Unsurprisingly, I woke up late after yesterday. I wasn’t particularly depressed, but I was exhausted and spent a long time reading online trying to find energy and then struggling to get dressed and daven (pray). I actually had to eat not just breakfast, but also lunch, before I had enough energy to daven.
My main achievement for the day was going for an after dark run. I was worried about how this would go, as I was feeling tired just from my warm up, but it was OK. I do worry a bit about running after dark. I’m not the most aware person and even when walking I can step into the road without looking or cross a driveway without noticing the car reversing out, and when jogging I have music and the distraction of feeling exhausted. I do worry I’m going to be in an accident one day, running or even walking, and it will be my fault (I’ve had a couple of close calls already). Plus there are trip hazards running after dark. Still, I survived. And the post-run positive brain chemicals flowed for a bit.
I tried to work on my novel a bit, making the plan more detailed, but I didn’t get far because I was depressed as well as exhausted from running. I have mentioned that I’m more of an intuitive writer than I expected. To be honest, I feel I’m more of an intuitive writer than I really feel comfortable with. I have an idea of the main events in every chapter and some chapters are plotted in quite a bit of detail, but so much seems to be being left for the writing. I’m not sure why. Some of it is not wanting to set things in stone, but let the novel grow organically, but I think some of it is a genuine inability to plot properly or perhaps even laziness. It worries me. I think of myself as a meticulous planner, although I’ve come to realise in recent months that I’m a very bad planner or at least very bad at sticking to plans, but I feel worried that I will suddenly run out of petrol mid-story, so to speak.
I’ll try to return to the story plan in the coming days. I also have to start the proofreading job I said I would do for a friend and start planning for my new job. Plus the usual things: pray, study Torah, exercise… (more on this below). All I did today was the run, and a little bit of work on the novel. I didn’t even get up to ten minutes of Torah study.
I had dinner with my parents, which was not ideal, because I was stressed. I was somewhat worried about my book, I was exhausted and hungry and a bit bad-tempered because of that, plus I didn’t really feel like eating as a family; I really just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV. My Dad was making small talk and my autistic brain struggles with that at the best of times. The autistic brain goes, “Why are you asking me about my run in such detail? What can it mean to you? And even assuming that you genuinely want to know the answer, I can’t remember what happened when I was running. That was a few tasks ago. I can only focus on one task at a time!” So that didn’t go too well, although we didn’t have a blazing row or anything, just a general feeling of tension. I got soup down my polo shirt too.
And that was it for the day, really. I felt too exhausted and depressed to do anything else. I watched half a Bond film (Licence to Kill), but it was too uninteresting for me to watch the whole thing in one go. I think that James Bond, like Doctor Who, is better fun, even if slightly silly. I think a lot of fans of both would disagree, but there you go.
Ashley Leia asked on my previous post, “if the frum ideal is for adult men to devote almost all day to Torah study and davening, how does anyone avoid feeling inadequate?” I think it’s worth answering this here.
It’s only in a subset of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, the most extreme part, that people believe that literally all day should be devoted to Torah study (with no paid employment). This mostly happens in Israel for reasons that have more to do with politics than religion (it’s connected with avoiding the draft for the Israeli army out of a fear that the army is a secularising influence). In my type of community there’s a more nebulous idea that all available free time should be used for Torah study. This allows paid work, but it also allows a degree of relaxation time, provided it’s taken with the intent of returning to Torah study refreshed (rather than because I want to watch TV or I’m too lazy to study).
I suspect that there are some people at my shul (synagogue) who don’t do much religious study, although I haven’t asked them and it could be I’m making assumptions based on my own preconceptions of the type of people they are or misunderstandings of things they’ve said. On the other hand, there are definitely people in my shul who get up at 5.00am to get in an hour of Gemarah chevruta (paired study of Talmud) before Shacharit (Morning Prayers) and paid work. And in between are people who study Mishnah for an hour on the train into work or the like. I’m assuming most of these people are able to live with their consciences and don’t feel seriously inadequate i.e. they all think they are doing “enough,” for their own values of “enough” – which may not be exactly the same as other people’s value of “enough.”
