Mum had a blood test today and has more tests next week.  I suppose this is the beginning of six months or so of stress and disruption for all of us, but especially her.  My parents have funerals to go to tomorrow and on Sunday.  The one tomorrow is for someone from our old shul (synagogue) who was in his eighties so it’s sad, but not tragic.  The Sunday one is for the sister of a friend of theirs, from cancer, which is probably going to be very emotionally-charged for them, as she must have been about the same age as Mum.

As for me, my main achievements today were to have a haircut, which I hate, but I didn’t shake much at all.  I had two twenty-five minute walks there and back again, which were surprisingly tiring, but I suppose the exercise was good for me.  I also managed to unlock the microwave after the cleaner accidentally set the child-proof lock (ovens and microwaves have child-proof locks now?  Obviously it’s only by luck that I escaped childhood physically unscathed) and found instructions to delete the last page number, and only the last page number, from my non-fiction Doctor Who book (Ashley Leia: it was almost what you suggested, but there was an extra step needed on Word).

I fiddled around a bit more with the formatting of the Doctor Who book and decided that I really do need to write the reference list, even if most of the readers (both of them) don’t read it.  I currently have about 100 references to write up.  Some are more or less written, but for others I just have an article name and maybe an issue number and will have to pull specific copies of Doctor Who Magazine out of the five piles on my shelves containing a total of over 300 back issues of that esteemed periodical.  I’m pretty bad at constructing Harvard references without looking the format up each time too (I am a bad librarian), so that will take a while.  I still hope to finish this phase in a few weeks and get on to uploading my completed book to Lulu.com.  I really want to get the book on sale by the start of spring.

In the meantime, I need to ensure my novel is not totally neglected, as I stopped in the middle of a chapter.  I wanted to do a bit of work on that this evening, but by the time I had finished what I wanted to do to my Doctor Who book and written to the benefactor of the library where I was working last month to ask if there is any news regarding extending my contract there, it was too late and I was too tired.  Maybe I will be able to find some time tomorrow before Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I’m not sure I will have the time or the energy.  Shabbat comes in earlier now we are over a month from the winter solstice, but it is still very early (we anthropomorphise Shabbat and talk about it (or her, the Shabbat Queen, if you’re very kabbalistic) “coming in” and “going out” rather than “starting” and “finishing”).

I went to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Service) and then on to shiur (religious class) afterwards.  Shiur was difficult this evening.  I ate far too much junk food.  I don’t know why I lose control there so much lately.  There’s usually a lot out and everyone else there eats a lot too, which makes it harder to resist.  I felt a bit depressed.  Then about halfway through, there was a knock at the door.  I wasn’t sure whether I should go and see if it was someone for the shiur (although we weren’t expecting anyone else) as it would interrupt the shiur.  Usually the rabbi’s wife or children would answer so we wouldn’t have to disrupt the shiur.  After a minute or two, the rabbi told me to go and see who it was as I was nearest the door, so I called that one wrong.  He said if it isn’t anyone for shiur, I should just say there’s no one in.  I got to the door.  It was a boy of about twelve.  I realised I didn’t have a clue what to say, exactly.  I don’t know if this is autism or social anxiety, but I just could not think of anything to say.  I mumbled something about no one being in.  I thought he might be collecting tzedaka (charity), as it’s quite common in frum (religious Jewish) areas like this for older children to go out collecting for different charities or or looking for sponsorship for fund-raising activities.  I got into a panic, because I wasn’t sure if I should tell him to come back later so the rabbi could give him something or what.  I had forgotten that I had my wallet with me and could have given him something (even though as a rule I don’t give at the door, for various reasons, but many frum people will give something to all Jewish tzedaka collectors, even if it’s only a pound or two).  So I came back feeling even more depressed, anxious and self-critical and failed to really concentrate on the rest of the shiur which made the whole thing seem rather pointless.

