I had an introspective Shabbat (Sabbath). On the way to shul (synagogue) on Friday afternoon, I was thinking about something Rabbi Lord Sacks said, about cultures of sight versus cultures of sound. He said that the West is a culture of sight. In English, all our ‘thought’ words are based on sight. We talk of hindsight, insight, foresight. When we understand, we say, “I see.” Judaism is a culture of sound. “Shema” (hear/listen) is a key word in Devarim (Deuteronomy) in particular. The Talmud introduces an argument by saying, “Come and hear.” If a rabbi rejects an argument, the Talmud says, “He couldn’t hear it.” Rabbi Sacks sees sight cultures as focused on exteriors and sound cultures as focused on interiors.
It occurred to me that the West is even more sight-focused than when Rabbi Sacks said that (I’m not sure when exactly but probably about fifteen years ago). We talk a lot about how people ‘present’, particularly regarding race and gender. If someone feels a book resonated with her experience, she says, “I felt seen.” If not, she says, “It erased me.” Even the idea that the best moral value is to “be the best you that you can be” seems somehow superficial in the absence of detailed introspection about who you actually are and especially whether there is an objective standard of morality, which it seems to more or less assume doesn’t exist.
This led to thoughts about feeling that the (Western popular) culture around me is very superficial and it’s no wonder I don’t connect with it, leading to wondering whether frum (religious) Jewish culture is any better, because it’s possible to pray, study Torah, perform mitzvot (commandments) and acts of kindness and so on and still be superficial. The Kotzker Rebbe said, “Someone who studies Torah and isn’t moved by it, who sins and forgives himself, who prays today because he prayed yesterday – a completely wicked person is better than him!” It is, however, hard to tell if people are being superficial without knowing them in detail. Non-superficial people, pretty much by definition, can’t be identified from the outside, only by the depths of their souls.
I wondered what authenticity really is. I used to think it was about depth, being passionately into something worthwhile, but I wondered if it was also about breadth, having a balanced outlook and many different interests. If being into one thing, however positive it is in the abstract, is ultimately limiting (e.g. the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) super-focus on Talmud study ahead of things like being economically self-sufficient and serving the country you live in).
There is a saying from the Greek poet Archilochus that, “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing.” I used to think ideal people were foxes (Renaissance men), then I thought that they were hedgehogs (Romantics); now I wonder if they need to be a bit of both. I don’t know where I fall, but I want to be a bit of both.
However, I wonder if this argument moves us away from authenticity. I’m still reading Rabbi Samuel Lebens’ The Principles of Judaism. Today I saw the quote (in the context of what he terms “Extreme Hassidic Idealism,” namely the belief that the universe is just an idea in the mind of God, an idea that he perhaps surprisingly argues forcefully in favour of), “If God tells you that you’re a figment of his imagination, what would your prayer be? “Make it non-fictionally true that I’m a poignant character is your dream,” or “within the story of your dream, give me health, wealth and happiness”? Lebens seems to think everyone would naturally go for the second option, but I really don’t see it (this is assuming that poignancy is related to authenticity, which may be a leap). I’m not saying that I wouldn’t go for that option in the end, but I would really have to think about it, maybe trying to fudge it by saying that I need the latter to be the former (which is basically how Jewish prayer works, where we ask for God to inspire us to be good, but also to give us wisdom, health, wealth, etc. because they make it easier to be good).
Or is poignancy not the same of authenticity either? Maybe authenticity is something instinctive, something that vanishes if you overthink it. I’m not sure. I feel I haven’t really come to a conclusion here, after spending a whole day thinking about this.
Other than this, Shabbat was normal, or “new normal” (i.e. normal from the pandemic onwards). The rabbi led Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and started a circle dance (or “dance,” as the layout of the crowded room and, to be honest, the average age of the congregation means that it’s a slow shuffle around the room in a shape that’s more of a square than a circle, but holding hands, which I don’t like). He tried to drag me into it, which I felt uncomfortable with on multiple levels. I feel he should respect my feelings not to join in, which are mostly autistic with a little COVID fear. But I also wish I could be “normal” and get something out of bonding with people that way and entering into the moment and the emotion (back to authenticity, I guess).
Other than that I didn’t do much: some Torah study, mostly Yehoshua (Joshua) and Rabbi Michael Hattin’s book on it, a little Talmud and more of The Principles of Judaism, which I’m really enjoying and finding meaningful even if I don’t understand all of it. I read a little of The Coming of the Third Reich, but not much, as I fell asleep last night, in my clothes, about 11.30pm. I woke up at 1.00am and quickly changed into pyjamas and went to bed. I felt drowsy after lunch today and drank coffee to stay awake, but I still slept for nearly two hours in the afternoon. I fear I won’t sleep tonight, and also that I’m getting too old to be able to eat a heavy meal without needing to sleep it off.
I saw an advert today for an event at the LSJS where one of the presenters is someone I was at university with. I didn’t know her well, but she’s obviously successful as a barrister (lawyer), from the advert, as well as presenting at an institution I only attend as a student.
I thought I was over these feelings of inadequacy, but obviously I’m not, even if I feel I have a sort-of exemption from achieving things now I know I’m on the spectrum. Although that doesn’t feel like a good sort of exemption, more like someone saying, “Luftmentsch is special” in a very patronising tone of voice.
Then I saw in the Jewish Chronicle that (Orthodox rabbi, social commentator, civil rights activist and writer (and former Hevrian, which is how I know him/know of him)) Rabbi Shais Rishon (also known by his nom de plume of Ma Nishtana) came out a while back as autistic and polyamorous. Leaving aside the polyamorousness, which is is really his own business , the autism claim inspires uncomfortable feelings. When I see people who are more competent and successful than me coming out as autistic, a whole load of thoughts go through my head. First, are they ‘really’ autistic? Have they been diagnosed professionally? I feel bad for even thinking this, because I know I should support people on the spectrum, or who are moving towards diagnosis, but this is the first thought that comes into my head, sadly. The reason for this is because after this thought, I have more uncomfortable thoughts. I wonder if I should be as successful as they are. Note the “shoulding” and the implication of being required to be successful if someone else with autism is successful, even though autism manifests itself in different ways in each individual. I think on some level I also wonder if people are going to be less understanding of my issues and say that I should be like the successful autistic person. Sad to say, the ‘ideal’ high functioning autistic person from my point of view still has considerable struggles — but not too many, to make me feel like I’m the one whose faking it and making excuses for being useless.
