I was sorting a load of papers relating to weddings from the last fifty years or more at work today. I don’t want to say too much about what and why because I don’t want to say too much about where I work. But I looked at the ages of when people got married. In the recent paperwork, there were quite a lot of people about my age, although mostly a little younger than me. So I guess that’s a bit reassuring that I haven’t totally missed the boat. But the papers also listed occupations, and most people were settled into good careers before marriage. Lots of Jewish doctors and Jewish lawyers, of both sexes.

I suppose I’ll muddle my way through life somehow, but I fear it could involve muddling through lifelong singledom and loneliness as well as lifelong financial (not to mention emotional) dependence on my parents. I guess this is one of the reasons I don’t like the term “high functional autism,” because I don’t feel that I function well when I’m this dependent and lonely.

***

Intermittently during the day (not just when dealing with marriages), I remembered PIMOJ and feel sad, but I still feel like I did the right thing in breaking up.

***

A Jewish writer whose blog I follow wrote today about her remorse at unconsciously using a trope in one of her children’s novels that she now considers racist, the “white saviour” trope. This pushed back into the forefront of my mind some issues that I have with my work-in-progress novel. One is the lack of non-white characters. It is mostly set in the London Jewish community, which is very white, but there are more peripheral characters that could be non-white. There are one or two already, but I might change the backgrounds of some others when I redraft. The other problem, which I’ve struggled with from the early stages of writing, is working out how to structure the climax of my plot so that the male protagonist contributes something meaningful to the resolution of the female secondary character’s plot without it looking like she has no agency (not so much a white saviour as a male one). I’ve changed the plot back and forth struggling to resolve this. The dynamic of the story, which requires tying A and B plots together, is at odds with my desire to show a capable and self-sufficient female character. Possibly this is where I really need feedback from an objective editor.

***

This is a very old post that I came across and read, about consumption of secular media by frum (religious) women. My personal outlook is closest to Kochava’s in the comments section. Reading the other responses, I wasn’t surprised how many were very anti-secular media. I already knew that most frum people have a negative view of secular media, even if they sometimes watch/listen to it. But I guess it did drive home to me that my novel (and perhaps the future novels I’m already planning) won’t find much of a home in the Orthodox world. My novel is not PG-rated, with suicide attempts and marital rape, as well as other sexual discussion. PIMOJ, who I think had a conservative upbringing (although not what you might think) was shocked by it. She asked me if I would want it read out in the Heavenly court and I unhesitatingly said yes, because I think what I wrote is true and needed saying. People on the spectrum and with mental health issues do suffer in the frum community. There are men in the frum community who don’t understand sexual consent in marriage. These are problems that are not going to go away if we ignore them. (Also, Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) is really not PG-rated either.) But I worry that I’m in effect speaking to people outside the community, which isn’t terribly helpful.

I know, I need to get the book finished and published before I worry about this…

This is also part of the reason I struggle to integrate into frum society. Even in my current, moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, some people have TVs, although many don’t. But to obsess over a TV programme as I do after Doctor Who and other TV science fiction is not really considered normal (it’s not considered that normal in the secular world). I’ve written and self-published a non-fiction book about Doctor Who, which is taking things to an extreme. This is out of the realm of relaxation and into the realm of autistic special interests, which can be intense and personality-shaping.

I’m pretty sure that my fondness for science fiction is rooted in my autism. I watch “outer space” programmes like Star Trek and Babylon 5, but my real interest and autistic passion is for series like Doctor Who, The Prisoner or Twin Peaks, where we see a real world that is distorted by the bizarre. Similarly for prose authors like Kafka, Borges and Philip K Dick who push the boundaries of the real. Because of my autism, I experience the world in a way that is similar to the way that neurotypical people experience it, but with weird distorting twists that make it hard to understand or cope with, so naturally I’m drawn to fiction that works like that, albeit exaggerated to an extreme. But it’s hard to explain this to people who are anti-TV or anti-secular culture, or who admit it to unwind after a tough day, but think it’s not entirely right to watch it.

Perhaps it would be easier if I went to a Modern Orthodox community, but Modern Orthodoxy in the UK means the United Synagogue, where most people are not shomer Shabbat (keeping the Sabbath, a litmus test for religious observance) and the few who are religious probably have similar ideas about TV to the people in my current community. Possibly I’m exaggerating (autistic black and white thinking), but it’s how I felt when I went to a US shul.