Which brings me to “Shoulds.”  I had a lot of Shoulds at shiur this evening: what I Should eat, what I Should say, what I Should do.  I’m wondering how to deal with all the Shoulds in my life.  A lot of them seem really important.  For instance, today I’m beating myself up over not doing enough to help at home, and how that will have to change now that Mum is ill.  In other cases, stronger Shoulds could be a good thing, like if I could break my habit of looking at Twitter when procrastinating because it just angers or upsets me sooner or later and doesn’t help with my job search at all.  (I would like to engage with the lighter element of the Doctor Who fan community on Twitter, but I’m aware that a lot of it is stridently political and there isn’t much of a way to separate wheat from chaff.  I block Twitter from my browser, but then I turn it off and look anyway.  Of course, it’s a huge time-waster too and I don’t think I really want to get sucked any further into it.)

One of my friends at shiur asked me if I’m doing Daf Yomi, the daily study of one page (two sides) of Talmud to cover the whole thing in seven and a half years, which has just started a new cycle.  I said I’m not, as I didn’t think I could commit to it, which is true, but I felt vaguely guilty, probably because part of me already thinks I Should be doing it.  It’s an example of “mission creep” in the Orthodox community: something that was once the preserve of an intellectual elite (Talmud study) becomes the norm for most adult men, then one particular way of fulfilling that norm (Daf Yomi) increasingly becomes standard.   Daf Yomi as an idea is only about 100 years old.  Traditionally few Jewish men studied Talmud or went to yeshiva (rabbinical college), and the yeshivot focused (and I think largely still focus) on a small number of masechtot (volumes of Talmud), traditionally I think the volumes on marriage law and tort and criminal law, because these are the most complex and therefore the ones that “sharpen the mind” the most.  Studying the whole Talmud wasn’t really seen as an imperative for most people.

It’s hard to pick out the real Shoulds from the unnecessary ones in a community where there are a lot of Shoulds flying about and they are all seen as equally necessary.  Maybe I could talk to my rabbi mentor about it, but I’m worried that if I ask him something like this his counsellor training will kick in and he will try to get me to work out for myself what I should be doing.  As I see it, there are the absolutely non-negotiable Shoulds, like keeping Shabbat and kashrut; there are the ones I can try to do, but shouldn’t beat myself up if I don’t succeed, like daily davening, Torah study and trying not to lose my temper with my parents; and there are the ones that really I don’t need to think about at all at the moment, like Daf Yomi.  But it’s hard to tell what’s what.  I tell myself that a lot of stuff goes in the “try, but don’t worry” pile, but when I don’t succeed, I feel like it was really in the non-negotiable pile after all and feel guilty.  It’s hard to know what to do about that.

6 thoughts on “More Shoulds

  1. Would it help or hurt to make a priority list of shoulds? I know they will be different now with your mom’s treatment. It’s hard not to feel guilty about the necessity for our minds and bodies to have “down time” which looks different for all of us. Life is a daily balancing act between musts, shoulds, and wants. Sometimes my shoulds are actually wants because I will feel better about myself if I accomplish them.

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  2. I was actually thinking about this yesterday! The problem is, the list of shoulds is enormous, and setting priorities is almost impossible because the “That’s a religious requirement therefore it’s 100% essential” thing kicks in for so many of them.

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    1. Are some of the religious requirements more essential than others? Which ones of them are priorities for you personally? I’m wondering if a rabbi might have insight on this or would that put more pressure on you to accomplish all of them? If you can do x number of things in a day, what is your goal for religious activities? (keeping in mind that you need a balance of things to be healthy) Then what are the top ones? Top 5? Could the next day include the ones you didn’t get to? You have to understand that I know little about how long any of these religious obligations take; forgive my ignorance!

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      1. I’m really bad at setting priorities like this. I’m not sure how much is autistic executive function issues and how much is just plain old indecisiveness. Everything seems super-important. Also, a lot of religious tasks are daily: I’m supposed to pray three times a day (which I generally don’t do), at set times, I’m supposed to do religious study every day and so on. With other tasks like exercise, job-hunting or writing doing them one day does at least open the option of not doing them the next day. Not so with many of the religious tasks.

        I have been thinking about discussing this with my rabbi mentor. I was just reluctant to do so now as I don’t like to bother him too much and I just spoke to him last week. But maybe I should see if he has time.

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