 Actually, reading stuff about other people’s successful sexuality makes me feel inadequate too. E thinks I’m strong for being thirty-eight and still a virgin, but I’ve never seen it that way, mostly because, one or two occasions aside, it wasn’t a conscious choice, but something forced on me. I probably would have decided this way if it was a choice, but I can’t be sure, but ideally I would have been married ages ago and it certainly wouldn’t apply. But I guess this is something that I just have to deal with.
One thing I do want to do, which I thought about before I saw all of this, is to start a non-anonymous blog on The Times of Israel and/or The Jewish Weekly (two linked Jewish newspapers, one Israeli (although English language) and one British, both with prominent user blog sections) for my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts), just to put them out there and see if anything results. It probably won’t, but it’s worth trying. I won’t do it for a few weeks, though, as the current weeks at the end of Shemot (Exodus) and the beginning of Vayikra (Leviticus) are very ritual-based and hard to connect with from a modern perspective. I don’t want to start and then get stuck for things to write for several weeks.
I picked up another book from the free book box, this time Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s history book, Jerusalem: A Biography. I feel at the moment I am buying and acquiring books far faster than I’m reading them. I feel particularly guilty about the free book box, as I haven’t really donated anything other than a rather grubby history book, but have picked up quite a few books. I feel I should donate some things that I’m unlikely to read.
Today was a hard day at work, lots of phoning. I phoned the utility company, multiple times, to sort out a problem with missing invoices, then phoned people who owe money to encourage payment, and although no one answered, I left messages that I hope were not too garbled. I find this draining. I also feel I have approached one task wrongly and am struggling to find a new approach because of autistic rigidity. On the other hand, it was late, I was tired and maybe I just wasn’t thinking straight.
It made me think about something I saw on the autism forum recently, about whether you want to cure your autism. A lot of people say they like their autistic traits. I tried, and largely failed, to find any autistic traits I have that I like or value. I am very trusting and ingenuous, which I like, although it’s dangerous as I don’t always realise when people are lying to me. I can see that some autistic frum (religious Jewish) people probably find autistic logic helps them to understand Talmud. It doesn’t work that way with me, but maybe my ability to draw connections between different Jewish texts is, on some level, an autistic pattern-identifying ability.
Is my integrity and search for personal authenticity an autistic trait? I think some autistic people would say yes, but I’m not at all convinced that neurotypical people have less integrity or authenticity.
That said, whether they are autistic traits or not, I do value my integrity and authenticity. I have quoted the following passage (from The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, p. 355-356) before, but it’s important to me, so I will quote it again:
Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…
By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.
Sometimes I feel I make trouble for myself by pursuing authenticity in this way. That I would like to feel heimish sometimes. It’s probably a spectrum. You can be Chabad, and do Chitas (study the Five Books of Moses, Psalms and the Tanya, the early modern mystical theology work by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi) every day, or you can be Chabad and go to a farbrengen (Hasidic gathering with songs, Torah thoughts, food and alcohol) every so often and get drunk. Who is to say which is more authentic or ‘better’?
I suppose this is how most Jews do what they do, daven (pray), learn (study Torah) and perform acts of chessed (kindness) without always asking themselves (as the Kotzker said) “Why? Why? Why am I doing this? Is it the best thing I could be doing? Am I doing it the right way?” Once you start down this road, you can’t stop, and maybe it’s just as well that most people don’t do this. But as Rabbi Rosen says, for some of us, it’s irresistible. Whether it comes from my autism or not, it is a trait I’m glad I have, even if it’s not always easy to cope with.
I have the Buridan’s Ass feeling of being caught between two writing projects. Strategically, the literary novel of character is probably the one to go for before the controversial satire, to build some kind of audience, and because it’s somewhat further ahead, but who knows which, if either, would be well-received? Anton Chekov said that medicine was his wife and literature his mistress and when he got bored of one, he went to the other. I’m not sure where that leaves me, with a part-time job, two unwritten embryo novels, one written-but-unpublished novel, various ongoing religious obligations and (last, but definitely not least) a long-distance relationship.
Of course, I have a written novel that I want to get published and today I got another rejection for that, so maybe I should prioritise getting that to lots of agents. Except that sending to agents isn’t fun, unlike thinking of ideas and writing.
A number of people on the autism forum seem to be struggling with constant fatigue and disturbed sleep (too much or too little), so I guess it’s not just me. Someone else on the forum sounded like me a few years ago, really lonely and wanting a girlfriend, but not knowing how to get one. I felt I should respond, but I didn’t know what to say, because the fact that I’m not still there is largely due to factors outside of my control, not things I can advise him to replicate. I guess his post also triggered my self-loathing, the feeling that I don’t deserve to be loved. When I went back to the site later to try to give some moral support, even if I couldn’t advise, the post seemed to have been deleted.
I am also getting a bit annoyed at the number of people on the forum who don’t choose a username and just stick with the serial number generated by the site when you join. It makes it hard to remember who is who when half the people just have a string of digits for a name. I understand why people might want anonymity (I think the site actually forbids the use of information that could identify you in real-life), but I prefer to talk to people, not numbers. It’s not that hard to think up a pseudonym.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was in the normal pattern for the last few months. I went to shul (synagogue) and got a bit overwhelmed by all the clapping and banging on tables. I’m sure it didn’t used to be this bad, but maybe it was easier to cope when the room was larger and more spaced, even though there were more people? That said, I think there has been objectively more clapping since we got a more Hasidishe rabbi about a year before COVID started. Before that, fewer people clapped and hit the tables, and they didn’t clap or hit as loudly.
I didn’t go to shiur (religious class) again, although I did quite a bit of Talmud study at home. My Talmud study is probably completely out of sync with the shiur by now. I’m not actually sure where they’re up to. I was ahead of them, but then I stopped for a few weeks when I went to America. But I’m trying to do one page (single side) every week or so, going over it three times, whereas they go through more slowly, looking at the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot, which I don’t tackle in the absence of a translation. I feel that I’m understanding it a little bit better than I was. That said, I had the insight a while back that Talmud study is not meant to teach you halakhah (Jewish law), but to teach you to think like a rabbi, to compare and analyse rabbinic sources and to learn how to connect orally-transmitted laws to the written Torah. I’m not sure that it’s working for me there, although I’m not sure how many people it does work for in that way.
I had trouble sleeping on Friday night and again on Saturday night, so maybe it is not just nights before work where I have trouble sleeping. I wonder if it might be related to my medication reduction, but I think it was happening before then.
