I woke up feeling OK: tired, but OK. But then I looked at some news online and drifted down into depression and despair. I felt disgruntled with political stuff. I wrote some stuff here, but deleted it to avoid arguments. I will say that it certainly is hard, when I’m being told by therapists and psychiatrists not to personalise and not to feel guilty about everything, when the media, politicians and activists tell me that I’m “part of the problem,” and that I’m full of unconscious privilege that makes me an inherently bad person no matter what I do.
I’ve been having difficult religious thoughts too, thinking I will never fit in to frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) society. I feel like I’m torn by opposed ideas. This is true in politics and culture, but particularly in religion.
I was thinking today about Rav Kook, one of the most important Orthodox Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. He was also a man of opposites: mystical, yet accepting much of modern science and academic scholarship; a Zionist, but also a universalist; a halakhicist and posek (Jewish legal expert/decisor) who was also an accomplished poet and advocate of Jewish cultural revival; a religious Jew who was friends with non-religious Jews; a Litvak who thought like a Hasid… Somehow Rav Kook took outlooks that feel like opposites in me and integrated them into a flawless whole. Sadly, his writings are very difficult, and the more controversial aspects were suppressed by his son and his chief student after his death to make him look more conventional. I do have a couple of recent books that either present his thought with explanations or paraphrase more complex teachings. But I feel like I need something more personal and more able to reach my core. I also feel that I don’t need a book, but a teacher I can have prolonged conversations with, maybe even be set tasks. I can speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes, but generally not for long and I don’t like to do it too often. I would be asking a lot of anyone to guide me the way I feel I need.
In a previous crisis of faith, about ten or fifteen years ago, I read books and articles by apologists, who tried to prove the existence of God, the veracity of the Torah and the integrity of the biblical record in various ways. I regard these attempts as mostly flawed if not nonsense now. These days I prefer what I might call “soft” apologetics, that stress Judaism as a system of meaning and a way of being part of a living three thousand year culture and history (as opposed to what I call “hard” apologetics that try to prove God etc.). The problem for me currently is that the “meaning and living” approach is tied up with ideas of community and family that I feel distanced from because of my situation (being single, not having a community I completely fit with) and my issues (depression, social anxiety, autism), as well as assuming a degree of joy and meaning in religious performance that I rarely experience because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure). It makes it very hard to keep going.
Online I came across an old debate from over ten years ago. One of the participants was someone then struggling with Orthodox Judaism who I used to encounter sometimes in various online fora. He could be very critical of Orthodox Jews, but once said that he felt that I was one of the few he knew who made him think that we aren’t all [rude word]. So now I feel that I’ve somehow let him down, let myself down and let down the Judaism I was modelling by slipping into despair and scepticism. Possibly this is me making everything about guilt and despair again.
It’s hard sometimes to be sure that I’m thinking my own thoughts, and not having someone else think them for me. I don’t mean in terms of psychosis, but in terms of originality, and resisting propaganda and indoctrination and even the subtle effects of peer pressure and language (not to mention the incongruous and hypocritical virtue signalling of woke multinational corporations… I don’t think Amazon are in a position to lecture anyone about ethics). This applies regarding culture, religion and politics. Especially politics at the moment.
I tried to do some practice library cataloguing to prepare for my job application test, as I hadn’t catalogued anything for nearly two years. I made some stupid mistakes initially, but I think I was OK after that, but I don’t have much confidence. I read the rubric for the test, and I think they are asking for a lot of related stuff I only vaguely remember from my MA course or can’t do easily without resources I don’t have in lockdown, like Library of Congress subject words, which I haven’t used since my MA. I would have to use the online version when I’m used to the hardcopy version. I was also taught how to catalogue with the new standard, RDA, but everywhere I have worked used the old standard, AACR2, so I can only vaguely remember RDA. They did say it was OK to use AACR2 if necessary, but I don’t know whether to try and risk failure or not. As I’ve said before, I’ve rather lost my confidence in my ability to catalogue and I don’t know how to get it back. I’m not sure there’s much point in practising any more. I need to jump in and do it.
I don’t know how long I spent on cataloguing. Probably not long if I took out the procrastination time involved. I also spent a bit of time on my novel (just under an hour writing over 600 words) and went for a half-hour walk again. I feel frustrated that the novel is going slowly, but it is going steadily. It’s hard to judge how long the first draft will take at this stage. I discovered today that I’ve been working on it for eleven months so far. Of course, there was a lengthy interruption when I concentrated on my non-fiction Doctor Who book. It does seem a long time though. I’m about half way through, maybe a bit more.
I had shiur (religious class) on Zoom again. It was difficult. I still struggle with the noise and changing pictures on group Zoom calls, and my usual social anxiety around speaking up is even worse when I need to unmute myself first. I had an autistic “I think they’re joking, but I’m not sure” moment too. The worst bit today was when the teacher thought I had answered a question, but it was someone else, but I couldn’t tell who. I’m not sure that I gave the credit to the right person. I started stimming (autistic self-soothing touch or movement), stroking my face and pressing my fingers in my desk cupboard door. I felt self-conscious about this, but also unable to stop. As autistic people will tell you, it is hard to consciously stop stimming especially if stressed. I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from the class either.
On the plus side, the handouts this week included useful lists of Hebrew abbreviations and key words. These are primarily intended for Rashi’s Torah commentary (the focus of the shiur), but I suspect will be useful for rabbinic literature in general, as key phrases are often abbreviated in all the Medieval commentaries, as well as in the Talmud. It can be very irritating if you don’t know what the abbreviation stands for.
Good things today: Ashes to Ashes series two so far is a lot better than series one, on a par with its predecessor Life on Mars; I don’t think I’ve put on weight during lockdown; and some how-to-write books I was waiting for arrived today, although I’m still waiting for one more. It is daunting to think of reading the writing books and then applying them to my own writing.