I was thinking, “What am I doing in this group now? This isn’t healthy for me. I think I should leave the group. I don’t see the point of going through this.”
Since I was last, the book discussion was brought to an end after I said I had nothing left. A drink count of teas and coffees was made. The host went off to arrange our beverages and general conversation broke out.
I was feeling that I didn’t belong and trying to assess the implications of my decision to leave. One member came over to me and engaged in conversation about what I had said earlier. They listened as I expounded my thoughts, then offered some questions that made me consider other things. The thing is, we had a conversation, an interesting one and I felt that somebody had sensed my distress and was trying to do something about it. Another person joined in.
Then the drinks appeared, and I was asked a question about my daughter by the person sitting on my right. This lead to a discussion about involving young people into a settled older church community which again required thought, reflection and more questioning.
So what is the positive experience in all this? Well I think the fact that I took courage and spoke about how the interruptions affected my thought processes lead to a transformation. A rather negative experience for me, which left me wanting to leave the group, was changed to a supported experience. By being vulnerable, I allowed other people the opportunity to comfort me. The good discussions showed me that others did want to hear my opinions and learn from my experiences. I went from feeling like an outcast to being accepted and indeed wanted in the group. One member even said they needed to be more aware of how much they talk, and that she would miss me from the group.
It was a good way to end the meeting. I am even determined to read the second half of the book. I sensed it might resonate more with me.