Today did not start well: I overslept, slept through my phone ringing, which turned out to be a work-related phone call (which I wouldn’t have had the answer to anyway) and woke with some anxiety (albeit fairly mild). On Friday I had a burst of creativity, of ideas for a potential satirical novel (see below). This flood of inspiration started before Shabbat and continued into Shabbat, although I was trying not to think about it then, as it wasn’t appropriate. I wrote down a lot of ideas last night and laid out some kind of rudimentary plot outline. I wonder if this exhaustion is a consequence of that creativity? Usually I associate exhaustion with actually doing something, not just thinking about it, but it’s hard to see what else it could be.
I emailed the occupational therapist I saw a number of years ago to see if she can recommend someone who can work with me on fatigue management and maybe thinking about why I make so many mistakes at work. I did a quick online search and there are OTs out there in London who work with people with Asperger’s/high functioning autism, although I’m not sure how many work with adults.
I had an idea for satirical novel recently. On Friday (and to a lesser extent over the whole weekend), I had a burst of inspiration about it. I don’t intend to work on it right now, but perhaps as the next project, although I will continue to note ideas and maybe to slowly evolve plot and characters.
I am terrified of being ‘cancelled’ because of it as, while it satirises many things, it focuses on ‘wokeness’ and performative forms of politicised morality. Although it is more likely that I would simply not find an agent or a publisher who will touch it, as the publishing industry is very woke. E asked me if I would rather be cancelled or never do anything worth being cancelled for. I guess that makes sense. I would rather be cancelled than censor myself.
What I really wanted to do was just not to write about politics and fly under the radar, but obviously my unconscious disagreed. Orwell wrote that writers have to be honest, and not swayed by public opinion, political expediency or state censorship, which I guess is true, but the thought of losing friends upsets me more. I don’t mind having friends with different political outlooks, but I fear some of my friends wouldn’t want to associate with me if they knew some of my thoughts, which aren’t even particularly extreme, but the world is so polarised that even slight deviations are punishable. I feel the world divides at the moment into those who take offence at everything and those who vanish to avoid saying anything controversial. I don’t want to take offence at everything, but I am beginning to feel that vanishing is not much fun either, even if it’s my instinct.
I don’t really see myself as a satirist or a polemicist, and my impulse is to run away from controversy. But maybe that’s why part of me is pushing me towards this. Like wanting to go bungee jumping or skydiving. Live dangerously, not something I’ve ever done until now. And it does trouble me that not only does our society no longer have any shared values, we can’t even agree on basic facts any more. Where would you even go to find impartial facts? Not the supposedly-impartial BBC, nor the self-proclaimed fact checkers (who fact checks the fact checkers?). It’s troubling. How can a society function when there are two (or more) different sets of basic facts? And maybe neither are correct. It’s not that one group is saying 2+2=4 and the other says 2+2=5. It’s more like one group says 2+2=5 and the other says 2+2= the square root of infinity.
I struggled to sleep last night, despite being exhausted. There’s definitely something about work nights at the moment that stops me sleeping. Am I unconsciously anxious?
I did get some sleep, more than on Sunday night, which was good, as I was in the office by myself most of the morning and had to do the Very Scary Task. This is becoming marginally less scary with time, but I still spent much of the day in a state of anxiety, and worried that one person I have to deal with is always annoyed with me. He doesn’t get angry, but patiently explains that he’s busy, or I’m not prepared properly, or whatever it is, which in some ways is more upsetting.
Yesterday I mentioned in a comment that in the years when my mental health was bad, I felt that all my problems would somehow resolve themselves at once, like falling dominoes, or not at all. The reality, of course, is that they do not resolve themselves all at once. The psychiatrist and psychotherapist Robin Skynner said that changing your life is like steering an oil tanker: you pull the steering wheel down as far as it will go and twenty minutes later it moves slightly to the right (I’m not sure if the metaphor was original to him).
My last year and a bit has been good. I got a job, got an autism diagnosis, broke up with someone who wasn’t right for me (and recognised that she wasn’t right for me first), got back together with E, got engaged to E and had my job made permanent. That’s quite a lot for about sixteen months. Yet somehow I want things to happen even faster. I doubt I could cope if they did go any faster.
I read a scary article about sensitivity readers today. If I hadn’t been at work, I would have ranted about it, but I was at work, and now I’m too tired, so no rant, and no lengthy quotations from Orwell about the totalitarian dangers of trying to recreate society on the basis of Rationality or Love. Certainly sensitivity readers come from the good place of wanting not to offend or stereotype people, but inevitably the people who volunteer for this type of work are likely to be people who value holding the right political opinions ahead of literary quality, and who have the mindset of approaching a text looking for all the ways they could find it offensive (and the hermeneutic of suspicion means that everything can be deemed offensive if you only look hard enough).
I get annoyed at the way Jews are presented in fiction, yet I’ve seen other Jews be trigger-happy, in my opinion, about finding offence in the presentation of Jews too. It’s a tightrope to walk and I can see that some writers want some help. And writers have always done research, asked people who have “lived experience” (I have mixed feelings about that phrase) for advice before applying their imagination to their research, with the caveat that no one person’s lived experience can speak for an entire community. The problem is when the tail wags the dog and the sensitivity reader starts making literary decisions.
I worry that my writing (the novel I’ve written and the ones I want to write) would fail the sensitivity reader test that might be applied to it if I find a publisher. I do not represent all Jews, or all autistic people, or all autistic Jews. That is, I would say, one of the main strengths of my novel: it is atypical. There is a saying in the autistic community that, “If you’ve met one autistic person, then you’ve met one autistic person.” Doubtless we could extend that to one black person, one lesbian, one transwoman and so on. No individual can speak for an entire community, and thinking they can is just another form of stereotyping.
I wrote about abuse without having been abused, from having listened to abuse survivors and read their accounts. Nevertheless, there was one element in that part of the story that I was concerned about, but kept in because I felt the plot development needed it. I’m pretty sure a sensitivity reader like the ones in the article would pick up on it as a negative trope and tell me to remove it, but I would only do that if I could think of a better way to achieve that plot development instead (I can’t), otherwise the book would suffer a literary deficit. Novels must function as novels and not just as a window into the life of another person, important though that is.
Given the type of stories I want to write, I find the notion of sensitivity readers troubling. David posted recently about being accused of antisemitism in his writing, even though he’s Jewish, and proudly so. Once we go down the route of inspecting everything forensically before publication, that’s where we’ll all end up. I could definitely see people seeing the books I want to write as somehow antisemitic, not to mention anti-many other things. It’s a product of wanting to tell bold stories about unusual people, to write things that have a unique identity and are not bland, inoffensive waffle. That’s before we even get into my identity as someone who is an Orthodox Jew, a Zionist and a small-c conservative (Sammy Davies Jr. used to talk about his multiple identity as a black person, a Puerto Rican and a Jew: “When I move into an area, I bury it!” I suspect my multiple identity would cause sensitivity readers to want to bury me, even before they read a word I have written). If nothing else, it seems like another major obstacle to get over to get my writing published and read.