***

More frum thoughts: I realised I have the following thoughts a lot: I did not go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) as most frum men do on their gap year; I am not integrated into the frum community; I am not married; I am a bad Jew. It occurs to me that I present them as true and causal: I did not go to yeshiva therefore I am not integrated into the frum community therefore I am not married therefore because of all three of these things I am a bad Jew. Yet I see now that the first three statements are not causal and may have nothing to do with each other. Even if I had gone to yeshiva, I might not have integrated into the community or got married. And the “bad Jew” statement is frankly question-begging.

Which is not to say that I don’t feel like a bad Jew right now, because I do, but for different reasons.

***

Speaking of yeshiva and Talmud study, I tried to do some Talmud study this evening, reviewing the class from Shabbat. I really struggled with it. It didn’t help that I was very tired; unfortunately, after work seems the best time for Talmud study at the moment, if I want to keep up with the weekly classes, which isn’t ideal.

***

Other than, it was a fairly dull day: not much to do at work. I went for a walk when I got home, having realised that usually when working I would walk home from the station, but J has been giving me a lift, so I haven’t been exercising as much. I want to make this a routine on work days, although doing that and Talmud study might prove tricky.

15 thoughts on “Thoughts of a Frum Writer/Geek

  1. You are involved, passionate about your religion and always striving to understand and follow its precepts; surely that doesn’t make you a bad Jew. The more you write about your novel, the more I believe that it has important messages that need to be shared with a wide variety of people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Re: being a bad Jew, I’m not good at prayer, religious study (especially Talmud) and acts of kindness, which are the main pillars of Judaism, plus there’s other stuff I do wrong, which is why I sometimes feel like a bad Jew.

      I hope my novel has important messages, although I’m not sure how well I have delivered them.

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    1. Most of the Talmud is in Aramaic, a language I don’t really understand. It’s similar to Hebrew, which helps a bit, but there are big differences too. It’s not really written in full sentences in the original, and there’s no punctuation (hadn’t been invented yet), so it’s hard to tell if something is a statement, a question, a sarcastic or rhetorical question… Yes, it’s hard! I do use a punctuated text with an English translation alongside, which helps. I have tried using the unpunctuated text in the past, but I don’t have the time/energy now.

      The traditional unpunctuated text looks like this. The Talmud text is in the middle, the bits around it are classic commentaries. The commentaries don’t help me much, as they usually aren’t translated and I can’t understand much of them (although they’re in rabbinic Hebrew rather than Aramaic).

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        1. I agree with Ashley. I tried a Daf Yomi shiur because all the cool observant Jewish feminists I knew were doing it (which is a stupid reason for doing things) and it killed me after a few minutes (I stayed to be polite, but got nothing out of it).

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  2. For goodness sake, I really hope you don’t go out of your way to pander to current obsessions with race and identity in your novel. If the community you are portraying is mainly white and Jewish, so what? I get a bit fed up with the constant efforts we see in the media to be inclusive. It is all so artificial, contrived and indeed it is also patronizing to the very groups it purports to attempt to include. I think it all depends on the reasons you do things. If you want to portray a strong female character because you want to show that women in your community have been stereotyped and misunderstood then that may be a good thing. But if it is to satisfy the current preoccupation with identity, patriarchy and feminism then I would question it.

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    1. Well, I do want my female character to be independent because of her own character and story. As for non-white characters, I admit it is partly because I worry that not including them will make it harder to find a publisher. It doesn’t take much effort to change it, so it seemed worth doing.

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  3. Are you familiar with Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt? She’s a frum journalist, rather than a novelist, but she writes a lot about various issues within the Orthodox world, for a mixed audience (and gets a lot of flak for it, unfortunately).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really hope the self-flagellation over white male savior tropes and the like in literature is not going to be permanent feature in fiction publishing. I’m with Chaconia that attempts to rectify this often seem even more contrived. No book can be everything to everybody nor is every book going to be the platform for solving injustice in the world.

    Re: secular media, I suspect that if that question were asked again now, in 2020/2021 with the pandemic and home school and whatever, a lot of those answers would be pretty different.

    I don’t think you’re a bad Jew. I hate that term “bad Jew” generally, but even setting that aside, I don’t think you are one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that the social justice approach can be carried too far, although I’m not in favour of causing offence needlessly especially if it can be fixed easily. I’m not sure it can in my novel, though, so I might leave it as it is.

      Ha, yes you’re probably right about the pandemic.

      I’m pleased you don’t think I’m a bad Jew, thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

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