I’m feeling very depressed and anxious about something I can’t write about here.  I suppose it takes my mind off being depressed and anxious about being unemployed and single, or about the job interview I have tomorrow.  I feel I just mess stuff up, however hard I try not to.  I don’t even know how I do it.  Sometimes I wonder if there’s any end to things.

I didn’t manage to do much today, just a little bit of interview preparation for tomorrow and a short walk.  Otherwise I just brooded on things.

***

Last night I was flicking through The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook: The Writings of a Jewish Mystic.  One passage (pp. 18-19) attracted my attention.  Rav Kook says there are two types of temperament: some people are straightforward, conventional and internally stable.  They can achieve a  lot, particularly in the practical sphere, but they can’t reach either highest heights or lowest depths.  However, the second type “never have any rest… either they are ascending to the sublime heights of heaven or they are descending to the bitter depths of disaster.  These people need to concentrate on spiritual growth every single day” because if they find a way of life that suits them, they will keep growing, but if they don’t grow, they will “most likely collapse” and fall to the lowest depths.  “These people need to be immersed constantly in Torah and self-improvement, ethics, and sacred emotions.  And God forbid that they should live a life of conventional work and practical knowledge.”  (Elsewhere he writes about very spiritual people often struggling with practical matters.)

I feel that I am probably in the second category.  I don’t say this because I think I have achieved great heights, but because I think I sink to great depths.  This upsets me, because I want just to be a normal, conventional person, able to achieve a certain amount and able to coast, to some extent.  I want to be comfortable.  I don’t want to have to struggle all the time for things other people manage easily (healthy emotions, career, marriage and family, community, friendships).  Instead I have to fight to manage to cope with ‘normal’ things, in order to try to reach heights I don’t think I will ever actually attain.  I don’t feel particularly spiritual, which I suppose suggests that I’m down in the the depths (as does the thing I can’t talk about).

***

Sometimes I wonder if I should keep blogging.  My Dad asked me yesterday why I do it.  He doesn’t “get” social media at all and wonders why people need to update all their friends on what they had for lunch.  I tried to explain that writing is how I process what happens to me and that I’ve tried writing a private diary, but it’s hard to keep it up without feeling there is some kind of audience.  I also hope that, by talking about depression and autism in detail, other people struggling with these conditions might understand themselves better, and be reassured that they aren’t ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal.’  There are maybe ten or fifteen people who regularly ‘like’ my posts; one or two look spammy, but most seem to be ‘real’ people, so I feel I must be doing something right.  But sometimes I wonder if I’m just being self-obsessed, writing about my life as if it’s of great importance.  Really, as I say, I’m just trying to process what happens to me, given that I struggle to understand my life a lot of the time.  Whether because of depression or autism, I can’t instinctively process my emotions the way most people can.  I have to literally spell them out to myself and examine them like a therapist to understand them.

***

I’m watching the 1979 BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  I’ve seen it before, and I’ve read the book (one of my favourites) three or four times.  I still enjoy it.  Savouring it, one episode a day.  I know the plot, and half the dialogue, by heart, but I drink in the acting, the direction, the atmosphere.  No one really points out that the books of le Carré’s strongest period (particularly the Smiley versus Karla trilogy, after he’d written a few books and honed his skills, but before the Cold War ended and left him in search of other material) are as fully-realised a fictional world as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or Lucas’ Star Wars universe, a fictional world similar to, but running deeper than, our own, with its own geography, heroes and villains and, above all, its own vocabulary (the Circus, moles, lamplighters, scalphunters, Moscow rules and the like).  For me I think much of the appeal lies in this world-building.  It’s quite well-established that autistic people like these kinds of fleshed-out fictional worlds, although science fiction and fantasy are the more normal sources than spy novels.  I think George Smiley’s world is as much an autistic special interest for me than Doctor Who.  It’s certainly a comforting thing to return to when I feel depressed and anxious, as at the moment, like Doctor Who and one or two other series.

In many ways, Smiley’s world is more cohesive (despite all the “retcons”) than the Doctor Who universe, which is vastly larger, but open and less defined.  There are only nine Smiley novels (albeit that several non-Smiley novels arguably take place in the same fictional world, from little details) and they form a reasonably coherent whole, although it took a few novels for all the details to come together.  The secret vocabulary which is so important to me (because I like language?) only really first appears from the fifth novel in the sequence, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

I wallow in George Smiley’s world.  I imagine myself inside it, and not just when reading the books, but when visiting or working in buildings that remind me of how I imagine the Circus (British Intelligence), old buildings housing large institutions that have seen better days (I’ve worked in one or two of those).  I couldn’t be a field-agent, but I imagine myself in Research in the Circus archives, working with Connie Sachs to ferret out Soviet agents.  Le Carré’s post-Cold War books don’t really have that same background and are, to me, a lot less interesting (and his politics are more predictable and, to my thinking, less nuanced, particularly his knee-jerk anti-Americanism).  Certainly I generally prefer the scenes of bureaucrats (“espiocrats” as le Carré calls them in his later books) sitting around talking to the scenes of undercover agents, especially as le Carré doesn’t really do action scenes very well (most of the Smiley stories are structured as mystery stories rather than conventional thrillers, again a difference to le Carré’s later books, and part of the reason I don’t like the later books as much).

(Although one day I’m going to have to write that essay on le Carré’s presentation of Jews…)

It’s funny how I can write 500 words on something I care about without thinking even on a bad day, while more mundane tasks just seem impossible.

2 thoughts on “Heights and Depths, and Special Interests

  1. Rav Kook’s perspective sounds rather reductionistic. And there’s certainly an element of privilege involved to suggest that people of one particular type shouldn’t do conventional work and should spend all their time studying Torah.

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  2. You may be right about it being reductionist. I’m not sure he’s saying those people should only study Torah; I think he’s thinking more of creative work, although I could be reading too much into that.

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