We went out for dinner last night: me, my parents, my uncle (who was staying with us) and my sister and brother-in-law. Just before we left the house, the lights went out. We quickly ascertained that the whole road had lost power (actually, some of it hadn’t, weirdly, including the street lamp in front of the house, but most of it had). By the time we got to the restaurant, we realised that the whole area was out of power, including the restaurant, so we quickly made a reservation at the restaurant’s sister restaurant a couple of miles away. We had a good dinner, but, as usual, I spaced out at times, and lost my ability to concentrate properly before the end.
When we got home the power was back, which was good, as it turned out I couldn’t sleep, so I needed power to watch DVDs to try to unwind and to make hot chocolate. I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep. I probably needed more downtime to transition from peopling to sleep, but it could also have been caused by caffeine (I had a diet coke at the restaurant) or my recent work night insomnia or coming off olanzapine.
In the end I got two or three hours of sleep and somehow survived through a day of work today, although I fear I made even more mistakes than usual. I decided not to stay for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) at the shul (synagogue), as I wanted to leave early, but J ended up staying later than usual and I didn’t want to ask to leave before him, so the benefit was fairly marginal. I got tired and very bored at work, but not really depressed, which is good, given my medication-reduction situation.
Speaking of work mistakes, I did post on an autism forum the other day about tips for managing executive function issues. I didn’t get many answers and I’m not sure how feasible the ones I did get are in my situation, other than write checklists, which I do, and still forget things.
I feel I need to say that I’m in love with E, as some blog readers apparently thought I was marrying her out of obligation or purely to have children. I would not advise anyone to do either of these two things. I’m not sure if I need to say this, but, just to reassure anyone else who is wondering, our relationship is built on a mixture of mutual love and care, trust, acceptance, shared values and outlooks, and chemistry/physical attraction. And joint Doctor Who viewing. But I’m not going to say more than that, as it’s private between the two of us.
I participated in a Zoom call from my shul about our proposed new premises. It was quite a lot of doom and gloom, and then a sort-of positive ending. It looks like I’ll have to stop going to my shul in a month or two’s time, as we’re losing our current premises without having any replacement until the autumn. Various alternative options are being considered, but I’m not sure any are ideal for someone with autistic overload and social anxiety issues. Then in six months, they hope to start using new premises. People are excited about this, but I feel like I am halfway out the community already and it isn’t a time for new beginnings. I need to decide if I want to stay a member for now (probably, for complicated reasons to do with the burial scheme).
As it’s clear that my current shul isn’t the right one for E, even if we live in this area, which is not likely, it does seem to accelerate my departure. I guess I’ll have to go to my parents’ shul in the meantime, which is not ideal, but I guess will get me used to going to a United Synagogue shul again
(too much talking, too much cantorial and choral music).
I couldn’t sleep again last night. I’m not quite sure why I seem to get insomnia on work nights, and only on work nights. I know I find my work a bit dull and sometimes social anxiety-provoking, but I thought I was mostly OK with that. Maybe not. I need to stick with it either way.
Unfortunately, not only did insomnia make me oversleep this morning (after a weird dream), but there were Tube delays. I actually only got to work about ten minutes late in the end, but the trip was more stressful, and more crowded, than usual, really crowded like pre-COVID days.
 Humans grew from eggs. Most people kept theirs in an incubator, but some people insisted on sitting on them to keep them warm the natural way. I suspect most science fiction writers using this premise would treat this as an attack on religion or tradition (“This is what we have always done! It is God’s way!”), but my brain had it as a satire on middle-class organic food obsessives (“Of course, when Tabitha was an egg, I sat on her myself, I wouldn’t trust her to one of those ghastly incubators! I wanted her birth to be completely natural!”).
I’m still making mistakes at work, usually when I’m supposed to enter data on multiple databases and spreadsheets at once and I forget to enter all of it. Suspecting that it’s an autistic executive function/multitasking thing doesn’t make me feel much better about it. I’m honestly surprised J hasn’t got annoyed with me about it. It reminds me of my librarian job in further education, where my boss was open about thinking that I was making too many mistakes and not learning fast enough. At the time, I didn’t have my autism diagnosis to rely on.
I did lead Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) at work. I got fed up of all the “You lead,” “No, you lead” arguments. Ma’ariv is easier than Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) as there’s less that has to be read aloud. Standing on the bimah (platform where the prayer leader stands), the whole shul seemed suddenly quiet, no one saying amen or other responses. I don’t know if I’ll lead it again soon. The service is starting at 4.15pm next week and I might have gone home before then to try to challenge my social anxiety by leading the service again. I did shake. Not as much as I feared I would, but enough that most of my concentration was going on not shaking and not on the meaning of the Hebrew words I was saying. Coming off the olanzapine might help reduce the tremor.
Despite all this, my mood was mostly OK today, despite being on a reduced dose of olanzapine. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Trudging around the Tube this morning, feeling crowded and uncomfortable, I had an idea for a flash fiction story, so here goes:
Another Quiet Day at the Office
With a whoosh of hydraulics, the door opened, light flooding into the dingy room. A tall woman entered. She would be described as elegant, were it not for the workaday dull yellow uniform she wore with the red pips that marked the rank of Supervisor. She glanced around the room, computer screens ranged against the walls, all unwatched, except for one. There was a man slumped in front of it. She walked over to him and looked at the screen. Men in green uniforms and metal helmets ran through surf and onto a beach, many dropping to lie motionless on the floor, with more men rushing to replace them.
“You’re watching World War II again!” the Supervisor exclaimed.
The man looked up, did a double-take and bolted out of his seat into an ‘attention’ pose.
“At ease,” the woman said, resignedly. “This isn’t the temporal period you are supposed to be monitoring.”
“It’s getting to the really good bit, when the Allies land in Normandy” the man said enthusiastically, ignoring the rebuke.
“I always lose attention after ‘We shall fight them on the beaches,’” said the Supervisor. “What are you supposed to be monitoring?”
“Fifteenth century, ma’am. The Wars of the Roses. Very dull and confusing. Too many Henrys and Edwards.”
The Supervisor thought about this for a moment and appeared to agree, returning the conversation to the previous subject.
“I never bought the ending of World War II. Hitler killing himself was too convenient. There should have been a climactic shoot-out in the Führerbunker.”