I guess the problem for me is that this is fairly nebulous, and I’m not good at nebulous, probably for reasons that have as much to do with autistic black and white thinking as low self-esteem or depression. In some ways, living in the ultra-Haredi “no work” environment would be easier, because at least I would have a clear ideal to work towards, even if I would find it impossible. I don’t know how much study (or prayer, although the boundaries there are clearer) is “enough” particularly when I’m not able to do a consistent amount from day to day. Some days I can manage an hour, which is probably what a lot of people in my shul are doing every day, but other days, because of depression or simply lack of time (which is in part also due to depression, to be honest), I only manage ten minutes and it’s hard to feel that something that was not enough one day can be enough the other day.
I came across an interesting thing today that is somewhat relevant to this. Giles Fraser is a Church of England clergyman and one of my favourite writers on UnHerd.com. He tends to write a lot about theology and philosophy. He writes here:
The word they use in theological college about the process of “becoming who you are” is formation. In this context, formation is achieved by acclimatising oneself to a tradition that stands over and against one’s individual choices. Indeed, it is only by recognising that one is situated within a given set of values that precede who we are that we are enabled to make the very choices that have come to define adult responsibility.
I feel very much that I need the Orthodox Jewish tradition as a set of values that precede my choices, even if my choices are not always the ones that the tradition would dictate. There probably would be less of a disconnect if I was in a Modern Orthodox community rather than a moderate Haredi one, but that’s not really an available option at the moment. I suppose I feel at least I’m in dialogue with tradition, even if I can’t fully follow it. I want to choose with a tradition rather than against it, to find my place within a tradition rather than to create myself ex nihilo.
Is this rationalisation after the event? Possibly. I thought that a commenter on my previous post suggested I give up religion; she was actually suggesting I give up my volunteering opportunity, but I misunderstood and it got me thinking about what religion adds to my life. I can’t really imagine what my life would be like without Judaism. I would lose the things that give me structure on non-work days, as well as my only regular in-person social contact. I don’t know if I could cope with the guilt, or the feeling that I’ve lost something. I would lack meaning and purpose, inasmuch as I even have them now. I would feel cut off from my ancestors, which would be a big thing for me. Would I be happier if I wasn’t frum? I don’t know. Quite possibly, but I don’t think happiness is everything, to be honest, nor something I can really aspire to for long periods with my poor mental health. If I’m staying religious, it would be better if I had a stronger feeling that God loves me or if I had more support and acceptance from my community, but that’s not really an option right now.
Lately I’ve been reading Genesis: Creation to Covenant by Rabbi Tzvi Grumet, which is a literary critical analysis of the book of Bereshit (Genesis), based on close reading. One of the main things I’ve taken from this is Rabbi Grumet’s idea that the biblical characters grow. I knew that already on some level (it’s most obvious for Yosef (Joseph) and David both of whom change a lot), but he really shows at great length that Avraham (Abraham) doesn’t always understand God, that Yaakov (Jacob) has to learn how to be devious, but also how not to be too devious and so on. I don’t agree with all of his arguments, particularly his presentation of God making mistakes, but I think it’s true that Bereshit presents us with a God who seems to make mistakes, even if it’s with a big kavyachol (“If it were possible” – Talmudic language for saying something about God that isn’t theologically the case, but is how something seems to us). It’s reassured me a bit that growth is allowed and I don’t have to get everything right first time, which is very much something I struggle with.
I forgot to mention my Chanukah presents yesterday: the complete DVD box set of Star Trek: Voyager and some dark chocolate coins from my parents and the DVD of Darkest Hour (which I missed when it was in the cinema, to my annoyance) from my sister and brother-in-law. I had been agonising for ages over whether to buy the Voyager box set. I watched it on TV when it was first broadcast in the UK and while it wasn’t as good as the earlier Star Treks, or the more recent Discovery, it was entertaining enough. Then the price of the DVD suddenly dropped and it was within budget for Chanukah (we don’t do surprise presents in my family, rather we ask for things or even buy them and get other family members to pay us back). At any rate, it should be good escapism, particularly as I’m getting a bit tired of James Bond and could do with slowing down my viewing of those films.