I struggled with insomnia and early waking because of my cold. I was feeling quite congested. I got about six hours of sleep, which was reasonable. I feel better than yesterday, but still unwell: I feel alternately hot and cold and am still congested and just feel tired. I did get dressed, though, which I didn’t manage yesterday.
I told E. that when I feel physically ill, it somehow drowns out negative emotions. Which is a somewhat scary thing to admit to and I guess explains why I’ve self-harmed when feeling very strong negative emotions, although I think it’s only a partial explanation (and I haven’t self-harmed for quite a long time).
Otherwise I haven’t done much today, which is perhaps unsurprising as I still feel quite ill physically and it’s hard to concentrate for long or to get the energy to do things. I wrote a long email to E. and did half an hour of Torah study, but that was about it, aside from a couple of emails, one to family regarding the bar mitzvah and the other trying to get hold of my rabbi mentor to see if we can meet next week. I’m slightly worried that he’s been hard to get hold of lately: worried that I won’t be able to see him and worried that something is wrong.
I finished watching The Vietnam War documentary I’ve been watching for the last month or more. I discovered the version shown on the BBC in the UK was actually only half as long as the version broadcast on American PBS television. I don’t think I could cope with that version, nine hours (ten fifty-five minute episodes) was emotional enough. I did like that they took the story up to the present day with material about reconciliation and how the interviewees have coped since the war (the interviewees were deliberately ‘ordinary’ G.I.s and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians; they didn’t interview surviving high-profile decision makers like Henry Kissinger).
It left me subdued and wondering all the more about serious political issues: populism and elites, Brexit, Trump, the Middle East… thoughts also fuelled by the Sunday papers and spending too long reading online. I don’t have any solutions or really any profound thoughts except to share a feeling that things could get worse, but probably not in the way people are expecting them to get worse, if only because that’s what usually happens. I suppose I value dialogue and empathy more than ‘no platforming’ and competitive victimhood (see this article about a leading white supremacist who renounced his beliefs as a result of being invited to a Shabbat dinner).
I want to say more, but I’m not sure I could put my feelings into words and I fear saying something that will antagonise or upset someone in a offense-taking society – not that I fear my readers are quick to take offence, but I find it’s easiest just not to talk politics with anyone. I’d actually far sooner talk religion, not that I’m especially anxious to do that.
I do have this weird comparison table in my head with politics and religion, where both are basically untestable belief systems resting ultimately on personal faith and stemming largely from the values you were brought up with, tempered with experience. Both can lead to unrealistic idealism, tribalism, violence and extremism; on a more moderate level, both can inspire people to become crushing monotonous bores. Both have led to the production of much art, both good, bad and mediocre; and both can start an argument in an empty room. Yet religion is tolerated at best in intellectual Western society and seen as fundamentally irrational while politics is seen as normal, rational and meaningful and absolutely unquestionable. I find that odd.
Choices, choices. I need to choose what book to read now, and what book to take with on holiday as a spare in case I finish the first one (alongside religious reading. I always take a lot of books on holiday. As I’ve said before, my books and DVDs are my friends as much as entertainment or learning resources). I’ve narrowed the very large field to three: The Father-Thing, the third volume of the complete short stories of Philip K. Dick; Wonderful Life, a book on natural history (the Burgess Shale fossils) by Stephen Jay Gould; and A Perfect Spy, John le Carré’s semi-autobiographical bildungsroman/thriller hybrid that I read nearly twenty years ago and feel is worth re-reading now I’m old enough to have actually experienced some of the feelings the main character has experienced (I mean friendship, love and betrayal, not being a secret agent). I feel like reading le Carré, but I haven’t got the time to re-read all the George Smiley books again and this is one of the few non-Smiley books he’s written that I read and actually like; I’m not feeling brave enough to chance one I haven’t read.
One fiction (unread), one non-fiction (unread), one fiction (read). Put like that, le Carré will probably go back on the backburner and I’ll take Dick and Gould. I’m still not sure which to read first though. Strangely, the Gould seems less intimidating and I am trying to alternate fiction and non-fiction which would push it to the front. As the Dick is short stories, I could feasibly read both at the same time if necessary, although I try not to have too many recreational reading books on the go at once (unlike religious books where I read lots, for various reasons).
It does occur to me that if I had a life, I wouldn’t spend so much time focused on what I read and watch (and think and feel). That is perhaps an uncharitable thought, but not necessarily untrue.
I’m not feeling well enough to do anything other than flop in front of the television this evening. Despite all the stuff I was thinking of watching yesterday, last night I had a hankering to watch a particular Doctor Who story (Horror of Fang Rock), based on the tribute articles in the latest Doctor Who Magazine issue to it’s author, Terrance Dicks, who died recently. Dicks is a special figure to many Doctor Who fans, myself included. Not only was he a prolific writer and script editor for the series, he also novelised more than sixty stories from the original run of the show and for many children, myself included, these novels were a way of re-experiencing favourite stories when the originals were unavailable, initially because this was domestic video players came out, but later in my case because as a child my pocket money didn’t stretch to videos, but the school and public libraries had loads of the novels.
I was an avid reader even before I found the Doctor Who novelisations, so I can’t quite say the way many fans can that Terrance Dicks taught me to read, but he was a big part of my childhood. Horror of Fang Rock isn’t my absolute favourite of the stories he wrote, but it is probably the best-written, an expertly constructed story blending character drama in a period setting with science fiction and family-friendly horror. So that’s my evening!