“Suggest a temporal manipulation to Control. You’re high ranking enough,” he said.
“I wouldn’t suggest anything so frivolous. Besides, I’m not really interested in recorded history. I prefer monitoring pre-history.”
“Cadet 7629 said you once suggested a temporal manipulation to prevent the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs from hitting the Earth. She said that you thought the resulting timeline would see the evolution of intelligent lizard-people, more perceptive and humane than mankind.”
“Cadet Ophie should watch her mouth if she doesn’t want to be assigned to watching micro-organisms in the Precambrian for the rest of her tour of duty,” said the woman, but the man saw her blush and knew Ophie was right. Well, even officers were allowed their pet obsessions. But within limits. All these years later (if ‘years’ had meaning in this monitoring station outside of time and space) Control were still searching for whoever it was who suggested letting violent bipedal apes rise to the top of this planet’s pecking order. Perhaps the dinosaur-people would have been better masters of Earth after all…
This story wasn’t an intended as a riff on Doctor Who’s Time Lords and Silurians, but somehow it ended up that way. Maybe the ‘humans from eggs’ dream had something to do with it.
That’s a life update that is brief, not an update to a life that is brief. (Reminds me of an anecdote I heard about the Jewish law code called the Chayei Adam (Life of Man). Why did it get this strange name? (Admittedly many pre-modern rabbinic texts have strange names, often puns or quotes based on the author’s name.) Because the author knew a previous law code, the Shulchan Aruch (Prepared Table) was republished in an edited form, as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Shorter Prepared Table). He didn’t want an edited version of his law code published, so he thought that no one would publish a book called the Kitzur Chayei Adam (Shorter Life of Man). However, they did still publish an edited version, just with a different name.)
Earlier I was going to complain about my life feeling stuck, but then suddenly a bunch of things happened today! Unfortunately, it’s only the least interesting ones I can share for now…
My parents managed to get me a phone appointment with the doctor today about my exhaustion. We’ve agreed to reduce and then stop the olanzapine (one of three psych meds I’m on, all of which can cause tiredness) and to do some blood tests to check vitamin levels and the like. Annoyingly, I had one of my regular lithium blood tests yesterday; I would have waited if I had known. I’m hoping coming off some of meds is helpful regarding exhaustion, although I suspect at least some of the exhaustion is autistic fatigue (the doctor didn’t comment when I mentioned that). I’m not sure how long it will take to come off the olanzapine. The doctor said take a lower dose of olanzapine for a couple of weeks, then stop entirely, assuming the depression doesn’t come back, but that will be around the time my parents are hoping to be away, and that’s often a time when I feel lonely and depressed, so maybe not the best time for a medication change.
I heard from the Benefits Centre too. The money I was getting wasn’t a mistake. Some people are eligible for more than a year’s worth of benefits and I was classed as vulnerable and so permitted to keep getting benefits even though I was earning over the usual limit. I wish they had made this clearer. My benefits have been suspended now, pending my sending them more information about my earnings over the last fifteen months or so, and I suspect it won’t be restarted now I’m working.
I’m going to try not to write so much detail about my daily activities, to be less focused on what I’m doing and try to be less fixated on Doing Things. I will say that I did some work on my novel today, still at the planning stage. I’m wondering if it’s realistic to finish researching and planning my novel by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in about eight months time. I’m not sure.
One thing I have been thinking about today is the concept of teshuvah in Judaism. This is usually translated as ‘repentance’, but in fact means ‘return’, meaning returning to God or returning to one’s true self. However, it occurred to me some time ago that it has an additional meaning of ‘answer’, meaning the answer we give to God.
Teshuvah is important to me. It used to be that Jews would do all mitzvot (commandments) on a basic level, and focus on one that spoke to them on a deep personal level that they would ‘beautify’ and that would be a key part of the their relationship with God. This idea has fallen out of favour and been replaced with trying to super-focus on everything. Be that as it may, I suspect that teshuvah in the sense of return or growth is ‘my’ mitzvah.
Maybe I’ve been too focused in the past on the idea of teshuvah as return to some kind of impossible level of perfection of the soul or a perfect relationship with God. Maybe I should focus on finding my ‘answer’ to God’s question about who I am, which at the moment would involve writing (fiction and divrei Torah (Torah thoughts)) and building a life with E; less so pressuring myself to work more, go to shul (synagogue) and so on. It’s something to think about anyway (and, yes, I know it’s completely the wrong time of year for thinking about teshuvah).
Suzanne left this comment on one of my posts a few days ago, and it made me think:
It just struck me that you seem to to need to each end day feeling it was an action-packed day. Not just a day in which you you accomplished something. But a day for which every waking minute involved something meaningful on your part.
It’s true that I do feel pressure to make my time count. Maybe not every hour, and certainly not every minute, but at least every day. I don’t know how much is Judaism, which stresses the idea of having a mission on earth and not wasting time and how much is a bourgeois sense that time is money, or at least that it’s valuable. It also occurred to me that my experience of CBT might play a part, as it has pushed me down the route for years or even decades of recording and monitoring my activity every day, something that I might try to stop for a bit. And I want to move to a position where I can work more for when E and I get married, so that also pushes me down the route of focusing on squeezing out more productivity.
I do feel that most of my peers are working thirty-five hours or more a week and many have families; the frum (religious) ones are balancing prayer, religious study and other communal and religious commitments. I don’t even work full-time. I work two days a week, and those days are still a little short. So I feel that I need to do more. I do manage to do several things a day, but what I manage to do is mostly three or four hours of stuff, not what a full-time worker with three kids and shul (synagogue) roles would do.
I need to find balance in my life, and that, without any sudden changes in my medication and energy levels, that’s going to have to involve cutting back some activities to allow more time for others. And while internet procrastination is something I would like to cut back a lot, other, more productive activities will probably be cut back too, as procrastination has a habit of creeping in when not wanted. I would like to find more time for fiction writing and novel agent-hunting, both of which I have sorely neglected over the last six months or so, but also to ensure that I relax properly each day. Yesterday I did a few things (sorting papers, Torah study, 5K run), but I did not relax much and when I went to bed I could not sleep despite feeling exhausted. I had to watch an episode of The Simpsons before I could sleep.
I also have a focus on constantly monitoring how near I’m getting to the end of books or TV programmes, and worrying about my To Read list which is probably all unhealthy.
One thing I might stop doing is my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation. Judaism has three obligatory (for men) set prayer services a day, reading prayers and biblical passages in Hebrew, but for years I have also been doing hitbodedut, which is speaking to God spontaneously in the vernacular. It was important for me in the past, but lately I can’t connect at all through it, whereas my kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration’, but I prefer ‘mindfulness’) in the set prayers has been somewhat better, so I might focus on those.
I feel like I want to try to cut away some of the deadwood in my life and move forward.
J tested positive for COVID today. After he told me, I tested myself and I’m still negative, but tomorrow I’ll be going to work by myself really for the first time in this job (J will email me work to do) and I am somewhat nervous about that, particularly if I have to do the Very Scary Task again. I’ve worked from home without J a couple of times, but that was somewhat more limited (although I did the VST, so not so limited).
I finished sorting those papers. I feel a lot more organised now. I always knew where my paperwork was, but it would have been harder to locate the exact paper I wanted and the folders were overfilled with out of date papers, particularly bank statements from ten or even twenty years ago. But a lot of it is psychological, seeing neatly-organised folders rather than ones bursting at the seams. I do now have a huge pile of paper to shred, but that’s a relatively easy job I can do over a number of days.
The other thing I did today was go for a run, but my pace was poor, with lots of walking. I have hardly run this year and it shows.
I have a lot of other things I would like to blog about, but it’s late and I’m very tired. Maybe later in the week…
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty normal (for me, by recent standards). I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday, but not Saturday, and tried not to beat myself up about this. I got pretty overwhelmed (sensory overload) at shul on Friday and stayed that way through dinner. Mum and Dad were mostly talking about friends of theirs who I don’t really know so I didn’t join in the conversation and just felt uncomfortable from the overload. I fell asleep for an hour after dinner, which was not good, but was probably an inevitable reaction to the overload.
After Shabbat I helped my parents prepare for an annual online supper quiz for charity that they are hosting. Different houses host people and they send their answers in online. I have participated in the past, but, to stop people googling the answers, most of the questions are ‘mind-bender’ type puzzles that I’m not very good at and don’t enjoy, rather than the general knowledge questions that I am good at (my parents want me to go on the quiz show The Chase). I did at least manage to answer one question no one else could answer.
Instead, I listened to The Beatles (the Magical Mystery Tour quasi-album) and sorted through a lot of bank papers, work papers and other papers I needed to sort through. I thought it would take hours and hours, but fortunately it took about an hour and half to get through a fair chunk of it. I’ve still got one bulging folder to sort through, and a big pile of old bank statements and the like to shred. I did a bit of Torah study too, and a tiny bit of novel research, so I guess it was a busy evening. I hope I haven’t overdone things. I should go to bed, as it’s nearly 1am. I feel asleep after lunch, as well as sleeping late in the morning, which is probably why I don’t feel too tired.
I have Your Mother Should Know and Baby You’re a Rich Man by The Beatles stuck in my head now from the Magical Mystery Tour listening.
Lately I’ve started reading a couple of interesting Jewish books. The Principles of Judaism by (Rabbi Dr) Sam Lebens is an attempt to formulate the core doctrines of Orthodox Judaism according to the principles of analytical philosophy. He’s not proving Orthodox Judaism, but trying to show if Orthodox Judaism is correct, then what should its doctrines look like (he does apparently have a work in progress book for a more popular audience about why one might choose to be an Orthodox Jew).
I’m much more familiar with ‘Continental’ philosophers rather than ‘Anglo-American’ analytical ones, particularly regarding theology (e.g. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emmanuel Levinas). The difference is bracing. I’m struggling at times, but I like the idea of testing each step in the chain of logic; I get fed up with philosophy that just seems to assert stuff (this was the problem I had with Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption, although most of the time I couldn’t even work out what he was asserting; strangely, I ended up stealing his surname for the main character of my first novel, I don’t remember why).
(Full disclosure: back in 2020, when this book came out, I did ‘go’ to a Zoom lecture where Lebens spoke about the book, and he gave a discount code to attendees, which reduced the significant price tag a bit, although it was still an expensive buy, hence my procrastinating about getting it for eighteen months.)
The other book I’ve been reading, fiction this time, is The Idiom and the Oddity by Sam Benito, or “Sam Benito” as it is apparently a pseudonym for a (so far) anonymous Haredi Rosh Yeshivah (ultra-Orthodox rabbinical seminary principal). It’s a coming of age novel in 1950s Jewish Brooklyn, which is not unusual, but it’s also a becoming frum (religious Jewish) novel, which is unusual. I’m just over halfway through. The first half was mostly about the narrator’s non-frum upbringing and relatives, so I’m only just getting to the yeshivah bits.
So far it’s been interesting, but hard to get through, partly because it needs a good proof-edit. It seems to be self-published, which explains it. Commas are a particular problem, perhaps because of the lack of punctuation in the traditional Talmud page. It also has a dense web of references to the canon of Western literature and complex wordplay in the narration, which also makes it heavy-going in places. I also struggle with the use of baseball as a master-metaphor for so much of the story. I know almost nothing about baseball! It’s very clever, perhaps too much so. I am enjoying it, but it’s not an easy read despite the short length (well, short-page count. The narrow margins, another sign of self-publication, probably means that it’s longer than it looks).
Work was difficult today, comparing data from a database with a spreadsheet and trying to find the discrepancy, which inevitably was something I did wrong. To be fair, I knew it was wrong at the time and tried to rectify it, but the system messed up the rectification. Then I struggled with another problem with a different database later, not my fault this time.
I nearly led services in shul (synagogue). I’m getting closer to doing it, but I’m still too scared of being too slow, and also of not starting the communal repetition of the Amidah prayer as soon as I’ve finished the private prayer, but waiting until I can see that nine other people have finished as required by halakhah (Jewish law). This, I suspect, will not be popular, because it also slows things down.
Perhaps because of this, on the way home, when I saw that the local charity shop was still selling books (I thought they had stopped), I went in “Just to look” and ended up with a couple of books by science fiction author Olaf Stapledon, one of those authors I’ve always meant to read and never quite got around to it. This is why I have so many books that I haven’t read, and no shelf space…
I was physically exhausted by yesterday evening and cut down a lot of my evening activities. I had written my devar Torah (Torah thought) during the day, but planned to do some additional Torah study too, but I largely cut that out, as I largely cut out my hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation). I read for a short while and went to bed, but, although tired, I could not sleep. I knew it was because I had not really relaxed before bed. I got up, drank some hot chocolate, and watched The Twilight Zone (which was really not the best thing to watch). After that, I felt relaxed enough to go back to bed and sleep.
I dislike the fact that I tire so easily, and that I need so much relaxation time, as distinct from other activities that are, on some level, or seem to others, to be ‘me’ time, like prayer and Torah study. My parents and E have always been understanding about this, but I feel like somehow Torah study (etc.) should be enough for me, when necessary, without additional relaxation time. When really exhausted, just going to bed feels like it should be enough, but it isn’t.
I woke up about 10am today, which was late, but earlier than yesterday. Even so I lay in bed for forty-five minutes, until the Tesco delivery came and I went to help with that. Afterwards I felt ill until I had breakfast. I’m not sure if it was lack of food or drink that made me feel ill or just running around on an empty stomach. I’m not really getting the ‘headrush’ feeling that I was getting sometimes before my trip, but walking up three flights of stairs while wearing a mask to get to my apartment and to E’s apartment while I was in New York did make me feel ill too. I probably should see a doctor about this, and to see if I can reduce my medication to try to increase my energy levels (and lose weight). I am scared to do this, as in the past trying to come of medication has always led rapidly to severe depression, but I do think I’m in a better place right now than I have been since I was sixteen or so.
I spent an hour or so chasing a reference from something I’d seen years ago by Rabbi Lord Sacks for my devar Torah. I couldn’t find it, although I’m pretty sure it exists somewhere, as I doubt I would have made the quote up and I can’t imagine anyone else saying it. I will use the idea in my devar Torah and just note that I can’t locate the exact reference, as I don’t have time to write another one. I possibly do worry too much about finding references for these divrei Torah; it’s not like they’re being published professionally. I did find a somewhat relevant quote that helps a bit. Skimming through a lot of lectures and articles by Rabbi Sacks was at least a worthwhile revision session, and a reminder of how quietly radical his theology was.
Holiday: Tuesday 25 January
I woke up totally ‘out of spoons’ (autistically exhausted). I went to E’s apartment and slowly drank some coffee (remember I wasn’t making coffee or tea in my apartment as I was scared of breaking the fancy copper gas stove kettle). By this day E and I were feeling pretty museumed out and masked out and aware we had spent a lot of time masked indoors in the last week.
We decided to go for a walk on the Lower East Side instead of going to another museum, spending the afternoon walking around Chinatown and Little Italy. It was very interesting and different to London. We went to a kosher pickle restaurant — all the food they sell is pickle-related. It was a bit weird, but good. I would go again, if I was in that area! Although kosher, it’s not in a particularly Jewish area, so we think it must be aimed more at a general hipster market, being located in an area that is gentrifying.
In the evening I filled in the passenger locator form that I was supposed to fill in for my flight home the next day. This turned out to be total nightmare, fiddly to complete on my phone (I have fat fingers and should have asked to borrow E’s laptop) and crashing when I was nearly finished. Nor was this the only trouble I was to have with it…
We went for falafel again afterwards.
Wednesday 26 January
We had intended to go back to the Met Museum on this day, to fill in the time before my night flight home. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Met is currently shut on Wednesdays because of COVID (?!). There wasn’t really time to go anywhere else, so we sat in E’s apartment and read. E read the Doctor Who novelisation I bought earlier in the week while I read Drama Queen, an autism memoir E thought I might want to read. The book was familiar from other autism memoirs that I’ve read, but a few things resonated, particularly the difficulties of coping in a busy work environment, also familiar from my own work life. I did appreciate the description of life as being like walking on a treadmill and autistic life as being walking on a treadmill going much faster than a neurotypical person’s treadmill, resulting in the autistic person having to walk or run much faster just to stay in the same place, and incomprehension from the neurotypical person at why the autistic person is getting so tired.
As my flight was a night flight, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get dinner, or when, so we went for a couple of slices of pizza mid-afternoon, then on to the airport, avoiding a dog who barked repeatedly and aggressively at me as his owner tried to drag him down the pavement and away from me. At the airport, I had trouble getting my passenger locator form to open properly, perhaps connected with the fact that I don’t usually access email on my phone, as I use a not-terribly good webmail interface. The person trying to check my form fiddled with the phone, then she gave it to someone else and eventually sent me to the website for filling in the form, where I remembered the correct password (not easy, as the problems with it the previous night had led to me setting up two different passwords on two different sites, and I wasn’t sure which was which).
I checked in and was facing a long wait, as I had arrived very early. The long wait was extended, as it slowly became clear that the plane was being delayed as a previous flight had been cancelled for technical reasons and those passengers were going to be flown on our flight (I’m guess both flights were well below capacity) as this was the last one to the UK that day. I tried to sit calmly, not get agitated, and practise patience and acceptance, knowing I couldn’t make the wait any shorter by worrying or getting angry. We eventually boarded, and left two hours late, around midnight EST. I had an empty seat next to me again despite the extra passengers, for which I was grateful. I read Talmudic Images and Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon and watched The Simpsons. I feel I probably read or watched other things too, but I can’t remember what. I didn’t sleep, as I can’t sleep on planes. EDIT: I do remember what I did, I listened to The Kinks’ greatest hits. I think The Beatles were a better band than The Kinks, but The Kinks say “The Sixties” to me in a way that The Beatles don’t. Also, The Kinks’ music is much better at wry social observation. Kinks songs like Summer Afternoon, Plastic Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and A Well-Respected Man are neat portraits of social ‘types.’ We made up some lost time and landed one hour late rather than two hours.
And that was that. I eventually found the right door out of the airport to meet my parents and they brought me home. I tried to beat jetlag by staying awake despite not having slept the night before, but failed and slept for an hour and a half in the afternoon.
I enjoyed the trip a lot, although I’m not sure if I would stay in an Airbnb again. It did have some advantages over a hotel from a kosher/Shabbat point of view and a price point of view, but there were also disadvantages and there probably was a degree of luck/Providence in things turning out OK at several points. I would like to spend more time in the Met Museum at some point, as well as some of the museums I didn’t get to see, but preferably without wearing a mask.
I think I did too much yesterday, between work, an hour or so of Torah study (about half after I got home from work rather than on the train in to work), dinner with my parents and doing a load of holiday-related banking stuff. I only got half an hour or so to relax, excluding reading at lunch at work and on the Tube home (which is not entirely relaxing), watching an episode of The Twilight Zone (Ninety Years Without Slumbering, not the best, but not the worst either). Today I was exhausted and didn’t get up until after 1pm, much to my father’s exasperation.
I felt somewhat depressed all day. Some of it was probably autistic exhaustion. Even so, there is so much wrong with the world that I can’t do anything about (Ukraine, the genocide of the Uyghurs, the incompetence of our political class…). It’s easy to get fixated on that.
I also had another novel rejection. There isn’t much more to say about that.
In terms of what I did achieve, I wrote to the JobCentre about my benefits again. I think these should have been stopped ages ago because (A) they were only supposed to last a year; (B) I am now working and earning more than the permitted amount; and (C) my diagnosis has changed, and while I still experience the same difficulties with energy, concentration and motivation in the workplace, I think autism, unlike depression, is (wrongly) not considered a genuine impairment to working. I know it’s silly to look for trouble if they’re still willing to give me free money, but I worry about being arrested for benefit fraud, or at least about being made to pay money back (for all that the amount I receive is pretty small).
It was a struggle finding the paper trail, though. I think of myself as an organised person, but I increasingly realise that I’m not, and that my filing for important papers (savings, work, tax, benefits etc.) need a serious overhaul. It still has the semblance of order, but has grown out of hand through lack of attention. I keep far too much stuff, a problem I had as a librarian too. I ought to sort it before getting married, but it just feels like Yet Another Thing to do alongside work, submitting my novel, researching/writing my second novel, learning to drive, keeping up with household chores, Torah study, relaxation (which I’m beginning to accept I need to take more seriously if I’m going to live with autism) and so on.
In an attempt to find fat to trim, I’m trying to cut internet time to an hour and a half a day. That’s for blogging, reading blogs, reading news sites and general internet browsing, not for using the internet for a non-recreational purpose, such as internet banking or shopping. I’m doing this partly to free up time, partly because, in monitoring what contributed to autistic fatigue and what restored me from it, prolonged internet use emerged pretty quickly as something I do a lot, but which rapidly becomes draining rather than restoring.
It is too early to say if it is working, although I haven’t had great success with similar attempts in the past. I just need more time in the day. If nothing else, I would like to relax by reading more actual books instead of blogs and news sites (important though those are). It would help my attempts to be more productive if I didn’t tire so easily and need so much sleep, particularly after work (see my first paragraph). It’s hard to get through life as an adult with adult responsibilities when I seem to need eleven, twelve or even thirteen hours of sleep most nights.
Holiday: Sunday 23 January
By this stage, E and I had established a pattern where she would work during the morning (her work hours are flexible, but she wasn’t on holiday) and I would sleep in a bit and slowly go through my morning routine, then we would go out late morning or early afternoon. Nevertheless, I was still feeling very frustrated at how tired I can get.
We went to The Jewish Museum, which we both found found disappointing. There weren’t enough exhibits on display and the most interesting thing was a special exhibit containing a collection of netsuke, seventeenth century Japanese miniature carved statues, which was not what you would expect to find in a Jewish museum. The exhibition it was part of was about a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family that lost their property, including the netsuke, in the Holocaust and tried to get it back afterwards. As E said, it was sad they lost their property, but lots of people lost their lives in the Holocaust (the family all seemed to flee to safety when the Nazis took over, just leaving their possessions behind to be seized), and it was hard to be too concerned over them, especially as they still seemed to be very wealthy. Still, the netsuke were interesting, if not exactly what I would have gone to the museum for.
The funniest thing was the (expensive) museum shop, which had a fair bit of what can only be described as Ruth Bader Ginsburg fan memorabilia. There was an RBG children’s book, which reminded me of something I saw in the paper a while back, where a columnist was complaining that one of the biggest bookshops in London had no children’s books about Chanukah, but did instead have a selection of children’s books on woke heroines like Greta Thunberg, Kamala Harris and RBG. What, she wondered, would an English five year old, make of a book about an American politician or judge?
But my favourite item in the shop was an RBG chanukiah (Chanukah lamp), with six inch high mini-RBG brandishing a gavel at the person lighting the lamp. The lamps stood on blocks that spelt out “I DISSENT,” which was also the title of RBG children’s autobiography, apparently to make her seem an exciting rebel rather than an accepted part of the political order. We saw a woman with an RBG tote bag later in the week too, so there’s obviously a market for this sort of “merch” (I hate that word). Welcome to the era of politics-as-lifestyle (and lifestyle-as-politics).
Afterwards we went to Central Park again, then on to some bookstores, new and second-hand. I picked up a copy of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, the more excitingly-titled novelisation of the 1971 Doctor Who story Colony in Space. The Doctor Who novelisations are a subject of nostalgia in their own right for many fans, particularly older ones. I read the novelisations of most stories before I got a chance to see them and they were a huge part of my childhood. I do vaguely think sometimes about trying collect the complete set (I have about forty, only a quarter or so of the total). Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, like many of the early novelisations (before they started churning them out mechanically) has ‘value added’ in terms of more detailed characterisation and world-building compared with the TV story, so it was enjoyable to read (on the plane home) even though I’ve got the TV version on DVD. It also shifts the focus from the Master’s attempt to steal the titular weapon to the human drama of the colony (despite the titles suggesting the opposite), which is probably an improvement. E read it too and was also impressed.
Some time after sunset I realised that I had forgotten to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers), and now it was too late. I seem to do this once every winter. In the evening, we got takeaway dinner from a kosher Mexican restaurant. We were impressed by the food, less so by the refusal of the kitchen staff to wear masks. Eating in E’s apartment, I realised the rubber sole was falling off one of my walking boots, and it did indeed fall off before I left for home. Fortunately, the boot still had a leather and plastic sole underneath that protected my foot during the ten minute walk back to my apartment, in the falling snow.
Monday 24 January
We visited The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, and I picked up three more books: Talmudic Images (which I’ve already blogged about), the second Harry Potter (after making sure it was an English edition and not one ‘translated’ into American English) and the first volume of Richard Evans’ three-volume non-fiction study of Nazi Germany. Including the Doctor Who book and two Jewish books I ordered to come to E’s apartment for me to collect (to avoid international postage), I was coming back with six more books than I left with! Fortunately, throwing away my walking boots gave me some more space in my suitcase… Even so, I was disappointed to have to leave the two-volume hardback Annotated Sherlock Holmes on the Book Cellar’s shelves.
In the afternoon, we went to The Museum of Modern Art. We enjoyed the galleries on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but struggled with the noise in the building, which came not from patrons, but from some extremely noisy art installations. I was also annoyed that the cloakroom was closed, inevitably because of COVID (?!), and I was not allowed to wear my rucksack and had to carry it around instead. Add in the usual mask discomfort and, again, we only stayed for a couple of hours whereas pre-COVID we might have stayed for longer.
In the evening we had dinner at a kosher pizza place with E’s mother, who was visiting New York. This seemed to go well. It was good to meet her in person. Afterwards E spent time with her mother while I went back to my apartment and started reading Talmudic Images and generally pottered about not feeling like doing much. This turned out to be a bad sign, an indication that I was rapidly running out of spoons.